Douwe Osinga's Blog: A penguin saved my butt

Sunday, August 29, 2004

A typical scene from a household in moving. Some stuff is already in boxes, a lot of stuff is not and more and more stuff is just randomly laying around. Switzerland is still more than 48 hours away and the ETBUP (estimated time before utter panic), the moment when you realize you'll never get all that stuff packed before the movers show up was still more than a night rest away, when suddenly mr Murphy made himself present: our main computer froze with that dreaded BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). Rebooting, fitting the drive in another machine or scandisk all failed. ETBUP suddenly minus twelve hours.

Who needs a stupid desktop, you say, don't you have a nice laptop? Yes. As a matter of fact the whole machine was going into storage just before I retrieved one little file - an eFax file containing the immigration papers that would allow for safe and official entry into Switzerland. I should have a copy of the thing on my linux box in the US, but I did not succeed in getting to it.

Finally I decided to try the Linux way. I downloaded Knoppix (50 minutes), burned it on a CD using my laptop (10 minutes), booted (3 minutes) and voila, all my data was there, readable without a problem. Victory I cried. Now to get to the data.

I have this portable hard disk. I plugged it in, Knoppix recognized it perfectly but then refused to write to it. No NTFS write support. Tried the Captive Microsoft Windows Driver Acquite thing where you use native windows drivers to do stuff under Linux, but no points. Downloaded service pack 1 for the same thing, but to no avail.

Then it hit me: writable cd's. Fired up whatever CD writer software Knoppix had and started burning the data. It failed too. I suppose because of the fact that when you put in the writable cd, you take out the Knoppix CD and thus the Operating System, which I imagine can be somewhat of a problem. But there is always Samba, which allows Linux to share hard disks with its Windows peers. Started it, and yes I could finally copy the data.

The fact that the hard disk was still dying meant that any time I copied more than 5 minutes worth of transfer, I got this nasty tick-tick-tick sound from the box and it was alll over, but after 5 attempts or so, I retrieved most of the important data but not the stupid .pst file. Every time I tried to copy that 700 mbyte file, it would freeze on my 5 seconds before completion. Damn.

When all other things fail, there is always Python. Wrote a small script to copy the file bit by bit so that I would at least get the first so many megabytes before the hard disk would fail me. Now I got everything save the last 15 Mbyte or so. Of course Outlook wouldn't read this mailbox, but there is the Inbox Repair Tool which I ran

Knoppix can read but not write NTFS partitions, so getting the data back to my portable harddrive was a bit of a challenge, but the Captive Microsoft Windows Drivers Acquire program should take care of that (it uses windows drivers from Linux).