My Digital Photo Catastrophe

I bought a 1 terabyte hard disk before I left DC in order to back up my entire desktop system and the most important of my files. I was going to send it to my dad, just to have an distal backup in case the container with all my goods got washed off the ship. In my overloaded and distracted state in my final days before leaving for Nigeria, I accidentally set up my backup program to write everything to my other terabyte drive, the mirrored drive that houses all of my digital photos.

The backup program erases the drive at the first backup and then installs everything on a clean disk. It should have take a minute or two to wipe the disk and when I noticed it had been initializing for a lot longer than that, the bottom of my stomach dropped out. I stopped it before everything was gone, but all of my pictures had been deleted. I thought that I was protected with the mirrored setup because even if one drive failed, the other had an exact copy, but in this case, the mirrored copy mirrored all the deletions as well. About 35,000 pictures, everything I’d shot since before the Eminent Child was born, was gone.

When files are deleted, they usually still exist but are just rendered invisible and the space they inhabit on the disk is opened up for new files to overwrite them. I got a file salvage program that took about 80 hours to scrape the disc and save every file that it could. It did an amazing job and found thousands of Nikon files, .jpeg files, video files, and more. A lot of it was corrupted and garbage, though, and none of it had any identifying data like a file name or anything. I barely had enough time to salvage everything and get it copied to a few different discs before I had to pack everything up. I knew that thousands of files had been salvaged, but I didn’t know how many would prove to be usable.

My stuff arrived in Abuja about 2 months after I did but I wasn’t able to set up my computer for another 6 weeks or so because of problems with the UPS battery backups. Without those, I couldn’t use the computer due to the intermittent power fluctuations that pervade life here. I finally got my UPS, but a friend from Poland was assigned here on temporary duty for a few weeks and then the girls were here. I have been able to finally sit down and see what’s going on.

It looks like about 1/4 of the Nikon files recovered are garbage. I loaded them all up into Aperture and thankfully the thumbnails reveal which files are good and bad. I still have 33,000 that I have to manually go through to mark the bad ones. After I sort them out, I’ll trash the bad ones and then begin actually organizing the good ones. There is about the same number of jpegs which are all the pics I took with my Fuji cameras. I can tell that many of the jpegs are duplicates of the Nikon files, so that’s a doubly daunting task. I doubt I’ll ever sort out the duplicates.

The past week I’ve been spending an hour or two a night just scrolling through the entire archive with my arrow key. It’s slow and progress is hard to measure, but I’m just about halfway through now. It is impossible to know exactly how many I lost, but there is still a lot of good stuff that was saved, thankfully. And one other positive from the ordeal is that going through and looking at each file I still has given me a huge journey down memory lane that has been a lot of fun.

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