Sometimes, I’m clever. Other times, I’m lucky. So far I’ve generally been at least one of those. This is a story about a time when I definitely wasn’t clever.
I shall not name the community radio station in question, but it just so happened that a particular community radio station had a volunteer who also worked at a community centre where I had recently provided services. My name was thus in the forefront of that volunteer’s mind the morning that he came in to discover that the computer in Studio 1 was dead. He called me, and I came in to see what I could do.
The last time I interacted with any radio station was to request Phil Collins’ Groovy Kind Of Love, so obviously it’s been a while. In the interim, they’ve all gone digital. The station’s CD library, once a huge and comprehensive collection of every song by every artist from Aaliyah to ZZ Top, was now barely half a shelf in a cupboard next to the kitchenette. All the songs, including a truly disturbing quantity of yodelling music, now resided on a single disk drive. Searching and programming was easy, and for the most part the disc jockeys were now disk jockeys.
This all fell apart, of course, when the disk drive died. Fortunately it wasn’t the master drive, but rather the local copy of its contents stored in Studio 1. The network was unreliable, so a connection from Studio 1 to the disk drive in Studio 2 was not the best way to ensure the usual high rotation of Kenny Rogers. To avoid lag, the entire collection was copied and regularly updated onto the computer in Studio 1, and it was that computer that had, thanks to a recent power spike, fallen in a heap.
Serenaded first by contemporary pop hits and then, later, by the rather dreary Christian Radio show, I performed surgery on the computer. The power spike had hit at a crucial moment, just as some system files were being updated. There was no obvious hardware damage, but enough system files had been scrambled that the poor old thing wouldn’t start up. Luckily, I knew my way around repairing this sort of issue. I fired up the Repair Console, selected “Auto-Repair”, and waited. In a very short time, it finished, and informed me that the disk now had zero bytes of data.
I did not panic. I also didn’t tell anyone at the station what had just happened, even though it appeared I had just wiped the local copy of all their music, with however many songs had not yet been migrated to the master copy, plus all their scheduling information for the entire station and more besides. Instead, I told them I would need to use some tools I had at home. I bundled the box up, stuck it in my car, very sedately walked out, and tore home like a bat out of hell.
At home, I removed the drive from the box and began some heroic resuscitation measures. This is where my luck comes in: one of the tools I had was smart enough to find the portion of the disk that still contained all the files. It wasn’t erased, merely misplaced. I used it to make a complete copy of the relevant information, stuck that on a thumb drive, and reformatted the disk to get it working again. Back to the station and they all thought I was some kind of miracle worker. I have maintained that relationship and that reputation ever since, and never once told them how close I came to being that legendary idiot who wiped out their data through carelessness.
This was a formative lesson. I now know the first rule of any computer rescue, the equivalent of the doctor’s “Do No Harm”: First, Make Backups. I applied that as recently as last night, saving a laptop from what turned out to be terminal old age. I took the drive out, stuck it in an enclosure and copied every single file off. Then I took an increasingly destructive set of steps to try to recover the machine: first to restore it to how it was a week ago, then to factory reset it to its initial settings, then to just erase the disk and let it start over. All those steps failed, but the data was safe, and the way prices are nowadays, the client will probably pick up a superior replacement for pocket change.
Sometimes I do the backups, then try the fix, and the fix works and the backup is redundant. I usually give it to the client anyway, rather than erasing it, because you never know when it might be useful to have all your precious files and photos off to the side and out of the way of burglars, power spikes and errant cups of coffee. I have learnt the benefit of extreme paranoia when dealing with computers, and I consider that a worthwhile lesson. I am, after all, not the IT miracle worker, regardless of what many of my clients have been allowed to think. I am the IT blacksmith.