Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Massive Computer Failure: Epilog

Another post documenting my personal life, because I know how much you all simply adore being bored. Yesterday my computer experienced a massive failure, as massive as a failure could possibly be when dealing with Windows, meaning that it culminated in having to wipe the hard drive and start over.

Monday and Tuesday were my days off work, and I had a lot of stuff planned to do during them. I was going to write out several posts, work on some artwork, work on some music compilations, work on a package I had promised a friend of mine about a month and a half ago and so far have only chances to make small stabs at completing, clean up the house some, and maybe finally call my mother and my surrogate "brother" who live halfway across the country from me. Yeah, absolutely none of that got done. Now I’m in the hole, and not just for time.

It all started late Monday night when my dad mentioned something wrong with his computer that he wanted me to take a look at. About six o’clock Tuesday morning, when he was in bed, I decided it was the best time to get a proper diagnosis without him standing over my shoulder. Well, his computer’s problem spiraled out of control because I discovered, as I do every time I try to fix something screwy on his computer, that he has chronic elderly technophobe syndrome. Actually, he’s pretty technologically adept, he just knows almost nothing about computers, especially virus protection and program saturation. For instance, he honestly believes AOL provides him adequate virus protection. This is what I’m dealing with, here. I swear to God, if you open an Internet Explorer browser, half the Window is compressed by unnecessary toolbars. I’ve told him that he doesn’t need to install every single thing a program bundle has to offer, but I’m pretty sure about two more tool bars have popped up since. So, he has countless unnecessary programs slowing down his system by tying up his drivers, and if it wasn’t for me being so stubborn about BitDefender, he’d have no virus protection. This is what I have to weed through whenever he has a problem on his computer.

As you could probably fathom, it took upwards of several hours to figure out just what the problem was, and while I was doing some research with my computer, (which is blessed fast compared to his), my computer decided to crash. Actually, it wasn’t really a crash. It was more of an absurd fault really. My computer decided to absurd, and I just made "absurd" a verb. Go me!

Waaaaaay back when I was married, my wife and I both had accounts set up on either of our computers. Windows mandates that separate accounts must sign on as separate users, but it’s not too picky about passwords, so neither of ours were password protected. We’d just hit "enter" (because "cancel" was disabled) to bypass it. Well, on a whim, my computer just suddenly decided that it would log onto my user profile long enough to show me the wallpaper and then immediately log back out. I tried various other user name and password combinations, but it would only tell me to make sure my password and domain were correct. Domain? There wasn’t even an option for "domain" It was two blanks, "OK," "Shut Down," and "Options," and all "Options" would do was hide the "Shut Down" button.

I did some more research online using my dad’s computer and called around to Best Buy’s Geek Squad and a few other technophiles I know to see if there was any way possible to bypass this error, and the consensus of all of their opinions was that the only thing to do is reinstall Windows, effectively wiping out the hard disc. Well, I had some stuff on my hard drive that I didn’t want to lose, but I couldn’t even slave the drives because my dad’s computer, (which is older than mine and built out of shoddy second-hand parts by a shady technician who didn’t even give him the Windows registration keys), seemed entirely incompatible with my hard drive. No matter how I tried to hook them together, it would just cause the system to recognize neither, and USB was a no-go. I tried to take it to Best Buy to see if they could hook it to one of theirs, but it would cost $99 to transfer the little bit of information I wanted to save from the hard drive to my external hard drive, and when I found that out I decided that it would be less costly for me to just lose the data. I even tried logging on with Amy’s user profile, but it was doing the same.

Quite frankly, I was so shocked and scared I was not only numb, but my arms were tingling. You see, my computer is my life. It’s my fucking life. All of my art, all of my writing, and a lot of my reading and research is all done on the computer. More than that, I have no friends where I am right now. All of my friends are scattered all over the country, and the computer is the primary way I keep in touch with all of them. Without my computer, I might as well crawl into bed and never come out, because God-forbid I use a pencil and paper to write again when I can type at least somewhat close to the speed I think. When I write on paper, I tend to think so far ahead of what’s actually being written that I lose interest less than half the way through. When my mind is racing with possibilities of the climax, and I look down on the paper and I haven’t even described the first scene, it just makes the whole task of getting past the mundane to the exciting seem so much more tedious. The computer at least provides flexibility. I can type faster than I can write by hand, and I can type out snippets of later scenes and edit them in at the proper juncture.

God-forbid I draw something and color it with traditional media. If I screw it up, it’s just gone. If I screw it up on the computer, I can just hit the "undo" button. The fret of screwing up a drawing I’d never be able to produce again keeps me from doing anything to it that isn’t on the computer. Also without the computer, I can’t edit together CDs of music I love, and I can’t discover new music save for doing it the old-fashioned way of going to a dark and shady CD store and picking up an album, deciding based on nothing more than the cover art, the song titles, and the song lengths that it might be good, and taking it home to discover that it’s utter dog vomit. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be able to research current events as effectively. I wouldn’t be able to bask in the warmth and enjoyment of my favorite webcomics and my LiveJournal friends, and I wouldn’t be able to regularly talk to, or sometimes at, my girlfriend on the long spans of time we don’t get to actually see each other due to life and work getting in the way.

Sometimes Things Happen For A Reason
A few weeks ago, I realized that I was desperately running out of hard drive space. I didn’t even have enough space left to adequately sort through the stuff I might want to burn onto some double-layer DVDs. It was getting to critical mass point, where the hard drive gets so bogged down with files that productivity grows slow. Weighing my options, (because I really didn’t want to spend the money), I did some research and decided to buy a 320 GB external drive. It was moderately priced at just over $100, and I figured that if it took me this long to fill up the 100 GB drive my computer came with, (that was top of the line when I bought it; yes it’s that old and still kicks ass), then by the time I filled up 320 GB I would have enough money to buy another 500 GB, or maybe even a TB, drive.

It was a good thing I decided to shell out the money though, or my losses would have been far greater. All of my music, movies, and program installers, as well as 99% of my vast image collection, were backed up not two weeks ago, with the majority of new files being diverted straight to that drive except in instances of pure laziness. The only things I hadn’t bothered to save yet were my most recent writings that I lazily slung into the default "My Documents" folder because it’s too much a pain in the ass to get Microsoft Word to acknowledge that anything else exists on the hard drive, and some of the most recent downloaded pictures, music, and programs, from within the last two weeks. Luckily all of my artwork was backed up. Luckily as well, I have been going through a serious creative slump over the past few months so I didn’t have a whole lot of personal writings get erased.

Luckier still, is that back at the end of February, following a major power outage, my computer was making some unpleasant sounds, so fearing I was going to lose everything at any moment, I hurried up and burnt a back-up disc of all my writings, my artwork, and a lot of the music and videos I had up to that point. So the period I lost to my own archival apathy stretched only about five to six months. Five to six months of creative withdrawal. Even in the face of tragedy, it’s hard to not be grateful for small miracles.

The Good Thing About Starting Over
The good thing about starting over, at least on a computer, is that you get rid of a lot of the crap. I guess you could apply that to life, too. The good thing about starting over is that you get rid of a lot of the crap. It makes for a much leaner and more efficient machine. Even when you uninstall a program from Windows, it keeps traces in the Registry and ghosts in the drivers and it bogs the whole system down. When you are forced to perform a reformat of c:\_, you get to pick and choose those programs you liked the most and only install those as opposed to the mountains and mountains of utter shit programs that either didn’t fulfill their promise or the usefulness thereof outran itself long ago, but that will forevermore be a part of your computer’s consciousness nevertheless. So you can cut the fat and keep only the meat, which makes the system run a whole lot faster.

The problem, though, is trying to select which programs to reinstall. Some of them are obvious. Windows updates, the anti-virus, the printer, the scanner, the CD software, the Office Suite, the Internet browser, and such. But you know how some people will install an new program straight from the website? I’m not one of those people. I download everything to a special directory in the hard drive first, check them for viruses, (unless they come from a trusted site like Microsoft), and install them locally. That way I always have a back-up in case something goes wrong with the program years later after the website has long ceased to exist. The downside is that I have a back-up copy for the installation file of every single program that has ever come across any of my computers, pretty much since 1992, and a lot of them were never renamed to something that would make sense like "Internet Explorer 4," "Internet Explorer 5," "Internet Explorer 6." Oh no, I had to keep their original file names just in case renaming them somehow messed with the installation program’s referral to the source file, so a lot of them are still a perplexing combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols that seemingly have next to nothing to do with what the program actually is.

Then there’s the added problem of remembering how to license a lot of these programs. I’m not nearly stupid enough to come out and admit that any of my programs are stolen, however many of them are quite old, as I have said, dating back towards 1992. There may be better programs out now — I may actually own better programs now — but some of these I do like to keep handy due to familiarity and ease of use. The problem is that the registration information for some of these programs has long since evaporated. In fact, the companies that produced some of these programs have long since caved and the websites are no more, but dammit, they wrote into the program that they wanted money for it at the time, and that program is not going to give up without a fight! So I have to try to recall what I had to do to fool the program into thinking it was registered around four years ago, the last time I had to do a complete system restore. Thankfully, a lot of these were released long before peer-to-peer piracy, some of them before the Internet Proper took shape, so the developers didn’t have to put too much effort into making them hack-proof. If only they knew they could be making $15 every four years from my stupid ass for the next fifteen years, they might not have been so neglectful with their company, mightn’t they?

And Nothing Of Value Was Lost
So it’s an uphill battle, trying to get all the programs reinstalled and all of the settings just the way I liked them. How the hell was it that I finally convinced "Autoplay" to disable itself four years ago, anyway?

I learned that the autonomous AOL Instant Messenger program experienced an upgrade to 6.0 recently. I’m liking it at least marginally better than the previous version, which I believe was still sitting somewhere around 1.4. Time will tell whether it’s actually better or just seems that way because it’s much cooler. Also Internet Explorer must’ve released 7.0 while I was simply not caring, but let me tell you, 7.0 kicks ass. It’s like FireFox on crack. Maybe it’s because my system is born again like an annoying Christian, but the new Internet Explorer does everything FireFox does only much, much faster, possibly to include getting hacked. But seriously, it opens new webpages in tabs, automatically. You don’t have to right click and tell it to. The optimization of multimedia pages is also off the hook enough to make me consider using the phrase "off the hook" to describe something. The only thing I’m not too fond of is that, for some inexplicable reason, the Address Bar is above the Menu Bar. There doesn’t seem to be any way to change it, and it just looks sick and wrong.

Maybe there will be more upgrades of more programs in my future. Oh yeah, for those of you keeping track of the anti-virus software that makes Norton cry out to the heavens for God to just take his life, BitDefender, there is a new version of that out, too. It incorporates spyware and malware protection with the same cold efficiency that BitDefender has been known to attack viruses. I have been using BitDefender for years, and the entire time I’d been using it, I’ve never even had the fear of a virus. I did have one nasty piece of spyware that had some virus-like behavior, but it wasn’t really damaging like a virus, it was just annoying like adware. Now BitDefender is protecting me against that, too. Heh.

So enough of the shameless plugging. What does this whole, long narrative mean to you, the loyal reader? Well, due to a little vigilance and a lot of luck, I didn’t lose much, but I did lose a significant portion of post ideas that I was saving up. I lost this month’s quotes, videos, and comic strips for the dump at the beginning of September. I also lost some cat, dog, and bunny pics. What that means for you is that there will probably be more days where I won’t have anything to post, and depending on what I still have, Fridog and Bunday may be postponed and replaced with other pictures until I can get my stockpiles back up.

I also lost about six months of financial transaction records, but since I was so close to the penny anyway, I figure I can just start over fresh with a new register. Luckily, I didn’t lose any of the information for my online bill payment as it was saved back in February. I lost a few album downloads, the most aggravating of which were the Simple Minds Themes Volumes, which have been out of print for almost twenty years now and almost impossible to find, and even if you might happen across them, each one of the four will set you back a few hundred dollars, but I got them once, I’ll get them again. It could have been much worse. I think of the years of stuff my dad lost when his hard drive literally did crash and realize that I was fortunate in my tenacity for making room on my hard drive. I think of the even more years that LiveJournal user "
helpimarock" lost over the past year, and I realize that six months’ worth of piddly files is next to nothing. Overall, I was fortunate. Now all I have to do is rebuild.

Just let this be a lesson to you: Always, always, always back up your files because you never know when something is just going to go catastrophically wrong. You don’t realize how much you depend on computers to communicate, create, and store until you end up losing any amount of what you have. If you’re not backing up your files once every six months, at the longest, then you are taking a foolish, unnecessary risk.

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