Restoring from backup

Things that turned out to be easier than expected:

  • Restoring my iTunes music library. Turns out that this was just a matter of copying back the “My Documents/My Music/iTunes” directory, which contains the two critical files “iTunes Library.itl” and “iTunes Music Library.xml”. Next step was to edit my iTunes preferences to point to my new music directory (I wouldn’t have had to do this if my drive mappings hadn’t changed). Finally, I re-authorized my PC to allow me to play all the music I’ve bought from the iTunes music store (grr… must re-rip to remove DRM soon). Job done. Plug in iPod, and go.
  • Restoring my mail in Thunderbird. Before the crash, I had moved some of my email accounts out of Outlook and into Thunderbird, and I’ve never really worked with the mbox format before. Result: super easy. Copy the old mail file to the new directory, restart Thunderbird, and boom, there it is. No sweats. In fact, I’ve taken the opportunity to move all of my mail to Thunderbird now, and I’m liking it.

I’ve also installed Backup4All, and am using it as a proper daily backup solution. I never liked the Dantz Retrospect software that came with my big external disk, but Backup4All is excellent. Defining backup jobs is easy, and running them is smooth. Definitely a keeper.

On the road to recovery from the Dead Disk Blues

I hope I’m not speaking too soon, but things are looking up. I got a SATA power cable and a floppy drive from the local Maplins, and I’ve got a fresh install of Windows up and running.

Even better, I ran Samsung’s low-level diagnostic utility (HUtil) on the faulty disk, and it was passed most of its tests successfully. The surface scan looked like someone had used the disk’s platters for serving up a buffet lunch, but it was still mostly readable. In fact, I’ve got it mounted now, and busy copying off all the data I can get.


Lesson learned: backup, backup, backup. Disk failure is not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when”.

Ups and downs on the dead disk highway

Okay, I’m going to expose my ignorance of current generation PC hardware by confessing that I thought that a single cable was enough to hook up my new SATA drive to my motherboard. Oh no. Not nearly enough.

Not only does it need a separate power cable, which wasn’t supplied with my motherboard, but the Windows XP installation doesn’t recognize SATA drives out of the box. You have to supply the drivers manually at the start of the install on a floppy disk mounted as drive A:. No, you can’t just stick them on a CD. How quaint.

As my PC doesn’t have a floppy disk drive any more, and we don’t seem to have a spare one lying around the house, the alternative to going out and buying a new one (do computer shops even sell floppy disk drives any more?) is to create a new Windows XP install CD, and slipstream the drivers onto it. Fortunately, there is a useful program called XPCreate which simplifies the process of creating slipstreamed disks.

Nevertheless, this means that my PC is going to be out of commission for most of the week. If I order a SATA power adapter this evening, it’ll get dispatched tomorrow, the postman will try and deliver it on Thursday, fail because there’s no-one at home, and I’ll be able to pick it up from the Post Office depot on Friday morning.


On the brighter side, I had been worrying about using up another authorization token for iTunes. Music you buy from the iTunes music library is authorized to play on up to 5 machines. You can manually de-authorize a computer, for example if you want to sell it, or move all your stuff to a different machine, but this is no use if your PC up and dies on you before you can do that. However, I just found out that once you have used up your 5 authorizations, iTunes will give you a button to instantly deauthorize all machines that were registered to play your music.

I haven’t bought all that much music from the iTunes Music Library, partly because of the 5 machine restriction. (And partly because is much cheaper.) But knowing that there’s a big shiny “reset” button at the end of the road is a big a relief. You can only use it once a year, but fortunately my disks don’t tend to crash that often.

The Dead Disk Blues are back

My computer had been acting a bit funky for the last week or so: it was freezing up occasionally, then carrying on after about twenty seconds, and a couple of mornings I got up to find it just frozen and died completely overnight. (I keep it on 24/7.) I thought it might have been because I’d been installing shedloads of new software recently (there was a freeze immediately after installing iTunes 4.9, and the matching iPod updater), and that it was time for a periodic Windows reinstall. In fact, it is almost exactly a year since I last did a nuke & pave. (I found the date with the “systeminfo.exe” command line utility–a nice little utility I hadn’t known about before.)

But no, it was the hard disk that was dead, instead. This morning the puter was dead again, and wouldn’t respond to a reboot. “A disk read error occurred,” it whined. “Press CTRL-ALT-DEL to reboot. Please? Oh please, huh?”


On the bright side, the disk that failed was my system disk, which contains my Windows install, Program Files directory, and my Documents and Settings folder. Unlike the last time this happened, all of our photos are safe on a separate, secondary hard disk, so I’m not worried about those. All my code is sitting in SourceSafe on a different disk, too. The last full backup of my Documents and Settings is a couple of months old, but most of the stuff I do and write these days is distributed over the rest of the internet anyway, so I’m not too worried. The only thing likely to cause some pain is the potential loss of a few months of email, but seeing as I never reply to my email anyway, at least no-one else is going to notice.

(And my iTunes library xml file…hmmm…)

Still, I’m hopeful that I can recover at least some of the data from the drive. The BIOS recognizes it, so I’m hoping that it’s just unbootable, rather than completely shagged. I’ve bought a shiny new 160GB SATA drive to replace it, but I haven’t worked up the energy to go through the whole install process yet. That’ll be my fun task for Tuesday evening!


After Worldcon

In my previous post about being at worldcon with kids , I made three points about the experience:

  • We were seeing very few programme items
  • Just hanging around in the convention centre with kids was fun
  • Handling kids while still trying to be a grown-up is very tiring.

I wrote that on the Friday evening, a day and a half into the con. By the time Monday came around, the whole “con experience” still revolved around those three items, but in a very different way:

  • Handling kids while still trying to be a grown-up is really, really tiring.
  • The number of of kid things to do at the convention centre was actually pretty limited, and we had exhausted them by Friday. The following days were spent going around the same things again and again, with the kids both getting progressively more bored and irritated. Alex spent some time in the YAFA (Young Adult Fun Activities) area, where they had some videogames to play, but (ironically, and annoyingly) it was the older kids who refused to share, and behaved like toddlers when something didn’t go their way.
  • I really did want to see more programme items. Thursday and Friday it all seemed like a lark, but the more the con went by, the more I felt irritated by having to miss out. Which led to increased frustration with the kids, which led to increased tiredness. By Monday afternoon, I was right up there with Alex whining that I just wanted to go home.

On balance, I enjoyed the long weekend away with Abi and the kids. It was fun staying in the hotel, eating junk food, swimming in the pool, and generally getting away from the everyday. But did I actually enjoy the con as a con? No, I don’t think I did. It was a fine con, but I’ll certainly be thinking twice about bringing the kids to the next one. (Which probably won’t be for a few years anyway.)

Abi had a much better time, mainly because she was more involved. She was exhibiting several of her bookbindings in the art show and auction, and she had designed and created special editions of the souvenir book for the Guests of Honour. She got to chat with Jane Yolen and Alan Lee, and even got a name-check and a round of applause at the closing ceremonies. That’s how cool my wife is.

As a final note, staying in Glasgow for a long weekend has given me an increased fondness for Edinburgh. The estimable Mr Scalzi commented on the fact that the con, and the con hotels, aren’t located in the best part of town. The motorways and main roads leading through the place don’t lead you past the wonderful architecture and bustling, atmospheric city centre, either.

Getting from one side of Glasgow to the other takes a long time. By comparison, and even in absolute terms, Edinburgh is a very small city. But that is part of its beauty: the fact that, from the right hilltop, you can take in the entire city in a single gaze. My bus to work takes me over one such hilltop every morning. On Tuesday morning, with my eyelids heavy from exhaustion, and the August sunlight blazing down on the Castle, and the sandstone buildings of the Old and the New Town, I could hardly conceive of a more beautiful sight.

Growing up in the Netherlands, part of my identity was always tied up with being from Scotland. When I returned to Scotland and went to univerity in St. Andrews, my heartstrings were always being tugged back to Limburg. We’ve lived here in Edinburgh for twelve years now, but it was only on Tuesday morning that I realized that this city really is my home.

At Worldcon

This is my fourth Worldcon, following on from ConFiction in Den Haag in 1990, InterSection in Glasgow in 1995, and BucConeer in Baltimore in 1998. It’s actually my first con at all since that last one, and thus my first con ever with kids.

Some observations about attending a con with a one and a four-year old:

(1) Programme? We don’t need no steenkin programme. So far, I’ve been to one panel. The rest of the time has been spent just hanging around, and trying to keep the little ones simultaneously occupied and not freaking out at the big enclosed spaces with lots of people around. (Curiously, Alex actually asked to go to the creche this morning, and spent a pleasant two hours playing there. When we took him out again, though, he solemnly said that he didn’t want to go back.)

(2) Also, merely “hanging around” is actually a lot of fun when you have kids around. I’m a shy and retiring person by nature (read: misanthrope), and I don’t tend to go out of my way to socialize and mingle. Yet at previous Worldcons, I felt a strong compulsion to do so, driven by a need to be accepted, and to be seen as a true fan: one of the community. This time round, I feel no such need. Kids are conversation magnets. People talk to me rather than the other way around! Also, being a parent is top of my list of priorities, and so I don’t feel any kind of strange guilt about missing all kinds of opportunity to meet people and make new friends.

(3) Juggling kids while even trying to perform grown-up-related activities, is very tiring. It probably doesn’t help that Abi and I have both been respectively working very hard and suffering from raging insomnia for the last few weeks, but most of the time, we’re both just exhausted. Evening parties? Um, maybe next time….

The overall atmosphere at the con is very good. I don’t remember much about Intersection ten years ago, but Interaction certainly feels bigger, better connected, and more organized. The folk are universally friendly and very capable. The security staff at the convention centre (from Rock Steady) are amazing. They’re as friendly as the con staff, and appear to be having a fine time themselves.

Top strange event of the con so far: walking across the tunnel from the SECC to the train station with Alex and Fiona (Alex wanted to know where the tunnel went), and having a local fan collapse with a seizure right in front of us. Two women from the SECC were right beside him when it happened, but couldn’t catch him as he fell. I called 999 to get an ambulance, and we all helped him sit upright when he regained awkward consciousness, and stayed with him while the paramedics arrived. Fiona freaked out, but Alex was a very brave big brother, and helped her stay calm and stopped her running away.

We were all pretty scared, but when the paramedics eventually arrived (they were dispatched to the SECC itself, rather than the train station), they cleared him, and he was able to head home under his own steam. I’ve never dealt with epilepsy before, and he still seemed a bit out of sorts to me; but the paramedics sensibly explained that if anyone knows the limits of their capabilities after a seizure, it’s probably the sufferer themselves. We offered to drive him home, but he declined. I hope he’s okay.

Second-strangest event: finding out that there are actually two J.K. Rowlings! Unfortunately, they both couldn’t make it to the con.

J.K. Rowling in Worldcon clone shocker!