Friday, January 23, 2009

Now erasing hard drive. Please stand by.

HDD controller board

Those of you who've been unlucky enough to be within whining range recently (greatly extended following the development of the internet) may know that I've been working much of this week on fine-tuning a Letter of Intent for a grant application. In total, it's about 20 pages long, although if condensed to solid text it would probably be closer to eight pages or so. Figures, tables and similar things make up the bulk of the document's real estate.

With it 95% finished (in truth, close enough to "done" that it could have been submitted), I sent it off to the boss for final proofing. As I often do, I clicked on the email attachment just to be sure that everything was all right.

It wasn't.

Microsoft Word presented me with a little dialogue box, the gist of which was "Word can't find the file - the path is invalid, it's lost or broken or something". "Fine", I thought, "the email attachment process didn't work properly, so I'll just do it again".


What followed was a long and protracted period of flapping around, the net result of which was discovering that the file couldn't be (a) opened on my computer, (b) opened on somebody else's computer, or (c) emailed to a web-based email account and opened remotely. Mac vs. PC didn't help either. Maddeningly, the file was still there - sitting on the desktop, and I was even able to get its properties, ensure that Windows really thought it was a Word file, of about the right size, and located where it appeared to be. It was just broken, and Word didn't even have the good grace to identify it as a corrupted file, let alone offer to try and fix it. Which, truth be told, has usually worked in the past.

Yes, I know I should have had previous versions backed up in other places, but I've generally never had problems in recovering crashed Word documents. Perhaps this time, I'll learn. Also unusually, there were no previous versions emailed around to others for comments that I could have used; paper copies were circulated at one point (and thank goodness I still had one; if recovering the file wasn't going to work, I was faced with re-typing the thing from hardcopy). Argh.

With some help from a less-panicky graduate student seated nearby, who located the excellent little freeware utility WordRepair v1.1, I was able to grab the text out of the corrupted file. I'd opened it using a text editor previously, and it was pretty garbled; WordRepair (from the good folks at GetData) gave me nice, unformatted text instead. It dropped a few digits from numbers and the odd punctuation mark, but otherwise made life much, much easier.

What followed was a few hours of re-building the document, as compared with what would have been an all-night effort re-typing it. The timeline went something like this:

5:00 PM - rant and fume, thrash about, calm down enough for grad student to help out
5:15 PM - try a few other, unsuccessful ways of recovering the file
5:45 PM - photocopy only existing paper copy of document, just in case
6:00 PM - drive home, blasting loud music in futile attempt to calm down
7:30 PM - arrive home, after battling obnoxious traffic for much of the trip; eat dinner
8:18 PM - addresses and cover sheets fixed
8:23 PM - executive summary pasted back in and re-formatted
8:44 PM - technologies description section (about five pages of text) fixed
8:56 PM - organizational chart pasted back in and fussed around with a bit
9:15 PM - list of "statements of work" done
9:17 PM - budget section rebuilt from another document
9:26 PM - completely fixed, after the usual arguments with headers, footers and pagination

And there I was, thinking I'd be up until 1:00 AM at least. Which, as it turns out, I was, but working on other things instead.

Some days, I hate technology. But I've said that before.


Anonymous said...

Ooooh - been there, done that, found it didn't work. I once had to retype a whole set of report card comments from memory because I hadn't backed them up or made hard copies. The originals are probably still floating around in cyberspace. Good luck with the grant!

Rik said...

you can also sometimes get an unerase program like O&O's offering, and run it on the same folder that the word file was in. It'll them show the word temporary folder last created when it was last edited. This can then sometimes be used instead. Still, well done for getting it back in such a short space of time.

Ricardipus said...

Rik - thanks, good to know. I miss the old MS-DOS "unerase" command. It was very useful.

The Wrath of Dawn said...

Poor, dear, sweet Ricardipus. That's a bummer.

Two words. Thumb drive.

Glad you eventually recovered the document. Good luck with the grant!

Ricardipus said...

Look! There's Dawn! She lives!

Good to hear from ya, and thanks for the nice words.

I have lots of thumb drives, just need to use them more cleverly...

Joy said...

I have sense enough never to try any of this myself. I'm impressed but have no idea what you did. :-)