October 1999

Bye-Bye harddrive, it was fun while it lasted...

    Just when you think everything is going along just fine, something has to go wrong... Yes, that's right, my hard drive decided that this cruel world was too much for it, and ended it's life, taking along about a month of work with it, plus a whole host of data I hadn't bothered to back up recently. Yeap, there's nothing quite like the feeling you get when a download just completes, and the hard drive just spins down, never to spin up again... I tried it all too - rebooting the machine while I held the drive at different angles; I even put it in the refrigerator for a couple hours in the feeble hope that the drive mechanism, once cooled, might perform again for a short enough period for me to get the data off. No such luck. I then sent the drive off to the people at OnTrack , who are supposed to be one of the leaders in recovering data when problems like this happen; they told me that they can recover data off of 97% of the drives that are sent in, and that my problem didn't sound too serious - but this sort of service doesn't come cheap - it can range from the minimum of around $1,000, to up to $15,000 depending on how quickly you need it done, and how difficult it is to retrieve. I got warm fuzzy feeling from them, so sent off the drive to get their evaluation, which cost $100 and takes approx 1 day; the drive crash happened on Thursday night, so that meant I could get it on their desk by Monday of the next week, no that big a deal, and I tossed in another drive into my system so I wasn't down while it's gone. So Tuesday I call up to find out their findings, but they haven't been able to recover anything yet, so I should try back the next day... Wednesday rolls around and they still haven't managed to recover any data, but now my drive falls into that nebulous 50/50 recovery area, with the drive earning the description of 'seriously' misaligned - where did those warm fuzzy feelings go? I kind of have some sort of lump where they were... Thursday creeps up, still no dice; they now have their best guy on it, who has a couple tricks up his sleeve, but this isn't exactly instilling loads of confidence into me; but they'll have the ultimate answer for me on Friday. So Friday comes, and my drive ends up as just a statistic, one of those 3% that they don't mention on their website.
    I've actually been very lucky in the big picture; over the 18 years I've been working with computers, I've only lost data like this twice (including this crash)... I'll never forget the other one; I was working on a game for the 3DO platform (an old console), and I just got a new version of the OS for the system, 1p4 (I still remember the version number)... It was soo wonderful, 1p4 gave you more memory, faster access, all sorts of absolutely GREAT things! So, without a care in the world, I tossed the CD into my Mac, and clicked install, with a big smile on my face... After the install was complete, I opened up the terminal, and tried running the game I had been working on - no dice, it couldn't find the executable. That's strange, that's never happened before with any of the other installs... Oh well, I'll just rebuild it. I open up MPW, and it can't load up the project - and that same lump feeling comes, which is never a good sign. I search the system for the source files, or ANY of it's files, but they're all gone! AAARRRGGG! The new version of the OS had OVERWRITTEN the old one, and in so doing had deleted ALL of my source code, graphics, etc, etc, etc. It was really painful, and not a good time for me - I remember sitting there for several days moving through the hard drive sector by sector hopping I could piece together something, but alas, it was totally destroyed. Ah, there's nothing like having months of work just disappear, without even a puff of smoke (at least me drive died this time, which is somewhat more gratifying, for some perverse reason).
    So what did I learn from this? Simple, it can be summarized with this simple phrase RAID type 1. I'm going to pick up the IDE RAID controller from Promise , which I've heard really good things about, and introduce a second level of protection by having a duplicate copy of everything I'm doing. At the price of hard drives these days, it's a bargain.

Even I am not immune to Windows...

    This is the single most bizarre problem I've ever had with Windows, so much so that I decided to write a ramble about it... Set your wayback machines to Wednesday, around 4am... I check my email, then get ready for beddy bye time; blissfully unaware of what the morning holds in store for me. The phone wake mes up around noon (yeah, I have a hard life), and I stumbled into the computer room, checked my email, and what?! It doesn't connect, so I ping a couple of sites, no dice... Ok, I'm on a cable modem, and my experience with it has been pretty shotty at best (I've actually had no internet service for more than 2 weeks before, and at certain times I look fondly back at my 56k USR, which is pretty sad), so I just figured it was the @home screwing up again. Now, on my network there is another machine with it's own IP, so was it's internet connection working? YES - What?!?! So I go back to my main machine, and try again - still no luck. Ok, I haven't even rebooted it since I checked the mail last night, so I reboot, and still no dice... hmmm, how about if I change the main machines IP to the one in the other room, that should work, right? Wrong! Ok, how about if I enter in the IP of my main machine into the other one... Ok, that works, so it doesn't have anything to do with the IP... Now I try to configure the IP on my debugging machine (which sits right by my main machine) to the same IP as the main machine - and it doesn't work! This is totally crazy, so my two main machines won't access the net at all, and they're right by the hub, but the two in the other room will... One more little tidbit of crazy - the local network still works fine, so all the machines can see each other and transfer files, just my two main machines can't do anything with the cable modem. TOTALLY CRAZY!
    Now, I have a little rule, and you are more than welcome to use this as well, since it is pretty much true in just about every circumstance - if you encounter a problem with Windows, try to debug it for about an hour; if you can't solve it in that period of time, then just re-install Windows. I know, no one likes doing that, but it will probably only take you an hour or two to get Windows back up on your system, and re-install all your apps, while you could literally spend days trying to figure out some lame problem that you'll probably end up having to re-install Windows to fix anyway.
    So with that in mind, "deltree windows"... Start re-installing again, and it FAILS! What? Ok, no big deal, I'll just delete everything again and start over... It fails again - and again and again. So, after removing every card out of my system except the video and SCSI card, it finally installs... I'll spare you the gory details, but I basically install all the devices that were in it before, reconfigure the network settings, and guess what, it doesn't work! Yeah! That really helps me to feel like my time was well spent... I basically just give up and install all of my apps, and get the system tweaked the way I like it, then go to bed - a horrible, restless, toss and turn nightmare of non-internet collectivity... I wake up the next morning, stagger back into the computer room, check my email, and it WORKS! Ok, I haven't touched anything since when I went to bed, and the email wasn't working then, but now it is. Perhaps the Windows Fairy found the quarter under my pillow and fixed whatever device driver was causing this chaos, but without a doubt this was the most bizarre problem I've ever had with windows.
    In all fairness, I have to point out how impressed I am with Windows; it's really easy to sit back and complain or point fingers at problems inside Windows, but it truly is amazing that it works as well as it does - name one other OS that has support for as many totally random devices as windows... You won't be able to because none even come close. It's staggering to even imagine how many possible combinations of hardware and software there is, and for it to even boot seems like a miracle to me sometimes...