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The price of cheap disk space

Sunday, February 12, 2017 13:58
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A couple of weeks ago my MacBook Pro would not boot. On the first day of a week-long business trip. Damn. A laptop borrowed from a friend saw me through until I got home and I could take the time to re-install everything, and restore all my files from backups.

Everything is smooth now. But oh what a task.

The MacBook Pro has 620Gb of internal storage (a 500Gb hard disk and 120Gb SSD), and that backs up with Time Machine to a 1Tb partition on a WD My Passport external hard disk. The other 1Tb partition contains old files and old photo libraries. Both of these partitions are mirrored onto partitions on a Hitachi 3Tb external disk, and some of what is on that is even on an old iomega 500Gb disk as well. In total I have more than 5Tb of storage space – and this is for my own personal files.

This is the equivalent of someone who hoards things in their attic, thinking they may some day be of some use. But as disk space is so damned cheap it’s as if you can extend and extend your attic almost infinitely. The 2Tb WD disk cost less than €100. I suppose I am the opposite of someone who fears what they will lose if their computer were lost or stolen – I have hoarded and hoarded for years, because it was simple and cheap to do so.

But the problem, just like an attic full of junk, is you have no idea what is hanging around on those disks. When Apple changed from iPhoto to the Photos app, I just kept the old and the new photo libraries. 5 of them. At more than 100Gb each. When I moved my e-mail from to to to Gmail to and finally to I just, well, kept all the e-mails each time. Add some extra copies for good measure that seeming had been created through Mac Mail updates, I ended up with more than 10 copies of some e-mails, and an e-mail archive amounting to more than 100Gb and containing more than a million e-mails.

The problem is that, ultimately, all of that slows you down. At the very least it means that restoring a Mac from backups takes an age – because it is not only the size of the files you have to move, but the sheer number of them, that determines the restore time. The larger your Mac Mail database of e-mail the slower it is to search for what you want. Spotlight too on my Mac had almost ground to a halt. It’s as if the beams of your attic are starting to creak…

So for the last three weeks, leaving my Mac running more or less every night, I have been doing the most almighty spring clean of my digital life. I’ve been using the Remove Duplicate Messages Apple Script to clean up my old e-mail, reducing it down to less than 20% of the number of messages and 1/3 of its size. I’ve been using ChronoSync to compare directories and root out duplicates of files. The result is a Mac that’s running more swiftly than for some time, and with Spotlight and search in Mac Mail restored to working order. Plus I think I have learned my lesson to make sure things do not get out of hand that way again!


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