The Wrath of the Computer Gods

Posted on Nov 3rd, 2008 in Behind The Scenes by Mr. Goldbar

Alright so I mentioned a few times that I’ve had some computer woes in the last few weeks. But for superstitious reasons I didn’t want to get too deep into it until I reached some sort of closure. I think I’m at a point now where I can tell my story now. Be afraid, be very afraid.

I had a show in Rome two weeks ago. I landed in the evening, had one of the best dinners of 2008 and went back to the hotel before my gig. I had about 2 hours so I decided to go over my playlists and make a few quick edits. I plug my hard drives into my laptop and after a minute things start getting fishy. One drive suddenly unmounts, I can’t get it to show up on my computer. So I plug it into my other laptop, I run a few tests plugging different drives too… Nothing seems to make sense, some drives just won’t mount at all but it’s not the same ones every time. I start thinking “what if I can’t get my drive to work at the gig?” Suddenly the drive with my mp3’s just stops showing up for good. Fuuuuck. I don’t have any backups here. I figure out a way to access that drive by piggybacking it on my non-music laptop and I spend 90 minutes dragging mp3’s one by one to make an “emergency” folder, which I then copy onto my music laptop. The plan is to play the show without my drive, using just this folder on the desktop. It got me through the night, and might I add, the gig was a lot of fun in the end.

When I got back to Paris the next day I decided not to plug anything in right away. I wanted to give my computers some alone time. I turned everything off, let them recharge. Then I did some software updates. And finally I grabbed my hard drives, let out a little “come on guys!” and tried plugging one in. No love. In Rome I couldn’t detect a pattern in what was busted and what wasn’t but now I saw it. The firewire port on my music laptop wasn’t working anymore and my “iTunes/Serato” drive (with my mp3’s) couldn’t mount on any computer. I started thinking about that hotel room in Rome. It looked a bit ancient. Maybe there was something funky with the electricity that zapped those firewire ports when I connected them. In any case, I needed to do some Mac repairing in Paris, a city not known for its Apple service (it doesn’t have an official Apple store). I went to this one shop that Mehdi recommended. They told me that in order to fix a firewire port on a laptop you have to get the whole motherboard replaced and it would take them 10 to 15 days. No way I can do that, I have gigs every few days and tons of recording to do. Instead I bought a big backup drive but didn’t give them the computer just yet. I went back to the crib, started backing everything up and made some more calls. For a minute I was thinking of going to London to get better service there. This was just a day before my departure to NY for the Fool’s Gold CMJ show so I was on a tight schedule. I also have a spare laptop at home in New York, but that could only hold me off for a few days. After lots of strategizing, some contacts at Apple in the US put me in touch with some great people in Paris who told me I could get the repair expedited in 1 or 2 days. Whew! By that time I was getting ready to go to New York so I figured I’d do the CMJ gig on that spare laptop, then come back to Paris and get my music laptop repaired.

New York went by without a hitch. I came back to Paris a week ago and on Monday I brought my laptop to this service center that my guys at Apple already contacted to say I was coming. After just one day I got a call saying my computer was fixed and ready to be picked up. Hallelujah. A good week and a half had passed since the Rome gig and I was ready to get back to normal working conditions. I picked it up, went back to the crib, plugged in my drives…. Uh oh. I plugged my Apogee sound card and all the lights stayed blinking. Then my drives unmounted again. Now I have that spare laptop with me too so I start running even more tests, plugging drives into both laptops, piggybacking them, trying to see what’s going on. I think, this laptop has a brand new motherboard, how can the firewire port still be defective? Either it’s cursed or…. a thought crosses my mind: one of my external drives, the one I keep my production sessions on, is a bit older and dented and it was also plugged in at the hotel room in Rome. Maybe that drive’s been the problem the whole time? I’m thinking: shit, I have some new stuff on there since my last backup. Let me try and plug it in to save that data. I plug the production drive into my newly repaired computer and SMOKE COMES OUT OF IT. I kid you not. By then I was having homicidal thoughts. I looked at that drive like “you piece of shit.” I felt betrayed! As if my dog had rabies and was infecting everyone without me knowing it.

Let me recap my situation now: after a week of uncertainty I had just gotten my laptop’s motherboard replaced in a day, which is a miracle in France. I also had a brand new drive for Serato. But because of this old rabid, defective drive that fried anything you connected to it, I just zapped the firewire ports on 2 laptops — the one that just got fixed and my spare, never-been-used laptop from New York — and also killed 2 other external drives in the process, from plugging them in right after the crazy one. So the next day I went back to the shop and dropped off 2 laptops, and also bought 3 new external drives (that’s a total of 5 drives purchased in a week, if you’re counting). Luckily the laptops were repaired in a day again.

So the next day I picked them up and went home where I had nothing but new hard drives. I thought, there’s no way anything can go wrong now. But I actually had a mild scare. The only thing that I was unsure of was the status of my Apogee sound card. I usually plug my drives first and then plug the sound card to the drive since there’s only one firewire port on the laptop. So I do that and lo and behold, the drive makes a ticking noise and unmounts. That fucking sound card was still holding a charge from 2 days ago and zapped another one of my drives! At that point I had my routine down pat though. I felt like Will Smith on “I Am Legend” when he’s running his tests in the basement and making sure the infection stays contained. I had a backup of that drive so I threw it out right away and made sure the damage hadn’t gone to anything else.

Now, most of these drives are Lacie’s “rugged” model, which is easy to recognize with its orange rubber cover. I took the cover off of the diabolical messed up drive and guess what I saw? (Well, you know because you saw the picture above.) A tab that’s cracked with a note that says “Warranty void if broken”. Way to put that under the outer casing guys! Thanks a lot of the heads-up! Bunch of invalids… I wish I had seen that a few weeks earlier.

So my word of advice to you, fellow users of hard drives: if you drive has the smallest dent, throw it out. They’re cheap now, there’s no reason to keep an old drive. If your drive makes a little clicking noise when you plug the firewire cable, also throw it out. From what I saw these past 2 weeks, the power supply on firewire connections is potentially erratic. When things go wrong they can zap anything that’s connected to them.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all…..