Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Blue Screen of Death

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There I was, having my happy lunchtime break, watching The Daily Politics and pondering how it is that I have ended up with such a deep love for Andrew Neil, a man with questionable hair and an ego the size of Poland, when the computer went blue and started screaming. I am not joking. It made this terrible electronic robot yell, so loud I spilled my coffee. White words started scrolling all over a terrifying blue screen, so fast I could not read them.  All I could take in was some kind of countdown going on at the bottom and something about 'physical memory'. Physical memory???

Then everything went black.

I stared at the blackness for a while, my heart banging in my chest like an entire percussion section on mephedrone. You have not backed up, said the voices in my head. You have twenty-five thousand words of a new book that you HAVE NOT BACKED UP. Why did you go and buy that stupidly expensive memory stick if you were just going to put it in a pot on your desk and not actually use it? Do you not know that only idiots and super-idiots do not back up? Did we teach you nothing?

The blackness persisted. Some lights flickered feebly on the keyboard, as if in quiet defeat. I gazed at my little electronic box and realised half my life was trapped within it. There is not just everything I have written in the last eight months, but also all the bookmarks, all the articles I have stored that are relevant for my work, all the Google books I have put on my bookshelf, all my emails, all my blogs. I yearned, quietly, for the old days of pieces of paper and a good old typewriter. I started writing so long ago that I actually typed my first two books, tap tap tap, like those old-school journos that you see in ancient films. Rewriting was hell, because there was no cut and paste, you had to retype the entire manuscript each time.

I bless the new technology every day. It's not just that I can move about great chunks of text, and send entire books to my editor through the ether. It's not just that the whole world is presented to me on a screen. The computer and the internet enable me to live in far north of Scotland, six hundred miles away from the British Museum library, and still do all the research I need. It has liberated me in twenty different ways. But it has enslaved me as well, because when the thing just STOPS, I realise that I am quite unmanned (unwomaned?). I am left bereft and powerless. I find this peculiarly alarming. I live in mild fear that one day the internet will break. If I were an evil criminal mastermind who wanted to bring mighty powers to their knees, I would not bother with bombs or bullets, I would just get a sixteen-year-old hacker to crash the internet. That would really send us back to the stone age.

As you can see, the little computer that could finally, after much flickering and chuntering, reset itself. The lovely electronic ping that announces the start of the day, and usually irritates me slightly (it's a too pingy ping) fell on my ears like balm. My icons sprang back into life, one by one. My documents file was untouched, and is now safely on a neat little flash drive.

So, my darlings, if you do one thing today: BACK UP. It is not my place to tell you to do anything, but really, back up. Otherwise the blue screen of death might get you too.

Picture of the day is from an interesting blog called Daily Dose of Imagery. A man called Sam Javanrouh is doing the thing I thought about but never quite put into practice, which is taking a photograph a day and posting it on his blog. He has a real talent, so much so that he managed to take this most mundane of objects, a doormat, and make it look new and beautiful:

door_mat_detail_01 by Sam Javanrouh

Isn't that rather amazing? I shall now look at doormats in an entirely new light, which must surely be a good thing.

And as a bonus, in honour of the special Easter snow which is still falling, a lovely picture from The Sartorialist:

Walking in the snow from The Sartorialist

I must tell you that when I go walking in the snow, it looks nothing like that at all. There is a baggy old tweed coat with holes in the pockets, and some dirty green gumboots. Sadly, we can't all stalk the streets in red-soled shoes.


  1. I am so sorry you went through the horror of the blue screen, and so glad that all of your words (and no doubt pictures) are safe.
    I also have to tell you that your description of Andrew Neil made me squeal with laughter in a way that I'm sure will have alarmed my neighbours, should they be in.
    For that, and the beautiful picture with the red soled shoes, thank you. I also looked nothing like that as I fled the now/hail of Swansea this afternoon to return home.

  2. Just reading that brought back memories of a similar thing happening to me a couple of years ago. A freelance book-keeper who has OTHER PEOPLE'S RECORDS stored on her laptop should back everything up at least twenty times a day. Just to make sure. I do now but I didn't then. Just as well I had previously emailed the data from which to restore which saved my arse. It took me a good few hours to realise that all was not lost and during that time I just wanted to DIE. This is one thing that gives me Major Heebies. *shudders*

    Everything for a reason. You won't do that again, Tania, and neither will I.

  3. oooh - just found you via the maze of reading other people's blogs! I LOVED your book ;-)

    Re yr posting - I actually have an external hard drive to which I have told my husband that I back things very regularly.

    I have done it once since I bought it.

    Suitably terrified by your torch-beneath-the-chin horror story of the Blue Screen of Death, I shall away to the bedroom, I mean office, and back up right now.

    Ali x

  4. I spied that lovely photo too. One of his best. The flash of red soles and the snow is magical! I hope you get your machine working soon. The blue screen of death is every writer's nightmare :-)


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