Restore from backup - bringing a Mac back with Time Capsule

My brother called and told me my mom was in the hospital. At 80 her health has been declining pretty rapidly so I immediately booked a flight to California, planning to spend a week there to help my brother with both her and my father. Needless to say I had a lot on my mind as I rushed to the airport in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning last week.

Back at home my wife's MacBook sat at her desk, left on overnight like she often did so that when she woke up in the morning a quick shake of the mouse would brighten the screen and allow her to check e-mail. From what I can tell in the hourly backup logs, at roughly the same time my aircraft lifted off the runway the 120GB hard disk in her MacBook crashed.

When I checked in with my wife that night to update her on my mom's status, she told me that her MacBook was dead.

Me: "Dead?"
Allison: "It's just got a gray screen. I've tried restarting it and that's all that comes up."

Of course, this has to happen when the only techie in the family leaves on a weeklong trip. Fortunately for us my wife's MacBook is backed up regularly using Time Machine pointing at a Time Capsule. To make a really long story short, I tried to get our 14 year old daughter to install a replacement drive into the MacBook. The salesman at BestBuy sold her the wrong drive so after trying to jam a PATA drive into a SATA slot, she gave up until I returned home.

Bringing Back a Dead Mac
When I came home from California I promptly returned the incorrect drive and picked up a Western Digital 320GB black drive instead. Fast, high capacity, good reviews and I've had excellent luck with WD drives in the past. The installation was a snap as I've done this before.

I did encounter a problem when I first tried restoring my data though. Having purchased a number of different Macs over the last two years, I had quite a few OS X install disks lying around, including several for MacBooks since my wife and both daughters have them. Apparently I was using the wrong one because it would not allow me to do a restore from the Mac OS X Install Disc. Once I figured out the correct disk everything went much more smoothly. If you have multiple Macs you may want to label your disk sets to ensure they match up w/ the right Mac.

First I used Disk Utility to format the drive as a single large partition using Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Next, from the OS X Installer menu I ran the restore utility. By following the prompts I was able to select our Time Capsule and choose the correct bundle on it for my wife's machine.

Though I normally access the network from her machine using WiFi, I took a standard ethernet cable and plugged it directly into the Time Capsule to help speed up the process. It ended up taking about 3 hours to restore her machine. Once restored a quick reboot returned her machine to its pre-hard-drive-crash state.

The Importance of Backups
Do yourself a favor right now: check the status of your backup and—if you're the techie in the family—do that for all the computers in your home. Make sure it's running properly and that you have a basic game plan for the day your primary (or secondary) hard drive fails. Your hard drive will eventually fail. It may not happen for ten years, several months or as you are reading this but it will eventually fail.

As more and more of our lives are captured digitally, backups are more important than ever. If all you do is set up Time Machine to point at a remote drive at least you have something to fall back on.

And for those that are interested, my mom is doing much better. My brother and I moved our parents into assisted living apartments. They have help with meals, medical care on site and lots of other folks to interact with. It's the ultimate backup system for the elderly.

Do you have a backup technique you use that may help others? Please share it below!

The Accidental iPad and How I Use It

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad a few months ago I didn't think "Wow, I gotta have me one of those...". Though I was intrigued by the form factor and slightly motivated by Steve Jobs' demonstration of the device, it didn't scream out at me as something I needed. I was actually more amused with all the criticism surrounding the choice of iPad as the name for the device.

I yawned and went on with my life.

Nearly a month ago I walked in to our local Apple store with my family. We weren't looking for anything in particular, just letting my kids fawn over the Mac hardware as we thought about buying a MacBook for my son before he heads off to college. I asked one of the Apple store employees if they had an iPad I could take a look at. He handed me an 8 x 6 inch card with a picture of one on it. The device was far thinner and lighter than I expected.

He then asked if I would like to reserve one.

Me: "No thanks"
Apple Employee: "There's no commitment. It just means that we'll have one here for you in case they sell out. That way you can come in on launch day and be assured you will have one."
Me: "Uh, nah, thanks"
Wife: "Well, maybe you should sign up in case you really want it."

My wife is usually the uber-frugal one when it comes to technology purchases. I'm the good cop, she's the bad cop. She is the voice of reason when the "I WANT IT" klaxon sounds off. When she flashes the green light—which she clearly was doing—I jump before she reconsiders.

Seconds later I had a 16GB iPad reserved for April 3, 2010. Besides, there was no obligation, right?

Launch Day
The morning of April 3, 2010 passed without incident. I didn't find myself in a line outside the Apple store, nor did I feel this overwhelming need to run out and buy an iPad. The impulse of signing up to reserve one didn't translate into the action required to go out and get one. I read my news feeds, saw people writing about it and was mildly interested.

I was driving by my local Apple store—really, just happened to be in the area—when I decided to pull in and actually see an iPad in person. I walked past the abandoned rope line and cart full of water and cookies the Apple staff had put out to cater to line standers.

Inside the place was mobbed. There were people queued up to see the demo iPads several layers deep. I looked over people's shoulders and watched them play with the iPad for a short while before I became impatient, went to the back of the store and asked that they sell me my reserved iPad. Within 10 minutes I was walking outside with my new iPad and an Apple case for it.

It all happened a lot faster than I expected. I blame my wife for not talking me out of getting one.

Using the iPad
There are hundreds—likely thousands—of reviews on the iPad already. I've found the vast majority of them very accurate and reasonably consistent on features and functionality. The bigger issue to me is, what role does the iPad really fill? Is it something you would find useful?

I'm on my computing devices all day. I have a large, dual monitor Mac Pro for software development. When I'm on the road I carry along a 15" MacBook Pro. I also carry a 3GS iPhone. Between these three devices I had pretty much every need covered.

All of three days into owning an iPad I've found a niche for it that works great for me: information consumption. Here is how I'm using the iPad:

In the morning I flip open the case on the iPad, set it up at a slightly elevated angle and fire up e-mail while I eat breakfast. I rarely respond first thing in the morning; I just delete the useless e-mail and file away the informational stuff, which the e-mail client on the iPad is perfect for. When I'm in the office is when I actually respond unless it's very trivial. I then fire up my iPad based Twitter client, currently Twitterrific. Since I follow lots of news oriented feeds I'm able to quickly scroll through items and catch up on the news. If I find a link to a story that I want to read I tap it and Twitterrific displays it in a windowed browser.

This is where the screen on the iPad comes in handy; it doesn't feel at all cramped. Though I always marveled at my iPhone's screen resolution, it suddenly feels highly constrained next to the iPad:

Could I use my MacBook Pro for this? Sure, I could. It just feels so bulky. Could I use my iPhone for this? Yep, sure can, though I trade in supreme portability for a tiny little screen.

The iPad has a super long battery life from what I can tell so far. I charged it to capacity on the initial sync and have been using it pretty heavily for the last 3 days, yet as of this moment it's sitting at 25% capacity. It means that I've been treating it more like a book, leaving it out to be grabbed as I need it, not constantly tethered to a power supply like my MacBook Pro is.

As a result, I kept the iPad handy throughout the day, grabbing it when I wanted to quickly scan sports updates or read through news feeds. This is the ultimate lazy Sunday, information appliance I've ever seen.

I even fired up the iBooks application and—after playing around with some of the ancient free books available—bought a new title (The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose). Using the iPad as an e-book reader is very nice; the text is far more readable than on a Kindle, though I have only tried using it in shaded areas. I don't see sitting on a sunny beach and reading on the iPad unless you have a large umbrella handy. Way too much glare.

Summing It Up
Whether an iPad is right for someone is obviously a very personal decision; will you use it enough to make it worth the investment from a cash and time perspective? On the want versus need scale an iPad falls far more into the want category. It is far easier to justify a laptop or smartphone than an iPad since they are accepted tools of modern information workers. Will the iPad become a tool of the modern information professional? Perhaps, though it's not likely to happen with this initial version.

My experience three days in is that I am really enjoying my iPad and see that it has added a quality to some parts of my daily routine that were missing. I'm looking forward in the coming months to exploring the various applications available for the iPad as well; the few that I have played with have been very useable and take full advantage of the iPad user experience.

I'm really glad my wife talked me into getting one.

Thinking of getting an iPad? Not sure if it will work for what you want to do? Got one and using it in a unique way? Please add a comment below!