Digital Life and Hard Drives / by Erin Wade

Lots of dead soldiers in house at the moment, preparing for their metaphorical trip to Arlington Cemetary... 

Lots of dead soldiers in house at the moment, preparing for their metaphorical trip to Arlington Cemetary... 

There is a saying:

There are two types of hard drives: Those that have failed, and those that will fail.

I'm not sure where I first heard that, but it is, in my experience, undeniably true.

We live a digital life - in my work we try to get as close as we can to having a paperless office, and in personal life we long ago moved towards having our entertainment options - books, movies, etc - in an electronic format. And for the most part this is wonderful. Anything you want to watch or read right at hand at any time.

It's wonderful, except when it's not.

The Achilles' Heel in the digital system is the hard drive. These devices hold tons of information, and when they are working properly it's great. But when they fail it can be a major pain in the posterior.

I write this now because I am acutely feeling that sharp, stabbing pain in my buttocks.

To be clear, the pain I am feeling is largely of my own making. When you have your media in a digital format it's incumbent upon you to have backups. And backups I do have. My system uses an old Mac Mini (my first Mac computer, in fact) running iTunes as a server for music, movies, and TV shows. This is, by modern standards, rather an old-fashioned setup. Now that there are a multitude of streaming media services in many cases all one needs is a reliable internet connection and one can forego the fiddling with drives and devices that is involved in approach. However, we have chosen to live in the middle of nowhere, which makes it far more important to have a local version of the media available. And backed up. And did I mention that I do have backups?

What I am struggling with this fine Sunday morning is what happens when the backup also fails. Hours of video is showing itself available - tantalizingly available - on a hard drive that is about to fail. But it's all a lie. Each attempt to copy one item or the next meets with an error message, the hard drive equivalent of that kid who would offer you a lick of his ice cream and then jerk it away giggling and shouting "psych".

I hate that kid.

This happens when one ignores the awful sound that the hard drive has been making for the past few days (or maybe weeks) because one knows the process of replacing it will be a tedious one. So, instead I've traded tedium for new and interesting problems.

In a way it's a bit of a blessing. I've been using this setup for nearly a decade now, and as a result am left with some legacy items that made sense at one time, but no longer really do[^1].

Fortunately I had ordered new hard drives when the primary drive had failed, so we do have a platform upon which to rebuild. I was delighted to find that Other World Computing still sells the NewerTech Mini Classic - a combination Hard Drive and USB Hub purposely designed to stack under and visually match the original Mac Mini. I've always thought these were cool items and, at this point, they are price-competitive with other external hard drives.

So now begins a process of listing and vetting all of the video that used to be readily available to determine which items are worth seeking out and downloading to have readily available. It makes one think about what makes a movie or show something you always want to have available. No Country for Old Men is undeniably an excellent film, but like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List it reflects a world and time that you (or, at least we) don't want to revisit regularly. We'd much rather spend our time with John McLane or Doctor Jones. And LB has already indicated that she no longer feels any need to have any iteration of the High School Musical franchise at her beck and call.

In the end this likely sounds like a lot of work, and it is. On the rare occasion that people ask I don't recommend setting up a media server in the home - it definitely requires that someone lives in the house that is willing and able to provide tech support. Still, this is the first I've needed to do this type of intervention in over five years - not a bad trade off against the enjoyment and convenience we've had in-between.

[^1]: Mostly this involves music - at one point in time the media server was the central storage hub for all of the music everyone in our little family listened to. Now, between iTunes Match and Pandora virtually everything we want to listen to is readily available somewhere, and as a result we just had old music hanging there, occupying space.

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