500+ GB (updated)

Make 315
It happens to all of us at least once it seems, data loss. Here’s my story, maybe it will get more folks to think about their data and how/where to keep it (better).

A couple weeks ago a flood hit my apartment/office area and soaked the desktop system, monitors, equipment *and* back up drive (along with a ton of other stuff) – luckily I have a daily back up on a Powerbook. But, of course the Powerbook decided to completely stop working while at our ETSY event before that could be backed up too. Zapping the PRAM revealed the hard drive failed, so the usual steps of Disk Util, TechTool and then finally drive removal and DiskWarrior were attempted – for the most part the drive seems completely dead – there might be a chance to recover some data under linux, or from a data recovery shop, but it’s not looking good. So, years of work, designs, presentations, papers, scans of my artwork, electronics schematics, source code from projects, book drafts, articles, contacts, finance records, 40k emails, videos, photos, articles, jeez everything really – gone, poof. A few lessons learned…

  • From now on, a monthly DVD backup of the real important stuff and store it off site.
  • Renter’s insurance would be a good thing for flood damage and other things, but data would always just be lost.
  • Getting a new computer now means that there isn’t a lot of data transfer to do, in fact none. It feels like a “do-over”.
  • Using Google calendar, Reader, Gmail and Flickr means some things aren’t lost. Using more web services, perhaps even an offsite backup would be nice. We’re getting IMAP at MAKE, soon email will live on our servers.
  • Using a Mac 24/7 for over a year might kill it.
  • Taking apart a 17″ Powerbook is fun, Apple really packs in a lot of stuff.
  • Photos tagged “deadpowerbook” – – Link & DiskWarrior report (any suggestions?).

So, things will be a little slow on email and posts – if there was something sent in that needed to be posted, there’s a good chance it’s gone. If there were emails or things in progress, again – likely gone until the flood stuff dries out and is repaired and/or the drive(s) are salvageable. Fun stuff, it’s an “opportunity to become stronger”…. and at this point how can you -not- laugh.

So Makers, post up your back up suggestions and/or data loss nightmares. Best tip and, er, horror story gets a MAKE Pocket Ref.

Update: Hot air gun on the back up drive 1-17-07 worked, so the only data that was lost seems to be “post flood” – not ideal, but not awful.

60 thoughts on “500+ GB (updated)

  1. Silas says:

    Sorry for you loss!

    Get the exact same HDD and swap the plates? Somebody did it, and it worked. I think it was posted here on Make too.

  2. bjepson says:

    Have a look at dd and dd_rescue:

    I don’t know if dd_rescue works with HFS+ volumes, but it might be worth a try if the dd instructions on MacOSXHints doesn’t help.

  3. kb8rnu says:

    I’ve been a sysadmin for ten years – here’s my take:

    1) If it’s that important, send it to OnTrack and give them a grand. I know it hurts, yes. :)

    2) If it’s not quite important enough to give to Ontrack, dd_rescue is far and away your best shot.

    It doesn’t care about partitions – it copies the raw disk device, if you tell it to do so. You can boot a live CD and use dd_rescue to copy either the partitions or the entire disk device. If you copy the partition, you can mount it using mount -o loopback in linux, if Linux supports HFS these days.

    If it doesn’t, you can dd_rescue the entire drive, and then use an emulator like QEMU to read the disk. I’ve done it both ways.

    Feel free to email me if you have questions about it.

    – Jason

  4. blasterx says:

    Send it to a data recovery lab, payment in exchange for free advertising in make magazine?

  5. WCBonner says:

    I have had really bad luck with DVDs going bad, and don’t trust them for much beyond what I used to use floppy disks for.

    The cost of hard drives has come down so much, and USB interfaces are so ubiquitous that I recommend buying a 500GB hard drive for $200 and updating an off site backup of your stuff once a month or so.

  6. fazgood says:

    I know this sounds far out tehre but I have had a lot of luck with notebook drives that appeared completely dead but were able to be recovered by freezing tehm. It really depends on the exact cause of the failure. If it is spinning and is seen by the BIOS it is worth a try. I have the luxury of an environmental chamber so it makes it a lot easier. I just cranked it down to -30F and ran cables out the door.
    You have to be ready to move the data somewhere if it can see the data. In one case I had to turn it off and rechill it several times. A can of freezy-spray can extend the time as it is about -64 F.

    Hope hat helps…


  7. mnphenow says:

    I’ve had drives crash and burn and had a laptop stolen. I know the anxiety and frustration you describe. I’ve long struggled with the best way to be completely confident that my house could burn at any given time and I wouldn’t think twice about my data. My current set-up allows me to sleep at night:

    1) Online services where reasonable: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Backpack, Basecamp, Harvest, Blinksale, Delicious, Flickr, Rhapsody, etc. Granted, there’s always a possibility that any one of those services could lose my data, but they are generally reputable professionals who take reasonable measures to secure and back up their users’ data. Also, access from anywhere is great. I can be fixing somebody’s computer or sit down at a public library computer and with no more than a browser, get a rough approximation of my own environment.

    2) Subversion. I have a very reasonably-priced hosting plan with Dreamhost that I use to host my own websites and those of clients and friends. Dreamhost is progressive enough to allow ssh access to your account on the Linux server, making it trivial to set up and manage Subversion repositories. I’ve created a separate repository for every “project” in my life: each client, my business itself, each volunteer project, quotes, finances, photos, application settings, bookmarks, system settings, etc. Any time I make a change to any file I might ever care about, ‘svn commit’. Period. With even a very modestly-priced account and years worth of files, I have more than enough storage and it grows at a rate faster than I could ever use it up. They also have multiple levels of automatic backup in place. And, not only are my files backed up, but I have access to every change I’ve ever committed. I can see that document the way it was last week or last year. I can also sit down at any computer and securely check out any version of any of my files.

    3) IMAP email, also through my hosting account. Accessible from anywhere, either with a local client or through webmail interface. Also automatically backed up by the host.

    With this set-up I no longer have lingering doubts and anxiety about when (not if) my next hard drive will crash. My blood pressure doesn’t got through the roof when my box starts making funny noises. You can take any of my computers with zero notice, wipe the drives, hand it back to me and I can have it right back to where it was within a couple hours. That’s a good feeling. With the easy and cheap availability of all these great technologies today, there’s no excuse to settle for anything less.

  8. guns says:

    Have you tried SpinRite?


    I have heard nothing but miraculous stories of data resurrection from both friends and from web sources. I imagine that if you know who Steve Gibson is (perhaps from his TWiT podcast, Security Now), you would already have tried it and mentioned it. It is a DOS utility written in Assembly that examines, bit by bit, the percent polarity of failed bits and restores them to their intended binary position. The UI is very 1992, and you’ll have to hook the drive up to a machine that can run FreeDOS (any x86 machine really), but many people feel very fanatically about this program.

    The program is $89, but Gibson is so sure of his product that he offers a full refund to anybody who is dissatisfied with it. There are no product keys even; he trusts that people who actually use the program will respect it enough to pay for it.

    I should be clear that SpinRite is filesystem agnostic as far as what is actually on the drive. It works with the actual magnetic bits as opposed to file tables or indexes. In that way it is similar to dd_rescue, but instead of zeroing unreadable information, SpinRite actually labors to determine if it is more ‘0’ or more ‘1’ and then makes a copy of the rescued information somewhere else on disk. This is very effective, but also pretty time-consuming. My friend leaves the program running overnight when he does data recovery, which he succeeds at almost every single time.

    Good luck, and sorry for the sales pitch, but it may be of use to you.

  9. rvcx says:

    Using a Mac 24/7 ain’t so bad…

    My current PowerBook has been used about as heavily as I know how to use a computer (it’s my first stop for email in the morning before I brush my teeth, my work machine for ten hours of hacking, my entertainment machine to watch a film in the evening, my presentation box for when I go to conferences, etc.) and it’s held up amazingly well for two good years. It was helped slightly by Apple’s battery recall (the battery life did significantly improve with the new one), but otherwise the thing has Just Worked.

    Just as anecdotal as your story, but I certainly wouldn’t peg Macs as any less rugged than other laptops.

  10. Nataku says:

    An old client of mine (lawyer that worked from home) had a small water/fire proof safe installed in his house where he kept all of his backup DVDs. Might want to consider something like that for the future.

    I’m sorry for your lose and I wish I know how to assist in recovering your Data.

    Good Luck!

  11. jason97m says:

    Well, just after I got married, my wife’s computer had a catastrophic failure. Being that we were just married and cash was tight, I found out about something called a Hard Drive Reader. You cannot buy one at BestBuy or other stores, probably because selling them would put their service department out of business.

    They only cost about $25 and are easy to use. Seeing as how being married meant that $25 dollars was too much to spend, I built my own for a little less. Plugged in the HDD and USB into our desktop and suddenly all of her hard drive was accessible again. A quick copy and paste and all of her records were safe and accessible again, and I got to be the hero for a day!

  12. Frank62 says:

    Drag of drags…

    After reading through the posting and the comments I started to dump my most important data across the network to a system in the shop…

    If both the house & the shop burn down, my data will be the least of my concerns…


  13. MAVickers says:

    Future backup solution: S3 Backup. Runs on a Mac and PC using your Amazon S3 account.

  14. justelise says:

    Don’t rely on DVD backups you will end up losing more data. Do a nightly dump from your laptop to Amazon’s S3 service or at least to another machine on your home network (which you can then push to Amazon’s S3 because backups to S3 can be slow and arduous depending on the size of the files). A DVD backup would do you no good in a situation where there is a fire or a flood. You want your data off site and S3 is the most affordable remote backup system.

  15. Opspin says:

    This might already have been said, but I thought apple had a great backup service called .mac or something, I know when my mom left a match on her titanium powerbook and closed the lid on it smashing the screen, she got a new computer from the insurance money and even though the harddrive wasn’t dead (I salvaged it unfortunately without broken tibook or valuable non extreme airport card) she could back up all her documents and everything.

    Also try freezing your harddrive and booting it up again, I did and although I sometimes have to reboot, it works fine now (I have a super expensive 1.8″ drive for my Thinkpad x40):

  16. step_mantler says:

    my own strategy to backups is to always have a minimum of three identical copies in two different places (ie. two at home and one at work). if any one of them fails, it still leaves me with two other copies to work from. i then buy a new disk as soon as possible and recreate the third copy from one disk and verify from the other, just because i am that paranoid (also, i actually have seen data discrepancies between the copies, so the extra angst is justified).

    also, keeping three copies in sync is not quite as tedious as one might believe. the main copy is my laptop, and i just sync it to my backup copies before i leave work and back home at night. this way the maximum i can theoretically lose is one day of work (if the disk dies just before i make the copy). since i’m not syncing everything simultaneously, i am also protected against anything that may go wrong during the sync process and kill both the laptop and the backup disk.

    my office is sufficiently distant from my home (~20km) to ensure that fires or other single-site events don’t eradicate both sites.

    i prefer not to use online backup strategies because i’ve seen network failures in the most unwelcome situations (which is especially true for natural disasters), and physical access to the backups means i’ll be back to full speed at a minimum of time (which also lowers the chances of yet another failure during the recovery process).

    anyway, now that the damage has already been done, i hope you’ll find a way to recover your data. as many other readers, i’ve heard very good things about OnTrack, and if i’d lost ten years of work i’d probably spend the cash. of course the most important thing is not to write to the failed disk in any way to avoid further corruption.

  17. wiml says:

    Ouch. Data loss sucks, and this is another reminder that I need to get my own offsite backups up to date.

    Rsync.net is a nice offsite-storage provider, no nonsense, clueful, and works the way I want it to. I haven’t really looked into S3 yet.

  18. rautiocination says:

    I lost two 80 gb drives in one year, since then i’ve always used raid 1, and every few months i backup everything to an external NAS. dvd’s aren’t the greatest, digital storage like that degrades pretty easy. When it comes to true archival data, analogue metal plates are still used in some cases as even if the surface wears you can still read traces from the data. As i am not quite that hardcore, having 3 potentially recoverable copies is enough for my peace of mind.

    Condolences on the data though. In the words of b-dawg, life is suffering. Data is as impermanent as anything else.

  19. step_mantler says:

    Oops, on second thought I realized that you did have three copies of everything. I think the problem, then, was keeping two copies in the same location and the third being relatively vulnerable. I essentially treat my laptop (aptly named myon) as ephemeral, aware that it could fall to a horrible death or be stolen at any time.

    By the way, I use Beyond Compare for synchronizing directory trees between backup disks. Highly recommended to Windows users.

  20. japroach says:

    Its not all “gone”, you mention yourself later in the post “if drives become salvagable” (which they are, water is not going to kill a platter).

    If you feel the data is too valuable to attempt self recovery (by platter swap, or simply airing out the drive), try one of these companies:


  21. Shadyman says:

    Holy cow, man, how high was the flood?

  22. JoeyBob says:

    Moving to a hurricane prone area in a few weeks, and this has made me rethink my backup strategy.

    Good luck with the recovery efforts.

  23. mrbill says:

    Good to hear that you got everything off your backup drive.

    I use RSNapshot on a Solaris (also runs on Linux and OSX) system in the other room to keep daily backups of my colocated server, my iMac, and the MP3s on my wife’s PC. It uses RSync to only transfer the bits that have changed, which is a huge bandwidth savings.

    I think we’re all looking forward to Time Machine and OSX 10.5.

  24. Fredex says:

    It’s great news that you recovered so much.

    I’m “old school” about data storage. There’s a reason Moses put his critical information on stone tablets. Floods and even fires are no problem for stone.

    The next advance in storage was cuneiform writng on clay tablets. Clay could be erased and rewritten any number of times. When a permanent record was required the clay was fired into something nearly as secure as stone. Good stuff.

    Paper was the start of the slippery slope to ephemeral data. Stuff that didn’t matter to stone and clay like fire, flood, and insects, reduced paper stored data to dust bits. Paper was a big mistake.

    I think secure storage technology peaked early and every advance since then has just brought problems.

  25. wwward says:

    Phil, I would recommend you consider hiring Ontrack to swap the platters if the drive refuses to boot. It’s expensive but worth it. Alternatively, we can scrape it with DD as someone suggested above if the OS refuses to read it. I’ve been trained in this method and use it at work (albeit only when legal calls me to do so.)

    Presently I sync my data between a Mac and Windows host nightly, and less frequently to a pair of external disks which live elsewhere. Finally, my laptop mirrors the Documents volume every 15 minutes that it’s on the local network. The sync software, Chronosync, puts the last three copies of a file in an Archival folder in case I need to roll back a file. This does require a lot of manual intervention because every now and again I’ll end up with a bunch of disk space consumed by duped multi-gig disk images. Everything can be scripted, yes, but that would require effort.

    Sorry to hear about the flood, sorrier still about the data frustration. You’re absolutely correct that renters insurance will replace the damaged hardware, but the data is the most valuable by far.

    – Bill

  26. charliex says:

    i’ve been using rsync.net for a year or so, they’re great recommendation number 2!

  27. M_Bueche says:

    My Story:
    December 2000, 2 weeks from graduation BS Mechanical Engineering. I used to back my machine up a secondary hard drive, figuring that both couldn’t fail at the same time right? Well, I was the team “lead” on our senior design project. My friends had bee pushing me to try out Redhat saying it truly was a great experience now that gnome was on the scene (please don’t judge this statement). I then formatted my master/primary drive and proceeded to install Linux. One of the things that was not made clear in the installation was that the installer wipes ALL drives connected to the machine, and prepares them for Linux. Just like that POOF! My files were gone. I installed a program called “Lost and Found” and tried to recover the files with no luck. to make matters worse, the backup drive completely failed and I could not even access it via the bios.

    2 weeks from Graduation! I had lost all my design images, notes, interviews, reports, etc. I was doomed! the only saving grace was that I had uploaded the final report to my FTP server so my team mates could review. It was about 5 days old, so I had to recreate the other content, but hey, better than failing my senior design class.

    After the craziness of the senior design class, I took it to a man named “Troy” who had the bright idea of ordering a duplicate drive from the internet (same model number), then swapping the controller boards. It worked! I was able to access the drive, then we used a newer version of “Lost and Found” that recovered the files! Cost me about $600 for Troy’s time and the extra drive but I was ok with that. 4 years of college work, and a dozen freelance projects, restored. So … Maybe you can try that! Hope something works for you!

    My solution now:
    I noticed that “mnphenow” already mentioned this, but I use “subversion”, a version control software to store all my crucial documents. It is great, you can even store all the config files for you machine (apache, sendmail, php, ruby, python, whatever ), so you can transfer them from machine to machine.

    Then, I have an account with Bluehost (www.bluehost.com – this is not a plug but I do highly recommend them). They give me rediculous amounts of space (10GB I think) and ssh access. I then, on login and “sync” the files to my repository. I have a scheduled program that does this for me every night so, I always have a live backup. As it turns out, subversion is a great way to have access via https to all your docs from anywhere. I am even using it for my wife’s photography business. Hope this helps.

    BTW, my restoration software of choice these days is “Easy Recovery Pro”, a windows based app, works like a charm 99% of the time! Might want to check it out.


  28. SurfKahuna says:

    A backup horror story of mine:

    I used to use a 160GB external hard drive to backup most of my sensitive data. I grew up on Macs. I used a PowerBook G4 at the time I purchased my external drive. Therefore, the drive was formatted HFS+. When I purchased a new PC laptop, I simply purchased MacDrive for WinXP and kept on using the Mac HD as my external backup option.

    One day, I wake up my computer and I noticed that two folders were simply missing from the drive. The drive didn’t regain any free space, but the folders just no longer existed. I tried to use the command prompt and find the folders to no avail. So of course, I went to run Scandisk. ::SMACK!:: Scandisk doesn’t work on HFS+ drives silly! So, I boot my PC into (native) OSX. No luck (I didn’t think it would be that easy). So, I take my external drive to my buddies house and plug it into his iMac. “This disk needs to be formatted in order to use it.” WTF?!?

    I take my drive back home and plug it back into my WinXP machine. Spins right up, everything intact, EXCEPT for my two folders! The two folders being the most important folders (“Documents” which contained all of my work documents that I didn’t want on my boot drive any longer and “TV” [guess what was in there]). So, to this day, that little drive has not been written to. However, I have no way of recovering the data! Weak sauce, I know. I employ various methods of backing up these days :).

  29. KuchateK says:

    HDD mechanics inside are sealed. Water can only damage external electronics on them. Unless your drive was under water for weeks or there was high presure and water penetrated the seals everything is still there.

    Simly just go to e-bay, get another HDD like your backup one that was damaged by water, swap electronics and all data can be restored. Or rather the drive itself can be used again, because interior isn’t damaged and you have new electronics.

    There are also companies that can restore data for cash, for example ontrack. They can get data back on harder cases than this. But in this case they will do the same thing.

  30. KuchateK says:

    Instead trying to get data from your powerbook hdd fix your backup drive.

    Your powerbook drive seems to lost your data permanently. You can’t easily tell why. It can be due to head damage, plate damage or file system error. Swapping plates is very hard to do at home. You should have dust sealed chamber, proper tools that will prevent further damage. You can easily damage surface of the plate or heads. Swapping plates is the last chance complicated fix and should be done properly by someone who did it before successfully.

    Your flooded backup has everything inside intact and only electronics on it are damaged.

    For swapping electronics on most hard drives as I explained above you only need proper size torx screwdriver. There are only few screws holding pcb (and sometimes metal cover ond it) and couple ribbons connecting heads and motor to that pcb. If water was really dirty you may have to also clean the drive exterior (a little). If there is no contact between ribbons and new pcb clean them with proper electronic chemicals.

    Its simple to do on your desk in 5 minutes and you really have to do it on purpose to further damage anything.

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