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).

Is it time to abandon the Mac and turn to the dark side, a.k.a. Windows?

I am currently looking to buy a new laptop.  Being an Apple user with a MacBook Pro I am primarily looking at a new MacBook Pro.  But there is no way I am forking out an extra ~£300 for a model with a Douchebar.  So I have been looking into the 2015 model that was reintroduced to the Apple Store alongside the Touchbar models.

There is no way I am forking out an extra ~£300 for a model with a Douchebar

Here are the specific problems that I am facing.  Right before the new models hit the store there was a 15 inch model available on the refurbished store that is now no longer available.  That model had a 2.5 GHz Core i7, 512 GB SSD and a discrete graphics card.  Its price was £1859.  The 2015 model now available in the main store has not had any internal upgrades since it was released in May 2015 (yes that includes the 4ᵀᴴ generation Core i7 processor (4870HQ) that was already old at the time of its initial release!).  The starting specification for the currently available model is 2.2 GHz Core i7, 256 GB SSD and no discrete graphics.  Both have 16 GB RAM and PCIe flash storage.  It is possible to configure a new Mac with a 2.5 GHz processor and 500 GB SSD, but you cannot have a discrete graphics card in it.


The details of the refurbished MacBook are still available to me in my Apple Store account after I added it as a favourite.  Here is a link to a printout from the store downloadable as a PDF:  [Accessed on 17 December 2016].

Whatever the configuration the machine is going to be significantly less powerful in comparison to the refurbished option due to the missing discrete graphics card.  But that is only part of the story.  The starting price of the “new” 2.2 GHz model with 256 GB SSD is more expensive at £1899!  If you want to match the spec of the refurbished model, minus the discrete graphics card, it’ll be a huge £2169.  Just to be clear that this is not Brexit related inflation, the price of the refurbished Mac is from November which was after Apple increased their prices by about 20% in the UK post Brexit.

This is not Brexit related inflation

Therefore, Apple arbitrarily decided in November that it would charge its customers an additional £40 for a huge reduction in power.  There is no meaningful difference between a refurbished model the same model bought new.  Both have a 12 month warranty with the option of extending that to 3 years under AppleCare.  Apple had already decided that they would accept £1859 for their mid-tier 15 inch model with discrete graphics card.  The price increase is therefore an entirely obnoxious move by Apple and sadly reinforces the notion that everything is structured by Apple to maximise profit at the expense of customer satisfaction.  This is something that I would say is a relatively new priority in my experience.

Everything is structured by Apple to maximise profit at the expense of customer satisfaction

If that refurbished model were still available to buy I’d probably not be in the position that I’m in now: contemplating my move to Windows.  I am fairly heavily invested in macOS and iOS but I don’t like the feeling that Apple are trying to manipulate people to spend a lot more money than is necessary.  Especially if it means them forcing people to buy something they don’t want – like the Douchebar at an additional £300.   There is an additional reason for me saying this.

Before considering the purchase of the MacBook I did some research into competing laptops and what I found really sets Apple’s offering in an exceptionally bad light.  Whereas in the past when I have looked at comparative laptops I have found prices for comparable Windows laptops* to be similar to Apple’s prices, the new top spec Dell XPS is a beast in comparison to the MacBook Pro.  It has a 15 inch 4K monitor, oh and it is a touchscreen monitor!  It has a proper professional grade graphics processor.  It has a sixth generation Core i7 processor.  16 GB RAM (expandable to 32 GB in the unlikely event you really need it), and 512 GB PCIe SSD.  The enclosure is machined aluminium with a carbon fibre interior at a maximum thickness of  17 mm (just 2 mm more than the 2016 MBP).  The glass is scratch resistant Corning® Gorilla® Glass.  If the 3 year extended warranty is included (with on site support) the Dell XPS will set you back £1960; it’s £1749 without the extended warranty.

What you see is that Dell’s laptop that competes directly with the 2016 MacBook Pros is way, way cheaper than the “comparable” 2015 MacBook Pro Apple are trying to shift.  It is more powerful and more functional than the 2016 models: Apple offer consumer not pro grade graphics cards for more money, Apple offer a thin strip of touchscreen for more money.

15″ Dell XPS

It is disappointing for me to be in this position.  I could really do with laptop with more screen real estate.  I’ve long believed that Apple make great hardware, but Apple want to charge me a hefty price tag for a 15 inch screen and they also want to shaft me on the interior.  On the other hand Dell and Lenovo are offering some powerful and innovative alternatives (the Lenovo Yoga 710 2 in 1 is a great machine which is considerably cheaper than a MBP).  No wonder then that creative professionals are jumping ship to Windows.

14″ Lenovo Yoga 710

I will not buy a laptop with a Douchebar.  I hate it, I believe it is a gimmick.  If Apple consolidate their position on the Touchbar in future iterations of the MacBook Pro lineup I will have no choice but to abandon ship then.  So am I delaying the inevitable anyway by even considering sticking with them for another 4–5 years by buying a MacBook now?

Am I delaying the inevitable anyway?

It was also disappointing that a salesperson in an Apple Store could not give me a better reason to choose the MacBook over the Dell XPS other than: “It is a matter of preference.”  After I detailed all of the above problems with Apple’s pricing of the 2015 model, their failure to update the components and the lack of a discrete graphics card and the problem I have with the Touchbar she agreed with me that Apple could not compete with the alternative I was considering.

I like my existing workflows in macOS and iOS.  But the question for me is do I want to maintain those workflows by paying such a high premium?  Or is it time to start rebuilding new workflows in Windows?

* Not just in terms of headline specification but internal components and well constructed enclosure.  It has always been possible to get more powerful components in Windows PCs but the enclosures have not been as good.

The SD Card Slot

Most discussions I’ve read of Apple’s move to only USB-C on MacBook Pros fail to include a key benefit of the SD Card slot.  Sure a lot of non-photographers probably don’t use the slot much, if at all.  But there is a usage scenario that would probably benefit everybody: storage expansion.

SSD storage is expensive, so most people probably have to compromise on what they keep on internal storage.  Therefore any extra storage that is easy to carry with your laptop is undoubtedly going to be useful.  Micro SD cards are available in a huge 128 GB and they are not overly expensive.  Also available are short SD to Micro SD converters.  This means it is possible to keep a high capacity Micro SD permanently attached to a laptop without worrying about it snapping off.


Let’s put that 128 GB size in context.  The entry level storage size for a MacBook or MacBook Pro is 256 GB.  Adding 128 GB to that increases storage by 50%.  That’s a tremendous gain.  Of course the speed is dramatically slower than soldered SSD, but it is fine for storage of files that are not accessed daily.

In the discussions I have read about the move to only USB-C I havent seen anyone discuss the removal of this expansion option.  Discussions have tended to focus on the advantages of USB-C over USB-A, Thunderbolt and/or HDMI.  I completely agree that USB-C is much better than all of these.  In particular the move from a proprietary port (Thunderbolt) to open standard (USB-C) is to be lauded.  So in general I am in agreement with the move to USB-C.  But I view the removal of the SD slot differently based on how I and others use it in practice.

Whilst it is possible to still connect an SD card with a dongle, that isn’t good enough if for an always attached storage option – it’s going to stick out of the laptop and be liable to break.  I have a 500 GB hard drive on my Mac.  That’s big, but I still find it useful to be able to offload large files to an always available 128 GB archive.  This helps a lot to maintain a minimum amount of free storage on my internal hard drive.  In general I thought the introduction of USB-C was a great idea but I do think that it could have been done whilst retaining the SD card slot.

Anyone else got thoughts on the removal of the SD Card slot or the introduction of USB-C?

#TouchBar a Touch of Genius? Er no.

The long term story of the Touch Bar will be, I believe, that it is a productivity killer.  This is certainly true whilst it is a novel technology with limited support from apps.  But I think it will likely be true in the future too regardless of app support.  This is for two reasons…
In the short term it will be impossible to use the Touch Bar without looking at the bar to see what buttons are available and where they are.  In the long term that may also be true because software keys can’t be navigated by touch like physical keys can.  So people who use the keyboard extensively in their workflows will be hindered by the removal of physical function keys as they will have to continually move their line of sight from their screens to the Touch Bar.
Even if someone can train themselves to use some functions without shifting visual focus to the Touch Bar there are other functions that require visual focus.  For example, if you are in a word processing app part of the Touch Bar becomes word suggestions (like on iOS).  You have to look at the word suggestions in order to check if you want to use any of them.  Given the signalled mass migration of tech. professionals away from Macs on the back of the unveiling of the new MacBook Pros, most people using them will be people using regular word processing apps.  So this will be a big part of the average user experience.
One thing that almost certainly won’t be corrected is the problem of the contextual nature of the Touch Bar.  A different set of controls is displayed depending on which app is being used.  On the one hand that is great for having dynamic controls that are appropriate to the app you are currently using.  On the other hand you lose the global nature of function keys.  A great example of useful global functionality is for music control.  People often listen to music whilst doing other things on their laptops – like write documents, spreadsheets, or code.  So you put some music on and continue writing your document.  Then you want to skip a track, or change the volume.  You can no longer access the required controls immediately because you are in the wrong context for those buttons.  You need to pause your typing, switch back to Spotify or iTunes to get those controls, then change the track or volume, then switch back to your writing.  It would have been difficult for Apple to make this process more intrusive.
Apple have released a laptop with a new component that inflated the cost by a few hundred dollars and simultaneously eats into people’s workflows so that they’re less productive and therefore less able to afford this expensive kit (hyperbole 🙂
I cannot think why Apple do something useful like make a new top end laptop with a full touch screen?  Is anyone impressed with the Touch Bar?  If you are add a comment here or on Google Plus.  If you’re not you can add a comment too 🙂