September 3, 2009 in Washington Voices

Computer losses inspire new mantra: back up

By Correspondent

I never thought I’d be grateful that my husband shocked himself and simultaneously fried the hard drive on my computer last August – but I am. After Derek’s home improvement mishap, he managed to salvage important things, like family photos, from the computer and create a backup disk.

This is a good thing because last weekend we returned from the lake to discover our 17-year-old son had annihilated Anabelle, the replacement computer I’d had for less than a year. Perhaps not everyone names their computer, but Anabelle and I spend so much time together that she feels more like family than an inanimate office instrument. She knows my darkest secrets, like my inability to spell “definitely” without spell check. She knows about my forays into fiction writing and the title of the memoir I’m going to write someday. She tracks the contact information of dozens of folks who wrote to me, eager to share their love stories in this newspaper. Unfortunately, she took those secrets with her after the crash and is now unable to give them up.

It’s suitable that what happened to Anabelle is called a crash. Although, according to the culprit who caused the accident, she didn’t make a sound – not even a whimper – when he hit the button that initiated the catastrophe. Nevertheless, the carnage appeared devastating.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he said wide-eyed. “When I turned on the computer I got an error message that said ‘fix the problem’ or ‘start Windows normally.’ ” The fact that he wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near my computer seemed to have slipped his mind. He gulped. “I just wanted to fix the problem.”

Experienced Vista users know you should never choose this deceptive option. Instead of fixing a problem, it can create a whole new set of troubles. When my son realized he probably hadn’t solved anything he put his trembling finger on the power button and turned off the computer. Crash!

Of course, I know the adage, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth backing up.” Of course, I have two thumb drives capable of storing whatever I need saved. And of course, on Friday afternoon with my mind on a relaxing weekend getaway, I shut down my computer without backing up a thing.

Fortunately, Derek had recently taken advantage of a free trial offer from an online file storage company. He’d sent all my previously published work there – and we had last year’s backup disc. What we didn’t have was a year’s worth of family photos, all my current work and 163 vitally important e-mails.

My husband stayed up until 3 a.m. trying to find these documents – or any documents at all – but Anabelle remained in critical condition.

The following day, I took her to a computer repair company recommended by friends. The specialist took my hard drive from my arms. When I asked about her prognosis, he shook his head and said, “We’ll know in a day or two.”

I counted my blessings while I waited for news. I had my laptop, understanding editors and a hard copy of upcoming assignments. This laptop is more of a casual acquaintance, but I’ve come to appreciate her reliability – just not enough to give her a name. I’ve also taken to wearing my thumb drive on a lanyard around my neck. I back up everything now – even my grocery list.

Two days later, the shop called, and I went to collect the patient. Sadly, the missing documents were still AWOL, but thanks to the store’s reasonable fees, at least I didn’t have to pay a fortune to discover that.

As word of my dilemma spread, folks e-mailed sympathy and advice. The two most common things I heard were: “Your stuff is probably still on your hard drive, it just depends on how much you want to pay to get it back,” and “Next time buy a Mac.”

The good news is that my determined spouse found an online program that allowed him to recover most of my photo and music files. “I outgeeked the geeks!” he said. He’s not giving up on those e-mails or documents, either.

Meanwhile, I’m making do the best I can. I actually prefer to work from my laptop, now that Anabelle is just a shell of her former self.

And my bathrooms will stay exceptionally clean for a very long time. That’s because the son responsible for the Great Computer Crash of 2009 is on bathroom-cleaning duty for the foreseeable future. If he balks, I have two little words for him: Fix this.

Voices correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at Previous columns are available at

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