How did you lose yours?
October 16, 2003 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Top 10 data disasters The BBC report on a list of 10 data mishaps and asks for more. Some of the user submitted stories are too funny. So how did you lose yours?
posted by brettski (36 comments total)
I once had a co-worker write a simple perl script that logged errors to a text file. She let the thing run and than went to lunch. The text file grew so fast it crashed the company intranet.
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:45 AM on October 16, 2003

Mine came about 20 years ago, when I discovered that typing DEL *.DB feels a heck of a lot like typing DIR *.DB, which is what I had intended. I also discovered that the DEL command doesn't ask for confirmation if it's given only a partial wildcard, i.e. not *.*. Next, I discovered that my boss hadn't run a backup tape for six weeks. We all learned a lot that day. Over the next few weeks I also learned how it feels to be in the computational doghouse.
posted by SealWyf at 7:12 AM on October 16, 2003

My woe goes like this.

In Unix (I'm on Mac OS X) / means the root of the live system disk, right?
But in practice, in your head, it just means "system". So if you wanted to delete - say - the httpd prefs, you'd think
"delete system, etc, httpd, httpdprefs"
and type
"rm /etc/httpd/httpd_conf"

So / means the system.

Then, if you had two system disks, one with OS X (juno), the other OS X Server (mister), and you wanted to lobotomise the OS X Server installation by killing the folders var/netinfo/ and users/ then you'd think "switch to mister, then kill system, var, netinfo"

So you type:
cd /volumes/mister/
rm -rf /var/netinfo
rm -rf /users

because it makes sense to you - you've switched to the disk mister, and are deleting system, var, netinfo.

But soft, you moron:
/ *always* means yer active system, not just a relative concept of "system". Bugger. It was the cd that got me. And the fact that other disks are part of the startup disk - all under /volumes.

Thank god that halfway through /users/bonaldi/documents/ rm met a file it wanted to ask permission before wiping. That flagged me up to the unfolding horror.

God it took some repairing to fix.
I can't believe after 10 years I fell to the hoary old "rm -rf / is a disaster" mistake
posted by bonaldi at 7:30 AM on October 16, 2003

okay, y6y6y6, but the real question is...did it log the intranet's ensuing error?

As for me, I had an external seagate 30mb drive back in the late 80s that had issues with the lubricant on the spindles getting tacky when the drive was turned off for too long; the motor didn't have enough torque to get the platters spinning again, so the only way to restart the drive if I'd shut it down for more than a few minutes was to crack the hermetically sealed case, crank the platters by their hub, reassemble the drive and its enclosure, and get the thing plugged in and turned on before the platters got stuck again.
posted by jburka at 7:33 AM on October 16, 2003

jburka: uh ? what ? Dust should have killed that drive after that nice treatement ? (not that I have ever tried doing that on a HD)
posted by elpapacito at 7:42 AM on October 16, 2003

A couple of weeks ago I found that smashing up your laptop won't make it go any faster, but it will mean that IT have to buy you a new one.
posted by chill at 7:42 AM on October 16, 2003

My 30gig drive stopped working not too ago. There were loud clicks for a couple days prior so I took the warning and backed up what I thought was important. Eventually, I booted and the hard drive didn't exist. In frustration I gave the system a little love tap. And lo! Everything worked again.

In order to avoid damaging anything else I took the side off of the case so I could just tap the offending drive when it was being troublesome.

This continued for about 3 weeks until I got a new hard drive. At least I'm free of that infernal clicking.
posted by ODiV at 7:53 AM on October 16, 2003

I deleted the kernel off my slackware box in '98. I was a total newbie to Linux at the time and had to leave my computer on for a week while I desperately scrambled for data on where to get a new kernel and how to compile it. Good times....
posted by PenDevil at 8:06 AM on October 16, 2003

elpapacito: yeah, when I tried this maneuver, I had about a 50/50 chance of needing to reformat and reinstall from my obsessively-maintained floppy backup. But that was still preferable to having to replace the drive (the 30mb drive, new in '88, cost me about $800, including the shoebox and controller, and I was a college student without the necessary funds for replacement). Don't recall exactly how many times I actually opened and cranked the thing, but I think it was around 10...
posted by jburka at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2003

issues with the lubricant on the spindles getting tacky

Been there before.
posted by anathema at 8:16 AM on October 16, 2003

I'm still recovering from this one, so it's recent. I just installed Mac OS X on my G3 Tower. Told my two daughters (12 and 14) that they could each have their own desktop pictures, settings, etc. Which was fine, as far as that went. But older one thought that meant that any files she could view were also unique to her desktop and that she could then delete them from her view. Which she did. Without mentioning it.

I then went and did some installs of new OS X software that I needed. Went to look for my files to see how the new apps worked. Gone. All of them. I'm now running Norton UnErase to see what I can recover that I haven't already overwritten with the new installs. And of course, I don't have any backups other than what's on my ISP's webserver.

And here I was worried about having a Blogger blog and a LiveJournal because the data wasn't local.
posted by tommasz at 8:21 AM on October 16, 2003

One night, I was writing a paper on my PC, when all of a sudden it went berserk, the screen started flashing, it was like "beep beep beep beep beep"...and the whole paper just disappeared.

All of it.

And it was good paper!
posted by filmgoerjuan at 8:21 AM on October 16, 2003

Well, my worst data loss story is courtesy of my sister. I gave her a PowerMac that I wasn't using anymore a few years ago. When I go home for holidays and such invariably I end up logging into work. UNIX works best for this (and this was in MacOS 9 days) so I installed a separate hard drive with a PPClinux installation. All went well, my sister got her work done much faster than on her old 60 MHz PPC box. When I visited I could log into work using UNIX.

Things fell apart when she had system problems however. She decided that formatting the hard drive was the solution. Fine, right? The linux partition was on a different drive after all.

She calls me up, wonder in her voice. "John!" she says, "I formatted my hard drive and now I have two drives!". I'm a little puzzled, I think that maybe she accidently partitioned it. Then it dawned on me... she found my linux partition and "optimized" it.

Another time (a year or so earlier) she's taking a summer course at a college away from home. Her computer's slow, so she decides to optimize the hard drive. Some sick bastard gave her a copy of Norton Utilities and away she went. She got impatient however with the dizzying amount of time it took to optimize a humungous 350 megabyte hard drive. So... she powered down and was amazed that her computer was reduced to a paper weight.

I ended up driving down to rescue her (4 hours one way) because she had a lot of work due. I figured I'd hit her up for lunch but she didn't even have white bread.
posted by substrate at 8:34 AM on October 16, 2003

I was once carrying a brand new case from the car to the house, for some reason saw fit to sling it up onto my shoulder, and pitched it right out onto the driveway. Cracked the case, fractured the HD, busted the modem board clean in half, chipped the network card, and dented the shit out of my ego.
posted by UncleFes at 8:43 AM on October 16, 2003

When I was working on my dissertation, I figured I'd really better back up the hard drive instead of moving files around when I could be bothered to.

So out I went and got a 1-gig removable-media drive of some sort I don't remember, and set to backing up my 2-gig drive. And in the middle of it, I hear an unpleasant CHUNKing sound from the pc and Bad Things seem to be happening.

Yes, I had crashed my hard drive *while I was backing it up*. While it was reading my documents. Before it had written them to the removable. I lost everything and had to reformat the HD, but luckily I only lost a couple of weeks work on the dissertation.

Needless to say, by the time I had the actual thing done, I had a copy on the HD, a copy each on several zips, a copy in my unix filespace at school, and a zipped copy emailed to myself.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 AM on October 16, 2003

No one here ever fell for the ol' Unix "read manual" command gag? (rm FILE)

*I* never did, of course.

Never ...
posted by RavinDave at 8:59 AM on October 16, 2003

I was writing a paper on my PC, and it was like beep beep beep beep beep and then like half my paper was gone. And I was like huh. It devoured my paper. It was a really good paper. And then I had to do it again and I had to do it fast so it wasn't as good. It's kind of ... a bummer.
posted by gyc at 9:43 AM on October 16, 2003

One fine Friday evening I discovered that 'init 6' doesn't mean the same thing on an SGI box running IRIX as it does on a SUN box running SunOS. I've had the root shell about 12 hours before discovering that little difference. From home. Far away from the office. Where nobody was around to restart the dang machine.
posted by psychomedia at 9:46 AM on October 16, 2003

In 1996, my hard drive controller collapsed. Thousands upon thousands of words, entered with jittery, spasmodic fingers into WordPerfect, were gone. I had hard copies for about 40% of the stuff. But the big problem was that I was using a crummy 386DX machine that I had picked up for just under $100 years earlier. The machine, acquired in poverty, had a controller card that extended the full length of the case, about as long as my arm. But as I learned, the shaky 40MB hard drive itself was an MFM type. My hope was that I could somehow retrieve the data, moving it onto a SCSI or IDE drive or through a parallel port.

I searched through endless piles of computer guts for a replacement controller. I met people who knew people who knew even stranger people. I visited inveterate geeks of all types and persuasions. For weeks, I stumbled through dank warehouses and entered a world of attics and basements. The sole purpose of these cavernous places was to house an astonishing variety of computer parts, working or non-working. I collided into tottering depositories of electronic morsels spread across the perimeters of narrow walkways designed almost exclusively for lanky, undernourished bodies to circumnavigate. I half-expected a rat to poke out, its sallow teeth nibbling on a crumbling 2400 baud external modem. At one point, I actually interrupted a D&D game. Despite my best efforts to replace this obsolete controller, I found only one MFM controller, and it failed to work.

Eventually, I was forced to abdicate my work to the electronic ether. But years later, it was probably for the best. I was a brash 22 year old punk, completely unaware of dangling participles and what ultimately mattered.

But in opening the hood of the machine and contemplating just how all the parts clicked and blinked to keep this magnificent microgestalt purring through the dead of night, I began wandering down a lifelong road of tinkering with the goodies inside. To this very day, I continue to track model numbers, ensure the appropriate thermal and heatsink for a specific CPU, and compare specific peripherals.

Sure, the data was lost. But something almighty was gained.
posted by ed at 9:54 AM on October 16, 2003

I worked in Tech Support at a PC dealership in the days of PC-DOS 2.1. Typing 'format' with no parameters would re-format the default drive, C: on XTs, with no additional prompts or warnings. So on every new system shipped out, we'd create format.bat, which contained the line 'format a:', then rename to You wouldn't believe the number of calls we got from users who typed 'destroy', "Just to see what it did..."
posted by punilux at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2003

last week I thought I'd needed some disk space. "Let's get rid of that big swap file over there!" It turned out to be my VMWare virtual disk (i.e. my windows partition + data).

posted by swordfishtrombones at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2003

The funniest story I have is when my roommate was letting a friend borrow his laptop. Said friend was sitting on the floor in front of the couch, my roommate lying on the couch. When the friend was done with the laptop, he put it on the floor and told my roommate it was there. This did not prevent my roommate from getting up from the couch, stepping on the laptop which made a loud *CRUNCH*.
posted by turacma at 10:26 AM on October 16, 2003

When I was a kid, I spent weeks programming a cool little text adventure game in Basic on my Atari 400 home computer. When I was done, I saved it to the tape drive, which used regular cassette tapes. A few days later, my sister used that same tape to record "U Got The Look" off the radio. I cried.
posted by majcher at 10:27 AM on October 16, 2003

As far as loss of data via computer rage goes, I propose a USB connected "Billy Gates" silicone doll, with sensors and stuff, that you can punch and bite and stick pins in, and when windows loses you data, or crashes, or both, you can inflict torture on it, with different amounts of "pain" activating re-boots, scandisk, data-recovery software, or whatever (user configurable) thus solving the computer lock-up, and the desire to pound your computer into leetle peesess (inevitably making the situation worse.)

I give this idea to the world, freely, without expectation on renumeration, in the hope that it will make life a little more tolerable.

substrate, what's a good defragmenter on Windows, then?
posted by Blue Stone at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2003

I'm not as nerdy as y'all, but I make up for it by having a titillating lesbian story for every occasion. When I was a sophomore in college a cute girl I was trying to hook up with set her Zima down on my desk, then proceeded to sit her cute little ass on the edge of the desk, knocking the Zima into my laptop.
posted by palegirl at 10:48 AM on October 16, 2003

Diskkeeper for defraggin'.

And, I learned the hard way (after losing all of my college papers in a Partition Magic mishap) that keeping a Travan backup tape drive on a nightly schedule with a rotation of tapes is actually quite worth the trouble.
posted by adampsyche at 11:22 AM on October 16, 2003

These stories always make me laugh, 'cause I've never had a problem with a compu#!@$)#

posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:38 AM on October 16, 2003

Is there a usenet group for lesbian tech support stories? There really ought to be.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2003

There is a port on the back of the original Macintosh Portable computer. It looks just like a VGA monitor port and has a little monitor icon on top of it.

One day I decided to plug my main system's monitor into the port to see what kind of display the Portable would put on the screen. I had the "battery meter" desk accessory running at the time. Right after plugging in the monitor, I was surprised to see the battery power readout dropping fast: 75%...50%...25% in seconds!

I knew something really bad had happened. Sure enough, that monitor port is not a VGA port; indeed, it was putting 7.5v and whatever current the battery could muster on the monitor's horizontal sync pin. fry, fry, fry...

At least the Portable survivied without any harm.
posted by tss at 12:21 PM on October 16, 2003

Blue Stone, I'm not saying that Norton Utilities is good or bad. I'm saying that giving it to my sister was like giving a chainsaw to a three year old. Something is going to happen, and when it happens it won't be good.
posted by substrate at 12:34 PM on October 16, 2003

Remember that big power outage?

Crushed me. Modem, sound card, power supply, and pretty sure mobo is dying.

Don't harp on me about UPS either. :)
posted by Yossarian at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2003

This thread is scaring the shit out of me.

*hasn't backed up thesis in weeks*
posted by jokeefe at 5:13 PM on October 16, 2003

I had my nice new shiny 12" PowerBook outside, working on my balcony. I set it down on the balcony wall and went inside for a bit. I went outside later and couldn't find it... until I looked at the brick pavers below.

I can definitively attest that PowerBooks are NOT able to withstand a twelve foot fall.
posted by mosch at 5:27 PM on October 16, 2003

My worst data disaster happened in meatspace.

I placed a second bag on top of a pay phone in Yokohama station. After finishing my call, I rushed to my car and drove off. I had driven fifteen minutes before I realized that the bag was still on top of the pay phone. When I returned it was gone.

In the bag were address books that contained my only copies of names, addresses and phone numbers of people I had met in Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand over the past couple of years.

If you don't have copies of your address books, please make copies now. If you have hundreds of names and numbers registered in your cell phone, please imagine what would happen if you were to lose/damage/destroy your cell phone. The net result would be the same - total loss of all contact information. Please make a backup of your cell phone's memory now.

A lost thesis or story can be rewritten (and it usually turns out better than the original because you only remember the good parts anyway). Trying to recover from lost address books/contact information takes a lot longer and I would not wish this curse on anyone.
posted by cup at 6:07 PM on October 16, 2003

I worked a couple years doing break/fix plus software support...It amazed me how many executives would come into work to find that their thinkpads "just wouldn't boot"

I was also amazed at how many of these thinkpads had system boards that reeked of coffee, and often had small stains of brown, creamy-coloured, coffee-scented patches on the system board.

I always wondered what happened with the warranty aspect of that when the coffee-flavoured sysbd got sent back to IBM....
posted by Richat at 7:26 PM on October 16, 2003

Years in the business, slug-level tech support, network admin, freelancer ... so I have plenty more good stories than I care to type in.

In keeping with the personal embarassment angle, though (and alas, I also have too many of those -- like turning off NAV for a few weeks because of a certain DLL interference that I didn't care to fix, and of course receiving a trojan that put FORMAT C: in my AUTOEXEC.BAT, which I discovered on returning to my desk with a coffee -- my first bad personal experience with a virus, and it's practically the oldest trick in the book; the blinking C:> prompt put me back in the 80s in an emotional way as well):

Last year, working on a client's laptop. I noticed the screen was a little loose, and pulled out my toolkit to work on it afterward. Meanwhile I had a software problem to fix, so I pulled out a CD and inserted it. The CD tray wouldn't properly retract, so I jiggered it a little, then jiggered the whole laptop, to see if I could loosen up whatever it was. To my horror, there was a distinct, screw-like rattle-rattle, and a puff of smoke -- quite cute, actually, rising and dispersing with alacrity -- emerged from behind one corner, as the screen went blank. The whole office soon smelt of electrical fire. Not my fault, really, just something that happened on my watch, so I will always regret it regardless. The clincher? The client kept the only list of her Christmas Card recipients (basically her one big annual professional promotion) on that laptop, and I haven't been able to get the hard drive to read with anything else since. I'm still trying, actaully, because it's Christmas Card season again.
posted by dhartung at 11:44 PM on October 16, 2003

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