The hardest thing about writing these weeknotes in the absence of what we used to call weeks is knowing where to draw a line. It’s a cliche but I genuinely sometimes need to check what day it is.
Michael Palin, in a recent, brief, video, referred to this as ‘weekend-itis’, and of course there’s the great and poetic terms like perpetual Sundays and my own coined term, the longest bank holiday weekend of our lives.
Working from home, I am still resolutely sticking to my 9-5 hours as before. This is largely because we all are – if a colleague needs me for something, it’s fair to assume I should be contactable during this time. And, actually, a handful of the things my colleagues have needed me for are because, at 8.58am, they try and connect and have some sort of issue. So I need to be around for first thing particularly.
That being said, there have been times during the work day when the phone has just rung out, or a Whatsapp message or email has gone unanswered for an hour or so. It’s fine. We are all working out this working from home thing, and it’s mostly, well, working.
Mainly, I feel it’s good to keep to a routine of being up and dressed and ‘working’ from 9am. Anything less than that would see my day quickly fall apart.
It’s hard for me to remember specifics about this particular week, but on Friday morning I woke to find my computer wouldn’t boot.
I then found that my Windows/backup recovery boot USB for such purposes wouldn’t boot.
Then, having rebuilt a new recovery environment boot USB on another machine, I discovered that the drive that holds my daily backups was failing. Readable, but not enough to restore from a backup.
I had a bad morning.
To get round this, in the end I just created a new Windows 10 installation USB, started from scratch, and this at least got me up and running and back into my work system by lunchtime.
What made my Friday afternoon a bit more stressful for work reasons was that, with Monday 6 April being the start of the 2020/2021 financial year, I had a shit-ton of stuff to do by the end of Friday in time for the end of the financial year. I could have allotted some of that stuff to do over the weekend, but I didn’t.
Anyway, I got it all done in time.
What I did spend some of the weekend doing was rebuilding my new Windows installation, and trying to recover files from my backup. The drive that houses my backups just seems basically dead. It reads, but there are clear issues with it, and I tried running a sector scan on it and I saw lots of red icons. It is, I fear, an ex-hard drive.
When I got down to it, I hadn’t lost a huge amount in those backups. The main thing I lost was the ability to simply restore my Windows setup to what it had been a day before. Most of my stuff is semi-online anyway, and my actual files and media are stored on other drives – I mainly just run Windows and applications off a 250GB SSD for speed, and don’t store much else on it. What I do store on the SSD, and until now did not back up remotely, was my Lightroom library.
Lightroom is what I use for cataloguing and editing my photographs, and the application is intelligent in that the raw image files live wherever (an external drive), and Lightroom creates a database so that when I edit those photos, it doesn’t actually change the images, it just saves the edits into its own database. So that database, although it contains no actual photos, contains all the edits I’ve made to my photos. Without the database, the images just load as they did when they were first taken.
Lightroom is also smart in that about once a week it checks the integrity of its own database, and makes a backup. Unfortunately for me, the library and its backups all live in the same folder on the SSD – the SSD which was being backed up daily, sure, but only to one drive, and that’s the drive that seems to be failing. So no Lightroom backups for me.
And the biggest problem with my backups (I had been using EaseUS Todo Backup Free)? It creates one single backup file which is effectively a virtual disk. Trying to recover one, single, 160GB-or-so file from a failing hard drive is much harder than, say, trying to recover a bunch of random, small files from a file system spread evenly across a failing disk.
So that’s been my big lesson over the weekend. I’m now trying to work out a backup solution that works going forward. Which isn’t easy as I had thought I already had a backup solution that worked. But, of course, I neglected to actually test it until it was too late. Which is basically rule number two of having backups in the first place.
What do people even do for backups? Windows 10 has some built-in stuff which surely must Just Work for most people. But I thought I was being super clever running my own backup strategy – and it’s a system I’ve had to rely on before and that worked. So I guess it’s just a shame that this time it didn’t. Do I continue with the same setup, but regularly checking the backups are working? A lot to think about.
This weekend I also picked up a new computer monitor from Argos (praise be to our local Sainsbury’s having a working Argos collection point). This replaces a 19″ Samsung TV/monitor I have been using for about eight years, and which had a maximum/native resolution of 1440×900, which was quite small, and actually caused a few headaches due to its oddness. I now have a cheap but fine 21.5″ screen with a native resolution of 1920×1080, and am enjoying having the extra screen real estate.
This also helped with putting the finishing touches to a photo book of our recent trip to Bruges. (See Lightroom woes, above.) I managed to get this assembled and submitted to Blurb and can’t wait to see it.
I make about 1-2 photo books a year and they’re always so nice to hold and as a way to relive past trips. In this current situation, these sorts of tangible records of a freer and easier time are extra special.
I have plans to make a few historic photo books too – particularly one covering our traverse of the Isle of Wight coastal path back in 2016.
And I’d like to see what Blurb’s magazine printing service is like – I have an idea of doing a selection of live music photography covering about a decade.
Aside from IT-related fun, Thursday evening was rather nice. We cooked a nice meal, sat at the dinner table, opened a bottle of red wine we’d been saving, and then watched the National Theatre’s ‘live’ YouTube performance of One Man, Two Guvnors, which we really enjoyed. We even paused the stream at 8pm to clap for our carers (something our road has done pretty well the last two occasions), and it made for a really nice evening that felt more like staying home for New Year’s Eve or something, rather than Just Another Thursday On Lockdown.
We can’t afford the time/health/expense of drinking nice booze with a good meal and a theatre performance every night, but it feels like a decent thing to do about once a week. This week we have Jane Eyre or Jesus Christ Superstar to choose from. NZ band The Beths are also doing a live show this evening which would be another good option.
It’s been interesting to me from reading other people’s blogs, tweets and weeknotes (write more weeknotes, friends!) that some people have had to make big adjustments to cooking most/all of their own meals.
This came as a surprise to me as we already do that, but I get that a lot of folks regularly just buy their lunch at work, or order in deliveries in the evenings. For us, a bought lunch is usually as a result of misjudged meal planning/timing, and a takeaway/delivery is probably a 2-3 times a month treat. Weekends we probably eat out more often, but during the week, it’s rare for us to eat a meal we haven’t prepared ourselves.
So I guess this approach to cooking, grocery shopping and meal planning has helped us transition into this new scenario with little real disruption, for which I remain very thankful on a daily basis.
I continue to try and get some decent exercise in about once every three days. I should step this up to include a home-based 7-minute workout or something every other day (ironically, much as I already was before lockdown).
This week’s run and bike rides have been enjoyable, especially thanks to the weather, but I can’t help feeling that sharing the pavements with other folks trying to get out for their daily walks/runs isn’t something that’s sustainable in a busy north London suburb. I plan to just re-assess this situation based on current trends – as well as my gut, metaphorically and literally – every day or two.