Computer Inventory, Part 1

by JL Beeken on 6-26-2010

It’s time to take computer inventory. There’s nothing like my computer crashing to sober me up.

It reminds me of when the electricity goes out everywhere in town, which happens several times each winter here, and there’s an immediate confrontation with reality.

I love silence so the first thing I do is thank God for it. Then I stumble to the end of my bed where I keep a flashlight. Then I light a candle to keep from crashing into any more walls. Then I flip all the light switches so the lights don’t all come on at once after I’ve fallen asleep. Then I get under my down quilts and wait it out. If getting to bed takes longer than 10 minutes I’m in danger of freezing to death in this house of cards we call Modern Civilization.

All the computers of the world crashing at once is unlikely. At least, today. So, really the question is what degree of secure dependence are you assuming in the meantime? In this interim of computer purgatory, I take stock. Again. Is my computer a tool used consciously or has it become a cozy lifestyle?

If your computer crashed today, could you carry on or would you just sit down and cry? Could you survive even one week without it? Obviously, I failed the test because I just moved my laptop onto my desk.

What is going on inside this magic machine anyway? By connecting the external backup drive, I can see that My Documents consists of 30 folders of assorted content. Some of these folders can be consolidated because they break down into 5 main sections:

  1. Ancestors & Descendants
  2. Personal finances, ID, health, Estate, passwords, email
  3. Web properties & email
  4. Web tools & training
  5. PC specific: installers, specs, tech support email, bookmarks, etc

It seems to me these 5 belong to two main categories: Preservation Critical and Not.

Preservation Critical would be 1. and 2.
3. is really part of 2.
4 . and 5. are computer-specific and of no interest if there’s no computer.

Breaking these down one at a time:

1. Ancestors & Descendants

All my genealogy files are in one folder called ANCESTORS. Legacy backups, Source Library, photos, files yet to be filed, everything. It doesn’t take much time to throw in a plain text READ ME file to explain the contents to some-one else. How the source documents and some of the photos are linked to Legacy, where to get their own copy of Legacy, how to view the IPTC info, etc.

Because other people have their own interests and genealogy isn’t necessarily it, (right this minute) I’ve most recently decided to only share my work with my family posthumously. I’m also thinking, instead, of putting my genealogy wiki in a shared folder in the Dropbox. First, I have to have a long think about whose toes I might step on by doing that.

As well as backing up to an external hard-drive and online at Carbonite, I back up the ANCESTORS folder to a 16 GB flash-drive and carry it with me everywhere. It’s even mentioned in my Will.

For a long time I’ve been thinking of printing large portraits of my favorite ancestors. I really should do that.

If my computer wasn’t ever coming back, I’d miss it. I have four large binders of paper files and a couple of 5″ wide boxes but it’s puny compared to the digital side of things. The thought of printing it all out, though, staggers my imagination.

DESCENDANTS is photos of myself, my siblings and our descendants. Self-explanatory. This is backed up to an external hard-drive and online. About once a year, I burn the first 26 years of these photos to disk and mail them to my sisters for preservation. In the meantime I’ve added more IPTC annotations and GPS co-ordinates to them so it’s an update as well as a fresh backup.

Where all these digital files will be in 10 or 20 years, who knows, but it’s the best I can do right now. Believe it or not, there was life-before-cameras. People had failing memories instead.

2. Personal finances, ID, health, Estate, passwords, email

Everything a power of attorney or executor could possibly need. All passwords, financial information, Will, health considerations, etc. This is backed up to a USB drive in plain view hanging on a nail next to my desk. This also goes with me everywhere on another flash-drive. I’m thinking (now that I’m thinking about it) I could also put it all in a shared folder in the Dropbox as an encrypted file. There are paper originals or copies of some of this, but not all of it. I should probably make sure that everything exists in print.

I guess, if I had to, I could go back to telephone banking. Heck, I could even cut up my credit cards and go back to cash. I know the trick about keeping it in the freezer in case the house burns down.

3. Web properties & email

There are certain responsibilities in having web real estate. Depending how you do it there are fees for domain names and web hosting. What happens when a person with a website dies? Or a computer dies and the owner decides to not fix it or buy another one? Do the fees continue to be paid? Does the executor of the estate delete the website so it simply disappears in an instant? Or, are blog subscribers left wondering why they haven’t seen a new post lately? These concerns belong with #2 including a detailed READ ME file.

This also goes with me everywhere on the same flash-drive as #2.

4. Web tools & training

This is constantly evolving and changing information and can be found anywhere if you have access to the Internet. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. It falls under the category of Preservation Not Critical. In the meantime I back it up because I haven’t learned it all yet.

5. PC specific: installers, specs, tech support email, bookmarks, etc

Again, backed up in the meantime but Preservation Not Critical. People have their own computer junk; they don’t need mine.

Is everything in order over at your house?

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