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Hardware, Technology

The Crash

January 5th, 2006 by Jeff | Dump Core

For those who are interested, here’s some of the gory details of the hard drive crash mentioned in yesterday’s GPF news item: Probably Monday night, I noticed Apollo’s HD started making a few odd noises. They seemed only incidental, so I wasn’t even sure I was hearing them. Tuesday, I went back to work (Monday being my New Years holiday), and as per my usual custom, Apollo dutifully sat nearby so I could squeeze in some comic time between things popping up on my day job.

The clicking became more obvious and louder. It finally got to the point that it made such a racket it made my stomach churn. There was a time or two that it would crunch over and over trying to read something, effectively slowing down the system to a crawl. By this point, I knew something had to be wrong. I quickly jumped off the wireless network and plugged into the wired, started archiving things like my mail, bookmarks, and the absolutely essential GPF files, and moving them over to Diana, our main XP desktop.

Once I copied over the most important things, I started running a few diagnostics. IBM usually installs software called PC Doctor on all of its machines, so I decided to run those tests first. The SMART Short Self-Test failed, as did the surface scan. When I saw the surface scan results, I decided I should try to run CHKDSK and see if I could recover anything that may have been lost to bad clusters. So, as per XP’s usual way of doing things, the machine shutdown, rebooted, and started the scan. I noticed a few bad clusters show up, but unfortunately I missed the final result details as by then I was busy doing some heavy programming on my work machine. I saw Apollo’s screen go black out of the corner of my eye, and watched him to make sure he rebooted successfully.

Then I saw the four worst words I think I’ve ever seen: “Operating system not found.” I was about ready to throw up.

I went into the BIOS and the drive was still being recognized. As stated in the news item, I threw in a Knoppix CD I just happened to burn a month or so ago when my sister’s HD failed. Knoppix booted beautifully and all the other hardware seemed to be working fine. But whenever I tried to mount the HD, it simply produced the most sickening clicking and grinding noises. I shut him down and he hasn’t been booted since.

All in all, it could certainly be worse. I was able to get the absolutely most critical things off before it died. I haven’t been able to get my mail working yet: I have Thunderbird on Diana, but every time I try to overwrite the default setup there with my stuff from Apollo, it just ends up messing up the entire screen. I’ve probably missed a setting somewhere in the preferences file. I’m currently using my ISP’s Web mail app to keep tabs on my inbox and keep it from overloading with spam, but I’m not replying to anything until I’ve got Thunderbird working again. The strips I was working on were quickly moved over and I’ve already finished and uploaded them. My continuity spreadsheet was already on Diana, but I copied over the most recent version over as well.

While the master copy of my script/timeline for Year Eight was on Apollo’s HD, I also keep a copy on my Palm using Documents To Go. Ergo, I still have my notes, but I can’t back them up in case my Palm dies as well. I was able to back up all my contacts, calendar, etc. from my Palm to Diana, but anything else like my DocsToGo files are stuck until I can get Apollo back up and running. I also lost my local backup of all the low-res GPF strips since Year Four, some Java and Perl code, and other files like some novels and fanfics written by some friends and myself. Although I backed up the settings, my IM was on that machine as well and is currently down.

The good news is that I ordered a new HD Tuesday night, and according to the IBM site it has already shipped, so it should be here in a couple days. I just need to find a reliable data recovery place that can salvage as much as possible from the old disk. Since I know there’s a physical problem with the platters or the drive head, I’m pretty sure I can’t recover it myself. My biggest concern will be that the OS isn’t recoverable; IBM has this annoying habit of storing all the system recovery stuff on a hidden partition on the HD, then giving you a CD that essentially unlocks it if you need to reinstall from scratch. Thus, I don’t have any Windows XP installation disks should the recovery fail. If that happens I’ll have to either go out and buy a new XP install 😛 or finally take the plunge of moving my most essential and used machine totally to Linux. It’s been a goal of mine to take the creation process of GPF to all Open Source software, but this wasn’t the way I intended to do it.

When I mentioned this on the forum in this thread, comments came up about off-site backups. Here’s my process for GPF: Every time I finish a high-res GPF strip, I have an extensive little ritual to keep them safe. For the current year, I keep a copy on two different systems, Diana and my primary Linux box, Demeter. Throughout the year I may make CD-RW snapshots just to be extra safe. Then, once the year has been officially closed, I burn those files to a pair of DVD-Rs. One remains here in my office and readily accessible. The other goes in the safety deposit box at the bank. In over seven years of GPF, I’ve only lost one comic to any sort of data failure, and that comic I was at least able to rescan the original line work and rework so I could replace it (and get it into Book 5… whenever that finally happens).

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