How to recover files when your DELL laptop harddrive crashes

Summary: If your DELL laptop suddenly won't boot to Windows and your IT department says your files are unrecoverable - the files probably are in fact recoverable using this tool - R-Studio Emergency .

I've recently had two associates whose DELL laptop harddrives have stopped booting to Windows. In both cases the IT department said the files were unrecoverable. However I found a tool which did indeed recover all their files in both cases.

The tools is R-Studio Emergency downloadable here.

Their setup is very clever. You can download their demo-recovery-tool for free which shows you all the files the tool can recover - file names, sizes, location, etc. However you must pay ~$75 to unlock the tool which will allow you to actually get the files off the ailing hard drive.

You install their tool to a USB thumb drive and can then startup your computer from the thumb drive itself. Doing this skips the operating system (most likely M$ Windows in this case) and boots the computer directly to their tool which has an easy to navigate GUI letting you go through the directories and files easily marking the ones you want to recover.

Once you have unlocked the tool and selected the files you can copy them back to the USB key and from there onto another computer. There are various other networking options but in most cases that will probably not be the easiest route.

For the files I recovered it what I didn't realize right away was that they were encrypted - thus I had to hand the files over to the IT department for decryption rather than handing a bag of happiness directly to my associates.

time for a standing desk - maybe even a GeekDesk

So it turns out sitting all day is REALLY bad for everyone - not just bad as in you might not be able to fit into last summer's shorts but bad as in you're probably moving up your expiration date.

Or to put it more bluntly: MSNBC - You sitting down? Experts say it'll kill you

So what's the answer? It would seem to do less sitting, maybe a lot less.

It's even possible in a few years the way classrooms look could be very different:

More options:

or even DIY!

A virtuous cycle fueled by micro-bribes

We're trying an experiment of zero TV for the summer in the hopes that Aidan (our 6 year old) will get more into reading. I'm also paying him off shamelessly to the tune of $0.05 per book he reads.

It's working out much better than any plan I've hatched to date.  There were not even two minutes of combined complaining about summer tv deprivation. This after I braced for at least two weeks of protests.

I'm also incentivizing his little brother Dylan (3 years old) to coax Aidan into reading him books. I'm paying off Dylan on the side (1 cent) for every book he talks Aidan into reading. 

It's been surprisingly successful virtuous cycle fueled by micro-bribes.

Git - A quantum leap in software version control

"This is too important to miss out on. This is possibly the biggest advance in software development technology in the ten years I've been writing articles here." - Joel Spolsky

Every so often a software developer comes across a new tool that positively changes the fundamental way they work. This experience is invigorating and refreshing. For myself this seems to happen about once every two or three years it seems if I'm lucky.

Just recently this has thankfully happened in the form of ?Git. There are loads of great articles on Git - why to use it, tutorials, etc.  So instead of repeating those I'll just link to a small subset of the very best ones I would tell 'pre-Git-Brendan' to get started with.

My favorite Git articles and sites:

Why I love Git

It's soooo easy to create your repository:  git init

As an independent contractor type I'm often working with multiple clients on multiple projects. The problem for me is that I'll sometimes work for a few weeks on a particular project but then switch off it for weeks, months or even years but then need to jump back in. For some of these projects I have Subversion repository created, but honestly it's can be a pain to get one started - find an appropriate server, check in your code trying to tip toe around compiled things your shouldn't be checking in, checkout another copy, switch your new 'subversioned copy' around, etc. The worst part is though even when you go to this trouble you often find that if you leave the project and come back some months later the repository has changed locations or your credentials were removed or EVEN history was lost. This seems like it should be rare but happens all-the-time even with the best intentioned of hosts.

Not to complain about Subversion too much because until recently it was the best option. I only mention it because it's important to understand what makes git so easy.

With Git you switch to your project dir, type 'git init' - your repository is created! A couple more commands to check everything in.  $ git init
$ git add .$ git commit -m 'initial commit'It just doesn't get any easier. And since I will have everything (commits, history, etc.) local I know that no amount of other people screwing around upstream will ever cause me to lose this work.

It's super fast

Everything you do is nearly instantaneous. You can just take my word for it or do some more reading. 

It's distributed so no cloud required!

The lack of a server being available or even an Internet connection will never again prevent you from researching your code bases history or making meaningful detailed commits.

Git is extremely flexible

You can literally do just about anything imaginable with Git in terms of version control. Detailing the exotic options before you is beyond my scope or really understanding here. I just stick to my own workflows for the most part. But one quick example is that if you accidentally push or check in a plain text password file for instance (something you clearly don't want to do) you can actually erase that from the history. Powerful - yes. Dangerous - possibly, but really it's like any other tool - to be used for good or evil. And Git does try to prevent you from doing things that you probably don't want to usually be doing.

By the way trying to 'uncommit' a file with secret stuff in Subversion is a bit of a nightmare. Someone who has had to do this in Subversion might use Git for this reason alone.

Git and DVCS in general has huge momentum

DVCS is what's happening in 2010. For a lot of people it was happening earlier certainly. I'm perhaps a little late to this party even. But I think it's safe to say any developer who makes an effort to upgrade their skill sets has picked up DVCS or will be doing so very soon.

The most compelling article I've read on the momentum side is Distributed Version Control is here to stay, baby by Joel Spolsky. His article discusses the other DVCS option Mercurial but everything he says is true of both.

Why I seriously love Git

Committing with reckless abandon!

Since I usually have to do so much context switching I like to commit a lot. With Git this is so fast and easy without screwing anyone else up that I find myself doing it more....A LOT MORE.  In fact I'm starting to use the comment in Git as a way to report in detail everything I've done so I can find my way back later. With Subversion and other systems you just don't commit nearly as often and by the time you do it's pretty easy to forget a lot of the details about what you've done.

One spin on this is just how easy tagging easy as it could possibly be. With Subversion tagging is actually pretty heavy weight, slow and eats up a lot of disk space. I've never been clear on why people take that approach in Subversion but there it is.

I've already gotten loads of mileage out of doing this, not to mention it just feels good. With a DVCS you can optionally wrap up each minor feature or fix with a commit. You needn't worry about the ramifications that commit will have on the larger team. 

If you prefer to pair down the comments in your public commits this is an option - so you don't have to be concerned about the local log you're creating.

Sill have to publish your changes to Subversion or Perforce? No problem!

Git has excellent Subversion integration so it's easy to use Subversion as your public repository. Just as good is that when you clone a Subversion repository to Git you get all the history local! Additionally Git has integration with some other version control systems such as Perforce.

Suddenly all my projects are under version control

No project no matter how small ever needs to be without version control. There are projects I've been coming back to for 10 years where I haven't always adequately documented my most recent changes and the re-discovery process is needlessly time consuming. Git puts an end to this.


SmartGit is a solid, easy to us GUI which has gone a long way towards making Git accessible to me. You still need to really understand Git to use it effectively. I started out trying to use SmartGit as a crutch which was a FAIL. But once I spent enough time learning Git concepts I found SmartGit a great way to get a quick handle on a lot of basic operations. SmartGit seems to currently target and handle the commands I use 90% of the time,  but I find myself definitely needing to revert to the command line in several instances. This is actually with me because I'd still prefer to ultimately have a solid grasp of the command line too.

SmartGit is probably also a faster way to help educated teams of developers on the basic concepts.   But again without understanding the Git specific concepts like the "index" I guarantee you'll quickly get lost.

So give Git a try. Once you've gotten the hang of it you'll feel like you're finally in control of your version control system and not the other way around.

the iPad is the holy grail for tech reading

The iPad came out a couple of weeks ago. Instead of repeating how great it is along with reviewing it's current shortcomings I'm just going to talk about how it successfully fulfills exactly the use case I was hoping it might.

If you're in any kind of tech these days (software development, engineering, biotech) or any rapidly evolving field it's gotten to the point where most likely almost anything you pick up in print supposedly on the cutting edge is already quite dated by the time it makes it to print - especially true of books (unfortunately). This has been the case for about five to seven years but more relevant is the fact that this trend is only accelerating. In fact it's becoming much harder to even find a decent book dedicated to topic you'd like to kick back with in a coffee shop for a couple of hours. You can still find several at Amazon and O'Reilly, but they are drying up at your local bookstores.

The iPad finally solves this in a way no other device does.

The perfect trifecta for tech reading are the iPad apps: Read It Later , News Rack and Safari.

Read It Later is actually the best of these. As you're going about your day and see any article on the web you want to read in more depth but not while chained to your desk/chair and not while you should be working just click on the integrated "Read It Later" link or icon in your browser of choice and it's instantly added to your reading queue. When you flip on your iPad not only does your reading list instantly appear but the app will optionally download all the content for reading even if you're offline (which many iPad users will be a lot of the time). It's simple and fantastic. Truly this is reading evolved.

News Rack is an excellent RSS reader well designed for the iPad. You can swipe through a large number of articles quickly. It integrates/syncs perfectly with Google Reader. Additionally it has "Read It Later" integration allowing you to seamlessly add articles you see in RSS directly to your 'reading list' for later if you don't want to pause for a particularly long article while scanning a few dozen blogs and articles.

Safari a pretty great mobile browser reading articles. And with this too you can mark articles for your "Read It Later" list. It does have a lot of shortcomings: lack of a good book mark manager, no tabs, and I won't even mention the F____ word.

The iPad allows you to clearly separate out your 'focused reading' time from 'should be working' time. I don't think the value of this can be overstated. You can still read stuff only found on the web (which is pretty much everything when it comes to tech reading) but without getting IM'ed, Tweeted or emailed someone just tagged your prom photos, etc.

Using the iPad this way is actually making me more productive as I spend a lot less time surfing while I should be working. I still spend a bit, but for the most part I just mark with RIL the articles of interest and now I know I actually will get to them.  And that is a first.