Daily Phuket #62: 12 July 2021 – Hard Drive Woes

It’s been a long while since I’ve experienced the type of computer frustrations that I went through over this last weekend. I blame it on ants. I have had many electronic devices fail during my 16 and a half years living in Thailand due mainly to ants eventually getting into the machines and eating through cabling or whatever else they like to do in there. I used to blame it on the hardware itself but, no, I still believe the ants are the culprits.

But it had been quite a while since I experienced any major catastrophes like locked-up computers and crashed operating systems. I have had a few instances in the past few months of severe slow-downs; usually these have been traced back to Microsoft Updates downloading while I am trying to perform a resource-heavy task (despite continuously resetting the “change active hours” options, the system always ignores this). My first Lenovo laptop has lasted much longer than any previous computer that I have owned since moving to the Land of Smiles.

This weekend, I experienced so many problems while trying to do routine tasks that I simply could not get anything accomplished at all. At one point, there were a number of tiny ants coming out from under the keys and where the bezel meets the screen. I hate ants! I spent most of Sunday afternoon attempting to copy important files to a 4TB external hard drive as a prelude to performing heavy-duty maintenance (including, possibly, a reinstallation of Windows 10). It took much, much longer than it should have and I even had problems shutting the computer down once I’d thought I had safely stored all my filed onto the EHDD. I went to sleep to let the computer “rest” for a while.

I woke up in the middle of the night filled with anxiety. Would the computer boot at all? The reboot took an inordinate amount of time and when it finally completed, I noticed that the external drive was listed as “Local Drive (X)” rather than “My Passport” as it had since I purchased it last fall. It took quite some time to load Disk Manager but when it did, that drive showed that it was RAW and that there was nearly 4TB of free space (should have been somewhat less than 2TB) with all of my files on there.

This is the drive that is constantly plugged into my laptop as it contains my system and other backups, ALL of my music files (around 160,000 songs collected over the past 25-30 years), nearly 4,000 ebooks (thankfully, my Calibre Library syncs with Google Drive so I haven’t lost any of those), some recently downloaded television programs and movies, and — most painfully — my collection scans. Starting in October 2013, I began scanning at high resolution every stamp, postcard, first day cover, etc. that I own. It serves as a complete inventory to my rather large collection, each named according to territory and catalog number with a code indicating the location of the actual item. It was very time-consuming to do and now I scan whatever new material I receive soon after it arrives. The prospect of trying to duplicate those scans, as well as the music (a fair amount of it extremely archival material).

Luckily, I didn’t resort to pulling my hair out or screaming bloody murder as I would have done even a couple of years ago. For one thing, I’d had something similar happen before with a USB thumb drive and managed to eventually recover all of the data off of that. Of course, that was on a much smaller scale. I remember trying many different pieces of “recovery” software before I finally happened upon CleverFiles’ Disk Drill. I was so impressed that I upgraded from the free version so that I could recover all of the contents of the corrupt drive. If you know me, I rarely pay for full versions of software.

I searched and ran Disk Drill and it did not list my external drive at all. I rebooted (again, a very long wait) and this time it listed “WD My Passport 3.78 GB”. I began the process, choosing “All Recovery Options” — this includes a Deep Scan as well as a search for missing partitions. After quite some time, it began showing different files it found. As can be seen in today’s photo, this process takes a very long time. After nearly seven hours of grinding away (I tried to sleep but couldn’t), it showed less than 3GB of recoverable files and said that it would take several thousand hours to complete (the equivalent of 328 days!). Um, wow!

I certainly didn’t expect the process to take nearly that long; I expected to let the scan run for a day or maybe two. Even more disconcerting was that all of the found files were not given my original names but just arbitrary labels like “0000100.mp3” without any indication of the folder structure I’d taken so long to perfect. I remember that the last time I used this software, it preserved the folder names and directory locations. Perhaps it sorts all of this later in the process but I just do not recall. I decided to let it run in the background and see what happens. You can save the scan sessions if you need to reboot so that was my plan. I felt that, eventually, I would have something usable to recover.

Later in the afternoon, I made an interesting discovery as a workaround of sorts. I had opened an image program to do a bit of editing. By default, it tries to save new images into the last-saved location. When I went to save the edited image, the save to dialogue showed a folder inside of my corrupted hard drive. I wondered what would happen if I right-clicked on a file, copied it and then tried to paste it elsewhere. I tried and copied the file to my desktop. It worked. I tried it with a random folder and that worked as well, albeit a bit slowly. The drive even displays as “My Passport (X:)”.

In my experiments, I was able to copy a 3GB video file from a folder on the corrupted external hard drive onto my desktop and several folders up to several gigabytes in size. I only had one freeze up when I tried to copy a folder that had a number of subfolders inside. Still, everything opened perfectly in the appropriate software. It only works if I try to save something into a folder on the drive but instead of saving, I right-click to copy and then paste into a different location on the main computer. Yes, it is time-consuming but certainly a better option than waiting nearly a year for the recovery software to do its thing (which, I think, would eventually cause the drive to overheat or fail in some other way).

I have never seen any reference to this as a method to recover files from an otherwise inaccessible hard drive. I am stoked it works. I certainly do not have 2TB of space on the laptop to which to copy the files so I think I will need to purchase yet another external HDD in the near future. Maybe two and finally do redundant backups.

At least I have plenty of time to do such things right now as I have at least two weeks until school reopens. (A week after my school closed, ALL of the other Phuket schools were ordered closed effective today.) I copied enough of my stamp files this evening so that I may try to resume posting on my Philatelic Pursuits website in the next day or two. I think I will try to copy my postcard album pages tomorrow and resume that project as well.

Dealing with computer problems is not my preferred way of spending the time (and I really should be creating some class materials for our eventual return to teaching), but I cannot exactly go anywhere anyway with everything shutting down again and the nasty Delta variant lurking just around the corner. It’s either this, stamp blogging or reading… And finding a way to keep the ants at bay!

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