Backup Your Data. It’s Not As Tough As You Think

1 in 5 People Never Backup

According to the latest Backblaze survey, 21% of people have never made a backup of their files. The figures show a gradual increase in backups since 2008, but there’s still at least one in five people 🙋🙎🙎🙎🙎 that are risking total data loss. And more than half of the people surveyed had no recent backup.

Fortunately technology has changed a lot in the last few years. There are a whole host of  companies that offer free cloud storage. Large capacity, fast, and cheap external disks have also made backups at home easier. Software improvements in macOS and Windows have made backups automatic, so there’s really no excuse these days. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

A Quick Guide To Making Backups 📝

Identify the files you can’t live without. These might be a few spreadsheets, some word documents, your thesis, anything irreplaceable. These are the files you’d grab if there was a fire. Forget photos for now as I’ve tackled them separately below ⬇️. If these files are small text or office documents, use something like dropbox or google drive to keep them synchronised in the cloud. An added bonus is this data will also be available on your other devices like iPads, iPhones or other computers. These cloud hosts give away a small amount of storage for free, so you might as well use it!

Photos deserve a bit of special attention here. Photos and videos are often the largest files for home-users, and will usually be well over the limits of free cloud storage. Fortunately both Apple’s iCloud and Google Photos can take care of them. Google Photos will take an unlimited number of photo uploads but limits the size of single files. The size limits are fair for most home users, especially if you just use a smartphone and not a fancy camera. Although not free, the price for extra iCloud storage is pretty reasonable too – £0.79 per month for 50GB at time of writing. If you are an iPhone user, the iCloud option has other benefits like device backups, data sharing with Macs, iCloud Keychain etc.

Once you have one of these options set up, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it for a while and make sure the files are being copied over. You can login to all of these services from a computer and have a look at the files stored on there.

The Whole Hog™ Whole Hog

Now you’ve sorted the important stuff, It’s probably worth going the whole hog and also making a local backup. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult, and once you’ve set it up, you hardly have to think about it again.

Mac Users 🍎

If you plug in a new hard drive, macOS will ask if you want to use it with Time Machine. BEWARE that this will usually ERASE the disk and DELETE any data that’s on it! If that’s what you’re trying to do, click YES! Time Machine will then make a backup of your whole Mac. The first backup can take hours to finish so try to leave the computer on until it’s done. Once it’s finished, Time Machine will make regular backups as long as the disk is plugged in. These smaller backups just copy over new changes so don’t take so long.

Recent versions of Time Machine will happily make backups to multiple disks if you have them. You could keep another one in a safe or at work, and bring it back periodically to update itself. Time Machine will figure out where it left off, and fill in the gaps.

If your Internal disk ever fails, you can use the Time Machine backups to restore everything, including Applications and settings. You can also recover single files at any point if you ever need to.

Windows Users 💼

Windows 10 has an automatic backup process too. It’s a little buried inside the settings, but once it’s set you can (pretty much) forget about it. I find the fastest way is to click the “Start Orb” and type “backup” into the search box. You want to choose “Back up with File History”. This should take you into the File History page inside Settings. Click “Add a drive” and select your external drive. Windows will now keep extra copies of your data files on that disk. The default options will backup things like Photos and Documents, as long as you store them in the standard Windows folders (which you should always do anyway!).

File history will only save your data files, so if the computer fails, you’ll need to get it up and running again before you can load the files back on. It’s worth checking if you have the original disks, or even seeing if you can create rescue disks. (It depends on your system). The “Backup & Restore (Windows 7)” program allows for a full system backup, but in my experience, this process is much more prone to errors, and also takes a long time to complete the backups.

Easter Backup Tips

Easter Backup Tips

The long weekend is only hours away, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes over Easter, why not get your data in order & sort out some backups. Save yourself the dread of losing all your documents or photos, and then sit back and eat some chocolate eggs!

Simple Start

First, when people talk about backups, they actually mean just make copies of your files. It sounds obvious, but this is often misunderstood. If you have a few really important files, you can make a backup of them my copying them somewhere else. That could be a memory stick, SD card, CD, DVD, Dropbox, whatever. The important thing is when you’ve copied the file, do not delete the original. For a backup to be useful, it must be a copy of some data.

The Plan

If you want to take things a step further, you probably want a way to automate the backup process. That way, your computer keeps track of new & updated files, and you don’t need to think too much about it.

Step 1

You ideally want to have enough space in your main computer to hold all your important data. This may mean investing in a larger hard drive or SSD, but is by far the easiest way to stay safe. Now whenever you use the computer, you always store the files on the large internal disk. This means any backups you make can simply be copies of this main disk.

To sidetrack slightly, imagine if you instead stored photos on one external disk, documents on your laptop, and movies on another disk. This would be a nightmare to keep backed up, as you would constantly need to attach and reattach different disks.

Step 2

Now all your data is stored on the main disk inside your computer, backups are simple. On a Mac, point Time Machine at your external disk. On a PC, point Windows Backup to your external disk. Both will create a copy of your main disk, and then take care of scheduling future copies to keep you up to date.

Never store files manually onto the external disk, as you will lose them if the disk fails. Now, when you make new files on your computer they will eventually get backed up to your external disk too. Just remember to either keep it plugged in, or plug it in regularly to catch up.

Step 3

Once you have a single backup sorted, you might think of a few ways you could still end up losing data. For example, if the external disk is always plugged in, any spike through the power lines could kill off both disks in one go. It does happen, even if you have a surge protector! Also, what if there was a fire or flood. Both disks side by side could get damaged. Then there is also the risk of the computer and all the surrounding equipment being stolen.

Luckily, there are also ways to protect yourself here too. A simple way would be to use another external disk to make a backup, but then unplug it and store it in a safe somewhere. It could be in a family member’s house, or at work, or anywhere really. Ideally not in the same building as the other disks, to cut down the chances of all disks being lost at once.

There is another way to avoid the worry of storing another disk outside your house. Online backup. Sometimes known as cloud backup, online backups give you storage on a server somewhere, and a small program on your computer to send the data over. We’ve heard great things about Backblaze for online backups. Their ex-Apple engineers have created a really simple service, that’s super cheap with unlimited storage.

Done

So now, with your backup disk humming away on your desk, and your files beaming over to a Backblaze server online, you can relax and stop worrying about losing all your files.

If you’re reading this too late and have already lost data, get in touch and we’ll see if there’s any way to get it back.

What To Do With A Dropped Hard Drive

If there is data on the drive that you cannot afford to lose, then do not try to fix the drive yourself. I would also suggest that you do not even try to power it back on after it has been dropped, as this is what usually causes the most damage. Whether your drive is an external desktop drive or a small portable one, they all work in the same way. Broadly speaking the inside of a hard drive is a bit like a record player with a mechanical moving needle reading the vinyl record. I can remember the times when playing old vinyl records, once you got scratches on them they never really worked the same again.

So I recommend not to panic, decide on what the value of the lost data is to you. Sometimes it may not be money value but a sentimental one. Once you have decided, then carry out some research online and look at data recovery company reviews. From our experience with dropped drives, the amount of work involved in overcoming the problem would not be covered by the low initial cost that some data recovery companies advertise and therefore the cost would soon escalate.

There is always hope of recovering data from a dropped drive but as you have read, it depends on your actions as to the eventual outcome.

Apple Mail Blank Screen on Rebuild in Mavericks

Portsmouth & Southsea Mac Support

I had an issue in searching for content within Apple Mail. Every time I tried to search for any particular phrase the Mail application crashed and closed instantly. So I decided to Rebuild the Mailboxes. Before doing this I checked that my latest Time Machine backup had carried out successfully. (It had.)

Once confirmed I clicked Rebuild from the Mailbox drop down menu. Instantly all the mail disappeared and I was left wondering whether it was doing anything. I was patient and waited to see what would happen and sure enough after a couple of minutes all my mail re-appeared intact.

What worried me was that there was no indication that the rebuild was being done. No progress bar or spinning wheel, just an empty window. If I had been impatient I could easily have force quit the rebuild process thinking the application had crashed. That would have resulted in an Apple Mail restore to be sure.

On the Apple Website details are very basic. So, be patient, go for a walk and then come back and see if the rebuild worked.

 

iPhone Restore After Data Recovery

iPhone Data Recovery
iPhone Data Recovery

When we recover iPhones, although we can usually provide the data in a computer-readable format, it is often easier to just load the data back onto another iPhone. Fortunately, as long as you restore the data in the correct order, you should get your iPhone up and running with your restored data.

Preparation

Before you attach the iPhone you need to make sure iTunes is ready for it. You need to put the recovered iPhone backup into the correct place for iTunes to find. Quit iTunes first.
The iPhone backups go into:

On a Mac:

Users/username/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

Note: Since 10.7(Lion) this folder is hidden. Click here for more info.

On Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8:

 C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\

On Windows XP:

 C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Apple Computer\Mobile Sync\Backup

Now copy your iPhone backup folder from the recovered data to the backup folder on the computer. If you’ve ever made any iPhone backups they will be in this folder with long unreadable names of random numbers and letters. It doesn’t matter that you can’t read it, iTunes can. Don’t rename it!

So now your /MobileSync/Backup folder should look something like:

iPhone Backup Folder
iPhone Backup Folder

Remember that the string of numbers will not be the same.

Next you can launch iTunes and see if the iPhone backup is seen in the list. Within iTunes select Preferences and then the Devices tab (Image Below). If your backup file has been recognised then you should see the iPhone name in the list and the date of the backup. If not, go back and check that everything is in the right place.

iPhone Backup Preferences
iPhone Backup Preferences

Sign In

Next, it’s a good idea to sign in to the iTunes Store. If you’ve not used this computer with this iPhone before you may also need to authorise the computer to access your purchased apps and media. Once signed-in to the store you should choose the Store menu and select “Authorise This Computer…” Be aware that you can only authorise a set number of computers. (The limit can be reset if needed.)

Media

Now you can import the Music and apps into iTunes. Don’t worry if some of the apps don’t have icons yet.

Lets Go

Once all that is finished you are ready to connect the new iPhone. You will need to follow some on-screen prompts and settings, and then it will ask if you want to set it up as a new device, or restore it from a backup. This is where all that hard work pays off. Choose the backup, and let iTunes work its magic. It can take a while if you have lots to restore but when it’s finished your phone should boot into a familiar screen. Your Contacts, Messages, Calendars, Notes and lots of other data will be back in their respective apps.

If none of the other apps got transferred you can choose the Apps tab within iTunes and tick “Sync Apps.” You can then tick whichever apps you want to send to the iPhone.

Format Your Drive For A Mac

Plenty of shops will sell you a “Mac Hard Drive” but there is no reason why you cannot use a windows format drive on a Mac. You just need to format it first. There was once a time when a drive was specially formatted by Apple to use on their Macs, but these days Apple use the same hard drives as everyone else. To use with the latest versions of OS X I would recommend following the steps below.

NOTE: Formatting your drive will destroy all the data. Make sure there’s nothing on there you need.

1. First attach the drive to your Mac. The Mac will notify you with a small finder window to initialise the drive. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Initialize Your Drive For A Mac

2. Once you have clicked initialize you will see the Disk Utility Application window. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Mac Disk Utility

3. You need to select the drive you want to format in the left hand window of the utility as highlighted in blue. Internal drives show as grey and external drives show as yellow. At this point make sure you choose the correct drive, the utility will not allow you to format the internal boot drive. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Drive selected

4. Now choose the Partition Tab. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Partition Tab

5. Now click on the Partition Layout drop down bar and choose the first option “1 Partition”. Also to the right under Partition Information give your drive a name and below that choose the partition type you want which will be Mac OS Extended ( journaled ). We are nearly there. You now need to click on the options tab in the bottom left of the utility window and choose GUID Partition Table and click okay. As you will read in the text information, this allows the drive to be used with all current OS X Macs. See Below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Options Tab

7. Now all you need to do is click the apply button as shown in red below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Apply

8. Another window will appear asking for confirmation to partition the drive. Click partition. See below.

Format Your Drive For A Mac
Partition Drive

9. A formatting window with a progress bar will now appear and then disappear when done. You will now see your named drive in the left window, which means that your drive is now formatted. Close the disk utility and the hard drive is ready to use. See below.

Format Your Drive For a Mac
Hard Drive Formatted

 

Where Does My Computer Store My Files ?

When you boot up your computer, you expect to see all your familiar files on the desktop, or maybe in the documents folder. What you may not realise is that those folders are actually a bit harder to find if you look at the disk externally. It depends what operating system you use so below is a general guide of locations for Mac & PC users.

Windows Operating System

All user data should be stored within the user profile folder, which is created when the PCs is first used. This is usually located in the following locations depending on the version of Windows:

Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000 & XP

Local Disk C:\Documents and Settings\User ( for example C:\Documents and Settings\John )

Windows 7+

C:\Users\User ( For example C:\Users\John )

In systems earlier than Windows 7, some software may be stored in the “Program Files” folder in the root of the drive. This was considered bad practice so in Windows 7 any Program Data should be found in the “Program Data” folder on the root of the drive and not in “Program Files.” Sage Accounts can often be found within the C:\Program Files\Sage\ folder.

Macintosh Operating System

All user data should be stored within the user folder, which is created when the Mac is first used. This is located in the following location:

Macintosh HD/Users/user ( for example Macintosh HD/Users/john )

Burning Linux ISO to USB Using a Mac

My main computer is an old MacBook Pro. I often download Linux ISOs to install on other computers. In recent Debian-esque releases this is actually really simple.

1. I find it quicker and easier to install from USB so first insert a USB pen / stick of some sort.

Note: This USB stick will be erased, so don’t use one with data that you need to keep!

2. Next we need to find out which number has been assigned to the USB stick. If you only have one disk in your Mac then the USB will usually be disk1, but always check first. (Note: Disks are numbered from zero, so your internal drive should be disk0) On your Mac open Disk Utility, which is located within Applications / Utilities. (See Image)

Disk Utility
Disk Utility

Select the USB stick from the lefthand window and then click the Info button which is on the toolbar. (See Image)

USB Info
USB Info

You will get a pop up window with loads of information about the device. We only need the Disk Identifier. Make a note of this for later.

Disk Identifier
Disk Identifier

3. To allow us to write data to the USB stick we need to unmount any volumes currently on there. (see image)

Unmount USB
Unmount USB

4. Now comes the actual writing. First locate the Terminal application, again within Applications / Utilities. (see image)

Mac Terminal
Mac Terminal

5. Remember to change the code to match your Disk Identifier from earlier. There are a few things to note about the following command.

  • sudo – allows you to run dangerous commands, so will require an administrator password
  • Instead of typing the location of the ISO file you can just drag the ISO onto the terminal when required.
  • “if” means input file (in this case the ISO file), “of” means output file (the USB stick)
  • When we found out the Disk Identifier, it was disk1. That will work in the command, but we use rdisk1 instead, which gives us raw access to the disk. This may not be necessary, but it works for me.

There is a lot of discussion about block sizes, but I find 4MB is reasonable for writing ISOs to USB. In Linux we often type bs=4M, however the Mac prefers it like bs=4096 instead. It’s the same thing, just expressed differently.

The command:

sudo dd if=[drag iso here] of=/dev/r[disk number] bs=4096; sync

Example:

sudo dd if=/Users/dan/Desktop/linux.iso of=/dev/rdisk1 bs=4096; sync

If you’ve got it right, you shouldn’t get any feedback until it finishes. Your USB stick may have a blinking LED whilst the data is being written. For reference the 200MB debian-netinst ISO took just over a minute to write.

Once complete you should get something like:

48896+0 records in
48896+0 records out
200278016 bytes transferred in 95.151719 secs (2104828 bytes/sec)

This means you’re finished. Now eject the USB and try to boot your PC with it. The Mac may complain that the disk is not readable but just ignore that and try it on a PC.

Debian Boot
Debian Boot

Stop Password Expiration In Windows 7

My brother has just brought me his laptop to look at after forgetting the login password. It was frequently asking him to change the password, and one day he changed it and then forgot it. I found a simple command to stop the password from expiring:

First run Cmd (Command Line) as Administrator (click Start -> and type cmd. Right click on Cmd and choose “Run As Administrator”). If you followed correctly this should give you a black command line window with white text.

Then type:

net accounts /maxpwage:unlimited

And press return or enter.

It should congratulate you, or say successful (can’t remember the exact wording).

The password should then last forever, or until it is changed manually.

Note: It is good practice to change passwords regularly, however outside of corporate IT land can be a huge hassle. Just ask my brother 🙂 

Mac Data Migration

Portsmouth Data Recovery

If we recover a good amount of your data, the easiest way to get your Mac running again is using the Migration Assistant – a standard Apple utility included with all modern versions of Mac OS X.

The process for restoration varies a little bit depending upon how your Mac is currently set up.

Best Case Scenario:

If you have a new hard drive with a fresh system installed, and have not yet clicked through the Setup Assistant screens follow this guide. >>>

2nd Best Case Scenario:

If you have a new hard drive and have set it up with a username you will need to follow this slightly more complicated guide. >>>