Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
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July 16, 2015
There’s always a price to pay for not backing up a computer

I’m either too trusting or just plain naive.

Naive, that’s a polite way of saying stupid.

I haven’t checked, but I think it’s politically correct to use “stupid” when referring to one’s self.

You techno-geeks have probably seen this many times. I can hear you laughing at me. I never thought electrons would stop flowing. At least not in the orderly manner required to operate my computer. I trusted those electrons.

Tuesday morning, I booted up my computer at my newsroom desk. Rather, I should say I attempted to boot up my computer.

I downloaded a few pictures and it was running a little sluggish. A restart of my Apple iMac should fix that, I thought.

Nope, nothing but a white screen. In a panic I grabbed my iPad and Googled for a solution.

I learned how to start it up in safe mode. The computer made a noise. I got an Apple logo on a white screen, which was followed by a screen that told me the operating system was being loaded.

I wiped sweat from my brow and relaxed.

“Tragedy averted,” I thought. I sighed with relief.

But my moment of triumph over technological failure was short. After the operating system loaded, a quick flash of words ran across the top of the screen.

Something about a “core dump.” Then a blank blue screen stared at me. Now I knew I was in deep trouble, because I had to call our in-house IT specialist, who I don’t think has liked me since my first day on the job.

He introduced me to my computer on my first day.

Looking at the computer, I turned to him and said, “Oh it’s an Apple. At my last job, we used real computers.”

Today he said something about my computer having a “kernel panic.”

At least I knew he wasn’t talking about popcorn. From the look on his face I knew it was a fatal flaw. My computer was dead.

Fortunately, the stories I write are kept on our server, not on my local computer. My Monday work was safe.

I wrote one story Tuesday morning, about a Monday night meeting, on my iPad and emailed it to our editor.

He cut and pasted the document into our system that eventually produces the printed and electronic version of the paper.

I’m writing this column on Wednesday night on an old computer I salvaged out of our back room. Abandoned by interns years ago, it appears not to have been powered up since 2011.

But it works.

It runs our news writing software. I was also able to set it up to get and send my email. I also downloaded a free Microsoft Word-like word processor that runs on it.

Tomorrow morning, which is now today to you, I will head to Salt Lake City for a Prison Relocation Commission meeting. Using the state capitol’s free Wi-Fi and my iPad, I will write and submit my story about the meeting. By the time I get back to the newsroom in Tooele, the story will probably be edited and laid out on a page, ready to print.

My iMac, well, it’s in surgery at a shop in Kaysville.

They are going to install a new hard drive and hopefully recover all the data and other stuff on my old hard drive that made my computer mine.

This old computer I am using today runs the basics just fine. But it has less memory and a slower processor than the three-year-old smart phone in my pocket.

Using a stylus, I could probably peck out my story on my phone.

But this old computer doesn’t have my eight years of Excel files with spreadsheets, data, tables and all kinds of research.

It doesn’t have my email history with attachments or my address book. Several other small, but important, things are missing.

Backup. That’s where the too trusting part comes in.

Yes, somewhere in my desk drawer is a USB drive that I copied all my documents to a few years ago. If I could find it, I’d only be missing a few years of stuff.

Isn’t technology wonderful, when it works?

I was thinking the other day about the advancement of technology in my lifetime. In high school, I learned the BASIC programming language on a teletype terminal that was connected by a telephone receiver on an acoustic coupler to the mainframe.

The mainframe was in the basement of an office building miles away. It took up most of a room about the size of Tooele City Hall’s Council Chamber.

I was the first student in my high school with a hand-held calculator. It saved me from needing to learn how to use a slide rule.

I brought an old manual upright Royal typewriter to college. By my senior year I had an electric typewriter that had ribbon cartridges.

I could use a carbon film ribbon for sharp-looking final term papers and a fabric ribbon for everyday writing. There was a white correction tape for covering up mistakes, no erasing or messy white-out.

After college, I learned how to use my father’s Commodore 64. At my first job working for the Boy Scouts of America, I used a TRS-80 with 10-inch floppy disks.

My father gave me his Commodore 64 when he bought his first IBM-PC. It had two floppy drives, one for  application disks and one for data storage.

Now I have a phone in my pocket that I can use to call anywhere in the country. It accesses an Internet full of sometime-accurate information.

It is a calendar, camera, calculator, clock, compass, weather reporter, message machine, music player, note taker, radio, video player, voice recorder, and map maker.

I still have few years left to see where technology goes in my lifetime.

My mother, who will turn 80-something on the day before Pioneer Day, was raised in a house that was built before indoor plumbing. Her parents converted their pantry into a bathroom when indoor plumbing became popular.

My mom can recall when they got their first telephone.

I remember the old wood stove and oven that stood in a corner of my grandmother’s kitchen. OK, things have changed a lot, but some things haven’t. Back to that first job of mine.

After a couple of years, we got rid of the TRS-80 and installed a UNIX-based computer network that connected by a dial-up modem at 9600 baud, that’s bits-per-second, to our national office.

I was the systems manager because I was the only person in the office the day our national computer support guy showed up to do the training.

He emphasized backing up. Every night I made two complete back up tapes of our data files.

The standard procedure I was obligated to follow required one copy to be locked inside our bookkeeper’s office. The other copy I took home with me in case the building burned down and destroyed the other copy.

Two copies, every night, without fail.

We never needed them.

But I had them, just in case the electrons in our computer stopped flowing in an orderly manner.

You think I’m backing up my data tonight? 

Tim Gillie

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim covers education, Tooele City government, business, real estate, politics and the state Legislature. He became a journalist after a long career as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. Tim is a native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University.

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