Archive for November, 2007

Catastrophic Personal Data Loss

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Do you know how much space all the files you’ve been collecting and saving for the last 10 years takes up? You know what I’m talking about, all your backed up files, your contacts, old emails, old correspondence, old Word docs, your various downloads, your various license keys/serial numbers, every digital photo you’ve ever taken or had taken of you, your pr0n, your vast collection of ebooks & audio books, your wicked collection of ultra cool and ultra rare (out-of-print) music books, sheet music, play-along CDs, backing tracks, tabs, magazine scans, etc., etc.?

In my case it was 255GB (yes, gigabytes, not megabytes). The reason I know is because although I’ve always been careful about backing this huge store of amassed information to a second hard drive across the network (thus having two live copies always available), I (along with the help of a failing <brand> hard drive), may have just wiped it all off the face of the earth in a couple of stupid, fell swoops.

I always slept well at night knowing I have done a recent rsync to sync up any changes made/files added from my master data drive to my backup data drive. Why just this month I was in there tagging some of the (complete collection of) Aebersold CDs and renaming things to a more logical, easy to find system. Piles of this kind of data take hours of painstaking work to categorize and organize. It’s something I’ve never felt finished with and am always in there tinkering to make the system better, finding new ways to automate the process, etc. etc. It’s like a rather large hobby of mine. I guess I’m kind of an archivist at heart.

Well, yesterday I realized it’s quite possible I’ve lost it all to a couple of seriously boneheaded actions on my part and a surprise disk failure on a 320GB “back up” hard drive on my LAN’s file server (running Ubuntu server + Samba). It started with my other post from this week about Windows Vista. I was in my main workstation (2 system disks that are smaller 10K RPM raptors for the OSes + 2 data 500GB data disks full of audio + 1 320GB external USB drive on which these data files reside). I was smart enough to unplug the 500GB drives before messing around with the OS b/c I’ve had enough experience to know that it’s easy to wipe one of these when messing around with partitioning software in any OS. At some point I saw that the light on the USB drive was on and I thought to myself I should go ahead and turn that drive off until I was done. I got distracted and forgot to do it. (Bad move #1). Then when I was reinstalling XP, I was in the partition menu, I saw two drives with byte counts starting with “3” something. So I wiped the first one thinking it was the 36GB raptor I use for the OS. (Bad move #2) It turned out to be the friggin’ data drive. I realized it almost immediately. I breathed a sigh of relief however, since I knew I’d done an rsync between that drive and the “backup” drive about a day or two before, so there probably wasn’t any data loss. Also, I hadn’t checked the health of my backup drive before doing anything serious like installing an OS, and I don’t have any automated log monitoring set up to send me email or SMS alerts to things like drive failures. (Bad move #3).

So out of the 5 hard drives in my workstation, and the 4-5 hard drives in my LAN file server, guess which one turns out to be experiencing a total failure? Guess how I found out that the drive was failing? If you guessed that it was when I was desperately in need of a backup of the 255GB of data existing on that very 1 drive out of 9-10 hard drives I have spun up at any given time, then you guessed right.


I spent all day in a kind of semi-catatonic daze. I think I was partially in denial about it. I was also racking my brain for what I was going to do to recover it (and also trying to get a feel for the scope of my loss — which just got worse and worse the more I realized I was storing on these hard drives). I even had to go to my history class and take a test while I was waiting for fsck to stop spewing errors to my screen while running it (which may have made the situation worse for any hope of recovering anything from that drive). By the end of the night I couldn’t even mount the drive as the file system was no longer recognized as a valid Linux filesystem, I started getting IDE controller errors in the logs as well, which was a change from the earlier imagic & bad block errors I was getting when I first realized I’d just dicked myself out of all this data (and man hours collecting and organizing it).

Today I was home from work, so I got right up, got a coffee and brought my Knoppix CD to try and see what could be done. Much to my surprise I could mount the drive and it appears I was able to x-fer a few of the smaller directories over to a spare 320GB USB hard drive. While I was waiting for the transfers to finish, I got to thinking that the dd utility might be better than mounting this disk up and copying/rsyncing the files over. (Actually certain directories were unreadable and had very weird user info and perms, nothing I could do would change the perms and rsync just wasn’t dealing with the errors — as it probably shouldn’t have). Then I stumbled onto to something even better than dd (I hope) called dd_recover, which changes the block size of the x-fer on the fly to better accommodate a drive that is throwing errors. It’s a utility specifically designed for recovering data from a failing drive. So I’m very hopeful I can get something back. I have yet another 320GB USB drive hooked up and am running it. It seems to be taking a while (like 25GB x-fered in about 2-3 hours), but it’s also IDE to USB — and if it took 3 weeks and worked it’d be well worth it.

Man, Linux fucking rules. The native logging and the native tool chain that is available for troubleshooting, fixing stuff like this is unbelievable. You know what it cost for an OS that is stable and feature-laden? A single CD-R and a 699MB download. I’m sure there’s a Windows solution like Winternals, or some other 3rd party app that would do what the free dd (or dd_recover) does, but it’d cost at least $150. and have some license that times out in a year — or the app will be outdated in 6 months and you’ll have to buy it all over again. And that’s all after I had to pay for the OS, pay for the rsync-like utility that does backups, and all the other software that I’d have to pay for to do what Knoppix does out of the box. Pfft!

Anyway, back to my recovery…. I’ll post the outcome when it’s done.

Windows Vista

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Vista’s probably the first Microsoft OS since Win98 (since that was in production when I started using computers regularly) that I’ve not been an early adopter of (or that I’ve not been using since beta). Here it is months after it was released to the general population that I’m using it for the first time. There are a number of reasons for this. It has some to do with where I currently work and the people who get have access to the licensing, it has some to do with it being much harder to just “find” a license somewhere online (and that I no longer really trust Windows software media obtained from anyone other than the source), and it has the most to do with the fact that I really didn’t care much about trying it out since I had no need to upgrade. The very little I actually use the Windows OS in my life (partially forced by work to use it, partially out of convenience in running certain apps at home –without some of the headaches of running it in a virtual environment) has been served well enough by XP — and could probably be just as well served by Win2k.

Anyway, I got a copy of the media and and installed Ultimate to give’er a whirl on my home machine. Sadly it’s not the 64-bit version, so I can’t make full use of the AMD64 this machine has, but then again, when I used to run 64-bit Linux about 2-3 years ago, it too wasn’t really that rewarding, since at that time nothing worked in 64-bit mode (it could still be that way, I haven’t tried since I’ve stopped being the kind of person who reinstalls his OS every couple weeks to try some new OS or config or something. I typically leave the OS on for years now and only upgrade when I really feel the need for a change). It’d probably behoove me to read about people’s experience running Vista in 64-bit mode before even trying it.

The install is easier, and noticeably faster than an XP install. The installation also seems to bug you less than the XP installer. I’d be interested to do a side-by-side comparison though, since a lot of the annoying questions you get during the XP install were saved for the first boot (or was it the second? Vista wasn’t clear about what really was the first boot and what was a first boot that required a reboot before the first boot) before you log in.

The drivers for my system were mostly detected — enough to get me up and running with a good resolution and an IP address obtained from my LAN’s DHCP server. I even have a functional sound driver for my Soundblaster, but I am being told by the system that I should get the real driver from Creative. I haven’t checked the device mangler for missing drivers. I’m guessing there will be a few, but not any that stop me from working right away. XP installs on this box almost always required several driver installs before I had network and video functionality.

I notice that notepad didn’t choke on a 12MB XML file, so it seems they’ve improved its support for large files (or did they do that in XP, I don’t remember). I also noticed that the command-line (cmd)’s interface allows you to expand the window vertically and the text will adapt to the window’s vertical size. I think you had to always go into options and change that in previous versions of Windows. Would be nice if it would do that in both directions though. It didn’t seem doing it horizontally worked.

It seems they did a good job of modernizing the interface to look slicker and more up to date. Nice transparencies in the windows, nice side bar, everything looks pretty clean. (I love the look of the alt-tab switching between apps! And the new system monitor that you can get to from the Task Manager is pretty slick for monitoring performance on the system.) It’s funny though, this desktop looks a lot like what people have been using for a long time in Linux (and probably on Macs too) with the transparancies and the gdesklet-like side bar.

Despite all these changes, I’m not feeling too much like a fish out of water. Mapping network drives was simple. Changing the interface look & feel can be found in the same context sensitive menus. The Task Manager is in the same place. The Control Panel is pretty self explanatory. I purposely didn’t choose all the “Windows Classic” settings for windowing and folder views so that I’d become more familiar with the default interface, and I don’t find it too disorienting.

Some of the “mother may I” stuff when accessing menus and settings gets a little annoying. I think I had to do it like 5-6 times when installing iTunes. I also see that the game port for my Soundblaster Audigy isn’t supported.

Update: I do notice something odd about the process control changes. It seems apps lock up (“not responding” in the Task Manager) a lot less. However, it seems like they just kinda’ hang within themselves and don’t respond. So in a sense it looks like the program is responding, but it’s really not. It’s kind of a fake-out. I’m talking about iTunes. I had an XML file with the mappings to the library that would fill my 80GB iPod. I imported that into iTunes. iTunes would just sit there while “determining gapless playback information” for all these tunes. If I tried to sync my iPod to the recently imported library, it would basically stop responding. I did realize that the process priority was set to medium by default. Changing to high brought about the “not responding” more often, but didn’t really seem to help iTunes process this massive load.

All in all I’m pretty impressed. I was expecting (and half hoping) to really dislike Vista every step of the way. But my first hour or so with it have been pretty good. I’ll update later as I use it more and have recourse to try working with a number of different apps.

Fender Marcus Miller Sig Jazz Bass

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Scored one of these from Dave’s Guitar in Wisconsin. Didn’t get much time to play the bass yet (maybe b/c I was cleaning annoying packing peanuts off my floor all night, ahem!) but it’s got a ton more sounds than my current MIM Jazz V and playing the 4-string is a lot nicer/easier feeling than the 5. I’ll post pics and a more detailed review shortly.

P.S. I couldn’t let a full year pass befoe updating my blog. 😉 So this time it’s only 361 days since my last update. w00h00! Slacking rules!