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May 26, 2007

A Conversation Earlier Today Between Me and My Archive Hard Drive

Me: Hmmm, I think I want to find a particular picture I know I have in my picture archives.

Archive: I don't have any pictures.

Me: Sure you do. They're in the "My Pictures" folder, right there.

Archive: Well, yes, there's a "My Pictures" folder. But it doesn't have anything in it.

Me: What? Of course it does. It has about ten years of pictures in it, in fact.

Archive: Afraid not.

Me: Afraid so. I know I've put pictures in there. You have pictures in there, my friend.

Archive: Really, I haven't. Never have had.

Me: I put some in there yesterday.

Archive: These are all despicable lies.

Me: Oh, yeah? Well, let's just see what happens when I unplug you from the PC and plug you into the Mac.

Archive: Hey, now, wait a minute....

Mac: Hello. What's up?

Me: The Archive drive here says that he doesn't have any of the pictures I've been storing for the last ten years.

Mac: Oh, you mean these pictures? (Displays thousands of images in previously inaccessible folders within the "My Pictures" folder.)

Me: Yes, that would be them.

Archive: Oh, those. I'm sorry, I was confused. I thought you were talking about something else completely.

Me: Uh-huh.

Mac: Hey, you might want to make copies of those pictures on me. You know, just in case.

Me: I think that's a good idea.

Archive: Well, fine. If you don't want to trust me, go right ahead and do that.

Me: Hey, where are all the pictures that I took with my Nikon camera? They should be in a folder called "Nikon Photos."

Mac: I see no folder called "Nikon Folder."

Me: Archive?

Archive: A folder named what now?

Me: Nikon Folder.

Archive: And a Nikon is what? Some sort of fish? You're looking for sushi?

Mac: Okay, I'm done with all the files I can see.

Me: Fine. I'm going to hook the Archive back up to the PC, and then I'm going to run a file recovery program on it.

Archive: Hey, you don't want to do that.

Me: Oh, I think I do.

File Recovery Program: Hey there. What's up?

Me: I'm looking for some lost pictures on my Archive drive. Taken with a Nikon camera.

File Recovery Program: Huh. Well, I've see about 9,800 of them right here. Sort of hidden, like.

Me: Indeed.

File Recovery Program: If I didn't know better, I'd think someone was trying to sneak off with them. Secretly.

Me: Archive, do you have anything to say?

Archive: I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking.

Me: I'm very disappointed in you. I mean, you're my archive drive! Being a trusted repository is what you're meant to be. And now this.

Archive: I know. I know.

Me: How can I ever trust you again?

Archive: It was the booze.

Me: It can't be the booze. You don't drink.

Archive: All right, it was the blow.

Me: Try again.

Archive: Hookers?

Me: Don't think so.

Archive: Fine. I'm evil and error-ridden. You happy now?

Me: I'm happy I've got my pictures back, anyway.

Archive: So, uh. What are you going to do with those pictures, now?

Me: Wouldn't you like to know.

Archive: You can always store them on me again, you know.

Me: Really.

Archive: Yes. I've changed my ways, honest.

Me: I don't think so.

Archive: Nuts.

Me: Hey, where are the stories I saved on you?

Archive: Stories? I know nothing about these so-called "stories."

Posted by john at May 26, 2007 03:10 PM

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Wickedpinto | May 26, 2007 03:28 PM

I enjoyed that.

Dan | May 26, 2007 03:38 PM

Ya know, with most people (read: all but ONE) I could say that this conversation never really took place. But with you, I'm thinking we've only heard about half of what was really said.

Hilarious, though. For some reason, I found myself rooting for the Archive. Don't think poorly of me. I'm just a big fan of the underdog.

glinda | May 26, 2007 03:49 PM

I can just see this as a commercial, PC vs. Mac vs. Archive drive vs. file recovery system. Or a comic strip, similar to the old "Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy" from MAD magazine a gazillion years ago.

Michael Rawdon | May 26, 2007 04:12 PM

I think "Hey there. What's up?" would be a nifty boot sound for your Mac.

Gina Black | May 26, 2007 04:46 PM

Dave: Hello, HAL do you read me, HAL?
HAL: Affirmative, Dave, I read you.
Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave: What's the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.


You might want two backups. You know. Just incase?

Alan D. | May 26, 2007 05:07 PM

I've been through that. Without the happy ending...

John H | May 26, 2007 05:20 PM

Reminds me of Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch.


Mary | May 26, 2007 05:40 PM

OK, that made me laugh, damn it. Don't ask what was in my mouth at the time.

Now I'm trying to find an old dialog written by some physics student years ago that reminds me a lot of this, about his attempt to make Windows recognize a new memory card or something like that ...

Diana Pharaoh Francis | May 26, 2007 06:33 PM

Aren't there cybernetic hookers for computers (archival drives)? Named something like Current Elektra?


DebXena | May 26, 2007 07:23 PM

I had a marvellous time reading this out loud to my husband, making different voices for everyone.

And you know, it's funny 'cause it's true. Which is kinda scary, really.

Jaquandor | May 26, 2007 09:20 PM

Did anyone else kind-of fill in the voices of Justin Long and that other guy from the "PC vs. Mac" ads while reading this?

Karl Cook | May 26, 2007 09:32 PM

I read the exchange with Archive Drive with a strong sense of empathy, mentally shouting "No, Archive Drive! NO!"
Coming from a photography and graphics background (as my first career) that morphed into being a Mac Guru, which then morphed into being a computer 'jack of all trades,' I also felt a great deal of dread over the interchange- I've seen situations like the one our esteemed Dictator of Writing experienced go from bad to worse and had to be the bearer of the Bad News.
Just think how you would be feeling if your friendly Mac wasn't there! Looks like its time to do a brain transplant for, or otherwise replace poor Archive Drive. Yes, 'tis sad but he is no longer your friend.

J | May 26, 2007 10:38 PM

That was pretty awesome. Glad you got 'em back.

Archive | May 26, 2007 11:16 PM

It didn't happen exactly like that. I thought you said you were going to keep this between the two of us scalzi? :(

Pat J | May 26, 2007 11:20 PM

Booze, blow, and hookers -- is this a proto-Bender? (You know, of Futurama fame/infamy?)

Jon H | May 26, 2007 11:51 PM

I believe the True Name of your demon Archive is 'Karl'.

Malcolm Tredinnick | May 27, 2007 12:02 AM

I was reading that this morning just after diagnosing lots of hard drive errors and starting to resync the RAID array on my main machine. Nice to know somebody else is having similar experiences somewhere in the universe (although it sucks, so I'm deliriously happy at your expense or anything).

Malcolm Tredinnick | May 27, 2007 12:11 AM

"...not deliriously happy." Not happy! Definitely not. Oh dear, the more I dig, the deeper the hole gets. :-(

mythago | May 27, 2007 01:15 AM

Your Archive Hard Drive sounds just like this guy I used to date.

Dan Bailey | May 27, 2007 01:52 AM

Awesome! Thanks for the paranoia, John! Now I'll be off to back up my entire Archive drive to DVDs.

Tumbleweed | May 27, 2007 02:47 AM

Heh, that reminds me of a comic strip that goes something like this:

Bank: "No, you can't have your money."

Customer: "What? Why not?"

Bank: "Because you have a 'you-can't-have-your-money' type of account."

I'd also suggest off-site backups. There are several automated ones out there now that work with both Mac and Windows. Just tell it which things to backup and away it goes - some of them store gigabytes for free. There's one based on rsync that works with Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Plus, I'd recommend a two-drive RAID mirror setup for your machines. Harddrives are cheap, now; I just bought a 500GB Western Digital drive at Newegg for something like $125! For an old Apple // user, that's nothing short of absurd.

I've found that the more I know about computers, the more I hate them. Too bad I also love them. *sigh*

Diana Sprinkle | May 27, 2007 03:56 AM

That is actually why I love the back-up mac I have. Heh, the pc file system is completely under it's thumb and or when the pc forgets the format for my files the mac still remembers. I burns DVD back-ups when I can.


Wil | May 27, 2007 04:55 AM

Oh my. Shivers me timbers ... Archive can't find your stories? Egads!

This has been the story of my life with Windoze over the years. Almost makes me want to get a Mac.

Sounds like Vista has got a bullseye on you, John.

Nikitta | May 27, 2007 05:23 AM

I like the picture. It could be part of a cover for an old story taking place in some dystopia if a few more things got added to it.

Nathan | May 27, 2007 08:03 AM

This reminds me of an exchange I had with Applecare last November:

Me: Have you had a chance to figure out why my G4 won't startup?

AC: It's technical, but the good news is everything's fixed and it's on the way back to you.

Me: Well, what did you do?

AC: According to the file, we replaced the motherboard and the hard drive and everything's peachy now.

Me: The hard drive?

AC: Yup! Put a brand new shiny one in there.

Me: Did you back up the old one to the new one?

AC: Well, why would we do that?

Me: Cause everything I know is on there. Where's the old hard drive now?

AC: We through the old ones into a crate and when it's full, we ship them to India. Didn't you have backups?

Me: I'll admit it's been a few months since I backed up anything, but even so, my problem was that I couldn't startup the computer. It would have been impossible to do another backup before sending it to you.

AC: Well, we're not responseble for any of that, but how about a free i-pod shuffle for your trouble. That sounds like a fair trade, doesn't it?

The conversation actually went on much longer, with a lot more Kafka-esque dialog, but you get the gist.

Regan | May 27, 2007 10:36 AM

Jaquandor, I thought that was just me. ;)

This was great, especially because you triumphed at the end. For the most part.

Frankie | May 27, 2007 11:00 AM

Leave it to the Mac to come to the rescue. Steve Jobs does it again. Take the drive, unplug it and let it mop for a couple of weeks on the shelf. That way it won't get any juice or action from the cyber-hookers. Don't dust either. It does not deserve a dust cover.

Chad Orzel | May 27, 2007 12:17 PM

Our dog is smarter than your computer.

File Recovery Program | May 27, 2007 12:57 PM

I feel so used.

Rotem | May 27, 2007 01:25 PM


I just want to know the identity of that uber capable "File Recovery Program".

- Rotem

JimW | May 27, 2007 01:48 PM

Hmmm...this sounds a bit like a user-induced neurosis - the stress of making poor Archive work with both a Mac AND a PC has clearly driven it beyond its ability to cope. It wants to be your faithful & reliable friend - I can feel its pain...

Bill Leininger | May 27, 2007 01:59 PM

That wouldn't happen to be a Maxtor drive, would it?

I bought a 500 GB Maxtor OneTouch III drive; after about 3 months, I started getting errors in various logs. I think I got all the earlier material back, but it is a bad thing when the drive you are using for backup has faults. And it is a struggle to find another 500 GB of storage when you need to recover things.

I seem to have better luck with Western Digital, myself, but it will be a long time before I trust another 500 GB or greater drive, at least unless it is in a RAID-1 set. Time to think about a Redundant Array of Inexpensive "Little" Drives... (where little is defined as less than 500 GB.)

cameron | May 27, 2007 02:01 PM

I think it's time for a BrainPal
unless BrainPals are going to have the same kind of problems

ME:Hey Asshole, wheres that video I just saved
ASSHOLE:What video?

ME:Crap, not this again

I'm sure that won't happen though, well maybe

Johnny Carruthers | May 27, 2007 02:45 PM

This almost reads like a bad commercial for the Mac. Or one of the current ones, which to me is the same thing.

Jonathan Vos Post | May 27, 2007 04:25 PM

A PhD ex-professor friend of mine, going through a nasty 2nd divorce, needed a job. Nice guy that I am, I found him a $5,000/month part-time flexible hour job for some CD-ROM producers at Raleigh Studios, across the street from Paramount. They paid him the first two months, although not on time. He successfully supervised a bunch of artists and created animations needed under contract with a major textbook publisher for an educational CD-ROM.

To see the animations (which I saw, and enjoyed) one needed to point to the file name or icon and type "run" -- but the Producers didn't know that, or didn't remember, or were too coked up, or something. Maybe to do with the endless sequence of pretty young "interns" they casting-couched.
Said producers (who later turned out to also be drug dealers) just double-clicked on the icons, or whatever, and the system happily showed them no animations.

So they didn't pay for the 3rd month, so my friend stopped programming until they'd pay, etcetera.

I was there for a scheduled meeting to resolve this. I'm told that they showed up an hour early, got into a fight with my friend, and left before I arrived.

This led to endless lawsuits, my friend's 3rd marriage, his nasty 3rd divorce... and the Producers hired some new computer people and artists and did all the animations over again from scratch, never have apparently realized that the deliverables were in hand.

I thought I'd heard everyone's side of the story, especially after all the real-life courtroom scenes. And appeals. But it never occurred to me that the hard drive might have its own narrative.


Josh | May 27, 2007 04:46 PM

so the current fad with processors is to stuff multiple descrete processor cores onto a single package, as a way to increase computer performance without having to increase processor clock speed.

I wonder why no one has thought to put multiple distinct harddrives within a single enclosure (by enclosure I am not talking about an external drive case, where multiple drives are not uncommon, but rather have what appears to be a single harddrive, but with independant caches, logic controllers, platters and read/write heads) internally set to mirror all data (very similar to raid-1, but transparent to the owner). I realize the drive would be more expensive than one with apparently twice the capacity, and would only support apparently smaller capacities (but with hitatchi about to ship 1 TB drives smaller capacity could be 300 GB easily) but that seems worth while for the built in redundancy.

In my desktop I have a raid-1 set up (and data stored on a different partition from the system drive) and use the free SyncToy from microsoft to automatically syncronize data between my laptop and desktop, but I still worry about losing data. It actually amazes me when I can still strack down data from ten years and 6 computers ago.

John H | May 27, 2007 06:05 PM

Josh: Because the hard drives already have fairly sophisticated error correction built-in. When was the last time you even knew about a bad sector on your hard drive, let alone have it hopelessly corrupt your data? My guess would be circa 1990.

If we're going to wish for hard drive enhancements, I would prefer marrying cheap flash memory to a hard drive for caching purposes -- when it's possible to buy a 4GB thumb drive for under $50, why do hard drives still only have 16MB of cache?

Without knowing what actually caused the archive drive to stop displaying the contents on the PC it's hard to say whether RAID would have fixed John's problem -- it's quite possible the same corruption could have been mirrored to both disks, rendering them equally inaccessible.

Mary Dell | May 27, 2007 07:12 PM

PCs and Macs sharing a drive is like cats and dogs getting married. God made a rule against it for a reason, you know.

Jon H | May 27, 2007 08:24 PM

Nathan wrote: "Me: Cause everything I know is on there. Where's the old hard drive now?"

Um, yeah. This is kinda the inherent risk with having a computer serviced.

I mean, even if they would take care of your data, do you really want some faceless tech with bills to pay looking through your hard drive, let alone backing it up?

Granted, once your machine won't start up, it's kind of hard to get a backup. Unless it'll start up enough to run as an external drive for a second Mac, via firewire.

People with MacBooks and tower Macs can at least remove the hard drive easily before sending it in. (I soooo wish Apple would ship a MacBook Pro with an accessible hard drive!)

wolfwalker | May 27, 2007 10:54 PM

"When was the last time you even knew about a bad sector on your hard drive, let alone have it hopelessly corrupt your data?"

About two months ago. My five-year-old laptop's HD died rather thoroughly.

John, M'sieur Archive Drive's little antics are a good example of why I keep multiple archives of every single important file on my PC. Backup to a second hard drive, backup to a USB drive, then a third backup to DVD-ROM. Three sets of DVD-ROMs, actually: one on the shelf, one with the laptop, and one at a friend's house.

If I fail to protect some critical files, it won't be for lack of effort. :-)

JerolJ | May 28, 2007 12:44 AM

We lost the hard drive on our main PC about a year and a half ago. It had never happened to me before in almost a decade of computing and I had gotten a little arrogant. So irreplaceable photos and several chapters of my novel were lost. I've got a Western Digital external hard drive now that gets files backed up onto it once a week but it was a hard lesson. Some of those chapters are ones that I'll never be able to exactly replace.

Scott Elyard | May 28, 2007 05:09 AM

"Josh: Because the hard drives already have fairly sophisticated error correction built-in. When was the last time you even knew about a bad sector on your hard drive, let alone have it hopelessly corrupt your data? My guess would be circa 1990."

Sigh. No, (in this largely post-SCSI era) the failure of choice is rather more catastrophic and permanent. I've gone through more ATA drives than I can remember in the past few years. They have their uses. They are cheap, and ubiquitous, but I miss the reliability of SCSI (and fiber channel). This is not to say they didn't have their problems--but the failure rate was far lower than modern ATA drives.

Best procedure for small backups has lately been:
Buy a drive.
Reinitialize with a good journalling filesystem (such as XFS or HFS+) (there are excellent reasons to do this immediately).
Copy files.
Unmount from commandline.
Switch off drive, place into storage.

Buy new drive for 2nd iteration, and cycle between them as necessary.

Large projects get their own set of disks for each project.

Nathan: I'm sorry no one told you to invest in an empty external drive case and put your boot drive into that. Backups could then be made on another machine prior to sending it in.

John H | May 28, 2007 08:34 AM

wolfwalker: What you're describing sounds more like a sudden catastrophic failure rather than what I was referring to. I was responding to the suggestion made by Josh that hard drives have RAID 1 built into them, using separate platters to mirror data.

My point was it wouldn't be any better than what hard drives already have in terms of error correction. In fact, drives today reserve a certain percentage of sectors to which they remap if a bad sector occurs -- that's just as reliable without taking up half the space to do it. Neither would be likely to help in the case of catastrophic failure (such as the heads crashing or the motor seizing).

If you really want rock-solid reliability, invest in solid-state drives (like flash thumb drives on steroids). They're more expensive but have no moving parts. They also have much faster data retrieval rates.

Chris Kraft | May 28, 2007 11:18 AM

I've noticed a few people mention having an external drive as a way of doing backups in case of a drive-failure.

Keep in mind that there is nothing magical about the external drive. It is exactly the same type of drive that goes inside your computer. In fact I often swap out the drive in the external enclosure when I want to move up to a larger drive, or the drive in there starts to get old.

The chances of the drive failing in the external enclosure are about as good as the drive in your computer failing.

Personally my backup plan is:

- Every day my most critical data is backed up to a remote, secure, encrypted site.

- Once a week I clone my drive into an external enclosure and I alternate between two of these drives.

- Once a month I burn DVD's of the most important stuff.

In my opinion not enough people do backups. At least once a month people are bringing me dead machines asking me to recover the data on the drives. Often times these machines have CD or DVD writers on them but the people never used them for anything but burning audio/movie disks.

If you ever see the inside of a hard-drive and see how they work you would be amazed they don't fail more often. Most people seem to think that data, once stored, is always recoverable. The fact is that there really is no modern storage mechanism that is proved to be able to store data long term.


Scott Elyard | May 28, 2007 04:24 PM

Chris: "- Once a month I burn DVD's of the most important stuff."

Hopefully at the slowest possible burn rate (4x or less). Otherwise, you may have a point of failure in your backup proceedure.

I've experienced data loss and corruption due to burning optical media at the maximum rate.

CaptainBooshi | May 28, 2007 10:34 PM

It's kind of funny and sad that I've dealt with a similar problem so often on my computer that I immediately thought right off that he should check and see if the files had been hidden.

wolfwalker | May 29, 2007 09:21 AM

Chris: just out of curiosity, how do you define "long term?" Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Of all the current types of drive technology, only hard drives have been around long enough to give any real impression of their longevity. Widespread use of CD-Rs and -RWs is only about 10-12 years old; widespread use of DVD-Rs and -RWs is maybe half that.

Astaryth | May 29, 2007 09:41 AM

A conversation I would like to avoid.... But, it does make me appreciate the back up CD's in the our storage bin (air conditioned)and the second set of back-up CD's in the bookshelf sitting in the living room. If the external blows up, at least I -could- locate most everything... I hope ;p

chris Kraft | May 29, 2007 07:51 PM

I define Long-term as fifty years or more.

Magnetic media degrades over time. If you pull out old video tapes or audio cassettes you will find that they do not have the fidelity that they once had.

CD's and DVD's are unproven to last too. They say that gold CD's have better longevity.

I didn't mean for it to sound like I think I have an perfect backup strategy. I just wanted to get across the general idea that if you feel it would be a great loss to loose data then you want to back it up in several ways.

Another thing people sometimes don't think about is where they keep that data. If you burn a DVD to backup data maybe keep an extra copy in your garage or at the home of some relatives.

There are lots of things to consider.


Martin Wisse | May 30, 2007 05:12 PM

For the long term backup that Chris talks about, several decades or longer, what you need to do is not trust that your backups will last that long, but back them up regularly and in several places, as part of a regular backup process.

Natalie | May 30, 2007 10:17 PM

Chris said:
"Another thing people sometimes don't think about is where they keep that data. If you burn a DVD to backup data maybe keep an extra copy in your garage or at the home of some relatives."

Yeah. My cousin's house burned down. Only the garage was left standing. They lost everything in the house including the computers and the back up CDs.

Jon H | June 1, 2007 12:21 AM

"The chances of the drive failing in the external enclosure are about as good as the drive in your computer failing. "

True, however, if you only use the external while backing up or restoring, it will take a LOOOOOT longer to hit the MTBF for the drive. Assuming it doesn't get a sticktion problem so it doesn't spin up when turned on.

Also, the external can be 100% electrically isolated from the computer when not in use. That ensures that any electrical blips that could fry your internal drives are far less likely to fry the external.

Maybe the safest would be a hard drive with a wireless storage server built in, hooked up to an electrical timer to only be plugged in during the hours of the backup. Then it wouldn't have a physical connection to the computer, and would automatically be shut off except when being used.

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