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Ask Dave
by Dave Hamilton

He from whom all Mac knowledge flows...




Dave's Rules for Backing Up Your Mac (and more!)
July 8th, 1999

This week we revisit a few older topics for clarification, and we discuss Dave's Rules for Backing Up Your Mac. If you would like clarification on anything, or have a question of your own to ask, send it to askdave@macobserver.com. Enjoy!

James T. Pendergrast writes, "My question is about CD burners. I am going to buy one soon. I have a Yosemite G3, and there are several models out there now for USB. However, I've heard that Sony is about to release a FireWire version of their CD burner.

If the drive can only write at a certain speed, say 2X or 4X, which seems to be the current USB and SCSI recording speeds, is there any advantage to buying a FireWire version of the product? I know that FireWire is a bigger pipe, but if the device can't write faster than 2X or 4X, what point is there to having the bigger pipe?

I hope this question makes sense to you. I'm curious, because there will be a price difference to get the FireWire recorder, and I would like to make sure I am spending the money wisely. If USB is going to keep up with the recorder, may as well buy one of those."

...and while we're at it:

Mark Eidsness writes, "I've been looking for some guidance online, but haven't been able to find any. I think I should be looking for a FireWire burner... should I wait around for one? Or is USB just fine? I'm going to be using it for (in order of importance): 1. Audio CDs and 2. Back-Up/Data CDs

Which burner should I get, and is there a leader in software?"

I know I'll probably wind up changing my mind after my visit to MacWorld Expo later this month, but in doing some research, I just can't see the need to wait for a FireWire CD-burner. Granted, as James points out, it's faster, but that won't make a lick of difference if you're only writing with 4x (600k/second). The important thing to remember, of course, is that USB's bandwidth is shared across the bus, and if you've got other devices (mice, keyboards, modems, scanners) running on that same bus, you'll need to make sure you don't use up all the bandwidth that your CD-burner will need. That said, most of us just leave our computers alone while we burn CD's, since it's such a temperamental process anyway.

With that, I've had good luck with Sony's Spressa drive, and highly recommend it to all my customers (and readers, of course!).

Bill Graham writes, "I've got a beige G3/300 and a Diamond Supra Express 56k modem. In the good old days of two months ago the machine would connect to my isp with no problem. Recently, however, when I launch Netscape or try to connect using the remote access control panel, an error message that the modem is not responding properly appears. I usually cut power to the modem for a second or two, then it will make the connection. Sometimes this takes several tries. Very frustrating. Any advice?"

Bill -- I've seen this symptom with MANY external modems, on both Mac's and PC's (everyone knows that there's a little company named Microsoft out there with a Mac knockoff operating system, right?). Anyway, the problem usually stems from a bad INIT string being sent to the modem. Often times the modems speed gets out of sync with the computer and nothing short of a hard reset (or power cycle) is going to fix it. With that, I recommend you check two places. First, see if the manufacturer (in this case, Diamond ) has updated drivers for the modem that are specifically written to work with Open Transport's PPP (or, as we call it now, Remote Access). That will often solve this problem. If it doesn't (or you can't find drivers for your modem) then you'll need to create your own script. You can do it by hand, of course, but software like Apple's Modem Script Generator makes life a whole lot easier.

Derek Hagen writes, "I have a question about DAT tapes. How many times should one reuse a tape? I am using DDS2 tape with Retrospect. Lately I have been getting 'your tape may be deteriorating' messages. I am wondering if I have gone past the reuse limit but I can't find any info on it."

Ah... the mysteries of tapes. Well, I have lots of rules about tapes, and now is as good a time as any to share them with you. I've listed them here and, where applicable, I've included a reason why:

  1. Throw tapes away after 1 year of use.
    Tapes are relatively cheap, and it's not worth the risk of losing your data.
  2. Use multiple tapes in your backup set.
    If you need to backup your data, you can't afford to trust it all to one tape. If you lose that tape, or it gets damaged, your backups are worthless. Use a rotating schedule with AT LEAST 2 tapes being swapped out.... preferably more.
  3. Don't use incremental backups -- do full backups.
    I'll probably get some flack for this, but this is my policy. Incremental backups can work very quickly and make things easier during the backup process. The problem comes into play when you actually need to retrieve data off the tape. Keep in mind -- if your machine crashes, then you lose all the tape catalogs that were saved to your hard drive, as well. You'll need to have your tape software re-create catalogs by reading through all your tapes. If you have incremental backups on a tape, this process can be very time consuming, and sorting through the results very confusing. If you do full backups, erasing the entire tape before each one, then you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the "Tuesday" tape has Tuesday's data and nothing else.
  4. Understand your backup software completely BEFORE you have a problem.
    The last thing you want to do when you're rebuilding a crashed machine is to have to pour through your manual trying to figure out how to restore your data. It may take hours or even days to get a consultant out to help you figure it out, and that means hours or days of downtime. Go through the process of restoring a file every now and again just to keep the procedures fresh in your mind.
  5. Watch out where you store your tapes.
    Smoke, magnets, dust, and heat can destroy your data REAL fast. I had one client who stored their tapes on top of their server, swapping them out diligently every day. Their server had a RAID array inside, which means lots of spinning hard drives and fans -- heat and magnets. All the tapes were damaged and completely useless to them. A cool, dry place away from the computer is the best place to stow your tapes.
  6. Check your backups regularly.
    Just because the system appears to be backing up doesn't mean that everything is working properly. Doing a test restore (even if it's only one file) once a month will ensure the integrity of the data on your tapes.

Backups are important, folks. Make sure you do them, and make sure you are careful and thoughtful about your processes. With our increased reliance on computers and the data within them, backups are more vital to our survival now than they ever have been.

Chris Swain writes, "At present I have a G3/300 with two monitors (one via a video card), for some of my work it looks like I'll need a Silicon Graphics workstation however I don't really want another monitor on my desk. Is it possible for the SGI and Mac to 'share' one of my monitors?"

Yes, Chris, this is entirely possible. The easiest way to do this is with a Super-VGA two-way switchbox. You plug the one monitor into the switchbox and then connect that to both computers. The box will have "A" and "B" options on it, and you'll be able to use that to switch between computers for the monitor. The trick here is making everything connect to the Super-VGA ports on the back of the switchbox. Most monitors either already have this or can be fitted with an adapter to connect to the proper ports. Depending on the video cards in your Mac and SGI machine, you may already have the ports you need, and if you don't, adapters are readily available for all types of cards and connectors (I have had good luck with the adapters available from Griffin Technologies). The last thing you'll need are extension cables that you'll use to connect the computers to the switchbox. Once it's all plugged in, you're ready to go.

One thing to note, however, is that most computers need to be connected to the monitor when they're initially powered up. It's at this time that auto-sensing of the available resolutions is done, and everything is set up. So, as you power each computer on, make sure the switch is set to that machine until you see an image on the screen. Once it begins to boot, then you can switch back to the other one and continue working.

That's it for this week. Next week should prove interesting, as I've got a PILE of questions already lined up for your enjoyment. See you then!

P.S. Have a Nice Day

(this column was written with no music playing whatsoever)

is President and CEO of The Mac Observer, Inc. He has worked in the computer industry as a consultant, trainer, network engineer, webmaster, and a programmer for most of the last 10 years. During that time he has worked on the Mac, all the various Windows flavors, Be, a few brands of Unix, and it is rumored he once saw an OS/2 machine in action. Before that he ran some of the earliest Bulletin Board systems, but most of the charges have since been dropped, and not even the FBI requests that he check in more than twice a year.

Ask Dave is here to answer all the Mac questions you have. Networking, system conflicts, hardware, you ask it, he can answer it. He is the person from whom all Mac knowledge flows....


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