Digging up Dinosaurs


No, not the extinct scaly (or possibly feathery) critters not seen around for seventy some million years.

I’m talking about the old computer you suddenly need, because your main computer died in the early hours of Monday, and your already glitchy laptop took one look at the vast responsibilities of being a writer’s main tool and went belly up Tuesday afternoon.

https://www.gocomics.com/bc/2020/05/13

Yeah, suddenly you’re down to that cute little bitty thing you bought in . . . Good Lord! Does that label say it was manufactured in 10/02? Well it’s better than nothing, right? Except, wasn’t there some issue with not being able to find the MS Office key the last time you . . . did something . . .


Well, hey, writing on Note Pad’s no big deal, and the new computer you ordered over the internet will be here RSN.

No wait! Saved! The husband’s old work computer was retired for reliability issues, not a complete failure to perform. And it’s only eleven years old, and it’s third hard drive is bare six years old . . . Hmm, Window Vista? Meh, I’ll deal with it.

So I’m back in business . . . now I just need to get out the backup thumb drives . . . I backed up Friday or Saturday, right? And Sunday online so all I need to do is remember all the passwords and . . . wow, this computer’s never heard of online backup? No matter, I’ll figure it out . . .


Well, that’s been the week (so far) at the Uphoff Hacienda.
So this is your reminder to back up a lot more frequently, and that automatic backup several times a day is a good thing. Multiple media for backing up is also good. Checking that your automatic back up is actually doing so is good.

And for the sake of your sanity, have at least one more reliable machine handy, loaded with all the programs you use, and occasionally transfer all your writing and art files to it, so you don’t have to spend days rebuilding and cussing things that somehow didn’t get backed up . . . on a cranky outdated machine and then doing it again on the new one, as soon as you get it.

All I can says it that it’s a good thing I don’t do preorders, because there would be a few deadlines whizzing past, if I gave myself any. Of course there’s that short story for an anthology . . . I did back it up . . . right?

And . . . where’s the MGC dashboard? Not to mention the password . . . .

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So how about a story about an AI?

41 comments

  1. Yah know, I recollect Isaac Asimov writing the same thing about typewriters.
    Which is worse: the scenario you describe of reviving the Auncient WerkHoarse, or having a project due tomorrow and the printer runs out of ink, or just croaks, and they don’t sell that ink at Walmart which is the only place still open, so you have to buy an entirely new printer…
    …And then you discover you can’t format the art/graphics/spreadsheet in the software you have…
    …But, no fear, there is a perfect solution in the 30 day free trial of SumKynnaDing-YewBetcha which you can download…
    …And then you don’t have the right drivers, so you download those, and it makes your computer crash…
    …But you get it fixed, and SKD-YB is marvelous, and perfect for your application!
    BUT! The 30 day free trial version is only good for a five page document. Yours is 83 pages…
    …That’s okay, though, because the retail full version is only $19.99. Except they use a person to take your money, and they are only in the office M-W from 10-2, T-F 9-4, Transitive Time Zone. You can’t find a reference to Transitive Time Zone anywhere…
    …And then, it gets WEIRD!

    1. The printer for the tax computer at RedQuarters ran out of toner. One printer, one new computer, new back-up drive, new copy of the tax program, re-entering two years of data by hand, and new something else (I don’t remember everything) later, the taxes got printed and sent in.

      DadRed despises printers.

  2. > online backup

    Backups are good. But only restores count.

    Online backups might be convenient… but they’re on someone’s machine you don’t have access to, over a network that may not be up. Only local backups are real.

    You need multiple backups. Yes, they cost money. What is your work worth?

    There’s lots of “backup software” out there. Most of it is marketed with claims of speed. To get that speed, they only save “changes since last backup.” So if any of the previous backups has a bad spot, it can prevent you from getting at your most recent backup.

    Back in ancient times backup software ran files together to save space between disk blocks, then compressed it to save more space, because backup media were expensive and usually smaller than disks. That’s old-school technology, like punched tape or vacuum tubes. 1Tb external USB drives are $50-ish. Just copy the freakin’ files over to make a backup. You can than plug that drive into *any* machine and use it right freakin’ now without installing some kind of “restore” software.

    I know I’ve told this story before, but years ago I got a call telling me a mutual friend, G. Harry Stine. had passed away. Harry had once lost most of a book when a disk became unreadable; after that he became rigorous at making sure that never happened again. He kept a stack of floppy disks and swapped them out between saves, which he did every few paragraphs.

    Harry’s wife had come in to tell him lunch was ready and found his body slumped over his keyboard. She mentioned that the dialog box was up on his monitor, telling him his file had been successfully saved to Drive A:.

    1. Online backups might be convenient… but they’re on someone’s machine you don’t have access to, over a network that may not be up. Only local backups are real.

      If you have your online backups set to keep a copy on the local drive as well as online, it creates a backup every time you log into the machine.
      (Note: if you’ve got “save space” turned on, tell it to always have X available, for Onedrive.)

      Been using that to back up pictures for years, now; when my sister passed away, I was able to create a memorial slide show because I’d nagged my mom into letting me set her ancient computer on the radio internet to upload all of them. (Which took most of the week I was there, and “somebody” kept disabling updates/autostart/etc, but most of it was available when we needed access.)

      It’s more secondary to protecting the pictures, but my writing attempts are on 5 drives around the house, no more than a week out of date.

      It’s basically a backup program that has an offsite option with the sub.

      1. The more backups the better! Even if they are on someone else’s computer! 🙂

        I’ve got a local NAS to backup my Windows machines, and that NAS has external backup drives which I rotate off site to a bank safety box, when I remember to do it.

        And I also use Dropbox and OneDrive.

        And some files are also copied to USB thumb drives. And the laptops get backed up to the NAS and to their own external USB drives on an irregular schedule, since the NAS is really slow if the laptop isn’t in the house. Only about 10 Mbps upload from home, after all.

        More backups! More!

        1. I have about two terabytes of digital photographs, some business, some personal, going back a good fifteen years. Plus a few hundred megabytes of other kinds of data files. Two and a half terabytes over an online backup service? Naah, ain’t gonna happen.

          I have two full backups of the photographs onto USB hard drives, and I back up the data files to thumbdrives.

        2. ExplainingComputers channel on the Toob has some good videos on how to deal with Pis, how to build a simple NAS using free software, and so on.

      2. This reminded me – I’d misplaced my usb for my external Seagate drive. I just went to Amazon, and found a replacement – just 6.49 – then I applied my VISA cards points, and got it for free.
        Win-win. I have iCloud backup, but…

    2. A few months ago, something went wrong on the backup drive, and the backup defaulted to store the data on the main disk. This screwed up some elements on the system, and attempting to deal with it, I graunched the backup drive.

      Some Linux Voodoo later, the main drive was working, and I redid the backup configuration file so that it will *never* try to write to the main drive. After I had a new backup started, I grabbed another USB drive and now it does a completely separate monthly backup. Short of a Carrington event, I think my data is safe. (Though I need to refresh the copies stored in another building…)

  3. Hmm, Window Vista?

    Long ago, at a combined computer/SF con $HOUSEMATE asked about Vista and mentioned (my) Pa was running it, after a fashion…

    And one of the gurus are the COMPUTER/SF con asked… “HOW?!?!”

    Evidently Pa didn’t know it was impossible…

    1. Vista is a great OS, compared to an extreme extrapolation of the trend in Apple software design and support choices. 🙂

      My official position in the OS holy wars is 8 bit MS DOS, precisely because I was most interested in grounds to fight as many people as possible.

      1. Especially the flavor called PC-DOS! Or if you are talking real dinosaurs, CP/M.

      2. I am sure I annoyed a fee who said “DOS” by asking “WHICH DOS?” as they assumed ALL was MS/IBM… and I could tell them of THREE Apple2 (alone) Disk Operating Systems (3.2, 3.3, ProDOS) – and that was BEFORE I was aware the DOS that predated them all.. for IBM mainframes.

    2. I used to run Vista. It was a fine operating system. I ran it in 64 bit mode on an Athlon64 X2 with 4 GB of RAM. So it had plenty of room, unlike some systems that only shipped with 1 GB, which was not really enough.

      In my opinion, Windows 7 impressed more people just because the common hardware had finally improved. 7 was nothing more than a Vista service pack with a little paint slapped on it.

      1. My memory of it is this:

        $HOUSEMATE and I went got The Folks an Apple Mac mini… and the phone calls stopped. Alright, the GOOD phone calls (“Happy birthday” etc.) didn’t. The “WTH?/WTF?” calls stopped. Huzzah! And I am NOT a fan of Jobsian Apple. (Jobs is severely overrated, IMNSHO.)

        1. For ease of use, nothing beats Apple products. However, they are expensive, can’t easily be repaired, and become obsolete in around 6-7 years. Parts are often not available, or were soldered in.

          When my current Apple products die (iPhone, 3 iPads, and Macbook Air), I won’t be replacing them. I may look into installing Linux on them, if they are still working when Apple cuts off update. Otherwise, generic PC-types that can be upgraded easily.

  4. I know there’s a thing where you can clone a drive and then plug it into another computer, but I’ve never had luck with it.

    Homeschooling is more computer-resource-intensive than writing, and our family games, so I’ve got good excuses for having a laptop that can do anything my desktop does. (Although not as well, for gaming–husband’s computer and laptop, they’re a tie, especially if he’s deployed for a month and uses the in room TV as his monitor.)

    There should be some decent deals on laptops as the kung flu panic eases up a bit, or if you’re willing to spend time hunting.
    I got a really nice refurb off of NewEgg that way…..

    1. I’ve bought a couple of Dell desktops (refurbished and upgraded business machines) and a laptop from various vendors through Amazon. Had reasonable luck, though one had the power supply module go south just as Kung Flu hit. I bought the replacement myself and it took little time to fix.

      For the OEM refurb: https://www.dellrefurbished.com/

      I haven’t dealt with them, but their selection is good. An internet friend uses them extensively and has had good luck.

      I do have a Y2K vintage Sony Vaio desktop sitting in the shop. It’d need a few hundred MB worth of updates, but it could be used. OTOH, I have a near clone of the home desktop sitting in my shop. Used it when that power supply issue hit. Did a disc transplant and a bit of reconfiguration, and I was good to go.

  5. Chez Phantom is a hardware-heavy environment lately due to Life (TM) but I do still keep the really -old- stuff around Just In Case something might happen. I think the oldest of all are the mid-90s SGI Octanes. ~:D Slower than an iPhone 5S.

    On the subject of Mickeysoft misbehavior, a year or so ago MS Word decided that auto-save would only go to OneDrive, their cloud service. I’m not a fan of cloud services, because my internet connection is slow DSL and because I don’t want all my stuff in somebody else’s hard drive.

    There was no warning of the change, and no discussion. Just the auto-save one day demanding I open a OneDrive account. So I shut off auto-save and hit ctrl-s every five minutes like in the Old Days.

    Well, on Monday this week, apropos of nothing, MS Word changed all the save command stuff again. Auto-save was turned on, the “save” command in the “file” pulldown is gone, and I have a blue banner at the top of the screen with “auto-save” enabled. Demands that I open a OneDrive account have ceased. So now it auto-saves to -my- storage every five minutes just like it is supposed to, and as it used to do.

    All of which happened without an update and without my permission or participation. This tests my temper, I must say. They’re screwing with one of the most basic functions of my word processor, I should at least get a pop-up window.

    I can’t be the only user out there irritated by this cavalier behavior. Billion dollar companies run this software, there must have been more than one Strongly Worded Letter from the Chief IT officer of BigBank to Mickeysoft.

    Therefore I wonder if Mickeysoft is starting to have bandwidth problems with OneDrive. One of the consequences of Corona Chan Lockdown is unprecedented internet loads. Literally everybody is dumping cable (no football) and streaming Netflix. Could be the Microsoft infrastructure is bending under the weight?

    Back up now. Back up often. Back up to something that doesn’t run Windows, if you’re particularly suspicious like I am. If your whole house is a Microsoft or Apple monoculture, those companies pretty much own your work output. I run a NAS from Netgear, it has a Linux operating system and four hard drives in it. If a virus (or a company screw up) takes out every Win 10 box I own, the little Linux box will still be alive.

    For those on limited budget, may I suggest the Raspberry Pi solution. Here’s one how-to, there are many out there. https://www.windowscentral.com/how-build-raspberry-pi-powered-nas

    This is not an optimum backup solution, but it is a -cheap- one and it doesn’t run on BigCompany software that you have to rent by the year. So if OneDrive goes down because Netflix finally crushed the Internet, this thing will still be sitting there with all your crap on it, safe and sound.

    If you want to be -ultra- paranoid about it, stick the thing in a tin box in the back yard on an extension cord. That way it survives a house fire.

    Or a solar energy setup. ~:D Solar panel and a car battery! Have some fun with Pringles cans making tight-beam antennae for 5GHz wi-fi connection, the full Secret Sam backup box so the aliens can’t get your book.

    Hmm, low-power version running on a little solar panel, feeding data to flash drives because no spinning metal disks to eat up power… costs like $100 all-in… fits in a fishing tackle box… or a plastic pop-bottle… hmm…

    1. Could be the Microsoft infrastructure is bending under the weight?

      Apparently Teams usage (which is all-cloud, even for companies) has been doubling every day. That’s probably an exaggeration, but impressive none-the-less.

      More importantly, I noticed War Party when I went to get Fancy Free. Two-fer, yay!

      1. I understand from Young Relative that the university kids are using Discord for their stand-up meetings every morning. Its a Twitch-stream service meant for trash-talking your friends while playing Team Doom or whatever the crazy kids are up to these days.

        Darn kids, get off my lawn…

        1. It’s been getting some voice bugs because of the heavy use, too– aaaaaaand they just rolled out a new and more intense video chat too. -.-

          I’m hoping that is connected to fixing the voice issues! It’s not as much fun to listen to Elf’s D&D group when a quarter of the time is “wait, what was that?”

    2. I know that G-mail, and a lot of the associated G-stuff has been bogging recently. G-forms was positively glitchy last week. I suspect overload because of the end of the academic year.

    3. I had the Pi 3, and it was great. Upgraded to Pi 4 when it came out, and I had problems almost from the start. It was not my main machine, so I limped along for a while with it.
      Finally called Canakit, and explained that I was getting stalls and freezes, and – sometimes – an outright crash. They agreed to take it back and replace it – I’m still waiting. They’re a good company, but take their time getting things out.
      At the same time, I upgraded the RAM – you can never have too much RAM.
      But, generally, this is a product that is easy to build, set up, and use. Looks like any other interface, and doesn’t require too much knowledge of Linux to get started.
      I’m at Lfox368806 – a Yahoo account – if you have time to answer some questions. I’m trying to get connected to my ham radio, and some of the builds are asking for a lot more knowledge than I have about Linux.

    4. More like business (MSFT’s *real* customers) had quickly complained about the whole forced-to-your-remote server thing, and someone who suffered downtime from it threatened a lawsuit. Business downtime can run into millions of dollars per *minute*. MSFT listens very closely to its real customers.

      I was at the Win2K launch event, where the MSFT rep first gushed about how the future was all in the cloud (mind you this was in 1999) …. and the audience of some 1000 IT pros all developed identical angry frowns. I expect their expressions today would be no happier.

      1. The Cloud is nothing more than the return of the mainframe philosophy: Centralized control over what users can do..

  6. Good policy if you *depend* on a computer is to always have twins available. (Yet another reason to buy last year’s model at pennies on the dollar: you need two.) That way you can always do a pretty much seamless switcheroo, and ass-saving is far easier. And don’t buy exotic; exotic can be really hard to duplicate at need, and is far more likely to be buggy under the hood.

    And stick to Intel-based systems… they’ll outlive AMD-based systems 10 to 1, and are far less likely to have weird or show-stopper issues (not to mention corner-cutting).

    And never, ever compress that backup. Incremental is fine. Compressed backup plus disk error means unrecoverable. (Or, why you should NEVER rely on .docx or .odt as a document format.)

    Sayeth a poster: 1Tb external USB drives are $50-ish. Just copy the freakin’ files over to make a backup. You can than plug that drive into *any* machine and use it right freakin’ now without installing some kind of “restore” software.

    True, but: Be aware that larger external drives (over 2TB) use a translation mechanism embedded in the case’s electronics, to let an older host system cope with a drive that’s beyond its normal capacity (2TB being the limit for most of the quad-core era). If the case fails, you can’t just hook the drive to a random PC and read it; you’ll need to put it into another of the exact same case. But thanks to data storage outfits that buy and strip external drives to route around HD market bottlenecks, the cases are plentiful for around $20 on eBay.

    Also, in spinning rust drives, avoid Seagate HDs; if you have a choice, buy one of Western Digital’s brands (WD, HGST). If you don’t believe me and hundreds of HDs’ experience, believe Backblaze’s failure stats for tens of thousands of disks. In SSDs, stick to the leaders: Samsung and SanDisk (now owned by WD). And don’t buy HDs from NewEgg — the spinnys apparently get dropped too often (way over spec for DOAs), and a lot of the SSDs are grey market so you’ll need to ship it overseas for warranty service, if any.

    My hardware bigotry derives from 25 years building (both new and frankenputers) and servicing ’em, and 10+ as the hardware dude for a big PC user group (I vetted and rebuilt hundreds of donated systems). Trends became obvious, and were very consistent.

  7. I have backups coming out of my ears. I have my work saved on the computer I’m working on, an external drive attached to the same computer, a backup drive on the local network of the house, a Dropbox account, and I email my work to myself and it gets automatically forwarded to an additional email account. I think I’m covered. I hope.

  8. The day that I don’t have several on-site backups that are less than 24 hours old, and nothing off site more than a week old, I will be dead and uncaring.

    Unless, of course some bright neuroengineer gets off their tail end and finally invents the brain backup that we’ve been writing about for years. (C’mon, can’t be any harder than the waterbed, can it? Anything important on mine’ll fit on a floppy disk…)

  9. As I sit here, I’m waiting for the laptop battery for my Macbook Air – can’t take it off the charger for even an hour. It should arrive Monday.
    And, my backup – the Raspberry Pi – developed issues. I had to return it to Canakit, and am waiting for the replacement (which I goosed up with more RAM – you can never have too much RAM). I haven’t even heard back about when it will be ready.
    So, I’m down to my very old iPad. It works, but is slow and too old to have updated versions of the installed software.

    1. “you can never have too much RAM”

      You would think so, but I’ve been having a hard time on one system. Its 128 GB of RAM is bigger than the home directory I allocated to it. It can put its entire disk into RAM.

      I don’t believe I’ve ever managed to use more than 70 GB at a time. I need more ambitious projects.

      1. I had a middle-aged rackmount server, a newer Xeon CPU, and a Thinkstation mainboard all fall on my head at once… so now I have this tolerably modern Xeon workstation with the server’s 64GB of RAM, and have been wondering how the heck to use that up. It was just going to waste in the floor-mounted helicopter (its dual Xeons are still slower than the newer solo… tho someday I’ll find a standard board for ’em and turn ’em into a Mac Pro).

        So how are you managing to chew up 70GB of RAM?? I’m not sure whether to be jealous or horrified. 😀

        [First step, tho, is to minimize swapfile size, so boot doesn’t take forever.]

        1. One thing that you can do with your 64GB of RAM is to install VMWARE’s ESXi on it. You can get a fully-licensed version from VMWARE. It doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of the paid version (no PowerCLI, and it’s not easy to clone a VM), but if you ever want to play with a Linux Distro, or spin up MSDOS,WinXP,Win7, it’s pretty easy to do. I’ve got 64GB of RAM in mine, and it’s certainly plenty for what I do.

        2. I was trying to use up the RAM to see if I could. I mean, obviously I can use up the RAM, just start a dozen virtual machines or similar. But could I use it doing something reasonably related to something I need to do?

          If I remember correctly I asked it to build all of KDE and apps using an unlimited number of threads (make -j).

  10. You should also have multiple different backups, and store at least one of the backups off site. In other words, don’t store your only backup right next to your computer, because if your house burns down, and burns your computer, it will also burn your backup! Ditto for if someone breaks in and steals your computer and backup drive.

    And it goes without saying, check your backups periodically by trying to restore from them! I spent 20+ years in IT (computer networking), and was the backup person (among other duties). When I took administering a particular Linux server from the previous admin, the server had a built-in backup DAT-style tape drive. The tape cartridge was changed daily, and tapes were on a rotation schedule. After about a month of performing those daily tape changes, I decided to try to restore some data from a tape. I then found that the tape was blank! I then checked the backup job on that Linux server, and while the cron job would dutifully run the backup every day, it had never been informed what directories to back up. Hence, it wasn’t backing up anything! So then I modified the cron job to actually back up the user directories (plus some other logs). We eventually switched our Linux backups to external hard drives that could be detached and moved to other locations for storage. The drives were rotated.

    Rusty W

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