Back It Up

One or another of us at The Kill Zone will at infrequent and irregular intervals discuss the importance of backing up your work. I am reminding you of this today, simply because I spent some time on the telephone this week consoling a friend who did not. If you are doing any type of creative work, in any field, in any medium, you should be — you must be — replicating, saving and storing what you are doing. Period.
 I write. My wife and younger daughter are photographers. My older son, who has his own home elsewhere, is a musician and composer. We all preserve our respective work. There is a drawer in our home that is devoted to flash drives in gigabytes of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128. My humble laptop is paired with a 1.0 terabyte external hard drive; my wife and daughter share an iMac and their own external hard drive. We each back up our work to our respective external hard drives at the close of each day.  I back both of the external hard drives up every six months to yet another external hard drive. If a computer goes down — and it WILL go down, sooner or later, and probably at the worst possible time — we have the external hard drives. I should back those up more often as well, and at some point will work on doing that. It is doubtful, however, that everything will pass a sandcastle at once. There is one other thing that I should do, but don’t, and that you should do as well: keep your backup external hard drive — the one that backs up your principal external hard drives — off site, such as in a friend’s home or in a safe deposit box. There are authors and musicians in New Orleans who speak my name with reverence to this day because I kept back-up copies of their manuscripts and demo recordings in my home in Ohio while theirs were being washed away by Katrina.
What to buy? For flash drives, you don’t need to purchase the most expensive one you can find, but you shouldn’t reach by default for the “take your change in flash drives” models, either. Most of our flash drives (and yes, we have gone a bit overboard on the quantity of them in our home) are Kingston 3.0. All of our hard drives are manufactured by WD, but Seagate makes a very adequate one as well.
Please note: I do NOT consider backing something up in the cloud or “cloud storage” to be backing up or storage. I consider the cloud an excellent place to lose things at some indeterminate point in the future. Yes. I am old-fashioned in the sense that I still like to hold things in hand, even if it’s a plastic rectangle the size of a trade paperback or a sliver of metal encased in plastic the size of my thumb. I have a recurring nightmare, however that one day someone with more time on their hands than sense in their bodies will hack into the cloud and go through it like urchins in an unlocked schoolhouse. So yes, I back up letters and emails and even whatever I compose in google drive, such as this blog.

As always, I am curious: how many of you actively back up your creative work on a regular basis? How often? What do you use? Do you have a backup plan for your backup plan? And — God forbid — have you lost anything?

Left Behind

I will be the first to admit that I am not handy around the house. Oh, I can repair a PC and an iMac, but wiring, painting, serious plumbing, wallpapering, or anything else that doesn’t leave one much of a margin of error…nope. John Ramsey Miller, I’m not. So no one was more surprised than I when this week I purchased and actually operated a chainsaw.

We had a part of one of our larger fir trees at casa de Hartlaub detach in a wind storm a few days/weeks/months ago and my neighbors, who usually are all fine fellows (since the conjurer of the dark arts who lived next door moved) were becoming somewhat standoffish, no doubt due to the fact that scurries of rabid chipmunks were regularly taking residence in the boughs. The detached part was bigger than most normal trees so it wasn’t something that I could haul to the curb like a Christmas tree. Some cutting and separation was accordingly in order. I went to my local hardware superstore and purchased a Homelite electric chainsaw. The directions were wonderful, and it worked like a dream. I put on a set of headphones, potted up The Complete Bitches Brew to 11, and began cutting away.

I discovered something, however. Chainsaws are for right-handed people. I’m left-hand dominant. And I mean dominant. Not even the Sisters of Charity, circa 1957, could break me of my left hand use, notwithstanding the observation that such a proclivity indicated that I was doomed to be an instrument of the devil. I do almost everything (yeah, even that) with my left hand. As with most such things, I called the Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, The U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and a few other agencies and I’m going to get this discrimination redressed. Not really. Just kidding. I worked around it, used it properly — with my right hand on the trigger, left hand on the grip (or something like that) stood with the blade away from me and cut the heck out of that thing. I had that tree demolished before Miles, Chick Corea, et al. were halfway through “Spanish Key.”

Left-handed people have to adapt to a right-handed world. Does that make us special? Smarter? More creative? All or none of the foregoing? Consider this: I attended a legal seminar several years ago where the attendees sat at random, eleven seats to each long table. The lad next to me nudged me about two hours into the presentation and nodded down the table, where nine other people were busy taking notes. Every single person was left-handed. Maybe the Sisters of Charity were right.

I think it is a given that the people who are gracious enough to visit this blogspot on a regular basis are among the most creative and intelligent on the planet. And great folks of course, to boot. I accordingly am taking a totally unscientific survey: are you left- or right-handed? And do you have a good left-handed story, funny or not so much, that you would care to share with us?


Fixing the Tool

A computer is at its core a tool. For a writer, it can be the mother ship of tools. It can be a research tool, a production tool, and a communications tool, among other things. If it suddenly goes wobbly, it can be a real problem that leads to other problems such as expense, downtime, and inconvenience. There is a way around it, if your mind is clear and your hand is steady and your heart is brave: you can, in many circumstances, fix it yourself.
I am the IT guy in our house. We — my wife, my daughter, and my bad self — each have our own computer. It goes without saying of course that we all share our respective machines with our cat (those of you who are owned by cats know exactly what I mean). My daughter, just to complicate matters and enable me to broaden my scope of knowledge, has an iMac. Since I spend the most time on a computer of anyone in the house it has fallen to me to be the fixer of all things technological. To that end, I have established the “three-minute rule” of computer aggression: if you can’t get the computer to do what you want it to do in three minutes, stop doing what you are doing and come and get me. Don’t sit there for three hours hitting the “Print” button because you’re going to get a surprise when your printer decides to start printing, yes indeed. You’ll see exactly how many times you hit the print button (“Thirty-two copies of the lyrics to the new One Direction single, huh?”) in due time.
How did I acquire my expertise, you might ask? I don’t have any. I have simply become good at looking things up and following directions. I am able as a result to resolve most resolvable computer problems with three things which you probably have as well: 1) internet access; 2) a computer or smart phone that works; and 3) the ability to follow simple directions. I started doing my own troubleshooting due to a combination of circumstances. For one, I don’t like strangers coming over, which precludes people in golf shirts driving up in vans to help me out. For another, I am somewhat tight-fisted when it comes to spending money to repair things that I should be able to repair myself. And for a third, I don’t like My Precious out of my sight for more a few minutes, which removes the possibility of my laptop spending the night with someone else.
I am totally serious.  I discovered this latent skill when, a few years ago (when all three of us, including my poor, deprived daughter, had PCs), I awoke one morning and discovered that all of our computers were displaying the “blue screen of death.” I figured out the problem was — a Windows update that had been automatically sent to all three computers did not get along with something that was already on them — but that didn’t help me with the main problem, which was how to repair each and all of the computers in the house. Fortunately, I had a smart phone. I did a search for “how to restore service to a computer displaying the blue screen of doom” and got the answer — do a “system restore” — and instructions for doing it. I had all of the computers working in a half-hour.

I will confess that doing this makes me feel useful.  I was having a delightful breakfast with some people at Bouchercon a few weeks ago when one very nice lady’s iPad froze up. I don’t own an iPad, but I fearlessly asked her to pass me her temporarily useless tool. I took out my phone, googled “How do you unfreeze an iPad?” got the answer, and…well, unfroze her iPad by pushing two buttons. A friend called me a few weeks ago because her daughter had a paper due the next day and couldn’t access Internet Explorer. Problem solved. But there is nothing special about me. There are folks who will attempt to fix their dishwasher utilizing a Google search (yeah, I did that too) but won’t even attempt to jump start their computers in the same manner. If you are going to do this, it helps to be as exact as possible when making your query. Googling “why did my pc just pass a sandcastle?” for example, will not be as effective a query as “why is my Lenovo B570 with Windows 7 displaying everything upside down?” It might be important to get an answer and use it five minutes ago, however, whether you are downloading pictures off of Tumblr or reading Facebook news posts or just wrapping up twenty more pages of a manuscript, when, God forbid, your computer freezes.  If you can frame a descriptive question halfway decently and follow directions a step at a time, Enterprise-style (boldly going where you haven’t gone before) you can very often help yourself. Some folks even post YouTube videos showing how certain procedures, such as installing new memory cards, are performed.  Most of the time the helpful people who post this information will give you an idea as to how difficult the task may be. Sometimes it is as easy as pressing F5, or restarting the computer; sometimes it involves more than that.
Which brings us to our question(s) of the day: When you have a computer problem that doesn’t involve smoke rising from the side vents, what do you do? Do you try to fix it yourself? Do you call a friend? Do you take it into a shop? Or throw it out the window?