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So, I am a professional system administrator. It says it on my business cards and everything. Every couple of months, when I have to explain to the receptionist at the London office that yes, I do work here, and so yes, I should be allowed in. Yes, even though I mostly work from home. I do so by them asking what my job title is, and saying it’s System Administrator. (My email signature doesn’t say System Administrator, it says Lead DevOps Engineer (MIS), but that is a factor of the intersection between global organisation pay grades and job roles in modern tech, and it’s not the subject of this article. Except this subparagraph, obviously).

But all this should be taken with the understanding that my job is to teach servers how to teach other servers how to server, basically.

Last month, the power supply in my gaming PC, Graupel, started making a funny whirring noise. It was out of warranty, but I threw Corsair (who made it) an email asking if this was a known problem, and they sent me a new one, because they are awesome.

When the new one was installed, the CPU started reaching kettle-esque temperatures, and the CPU cooler was making noises like a distressed jet engine. I’ve never really trusted the CPU cooler – it’s an enclosed water cooling system and I fear it – so I got a decent heat sink and everything has been okay since. This week was payday, so I decided to make an upgrade.

My gaming PC has been running out of disk space on the main drive for a little while. It’s got a 256gb SSD, and you’d think that would be enough, but once you have an SSD, and you know how much faster things run if they’re on the SSD, there’s a tendency to put things on it. And while Windows is huge now, and Office is even more stupidly disk space heavy, it’s the games that take it up. (My first hard drive for the Amiga 600 was second hand from my dad’s old laptop. It was SIXTY MEGABYTES. It held DOZENS of games. I would need over EIGHT HUNDRED of those drives to hold a 50Gb World of Warcraft install).

Also, I want an SSD for a different server, so I bought a new 500Gb SSD (for around £80), plugged it in with a USB SATA enclosure, and used some cloning software to exactly clone the old 256Gb drive to the 512Gb one. Took about an hour. Turned off the machine, and went to play Spiderman on the PS4 for a bit.

Later that evening, I decided I needed to check on my Warcrack dailies, and dabble a bit in the new Bard’s Tale game, but realised I’d left this job semi-arsed. So I swapped the drives over and booted the computer back up again.

BIOS error. No bootable drives. Bugger, must have screwed up the cloning.

So I swapped the drives back again.

At which point, Reader, I discovered that I had not screwed up the cloning, for the old hard drive, being a perfect clone of the new one, failed to boot also.

Fortunately, I have a solution to this problem. I have created a Windows 10 USB Recovery Drive, which is Custom Built to Save The Day when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune reign pointedly and with carefully carved malice on my parade. I created this on a spare USB stick, and placed it in a safe location for just such an occasion as this. 

And one day, I will find it again, but that day isn’t this one.

So after mucking around on a Linux boot drive that I *could* find, I discovered that it wasn’t – as I’d automatically assumed – the MBR having gone weird (Honestly this was a surprise. It’s right up there with “Is SELinux enabled” and “Has SystemD corrupted it?” in my system debugging steps). So I downloaded a Windows 10 ISO (from Microsoft’s own site, because modern advancements are occasionally good) and burned it over the Linux boot disk in some act of GNUTreachery.

The Windows recovery system has been good to me in the past. It has detected startup failures caused by broken drivers, it has fixed the (Fucking) Master Boot Record, it has even rolled back bad updates on occasion. On this one, however, it was as much use as a chocolate heatsink. It could not fix the problem.

And so, at 10pm on an otherwise busy Thursday, I found myself reinstalling Windows. Now, I have a shaky history with the Windows setup system at the best of times, and 10pm on a Thursday isn’t one, but even I was surprised to see in the drives list not one, but two 500Mb SSDs. Identical in form and function, save one was by Seagate, and the other by Crucial. At some point when my last media centre had failed, I had transplanted the drive into my gaming PC and then… forgotten about it.


So this evening I have spent mostly setting up a clean Windows install, in order to fix a drive issue caused by an upgrade that I didn’t even nearly need to do.

How was your evening?

  1. I remember my first hard drive. It was 40Mb, and that felt flipping MASSIVE because I’d previously, like most people, been using floppy disks of no larger than 1.44Mb. My second hard drive was 105Mb and it felt like a huge step-up; I ripped my first MP3s onto that drive, and didn’t care for a moment that they each consumed 2%-3% of the available space (and took about 15 minutes each to encode).

    Nowadays I look at my general-purpose home desktop’s 12TB RAID array and I think to myself… yeah, but it’s over half full… probably time to plan for the next upgrade. What happened‽ Somewhere along the line hard drive space became like mobile phone battery level became before it: something where you start to worry if you have less than half left. I don’t know how we got here and I’m not sure I’m happy about it, but suffice to say: technology today is nuts.

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