Monday, 30 November 2009

Backup the Apples and Pears

It's often said that a backup strategy is only as good as the corresponding recovery strategy. Your backup is useless, after all, if you can't restore from it. Unfortunately I have recently had to test the backup strategies I have been using for my two most frequently used computing devices; my iPhone and my Macbook.

The sad demise, and subsequent revival, of my iPhone has already been documented in a previous post. Thanks to the joy that is iTunes, my phone was automatically backed up the day before the incident, minimising the amount of lost data. The worst thing I lost was my Rally Master 3D save-game, so no big deal.

I have used several mobile phone sync/backup tools before, and suffice it to say that they suck. Often flaky or having badly integrated 3rd party components, I have yet to find one that really syncs properly. Even the venerable Palm handhelds (yes, I know they're not phones, or at least, didn't used to be) became a nightmare to sync once they started doing more than the old Pilot 1000 could manage. Compared to such irritating clunkiness, iTunes is a breath of fresh air.

After blatting my iPhone and ending up with a very dull, boring base install, I simply plugged it in. iTunes asked if I wanted to start afresh or restore a backup. 10 minutes later, backup restored, iPhone was as good as new. Better in fact, seeing as it had all my data back on it! So, a win for iTunes and iPhone backup for easy recovery from disaster.

Less than two weeks later, my Macbook underwent a very strange little glitch and the hard drive just ... stopped. One second it was working, the next, halfway through loading a page in Firefox, it just stopped. It make a feeble little groan and a squeak, and it was gone. It was three and a half years old, so I can't really complain at lifespan, especially after the way I've treated it at times. But there I was, hard-drive-less, and so laptop-less to boot.

Out of morbid curiosity, I check the Maplin website for offers on 2.5" SATA drives. It's very handy living 5 minutes' walk from the town centre! What a surprise I did discover. A 320GB, 5400RPM, 2.5" SATA hard drive for the measly sum of £49.99. Cheap as chips, and twice as convenient.

After acquiring a nice set of precision screwdrivers, since I've lost mine, I replaced the drive with the shiny new one and popped the Snow Leopard disk in. After 4 minutes (official installer time), or 75 minutes (real time) the installation was done and it rebooted. At this point, I had an external drive with an up-to-date Time Machine backup on it. I expected to have to perform some sort of voodoo to get the info off the drive without having to use the awful Time Machine UI. Thankfully, that was not to be.

As part of the first startup, it asked if I wanted to restore from a Time Machine backup. I clicked "yes" and plugged in the drive. Up it fired, and my lovely data went streaming over on the the shiny new hard drive. About thirty minutes later, the machine rebooted and I was presented with my own login screen. I entered my password, and was greeted with my own desktop. No messing, no manual steps beside plugging in the drive, and no lost data.

So I'm not sure the state of simple local backups in the rest of the world. It's always been something of a chore to remember to make backups, but Time Machine and iTunes make backing up your Apple products so simple you literally have to do nothing. And when disaster strikes (and it will) it's only a matter of moments before your data is safely back where it belongs and you can carry on like nothing happened.

Unless you've had a 60GB to 320GB upgrade, that is, and decide to spend the rest of the day filling it!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Apples and Oranges

So good news, everybody! Apple's lovely, lovely iPhone is available on Orange now. My carrier is officially supported! I shall be upgrading to a shiny new 3GS in about 4 weeks, which is the earliest my contract allows.

In the meantime, I'm still using the iPhone 2G, suitably unlocked to accept my Orange SIM. Unfortunately, it all nearly went terribly wrong. I did a routine reboot yesterday and when it came back on, it was deactivated. This means that it was prompting me to plug it into iTunes to allow Apple to reactivate. Bugger.

So, what the hell, I tried it. Sure enough "Your SIM is not supported." Arse. It's been working fine for 6 months on official firmware, but no longer it seems. As soon as I put an official Apple firmware on there, it immediately locks me out. Fortunately I am in the habit of backing up regularly so all (well, most) of my data is safe. I just need a way to activate the thing.

A quick Google indicates that redsn0w is the way to go. Sure enough, I found instructions on jailbreaking iPhone OS 3.1.2. Marvellous. Oh, no, not marvellous. It basically says "here is how to do it with 3.0. It might work with 3.1.2. Best of luck!"

So after jailbreaking with 3.0 and upgrading to 3.1.2 with iTunes, I was less than impressed. As soon as I did the upgrade, I was locked out again. Worse,  I couldn't just stick with 3.0 because my backups require 3.1.2.

So back to tried and tested methods. I got PwnageTool 3.1.4 which reportedly activates 3.1.2. It worked like a charm. Took a little while to generate the firmware, but now I have it I can install it as required. The backups all restore perfectly,  and I am a happy chappy.

Still, can't wait to not have to do this any more ...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Updating the iPhone APN

I just got a new little update for my iPhone. Yay, thinks I, and so it is installed. What does it do? It bloody well hides my APN settings and sets them to O2. My iPhone is on Orange. Now my data doesn't work unless I use Data Roaming.

After digging around for a few moments, it became abundantly clear that the settings page for APN has completely disappeared. I can't actually change the settings on the device itself. This is a pain. Enter, a very handy little website for doing exactly what I need.

So use it, go to from Safari on your iPhone. Follow the on-screen prompts, enter the proper APN data, and voila, a little settings bundle appears. Install it, and you're good to go. It took just a few seconds to change it on mine, and after disabling Data Roaming, I still get access to the web. Marvellous.

Edit: It does do something else ... now the text that says Orange in the corner is slightly larger and a bit fuzzier. Well worth the hassle, eh?