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The Holmes Page THE SOAP BOX 1998/01/14



1998/01/14: Crash, Bang - Part 1  

We love computers, don't we...

Day 1, Christmas Eve 1997
I came home after a pleasant holiday visit and decided to quickly check my e-mail before settling down for the night. My Win95 computer seemed a bit slow, and when I stopped and listened carefully to the box I heard the rhythmic "chug chug" that could only be a faulty hard disk.

I shut down quickly to prevent any further damage. I didn't want to keep Win95 running, because I felt that all of the disk activity would mess things up more. After rebooting into DOS, I checked all of the partitions. The FAT on drive G: was bad. It's one thing to have a bad sector where a data file is located, but it is entirely another thing to have a bad sector in the FAT.

Shock. Dismay.

Day 2, Christmas Day 1997
A day of rest, but could I really relax with my computer in such a mess?

Day 3, December 26 1997
I spent the day figuring out how to solve the problem. There were some bad sectors in the FAT area of drive G:. That meant that access was slow to all files that had their allocation information in those bad sectors. I could not reformat Drive G: because DOS will not allow bad sectors in the area where the FAT resides. So the only choice was to repartition the drive so that the bad sectors fell into a data area, rather than the FAT area.

But now, where to start?

I knew that I wanted something simpler and cleaner than I had. This is what my old drive layout looked like:

 Western Digital 2.1GBFujitsu 2.1GB 
C:506MB DOS boot and utilities
D: 507MBPKZIPped backups
E:506MB Clipper development
F:506MB Win31 and Win31 apps
G:506MB Win95 and Win95 apps
H: 507MBOverflow from G: (Win95 app bloat!)
I: 1000MB+Download, temp files, and future CD-Write staging area

You can see that each partition was about 500MB (except for I:). This small partition size kept the cluster size down to 8KB.

I had so many partitions because my system had grown over the years and it always made sense to keep things organized this way. Also, in the earlier years, DOS had limits on partition sizes. With the addition of a new hard drive, the new layout would simpler:

 Western Digital 3.1GBFujitsu 2.1GBWestern Digital 2.1GB 
C:2000MB  For 'long filenames' (Win95 and programs)
D: 2000MB For 'short filenames' (DOS apps and Clipper development)
E:  2000MBAn EXACT copy of C: (a real-time, mirrored backup)
F:1000MB  A PKZIPped backup of D:

You can see that any one of the drives could fail, and I would be able to recover fairly quickly. For example, if WestDig 3.1 failed, then I could open the CPU case and move the cable to make drive E: into C:. I would also lose my backup of D:, but that would be fine until I had a chance to buy another drive.

Another example: If I lost the D: drive, then I could replace it and unzip the stuff on F:. Finally, If I lost E:, then I would have only lost my backup of C:, which would be no problem.

The new cluster size would be 32k, which bugged me, but I didn't have a choice. Also, for backing up files I couldn't use PKZIP on long filenames because the Win95 version (which supported long filenames) did not support command-line parameters! That meant that I could not schedule an automatic PKZIP session with the Windows version, so I was limited to compressing only the files on the short-name drive (D:). In any case, copying the entire drive C: directory structure uncompressed would allow for a very quick recovery time, and the file attributes would be copied too.

Once I decided on a new arrangement of drives and partitions, I had to figure out how to get from the old to the new. The key issue was the long filenames -- I needed to be running Win95 to copy those. So, I needed to run a temporary instance of Win95 in order to copy the broken Win95 to its new location on drive C:. The first thing to do was to make space for both the temporary Win95 on my current drive I:, and the future Win95 on C:.

How to make space? Maybe now was a good time to get that ZIP drive I had been thinking about...

Day 4, December 27 1997
I bought a 3.1GB hard disk. I also got a 32MB SIMM, an external 100MB ZIP drive, plus 10 ZIP disks.

Never go shopping when you are in shock.

Cost so far: ...
   ZIP drive CA$180
   10-pack of disks CA$180
   32MB SIMM CA$120
   3.1 GB CA$340

That's a kilobuck that I did not have.

I put the RAM in the machine to bring it up to 64MB, and then played Descent, supposedly to confirm that it worked... I guess I was just avoiding the task ahead.

The hard drive was still sitting on my desk.

I ended the day on an positive beat -- the ZIP drived installed easily and worked flawlessly the first time.

Day 5, December 28 1997
I could not simply put the new hard drive into the PC yet, because it would throw the drive lettering off (G will be H, H will be I...). So I needed to make space for some juggling. I spent the entire day copying lots of files to the ZIP disks. It was slow going but I freed up about 400MB.

Day 6, December 29 1997
Copied more files onto ZIP disks. I felt that if didn't get this fixed soon, I would (seriously) consider a different occupation. I had to postpone scheduled work that needed to be done over the holiday break.

Day 7, December 30 1997
Since I needed to save the data on the drive G: Win95 partition, I created a temporary copy of Win95 on drive I:. However, none of the long filenames were copied. I cursed Microsoft for many things throughout this experience, but today I cursed them for not providing long filename support in DOS 7.

At this point I had a temporary copy of Win95 on drive I: that still thought it was on drive G:, so I had to change the Registry to point to I: instead of G:. Unable and unwilling to run Win95, I used my own small utility program to "hack" the Registry, by performing a binary search and replace to alter drive G: and H: references to I:.

I found an incredible number of things that needed changing, and I later found out that I forgot to change USER.DAT, which was not stored in the main Windows directory but in a user subdirectory.

I took a break to resurrect Windows 3.1 and run Netscape 2 in order to check e-mail. 31 messages in. Sent 1 out.

At this time, I estimated that another week would be needed to finish. That guess turned out to be a good one...

Day 8, December 31 1997
I altered various values in MSDOS.SYS to point to the Win95 installation on drive I: and then ran Win95. I discovered that my Registry "hacking" didn't work. I got messages warning of a corrupt Registry, which I suppose I expected, having manually altered it.

So I had to use REGEDIT in DOS/Real mode to export the original Registry to a text file, which I then edited and imported into the temporary installation. This worked for about 60% of the values, because the DOS-based Registry editor could not handle the size of my Registry. Plus, there are several files that make up the Registry, and I missed some.

Apparently, however, I did change enough to run Win95 on drive I:. So, at last, I was able to copy Win95 from G: to C:, long filenames included.

But at this point I still had not installed my new hard drive.

Continue, for the rest of the story...

Previous: 1997/12/17 - The PDF Format
Next: 1998/01/28 - Crash, Bang - Part 2

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