UPDATE computer SET status='dead';

By Christine Lemmer-Webber on Sun 22 June 2008

The title of this post is actually less me trying to make a bad SQL joke as it is me ripping off my favorite Dinosaur Comics comic. But yeah. Lots of deadness of non-funness. Anyway, this is one of those boring personal life posts that people probably don't care about, but it at least has a fairly simple moral to the story.

So I noticed from work on Friday that my ssh connection kept resetting to my home machine. Every once in a while, RCN is flaky, so I figured that's what it was until I realized that emacsclient wasn't connecting to my existing session and that my uptime was only five minutes. It was raining, so I figured that maybe the power went out several times.

Well, I got home and quickly realized that my computer wasn't turning on. At all. I took off the case and noticed that, while the power supply fan was running, the processor fan wasn't. Cycling the power supply and then hitting the power button would lead to the processor fan spinning for a couple of seconds and then stopping. So I tried reseating the ram. No luck. I tried with individual sticks of ram. Again, no luck. So it didn't seem to be the ram. My couple of years of diagnosing and repairing machines at my previous job have made me pretty decent at fixing machines (though I mostly got by at that job with using my software skills to overcome my lack of hardware skills), but I'm pretty rusty. But anyway, at this point I figured there was a good chance that it was the powersupply, despite the fact that the fan was running, as it might not be supplying enough power to power up the machine entirely (which I've seen happen before). So I tried replacing the powersupply. Nope, no luck. Luckily I had made a backup of my data a couple of weeks ago, so I wasn't really worried there. Even so, most likely I figured the drive wasn't damaged, so I probably hadn't even lost anything within that group of time.

At this point, I figure it's probably the motherboard, but it's not within my budget to replace that right now. So I asked Morgan, my wonderful fiance, if she'd mind if I "moved in" to her computer until I was able to fix mine. She was fine with it. I figured this would also be good motivation for me to actually start regular backups on her computer, which I've been promising to do for a while. About six months ago, I installed a second drive on Morgan's computer so she could easily run Ubuntu. She hasn't touched the windows drive much since then, except to pull data over. So it shouldn't be too hard for me to move over.

So I pull out my drive, and with one of those nice little PATA-to-USB adapters I started rsync'ing my data over to my home directory.

Except, bad news. That drive I installed Ubuntu on for Morgan was a rather old one, and apparently moving several gigs of data over was just too much for it to handle. Halfway through the transfer, it died. Completely died. Like, I couldn't even 'dd' the drive to an image so I could try to inspect and recover its contents. I deliver the bad news to Morgan. She takes it pretty well, since most of her data was still mirrored on the windows machine, but she probably did lose a paper or two. At any rate, I was pretty clearly an ass for not backing up her drives sooner. So I promised to back up her Windows drive right then, to be sure that no more freak accidents could happen where she would lose all of her data.

So I took the Western Digital Passport I had bought expressly for this purpose several months ago. Fired up rsync, and... well, it didn't die, but it kept clicking and then disconnecting during the middle of transfer. Thankfully, rsync is inherently well designed for this scenario, but... dammit.

So I went out and bought two new drives, one to replace the dead Linux drive, and one to put in an enclosure for regular backups. Those drives are fine, but I'm pretty disturbed by the multiple system failures I experienced. The moral of the story is pretty obvious. Backups are critical. Losing your computer is a frustrating experience. Losing your data can be a traumatic experience. Thankfully, not much data was lost, though that small amount of data that Morgan did lose was totally preventable.

I'm also planning on writing a tutorial on how to do easy backups with rsync and either an external drive or another remote computer. I'm also thinking about starting to back up to an entirely remote location, like either a family member's house or maybe even something like Amazon S5. But if I did that I'd want to encrypt all my files with something like GPG. I'm not sure about that yet, but I think it's generally a good idea in case some sort of disaster were ever to strike us. Hopefully such a thing won't happen, but with the kind of luck I've had this weekend, I'm all about preparing for the worst.