Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A trick for saving some work when your system freezes (Vista edition)


By David Gewirtz

And I was so just starting to like Vista.

My main work computer was getting long in the tooth, and especially with the book I'm writing, I needed a faster box. So I upgraded, new motherboard, 8 gigs of RAM, super-fast 10,000 RPM drive, and more. I wanted that RAM and I wanted it bad, so I thought, "Hey, let's try Vista 64". Yes, I know Windows 7 is coming out, but it's not out yet and for my primary work machine, I typically don't run anything that hasn't had at least one service pack released.

And for the last month or so, it's been sweet. Oh, sure, sometimes Vista would decide to lose all my network settings, but that only seemed to happen at the beginning and it hasn't been a problem for weeks.

And then, today, my work machine hung.

I'd been struggling all afternoon with a couple of key pages for one of my chapters, and I'd finally figured out what to say. My habit is to write and save all along, but once I got my groove on, I just fired through three or four paragraphs without hitting Save.

And then, mid-sentence. Nothing.

No mouse cursor. No CTRL-ALT-DELETE. No pushing the button on the front of the PC for a gentle shutdown. Nothing.

Let me reiterate. It took all afternoon to come up with those three or four paragraphs. Those unsaved three or four paragraphs.

They were still on the screen, but I couldn't get to them. It's like when General Zod, Ursa, and Non were trapped in the Phantom Zone. You could see them, but you couldn't touch them.

Mixing my 80s pop-culture references, I asked myself, "What would MacGyver do?" Over the weekend, I'd watched the Alan Smithee-directed pilot episode of MacGyver via Netflix Watch Instantly and I was all inspired to save my writing. I figured if MacGyver could save his own Alan Smithee-directed pilot and end up with a classic show, I could save my special paragraphs.

And, yes Dear Reader, we're finally coming to a tip you can use.

Since the screen hadn't disappeared and Windows was kind enough to not put a dialog box across all my writing, I quickly ran into the next room, grabbed my moderately trusty digital camera, and carefully took high-resolution pictures of the pages. I actually took four pictures, carefully working my way around the screen to make sure I had everything I needed.

This is something you can do as well. If you've written something you haven't yet saved and Vista bites your ass, grab your camera and shoot away.

I can't tell you the rest of the story. Right now, I'm running disk checks on my work machine's drives, and I haven't yet tried to read in the pictures from the camera. I also haven't yet tried to open that file to see whether or not that particular chapter survived the freeze. Most of it should have been backed up in last night's backup sweep, but I wrote about five pages today and hopefully they're saved and the file didn't corrupt. I won't know for a while.

I also don't know what caused the freeze. I rebooted the machine, and it hung in the process of reboot (not good) also with a freeze. I was able to boot into Safe Mode, which is how it came to be that I'm running disk checks.

Update: Turns out the branny-new Western Digital 10,000RPM Velociraptor drive is toast. Even after a disk check, it's spewing bad block errors left and right, and after downloading and running the WD diagnostics tool, it even failed the very basic set of tests, reporting a bad drive. So back it goes.

But I did have my MacGyver moment, and I think I saved my precious paragraphs.

I was so just starting to like <STRIKE>Vista</STRIKE> the Velociraptor.