10 lessons I'm learning from my disk crash

Look on the bright side: Martin is finding out new things as a result of his hardware problems.

  1. The cloud is a good thing. My server-based e-mail was unaffected by the crash. In the absence of my Outlook calendar (other than the copy on my iPaq), I was able to set up my Google calendar fairly quickly. In the absence of a dedicated mail client store, I was able to use Web mail effectively, not only via Gmail and Google Apps, but also via Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Verizon Mail. Some of my correspondents who don't read this blog didn't even know I'd had a crash.
  2. EMC Retrospect is way better than I thought. It turns out that I could, if I wanted, completely restore an image of the disk that crashed to a new hard disk. The steps are first to install a temporary operating system, then install a temporary Retrospect client, and finally use the client to restore everything as of the latest available date, which includes the registry as well as all files and folders. I've decided not to do that, however.
  3. Disk prices have come way down since I last looked. I got an 80GB EIDE replacement disk for $40 delivered. I have a 500GB/16MB cache high-reliability SATA disk coming to put in my new system as a second drive for $80 plus shipping.
  4. Memory prices have come way down since I last looked.
  5. It's often better to look forward than backward. I'm not going to restore the cluttered old 2.4GHz P4 system that crashed to its last state. Instead, I'm replacing it with a new quad-core system. I'm setting up a clean copy of Windows XP on the old system and taking that home for family use; it's about three times faster (counting the better video card) than the 1GHz Celeron system they have now, and it has four times the RAM and disk space.
  6. Starting with a slipstreamed install disk is a big time-saver. I downloaded a Windows XP Pro with SP3 image from MSDN and burned a CD from it. That saved me from having to reinstall SP1, SP2, and SP3. Twice.
  7. Pay attention at the beginning of a Windows installation. I was in a hurry yesterday after I replaced the hard disk on the old system and didn't notice that the new partition I was creating was addressed as F:/. I wanted it to be C:/, but the installer was confused by the Zip disk on the IDE controller with the hard drive. By the time I noticed what had happened a day later, the easiest fix was to disconnect the Zip drive and start the installation over from scratch.
  8. Windows Activation is a pain in the neck. I wish I had a magic cookie that said "I am not a number. I am a free man." Oops. That should read "I am not a software pirate. I am a legitimate user reinstalling a licensed system after a disk crash." It got old waiting on hold, reading out long strings of numbers multiple times, explaining the situation to overseas service people, and copying back other long strings of numbers when the automatic Windows activation system decided that my key had been already been used by a "different" computer -- that is, the same computer with a different disk serial number.
  9. The pivoting monitor I dreamed up way back when actually works. I came up with the idea for the pivoting monitor at the launch party for the Radius Full-Page Display, under the influence of champagne and good company; Burrell Smith listened, stared into space, and then went off and made it a real invention and real product over the next year. I have an LCD that pivots, but I rarely used that feature before. Now that I switch back and forth between software development and document editing on one computer, I find I'm pivoting the screen once or twice a day. It helps.
  10. Nvidia Nview desktops actually work. When I had two machines caddy-corner from each other, I'd spread my work out between them. Now I spread my work out between two virtual desktops. I've used the multiple desktop feature on Linux systems in the past; now I'm using it on Windows, putting my communications on one desktop and my development work on another.

See also: "One lousy hard disk can ruin your day" and "Hard disk crash aftermath."