Saying Goodbye Is The Hardest Partition

As many of you already know, the hard drive in my Macbook Pro died last week. It was working just fine then all of a sudden my machine locked up. I had just plugged in an external webcam so I assumed this caused some sort of conflict and rebooted the machine.

…click ….click ….click … ka-thunk

That’s never a good sign. Luckily I use SuperDuper! to make frequent bootable backups of my entire hard drive. I plugged that sucker in and GODDAMNITMYMOSTRECENTBACKUPISTWOWEEKSOLDWTFBSG!!!! I normally try to back up at least after every comic is finished. That way I can never lose more than a couple of days of data and typically nothing too important. For some reason I had neglected my backup duties for 2 weeks and in return the universe punished me by taking six comics forever into the darkness. What I actually lost were the original PSD’s, and print sized jpg’s. The web sized jpgs are safe on the server.

Desperate and panicing (I couldn’t find my towel either), I removed the drive and hooked it up to another machine in the house.

wrrrrrrz… click… wrrrrrrrzzz… ka-click ….click … ka-thunk

I realized that the frequent wrrrrzzz’s, pauses and clicks must be caused by armed Vietcong soldiers inside the drive forcing Robert Deniro and Christopher Walken to play a sadistic game of Russian Roulette. That makes sense right?

I took my sad tale to the Twitters and almost immediately you guys started telling me to put the drive in the freezer. I appreciate a good practical joke as much as anyone, but this was clearly not the time and I was not amused. Reassured that this method was indeed sound, I did a little research on my own. Holy shit. It was the real deal. Nerds all over were reporting that dead drives could be temporarily reanimated after a few hours of freezing. What did I have to lose? So in the chill chest it went. 2 hours later it emerged frosty and lifeless. I hooked it up to another machine and… waiting… waiting… it showed up. Well, fuck me sideways. I was able to navigate the folders (very slowly), so I tried to repair/rebuild the partition tables. Hardware failure seemed likely but I needed to rule out the less dire possibilities first. About 20 minutes in the clicks-o-sadness returned and all was for naught. A few re-freezes later I realized that drive was failing every time it reached room temp or above. I tried putting cold things on top of the drive while reading from it (frozen sausages, ice packs, etc… not sure why I tried the frozen sausage first), but nothing worked. Then the Tweeps suggested (and the rest of the internet confirmed) that I needed to try to read from the drive while it was actually IN THE FREEZER.

Again, what did I have to lose? A few ziplock bags and some extension cables later and I was off and running. Reading was unbearably slow, but I was able to retrieve some data. 20-30 minutes would yield anywhere from 10-40 mb. The six comics I was most concerned about were over 100mb each. After multiple attempts I eventually retrieved them all… or what was left of them. All of the PSD’s were corrupt and turned out looking something like this:


With the worst of them, well.. worse:


Not having the orignal full-res files for these comics means I will never be able to make prints of them or put them in a book. That’s no good for me, so at some point I am going to attempt to either rescue them through digital trickery or recreate them from scratch. That prospect doesn’t excite me, but hey, it could have been SO MUCH worse. At least I had a two week old backup. Now before you start lecturing me about the importance of backups, all of my important files are on a mirrored RAID file server in my office… just… not… my comics. I have no idea why I didn’t deem those important enough to backup in 160 different places. IR teh dUmbz.

The silver lining of this whole nasty affair is that I was once again shown how incredible my readers are. Not only did I get a flood of suggestions from tech-savy Fancy Bastards on Twitter, but FB Bill (who I am going to call “Number 1” or possibly “The Lieutenant” from now on) took to the Forum to organize a fund raiser for new hardware. In just a few hours you guys raised enough for me to replace every old HD in my machines and get backup drives for all of them. I say this a lot, but I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have such supportive and generous readers. I can’t begin to thank you all enough. Please know that I am infinitely grateful and humbled by your selflessness and unyielding support of my silly comic.

So here I am, a few days older and much more paranoid about backups and hard drive failures. That counts as “wiser,” right? Going forward I will be making SuperDuper! backups after EVERY comic and possibly implementing Time Machine for daily partial backups. I would also like to employ some kind of offsite storage solution. Do they rent out that hollowed out mountain bunker from the end of “Terminator 3.” If you have a suggestion for one that you’ve used and had succes with, please let me know in the comments.

I leave you with this thought:


Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , .


  1. been there done, that, my friend. fortunately, all I lost was a bunch of saved games (90% done with Psychonauts, a HL2 speed run, several level 20+ NWN characters, and more) and a notepad which had a few whiney and/or ponderous poetry and some addresses. i may have lost other stuff, too, but I don't know what I lost and I apparently haven't needed any of it!

  2. Alrighty – you can get your actual subterranean cyborg-proof remote backup from Iron Mountain (yeah, those guys). They have a product called 'Connected Backup'. Imaginative.

  3. Time Machine. Saved my behind several times, once from a catastrophic HDD failure.

    Super Duper is great, and all, especially for bootability — but Time Machine is essential for day-to-day.

    Not over wireless, though. Never had good results with that.

  4. i'll have to remember the freezing thing, i havent had a hard drive die yet, but i have had a computer almost melt.

  5. Yup, HDD's suck for when they fail. Nice recovery comic Joel.

    BTW, Solid State Drives (SSD) use flash storage (like an iPod Nano) and might be a good alternative. While they can fail, they will just be unable to write, you'd still be able to read everything just fine and transfer it. Small problem is they're super expensive.

  6. This comic is great and could have come right out of my brain! I lost my hdd at while working on my Master's Thesis. Luckily, I had also been working on it as school where I worked as a TA. Never got the hdd to work, though the tech guys I took it to did try to freeze it a few times to get data off of it.

  7. Seriously, try SpinRite its saved my mom a court case and brought her HD back from the dead. It costs money but its worth it.

  8. Besides using a time machine (which you should) I highly recommend keeping a Git repository on your web server (or somewhere). Its very easy to setup and you can keep all your comic files in it. Once you make a comic you just type "git add . && git commit -m 'new comic' && git push" in terminal. Then bam! your comic is uploaded (and backed up) on your server.

  9. Recently had a hard drive corruption. Ended up my Time Machine and SuperDuper backups were corrupt too. The only thing that saved the remainder of the files was Mozy. Took me about two weeks to get all my files found from my backups. Mozy is a great deal (under $5/month, especially if you look for a special offer). My only complaint is that it is SLOW to upload all your files to them. Took me another two weeks to get a full backup of my laptop once I got a new machine and everything restored. That being said, I did backup my entire home directory. It might be best for you to use if you're just backing up your important files

  10. For the cost of buying a bunch of new drives — you could'd paid for a years worth of completely automated offsite backups with any number of reliable providers.

    Mozy is one – I personally use JungleDisk with Amazon S3 though.

    It's just completely automated. No need to remember to backup after hitting save. It just happens. And if for whatever reason it doesn't happen (The Tubes are clogged) – it complains loudly enough that you'll notice.

  11. In my not-so-humble opinion, backing up the original files should be done as part of the comic upload to the server procedure, just before it. That way, you can only lose work that has never been published, so it's "only" work time lost; otherwise, you have to redo something already published, which is a whole different ballgame. It's the same thing for us programmers: whenever we make a release (no matter how insignificant, to how many people, etc), we have the source code of that release under version control and possibly tagged (now, version control may be a bit overkill for digital media…)

    From the patterns of the corruption it looks like the PSD image data is stored on disk as separate red, green and blue planes, and the corruptions are simply runs of a contant value in these planes (with a few exceptions). By cross-referencing with the high-resolution JPEGs (if you can recover them, as with all compressed data it's hard to recover it from corruption) you might be able to recover satisfying stuff.

    Remember folks, hard drives are barely reliable enough to use as a component for the OS and applications to work from and a temporary scratchpad for any work, nothing more. Backup your shit on a server on Mars I tell you!

  12. Next time, don't take the word of the Internet if stuff actually matters.
    There are esoteric reasons for and cases in which the freezer procedure can work but unless you know exactly what happened in the drive, only do it if you don't care about the data.

    If it doesn't matter ddrescue et al are just fine. Otherwise, don't power it the fuck up. 🙂 It might *only* be slamming the disk head against the rest position but what if it slices halfway across the top platter and tears off neat ridges whenever powered up?

    In short: if it's important, when it dies, do not power it up and bring it to a professional (TM), 'cause you don't have a clean room yourself.

  13. Hmm, I guess if you smoosh the second and third line together you do get that. Now I'm going to have to start putting the lines together in all the different permutations to find the hidden message.

  14. Love the art in this one. At least this experience gave you inspiration for a new comic, right? I'm not saying it was a good experience, but at least *something* good came from it.

  15. I hope you manage to recover or reform those strips eventually. I think you taught the rest of us a very valuable lesson. Christ, I haven't backed up my work in almost a year, even thought I own a portable HD. ..Which is half full of 1960's sci fi and nothing else.
    Busy weekend ahead, I think.

  16. I live in Austin, so there's no way I can go, but I know y'all are Dallas-adjacent:

    Zeus Comics
    4411 Lemmon Ave.
    Dallas, TX 75219
    (214) 219-TOYS
    Scheduled Creator & Character Appearances
    Zeus has ordered 4000 free comics for Free Comic Book Day. Our guests this year are:

    Scott Kurtz (creator of PVP, Ding!, co-creator and writer of Truth, Justin and The American Way)
    Matt Sturges (writer of House of Mystery, Blue Beetle, and Jack of Fables for DC/Vertigo Comics)
    Kristian Donaldson (co-creator and artist of Supermarket, artist on DMZ, Chuck, and upcoming 99 Days)
    James O'Barr (creator of The Crow, which was adapted into the hit blockbuster movie)

  17. Another recommendation for Mozy. I use it on both computers at home, mostly to protect digital photos. It's inexpensive and works pretty well for easy off-site backups. I also use rsnapshot to make onsite backups to a server at home for faster restores.

    The combination of onsite & automatic offsite backups means that I can be back up and running quickly in the case of a hardware failure, and feel relatively secure that my photos will be safe (although slower to recover) in the event of fire, burglary, flood or zombie attack at home.

  18. if no one has mentioned this yet, look into a home server. HP makes a home server that will accept your time machine mac backups just fine (and it will be automated!). the EX 48x models are what you want. $449 on amazon with free shipping. Enjoy!

  19. My company, Zettabyte Storage, makes a NAS that does automatic offsite replication of all data stored on it. You can use it to aggregate your Time Machine and SuperDuper! backups, to have another onsite copy as well as a complete offsite copy.

    Get in touch with me through the name I’m posting with @ , or through our website, and I’ll set you up with an evaluation unit if you are interested in giving it a try.

  20. What are they injecting the HD anyway in the 1st panel? Data? TuneUp Software? Also he speaks like an old man.

  21. Slightly more effective than a freezer is a cooler full of dry ice. The evaporated CO2 is denser than air, providing a better bernoulli effect.

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