Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Oh joy oh bliss: the recovering of the lost data, the rekindling of faith

File154 Gillian, a colleague whose real name that isn't, came to see me. She is an entirely delightful person, whom I very much like, and is, I think it not unfair to say, about as au fait with the world of information technology as I am with, say, ballet dancing. (Clue: that would be not very much, you see.)

The sequence of events as I understand it is something like this:

  1. Gillian has a lovely holiday in the USA and takes lots of nice pics, including some of the Grand Canyon an ting, on her little digital camera. She has not yet downloaded the 200+ new photos so they are all still on the camera, and only there.
  2. Sometime later her son is experimenting with the camera and sets it to take B&W photos, not colour. Unfortunately he leaves it set like this.
  3. When Gillian next uses the camera she quite reasonably doesn't want it still on B&W so she decides to set it back to colour. She doesn't know how to do this but, never mind, she'll give it a whirl. (Now, what could possibly go wrong with this idea, do I hear you ask?)
  4. Hmmm ... now, let's think: what would that be called in the camera's menu system? Well, the way photos look is something to do with their "format", is it not? Ah yes, look, here's a command in the menu, "Format": that's probably it - click, press, click to confirm, click this, click that, and off we go. Woohoo. Easy.
  5. Er. A sense of foreboding starts to assail Gillian. It's all taking a little while, there's a progress bar thingy, and what exactly did some of those warning screens actually say during all that clicking just now? I mean, yeah, it probably said something like "are you sure you want to change from B&W to Colour?" ... er ... didn't it?
  6. Hmmm.
  7. Oh dear.
  8. Gillian twigs that something has gone a bit off the beaten track here, and starts to worry.
  9. She presses lots of buttons. It won't stop.
  10. She takes the battery out. Yup, that's stopped it.
  11. Finally, she puts it all back together and turns it on. The memory card is corrupt. What now?
  12. (Note to non-computer people - yep, she's really knackered all her photos. Her memory card, the digital equivalent of film, is not well at all right now. It's all going a bit pear-shaped ...)

A while back I would not have known what to do at this point, except smile sympathetically and offer to make her a nice cup of tea. We are British, dammit. More recently however I bought some brilliant software to help me try to retrieve lost data from a floppy (remember them?), and I noticed in passing that it would also do memory cards of various sorts, in fact pretty much everything except actual hard drives.

Now, I am not usually optimistic about ... well about anything IT-related, really. A lifetime of bitterness and disappointment can do that to you. Nevertheless, having thoroughly warned her that I probably can't help I invite Gillian to bring the camera up for me to look at. Here's what happens:

  1. Gillian produces the camera's SD card and I shove it in a card reader on my PC. It goes tweet a bit but nothing much happens - it's not like I've plugged in a new drive, which would have been nicer than this sulking. Hmph. The mess of drives and card readers and network drives on my machine is horrendous so I am not even 100% sure which drive letter this card might be on (if any) but in the end I go for R: and try to open it.
  2. Nothing. The drive in R: is not formatted - do I want to format it now? Can't use the drive otherwise ...
  3. Er, no thanks. And I am still not sure that R: is this SD card.
  4. Start up magic software. On a vague suspicion, point it at this R: drive which is unusable by Windows.
  5. Aha - it is going to do a "Mode 2 Lost Files Recovery", whatever one of those is. It doesn't seem to think it matters that the R: drive needs formatted. I tell it to scan and after a while it starts listing files that it can recover. Woo! Lots of files - the holiday plus some previously downloaded. It doesn't know filenames any more so it just allocates them in sequence - file001.jpg and so on.
  6. Gillian goes and makes me a nice cup of tea. This is more like it. This is Positive Britishism. I like it.
  7. After some time the scan's complete, it's found 354 files and wants to know what to do with them.
  8. I save them to a folder on the desktop.
  9. I open this folder and show Gillian her pictures of her Grand Canyon helicopter trip, the pictures that she had thought were lost forever. She is very, very, very pleased indeed. So am I. It is quite a touching moment and could do with a good soundtrack.

File174 This is what I signed up for. Everyone knows I sometimes moan about my job: we all do; but, my word, when something like this happens I just think isn't it great that I work in IT and I can do stuff like this. So fantastically satisfying.

Matters arising or, if you like, the bill (not The Bill, you understand. Do try to keep up):

  • Advanced skills, education, etc used here by me: none. All I had to know was not to panic and that this software might help. Rocket science it ain't. The software itself could be operated by a bright toddler.
  • Time taken: about a cup of tea's worth.
  • Cost: we already owned the software. It cost us about $40 so it didn't exactly break the bank even the first time round.
  • Taking me away from my vital work in order to help a colleague with their domestic problem: net benefit due to intradepartmental goodwill and feelgood factor. And anyway there is a training benefit, like Prince William and his helicopter, so ner.
  • Effect on my self-esteem, notwithstanding the "bright toddler" bit: good, good, good.

So - not a bad outcome really. She's pleased and I feel great. Something has actually worked like it's meant to.

One technical thing that's interesting. It recovered, as I said, 354 files, mostly .jpgs with seven .avi files. I know the .avis are all OK; of the .jpgs 286 are fine and 61 are not - these last 61 have no metadata, cannot build a thumbnail, and in Photoshop they fail to open with the error "Could not complete your request because a SOFn, DQT, or DHT JPEG marker is missing before a JPEG SOS marker." These might be photos that Gillian took recently and that have been trashed beyond repair in the disaster, but I think it's just as possible that they are older stuff which was still on the card and was at least partly unerased, yet still not recoverable. Gillian was so pleased with what we did uncover that I don't yet know if she thinks some photos are still missing. It would be interesting to find out. I've asked what she thinks.

Note for non-computer people: computers hardly ever really erase anything much, even if you tell them to, or format your drive, or whatever. Not immediately, anyway. To get real erasure, guaranteed, you have to try extra-hard. (This is good if you are MI5 or FBI or someone and want to see the bomb plans that Blofeld thought he'd erased.) Usually all that happens is that it throws away the indexing - the tables that list files, that say where and what they are, all that stuff. But the files themselves are often just left alone - they are now used space that hasn't been cleared out but has been marked for re-use: it'll get new data written over it when it's needed, Windows can't see it, but it is, kind of, still there. Sometimes. It's difficult to find a really good analogy but imagine you'd chucked a load of paper files and you're going to recycle the paper. You've pulled it out of the filing cabinet and dumped it on the floor and thrown away all the indexes and folders and subject dividers - but you haven't yet sent it off for shredding so it's just in a big pile on the floor till you clear it. You could, at a pinch, reconstruct the information as it's all still there albeit in an unstructured mess. OK, it's a weak analogy but hey, my blog, baby. Now this software is made so it doesn't worry about the missing indexing information - it bypasses that and looks at the memory from a lower level (digs through the big pile of paper), seeking out recognizable files that it can rename (they've usually lost their names) and save again. And Bob's yer uncle! Mind you, sometimes stuff is really trashed ...

Finally(ish), what is this miracle software that has so delightfully made my day?

Step forward and take a bow, Bad Copy Pro from Jufsoft. It says here:

Comprehensive data recovery software for floppy disk, CD, DVD, Zip disk, digital media, and flash drive. Features include floppy disk repair, CD, DVD data recovery, digital camera cards images rescue, and retrieval of damaged or lost data from flash drive and removable disks.

.. and I say, er, yeah. Nice one. Let me tell you, if this software was a strawberry yoghurt it would be an extra-thick and creamy one with a delicious tangy but not oversweet taste, and huge lumps of succulent fruit.

Marks out of 10: about 179.

Recommendation: if you ever find yourself in this kind of a bind, just go and buy it.

Thank you Jufsoft for a brilliant, brilliant product and for reminding me why I like my job.

Vogel out.


Lottie said...

Brilliant story! I think the point is that although a bright toddler could operate the software, you have the general knowledge that means that you know how to have a go at solving the problem... it's like how Oxbridge ask people questions they definitely will not know the answer to at interview just to see their working. A bright toddler wouldn't know where to start!

Strawberryyog said...

Thank you, Lot. Yeah, I suppose ... I am often surprised by what you don't really need to know, compared to just having an approach that works. On the other hand some things just require hard knowledge and finely-honed skills ... which is why I don't do them! :)