More on Mac Software Woes

Last week Marco Arment posted his Apple has lost the functional high ground and the entire internet (including me) responded with every perspective possible.

The responses I read can be broken down into three groups.

Group 1. People who haven't used Mac products all that long and went down the Panic! Doom! road. I am in this group. So was Marco himself. A lot of us freaked out because here is this guy (Marco, not me) who develops for iOS, uses a Mac, and has the respect of a lot of the Mac community and he's seemingly losing faith in the Mac platform.

Group 2. Long time Mac users who, while not resorting to panic, still pointed out that, yes, Apple has a lot of issues on the software front. In this group was Craig Hockenberry with his post, Death by a thousand cuts and Glenn Fleishman's list of The Software and Services Apple Needs to Fix. It's a long list of issues that any intermediate to advanced Mac user will find very familiar. Dr. Drang's Apple Leverage is also in this group.

Group 3. Long time Mac users who see this as yet another moment in a very long history of complaining about all the things Apple does wrong while still being the best computer company out there and continuing to get bigger and better. Gruber argues that Apple hasn't lost the Functional High Ground because no one else is picking it up and running with it. Daniel Jalkut, who's been following Apple since 1996 and actually worked for the company, weighed in with this post in which he lists a major issue for every year since he started blogging in 2005 and sums up the, "Hey. Everybody calm down," sentiment nicely:

Apple is clearly doomed. I think Apple is going to be okay.

So, maybe let's don't panic. I now think that the best course of action is the one Ashley Nelson-Hornstein advocates:

I’ll be justifiably concerned and worried if the same software quality issues are being discussed in 10.11 and iOS 9. Until then, I’m willing to give Apple the time necessary to let their plans propagate.

I’ll be checking back in another six months, during WWDC.

Also...

Marco since posted this about what the aftermath of his post was like, including being brought up in a piece on CNBC. In summary, it really sucked for him.

Apple's Software Woes

I have been thinking about getting a new Mac. My Mac mini, though it's been an absolute workhorse, is starting to get to that age where Mac products start to act weird. It's from late 2012 and when I got the Mac mini we were on 10.8 Mountain Lion. That, and the idea of being able to write posts and edit podcasts on a Macbook Air in the living room – where my family, and more importantly, my television, is – got me thinking about an upgrade.

A few factors have kept me from pulling the trigger: I don't have the money for a new computer right now, I want to wait for the next generation of processors from Intel, I don't really need a new computer, etc. But one that has crept into my head more and more is the fact that as good as Apple's hardware usually is, their software just seems to get worse and worse.

This post from Marco Arment really resonated with me tonight:

Apple’s hardware today is amazing — it has never been better. But the software quality has taken such a nosedive in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future. I’m typing this on a computer whose existence I didn’t even think would be possible yet, but it runs an OS riddled with embarrassing bugs and fundamental regressions. Just a few years ago, we would have relentlessly made fun of Windows users for these same bugs on their inferior OS, but we can’t talk anymore.

It's very true. I haven't tried to sell anyone on Mac by saying, "It just works," in a long time now because, unfortunately it doesn't just work. That is part of my trepidation in getting a new Mac. I would have to do to a new system all of the hacks and add all of the third-party software that I have done and added to the Mac mini just to get the new one functional to the point where I can use it.

Stuff I've done to my Mac includes:

Adding third-party utilities: TextExpander, Dropbox, Alfred, BBEdit, Hazel, Backblaze, 1Password, Carbon Copy Cloner, iPhoto Library Manager, VTAudioSwitch

Terminal Hacks: Moving the dock, allowing OS X to connect to my mixer via Firewire, getting rid of the god-awful window opening animation, deleting more .plist files than I care to list, deleting language files, un-hiding hidden system files

And none of that includes all of the programs like Lightroom and Handbrake and such that I use. Those above are just the ones I absolutely need to have to get my system to the point where I can really use it. Don't even get me started on the times I need to open a website in Chrome because Safari just can't be bothered.

I'm not trying to suggest that Apple should have every possible utility built into the OS. That's not possible and it would piss off a lot of developers.

What I am suggesting is that Apple re-focus and do the parts we need them to do right. We should never have to go through wonky OS bugs just because someone in Cupertino thinks the yearly update schedule is more important than the quality of the end product. We should never, ever, have our phones bricked by a small OS update.

I have a very good friend – most of you have heard his gorgeous voice – who sends me a Twitter message every time there's a new OS X or iOS update just to see if it's safe. We've been burned so often now that this is perfectly reasonable for a customer of the largest company in the WORLD to have to do. That's ridiculous.

I'm not switching to Linux but I will confess to this: My daughter and I are considering building a gaming PC so we can play Minecraft and X-Plane and a bunch of other games. The system we're thinking about installing? Windows 8.

I am holding out hope that whatever is wrong with software development in Cupertino gets fixed in the next year. Maybe I'm just venting and I'll forget my complaints when the next shiny thing comes out of Apple. But, if they don't get their act together on software I don't know how much of a future demanding users will have with Apple.

Backups

Now that you know all there is to know about my home network here is a look at my backups.

First I'll get the iPhones out of the way. They back up to iCloud. I don't even bother with backing them up locally unless I'm getting ready to upgrade iOS and want to be able to quickly restore them after. Everything on the phones that needs backing up is backed up through Dropbox or iCloud or some other service to the Mac mini and, therefore, is covered by the Mac backups.

Click to enlargenate

There's a screen grab of my Mac mini showing all of the local, redundant backups. As I stated in the network post, I have a Lacie NAS on the home network with 3.6TB (not all of it allocated to the shares shown in that window). I have one share for a straight clone of the Mac mini that runs each night. It's called Clone and the scheduled backup in Carbon Copy Cloner is MacMiniClone. I like obvious names. Clone is just a little bigger than the full size of the Fusion drive in the Mac mini.

A second share on the NAS is called TimeMachine and it's almost twice the size of the Mac mini drive to leave plenty of room for versions. The last share is called Storage and it's for two things. First, I put video and photos that need to get edited (mostly from things like dance recitals and such) but don't need to be taking up a ton of space on the Mac. Second, all of the podcast files for IRR CON POD and for my (I promise, it's coming soon) new podcast. The podcast stuff doesn't take up all that much space – about 3GB – but I want it available on the network for when I can eventually edit and post on a Macbook Air.

I can hear some of you asking, "Hey, dummy. You're using your backup drive for storing things. Are you backing them up somewhere?" Yes. Yes, I am.

If you take a look at the side bar in that screen shot of Carbon Copy Cloner you'll see three more copy jobs and a 4TB volume called 5BIGBACKUP. That's a big USB 3 external drive from Seagate – it's this one. On that drive are three folders holding three backups. One each of the shares on the NAS. I could have plugged that drive directly into the NAS but I had two good reasons to hook it up to the Mac. First, believe it or not, the data transfers over the network, through the Mac, and onto the Seagate faster than letting the NAS do it's own backup. It must be an OS thing, but it's faster this way. And the other advantage to putting it on the Mac is that attached drives can be backed up using my preferred online backup service, Backblaze. For $5/month I have offsite backup of my Mac and everything on that Seagate (so everything on the NAS).

Ok. If you're keeping score at home everything on my Mac is backed up seven times. Seven.

1: Mac backed up to Backblaze

2-4: Time Machine to NAS, NAS Time Machine share cloned to Seagate, Seagate Time Machine clone to Backblaze.

5-7: Clone of Mac to NAS, NAS Clone share cloned to Seagate, Seagate Clone clone to Backblaze.

And everything in the Storage share is also backed up twice. One local on the Seagate and one offsite with Backblaze. I have some spare drives here so I'm thinking about adding at least one more copy of Storage.

In addition, I have alerts for all of these if they fail to complete a backup. Time Machine will display a notification on the Mac. And Carbon Copy Cloner and Backblaze will both email me if there is any error in copying. Also, because I use Carbon Copy Cloner for all copy jobs other than Time Machine and Backblaze (which are basically continuous) I can see which clone is most current just by opening the app and seeing what ran last.

If you're asking yourself if you need to go to this length to backup your stuff... Um, no. Probably not. Keep in mind I have been burned badly by not having backups – I have zero photos from our honeymoon in New York City – so I'm very data paranoid. If you have at least one, or two (drives do fail) local clones of your computer and use an offsite service like Backblaze then you're fine. But I've sworn I will never, ever lose important digital stuff to my own stupidity again.

Note: Yes. I do have the Death Star on my desktop. You can, too. And I have modified icons for a lot of things in the Dock. I got them, and instructions on how to install them, here.

Updates

In my camera post I complained that Adobe hadn't updated Lightroom or Camera Raw to import the raw files from the new camera I bought. Well, they did update both apps about a week later...

Camera Raw 8.7 and DNG Converter 8.7 Now available

Lightroom 5.7 now available

They also added a bunch of other camera and lens profiles so if you use Lightroom or Camera Raw to import raw files from a newer camera check those links to see if you can import directly now.

Networking

I have been meaning to post something about my home network for a while but I was finally urged to do it because I got a new network switch that improves the whole network dramatically and because friend of the show KT expressed interest. SO, here it is, my home network:

The internet comes into the house through a cable modem supplied by the fine folks at Comcast. The modem has a built in wifi router but I don't use this for wifi because there's a tiny little antenna in the inside of the plastic case and no good way to boost that signal. And it sits in my office in one corner of the house so that signal would be pretty awful everywhere but in the office. Since the modem web dashboard won't let me just turn the wifi off I password protected it and set it to not broadcast it's name so it doesn't even show up on wifi network lists.

The cable modem does have a decent enough router in it so I let it assign all the local IP addresses and do DNS for all of the connected devices. Comcast does do that weird re-direct to their search page for mistyped url addresses but since every modern web browser uses the address bar as the search bar mistypes just get routed to Google.com. And I've found that their DNS is fast enough that I don't notice much difference from when I put custom DNS settings in the old ethernet router - more on that below. It's just microseconds, anyway.

A quick note about the crappy schematic above... From the cable modem through to all devices a solid line denotes ethernet (Cat5 or better) cable and dotted lines are wifi connections.

The cable modem connects to my home network through a Netgear 8-port Gigabit switch. I had been using a TP-LINK TL-R860 ethernet router here, but I found that either the fact that it was only a 10/100 speed router or that signals were going through two routers, my speeds to the internet – and those across the home network – were limited. My favorite podcast co-host can tell you of my frustrations with latency in connecting to the internet. By the time I changed to the switch I was restarting the TP-LINK router more than once a day.

Changing to the switch to connect everything also increased speeds between devices on the network - Apple TV to Mac Mini, Mac to network storage - by at least three times. It is nice that all but the biggest movies stored in iTunes on my Mac start almost instantly on the Apple TV. And my backups to my network storage are super fast now.

In my office I have three devices connected directly to the switch. First, and most boring, is my work PC. It's a PC. Nothing else to say about that. Then I have my Mac mini. This machine is really the hub for everything. I have all of our music, movies, and photos on it. It is also where I control all of the backups of everything (much more about backups in an upcoming post) and where I record and edit the podcast. I actually have all of the podcast files on the next device, the network attached storage, for when I eventually get a MacBook Air, so that I can easily access and edit those files without having to be stuck here in the office.

On to the NAS. I have used so many different devices for storage, from external USB drives, to firewire RAID arrays, to a drive at my parent's house synced over CrashPlan and they all kind of sucked. Finally I decited to go ahead and get something that would just work and stay working. I bought a Lacie 5big Network 2. It's a network attached RAID device that holds five hard drives and manages the RAID for me. Currently I have five one terabyte drives in it and with the RAID management that gives me about 3.6 TB of usable space. That's divided up amongst a couple of backups and a storage folder where I have some files I wanted temporarily off the Mac mini (for space reasons) and all of the podcast files as mentioned above. I do have a USB drive attached to the Mac mini for backing up the NAS (I am very data paranoid) but those details will wait for an upcoming backups post.

For the rest of my network I have to thank the contractors that built my house. I'm not really sure why but they wired the house with Cat5 instead of regular phone cable. And there is an accessible hub box in the garage so I can rewire it to control where the signals go. This let me take a Cat5 cable from the switch to the jack in the wall of my office and route that signal through the walls and garage to the room where we have our entertainment center. From the jack in that wall I have a Cat5 going to an ASUS wifi router.

The awesome thing about this router, the RT-N66U, which I actually didn't find out about until after I had it for a while, it how customizable it is. First, you can turn off the router part of it completely by switching it to Access Point mode. This makes all devices connected to it, whether ethernet or wifi, find a router upstream for an IP address and DNS info and such. Also, the antennas on this ASUS router are replaceable. So I've removed one and attached a higher power antenna from Super Power Supply. It's huge and my wife hates it but it gives a great wifi signal throughout most of the house and her iPhone and work computer never have trouble connecting.

Connected via wifi are our iPhones, my new-ish iPad, Beatrix's old iPad, Erin's terrible work PC notebook, and our printer/scanner. We print a surprising amount of stuff for 2014 and printing wirelessly is the real dream of the 90s. For photos and documents having a scanner is the best thing ever.

The ethernet ports on the ASUS router (which is in my TV stand behind my receiver because, curiously, I can't turn off the bright, blue blinking lights) have my Apple TV, PS3, my "smart" TV (because I had a port for it and an extra cable, so why not?) and our Vonage VOIP phone modem plugged into it. We have one of those phones with a base station and a bunch of wireless handsets so no phone cable running through the house. We could probably get rid of that "landline" but enough companies and people have that number — whom we don't necessarily want to give our cell numbers to — that it's kind of worth keeping it. Vonage lets me set it so it never actually rings and all calls go straight to voicemail, so that's nice.


Links:

Netgear GS208 switch

ASUS RT-N66U wifi router

Super Power Supply® 1 x 15dBi 2.4GHz 5GHz Dual Band WiFi RP-SMA Antenna

LaCie 5big Network 2

Seagate Expansion Desktop Hard Drive