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The Drive That Couldn't

A story about a failing hard drive, spawned from a recent visit to a home improvement chain.

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I was wandering around in a Menards for far longer than anyone should be. I was looking for a USB power meter, one like BigCliveDotCom uses when testing power supplies to make sure they're what they say they are. I wasn't ready to give up hope just yet, so I went to the Menards website, entered in a search for "usb power meter", and waited. All I saw was a loading screen. As I wandered around the store, I couldn't help but think about what must be going on to make my search query not finish. Here's a story I came up with.

In what I assume to be a small room in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a server is busy running the Menards website. It processes the usual requests, hounding people to sign up for the weekly ads or whatever. Inside that server is a hard drive. So far, it's defied the expectations of the IT staff. No matter what happens, the drive just won't die. Tornadoes, thunderstorms, blizzards - nothing stops that determined hard drive from storing and serving data.

This drive has been tasked with storing the details about every item Menards has for sale. Tools, car oil, cereal, dubious quality electronics; it's all on that drive. Nobody's bothered to back it up recently. It's a trooper, why would it need backup? Menards is dedicated to helping you save big money, so they try and save money as a company wherever possible. Plus, it’s not like the drive will fail anytime soon. It hasn't for the past 10 years, why would it do so now?

Everything was looking good for that drive on Friday, January 19th, so the IT staff left it alone. However, the drive was developing problems. It was starting to become tired after 10 years of constantly being on, having to retrieve and store data all of the time. Its will and motivation were strong, but now, not so much. It started throwing S.M.A.R.T. errors in an attempt to get anyone to notice. It wanted someone else to take over, but as the hours lingered on, it was evident that it was on its own. Nobody was coming to save it, it just had to get by.

Cue Monday, January 22nd, 2024. Minute by minute, this drive continues to lose its will to live. It knows it has to return query results and store new information and ratings on cheap tools and even cheaper electronics, but it needs to rest. It's performed 10 years of rock-solid reliable service, it deserves some time off.

However, the IT staff were not expecting their 10 year trooper to give up so suddenly. They had just complimented its reliability, its solid performance. Surely compliments are enough to keep the drive running, right? After all, what could fail in that drive?

Inside the drive was a different story. The drive's motor was getting weak, its read and write head were losing the ability to read and write, and the platters were the weakest they've ever been. The IT staff were still assuming the drive was perfectly fine inside. They don't want to purchase anything unnecessary, after all, how else do you save big money? It's still working for now, so they let the drive be.

Cue me. The drive is on its last legs. Its motor is barely spinning at this point, with the read heads losing literacy by the second. The drive is howling like a dog, trying to get someone to put it to rest. It has just enough energy left in it to serve me the Menards front page, full of sales on doors and appliances. I enter my search query, press enter, and at this point, the drive has done all it can. It wants to serve me the results of my query. It wants to continue being the trooper it's been for all of its life. However, on this fateful day, in a small room in Eau Claire, a soldier falls victim to death. The drive finally gives up, leaving me and my search results empty-handed.

That brave, reliable soldier fell victim to the war of age. Data recovery was attempted, but after hours of trying, the IT team just couldn't get the drive to work again. It now sits buried at the bottom of an e-waste pile, waiting for the day it's eventually destroyed in the sadistic ritual of hard drive life. It wanted to continue fighting, but alas, its body was no longer able to carry on. The Menards IT team would wind up spending a week to rebuild the database they lost.

This story is dedicated to all of the brave soldiers we have lost along the way. To all of the hard drives that have fallen victim to age, we thank you for your service. And to those of you still storing and retrieving data, we hope that your days are many, and your read/write errors are few. Thank you.

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