The Great Hard Drive Failure of 2015

This event shall henceforth be known as the Great Hard Drive Failure of 2015 (the year that everything I possess that could break, broke.)

I like having my blog be around so I can look back at things that happened years later, like one would a journal, only public, so while this has very little to do with writing or flying, enjoy it as a little offering of non-fiction.

I came home one day, about a month ago, to find my computer showing a black screen. I moved the mouse to wake it up – nothing happened. Nothing I did made anything happen. Rebooted. Tried booting in safe mode. wtf. Nothing. Finally a went to my husband’s computer and started googling, figured out how to get to the bios, and hopped in there to poke around. I could see the hard drive, but I couldn’t tell it to boot from it.

This is literally the first time I’ve needed help to fix my own computer. I do tech support for a living, 7.5 hours a day, five days a week, for the last 10 years, and I’ve kind of got a handle on most things, though if something takes me more than 20 minutes to fix, I want to throw the computer out the window, because after 7.5 hours of fixing computers at work, I expect my frelling computer at home to work.

There are levels of techie people. People who aren’t techies don’t know this, but there are many levels and specialties, and I accept that I am a relatively low level techie person. I can fix a lot of things, but I have no formal schooling on it, and as far as coding, I know a couple of HTML commands but I wouldn’t know Perl from Shell or Java.

My best friend is somewhat higher level techie than me – she knows lots of more back-end stuff and coding, and has installed linux on one of her computers and knows her way around it. She got me set up with a flash drive to boot the computer into Linux from the usb flash drive. Then her roommate, who is even higher level techie, ran some diagnostics which confirmed my suspicion that it was the hard drive. And there was no repairing that – it’s pretty much the most nuclear thing that can happen to your computer. It’s that thing that can mean you’ve lost everything that’s not backed up on another device. And mine’s a solid state hard drive, which means you can’t just isolate the damaged sectors like you can with a traditional hard drive.

But the friend’s roommate ran a recovery tool – a good one apparently, and managed to make an image of my hard drive and save it on an external drive, recovering all but 4 kilobytes of data. Which, who knows what that will affect if the image is booted, but 4 kilobytes is a miniscule amount of data, so the recovered image is promising.

Next is getting a new hard drive…

So, my laptop is a snazzy-ass ultra-slim Asus zen-book. It is nice. I like it. It’s my favourite and most valuable physical possession. When I take it with me to write-outs, Rob Sawyer tells me how nice it is, like, every time.

It also has a proprietary eighteen pin connector for the hard drive. I bought it when solid state hard drives were a new thing, and while it runs very fast and pulls up programs that chug on many desktops instantly, it was before these things were really standardized, and only two models of hard drive were ever made to fit my computer. Both are no bigger than what I already had either, which was 128GB. Yes, I’ve been managing with 128GB of hard drive space on my only computer for the last 3 years. I can have one game installed at a time.

We researched options. There exists an M.2 adapter, which will allow me to install a more modern hard drive – possibly even a bigger one. There were reports of the new hard drive making it difficult to properly close the bottom cover after installing it, but people suggested filing  the cover or cutting a hole in the bottom for it. Meh – cross that bridge when I get to it. The adapter was 13$. If it doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t work.

I called Memory Express. That’s the shop of choice for techies in the ‘Peg. They have people who actually know what they’re doing there, to fix computers instead of the trained monkeys at the geek squad who just tell you you bought a lousy computer and wipe your hard drive and reinstall windows. They also don’t talk to me like my ladybrain can’t handle their tech knowledge.

I explained what had happened, and the sales person (note – sales person, not the tech guys at the back) assured me they’d have a hard drive in stock that would fit my computer, that solid state hard drives weren’t a big deal anymore and were very common, no problem, just bring the laptop down and we’ll get you set up. I expressed some doubt that they would have the adapter I needed, but he was pretty confident they’d have what I needed. I brought the computer in.

The guy at the back did a minute and a half of checking and confirmed what I suspected – they didn’t have the adapter in stock – it wasn’t common, and they didn’t have a hard drive in stock that would fit the eighteen pin connector, and who told you we did, he’s going to yell at him.

So the choice is order another 128GB hard drive that I know works, or if I want a bigger hard drive (which I do) try my luck with the adapter, and then once it comes in, pick up the hard drive from Memory Express then.

I ordered the adapter, and it came in about a week. The adapter seems to fit in the computer fine. I head back to memory express and pick up a hard drive. 500GB. It wasn’t the brand they’d told me to buy earlier, but the sales person assured me it would work.

I need to stop talking to the sales guys. I get it home, and install it, and the computer won’t even boot linux now or go tinto the BIOS now, let alone recognize the new hard drive. I look a the package and slowly realize that there’s nothing on there that says it supports SATA. I bring it back.

No trouble returning it – I went to the guys at the back this time, who again promised to bitch out the sales guy who sold me the drive. The one they had originally said I should get (sadly only available in 240GB) is out of stock. They will order it in. I get a call the next day that it’s on backorder.

The good news is there’s another brand available that they can order in for me, so we went that way. The will try and get a 500GB if possible.

Another week, and I get a call, that my hard drive is in. I go, I pick it up, I install it. The computer recognizes it. This is good. The next step is getting an operating system installed. I was dropping my friend off that evening, so I stopped in for instruction from her roommate on what to do with this image he made. We open up the computer, and he brings up a linux terminal to show me what to do when I get it home and starts typing jibberish, and I get the distinct impression he thinks I have a clue what to do with a Linux terminal. Lol.

Granted, that’s way cooler than guys who assume my ladybrain can’t handle things like this. He gave me a half hour crash course on Linux terminal commands. I was fairly confident I could manage to at least not make anything worse. Granted, I had an empty hard drive, he had a backup copy of the image on a second external hard drive, and the flash drive with Linux was easily reproducible if I accidentally erased it. There wasn’t a whole lot left for me to break. I got home and went to town.

After stumbling through getting errors that the directory doesn’t exist, I caught the roommate on facebook, and he coached me on using tab completion to deal with a directory name that had spaces in it. After that, I had it, and the process of copying the old image onto the new hard drive started. This was going to take a few hours. I left it over night.

Got up the next morning to a message saying the process was complete. I unplugged the external hard drive and the flash drive, and rebooted the computer for the moment of truth. Does that 4 kilobytes of unrecoverable data in the image render windows un-bootable, and I’m going to have to do a fresh install of windows, and lose anything I

And what happened next is what annoyed me most about the whole thing. At this point I’d been running my computer in Linux off the flash drive for a month, unable to save files, or use any of my normal programs. And the computer turns on. I get the windows splash screen. I log in. I have all my old icons on the screen. I open google chrome. It brings up all my tabs that I had open the last time I booted windows on the old hard drive. It auto-logs me into windows and facebook and everything. I open scrivener, and all my novels and stories are there, up to date.

And I’m like, you were gone for a month, not so much as a letter or a phone call, I was so worried, and now you waltz back in here AND ACT LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED!

It was just so anticlimactic, you know? I was all ready to have to deal with a fresh install of windows, but nope. All back, literally like nothing happened.


Migratory Bird Season (float rating part two)

Ok, so this post is a little late, as I’ve been busy. General update stuff: My hard drive failed in the middle of NaNoWriMo, 10k in, and while I got a decent start, I failed miserably in the end. I’m happy with what I got written though.

I have, now that I have a window with some decent light, found a new hobby. That hobby is indoor gardening, and African violets, especially. I will not be filling this blog with plant related shit. My plants have their own blog. If I happen to have any houseplant lovers following my blog, feel free to check out my plant blog on tumblr:

My car is dead, and I need a new one. I’m sad. This car has been in the family since it was new. My Grandpa bought it. My Grandma drove it. My Dad drove it. I literally learned to drive in this Buick Le Sabre. But the engine is shot and it shuts off every time it comes to an idle, and it’s twenty three years old and I can’t justify replacing the engine. My Grandma’s health hasn’t been so great lately and as a writer, I can’t help but see the obvious metaphors. I cried after cleaning it out last night. Shut up.

In happier news, I finished my float rating. I have a couple of things to say about that. One is that I survived a murder-suicide attempt by a greater scaup who tried to fly into my prop on an overshoot. Aggressive maneuvering was required to avoid it. Yay for being good at overshoots and having the airspeed to maneuver without stalling.

It made me remember two things I’ve been told. First is that geese are generally fairly smart and will stay out of your way….but ducks are dumb. That has definitely been my experience – every close call I’ve had has been with a duck, not a goose, even though I see far more geese during migration season than I do ducks.

Second is from the 99’s annual general meeting in September. One of the 99’s that I was driving to and from their hotel was commenting on flying in and seeing so many migratory birds. She said she’d asked one of the locals how they managed around the birds. She said the answer she was given was to try not to think about it too much. It was a little eerie to hear her say that – a bird strike can easily cause an engine failure, and it feels like it’s just one of those things that can happen at random. You really do need to keep your eyes open during those seasons. Though I’ve encountered seagulls that wouldn’t move off the runway, the water birds seem to be the main migratory birds, and the concentrations of them at those times of year do get to be a big concern, and it’s one of those things that makes canadian bush flying what it is.

Speaking of animals, we saw mostly grebes on Norris Lake, but also, off the northern tip, someone’s raising bison, and one day we saw seven swans – two parents and five of their grey plumaged offspring.

And a beaver. We didn’t actually see the beaver, but it’s built a new house between two of the float plane bays. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that he’s built a dam half way across one of the float plane bays, blocking the planes from getting out to the lake….*

I feel so fucking Canadian.

Last thing I would comment on is the attitude that float pilots are a bunch of fuckin’ cowboys who do just whatever. Okay – I’m a person to likes rules. I like a set of ways of doing things. So when I asked about whether or not there was standard circuits (patterns, for the yanks) and my instructor told me in a float plane you just kind of do whatever works best for you, I was honestly a bit frustrated. I always want to know the right way to do things.

Part of it is the fact that on water, there’s no centre line. There’s nothing to guide you and tell you what heading to land on. You just land into the wind. And don’t hit any power lines, and land where you have enough space, etc. You do whatever is practical and safe, and you just be extra careful to communicate your intentions to other traffic in the area, on the appropriate frequency.**

It was a bit of a different experience. It was very, do-whatever-you-need-to-do. Which took me a bit out o my comfort zone, of liking a set way of doing things, and set me to drawing on some older skills I learned from my father as a child when it comes to thinking through how to do something safely. Even docking, setting the plane up so that it drifted in to settle at the dock, shutting the engine off at the appropriate time to let it blow in, or drift in, then standing on the float with the tie-down line in hand, ready to hop off when the plane drifted close enough to the dock to hop off and secure the aircraft.

It’s hard to describe how natural and down-to-earth it felt. It felt like something my Dad might teach me how to do – or rather, not teach me, but just assume I could do and talk me through the first time, because he was the one person who always assumed I could do something.

It was fun, and I’m so glad I did it. I hope I get to use it.


*I make no promises that this beaver does not end his life as someone’s hat. None whatsoever.
* *I’ve heard complaints of float pilots broadcasting their communications on either 126.7 or 123.2, when they’re in a zone with a mandatory frequency, and yeah, that’s just not cool.