IT Lessons I Should Have Known

#1 Windows Vista sucks. Just like every one of Microsoft’s other first ‘stable’ release of a kernel, the second release will be far superior to the first. When they’re about to retire a kernel, they’ve pretty well got it ironed out right. If your machine has Vista on it, upgrade to 7 as soon as you can afford the extortion. Yeah, Vista was the crap sandwich you got slammed with. Yeah, M$ should give Vista users the upgrade as a bug fix, but they don’t. Oh well. The lesson there is to business owners like me – DON’T DO BUSINESS LIKE THAT!

#2 Even when you do the responsible thing and make a set of proper recovery disks from the recovery partition, ask yourself honestly if you will be able to find them when you need them in six months, a year, or two years. Or, if you’ll find the esoteric backup disks from six years ago in the search for the ones that you will actually inevitably need. Where the heck did I put those things? I remember putting them somewhere I specifically wouldn’t lose them.

#3 When you are sliding your laptop in and out of a bag over the course of a year, that little key code sticker may rub to the point that it is no longer legible. Take a picture of it, copy the number down and put it with your disks in a place that you will find them when you need them. I can’t imagine that it would hurt to put a piece of heavy, clear packing tape over the sticker to preserve it. Apparently, it is possible to retrieve the product key from the system, but it sounds like a PITA.

#4 When you are dealing with hardware types and software that you have never much messed with before, it’s going to be more of a challenge to get your data hacked out than it was every other time you’ve had to do it on a previous system.

#5 You aren’t too busy to back up files. Believe me. You’re never too busy to back up files. Blank CDs are cheap, as are external hard drives. They will pay for themselves in the frustration that ensues from not having them. The little <$20 USB drive enclosures are priceless. They help with data backup and recovery.

#6 When the laptop keeps crashing and you suspect it is due to overheating, figure out how to fix it before something bad happens. If you try to ignore it and keep working, something bad will eventually happen.

#7 When you think that you probably ought to backup your data and reconfigure your system so that it runs better and more securely, then do it. The time you plan putting in is so much less frustrating than the time you put in to recover from an emergency. For a few moments, my machine would boot between Vista, XP, Debian, and Ubuntu. The condition of the drive layout and boot manager(s) is what’s leftover from that.

#8 When +$200 to the computer shop to patch up your jacked-up machine may as well be $2,000,000, make sure that will never be an issue by maintaining the health of your system before it gets to that point.

#9 A computer that is working well is an incredibly valuable asset. A computer that doesn’t work is a huge liability. It can’t be repeated enough – do the maintenance to keep it working well.

#10 Murphy’s Law is a big, old, ugly foot that he’ll shove in your door if you open it a crack. When you have failed at all of the above much to your utter embarrassment, it ain’t gonna be pretty.


Yes. My laptop is currently a brick. No. I haven’t found my backup disks yet. It’s a dual-boot Debian Linux/Windows Vista box and I corrupted the GRUB bootloader when the computer crashed due to overheating while I was trying to load pictures from an SD card. So now, it won’t boot up. I don’t really use the Linux partition except for data storage, so I could fix it with a Vista boot disk (which I have somewhere, just can’t locate) to overwrite the MBR to simply boot Vista. There are methods to use a Linux boot disk to repair the GRUB which would restore the computer back to the configuration I had it before the crash, but that obviously doesn’t automatically fix the fact that I’ve lost my recovery disks and my product key.

Using another PC, Knoppix 6.2.1, a USB drive enclosure for my laptop hard drive, and black effing magic, I was able to retrieve all of my valuable files. Today, I shall burn them to a DVD with a date written on it. As soon as I’ve got the scratch, I’m going to make the jump to 7. This is no longer something that I’d like to do, it is now necessary. I don’t use Linux on the box, and there’s really no reason for it to be on there. When I move to 7, I’ll eliminate Debian.

Right now, I’m kind of in the ‘bargaining with God’ mindset. That is, once I sort this mess out, I swear I’ll keep a dedicated CD folder with all of my backup goodies (recovery disks, product keys, regular file backup disks), all properly labeled and organized, in a place where I will not lose it. It’s not the flashiest piece of hardware on the block, but I rely on my computer way too heavily to not be prepared. There are many like it, but this one is mine!

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11 thoughts on “IT Lessons I Should Have Known

  1. What do you do on Windows that can’t be done in Linux? Not specific programs, but types. I’m not a gamer, so Windows is used just to update my GPS and my wife’s 4th gen iPod tOuch (my 3rd gen works fine on Linux)

    I agree with you on Microsoft’s extortion–so I don’t. If a version of Linux doesn’t suit me (Ubuntu 11.04, for example) a reinstall takes under an hour, including backing up and restoring all my preferences to all my programs–and most of that time is waiting for files to be copied.

  2. Portable backup hard drives are awesome! You can get a terrabyte frikkin portable drive for less than $100 these days…that’s more than my two-year-old DESKTOP has inside, even if you add up both hard drives its running. As for that stupid Activation Key, I always Sharpie it directly on the disk, or if a Sharpie isn’t handy (or has dried out due to neglect…I’m sure there’s a special-interest group out there to protect Sharpies from this grave injustice. Screw em.), there’s usually a pen and a Posty-note layin somewhere around. Then the disk goes into a CD binder, with Posty-note (or Sharpy scribbles) prominently displayed. I’ve tossed too many manuals or CD cases without writing down those keys.

  3. @falnfenix – :) Thanks! Every little bit helps. We’re behind on a couple of bills, so the computer is going to have to be worked in here and there.

    @Sevesteen – Nothing much. However, if I wish to install a certain type of application that is not supported by the distro of my choice, that means configuring. When I installed Debian, I really thought I’d use it more than Vista. As it turns out, I haven’t much touched the sucker. I didn’t use Linux for much at all after Sarge because of employment habits and proprietary media support. I got annoyed at Debian for the whole tissy with Firefox and don’t really feel like messing with configurations every time I decide my computer ought to do something else. I love the ‘nixes, but lack the patience to learn to the point that I can use them efficiently.

    @RabidAlien – You had better believe that my little CD folder will have a Sharpie clipped inside the cover! Mark my words – I’ll never lose disks again!

  4. You’re learning the ‘hard’ way… I back up weekly to a terrabit drive, and all my ‘important’ disks/CDs are offsite in my work safe. It’s a drive if I need them, but I know where they are and God forbid, something happens, I haven’t lost everything.

  5. With almost a year and a half of work on my thesis project, I’m actually backing it up to two different drives JUST to make sure.

    Paranoid – heck no! I KNOW the universe wants me, and my computer, dead.

  6. You could try looking for the factory restore on the laptop.

    On the desktop H/P you restart the computer and start clicking the F-12 key until it starts, then do the advanced restore thing.
    Search for factory restore for your machine. I found the Toshiba restore (Zero key) in their ‘order restore disc’ section.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Ubuntu used to be Debian without the ideology–Media support was a checkbox rather than “sorry, patents are evil”. Configuration has become lass and less of a hassle, (in part because settings move with your home folder, so back-ups keep your settings)

    Unfortunately it appears that despite the lack of interest in the Ubuntu netbook-optomized distribution, they have decided that is the way forward, and the latest version is an enormous change to the interface. If you do try Ubuntu, use 10.10, rather than 11.4.

  8. I realize I’m a little late chipping in, but here’s a suggestion.

    Buy a large (pocket size) external USB drive. Buy two. Take one with you whenever you leave the house for extended periods. Just in case.

    Buy a copy of Second Copy ( ) $29.95. Second Copy is the perfect automatic backup software designed for Windows XP and above. (Works perfect on Windows 7, or Server 2008 and below). It makes a backup of your data files to another directory, internal or external hard disk or to a computer across the network.

    Second Copy monitors the source files and keeps the backup updated with new or changed files. It runs in the background with no user interaction. So, once it is set up you always have a backup of your data somewhere else.

    You can reload an O/S in little or no time. But your files, all that data collected for how long, is what you need to store in multiple places.

    And no, I do not work for Centered Systems. They do, IMHO, make a great and cheap third-party backup solution.

  9. @ Carl – That’s actually a really good idea. It would be relatively cheap and convenient to have everything backed up on two USB drives.

    As to Second Copy, I’m pretty sure I can use 7 to back up every machine on the network to every other machine on the network. That’s likely the way I’ll go with it until I get a network backup. Which is another post altogether.

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