December 2010

Backing up and Reinstalling OS X

Are you drunk on holiday wine and reinstalling OS X on your Mac? This is my procedure for backing up and reinstalling.

Note: This backup/restore process requires manual twiddling during the restore process, and isn’t recommended unless you’re comfortable dealing with that. It takes more active user time/effort than using Apple’s Migration Assistant, but it allows you more fine-grained control; you won’t be porting over applications and settings that you don’t actually use. This assumes you have an external hard drive of some sort; if you have a second hard drive in the computer, instead, that will work just as well.

  1. I manually backup obvious large folders to my backup drive (Such as my iTunes Media folder, my current work documents, etc.) and then delete them from my boot drive.
  2. I search through frequently-crufty folders like my Downloads folder and consolidate them, then move them up to the backup drive and delete from the boot drive.
  3. I reboot, closing any software that auto-launches.
  4. I use Carbon Copy Cloner to backup the remaining files on my boot drive to a disk image on my backup disk. (this step takes a long time. It’s certainly a “Go for dinner and read a book while it happens” step.) I use a disk image because this means I just have one giant file with my backup in it, so it can easily be ignored, not indexed by Spotlight, etc. The settings I use are these (CCC version 3.3.7):
  5. I deactivate all software that needs activation/deactivation (such as Creative Suite.) During this step, I get sad about copy protection and think about all the money I’ve spent on this software.
  6. I download the latest Combo Updater from the Apple site and store it on my backup drive.
  7. I do a full reinstall, formatting the entire boot drive. I dicker with the installation options to not install stuff I don’t need (tons of extra printer drivers, for example.) Please note that even though you have a Snow Leopard ‘upgrade’ disc, it will function fine for a full install.
  8. I run the Combo Updater to bring my install up to the newest version. Reboot. Install all Software Update updates. Reboot again.
  9. I drag over the big folders I backed up in step 1 from the backup drive to my boot drive. I then delete them from the backup drive. (I’ll back them up again later … but at this point, I want to make sure I know what I’ve restored and what I havent.)
  10. I install software that I know needs to be installed from original discs, like Creative Suite.
  11. I mount the disk image that I created, and I slash and burn through it: I open the Applications folder and delete all the Apple-provided applications [Dictionary, DVD Player, etc], and applications that will need a proper reinstall in order to work.
  12. I drag over the applications that I know I’ll need. In some cases I’ll dig around in the preference/library folders and restore all their preferences, as well. Plus stuff like my Keychain (stores passwords), Mail, etc. A few specific examples of which files to restore for which applications are below. Most applications follow similar patterns.
  13. Restoring Keychain: The Keychain is the file on your computer where all your passwords live. It’s at ~/Libary/Keychains/login.keychain and you can just copy the backed-up version overtop the new file that was created in your new install.
  14. Restoring Mail: this is the big one for me. In my disk image, I grab the directory ~/Library/Mail/, and drag it onto the primary hard drive, replacing the default ~/Library/Mail/ directory completely. Then I grab the preferences file from ~/Library/Preferences/ and copy it to the same directory on the primary hard drive. If you had previously installed any mail plugins [such as the workhorse Mail Act-On then you may need to drag their preferences over as well. Then I fire up Mail, and it converts the mailboxes over to the new format, an apparently necessary step even though the version of Mail doesn’t change. After that, I replace the default mail icon with the delicious “Love Letter” icon from Cian Walsh’s iLust icon set.
  15. Restoring Adium: Same process, with the folder ~/Library/Application Support/Adium 2.0 and the ~/Library/Preferences/com.adiumX.adiumX.plist file.
  16. I install printer, Wacom drivers, etc.
  17. This step is optional: After emptying the trash and unmounting the disk image, I use the following terminal command to compact the image:

    hdiutil compact /path/to/Backup.sparseimage

    So, if your external hard drive is named “Ralphus” and your backup was named “Ninja”, the command would be:

    hdiutil compact /Volumes/Ralphus/Ninja.sparseimage

    This command will take a few minutes to run, but eventually it will reduce the amount of space the disc image takes up on your backup drive.

  18. This is more steps than simply restoring from Time Machine, for sure—but I think it’s far better for actually getting rid of cruft you no longer use by identifying and restoring only the things you actually use … and you have a complete backup of the stuff you don’t use, in case you do need it down the road.

Three Basic Twitter Guidelines for Sanity and Clarity

1. If you have to break a thought into two tweets, end the first one with […] and begin the second one with […].

2. If you use an old-style retweet for something and want to add your own commentary to it, add your commentary before the RT text. For example: “I really like this movie, too! RT @weaselpunk I just watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith for the kabillionth time. Swoon!”

(I think that you should use old-style retweets precisely for this reason—it allows you to add context and commentary for your audience.)

The text “RT” creates a nice wall between your text and the person you are quoting; it makes it easy to tell who said what. When you recommend something to someone, you typically don’t say “Watch this first and then I’ll tell you why I like it”—you tell someone the reason they should watch it first.

Don’t RT someone to reply to them. There’s a reply button for that. Don’t quote someone when replying to them.

3. The more you deviate from proper spelling and grammar, the harder your tweets are to read. Some comments just can’t be “twitter-sized”—so use one of the services that allows you to post a longer comment and link to it, break your comment up into multiple tweets, or email/IM/something else the person you’re trying to talk to. If the majority of your tweets are jam-packed with shortenings (shrtngs, u c wat i mean?), it doesn’t matter how jam-packed they are with info and commentary: they will get looked over. A “u” and some digits once in awhile aren’t a big deal, though!

iPad Notes & Eclipse Phase Updates

PlainText is a great little tool for the iPad; a simple text editor that syncs everything to a Dropbox folder. I’ve been using it to scribble notes and start blog posts while away from the computer lately, and very much enjoying the experience. The iOS 4.2 update has really cranked up the iPad in my eyes, making it more of a tool and less of a gadget. I’ve stopped using my Sony Reader entirely; iBooks and the iPad is more convenient.

Eclipse Phase

Our next hardcover book, Gatecrashing, is at the printers now. The introductory fiction from it, An Infinite Horizon, by Steve Mohan, is available for sale in two different ways: PDF/ePub/Mobi bundle from DriveThruRPG and directly from the Amazon Kindle store. It should be $0.99 no matter where you buy it, but the Kindle store jacks up prices if you’re outside of the USA, so I suggest overseas customers get the PDF/ePub/Mobi version.


More Gatecrashing previews will hit the Eclipse Phase site soon.

We also released Continuity, a funky adventure where … oh, no, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Here’s the tagline:

The characters, researchers on a remote outpost, check in for a backup—and awaken in new bodies to discover two weeks of their lives are missing. They have limited time to find out what happened to their previous selves—and deal with a looming threat.


It’s a $5 PDF, in both landscape and portrait formats, with original artwork (Including a great piece from new-to-EP artist Anna Christenson, maps, and audio snippets by J.C. Hutchins (read what he has to say about it.) and Mur Lafferty.