Repent, and your data shall be saved!

Computer Life column for 11/8/97 by
Richard Gordon

There was once a newspaper columnist who deigned to give others advice about computing things.

And, lo, one fine summer weekend, he warned his readers that they must repent from their lackadaisical ways and always, always back up their files. He quoted a friend who used to tell his students to back up their work, not once, but twice. "You won't do it," this sage would say, "until you've had your disaster. And you will have one."

And every night as he left his daytime job for the greener fields of parenting, soccer, band practice, laundry, or whatever, this columnist would indeed copy his work onto a diskette and set it aside.

At home, this columnist used to back up important files until the spare bedroom contained more diskettes than AOL sends in a year to the entire state. But gradually, this columnist's laziness increased. Until it came to pass that, although he would upload his weekly "wisdom" to a safe server--"just in case"--he became lax and cavalier about saving other things.

One Friday night he crept upstairs and approached his Macintosh to print out the next day's soccer line-ups. Verily, verily, upon the screen he spied a flashing question mark framed within the rune of an ancient diskette. Nothing more.

He wept, he cried, he gnashed his garment and rent his teeth, or something like that. He violated several of the commandments ten (particularly the one about taking the name of the Lord in vain and the one about coveting thy neighbor's ox, ass, wife, or tape back-up unit), then took off his shirt and set to work.

After excavating several cabinets and bookshelves, this chastened columnist found the sacred Original Operating System CD-ROM and placed it in the tray that some heathens mistake for a 4X cup holder.

Great wonderment and joy. The computer came to life, sustained by the CD-ROM.

He followed the prescribed rituals for Disk First Aid and Repair. "No disk exists," the system said time and time again.

The next morning dawned cold and blustery. Soon, the skies opened and for 40 minutes and 40 seconds the rain poured down upon his person.

Between soccer events, the columnist tore off his dampened garments and brought his afflicted system to Dr. Mac, whose dais rests in Peddler's Village, near the burb of Christiana.

"Leave it here and give me some time with it. Since the disk ceased to function at midnight of the last night of the month, your back-up tapes are safe and complete, right?", this august oracle said. And then he laughed, knowing full well that the columnist had fallen among the "boobies"--a class of perpetual novices whose computing behavior is most often characterized by re-typing documents they've lost.

Hours later the verdict came over the telephone. "Your disk is dead. Fried beyond repair. The media and the head are both damaged. I accept cash."

And so it came to pass that this columnist surrendered the pre-tax fruits of four columns to Dr. Mac, and took home a computer with a new--but empty--hard drive. And last Saturday, he began the task of re-installing software, a task not yet complete.

And still today, this columnist laments his loss:

This morning, this columnist appears before you in the electronic equivalent of sackcloth and ashes. Let the three counties echo with his lamentation:
Save copies of thy work.
Look upon my ruination and mend thy ways!

I'd better stop and copy this column someplace safe.

Copyright © 1997, The News Journal Company

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Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to, or write him at The News Journal, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. Although each note cannot be answered individually, reader comments and questions will often be incorporated in future columns.