What Was On That Dead Drive?

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, June 14, 2015

The other day my 2TB hard drive died.

I used to work in a college where I supported hundreds of computer users. One thing I preached to my users was the importance of backing up. I constantly told them to  back up any file they would hate to lose. And for any file they’d emotionally die if they lost, it should be backed up in two or more physical locations. Over the years I saw some serious crying over lost files. I can’t believe how many graduate students I met that kept all their work on a flash drive. Some lost everything. One professor lost the first draft of a book.


Hard drives are interesting devices – a cross between an external brain and an attic. I’ve been using this drive for so long I can’t remember when I bought it, nor do I have any idea what I could have squirreled away there. It had been about two thirds full. 1,400 gigabytes of data is a lot.

I’ve tried to recover it but so far no luck. I have no idea what was on that drive, yet I’m not too worried. Years ago I started saving to Dropbox. I believe everything I really care about is there, but I don’t know for sure. I won’t know until I go look for a file and can’t find it.

Dropbox saves files to both your computer and their server. If you have Dropbox on a second machine, it will replicate all the files on the server to the new machine if that machine has plenty of drive space. I used to have several machines that Dropbox was mirrored. Machines at work and home. So all my files were replicated on all those local drives. When I retired I lost the ability to have my files stored in two locations. But I figured I had the remote Dropbox site and 3-4 home computers. However, I’ve been cleaning out old machines, so I’m now down to two machines with Dropbox mirrors. That should be enough. But the first thing I did when I set up my new machine was to connect to Dropbox and let it mirror my content.

I also run SecondCopy and replicate my Dropbox folder to my OneDrive. That puts my important files on two cloud drives.

What if Dropbox went out of business? That’s a scary thought. I used to use Mozy, an online backup system. It backed up my entire drive. If I had been using Mozy when my 2TB drive died I would know what I lost. However, 2TB is expensive to back up that way. I dropped Mozy when I got Dropbox and started only worrying about backing up data I created. I figured I’d just reinstall the OS and software.

I do know one of the biggest folders on my dead TB drive was my Music folder which had around 140GB of MP3 files. I have a backup of them on an external drive, and a copy on Amazon and Google Music. Because I’m a long time streaming music user I worry little about all my ripped songs – even though I spent months ripping my CD collection. I have my collection on two cloud services, but I seldom play them.

I think all my photographs were on Dropbox – but I’m not sure. My routine was to scan to my Picture folder on the PC, and then copy the images to the appropriate folders on Dropbox. I don’t know if I filed my last scanning session. That’s the thing about having a 2TB drive – you just can’t keep up with all the stuff you throw on it. It’s 2,000GB. There was over a million files on it.

What I have lost is hundreds of television shows recorded with my SiliconDust HDHomeRun, a network TV tuner. This has happened to me before. I had a Home Theater PC lose it’s drive with hundreds of documentaries I had recorded over many years. I’m not too worried about this either. I tend to record way more TV than I ever watch.

I also kept .iso images of CD and DVD install discs for all the programs I’ve bought over the years. I haven’t thrown those discs away; the .iso copies were my backups. However, most of my old software is just that – old. Since I subscribe to Microsoft’s Office 365 Home, the install is in the cloud. Except for an ancient copy of Photoshop I cling to, I seldom install anything from these old discs anymore when I set up a new machine.

For days now, every since my 2TB drive went south, I’ve racked my brains trying to think what was on that sucker! It’s like getting old, and forgetting names, you don’t know you’ve forgotten until you try to remember. On the other hand, maybe we only remember what we regularly use.

While trying to recover my 2TB drive I found five other internal drives I had stored away. I went through those drives and found years and years of backups. Backups of backups. I had copies of all the programs I ever wrote at work. Before I retired I carefully backed them up thinking I would cherish them in the future. Two years later, I instantly decided to delete them. With a few clicks of the mouse decades of coding vanished. I had archives of all the web pages and photographs I took at work. Sent them down the bit bucket too.

If I had had the chance to review the stuff on my 2TB drive before it died, I probably would have deleted most of it. But I have this nagging worry that there were things on it I still want, but I have no idea what they are. My wife works out of town, and when I’m in a cleaning out mood, she tells me I can throw away things but just don’t tell her. She knows if she was asked she’d want to keep it, but if she doesn’t know it won’t matter.

Chance has done some spring cleaning for me.

I write this to remind you about your files. What if your hard drive crashed for good?

If you want to try Dropbox for free use this link. I’ll earn some free space credit. After you join, give your link code to friends to earn extra space. That’s a nice feature of Dropbox.

If you subscribe to Office365 Microsoft gives you 1TB of cloud storage. Google is in the cloud drive business. Amazon also sells cloud drive space. And like I told my users, really important files should be backed up to two locations. Pick a big name company, and one that has client software to map a drive on your computer. Then you can decide on a main storage site and use replication software to back it up automatically to a second cloud site.


4 thoughts on “What Was On That Dead Drive?”

  1. Nice article. In a number of ways I often find myself in the same headspace/stage of life as you. I had a moment not too long ago — I was standing in my local public library and found myself thinking about all the books and information in that one small building that I won’t live long enough to get around to — and hobbies or projects likewise. Over the years, I’ve saved a lot of books to re-read, but will I? However, I seem to be a lot less trusting than you.

    Multiple backups are a good thing, sure, but as long as I can manage to maintain my own physical copies, I’ll never trust anything I care about to the Cloud. Not because of technical issues, but because capitalism/corporatism. One small (pre-digital) example: due to rights issues, five of Alfred Hitchcock’s films were unavailable to the public for decades (Rear Window, Vertigo, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Trouble with Harry). Then there are images of art and even buildings that have been restricted or more seriously, the information sequestered in for-profit science journals. Or talk to someone who had all their music on a Zune.

    Similarly, although I’d like to see further development of nuclear power, I have very deep reservations about trusting that to any large for-profit American corporation. That may seem like a stretch from where you started, but it’s all related.

  2. That’s why I have my stuff in multiple clouds. I wouldn’t just trust my data to one company. However, I am putting a lot of trust in Amazon. All my Kindle and Audible books are in their hands. If Amazon goes out of business, my library of ebooks, audio books, digital movies, television shows and songs will be gone.

  3. At the risk of beating a dead horse — it isn’t necessary for a company to go out of business for it to screw you — a simple change of policy will do the trick (remember the guy whose college thesis work was remotely erased by Amazon?). And between consolidation, collusion and overreaching law like the DMCA, one wonders how much safety there is in multiple clouds. A lot of people on YouTube have had their work robotically erased without consideration of fair use. Is it so far out to imagine that under the aegis of something like the DMCA, your cloud-stored data might be sifted for digital signatures and arbitrarily altered or erased? Perhaps even mistakenly –oops, sorry about that!

    1. It’s risky to depend on the cloud. However, it pays off sometimes. If I hadn’t had my files in the cloud, I would have lost most of them. I never could resurrect that drive. I had backups on some older drives, but I never could get them to work reliably. I guess sitting in a closet is bad for years is bad for drives. I’ve now copied my files to two cloud drives, and have a program, Second Copy, automatically replicate anything I save to one, copied to the other.

      And even though I act like I own the ebooks and audiobooks I get from Amazon/Audible, the reality is more like I’m just renting them until things fall apart for some reason.

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