Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On losing a computer

Yesterday between 9:30 and 10 AM a thief entered my office (even though the door was closed), severed the security cable securing my MacBook Pro to my desk, and made off with both my laptop and a significant portion of my life. The office manager was seated directly across from my office, but with her back turned as she worked on her own computer. She heard nothing but a rustle as someone brushed against the papers on my door; she assumed it was me returning and, being quite bored of me at this point in our relationship, did not turn around.

Now that rage has turned to mourning has turned to acceptance, I learned several things by having the computer stolen:
(1) It is very easy for a prepared thief to grab a laptop, despite any cable that might give the illusion of security.
(2) It is pretty stupid to keep things like old tax returns on your laptop. If they must be there, they ought to be encrypted. In fact, why did I save passwords and enable automatic logins?
(3) Why keep a hard drive if you don't back up your work religiously? (Last complete back up for me: 8/17/07). I need to buy software that automates the process.
(4) When friends and colleagues learn that your laptop has been stolen, they will both personalize it and treat you as if you have been bereaved.
(5) I lost a proverbial shitload of work, the most irreplaceable being my research notebook and the administrative materials I'd generated since August (especially letters of recommendation I'd labored over, but also memos and such).
(6) Still, it was just a computer. Yes, I will have to work extra hard now that much of the material I'd been working on has vanished (if that thief can read medieval Latin, I'm screwed -- I'll be scooped in all my findings about 12th C historiography!). It puts me way behind for several essays and some lectures. But I'll cope -- and it really was just a computer.
(7) I truly hope the thief enjoys listening to the four versions of "Puff the Magic Dragon" my daughter uploaded to my iTunes library.
(8) It is amazing what a foul mouthed being I was transformed into at 10 AM yesterday. My expletive filled tirade lasted all of fifteen minutes as I ran around the corridors seeking blood.
(9) It is amazing, too, how sympathetic, helpful, and downright kind my colleagues have been.


Karl Steel said...

Good lord. What a nightmare! I'm searching around for Consolation among scholars deprived of files and libraries (an equivalent to losing a laptop), but I'm practically coming up empty: Boethius (executed); Benjamin (murdered?); Auerbach (okay, somewhat better...).

Anonymous said...

ouch!! How horrible.

Makes me very grateful for our old fashioned central network service.

Others deprived of books etc? Marc Bloch - wrote the Historian's Craft while working for the resistance in France but was shot before he could finish it

Anonymous said...

That is a nightmare. Loosing my computer is one of my worst fears.

Since backups, or lack thereof, is an issue, I thought I'd plug a handout for using rsync for backups that my friend Bradley Dilger made for students and colleagues at Western Illinois. As Bradley recently noted in a blog post, a good backup system keeps makes sure the backup and the originals aren't kept anywhere near each other.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

See? Getting shot, strangled in prison, etc. -- puts it all in perspective.

John, that looks like an incredibly through backup system, but way beyond my techknowhow. Does anyone with a Mac use a less sophisticated but nonetheless adequate system?

Eileen Joy said...

This sucks so bad, I don't even know where to begin. I won't say getting shot would be worse: it might not be. Take this as my gallows humor.

Karl Steel said...

Does anyone with a Mac use a less sophisticated but nonetheless adequate system?

I believe you can run those commands on a Mac.

I'll tell you what I do, though: my backup harddrive is attached to a the same headless computer (i.e., no monitor, no keyboard, no mouse) I use as a media center. I just back things up over my home network using the old drag and drop method. If it's material I need multiple versions of, or material that would absolutely ruin my life if I lost it, I just mail it to my gmail account periodically. There's plenty of storage there (so, for example, there are probably 20 copies of my dissertation buried in my gmail, &c.) I've been using Zim Wiki to store all my notes, as it saves them as text files (small, easily exportable, and thus easy to archive and mail to my gmail).

Now I'm thinking of upgrading my laptop security cable...good lord.

theswain said...

My sincere condolences! Some 22 years ago my first wife and I had our apartment broken into and we were robbed. I have to say that I turned into something more than a foul-mouthed being (and since I worked my way through college on fishing boats, I can use foul language well and in multiple languages too), I wanted to be Beowulf ripping someone's arms off. (We could speculate about the "other" and the "monstrous" of a budding medievalist turning into what he reads in a moment of crisis.) I'm not proud of it, but having felt it, I have to say that you've controlled yourself amazingly well. Kudos to you.

Let us hope that it was a random laptop thief and not a "I'm gonna get that Cohen chap!" laptop thief.

And yes, ol' Boethius et al do rather put things in perspective....hmmm, laptop stolen or a rope twisted around my skull until it shatters.....laptop thief wins.

Dr. Virago said...

Wow. That really sucks. And my god, how brazen that thief was!

And yes, it's a good idea to have the whole laptop password-protected and, if you save passwords for websites, set up that contingent on re-entering the master password. So if you get another laptop, be sure to do this. It's less important for a desktop.

This is making me think I always want a desktop in my office at school.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear this, JJC. As for backing things up, the easiest thing I've found to do involves no hardware whatsoever:

Create a Gmail account called something like [your name], then at the end of every day, send yourself the documents you've working on in an email. The other benefit: you can now access your research anywhere. But, again, I'm sorry to hear this.

Liza Blake said...

Oh, I'm so sorry! Here's hoping UPD catches the culprit ...

I keep a lot of notes in a notebook I carry around with me always, and while it's filled with some real treasures no one has ever felt compelled to try to lift it. I am, however, in the process of sending to my gmail account all those laborious transcriptions of medieval and early modern surgical manuscripts from last year ...

Lisa Spangenberg said...

I'm so sorry. Here are a couple of things to do, though.

1. Find the purchase documents, or AppleCare registration, or the box the laptop shipped in, get the serial number, and call apple to let them know it was stolen.

2. Change your passwords. Yeah, they're encrypted. Change 'em anyway.

3. Backup, part of the built in software, will do automated backups to .Mac. It's worth it for that alone to have a .Mac account.

Get a gmail account and use that to email yourself docs on the fly.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh, man. That sucks. And frankly, what happened to lots of people who are dead and gone would not make me feel better. Am adding "back up my work" to my to-do list today.

Rick Godden said...

As a mac user, I use a combination of Automator, iCal, and an external drive. The two programs both come with a mac. It's fairly simple to set up if you want some help jjc.

To enter the language of mourning, so sorry for your loss. I worked in a computer lab as an undergrad, and after seeing so many people loose work I'm now positively paranoid about backups. Although I never worry about my macbook being filched from my office. I do now...

Mary Kate Hurley said...

JJC> I'm so sorry. It's kind of frightening to think that a thief could -- or would -- walk into the department chair's office and just take a computer, even with someone sitting right there.

Sigh. Not happy. Better than being executed, perhaps, but...still....

Karl Steel said...

My point in bringing up Boethius, Benjamin, (and in srj bringing up Bloch, who I believe was tortured and then shot), was the result of my thinking of scholars who had lost libraries: but most of my examples were people who suffered horrible deaths.

So the only consolation in all these examples is Auerbach. But maybe I'm misremembering Auerbach's lack of a library in Instanbul.

Feast or famine, yes?

And the lack of good example, the ability to provide sympathy but no consolation, well: there's something to be written about this. perhaps it's on my mind because I'm teaching Lear right now, which is perhaps THE text in which sympathy is so present and consolation is so impossible...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I mentioned Bloch because it trivialises his (Bloch's) experience. (And that doesn't stop me sympathising with pc loss - but the losses are incomparable).

Actually I brought up Bloch in relation to Karl's question, not because of his gruesome death, but because he wrote the Historian's Craft after he had lost his library and notes. As a book written from memory, in extreme circumstances, with a mind firmly set on the relevance of the medieval past to the future, it could be a significant inspiration for aficionados of this blog. His evocation of the power of traces of the past - including material traces - was already 'old fashioned' in 1942 - but it could also be inspiring for JJC's current project and (in that sense perhaps) a real consolation.

Karl Steel said...

Just another thought about sympathy vs consolation. Obvious, Consolation of Philosophy is the emblematic consolation, and hence demonstrates emblematically what is wrong with the genre: namely, for Boethius to feel at all better about his situation, he has to be convinced that much of what he had valued did not matter. He had been wasting his time up till then, and in a sense, he can begin living the virtuous life only there, in the prison, now finally freed of distractions. How insulting! And what a crime against the so-called gifts of fortune, his family, and the fruits of his labor, now themselves reduced to mere gifts of fortune (paging Dr Masciandaro).

The other genre of consolation is, I suppose, the revenge fantasy. I think of the eschatological sermons of Raoul Ardent (a 12th-century canon associated with the intellectual circle around Peter the Chanter: see John Baldwin for more), where the consolation for the humiliations of the present life is the future suffering of the rapacious lords (or computer-stealing ninjas). In other words, the so-called accidents of fortune do matter, because some Pere is tallying them up, and presenting our enemies with the bill in the last days.

I'm not sure which mode of consolation is worse.

Which is to say Jeffrey (and indeed Eileen, regarding your cat, which is a different stratum of grief altogether) that I'm not sure of the capacity to offer, in any honorable sense, anything but sympathy.

Karl Steel said...

srj: probably no more gruesome than Boethius's death! I'm sorry if I came off as if I had chastised you: wasn't my intent.

His evocation of the power of traces of the past - including material traces - was already 'old fashioned' in 1942 - but it could also be inspiring for JJC's current project and (in that sense perhaps) a real consolation.

Nicely put.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

That's truly awful, JJC. I am so sorry!

Unknown said...

Can't hurt...

Sorry about your laptop. I may have left a cow in at the end, but you'll get the idea:

Ne forstolen ne forholen nanuht, þæs ðe ic age, þe ma ðe mihte Herod urne drihten. Ic geþohte sancte Eadelenan and ic geþohte Crist on rode ahangen; swa ic þence þis laptop to findanne, næs to oðfeorrganne, and to witanne, næs to oðwyrceanne, and to lufianne, næs to oðlædanne.
Garmund, godes ðegen,
find þæt laptop and fere þæt laptop
and hafa þæt laptop and heald þæt laptop
and fere ham þæt laptop.
þæt he næfre næbbe landes, þæt he hit oðlæde,
ne foldan, þæt hit oðferie,
ne husa, þæt he hit oðhealde.
Gif hyt hwa gedo, ne gedige hit him næfre!
Binnan þrym nihtum cunne ic his mihta,
his mægen and his mihta and his mundcræftas.
Eall he weornige, swa syre wudu weornie,
swa breðel seo swa þystel,
se ðe ðis laptop oðfergean þence
oððe ðis orf oðehtian ðence.
Amen. .

Jeffrey Cohen said...

The Consolation of In the Middle ... The theft of my laptop is mitigated by all these kind thoughts and philosophical ruminations. Thanks, everyone!

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Jeffrey, sorry to hear about your laptop. Reminds me of the time in grad school when our apartment was ransacked by junkies, who took everything _except_ my papers and books. Boethius also came to mind then, along the lines of, "I read Boethius and therefore this should not be a problem."

So, Karl, thanks for paging me. My reading of the Consolation, which I suspect you are anticipating, is the evil twin of yours: the point of the Consolation (and the only true, the only possible consolation, cf. Julian of Norwich) is that there is no consolation (cf. Derrida's there is no secret) because everything is always already OK. The good things in Boethius's life are not reduced to gifts of fortune in his imprisoned vision but elevated to parts of a greater, ineffable, and always available totality, the NUNC STANS, to which the good, a potential of every moment, provides access.

Anonymous said...

I've not tried my friend's solution either, but it's on my long-term to-do list.

I don't have a laptop, so here's what I do:

-Daily, I'll copy everything I've been working on to a USB flash drive, and I use that drive to manually sync the files on my home computer and my work computer.

-Weekly, I back up my files to an external hard drive and upload them to a gmail account using the Firefox gspace plugin.

You could do the same thing with a .Mac account, which includes both iDisk and Backup. iDisk is a remote hard drive, and that would work on it's own, but Backup lets you set up an automatic backup schedule which handles the process for you.

A .Mac account would cost you about $100/year or $180/year for a family account, but it will provide automatic backups and remote data storage (always important) as well as other goodies. Personally, I'd still keep a local backup as well.

Even if you use something like gmail or .Mac, I'd still recommend keeping a manual backup schedule as well using an external hard drive and CDs/DVDs. With an automatic system in place, you don't have to be as rigorous bout it, but if a file corrupts, your automatic system is just going to back up the corrupted file (Or you might just happen to loose your internet access for a day when you just happen to need to finish something that happened to get lost). So it's always a good idea to have an archive on CD/DVD.

Depending upon how valuable your data is, it wouldn't be out of line to back up files to CD/DVD every 3, 6, or 12 months and keep a copy of those files at home and in a safety deposit box. If you do that, you should keep the old CD/DVDs for at least 3-5 years to give yourself an archive to go back to in case a file corrupts and you start making backups of the corrupted file.

In presenting this, I should note that I don't live up to my own ideal, but it is no mistake that memoria was so closely connected to Prudence!