How To: Not Panic and Recover Those Awesome Photos You Took While On Bike Tour In Mexico

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My camera caught a USB transmitted disease. Astoundingly, of all the long distance cyclotourists I met in Mexico, all but two carried a laptop. As part of my minimalist traveling style, I dismissed the computer as deadweight. Instead, I’d lose myself in the hills for a week or two. At resupply stops in town, I used cybercafes to update this blog and upload pictures. Then, somewhere between Mazatlan and La Paz, the pictures disappeared from my SD card. Crap!

The worst case scenario would have been that the files were erased or corrupted. Luckily, the photos were still visible on my camera, just not when plugged into a computer. Given these symptoms, I suspected the files were merely hidden. After ineffectively clicking the “show hidden files” button a dozen times, I put on my Keanu Reeves glasses and prepared to go behind the scenes. Into the Matrix if you may.

Your operating system typically hides actions behind buttons because using a command line can be very powerful. I’m thinking now of my computer programming professor who — oops! — erased his entire Unix box one morning before class. He was a mathematician of the chalk and blackboard old school forced to teach the class for another professor on sabbatical. As they say, he — and now I — knew just enough to be dangerous.

With that caveat, here’s what I did to get my pictures back. For those attempting this path, I’m using Windows 8 Ultimate. I suspect all this would be a non-issue on a Mac, but you just don’t find Apple computers in the developing world, nay?

Try this first:

Usually, hidden files can be revealed by telling Windows to “show thyself,” i.e.:

  • Go to the Control Panel
  • Under Folder Options and click “Show hidden files and folders”

No go. The virus had placed my files behind a higher order of digital shrubbery.

Now Keanu Reeves Style:

This is also known as, I’m not really a hacker but I played one in the movies. I Googled “Windows Command Prompt + show hidden files” got the following solution.  

  • Open Command Prompt (I found it by going to the Windows Start bar and typing Command Prompt in the search bar.)
  • Change to the directory of my SD card. In this case I typed: dir H:\ because my SD card is named H:\.
  • Type dir to show the files in that directory. See anything?
  • Type dir/ah to show the hidden files. My files showed up!
  • Type attrib -h -s -r -a H:\*.* /S /D to change the files that are hidden to visible. To understand what this command does, type help attrib. 

Now when I open the H:\ directory, all my photo files are visible again. Quick! Backup!

It turns out my backup hard-drive is also corrupted. My computer savvy brother confirms that indeed, plugging drives into Internet cafes is a great way to pick up viruses. Dangit–I suppose I’ll have to consider carrying a computer next bike trip.

4 thoughts on “How To: Not Panic and Recover Those Awesome Photos You Took While On Bike Tour In Mexico

  1. Good job working that out! If more are missing you could try something like photorec in the testdisk package (which I’ve used sucessfully) or search for a similar program. These will often find pictures after you delete them and format the card.
    How about getting a program for your tablet that copies your photos to the cloud?

    1. Tom, that’s sounds like a better “adventure -> images and content” work flow than my “walk into shady internet cafe, plug in hard-drive” strategy! I’m still a bit reluctant to carry an electronic any bigger than an iPhone. More than the weight and bulk, I’m resisting the impulse to remain plugged in while on the road, which wouldn’t certainly happen if I carried a computer. One thing to try might be to upload to the cloud from camera or iPhone, and then visit shady cycbercafes to do photo post-processing using a web-app.

      Boy, have things changed! Not so long ago, the cyclotourists’ idea of “backup” was mailing Kodachrome film back home to Mom!

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