Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mightier than the sword and the gigabite.

My first computer failed on me when I was 15. I'd had it for about a year when the motherboard died on me out of nowhere. A tech came to the house, but proceeded to only make things worse instead of better. When we were told to ship it out to be repaired or replace, my father asked me when my last data backup was. My reply was a blank stare and a stammer. Backups had been a foreign concept to me up until that point. Luckily, they were able to retrieve my drive data and place it in a new machine, but when that new machine arrived I received a stern lecture from my father about the importance of backups. Since then, I've been very good at making sure I had them.

This came in handy at 19, when my second computer was struck by lightning. True story! I had been doing something or other online on a rainy summer evening. Hearing that the rain had turned to thunder, I signed off and went to shut my machine down, but a split second before I could do so, a bolt hit the telephone pole outside of my window, and the surge traveled in through my modem. I'd had backups of my writing but not my music, having discovered the wonders of Napster on my school's 0C3 network that year. Most of the music was recovered, though. I was lucky. (Plus, this had been a cheapie built by the school's computer store, and I was honestly happy to be rid of it. It had a habit of suddenly restarting or freezing out of nowhere.)

A year and a new computer later, I suffered not one, but TWO motherboard failures in under three months (right around spring midterms, no less). Say what you will about pre-Compaq-merger HPs, but I had no luck with this one. After the second replacement, though, it got me through the rest of school and a year after, until I decided to invest in computer #4, a Dell.

As per my usual computing luck, Computer #4 was a model machine until I'd owned it for about 2 years. Despite surviving a virus six months prior, the hard drive died a slow death, forcing me to back everything up onto a combination of cds, and after the burner was no longer recognized by the hard drive, 3.25 floppies. The warranty provided a new drive and installation, and it ran perfectly until the monday after Thanksgiving.

When my hard drive had begun to die, I invested in a 512mb flash drive, thinking it would be a great way to keep a backup that I could use in case my computer was ever non-functional. I was able to put just about everything on it, and I considered it to be a terrific investment for just that reason. After a failed attempt involving replacing the motherboard, I wasn't worried about the fact that something had gone wrong with the hard drive as well - I had backups, after all.

Despite it being mere weeks away from the most costly holiday of the year, I listened to my family and finally bought a laptop like I'd wanted for so very long, also a dell. After it arrived, I spent some time playing with it, and finally set about to install my saved files.

Only they weren't there.

I discovered that I'd accidentally saved the shortcuts, not the actual folders. I fell apart. My sister's boyfriend, a talented computer magician, immediately began researching ways to get my data off the drive and back into my hands. That's still in progress. I've had a few miracles, though. Several generous souls have offered their help, and I found a year-old backup, filled with pictures and writing that I feared lost forever. Even a complete version of my in-progress novel had been saved in gmail, as I had sent it to my parents and a few friends to critique.

Otherwise, I'd been doing most of my writing in notebooks the past few months. As technologically inclined as I've been my entire life, I really can't sing the praises of paper enough. Paper doesn't crash. Paper doesn't suffer compatibility problems. Paper doesn't need to be charged. Paper doesn't get corrupted by viruses (unless, I suppose, someone sneezes on it). Paper is portable, easy to use, and always user friendly. Before I acquired my laptop, I would take garden-variety spiral-bound notebooks to local coffee shops in my area and write in them with my favorite pen (Pilot EasyTouch, in case you were wondering. I've used fancier ones, but this is the best I've ever used. Ever.).

As a writer, I feel like paper allows me a certain freedom - I can get my ideas down, scribbling and crossing out as I see fit. Once it's in some primitive form, I can type it back into my computer, editing as I go (frequently adding back what I'd originally crossed out). It's nearly impossible to do this in word processing software, although I'm sure there's a way. It's nice to now have the option of taking my computer with me on a weekend afternoon if I want to go off somewhere and write, but after my latest lesson? I don't think I'll be retiring the good old pad and pen anytime soon.

Burned all my notebooks - what good are notebooks? They won't help me survive!
--Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"


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