The agony and the Technology

You always know it’s going to happen again sooner or later. I suppose for me it was later, since this hasn’t happened for years. But I knew it would recur. I knew.

You always know it’s going to happen again sooner or later. I suppose for me it was later, since this hasn’t happened for years. But I knew it would recur. I knew.


See, I have lost vital documents before. I have had computers crash. I’ve also been pretty lucky about seeing it coming or getting warning signs.

Twas Friday. The sun was shining. My list of 22 things to do was down to 15, two of which included tidying up a Sampler for Cliff Ashby (when you are 90 such things should not be delayed) (oh … I am not 90, Cliff is) and a wee slip of an unofficial publication for Bobbie Coelho (more about that later). Those were the small tasks, and then I was going to start on the new pamphlets for Sally Festing and Mark Halliday, to be closely followed by Tommy McKean’s Conversation with Ruth Pitter, and poetry pamphlets by Rose Cook and Alison Brackenbury. Not to mention the submissions box for January because several very good people still haven’t had responses from me.

Ah, it all sounds so simple. And so it should have been. I was calm. I had swiftly and unerringly moved onto the part-time teaching timetable which means I get paid less but get more time – so no teaching on Fridays.

But before I started the HappenStance stuff, I went to print a pdf (an email attachment). It wouldn’t print. This is my NEW printer. Bugger! This has happened before, but not with this printer. Somehow my computer paused the print job. This shouldn’t be a problem in itself. It should be very simple to un-pause it. However, on my Mac, for reasons which have never been plain, I can’t get into a System Preferences pane, which normal Mac users can see. The System Preferences Pane tells you what’s going on with the printer (among other things).

So I fiddled with a few things, turned things off and on. No joy.

When I bought my Imac I took out the three-year protection plan which was on special offer and very cheap. It runs out in 37 days. So I decided wotthehell, as archy would have said, I would phone them and see if I could sort out this System Preferences thing. (This is quite a long story, by the way – too long for a blog really. How long have you got?)

I phoned. The Mac people are terribly nice. It is practically worth the protection plan money just to get to talk to them. However, that is by the by. While I was talking the printer suddenly creaked into action and printed the offending document. Typical. I realised that for some reason it was coming through as a very large file (even though just one page long) and this was what had caused the problem. However, I thought I’d ask about the System Preferences anyway. First mistake.

The charming person I spoke to (called Scott) took me through all sorts of clever ways of trying to find where my System Preferences had gone. It’s an education doing this kind of thing. It really is. However, we didn’t find them. He went to ask a Senior Technician who suggested something else, but the System Preferences preferred to remain unfound.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Scott. ‘Have you got the disks that came with your Imac handy?’

‘I do,’ I said proudly.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘We can do an archive install. That will make sure your System Preferences are where they ought to be without disrupting any of your current files.’

He showed me how to do it. Select options, choose ‘Archive instal’ which doesn’t erase the hard drive.

Then we ceased talking because the installation takes about an hour and a half, during which time I abandoned HappenStance and went to do SQA work.

All went well. First disk one. Then, when instructed by the machine itself, disk 2. Soon a message came up ‘Finishing Installation’… ‘one minute to go’. But an hour later there was also ‘one minute to go’. Half an hour after that there was still ‘one minute to go’.

So I phoned them. ‘Ah,’ said my next kindly Mac person. ‘The archive installation has failed. What you’ll need to do is start it all again.’

That was when I first had the Uneasy Feeling. ‘What will happen,’ I ventured nervously, ‘if it doesn’t work the second time around?’

‘It should work,’ he said (I don’t know what he was called). ‘It works 90% of the time.’

How do you feel about percentages? When someone says 90% of the time to me, I hear ‘10% of the time it doesn’t work.’

‘So what do I do if it doesn’t work?’ I asked.

‘You’ll need to do a full installation,’ he said.

‘You mean erase the hard drive and install?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘Wait a minute,’ I said, thinking fast. ‘Can I back up the files I was working on when I rang you before I do that?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You can wire it up to another machine and copy from one to the other. It’s quite easy. Have you got another Mac?’

Have I got another Mac?’

‘Yes. Have you got another computer on your network?’

‘I haven’t got a network,’ I squeaked. ‘I have an external hard drive. And another computer. But it’s a pc, not a Mac.’

‘It has to be a Mac,’ he said. ‘Alternatively you could get a Mac engineer to get the files off your computer though it could cost several hundred pounds.’

‘Ah,’ I said. There was a pause.

I couldn’t help saying, ‘It would have been good idea, on balance, if the last adviser had warned me about this possibility, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t have taken me long to back up before we started all this. The last time I did it was three weeks ago.’ (Thank God, I was thinking. At least I had done it then. At least I might only have to replicate three weeks’ worth of work.)

But I do quite a lot of work in three weeks. I couldn’t quite remember how many documents that would be… And I had some emails that needed replies, and I hadn’t backed up my email address book either.

‘The second installation should work,’ he said. But I knew he sounded Less Sure.

‘I’ll try it,’ I said. ‘But if it doesn’t work, I’m going to be phoning you again. For Counselling, right?’

‘Okay,’ he said cheerfully. He knew, you see, that I wouldn’t get him next time round. There are 38 of them. I know this because Scott (the first one) told me that he wasn’t busy at all, there were 38 of them waiting for calls to come in because for some reason it was terribly quiet at the moment…

Needless to say it did not work. I tried it three times. You can hear the point at which the installation fails because the second disk tries to do something; its engines whirr into action and then just die.

Meanwhile, I was on my other (old) desktop. On which, I might point out, I am currently writing this blog. I was looking up the price of Macbooks. I’ve been going to get a laptop for ages, because I really need one when I’m doing SQA work away from home. I was going to get a Windows laptop, but it suddenly came to me that if it was a Mac laptop (much dearer), I could use it to do the backing up thing. Also I could do the backing up thing regularly. Belt and braces.

I put the bits and pieces I would need (white Macbook on offer) into my Apple basket and then phoned the salesline to sort out the educational discount (thank you Adam Smith College employer). Apple have lovely sales people as well as lovely (if dangerous) protection plan advisers. This one was called Duncan. He had an Irish accent which could sell anything. He was just lovely. He even knew about Mac to Mac saving stuff, and the firewire I would need, and explained some other stuff.

‘Ok,’ I said. ‘I may get back to you tomorrow.’

Slept on it.

Next day, I checked with the protection plan people that if I bought the Macbook this whole bloody computers talking to each other really would work, even with my Imac in a state of impenetrability. Because discount or no discount, people, we are talking serious money here and HappenStance Press is only just afloat cash-wise. And Helena Nelson has just reduced her teaching salary by a laptop a month.

This time I got a chap with what I think was a Caribbean accent. At first I thought I might have difficulty understanding him well, but as we went along I got to like him. He explained the whole firewire thing and how it would work and why it should work. (He was quite careful on this aspect.)

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Just one last thing. What if when all this is done and I do the Full Installation and Erase Disk option – what if THAT doesn’t work?’

‘That will mean there is something wrong with your hard disk,’ he said.

‘Not the installation disks,’ I said, ‘you mean the hard disk drive of the Imac?’

‘Correct,’ he said.

‘In which case,’ I suggested, ‘you would have to do something about that because it would be your fault not mine because my computer is still inside extended warranty and protection plan?’

‘Correct,’ he said (but I could hear him grinning). ‘You have thirty-seven days to go.’

‘Right,’ I said. ‘I’m buying the Macbook but I’m phoning back next week to be talked through the bit where the Macs talk to each other. Is that okay?’

‘Certainly, Madam,’ he said. At least I think he said ‘Madam’ at this point. He certainly made me feel important.

So that’s the state of play today, May 2, 2009.

I have spoken with Irish Duncan, ensured he got a sale before he downed tools for the day, and rejigged my list of things to do. It’s now Submissions Box, Ruth Pitter biography review, the SQA support pack notes and the Ambit reviews while I am waiting to get back onto the Imac, which is the only way I can type-set publications.

The next chapter in this story will be next Friday, when I hope the new machine will arrive and the scheme will be put to the test.

Blog entries should be short and sweet. You don’t need all this. I am sorry. It has made me feel better.

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