I Love Time Machine!

OK, this post could be considered off-topic, but not really, because the main reason this was a “problem” is the thousands of photos I have very quickly amassed, only some of which are archived online.

There was a day when I didn’t really worry about backups.  I would keep an extra copy of my Quicken data files squirreled a way just in case, but everything else on my computer was more-or-less disposable, and I relished a good computer crash as an opportunity for a clean slate restart.

Then I had kids.  And I bought a digital camera.  And I decided to mothball my CD collection.

Now I’ve got several thousand photographs stored on my computer, chronicling the first decade of my twins’ lives, not to mention my model railroading adventures.  Not to mention it took a LONG TIME to copy my big stack of CDs into iTunes.

So somewhere about the time I bought my current Mac Mini, I also picked up a 1-Terabyte USB hard disk, and I signed up for Carbonite.com’s online backup service.  And I turned on Time Machine.

(Mind you, setting up Time Machine is as simple as choosing a destination disk and flipping a switch from “off” to “on”… really!)

That was a couple years ago, and I almost forgot about Time Machine until last week, when my Mini booted up to a grey screen with a folder marked with a blinking question mark in the middle of it.  Hard disk crash.  Yes, Macs may “never fail”, but they are subject to the same hardware failures as any other electronic gadget.

I probably could have recovered by re-formatting the drive, but I elected to crack the case (my warranty is expired anyway!) and install a new 500GB internal hard disk.  That was a bit of a challenge, as the Mac Mini really wasn’t designed to be opened up and modified.

Here’s the nice part.  What to do about restoring the system???  In the old days, I would have done a fresh install of Windows, then a fresh re-install of my mission critical applications, followed by reloading my Quicken data.  Once all that was complete, I’d slowly reconstruct my environment the way I wanted it, adding back in apps as I needed them.  This process worked, but was tedious, and there was always something I simply lost, some device driver I had to hunt down and custom reinstall, or something that never quite worked right again.

This time, it was much simpler.  Once I had the new disk installed, I plugged the Mini in and booted from the OS X (Snow Leopard) install CD.  I then clicked “Options->Restore from Backup”, and it asked me which Time Machine backup I wanted to restore from.  I could have chosen pretty much any point hour-by-hour for recorded history, but obviously I chose the most recent one.

That was all.  About 3 hours later, my system was back up, looking and functioning EXACTLY like it had been (including my wife’s and children’s accounts) less than an hour before it crashed.  Drivers, applications, data, EVERYTHING.  Less than half a dozen clicks, and we’re back up like nothing ever happened.

Big sigh of relief.

Now, I’m glad I also have the Carbonite online backup going, just in case one of the kids drop-kicks my USB drive, but the simplicity of this system restore astounded me.  It turns out that Time Machine not only keeps incremental backups of your user data and such as it changes, but it keeps an exact copy of the entire disk image around for just this purpose.

Did I mention the simplicity of it all?  Sure there are more feature-rich backup systems out there, but all I needed was something that would make me whole, put me back where I was before the crash.  Time Machine did exactly that, no more, no less, and with almost no fuss.

I often tell folks that I switched from Windows to Mac when I got tired of (and no longer had time for) fiddling around with my computer and just wanted it to work, to enable me to do what I wanted and otherwise stay the heck out of my way.  Time Machine is an excellent example of this mindset.  An extremely simple setup, and then I literally forgot about it, while it quietly did its job in the background, until I needed it, and then it was there, ready to save my … photo collection.

Time Machine – an OS X feature that I had almost completely forgotten about – is now my favorite thing about my Mac.


  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Well, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted here, and that’s not a good thing.  To my two or three loyal readers, I apologize.  There’s actually been quite a bit going on in the background, including sending my Zephyr Xtra back to Digitrax for warranty repairs TWICE, a family vacation, a bunch of software writing, and believe it or not, some actual layout construction.

What better way to get the blog back to “active” status than to coin a new term:  “Terrafoaming” … rather silly perhaps, but it’s a mangling on “terraforming” – the (so far fictional) engineering process of shaping or forming a planet into a desired form – and the common (and near-exclusive on my layout) use of extruded polystyrene foam to build basic ground contours on a model layout.

In the photo above, you can see my latest efforts in this area.  Since I got the fascia installed (on 3 sides at least), I’ve begun building up the large hill on the right-hand end of the layout  The hill will feature a removable top to provide emergency and service access to the tracks beneath.  The two mainline curves penetrate the hill, with a double portal at the front side and a single portal for the inner loop at the back side.  The outer loop goes through the rear fascia to the rear staging area.  A turnout on the outer loop forms one leg of the new wye, which exits through its own tunnel portal.

Finally, the tail of the switchback in town also penetrates the hill.  This will be modeled as a steep, overgrown cut leading to an abandoned tunnel portal.  The story is that this was the old mainline, and was replaced by the newer one at some point, relegating the old line to its current use.

To build the hill, I first crafted a set of “pillars” which form the lower half of the hill and present a stable, level base for the removable hilltop.  These pillars fill in the spaces between the tunnel portals and form the lower face of the hillside.  In the back corner, between the fascia walls, a triangular pillar provides a base for the platform.

Atop the pillars goes a single solid sheet of foam that forms the base of the removable upper half of the hill.  This will be carved to blend in with the pillars.  The hilltop itself will be formed from expanding spray foam.

As of now, the pillars are (mostly) constructed, except for one area where I need to correct the hill shape, and except for the detail work around the tunnel portals.  Next up will be carving and shaping the hill into a believably natural shape, followed by paint, ground cover and trees.

One of the key parts of this project has been simply getting started.  For a long time, I was unsure how to tackle the hill, and literally afraid to do it the wrong way.  Seeing work progressing on some of my online friends’ layouts caused me to realize that all I had to do was get started, and it would happen, and that if I did it “wrong” I could just rip it out and change it.  This realization was very cathartic, I must say.

I’ll keep you posted, of course!