I have a story to tell that is a cautionary tale with something in it for everyone.

I live a pretty busy lifestyle. To help me keep up and stay organized, I carry all my computer files around with me on a flash drive that is attached to my key ring. Where those keys go, so goes Bernie. That way I have what I need if I am at work or at home. The documents that I am working on are literally in my hip pocket and I can grab whatever computer is at hand and continue to do what I need to do.

That flash drive is about 3 years old now. It’s a 4 gig unit so it can hold a lot of data. That’s both good and bad because every article that I have written in the past two years is on that drive. Every PowerPoint project that I have ever done is on there. My weekly/monthly budget spreadsheet is on there. There’s a lot of important data on that thing! Most recently, I have been working on two presentations given at the University of British Columbia. Those were on there to.

I was working on my office computer a few weeks ago. I finished up and hit the save button to back up my work onto the flash drive. Instead of the usual response from the computer, I got some funny message about changes to the global template. Huh? What’s that about?

I did what I needed to do and finished up knowing that I had to move on to whatever was next. I ejected the flash drive, put it in my pocket, and off I went.

The really bad news was that the next time I inserted that drive into my laptop, one of my presentations for UBC was gone. I panicked. But then stopped and got ahold of both myself as well as my computer buddy, Larry.

Larry’s an interesting guy. He’s retired and very much a computer lover…dare I say geek. He knows how to both talk to computers and to physically tear them apart and fix them. Larry has what has got to be, the biggest darn computer I have ever seen. In this age of microelectronics, his newest office computer is huge. I have suitcases smaller than this thing! And, boy, does Larry know how to make that thing run!

I took my flash drive over to Larry and he played every trick in the book on it but he couldn’t find that file. It had simply fallen off the end of the earth. Now, I’m really in trouble. Its three weeks to UBC and my opening presentation has disappeared.

Larry had two pieces of advice for me. The first was to wish me good luck in recreating that presentation. The second was that flash drives are not a very robust technology and I shouldn’t trust them for the kind of data storage I was using mine for. So, I started backing up to both the computer I was currently working on and to the flash drive.

A week later, I was up in my office again working on some project on that computer. I finished up, backed up, and closed the document. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see that file for a while. Also, little did I know that there must be something wrong with the USB port on that computer because the next time I plugged that drive into my laptop, the computer didn’t even know it was there. Now ALL the data on that device is unavailable!

Back to Larry I went. Again, Larry and his super computer were unable to resuscitate that drive. This time I get a briefing from Larry on the fact that there are data recovery companies out there that might be able to help but money will certainly be the object of the discussion. The most important bit of advice that he gave me was that I should be backing up all my data to “the cloud.”

Well Larry, before I can look at the clouds, I better look at the data recovery companies. Off I went with my drive. There is a branch of a national data recovery company 30 miles away in South Portland. Little did I know that I was going to get sucked in pretty good.

They promised quick turnaround on their website. I showed up to personally hand my drive to the receptionist fully expecting a quick trip to the back where a technician would diagnose the issue and give me a solution. Not so! If you want quick turnaround, you have to pay $199. Otherwise it’s 3 – 6 weeks for an answer. And, oh, by the way, the technician just stepped out for a few minutes so it will be a while. But for $199 you get your answer within 12 hours.

The next morning, I got my $199 answer. Major surgery was necessary. They would literally need to transplant the memory chip onto a new drive, create whatever software was necessary to make the drive communicate with the computer, and then extract the files. The cost was to be another $799. And I would need to pay a down payment of $199 to get that process started. That was a Friday morning. No time to argue. It is what it is.

On Saturday, I get an e-mail. The drive has been resuscitated. They send an attachment with a list of the file names that were recovered. Contrary to their claim of only being able to guarantee a 75-80% recovery rate, all my data files appear to be there. I send off the visa number along with the work order and I paid for the remainder of the work. I would get nothing more until all is paid for in full.

I didn’t hear from them again until sometime Tuesday. With no word on Monday, I send them a “what’s up” e-mail. Where’s my data??? Time’s a-wastin’!

The representative finally responds and I am told that FedEx will appear at my door within 24 hours with a package for me. I get the tracking number and begin to watch the package’s progress. But I am disturbed to see that I need to sign for the package. Really??? I have to work tomorrow. This could be difficult if FedEx doesn’t come in the morning.

Good luck! I was the very first delivery that FedEx guy made that day and all was well with the drive. I checked it out on my laptop and everything was, indeed, there.

All during this time I was working to try to recreate my lost presentation. At the same time, I got to be friends with DropBox, one of a number of data storage companies on “the cloud.” Both computers are now Dropbox equipped and I’m storing my presentations there. Also, all my articles are now archived there.

But UBC is really coming close so I’m focusing on that and the flash drive project has to sit while I get through that preparation the trip, and those two presentations.

To make this shaggy dog story just a bit shorter, it’s now Halloween week. UBC has come and gone and I’m home working on my weekly/monthly budget on my office computer. I intend to back up my latest additions to that spreadsheet and then save that file to the cloud. Yep, I’m working on that same $1000 flash drive.

We all know how stable a program Excel is. It doesn’t get any better than that. I’m done and I hit the save button. Bang! The screen goes completely white. Okay, don’t panic, Bernie. It will come back to normal in a second or two.

Nope. No such luck. The Task Manager says that Excel is not responding. This is not good!

This is the beginning of déjà vu all over again! I rebooted the computer as per Windows’ direction but the flash drive is nowhere to be found.

I’m calling on Larry again and he can’t find it either. His only advice to me is to call the data recovery company to see if, perhaps, they have my data backed up on their computer system somewhere.

The answer to that is yes, they do. I send the link to Larry and this morning Larry has a DVD of my data to give to me.

You are probably a business owner or leader of some kind so hear this, PLEASE. One of the presentations I heard in Vancouver was by Denis Staples, President, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets, Ottawa, Canada. His company both survived a devastating fire and came out the other end stronger, leaner, and better as well as having all of their computer data intact. His story was more harrowing than mine but, boy did I hear what he had to say with very special ears! One of his people went into the building while the fire was burning toward the offices and pulled the servers out. How cool is that? Denis, give that person a raise or a job for life!

I now own a $1000 flash drive that I can’t access. But at least I have a backup that is 99% accurate. Denis and his company had nothing the morning after the fire except their servers. But at least they had that. Having their data allowed them to continue to move forward and to rebuild their company.

The moral is…create secure backup of your computer data TODAY! Disaster in but a key stroke away.

Until next time…spray on!


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