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Lessons Learned From A Near Disaster

When’s the last time you backed up your data?

As most of you readers know, I’m pretty good with computers. I’ve built a few and it’s no big deal to be to swap out components, install new equipment or repair something that’s not right. Saturday I went to my computer to check e-mail, and it wasn’t working. The screens were blank, and nothing I did brought the computer back to life. So I opened up the machine and looked inside, and noticed that the only thing that was getting power was the fan. No power to the main board or drives. Only one thing can cause this – and the burnt-electronic smell emanating from it confirmed my suspicion – dead power supply. No big deal – they go every now and then and they’re cheap and easy to replace. I managed to find a computer store open on a Sunday – Mother Computers in Victoria.

So I got home, happy to be fixing my problem so easily and cheaply. I installed the new power supply, plugged in all the drives and powered it up. Something wasn’t right. My main hard disk wasn’t being recognized and the computer wouldn’t boot Windows. So I tried re-booting and changing some settings.

Then – it happened. With a sickening pfizz-sound, a bright flash, and the acrid smell of burning electronics, The UnthinkableBurnt Hard Drive Controller Chip happened. My primary hard drive had died a horrifying death. I quickly unplugged the computer and pulled the drive from its bay in the computer, but it was too late. The circuit board on the back of the drive (this controls the drive and tells the computer how to access the information on it) was fried.

So. On this drive was: Windows, and my real estate folder, which contains files and contact information for every one of the clients I have worked with in the last 3 years, personal photos, music, games. And now it’s gone.

What are my options? Eat the loss, and move on. Or, I could pay a professional forensic data service to recover my data, but this is prohibitively expensive, at around $2,000.

Luckily, most of my data was backed up. I only lost about 3 months worth of files. And of course all client information and contracts, documents, etc, are in paper form anyway, so there’s another backup. All of my Outlook contacts were backed up in my PDA, as well as my calendar and schedule of appointments. Basically, the only stuff I can’t get back right now are the new portraits, advertisements, and marketing material I have done since the last backup. But I won’t give up: I researched my particular drive, and found a company that sells the controller chips identical to the one that burnt out on my drive for $20. According to all the information I read, I should be able to access the drive once the new chip gets here. I’ll keep you posted.

Besides the backup, what really saved me was Gmail. Google’s free webmail service has so much storage capacity (and it’s constantly increasing) that you never have to delete an e-mail. Coincidentally, I started using Gmail about the time of my last backup of my e-mails. So, combined with my backup data and Gmail, I ended up not losing a single e-mail (and all of the contacts, leads, and other important stuff contained therein). I can’t speak enough praise about Gmail. In fact, I’m going to write a separate post about it sometime.

All in all, the worst part of this disaster was restoring all the data. I bought a new hard drive Monday morning, and by Monday evening, I had most of my software re-installed (it’s very time consuming to install Windows and MS Office and all the other stuff that you’ve got).

So how can you avoid disaster? BACK. UP. How can you back up your data easily? You can buy or even download some backup software. Do a Google search for it. Or, do what I did. Costco had a smokin’ deal on a 500gb Western Digital MyBook external hard drive. 500GB is huge! (I was there the other day and they had a 1 terabyte version – twice the size of my 500 gigabyte) It even has built-in software. All you do is plug it in and it automatically installs the software and runs a wizard to help you back up your files. When the unthinkable happens, run the file on the external drive, and you’re back in business.

Don’t delay – back up your stuff today.

Tim Ayres

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  • I had a blue screen of death this spring and was sure happy I had bought that back up hard drive in January. Also having a big memory card in my camera and not having deleted anything from it for a while helped. I must push that back up bottom again tonight!