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Monday, July 20, 2020 - 23:38 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Emergency Restoration

My main PC went on the conk late last week - one problem with having a silenced case is that it's difficult to discern the warning noises without opening it up for troubleshooting - therefore the delayed updates. The dreaded warning signs had begun to crop up: sudden slowdowns, failed generation of image thumbnails, and even the occasional unexpected restart, but it only got intolerable when the data drive went down.

As a consolation, since I had been running a Windows Storage Spaces two-way mirror setup that's essentially a RAID 1 perfect duplicate, I could afford not to be overly anxious about losing it all, but that didn't make recovering the drives any simpler, particularly when the storage pool had disappeared entirely from the relevant control panel. That some DuckDuckGo-ing revealed that Microsoft's May update might have broken Storage Spaces to the extent of file corruption didn't assuage fears, but fortunately some inspection from PowerShell suggested that all was not lost... yet.

Not being sure what the trouble was yet, the first priority was to secure the irreplaceable data if possible, which ReclaiMe allowed for after some scanning. It didn't look too good for the 12TB HDDs throughout, as they flickered between OK, Warning and Lost Communication statuses, and it was only after quite a bit of trial-and-error that the Storage Space got migrated to two new 12TB HDDs on different SATA ports (first by adding one of the new HDDs to the existing pool, then retiring the most-problematic old HDD, then adding the second new HDD and retiring the other old HDD); from this, I now suspect that the SATA cable/connection might be the actual issue, which had me slightly regret my frugal inclinations in reusing the twisty red ones from my old build (which, as recorded, wound up requiring a wad of paper to be wedged between two motherboard SATA ports, to maintain an okay connection)

That'll teach me to skimp on components, and I've put in an order for a bunch of proper flat SATA cables with latches (and honestly, the only reason why I'd go down to Sim Lim for most parts nowadays would be a desperate same-day need). On the other hand, the recovery went well, and got me re-acquainted with the state of consumer PC hardware as a side-effect. Intel's on their tenth generation of CPUs, though AMD supposedly's ahead for now, and I'm not sure many are chasing CPU performance nowadays (at least, nothing like two decades back), not when one can get a tiny box that runs most everything a layman wants. Otherwise, the hottest new thing might be the new M.2 port and associated RAM-style SSDs. That inspired me to begin compiling a wishlist of parts (modular HDD bays ftw) for my next main system rebuild.

Sometimes, one is just amazed/relieved that it works at all

Following on from this experience, the peace of mind granted with a good data management strategy can hardly be understated. There's a good case to be made for having most of one's storage as external enclosure (so they can simply be plugged into/accessed over a network from another PC if needed) hardware RAID (to further make the HDDs operation system agnostic), but even without going into that, I'd say that most people could benefit from doing a basic assessment and curation of their data:

  • Important & Small: Work documents, text records, novel-in-progress etc; when they're not that numerous and on the order of low single megabytes, one can strongly consider simply throwing them onto Dropbox or Box or Google Drive or any number of other free online storage solutions - they tend to offer upwards of 10GB nowadays, which when considering that the entirety of Wikipedia's English text is about 16GB compressed, should be plenty enough; there are few sights sadder than a sixth-year graduate student losing their dissertation to a corrupted hard drive, or having the USB stick containing it, eaten by the dog (then again, the latter is at least likely salvageable)

    For the (not-unreasonably) paranoid, there's always encrypting one's files beforehand (e.g. using open-source Zip implementations), before entrusting them to these free storage services, and the more savvy can of course script it as a daily/weekly process.

  • Important & Large: Stuff like family photos, but more aptly videos - since humans tend to find inventive ways to use their available storage up - and related collectibles/hobbies. Upgrading online storage to their paid versions goes some way here, but this generally eventually comes down to local HDD backups. Remember when burning archives to CDs for keeps and swaps was all the rage? Me neither.

  • Unimportant & Small: Eh, probably just chuck it onto Dropbox. File organization's probably the big issue with these, but there's something to be said for having a copy to search through, just in case.

  • Unimportant & Large: Does one really need these in their life? I guess such detritus might best be let go of eventually (which is beginning to become an issue with GPT-3 generated text; some researchers are envisioning a future in which the vast majority of online corpora gets generated by bots, with Carmark remarking that "Old printed books will be the equivalent of the sunken ships they cut up for uncontaminated steel today")

Notably, it has hardly been advertised that individuals are shedding control over their own data; not all that long ago, one kept almost all of it locally - Internet connections were paid by the minute or hour, and even emails were oft deleted off the ISP's server, after they were downloaded to the client. Now, it's basically owned by Google (GMail). This extends to operating systems too, with Big Tech companies now allowed, nay, expected to freely push updates to customers, and enforce changes (my smartphone lockscreen got overwritten, just like that); what with Deepfakes and voice synthesis becoming increasingly convincing, it surely can't be much longer before a public figure's persona can be effectively hijacked.

It's all coming to a head on this for TikTok, with America now looking very closely at banning it, and other social media apps from China; realistically, I don't think China expected to get away with a one-way export of such services forever (having shut Facebook/WhatsApp etc out themselves), enabling the mining of sensitive data (and supposedly even keylogging, though one suspects plenty of the "good guys" do it too). Anyhow, some private firms may be getting a jumpstart, and we may be witnessing a bifurcation of the cybersphere into two competing blocs (sound familiar?)

And a few final pieces to end off: signs of possible growing toxicity in machine learning research, integration of predictive queries into databases (i.e. partly-automated data science), sniping by drone (well, the future of war was coming), and a geography module by the university, that will be covering football (recall the Balanced World Cup)

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