Build a Robust and Secure Backup Solution for your Mac 💻

The following article describes how I’ve set up a system for Mac backups that is robust and secure. The importance of doing this correctly came to the fore of my thinking after my brother had his laptop stolen. In the event of a need to restore from a back up you need a system that is robust – you don’t want to find that your backup is corrupted or otherwise of no use right when you need it. Also, in the event of theft you want to be confident that even your backups cannot be used to provide confidential information to the thieves. If you are using FileVault on your internal HDD then you have already made a security-conscious move with your data, therefore having secure backups will be all the more important to you as you don’t want a thief to easily bypass the encryption on your internal HDD by simply restoring from an unsecured backup.  If you’re not using FileVault then you should be – follow this link to find out how to set it up.

I have a MacBook Pro with a 500 GB HDD, so the below is a description of how I have recently established my system for backing up that Mac. In addition to that I have an extensive archive of educational videos that I’ve created and need to store somewhere (approx. 350 GB). My HDD is nowhere near large enough to accommodate those, so my backup solution includes keeping redundant backups of that archive (along with some other files). If you have a different size HDD and different archive requirements you can alter your backup disk sizes accordingly.

The system begins with three external disks. I have a 2.5″ 500 GB portable disk (Toshiba), a 2.5″ 2 TB portable disk (Western Digital, WD) and a 3.5″ 2 TB desktop disk (Hitachi). Some time ago (about 18 months to two years ago) I read an excellent article evaluating HDD’s to find the most reliable brands. Since then the article has been updated so it doesn’t have the same information when I read it but it’s still worth a read. In the article I learned that Hitachi drives are the most reliable (in the storage range they considered). Hence I have one in my system and I advise you to get one too if you can. If that is not possible WD now own the hard disk arm of Hitachi and WD drives faired well in the analysis so WD are a good brand to go with.¹

Whichever brands you settle on, I would advise using at least two different brands and one drive should definitely be a 3.5” desktop drive as 3.5” drives are inherently more reliable than 2.5” drives. In my set up I use the different drives as follows:

  1. The 500 GB 2.5″ drive is set up as a Time Machine backup disk. I take this drive with me to work for frequent Time Machine backups at work and at home.
  2. The 2 TB 3.5″ drive has two partitions. One partition is set up with the well renowned Carbon Copy Cloner, CCC, by Bombich Software. This disk remains at home on my desk to make bootable backups whenever I am at the desk. I also have a 128 GB SanDisk micro SD card permanently mounted on my MacBook for additional storage and CCC backs this up to the 3.5″ drive also. The second partition is used as a standard external hard drive for permanent archiving.
  3. The 2 TB 2.5″ drive is used as an external hard drive with no extra software for making second copies of the archive files stored on the 3.5″ drive.

Once you have your three drives you need to format them correctly. In order to make your backups secure they need to be encrypted. So open up Disk Utility should be the first option when you type “disk” into Spotlight, Alfred, or Launchpad. Alternatively open up the Applications folder in Finder and then locate Disk Utility in the Utilities folder. Formatting the drives is easy if you are starting with blank drives. I wasn’t starting in that position so I had to move files to another drive, format one drive and then transfer files back to it so I could format the other drive. This is time consuming if you have to do it but it is important to get it right.

When you have a drive ready to format connect it to your Mac and it’ll show up in Disk Utility. Make sure that you are viewing devices in the Sidebar and not just the volumes in Disk Utility – select View All Devices in the View menu (so that you get the right formatting option). Select “Erase” as the procedure that you want to do on the device. You are then presented with some options. Choose “GUID Partition Map” as the Scheme you want to use and “Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted)” as the format. This option means that a password will be required to access anything on the drive. Combined with use of FileVault this provides a secure platform for your computing – extending encryption to your backup. Of course there are people/organisations that could bypass the encryption and access your data but the thief who steals your computer for a quick buck is (probably) not one of them.² Disk Utility will prompt you for the password you’d like to use to encrypt the drive.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 22.24.25
Encrypted Format to use

Once you have correctly formatted and encrypted your drives, select the one that you will use for frequent Time Machine backups and plug it into your Mac. When you plug it in your Mac you will be prompted to enter the password for it – input your password and tick the box to save the password to your keychain. (There should be no security risk by saving your password on your computer because if someone gains access to your computer then what advantage do you have if they do not also access your Time Machine backup?) Your Mac should then show a dialog window asking if you’d like to use that disk to make a Time Machine backup. Click “Use as Backup Disk”, then follow the instructions and Time Machine will start making backups.

This should pop up when your drive is mounted

I think it is wise to use different software to Apple’s Time Machine for the backup on a second disk. Time Machine is an excellent application but you’ll never know about a bug until you need to restore from a backup by which time it is too late. My recommendation is to use an excellent app called Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) made by Bombich Software. CCC backups have a feature that sets them above Time Machine backups in my opinion – they are bootable.³ In the event that your internal hard drive gets fried you can boot up straightaway from your CCC backup. With this set up you are preempting bugs from ruining backups in either Time Machine or CCC and you benefit from the unique features of both TM and CCC backups.

If you are following my setup for assigning disks to backup function then this second disk will be your large capacity desktop hard disk. In that case partition the drive so that you have about 700 GB available for the CCC backup on one partition and the rest can be used for archiving large files so they’re not taking up space on your internal drive.

How to partition a hard disk

1. Mount the disk on your Mac and launch Disk Utility.
2. Set the view to Show All Devices (press ⌘2 or use the View menu).
3. Select the “device” for your hard drive in the sidebar. Don’t select the “volume” (volumes are displayed under their device)IMG_0063.png
4. Then click Partition in the toolbar.
5. Click the “Plus” button at the bottom of the window to add a new partition.
Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 22.31.33.png
6. Resize the partition you will use for backups to be a bit larger than the internal hard disk you are going to backup.
For instance for my 500GB internal drive I created a 700 GB partition.
7. Ensure that archive partition has the encrypted format in the Format field.  The partition for the encrypted CCC backup needs to be set up differently.  So follow Bombich’s instructions on how to set up an encrypted backup here
8. Click Apply and Disk Utility will partition the drive.

The third disk is used for creating a redundant archive of your large files. Do this so that if your desktop hard disk should fail you still have copies to fall back on. When you copy files to the desktop disk make sure you also copy them to the third disk and vice versa.

At this point you have now established a back up solution for your Mac and any large files that is robust (if one device or app fails you’re still covered) and secure (even if your backup disk is stolen here is still an encryption barrier to keep that data safe).

If you’ve followed my scheme up until how I hope you find it to be a useful solution for your backup needs.  If you have any comments or suggestions add them below or on Google Plus, alternatively you can email me at

Update 16/3/2108

Some feedback I received suggested that a flow diagram would help readers better understand the backup solution I’ve described above. So here is the diagram:

¹ In the original article someone added a comment with additional information looking at failure rates over time. They noted that if WD drives failed they tended to fail almost as soon as you got the drive. That suggested that WD drives are most likely reliably built but poorly shipped. So if you manage to get your WD drive running after purchase it is likely going to last well. And of course that may have changed since the original article publish date – hopefully for the better!

² There probably are people or organisations who have the resources and knowledge to crack encrypted drives or bypass the encryption but the question is do they have the motivation to crack the encryption on your drive? Cracking into encrypted drives is possible but very difficult, time consuming and therefore expensive. Unless you are a person of significant influence or a known terrorist you can probably be confident that your data will be safe. Keeping data secure is really about using methods that make it impossible for the average person or even a skilled person to access your data.

³ A further advantage of CCC over Time Machine is the ability to back up multiple hard drives. Time Machine can only back up your internal hard drive (as far as I can see). CCC can make backups of external hard drives that you mount on your Mac. In my case this proves to be extremely useful for making backups of a 128 GB micro SD card that I have continuously mounted to my Mac. Find out more about using micro SD cards for continuously mounted storage expansion here.


Jazz Up Your iPhone Lock Screen

You can now buy a cool animation for your iPhone* Lock Screen right here on this blog:

The first 50 people to use this promo code (FIRST-50-FREE-N) will get one Live Wallpaper of their choice for FREE.  To get your free animation go to the page (above) and fill out the order form for one Live Wallpaper, insert the promo code instead of the PayPal receipt number.

A small selection of animations are shown below. See them all on the purchase page above.

Premier League Tables 2013-2017
Rotating Globe 1
Popping Dots – Wave











* These animations only work on 3D Touch enabled iPhones.  Animations are activated by 3D Touching the Lock Screen.

Cool Live Wallpapers for iPhones

A couple of months ago I designed some Live Wallpapers with science themes.  Friends enjoyed the concept of the animated lock screens but not everyone understood the content.  So It occurred to me that perhaps some new animations with a non-science theme would go down well with a broader audience.

Since then I’ve designed several new animated wallpapers for iPhone Lock Screens.  You can see a preview of them in the video below.  If these do appeal to you complete my short survey to receive a Live Wallpaper for free – I want to know if there is a market for these!

snow drift (short) GIF
Snow Drift (short) Live Wallpaper
(Low Res GIF )


High Sierra now updated to version 13.1

Perhaps you’ve been delaying upgrading to High Sierra until some bugs are worked out. Or maybe, like me, waiting until APFS has got some real world mileage before jumping in. I was waiting particularly on the advice of Bombich Software who pointed out the real lack of knowledge and documentation about APFS.  Their advice was to wait until 13.1 was released. 

13.1 has now been released so I am going for it (with a couple of backups at the ready to be on the safe side).

A Problem with Wireless Charging

At first I was rather taken with the concept of wireless charging, and I still am to a certain extent. But it is now mixed with some skepticism. 

When the iPhone 8 was released and wireless charging was a key feature I thought that was a great feature to include.  The design of the phone is fantastic by the way.  But having thought about actually getting a wireless charging pad more I am not so sure about it’s greatness.  Currently when my phone is plugged in I will often still use my phone and I am sure a very high proportion of smartphone owners do the same (95% of the people I see charging their phones on a daily basis do this – the exception being when I charge my phone overnight).  

When your phone is plugged in to a cable that moves with your phone this is fine.  But when your body has to do all the moving because your phone must stay in a fixed location use of phone whilst charging becomes very inconvenient.  If you use a charging dock you’ll know what I mean.  A wireless pad gives a little more flexibility but the phone still needs to remain within a few cm of the pad to charge at all and probably within one cm for efficient energy transfer. 

So now I am unsure of how beneficial a wireless charger will be.  How about you?  Do you have one and can you share your experience or have you decided against it for another reason?  Either way please share your opinion in the comments here or on Google Plus.

Cheap and easy rubber grip for the Apple Pencil

So my Apple Pencil is all tethered up – cap secured and charging dongle thingy at the ready – now onto a rubber grip.  Am I going to pay for one?  Certainly not.  I have no idea how much one costs but I’m still going to bodge my own.

A tethered and gripped up Apple Pencil
A tethered and gripped up Apple Pencil

Rubber bands were the key when I created a tether for the cap and dongle so they shall be again.

In addition to a rubber band you’ll need some super glue and a paper clip (opened out). Oh and an Apple Pencil – but that was obvious right?

  1. Cut two or three rubber bands so they open out. 
  2. Have some super glue and an extended paper clip on hand. (Super glue does a fantastic job on rubber, I’m thinking that’s because rubber is a natural polymer … ?  But anyway I digress.)
  3. When you get to the gluing know that you will only need tiny dabs of glue.  I would advise inserting a strip of grease proof paper between rubber band and pencil for gluing also – just to be sure you don’t get glue on your shiny precision engineered stylus, which by the way is really easy to do so take my advice.
    Rubber band coiled over greaseproof paper
  4. Gently wrap one rubber band around the pencil so that the coils touch. 
  5. Pinch the coils to stop them unravelling and simultaneously apply a small amount of glue to the tip of the paper clip.
    Apply only small amounts of glue to the paper clip
  6. Dab the glue onto the rubber band where the cut end is beside the coil. Do this in a few places to ensure the end of the band is firmly glued in place.
  7. Dab some glue on other adjacent coils in several places to add some structural integrity.  Make sure you only apply glue where the greaseproof paper is below.  If your strip of paper is narrow you should be able to slide it around so that you can glue elsewhere.
    Apply glue to several places where ends of bands join
  8. Now that you have one band fixed in place time to add another.  Get your next band and place the end as neatly next to the end of the first band as possible. Might be a good idea to recut the end to match the angle of the first if necessary.
  9. Then glue the end into place trying to keep it from jutting out too much.
  10. Repeat above steps to glue adjacent coils and add a third band if you want a longer grip. Heck you could add four or five if you so desire.

I hope that if you have an Apple Pencil this proves useful.  If you’d like further elaboration or pictures of any steps then please let me know in the comments here or on Google Plus or Tweet me.

bodged rubber grip for Apple Pencil
Hey presto – one rubber grip for your Apple Pencil

Track the Important Numbers in Your Life : How to set up a Number Dashboard (#Dashboard) in Google Sheets

Number Dashboard Screenshot
Number dashboards (#dashboards) can be used to track numbers that are important to you.  They are built on Google Sheets but can be easily and quickly viewed on mobile browsers.  If you already have numbers calculated and stored in other Google Sheets you can easily copy a #dashboard into existing spreadsheets and plug in your numbers.  Or use standalone #dashboards to hook into multiple spreadsheets in a straightforward workflow and collate your numbers in a single location.



In the latest iteration of #dashboards I’ve made a small collection of background images that can be included in your #dashboard.  These images are designed to be used dynamically.  As your numbers change so does the image to reflect that change.  For example, say you are counting down to a target date, as you approach the date a circle outline can progressively be filled in.  Or say your crypto investment is on the up, then an upward graph can be displayed, or a downward graph if things aren’t going so well.  The choice is yours.  In most cases you will need to design your own spreadsheet logic to incorporate the images as you need them, but I have simplified the procedure for incorporating countdown and count up images.
Number Dashboard Images Screenshot
The following will walk you through the process of setting up your very own #dashboard.

Method 1.  Set up a#dashboard to collate numbers from multiple other Google Sheets.

  1. Make a copy of my publicly available number dashboard:
  2. On the Data tab give your number a name, e.g. “Fuel Range”, in the relevant row.
    Number Dashboard Data tab Screenshot.png
  3. Copy the spreadsheet key from the spreadsheet that hosts your number and paste it into the cell on the Data tab.
    Spreadsheet key is the string of random alpha numerals in the spreadsheet URL.  The key for the above spreadsheet is 1Yw7jcS8HT53zOZDz8YNnv10Q2WfNoLCX4kZRLtpgMZw
  4. Write out the address of the cell.  Cell Address is the name of the sheet (or tab) in the spreadsheet followed by an ! then the coordinates of the cell using column letter and row number, e.g. SheetName!B3
  5. The spreadsheet will then proceed to access the number.  But before it can display it you need to authorise the connection to the spreadsheet by hovering over the #REF error message that appears and clicking “Allow access”.
    You are only allowing the copy of the #dashboard that you created and own to access the data so you are ok here on a privacy front.
  6. Give a unit to your number if appropriate.
  7. Find an image on the web that you want to use to represent your number.  Copy the image address and paste it in.
  8. Everything else is optional: you can add a further written description, a link (to a graph or more information), and include a dynamic image (more on that below).
  9. On the Data tab you can add a link to an image that will display at the top of the #dashboard.  I find that a nice way to differentiate between my various #dashboards.  If you don’t want one, ignore that and shrink the row on the dashboard.
  10. Once you’ve added in your numbers publish the #dashboard to the web.
    File > Publish to the web > Change “Entire document” to “Dashboard”
    Also expand “Published content and settings” and change “Entire document” to “Dashboard”
  11. Copy the URL and paste it in the web browser ➝ that is your dashboard.
  12. One last bit of tidying up: add “&chrome=false” to the end of the URL and go there.  Much nicer hey?
  13. Send that URL to your phone and bookmark it or add it to your home screen for quick access.

Method 2.  Add a #dashboard to an existing Google Sheet.

  1. Open my publicly available number dashboard:
  2. Right click the Data tab.  Choose “Copy to …”
  3. Search for and select the Google Sheet you want to add the #dashboard into.
  4. Open that Sheet and rename the tab you copied back to “Data”.
  5. Now repeat steps 2 ➝ 3 for the Dashboard tab.
    (If you want to use the images in the Images tab then you’ll also need to copy that tab into the new Sheet too.)
  6. Now the dashboard lives in your spreadsheet.
  7. To add a number to the #dashboard simply overwrite the formula in the value column and make it point to the cell where the number is, e.g. type”=“ and navigate to the cell or type something like this “=sheetName!C3”.
  8. Type in all the details as in steps 2, 6 ➝ 9 under Method 1 above.
  9. To publish the #dashboard follow steps 10➝ 12 under Method 1 above.

Add a dynamic image to your dashboard.

  1. I have a number that is going to count up to a target value.  I want to use that fantastic circle to fill in as I approach the target!
  2. Type “Up” in the column headed: “Image counts up or down to target value?”
  3. Choose Circles from drop down menu.
  4. Type in the value to start counting from.  Usually this is the value as it is now, or 0.
  5. Then type the target value.
  6. Now the #dashboard knows to ignore the image link (if there is one) and use the dynamic circle image.
  7. The image appears automatically in column on the far right.
  8. There are ten chunks of the circle that get added as the target is approached.
    Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 16.00.45
  9. If you are comfortable typing logical statements into spreadsheets then you can design formulae to add dynamic emoji or graphs to a number.  I included an example for you called : “Investment Gain / Loss”.  That number doesn’t change automatically so feel free so to play around with the value and see the image change.
I hope that you like the #dashboards and that they provide a useful service for you.  If you need any help setting yours up then feel free to comment below or contact me on Twitter:


Looking forward to seeing how this app, Numerly, turns out. Hoping it will be a great successor to ill-fated Numerous. Will be a pity to no longer rely on my custom number dashboards in Google Sheets (something I really should have written a blog about a long time ago).


With Numerly, the default channel when creating a number is called “Create Your Own.” The value for these types of numbers are only changed when you manually change them. You might use this to keep track of your child’s allowance, or maybe to keep a tally of calories you’ve consumed today.

You can also update these types of numbers with the API. There are three endpoints you can call to set, increment, or decrement a number. Each of these endpoints occur over secure HTTPS as a POST request using your APIKEY and refid.

The URL used in these examples might not be the final URL when the app is launched. I’m currently using Heroku as a SaaS provider and I don’t plan to change; however, the URL might change to be something a bit more official.


Each API call requires an HTTP header named APIKEY whose value is provided from…

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