My Blog: Recovering from Catastrophe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Disk Failures

15 June 2018

I don’t have much luck with hard drives. Usually it involves buying one that ends up being too small for the number of files I create. Recently, it’s been disk or disk-related operating system failures. Either way, it puts the kibosh on developing software.

Disk One

I was creating a bootable USB drive to install Suse Linux on an old computer with an AMD processor not supported by later versions of Windows or Ubuntu. I figured that if I could get something modern working on the tower PC, I could sell it for a few quid. However, in the process of doing so, I happened to restart my new Windows 10 laptop with the USB stick still attached to the computer. Next thing I know, my laptop starts booting into Linux installer mode. Not showing any concern I shut it down, remove the USB stick and rebooted again… Nothing – nada – zip. Erm? Turns out that the Linux installer had corrupted the boot loader. Even Windows 10’s repair and restore functions couldn’t do anything about it. I was going to have to rebuild the machine from scratch and restore my files from backup. Argh!

I start the restore process and walk away… I know it’ll take about three-to-four hours to do its thing. Upon my return, I reboot, and still nothing. The recovery partition is also corrupt.

A quote from Alien pops into my head “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit, It's the only way to be sure”. Microsoft has also heard Ripley’s proclamation, and has tools for the job.

Armed with a bootable ISO on a new USB stick, I set to work formatting and rebuilding my laptop’s SSD. All went well until it came to creating an account with Windows Hello: “Trusted Platform Module not found”. Oh great! I need to do a firmware and driver update, and hunting through the manufacturer’s support website for all the correct installers took me the best part of three hours.

Four days after the initial failure, I was back online, installing Office 365, Adobe Creative Suite, SQL Server, and Visual Studio (IT technicians know just-how-long this takes). Three days further on, everything is working, including my University Package project. Thank heavens for backups.

I needed a break - and took one.

Disk Two

In 2010, Apple released their best-ever iMac. With an Intel Core i5 processor, up to 16GB of RAM and a 1TB 7200rpm hard drive, even today’s manufactures still don’t offer much more for the price. Its best feature is Target Display Mode, which allows you to plug other computers, DVD players, or games consoles into the DisplayPort socket, and use the gorgeous built-in 27inch IPS screen as an external display.

A real powerhouse, it has seen almost eight years continuous service as my iTunes media server and daily use as my go-to creative machine. Needless to say that when the disk drive began making strange sounds, I began to worry.

Although it booted to macOS, it did so slowly, and launching apps took several minutes, rather than a couple of seconds. I knew it was time, so I ordered a 2TB fusion drive from Amazon. This weekend will see me performing open-heart surgery on my beloved iMac, and I’m hoping to squeeze a few more years of life out of this trusted companion.

Improving My Backups

Disk failures make me worry about how I store my creative and development work. I already have backups of my main computers, but I also want to have some of the more important files stored away from my home. For this reason, I’m working to copy my photo archive and project work to cloud storage solutions.

I’ve also decided to move my software projects to Git and upload them regularly to private BitBucket repositories. The first project I’m going to upload to source control will be the University Package. There’s a learning curve to overcome, but I hope to have everything secured within the next month.

[Update]

The disk operation went well (had to install some extra software to control fan speeds), and the iMac is now recovering backups.


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