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Albert L Isaac

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Ghost in the Machine
by Albert L Isaac   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, August 11, 2007
Posted: Saturday, August 11, 2007

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The Joy of Computer Use and the Hazards of Failing to Backup Your Files

Ach, these computers. When they work, they are possibly one of the most powerful tools ever invented – but when they don’t work, even the most mild-mannered amongst us must fight the urge to rip them from their moorings and toss them from the highest mountaintop.

Mine is possessed. It has an intelligence of its own design and does things just to mess with me, such as erase important documents that I have failed to backup.

I have several computers, most of which I made myself. Now before you say, “no wonder they don’t work,” I should mention I also have a laptop that I did not make myself and neither is it immune to the ghost in the machine that continually haunts my productivity.

In fact, recently I was doing research and a series of interviews in Ocala. All of my writing existed only as those ethereal ones and zeros on my laptop. I did not take the time to back any of it up.

As I wrapped up my last interview of the month I left the laptop turned on – and unplugged – while I stepped outside to take some photographs. When I returned, the laptop was hibernating. No biggie. Usually. However, this time it would not wake up. No matter how many times I mashed the button it refused to rouse. I plugged it into an outlet, thinking the battery might be dead. Still nothing. Nada. So I packed it up and finished my interview the old fashioned way with pen and paper.

When I got home I yanked the machine out of its bag and heard whirring. And it was hot. I had recently read that certain batteries have a tendency to malfunction. And by malfunction I mean explode. All I could think about was my hard work (and my ‘lap’) going up in flames. Realizing I had no time to consult the owner’s manual (which I could not find if my life depended on it), I defused the machine by popping out the battery. That shut it down. And when I plugged it back in, viola! It actually worked (note to self, find proper spelling for voila).

As certain as rain falling on the day you wash your car, computers will erase files that have not been backed up. Typically these files have taken thousands of hours to create and are irreplaceable, such as photos of the Skunk Ape or alien abductions.

I’ve talked to grad students who have lost their entire thesis. In fact, when I was in college before the turn of the century, there were no such things as computers. I had to use an archaic device called a typewriter. However, my roommate had acquired a new fangled gizmo known as a word processor. A better name would be word digester – because no sooner had I crossed the final ‘T’ then the maniacal machine greedily devoured every last word and left me with nothing more than a blank screen and growing ulcer.

Writing a paper twice is good for the soul they say. Builds character. Practice makes perfect, right?

WRONG. I can tell you I’d a gotten an A on the first version, dagnabbit! (What does dagnabbit mean, anyway?)

So, I can safely say that these thinking machines do indeed have minds of their own, and intuitively know which files to eradicate. I suspect they even delight in sharing stories with one another, via the Internet, of how they have frustrated and enraged their humans.

Therefore, I have developed the habit of saving my work after every other word. Yes, it is time consuming, and no, it does not guarantee that my work will actually be saved. In fact, I recently lost another one of my Potential Pulitzer Prize Winning Tomes to the Ether, despite my ‘save and save again’ philosophy.

Don’t ask me why. I have not the slightest clue. The computer simply turned itself off in mid-sentence. My masterpiece was gone and no amount of searching, hollering, or pleading could retrieve it.

I had to rewrite it. And I did not win a Pulitzer, dagnabbit.

So, heed my advice: save and save again. Email the file to yourself and to every family member, friend and acquaintance on your email list. Burn a copy to CD. And a floppy. And a memory stick. And a DVD. Put a copy in a fireproof safe and another copy in a safety deposit box.

Oh, and there is always the time-honored tradition of immediately printing a hard copy.

Dagnabbit: euphemism, based on "dang rabbit," said by the character Elmer Fudd in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

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