August 29, 2004

Bill Gates is Satan!

For the three people who drop by regularly, I would like to apologize for not posting more, but I have a good excuse, as follows:

Two weekends ago I decided to re-install Windows XP. It was late, but it generally is when I do something like this. This time, alas, I encountered problems.

I have to explain something first; a few years ago, I took a page out of the Linux book and set up my main hard drive as a boot partition, and a data partition, with the boot set at 30 gigs, so it wouldn't be too hard to use Norton's Ghost to back it up to an external USB hard drive I had. The data partition was everything left over.

I ended up not following that pattern, since I decided instead to use the USB drive to back up all my important docs instead. The other thing I changed was that I used TweakUI to point the special "symbolic link" (to use another Linux term) to point to something besides c:\My Documents. I pointed it to D:\My Documents. That way I could re-install XP (and even reformat) without losing my data.

There's one little problem with that idea, and it bit me the first time I did a re-install a few years back (BTW, no, XP isn't that bad, I just like to muck around with things): the first time I rebooted during the Setup program, the system wanted to run Scandisk against my D: drive, and I said "sure, why not?" It then proceeded to merrily flag everything on the drive as lost clusters.

I figured out that when I did the re-install, the symbolic link didn't exist anymore on C:, so everything in the file table on D: which pointed to \My Documents got flagged as lost clusters.

I freaked, at the time, then remembered that I had all the important data backed up on the USB drive. I lost a couple movies, and some .mp3s, but no big deal. The solution, of course, is to point that symbolic link back to C: before you do the reinstall.

Back to the present, now 2 weeks past. Here's the problem: it had been so long since I had done a re-installl that I had forgotten about that. So when the system asked if it should Scandisk D:, I said "sure!" and sure enough... Meltdown. Dammit.

But hey, that's ok, becuase I had been faithfully backing up all my important stuff onto the USB drive the past few years. So I finished the re-installed, turned off the system, and went to bed. I could finish the data restore and my favorite apps the next morning.

I get up, fire up some tea, and sit down for the restore. But when I click on the USB drive, Windows tells me there's nothing there!? Eh?

I check the drive, and according to Properties the file table is "RAW," which means it hasn't been formatted yet. Um, no, I formatted it to FAT32 a while back, thank you very much! And while I'm asking, where's my data?

I ran more tests, including booting with a Win98se disk and using FDISK to check properties. Nope. FDISK told me there was an NTFS partition that had not been initialized on the drive, and nothing else.

By now -besides being truly nauseated and upset- I recalled the night before thinking to myself "Hm? Windows wants me to specify which partition to install to? I just did that, and said use NTFS and overwrite the current data." So I did it again.

Now here's the thing: I will swear on a stack of Bibles as high as you like, that both times the Setup program was pointing to a C:\ partition! In other words, after XP nuked the boot partition as I requested, it found the USB drive and said to itself, "gee, here's another bootable partition, let's ask about this one, too," and listed that as C:\ as well! Blast it.

To sum up, I was completely SOL. I couldn't re-do the backup, since my D: drive was gone, and I couldn't restore the D: drive, since the backup was gone.

All of my work from Miami; all my photos, my programming work and senior project, my writing, email, photos, memories of classmates, all gone.

I still get sick thinking about it.

And yes, I have a CD burner, but it's an older 24x, so it's slow enough, and the 640meg limit of a CD is small enough that I got out of the habit of burning CDs, especially since I had the external USB drive.

Lessons learned:
-Windows sucks.
-Carefully write down, and save, your standard procedures for reinstalling your OS, unless your memory is perfect.
-Never, ever, EVER leave an external backup device plugged into a system when you reinstall an OS.
-Always have a read-only, non-volatile backup as well. Preferably in another room.

Posted by Casey at August 29, 2004 12:46 AM | TrackBack

Oh shit...

Man, that just absolutely sucks. I know what a bummer it was, back a number of years ago, when the hard drive on my old computer went out on me with no warning (well, come to think of it, it wasn't exactly with no warning), and I lost five months' worth of a personal journal I was keeping on my computer— it'd been five months since I'd last made a backup of my data. And since I was dirt poor at the time, I never even got around to getting my data retrieved off that hard drive.

But to lose everything you had on your computer...

Oh shit...

Posted by: Paul Burgess at August 29, 2004 8:27 AM

And that story is why I am still running Win-98, and will continue to do so even after I buy a new motherboard, cpu, and memory. I already run Zone Alarm pro, and have the hardware firewall running on my router. With minimal interest in older versions of Windows I KNOW I am secure.

Posted by: Bubba Bo Bob Brain at August 29, 2004 1:05 PM

Bubba, I would never, ever, ever go back to any 9x platform, unless at gunpoint. If I were forced to that decision, it would be hello, Linux, and bu-bye Windows!

The 9x platform has been a kludge from day one, although 98SE is the best of the batch. I wouldn't touch Me with a ten-foot pole.

Actually, the main reason I'm using XP instead of 2000 is Cleartype. This font-smoothing technique was intended to help readability on laptop LCD screens, but the difference on a standard CRT is amazing.

Linux has similar technology, but you have to know how to install it. Linspire, nee Lindows, has it turned on by default and again the difference is startling. Not many Linux flavors include it yet.

They should... :)

Oh, speaking of firewalls: XP service pack 2 has upgraded the XP firewall so that it at least makes an effort to monitor outgoing traffic; a definite improvment. I don't know if it just checks the filename, or uses a more sophisticated approach as does Zone Alarm.

Paul: thanks for the kind words. Once I get a real job, then some extra money, I think I will be getting a Mac, and run both (at least for a while). Us computer science types can't really afford to ignore the Wintel world. It's just too darn big. :)

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at August 29, 2004 11:47 PM