A Fresh Start

From 8:30 AM until 7:30 PM on Saturday, I listened to about 200 songs on my iPod and played about 50 games of spider solitaire. You see, I had the pleasure of reformatting my hard drive and reinstalling all of my favorite applications. I like to reformat my hard drive every couple of years. It’s been over three years since I’ve done it and it’s been on my to do list for at least six months. I fully intended to put if off for yet another weekend, but it was not to be.

It all started when I wanted to install my favorite zip program, JustZipIt. I’ve been unable to install it on my laptop for some time, but Friday night I was determined to figure it out. When I click the installer, nothing happens. Oh maybe there’s a little screen flicker, or maybe that’s just my imagination. I decided that something was interfering and that safe mode would be the answer.

I opened msconfig and clicked the option button for Diagnostic Startup. I don’t know what Diagnostic Startup is even now, but I assumed it was almost-but-not-quite safe mode. I assumed it wouldn’t load many of the services on start up and that would be a good place to start. JustZipIt still would not install even in Diagnostic Startup mode. Oh well, back to Selective Startup and I’ll give up yet again. But wait.

On reboot, I was still in Diagnostic Mode. Reboot after reboot, I couldn’t get back to Selective Startup or even Normal Startup. Msconfig didn’t say I was still in Diagnostic, but there was some tell-tale signs of a problem. Instead of a green, rounded-corner Start menu icon, I get a grey squared-corner one. All but a few of my services did not start and I wasn’t able to start them manually. No Internet, printers, USB devices, external monitor, or anything else you might associate with modern computing. Google reported that some other people have had this problem and I finally found a “solution”: repair windows. Except that windows complained that it couldn’t find a whole bunch of files that ended in .dl_. Back to Google.

Someone suggested that if the file on your hard drive is newer, it says it can’t find it, so go ahead and skip all those warnings. I did and finally got back to what looked like a Windows XP screen. My most current backup was six days old. That’s not bad, until I think about recreating six days, then I didn’t like it so much. All my email was out on gmail, but how was I going to re-download it all to Outlook? I don’t know and I didn’t want to find out. So I was back to a place where my external hard drives were being recognized and I could backup.

My six day old backup contained MyDocuments and my pst file. There are a few more conveniences that I thought I’d need. I have some folders set up in such a way that it mimics my clients’ setups and I didn’t want to recreate those, so I backed them up too. I also backed up some installation files so I wouldn’t have to download everything again – like SnagIt. There’s some value to going and getting the newest version, but not always. That last backup before I reformat a hard drive creates a lot of anxiety. I just know there’s something I’m going to forget.

Reformat. Load Windows. Reload drivers. Update Windows. Seven words that take a long time.

Then I started installing applications. Before the format, I ran Belarc Advisor to get a nice list of programs on my computer. I knew I wouldn’t be reinstalling all of them. That’s the benefit of the reformat – getting rid of the crap. Here’s what I did install.

Office 2003
Office 2007 Ultimate
JustZipIt (yes, it worked)
XML Notepad

Office prior to 2003 is dead to me now. I used to have everything from 97 to 2007, but no more. On my list to install (just not in a hurry):
Aptana Studio
Copernic Desktop Search (unless I can find a better one)
Visual Studio 6.0
Visual Studio (whatever the latest is – I want to learn C# someday)

Then I had to install Firefox plugins

AdBlock Plus
Delicious Bookmarks
IE Tab
PDF Download
Web Developer

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for: The stuff I forgot to back up and is lost forever:

Passwords stored in Firefox
MZTools Code Templates (in an ini file, I now know)

Well, it’s good to cross that task off the list. The computer is running great and it only cost me a day. New to my to do list: Find an Amazon S3 client and do daily backups.

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15 thoughts on “A Fresh Start

  1. Not directly related to “Fresh Start”, but in the same spirit I have a thought/suggestion about DDOE. It occurs to me you have years of great Excel tips that probably never get hit anymore.

    Why not find a way to re-post some of the oldies as part of a “Hey…Remember This” series. I know you think most of us have “been there…done that”. But there are lots of new eyes out there that could benefit from some of the older posts. Besides, they could re-spark some interesting discussions.

    I’ll be honest, I’m not as smart as some of the whiz-bangers who do up these EULER tests here. So I find them impenetrable and arcane (All due respect to Michael and others). Not a lot there for guys like me.

    Think of it this way –

    The game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” are typically televised back-to-back. I shout out the answers when Wheel of Fortune is on. But when Jeopardy is on, I go get a beer.

    In my completely unsolicited opinion, we need more Wheel of Fortune.

    Pat Sajack

  2. I think overall you might be better off giving InstantRails a miss and going for the one-click Ruby installer and hand-installing Rails (it’s not a big deal). At least, that’s if you don’t insist on installing Apache and MySQL, neither of which is exactly essential – Rails out of the box has a single-process baby web server (Webrick) and there’s a better one only a “gem install mongrel” away. SQLite3 (another easy install) is just fine for single-user stuff. I’d guess you might have a slightly longer setup experience but that ought to be outweighed by the extra understanding you gain. IMHO, of course.

  3. “Find an Amazon S3 client and do daily backups.”

    I’ve been using BeInSync for several months now, partly because it uses Amazon S3 as its on-line storage medium. However, my primary usage is to sync my data files onto my brother’s computer, and his onto mine. We both are backed up now, without having to pay for additional space. A restore is as simple as driving to his house and copying the files.

    The main weakness of this is it doesn’t archive anything. Screwup a local file and the sync’d copy immediately disappears. You still need to archive your files somehow. I use Backup4All to burn to a zip file on another computer and occasionally burn those zip files to dvd.

  4. You should have Virtual PC in there somewhere. I have Office 2003 SP3 on my main machine, but if I ever need to check something in a different version, I have virtual machines available with 2007 RTM and SP1, 2003 (again, so I don’t hose my main system) SP2 and SP3, 2002, and 2000; I no longer care about 97, though I’ll always remember it fondly. I’ve been reminded by some screwy recent Office upgrade behavior to do at least the last compile and save of any widespread utility in the Office 2000 VM.

    PS to JK: Mike’s channeling Pat Sajak, the host of Mike’s favorite show, Wheel of Fortune.

  5. So a solitaire game lasts for four songs in average ? This is either speed punk or a new interesting game version {g}

  6. Mike A: I used to get that all the time from people I know in the meat-based world. “I tried to read your blog, but it’s over my head.”, they’d say. Every year I say I’m going to increase my post count and attempt to bring in a wider audience. Since I’m actively pimping myself as a consultant, maybe this is the year to do it. Two fears: If I blog about stuff that’s not interesting to me, I’ll lose interest; Even if my additional postings are in addition to the two, or so, a week I do now, regular readers won’t like it.

    Woody: That’s exactly why I didn’t do those on Saturday. I thought I should at least attempt to do it the hard way and learn something. It’s difficult to be a Rails on Windows guy because of the lack of good help.

    Jon: Good point. VPC added to the list. I suppose I’ll have to put Office 2000 on one since I intend to make a widely distributed add-in.

  7. I totally second the advice on virtual machines; my base machine has only basic capabilities, and I have a few dedicated virtual development machines, with different environments. It’s very nice because 1) you can test any environment, which is super-useful for Office development (does it REALLY work with Office 2000? Check) and 2) you can maintain a history of the changes on your machines and revert to previous states, or clone machines fast.
    I am using VMWare rather than Virtual PC, though. Never tried VPC, I love VMWare Workstation.

  8. Dick
    I share your frustrations at re-installation, but got over it years ago by doing an install once and then taking an image of the whole machine. Norton Ghost etc
    But I’m thinking about moving to virtual environments as well very soon

  9. Hui, I’ve used images when a hard drive has died and was able to quickly reload the machine from a week-old image. Very nice! How does it work with a years-old image? After you’ve reloaded the year-old image how much time do you spend patching, updating drivers? What about programs you’ve added in the meantime?

  10. Doug, I would still prefer to re-load an image even if it is a Yr old, At least it gets the Majority of the Grunt work out of the way.

    This is why Virtualisation is the way to go, Reload an image, update drivers versions etc, save a backup and off you go with a fresh system and fresh backup as well.

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