Cannot access drive

How I recovered from catastrophic data loss

In late 2012 and right after New Year’s Eve this year, in 2015, I experienced two data loss events, both of which happened on my Drobo storage devices. I’ll write a separate post detailing my experiences in recent years with my Drobos but for now, I wanted to let you know how I recovered my files.

First, what do I mean by “catastrophic data loss”? Simple: the loss of terabytes of my very important data: photos, videos, documents. Among other things, I am a photographer and a filmmaker. Losing my photos and my videos is a catastrophic event, as my libraries and archives include both personal and professional photos and videos. If I were to lose these things, I’d lose both treasured memories and part of my livelihood.

Here I should also point out that all of us are at risk of data loss. Most of our stuff is digital these days (or going that way). What would you do if you’d lose all your photos and videos? Think about that question and put a plan of action in place. Follow through with it and make sure you’re covered.

Now let me get the bad part out of the way: in 2012, I lost somewhere between 25,000 – 30,000 photos and I still haven’t counted how many videos, but it was a lot, probably about 20% of my video library. This is stuff I’ll never get back. It’s gone. Period. Who’s to blame? The Drobo. More on that in a later post.

Earlier this year, I could have lost an untold number of files once more but I didn’t. Why? Partially because the Drobo has improved in the way it’s handling errors but mostly because I had access to good software.

Here are the three methods of data recovery I’ll talk about below:

  • Data Rescue: it’s a piece of software that lets you mount bad drives and get your files backed up somewhere else. This let me copy all of the files it could read off the Drobo, although a lot of them ended up being corrupted, as detailed above.
  • Jeffrey Friedl’s Preview-Cache Image Extraction: this is a Lightroom plugin that allowed me to extract image previews for the lost images directly from my Lightroom catalogs. It’s a niche plugin but it’s super useful. You don’t realize just how good it is until you have to use it and then you thank the heavens that it exists.
  • Flickr and YouTube: I was able to download images and videos I’d published to Flickr and YouTube at their maximum upload resolution. They may not have been my digital negatives or my raw video files, which were lost forever, but at least I had something left. This is why I’ve started to upload to both Flickr and YouTube at the best resolution and quality possible, in case something like this happens again.

If you’re pressed for time, feel free to stop here. Make sure you use the methods outlined above and you’ll fare much better if you should lose your data, particularly if you’re working in visual media like I am. If you want the details, read on.

Data Rescue

Back in 2012, I was able to mount the corrupted Drobo volume using Data Rescue 3 and recover the bulk of my files. As mentioned above, Data Rescue was able to see all of the files, including the corrupted ones and it let me copy them off, but 25,000 – 30,000 of a total of about 130,000 photographs and I don’t know how many videos were corrupted and couldn’t be read by either Lightroom, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro or Quicktime, so they were of no use to me. They were gone. These were original RAW, DNG, TIF and JPG files from my cameras and SD and HD video files (MP4, MOV and AVI) from my video cameras. I also lost a great deal of family videos and films and cartoons I’d painstakingly digitized from VHS tapes and DVDs I’d purchased, as well as shows and films I’d recorded from TV using a DVR and then edited and stored on the Drobo. In most cases, the files just wouldn’t open up at all. In other cases, I could open them but half or more than half of the image was gone, as you see below.

This is one of my wedding photographs. Most of my wedding photographs look like this or worse…

At our weddingHere’s another. This used to be a photograph of a cliff.

Cheile Turului

I could give you many more examples but the point is, they were irreversibly damaged when the Drobo decided to go kaput.

I don’t know what I would have done without Data Rescue. Because I bought it and used it, I was able to save 70-80% of my data after my 1st catastrophic data loss event and 100% of my data during my recent data loss event.

You may say it’s not data loss and it’s not catastrophic if I was able to recover the data. To that I say that I’d have recovered 0% of my data in both cases without Data Rescue and 0% of over 8 TB of data is damned catastrophic in my book.

Jeffrey Friedl’s Preview-Cache Image Extraction

This super-useful and little-known plugin for Lightroom allows you to extract JPG files from the preview images stored in your Lightroom catalogs. That means that even if you lose the original raw files, you can still have the JPGs and that’s a huge thing.

There’s one caveat though: you need to have allowed Lightroom to keep the previews and you also need to have allowed Lightroom to store high-quality previews. I won’t get into the exact terminology here, there are plenty of tutorials on the internet that will teach you how to optimize those settings. Suffice it to say that I now have my catalogs set to create 1:1 previews and to never delete them, just in case I ever experience data loss again.

I didn’t do this in the past, which meant that I was only able to recover thumbnails or smaller JPGs for most of my corrupted photos, but this was still better than nothing. I have precious photos of my wife that are thumbnail-sized, but at least I have those, I was able to get something back from the gaping maw of data loss.

Flickr and YouTube

These two websites aren’t just for sharing photos and videos. They also let you download your originals. Well, Flickr lets you download your originals. YouTube only lets you download MP4 files of your videos but hey, it’s wonderful anyway.

By the way, the Flickr mobile app and the Google Plus mobile app (for iOS and Android) both let you automatically back up the photos taken with that phone to your respective accounts on both services. They’re set to private by default so only you see them. That’s really nice.

Flickr download options

YouTube download options

This is why I now upload all my published photos to Flickr at their highest resolution and quality and why I also upload all my published videos to YouTube at their highest resolution and quality. In case I ever experience data loss in the future, I’ll have part of my photo and video library on these sites and I’ll be able to download it. And this is also why I no longer put watermarks on my photos. It’s no good to be able to download your own original and have a watermark on it. You now either have to crop it or Photoshop it. I have no time for that sort of thing. I’d rather deal with more productive stuff.

Of course, JPGs aren’t DNGs or RAW files but if they’re the highest resolution, dpi and quality available, they’ll do just fine. And an edited 1080p MP4 file isn’t the same thing as the original Final Cut Pro event and project along with the original video and audio files that were used to create it, but if you don’t have those anymore, you’ll be very thankful to have the MP4.

Now, for some less-than-obvious stuff…

But Raoul, why don’t you back up your stuff? That would solve all your problems! 

I do back up my stuff. I’ve been using CrashPlan for years and I also use Time Machine to back up the files on my Mac (but not all my files are on my Mac, they don’t all fit on it). Unfortunately, during my first data loss event in 2012, I was re-structuring my backup sets and the Drobo couldn’t have picked a worst time to fail. If I had relied on my backups, I’d have recovered only about 25% of my data.

This year, I was doing a little better, although I was also re-structuring my backup sets. Somehow these things seem to know when to fail just to cause more headaches (my warranty had also just run out about 3-4 days before it failed). That brought to mind images of planned obsolescence…

This time I’d have recovered about 80% of my data from the backups. Not ideal but much better than before. I can go into my backup strategy at a later time, but it’s much more difficult for me to back up all my stuff than it is for you, simply because I have a ton of data and I always run into bandwidth issues. For example, one of my backup jobs has to keep up with 8.1 TB of data. The other, with 6 TB of data. And I don’t add small amounts of data to those backup sets, I add gigabytes, lots of gigabytes, whenever I have a studio shoot or take a trip, whether it be photos or videos.

But Raoul, why do you keep using the Drobo when it keeps failing? 

The basic premise of a Drobo, that of using SATA drives of different sizes, from different manufacturers in a single array that can show up as a single 16 TB volume on my Mac, and also allow for one (or two) of those drives to fail while keeping the data safe, still cannot be beaten by anything else on the market. If you know of anything else that meets those criteria, let me know. The Drobo has its drawbacks and data corruption is one of them. Drobos also brick themselves quite a lot, just search for that phrase and you’ll see what I mean. They’re not to be relied upon but they provide the basic benefit outlined above.

But Raoul, you could have used photo recovery software to get all those tens of thousands of photos back! Why didn’t you? 

Back in 2012, I knew of no such software. Now I believe there are several options available and some allow for batch processing of corrupted photos. I haven’t tried any of them yet so I can’t tell you anthing about them. I doubt that any software can do much when half of a photo’s pixels are missing. Besides, I didn’t need to use them after my latest data loss, I was able to get it all back with Data Rescue.

But Raoul, you could have sent your Drobo in to a professional data recovery service. Couldn’t they have done a much better job? 

Maybe. I did get a couple of quotes. They ran anywhere from $3,000 – over $10,000 and they couldn’t guarantee they’d get all my data back. What also made things more complicated and expensive was shipping my drives to the US, where these companies were located. I live abroad and the customs are such a headache I try to avoid dealing with them whenever I can.

YouTube Channel Trailer (Thumbnail)

The trailer for my YouTube channel

This May, YouTube introduced a new design to the channel page which is easier to customize and resizes itself automatically on screens of multiple sizes, be it desktops, notebooks, tablets or phones. We can customize the videos that appear on the channel page much better than ever before, making it easier for visitors to see a variety of videos from our channel’s library. Best of all, we can create a channel trailer that helps those who are new figure out what our channel is about. It gets shown automatically to those who aren’t yet subscribed. Those who already are see viewing suggestions instead. Here’s my channel’s trailer:

If you haven’t yet subscribed, now is a good time.


How can a normal YouTube video garner so many copyright claims?

Have a look at a screenshot from my YouTube account, listing the various copyright claims made on a single video of mine.

That’s eight copyright claims, one of which still remains to be released if the music publisher in question, Believe, will do the right thing.

How can a simple video like this, where I went to the beach and filmed various simple scenes, cause YouTube’s copyright ID engine to flag it so many times?

I’m not upset (anymore). I used to get upset. (You can read those posts here and here.) For one thing, it’s not worth getting upset about. For another, YouTube has already taken steps to remedy the process, for which I thank them. Their copyright claim process, which I wrote about almost two years ago, is much improved these days, which makes it easier to file a dispute and to explain my position.

But it is mind-boggling that a simple, average video like this could trigger so many copyright flags. As I explained in past posts, all I did here was to minimally supplement the natural sound of the surf, which got muffled by wind noise in some portions of the video, with an iLife track called “Ocean Surf”. The track is royalty-free, approved by Apple for commercial and/or personal use, and the terms are clearly spelled out in the iLife Service Level Agreement.

I think there are two lessons to be learned here:

  1. YouTube’s copyright ID engine is still trigger-happy. It should be tweaked, and I suggest that this particular video of mine be used as a case study by YouTube engineers. If someone from YouTube/Google is interested, I’m willing to do a Screen Sharing session with them and show them exactly how I edited the video and where the “Ocean Surf” sound loop was used.
  2. Perhaps all these music publishers ought to stop copyrighting beach sounds? Let’s face it, nature sounds, especially ones that are as easy to record as beach sounds, are as public domain as sounds can get. Now if it’s the sound of the rare Brazilian polka-dotted bazooka bird, or some other rara avis, then I can understand the need to copyright it, but going to the beach, turning on the recorder, then calling it a copyrighted sound, is an exaggeration. Are you listening, publishers?
Glazed cranberry cake

Ligia’s Kitchen: Glazed Cranberry Cake (LK-020)

Welcome to episode 20 of our raw food cooking show, Ligia’s Kitchen! It struck me a while back — about the time we started it, that a raw food cooking show is a contradiction in terms. After all, if it’s raw food, it isn’t cooked, but what else could we call it? A raw food uncooking show? Somehow that doesn’t have the same ring.

Ligia presents an original recipe in this episode, a Glazed Cranberry Cake, which is a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast. (You know what else would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving table? Spiced Apple Punch, naturally.)

Being raw foodists, our own feast will have no turkey or animal products, but I know we’ll be stuffed in the end just the same. And as I always like to point out to those who still eat traditional foods, you can eat raw foods till you burst and still not have the pounds to show for it, like you would after the usual holiday feasts. In my book, that’s a huge plus.

Episode LK-020-EN-HD, with Romanian subtitles
Released 11/21/2011


Ligia was chosen for YouTube’s Next Chef program!

A little while ago, we heard about a contest Google had announced, called the YouTube Next Chef Program. We immediately thought about Ligia’s cooking show, Ligia’s Kitchen, and what a great fit that would be for the contest. Ligia applied, but didn’t think she’d win, particularly because the field of applicants was global, and the program promised to be exceptionally good in terms of the training and rewards offered. I had a gut feeling about it, I knew we’d put in the hard work needed to produce a quality show and felt we had a really good chance.

The contest winners would receive a 12-week training course in improving the quality and content of their videos, in marketing and promoting their videos and shows, and would also receive a package worth about $15,000 in exposure across YouTube and in new video equipment.

Time passed quickly and last week, we found out to our amazement that she’d been chosen as one of the 16 winners! I couldn’t believe it! For her, it was nothing short of a miracle. For me it was a confirmation of our efforts.

We got in touch with the folks at YouTube to find out the details, and were advised to be ready to receive inquiries from the American media. Sure enough, on Tuesday night around 1 am our time, we were talking with a journalist from the Sun Sentinel, the biggest paper in South Florida, who then wrote about Ligia on his blog. From what we understand, Ligia will also be mentioned or featured in the printed version of the newspaper within a few days.

We couldn’t say anything until yesterday, when the official announcement was made on the YouTube blog. We can’t thank Google enough, and Ligia can’t wait for the courses to begin! I’ll join in on the courses as well and look forward to learning new things.

You can watch all the episodes of our show, Ligia’s Kitchen, here. And if you’re not yet subscribed to Ligia’s channel or her website, let me invite you now to do so.

Do not use iMovie sounds for YouTube videos

Updated 4/24/12: YouTube has greatly improved the copyright claim dispute process in recent weeks, and it seems that even copyright holders have gotten much more responsive and willing to relinquish claims falsely flagged by YouTube’s Copyright ID engine. These are all good steps in the right direction! 

Are you a YouTube Partner? Great! Then don’t use sounds or tracks from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife library in your YouTube videos, because sooner or later, they’ll be flagged, taking them out of the revenue sharing program.

I’ve touched on this topic in this post and this earlier post as well. Until now, I thought filing a copyright dispute and trying to work within that process on the issue would lead to the correct solution, which would be a rejection of the false claims, but unfortunately that’s not the way the copyright dispute process is structured.

There is no mechanism on YouTube to adequately dispute a copyright claim, because the process is heavily tilted in the favor of the supposed copyright holder. There is a first step, which allows you to raise your hand and say to the alleged copyright holder, “Wait a minute, I’m not using your music, the track I’m using here is royalty-free, here is the iLife SLA, see where it says I’m allowed to use it commercially”, which may lead to the removal of the copyright claim, or not, in which case you can re-dispute but risk jeopardizing the standing of your YouTube account, the removal of your video along with its view count and the possible loss of your Partner status. That can be a terrible situation.

That’s right, beyond that initial “raising of your hand”, there is nothing else you can do. If YouTube staff is nice, they might give you an email address for the supposed copyright holder, and in some rare cases, someone might read your email at those places, respond and actually do something meaningful about your problem, but that chance is slim. The majority of the time, you’re going to be screwed over, and some alleged copyright holder is going to profit from your work.

The really annoying part in this whole screwing-over business is there’s no middle ground. Your video’s either in the revenue sharing program or it isn’t. YouTube has chosen to ignore the whole video aspect of this altogether, meaning that when a copyright claim is filed for the music in a video, even though you have a video which is wholly yours, and only the music might belong to someone else (but it doesn’t when you use sounds from iMovie, because they’re royalty-free), they pull the video out of revenue sharing altogether, as if there’s no video, only audio. Shouldn’t they allow you to continue to make some money on that video? After all, you shot it and edited it! Your only “fault” (if we could even call it that) was using royalty-free tracks from Apple to score it. In a logical world, that’s what would happen, but we don’t live in a logical world. We live in a world where YouTube chooses to obey the demands of alleged copyright owners without standing up for its YouTube Partners. All these supposed owners have to do is to upload sound-alike tracks to their YouTube catalog and they’re set. YouTube’s Content ID engine will start identifying videos that are using similar-sounding tracks and flagging them, leading to a lot of frustration on our part. I know this sounds harsh and I love Google and YouTube, but this is so frustrating for me that I’m not sure how else to put it.

Things have gotten so bad that now the copyright trolls have started to make music that sounds like the tracks from the iLife Library, for the express purpose of cashing in on YouTube. See this thread in the YouTube forums. And for a bit of background on the issue, see this thread as well. The problem’s existed for years, not months. YouTube likely knows about it. Privately, they’re likely tweaking the copyright engine algorithm and they’re trying to address the problem, but publicly, all I’m seeing is people getting screwed over by the copyright trolls.

You can’t even rely on the initial copyright warning anymore. In the past, you’d upload a video to YouTube, and within a few minutes, you’d get a warning saying the video matches content from such and such entity. Fine. I’d pull it down and re-edit it, using other sounds, even though the sounds I’d used were also from Apple’s royalty-free library. But now, you upload the video, everything’s fine, and months down the road, after the video’s been seen by thousands of people or more, and it’s been linked to, etc., you get the dreaded copyright warning. What are you going to do then? Pull it down? As you can see from the thread I linked to in the paragraph above, the copyright trolls are going through popular YouTube videos, identifying the music used in those videos, and then profiting from this loophole. We, the YouTube Partners, who do the hard work to create the videos that make YouTube a popular website are the ones getting screwed over. When is YouTube going to stand up for us?

To be fair, I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of both Google and Apple on this matter.

What Apple should have done, years ago, was to sign up for the Content ID program and upload all of the tracks in the iMovie/iLife Library (you know, the ones they keep saying are royalty-free). Then, they should have indicated to YouTube that whenever a video uploaded to the platform matches one of the tracks in their library, YouTube should do absolutely nothing about it, because it’s perfectly okay, they’re royalty-free tracks. If they had done that, we wouldn’t be in this mess now, would we?

YouTube is to blame as well. The copyright dispute process does not work. It puts all the balance of power in the hands of those who file the copyright claim, and because no person at Google reviews our disputes, the trolls have all the say in the matter. (I understand the sheer amount of work it would take if YouTube staff would have to review every dispute filed for false claims, but at least they could do it for their YouTube Partners, there aren’t that many of us.)

Instead our copyright disputes only get seen by the staff at the various copyright holding groups, who have an interest in maintaining their claims, since there’s no recourse from Google/YouTube for wrongly identified videos, and of course, let’s not forget the copyright trolls, who hang onto every claim they make no matter what one says in a dispute.

I make that distinction above because there are some groups within the music industry who aren’t copyright trolls. For example, I’ve had copyright disputes reviewed by staff at the GoDigital Media Group and the Warner Music Group, and they’ve ultimately agreed with me and retracted their copyright claims. So there are some good guys around, there just aren’t enough of them.

So my advice to you, as stated at the start of this post, is do not use music from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife Library at all if you’re a YouTube Partner. You’re better off using music from independent artists and licensing it directly from them, or getting it from websites like MusOpen — or scoring your videos yourself, with original music.

Perhaps Apple and Google will fix this at some point. Until then, do yourself a favor and follow my advice. You’ll be able to sleep better for it.