Last night, I realized I hadn’t backed up my /home directory for a while. In fact, my last backup was months ago, rather than days. Horrified, I stayed up late until my files were backed up. I knew that if I didn’t, I would spend long hours brooding, completely convinced that my hard drive would fail the next time I powered up. I have an obsession about backups, and with good reason.
I bought my first computer in the last month of thesis preparation, transitioning from an IBM Selectric, which with its swappable type-balls had once seemed the highest technology I could imagine, but which the computer quickly proved was obsolete.
For the first week, the computer sat at the dining room table, where I learned the basics of WordPerfect while adding the latest versions of my thesis chapters to the files. I was proud of my foresight in having listed about twenty of the basic formatting tasks I needed to do on file cards that I taped to the side of the monitor.
By the time I transferred the hardware a week later to the computer desk that my father made for me, I was convinced that I was adjusting well to the computer. Really, I kept thinking, what was the fuss about? Everyday, I was memorizing several commands, and my thesis was developing far better than it ever had on the typewriter.
The day came that I intended how to backup my files to a floppy. I was sitting at the computer desk, enjoying a late spring day that was warm enough for me to have the balcony door open, luxuriating in spending so many successive days just writing.
Falling into full writing mode, I took a while to realize that the weather had changed. When I finally surfaced from my work, the sun was gone, and the day had turned dark. Around me, in the middle distance, I could hear thunder and I was anticipating enjoying any lightning from my sheltered position. I had no worry at all about the computer – after all, I had a surge protector.
The thunder came closer. Above me, on Burnaby Mountain, it must have been rattling the windows on the campus of Simon Fraser University, where I was studying. I was relaxed, knowing myself safe and dry despite the approaching storm.
But maybe, I told myself, I shouldn’t take any chances. I started to shut down the computer. The thunder sounded directly overhead, and in a panic I reached for the power bar. I had one plug ripped out when the loudest crash of thunder yet sounded just above the roof of my townhouse and the monitor flashed and faded to black.
For several hours, I listened to the storm, pacing and fretting. Half an hour after the last thunder, I tried to turn on the computer and my worst fears were confirmed. I had been too late, and my computer was now an expensive door stop.
One of the worst weeks of my life followed. I was tentatively booked to defend my thesis in six weeks, which meant that I had a month at the most to put it in shape for my committee to read. Any delays, and the committee members would be dispersed for the summer, and I would have to wait three months for the fall semester to defend, instead of venturing out to teach at the community colleges.
Not knowing if anything on the hard drive might be salvaged, I couldn’t wait to find out. Dragging out the Selectric, I did my best to recreate the latest revisions that I had put on the computer. I kept thinking of Hemingway leaving a manuscript on a train and other literary disasters. I started working eighteen hours a day, and dreamed of typing in the few hours of troubled sleep I managed each day.
In the end, I was lucky. The lightning had melted a transistor on the motherboard, which had prevented any surges from reaching the hard drive. My chapters were safe.
The first thing I did was make backups. The next was to make sure that I backed up the hard drive at least once a week, and more often when I’m especially busy. I had a distracted summer, which explains my recent lapses, but you can be sure that I’m going back on a regular schedule, effective as soon as I write the necessary cron job.