A few days before the last Raya, my laptop stopped working. When it happened, it did not bother me that much because I have always used two computers, my laptop and another desktop computer in my office. I regularly swap files between the two machines, so I figured that I did not lose a lot of data. My desktop acted as the de facto backup drive for my files.
I procured a used laptop the next day. Since Raya was just around the corner, I decided to wait after Raya to copy the missing files from my desktop. After Raya, I went to Middle East for two weeks, so by the time I got into my office, it was already 3 weeks after my laptop got kaput. Nevermind, I thought at the time, perhaps this is what I need, an extended time away from computers and work. It is healthy to let go of the digital umbilical cord every now and then.
When I switched on my desktop, to my horror and shock I found out that my desktop had stopped working as well. Then only I realized the extent of the damage. All my company documents, my math notes that I wrote and collected since 1999, my personal finance documents, my Youtube and movie and mp3 folders, were gone. I poked and prodded the goddamned machine for hours, but to no avail. Some smart techie might be able to restore my files (I don’t know much about hardware) but I braced myself for the worst: what will happen if I lose all my computer files permanently.
I know that I am an idiot for not backing my files on an external hard drive (this is the kind of lessons you learn only when it’s too late). After hours of regret and “what-ifs”, I set about to recover my files. The Youtube videos, films, and mp3s can be downloaded easily so no big damage there. The folders are too big anyway with too much of random shit like the “Kitteh Om Nom Nom” flash video I rarely open. The personal finance documents can be recovered from paper receipts, tax forms, statements and vouchers (always keep your papers in order, folks!). However, the biggest saviour of all, without any doubt, is Gmail, or GoogleMail for you Europeans.
In Aidan, we conduct all our internal correspondence over Gmail. I open all emails from my various email accounts in Gmail because Gmail is infinitely better than any email clients I’ve ever used. Also, most of the files in my business folders have been through my Gmail inbox at least once, so they can be recovered. I spent one whole afternoon doing keyword searches to reconstruct my business folders. Almost all Aidan documents — letters, proposals, spreadsheets, presentation slides, drafts, minutiae, working papers — were there in my Gmail inbox, as if Gmail is my backup drive. Perhaps this is what Google intended when they marketed Gmail as the new way of using email.
However, there were two things which I could not recover fully. First, photos. There were not many of those, so no big deal. People around me know that I don’t like to take photos and I don’t like to be photographed. Second, my math documents. I usually prepare my math documents on MikTeX, and then compile it into DVI or PDF files. Most of the files in my Gmail inbox is in the final compiled format (DVI or PDF) which I send to people. So, I couldn’t recover the lost source files in the TeX format. One particularly huge loss is the source files of my Basics of Math Olympiad books. I would have to retype the whole thing should there be a second edition for this series. Imagine writing and editing a full-length book and have it vanish into thin air. I am a moron.
1. Always back up your files externally.
2. Use Gmail. I know there are many applications you can use to store files remotely, but none of them match the simplicity and usefulness of Gmail.
3. Send files to your own Gmail inbox for safekeeping. Make sure the filenames and email title are descriptive to make it easy to track down in the future.
4. After you finish working on your document (in Words, PowerPoint, Excel, Photoshop, etc.), make it a habit to both save the file AND send it to your Gmail inbox.
5. For TeX files, send source files to Gmail as well, not only the final compiled files.
6. Do not delete your email, unless it has absolutely zero information (e.g. emails like “Bal, petang ni aku sampai pukul 3.30pm. See you. -J”), or if it contains very large attachments, e.g. video files and high-res photos. Keep all your emails. You never know if you gonna need them in the future. I’ve been stuffing my inbox since 2004, but I never went beyond 30% of the storage space. Gmail inbox, like the universe itself, is always expanding.