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They once were lost, but now they’re found!

July 28, 2008

My family photos, that is.  Oh my heavens I nearly lost them all!

Here’s the origin of the story.  Our old (probably seven years old) desktop computer is the main family machine.  It was purchased back when Windows XP was the shiny new OS on the block.  I’ve had the doggone thing open so many times it’s pathetic.  The CD-ROM went out, I replaced it.  Got a DVD burner, replaced the old CD-RW.  Replaced the video card so it could run my son’s baseball video game.  Added a RAM stick.  Added a wireless card.  You name it.

And every day for the past seven years, it runs just a little slower.  I’m not sure what to think about all the folks who gripe about Vista and say “Go back to XP.”  Vista seems to work well for me, though I made sure to get a laptop with enough system resources to run it comfortably.  The old desktop just feels like a jalopy.

Anyway, the thing got so slow and so buggy last week that it finally kind of crashed.  I say “kind of” because I didn’t have a catastrophic hard drive failure or anything, but the dern thing wasn’t working.  So I did the old HP “system restore,” which did a quick format and restored the system from a partition on the hard drive.  (That was always a knock on HP from that time period – no restore discs, just a partition.)

I thought I had everything backed up on the external HD.  Everything in the My Documents folder, all my music, everything.  Exept, it turns out, Kodak Easyshare doesn’t store your photos in the My Documents/My Photos folder.  It stores them in the SHARED Documents/SHARED Photos folder.  Ooops.

So while the XP machine is up and running again (quite a bit faster, but it took a while to get Service Pack 3 and all my default software going), we began a quiet grieving process over our photos.

I mean, seriously.  Families who lose their houses to flood and fire say the one thing they’d like to have back is their family photos.

But I’m a tinker by nature, so I started cruising Lifehacker to see if there was any chance we weren’t totally screwed.  I found a great little FREE program that saved the day.

It’s called PhotoRec.  It took a day and a half to totally scan my hard drive.  I played with the user interface (which is NOT all that user-friendly) long enough to figure out how to get it to scan for and save only JPG, BMP and movie files.

And from a cursory look inside the folders, all (or dang close to all) of our photos are safely recovered to the external drive.  For FREE.

The bad news – I have about 5,000 image files to look through – most of which are thumbnails from the internet (if you’re a facebook friend, your pic is probably in there somewhere), images installed with software, and some tiny, butt-ugly flowchart looking things.  Gots to delete all of that.

So that’s the tradeoff.  I’m going to try and go through all those photos over the next several days, a folder or two at a time.  They’re wildly disorganized, but the metadata remains embedded so software can take care of that.  Then I’m going to burn all the photos to DVDs, and maybe even look into some online storage.

Lessons learned:

  • Back up the essential information frequently.  Photos taken with your camera(s)and music you’ve paid for need to be stored in more than one place.
  • I’ve got to learn how to use nLite to slipstream a restore disc for this computer.
  • Being able to do some hard drive forensics to restore lost data makes me feel like a stud, even though I had to feel like a doofus first.
  • Seriously, back up your stuff.
  • Wear sunscreen.
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