I was a collegiate cyclist. My teammates and I did battle with road traffic every day. We came up with some rules so we could be safe:
Rule 1: Every car is trying to kill you.
Rule 2: Cars that can’t possibly kill you anymore are still trying to kill you.
The point was to always keep your head on a swivel. Be vigilant.
My computer took a crap this month. I remembered those rules and decided to update them for my computer life. This is a cautionary tale about how you can get screwed, even when you try to do the right thing.
I came up with two new rules for my computer life because of this little experience, kind of like the cycling rules:
Rule 1: Back up your stuff.
Rule 2: When you think you’ve backed up your stuff enough, back it up again.
I happily balanced checkbooks and soothed my OCD by starting my taxes on March 19th. I left for an airline trip for a couple days. When I got home on the 22nd, my wife Shelley told me, “Hey, we’ve got a permanent rainbow wheel on the computer.”
I smiled as I poured myself some medicinal Glenfiddich. I was prepared. A few years before, we narrowly escaped disaster as the desktop computer hard-drive slowly died. Since then, I’ve had a 3 TB external hard drive that backs up the computer every hour. I sipped my Scotch and laughed. So smug. I thought about the 10-year old Apple and decided to buy a new desktop. What makes the incoming karma worse is that I used to tut-tut people who lost files. “You shoulda backed ‘em up,” I’d helpfully say, kicking them while they were down.
I confidently set up the new Apple the next day and attached it to the external hard drive. “Hey would you like to migrate from your Time Machine backup?” Why yes, I would, I laughed. It looked for them. No backups.What? I sucked up some seat cushion and broke into a cold sweat. If a pasty, white, middle-aged man screams in his basement, does anybody care? Or something like that. It looked like both my desktop and my external hard-drive died simultaneously.
Hubris. I had stopped backing up phones and photos and music to the cloud years before because, hey, I had a Time Machine backup. Then I thought about those taxes I was doing. My family’s financial history on Quicken. Then the sentimental stuff. All our photos since 2003. 20 years of writing and journals. (It’s not like the suitcase of writing that Hemingway left on a train once, but it was mine.) By sheer luck, I had a year-long writing project in 2018 on Drop Box, so I wouldn’t lose some recent work, but a lot of my older writing was in jeopardy.
I also feared for my magnum opus. I have a database called Athlete’s Diary. It’s software that tracks your daily runs and skis and bikes. I have records that go back to 1982 of every single workout. Over 450 races.
We called Apple. Their service is great. No luck, though. Took the stuff to a local shop. They couldn’t break into the Time Machine hard drive. They gave it back to me. But they were able to get the desktop hard drive to limp along and spit out data…over the course of three weeks. They still weren’t finished, when Shelley had enough. I was fine waiting. She hit me with a two-by-four and we called Apple again on April 19th. (In the interim, I had to ask for an extension to file my taxes late.) Somehow, a computer genius named Mauricio helped us break into the Time Machine backup.
I sit here typing this now like nothing happened. Everything is exactly the way I left it on March 19th. The fairy tale ending.
But for a month, I was filled with dread and fear.
So, I challenge you, dear reader: What do you have that you can’t afford to lose? What would make you feel genuine loss if it disappeared from your files?
I have a fire safe for irreplaceable hard copies. Birth certificates, wills, deeds, etc. I assume you do. I was even making annual photo albums, using an Apple service that helps you make a coffee table book with your pictures. That way, I’d have memories to look at without having to log on.
But have you really thought about what’s in your electronic brain? I’m glad I had a chance to think about what would cause me physical pain if I lost it. Because we thought we did. (As you’d expect, the sentimental things, the memory things, were important. The rest would be a pain in the ass, but I’d get over it.)
I was religiously backing up my computer on an external hard drive, but it almost failed me. (One of the lessons is to listen to your wife when she says to try, try again!) We had a second wi-fi router that also has a hard drive, but I wasn’t using it as a backup. So now, we backup the computer files to BOTH external hard-drives. And I’ve turned on every kind of cloud-based backup I can find. I’m also archiving some important things to Drop Box.
I recently talked to a guy who runs his own business. Two servers and 5 external hard drives to back them up. One external hard drive died and took down the servers with it. 3 other drives didn’t work. One sole survivor backup saved all of his business records.
Back it up. Then back it up again. Otherwise you’ll look like Zoolander trying to open up your computer.