焚書坑儒

Over the last six months I have suffered the death of four hard drives – three external, one internal; one laptop; one laptop power chord; one e-reader; and one belief in the benevolence of Deity.

It has never been much of a problem. A temporary inconvenience at best. When my laptop died I got it replaced under warranty. When my e-reader died I bought a new one. When an external died I either had to replace it (to keep up my two-deep redundancy). At worst (as happened in October) one hard drive crash came so fast on the heels of another that I had to redownload all of my music and movies. And then buy another drive.

Expensive at best, time-consuming and expensive at worst. But I have never lost any data.

Until now.

In September I had three external hard drives – a terabyte for music and movies and backup, and a 500gb just for redundant backup.

In October the terabyte drive (Illegal Flower Tribute) died. I began putting movies and music onto the 500gb drive (Areopagitica), and bought another 500gb drive (Eikonoklastes) for more backup.

The new drive, Eikonoklastes, gave me some trouble right out of the box. Bad sectors, noticeably slow data moving, things like that. In retrospect I should have immediately returned it. I know that now.

On Thursday my computer stopped working. The culprit was a faulty power cable. For two days I was without power. On Saturday a new cable came and, marginally poorer, I booted her back up.

As soon as I did so, my good drive, Areopagitica, started making Sad Hard Drive Noises. Calm as I could I grabbed Eikonoklastes, mounted it, and began copying as much data as I could from the dying hard drive to the new.

About halfway through the copy process, Eikokoklastes stopped responding. Diagnoistics are a bust. I have been unable to mount it, reformat it, change the partition table, anything.  It is a brick.

I tried to remount Areopagitica and see what I could move onto my main hard drive. It has stopped responding. It will not spin up. As far as I can tell, it, too, is a brick.

Both my backup drives died simultaneously.

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

I did lose all my music. Fortunately I’m getting pretty good at re-torrenting it. I keep an up-to-date $tree output just for that purpose. At my truncated 100kbps internet connection, I should have refreshed most of it within ten days. More, if I have to occasionally pause the downloads in order to actually use the internets.

I did lose all my movies. Fortunately I’m getting pretty good at redowloading that too. I remember most of what I had – I only really keep my favorites around. And about three days before the Day of Digi-Sadness I gave a bunch of stuff to a friend, which I fully intend to steal back. Yee haw.

I did lose all my microcode. Fortunately I don’t really use non-Linux (and hence, non-free) computer programs any more. If I want I can always redownload them.

That is the pattern here. All the things I “have” on my computer, are just things that I’ve pulled from the cloud. They aren’t about to disappear. If anything it’s getting easier to torrent things, easier every day. The only reasons to download these things at all are

a) convenience. If you have them locally, you can play them exactly when you want to. This is especially useful for someone like myself who likes being able to change the music like a squirrel in a DJ booth. But honestly, if I had a faster internet connection (>1mbps), this wouldn’t be a big deal; at those rates I could download an album in less time than it would take to find a CD, open it up, and put it in a CD player. And that while still relying on the pay-avoiding torrentz.

b) fear. the idea that having all these things locally is good because one day it might be hard to get them. cough sopa cough. on the other hand, this has certainly not been the pattern of the last two decades. filesharing has become easier by the day. and this attitude, this must-protect attitude, only serves to make the torrent networks more robust. yet it is worth indulging, I think, in a bit of fear – since to replace just my core collection of music and movies and manuscripts, ignoring the fact that I like to add & prune at will, would cost me (rough calculations) about $30,000.

c) acquisitiveness. I still cannot shake the idea that the things I am downloading, though I can easily get them for free, have monetary value associated. As such, downloading them feels like an accomplishment, owning them projects the comforting illusion of value. This is no doubt a silly feeling. But it is hard to shake, for a person – yes, I’ll say it – for a person of my generation.

d) personalization. by adding or subtracting or reorganizing the data which I downloaded – which all falls under the category of Altering The Metadata – I can get my music/movies/&c the way *I* like them – something which, once I’ve redownloaded all this stuff, I shall have to do again.

e) transience. some things, once easy to download, have now gone by the wayside. And, even worse – some things I cannot well remember to download.

It is this latter which is now causing me the greatest difficulty. I lost a collection of movies and images downloaded online. They were culled – from YouTube and whatnot – not out of any specific intention to download, but only as I came across things of interest. Since most things I download in this way have no set titles to speak of, I provided my own metadata for each file. As a result, tracking them down again would be nearly impossible. It would be searching for a needle in a needle-stack.

I did not lose items which I made. But I lost the collection, and the collection was a thing I made. Now I will never be able to reassemble it. Not the least of which because, having been assembling it for the last fifteen years, I am no longer the men (and boys) which I once was. I could not reassemble it, for the original assembler has himself passed into memory.

I have just backed up all my data onto a friend’s external. I am hoping that the insurance company will be getting me a new laptop in the very near future. If they do, I will be making sure to buy a USB 3.0-compatible machine, and I will then pick up at least two portable hard drives that are compatible therewith. If I do not have a new computer owed me, I will buy two 2.0-compatible drives, with the knowledge that, once Gainful Employ visits me once again, I shall be able to dispose of these antiquated drives – hide them somewhere, far away, a time-capsule of a computer, another layer of redundancy.

Digital information is not immortal. It is just more easily replicated between corporeal vessels. Those vessels, I know only too well, are decidedly mortal. A hard drive may be less like a manuscript than like a medieval library – but even those, from time to time, would burn. Only a robust series of libraries could preserve the data of Christendom, of the Middle Kingdom, of the dar al’Islam. In that same way…

…I really need to buy some new hard drives.

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~ by davekov on 8 January 2012.

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