Close Call

Holy smokes, folks! I avoided catastrpohe by the skin of my teeth this evening. I feel like I should learn something from it, or at least help somebody else learn something from it. Geek advisory forthcoming: this catastrophe was computer-centric and I’m about to get a little (or a lot) geeky in explaniing it.

explosion-22.JPGThe trouble started when I got home from work this evening and rebooted my computer per Windows XP’ insistence. Upon rebooting, I was dismayed to find my computer booting to its old partition (the half-installed Vista partition that came with this laptop before I installed XP). I had tried to remove this partition previously, but it’s been hanging around like mustachioed hotshots at the roller rink, reliably causing a BSOD whenever the laptop chooses to boot that partition. Unfortunately, as of this evening, the still-unidentified laptop demons decided that this evil partition would become the only bootable partition available on my disk.

I started the built-in Windows XP Recovery Tool (which I highly recommend…if you like fake DOS clones that serve no purpose), and it indicated that I had a block of unpartitioned space about the size of what my hard drive had been. Not good. I tried making it into a partition to see if I could boot from it, but no dice: the partition that the Recovery Tool created was an extended partition that couldn’t be booted from.

Long story short, I proceeded through the Dell MediaDirect Repair disk, Cute Partition Manager, and Partition-Recover, before finally finding the freeware app Test Disk. Now, I should be clear in my Test Disk review that it is basically a text-only app that is sparse on instruction and generally pretty black-boxy, as opposed to Partition-Recover, which has a reasonably-well laid out interface (for a DOS app) and a clear path to follow. But Partition Recover costs greater than $0, whereas Test Disk costs exactly $0. So Test Disk won. And finally, after about four hours of trial and error, I have fully recovered my deleted partition after about five button presses with Test Disk.
This was an experience that made me rethink what I would lose if my primary computer got wiped with no prior notice. Of the many potential backup options to reduce the risk of this happening, my favorite one so far is Tortoise Subversion. Subversion is a free CVS-like source control application. Tortoise offers a Windows Explorer skin to the source control. As you can hopefully, sort of see in the picture at right, Tortoise provides a graphical indication on each indexed file showing whether it is up to date or not.

But here’s the most awesome part of all: you can create your own source control repository from scratch in less than five minutes. Right click on a folder, there is literally a “Create Repository” option within the Tortoise choices, fill out a couple fields, and you have both a ready-made backup system and source control. I’ve been using it to keep my three home computers in sync, and to get revision history for my documents that I might want to look back at later on. I can’t imagine a much easier solution. It’s only real drawback as a backup solution is that you have to transfer files over your home network, which probably won’t have the throughput of a USB 2.0 flash drive. But it can always run in the background. I’m doing my backup as I write this.

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