Archive for October, 2008

Happy Halloween

October 31st, 2008 — Wordman

I used to think I knew something about carving pumpkins. Evidently not. Now, why even bother.

Preditor pumpkin

And, if you happen to be a sex offender, enjoy your insane overregulation today.


October 15th, 2008 — Wordman

In the film Rising Sun, Sean Connery’s character claims that “the Japanese have a saying: ‘Fix the problem, not the blame.’ Find out what’s f—- up and fix it. Nobody gets blamed. We’re always after who f—- up. Their way is better.” While this is not universally true (sometimes fixing the problem does mean assigning blame), it’s true enough: Americans, particularly American media, are much more fixated on pointing fingers than solving problems. With the current financial crisis, there is no shortage of culpability to go around, and the standard blame orgy is in full swing. Unfortunately, almost no one, least of all the media, is even mentioning one of the largest culprits: the American consumer. Far from assigning even a tiny bit of the blame there, most noticeably exclude them from analysis. In the debate last night, McCain went so far as to call them “innocent victims of greed and excess”.


The American public, that is currently raising such a stink about this crisis, did as much to cause it as anyone. They are not the sole cause, to be sure, but they are not innocent and it disgusts me they they (we) are getting a pass. One of the few to even mention this is Chris Plummer, who recently provided a menu of blame that included the general public, twice:


Railing against greedy thieves in the financial industry ignores how readily Americans availed themselves of the cheap credit that same industry offered them. If there’s honor among junkies, it’s that they don’t blame their drug dealer for their addiction.

American workers

Employees across all industries suddenly fear for their jobs and resulting financial hardship as the nation appears headed into a recession of considerable depth. The ones most at risk are the millions who lived beyond their means and failed to steer earnings into savings for just such potential emergencies. They sadly face just desserts for feasting high on the hog.

That may be harsh, but it is largely true. It’s clear that the trigger for this crisis has been home loans made to people who ultimately couldn’t pay them back. Yet, in a society of finger pointing, somehow no one seems willing to even mention that, just perhaps, the people that agreed to take such loans might have, just perhaps, helped to totally screw us all.

The common rebuttal to this is “but there was criminal, predatory lending! Those people didn’t know what they were getting into! They were being lied to!” But, even if there was outright fraud in every single case, “those people” still signed the paperwork. Essentially, this rebuttal is saying that consumers who suck at math and reading comprehension are automatically innocent. This argument doesn’t hold up in any other venue. I’d like to believe that a small outlay of cash to a rich Nigerian in exile would net me millions but, if I fell for this scam, no one would call me an innocent victim. They’d say I got what I deserved for being so stupid and greedy. Blame certainly falls on the scammer, but also on the willing participation of the scammed. It takes two to tango.

When you are out and about, and a bomb set by a complete stranger goes off and kills you for no reason, you are an innocent victim. If you willingly enter a contract that fully explains what will happen, you are not innocent, no matter what anyone told you the contract said. That isn’t how contracts work. If you don’t understand a contract, you don’t sign it. Especially for something as large and important as a home.

You hear a lot of demand for “accountability” from the public, the media and politicians regarding Wall Street, government, the banking industry and so on. But this same public seems pathologically unable to be accountable themselves. We demand responsibility from others, but shown none ourselves. Why would we? We have no end of talking heads telling us we are the innocent victims.

Now, as mentioned, “Main Street” isn’t the sole culprit in this. There are a lot of other forces at work (which samaBlog lucidly explained). The point of this post is not to lay the blame solely at the public’s feet, but rather to act as one of the only places that assigns them any blame at all.

I tend to agree with the sentiment from a bad Michael Crichton movie that started this post, that blame just isn’t particularly useful. But, if you must point fingers, make sure you point them in the right direction.

The ten-minute 1TB backup RAID installation

October 6th, 2008 — Wordman

The Mac Pro contains four accessible hard-drive bays. Mac OS X comes with easy to use RAID software. Put these together, and you can quickly build a backup system using redundant disks, so that if one drive fails, another takes its place.

Building a RAID (meaning “redundant array of independent disks”) like this may be ideal for backups, but isn’t as useful for other applications of RAID technology (such as striping for great video encoding performance, and so on). This because the RAID is controlled by software, so is on the slower side. It’s possible to put an optional hardware-based RAID controller into the Mac Pro, but it is pricey and complete overkill for backups. The speed doesn’t really matter for backup use, especially when using Time Machine, since it is all done unnoticed in the background anyway.


The key thing about making a RAID is that you need to use multiple identical disks. As mentioned, speed doesn’t really matter for backups. In fact, you are usually better off buying the slowest disks you can find because they a) will still be fast enough, b) are cheaper, c) are usually quieter and d) usually draw less power. The Mac Pro uses Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (Serial ATA or SATA) disks. The drives used in this post are a pair of 1.0TB Western Digital Caviar Geen drives, due to their lower power consumption and sound output. These drives use a variable number of rotations per minute, but are rated at between 5400 and 7200 rpm. So, these are not speed demons, but they don’t need to be. At the time of writing, Other World Computing had the best deal on this particular drive.

In addition to the drives, you will need a Mac Pro, one functional hand, and a standard phillips screwdriver. You might also want a grounding strap to prevent electrical damage to the components, particularly in dry climates or if you tend to get shocked by light switches a lot where you live.

To start the installation, shutdown your Mac Pro.

Hardware installation

Pull out the tab on the back of the Mac Pro, pull the top of the side panel out, then remove the side panel (click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version):

Open Remove side

About a third of the way down, find the four numbered drive caddies. If this is a new machine, chances are that drive bay #1 holds the primary disk and the other three caddies are empty. These instructions assume that this is the case, and that you’ll put your RAID drives into bays #2 and #3. Adjust this to match your machine accordingly. It doesn’t matter which of the bays the RAID drives are in. Give a tug to caddy #2 (or whatever) and slide it out. It should come out without much effort; it is not secured with screws or anything:

Remove caddy #2 Caddy

Before unwrapping your drive from its anti-static bag, hold the bag and touch a metal part on the frame of the Pro. This should lessen the chance of a spark that could damage the drive. Unwrap the first drive and find the four silver holes at the edge of the side with the visible circuit board. Note that these are in the same orientation as the screws on the caddy. Line the caddy up with these holes and connect with a phillips screwdriver. Note that the “open” end of the caddy should point towards the back of the drive (where the copper pins are).

Drive and caddy Attached caddy

Put the caddy with the mounted drive back into the machine by locating the tab-like rails into which the caddy slides. These should fit very naturally. Once in place, slowly but firmly push the caddy all the way back in. It should be flush with the rest of the caddies.

View from below Sliding drive back in

Repeat the process with the second drive, using bay #3. Once done, replace the side panel by lining up the bottom of it with the space in the machine, then tilting the top back in place. Once flush, close the tab on the back of the machine to lock the side in place. Boot the Mac Pro.

Software setup

If all goes well, once you boot up, you will see messages asking you if you want to format the new drives. Say no to (or cancel) these messages. You’ll need to reformat these drives as a RAID, so no point in formatting them just now. Instead, launch the “Disk Utility” application (usually found in Applications/Utilities).

When it comes up, you should see the new drives listed on the left, along with your primary drive and your DVD drive. From the tab selections at the top of the right-hand section of the window, click “RAID”. Enter a name for your new RAID, such as “Backup”. Make sure “Raid Type:” is set to “Mirrored RAID set”.

RAID panel Mirrored RAID

Now select one of the new drives from the list at the left. Holding down the shift key, click on the other new drive, to add it to the selection as well. Drag the two selected drives into the large white space on the right-side section of the window. This will add two entries to this list, saying something like “New member: ‘disk 0′”. Below this list, click “Options”. Make sure “Automatically rebuild RAID mirror sets” is checked, and click “OK”. (This setting will correct problems in the RAID if one of the drives has an error.)

Dragging the drives RAID options

Click “Create”. A confirmation screen will come up, warning you that creating this RAID will completely erase the drives. This is a good time to make doubly sure that you have selected your new drives into the RAID, and not any other drives. When satisfied this is so, click “Create”. A progress bar will appear as the RAID is being created. When finished, you should see the new RAID show up in both the left side list, and in the right side section. While the Disk Utility will still show you the individual disks, everything else will see the RAID as if it is a single drive.

Confirmation screen Ready RAID

Note that the capacity of the RAID as a whole matches that of one of the drives, not their sum. This should be as you would expect. The whole point of the RAID is to act as a “virtual disk” and when a byte is written to that disk, the RAID software writes that byte to the same spot on both of the drives, making sure they each have a copy of the same data. Thus, either one can fail, and you still have a working copy of the data.

A short digression

Before setting up this RAID for use with Time Machine, a quick digression. For troubleshooting purposes, it is sometimes useful to get more information about the drives you are using. Six months down the road, for example, you might have forgotten which drive you put into which bay. The System Profiler application can provide a bunch of information about your system, including the drives. You can launch this app either directly from Applications/Utilities or by selecting “About This Mac” from the Apple menu, then clicking “More Info…”.

Once the System Profiler launches, clicking the “Serial-ATA” section will show a list of the drives in the machine. If you click on one of your new drives, the bottom right section will display all sorts of information about the drive. Two more useful bits of information are the “Bay Name” setting, which tells you in which drive bay the drive is physically installed, and the “BSD Name” field, usually set to something like “disk1s3”. This code is needed for a number of command line disk manipulation tools, so is good to know when troubleshooting problems.

About This Mac System Profiler

Time Machine

Setting up Time Machine to use this RAID is the same as using any other drive. Just “Open Time Machine Preferences” from the Time Machine menu icon (by the clock in the menu bar), or by selecting “System Preferences…” from the Apple menu, then going to the Time Machine section. Once there, turn Time Machine on and select the RAID.

Time Machine

GeForce 8800 GT and Leopard

October 5th, 2008 — Wordman

Upgrading the primary hard drive in my Mac Pro exposed an annoying hurdle that might not be very obvious: if you have upgraded your video card to an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT, you might not be able to boot from your Leopard Install DVD any more.

I ran across this because, after installing my new drive, I decided to try a “full restore” from Time Machine. In theory, this would result in a clone of my old primary drive, just on a new, larger disk. It appears, however, the only way to use this feature is to boot from the Leopard Install DVD, and then select “Restore System from Backup” from the “Utilities” menu. The problem I had was that when booting from the DVD, I kept getting the dreaded grey screen telling me that “You must reboot your Mac” in several languages.

The DVD booted other machines just fine. The Pro booted from other sources just fine, at which point a dialog telling me that my machine crashed and would I like to submit a report to Apple? It didn’t even occur to me that the video card might be the culprit until I read the crash log attached to this report and noticed the stack contained a bunch of video initialization calls. From there it occurred to me that the GeForce 8800 GT to which I upgraded several months ago didn’t even exist when the install DVD I was using was created, so the DVD probably lacked the correct drivers.

Fortunately, I still had my old video card, so I swapped it in and the rest went as planned.

Looking on the net, I discovered that some others had my problem, but that there is a newer version of the install DVD (10.5.2) which does not have this problem. Most people reported that attempts to get the Apple store to exchange a 15.0 DVD for a 10.5.2 DVD failed, but since this seemed so stupid, I decided to try it anyway. I didn’t have much trouble (though I may have been helped by a) having once been a paying Apple developer and/or b) the long list of hardware I’ve purchased from the Apple store, including the Pro and the video card) and supposedly I will be getting mailed this newer DVD soon.

Sadly, even with all this, this was still probably my easiest primary drive upgrade ever.

Update: My (sparsely labelled) 10.5.2 DVD arrived.