Posted by: lyriclemon | August 19, 2010

What have you got to lose?

The Scream by Edvard Munch

I had no feelings of impending doom that afternoon to clue me in that my life was about to be derailed by a disaster. I was working on a magazine feature story, due the next day, and had consulted a website for more information on the topic. Suddenly I became aware that the “little rolling ball” on the screen of my MacBook had been rolling long enough to make it all the way to California, if it had been going in a straight line and not just staying in one place. I tried to shut down Firefox, but my computer screen froze. I then had to manually shut down. When I tried to boot back up, I felt fear strong enough to be sick to my stomach. Yes, you’ve got it—the Flashing Question Mark of Death.

A Mac geek that I know and trust once told me, “There are only two kinds of computer hard drives in this world—the ones that have failed, and the ones that are GOING to fail.”

Clearly, my hard drive now fell into the former category.

I thought I’d backed up all my data. Every evening at 6 p.m., MobileMe performed a scheduled backup onto my iDisk. But had I ever tested those backups? No. Had they worked? No, they hadn’t.

Ironically, my daughter’s MacBook had died just a few days before that, and she’d lost irreplaceable photos. I’d felt so sorry for her. Now I was in the same boat.

I thought of my thousands of photos, three years of Word Documents, and gazillions of emails, and briefly considered drowning myself in the bathtub. But then, moaning and clutching my MacBook to my chest, I ran like a wild woman out the door and jumped in the car, feeling as if I were rushing my baby to the emergency room.

Once I got to the computer store, I got both good news and bad news from the young whippersnapper behind the counter. The good news was that my laptop’s hard drive was still covered under AppleCare’s three-year free replacement warranty, since I’d bought it in August 2007, so replacement of my hard drive would be free. The bad news was that the data on my hard drive might not be salvageable.

All the rest of the day, I kept thinking of more things that I’d lost. The photos from the ceremony honoring my deceased father. (Oh, no!) The emails from an editor wanting to see the middle-grade novel I’d queried her about. (Oh, no, no!) The middle-grade novel itself. (Oh, boy, did I ever need a drink.)

The first thing I thought about when I woke the next morning was all the data that I’d lost. But I kept hoping that the geeks at the computer store would be able to restore it to me.

It turned out, however, that they couldn’t. Neither could Drive Savers, a heavy-duty data recovery firm. I felt bereaved. It was such a huge loss that I almost felt as if a human friend had died, not just my hard drive.

So now I’m starting from scratch. I’m using two Western Digital My Passport 320 GB external hard drives to back up my photos and novels from now on, and also trying out online backup from Backblaze.

If you have data that you care about and would be devastated to lose, think about this Cautionary Tale and back up your stuff!



  1. “That was yesterday”…easy to say until it happens to you. I had an old friend who taught History at Miss Hewitt’s Classes (a well-respected NYC day school) for at least 15 years. Then she took a sabbatical. I asked if she wanted me to store her notes. Her response was “No.” I can’t quote her, but the point was she was getting stale; much had happened in those years; and even if she went back to teaching, she’d be better starting anew. Incidentally, she switched to researching railroad stocks for a brokerage, retired wealthy and died with her boots on.

    I lost everything I cared about in a flooded basement 20 years ago. All those wonderful Super 8 movies of family trips, 33 RPM records, family albums, essays, manuscripts…”That was then…” And I’m sure you have moved on…in fact, I know it. Congratulations! and your post certainly expresses the feelings. But we all survive.

  2. I’m so sorry that happened to you!
    I’ve been intending to use carbonnite for a couple years, but still have not. I know I REALLY need to do it, and your story is just affirmation.
    Curious why you have decided on Backblaze.


  3. Oh gosh. I think we’ve all had that happen. When I was writing my first book, I was backing up on a disk (remember those?) daily. When my computer crashed, I was relieved that I had everything on my back-up disks…until I popped one into the new computer. Apparently, the feature that supposedly copied the materials to the disk had failed long before the big crash. I lost the entire mss., but did have some hard copy drafts. I had to retype the whole darned thing.
    My heart goes out to you. Computers: can’t live with them, can’t live without them!!

  4. Owlsez, I’ve lost precious sentimental items (family photos, my own writings, my daughter’s artwork) in basement floods, too. The worst of the floods happened on a Mother’s Day several years ago, and I remember sitting on the basement floor in several inches of water, holding up soggy papers that were waterlogged beyond recognition, and crying. I’d kept Baby Calendars, too, and all the ink on each entry was now too smeared to read.

    And, yes, I’ve moved on. Losses are a part of life. But I still have so many good memories. And we have to always begin again, from what we have left.

  5. Claudine, Carbonite may very well work for you, but I used it in the past for an older PC, and it caused that computer to run so slowly and took up so much space and memory that those backups failed. I’m not sure I’d ever want to try it again. I looked into the Backblaze service because a geek at my Macintosh Users Group meeting recommended it. He said that he’d had good results with it. Plus, Backblaze offers a free trial period, during which time you can test it out for free and see if it works for you. I felt that I had nothing to lose. What I like about Backblaze is that you can control the settings, so that you only use as much bandwidth as you feel you need. (If my computer starts to run sluggishly, then I just decrease the bandwidth that Backblaze is allowed to use.) The initial backup took quite a long time, despite the fact that I had so little on my new hard drive. But I feel good that I have another backup plan, in case my external hard drives fail.

    I’m backing up documents and photos piecemeal on the hard drives, instead of using Time Machine, because my OS is Tiger. I should probably upgrade to Leopard, but I haven’t done so yet.

  6. Colleen, you are so right! 😉

    You are so lucky that you had saved a hard copy. It’s too bad that you had to retype the whole thing over, but it would have been much worse if you’d had to start all over from scratch!

    I have several mss. that are only accessible through their hard copies, since the old disks failed. I’ve been retyping one of them recently, and making a lot of changes in the process. I think now that I’m making the story a lot better as I revise while retyping! So there’s a bit of a benefit to that particular disk failure. 🙂

    I’ve lost individual stories due to carelessness of my own. When I was in high school, I wrote a story called “I’ve Made Up My Mind” and submitted it to SCHOLASTIC magazine. I received a letter back from the editor-in-chief (this was in the days before email and computers), saying they wanted to publish it (they had no idea I was so young), but were hoping that I’d change it from first-person to third-person, as they didn’t publish personal essays. I had no idea that it was rare for a 16-year old to get an immediate acceptance from an editor at a national magazine, and what I did next could have earned me a Darwin Award, if they’d been giving them out back then. I sent my ONLY HARD COPY of the ms. to TEEN Magazine. Well, of course, I never heard back from TEEN, and my ms. was never returned, so the story was lost. To this day, I can vaguely remember what the story was about, but I’ve never tried to rewrite it.

  7. Your story is my worst nightmare, so I’m fanantic / neurotic about backing up on multiple disks, on external hard drives and then keeping them in separate places, away from my computer, in case the house burns down . . .

    I am sooo sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how bad it must feel, but I send you good vibes across cyberspace for healing and serenity!

  8. Miss Footloose, it WAS my worst nightmare, so now I’m obsessive-compulsive about backing up my stuff, too.

    Thanks so much for the good vibes–I can feel them! 🙂

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