Computers: A love/hate relationship

In 1999, I was living near Canterbury when I experienced my first major computer disaster with my beloved Windows laptop. I wrote this piece which was published in, of all places, the local parish magazine. (I hadnt heard of blogging at that time!). In early 2011, whilst giving my flat in London a deep spring-clean, I came across a printout of the article and thought Id transfer it to my blog as a document of a process which I imagine is rarely, if ever carried out any more.

Format C:\. A phrase which will cause the seasoned veterans of the PC Struggle to shudder whilst most normal people will simply shrug and say, Its all Geek to me, guv. I used to be one of those lucky ones. At least until last week, that is.

As usual, I took the Fisher-Price My First Laptop into work and, as usual, plugged it in, sat down and booted up straight to the command prompt for the floppy drive A:\> winked balefully at me from the top left-hand corner of the screen. Wheres Windows 95, then?, I wondered and, with a feeling of dread, I rebooted. Same result. A:\> and nothing else. Brushing down my rusty knowledge of MS-DOS commands, I tried everything to convince the computer to find, at least the hard disc and, maybe, Windows 95.
CD C:\Windows. Nothing.
CD C:\, perhaps, please? Nope. (Breaks into cold sweat).

What to do? Id tried everything that I knew, asked everyone I could think of, tried everything and, there it was, A:\>. The consensus seemed to be, Youll have to run Format C:\, theres nothing left to try. Oh. Okay then and you say Ill need a bootable floppy? yes, of course, no problem, Ive got one right here. (Thinks: whatever a bootable floppy may be).

Much later, after a mercy dash back to the flat and a panicky rummage through several boxes of antique DS/DD discs (from the Heritage collection of disused software), magazine cover CDs, dead spiders and so on, I finally uncovered a dusty floppy marked DOS system disc. Sigh relief and brief pause to make a cup of coffee, take off coat, etc.

Right. OK. Lets do it. Stuff the aforementioned bootable floppy into the drive and reboot. By now, DOS is starting to look almost friendly now I know Im doomed! Calm down, get a grip. Following the advice Id been given to the letter, when I got to the command prompt I swapped discs in the approved manner before reluctantly entering That Command.

Suddenly I began to understand the reaction of the veterans. As I sat watching this, this, this machine, apparently creating its own existence, erasing everything and I mean everything on the hard drive, I too felt that dread.

Then, midway through this awful process, a thought occurred. How can I reinstall Windows 95 when the computer has just erased the software needed to run the CD drive?, I mused, abstractedly. Fortunately, in the same dusty box was another floppy disc, coyly labelled Companion Diskette and through the twin miracles of technology known as Edit <enter> and Readme.txt I was able to see that this, indeed, would let me access the CD. Muttering a prayer to the Patron Saint of Operating Systems (if there isnt one, there should be!), I ran the disc. With relief and tears of happiness, at last I saw D:\> winking cheerfully at me.

And from there it was pretty much all downhill, in a manner of speaking: put the Windows 95 CD into the CD drive, hit Setup and hang around for an hour or so, occasionally jabbing at Enter and OK buttons as required until, finally, the message I had been longing to see appeared. Starting Windows 95, it said. Ive since been told that my shout of joy was audible in Canterbury.

Then there was the little matter of reinstalling and reconfiguring all the software, of course, a tedious undertaking at the best of times. All in all, Id lost the best part of a working day, just to get back to where I was only 24 hours previously. And that didnt include all the fiddling about setting up the various bits of hardware and their associated drivers

And now, a week after the event? Well, mixed feelings: on the one hand, I hadnt realised how much data Id lost until I came to look for it a process still ongoing but, conversely, pleasantly surprised to see that a huge amount of space on the hard drive had been freed up. So, am I saying that almost 1 in 5 files in my pre-crash installation was, in fact, dead wood? Thats certainly how it seems, but on the other hand a lot of my confidence in The System has evaporated along with all those redundant and not so redundant files.

The only doubt remaining in my mind is working out what caused the disaster and I still have absolutely no idea: Id shut down the computer the night before as usual, booted up next morning as usual and hey presto! Ladies and gentlemen I give you Format C:\!

The moral? Always back up everything, frequently. And the other moral? Never ever, ever wipe any system discs, no matter how much youve upgraded your originally pristine vanilla installation because uou just never know when you might need them.

Yours warily, from a backed-up file (and now looking forward to the first manifestation of the so-called Millenium Bug!)