eXtensions - Thursday 26 January 2017

Cassandra: The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse - Online Access and Backup Solutions

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Not everyone has access to good internet and sometimes users need to be creative in their solutions. An email from a user in the north of Thailand gave me a hint of how I could make full use of a new USB-C hard disk with the backup utility, SuperDuper.

Living in Bangkok, I am used to fairly good internet connections most of the time. I remember when dialup was 2400bps (if you were lucky) and the Internet did not exist. When I first went online, there was a backbone internet system here, but it was not connected to the outside world all day: it would dial a link in Melbourne several times a day and data would be transferred.

Fortunately that changed quickly, but the main communication was Mail or newsgroups, and like the comments at the end of an online article, these would go off-topic and become pretty nasty. There was no world Wide Web, although there was a system called Gopher that linked libraries. Most people still communicated through bulletin boards that reqiured modems and dialup connections.

OS X 10.1 One day, the Sysadmin at the university wrote me a message and suggested I try a utility called Lynx. This was a text-based browser and even with its limitations, connecting to the few online sources back then was a revelation. There was no Windows then and I was using a 386 PC with DOS 5 and later DOS 6 (I still have the disks in my office), so text only was the norm, unless you had a Mac.

With Windows 3 and 3.1 graphical browsers arrived soon after and the internet took off. It was at that time that I switched to Macs and System 7. A few years later we were on System 9 and OS X had just arrived. I took to that quickly, but in those days, few understood this new OS. I wrote a couple of articles and persuaded the Post, Database to run these. Things began to take off.

In the Apple world here, the distribution had been controlled by one company (and family) and this lead to prices which were high. Tony Waltham (editor of Post Database) asked short-lived Apple CEO Michael Spindler when he came here if he was happy with distribution in Thailand, and he said there were no plans to change. Fortunately, when the company revitalised itself, distribution was reorganised here and prices were part of that equation.

Sometimes I have the feeling that someone is looking over me. I don't mean online surveillance (we should all consider that possibility), but a feeling of unusual coincidences or synchronicity.

One of my regular readers is a British vet turned missionary, who lives up in the hills well north of Chiang Mai. As a result of my reviews, he bought a 2006 G4 iBook, and he tells me he is still using that. He has to. It has an airport card and there is now no broadband access up there. The carrier, TT&T, pulled the plug on their operations for economic reasons. As their is no dialup these days the modem is useless and he now cycles 20km to his local Wifi hotspot, to upload files to his website.

Note that access to the Internet is considered a basic human right and that this year, the United Nations confirmed that Internet Access is a human right in the amended Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Brookings Institute).

He also mentioned his Mac mini that he uses for backup daily, in Target mode (Firewire 400) using SuperDuper. In the email he added, "You won't know about that... before your time ol'Boy". Actually, I did. I do. It was also in my mind as I was looking for a decent backup utility to make use of the new 2TB CalDigit USB-C disk I have bought. I have Time Machine disks all over the place, but a clone or copy of the directories, folders and files would be an alternative that would be useful.


I looked at the download for SuperDuper which is still very much alive and kicking, then Monday morning, saw that Mike Wuerthele (AppleInsider) had written about three alternatives to Time Machine: ChronoSync, Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper. Synchronicity.

I have several disks used in various ways for backups and wanted the CalDigit disk to fit into my workflow, but with three disks backing up using Time Machine already, I wanted an alternative. I already back up photographs physically: dragging the folders from the Mac (or the external disk on which they are stored) to suitable media, But I wanted something automatic and I wanted all the data to be included.

For a few years I had used the LaCie utility, Silver Keeper, but that is no longer supported. I decided to buy SuperDuper, because I was already aware of this utility, my reader's comments and that AppleInsider article Mike Wuerthele.

I downloaded the DMG file first and installed the software. I would have been able to use it as a trial version, but I went straight to the Buy button and began the process.

I had problems with the online payment because I forgot to change the date of the credit card when entering details: my fault. A second attempt was declined, so I switched to PayPal. As I was entering details, the phone rang and Citibank were checking that I really had tried to make a purchase.

That second attempt was declined because the first was suspicious. I tried again with the PayPal purchase while the Citibank officer was on the phone - he was prepared to over-ride any further problem - but the transaction went through. From his comments it appeared on his screen the same time as it appeared on mine. I was pleased that Citibank did this block and checked with me.

Once the payment was made, a document appeared onscreen with my name and licence details. These were entered automatically. The interface is old and clunky like earlier Aqua versions of OS X, but some of the best utilities are (e.g VueScan). It did appear that the PDF file manual needs some updating. There were references to FireWire and PowerPC Macs, for example, but the basics were sound and the onscreen instructions made most of this information redundant anyway.

The first use of SuperDuper erases the disk and then copies all the files over. I was tempted to opt for the User files only, but I have plenty of disk space and this also makes the disk bootable, so there is an additional advantage here. As each option is selected there is an explanation of what is going to happen in easy to understand terms.


The process was in three parts:

  • Prepare to copy files -
    • Prepare Macintosh HD
    • Erase the disk
    • Prepare the disk

  • Copy files
    • Copy files from Macintosh HD to disk

  • After successful copy
    • Update prebinding on disk
    • Make the disk bootable

As each section is completed, so a color bar changes from grey to green or blue. The effective copy speed ranged from 100MB/s down to 90MB/s and the time taken to copy was just over 1 hour 20 minutes.

SuperDuper SuperDuper

I could have left the settings alone and each time a backup was done, the disk would be erased. Effective, but it seems to be a waste, especially after having used the Time Machine incremental backups. After a try with one complete erase and copy, I adjusted the settings. Although scheduling is available, I decided to forego this, partly because I already use Time Machine.


The next time I connected the disk, the utility started and a small panel appeared onscreen informing me that a backup was to begin in a number of seconds, offering me a Cancel button. At the end of the backup, SuperDuper quits.

However, as set up now, a backup takes about 90 minutes, so this is not a quick refresh of changed files, unlike some Time Machine sessions. I note also that the information panel tells me that an erase is also taking place. If I want to store other files on that disk, such as my images - already on external media - I will have to make sure that the Erase is disabled. More fine-tuning is needed.

When I tried to make the changes at my office (the new disk is at home) the button I wanted was greyed out. I was also warned that the disk was not available. I can access scripts through the file menu and also create a new script, but there is little I can change until I have access to the disk. There is however, a security padlock (like in System Preferences). When locked, this will require a security password before copying. That may give me a chance to change the settings and tune them a little more.

I have three disks for backing up, so SuperDuper is used as a backup of the backups: another layer. There are some situations, or users, who would benefit from the total daily backup options that SuperDuper allows, particularly in commercial situations, but the flexibility here allows for a number of different scenarios. I am much in favour of redundant systems and this solution provides an extra layer of surety.

See also:

Head to head: Apple's Time Machine versus three local backup utilities for macOS (Mike Wuerthele, AppleInsider)

CalDigit Tuff Disks


Advances in Retail Experiences in Bangkok for Mac Users (Bangkok Post, Life)

The internet as a human right (Catherine Howell and Darrell M. West, Brookings Institute)

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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