Prevention is the Best Cure

I almost missed a deadline recently. It was a Friday afternoon when I shut down my computer. I had completed around 75% of an assignment that was due for the coming Tuesday. Although I’m not a strictly religious person, I like not to work during the Sabbath. My plan was to resume activity and finish the assignment on Sunday.

My computer is a mid-2011 iMac. It’s the best computer I’ve ever had. I only had an issue with it once before. Back then, the computer wouldn’t boot at all. Every time I turned it on, the screen was completely black. It also beeped repeatedly. If my memory serves me well, I believe it was something related to the RAM. The issue was eventually solved under the warranty. Buying AppleCare was definitely worth it.

Sunday arrived and I turned on the computer. Everything went south from then on. The progress bar at startup was taking longer than usual to load. Twenty minutes later, the bar was stuck right at the end. I began to fear the worst. Had I lost my work in progress forever? Would I have to start from scratch and rush?

At first, I panicked. But I refused to give up hope. I knew I could solve this issue on time. I tried several things:

► I shut down the computer and tried to reboot it in safe mode. To do that, you have to hold the shift key after the initial chime.
► I reset PRAM/NVRAM by holding the following keys at the same time: command+option+P+R.
► I reset SMC. I unplugged, held the power button, released and plugged back.
► I was able to boot into recovery mode (command+option+R) to open the disk utility. I checked the hard drive with the first-aid application and, fortunately, no errors were found.

But none of those steps worked. Every time I tried to boot the computer the normal way, the progress bar would always get stuck exactly at 100%. I went back to the recovery mode to reinstall the operating system. I was hoping that would solve the issue. It didn’t. I began to lose hope after spending most of that Sunday trying to fix the problem. Had I known that my attempts weren’t going to work, I’d have invested all those hours in starting the assignment from zero.

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I asked myself: why hadn’t I been storing my work in progress in the cloud? If I always do it when I work from the laptop, why wasn’t I doing it when I was working from home? I have many reasons to trust Apple, but their devices are not 100% perfect. My computer had only failed me twice in seven years, which it’s a good statistic after all.

Another question popped in my head: why hadn’t I backed up the computer in the last two months? I couldn’t accept that it was more than likely that I’d lose some of my files. No matter the outcome, I had learnt some valuable lessons. Still, I was in panic due to the real possibility of missing a deadline.

Monday arrived and I decided to contact Apple support. They guided me through the steps I had performed the day before. Eventually, I was recommended to use the most recent backup to restore my computer. I had the feeling that it was going to work, but I couldn’t help feeling reckless. I reluctantly agreed. Now I knew for sure that I’d need to back up my hard drive more often, as well as store any work in progress in the cloud.

I still had one last question: if not all of it, could I recover part of the hard drive before I replaced it with an older version of itself? Thank goodness I asked. I was told how to do it:

► Boot the computer into recovery mode (command+option+R) to open the disk utility.
► Choose File > New Image. Then you can choose the whole hard drive or part of it.
► Enter a file name for the disk image and choose where to save it. I saved it to an external unit.
► Click the Format pop-up menu, then choose an option. I chose Compressed, because it makes the image smaller than the original data.
► To encrypt the disk image, click the Encryption pop-up menu, then choose an encryption option.
► Click Save, then click Done.

TIP: since I learned that creating an image of an entire hard drive can be time-consuming, I chose to create images of just two folders that I didn’t want to lose (one at a time). This way, the process is quicker and has more chances of succeeding. In fact, creating an image of an entire hard drive may replicate the error that originally caused the computer not to boot properly.

After I finished creating the two images, I plugged the unit where I had saved them into my laptop. Luckily, the images opened correctly. I had been able to save all the data that I didn’t want to lose. My files were intact. At last, I used the most recent computer backup to restore the system. It worked. The computer looked exactly like it was two months ago.

Shortly after, everything was looking like it was right before I shut down three days earlier. I put back the files that I had saved through the image creation process. I was also able to complete the assignment and deliver it on time.

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Now, my computer is set to create automatic backups whenever I’m using it. Time Machine is so efficient that the oldest backups are deleted when the disk becomes full. I’m also saving all work in progress in the cloud. If I ever find myself in a similar situation, I’ll be able to access my assignments without having to start from scratch. I won’t risk missing the deadline either.

Remember: prevention is the best cure. It’ll save you time (and headaches).

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