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Victory ping.

“Whatever happened to the Legions of Doom server?” a coworker asked me as a technician swapped her computer.

I smiled a wicked smile. “Victory ping!” I then turned to my computer. “Ping pmprint02. Request timed out. Request timed out. Request timed out. Request timed out,” I read as the words scrolled onto my screen.

“Victory ping?” my boss–yes, my lunch ninja boss–came over and asked.

“I know that box,” the technician said. There’s a good reason he didn’t say “server.”

Read More »Victory ping.

My first experience with data recovery

It was 1997. I was working my first full-time  job, and my phone rang with my first crisis.

“What happened to the K drive?” the caller asked.

I glanced over at my network drive cheat sheet, which listed all of our shares and what server they were on. In those days, most of our servers still had 300-400 megabyte drives and that meant every file server hosted, at most, a couple of shares. There was no K drive on our list. I was afraid this was about to get interesting.Read More »My first experience with data recovery

I need a hair dryer, some nail polish, and two clothespins

At least it looked like a clean break.

I commonly run errands mid-evening because strapping my two kids into seat belts is a good way to keep them from tripping over their own shadows and hurting themselves. So we did that one night, and when we got home, my wife logged onto Facebook, where a picture of my sister’s USB flash drive greeted her. It was in pieces.

“Have her call me,” I said.

Read More »I need a hair dryer, some nail polish, and two clothespins

Spinrite 6: An overdue review

Spinrite 5 is an old friend. It got me out of some jams in the late ’90s, but as new versions of Windows that defaulted to NTFS came into my life, Spinrite 5 ceased being an option, since it only worked on FAT-formatted drives.

I’ve had occasion now to use Spinrite 6, its successor, which still runs under old-fashioned MS-DOS but now understands a multitude of filesystems. Other than that, it hasn’t changed much: It’s an obsessively thorough repair and maintenance tool for hard drives.

SSDs will eventually make Spinrite unnecessary, but there are still a lot more conventional hard drives being shipped each year than SSDs.Read More »Spinrite 6: An overdue review

Defrag scareware

This isn’t exactly news, as word has been going around for a couple of weeks, but if you haven’t heard about it elsewhere, there are some fake defragmenters going around.

I heard mention of it today, and it reminded me that I saw one last week when I was working on my mother in law’s computer. This was especially obnoxious, considering that at the time, I was running Firefox and I was visiting a mainstream site.

So there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.
Read More »Defrag scareware

Why every sysadmin needs to know how to hack into Windows systems

Yesterday, Lifehacker posted an article called How to Break Into a Windows PC (And Prevent it from Happening to You). Some people weren’t happy that they posted a tutorial on how to hack into Windows systems.

Let me tell you why every sysadmin needs to know how to hack into Windows systems, given physical access. I can give you three scenarios that I’ve run into.Read More »Why every sysadmin needs to know how to hack into Windows systems

Creative ways to destroy computer data

THe BBC has a feature story on data destruction. Of course I can’t let it go by without comment.

The sidebar provides the tastiest tidbits.One item in the sidebar makes fun of a user who freezed his hard drive. Don’t laugh. It actually is possible to perform amateur data recovery using a fridge and/or a hair dryer. But this is only a last resort, and I must warn you, the freezer trick can prevent a service like Ontrack from getting your data back in extreme cases, and in most cases will make it more expensive.

The idea behind freezing the drive is that if something inside is stuck, the expansion and contraction of the freezing can loosen it. The downside is that if it’s going to work, the drive’s life expectancy is reduced to approximately 30 minutes. So you need to have a computer ready to receive the frozen drive and immediately start copying files from the drive after retrieving it from the fridge, because if this is going to work, you won’t have a lot of time.

This trick only works for certain types of mechanical failures and, I might add, should only be attempted if you are extremely desperate.

A much less desperate method is to try heating the drive up to operating temperature with a household hair dryer. This can remedy a larger number of mechanical problems and presents very little, if any, potential for harm.

One thing I must say about data recovery: You really need to leave it to the experts. At the first sign of trouble, power the system down and call a computer professional. If said computer professional does not have any data recovery experience, the drive needs to be handed off immediately to one who does. As soon as that professional has exhausted his/her knowledge, a determination has to be made whether to bring in a high-priced specialist such as Ontrack.

A year or so ago, one of my clients had a hard drive crash. A number of people messed with it before passing it on to their desktop support person. He almost immediately contacted my old boss, who has done some data recovery. He in turn contacted me. It took us about five minutes to determine it was beyond anything either of us could do. Someone heard about a data recovery place about an hour away, so some executive decided we should send the drive to them because they’d get the data back to us faster. Well, they didn’t even have an answer in the promised timeframe, let alone the data. Finally the drive came back and we sent it to Ontrack. They quickly came back with sad news. Their chances of recovering the data, had they received the drive quickly, would have been very high, but so many people had gotten their hands in it that the drive was completely beyond salvage.

So, if you really need the data back, pay the $600-$900 and wait the week it’s going to take to have Ontrack or Drive Savers do the job. If you don’t have $600-$900, try things like the fridge but be aware it’s your last chance.

As far as driving off with your laptop sitting on your car, one of my former coworkers actually got away with that. He left his laptop case sitting on his trunk and drove off and actually traveled several miles before it flew off. Someone saw it happen, retrieved the laptop, and found his business card in the case. He called the following Monday, and my former coworker opened it up. The CD in the CD-ROM drive was shattered and there was gravel in the system’s various orifices. Remarkably, the screen was undamaged. He shook out the gravel and other debris, powered the laptop on, and it worked.

And his boss did immediately approve the purchase of another laptop right away, no.

I’m sure you want to know the make and model of this laptop. It was a Micron Trek 2. Current-production laptops from MPC (the successor of Micron PC) aren’t nearly that durable.

Both he and I have moved on since then, taking new jobs, so he no longer works with me and he took that laptop with him when he left the company. But it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it still works.


Quick thoughts on Norton Utilities 2001 (aka Norton Utilities 5). Not a full review, just the most important points. It now runs on all 32-bit Windows flavors. Excellent. I prefer Speed Disk over Diskeeper, since it also reorders files based on usage, which Diskeeper doesn’t do. Executive Software argues this is unimportant, but my impressions suggest otherwise. File reorder does make those key apps load faster. However, Speed Disk does go against Microsoft’s recommendations for how defraggers should run in NT/2000, which may matter to you. On servers I’d stick to Diskeeper. On workstations, I’d go Speed Disk.

They’ve cut some of the superflous junk out, which is good. There’s still plenty of stuff in there to make your system worse though, so my advice from Optimizing Windows of just installing Disk Doctor, Optimization Wizard, Basefiles, WinDoctor, and Speed Disk holds, and if you’re running 95/98/Me, so does my advice on how to use them most effectively. (You’ll have to buy the book for that bit of advice–sorry. I can’t give it all away.) Under NT and 2000, you get far fewer options, but the defaults are sensible, which is more than I can say for the defaults under 95/98/Me.

How do they do? Well, after I used my top-secret NU settings, Windows Me booted about 10% faster, and it was already anything but a slouch.

The biggest improvement for NU 2001 is that it now works on all Windows platforms. Competition with Ontrack’s Fix-It and The McAfee Utilities (formerly Nuts & Bolts) suites at least gives us that. Unfortunately, there still is no best utilities suite–each one has some feature I wish the others had. NU is the best overall, but that’s only by being second-best at just about everything.

If you’ve got an earlier version, don’t bother with the upgrade unless you’ve switched to Windows Me or Windows 2000. If you’re looking to buy a utilities suite for the first time, this is the one to get. A utilities suite is absolutely essential when you’re optimizing Windows Me, Windows 98, or Windows 95, and with the right settings, this one’s the best.

An FDISK Primer. A question of how to use FDISK came up on Storage Review’s forum (I’ve been stirring up trouble over there), so here’s my response. I figured I might as well put it here too, in case someone needs an FDISK tutorial.

Make your boot disk. Run FDISK. When it asks if you want to enable large disk support, say yes unless you want FAT16 partitions. (You probably want FAT32.) Hit 1 (Create Partition), then hit 2 (Primary DOS partition). It’ll ask if you want to create the maximum-sized partition and set it active. I’m guessing the answer is yes. (Active means it’ll be holding a bootable OS. Why they can’t just say that, I don’t know.) FDISK will do its thing. When it says you need to reboot, reboot. When the system comes back, format the drive with FORMAT x: (substitute your drive letter). I always do a DIR x: before formatting to make sure I’ve got the right drive. If you get an invalid media type error, it’s the right drive. Proceed.