December 05, 2011 - 1:48 PM
Two weeks ago after boarding an airplane during business travel, the message my notebook computer booted up was “Hard Disk Not Exist”. (Excellent English programmer grammar must not be expected I suppose when you order a notebook computer online from a major computer manufacturer that ships you the assembled item by FedEx from Shanghai China.) I had just started a Windows 7 Shut Down while waiting in the airport before boarding, but had gotten impatient to get on the plane. This was one of those all too common instances where the airlines are late, so instead of boarding by zone number the ticket agent effectively said, “OK, everyone for themselves! Board quickly!” - or something to that effect. Realizing we might be leaving soon, I had already started a Windows Shut Down manually.
But my panic resulting from their “run for your seat” command pushed me into moving fast to get myself and my luggage on board. For that reason, I just went ahead and closed the LCD screen down to the keyboard. This action may have caused the machine to try to put itself into Sleep mode in the middle of a Windows Shut Down. I also noticed that during my quickly slipping the notebook into the padded case, it seemed to make a slight “thud” sound on the bottom of the case which was sitting on the airport carpeting. Anyway, once on the plane the machine was completely dead. Rather than going berserk, screaming “I’m ruined” and becoming a nut case on the plane (never a good thing) I just tried to escape reality by reading lots of magazines all the way home. The following experiences have numerous lessons for anyone dependent on the use of a computer and e-records as a primary work tool, but this situation has especially ominous lessons for anyone assuming successful self-reliance will get them through a system crash.
Once back at the home office, I tried numerous attempts to get the computer to boot but it kept making statements like “Install Media with an OS” and a few other frustrating admonitions. And despite trying a variety of function keys to get partial boots into Windows Safe Mode, as well as my performing some BIOS level twiddling with various settings; it was just simply a goner. Was the situation that the disk drive heads did not get to finish protectively “parking” themselves due to the Windows Shut Down/Sleep mode conflict during the simultaneous slight jarring as it went into the computer case? I have no idea. There had been some early unexplained Windows crashes when I first got it, but after numerous Windows Updates, these subsided and eventually ceased. Since the notebook was only about 6 months old, I contacted the vendor and began the long journey back to having my “portable office in a box” working again.
Initial computer vendor response within a few hours by phone and email was actually very impressive. They walked me through various boot tests but then offered two very unsettling options. One, I could ship the computer off to them for a couple of weeks and they would “look at it.” Or, two, they would ship me a drive within a few days that I could install myself, along with some Windows 7 Operating System CDs. Then I could see for myself if the new drive worked or if the problem was really the disk controller on the notebook’s motherboard. What? I could go weeks without my computer or they would help me try to fix it myself? Were they joking? They were not.
Since it was well within the warranty period of one year from date of purchase, could they ship me a replacement overnight so I could get started reconstructing the system? No way. And this was right before the Thanksgiving Holidays so, it would take a couple of days for them to send me the drive. This latter option was of course, contingent on my giving them a credit card number to bill for the price of a new disk drive, in case I did not send my dead drive to them within 15 days. What? And what about all of the data that might still be on my dead drive and possibly subject to a sector by sector reconstruction? They promised that “someone somewhere” would erase it. Really? Where? In Shanghai China? That’s so reassuring!
After consulting my local Best Buy’s Geek Squad and a few other computer maintenance services vendors, I got pretty much the same answer – “Leave it with us and we will take a look.” Unfortunately, that is what I had expected. For someone that lives professionally in Outlook Email, Calendar, and Contacts all day every day this was beginning to be a nightmare. I was becoming really thankful that this disaster occurred on the return trip home and not the trip going to the dinner speaking engagement where I had used the computer to do my presentation! During travels, I always have my presentation materials on a separate flash memory drive, but it still might have been a challenge to quickly find a laptop with PowerPoint 2010. And in this case, I had “massaged” the presentation during the day of travel to the engagement. For that reason, I might not even have had the best version of the PowerPoint file to use for the presentation if I had been dependent on the backup media I had with me. This overall situation was increasingly very unsettling.
So, I agreed to being shipped the new drive for testing, but due to the Thanksgiving Holiday time period it took a few days to arrive. To make a long story shorter, I took these actions over a couple of days:
Received the new disk drive FedEx-ed from the vendor,
Removed the laptop case, verified the new drive and existing motherboard disk controller worked, and installed the new drive myself,
Reloaded the Windows 7 operating systems from the supplied CDs, after getting an external CD/DVD reader from Best Buy, as the notebook computer did not actually have its own internal CD ROM drive,
Reloaded all data from my previously backed up My Documents directories, as well as the Outlook email PST file, (or at least what I thought was the most current PST file – another story),
Reconfigured the Outlook e-mail accounts, including setting up accounts, servers, passwords, authentication, ports, etc.
Reloaded all Microsoft Office application software, after finding original CDs or sites for downloads and the appropriate licensing keys (Do you have yours?), and
Reloaded, reinstalled, and then individually reconfigured all other application software, including Adobe Acrobat, Quicken, AutoDesk file viewers, backup software, etc.
What a hassle! In fact, my experience working for a few days on an old backup Vista laptop was so frustrating, that I went and bought a new inexpensive laptop from Best Buy, just to make sure I have completely redundant systems with duplicate data and applications at all times. This also provided me with complete local services options if I needed it for system maintenance and consulting support. If you work as an employee for a larger organization that has immediately available dedicated IT staff and resources to quickly replace and reconfigure your computer with an appropriate operating system, networking configuration, applications software and your previously saved data, you can probably just call for their support. I am fortunate in that I know how to do this stuff to some extent myself. However, for most people, recreating and reconfiguring a system could be a nightmare.
During this time I also found out that much of my original software was downloaded from a software vendor’s Web site, and I had few personally owned software CDs in my office. To find the software license keys required locating an email (in my restored Outlook PST file) that was often sent over a year ago from a software vendor with the license key embedded in the text of the email. (This is a good example of an email worth retaining for a long period of time!) The software license key had to be re-entered during software installation, after the software was downloaded again. I will not elaborate on how many software systems had to subsequently also have recent updates downloaded and installed after they began to run. To be clear here, if you lose your emails by losing your Outlook PST file, you may lose access to your other applications during software re-installations.
So, can you really just ship your computer off for repairs and be without communications to your associates, as well as, without your applications and data for a couple of weeks? I doubt it. Plan ahead now by answering these questions for yourself:
If my “laptop office” sort of burned to the ground tomorrow, what would be my first actions?
How would I notify anyone of being “challenged” for a while? Do I already have a cloud based email account such as Gmail that only needs an Internet browser for access from another basic level computer? Do I remember the password or was that system access e-record stored on my hard disk?
Where is my data and how often do I back it up? Weekly? Can I actually get to it? Can I continue productively without access to all of the work I have been doing the last few days and simply recreate all of it? Or do I need to be doing daily backups? Can I get to the data if a hard disk crash occurs during travel and I need to finish a work week while on the road with a borrowed or rented computer? Have I actually reviewed and tested my data files to be sure they are being backed up accurately?
What computer will I really have access to that can read my current data files? A personal backup system that works with my own applications? Or a basic level computer that is rented?
Does my computer maintenance agreement include a clause for fast replacement based on my own crisis or will replacement be at the option of the vendor, based on their schedules and priorities? What exactly will they do and provide? Do I need local immediate support and service in addition to the protection provided by equipment replacement clauses in procurement agreements? It’s reassuring to talk to real people face to face instead of relying on email responses from Cyberspace.
If I cannot communicate or work productively for several days, will my customers and business associates have to start working with someone else?
The best plan is to have several options for fast equipment replacement, data replacement, and Internet connectivity. Or you may think that your business activities and career are going down in flames with the computer system itself! Protection of e-records requires daily attention to backups and the need for potential system re-generation.
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This post and comment(s) reflect the personal perspectives of community members, and not necessarily those of their employers or of AIIM International