TITLE: Shame at Causing Loved Ones Harm
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: April 06, 2010 7:36 PM
The universe tends toward maximum irony.
I have had Jamie Zawinski's
public service announcement on backups
sitting on desk since last fall. I usually keep my laptop
and my office machine pretty well in sync, so I pretty much
always have a live back-up. But some files live outside
the usual safety zone, such as a temporary audio files on
my desktop, which also contains one or two
folders of stuff.
I knew I need to be more systematic and complete in
safeguarding myself from disk failure, so printed Zawinski's
warning and resolved to Do the Right Thing.
Last week, I read John Gruber's
ode to backups and disk recovery.
This article offers a different prescription but the same
message. You must be 100% backed up, including even the
files that you are editing now in the minutes or hours
before the next backup. Drives fail. Be prepared.
Once again, I was energized to Do the Right Thing. I
got out a couple of external drives that I had picked
out for a good price recently. The plan was to
implement a stable, complete backup process this
The universe tends toward maximum irony. Don't
If the universe were punishing me for insufficient
respect for its power, you would think that the hard
drive in either my laptop or my office machine would
have failed. But both chug along just fine. Indeed,
I still have never had a hard drive fail in any of my
personal or work computers.
It turns out that the universe's sense of irony is
much bigger than my machines.
On Sunday evening, the hard drive in our family iMac
failed. I rarely use this machine and store nothing
of consequence there. Yet this is a much bigger deal.
My wife lost a cache of e-mail, an address book, and
a few files. She isn't a big techie, so she didn't
have a lot to lose there. We can reassemble the
contact information at little cost, and she'll probably
use this as a chance to make a clean break from Eudora
and POP mail and move to IMAP and mail in the cloud.
In the end, it might be a net wash.
My teenaged daughters are a different story. They are
from a new generation and live a digital life. They
have written a large number of papers, stories, and
poems, all of which were on this machine. They have
done numerous projects for schools and extracurricular
activities. They have created artwork using various
digital tools. They have taken photos. All on this
machine, and now all gone.
I cannot describe how I felt when I first realized what
had happened, or how I feel now, two days later. I am
the lead techie in our house, the computer science
professor who knows better and preaches better, the
husband and father who should be taking care of what
matters to his family. This is my fault. Not that the
hard drive failed, because drives fail. It is my fault
that we don't have a reliable, complete backup of all
the wonderful work my daughters have created.
Fortunately, not all is lost. At various times, we
have copied files to sundry external drives and servers
for a variety of reasons. I sometimes copy poetry and
stories and papers that I especially like onto my own
machines, for easy access. The result is a scattering
of files here and there, across a half dozen machines.
I will spend the next few days reassembling what we
have as best I can. But it will not be all, and it
will not be enough.
The universe maximized its irony this time around by
getting me twice. First, I was gonna do it, but didn't.
That was just the head fake. I was not thinking much
at all about our home machine. That is where the irony
came squarely to rest.
Shut up. I know things. You will listen to me.
Do it anyway.
Trust Zawinski, Gruber, and every other sane computer
user. Trust me.
Do it. Run; don't walk. Whether your plan uses
custom tools or a lowly cron running
rysnc, do it now. Whether you go as far as
using a service such as dropbox to maintain
working files or not, set up an automatic, complete,
and bootable backup of your hard drives.
I know I can't be alone. There must be others like
me out there. Maybe you used to maintain automatic
and complete system backups and for whatever reason
fell out of the habit. Maybe you have never done
it but know it's the right thing to do. Maybe, for
whatever reason, you have never thought about a hard
drive failing. You've been lucky so far and don't
even know that your luck might change at any moment.
Do it now, before dinner, before breakfast. Do it
before someone you love loses valuable possessions
they care deeply about.
I will say this: my daughters have been unbelievable
through all this. Based on what happened Sunday
night, I certainly don't deserve their trust or their
faith. Now it's time to give them what they deserve.
Don't push it.