Computers are Like Pets

by Ellen Anon

Computers are like pets or infants in some ways. When something is wrong they rarely calmly deliver a message that explicitly states what's wrong. You know, something on the order of, "Attention your hard drive in Bay C is going bad, please replace immediately," or "This computer is facing imminent self destruction due to a bad motherboard, make certain everything is backed up and take the computer to an Apple certified repair center at once." Instead just like pets or infants, they behave in odd ways. It's up to you to figure out what's going on, if it's important, and how to remedy it.

For example, late last year I struggled with what initially, but incorrectly, seemed to be a problem with Aperture. Every time I tried to access my RAID system, where many referenced files were located, as well as others that predated Aperture and had not yet been imported, Aperture worked as expected for about 10 minutes. And then suddenly it lost the directory of the RAID system and all my files appeared as if they were in one mass jumble rather than organized into folders. This happened repeatedly. Interestingly Bridge did not have the same trouble, which led to my thinking that something was amiss with Aperture. Then one day the alarm went off in one of the bays on the RAID system. That drive was corrupt. (Now that's the kind of warning I understand!) As soon as I replaced that drive, Aperture has been fine. Somehow Aperture was more sensitive to whatever was starting to go wrong in that drive than Bridge was. Unfortunately Aperture couldn't tell me that in ways that I could comprehend.

I readily admit that Murphy tends to live with me. A couple weeks ago I blogged about compact flash card failures and tracing that problem back to a problem with the USB ports on my computer. I thought that really wasn't too major a problem since I could use the ports on my monitors instead. What I didn't realize was that was the computer's attempt at telling me something major was wrong internally. The following week one application after another failed to open. Aperture actually held on longer than most, but then one day it gave a warning that the library was corrupt and would need to be rebuilt. Fortunately at the first sign of additional trouble I made certain to back up everything. (I admit for whatever stupid reasons I am lax about regularly backing up my system. I can't wait for Time Machine!) And I got lucky that whatever is progressively malfunctioning within that computer allowed me to copy my files correctly before the machine totally dies. I had been planning to upgrade to a MacPro, and that hastened the decision. Now I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival.

The point of telling you all this is just to get you thinking, regularly backing up all your files including the Vault in Aperture, and letting you know that sometimes really odd computer behavior is a symptom of a problem that may not be immediately apparent. Forgive me, those of you who are computer gurus. I'm a photographer and I'm good with software, but I am by no means a computer expert. I have no doubt that some of you readers who are far more computer savvy than I am would easily recognize these malfunctions. But for those of you for whom the computer is a tool, and your expertise is in photography (or elsewhere) perhaps knowing my experiences may help you one day.


2007-06-27 04:59:01
Very interesting post ! It remembers the need of being very (very very) careful with its data. A failure can really happen any time.
My old iBook's disk drive failed two years ago. Fortunately, it took three weeks, so I has enough time to backup everything. Now, I'm much more careful...
Michael Ball
2007-06-27 18:23:09
regularly is an understatement. Backup once photos are on your computer. That's how I lost 430 photos, right after import. The card had issues and it started freaking OS X and Aperture out because is kept ejecting it self. Anyway mow I have spent $80 (all this poor teen could afford) on and external FW drive -its only 40GB but it works for now. Now I have all my photos in 3 or 4 drives and 1 DVD. Well actually that reminds me: I'm supposed to backup my photos today. :-)
Dave Camp
2007-06-28 09:04:29
What I've learned over the years is that if there is even a hint of something acting wonky with my files, I stop what I'm doing and try to figure out what is going on. Sometimes the time window between still being able to access your files and the drive dying is short.

No matter what, you must have some sort of backup system in place. I use SuperDuper to copy my two mirrored drives to an external FW drive every couple of weeks. And, whenever I import photos into Aperture. I update the vault I keep on my iPod and another external FW drive.

Time Machine will be a huge leap forward. Once people upgrade to Leopard there won't be any excuse for not having a recent backup on hand.