Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

Dec 12, 2012 No Comments by

The Cloud – the idea of The Cloud is that all the stuff that currently resides on the hard drive of your computer or mobile device – files, photos, videos, tunes – instead migrates to some celestial realm controlled by Apple or Google or Microsoft; basically an organisation with the necessary cash to build and maintain any number of HUGE data centres in remote parts of the world where your precious things are but a gnat’s fart among many millions of similar wisps of digital data-guff.  The downside of The Cloud is you need Internet access to get at your goodies, so if for example, you wanted to watch a movie, stashed in The Cloud, on your laptop or iPad and you were on an aeroplane without online access, well tough pooh to you.  Think of The Cloud more as a safe deposit box at the bank.  A very big box.

Until now Tech Fogey has been slightly underwhelmed by The Cloud.  Small back-up storage devices that can hold many thousands of gigabytes of data are pretty cheap but they’re only really usable with a housebound computer.  It’s true there are pocket-sized, plug-and-play hard-drives but it’s still another hunk of junk to lug around.  Where The Cloud comes into its own is with mobile devices that don’t have much internal storage but are online most of the time – especially if you have an ‘all you can eat’ data plan that allows for unlimited web access and unlimited downloads.

The WD My Book
a steaming pile of cock, as it turns out

Tech Fogey doesn’t have one of those snazzy smartphones, preferring a choc-ice sized Sony Ericsson powered by hope and rubber bands.  And to store all our precious things we invested in two Western Digital My Books that hold one terabyte and 500 gigabytes of data respectively.  The My Book is about the size of a thick-ish paperback (hence the name) and a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.  To put this into context, the basic iPhone 5 has 16 gigabytes of internal storage and posh laptops usually have no more than 500 gigabytes. When the hard drive on our ancient HP desktop computer was so brim-full it was making itself sick, we transferred great swathes of files and photos onto the 1TB My Book.  So far, so tedious.

The My Book requires mains power and is connected to the HP PC via a USB or Firewire cable. We don’t keep it plugged in and turned on all the time; only when we need to back stuff up. Once a week, tops.  Things started to go awry when the computer suddenly didn’t recognise the My Book.  We’d plug it in, switch it on, there would be illuminations and whirring and not much else.  Some of the files were damaged, apparently, and needed to be fixed by the computer reformatting the My Book’s hard disc.  As you may know, reformatting means wiping everything clean.  Not wanting to lose ten years of memories and trivia we declined the reformatting option and were left with the equivalent of a safe deposit box with no key.  It wouldn’t open up and share its many wonders for any amount of prodding and cursing.

So off to the local IT geeks it went.  A week later they called.  The My Book is, in a word, fucked.  Even the close attentions of some very clever people who don’t get out much wasn’t enough to coerce it into play-mode.  Apparently the IT crowd have seen this problem several times before and Western Digital are familiar with the shortcomings of their My Book.  But it’s us Fogies who suffer the consequences and not Western bleedin’ Digital.  TF even paid them money for their Anytime Back-Up Premium service.  Shame the device on which this backing up was done turned out to be so demonstrably shite.  All WD will do, we were told, is offer a new device so you can lose all your stuff a second time.  They won’t pay for data retrieval and if you pay independently you can be faced with a bill for several hundred pounds.  How much are all those old party snaps worth?

Seething but determined to find a solution we wondered about file recovery software and found Recuva which is free to download here.  It’s running as we write.  It’s worth mentioning here that files you delete or send to the recycle bin are rarely lost permanently.  The same is true of photos on memory cards.  Old Father and Mother Fogey went on the holiday of a lifetime a few years ago to New Zealand.  They took loads of snaps and then went to a rural chemist where Old Father Fogey thought the best thing to do to enable the taking of more snaps was empty the full memory card onto a CD at the shop and then, armed with a permanent record on the disc, delete the photo files from his camera’s memory card.  We subsequently said, ‘Why didn’t you just buy a new SD card?’ but that was a tech thought too far.  It turned out the woman in the shop was even less conversant with the digital realm than Old Father Fogey because she only transferred one photo (of about 600) onto the CD.  OFF only realised this when he got home and when he thought it was too late to do anything about it.  TF was only told of this catastrophe about a year later when the original SD card that had been ‘wiped’ to make way for new pics was nowhere to be found.  If it ever does surface, the snaps that OFF deleted will still be there.  Possibly. Don’t ask us how or why, it’s an example of digital divinity and one of the ways kiddy fiddlers get caught when they think they’ve erased all trace of their nasty cyber habits.  Deleting files permanently is more difficult than you might imagine which is one reason there are companies that specialise in data destruction whereby they get rid of potentially useful/harmful data on redundant corporate PCs that would otherwise end up in a skip.  Have a quick think about this before you take an old PC to the tip or donate it to charity.  That porn home video of the missus you filmed in 2002 could still be lurking in the deeper recesses of the hard drive.

Anyway, back to the cautionary tale of the WD My Book.

Recuva didn’t recover anything worth having.  Most of the pictures it found on our C-drive were just .gif files – bits of graphic debris such as logos – and such .jpegs as there were we’d never seen before and didn’t know had ever existed.  How did that happen?  How does all that unwanted, inconsequential crap find its way onto the hard drive of a computer?  By osmosis?

Frustration has increased because by opening one of the Adobe software programmes we used to use to upload photos and fiddle about with them we were able to see how many broken links there were – that’s to say there was a recognisable thumb-nail of a pic with a weeny logo in the bottom right-hand corner that told us that particular photo was nowhere to be found except as the postage-stamp-sized preview we were looking at.  Year after year of holiday memories and captured moments.  All gone. How much do we now hate Western Digital?

The IT eager beavers are still trying to extract some meaningful info off the 1TB drive but the on-going silence suggests they aren’t having much joy.  Recuva claims it can retrieve photos even off discs that have been re-formatted but do we trust them?

To stretch the bank safe deposit box analogy even further, what we’ve done by trusting all those digital snaps and other goodies to a plug and play hard drive is akin to shoving our prized negatives into a box and stashing it under the bed.  Putting your faith in The Cloud might seem like emptying an under-the-bed goody box into the impossible vastness of the ocean and hoping to ever see those jewels again but it isn’t.  Access to The Cloud – whoever’s you choose – usually costs, but nothing like as much as the toll on your sanity were that data to be corrupted or wiped and lost for ever.  So much though it pains us to say it, don’t rely on a plug and play drive or even CDs or any tangible morsel of kit when it comes to keeping your digital doo-dahs safe.  Stick ’em up in The Cloud.

If you have an Apple device click herefor info on iCloud.

Click here for a link at a site that recommends the (allegedly) top ten Cloud storage providers.  Don’t be deterred by the prices being in US dollars – where they are and where you are is irrelevant.

The Amazon Cloud service is here

The entire USP of the Google Chromebook is that it’s a laptop with virtually no internal storage.  All the programmes and everything you do on your Chromebook resides in Google’s Cloud.  This also means all the background programmes that slow down your PC are only hastened from The Cloud when you need them, making Chromebooks particularly speedy.  More of which here.

And if you’re still awake, there’s an article here by the good people at Tech Republic that will make sense to geekier Fogies.

One of the nuggets of wisdom expounded in the Tech Republic piece is that cloud computing requires Internet access and that, consequently and eventually, the entire planet will be one vast hot-spot.  There won’t be anywhere from which the Internet is not accessible one way or another.  This notion will cause much tickling of ribs among those with smartphones (or even plain old PCs) who live in, or move through, rural Britain.  The notion of 4G might be wonderful if you live in London but for many cave-dwellers outside the metropolis even a broadband connection is but a pipe dream.  A 3G signal on your mobile in darkest Suffolk?  Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

So, for now, use The Cloud more as a storage solution than an instant access repository.  It might become the latter, everywhere on earth, during our lifetime but much like the prospect of us ever seeing our photos again, TF isn’t betting on it.