Jeff Bones emailed me - his computer won't boot up and he has valuable data on it. So I asked him to bring it round.
I used to do data recovery professionally, but I haven't done that for 25 years. Just occasionally as a favour to a friend.
He was right. The Advent laptop computer got as far as a screen from Windows telling me about a problem. That's good, it shows that the drive is at least working. The drive is a 500 gb 2 1/2 inch Sata drive, a Western Digital WD5000 BEVT. I had a look around; those are pretty much unobtainable now, but there's lots of other similar 500gb drives for sale.
So I connected up an external DVD drive (I couldn't persuade the built-in DVD drive to read my DVDs, I don't know why, and didn't investigate it because I was happy to use my own DVD drive) and booted up from Fedora Linux Live. Fedora Linux Live means that I'm running Linux, but didn't install anything on the hard disk. Because if I did install on the hard disk, that would wipe out the data I'm trying to recover.
So Linux booted up fine. I connected it to my internal network, which meant I could ssh into it and run stuff on it without having to use the inferior laptop keyboard (all laptop keyboards are inferior to my beautiful IBM Model S clicky keyboard).
I had a look around, and I was able to mount drives sda1 and sda2, and I could see all the files. So now I need to copy the files. But there's 150 gb of files. Obviously Jeff didn't want them all; a lot of them were system files, temporary files, ancient backups and so on. But Jeff needs to think a bit to decide what he wants.
I started off by copying the files across the network to my server. But that was going astoundingly slowly (I don't know why) and wasn't really going to fully solve the problem. Because I'd need 30-odd DVDs to copy that lot. Not practical.
Then I had an idea. I have a 1000 gb external drive. So I connected that, and started copying the files to it. Then I stopped, because I realised that I had a linux ext3 file system on that drive, and can Windows handle that? I don't know. But Linux can handle an NTFS file system. So I deleted the partition on my 1000 gb, and made a new partition, telling fdisk that it would be NTFS. Then I formatted it as an NTFS file system, and mounted it to the laptop.
I used rsync to copy the files from the laptop to my 1000 gb, and I was surprised how quickly that went. So now I have Jeff's 150 gb of data on this external drive. I've suggested that he bring his new laptop round, so that I could connect up the external drive and check that everything is accessible, and then he can, in his own time, rummage through the files that I've rescued, and copy them to his new computer.
Job (probably) done. I've still got it!