Fixing a corrupted/deleted partition table

About a month ago, while trying to upgrade to Windows 7, I managed to wipe the partition table and in trying to fix it, created a corrupted table.

(incidentally, if you can’t update Vista with the latest service pack, you won’t be able to upgrade to Windows 7, so don’t bother trying without fixing your boot configuration. Turns out my problem was having a dual-boot configuration with XP)

I had backed up my key files, but I wasn’t keen on losing my nice Vista configuration. I posted the whole sordid tale on Superuser.

Happily, I managed to figure out what had happened, what I was actually doing at a low level (sometimes I am a little too lazy and do just blindly run commands, something that Raymond Chen despises), and completely recover. I figured I’d post a link to the solution in case anyone else has their own troubles.

Completeness versus permanence

I realised something interesting tonight. For the first time, for a huge number of people, all of their personal correspondence will be neatly catalogued and saved. This is thanks to the pervasiveness of email — both people and businesses.

And unlike old boxes of letters, this correspondence is easily disseminated. Gmail has made me pretty fastiduous about keeping my inbox clear — however, with great search, most people don’t even need to organise their email. What this means is that all aspects of my life — travel bookings, concert tickets, bills, short notes, long catch ups, letters back home from holidays, photos sent, job applications, arguments with my brother, and so on — are being neatly stored and catalogued for the future. No lost filing cabinets, nothing thrown away, no mould or water damage.

It’s a stunning thought really — with Gmail specifically, people are now far more likely to have a permanent email account with enough storage to keep using indefinitely without deleting anything. Imagine how useful this information will be in hundreds of years for researching history.

But there’s the rub. I won’t cover this too much, as data ownership and safety is a much-discussed issue, but what happens when/if Google is acquired or goes out of business? What if they decide to close the account, or they have a catastrophic server failure? I have Gmail offline and Thunderbird to back up my mail (which most Gmail users won’t do), but even in this case, who knows what web browsers and mail readers will be like in the future — even if I own a local copy, will I be able to read it?

Essentially we’ve traded simplicity of archiving for the difficulty of maintaining the archive into the future. Previously you could just take a letter and throw it in an archive box and put it in an attic. You never had to touch it again and it would maintain its state. Now you need to find different ways to keep your data available and safe. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually end up with fewer sources of archived data, but they will be more complete. It’s certainly interesting wondering how this is all going to shake out…

People power versus algorithms

Very interesting article from Wired.  This is something I have struggled with personally.  Is it worth investing the time to automate a process, or is it just cheaper to outsource the smarts of up-and-coming countries?  Ultimately I’ve found that not only is it cheaper to outsource the work, but the quality of the results is much higher.  The main problems I’ve found are scalability and training.  Overcome these for your task at hand and the benefits are immense.

The vogue for human curation reflects the growing frustration Net users have with the limits of algorithms. Unhelpful detritus often clutters search results, thanks to online publishers who have learned how to game the system. Users have tired of clicking through to adware-laden splogs posing as legitimate resources. And unless you get your keywords just right, services like Google Alerts spew out either too much relevant content — or not enough.

Again, I have to say, the quality of the work just blows any automated stuff I’ve done out of the water.  However you do have to manage your sources – something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is a bit hit a miss, whereas something like Elance allows for a feedback system and a more personal relationship – just not the sheer bulk of work.

What the article doesn’t cover is the fact that most of this type of work is outsourced.  It would be very interesting to see what the demographics of the workers are like for something like Mechanical Turk.  So if this continues to grow in popularity, what are the long term effects of this going to be?  Will this help improve the skills of the contributors or just burn them out with mindless work?  I personally think the former – most of the projects I have seen are actually very interesting.  I know of people who use Mechanical Turk for fun and as a timewaster – certainly not as an income source.

This Internet thing – it ain’t gonna last.

Hilariously off-the-mark article published by Newsweek in 1995 by Clifford Stoll. Some excerpts:

After two decades online, I’m perplexed. It’s not that I haven’t had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I’ve met great people and even caught a hacker or two. But today, I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

I always love a good future prediction, especially when it comes true. The best though is when someone makes an “anti-prediction” that then comes to pass.

Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

Wait, wait, it gets better! It reminds me of someone who reviewed Wikipedia in 2001. Expecting so much from a nascent product, without any foresight to possibilities.

What the Internet hucksters won’t tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading. Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them–one’s a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn’t work and the third is an image of a London monument. None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, “Too many connectios, try again later.”

It’s at this point I’m starting to wonder if this is an elaborate hoax. The comments read like parody – the equivalent of the fake “what women were thought of in the 1950s” articles you occasionally see floating around.

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping–just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet–which there isn’t–the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

I have enjoyed a virtually salesperson-free existence since 2003 and love it. Being able to research my decision from a wide-variety of products and then choose the best deal is how things should be done.

When geeks bite back

Very interesting article on news.com about Sarah Lacy’s interview of Mark Zuckerberg, from Facebook. I’ve seen some pretty atrocious interviews, keynotes, panels and presentations in my time, but this is right up there when you think of the scope. Interviewing the world’s youngest self-made billionaire (is that title accurate?) at a conference like SXSW…well, I can’t but help think she was a little blase about it all, even by her own self admission in a post-interview discussion with Valleywag.

Edit: Found the interview in question. Suspicions confirmed! Sometimes the arrogance in the Silicon Valley can get a bit much… Haha and Mark’s rising inflection at the end of almost every sentence is kind of irritating.

Edit 2:  Jeff Jarvis has a great post going into detail what went wrong in a far more insightful manner than what I could muster.