Solution for Time Machine error “Unable to complete backup. An error occurred while copying files to the backup volume”

My SO has a Mac, and she was using Time Machine to back it up.  As someone who cut his teeth with Amanda backups back in the day, Time Machine is a beautiful, intuitive backup solution.  Really, it is.

However, a while ago the backups stopped working.  She saw this error message: “Unable to complete backup. An error occurred while copying files to the backup volume”.

I googled around for it and saw this KB article from Apple, which wasn’t too helpful, as the only troubleshooting suggestion was a reboot (hmmm, sounds a bit like Windows).  I tried doing that multiple times, and still saw the error message.

So, we tried a different hard drive.  That still didn’t seem to work–same error message.

Finally, I did some more googling and ran across this forum post (yes Jeff Atwood, forums are indeed the dark matter of the web), which gave me additional troubleshooting tips.

Basically, if you are seeing this error on time machine:

  1. connect your time machine disk drive to your Mac
  2. turn off time machine by opening the time machine prefs and select ‘none’ for the backup disk
  3. open up your console
  4. click on ‘system.log’
  5. click ‘clear display’
  6. turn on time machine by opening the time machine prefs and selecting your disk drive
  7. watch the system log for errors that look likeMar 9 12:14:14 computer-name /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[905]: Error: (-36) SrcErr:YES Copying /path/to/file/ to (null)
  8. remove those files
  9. restart time machine by repeating steps 2 and 6.

I am not sure how to fix the issue if you can’t remove those files.  The files that were causing issues for our Mac were imap mailabox files from Thunderbird, so I just uninstalled Thunderbird and removed the mailbox files.

Speeding up Thunderbird Search with IMAP

I like the Thunderbird email client a lot (Thunderbird2).  I used to use and love pine, though, so perhaps you should take any accolades with a grain of salt.

I use Thunderbird with IMAP so that I don’t have to worry about backing up my email locally, and so that I can always ssh in and view new mail if I’m on a different computer (‘less’ is my mail client then!).

It has a lot of plugins, but the only one I really used was lightning, the calender/task management plugin.  And then I got a Palm, and haven’t been able to find any way to hook the calendar on the palm up to lightning (there is support for syncing contacts).

Anyway, one thing that got me really riled me up was the slow search.  This post illuminated the facts for me; it wasn’t Thunderbird that was slow, it was my IMAP server.  I upgraded my IMAP server to dovecot 1.1.7, that being what my hosting provider supported.  Dovecot has a nice full text search installed by default.  Or at least I thought it was nice.  It couldn’t be worse than no full text indexing at all, I figured.

However, my hosting provider didn’t provide that plugin–whoops!  I downloaded the same version of dovecot, ran ‘configure; make; make dist’ and copied over all the fts *.a *.so and *.la files for both fts and fts_squat to the plugin directory.  Then I enabled the fts plugin in the dovecot.conf file, including changes recommended for fts_squat, and restarted dovecot.  My full text searches (in Thunderbird quick search) for folders with 6000 messages, went from 4.5 seconds to 1 second.  Quite the success.

I then wanted to figure out some way to search for multiple areas in the quick search box.  I already found that you can use the pipe symbol as an or operator but that only applies to a given type of search (for subject, or body, etc).  What I was looking for was a way to search for ‘from sue’ ‘to anton’ and ‘body contains spaghetti’, all in one search.

I searched and searched, looking at the IMAP rfc and trying many different variations.  I looked at plugins.  I looked through the config editor.  I tried the Thunderbird tips page.  No luck.

Then I read a post that talked about the two ways to search.  Quick search (the box in the upper right hand corner of the email client) and normal old search, the one you get to by typing ‘control-shift-f.

This does exactly what I want!  But it’s cumbersome.  It’d be great to take a page from Yahoo Mail and implement their search shortcuts in the quick search bar: ‘from: ‘ for from, etc.  It’s a killer feature for me.

Anyone know of a plugin that does this?  This page has some keyboard shortcuts, but that’s not really what I’m looking for.  And I didn’t see anything in the Thunderbird bug list, though this bug seems like it might be heading down that path.

Anyway, those are my recent adventures in email.

Thunderbird Plugins: Lightning

If you live in your email and you use Thunderbird, I’d recommend taking a look at Lightning.  It’s a calendaring plugin to Thunderbird.  It has changed the way I schedule my life–I used to have a mishmash of emails, paper calenders, todo lists  on the back of envelopes and memories that coordinated my life.  Now I just have one place that I go to.  You can have calendars on remote servers, using HTTP (readonly), webDAV or ftp, multiple calendars, and reminders.  It’s still beta software (version 0.7) and under active development, so, of course, buyer beware, but I’ve found it to be quite useful.  If you want to follow future progress, visit the Mozilla Calendar Weblog.

Thunderbird tip of the day: Using the pipe operator in the search box.

If you’re searching in Thunderbird, use the pipe (|) operator to do an ‘or’ search. So, if you want to find mail from both Brian and Grady, search for ‘brian|grady’ (if you have the default ‘search subject and/or sender’ search criteria). I looked around the Thunderbird Help, which has a helpful list of shortcuts and tips and tricks, and didn’t see this tip mentioned. I tried other special characters (& and *), but neither worked.

This was with Thunderbird

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