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dcr

I'm an Idiot and Lost 24 Years of Data

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This is a problem that cannot be fixed so I share this story as a lesson for others, as well as for myself in the future.

 

First, I am pretty vigilant about backups.  This wasn't always the case.  But, in recent years, I've gotten reasonably good at backing up.  I could do better but I've been fairly good about it.

 

On my main computer, I have an external hard drive set up for Time Machine.  This reminds me I should connect it because I haven't done so in a very long time.  But, I have another external hard drive set up and I run a backup pretty much daily.  It backs up the main computer plus two other external drives that are used for file storage.  (One is personal and the other is work, that's where there are two.)

 

I also have additional hard drives.  One is a duplicate (when I remember) of my personal external hard drive.  Another has copies of the most important files from that drive.  I also have a USB flash drive with copies of said important files.

 

So, backups are pretty well in place.

 

Also in recent years, I have been making disk images of all my old floppy disks, Zip disks, CDs and DVDs.  I've lost some data due to problems with Zip disks but most of the CDs and floppy disks have been okay.  I've actually had more problems with commercial CDs than my own.  Of course, I have the advantage in that, towards the end of my CD archiving days, I was burning data to two CDs instead of one.  So, if one fails, I've got the other.

 

Anyway, these disk images go on my personal hard drive which gets backed up to the aforementioned external backup drive.  Plus they are duplicated on the duplicate hard drive I mentioned.

 

Which brings us to my Newton.

 

The last time I did a back up was in 1995.  Of course, I know why I stopped backing up the Newton . . . hard drive space.  Hard drive space was at a premium back then.  My main computer was a PowerBook 180c with an external SCSI drive.  Both were eventually filled, despite archiving to floppies and Zip disks.  Why I didn't back up to a Zip disk, I don't know.  Perhaps I had a backup stored on one of the "click of death" Zip disks, but I doubt it.

 

So my Newton, the 100 model, has been living on borrowed time.  I knew I should back up, but I know why I didn't . . .

 

1) Way back when, the PowerBook 180c was my only option for backup, and its hard drive was full.

2) Later, the Zip drive became unreliable.

 

So, that's why I didn't backup way back when.  I should have in more recent years.  My more modern excuse is that the PowerBook 180c died five years ago.

 

I have carried my Newton with me almost every day for the past 25 years, probably since I got it.  There were long periods where it didn't get used, but I still had it.  Still kept replacing the batteries.

 

It developed the problem where it shuts down immediately after powering up.  There's a fix, and I have the instructions but have been lax on doing it.  I wanted to practice taking a non-functional Newton apart first before messing with the one that works.

 

I finally obtained one last year.

 

There's no shortage of projects, however.  The last major project was replacing the display on my MacBook Pro.  That was scary since that's my main machine.

 

In the last year or so, I got my Quadra 800 running with a SCSI2SD drive in it.  Why I never thought to use it to back up my Newton, I don't know.

 

Earlier this year, maybe last year, I made the fatal error.  The inside of the battery case had gotten damaged by the AAA batteries leaking.  I kept meaning to get rechargeables, but there was always something else taking priority.  So, the second time in recent years that the batteries leaked, I removed them, kept them out.  I did not want to risk ruining my Newton.

 

I would get rechargeables and then I shouldn't have to worry about leakage anymore.  I could get two sets and swap them out as needed, always keeping a set charged.

 

If I knew the Newton required live batteries to retain its memory, I had long since forgotten.  If I had remembered that, I would have kept batteries in it.  I would have checked more frequently to make sure they hadn't gone dead.

 

Instead, I removed them.

 

A couple weeks ago, I spotted a Newton keyboard on eBay for a reasonable price.  It was a keyboard that was supposed to work on the 100.  So I snapped it up.  It arrived last Monday.  I was excited to try it out.

 

I got my Newton out and plugged it in.

 

That's when I learned of the disaster.

 

The 2032 battery had gone dead.

 

All the data from the past 24 years was gone.

 

There's no way to recover it.

 

I desperately searched my archive disks, hoping I had made a backup I'd forgotten about.  No such luck.

 

There was a note on there of sentimental value that I wanted to keep.  Gone.  On the plus side, I have a copy of its contents that I typed out on my iPad four years ago, along with another note from the Newton.  I try to convince myself those were the only worthwhile things on the Newton, that if there was anything else worth saving, I would have typed them out too.

 

I hope that's true, but not knowing for sure is a real kicker.

 

The last back up?  Two days before that first note.  Yep, had I done the backup two days later, it would have been saved.  Why didn't I do a backup?

 

Yes, I still have the content, but I really wanted to have a copy as it originally was on the Newton.

 

Even if I couldn't backup to the PowerBook, I could have taken pictures.  I have photos of blank pages on the Newton.  Yes, I took pictures of freakin' blank pages but not the meaningful stuff.  Why was I so stupid?

 

There are things that I think might have been on there, but I don't know for sure.  One is particularly important--it may not even have been on there--it might be just a sense of panic making me think maybe it was on there.  I keep trying to convince myself if it had been on there, I would have typed that out on my iPad too.  I don't know.  Now I can't check.

 

It gets worse.  There's a 2MB memory card in there.  I thought it was full--it's where most of the apps were kept--but there was free space on there.  Each time I turned the Newton on, there was an option to backup to card.  If I had tapped backup button, everything would have been saved.  Why did I never tap the button?  Because I thought the card was full?  Why didn't I let curiosity get the better of me and just tap the button?  There was room.  Everything would have been saved.

 

Most of the time, especially in recent years, I used the Newton more for playing games like Tic Tac Toe than anything else, so there wasn't a lot on there.  It's just not knowing what was there that's the kicker.

 

It gets worse.

 

In looking for backups and the original install packages for apps, I discovered I had a 4MB flash card too.  Why the heck hadn't I used that?  I had the slim hope that maybe, just maybe, I had backed up to it.  I found it this morning.  Fingers crossed . . . but no.  It had two books on it.  Plenty of space.  The 2MB card had space available--I could have stored everything on it and the Newton on the 4MB card.  Plenty of room for backup or for storing new material on the card.  Why the heck did I never do that?

 

I should note here that the date of the one note I wanted to save and the date of the last backup are the same, so there is the possibility I thought that note was backed up.  But the note was written two days after the blank note page had been created, so no.  But maybe I thought it had been saved and maybe the reason I hadn't felt an urgency to do the backup is because there wasn't anything critical on there.  Maybe the two notes I re-typed on my iPad where the only ones worthwhile, the only ones I thought I would miss if something happened to the Newton.  Maybe the other things I think *might* have been on there weren't.

 

I can vaguely remember looking through stuff and maybe I didn't think it critical to save, except for what I re-typed on my iPad.

 

That's a possibility.  A lot of the stuff was old.  Maybe the stuff I copied was all I really needed, all I thought would be missed.  Maybe the stuff I worry might have been on there wasn't.

 

But now I'll never know.

 

The bottom line is that hard drive space is relatively cheap these days.  Find a way to back stuff up, even if it's not important because if you lose it, you might not remember if it was important or not and have no way to check.

 

Also, if anyone has a time machine, I'd like to borrow it.  I have a good idea of times when and where the Newton was left unattended, so I could easily slip in and backup to that 4MB card I have.

 

:(

 

Edited by dcr

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@dcr I feel your pain. I too lost data of sentimental value... namely all 2GBs worth of my youth that were stored on our Windows 98 PC.

All documents, pictures from our digital camera, wallpapers, save games, the lot. 

 

We too did backups, on 5 CDs to be exact. 4 were CD-Rs, and #5 was a CD-RW, you can guess what happened to that one... And of course, you can't recover anything if one CD is missing...

I still have the original Maxtor hard drive. It died from a really bad head crash. I kept it in case there's a chance to extract data off of it, but I very much doubt that's feasible: Data recovery services tend to be a rip off (if you're an individual that is, if you're a company that's something else entirely).

 

About your Newton, there's still a slight chance that not all of the data was erased. About 1%. Without power, the cells slowly start to lose their data. If the battery wasn't completely dead (but on its way out, which might be the case, given that it didn't warn you about the backup battery being low, did it?), then some of the data might still be left on it, albeit corrupted (and only IF you put a new battery as soon as you realized that the old one was dead, the sooner the better). You could try reading data directly from the memory chips and try to decode what's on them and what's left. It'll take you months (you'll need both a good non corrupted dump plus your current dump), but it could be possible to extract some of the data... 

 

Again, chances are really low, but I thought this might be worth mentioning. 

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1 hour ago, BadGoldEagle said:

I still have the original Maxtor hard drive. It died from a really bad head crash. I kept it in case there's a chance to extract data off of it, but I very much doubt that's feasible: Data recovery services tend to be a rip off (if you're an individual that is, if you're a company that's something else entirely).

 

I have a hard drive like that too with tons of eMails on it as well as two "click of death" Zip disks.  I've kept them all in the hopes of maybe one day getting the data off them.

 

I've used data recovery services before.  Three times, I think.  Once for work.  A second time possibly for work as well.  The third time was for a personal drive.  I didn't use one of the well-known services for that.  Instead, I used a guy I knew from a list group I was on.  He was significantly less expensive and he recovered pretty much all the data.

 

1 hour ago, BadGoldEagle said:

About your Newton, there's still a slight chance that not all of the data was erased. About 1%. Without power, the cells slowly start to lose their data. If the battery wasn't completely dead (but on its way out, which might be the case, given that it didn't warn you about the backup battery being low, did it?), then some of the data might still be left on it, albeit corrupted (and only IF you put a new battery as soon as you realized that the old one was dead, the sooner the better). You could try reading data directly from the memory chips and try to decode what's on them and what's left. It'll take you months (you'll need both a good non corrupted dump plus your current dump), but it could be possible to extract some of the data... 

 

Thanks.  How would I get such a data dump off the Newton?

 

But it's doubtful any data is left.  I've had it stored without the AAA batteries for I don't remember how long.  I don't even remember the last time I turned it on.  Maybe this year, maybe last year.  Maybe even 2017.  I don't remember.  I don't remember when I took the batteries out either.  This past year, one of my dogs got sick, had surgery and then died.  And then my father had a health scare.  So it's been a whirlwind and I cannot even remember the last time I turned the Newton on or when I took the batteries out.  It wasn't until last Monday when I plugged it in with the AC adapter that I got the warning.  I had no AAA batteries or 2032s on hand.  I tried sticking in a pair of 2016s but that didn't work.  So that data is probably long gone.  :(

 

I still kick myself for not taking advantage of the numerous options I had to back up the data.  If I had just tapped that "backup to card" button, all would have been saved.  I don't know why I never did.  I'm just an idiot.

 

I guess the only upside is that I accomplished the goal of preventing further damage from battery leakage.

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Also, forgot to add that most of the apps I have on the Newton came off of an AMUG CD.  Never saved the installers anywhere else (again due to drive space scarcity back in the day) and because they were all on CD.

 

Well, in hunting down all the packages, I find that there's one listed in the file on the CD that lists all the files, but cannot find the actual install packages anywhere on the CD.  In fact, there are two packages I cannot find.  The one package I didn't have installed and only noticed it because it was the package right before the one I was looking for.  Neither show up on the CD.  Try a Finder search and no results.  Doesn't make sense.  I had to have installed it from the CD so it must be on there.  Went through every directory.  Nothing.

 

Checked the CD with a disk utility and there's a corruption in the directory or something.  Tried to see if the data recovery software could recover it, but it doesn't work on CDs.

 

And, of course, the UNNA archives are gone.  I did find an old copy on Archive.org and the installer is there, but no descriptive text with it, so I don't know if it's the same version or not.  Oy.

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Ouch.  I feel your pain.  Substitute Newton for Visor Edge...and then for iPAQ (because apparently, losing my data once wasn't enough to teach me a lesson about backing up devices that store everything in battery backed RAM!) and I'm right there with you.  It was after the second go round with massive data loss that I started being almost ridiculously redundant with my backups.  My main machine has everything backed up on my file server, which also serves as a backup for the other machines in the house, and the file server itself is backed up on yet another file server.  Non-sensitive items (photos, music, and things of that sort) are also copied to all the other machines in the house (which are just HTPCs).  I thought about backing up the backup server and dropping that HD in a safe deposit box but as it turns out, they aren't as safe as many folks would like to believe, and doing that in addition to what I'm already doing seemed to be a bit overkill. 

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1 hour ago, EvilCapitalist said:

Ouch.  I feel your pain.  Substitute Newton for Visor Edge...and then for iPAQ (because apparently, losing my data once wasn't enough to teach me a lesson about backing up devices that store everything in battery backed RAM!) and I'm right there with you.  It was after the second go round with massive data loss that I started being almost ridiculously redundant with my backups.

Yeah, I know.  I wish I had tapped that "Backup" button.  Problem would have been solved.  Twenty-four years and never thought to give it a try.

 

The plus side is that I have a retyped copy of those two notes on my iPad.  So at least I have the contents if not the originals.  The other thing that's nagging at me is that there might have been a third file with important information that I have not found anywhere else.  There is the possibility I am only imagining it was there.  I know there was a number of things on there that were interesting in a time capsule sort of way, seeing a snapshot of my life at the time, and it's disappointing to lose that, but I kind of remember thinking it wasn't absolutely critical to save them right away, which is one of the reasons I kept pushing off trying to figure out how to do a backup in the absence of my PowerBook 180c.  And I am hoping the two files I did copy were the only important ones and that the third one wasn't actually on there.  I keep trying to convince myself I would have noted that one as well had it been on there.  So I lean towards the possibility it wasn't on there and I hope that's the case.  Still it would be nice to know for sure.  If I could find that info elsewhere, that would give me a great sense of relief.  Of course, if the info wasn't on the Newton and isn't anywhere else either, then I'll never know for sure.

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The third note, the one I feared was lost, wasn't on there to begin with!  I found an old eMail that had that particular info so that is a relief.

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When you talk about the "original" notes being on the Newton, were they stored as e-ink or just text? Seems to me like a copy of the text would be just as good as the original if it was just text. You could even recopy them to the Newton if it being on the Newton is important. But I guess I'm probably missing something.

 

In any case, the importance of backing up is hard to overemphasize. This reminds me of something that happened recently. I hadn't used a zip disk in at least 15 or 20 years, but I still kept a stack of them in a box along with my original parallel zip drive and PowerBook G3 zip drive module. My recent interest in old computers prompted me to go through them again and I discovered that one of the disks had all of my old documents from my undergrad years as well as a lot of old letters -- things that I hadn't seen in many years and had just assumed had been lost. Why I only put them on a zip disk of all things I don't know, but I managed to recover them and now they are properly backed up. I also discovered that some of my old CD and DVD-r backups are starting to fail (although they were mostly still readable).

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38 minutes ago, beachycove said:

Does this warning only apply to the MessagePad 100 or are other Newton products affected?

The MessagePad 130 and later, including the eMate 300, are safe.  They don't use the same type of volatile memory.

 

The OMP, 100 and 110 do.  Backup or keep the batteries fresh.

 

I don't remember which side the 120 falls on.

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