The Great Hard Disk Disaster of December 2009
This note has been up on my facebook profile for some time, now I am sharing it with the world.
Well OK, so first of all I am to blame of not having an up-to-date backup. The last one I did was somewhere around Feb 2009.
All my recent precious photos and videos were on my office laptop, an HP 2510p.
Last week, the hard disk suddenly crashed without prior warning. The laptop won't boot. So I booted it kwith an Ubuntu Live CD and saw that although the hard disk was failing, it could still be accessed. This was when I was in Delhi.
After I returned to Mumbai, I tried to reboot with Ubuntu and recover files. First problem, the files could not be copied although they seemed they were there. Likely NTFS table corruption.
I looked up tools for data recovery with Linux and found gddrescue. I managed to download it somehow in a temporary boot environment on Ubuntu through the office proxy. Before this, I had to wait over the weekend because the only portable backup drive available in the office was traveling.
Now with the 320GB backup drive available, which had about 160 GB used on a FAT partition, I sat down for recovery. gddrescue helps you make images of corrupt disks that you can then attempt to repair with fsck, and then either extract files from there with 7-zip or other tools, or write to a healthy disk. Easy stuff.
No. Biga problem. The FAT drive has a maximum single file size of 4GB, while the two images of my two partitions had to be 60GB each! I had no option but to format the 320GB drive to an ext3 filesystem.
So I proceeded to do it, first by asking our IT support to backup our existing backups on some idle PCs. This took several hours. I had assumed that the other data on this drive had already been backed up by another colleague the same day on his personal 1TB drive.
So I proceeded with deleting its FAT partition with palimpsest, a Ubuntu utility, while trying to confirm over phone that it was safe to do so. DISASTER!
My colleaue called back and said he had indeed NOT backed up the critical and confidential data on the drive, for which there was no other copy!
I was dead. Then my ghost remembered reading earlier in the day there was hope in the form of gpart, another linux utility. So it downloaded gpart to the temporary Ubuntu environment, and proceeded with running it.
The good side: gpart tries to guess a deleted partition table on the basis of existent data on the drive. I had not overwritten anything, so the data must still be there. The bad part: the only documentation related to gpart is how its command syntax works.
My ghost made two aborted attempts of rewriting the partition table. Then it realized it had nothing more left to lose in going with the most likely default options, and ploughed in.
Magic! The original partition of the backup drive was restored, and was accessible. The spirit re-entered my mortal remains.
I then proceeded to backup the critical data on my replacement laptop's drive, only to find it was a mammoth 96GB, because most of it was movies and 'other stuff'. Yes, but there certainly was other confidential data that had to be preserved.
So I asked by keeper of the backup to please back it up to his personal 1TB drive and I would collect it the next day. By this time, curiously, I could not access the CD drive from which Ubuntu live was running on my original laptop.
The next evening I collected the now-formattable 320GB drive, and brought it home along with the old and new laptops to attempt a rescue.
The reason I was doing this? HP only provides a drive replacement. The HD cable connector on the 2510p is so odd you can't connect the HD to to any other computer as slave. The only third party that was promising to recover data was asking for a whopping Rs.25,000 ($525)!
But now I was all set, with three computers, an internet connection, a backup drive, some flash memory and the Ubuntu CD. Or so I thought.
Now the damned old laptop wouldn't just boot from the CD! It stopped saying the HD was about to fail, and just reported an error. Actually neither the CD nor the hard disk could be found in the boot menu. Hmm, weird.
So now it was time for a deeper adventure into Geekland. I decided to find a way to copy Ubuntu to my 2GB flash drive, make it bootable and try it instead of the CD.
I started the new laptop, which had little to offer for creating disc images from its pathetic Windows XP environment. I had googled and found pendrivelinux.com, which provided both Linux and Windows utilities for creating a bootable Ubuntu 9.10 USB flash drive. The problem, it needed an Ubuntu ISO image, which had to be downloaded. No Way! I HAD to create it from the CD.
I googled a bit more and found cd2iso, a small free uncomplicated program to make ISO images out of CDs. The Roxio crap bundled with the laptop makes .IMG files.
So proceed to download and run cd2iso from softpedia.com. Success i ripping the CD to ISO. But where the hell is the image! A folder search on windows found it in program files, in the cd2iso directory. The program is so small they didn't bother to add a save as- dialog.
Hmm, back to the USB utility. Format the flash drive after a backup. Run installer script, qualified success with only 14 data reading errors from the ISO.
Plug USB stick in laptop. Recheck boot sequence options. Reboot. It worked! Ubuntu was up and running, with the added advantage of the USB flash drive that my changes were permanent.
Try getting synaptic to install gddrescue, but first, configure wireless connection. After some frustrating problems, remember I have to add DNS servers manually in network options. Done. Installed.
BUT. And a very BIG BUT, where the hell is the hard disk! Where the goddamned hell is my CD drive! Both have stopped being detected at all!
Numerous reboots and permutations and combination, temptation to pray to a non-existent God, but to no avail.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am now stuck like a lost traveler on an inhospitable planet. All my tools are now polished, sharpened and ready. Only, I no longer seem to have the material on which to use them.
What will I do?
NOTE: The data was never recovered. The agency that busted a new hard disk to swap the spindle said no data could be read.
I have since bought a 1TB Seagate external hard disk. It costs around Rs.6,000/-