Monday, November 26, 2007

Tech Support: Lose Data, Gain a Soul?

My Macbook's hard drive did last night what any hard drive promises to do: die without leaving even so much as a back-up note. (OK, ok, so I was supposed to write that note. Happy now, yer 'onour?) Sleep was replaced with fret, but dawn brings light, and with it action. Or pondering. Even some kind of calm.

I have a few choices, as ever. What's weird is what kind of questions each one brings up.
  • Choice 1. Standard route: Get a new HDD under warranty. Hey, it's free, but it means giving back my old drive, which removes any possibility of getting the data back through some kind of recovery/forensics service.

  • Choice 2. Buy a new drive myself. Get to keep the old one, maybe get the data off if the heads haven't f***ed it over completely (a possibility it seems, after having read around the finternet a bit).
Herein lies the oddness though - the choice comes down to whether or not I want my data back. Now, there's a lot of data there - with the main stuff being photos, but also various Uni notes, random bits of code and sporadic witters in text form.

But what is my relationship with this data, and what should it be? My immediate regret about not having backed-up has partially given way to a kind of liberation. In a sense, I'm also free of all that data, free to start again, free to flyyyyy... Uh. Yeah, free.

I'm a geek, I like to keep everything in neat and tidy folders. I like to keep lots of tiny files just in case I might find them useful again one day.

But maybe it doesn't have to be like that. Isn't just hanging on to all that stuff, beyond its relevance, just a form of "information materialism"? A hoarding of data, of bits and bytes, rather than of physical objects. After all, it's all "emotional" in a sense - except it's generally more often time that's been invested, than cash.

But it doesn't really matter if a year's holiday photos get lost. There'll be more. (Plus I have negatives for half of them ;) Creativity cares not of the past, only of the now, dammit! Should regret about lost data be shuffled into the same boat as living in the past? Just how much of that data was relevant to today?

Well, I've spent some time getting in touch with local companies that do data recovery, and will try to get some idea of the prices anyway. It'd be nice not to have to scan photos again, but not a killer. I'm tempted to start afresh for free, sort out that external HDD enclosure that's lying around, get hold of Time Machine and, most importantly, work out just what data I want lying around. It's almost too easy these days - everything and anything can be stored forever. But maybe that's the wrong way to think about it - maybe we should be choosy about what data we obtain, and what data we keep. Maintenance is more than backing up, perhaps.

It's a philosophy, not a practice. Time for a new one?


David Wood said...

I HATE it when that happens.

Two words: Remote backup.

Jungle Disk or mozy.

Using both. They work.

Also: Acronis True Image

Saved the day when the laptop HD died.

Norton Ghost has now seen me through three HD failures in as many years (three!!?) on the desktop.

I've now also got a RAID 1 array in there so that I might stand some chance of seeing the crash coming and just swapping out the disk...

Anonymous said...

Dude, been there, felt that. But I'm glad I managed to rescue my files albeit with many of them having lost their names. But then I've got nearly every e-mail I've ever received.

Ben said...

I've been using unison to sync my data between desktop, laptop and server and I'm very happy with it. It has the side effect of creating a backup.

I think there is a mac client for unison and it is dead easy to set up.

Scribe said...

Thanks for the comments and suggestions, all. I'll look into them all once I get my laptop back (still under warranty, so getting a new drive fitted at the same time as having the yellow wristrest replaced).

Despite the good response, I'm also nevertheless a Mac user, and hence still tempted to upgrade to Leopard with its all fancy-pants Time Machine too (+ better responsiveness, etc). Will look into it all when I have the time.

That still leaves the question of just what data I should keep, though, and generally one it seems that geeks are only just getting to grips with. Inbox Zero is next on my reading list, but I want to take a similar approach to everything else - RSS feeds, photos, files I've created, etc, etc. Hanging on to things is no longer an option.

I've been mulling this over a little in my head (hey, it's amazing how much stuff I get done without a laptop ;). Some things are fairly simple. Listing here more for personal memory than anything else.

- don't bother keeping more than 1 version of a photo if they're basically the same. Pick one, or none.

- don't bother keeping all the files you used to create something once it's done and released to the world. Gimp XCF files keep things together in layers, no need to keep original source files when doing sucky image copy-n-paste-mash-ups :)

- Make sure Firefox downloads any temporary files (i.e. those you view, rather than choose to save) to it's own damn folder. Half of my mess was just knowing what I'd chosen to save to my "incoming" folder, and what Firefox had dumped there.

- More here. I'll need to work out exactly how I work. It's all subjective, right?

Wonder if OSX has a nice easy way to list files that haven't been accessed in the last 6 months. Probably.

David Wood said...

Aha - the 43 folders meme spreads ever further...

Inbox Zero is just Merlin Mann's email related take on GTD - Getting Things Done by David Allen (productivity blokey - not comedian!)

Rob Brooks was on at me for a couple of years to read GTD. I wish I had done so a couple of years back!

It's great - "advanced common sense".

I've re-organised everything along those lines.

Things either get binned or stored in a folder with a label on them telling me what they are. That goes for everything - ever.

Once a week I run through both my desktops (the real one and the virtual) and my list of projects to make sure I know where I am with everything. Sorted. Love it.

Nothing lives in my inbox. I do have a folder where I use Thunbderbird tags to tag things as "Action" "Waiting on" "Later" "Read" which works well (as long as you do review them once a week!).

Sorted my life right out!

On the other hand - I don't spend too much time cleaning up documents and things. Storage is cheap. Desktop search is powerful (google desktop is great if you tell it not to display anything - just double tap the Ctrl key to get a floating search box - all you need :)

Stick Life Hacker in your RSS feed reader and you'll get more 43folders and GTD than you know what to do with ;)


David Wood said...

Whilst I mention Life Hacker they had a link to:

Merlin Mann presents "Inbox Zero" to google bods.