Saturday, 4 February 2012

Computers - a cautionary tale

It's been a funny old week. Well, not at all funny, actually, though things did improve (slowly) as the week went on. Monday began normally, as I switched on the desktop computer in the dining room - i.e. the nerve centre of the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines operation - and checked my emails, as usual. I nipped into the kitchen to make a cuppa, only to come back just a couple of minutes later to see the one thing that every computer user fears the most - the dreaded blue screen of death (known to many as "BSOD"). It was far from the first BSOD I had ever experienced - as a computer user for more years than I care to mention, I've had a fair few such instances, especially in recent years, when it has been in constant use for large chunks of virtually every day.

At best, a situation such as this can be a pain in the backside, requiring a visit to my PC guru to clean up the hard drive and get rid of the errors - and praying that most (or hopefully all) of my precious data remains intact. But at worst, it can mean a completely new hard drive. Always assuming that one has taken the precaution of backing-up regularly, it can take hours (or even days) to restore a computer back to how it was before the crash. And on the previous occasion that happened, I had sufficient back-up to ensure that I was at least able to restore just about everything, save for a few weeks' worth of bookkeeping information, and even then, I was able to recreate the missing bits from the resulting paperwork.

So when my PC guru told me on this occasion that my hard drive was dead/unbootable, and that all the data on it was lost, I knew I was in for a right load of hassle. But things got a whole lot worse when I checked my laptop and my USB memory stick to discover that, at some time in the recent past, I had somehow wiped all of my vital data from both of them. It's a long story, which I won't bore you with, but it left me feeling sick to the bottom of my stomach. What back-up I did still have on the laptop only went up to January 2008, so I was faced with the prospect of losing 4 whole years' worth of sales and bookkeeping information, not to mention half of my mailing list and most of my vital documents. Plus of course, 10 years' worth of precious digital photos and 30-odd gigabytes of stored music. To say that I was heartbroken is an understatement - in fact, the prospect of rebuilding my whole business virtually from scratch was just too much to bear. As you can imagine, I didn't get much sleep on Monday night, and was up early on Tuesday, surfing the Internet for answers.

I discovered that there are companies out there that can (in many - though by no means all - circumstances) retrieve data from essentially dead hard drives, though none of them are cheap. But considering I have devoted much of the last 8 years of my life to building my business, I started asking myself how much I would be prepared to pay to get that data back. And the answer was "a lot" - how much, I don't know, but if it took a four-figure sum, then so be it. I managed to locate a company in Nottingham that said they might be able to help, though in certain circumstances even they might have to send the drive away, to be dismantled in a special laboratory. After an anxious wait overnight, I got a call on Wednesday morning to tell me that they had managed to retrieve my bookkeeping and website information and most of my documents, but none of the photos or music. To say I was greatly relieved is an understatement, and although I still ended up losing a lot of holiday snaps, at least I still have a business. I did actually manage to find a handful of CD's which contained the photos from some of our more memorable family holidays, plus a fair chunk of the music I had dowloaded over the years.

All-in-all, I consider myself extremely lucky that I have - by and large - managed to salvage just about all of the important data I need to run my business, plus a whole lot of other stuff, and my thanks go to Computer Support (Nottingham) Limited - PC Doctor, without whom I would now be pretty much be up Sh*t Creek without a paddle!

Of course, I've had plenty to do since then (reinstalling software and making sure everything still works properly is always a pain) but this whole episode has taught me a very important lesson about backing-up (preferably in 2 or 3 different ways) and about how to run a business in a more proficient and professional way. And it will never happen again, Sir - I promise!

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