Saturday, January 24, 2009

COMPUTERS: Backups Good ... NOT Checking Backups BAAAADDD!

A week ago Thursday, my primary computer Popeye developed a case of Blinking Windows Desktop. The taskbar and icons would blink out. About every ten seconds or so, they would blink back into existence for a second or two, before vanishing into the ether again. Certain parts of my screen would still work ... RocketDock and StartEase, two programs I use for launching programs when I'm too lazy to use the start button. Opened programs would not blink out. And, if I was quick, I could open some of the programs with their here now, soon to be gone icons on the desktop.

Subsequent investigation revealed that this was NOT a virus issue, nor a detectable rootkit. It wasn't hardware driven, although I had updated my motherboard, network card and sound card about a week earlier. It wasn't a video-card driver issue. The problem survived starting up in safe mode running straight VGA video. Wasn't a cabling issue. I have multiple monitors and it failed using each different cable connected to all monitors, singly or in groups. I uninstalled the last five programs I had installed recently. No luck. I offered the hardware guy a chance to look, but he declined. He'd already done what I did next.

I googled for "Blinking desktop" and found LOTS of company. And about 5,000 page views later, I discovered what I think just about everybody else discovered.


One more shot. I booted up with Winternals recovery disk and got no blinking. It told me there was corruption in the NTKernel file. I tried a repair and all I got was an unbootable Windows partition.

So I did what I should have done hours earlier. I went to the backups and restored. In the process I lost some Stickies note data for reasons I'm about to explain. But otherwise, my data was intact due to my paranoia about putting it on drive C: and doing a LOT of cross-computer backups of data.

But, and it's a big but, the problem was that I didn't back up PROGRAM SETTINGS all that well. Part of it was due to missing files I needed backed up. That was the note data from Stickies, the electronic version of Post-It Notes that I use. Bad me. The other problem was that the backup program I was using to automate a good portion of the backups, Karen's Replicator, was not set up properly. REALLY, REALLY BAD ME. With a caveat. The only issue I have with KR, which is free for home use, is that when it encounters a bad configuration setting, it blithely tries and then goes on when it doesn't work. Without raising much of a fuss.

What I had done when setting up KR on Popeye was to copy the configuration files from Nuklon. And Nuklon backed up a LOT of stuff to drive F:. There is no drive F: on Popeye, as I made the decision to meld the drives E: and F: into one big E: on the newer machine. I WAS smart enough to go through the various settings that detailed backing up Popeye stuff to Nuklon and to Ollie, but not the internal stuff. Makes me wonder why anybody (is there anybody other there?) would be taking my advice!!

At any rate, I had some programs to re-install that I had installed SINCE the Drive Snapshot backup of C: had been made. That included Stickies, by the way. There were a lot of customization settings that had to be set right, again, in some programs. XanaNewsreader was a 'joy' to get just right AND to start using the existing collections of newsgroup messages. But a day later, I was operational for almost everything.

Except my programming environment, Delphi 7. The mismatch between what was now on drive E:, where I installed Delphi 7 and run it from, and the bits and pieces it expected to find on drive C: were too considerable. I had to re-install from scratch.

Again. And again. Because I got cute trying to take shortcuts in doing the install. One time, I was missing a couple of dll files because I didn't check one box. Another time, the try went south after I discovered I'd forgotten to include the database portion of the install. That's bad for a guy who makes a living programming database programs. THIRD time through, most stuff installed. I say MOST, because the new installation order seems to have resulted in some of the various third-party libraries I work with having a bad time NOW working together. They did a week ago Wednesday. And they will real soon now. But I'm CLOSE to overcoming the problem, and haven't lost anything that is important AND irretrievable.

But it would have been a LOT easier if I'd only checked the backups and the logs of creating them.

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