A hit and a miss from The Tech Guy

Among his many endeavors, Leo Laporte hosts a radio show/podcast called The Tech Guy. By and large Leo knows his stuff and I've been impressed with his fairness. Be it the old Windows vs. Mac issue or the newer Android vs. iOS choice, he inevitably points out both the good and the bad on each side of the coin.

When I tuned in today, yesterday's show (Episode 993 from July 6, 2013) was playing on the Internet stream and a caller was crying. Most unusual for a tech show. The caller, a woman named Barbara, had lost some files on a computer that, for personal reasons, were incredibly important to her. Needless to say, there was no backup. 

She had already called on a friend for help and some of the files had been restored but, since she was crying on the radio, much was obviously still missing. The files were word processing documents created on a Windows XP system with Microsoft Works.  

What do you tell someone in that situation? 

To me, the answer is brutally obvious. That Laporte gave another answer is what prompted this blog. 

What would you suggest? 

Leo's on-air advice boiled down to take it into an expert. During the commercial break he amended that to first make a backup copy of all the .bps and .wds files.  

Maybe Barbara needs an expert in Microsoft Works. Maybe she needs file recovery software. Maybe she needs expensive data restoration experts such as DriveSavers or Kroll Ontrack. We can't know. Nonetheless, the first step is obvious. 

As doctors say, first do no harm. In computer terms this translates to: first make an image backup. Maybe even two. 

But not just any image backup, one with two very important attributes. 

First, the image backup should not be run from within the system with the problem. Instead run the backup from a bootable CD, DVD or USB flash drive. Any disk image software worth its salt can run on its own, outside the target operating system. 

Then, you need to look for an obscure option. 

Your standard garden-variety image backup only includes areas of the hard drive that contain files. Unallocated or free sections of the disk are ignored. But, when we need to recover deleted or over-written files, we are just as interested in the free space as the allocated space.

Sadly there is no standard terminology for running a complete backup of every hard drive sector. 

DriveImage XML (from Runtime Software) calls it "raw mode" (see below). 

dix.rawmode.option.jpg

ShadowProtect (from StorageCraft) calls it  "Include Free Space". 

Macrium Reflect (from Paramount Software) makes it especially hard to even find the option - it's in the "compression" section. Opt for an "exact copy of the partition(s)"  rather than the recommended "intelligent sector copy". 

HIT

Not to be too hard on Mr. Laporte, let me also point out that his dissection of the password advice offered by Faith Salie on the CBS Sunday Morning TV show (on June 30th) was spot on. And funny too (alternate link). 

Common sense should dictate not taking computer advice from an actor, comedian, interviewer and pop culture commentator. Is there a shortage of nerds at CBS? Why the producers at Sunday Morning let Ms. Salie offer computer password advice is above my grade level. Leo nailed it. 

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