What I Learned From the Death of My Computer

May 17, 2010
New Laptop - some old messy desk.

New Laptop - some old messy desk.

Before I get started, I just have to say that this is my 100th post on iffles.com! And we’re one month away from iffles.com’s first birthday. I’m a bit bummed that my 100th post doesn’t happen to be much about photography at all, but it is about something that, as digital photographers, we all should be mindful of – the possibility of a suddenly-dead computer and things you can do to help lessen the effect.

I’ve always considered myself to be pretty tech-savvy (I am a computer programmer by day, after all), but I also knew there was always more I could be doing in order to prepare myself for the inevitable Data Loss situation, which is exactly what happened to me when my laptop up and died earlier this week.

As far as computer disasters go, it wasn’t too horrible – I had enough money to get a new laptop right away, I had all my RAW files and full-sized edits on my drobo (I’ll get to that in a sec for those you that don’t know what it is, but for now just think of it as an external hard drive), I have a phone with internet access so I could manage to still keep in touch online, and almost all of the software I use on my computer (which, other than a browser, is pretty much all photo editing or music-listening stuff) is free.

All that being said, none of us are perfect, and I still learned a bit for next time, so I’m sharing it with you – though I hope you never have to actually use any of this advice because hopefully, the next time you buy a computer, your old one will still be running and you can happily transfer all your data over at your own leisure!

You probably want to be backing up more than you are

And I don’t just mean more often, I mean what you’re backing up. I mentioned that I have all my photos on my drobo – it’s a device that can hold up to 4 hard drives in it and automatically mirrors the data for you across the hard drives so that if any one of them should fail, all your data is still safe. Technically, this isn’t backing up, and I’ve been talking about setting up an online backup service for about a year now, and maybe this will finally be the kick in the butt to do it.

Currently on my drobo I house three things: all my photos, all my music, and a backup of iffles.com. I figured that was all I really needed, and couldn’t really think of anything that I actually stored on my computer itself other than the resized versions of all my photos that I post online. Let me tell you something: as soon as you lose all your data, you realize exactly what you don’t have. For instance, I write all my entries for iffles.com in notepad. I have my reasons – they may not be the best reasons, but they’re my reasons none-the-less. I save them all to my desktop until they’re posted. Well, sitting my Dead Laptop’s desktop is the entry of all my favorite People photos from the iffles.com Monthly Theme Group.

We still haven’t figured out of the hard drive on the old laptop is recoverable. We’re doing our due diligence, but since we have to go out of town for a funeral this week, it might be a while to find out. So, the April photos might end up being posted at the same time as the May ones… sorry about that!

Oh, another thing I should have backed up? My scripts folder for Gimp. Luckily, I’ve already posted about most of the scripts I use often, so it will be easy for me to find and download them all again… but if I had been backing it up on the drobo, it would have been a quick copy/paste

Keep Computer Shopping

If you’re anything like me, then before you make a major purchase, you like to have spent a good amount of time researching what’s out there and what a good price is. I consider a laptop purchase to be a major one, so when I had to buy one right away, I was a bit bummed that I hadn’t done any research on it at all since I bought my previous laptop 3 years ago.

I’m lucky in that I know a thing or two about computers, so I could quickly come up with a priority list and shop around online (although, I ended up actually finding the best price at Best Buy, so I was able to have it in my hands the same day, which was nice). The thing is, there’s still that little part of me that is questioning and wondering if I really got the right computer. I love my new laptop so far and have no complaints – I really was able to get everything I wanted for only a tiny bit more than what I wanted to spend, so I can’t complain (yet, at least!), but I’ve also used it for less than a week, so who knows how I’ll feel in a month or two down the road.

Use this Opportunity

I will say one good thing about the death of a computer: it really forces you to clean up your computer act. Not only do I have a fresh and clean hard drive, but I don’t have all sorts of other crap I don’t need on my computer like apps I downloaded to test out and just never uninstalled.

It’s also given me an opportunity to try things that I’ve been meaning to try and had always been too lazy or stuck in my ways. For instance, I’m using Chrome now instead of Firefox – when Chrome first came out, the inability to use Greasemonkey meant I didn’t even give it a chance. Since they added Greasemonkey support I just became too set in my ways to change because I was so used to Firefox. But since I had to start over anyway, I went for Chrome (and so far am happy, though there are one or two things I have to get used to).

It also means I’m getting the latest versions of all the software that I never bothered updating, and oh-my-goodness – I’m kicking myself for never upgrading my UFRaw before. If you don’t have the Lens Correction tab in your version of UFRaw, please update it now. This tab uses your EXIF data to figure out what camera and lens you used to take the photo, which in and of itself isn’t all that impressive, but then it uses that data to – if you want – automatically correct for lens distortion! I’ll have to write an entry about this nifty feature later, but I loved it so much, I felt it was worth discussing here.

Finally, I definitely learned from this scare and am going to get my butt in gear and start doing some online backups of my data, as well as periodic backups of things other than photos and music.

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Filed under: Just plain iffles
  • Hey Jennifer, Sorry to hear about your dead laptop. If you cant figure out how to get the data off of it, shoot me an email and I might be able to help. What is the machine doing exactly?

    Anyway, good luck, Glad you could afford to get right back online with a new machine!

    --Brian Cooney

  • Congratulations on your 100th post...I'm really glad to see you back! Had to buy a new laptop myself a couple of weeks ago (needed to upgrade rather than replace fortunately) so I know how you feel about the research bit, but if it's any consolation I think it's like when you get your first DSLR, you can research for ever but sooner or later you have to bite the bullet! Looking forward to those monthly themes, there's some really stunning stuff being posted to the group.

  • Brandon

    I'm glad you're up and running again. And thanks for mentioning the UFRaw update. I had no idea, but I just went and reinstalled - the lens correction tool is great.

  • Hey up!

    For a major computer breakdown, your experience reads really smooth! :)

    What OS are you using?

    I double boot Win and Linux and use dropbox and Ubuntu One (2 Gigabites each) for backing up personal files. Flickr for all my photos (JPGs in original size, not the RAW files). Dropbox is a doddle to set up and works on Windows too.

    My blog is backed up by the Wordpress plugin "WordPress Database Backup" You can select to have send daily backups per email (this is what I do, and as I use IMAP, I always have it on an Email server).

    A good place to store personal info is also Google Docs (for office type files), Mendeley (think online Endnote) for references for my academic work stuff, and "tomsplanner" for project type stuff (neat that it exports to txt file).

    I once had an external hard drive that my then one year old pulled to the floor by the cable... dead (the hard drive not my son). It was a major disaster, but that was only the backup!

    Anyway, good to hear that you're up and running again, looking forward to the next posts!

    And congrats on #100!



  • Congrats on you 100th post. I just had mine, too. I commented on your blog when I first started, but since then, I have ventured abit into the sewing & cooking path, too. I have definately appreciated your posts and found them helpful being new at photography. Your pictures inspire & encourage me and my kiddos to get out there and take pictures. Sorry about the computor stuff. My sewing machine just broke. I think beyond repair. Snap. So...just wanted to say thanks for helping the non-professional types like me take better pictures.

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