Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The soul of a new machine

My three-week odyssey through the heck of having a computer fail began with a power blip while I was in my garage.

I was searching through some boxes for some clips for a resume I was sending out when, suddenly, the garage went dark. I said a bad word, and the lights came back on — not because I said the word. I also slipped and almost landed on my tush.

(I was looking for clips because I am in career-change mode (read: I got laid off from my job at a daily newspaper) and needed proof that I had done some, well, mediocre at least work at another paper.)

I found the nice big flat-screen monitor of my pride and joy, my Dell XPS Gen 4, dark, and repeated attempts to reboot the system proved fruitless. The system decided there was no bootable hard drive in it, and that was that. My heart sank. I had resumes, financial records, computer games and more on that machine, and it was a doorstop.

I took it to a place for repair work, and almost begged them to back up the first hard drive to the second hard drive, restore the operating system and get my machine running again. It took three weeks-plus, but they did as I asked, and nothing was lost, and I have been restoring the computer to its former state slowly but surely.

I have had that computer for more than three years, and hard drives tend to accumulate a lot of stuff over that time frame. I admit that I’m no different. I have samples of games I downloaded, old e-mails, document files, some of which date back nearly 10 years and have been moved from PC to PC as I bought new systems, and financial records that go back 12 years and were moved from PC to PC.

Oh, and a couple of versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator and a lot of third-party software for it, which will all be reinstalled at some time, as well as The Complete New Yorker.

So what did I do during the three weeks that my main system was out? Well, I have a very nice HP laptop, and that became my computer during that time. I had an out of date backup of most of my resume files and some other needed files, so by week three I was almost fully operational and had sent out a number of resumes.

I read once that the Army has a “Lessons Learned” department, where it looks at past actions and evaluates them. I find that a good idea, so here is my lessons learned section:

  • Buy a backup system — Done; I bought an external hard drive and will back up my critical files to it. I may even back up the entire C: drive, just in case.
  • Get an uninterruptible power supply — Done; I bought one the same day I bought the above hard drive, and use it just for the computer’s CPU.
  • Have a backup machine ready to take on the workload — Done; I actually have a couple of Gateways in another room that I use, too, plus an old Pentium 166 machine in the garage. And my trusty and always in use HP laptop.
  • When the computer comes back from the shop, be patient. You’ll have a lot of restoring and reinstallation to do, and it will take a while.

I found my iTunes files, for example, and moved them to the correct location, but iTunes refused to start. Downloading iTunes from Apple and running the installation program resulted in that version being upgraded, plus it wrote the registry entries that got me back into business with my iPhone.

Most of the critical stuff (e-mail, personal finance, Web surfing) is back on line, but I figure it will be a month before I’m completely finished with the restoration. I also have some tweaking of the Windows configuration to do. It’s annoying when you get a computer back with a fresh installation of Windows to have to get rid of all those “helpful” things that are set up by default but that you forgot about.

Actually, the system is running a little faster and better without all that other software. But I have a huge pile of CDs in the “to-do” stack, so the work continues.


September 8, 2008 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Yeah — you’re way ahead of me in the technical/geek department. I just bought my first i-pod last week and still want to carry my CD Walkman on the subway instead.

    And I am also looking forward to crisp Fall weather!

    Comment by Diana-NYC | September 9, 2008 | Reply

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