May 09, 2024

Getting my system data back

Sometime this autumn, my work Macbook pro (a 14-inch 2021 M1 pro) developed a strange storage issue. Basically, the section "system data" in system settings occupied an extra 220 or so gigabytes of space, and it never corrected itself no matter the cleaning and disk utility repairs I did. One more person in the Kodsnack Slack had the same issue, and there were a few reports of similar problems in random forums online, but no explanations or solutions.

The problem seemed to develop during one particular day. I for some reason noticed free space getting lower and lower, finally getting system warnings about being out of space, then restarting and immediately needing to throw stuff away to have any space left at all. Deleting things did free up space, but only the usual amount. The "dead" space in system data stayed occupied no matter what I did. Everything kept working just fine otherwise however, I never had any problem with my actual data (which was of course a great relief).

So, last night I finally sat down and did a proper nuke and pave:

First, I did a complete Superduper backup to a external SSD. It truly is wonderful to live here in the future, where you can have external storage this ludicrously fast to work against. 220 or so gigabytes went by in what felt like no time at all. This also confirmed that my actual data was in good order - the backup was exactly the amount which should be on the system.

Then, I rebooted into recovery mode, used Disk utility to reformat the drive, and reinstalled everything.

This process felt a little fuzzy, but I think it was mainly about me trying to do things in the wrong order, and also secondarily being on a somewhat slow network when the installer was getting online to activate and possibly download data for the install.

The main confusion was that I thought I would want to boot off of the backup on the external drive and use Superduper to restore the backup onto the internal drive. These days, booting from external drives is disabled by default, requiring a trip to a startup security utility in order to allow it. And that part just didn't seem to work when you were in the inbetween state of not actually having a system set up on the computer's internal drive.

It would probably have been solvable, but it turned out to be unnecessary in any case. What I did instead was just pick the option to reinstall Macos normally. Once the basic installation is finished, you get the option of importing data from a backup or other Mac, and there you can pick the Superduper backup on an external drive and just go. Perfect!

A reboot or two later, everything is back in the right places just the way I left it. All I need to do now is click through a lot of dialogs to let things run which I have already allowed in the past, and wait for some indexing to finish.

Macbook pro reappreciation

As I was running through the process, I moved the Macbook pro to a different room. It felt nice to leave it in its own spot, with power connected and the external SSD in a spot with no risk of accidental cable pulls or other incidents. This very minor move somehow made me rediscover just how nice that machine really is. So solid, so compact and powerful, and such a beautiful screen! How come I never notice that the same way even though I work on it day in and day out?

No matter the reason, it is great when I do notice. Computers these days are so awesome, even when they come up on three years old.

April 27, 2024

Listening to the fake rain

I may - may - be getting better at relaxing.

Possibly helped by a stomach bug last weekend, illness always helps remove imagined musts from the schedule.

Also helping is probably the fact that two really packed weeks - just before that stomach thing - recently passed, and I feel as if I have not even begun to unpack those properly. Conferences are great, but I need time to rest and process afterward. Two conferences back to back … well, I will not be surprised if that takes four times as long to work through.

The first one was the developer conference Jsday in Verona, so of course I would like to make a Kodsnack episode about it. But it would probably be a good idea to write some notes about it too, before it becomes to distant. In any case, it was a great time, and on one of the walks into the city I had one of my best espressos ever. Oh, there was lots of good food, of course.

Plus: more nice stickers!

Conferences are such excesses of potential. They provide an infinite number of possible connections, new conversations, experiences, all in a time much too limited to grasp even a fraction of a fraction of them. I do think I managed to grasp a few good ones.

I also came up with a lightning talk, even if I missed out on a chance to actually present it. But it was a fun new experience to get the idea, think through it inbetween sessions, then get to my hotel room in the evening, write down a few notes and then speak through it and finding out that yes, it did in fact hold together and come out more or less the way I hoped. Very cool, and now I can grab the opportunity some other time.

Also, thinking about the lightning talk provided the same kind of adrenaline boost as if I had a scheduled talk myself. No sleepiness, some extra alertness, a different kind of focus even while listening to other sessions.

It would have created even more possibilities for new connections. And possibly wrung me out even more by the end of the conference.

Next time!

April 03, 2024

Being the window manager

The more I use Siracusa-like (see last post) window management and placement, the more I like it.

It makes me enjoy working on my larger screens more. I make more use of the space. I feel like I keep better track of things.

Despite the apparent visual clutter, I wonder if it is not also a mentally calmer environment.

I put things in places, and they stay there.

No swiping or tabbing around fullscreen apps, no unexpected window placements. Everything is where I decide to put it in the moment, and it stays there until I choose to move it.

Crucially, nothing helpfully decides to shuffle stuff around for me. I came across another window management project for the Mac, but lost interest quicker than ever before when I realized that I neither want nor need anything to place my windows for me. I only move them when I need to anyway.

The most surprising step? I think it must be that I have started tearing tabs in Visual studio code out into separate windows. I half expected multi-window support to be broken in silly non-native ways, but so far it seems to be acting exactly like it should. Having a focus file in its own window rather than making the main one really wide and fiddling with split panes is so much nicer. Plus, the separate windows can be so small and chrome-free when the main window has all the side bars and other … IDE stuff.

All of which keeps me wondering: what is real window power usage, and what would the best tools for that be? Right now, I feel the tools are a whole lot fewer than perhaps ever before. I expect I will swing back in due course …

The other side of this coin is that I feel more constrained than ever whenever I work off of a laptop and have just its builtin screen available. I am writing this on my Macbook air, and while it is still a lovely machine in every single way I do feel that I would enjoy working at my desk with my proper monitor more.

That is new, and good. There should be clear advantages to a larger monitor. Being on the couch is very nice, but it should not feel able to equal a proper desk setup.

Tool usage

Speaking of tools, I have started to use Front and center a bit again, in modern mode, so that I can hold down shift to bring all windows of an app forward by clicking anywhere on one of them. It comes in handy and helps me be even more selective with when and how windows move depth-wise. When I remember that I have it there, that is.

Something I have picked up even more is holding down the option key when clicking on a window of another app. This hides the app you just left, and somehow feels much more satisfying than the other ways hiding apps. All that is missing is some satisfying tactile feedback. (I was about to write "statisfying sound", but I generally prefer my operating system to keep quiet.)

March 23, 2024

The script is in Mount Hood

The podcast Cortex keeps delivering - as I hoped it would - most of the best thoughts around working in Apple's Vision pro headset. Even more so in the very latest episode, the first one since any significant time has passed since the release. Grey has not had the opportunity to really dive in deep, but he still delivers insights I have not heard anywhere else.

Grey uses the headset as a focus device, which is similar to what I imagine I would do a large part of the time. Being Grey, he of course goes a lot further than I would do, to the point of expressing physical discomfort when Myke talks about using the headset for "noodling work" (i.e. jumping around between various quicker activities). Anyway, it struck me that wanting focus and being something of power users puts us at interesting odds with a lot of what Apple is trying to do, or at least is promoting. Apple is promoting connection to the real world, feeling grounded, providing hands and popups over the keyboard and things like that. But for Grey, and me, the disconnect is a major feature. A large part of the point is being able to sit or stand anywhere and turn it into a great workspace, and constantly reminding me where the real world is can only hinder that. Same thing with seeing your hands or keyboard or things like that - being thoughts hovering in space for a while is a feature.

As a side note, Grey also clarified yet one more reason I am … severely frustrated by autocomplete: the fact that it is trying to suggest statistically likely words, when "statistically likely" is pretty much exactly what I do not want to be when I write anything I care about.

And when Grey talked about being a single-monitor person because he does not like looking around for things, it struck me that he has common ground with John Siracusa there. I most definitely find it worth looking around a bit for things, but I would still enjoy the added simplicity and clarity of a single monitor if I had no choice. Not enough to actually remove the secondary perfectly functional monitor though, and not enough to close the lid of the work laptop either. So for work I have three screens, and I make use of all of them, but when I do home stuff on the Mac mini I step down to two screens and do not miss the third one at all.

(But you bet I would use three screens if the Mini supported them and I happened to have them just lying around …)

Very much related to this, I have been actively thinking about my window management for the last week or so, ever since listening to the latest ATP members special where - in video form - John Siracusa finally demonstrates the thoughts and actions of his window management philosophy in depth. I use even more individual windows, fewer tabs, and leave more windows open - especially Finder windows in commonly used folders. John's thinking is basically to put things into rough places, leave them there, and let the placements evolve over time. Actually managing windows and activities, rather than trying to set up some kind of system to try and solve it for you based on rules.

This very much suits my own mindset as well, and I suspect it would suit many other people too, if they thought about it. So why do people not?

I wonder if this could be part of the explanation:

Most people who work with computers are true power users of the tools of their job.

But arriving at a system like John's requires you to be a power user of the operating system. And how many people sit down and dig deep into the shortcuts and hidden features of that when you always have an endless list of exciting or important things to do within your area of expertise?

Perhaps it even requires having grown up alongside the operating system, to a certain extent? To have had the time and interest to dig in as the various interfaces and functions evolved?

Are we a dying breed of window managers?

And: why does Apple not try and support or encourage pro-level window management in one way or the other? The Mac should be about pro usage, right? Doing all the heavy-duty stuff, with the heavy-duty tools there whenever you need them. (Plus a nice and friendly interface which lets beginners in an area find their way around, of course.)

Yes, you got me: I guess I, too, want more spatiality back in my operating system.

March 11, 2024

Apple watch is the enemy of rest

I have exercised for three consequtive days.

Rest is the exact right thing to do today.

But the Apple watch is unable to let up. It keeps track of streaks, always ready to inform me of that incomplete red ring.

Stupid watch.

Stupid me for being able to let it get to me so much.

Still. Why do they not build some concept of rest and recovery into the dumb thing?

No, what we need to focus on is interaction-demanding notifications while you are exercising with the water lock engaged. This is what the people truly need.


Otherwise it has been a pretty good Monday. I have finished up a really nice episode of Kodsnack for tomorrow, and look forward to getting it out there. I feel like I am on some kind of roll with the podcast recently, it feels like topics and participants and other things are coming along in a great way. I want to keep that roll going, and build on it if I can.

Do more fun things.

Now, related to that dumb exercise ring, I did see a new Daft punk music pack for Beat saber this morning …