Apologies for the long gap without posts.
The explanation is that I have suffered something of an IT crisis, viz. corruption of the master file table of the hard drive on which I store most of my data (including all of the posts for this blog, whether completed or in draft). It’s the same hard drive I’ve been using since I started the blog more than five years ago, and in fact the drive itself has been in constant daily usage for nigh-on seven years. Initially it was the primary hard drive installed in my desktop PC, and latterly (following the 2012 event known as the Great Melting Of Vital Components which, unsurprisingly, killed my desktop) it’s become an external USB drive attached to my hastily bought replacement laptop. So the drive is overdue a failure, really. In fact, I should probably count myself lucky that it wasn’t an actual physical crash, and just gremlins in the master file table.
If you’re interested, the master file table is, under NTFS, the part of the hard drive that tells the computer where to find everything else that’s on the hard drive. It’s a bit like the index of a book – if the book was thousands of pages long and printed completely at random, so that the first sentence of chapter one was part way down page 7,697, the second was at the start of page 412, the third was at the bottom of page 1,583, and so on.
As you can probably imagine, abruptly losing the index to a book printed that way would be a bit of a nightmare. In real life, it’s made more nightmarish by Windows’ reaction to the error, which is to report the entire hard drive as being in the ‘raw’ state in which it left the factory – as if, to return to our book-based analogy, a librarian decided so send the sole copy of a damaged book off for pulping and recycling on the basis that, if the index has been destroyed, that must mean every other page has suddenly turned blank, too. Luckily there is more specialist software that takes a less …fundamentalist approach to the importance of the index, and is prepared (flogging this poor, overworked analogy even further into the ground) to thumb through the rest of the book and copy down all the sentences it finds there.
(A word to the wise: if this happens to you, and you google for assistance, don’t be taken in by all the search results which try to persuade you that you have to pay for this kind of software. I used Recuva (which is free for non-commercial users, although you’re invited to make a donation, and you can also pay for ‘support’ if you feel you need it). It was fine, but no doubt there are other free packages out there, too. The point is that you don’t have to pay for this, although all the top search hits will make it seem like you do.)
Anyway, data recovery software is a great thing, in that you get much – though not usually all – of your data back when otherwise you would have lost it. But it’s also a slightly annoying thing, in that you get back the data in a thoroughly disorganised fashion. Files are automatically presented in alpha-numerical order, of course, but that still allows for a lot of chaos.
You might, for example, have downloaded a lot of music, but relied on the Windows file structure to easily identify artist and album, so that a file named ’01 – Airportman’ was filed under REM\ Up, and a file named ’01 – Playground Brutality’ was filed under Kingmaker\ Sleepwalking. The data recovery software will recover the files themselves, but not the folder structure they were organised in, so you’re faced with a huge list of tracks beginning ’01’, then an equally long list beginning ’02’, and so on. This isn’t the end of the world – the info is stored in the ID3 tags embedded in the files themselves; song titles and album track listings are googleable – but it is annoying. And this annoyance is, of course, replicated across all the different classes of data – especially if you’re the kind of person who has very carefully filed away photos labelled something unrevealing like ‘DCS00027’ by occasion or location, and text documents by subject matter, and so on.
So, anyway, this may give you an insight into what I have been doing with my spare time over the past little while instead of blogging. Plus, to be honest, by the time I had relocated the post I had been working on, it no longer seemed even remotely relevant. The discovery that whatever event had corrupted the MFT had also corrupted that particular text file – weirdly, a hash symbol was inserted between every character, s#o# #e#v#e#r#y#t#h#i#n#g# #l#o#o#k#s# #l#i#k#e# #t#h#i#s# – was just the final straw.
But I haven’t, of course, been doing nothing but organising digital detritus – that would have been a little too dull, even for someone like me who actively enjoys a bit of filing. (What? You already knew I was weird.) Even if I’ve failed at my blog writing duties, I’ve been keeping up, sporadically, with my blog reading, and in the course of that I came across a post by James Ward on I Like Boring Things. ILBT is a truly fantastic, if intermittently updated, blog – the forensic analysis of the psycho-sexual and socio-economic dilemmas inherent in an offer of free mashed potato is, for example, a work of understated comic genius – but the post I want to mention here is from slightly longer ago.
In the course of this post, ‘Float’, Mr Ward identifies an ideal cash float that would leave him able to meet any expenses he might come across in the course of an average day. He gently chastises himself for not taking the time at the end of one day to prepare the float for the next. Well, this immediately grabbed my attention, as I’m sure you can appreciate, because I already do this!
I don’t worry about anything worth more than £1, but when it comes to lower value specie I make sure never to leave the flat (subject to the availability of suitable coinage in sufficient profusion) without ensuring that I have the following in my left back trouser pocket:
1 x 50p
1 x 20p
2 x 10p
1 x 5p
1 x 2p
2 x 1p
Possibly you have already understood the method in this, but if not: this is the minimum number of coins required to make up any sum between 1p and 99p. It is, if you like, the most efficient clinking-pockets-to-flexible-purchasing ratio, when it comes to sums smaller than £1.
I was driven to this by the recognition that, if I did not start to pay the exact price when buying stuff, I would eventually be forced out of my own flat by the sheer volume of low value coins that I was getting in change. I could foresee a day, not necessarily that far in the future, when opening the letter box from outside would be like winning big at one of those ‘penny falls’ machines. People would have come from far and wide to give themselves hernias carrying off pennies to the value of £3.42.
To be honest, I have achieved only limited success in my mission to halt and reverse the ever-encroaching tide of metal alloy. I have attained a state of precarious equilibrium in which the outflow of coins from my flat broadly matches the inflow to my flat, but not the excess outflow scenario which would be required to reduce the numbers already present. This is not because, I hasten to add, of any deficiency in the theory – I go out into the world forearmed with the ability to pay any sum, accurate to a penny. No, the problem is my wish not to be perceived as one of *those people*. You know, *those people* who hold up the queue riffling through their pockets for 7p when everyone can see they’ve already found a perfectly good 10p piece. Or *those people* who confuse the hell out of checkout assistants by handing over £1.23 for something that costs 73p (so that the change is a single 50p coin, rather than 27p made up by a minimum of three coins, you understand).
Sadly, in this as in so much else, I am constrained by social embarrassment. I tend only to pay the exact sum when I can predict with certainty before I get to the head of the queue what the combined cost of my purchases will be. And also, sometimes, if there is no queue and I am communing with a robot checkout, I will take the time to drop the right money into the hopper – but even this is rife with the scope for social ostracisation, since the robot will chivvy you in a loud voice if you take too long digging 34p out of your pocket. So, all in all, I struggle to make much of an inroad. Such is the nature of life.
Well, there’s that.
I’ll see myself out, shall I?