Ask TUAW: recovering deleted files, encrypted backups, cheap scanning, and more

Welcome back to a new year of Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about cheap scanners, encrypting backups, recovering deleted files, troubleshooting new hardware, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify), or if it's an iPhone-related question, which iPhone version and OS version you have.

FunFred asks

I am looking for a scanner similar to a ScanSnap or NeatReceipts for my dorm. I get a lot of handouts from classes (among other things), and keeping track of them all is a hassle (and makes studying more difficult). However, ScanSnap and NeatReceipts mobile scanners run along the lines of $200... perhaps you know of a cheaper alternative, or a place to get them for less?

It hasn't been released yet, but there's been some buzz around the net for the Doxie Scanner at $129. Now you'd have to ask yourself if you could really stand the pink hearts, but it does seem like it might work out for you. That said, I recently picked up a ScanSnap 300M on eBay for $150 and love it (it works great with Evernote), so you might also be able to score one that way.

Matthijs asks

Is it possible to make an encrypted backup using Time Machine? I am worried that if I make a backup on an external drive and lose the drive (or it gets stolen), all my data will be accessible. I would really like to make use of Time Machine.

Ah, possible is one of those tricky words. I have found a tutorial for creating an encrypted Time Machine sparsebundle, however it's frankly quite a bit of a hack. My suggestion is a bit different. Do you really need your whole backup (music, videos, etc.) to be encrypted? For most people I would think that there are actually only a few things you'd need encrypted (e.g. financial documents, etc.). In that case, what I would do is create an encrypted disk image to store the sensitive stuff and then just let Time Machine do its normal thing. Keep in mind that any change to the contents of the encrypted disk image means that the whole thing will get backed up again, so don't make it any bigger than you need it.

If you happen to have a hard drive that does encryption in hardware (like this one), then you don't need to worry; your Time Machine backups will be uncrackable along with any other data on the drive.

khirbat asks

I have an early 2009 Mac mini that I use as my regular computer and and also as an HTPC. I have a 17" 1280x1024 LCD on my desk connected via a mini-DVI-to-DVI adapter. My 720p (1368x768) TV is connected via a DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter. I am considering getting a bigger monitor for my desk. What would be the maximum resolution I could go that will allow me to continue to use my TV the way I am using it right now?

Another reader helpfully pointed to this Apple Tech Spec for the mini which reveals that the mini "simultaneously supports up to 1920 by 1200 pixels on a DVI or VGA display; up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on a dual-link DVI display using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter." In other words, you can pretty much get any monitor you want to replace the 17" up to and including a huge 30" dual-link. Now I wouldn't expect much 3D performance out of it, but it should get the job done for normal usage.

phillpafford asks

I accidentally delete my video files on my external hard drive, how do I recover these? Running two machines, one with Snow Leopard and the other Leopard. Any solution that's FREE?

In a case like this the first thing to do is stop using the drive immediately. There is a free command line tool that you could try first: Photorec. It may be a bit tricky to use, but the price is right. Traditionally the go-to application for data recovery on the Mac is Data Rescue III from Tech-Pro ($99). They do have a demo that should at least tell you if it'll work for you before you buy.

Steve asks

Santa brought me a new 500GB HDD and 4GB of RAM from OWC for my black MacBook 2.4 running Snow Leopard. I used SuperDuper! to clone the drive and I noticed when I was done the original drive had 224.49GB on it while the new cloned drive had 221.49. I contacted the folks at SuperDuper about the 3GB lose and they said it was normal to loose files so I went ahead and installed the new drive and RAM and it booted just fine but now Safari, iTunes, Handbrake and others crash constantly. I can't have multiple applications open without crashes. Syncing an iPhone will cause iTunes to crash. I get notices of plug-ins missing like Flash for Safari, etc. I don't know if the problem is with the HDD, the new RAM (which seems slower than the 2GB I removed) or with the cloned made with SuperDuper!. Any thoughts before I reinstall everything to original and return the gifts?

Here's what I would do: I doubt it's the RAM, but it should be easy enough to switch your old RAM back in and see if you've still got the problem. If so, what I would do is get a cheap USB to SATA adapter (like this one) and try booting from you old drive to see if you still have the problems (or just get a cheap USB or FireWire case and then you can use the old drive for backups). If the old drive still works as the boot disk, you could try cloning that drive to the new drive one more time, perhaps this time with Carbon Copy Cloner, just to see if it might help.

George asks

When I got my new MBP 17" I used Time Machine to move my apps and files over from my old MBP 15". Since then, I have upgraded to snow leopard, and cut the cords and went all Intel apps, and didn't install rosetta. This has been fine for months, but all of a sudden, I am getting the message "To open Microsoft Sync Services, you need to install Rosetta. Would you like to install it now?" I don't know what application/service is prompting me for this, but I would like it to stop!

It's almost certainly Microsoft Entourage that's causing the problem. Are you trying to use Office 2004 perhaps? If not, perhaps there's some crud (technical term) from an older upgrade of Microsoft Office? If that's the case it might be helpful to re-install Office 2008 to get rid of the problem.

In any event, it's fine to go ahead and install Rosetta automatically -- it won't slow you down.

lewis asks

I was wondering if there is a program out there for organization that would be a kind of mind mapping meets Spotlight (for documents, images, keywords, whatever) meets Voodoo Pad meets Tinderbox. I would love to be able to jot notes down and have a program organize it based on other information it had in live updating, whether it's other notes or information I've linked to it. Is there anything out there like that? The best would be if it gave it in a visual medium much like a mind map, but linked through multiple bubbles.

It's not a visual mapper, but I would point you toward DEVONthink Pro. It features some automatic sorting and filing technologies that sound somewhat similar to what you're trying to do. That said, it doesn't display these relationships in a visual way like Tinderbox.

I'll enlist the help of our resident mindmap maven and see if there are any other suggestions to add.