Preparing for and dealing with technology when the worst happens

The topic of this post was inspired by the passing of a close family friend. Nobody likes to have difficult conversations about what to do when the worst happens, but the reality is that not having these conversations can make a bad time even worse. So much of our life is managed by digital bits therefore when someone else has to manage it, they need to know where to find everything and how to access it.

It doesn’t just have to be a a death that requires someone else to handle your affairs. A short term illness where you are incapacitated may necessitate a power of attorney to pay your bills and manage other elements of your life. Having the difficult yet important conversations beforehand are necessary so that your family can continue without the extra hardship of piecing together your financial affairs.

Our friend suffered through numerous illnesses over many years. As his condition worsened, he spoke with his daughter and went through everything – bank accounts, insurance policies, investments, etc. By showing her where the paper work was located and how to access the files on his computer, she could deal with the estate after his death. It’s hard enough emotionally to handle the loss of a close family member. We can’t control what happens through illness and death, but we can control how easy or difficult we make it for our family members who have to continue on.

Backing up the computer – make it Virtual

I was approached by the family to ask how they could effectively back up our friend’s laptop after he died. It was several years old and there was concern that if something happened, they would lose some very critical data. I have written about the need to use multiple methods of backup for protecting your important data. This called for a different approach. I wanted to not only back up all of Joel’s files but also allow them to continue using the computer and all the software installed in case of a complete computer failure. This called for making a copy of the computer in such a way that it could be run virtually on another computer.

running Windows 7 ‘virtually’ in another computer

There are numerous methods for what is known as virtualizing a computer. What this means is that the files that make up the entire computer are stored on another computer. You start it up and can actually run the computer in a Windows on a second computer. There are numerous methods and programs that can virtualize a computer. The one I used is simple and can be free if you have a Windows 10 Professional (not home).

First, download disk2vhd from https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/downloads/disk2vhd. This program is run on the computer to be virtualized. Make sure that you have an external hard drive to store the backed up data. Run disk2vhd.exe and select the volumes to include – generally you want to include all built in disks. Choose a save location (VHD File name) that is on the external disk you plugged in.

Disk2vhd is very straightforward to run

It will likely take a few hours to create the virtual disk. This will be a large file.

Once completed, copy the disk files to another computer. I suggest you also keep a backup copy somewhere safe as this can also be used to retrieve files and if something goes wrong with the virtual or original physical computer, you still have this copy. Enable Hyper-V on Windows 10 (see https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/virtualization/hyper-v-on-windows/quick-start/enable-hyper-v)

Once Hyper-V is installed, run Hyper-V Manager and create a new virtual computer. Point to the .vhdx file that you copied from the hard drive as the source disk. Now you can boot up the virtualized computer. The first time it starts it will likely detect a whole bunch of new hardware. This makes sense since from the computer’s perspective, it has lost all its hardware and now has new ‘virtual’ hardware. Once this process completes, the computer will run very similarly to how it did before.

The End Result

Now there is a copy of the old computer. Our friend can work on her father’s estate and know that there is less risk to the data since there are multiple copies and now even multiple computers with the same data. Every situation is different but the key element to handling digital data in case of serious illness or death is preparation and ensuring that you use the right tools to make the important data accessible.

Let’s ensure that we deal with the things that we have control over.

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Reminders to get things done

There was a time when if you wanted to remind yourself to do something, there weren’t a lot of choices:

  • ask your spouse or a friend to remind you
  • put an entry into your paper based calendar
  • put up sticky notes where hopefully you see them

Now most of us have smart devices that travel with us everywhere we go. Just a look at the app store for either Apple or Google will give you tons of apps for task lists or reminders but every one of these devices has built in tools that help you ensure you don’t forget things.

The Reminders App

It comes with every iPhone. There are more advanced apps for tasks / reminders but the built-in one is very convenient, even if you use another one for managing your work projects and other complex tasks. I use Microsoft OneNote for planning out my tasks and projects but I have a suggestion for using the Reminders App for short term tasks. Let’s start with some examples we can all relate to.

list of my reminders

This happens to me all the time. My wife puts in a load of laundry and asks me to switch it to the dryer. I will say, “sure, no problem”. And then I forget and there’s wet clothes in the washing machine in the morning. There’s a better way – set a reminder in the app. But just setting the reminder doesn’t make the clothes move to the dryer. By going into the details part of the task, I can set it to remind me at a particular time and day

set time and date for reminder

But let’s say that I also want to make sure that not only do I switch the laundry at 9pm but that I do this at home. Most current phones are able to sense current location so just set it to Remind me at a location.

set location for reminder

After entering your location, you can choose to be notified when you arrive there. This is perfect for the type of reminder that needs to get done when you arrive home, even regardless of the time. Yes, you can set it with a location and no time or date.

reminder with time and location

And now you can see the same reminder from above with both a time and date reminder plus location.

updated reminder with time and location

Calendar Reminders

I use Gmail for email and calendars. For long term reminders and all of my other appointment needs, I use Google Calendar. What’s an example of a long term reminder? Let’s say your passport expires next year. Set a calendar entry for a few months before. Google Calendar lets you set notifications like pop-ups and emails. As the view below shows, this calendar entry will pop up at the right time and also will send an email.

google calendar sample with notifications

Final Thoughts

We all have too many things to remember, be it as simple as changing the laundry or renewing an important document. Use the right tool for the right job. So often I think I will remember to do something and then I forget. Every time I set one of the reminders listed here, it’s like having a friend who’s always there to tell you when to do important tasks. Technology isn’t necessarily the answer to everything. If you like having a paper calendar, use it. Just think about how the phone in your pocket can do things that the paper calendar can’t.

What are your top tools for reminding yourself? Is it technology or something else? Let us know in the comments!

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My Method for Naming and Tagging Photos and Videos

I have previously written about my method for organizing digital photos and videos. Within the many folders are thousands of files, most of which have been manually renamed. This naming and tagging of photos is a process that I started when my son was born in 2002 and has continued ever since.

Each file is individually named to tell either who is in the photo or briefly where or what the photos is about

How to label photos and videos

After I have taken pictures at an event or at the end of a month, I copy all of the photos and videos from my phone or camera to a folder on my computer, let’s call it “incoming photos and videos”. From this folder, I then copy groups of photos and videos to folders based on the date and event. For example, in the view above, there are numerous events in June 2004 that are each in individual folders.

Within each folder, I then rename each file. I use a thumbnail preview in Windows Explorer or I use another program for managing photos. For years I used Google’s Picasa, which has now been discontinued. Even though Google no longer supports it, I often still use it for my viewing and renaming process.

A similar view from above but with Google’s Picasa software

Picasa, or most other photo management programs allows you to view a folder of pictures and easily make changes such as adjust brightness or rename. In Picasa, I can make the thumbnail views larger or smaller as needed.

Another convenient feature of Picasa is that I can filter what pictures I want to see. For example, I take a lot of photos with an iPhone. These photos and videos are always named in the form of IMG_. By typing “IMG_” into the search bar, I can see all the photos and videos that I have not yet renamed. Other cameras have their own naming format so this is a way to find non-renamed files.

By searching for a specific set of characters, you can find files not yet renamed

For years I have gone about the process of renaming files. Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated when there is a group of 20 people. For these photos I usually simplify the name to something like “group at lunch”. The numerous photos of about 1 to 5 people are very easy to handle, just name the file with their names.

The Power and Benefits of Renaming Photos

Earlier I showed how I could narrow down photos that haven’t been renamed by searching for them in Picasa. I could do the same in Windows Explorer or in any photo management software. The real power is in finding what I have renamed. A few examples.

For my kids’ birthdays, I often make my own birthday cards. I can search across years of photos to find old pictures of them. I can search for pictures of the kids with specific people. Of course, if you have several people with the same name, you will have to go through a bunch of pictures to find the right one but even this can be handled by naming the files with first and last names. The main benefit of this system is that it’s independent of any computer or software. I can start this process on a Mac and then move all my files to Windows. In 10 years I can move these photos to some new computer and it should be able to handle the thousands of folders and files.

What about just using the cloud?

Yes, I can put all the above mentioned photos into Google Photos and let it sort it out for me. Google will let me view photos in chronological order and put together albums. It’s even gotten smart enough to detect who people are and once I tag them it will find them in future photos. Isn’t that more efficient than my system?

Yes, it is more efficient on the surface but what happens if Google goes away in 20 years or starts charging huge amounts for the service? I can get all my photos and videos out of Google but in what format? I’ll have just a massive folder, or maybe set of folders with files. I don’t think that in 20 years I’ll want to start labelling 100,000 photos and videos!

To me, the eventual solution may not yet exist. I would like to see the best of both. A program that runs on my computer and lets me manage my photos in simple folders and files. Add into this a plug-in to something like Google that analyzes photos and automatically renames them based on who is in them or some other criteria. That would make the process more efficient and have long lasting value as there still would not be a tie in to proprietary software.

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We rely on the cloud to get things done

On a cold afternoon in January, my daughter Emma attempted to log into Google Classroom to work on an assignment. Google Classroom is like a document management system. The primary purpose of classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. The only problem was the system was down and she couldn’t access her files. As we put more of our data into the cloud, we rely more on having access to get our critical work done.

what my daughter saw when attempting to do her homework

How did we get here?

When I first starting using computers in the late 1980’s, everything I worked on was on my computer. There were some online services such as CompuServe but this was mostly for viewing online content like news or discussion forums. As time went on, people started getting onto the Internet in the early 1990s and the first cloud based services that became popular were e-mail, such as Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. This has continually expanded over time and now with our files stored in Dropbox and Google Drive plus school based systems like the previously mentioned Google Classroom, we rely on these services to be up and running.

What do I do when my cloud service is down?

Ironically, one of the benefits of cloud based services is that they are generally more robust and reliable than relying on your computer. The good news generally about these outages is that these systems don’t stay down for long because of the high availability built into them. Unlike your computer that has one hard drive and one power supply, these systems are built so that the failure of one component doesn’t take down the whole system. Still, outages do happen.

One of the ways to deal with outages is a form of prevention. Let’s take Dropbox as an example. You can access Dropbox files through other web based services. One of the key features of Dropbox is that you can install it on your computer so that the files sync there. Even if the online service is down, your files are still there and available to be edited. They changes will be synced when the service comes back online.

In that case of Google Classroom, it’s a bit more complicated. Much of this service has an online-only capability. Still, there are ways to work within this system. If you’re working on a document that is within Google classroom, export a copy to Word and send it to yourself. If this is something of a time sensitive matter, then having another copy means you can work on it and then merge the changes back to the main system before handing it in.

In the case of Emma finding that Google Classroom was down, she was lucky. It came back up later on Sunday and she was able to finish her work. Back when I was younger, a common excuse was “my dog ate my homework” which would now be replaced with “Google was down”. Still, with some advanced preparation, you can be ready for those times when the cloud isn’t up and running.

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Chromebooks to the rescue for the kids

A few years ago we purchased refurbished Dell laptops for the kids to use. There are often great deals on these gently used computers and for teenagers who are using them for homework and some games, they are more than sufficient. But adding a couple of Chromebooks to our family gave them what they were looking for.

Solving a Problem

Many schools today are using Google Classroom as a means of working on and sharing content in class and may be accessed from any internet connected computer. The problem we encountered was that of computer size and battery life. The Dell laptops were not that big but they were somewhat bulky and the battery lasted only a few hours. I looked at buying larger batteries but these just added more bulk to the laptop and wouldn’t make it more likely for the kids to want to take it to school.

Another issue taking the laptops to school is that they have all types of data stored on the computer and even though I am a big proponent of storing data on the cloud and backing up, they’re kids and I can just see something breaking on the laptop and they lose something that is important. If only there was a way to send them to school with a laptop that…

  • didn’t store anything locally
  • was lightweight to carry
  • had all day battery life
  • didn’t cost a fortune to buy

Well, here comes a Chromebook to the rescue!

Black Friday sales to the rescue

I was browsing the Black Friday sales in November 2018 and came across a Chromebook from Staples. Unlike the price shown below, it was $190 plus tax. Even $279.99 for a laptop that meets the above mentioned problems is a good deal. At the sale price, I picked up two.

So, what exactly is a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is a laptop computer that runs Google’s Chrome OS operating system. Important to note is that a Chromebook will not run Windows and MacOS software. Chromebooks are intended to be connected to the internet and store data on cloud based sites such as Google and Dropbox, among many others.

If you’ve used the Chrome web browser then you already know the look and feel of a Chromebook. Even if you have never used Chrome, it’s easy to get accustomed to working with a Chromebook.

But I don’t have kids, should I get a Chromebook?

A Chromebook makes a great companion to your regular laptop or desktop. If you’re just checking email and browsing some websites while travelling or even sitting on your couch, a Chromebook can more than meet your needs. Lots of software runs online now, including Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365. This means that you can still do work in a word processor or a spreadsheet using only a Chromebook. I will say that these online versions are more limited than something like the full version of Microsoft Word or Excel but you may find that the features you need are more than covered by a Chromebook.

Chromebooks come in numerous configurations and sizes so it’s best to search online or go visit your local computer store for more information. They all work the same way, but some have larger screens and even touch screens.

Great, I’m tossing my Windows laptop and buying a Chromebook

Not so fast. If you have software that you use on either Windows or Mac plus lots of files such as pictures and documents, you may still want to hang on to your main Windows or Mac computer. At this time, a Chromebook is a great companion to a primary computer. If you store your files in the cloud, then accessing them from the Chromebook is easy. There are some people who could use a Chromebook as their only computer. If you have your email online and don’t work with any programs loaded on your computer, it’s possible that a Chromebook could be your only computer.

How my kids are using Chromebooks now

It’s been a few months and I would say that the Chromebook purchases are a big success. Both kids bring their Chromebooks to school on a regular basis. They don’t even have to charge them every day which means the battery life is more than adequate. They can access all the Google resources for school and I discovered that they both use Google Docs for a lot of their projects and other work.

We’re getting closer to a time when everything will be easily accessible in the cloud and we just need a device to connect to it. Chromebooks are a solid first step in a cloud based world and I expect we’ll be seeing more of this type of computer.

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Winter away and can access all my files by moving to the cloud

Bonnie spends much of the winter in Florida. For a number of years, she has kept her computer at home powered on and she used remote control software to access her computer remotely. Years ago this was a good solution when there wasn’t an easy way to access your data outside of your computer. A lot has changed since then so I helped her figure out a way to leave her computer off while away yet still have access to all her important data. In order to move to the cloud, there’s some analysis to do.

What data do you need to access

The first question when it comes to moving your data to the cloud is what do you need to access? In Bonnie’s case, it was all her documents, such as Word, Excel, and PDF files plus email. Let’s go through how we made this work.

Files and documents

Bonnie’s computer runs Windows 10. Her files are are stored in “My Documents” which makes it easy to find and eventually relocate them. She has a free account from Microsoft which gives her 5 GB of space in Microsoft OneDrive. This means that all files moved to the OneDrive folder will be automatically synced to her OneDrive account. Then, when OneDrive is installed on her Florida computer, all these files will automatically get download to that computer. Any files changed while in Florida will then get synced up and back to her home computer. We moved all files to OneDrive and they appeared online in just a few minutes. As time goes on, she may need more space and can pay for additional storage on OneDrive when required.

Email

Bonnie uses Microsoft Outlook for mail and all of it gets downloaded to her computer. While this is very convenient for day to day communications, it’s not so good for being able to access her folders remotely. Bonnie has an email address with her local internet provider and did not want to move yet to a new address. She does have a Gmail account so we set it up such that Gmail folders appear in Outlook. We then moved all folders from Outlook into Gmail, using Outlook. It took awhile, but now Bonnie will file all messages in Gmail and can use Outlook to do it. As long as Outlook is set up on both home and Florida computers, she can see the same Gmail folders.

Additional Benefits

With her mail and files moved to the cloud, in this case OneDrive and Gmail, Bonnie no longer has to rely on using one computer and making sure that it’s turned on and available all the time. If she puts the OneDrive app on her phone and connects her phone to Gmail, then she can access her files from any device including mobile ones. The next step would be to identify other files such as photos and get them available online too. A proper backup scheme is still required as just having files on the cloud isn’t enough.

Do you have a reliance on one computer? What files do you need to move to the cloud?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Finding your lost or stolen iPhone

Last week we were at a cousin’s birthday party in a bowling alley. With the party being held in the basement, cell phone coverage was non-existent. My sister arrived to pick up her kids and came downtstairs, in a panic. She had gone to the gym and her iPhone was stolen. She was frantic and told me she had tried calling me from a phone at the gym, but of course it didn’t reach me.

We went upstairs where I got a signal and started to work on tracking down her phone. Using Apple’s Find My iPhone app, I had her log into her Apple  account from my phone

enter your Apple ID / iTunes account login and password

The app started searching and sure enough it found her phone a few blocks away, and not where she had left it. That confirmed that someone had taken the phone, but now what to do? The first task was to put the phone in lost mode. This meant that the screen would come up showing a message that the phone is lost and a contact phone number.

Select your missing phone and tap on Lost Mode

She kept trying to call the phone and then finally someone answered. The woman who answered was quite bewildered as to who was calling her phone. My sister told her that she had the wrong phone. Finally, the message seemed to get through and the woman told my sister that she had accidentally grabbed the phone. Not to worry, she would come and drop it off where we were.

You can follow the path of your phone either as it’s coming back to you or as the thief is getting away

We followed the progress of the phone coming back to where we were. This missing iPhone had a happy ending, but it’s not always like this. If your phone is actually stolen you may be tempted to go and find it yourself. Do not do this! You’re better off calling the police and let them advise you about what steps to take to track down the phone.

Whether you have an iPhone or Android, there are tools to use that allow you to track it down. Even if not stolen, maybe you left your phone somewhere in your home these tools can help. Find My iPhone allows you to send a sound to your phone which could help in tracking it down. Make sure to enable these features on your phone when you get it – you never know when you’ll need it!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Google Photos, great in the cloud, not so good from your computer

I recently read an article about Google Photos in the New York Times. There are numerous places online to store your photos and while I had tested out Google Photos a few years ago, I hadn’t continued to use it as an every day photo system. In this article, the author talked about the advancement of artificial intelligence and how accurately it was able to determine pictures of the same person. One of the main problems we face with taking so many digital pictures is that we can’t find them and end up not looking at them. Google has been working to solve this problem and their solution is to have you upload all your pictures and let Google figure out what is related, be it people, places or things.

This got me thinking about how I could use Google Photos along with the method I already use for storing and organizing my photos. I still prefer to have my master copy of photos and videos on my computer, stored by year, month and events. It’s backed up in numerous places, including offsite. What if I could have the best of both my system and Google? It was worth a try.

Syncing up to Google

I already have a Gmail account and I have uploaded numerous photos over the years, but more as standalone albums to share with people online.The first decision to make when putting your photos and videos in Google is cost. You can let Google compress your videos and photos and then there is unlimited storage, but if you keep them at their original size then you’ll have to buy space at whatever the current rates are.

I looked up the compressed rates and they’re pretty reasonable – 16 megapixel for photos and 1080p for videos. If you use this as secondary storage, then it’s not an issue, and for most cases, these are good enough quality unless you are doing professional photo or videos work.

Setting up the sync

First, before doing anything I made sure that my master copy of photos was backed up. I have a regular process where the external hard drive of my photos is backed up to network hard drives in my house. Once this was done, I continued.

I installed Backup and Sync from Google. It walks you through the steps for installation including deciding what you want to sync and what not to sync.

A few items to note in the screenshot above:

  • I clicked on Choose Folder and picked my external drive where I keep photos. That is the box that is checked on the list of folders
  • I chose the High quality, free unlimited storage option
  • I set it to don’t remove items, so that it would upload only and not affect files on my computer

I then started watching as photos and videos started getting uploaded.

Note that you can click on the Google Sync icon in the taskbar, shown above with a red circle.

Something isn’t right

As I watched the screen scroll with photos and videos being uploaded, I occasionally saw the word ‘deleted’ or ‘failed’. After awhile, it stopped and couldn’t sync a whole bunch of files. I knew it couldn’t be close to done as I have over 50,000 photos and videos! I use a program called FreeFileSync to back up my photos and videos to another hard drive so I used it in reverse to show me what files were on the backed up hard drive and not on my primary one. It showed about 60 pictures that somehow got deleted. That concerns me as I specifically chose the option to NOT delete files. I was able to put everything back because of the backup.

I am still experimenting with the software but at this time I cannot recommend Google Backup and Sync for anyone to use with their main copy of photos and videos. If you want to get your photos and videos into Google Photos, I would suggest something along the following lines:

  • Copy all of your photos to a temporary location
  • Install Google Backup and Sync
  • Point Google Backup and Sync to the temporary location
  • In future, install the app for your phone and let it sync from the phone directly

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When the cloud goes down

Last week my mom got a new iPhone so this was a perfect test for her to see how well iCloud backs up all her data and can easily restore it a new phone. When we went to restore her iCloud backup to the new phone, it showed that there wasn’t one. I checked closer and discovered that she had run out of space in her iCloud account, even though she had upgraded it from the free 5 GB to 50 GB of storage space. This ended up as a positive, as I saw that my dad also had upgraded to 50 GB and if they pooled their resources, they could share a 200 GB storage plan for about the same cost. They made the switch and then I kicked off a backup from her old phone.

The first lesson – check your backups

Once you have a backup system in place, make sure to check it regularly to ensure that your precious data is actually getting backed up. There’s no point in paying for something that isn’t working properly.

Waiting for the backup to continue

So before she could use her new phone, the backup had to complete on the old phone. I suspected it would take into the night so I suggested she let it run and then try the restore in the morning. Later in the evening the backup wouldn’t run at all and it showed that she had 0 GB available in her plan. Something had gone very strange in her account. At this point I decided to check my iCloud account and sure enough, it wasn’t working either. It was then that I discovered this very helpful status site that Apple  runs that lets you know about problems within iCloud:

https://www.apple.com/ca/support/systemstatus/

By the morning iCloud was up and running and the backup finished. My mom was able to successfully restore her phone and everything worked as expected.

The second lesson – it may not only be you having a problem

Sites like iCloud provide helpful status information so that you can determine if the problem is on your side or Apple. By knowing there is an issue with Apple, you can stop troubleshooting and wait for the problem to be resolved.

The downside of the cloud

This was a short outage of iCloud so it didn’t really affect my mom’s ability to use her phone. What if she needed some data that was in iCloud for a meeting? Several hours of outage might just be too much. We have to strike a balance when using cloud services. The are very convenient to be able to access from anywhere and are likely more stable than hardware we have in our house. Still, if you need a file and it’s on your computer, it’s likely you’ll be able to access it.

The compromise

Evaluate your files and data to determine how critical each is and what are the implications of losing access temporarily. If you have an important presentation, put that PowerPoint file in the cloud and also on a USB stick. If you can’t access some family pictures for a few hours, that may not have much impact. The cloud has become an invaluable tool for data access everywhere, but some advance planning will ensure that you’re covered when the cloud is taking a break.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Case of the Failed Hard Drive and the Files left Behind

When we think about data protection and backup, it’s easier to get an idea of what it’s all about if we can see an example in real life. Here is the first of hopefully a number of case studies of data loss and how to handle it.

Elaine is a retired social worker. She has used a computer for many years, mostly in her working life and also for keeping journals writing memoirs. Elaine is also very artistic and enjoys creating greeting cards for family and friends using her computer.

Several months ago, Elaine’s computer starting making loud noises and then Windows wouldn’t start. Since the computer was 10 years old, I advised her that this was a good time to look at getting a new one. Even if the computer didn’t start properly, we could could still possibly retrieve some or all of her files from the old one. Elaine ended up buying a new laptop and was able to get it up and running. Since she had subscribed to Dropbox a few years ago, most of her files were right there waiting once it was installed. But not all files – more about that soon.

The Diagnosis

Elaine brought over both her old and new laptops. I started up the old one and sure enough heard the fan motor loudly humming away. Windows did not start up so I was able to get to System Recovery. I chose Startup Repair.

From here it ran a scan trying desperately to find an installation of Windows to fix. Unfortunately, it came up empty, as you can see from the image below. If there were an installation of Windows to repair, it would have shown up in the list.

This meant that there wasn’t much to do on this computer. There are recovery tools that can be run that are booted up from a USB stick or a CD but I decided to try something else – take out the hard drive and attempt recovery from another computer.

I highly recommend keeping one or more extra hard drive enclosures in your computer supplies. These allow you to pop your hard drive into a box that turns it into an external hard drive. These usually come with USB cables so you can connect it up to any computer.

The Search for Files

Once connected, it didn’t look good for Elaine’s hard drive. I ran Windows Disk Management and looked at the hard drives listed. The following image shows a bunch of healthy, normal disk partitions. The one shown in red is RAW and this means that data corruption has occurred. Built-in tools for Windows will not let you look at or retrieve files from RAW partitions.

I did some research and found several programs that claim to recover files from RAW partitions. Several have free trials that will show you what files can be recovered but you have to pay to recover them. MiniTool Power Data Recovery will not only scan a RAW drive and show you what files it can recover but it will recover up to 1 GB for free. This is very helpful if you have a small amount of data to recover or want to test the software first to prove if it will work.

The Recovery

When I installed this software, it scanned the drive and came up with a many folders that it could recover. Elaine spotted several folders that weren’t in Dropbox, and therefore weren’t on her new computer. Since Elaine had less than 1 GB of data to recovery the free version of MiniTool was sufficient. Now that I have seen the program in action, I would recommend either the free or full version to anyone requiring data recovery.

Additional Data Loss Prevention

Elaine was very pleased when I found her numerous journal entry files and memoirs. She had saved all of these to folders not in Dropbox, therefore they were never backed up. Elaine had already invested in the paid version of Dropbox that provides 1 TB of data. I relocated all of her files to Dropbox and then reviewed where all the files were located. I then launched Word which is the primary program she uses for her writing. By default, Word saves its files in your documents folder. I changed this to Dropbox to ensure that all future created files are automatically saved in Dropbox. This should be repeated in all programs.

Elaine also brought over her digital camera as she wasn’t sure how to transfer files from a camera to Windows 10. I showed her how to put the SD card from the camera into the computer.

I then launched Windows Explorer and went through the process to import pictures from a memory card. The key take away here was not to use the default settings. I set the destination for copying the pictures and videos to Elaine’s Dropbox folders. This way the pictures would go directly to Dropbox. Elaine mentioned that she wanted to use the SD card as a backup for her pictures. I highly recommend against this. First of all, if you always keep your pictures on the memory card, how will you know what you have and have not copied to the computer? This makes for lots of duplicate photos.

Second, think of the memory card as your temporary storage for pictures. By emptying out frequently, you will always have lots of space for taking more pictures and videos. Of course, all of this assumes you are using a traditional digital camera and not a Smartphone.

In Conclusion

Elaine now has a new computer that contains all of her files. She was very fortunate that the files on her old computer were able to be recovered. Professional recovery services charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for recovery. Software like MiniTool doesn’t work in every case so it’s helpful to try it first before engaging with data recovery professionals. By properly setting up save locations and having a proper system for using Dropbox or another cloud based service, you can make a computer failure more of a minor annoyance where you have to replace the computer instead of a disaster where your critical files are gone forever. Like the old cliche says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail