Yeah, any excuse to build a new machine…

Today’s entry, involving cool things that blink at VNV concerts, will not be seen at this time, because all the pictures are on the computer that just bit the dust.

Ok, the computer’s fine (or as well as it was for the last several years), but one of the drives took to making this loud sharp metallic WHIIIINNNNNE that means it’s time to start praying to the data recovery deities of my choosing*. The machine has two drives, and they’re too close together to determine by ear which is failing, so I decided to turn the machine off and leave it off** until I have a replacement ready.

Anyway, this is the kick in the pants I’ve been needing to justify the purchase of an obscenely fast new machine to myself, and fix all of the issues in the backup rant. Hey, if I’m going to buy a new drive, it might as well be SATA because the old IDE are fast going obsolete, and motherboards are stopping supporting them. So if I have a SATA drive, I need a new motherboard. And if I have a new motherboard, it needs this sexy dual-core Athlon X2….

* Long diversion to talk about backups here:
As a (long ago, far away) IT-person, I know the importance of keeping backups religiously. So to prove how religious I was, I bought a shiny new DVD+-(*&^%etc.)RW (and RMA’d it after it didn’t work) (and RMA’d the replacement too) (and returned it and got another brand at Bestbuy) to back up all my data on a regular basis. By now you’re noticing that didn’t work so well. After three non-working drives (all burned coasters), I can only guess some weird issue between my motherboard / BIOS / hacks to BIOS to fix unexplained missing IDE channels and broken ATA100 support (long rant here, scroll down) and DVD writers was to blame***. So I said ‘yeah, I mean to fix that…’ and took to periodically copying the important stuff of drive 1 to drive 2 and vice versa, up until the point where both run out of space (yeah, I’ve been meaning to fix that…). This backup is a series of big WinRAR archives, not just for the compression, but mainly because every Windows version to date has been fscking BRAINDEAD in any kind of file copying****, while WinRAR, upon finding one file it can’t copy out of 1000, will actually copy the other perfectly copyable 999. But now, WinRAR has been having this issue where it will no longer backup a specific set of data (being most of a drive) to the other drive. Maybe it does something stupid like create a temp file on the C drive, which only has a few hundred megs free, then barf quietly with a Windows ‘ding’ and NO error message even though the destination drive has 50GB free. (Yeah, I’ve been meaning to look into that…) So yeah, at this moment I have a bunch of data on at least one of the drives that has no reliable or recent backup. But it’s not my fault, I tellya. I’m an ECE, I can design these things at the gate level, I’m a former IT-person, I know what IRQ, DMA and PCI stand for, I’m A+ certified, dammit, I know my shit. It was THEM. Them being everybody who isn’t me. Not my fault, I tellya. I was defeated by cumulative creeping idiocy on the part of others. Not my fault. Not my fau…

** Technically, turning off a drive with a mechanical/bearing issue–especially one not used to being turned off–is a no-no…the drive may not spin back up again, at least without a night in the freezer or some “percussive maintenance” (smacking it around) to unstick the spindle, also big no-nos. But leaving it to grind itself up for a few days waiting on a replacement is a big no-no too.

*** It could be some underperformance or latency somewhere in the chain was causing buffer underruns (even though the computer exceeded all ‘minimum’ specs by the drive manufacturer), which, because DVD burners seem to all have some “underrun safe” technology (all of which work in some necessarily unreliable way, like cutting power to the laser and trying to sync back to ‘within a few frames’ of where it left off when restarting, or worse methods like simply writing zeroes there but not stopping the burn), mask any underrun errors that may have occurred. Again, ‘coaster-proof’ anti-underrun features work by relying on the statistics deities to smile upon you for one or two small errors on the disk, and with hundreds or thousands of such errors scattered across the surface, their generosity is pretty well exhausted.

**** If you try to e.g. grab your entire C drive’s contents and copy them to a backup folder, you are sooner or later guaranteed to run into a file that can’t be copied because it’s “in use” (often by another program simply READING it, because a programmer didn’t specifically tell Windows the program is reading a file in read-only mode). So, it just skips that file and continues copying all the rest of them, right? BZZZT! Wrong. It throws up an error message, making you click OK, and then completely aborts the copy. Good luck dragging a huge folder somewhere and letting it copy overnight while you’re sleeping instead of babysitting it. But you can at least remember that filename, and just re-select all the ones after it and try to copy it again, secure in the knowledge that at least all the files before that one have copied, right? BZZZT! Wrong. The order in which the files are copied is completely arbitrary (in fact, a longstanding Windows bug often causes the LAST file selected to be copied first, followed by the first file selected, and then who knows…), so there’s no guarantee that if it dies on a file starting with ‘G’, all the files starting with A-F have been copied.

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