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Review – Football Betting Data

May 28, 2011 1 comment

I have a good idea what the conclusions coming out of this review will be before I even get started but I want to be fair and give the service a fair chance so I will review the figures as I would for any other system/service.

Overview
Football Betting Data (FBD) is Oxfordshire Press’ football betting service concentrating solely on the Premiership. It’s not really a tipster service as such, in fact it’s a little tricky to describe exactly what this service offers subscribers. There is a web-based database containing match stats for all Premiership teams and members are encouraged to use this database to study head-to-head match-ups in order to identify potential bets. Matt Nesbitt (the face of many of Oxon Press services) emails out on a weekly basis with his views on coming matches including a number of recommended bets with advised odds. But these are not really tips as no staking plan is advised and as far as I am aware the performance of these recommendations is not officially monitored. The cynics amongst us may have already spotted that this allows the service to crow about significant profits when they happen but sweep losses under the ‘not a tipping service’ carpet when it suits.

Many of the recommended bets are in relatively low liquidity markets. Corner handicaps, team to receive first card etc. Yes, there are some straight win bets and some under/over 2.5 goals bets where the liquidity will be much greater and prices will generally hold up on such bets but for the minor markets the price has often gone even if you’re pretty quick to get your bets on. The advice doesn’t come with a minimum price either (a significant flaw in my book) so it’s not always clear when you should chase a price down and when to just let it go. If the recommended bets are based on statistical trends then surely a minimum value price drops out naturally. I asked Oxon Press about this and got told they were not a tipping service so didn’t advise minimum odds. Convenient.

In addition to the recommended bets, if you read between the lines there are sometimes other bets that have been identified but don’t carry a full recommendation. Again, the cynics may say this is an ideal way of boasting about profits but ignoring losses and I am inclined to agree. This review focuses on the recommended bets rather than the ‘read between the lines’ advice.

Detailed Analysis
FBD has been part of my portfolio since the start of the 2008/09 season so three seasons in all. A loss has been recorded in each of those seasons so we’re not off to a very promising start. In 2008/09 I lost 8.26pts, 2009/10 was nearly breakeven with a slight loss of 0.13pts while I was down 15.42pts in the season just gone – a total loss of 23.81pts.

Those figures include a number of ante-post bets, which I will come to later, but for now I want to focus on the recommended bets on individual matches. My records show 430 such bets over that period with 215 winners for a strike rate of a nice round 50%. Those bets have contributed 17.51pts of the total loss which is equivalent to a ROI of just over -4%. Not great by any means.

I also have the figures broken down by year. In this case the 2008 figures only include the first half of one season whereas the 2011 figures include only the second half of a season with 2009 and 2010 containing the equivalent of a full season, albeit made up of two different halves. If we look first at the two complete years we see a fairly consistent level of return. 2009 saw 143 bets generate a total loss of 4.35pts for a ROI of -3.31% while the following year saw an overall loss of 6.88pts from 190 bets at a ROI of -3.88%. The losses in the part-years were greater (-6.04% ROI in 2008 and -9.43% in 2011) but the sample sizes are smaller so these differences may not be significant. There has been very little deviation in the strike rate throughout this period so on that basis one can assume the service has been consistent but at the same time a losing proposition.

The SR only tells part of the story. To get an idea of whether this service enjoys any sort of an edge one must also look at the average odds of bets struck. It transpires this is a tad less than evens at 1.98. If half of all bets placed at such odds were to win then one would suffer a slow but steady loss. The strike rate is too low for the average odds. Even more so when one considers the average winning odds which are 1.89 or slightly under 10/11. That means the SR is a few percent too low to turn any sort of profit. There is no edge, quite the reverse in fact.

With football services it is often worth analysing a monthly breakdown of profits to see how performance changes throughout the season. It is not unreasonable to expect performance to improve once there is more form in the book, so to speak. But there are also end of season issues with teams in mid-table not giving their all and so on. Therefore one could perhaps expect October to March to provide the bulk of profits. That’s not the case with the Football Betting Data figures. In fact there are no clear trends to the monthly breakdown. There is no obvious pattern to the SR or profits. August (unexpectedly), December and April are the only profitable months and all have better than average SRs but there is no obvious explanation why those months should be profitable and other months not.

As I mentioned earlier there have also been a few suggested ante-post bets. My records only really show these for the 2010/11 season so I’m not sure if they are a relatively new part of the service or whether I have missed them in previous years. The bets are all top goalscorer bets although they cover a number of different sub-categories such as club top scorer (e.g. Fernando Torres to be top Liverpool goal scorer) and top midfield scorer. I think (but can’t be sure) that these bets all came out of a single pre-season report looking specifically at Golden Boot bets. Anyway, the bets were rubbish! OK, it didn’t help that two of the club top scorer bets were players who moved clubs in the January transfer window (Torres and Darren Bent). A lot of faith was placed in Jermain Defoe (taken to be top scorer at Tottenham and also on the Premiership golden boot handicap) who simply didn’t deliver and Steven Gerrard who was injured for a lot of the season. Perhaps then a heavy slice of bad luck scuppered the bets. Perhaps, but the results tell the tale and heavy losses were incurred. My records show an outlay of 8.5pts and not a single winner. A small number of those bets were placed win only rather than recommended each-way as the advised price was long gone and as stated before the bets come with no minimum price stipulation so there were questions as to whether I should have even placed these bets at the lower price. Had I staked as advised I would actually have lost an additional half point.

Conclusions
I don’t think there is much point analysing the figures any further. The outcome of this review is fairly clear now. The recommended bets supplied as part of the weekly emails have no edge. They lose on a consistent basis albeit as a fairly slow drip and no matter whether you break the figures down by season, year or month there are no signs that a decent profit can be made. As such I don’t really see a reason to keep following the recommended bets – no point continuing to throw money away just to have an interest on a few Premiership matches.

However, I won’t be dropping the service completely. As I have membership to FBD as part of the X Circle deal from a few years back it is not costing me anything to stay signed up with FBD so I could still make use of their database and analyse head-to-head match-ups as and when I see fit (and find time) to do so. You never know, I might be able to spot a few angles that way and make back some of the losses incurred from the recommended bets over the years.

In portfolio terms I will be removing FBD from my portfolio breakdown and discontinuing it on my spreadsheet with immediate effect. If in the future I identify any suitable betting opportunities through the FBD database they will be recorded as being my own tips. That may seem slightly unfair but then I am just using FBD as I would any other data source, and not as a tipster/advisory service.

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Categories: Football, Reviews

Review – Mark Johnston

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It seems that whenever I return from holiday I approach my gambling with a renewed enthusiasm and a real sense of purpose. The other day I said I was happy with my portfolio and while that is true at a high level there are potentially a few systems and services that should be dropped. I have on my Watch List page a list of those aspects of my portfolio I wish to review so it’s about time I worked through at least some of those reviews to give my portfolio a bit more of a polish. And I’m going to start with the Mark Johnston system.

Overview
The Mark Johnston system is one I picked up from a Win2Win eBook several years ago. It concerns Mark Johnston runners (duh!) during the bulk of the flat season and focuses on the tracks where the trainer has a particularly good record. The system has a fairly low strike rate, around 15% or so, but has picked out some of my biggest winners over the years. Over the last couple of years it feels as though the system has lost some of its edge. Also my mentality may have changed slightly as I am no longer as comfortable with the long losing runs I associate with this system. Perhaps that comes with going full-time and feeling some of the pressure to deliver consistent profits where possible. Whatever the reason, I no longer feel I am getting the best from this system so it’s time to have a look at the figures in more depth.

Detailed Analysis
Ultimately the system has proved profitable for me, earning 87.25pts from 859 bets. My staking has been all over the place with this one over the years as for a long period it threw the balance of my portfolio completely out the window, returning significant profits and swelling the system bank when other systems were struggling to the extent that this system dominated my results. I reduced the stakes I used for this system a few times to build more security into my bank but also to reduce the degree to which my results were dependent on Mark Johnston. As a result my cash ROI is lower than the 10% I could have earned by placing 1pt level stakes on all bets.

If we look at how the profits have fallen over the four years I have been running this system a very interesting pattern emerges. 2007 and 2009 were hugely profitable (+50.47pts and +47.66pts) respectively with small losses shown in the even years (-7.44pts in 2008, -3.45pts in 2010). Going by that very small sample one may expect a bumper 2011.

Last year saw a massive increase in the number of bets struck, the figure almost double the 2007 number. 176 bets in 2007, 134 in 2008, 208 in 2009 but a massive 341 in 2010. Why? Has Mark Johnston expanded his operation significantly or changed his modus operandi and started throwing more runners at races? I don’t follow racing enough to know the answers to these questions. Sure, my holidays and whether or not I continued to bet while I was away could be a factor but surely not the major factor here as we’re only talking about a couple of weeks a year really. I am concerned that if this trend continues I could be set for a relatively large number of bets on this system during 2011 and I’m not sure I want to place that many bets on a system I don’t believe in 100% (which I don’t really if I am conducting this review).

The monthly split of the profits is also very interesting. The system only runs from May to November so there are only seven months of the year to consider and the first and last of those are relatively quiet. Even so, one wouldn’t really expect July and August to dominate as much as they do. Profits of 109.58pts in July and a further 42.94pts in August. October is a big losing month (-43.66pts) with the other months relatively breakeven but mostly slight losers.

The obvious conclusion to draw here is that the May to November time span is too broad and it should be limited to just July and August but is that fair? A profit of 152.52pts from just 332 bets certainly seems attractive but there is a considerable element of back-fitting there. It kinda makes sense as one could reasonably expect a big stable such as Mark Johnston’s to peak in the middle of the season and take advantage of the big prize money on offer around that time. But without a detailed database of horse racing results with which to check whether backing his runners in just those months would be profitable. I have had a quick look at the Racing Post site and their database and it is inconclusive, although the functionality is rather limited. I could get on HRB or similar and have a proper look but my instincts are telling me it’s not really worth it. It’s unfortunate but I am just not quite getting the right feeling from this system and already I am starting to doubt it’s continued inclusion in my portfolio. But let’s finish the review to be fair.

I said earlier I felt the system has lost its edge in recent years so let’s take a look at that angle. There were four winning months (May, July and August) and three losers last year. The system had a good start to the year, a dip followed by the traditionally strong summer peak and then tailed off. That may well go some way to explaining why I feel the system had lost it’s edge – it had a tough end to the year and the memory of losing has stuck in my head. In the last few months of last year the system hit several losing runs in excess of 20, including one of 28. Such runs are to be expected based on the SR but when they come towards the end of the season (the system ended the year with 20 consecutive losers) and you know there will be no more selections for six months it can be hard to take. There’s nothing to say these runs can’t happen at any time but the limited timeframe in which this system operates doesn’t help matters. It can feel like a long winter coming off the back of a long string of losers.

On the face of it last year was nothing unusual. OK, the number of bets was larger than expected but the SR was in the right ballpark, the longest losing runs were in keeping with previous years as were the average odds and various other key indicators of performance. I can’t actually find clear evidence that the system is losing/has lost its edge after all.

Conclusions
If the system doesn’t appear to have lost its edge and is performing ‘normally’ then where does that leave me? I came into this review thinking I could look for evidence of an eroded advantage and drop the system on that basis but that’s not how it has transpired. I suppose it then boils down to how this system as a whole fits into my current betting style.

Generally speaking I prefer consistent, steady profits. That’s why I am attracted to lay betting although I recognise the greater ROI associated with backing horses. Steady profits come from a steady stream of winners so we’re not talking about longshot low SR systems, and that’s what this system is really. On that basis then this system isn’t one I would naturally choose were I constructing a gambling portfolio from scratch. Then again I have spoken at length about the need for diversity, both in the sports covered as well as the types of services and systems that form one’s portfolio. I am genuinely torn over this one.

OK, here goes then. If I had access to HRB or similar I could deconstruct this system and tinker with the rules – an advantage of systems that I have spoken about before. I could look at the effect of narrowing the timeframe to just July and August. In doing so I would end up with a very limited sample each year but with a view to plucking out just the most profitable bets. But if I do that then I should also look at the course-by-course breakdown of results too to see if the results at any of the individual courses are dragging things down. In short I’d be tearing the system completely apart and almost starting from the beginning, and that’s not a route I currently want to go down. My future direction is football not horse racing, at least in terms of system development. I have my doubts over the Mark Johnston system in its current guise and because of that and the fact I don’t have the time and motivation to give it the attention it needs I am going to drop it from my portfolio with immediate effect.

A tough decision that one but the effects of the long losing runs are burned into my brain and I would rather steer my portfolio towards consistent returns at the expense of the occasional big win.

Categories: Horse Racing, Reviews

Where was I?

May 23, 2011 1 comment

A fortnight’s holiday is too much for me. That’s the main conclusion I have come to. A week isn’t long enough to really get a good feel for the place and to see everything I want to but two weeks is too much. I start to crave a return to normality and find myself sat around almost twiddling my thumbs a few times if I am away for too long. And as lovely as Crete was that was the case this time. With a few days to go had someone offered me a flight home there and then I may have taken it. But I survived the full fortnight and am now trying to get back into the swing of things – which is not as easy as I thought it would be.

What was I doing before I went on holiday? What was my routine? What was I working on? What did  I have in the pipeline? What projects did I want to make progress on? All these questions and more have come up in the last few days and I am struggling to answer them to my own satisfaction.

Shortly before I went away there was the Great PC Disaster so I was rebuilding my computer and frantically trying to rescue all my data. That’s obviously something I wouldn’t be doing normally – I certainly don’t plan on making a habit of wiping my data – so that doesn’t count as part of my routine. I need to think back further and try to recall how I structured my days. But I also need to decide whether I wish to just drop back into my old routine or whether I should make a few changes. The holiday gave me a chance to evaluate things as they stand and perhaps identify a few weak spots that I need to address. OK, I didn’t take full advantage of this opportunity as I tried to forget about gambling as much as possible and I didn’t have my laptop and associated spreadsheets with me but I still mulled a few things over and made a few tentative decisions.

I think one of the major points to come out of what I was mulling over was that I need to increase my profits. There are several ways to go about this and I need to look at them all in more detail but the bottom line is I need to make more money from gambling. At the very least I need to convince myself that the path I am going down will ultimately lead to greater profits. It sounds like an obvious point to make as surely all gamblers want to make more money but it’s perhaps not as daft as it sounds. If this is to continue to be a full-time enterprise then it needs to prove it can pull in a respectable full-time wage. If not, I need to look at ways I can reduce the effort involved to a part-time level and go back into full-time employment. That’s not a route I want to go down, for various reasons, but it has to remain an option unfortunately. The spectre of a nine-to-five lifestyle will act as a driver to ensure I look at all the ways to get the most from my gambling, that’s for sure.

Another thing I realised recently is that the football betting system research and development I have been working on has dragged on way too long without anything concrete coming out of it. That has to change. I need to make real, meaningful progress or change tack. This is nothing new as I noted this before I went away but while I was on holiday I started to think about the best way to wrap up the current development phase and approximated an order for the remaining tasks. This is in support of the primary goal stated above – to make more profit. I must have some profitable football systems ready to go for the new season in August, and they must be fully tested etc so that I can be pretty sure that profits will ensue. August sounds a long way off but there is a lot to do.

Poker – I have had a change of heart recently. I get this now and again, a nagging thought in my brain that just won’t go away until I entertain it properly. This time it concerns limit hold’em cash games. My brain keeps telling me that if I can keep my discipline and concentration at the tables then I ought to be able to churn a steady profit from limit poker. I have done it before – it’s more or less how I got started in the game. But it involves a different mindset to no-limit games and I need to be confident that I can slip back into the right frame of mind. I have had a few abortive attempts to get back into limit cash games before and found that no-limit play had ruined my limit game. I need to forget about stealing blinds and how powerful position can be in no-limit. Position is still important in limit games, don’t get me wrong, but it’s much harder to bluff-bet your way out of trouble in limit games due to pot odds so solid starting hands etc are required. And that means discipline to only play the right hands in the right position and not calling raises just because it’s only one more bet when you know you’re probably beaten. I still haven’t decided whether to go down the turbo SnG route or have a go again at limit cash games but I plan to examine the pros and cons of each soon and get back to the tables in the near future. My brain keeps telling me there are profits to be made on the poker tables and if I want to make more money then I need to take advantage of opportunities such as online poker.

I have a number of other projects I want to work on – some old, some new – but unless I can see a financial return from them in the short-term I am currently putting them on the back burner. It’s primarily about ensuring I have a solid base going forward. I was happy with my portfolio before my holiday and I have no reason to be unhappy with it on my return but that doesn’t mean I should sit back and rest on my laurels. There are profitable opportunities everywhere so I need to make sure I am exploiting the right ones.

Hiatus

May 5, 2011 1 comment

It’s time for me to take a bit of a break. I’m going on holiday and what’s more I’m not taking the laptop. The original plan involved me continuing to bet as normal so having the laptop with me as I did last time I went away but for various reasons it’s just not worked out that way. It doesn’t help that our accomodation doesn’t have wireless internet access in guest rooms. I did briefly look into mobile internet access via a dongle but all the prices I was quoted were ridiculous because the suggested solution was usually purchase a UK dongle and pay for European internet access. If I could get hold of a local dongle – buy one from Vodafone when I get there, for example – it would be much cheaper but I run the risk of carting the laptop about for nothing if I can’t get internet access at a price I am willing to pay. Plus there is the risk that the in-room safe isn’t big enough to secure the laptop when we’re out. It’s easier and safer to take a couple of weeks off so that’s what I am doing. I said a couple of weeks back I was close to burnout and needed to recharge my batteries so that’s what this break should do.

I have published my monthly results for April so that’s that loose end tied up and out the way. I think that more or less clears the decks now. I still owe you all my thoughts on leveraging but I am taking my time crafting that as I want to get it right. Some of my recent forum posts have been a bit waffly and all over the place and I want to make my leveraging posts as clear and concise as possible so it is worth taking time over.

I haven’t analysed my poker results yet either. I am going to think over the next couple of weeks about potential leaks and areas to examine when I get back so I have that to look forward to.

And there’s the spectre of that football betting system research hanging over me too I suppose. After nearly losing all that work in the Great PC Disaster I want to have a bit of a rethink. I may change the direction and focus of what I am doing as currently there aren’t enough meaningful milestones to keep me interested and reward me for making progress with some sort of tangible output. As an old boss of mine used to say, the best way to eat an elephant is one bit at a time. I feel I need to fully scope out the overall task and then see how best to sub-divide it so that I can effectively manage it as numerous little projects. Then as I tick off each task and complete each project I can see I am making meaningful progress. But that’s a job for after my holiday.

Categories: General

Sports Investment Alliance

May 4, 2011 1 comment

Almost exactly three years ago I was offered an opportunity to take out lifetime membership to several Oxfordshire Press services. They called it their X Circle as the tipster involved was a Mr X (one of many going under that name). I forget the exact details but it was something like £400 upfront plus £15 (or was it £20?) every quarter for lifetime membership of The Insider, Bet Bank Alerts, Football Betting Data and what was then The Linebacker and has since evolved into Sports Bet USA. I did my research – or at least as much as I could back then as this was before I found the likes of SBC – and asked sensible questions of those promoting the deal. I refused to be blinded by promises of stunning profits. I wanted to get behind the headline figures and get some details of the services on offer. I took my time to mull the offer over to ensure it fitted in with where I was trying to take my betting. When I was satisfied that I had all the information I needed I could make an informed decision. I signed up to the X Circle and things have gone pretty well since.

Over the last few weeks Oxfordshire Press have been heavily promoting another such offer, this time called the Sports Investment Alliance. I say they have been promoting it heavily because that’s how it seems to me. I am on several of their mailing lists as I am signed up to quite a few of their services so I saw the Sports Investment Alliance offer umpteen times in the space of just a few days when they first opened the doors in April. It’s the typical sell too – limited availability, tens of thousands of pounds profit over the past few years, make th reader believe they’d be mad to miss out on this offer, throw in a few testimonials and you’re done.

Join the Sports Investment Alliance and you’ll get lifetime membership of The Insider, Bet Bank Alerts, Sports Bet USA, Football Betting Data, Champions League Bets, Racing Angles and Rugby Betting Data plus four one-off racing reports and two special event services. All that for just (!) £997 plus £9.97 per quarter. But wait! As a member of the X Circle I am being offered a special price to upgrade to Sports Investment Alliance membership. I can upgrade for just £354 rather than £997 and my quarterly admin charge payments will be reduced to £9.97. I need to act quick as the offer closes next week so the big question is: is the deal worth it?

To answer that let’s start by looking at the value Oxfordshire Press put on all the elements of the Sports Investment Alliance.

  • Lifetime membership of The Insider (Value: £116 per year)
  • Lifetime membership of Bet Bank Alerts (Value: £240 per year)
  • Lifetime membership of Sports Bet USA (Value: £154 per year)
  • Lifetime membership of Football Betting Data (Value: £157 per year)
  • Lifetime membership of Champions League Bet (Value: £79 per year)
  • Lifetime membership of Racing Angles (Value: £97 per year)
  • Lifetime membership of Rugby Betting Data (Value: £119 per year)
  • Four one-off Racing Reports (Value: £316 per year)
  • At least two Special Event Services (Value: £97 per year)

I’m not going to witter on about whether I think those figures are accurate or not, whether I would pay that for individual services or how I think they stack up against other services. Instead I am going to focus on what extra services I am being offered for £354 on top of what I already have. That means we can forget about The Insider, Bet Bank Alerts, Sports Bet USA and Football Betting Data and concentrate on the rest. I am also signed up to Racing Angles but on a one-off special rate of £19 until the end of the year. That’s not part of my X Circle membership though. So what I am really asking is whether Champions League Bet, Racing Angles, Rugby Betting Data, the racing reports and special event services are worth £354 up front plus another forty quid a year in admin fees.

I trialled the Champions League Bet service a few seasons back and didn’t get on with it. It could be that I don’t know how to get the best out of it but I didn’t feel that it suited my style. I wasn’t confident that teams would bring their domestic form to the big European games so found myself a bit lost. The service provides various stats on the teams involved but they are based on so few games that I found it difficult to place any trust in them. I have a statistical background and get nervous putting any stock in figures based on tiny samples, which is why I often struggle to pick winners in horse races also but that’s by the by. In short then I’m not sure the Champions League Bet service is for me. I wouldn’t sign up to it by itself so having it included in the bundle isn’t a big plus really.

Note also that I am preparing to review the Football Betting Data service at the end of this season to determine whether or not it should continue in my portfolio and if I can’t get a service based around stronger form trends (the Premiership has many more games than the Champions League to base trends on) to work for me what hope do I have for the Champions League Bet service?

I imagine that the Rugby Betting Data service will also be similar in format to Football Betting Data. Maybe it’s a tad harsh to judge a new service in the light of similar services but it is also human nature. Football Betting Data isn’t really working for me so what makes me think Rugby Betting Data will? I assume the rugby bets will be based on trends that are derived from small samples in the same way as the Football Betting Data bets often are. I disagree with the fundamental bet selection method so it’s fairly clear that this is not a service I would join out of choice.

I am quite impressed with Racing Angles so far. I am only a month in to my membership with them but it has been a successful first month with 25pts profit racked up in that time. Admittedly they are small points in cash terms as I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the service but at this stage there is every chance I would sign up again next year. If I do it will be at £77 for the year as that was the future price stated in the terms and conditions when I joined for £19 on a special deal, not the £97 memntioned above.

And then we have the two unknowns: the racing reports and special event services. I have yet to find any more details on what they actually are which makes putting a value on them very tricky. You have to ask though, is each racing report really worth £79 on its own? I can’t think of any report, racing or otherwise, that I would happily lay out nearly 80 quid for. It strikes me as being one of those offer prices you see with so many eBooks and reports. You know the type – I could sell this report/system for hundreds but I want everyone to be able to benefit from it so I am selling it for £79 and the first 500 applicants can have it at a very special price of £37. I’m sure you have seen it many times before. So I’m sorry, but I just don’t place the same value on the racing reports as Oxfordshire Press do. And the special event services – well, who knows really. Maybe they are worth nearly 100 quid a year but at this stage I really couldn’t say.

So for £354 I can have a Champions League service I don’t really want, a racing service I can get for £77 a year, a rugby service whose selection methods I don’t believe in and some reports I have no idea of the value of. It doesn’t really seem worth it, does it? I reckon I got nearly all the upside of the Sports Investment Alliance for a lot less when I joined the X Circle a few years back.

Categories: General

A lesson learned the hard way

May 1, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been a bit quiet round here for the past few days but there are good reasons for it. I decided towards the start of last week that my PC really needed freshening up. It had been slowing down over the past few months but not to the point that I couldn’t use it. Until it started to freeze up on Monday or Tuesday that is. But not completely lock up on me – I still had a working internet connection as the radio was still streaming. The cursor would freeze and I would be unable to move it, change windows or anything like that. I couldn’t really tell if the fault was with the input devices or the display at first but when the freeze occurred while viewing a webpage I expect to update regularly and I didn’t see any display changes I guessed it was a display issue. But how deep did the problems run? I could reinstall the display driver but I didn’t know if that would fully solve my problems. These lock-ups were occurring at random so I figured the best thing to do was a complete PC rebuild. Back to factory defaults, reinstall all the Microsoft updates, reload all my applications and so on. A long job but hopefully worth it for a faster, working PC.

Obviously before one undertakes a task like this one takes care to back up one’s data. I have an external HDD attached to my PC for situations just as this so I set about backing up almost my entire hard drive to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I had made a list of the main files and folders I thought I needed along with a list of all the applications I needed to reinstall following the rebuild complete with the location of any data files they used. I took my time to make sure that the number of files and the folder sizes on the backup drive matched the original files on the PC. In short I took a great number of sensible precautions to ensure I didn’t put my data at risk before restoring my PC to factory defaults.

So if someone can explain to me how, during the rebuild process, I managed to wipe the backup drive I would be most grateful.

Yes, it was as bad as that sounds. The backup drive which at one stage contained a couple of hundred gig of data now held nothing. Actually that’s not entirely true. It held what appeared to be a clean Windows installation. I’m not really sure how this happened as each time I was prompted to select a partition I was very careful to select the right one. I must admit though that the rebuild was problematic as the inbuilt recovery tools wouldn’t work at first so I dug out some recovery DVDs I made when I first got the PC a few years back and I think it is their use that must have affected the backup drive as that’s the only restore attempt that didn’t prompt for a partition. I only realised the backup drive had been wiped when I needed a file off it. As I was rebuilding my PC I had borrowed the missus’ laptop so I could continue working as normal. Prior to the rebuild I had copied over a load of files to the laptop but suddenly realised I had missed something so connected the backup drive to the laptop instead of my PC. When it fired up with 5GB of data rather than 200+GB I was initially puzzled but a quick glance at the drive contents in Windows Explorer soon made me realise what must have happened.

At that point my mind suddenly raced through the data that was on that drive. I had lost years worth of work. Numerous projects of various sizes that I had worked on over the years. It’s a collection of unfinished projects admittedly, many of which I may never touch again but also a few I really should, and probably will, complete. All gone. All my emails gone. All my old betting records gone. All my poker data including that previously stored in Poker Tracker gone. On top of that there were all the photos that the missus stored on that drive along with some of her personal data. All gone. I was in trouble. Deep trouble.

As the loss of this data hits home, along with thoughts as to how I could have made such a mistake and how easily preventable it was (unplug the external backup drive before rebuilding my PC) I can feel chemical changes occurring. My stress levels were rising, which in my condition is not good at all. In case you’re not aware (and I’m not sure I have ever spelled it out) I have a rare tumour that floods my body with excess noradrenaline, one of the fight-or-flight hormones, which means my stress levels are effectively higher than normal. I am on drugs to control the effects of this tumour (and the side-effects of said drugs are not pleasant either) but if I get stressed I have a massively racing pulse, nausea and generally feel bloody awful! So I was sat at my desk with a partially rebuilt PC, an empty backup drive feeling utterly dreadful and racked with feelings of guilt and having let the missus down by losing the data.

What would you do in these circumstances? I fired off a couple of quick emails to the missus figuring that it is best that she knows as soon as possible and hope she understands it was an accident. A preventable accident but an accident all the same. Then I got on Google and started looking for data recovery services. I thought we had to have a good chance of recovering almost all of the data off the external drive as it wasn’t physically damaged and many services were claiming to be able to recover data from HDDs that had been subject to fire and flood. I scanned around a few sites but what really hit me was the cost: we’d be looking at several hundred quid to recover the data. At this stage northern pragmatism hit home. What was actually wrong with the HDD? What would a data recovery professional actually do to get data back off the hard drive? And what tools were out there that I could use myself to do a similar job.

I started to read reviews of various data recovery tools but I wasn’t up to speed with the various technical terms. I’m still not, really. It didn’t help that I really didn’t know what had actually happened to the drive. I don’t think it had been formatted, maybe re-partitioned but I wasn’t sure. If I knew what had gone on I could pick out the right tool for the job and make a start at digging myself out of the hole I was in. I found a well-regarded all-rounder that looked like it might do the job but the full scan it needed to run would take around four hours it reckoned. My plan was to clear my head that evening, start the scan the following morning and see what it turned up. I had already briefly fiddled with another tool (Pandora) that would quickly recover individual files but without file names and so on which isn’t much use. But at least that proved my data was still on the drive and there was some hope of recovering it.

The next morning I ran the scan as planned. However, it took over seven hours to complete so I was left sweating it out for longer than expected. At the end of it though it granted me access to pretty much everything I hoped would be there. I was unbelievably relieved. Unfortunately the free version of the tool I was using wouldn’t reload previous scan results so if  I shut my PC down I would have to re-scan every time I wanted to grab any data of the external drive, which is obviously not ideal. Fortunately licenses for home use were less than £40 which seemed a fairly small price to pay compared to the several hundred that professional data recovery firms were quoting me.

I have now recovered everything I think I need but ought to sleep on it a few times as well as using the rebuilt PC for a while to check what might be missing before I can be sure. And my PC seems to be running a lot better than it was, which is the whole point of the exercise after all. I have got a holiday coming up during which I can subconsciously mull over what data I might not have recovered but when I get back it will probably be time to properly format the backup drive and start to re-use it for its intended purpose but the thought that I might then permanently lose data worries me a little. I’m not one for deleting electronic data – just in case. I need to learn to be more certain that I have got what I need and dispense with the rest and this little mishap has given me the opportunity to start down that road now.

If you screw up and accidentally delete data from any hard drive I can heartily recommend Power Data Recovery. Their software saved me a lot of heartache and stress over the past few days. Oh, and if you decide to restore your PC to factory defaults make sure you disconnect all external devices.

Categories: General