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August 02, 2006

Travelling Without Baggage

The other day, after rebooting to apply a security patch, my main work machine blue-screened during boot. When I rebooted, the BIOS gave me an ominous message about how the disk was "operating outside of its normal parameters", and it crashed on boot again.

So I ordered up a new machine, and tried plugging in the old disk as a secondary drive. With the old disk connected, the new machine also refused to boot; when someone from helpdesk came to look at it, she guessed that Windows was hanging trying to access the disk during startup, and from the pathetic clicking sound the drive was making, it seemed like the disk was seriously broken.

Since this was my main machine and I had been lazy about backing it up (lazy meaning never), basically everything I had done since I came back to Microsoft in 2003 was gone. Now, it's not quite everything: I could still access any code or specs I had done that were checked in to source code control, as well as any documents I had put up on a Sharepoint site, any contributions to a Wiki, any Monad scripts I had blogged here, and email from the middle of March on, which is still stored on my Exchange server. By coincidence mid-March is just after I joined EEG, so basically what I had lost was everything related to working on Monad.

The vast majority of it, of course, was junk. An NT source enlistment, various Monad install directories, accumulated crud I didn't need, documents nobody cared about. There's exactly one document I know I wanted, which was notes I had written up on Scrum: what to do during a planning meeting, what to do during a daily standup, what to do during a retrospective.

But now I have a decision to make. I can send the disk out to a data recovery company that Microsoft contracts with, and it's likely they could get most of the data back. It's actually a two-step process: first they analyze the disk and send you a list of files they could recover, and then if you like what you see you can authorize a greater expenditure of money to actually recover the files.

Right now I'm blissfully unaware of what is on there--it's actually been almost a month since it died and I haven't missed anything. But if I see the list of files, I might feel pangs of loss over certain things. And, it's not clear that I'll be able to justify paying the cost for actual recovery given that most of what is on there is useless. So should I send the disk in for the initial exam?

I'm very tempted to not do it, and remain in my state of happy amnesia. In fact I'm tempted to also throw out all the various printed documents I have left over from my Monad days. While I'm at it, I could junk all the spare keyboards and network cables that I keep around in case I ever need them. And the conference badges and "Monad -- I'm lovin' it" buttons could follow right behind. All I really need to keep are books.

Moving forward, I realize that the way to prevent this from happening again is to not store anything important on my disk. My boss pointed out that my notes on Scrum should have been on our internal Wiki anyway, so others could read it. We have enough other servers to store stuff on, both internal to the team and public within Microsoft, that I shouldn't need to store anything on my disk. It would be awfully freeing to get into this mode, and it would be a good prep for moving to an open workspace where I won't have as much room for physical junk.

But, I'm a bit of a packrat and it's hard to escape the feeling that at least one thing I throw away I'll wind up regretting (I actually had a printout of my Scrum notes, but must have recycled it in a fit of cleansing). So, I have to think about this one.

Posted by AdamBa at August 2, 2006 10:45 PM

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I would just let the disk go and re-write the scrum notes. Did you really make a note of something that you would miss in the re-write? And if you did, was it that important in the first place?

Posted by: FreeBeer at August 3, 2006 08:28 AM

Yeah, I have experienced the same thing many times at Microsoft and have found ITG to (lately) be very ineffective at helping. Just do what I do...back all your files up to one or more Gmail accounts.

Posted by: That'll Teach 'em at August 3, 2006 03:15 PM

Might be worth giving SpinRite a go...

Posted by: at August 3, 2006 03:32 PM

I think it's beyond SpinRite. The first recovery attempt (mounting it on another computer) didn't work. Now we're getting into taking the platters out and remounting them via some magic. I'm leaning heavily towards "don't bother".

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at August 3, 2006 10:47 PM

I had such an experience once and we were able to retieve the files (for what they were worth, mostly not much). The problem was that the drive would not turn at all. We found the right kind of screwdriver from our sysop and opened it, started the drive turning by pushing it by hand, hooked it up to another machine and got the files. Within two hours it crashed completely; doubtless some dirt had got in.

Posted by: Marble Chair at August 4, 2006 08:04 AM

DriveSavers in Novato, CA (www.drivesavers.com) can get the data back. It's not cheap (and they have cheaper competitors), but they've saved my clients at least twice.

Best of luck (and do those backups!)

Posted by: mike duffy at August 6, 2006 08:30 AM