Eulogy for Sixteen Years’ Worth of Files

Black Screen!

Thank you all for coming. I’ve gathered my wits today to say a few words about the losses my wife and I suffered in the Great Hard Drive Crash of July 1, 2015.

We’ve had the same PC since at least 2009, maybe even longer. It was neither top-of-the-line Alienware nor an eMachines glorified calculator when I bonded with it at Fry’s Electronics and brought it home to join our household. I spent more than I could afford at the time, but it served us well in the long run and more than made up the difference to us on a number of levels. It was terrible for gaming and I let that dream go early, but it served all our modest needs with an efficiency and speed that its predecessors could never touch. We were one big happy family.

Over the past several months it had begun to slow down, to struggle with everyday basic human needs such as YouTube or Facebook games. As with previous computers, I could tell the grown of the internet and the rapid pace of entertainment technology was finally outstripping its ability to keep up. I knew sooner or later it would have to be put out to pasture at the old PC retirement farm, where it would putter along in senile contentment until its new handlers butchered it and recycled it into computer glue.

I procrastinated the decision for a while. At the time it still accomplished most of what we asked of it, though the baseline kept creeping further and further down. I was hoping to hold out till at least July 26th so we could maybe skip that wretched Windows 8 and go straight to Windows 10, even though that could be twice the nightmare for all I know. It was probably a stupid plan. Now it’s a moot plan.

Little did I know its condition would rapidly decline this past week, by which I mean my wife’s tasks got increasingly more frustrating as the PC started acting like Grandpa Simpson, ignoring her commands and moving at whatever speed felt right to it. For some reason, it behaved whenever I was around, as if it liked me best and was trying to make her look bad. NOT COOL, COMPUTER.

On July 1st, a day that shall forever live in infamy in our household, our computer began locking up with an occasional featureless black screen, as shown above. Reboots made it worse. Soon we couldn’t get back into it. We took it to the nearest repair place and were informed the hard drive had gone bad and would have to be replaced. Data recovery was proposed as a possibility and attempted at a basic level. After a three-night stay that gave us time to go through the Five Stages, the IT staff regretted to inform us their efforts were for naught.

They offered one ray of hope: we retain the option to pay for a more invasive approach that would involve sorting ones and zeroes by hand, holding them up to each other like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and seeing if any of them stick together in shapes that resemble old files we might recognize. Depending on our desperation and the level of restoration complexity we were willing to pursue, the quoted prices ranged from a low three-figure sum up to a big wad of cash that could buy us three new PCs or a 2016 moped with all the luxury options.

…so we had a new hard drive installed, which has the same old OS but in an upgraded version with some noticeable streamlining. The total bill for the diagnostics, new hard drive, hard drive installation, failed data recovery attempt (after partial refund due to their failure), and one-year service plan in case of relapse all added up to literally within one dollar of my monthly car payments. On the bright side, I paid off the car last month, so this was like one last reverse-bonus car payment.

They let us take the old hard drive home and gave us some time to think it over. We can spend more money that we’d prefer not to, or we can give all those files up for dead. For the moment and for a variety of reasons, my wife and I are letting them go. This was not an easy decision, especially for this humbled idiot who forgot to create any backups and could only find some old thing labeled a “boot-up disk” that was no help. I found plenty of forgotten treasures in my PC CD collection — all my son’s old school pics, the installation software from the previous printer we tossed ages ago, several Sim City games I never touched, a Captain Crunch game that came free with a box of cereal — but no backups ever.

Thankfully not all our past works are lost. My wife uploaded copies of our last several years’ worth of camera pics to her Shutterfly account. I had several hundred saved to my creaky old Photobucket space. I’d recently printed our master document for our 2015 road trip planning, so that came in extra handy. My old blog, my LiveJournal, and the road-trip travelogs written pre-MCC are all still online and can be retrieved when I can find some hours to want to do that, possibly after the bitterness fades. WordPress has a separate backup mechanism that’s not dependent on the life of a solitary PC, so yeah, you can bet I backed all this site up immediately during the three-day ordeal.

But the losses are considerable. We’re still struggling to bid farewell to those that fell into the veritable abyss.

A few cherished humor pieces I’d kept from my Usenet days, dating as far back as 1999, which would be virtually impossible to hunt down through Google Groups.

My wife’s address collection for the family reunion she runs. She found some printouts from two years ago, but we’ll have to reach out to anyone who’s moved since then.

My accumulation of Kickstarter digital rewards, some PDFs and videos, which I’d accumulated but never gotten around to viewing.

Lots and lots of bookmarks.

The status of any digital photos taken between 2006 and 2009 is questionable. Many were printed and/or archived, but we think many more may have fallen through the cracks.

Copies of some screenplays I wasn’t supposed to have.

All my digital music, which tended to get ignored in favor of YouTube, Pandora, DVD commentaries, or silence. Harm done = 0.0.

A few years’ worth of my son’s early digital art attempts from his youth, before he got his own separate system and began hiding everything he does from us.

Some vital info for a couple of online accounts, which may require live phone calls to recoup. UGH.

My MCC future topic brainstorming list. I remember the last three or four notes I added to it, but a number of long-term ideas and lists will have to be extracted from memory. My hopes for that, like my memory on a really distracted day, are kind of dim.

Sixteen years’ worth of lists I’d been keeping of every movie I’ve seen in theaters from 2000 to the present. I can piece together 2012-2015 from old MCC entries, but that’s still twelve years of self-trivia out the window.

My wife and I can each tell you the worst losses of all. For her, it was hundreds of thousands of words she’d spent months writing in advance as the next few years’ worth of posts for her daily online writing project. She spent much of this three-day holiday weekend scrounging through her Sent email folders to retrieve salvageable portions that she emailed to herself back and forth between work and home. Because Yahoo! is terrible, it’s been more frustrating and time-consuming than she would’ve liked. Whatever she can’t find there will have to be rewritten from scratch, hopefully recapturing any of the inspired thoughts that occurred to her the first time around.

As for me, I count as my greatest loss the spreadsheets I used to keep track of my comic book collection. I began that list in junior high using a spiral-bound notebook and have been carefully maintaining it in spreadsheet form since 1999, noting all issue numbers acquired for every title, each alphabetized and organized by publisher. I now have over ten thousand comics, or however much forty-seven longboxes can hold, accumulated since age six, that are now 100% undocumented. For someone like me who likes lists, numbers, organization, knowing what I own, and knowing what I don’t own, this is a horrifying personal disaster and I can’t stop freaking out about it on the inside.

My comics want lists, what I used to search for missing back issues at conventions, are likewise lost. The idea of going through all 10,000+ comics and writing down all that info again is not tempting yet. At all. I’m not sure my back could take the strain of lifting that many boxes in succession anymore. I have until our next comics convention (i.e., August’s Wizard World Chicago) to decide if I still really want to have a complete run of the original Incredible Hulk and am willing to go back and see which issues I need, or if I’d rather drop that longtime personal goal, among several other fan-based goals that just got a lot harder. A small part of me that’s angry at the rest of me wants to set the collection on fire and start a new spreadsheet tracking just the survivors.

As of today, quite frankly, I can’t even.

My wife and I are grateful we had those files and lists for as long as we had them. We’re sad, upset, frustrated, and disappointed that this has happened. We know computers are prone to disasters, but our previous devices gave us plenty of advance warning signs so we could act before it was too late. This time around, not so much. We’re doing what we can to pick up the pieces, retrace our steps, and move on with our lives. We know this, too, shall pass.

I’ve tried to keep it in perspective. My immediate impulse was to liken the situation to a house fire. I had to shut up and withdraw the analogy because my wife once survived an actual house fire. She has it on full authority this is not remotely the same thing. What we lost was important to us, but how much of it was truly Important is up for debate.

Well, okay, I’ll confess I’m not mourning the Kickstarter rewards. That’s a start. Let’s pretend this is a positive sign for the healing process.

Thanks for listening. Now go back to ignoring me and go back-up your files. NOW. Take it from me, the Spirit of Hardware Failures Yet to Come.

One response

  1. If my computer hard drive fails I have an HP Simple Save drive that backs up all new files every 5 minutes, and also have the back up that I do with my 1.5 gig external drive. So all of my files are saved somewhere else just in case of a catastrophe. There are a lot of hard drives on the market that do something similar, and everyone should have one of those hooked up to their computer. Actually I can commiserate with Randall since I had the same thing happen to me in the past many many years ago when backs up were to tapes. I didn’t have the hard drive backed up so therefore lost a few years of accumulated data. That should not be a problem to me in the future. Remember anything that you want for the future on your computer has to be backed up now and best to do it continuously.


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