Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lost Data

This morning I lost an electronic folder of data. That data took about a day's worth to collect, fighting all the while against hardware problems. This was followed by almost a day of fighting software glitches to analyze the data. There was a lot of moving around of files during the process of de-bugging those glitches, and somewhere along the way the entire file got moved or deleted.

I panicked a little. But, being the paranoid sort, I had a couple of temporary backups on other computers that I had not yet deleted. Whew! I restored a copy of the original files back where they belonged, with only a half hour of time lost.

Then around noon today I read on CNN how another technician had made a similar screw-up – and lost nine month's worth of data from about 800,000 files for the State of Alaska Department of Revenue:

http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/03/20/lost.data.ap/index.html

Yes, this technician, who remains unnamed, was doing some routine reformatting of government hard drives last July. Unfortunately, this person erased all the information on the drive that determined oil revenue money going to all Alaskans, one of Alaska's biggest perks to its citizens. Then the tech accidentally deleted the backup hard drive. Oops. But wait, they had a second backup! But when they went to that one, the files had somehow been corrupted and rendered unreadable! Data retrieval attempts by Microsoft and Dell failed.

Now, I would love to get a peek into this technician's brain at that point, just for the sake of morbid curiosity, as they stood there wide-eyed and mouth open staring down at the corrupted hard drive and the two erased hard drives which HAD contained data for $38 BILLION worth of revenue allotments. Yes, BILLION with a capital B! Can we say, "Oh, f*ck!" Somehow I don't think they were thinking about the next episode of "Lost!". More likely they were wondering if they would be allowed enough time to grab their office plants before they were escorted out of the building.

What followed was about four months of manic data-re-entry from the original paperwork, stored in 300 cardboard boxes. Half a dozen seasonal workers were re-hired for the purpose, and 70 employees worked weekends and overtime, at a cost of $220,000. Much to their credit, nearly all refunds went out on time. Interestingly, no one was fired over the incident, and there apparently hasn't been any public finger-pointing, but I doubt one particular technician will be getting their bonus this year.

This brings me to a somewhat related topic. Isn't it interesting that, for sheer reliability, you just can't replace paper with electronic files? I mean, in two thousand years, when the next "Dead Sea Scrolls" are pulled out of some office filing cabinet, do you think they'll be on a computer disk, or on reams of paper? I'd put my vote on paper. Hell, I can't read the disks I saved 10 years ago with my Mac Classic, and the fools up in Alaska couldn't read a backup drive that wasn't even a year old. Paper deteriorates, too, but even cheap newsprint is still around from hundreds of years ago. Even if we invent some super-hardy storage device, what are the chances the computer hardware and software will still be accessible to read it? With paper, all you need is your eyes.

Well, back to analyzing my data. Hmm. Now where did I save my restored copy, again?….

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Wow, I'm sending this post to my husband. We've been having a long standing debate about electronic books as opposed to paper books and my stance is always that paper lasts longer and there can be no screw ups once they are published. But he uses the 'if people took proper back ups there wouldn't be a problem' argument. I beg to differ and here is a case where that was true. No amount of fail safe, fall back plans can be as concrete as having a paper document saved in a fire proof area. That's my opinion.