Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Beachball Of Death

This week I suffered the computer crash from hell, in which I lost a month of emails and other important data.

Who actually does regularly back up their personal data? Well, I do, every so often, act upon the clanging bells of panic as they emerge from the distant woods of my paranoid imagination. "You know that important stuff you've been working on all month... you really wouldn't want to lose it now, would you?" echoes the plaintive, maundy cry from the bottom of the barrel of common sense. Sometimes I even obey the instruction, pull out an external drive, and spend a tedious hour or three data managing.

Email is different these days. Everybody in the world uses webmail, and of course so do I. But I also use a delightfully archaic email application called Eudora, which for me is "Brain Central" and this is my ultimate depository of all communications, business, personal, metaphysical.

I have blithely and loyally carried on Eudora using since 1994. Aside from ensuring massive retro-compatibility, Eudora has things about it I really like, like managing multiple logins and identities, turning off HTML emails, sticking attachments into the folder of your choice, and having a very boring list-like interface which doesn't distract me from doing the communicating I'm supposed to be doing when I'm using it. Eudora predictably downloads my emails to my local office computer, which these days is an Apple laptop. I have a habit of keeping emails on the server for months at a time, and then every so often clearing the web-stored mail, and if I'm being data-virtuous, backing up my local email archive.

At the end of last month, before I headed off to Boston, I had one of those moments of controlled, low-level panic which sometimes arrive before making a long trip. So, I channelled the energy into backing up my laptop, which in the end, I left behind in Blighty, in the firm belief that people, let alone geeks, spend far too much time lurking behind bright screens of silicon-based life-form future extinction, and not enough time in actual, meaningful interaction with each other, especially at international conferences. I think that was a wise choice - I didn't break a shoulder lugging a heavy metal object around, I spoke to more people, I only actually needed to use a computer three times for ten minutes over three days in any case.

As a result, when the awful beachball of death started spinning uselessly on my screen this week, I did at least have some data to go back to, and just three weeks or so fell out of my world and into dataland, or wherever it is that data that used to exist on this plane of reality now exists (or doesn't). But in that three weeks, so much has happened, in work, at home - it's been really hectic, unusually, importantly hectic. I really didn't want to - and in the case of my conveyancing, probably couldn't afford to - lose my information.

It's a sick feeling, realising that something you really actually need is on a broken computer.

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account of how it took over two days to bring the laptop back to the point where I could retrieve most of my data with the exception of emails between 25th October and 12th November. I will tell you that after that first terrible day, I awoke at 4am, and with a mind churning just like the bloody beachball, I decided to attempt once more the process of booting up from the TechTools Pro DVD and see if I couldn't get hold of the files I need for my move out of London.

I followed procedure, held "C" down on the keyboard, but the Mac ignored my command and just booted up, as if it had always been doing that without interruption and without malice for an endless golden time of harmony and peace between nations. Without wanting to scare the machine into freezing and crashing once again, I pulled off practically all the irreplaceable data which I hadn't backed up, including the important property sale and purchase files.

After which, the machine froze once more. I rebooted from the DVD, and the whole recovery process continued well into the next day, to an eventual more-or-less fix.

I gave a brief, shattered and sincere prayer of thanks, went back to bed. The next morning, I had a hospital check-up to go to, an ultra-sound scan of my heart in the extremely modern UCH in Euston Road. Compared to the data drama, despite my normal mixed feelings on all things medical, this was a veritable piece of British piss. As I lay on my side in the pose of Botticelli's Mars, covered in gel and listening to the "squish squish" of my own motor amplified through the speakers of a medical computer as a pleasant woman filled my chest cavity with sine waves, I mused on the necessity of back-ups, of health checks, and once more thanked God for waking me up and getting me to try again.

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