May 15, 2014

Coping with Destroyed Work Files

All it took was an untimely jiggle of a loose power cord—ironically and totally destructive only because I was, as a precaution, in the process of saving my just-completed dazzling article just before allowing someone to access his Facebook page on my computer.

In an instant, I learned the hard way that a power disconnect during a file save will turn a rhapsody of eureka insights, painstaking research, exquisite bon mots, flowing logical structure and the consummation of an irrecoverable creative process into a mockery comprising nothing but countless pages of indecipherable, but unmistakably clear and useless pound signs (“#”).

Technical advice and details about how to undo that specific kind of damage are available on line—but be forewarned: the prognosis, given this scenario, is not good, iffy at best.

Nonetheless, good overviews of your options are to found—some of which are examined below.

I hope that the coping moves and options—psychological or technical—I will explore here will be of real use to you, no matter what you write that is of value, importance and (at risk of being) lost to you.

Psychologically and Creatively Coping with Destroyed Work Files

So, here’s what to consider trying when it appears there is no techno-fix and you have to attempt to replace the irreplaceable, with no resources other than your brain and its associated will:

  • Linear sequential-access, chained reconstruction: This means starting at the very beginning of the document, like a rat running a maze, and hoping that each bit recalled will trigger recall of the next bit, twist and turn.

This is much like recalling a song, which always seems to be easiest when one starts at the beginning—especially when playing that song on an instrument. S

There are good psychological theoretical grounds for being hopeful with this approach, since each recollection is both a response to the previous element and a trigger for the next, in a cascade that experimental behavioral psychologists would call “operant chaining”.

Response (recall of) “A” triggers, “B”, which triggers “C”,….etc. It’s as though each recollection doubles as an element in the document (melody, numerical, etc.) sequence and as a catalyst for the next.

Definitely worth a try, this approach does carry risks, however. For example, if the triggering fails, you may unwittingly be “reciprocally inhibiting” your recall of the actual, original sequence by conditioning a dead-end link, as the mental/behaviorally conditioned sequence “‘A’ leads to ‘B'” is replaced by “‘A ‘ leads nowhere.”

In effect, the new habit-in-the-making, namely, associating “A” with nothing, may displace the desired habit of recalling “B” as a result of recalling “A”

  • Spoked hot-hub reconstruction: This involves recalling a central, if not the central idea or focus of the document and then, in either a random sequence, inserting recalled “spokes” into it, in no particular order, or, instead, inserting one “magnetized” spoke and then drawing upon the linear-sequence catalytic reconstruction approach to find connections and “attractions” among the spokes.

Such a hot-hub model allows for pure random access to the hub or a blend of random and sub-level sequential access from one spoke to another, as well as to the hub.

The challenge of this approach is to achieve the right degree of specificity for the hub: too general, e.g., “employment”, and it might as well be omitted, since, as a “magnet”, it will indiscriminately attract everything you know in general, perhaps at the expense of what you wrote in particular.

On the other hand, if too specific, e.g., “accounting department employee retention rates, 2008-2013”,  the hub will serve only as a mini-magnet attracting spokes that capture only some secondary details of your document.

  • Part-whole reconstruction: In this approach, a recalled part, like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, is focused on in hopes of triggering recall of the whole, much as having clear recall of the Mona Lisa’s smile might be thought to be a good place to start in recalling the rest of the painting, including the castle in the horizon.

Superficially similar to the reconstruction capabilities of a holographic film, this part-whole reconstruction nonetheless is, at root, not the same thing.

In discussions of the “holographic  brain” and the “holographic universe“, it is noted that in some respects the brain is like a holographic film: if a tiny portion of the film (or memory cortex) is all that is available and is utilized, it can create the entire hologram, although not as vividly—clearly a case of a different kind of part-whole reconstruction, since the holographic part contains the whole, as opposed to segueing to it.

An example: You recall that your document contained a table of data about average consumption of junk food per capita and try to use that to reconstruct your report about urban crime. That’s like the Prince reconstructing his memories of Cinderella from her slipper.

Problems with this approach include the obvious limitation that a part is just that—only a part.

On the one hand, if that part is vividly recalled because it stood out, then the rest may have only registered as background against that part as attention-grabbing foreground, which means that the rest never registered clearly enough to be recalled.

On the other hand, if the part did not stand out so vividly, its associative links with the rest may be tenuous. Presumably, the ideal part to be selected as the spark for recollection will fall somewhere between these extremes.

  • Random recollection: Analogous to psychoanalytic and literary stream of consciousness thinking, this method is perhaps the simplest to apply, since it requires no prioritization or organization of thoughts and recollections.

The first thing that pops into one’s head as recalled starts the process, which then repeats in the same random manner to fetch the next recalled element that otherwise would be lost.

Such ease of application aside, this random recall method has one serious drawback: As the antithesis of the linear sequential chained method, it directly collides with the priority on structure the chained sequence embodies, and, as a result, may very well obliterate whatever linked fragments remain in the memory of the original logical, sequential and rhetorical structure.

Hence, it would seem that the proper role for random recall of lost file content is as a tweaking of whatever is recalled by one of the other methods.

  • Opportunity in a crisis: At this point, I’ve resumed multi-tasking, i.e., writing this article and re-writing the lost one, and decided to go the cliched route of treating a crisis like an opportunity.

In this instance, it means approaching the re-write as an opportunity to write something better than the original, virtually from scratch (having found the pressure to recreate the original to be far too intense).

As of this writing, this approach is succeeding, with more than half the article having been rewritten to my satisfaction, utilizing a combination of all of the five other (re)creative techniques presented above.

Technological Fixes

Among the advice forums I found most useful was the one linked to above, at  The recommendations and warnings (for my software, OpenOffice) there comprised these seven independent fixes, none of which was available to me.

That’s because, as my Canadian go-to computer tech guy, Jason Gregory, a savvy computer technician with 17 years experience, discovered upon extraction, all the content of my article had vanished without a trace, rather than having merely been hidden.

Here’s the list:

1) Restore from backup, if one exists.

2) Install the latest version of the software that crashed (mine having been OpenOffice).

3) Insert the file. Open a blank file (in OpenOffice). Go to the “Insert -> File” menu and insert your corrupted file. (For spreadsheet, Calc or ODS documents, instead use the “Insert -> Sheet from File” menu option.)

4) Find backups. If you’ve checked the “Always create backups” in the OpenOffice settings, keeps backups of all your files at this location (Go to the site for details.)

5) Rename as a ZIP file. (Again, go to the site, for the technical details.)

6) Look in your Temp directory.

(Typing in “%TEMP%” will get you to that folder, when “TEMP” or “temp” may not.) Sort the results by the “Date Modified” column and look at the results.

Look for files and folders that were last modified on the date and time you last had a working file. Then apply the steps in option #4, above. Again, visit the site for the technical details.)

7) Text string (keyword) search: Run a search on your entire computer. Search all files, and search for a unique phrase or word you are sure is contained in your document text.

I asked  Jason to vet those suggestions and offer any of his own that could serve as  cautions or solutions. He said that the advice was sound and added these important suggestions:

—”If you want to determine if the file is salvageable, then opening it with some kind of HEX editor (a program that lets you look at the raw code the file), as I did, can tell you if there is any data to be recovered.”

—”Checking the temp files (and turning on the “show hidden files” option) should always be action number one; all the others take additional time, effort, and knowledge that might not be available. System restore is very unlikely to recover a lost or corrupt file, especially if the corrupting event happened recently.”

He also recommended using recovery programs like Recuva to restore files that have been deleted, but warned success with recovering corrupted files that way will be tricky, if at all possible, since the prime function is restoration of accidentally deleted content.

Next Step

Now, having done what I can to help you cope with or prepare for a work-file catastrophe like mine, I think I’ll get back to pounding out the rest of my replacement article…

…and put the pounding I took by all those pound symbols behind me.

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Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).