Sunday night, as I was putting my son to bed, my hard drive died. We were listening to Dobie Gray’s classic “Drift Away” (my children are strangely familiar with classic rock) when my computer suddenly froze. When I tried to restart, instead of the happy Mac face, the screen displayed a folder with a question mark.

Not good.

The next day at work, our IT guy confirmed the problem: there had a been a hardware failure in my hard drive, and it was now toast. He could put back some of the lost data, but I was going to be on the hook for whatever software I’d put on the machine, as well as my music.

So I’ve spent a fair amount of this week reconstructing my life, and making sure that the next time this happens, I’m better prepared. Hours downloading software, trying to remember passwords to countless Web 2.0 accounts, configuring things so they look familiar. Some things weren’t hard, but I still haven’t gotten some things worked out. Didn’t Ecto have a button that showed what music you were listening? If it’s in the new version of Ecto, I can’t find it.

Reconstructing my music collection has been hardest. Part of the problem is that it’s just so big: 6000+ songs, over 30 GB of material, and of course many of the songs I listen to most are things I bought on the iTunes store. I’ve been pretty good at backing things up, but it had been a month or so since I’d last saved my purchases, so there was that gap to deal with.

The iTunes music import process is okay, but not great. Most important, when I reimported music from my backup drive, my ratings and play count were stripped out. This may sound trivial, but most of my smart playlists sort music based either on my ratings or the popularity of songs; so losing this information was a big thing.

Tonight, though, I discovered a program that seems able to restore that missing information: something called Senuti. It lets you copy music from your iPod to your computer, and it handles metadata much better than anything else I’ve tried (even Apple’s own process).

This may be the first case where losing my ability to do data-mining on myself really hurt. Normally we think of the data we’ve created, or the programs we use, as the most valuable parts of out digital archive; but for my music, having information about what and how I’ve listened really matters.