Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Poetry and Prose

While I'm blogging over at DigiCon, I'd like you all to welcome my guest to Terry's Place. Born and raised in New York City, Margaret Fieland has been around art and music all her life. In addition to her writing, she earns her living as a computer software engineer. "The Angry Little Boy," will be published by 4RV Publishing in early 2013.

Why I back up my data, and why I'm glad it's organized.

I wrote poetry for years, scribbling in notebooks that I stuck in a box in the attic, before I bothered to figure out how to organize and keep my poems, and now that I've started writing novels, I have a system all worked out.

What got me started was that I had written a poem I knew I wanted to keep and try to get published. I looked around for someplace to keep it where it would be both accessible and protected. Sad experience had taught me that backing up one's data is vital.

The first time I encountered data loss, I shrugged it off as an aberration. I was working for a place in the west 40's in Manhattan, a little hole in the wall that did data processing for one of the large department stores that has since gone belly up. We were at lunch, in one of the many restaurants that peppered the area, when the conversation turned to smoking.

“John had given up smoking,” Colin, my boss, remarked, “but he took it up again when he deleted our source code. We had to restore it from backup, and he started smoking again.”

“What happened?” I asked.

A backup utility had completed unsuccessfully, leaving the data unreadable.

“But,” Colin added, “If you copy the data out and copy it back, that can't happen.”

I duly made a mental note.

The next time it was my fault. I had moved on to a new job, and I was trying to learn the ins and outs of the backup and restore utilities. I made a mistake, inserting a space before a comma, and ended up deleting the entire data set instead of just one member. My boss covered for me, and restored it from backup.

I duly made a mental note.

Ever since then I check everything over. If I can go through it twice without finding anything that needs changing, I pass it as good to go. This applies equally to programming computers and to proofreading and editing. For some reason, two is, for me, the magic number.

The next time, however, convinced me that backing up one's data is vital.

I had moved on to yet another job, this time working for a large bank as what today would be called a system administrator. We had a number of specially coded routines that had to be inserted into various spots in each new release of the operating system, a number of which were accounting utilities designed to keep track of resource usage for billing purposes, and a number of others designed to validate privileges for accessing data. They were stored in the same kind of file that the first place had used, and they used the same utility in the same incorrect manner.

They did have procedures that were designed to alert someone (not us) that an error had occurred, and they did back up their data. But by the time someone noticed the problem, all the good backup copies had gone out of retention.

They switched to a library package, but the missing programs had to be painfully recoded.

It was a lot of work. So much work that it convinced me that yes, it could happen again. And I better be prepared.

Now I keep master copies of my work on Google documents, which is available online from any computer I care to use. It's easy to upload files and I can modify them there if I want to. I can download them again. I can share them with others, or email them a copy. I can organize my files into folders, and I can search through them easily.

I can't overstate the importance this has for me. I got back into writing seriously because I had my work organized and accessible. I came across a contest, knew I had a suitable poem, and submitted it. When I managed to make the final four, I decided that it was worth investing time and effort in my writing.

If I had still been scribbling in notebooks that I hid in the attic, it never would have happened.

And yeah, I've had to revert to backup copies.

For move, visit Margaret at her website, http://www.margaretfieland.com
And check out 4RV Publishing http://4rvpublishingllc.com/


Sherry Gloag said...

I remember when I tried updating the microsoft service pack 3 for XP it eat the hard-drive. I'd had losses before, but not on that scale. I'd become careful about backups with previous losses, that total harddrive loss has made me obsessive.
Unfortunately I can't say my organisational skils have kept up.
But I agree, back-up back-up, back-up your work.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

An excellent reminder. I have several different methods of backup since it makes me feel a little sick to think about losing work.