OSX Migration Assistant and symlinked disks – some notes

30 September 2013

I upgraded my Mac recently, and moved from a laptop with two internal drives – an SSD and an HDD – to a single, large SSD. I wanted to note down the aspects of this transition I’d have like to have known beforehand, and also want to know for

My old computer placed various core user folders – Documents, Music, etc – onto the HDD, whilst storing the System and Applications on the SSD. I symlinked the User folders into my home directory, and OSX was none the wiser.

As far as backing up goes, I used to use the excellent SuperDuper. When I moved to my symlinked setup, I went to Time Machine, which can back up multiple drives to a single Time Machine volume. I told it to back up both the SSD and HDD; it backed up the symlinks themselves from the SSD, and the directories they referred to from the HDD.

When I transfer data to a new Mac with Migration Assistant, I do so from a backup or bootable clone of the original computer – never from the computer itself. I chose to restore from Time Machine. This will only restore from a bootable drive – so I was only given the option to restore from my SSD, which contained Applications and my Desktop, but not my Documents. This unnerved me a bit at the time.

However, this is because the Migration Assistant only offers to restore from bootable (system) drives. Once I’d restored, I booted up the new system, mounted my Time Machine drive, and dragged everything over from the “Latest” directory symlink inside the HDD’s backup folder; I soon had my documents and other files back in the original locations they should have been.

So that’s the main note I wanted to make: restoring from that kind of setup works entirely fine, but you musn’t panic when your HDD isn’t offered as a volume to restore from.

I’m always impressed with Migration Assistant – it holds onto my system preferences, my eccentric Unix setup, my MySQL and Postgres databases, everything like that. What’s worth remembering is the stuff it doesn’t:

  • I use Caps Lock as my Control key, and vice versa. (Blame Vim). I had to re-specify this preference, and frequently, it would get overwritten on wake-from-sleep. A reboot (which presumably repaired permissions fixed this).
  • For a while, I noticed git wasn’t working. This was because it was not installed through homebrew, but directly into /usr/local/bin – and that was no longer in my PATH. Adding it back to my PATH re-enabled it. (All my homebrew binaries were working fine).
  • My /etc/hosts had been overwritten back to default; I need to copy that across manually. As had all my Apache config (/etc/apache2/httpd.conf), my vhosts config file (/etc/apache2/extra/httpd-vhost.conf), and /etc/php.ini . Nothing we can’t recover quickly, but it did mean the usual dance of setting up vhosts for sites that already existed, and pointing php.ini at the correct MySQL socket file (/tmp/mysql.sock on OSX).

I think that’s it – everything else transferred entirely seamlessly, and there was nothing to fear about my unusual setup – you just have to make sure you’ve been backing up correctly, and everything will work.

  • "The compass knows the map, son, it knows when the map is near. Let the compass direct you to the map but whatever else you do in this stained forsaken world keep them apart. Else there won’t be sufficient salt water in the oceans to quench the soles of yr burning heart."
  • "Gor is a simple http traffic replication tool written in Go. Its main goal is to replay traffic from production servers to staging and dev environments." Handy to know about.
  • "While collaborating with the geniuses at Bot & Dolly in beautiful San Francisco, Munkowitz was tasked to Design Direct a truly unique piece called BOX.. The piece was originally supposed to function as a Technology Demo, but Munkowitz and the team quickly realized it's visual potential and transformed it into a Design and Performance Piece… The resulting short film is a one-of-a-kind visual and technological achievement due to the very special combination of talent and gear behind the doors of the B&D facility…" Projection mapping and motion control all at once; very clever, sure. But it's the art direction of the whole performance (and the camera's dollybot is very much part of that) that really grabbed me – especially 'Escape'.
  • ""Prisms" is fully algorithmic. There are no cuts, just one continuous generative animation. All decisions (camera work, movements, formations, etc…) are made by my system's interpretation of the audio track. My work was creating the system and then curating its output or, to put it another way, I just wrote a computer algorithm, and the computer did it all."
  • This is a great piece of writing from Frank Chimero, if only because the thing it emphasises is not a brutal the-work-above-all-else approach, but a gentle talk on the same idea. And the thing I'm slowly shifting towards in the manner of my work (if not always the practice of it) is a particular kind of quiet gentleness: be kind; work hard; keep going. Gentle is underrated, and gentle is not the same as easy or soft-touch. It has value for all involved. Also: I loved the point where he wrote "you have to earn those words". Yes.
  • This is a great piece of writing from Frank Chimero, if only because the thing it emphasises is not a brutal the-work-above-all-else approach, but a gentle talk on the same idea. And the thing I'm slowly shifting towards in the manner of my work (if not always the practice of it) is a particular kind of quiet gentleness: be kind; work hard; keep going. Gentle is underrated, and gentle is not the same as easy or soft-touch. It has value for all involved. Also: I loved the point where he wrote "you have to earn those words". Yes.
  • "I think as experienced game developers / engineers / artists / makers, we don't realize how we've developed strong senses of "vision" — the ability to visualize and maintain this thing in our head, and gradually work to realize that thing into existence despite countless obstacles. Frequent failure is expected! But this kind of emotional intelligence, to be patient with yourself and your work, takes time to cultivate. People have trouble grasping this if they are new to making things, and maybe it's our mission to help them own their constant failures." This is a really good way of expressing this issue. And, in particular, spending time understanding what's going wrong, rather than throwing hands up at the first error message. Those tracebacks, however weird they may seem to begin with, are designed for the reader, and they help with the journey.

Links & notes for this month