because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Rebooting Myself After The Great Computer Crash: You Gotta Back That Thang Up

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photo from mandyxclear @ flickr.com

It’s not like there weren’t signs.

There were.

I just wanted Mac to make it to my son’s bar mitzvah.

I promised Mac would be able to rest the very next day. So despite his advanced age, I pushed my computer to stay with me until June 23, 2012.

But then I heard Mountain Lion was coming out.

So I waited.

And all through July, I continued to pressure Mac to perform.

Even though I knew he was crashing.

Because he kept crashing.

Whenever Mac went down, I’d curse, get a snack and a drink, give him a few minutes to cool down, then I’d press the power button. And Mac would hum to let me know he wasn’t too furious, and he’d take me back to the lovely blue screen.

Until one day, he didn’t.

On Friday, August 24th, I held an 8 gig flash drive in my hand. I’d planned to back up all my files so I could transfer everything to the new computer, the one I was going out to buy – right after I had transferred all my files.

I was greeted by a white screen.

Reacting to Trouble

If you see this, you should probably start crying. Maybe.

After attempting to reboot several times, I put my face close to Mac’s LCD, and when I listened, I heard Mac making quiet beeping noises – like the countdown to some kind of nuclear detonation. After a moment, the icon of a dark gray file folder appeared in the center of the white screen. Centered inside the folder was an ominous flashing question mark.

Four hours later, I dragged the entire mess to a well-respected computer data retrieval professional. Several of us stood in a queue, holding our boxes and cables, the pieces-parts of our sundry devices. Looking grief-stricken, we spoke in hushed tones about the symptoms of our beloved electronics and dared to guess their prognoses.

When it was Mac’s turn to be seen, Lou performed all kinds of procedures.

Nothing worked.

Lou asked if he could hold onto my computer for 24 hours. He wanted to try one more test.

Of course, I agreed.

Anything to resurrect Mac long enough to extract his memories, my memories.

*weep*

As I waited to hear from Lou, I considered what I had potentially lost:

  • 20 years of English curricula
  • Irreplaceable letters of recommendation
  • The contact information for everyone I know
  • My calendar information
  • 34,000 songs uploaded from CDs (not purchased from iTunes)
  • Decades of photographs & videos

But by far the worst thing was the realization that I had lost my writing.

  • Over 400 poems
  • Twenty short stories
  • A full-length non-fiction memoir
  • And my current 400-page fiction manuscript, which was on the 2nd draft of revisions.

But you had backed things up, right?

All I can do is hang my head in shame.

No.

No, I didn’t.

And how stupid was that?

If you do not have at least one external hard drive, do yourself a favor and get one. Set it to back-up daily or, at least, weekly.

Several people tell me they keep one flash drive outside their homes, with friends or in a safe deposit box. That way, in the case of fire or flood, they feel secure knowing they still have a copy of their most beloved photographs and other hard to replace documents.

You mean you didn’t have Dropbox/iCloud?

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Both Dropbox and iCloud provide “invisible storage.” You  put your faith that someone else’s server is going to do a good job for you. Dropbox is a cool tool, but it is not meant to store thousands of photographs. When you sign up, the folks at Dropbox provide you with 2 GB of storage, but you have to remember to put your stuff in there. It isn’t automatic. Clearly, I’ve demonstrated that I’m not good about reliably saving my computer files, so if the whole backing-things-up doesn’t occur automatically, it might not happen at all for me.

As far as iCloud goes, even the folks at Apple will tell you iCloud is meant for saving text. iCloud isn’t great when it comes to large files like photographs or very large text files. So yes, iCloud is better than nothing – but an external hard drive is still better.

Signs That Your Computer is Dying

As I said earlier, there were indications that my beloved Mac was in trouble. And I ignored every single sign. Here are some of the most basic symptoms that will tell you that you need to back your stuff up and fast:

1.Lag. Remember when your computer was young and zippy? Me, too. I knew Mac had become slow and irritable over the years, but I never thought he’d just konk out on me. Lag is one of the very first signs that you need to have your computer looked at. Sometimes there are just a lot of duplicate files that need to be deleted. Sometimes there is dust inside your computer that needs to be cleaned out. If your computer is noticeably slower than it once was, bring it to a technician.

2. Noises. If your old girl is knocking around, making banging sounds or clicking sounds; or if you hear chirping noises — almost like birds — these are not good things. Also if it sounds like there is a small car inside your computer constantly revving up and then cooling down, you will want to back that thang up. Immediately. And then bring your computer to a technician.

You know? This.

3. The Spinning Wheel of Doom. Apple users are familiar with the circular icon that looks like you’ve just won at Trivial Pursuit. And it shows up once in a while. But as your computer gets older and fills with more stuff, you may start to see it more often and for longer durations. In my case, the freakin’ wheel was spinning for much longer than normal. I just accepted it. Meanwhile, I learned this is your computer’s way of screaming at you: “Doctor! Somebody get me a doctor! I have a serious problem!” Learn your computer’s language and listen to what it is trying to tell you.

4. Frequent crashing. If you are in the middle doing something and the application unexpectedly quits, this is not a good thing. Be sure to know how old your computer is. Apple warranties its computers for three years. Three years. There is a reason for that. The folks at Apple know how long these suckers their desktops are going to last. Mac’s warranty ended in March 2012. It died 5 months later. I was on borrowed time. FYI: Laptops can have a shorter life, depending on the way they are handled.

Moving Through The Stages of Loss

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is well-recognized for her book On Death and Dying which explains the 5 stages of grief. Since I had been living in denial about Mac’s situation for so long, I quickly moved to anger. I was furious at myself for not buying a new computer, especially once Mountain Lion was released. I mean, seriously, what precisely was I waiting for? I screamed at my son for playing so much Minecraft because I was sure that was what had put the final nail in Mac’s coffin. Then I got mad at myself again for yelling at my son. But not before I accused my husband of being unhelpful because he didn’t insist that I get a new computer, especially when he knew I needed a new one.

I’d put the last of my hopes into Lou, who sent me this email 24 hours after I’d left Mac in his office.

Your drive has a fatal hardware failure. Most likely the bearings that the spindle rides on have seized, preventing the motor from turning the spindle. Recovery of the data from this drive is a tier 2 level of recovery which requires a clean room and a level of expertise I don’t have in-house.

However, I have an out-of-house recovery group that can do this work.  Let me know what you would like to do.

I’m not going to lie. For a week, I was in a funk. A person who is generally sparkly, I felt pretty sparked-out.

Like my formerly functioning computer, I shut down.

I didn’t realize how dependent I’d become on my Mac. Everything I needed was in one place. I didn’t know how I was going to rebuild. I could only see loss.

In reality, getting mad or feeling sad wasn’t going to bring Mac back.

Right when I was feeling my most lowly-low, I read Kristen Lamb’s piece Maturity – The Difference Between the Amateur and the Professional where she reminds writers that writing is hard work. Inadvertently, she reminded me that I had a choice in this situation. I could be a pee-pee head and keep crying about all that I had lost. I could quit. Or I could start creating again. I could view the death of my computer as an ending or a beginning.

I went and ordered a new iMac. (It should be here next week.)

To get me excited, my son designed a cool new header for my blog. (It’s not up yet.) And I’m working on some other updates to my blog, too.

So What About The Clean Room Thing? Are You Doing It?

I contacted that forensics data retrieval lab in Temple, Texas. If I agree, they will bury my computer in the ground and, just like in Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, they will resurrect it. But they can’t guarantee that Mac won’t come back all weird and creepy and try to kill me.

Just kidding.

They aren’t going to bury Mac. The deal at ACS Data Recovery is this: I send them my hard drive, and if they can’t retrieve 100% of the information, the cost to me is $0. But if they can, the cost is 1.64 bajillion dollars.

I feel like I have to give it a whirl, to know that I tried everything.

Obviously, this post is about the death of my computer. And while I temporarily lost it, I think I’ve regained some perspective. I mean, we have food and shelter. I’m grateful that everyone in my life is healthy and as the Jewish High Holidays approach over the next few weeks, I will be thinking and writing about more than just my recent computer woes.

But this seemed like an opportunity to share something with everyone.

The hard drive nestled in the cardboard box on my kitchen table represents twenty years of my life. And, as a friend pointed out: “It isn’t the computer that has the value, it’s the stuff on our computers that is worth everything.”

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: If you have valuable things on your computer, things you cherish, please please please spend $125 and get yourself an external hard drive.

And don’t say you’ll do it tomorrow.

Do it today.

Now.

Because tomorrow could be your computer’s big crash.

What is one thing you’d be devastated to learn was gone if your computer died? Do you have an external hard drive? Can you recommend a good one? How often do you back-up? What method(s) do you use? Assuming you could get your computer files back, how much would you be willing to spend? 

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Turn Down The Noise

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I am reposting an article that was published on August 17, 2010 by Carla K. Johnson, a medical writer. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in the halls at the community college where I work, and have heard students approach before I have ever seen them coming. So many of them wear their ear buds between classes, to get from point A to point B, I have often thought the constant noise has to be having some kind of impact on their hearing.

Turns out, it is.

Study: 1 in 5 US teenagers has slight hearing loss

CHICAGO — A stunning one in five teens has lost a little bit of hearing, and the problem has increased substantially in recent years, a new national study has found. Some experts are urging teenagers to turn down the volume on their digital music players, suggesting loud music through earbuds may be to blame – although hard evidence is lacking. They warn that slight hearing loss can cause problems in school and set the stage for hearing aids in later life.

“Our hope is we can encourage people to be careful,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Gary Curhan of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The researchers analyzed data on 12- to 19-year-olds from a nationwide health survey. They compared hearing loss in nearly 3,000 kids tested from 1988-94 to nearly 1,800 kids tested over 2005-06.

While the researchers didn’t single out iPods or any other device for blame, they found a significant increase in high-frequency hearing loss, which they said may indicate that noise caused the problems. And they cited a 2010 Australian study that linked use of personal listening devices with a 70 percent increased risk of hearing loss in children.

“I think the evidence is out there that prolonged exposure to loud noise is likely to be harmful to hearing, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t listen to MP3 players,” Curhan said.

Loud music isn’t new, of course. Each new generation of teenagers has found a new technology to blast music _ from the bulky headphones of the 1960s to the handheld Sony Walkmans of the 1980s. [But] today’s young people are listening longer, more than twice as long as previous generations, said Brian Fligor, an audiologist at Children’s Hospital Boston. The older technologies had limited battery life and limited music storage, he said.

[And] some young people turn their digital players up to levels that would exceed federal workplace exposure limits, said Fligor. In Fligor’s own study of about 200 New York college students, more than half listened to music at 85 decibels or louder. That’s about as loud as a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner.

Bottom line, if you can hear someone’s music playing while their earbuds are in, they are probably listening to their music at too loud of a decibel. And while they may hate you, you would be doing them a big favor in asking them to dial down the noise.

Do you let your kids use ear buds? Do you feel they use them at a reasonable listening level? Would you feel comfortable asking a stranger to turn down his/her music?