February 24

When Good Hard Drives Go Bad…

hard-drive-failureIs there a First World, 21st Century dilemma more instantly horrifying than the death of a computer’s hard drive? If there is, I can’t imagine what it would be. Over the last week, I’ve been living the nightmare that is a completely dead computer.

Like most of us, I spend the majority of my work day staring at a computer screen. The entire output of my creative endeavors exists entirely in the little metal box encased in my laptop, resting comfortably between my typing fingers and my lap. For the last four years, literally everything I’ve accomplished, in the form of 6 different websites, is entirely digital. Entirely a series of ones and zeroes stored somehow on a hard drive. I can’t begin to know how it all works other than to assume it’s some kind of voodoo or magic.

The worry of anybody who works on a computer, or who stores their collected memories in the form of digital music, photographs and videos is the dreaded computer failure. In the past, we worried about fire, or floods, or superstorms, wiping out our precious physical belongings; today, we fear what may happen to our digital content when our trusted machines fail us. The early days of computing saw technology failure happen on a frighteningly regular basis; thankfully engineering and design improvements have made computers and other electronic devices much more reliable. But they’re not 100%. Not yet, anyway.

Hard Drive Crash: That Sinking Feeling

Over almost 30 years of computing, I had never experienced a catastrophic failure. Until last week. My computer had been acting strangely for a few days. A photo on one of my web pages had to be switched out, a job that typically takes me just a few minutes. The ‘spinning wheel of death’ kept popping up after every keystroke, and my frustration level skyrocketed. This simple, quick job ended up taking several hours. I should have known then that something was wrong. I had been seeing the spinning wheel more frequently over the past few weeks. And last Wednesday, everything on my browser quit. Restarting the computer didn’t work. Trying to reboot it 4 times didn’t work; I turned on the laptop and instead of a normal restart, I got a blank screen with a circle with a line through it. Dammit. Reality began to set in: My computer just died. I now know the sinking, lost feeling that comes with a failed hard drive. Everything on my computer, hundreds of gigabytes of data, years of website work, all my tunes, a lifetime of digitized photos… Gone. Gone. Gone. That magical little metal disc inside my computer that stored everything I’ve ever done on it has just gone kaput. It’s not a good feeling. I was up Shit Creek. But, fortunately for me, I had a paddle. I had a backup of my data.

I’ve heard horror stories of people losing their hard drives and not having their data files backed up somewhere, and I simply cannot fathom the sense of loss they must feel. I felt scared enough even with the knowledge that I paid a monthly fee to back everything up with a cloud-based backup company.

Two trips to the Apple Store, and my computer was back on the lap with a brand new $160 hard drive. A hard drive is the brain and soul of any computer; it’s where all the memories live, and this new hard drive was like a newborn baby. Nothing there. No memories. No data. No files.

Cloud Backup to the Rescue!

And that brings me to today; several days in, and the restoration download that’s repopulating my hard drive with everything that was on the old one is continuing. And it’s sllllooooowwwwww. Over 880,000 backed-up files have to be downloaded. I can’t really do anything on any of my websites until all the files are back. Thankfully they were all uploaded to the server before my hard drive died, but I can’t add to or edit anything yet. And I’m waiting, semi-patiently. It’s a long, slow paddle down Shit Creek, but it’s happening. I just have to wait. And I’m also going to have to spend a bit of time putting all these restored files back in the right place on the computer, but at least they’re there. Right? SERENITY NOW!!!

I guess what I’m trying to get across in this boring ramble is this: BACKUP YOUR COMPUTER DATA. It sounds like total common sense in this digital world, but I have a sneaky suspicion that many people don’t do it. It’s easy to just think that nothing like a total hard drive failure will ever happen to YOUR computer, but you’re a fool to think that. Sooner or later, a computer in your possession is going to have something catastrophic happen to it: the hard drive will fail, the battery will explode, it’ll fall out a window or get ripped off. Bad things happen in real life, and bad things happen to our cherished computers. Your house will probably never burn down, but it’s a pretty good idea to have a plan for your family on how to get out of it if it ever does, and it’s a damn good idea to have a plan for getting your digital data back in the event, however unlikely, that something happens to your computer.

Data Backup: When Redundancy is a Good Thing

Backup your data however you can. Buy an external hard drive to keep your files in more than one location. Do what I did and subscribe to an online cloud-based backup service like Carbonite or Mozy. For just $5 or $10 a month, everything on your computers is automatically backed up to the cloud, where it can be easily accessed anytime you need it. Whether your accidentally delete a book report (that’s happened to us too) or you lose all your data, it’s easy to get back. (It just might take some time to download!) Better yet, have a cloud-based backup AND some type of external hard drive storage. There’s no such thing as too much redundancy when it comes to data backup. Storage memory is getting cheaper all the time, and backups become easier and more automatic as well, so there’s no reason to back your stuff up. Back it up, then back it up again! I can’t imagine not having that reassuring feeling, knowing that I’m not relying on fate or luck to keep my files safe on one hard drive. If I’d done that, I’d be totally screwed right now. Hard drives fail. They probably always will. Even yours. The time for a plan to back it up is RIGHT NOW.

p.s. If you’re wondering, I use Carbonite as my backup service. It’s affordable, it’s totally automatic, and their customer service has been exceptional handling my questions and concerns surrounding my data restoration.

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Posted February 24, 2015 by brainstembob@yahoo.com in category "Miscellaneous


  1. By Kelly on

    Oh Bob I feel your pain!!

    I was in the same boat a few weeks ago, and when it was all done, I also had a new appreciation for my beloved backups. Yes that’s plural, I’ve been burned enough times that I always have at least 2 and sometimes 3 backups ready.

    I also had a renewed appreciation for those amazing beautiful precious geeks at the genius bar. I’m convinced there’s a special place in heaven for those dudes.

    By the way, mine took almost a whole week to get everything onto my new hard drive.



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