Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vista Upgrade - Still at it

Not as smooth as it should have been!

May I complain for a moment? I'm an IT manager, an IT professional. I've been a developer, an early adopter, a geek since 1983. Granted, not all that time has involved a lot of attention to operating system upgrades and deployment. But I'm no slouch either.

So, why the heck did upgrading from Windows XP Pro to Vista Ultimate cause me so many headaches?

Two reasons are stupid mistakes.

  1. When upgrading and using the Windows Files and Setting Transfer wizard, always use the version of the operating system to which you are upgrading (I used the Windows XP Pro version instead).

  2. When doing data backups, especially for a planned upgrade, always use at least two devices (I used one and then dropped the external hard drive; it is now at a hard drive data recovery shop being evaluated).

Yes, even a genius like me can still make stupid mistakes. Just ask my euchre partner.

I should have considered the migration from one operating system to another to be a special case. Members of our Microsoft certifications study group, for instance, mentioned how most of their experiences with FAST have been from one computer to another using the same operating system. But when migrating from one operating system to another, the general rule should be to initiative the transfer using the tools from the newer operating system. My mistake was thinking that I could use the FAST tool from XP. But, again in retrospect, I should probably have used the User State Migration Tool from Windows Vista, instead of the Files and Settings Transfer wizard, even though the MCDST textbook for supporting Windows XP desktops suggests otherwise (70-271, pp.2-21, 2-22 - although the context is always Windows XP Professional only in the instructions).

I thought I had enough backups. About 3 weeks earlier, I can copied My Documents and an archive folder to one external hard drive. Then, as I prepared for a weekend's work of upgrading, I used another external drive with their backup software to take three kinds of backup - a simple file copy, a synchronized folders version, and a typical backup to disk. But as I prepared to go a study group, the external hard drive fell out of my backpack onto the steel stairs behind me. Guess what? Neither I nor two different computer consultants were able to access the drive. Now files that I have used for the past 10 years or more are sitting on a single device at a Toronto-based hard drive data recovery specialist where they are evaluating how much money and time will be involved in retrieving those files.

So you could argue that I'm the author of my own misfortune. You could, but you won't, right?

Still, with the backups that I did have, I ran into problems that required further research, quite a bit of tweaking of both the server on our domain and my notebook's operating system. The biggest problem is roaming profiles with Windows Vista.

Vista has changed - one might even say simplified - the file structure of user profiles. But in doing so, if you use roaming profiles in your domain, you will very likely encounter the dreaded "Your user profile was not loaded correctly. You have been logged on with a temporary profile." error message. When you do a search, you'll inevitably get a lot of misleading suggestions about folder permissions problems on your server or membership problems in the Guests group either on your local machine or the domain. Those discussions won't help you.

Instead, go directly to the Managing Roaming User Data Deployment Guide MS Word document for Windows Vista, download it, and read through the 39-page set of instructions (pick it up here). It took me almost an entire afternoon to implement a portion of the recommendations, but at least I now have my roaming profile working again.

It shouldn't be this hard. I am curious what might have happened had I used the Windows Vista User State Migration tool. Would I still have had the roaming profile problem? Probably, but at least I wouldn't be chewing my nails wondering whether I'll ever have my files back. They would have been transferred to some kind of profile on my upgraded Vista machine. What was a 2-day job has become a 2-week job.

Time for another coffee...wait...wait...

The estimate for the data recovery has just arrived...

Instead of coffee, I think I need a scotch...or two!!!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Technological Regression

An IT manager's life is circumscribed by technology. Most days, he or she takes up a position in the spectrum of technology far closer to the technophiles than the technophobes. Mind you, there are times when the language expressed in the confines of my office definitely turns the air blue.


Yesterday, for example, after having painstakingly created backups for all my work and personal data from my notebook computer for the refresh of my system and upgrade to Windows Vista, I dropped my external hard drive. Today it's not working. My only other backup is incomplete and dates to 20 days earlier. Aaaargh!


Sometimes, the pen and a pad of paper looks very appealing.


But that would be regressive, wouldn't it? And regression is bad, bad, bad...isn't it? Still, I find myself thinking about technological regression and how and why it occurs, because occur it does.


I've just finished reading a massive and highly entertaining novel by Stephen Baxter called Evolution: A Novel. And because I never read one book at a time, I am 3/4's of the way through Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. Neither book is about information technology in the early part of the 21st century. Instead the scope is about global history for the past 13,000 years for the latter, and the entire history of life on earth for the former. In both cases, technological regression not only happens, but is virtually inevitable.


It seems that human populations in isolation (Tasmania since about 10,000 years ago until 1642) not only often fail to develop new technology at all, but often lose what little technology they had. In fact, population densities of several hundred are almost guaranteed to sink back into a pre-technological backwater. Even several thousand is no guarantee that a social unit will grow beyond hunting and gathering.  Environmental factors play a huge role in whether or not societies advance technologically.


Both my novel and non-fiction reading recently have been characterized by themes of technology, evolution, social development, counterfactual history (a kind of what-if analysis), and broad, imaginative rethinking of our place in the universe. And I am humbled. But not just from reading.


My personal life for the past 20 months has been outlined in the shadow of medical technology - a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, followed by MRI's, CT scans, radiation treatment, surgery, post-surgical complications and hospitalization, chemotherapy, and regular follow-ups with oncologists. During that personal struggle, it has been easy to slip into a "why-me?" perspective and a narrowing of concern to the here-and-now. But when I break out of the stupor and think about the the long-term perspective and my place in it, I quickly recognize that the technology I use, the technology that is used for preserving my health, and the technology meant to improve our lives generally is a precarious thing at best. There are no guarantees. And here I'm not thinking simply about disaster recovery or contingency planning. I'm thinking about environmental or man-made catastrophes which undercut the very foundations of our science- and technology-driven society.


Any serious loss of electrical power, for example, and there goes information technology out the window. Sure battery backup will help for a few days, but then your computers, smart phones, and Pocket PCs will be useless. That same loss of power would mean that much of medical technology would be useless, that transportation and production of pharmaceuticals and many food products would cease within a matter of weeks. In fact much of what we take for granted as integral parts of civilization would disappear within as little as one orbit around the sun.


Of course, we can't live our lives in constant fear of societal and technological collapse, but even spending a few hours thinking about the possibilities can be a humbling counterpoint to the hubris we display with all our gadgets and always-on innovations. And occasionally, such reflection might even mean that we choose to forego "best of breed" and "best practices" objectives which are often the result of technological momentum only. Sometimes, with sober second thought, low tech and no tech is the way to go.