Tagged with computers

Restoring a Time Machine Backup That’s Stored on a Windows Home Server

I think that may be the longest title I’ve ever had on my blog. Anyway…

Last week, my Macbook Pro hard drive suddenly died after about two years of dedicated service. While it’s a bit surprising, I did push the little guy pretty hard – I regularly run OS X alongside Windows 7 on VMWare, and I keep both platforms busy. Considering the VM is actually running off the Boot Camp partition, it’s a lot of work for the drive. But I digress.

I’ve been running Time Machine for a while, so I was hoping that I could restore its most recent backup onto my replacement hard drive. There was just one snag, and I knew this would be an issue: my Time Machine backups are stored on my Windows Home Server. As you can imagine, doing this is a bit of a hack (here are some instructions if you don’t know how to do this yet). And as I’m sure you can also imagine, doing a hack like this makes a “normal” Time Machine restore impossible.

What I mean by “normal” is that if you boot off the OS X installation disk, you can choose to restore a Time Machine backup instead of installing a brand new copy of the operating system. When you choose this option, it scans for a Time Machine backup – but only the locations it supports, like external hard drives or Time Capsules.

Now, sure, you could probably copy the Time Machine backup on your WHS to an external drive, since the backup on the WHS is essentially just a disk image. But I didn’t have an external drive large enough to spare – and besides, there must be a better way.

Perhaps my Googling was sub-par at the time (I was in the middle of restoring my laptop, after all), but it took a while to find the answer. You can’t do a normal Time Machine restore, but you can use the Migration Assistant:

  1. Install a brand spanking new copy of OS X. Make a throw-away account when you’re prompted to create your first account. I named mine “Admin”.
  2. Mount your Time Machine backup. In Finder, use the menu option Go –> Connect to Server…, and type the address to your Windows Home Server. This is usually “smb://” plus the server’s name. (For me, it was “smb://beat”.) OS X should find the server, connect to it, and list the available shares. Connect to the share that contains your Time Machine backup, and double-click the .sparsebundle file to mount the disk. (Enter your Home Server username and password, if prompted.)
  3. Run Migration Assistant. This tool is located under Applications –> Utilities on your Mac hard drive. Start it up, and read the intro if you’d like. Click Continue when you’re ready. Choose the “From a Time Machine backup or other disk” option, and click Continue. If you were able to mount the disk image in step #2, then it should be an option to choose from. Select it and Continue.
  4. Restore the backup. The last screen shows you the available items to restore, and how much space they’ll take up. If you created the throw-away account in step #1, then there should be no conflicts with restoring your real account from the Time Machine backup. Select what you do or do not want to restore, and then click Continue. The restore can take a while depending on how much data you have.

That’s it! When it finishes, your account should be back to the way it was, exactly as you left it (as of the last Time Machine backup). You can now throw away your throw-away account, or leave it as a battle scar.

Since it took me a while to find this on Google, I’m writing it up to hopefully give it more exposure. And if this is already well know and I just missed it, well – at least now I have a record in my blog of when my hard drive failed and I was sad. :P

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Imagination is never the limit

From Cisco’s infographic about IPv6 a month or two ago:

When billions of things are connected, talking and learning, the only limitation left will be our own imaginations.

Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize our imaginations were so restrictive. I could have sworn money was the limiting factor in situations like this — money for development, money to build infrastructure, money for content and intellectual property use, etc.

I could be mistaken. Perhaps there was no possible way for Cisco to imagine a better Flip player, so they had to kill off the product.

Oh, wait.

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Microsoft: Drowning in a Sea of Partners

As I type these words on my Macbook Pro, there is an iPhone 4 in my pocket and an iPad 2 propped up on its Smart Cover in front of me. If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be using three Apple devices at the same time, I would have laughed at you. (In a nice way; I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings.) So I couldn’t help but ask myself recently: what happened? Why have I turned to Apple when, traditionally, Microsoft has been the one to satisfy my geeky gadget needs?

The answer doesn’t lie with Microsoft alone. Microsoft is predominantly a software company. They write
the OS, the productivity software, the games, or the utilities that run on your device. They provide a solid platform that anyone can use in any capacity that they desire. This is something that has always appealed to me: if you want something in a small form factor, then you can build it that way — and you can be sure that the OS of your choice will run on it.

But what happens when your beautiful software gets put on ugly, underperforming hardware?

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New Mouse

A couple of years ago I got the Microsoft Sidewinder X8 mouse. It seemed like an awesome mouse at the time – rugged, enough buttons to be useful but not overwhelming, and the “works on anything” BlueTrack technology. It was a little big, but I have big hands, so I wasn’t too worried about that.

Well, it sucks. The receiver has to be really close to the mouse, or it doesn’t track smoothly. The feet on the bottom of the mouse (any of them! it comes with three sets of interchangable feet!) don’t glide smoothly on my mousepad. The battery doesn’t hold much charge anymore; and, to make matters worse, the charge cable doesn’t seat snugly on the mouse and will sometimes stop mid-charge. It was also awkward to hold – not because it was large, per se, but because it didn’t really attempt to fit your hand.

I finally got to my breaking point with it and decided to use some of my Christmas money to buy a replacement: the Logitech Performance Mouse MX. I’ve only had it for a few days, but so far it is blowing the Sidewinder out of the water. The receiver is tiny, but even from all the way at the back of my computer, it flawlessly picks up the signal from the mouse. The feet on this mouse are incredibly smooth, letting it glide easily on the mousepad. And the contours on the mouse make it easy to grip.

So, like I said, it’s still early days, but I have better hopes for this mouse. We’ll see how it goes.

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How To: Create a New Windows Boot Partition

Paul Thurrott recently wrote up an excellent article about how to replace your hard drive, but keeping your OS install completely intact.  The secret is using Windows 7’s backup "system image" feature to create a complete, bootable image of your old drive, then restore it onto the new drive. Check out the full article for the details.

But I always end up making things more difficult for myself.  When I was faced with a similar situation, I ended up taking a different route.

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Trowl 0.6.2–Still Alive!

All right, so it has been a while since the last update to Trowl.  For that, I apologize.  I needed a break from the development a bit, and the summer was happy to oblige.  I’ve been busy with various things, including a bit of experimentation with WPF. (The fruits of those experiments will be available shortly. But, if you follow me, you probably have a clue as to what they might be already.)

But fear not, I am still working on Trowl.  After all, I use it as my primary Twitter client, so I like to see it improved as much as anyone else.  There are some longer term, more ambitious things I’d like to do with Trowl – the top of this list being a switch over to User Streams.  While these are things I have set my sights upon, they are not in this update.

Instead, I’ve been focusing on usability stuff – things that have been suggested by users, and things I’ve noticed myself that I’ve wanted fixed.

So, with that introduction, let me detail the changes planned for this next update.

User name suggestions
When writing a tweet, you sometimes want to mention another user.  Up until now, you’ve had to know their name offhand (or have had to look it up elsewhere) in order to use it in Trowl.  But now, when you type “@”, you will get a pop-up list of users which will narrow down as you type.  Right now this list contains all the people you follow, as well as anyone you reply to.

Tweets & Search Results are Decoupled
You may or may not have noticed that, although “New Tweet” and “New Search Result” are two separate types of notifications in Growl, they are displayed together as part of the same stream of tweets.  This was good in that it kept everything together, but it was mostly bad because it reduced the flexibility you had in customizing displays and display preferences.

In 0.6.2 they are completely separate entities.  You can configure how many tweets appear on screen  at once separately from how many search results appear on screen at once.  You can browse all of your tweets before moving on to the search results.  And so on.

Higher Resolution Profile Images
By default, Twitter provides a profile image that is 48×48.  For Growl, this is usually sufficient. Most displays are small and don’t show anything higher res than that.  But some displays, as well as forwarded devices (like the iPhone or Windows Phone) are capable of showing larger images if they are provided.  So, Trowl now uses 73×73 pixel images – the “bigger” size, according to Twitter.  I’d like to bump this up to something larger, but that involves a little more testing.  But hopefully these slightly larger profile images will suffice for the time being.

.NET 4 Exclusive! – Location Support
What’s that?  .NET 4?  Yes!  There will actually be two versions of 0.6.2 – one for the usual .NET 3.5, and one for .NET 4.  If you are willing to take the jump (or already have), you will get a feature that is made possible by some of the new capabilities of the platform.  In this case – location.  It will require your computer to be equipped with a GPS device, or some other location-aware service, such as Geosense.  If Trowl detects this, you will get the ability to include your current location from the New Tweet screen – make sure you have enabled location for your Twitter account!

Various other bug fixes/code changes
The usual.


I think that’s it.  A preview version will be available for testing soon, so I’ll update this post when it’s up.  Thanks for using Trowl! And as usual, feel free to ask questions or suggest features on the Google Group.

Update: The preview versions are now available!

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The State of Tech 2009

I like to take a look back at the end of the year to see what happened, if for no other reason than to keep a record for myself.  A lot seems to have happened this year.  Looking back, though, it seems more of an evolution than a revolution.


The thing I’m happiest about was the release of the iPhone 3GS, with 32GB of storage space!  Finally I was able to buy one, and for the most part I have been happy with it.  Now that the iPhone has been on the market for a while, it is showing signs of fatigue.  Certainly, the app infrastructure is going strong (as long as Apple’s approval process is sane that day…) but the general design is becoming tired and Apple’s staunch resistance to allowing multitasking is becoming more of an issue for its users.

A lot of this is in light of some (finally) competitive designs from the competition.  Slick interfaces on top of Windows Mobile, and a handful of innovations in Google’s Android, has shown what the next step in a mobile platform can be.  It will be exciting to see what Apple’s response will be.  Their iPod line has become stagnant — instead of focusing on music, they’ve moved on to video.  Which is a bit questionable.

I’m certainly intrigued by Google’s movement on Android.  They’ve made several nice additions to it, and their decision to include a native, free navigation app has interesting implications.  It’s still not quite a competitor to the iPhone, but it’s catching up awfully fast.  And speaking of iPhone competition (or lack thereof), Microsoft seems to think it has all the time in the world to release Windows Mobile 7.  They seem to be losing ground daily, which is a shame.  You start to get the impression that Microsoft can only put its attention on one thing at once — like several tall, shaky Jenga towers, it only tends to the one that is about to fall.  Recently it was Windows 7.  Next year — well.  Lets hope it’s Windows Mobile 7, or Microsoft won’t be a player in the mobile space for much longer.

Also in the mobile space, Microsoft released the Zune HD this year.  This is actually a nice device, and gives a few encouraging signs of what might be coming up in Windows Mobile 7.  The problem with Zune is that right now they’re mostly just trying to play catch up.  They’ve added a lot of very unique stuff in the Zune HD, but the underlying concept has been done with the iPod, and consumers are finding it difficult to have a reason to switch to it.  Strangely, the biggest thing holding me back is a lack of a robust rating system. I like iTunes’ 5 star rating system, and Zune just doesn’t have anything that compares.  Make no mistake, though: the Zune HD is a slick device, especially for music lovers.  The question is, can Microsoft raise the ante enough to really capture the attention of consumers?  And no, this does not mean Microsoft has to implement an app store.  Despite what the tech press seems to think, an app store is not the answer for everything.  Microsoft just needs to create a device that encompasses music in ways that Apple has only dreamed about.


And speaking of Microsoft, Windows 7 was released this year.  As was Apple’s Snow Leopard.  The fanboys on both sides had their usual fun, with the Windows camp calling Snow Leopard a service pack you have to pay for, and the Apple camp calling Windows 7 an expensive fix for Vista — what Vista should have been.

As usual, the reality is a bit more complicated.  I have not had the pleasure of using Apple’s Snow Leopard yet, as the 64 bit support needed further testing in our particular work environment.  That alone should make it clear that this was more than just a simple service pack.  Still, I think everyone can agree that the cost is relative to what you gain from it.  It is not, as Apple fanboy David Pogue suggests, Apple implementing App Store pricing to its core software lineup.

On the Microsoft side — well, there was a reason for it being the typical Windows cost and not discounted like Apple’s Snow Leopard.  Having said that, though, they did mess up a lot of the marketing and commercialization for this product.  The "time limited" sale earlier this year, and the "time limited" 3-pack of Windows 7 licenses were kind of a joke.  Why you would put a time limit on something like that — especially the family pack — boggles the mind.  This is a company that is eager to look past the perceived faults of Vista.  But they sure make you work to try and get a hold of it.

The OS itself, though, is very solid.  I dabbled with the beta a little, and ran the Release Candidate full time on my laptop, and enjoyed it a lot.  Not that I had many problems with Vista, but 7 does run smoothly and has several unique aspects that build on top of it.  The biggest change that everyone talks about is the new taskbar.  It borrows some ideas from OS X’s dock, but mercifully isn’t an exact duplicate, as I despise the dock.  You can tell something is good when Apple copies something from Microsoft — Apple added Expose previews to its dock, most likely in response to 7’s aero-based window previews in the taskbar.

If you’re one of those strange people who prefer less mainstream operating systems, Google announced ChromeOS after much rumor and speculation.  Details on the OS have been scarce, but the early preview release is essentially Google’s Chrome browser running on a custom Linux build.  All the usual computer tasks are handled via this browser interface, further blurring the line between local resources, and online resources.  My biggest concern here is privacy: I sometimes have to pause and consider how much of my life I’m letting Google handle — do I really want them controlling the OS and no doubt storing most (if not all) of my personal data on their servers?  I’m really amazed that more people aren’t hesitant about an OS where you don’t own the content.

The only other thing to note in the computer space is the rumors of the upcoming Apple Tablet.  I don’t understand what this is supposed to be for.  Everything that the tech press drool over for this device sounds exactly like the iPod Touch or the iPhone.  It might be compelling if it is a fully touch-driven version of OS X, but the rumors seem to be calling for it to have another custom OS that is more akin to "iPhone OS XL" rather than "OS X Lite".  Time will tell if these rumors bear fruit — and if they do, what Apple’s logic behind creating the device is.

Game Consoles

Probably the quietest field this year was in game consoles.  Sony came out with their PSPgo, but apart from that there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy.

And what a mistake the PSPgo is.  It saddens me to say this, but Sony and Microsoft have a lot in common: companies that know how to be a marketing machine, but don’t really pay attention to the consumer.  The PSPgo is a marketer’s dream: no backwards compatibility, more expensive than the predecessor, desirable form factor, etc.  But for the consumer, it is a mistake from the start.  Especially if you already own a PSP, where any UMDs you may already own no longer work.

Microsoft has made similar mistakes with being a marketer’s dream but a consumer’s nightmare — the aforementioned "limited time family pack" deal for Windows 7 is such an example.

Lucky for Sony, the PS3 is becoming a more desirable device.  For now, I am not particularly compelled to buy one, but the arguments for getting one are growing stronger.  What I’m most surprised about is the failure of Playstation Home.  This was supposed to be the thing that put the PS3 on the map.  Last year, this was starting to be doubtful, and now this year there is no question.  I haven’t heard any major announcements for the platform recently, and when something new does come along, it is usually marketing driven.  It isn’t actually fun to use the thing.  And it appears as if Sony doesn’t know how to make it fun.  At least third-party publishers still know how to create fun experiences.

Then there’s the Xbox 360 and the Wii, which have both been rather dead this year.  The Wii released their MotionPlus attachment, which is neat I suppose.  I haven’t used it.  There have been a couple of new fitness games, and Super Mario Brothers Wii looks really nice.  On the Xbox side, Microsoft released Twitter and Facebook integration, which is useless, and Last.fm integration which is actually kind of nice — but none of this is integrated enough into the device to actually be useful.  There is only very basic functionality here.  If Microsoft is serious about these extensions, they will integrate game content with the social networks — at the very least, posting what you are currently playing or what achievements you’ve unlocked.  My instinct says that these dashboard "apps" will wither and die.  Microsoft is creating another of those Jenga towers in the 360, and they need to be careful.

Speaking of technology that might wither and die, Microsoft and Sony both announced motion control technology in the same vein as Nintendo’s Wii.  It is too early to draw any conclusions about this.  But if it isn’t as compelling as they are promising, no one will buy into it.  I think too many have already bought into the motion control technology in the Wii and no longer use it — they won’t make the same mistake twice.


Of course, no summary of the previous year would be complete without a mention of my new software project, Trowl.  While it is nowhere near the scope of other technology mentioned in this post, it is something that was a major focus in my little slice of the tech world.

Trowl started out as a simple way of forwarding Tweets to your iPhone. But, as people tried out the program, it became clear that a Twitter client hooked directly into Growl could be pretty useful.  Six months later, Trowl is now a decent lightweight client, and something I’m very proud of.  I don’t intend to make Trowl yet another Twitter client with all the bells and whistles.  I want to maintain the core functionality, for folks who just want their latest tweets, both while at home and on-the-go with their iPhone.

Besides the program itself, it has been fun learning about the Twitter API (one of my goals for writing Trowl in the first place) as well as interfacing with Growl for Windows.  Apart from some .NET UI nastiness, C# has made it quite painless to hook into these technologies, too.

I’ve had a couple of other programming ideas for 2010 — one of which is a Growl program — and I hope I have time to toy with them over the next year.  I want to get Twitter Lists support added into Trowl, and then I may take a break from it for a bit to pursue my other projects.


I think that is all there is to talk about.  This year has laid the foundation for an exciting start to the next decade.  Will Apple release its mystical tablet? Will Microsoft and Sony release their motion control technology — and will it be able to compete with the Wii?  Will ChromeOS address its privacy issues, and become more than just a glorified web browser?  Will Microsoft continue to make Zune a compelling iPod alternative — and perhaps put that knowledge to use in Windows Mobile 7?  As always, I look forward to finding out!

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Castle Crashers User Icons

I created these Windows Vista / Windows 7 user icons a little while ago, and thought I’d share them here.  They’re nothing special – I basically just cropped them out of a wallpaper I found.  But I figured it might save someone else the work.  And they look pretty good.  Enjoy!


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Windows 7: Laptop Addendum

I knew it! I knew that as soon as I finished my last post on some of the things I like (and dislike) about Windows 7, that I would forget something. And I’m sure this won’t be the last of the follow-up posts.

But as I popped open my laptop’s lid, and Windows 7 sprung to life, I realized I had forgotten to mention my experiences with how it runs on a portable. The RC is the first time I’ve run it on a laptop, and I was curious to see how it would work, since there had been a lot of discussion about changes in the OS geared towards laptops.

Vista was no slouch when it came to laptops. Well, decently-powered laptops anyway. It would go to sleep relatively quickly, and it would come back from sleep in a decent amount of time as well. This is already markedly better than XP, where putting the laptop to sleep was like spinning a roulette wheel: would it come back afterwards? Your bet is as good as mine.

Windows 7 makes the sleep process even faster, though, without losing any of the stability. It always amazes me when I open the laptop lid, and in an instant the Windows 7 login screen is there waiting. Having said that, though, I was disappointed to find one minor Vista bug still hanging around: even though the login screen appears, you can’t actually type your password for a few seconds afterward. Even though the cursor is blinking in the password field as if it can accept input, it just ignores you. I’ve always felt that could have better feedback to the user.

Another thing that I’ve heard mentioned is that Windows 7 improves the most-sacred of laptop specs: battery life. I was especially interested in this, since my laptop got about 3 hours in power saver mode under Vista — good, but not great. In my very unscientific day-to-day use, Windows 7 might be getting me half an hour extra. Maybe. It’s a hard thing to measure, but that seems to be my experience so far. Not bad, but nothing really to get worked up over.

I tend not to put my laptop into hibernate mode, so I don’t have any comments on that.

Another minor thing that I was surprised about: the Dell laptop I use has built in media buttons on the front, such as volume control and media playback. Without having to install any drivers, or configure anything, these buttons worked right after setup. It was a nice surprise, as I had almost resigned myself to not being able to use these buttons until Dell released updated drivers. And, of course, all Fn controls, such as changing screen brightness, work without issue. Nice!

So overall, it does seem like Windows 7 is more laptop-friendly, keeping with the theme that Windows 7 builds atop of what already made Vista great.

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Windows 7

My original intention with this post was to write some in depth impressions of Windows 7. I’ve been using the RC for about a week now as the primary OS on my laptop.  But as I got to writing it, I realized it would be better to summarize — there are plenty of other places to get detailed info if you want it.

So let me start off with the good news: I like Windows 7.  But then, I liked Windows Vista too, so perhaps my impressions aren’t to be trusted.  Still, there is a lot to like here, and it definitely builds on top of what made Vista great.  But, it also works to correct what was wrong with Vista — which, in my opinion, was pretty much just sluggish performance.

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