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ziggy (25)

ziggy
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Journal of ziggy (25)

Friday March 18, 2005
07:56 PM

Fighting with iPhoto

[ #23728 ]
Computers are supposed to enhance our productivity. So why did I spend an entire afternoon off fighting with my laptop to do something that's supposed to be easy?

It all started when I tried to crop and upload some photos to flickr. I have nearly 2000 photos in iPhoto 2.0, and every time I fire it up, it just gets slower and slower. iPhoto also leaks memory like a sieve, so just opening it up is a guarantee that OSX is going to start swapping and thrasing, and slowing to a crawl.

When I started, I had about 1GB free, and within a few minutes, I got a warning that there was no disk space left over, and I should quit some apps and free up some space. Sure enough, /var/vm was starting to fill up, and half of that 1GB was spent on swap space, thanks to iPhoto.

OK. Time to archive those old photos from 2003 that I'm not looking at anymore and clear out my picture library. There were about 3GB of photos, and iPhoto wants that much free space on the boot volume to build a .dmg of the DVD it is about to burn.

Time to take a step back. First, a reboot, and regain that swap space as free space. Then I found a few things that didn't need to be online, so I backed some stuff up onto CD. That frees up another gigabyte. At this point, backing stuff up is getting tired, so I just deleted another 2.5 GB that I can recreate later.

So, now with 4.5GB free, it's time to return to the first diversion, backing up my iPhoto library. Why did I need that free space? Because iPhoto (actually OSX) wants to build a .dmg of what it's about to burn before it burns anything. Seems like overkill, and Toast doesn't do this. But I haven't studied the problem, and it's probably a good enough default behavior that's safe in all cases. Unfortunately, on a slow laptop disk, that adds up to a lot of contention for the read/write heads; building the 3GB .dmg took about an hour, before taking a 15-20 minutes to burn (and then some more time to verify). Sheesh!

Now, just as an idiot check, I tried to load the backup. Good thing I did -- using three DVD drives, one could open it up without problem, one thought and thought about it before opening it, and one barfed. Furthermore, the backup didn't preserve which "rolls" these photos came from. So instead of having ~20 groups of photos, I have all ~2000 photos in one group. That simply won't work.

Time for another diversion: creating one album for each "roll" I've imported, and trying to burn it again. But not though iPhoto. I made that mistake once, and that's enough. So I fired up Toast to burn the library directly to DVD without the intermediate .dmg. (So I didn't need to delete that extra 2.5 GB of data, but whatever.)

That made a big difference: the initial burn took 5 minutes in Toast, and the verify took about as long.

Except that you can't just burn iPhoto Library to DVD and be done with it though. iPhoto will automagically open a backup CD/DVD, if it has the right file structure. Specifically, at the top level, next to the iPhoto Library directory, iPhoto needs a IPHOTO.XML file that looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
    <key>ArchiveName</key>
    <string>iPhoto Library - 3/18/05</string>
    <key>ArchivePath</key>
    <string>./iPhoto Library</string>
</dict>
</plist>

Finally, after a few hours of effort, that distraction is now finished. I've freed up enough disk space that iPhoto can leak memory without filling up the disk, and I've backed everything up so I can start deleting photos so iPhoto processes photos faster than a snail.

This stuff is supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to eat up an afternoon off.

I think it's time to ditch iPhoto and switch to something that does a better job of managing photos, like Photo Mechanic.

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  • Is that a typo, or are you really using iPhoto version 2.0? If so, is there any particular reason you haven't upgraded?

    Just curious. My wife keeps track of our photos w/ Photoshop Album on our Windows box, so I haven't used iPhoto for much more than making a few books (but it's very nice for that).

    -Matt

    • No, that's not a typo. I bought this laptop about 3 years ago (it's got a few months of AppleCare left), and the upgrades are part of iLife now. Until recently, I haven't done much with movies or photos, so I haven't really needed to bite the bullet for iPhoto, iMovie or iDVD.