From the Desk of Ellen Fisher - April 2010

Deceased Laptop

Whenever the phone rings in the middle of the night, my heart always skips a beat. And when it's a Sunday morning at 8:20 and Caller ID indicates it's one of my kids phoning from college, my heart doesn't just skip, it immediately makes its way into my throat. That's what happened this past Sunday when my daughter, Dakota, called. "Mom, my computer screen is blue. Can you look up the Apple Store info for me?" Full of relief that it wasn't an emergency - she wasn't calling from a police station or a hospital - I replied, "Can I call you back in 45 minutes? I'm still in bed."

I started to catch on to the fact that this was a bigger problem than I had originally grasped, when she told me that 45 minutes was way too long a wait. So she drove to the Apple Store and sat in the car until they opened. They informed her that her hard drive was totally dead and that they couldn't recover any data from it. In shock over the thought of all the hard work she had just lost, she still managed to pull herself together enough to talk the tech support person into giving her a bigger hard drive. When she shared this with me, I felt a huge burst of pride because I have worked very hard at teaching her the fine art of negotiation.

The pride was short-lived because a few moments later I learned that Dakota had no back-up files. All her research and notes for this semester's papers and exams - gone. Her PowerPoint slated for presentation to the President of Bryn Mawr College next week - gone. And worst of all, from a sentimental standpoint, all her New Zealand photos and journal entries - also gone.

I know I should have met my daughter's tears with a kind word or two, but what came out of my mouth was, "Why didn't you back up your data? You saw what happened when our family computer crashed six years ago. I thought you would have learned something." The best she could offer was, "Everyone makes this mistake at least once, mom. I just need some support right now."

I called our computer guy who, thankfully, picked up the phone on a Sunday morning. He has rescued us from many SNAFUs in the past and I was hoping he could work his magic one more time. When Dakota handed him her old hard drive, he told us that if we heard from him right away, it would probably be bad news. A longer time period would most likely result in good news. And so we went home to wait. Dakota spent her time in her bedroom staring at her computer with the new hard drive, but not getting much done. I tried to do some of my Passover Seder cooking, but I really spent my time beating myself up for having taught my daughter the wrong priorities in life.

As the hours slipped by and I began to suspect that good news was on the horizon, I allowed myself to think of all the back ups that, as a parent, I have taught Dakota: backing up from the hot stove, iron, and fire place; backing up to the beginning when rushing incorrectly through math homework; and even backing up the car during driving lessons.

There's also one other back up that I taught Dakota. This is the one that kept nagging at me. For Dakota's Bat Mitzvah, when I ordered her beautifully decorated cake, I also ordered what is known as a back-up cake, just in case we needed some extra slices. Dakota embraced this concept and, whenever she prepares food, she always makes sure she has plenty of back up portions. Did I somehow emphasize to my daughter that having a back up cake is more important than having a back up drive?

At 5:00 pm we got the news that Dakota's hard drive was indeed totally cooked (unlike my Passover dinner) and that our computer guru couldn't recover any of her data. The rest of the evening was spent talking Dakota off the edge from becoming a drop-out, rather than have to redo all her lost work.

As for her hard drive? Well, we sent it to the same place in California that the U.S. government uses for all its computer forensics work. There's a 10% chance of recovery. Fingers crossed!

I sometimes feel that I have to stretch the boundaries in order to make sure the personal stories that appear in this column also deliver a business lesson. Not this month. Here it is in a nutshell: Back up, back up, back up. And if you also take away the lesson of having a back up cake at your next event, well, as they say, I guess that would be the icing on the cake!

Ellen Fisher, Publisher who wishes she had a back up cake right now so she could eat away her worries (but since it's Passover, it would have to be made of matzo)

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