RSync Files to a Unix/BSD Backup Device from your Mac Laptop

My photo-taking workflow while on vacation usually involves taking a lot of photos daily, dumping them to a laptop, processing, then backing them up once I have returned home.
Previously, I accomplished this manually using BeyondCompare for Windows, as that would run on Windows Home Server.
Since moving to ZFS-based storage, however, this is no longer an option as BeyondCompare only has a Linux client (nothing for Unix/BSD).
There are other ways to get around this:

  • SSHFS and Meld – Complicated, somewhat bloated, but great BeyondCompare alternative
  • *Commander Utilities – Midnight Commander derivatives can accomplish similar tasks using the ctrl+x,d shortcut
  • Rsync – typically installed by default, easy to script

I chose Rsync as I wanted something more automated, but I do find myself using Midnight Commander from time-to-time to simply “get things done” when syncing files other than my images.

Here’s how I did it:

rsync -a -e ssh /volumes/PICTURES/ 'username@mymac:/Volumes/BIGRAID/'

Let’s break this down into smaller pieces:

rsync – this is the command that will do our heavy lifting and file comparison

-a – archive mode

-e – specify an RSH replacement

ssh  – use SSH

/volumes/PICTURES/ – this specifies the “Volumes” folder on my Mac, and the “PICTURES” drive within it. Replace this with the location of your items to backup

 – note the use of single quotes here. We’re using these in case there are spaces in the folder names, and we could have done the same above.

username@mymac – We’re logging on to the host “mymac” with the username “username”. You’ll probably want to change these. I use a hostname here, but you could just as easily use an IP address if you use static IP addresses.

:/volumes/BIGRAID/ – the colon denotes a subfolder on the server we are backing up to, and /volumes/BIGRAID in this case refers to a ZFS pool called “BIGRAID”.

Do you have a similar backup strategy for BSD/Unix targets that you would like to share?

Macbook Pro 15″ i5 Unibody Upgrades

I’ve finally purchased a MacBook Pro, and things are going pretty well. Most of my work these days involves using servers for heavy lifting, but I still use Windows 7 from time to time, and Lightroom 3 almost all the time.

Unfortunately, Lightroom 3’s catalog is essentially a database of photos, and the more you put in it, the more slowly it will run. In this case, the MacBook Pro’s stock 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive just isn’t cutting the mustard. Simple actions like scrolling through images from the last import can be painful. Using Firefox or Chrome while importing makes everything crawl, and I’m forced to look for entertainment in Meat Space. The horror!

I know, “it can’t be that bad” is what you’re thinking. It is. Imports can take up to an hour. While on vacation, the last thing I want to be doing is waiting for imports of photos I’ve already taken while I could be out taking more photos.

I mentioned the fact that I use Windows 7 on the MBP. This is via either Boot Camp or VMware Fusion (running the Boot Camp partition). Things work swimmingly in Boot Camp, but I really have to be careful in Fusion because many of the newer Mac applications are RAM-hungry, and you start paging to disk quickly. Since the disk is so slow, you’re at a standstill within minutes.

So the problem essentially boils down to two things, both of which could have been resolved at time of purchase had I looked into the specs a bit further.

  1. Not enough memory
  2. Hard drive too slow

Costs add up

The memory upgrade, direct from Apple, via their online store, is a whopping $420. The hard drive upgrade from 320GB 5400 RPM to 500GB 7200 RPM is $158. Together I would have shelled out $578 in order to get the system where I think it needs to be.

Enter the Apple Technician

In the not-so-distant past, I repaired Apple laptops for a certified depot. It used to be pretty difficult as some of the Mac laptops had an inordinate amount of screws of varying sizes and dizzying teardown diagrams. I would say I was competent, but it really wasn’t something enjoyable. That said, I have been out of the game for a bit, and things have seemingly gotten much easier for the majority of Apple laptops. Often, you can simply remove the bottom case to gain access to wireless cards, Bluetooth, SuperDrive, hard drive and memory. And such is the case with the Macbook Pro 15″ i5.

Using the diagrams found at iFixIt, I was able to confirm that only a little bit of work would be needed to perform the upgrades. That means I save money on labour, which isn’t cheap.

Price Comparison

I was able to source hard drives at the 500GB capacity ranger running at 7200RPM for very cheap. I’d be looking at around $80, worst case. But being spoiled on other computers running solid state drives, I thought I should look into the option of adding an SSD instead. Though they have come down in price, getting larger capacity SSD drives can run upwards of $400 easily. Ouch. I decided to settle on one of Seagate’s newly-released “hybrid” drives that combine 4GB of superfast SSD with 500GB of traditional rotating platter storage. This should hopefully give me the best of both worlds. The cost? About $140. That’s definitely a few dollars less than the “off the shelf” Apple price, though it’s also double the cost of a typical 500GB 2.5″ hard disk. But speed is the issue to address, and I’m confident the HDD will address that. My only concern will be the speed of the platters may produce noise.

The memory for a MacBook Pro i5 is slightly harder to find. It took some poking around to find the exact speed and latency of the chips, as I want to make sure the logic board won’t complain, and no unforeseen issues would be introduced. After looking at Kingston’s website, I was able to deduce that the full specifications of the RAM are as follows:

  • Format – 204 pin SODIMM
  • Speed – PC3-8500 / DDR3 1066MHz
  • Latency – 7-7-7-20

This is not cheap memory. We’re talking high speed, high density, low latency RAM. After searching high and low, I came across some Mushkin RAM that was Mac certified. I wasn’t even aware that Mushkin made Mac certified RAM, but boy was I happy. The cost for an 8GB pair of 4GB SODIMM modules was only $260! In case you’re interested, the part number is “996644”, and I still don’t see a better deal from ANY vendor for memory this fast with timings this tight. Even for PC.

Our current total is sitting at $400. That’s less than even the RAM would cost from Apple.

Going Forward

Not to miss any opportunities, I decided to go one step further. Removing the memory and hard drive would leave me with spare parts. These could be sold on Craigslist locally for cheap, or I could re-use them. Use for the hard drive is pretty easy: Time Machine backup. A $20 external AcomData 2.5″ Ruggedized Samurai enclosure would fit the bill well, but the last thing you want to do on vacation is lug around cables and accessories. In my experience, they either get lost or forgotten (or both). This may not be the case for everyone, but I actually rarely use optical media. My data is transferred using USB sticks if I need to sneakernet, over wifi or LAN if I need to backup (and again to another location off-site to be safe) and when I do make audio “mixtapes”, it’s not often as I use an iPod for music.

So here I have a useless device taking up space in the laptop. Some digging, and looking at the tear-down told me a 2.5″ hard drive could fit in there easily. Excellent, a use for the old drive that takes up no extra space! Of course, like many good ideas I think I have come up with first, someone had “been there, done that” before, and you can buy full kits online for cheap. I found two companies that sell these: MCE and OWC. I opted for OWC because I really don’t have a need for the external optical drive that MCE throws in for “free”, creating a $20 difference in price as I have a Lacie DVD-RW already. Cost of this part: $80. (MCE’s is around $100 if you still might need that SuperDrive)

The total now sits at $480. More than the cost of the RAM, but still considerably less than the over $700 cost to have Apple do this at time of purchase. If you had messed up and bought the lower-end 15″ i5 Macbook Pro, there would also be at least an hour of labour on top. Typically that would run about $150.

I’m left with 2x 2GB DDR3 SODIMM modules, which might be hard to get rid of at any price, though they make a good upgrade for Mac Mini users. I’ve looked high and low for DDR3 SODIMM “RAMDisks” to no avail. I realize these aren’t the best devices, and never really had a following, but it would certainly be handy to have on one of the servers. One can only dream, I suppose.

So there you have it, cheap upgrade, easy install, no regrets. Preliminary testing tells me that the boot time has been halved, and Lightroom is much faster, though it’s not as fast as running it on my Mac Pro with SSD.

At some point I will probably look at replacing the second internal drive with a solid state boot drive when I replace the Intel X25-M G2 80GB in the Mac Pro with a SandForce SSD, and I will make sure to post some speeds when that frabjous day finally arrives.

Turn off Apple Startup Sound on your Intel Mac

If the chime your Mac makes on bootup drives you batty, have no fear – it’s controllable. You can mute, turn down, or even turn UP your Macintosh startup volume using freeware utilities!

There are a few applications out there that will allow you to adjust the Apple startup noise, but only one (as far as I can tell) that will allow you to adjust the startup chime on Intel based Macs – Psst from mistatree will let you do it on your x86 Apple computer, and it’s easy to use too!

Psst is a universal binary that runs in OS X, meaning that it will run on PPC Macs, as well as the newer Intel Macs like iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros and Mac Pros.

To install the program, simply download the DMG image file using Safari, Firefox or your favorite browser, and mount the image by double clicking it. After that you can copy the file anywhere on your hard drive and run the application by double clicking it. Adjust the startup sound to your liking and reboot to see the changes. You will notice the difference on bootup/startup – the startup chime should be less noisy or muted depending on how you adjusted it.

Parallels 2.2 Workstation Features

Parallels announced today the updated features of the newest iteration of Parallels Workstation.

Big new all around for Windows, Mac and Linux users.

Here’s the breakdown (from the newsletter):

Parallels Desktop for Mac is the first solution for running Windows and OS X at the same time – without rebooting!

The Desktop for Mac Official Update includes a number of powerful new features, such as:

  • Works on ANY Intel-Mac with ANY memory configuration with no system modification. This includes Mac Pro towers with up to 16GB of RAM, and the full line of Core 2 Duo iMacs
  • Support for Windows Vista as a guest OS
  • Support for Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” as a Primary OS
  • Better USB support, including support for isochronous devices and Windows Mobile 5 devices

Parallels Workstation 2.2 for Windows & Linux is a powerful, cost effective virtualization solution which boosts productivity and lowers IT costs by letting users run multiple OSes simultaneously – without rebooting – on any Windows or Linux PC.

The new version includes a variety of new features and improvements:

  • Full support for AMD Secure Virtual Machine Technology, and stronger support for Intel Virtualization Technology
  • Support for Windows Vista as a Guest OS
  • A new shared folder utility lets users share files and folders between OSes
  • Better networking
  • Better USB support, including support for webcams and Windows Mobile 5 devices

Parallels for Mac to support Vista and Leopard

I’ve been using Parallels Workstation on my beefy Windows test host alongside VMWare Server and Windows Virtual Server. Parallels, though a relatively new piece of software, is remarkably good.

Recently I received an email about the new Apple Mac version which adds a lot of features that have me very excited. I have been debating a MacBook Pro purchase, and this announcement just may be the tipping point.

So let’s hear them out on this spam, and have a look at why I’m so excited.

Big features to mention:

  • Support for new quad-processor Mac Pro towers outfitted with up to 3.5GB of RAM
  • This addition means that Parallels Desktop for Mac is now compatible with all Intel-powered Apple computers, which in addition to the Mac Pro includes the MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac Mini!
  • Compatibility with developer build of Mac OS X 10.5, code-named “Leopard”
  • Experimental support for Windows Vista

Bugs Fixed:

  • Solaris guest OS no longer hangs after suspend/resume
  • An improved Parallels Tools package
  • Full support for OpenBSD 3.8 as a guest operating system
  • G4U hard disk cloning tool now works in virtual machines

The new Parallels release candidate adds many exciting features including (but not limited to):

  • USB improvements — easily use multi interfaced and isochronous USB devices (including Windows Mobile 2005 and webcams)
  • Mac OS X performance improvements — optimize Mac OS X or guest OS performance by switching off the Mac cache function
  • Graphic performance improvements — enjoy faster, smoother video playback
  • Keyboard support improvements — use all of the keys on your Mac keyboard, such as the eject CD button, right-left and Shift/Ctrl/Alt (option)/Windows keys, in any virtual machine
  • Unicode path support improvements — name files and paths in national languages
  • Shared folders performance improvements — open folders and files faster, and transfer data across OSes with almost zero lag


How to Rip CDs on a Mac

This quick guide will get you started backing up your CDs on you PowerPC Mac, or even your spanking new Intel MacBook Pro!

I recently downloaded and installed a wonderful application called Max from Sbooth software. Max is absolutely free, and not only that, but it’s also open source (OSS) and a universal binary.

Max reminds me quite a bit of EAC which is my favorite audio CD backup program when running Windows. In fact, one of the few things I had always longed to do on my G4 Mac Mini was backup some of my audio CDs for use with my iPod Mini.

Now I know that iTunes will rip CDs to MP3, but it doesn’t offer too much in terms in functionality. For exmaple, if you have a scratched CD, iTunes will often have problems with the file. iTunes also only converts one file at a time, making the process quite slow. Of course, Max can both copy from scratched audio CDs, as well as rip multiple tracks at once if you have multiple cores or processors such as the Mac Pro or the dual G4 and G5 workstations. With these computers iTunes is simply wasting your time and giving you bad quality files. Did I mention Max supports lossless formats? I could go on and on. Let’s get ripping!
First you’ll want to download the files from SourceForge (SourceForge is a great source of Open Source programs). Click on this link to download the latest Max release for OS X

Getting Started

Once you’ve downloaded the Max archive, installation is a snap (like most other Mac software). If you used Safari, FireFox or Opera, the file will have decompressed (expanded) to your desktop already. Even on Leopard it does the same thing. Double click on the Max folder and drag the Max application file (the one that looks like a blank CD with “Max” written on it with a red marker). We’re going to drag this file into the applications folder on your main hardware for easy access later. Once you’ve done this, you may also want to drag the file from there to your toolbar for later use.

OK, time to run Max for the first time. Are you liking the name “Max” yet? It reminds me of “Macs”.

Double-click on the icon for Max in your application folder, or single-click on the dock icon. Max will start up magically at your command and is now ready to backup your CDs in multitudinous formats. Huzzah.

To select which output formats will be generated:
1. Open the Formats section of the Preferences and double-click the desired format from the list of available formats
2. Edit the encoder settings, if desired

To create audio files from compact discs:
1. Insert the compact disc
2. Select the correct album information from that retrieved, if prompted to do so
3. If desired, download album art by selecting Download Album Art… from the Compact Disc menu
4. Click the Select All button
5. Click the Encode icon in the toolbar
6. The encoded files will be placed in your Music folder

To convert existing audio files to other formats:
1. Drag the files you would like to convert to the Converter window
⁃ Alternatively, select Convert Files… from the File menu
2. The converted files will be placed in your Music folder