Bad things happens to computers; that's a computing fact of life. The question for me is timing: Why do disasters often seem to happen just before a project's due? That's a good question, I know. But instead of answers, I'm going to supply you with some ways to prevent disasters, a few reader tips, and more tools for PC calamities, both big and small.
Take a Spin With SpinRite 6.0
Hard drives fail. Oh, don't look so surprised. No matter what brand, size, or style, the silly things have a way of becoming door stops. Unfortunately, most people will ignore a hard drive until it starts doing strange things--say, making noise or creating errors in files (or worse, grinding to a halt).
A tool that's been in my arsenal since the DOS days, and one many of you old-timers probably remember, is Steve Gibson's SpinRite. (Yes, this is the same guy who produced ShieldsUp and other cool, free tools.) It's a utility that seemingly every user has relied on to keep a disk drive healthy--or bring it back to life.
The news--and it's good--is that Gibson Research has released SpinRite 6.0.
SpinRite inspects and analyzes your entire drive, preventing--or at least forewarning of--a hard disk disaster. It does this by writing and reading data, and looking for flaws. If SpinRite uncovers a problem, the spot on the hard drive is cordoned off and the data is moved to a safe area on the drive. The strategy is simple: SpinRite finds hard drive surface defects before they become a problem.
SpinRite doesn't care what operating system your drive's using; you could even have Linux. And it doesn't make a difference if your file system is NTFS, Fat32, or, like my brother-in-law's PC, DOS 3.1. That's because SpinRite has its own operating system, FreeDOS. When you run it from, say, Windows, SpinRite gives you choices: make a bootable floppy disk; write an ISO file for burning a bootable CD-R disc; or install a bootable operating system on any bootable device such as a Zip or USB drive, depending on the PC's BIOS. The tool works on any type of hard drive, so it can be used to maintain drives on practically any system (it even works with TiVo drives).
One other neato feature: SpinRite activates and monitors the drive's own S.M.A.R.T. subsystem while working, to give the user a good sense for what the drive thinks about its own condition.
I recommend running SpinRite on all of your drives at least once a quarter at the tool's highest level, level 5. The program's not cheap: $89. But if you want to feel confident that you've got some control over your hard disk and the data on it, SpinRite's worth owning. BTW, the upgrade for SpinRite 5.0 users is $29. If you have another version, and to order a copy, check Gibson's site.
Dig This: Remember the sliding block puzzles you were never good at? I found dozens of them, each interactive and guaranteed to kill a few hours. Start with an easy one. Then look at the entire collection. You might also check out the Impossible Objects page and tell me how some of these puzzlers were created.
A Few Nifty Tools From Readers
Ed Bott (of Windows XP Inside Out book fame) wrote to tell me about two essential Microsoft Outlook Express tools. DBXtract recovers messages from damaged mail folders. OEBackup painlessly backs up messages and addresses, a feature that is inexplicably missing from OE, says Ed.
Total Copy is an essential freebie that's saved the bacon of Delmer W, from Hilliard, Ohio. The tool is a handy shell extension that appears when you right-click on a file in Windows Explorer; it resumes the copy function of a group of files if Windows chokes on one file and refuses to copy it. "That's useful when I have to copy 1000 files," said Delmar, "and file number 400 is in use--locked--and unable to be copied." What normally happens is Windows stops the whole process, so files 401 through 1000 aren't copied.
Total Copy is a winner and I use it regularly. And before you write and tell me it's not working, you need to know you won't even see Total Copy appear on screen when you're copying just a few files. The program's value is when you're working with lots of files.
BTW, Delmar found out about Total Copy in Scott Dunn's Windows Tips column, "Windows Toolbox: Improve Your Moves With Total Copy."
Quick, Cool Freebie: Hewlett-Packard has free, no-hooks, online courses available at its Small & Medium Business Center. I found topics ranging from technology ("Printer Networking and Management." "Linux 101," and "Do More With Your Pocket PC") to business development (High Impact, Low Cost Marketing" and "Digital Photography for Your Business"). Courses change monthly. I encourage you to check them out.
Tools for Quick Recovery
You can't kid me: I know you're hungry for utilities to stick in your tool kit to help you out of a PC jam.
The big difference between the two is that Keep-It saves files as timed snapshots. You can think of them as a collection of revisions, letting you go back to any version. To save space, Keep-It compresses files when they're archived.
If you're using Windows NT, you may want to look at the RecoverNT file recovery tool. The demo is good for bringing back just three files, but if they're critical ones, it's all you'll need.
I know it wouldn't happen to you, but just imagine for a moment that you've accidentally reformatted your drive, the drive got damaged, or there was a power failure while you were defragging it. If things on your PC really go kaflooey, you could try the GetDataBack recovery utility to get back lost data.
Want more? There are five disaster recovery tools in "Utilities for Your PC Disaster Survival Kit," and seven free tools in "Free Hard Disk Utilities: Recover Deleted Files and Lost Data."
Dig This: If you haven't seen the "Trunk Monkey" videos, you're in for a treat. It's brilliant marketing, and really funny stuff, especially considering it's coming from a car dealership. My favorites? Episodes 1, 2, and 4, in that order. [With thanks to Paul C.]