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1.7 Terabytes richer, 12,000 Songs Poorer

Two weeks ago I discovered that a 400 gig hard drive crashed. Completely. Total data loss.

I did not lose a lot of data, and almost all my personal data and important docs are safe, but I’m sure I lost several things I can’t remember. More importantly, my complete mp3 collection from 2001 is down the drain. As luck would have it, I lost my 40 gigs mp3 player two weeks ago and was in fact waiting for my 80 gig Zune replacement.

For several hours I was in a state of panic. I was afraid that my main documents partition was down.

It became immediately clear to me that my data backup and storage solution was unacceptable.  I had the technology and the know-how, but not the attention span to ensure it was being executed properly. Details:

  • network backup.  I had a paid subscription to Mozy Backup, with unlimited storage space. Unfortunately, I tended to use it not as often as I should because of my slow bandwidth. (I upgraded to 3.0 Mbps recently).  Now it is perfectly clear how much bandwidth limits your ability to implement a backup solution.
  • DVD backup. I burn a DVD backup of my most critical data every 2 months or so. But I didn’t have a regular schedule of that, and it was purely random that I had a backup from  March.
  • keeping Storage media. Even when I remember to back up storage media, I often forget where things are. A few years ago, I implemented the 3 Copy rule. 3 copies of everything, each in separate CD cases. Amazing how easy it is to lose track of where I put things despite this rule.
  • addresses/financial information. I have a nifty password manager called EWallet, which exists both as a PDA and a desktop application. So even if I lose my PDA, the data is still safe on my desktop. (And vice versa). But what if I lose my PDA (which I did in March)?  And what if my desktop hard drive fails before I reload the data onto the PDA ? (which is what happened). 
  • backup to external drives. This seems like a good solution. And it generally is. But I have three external drives and each behaves erratically. Two of them appear only as USB 1 drives (making it extremely time-consuming  to copy lots of data onto them). My motherboard has an ESATA connection, but I’ve never managed to get it to work. Backup software isn’t usually good because it copies incremental backups rather than rsyncs (which is what I really want). If it’s going to take 20 minutes to make a backup, I probably will forget to do it.
  • USB eccentricities.  Originally people claimed USB was infinitely extensible, that Windows would just recognize everything like magic. Reality is less positive. Apparently USB external hard drives only work when the USB cable is hooked directly to the back instead of one of the hubs. Sometimes when I remove USB devices, Windows either doesn’t notice it or or doesn’t notice when it is reinserted. It is hard to tell Windows to rescan. One problem is that USB hubs aren’t particularly reliable. Also, they become hot (if they are powered). I frequently had problems with removing and inserting USB cables to a hub. Even the USB connections at the front of the machine don’t work particularly well. Frankly, the most important USB device on my PC is my network card, and that seems not to be as reliable as I would have thought. Finally you have to be extra careful about removing hard drives. If you don’t “safely removing hardware”, the hard drive can fail or require CHECKDSK or not properly throw files away.
  • Power Down. Nowadays I make a conscious decision to turn off my PC and turn off the air conditioning every day when I go to work. It saves me money and is good for the environment. The problem is that it decreases the window of time for doing backups. Is the extra cost in electricity really worth the security of backups?

What was unhurt:

  • websites. Generally, if I updated something to a site, it is safe. (But dependent on the web host’s own backup solutions).
  • email. I have decided never to download my IMAP mail onto my client for various reasons.
  • music. Even though I lost a ton of music, most of the stuff I’ve been listening to in the last 5 years has been free or creative commons or public domain music. My main loss was the SXSW bit torrents. I have found the 2007 and 2008 files, but nothing else. More than anything else, I just need to know the names of the songs I lost. As luck would have it, I lost my 40 gig mp3 player at about the same time my Hard drive crash.Again, I used my

What I lost:

  • I misplaced several installation CDs and also some applications I downloaded. Unfortunately, you can’t just download these things again. Sometimes the license is embedded in the download itself.
  • Time. So far I have lost about 12 hours of time on this nonsense. For almost 2 weeks my life has been a mess while I work through a solution. Right now for instance, I have three technical conundrums: 1)why isn’t my new Windows install booting? (I need the install CD to boot every time). 2)why does my new Linksys N USB wifi card not work as advertised? (it worked perfectly before). It works for a few minutes, then stops working totally. I suspect it may be related to the DSL service I may be using. 3)How do I update my Dell AXIM to the latest ROM update? I’m coming closer to an answer to that.
  • Money. I bought a replacement hard drive of $150 (1 Terabyte) and another external drive only for backups).

Long Term Solutions

  • Google Docs and Google Gears.

During this past week I have been rendered helpless and unproductive in my apartment. I spent 8 hours yesterday trying to resolve boot, network and USB problems on my XP. I have not gotten my PDA to work, nor have I started another backup solution or tried to recreate the mp3 collection. Also, I have a Vista Home Premium just waiting to be installed.

Other problems:

  • Keeping better records of backups and licenses and a better reminder system
  • keeping my CDs/DVD’s stored in a safe place
  • Roaches!

Up until now, I’ve adopted the rule of not worrying about system configuration when doing backups and instead focusing on writing–which is the only precious cargo I carry anyway. But the time, the time! (I thought Norton’s ghost was overkill, but I seriously will reconsider that assumption).

So my question: when is this PC going to start making my life  easier again?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • dreamingkat 5/19/2008, 1:24 pm

    * roaches: Roy and Ben’ll take care of them. 😉

    * for potential leads on the the booting issue, google recommends: http://icrontic.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7699

  • Billy Bryant 5/21/2008, 10:10 am

    Technology is GREAT if it happens to be working on the day you need it. I think the answer to your question is …it is not! You are ALWAYS gonna have to do maintenace to keep it running efficiently and not lose media or data..ouch!

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