64. Like Kim Kardashian, I broke the internet: Why backing up your work is vital

I’m often reminded of a comment I came up with during a particularly heated discussion in my younger days: The internet is just a passing phase.

I say younger but I was approaching 50 and modern life was starting to wear me down. People were telling me newspapers were going to be read on tablets, we’d be organising every facet of our life on our phones and at some stage we would all have a chip inserted in our bodies by which we would be identified.

Now, two out of those three things have happened – and I don’t imagine the other is far away. How long will it be before you enter a store only for all the adverts to speak to you personally, like in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report?

cruisegap

Anyhoo. The upshot is the internet is NOT passing and, for all the things it does to make life easier, when it goes wrong we are left completely impotent.

My Sky broadband is a pretty temperamental creature at the best of times. There’s nothing worse when you are doing something your life depends on – like sharing a meme on Twitter – when you suddenly realise your signal has gone.

As a pretty mild-mannered person my reaction is generally to tut quietly to myself, then make a coffee and relax, telling myself it will all be better soon.

Only joking! No my reaction is to shout, scream, blame the world and the wife, then slide the little “wireless” switch up and down manically until I get a reaction. As soon as I let go, however, that nasty X marks the spot emerges again to tell me the connection is broken.

Dilemma. I can either sit there and hold the button in all day while trying to type with one hand – not always easy – or I can take further action.

moony

In my case further action means turning into a latter day Keith Moon of The Who and bashing your computer in the same way he attacked his drum set.

A few well-placed fists and the screen turns into a sea of wavy lines. Try to restart and it asks you to click a button that says “computer repair thyself”. You spend the next eight hours watching a notification which says the work is in progress when, in fact, the stupid machine is as bamboozled as you as to what has gone wrong.

In an age when human beings are surplus to requirements, now and then you find you actually have to leave the house and communicate with another person.

Up the road is a small shop in the middle of a rank of down-at-heel establishments selling chicken and such. It calls itself the Computer Clinic. It is actually the computer equivalent of an over-stretched hospital in a war zone. Dying terminals are stacked floor to ceiling, aged keyboards hanging precariously from shelves, wires like intestines litter the floor waiting to trip you up.

Eventually, once you have negotiated your way through the obstacle course like a contestant on an early episode of the Crystal Maze, you find a human being behind a counter.

“What’s the problem, sir?”

“The computer doesn’t seem to be working.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Well, the connection went down and I gave it a bit of a tap to try to get it working again and the screen went all fuzzy.”

I can see in his eyes that he knows exactly how gentle my “bit of a tap” was.

“Do you want to save all the data?”

“Absolutely, yes. Definitely.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Come back in a few days.”

                           *                                           *                                      *

So I return a few days later and he hands me the computer. He’s fixed it – and for £40! It is such a bargain I bung him an extra tenner.

I plug it in and it boots up straight away. No fuss at all. It takes seconds. Much better than before… but then, that’s because it doesn’t have any of those lengthy documents, or sizeable picture files or anything like that to worry about. All my data has been removed, contrary to instruction. “Aaaaaaargh!”

He’s changed the soddin’ hard drive and erased years of hard work – not to mention all my favourites, meaning my passwords for everything have gone down with the ship.

The thought dawns on me. My next great novels were on that hard drive! They had been backed up from some software called Scrivener, but unfortunately not saved to the cloud. That’s 160,000 words of two potential best-sellers GONE.

kimk

If I really was going to punch the life out of the laptop now is the time. But somehow I restrain myself. Kim Kardashian once claimed to have broken the internet, but it still works despite her best efforts. Maybe I can repair the damage.

I contact the computer butcher (sorry, surgeon) and ask if anything can be saved.

“I couldn’t even start the computer with the old hard drive so I removed it but it is still here,” he says. “I will see if I can salvage anything.”

Hope. An anxious two-day wait follows, then I pop into the shop, my heart in my mouth. “I seem to have saved some things, but not others,” he says.

I check it on screen and, to cut an even longer story short, I am able to save my masterpieces.

This near thousand-word rant is almost a book on its own but it carries a very important message for fellow writers. Always back up your stuff, and don’t treat your laptop like a drum set. Whether you use an external hard drive, dropbox or whatever, the technology is there to save your hard work before disaster strikes.

After all, you don’t want to be caught out like Kim Kardashian and me – with your pants around your ankles.

57. The Terminator and SkyNet really exist: We just call them Google

FOR THE last two days I have been going all Sarah Connor.

Sarah, for those who like their Sci-Fi, is the hero of the early Terminator movies. Her reward for identifying the dangers of a new world dominated by technology was to be wrapped tightly in a straitjacket and stowed away from the general public.

Well, I can safely say I can see Sarah’s point. For all the new wonders that new tech has bought us, how many of us are turning into boggle-eyed raving loonies by this computer-dominated world?

The task I started on this week seemed relatively simple. I had 25 free codes to give away after Crossing The Whitewash was released as an Audio Book.

CrossingpromoSTILLWow! Fantastic. A giveaway. FREE.

Recently everyone has been telling me that the way forward to becoming a “real” author is to develop your mailing list, so those interested in your work are at your fingertips when you launch new projects.

And to start this little process what better way to build a list than with a company invented for the purposes of compiling such lists?

The most popular of these in writing circles seems to be MailChimp. As with most of these things it is COMPLETELY FREE until you get to around 2,000 subscribers.

I have been with them for about two years. My current list numbers 16, including my wife and several of my mates who, no doubt, felt sorry for me.

Here is the key, then. You set up a Facebook Ad, with a classy video like the one my narrator/producer Samuel J Haskell made for me, then invite people to click through to your website and fill out the email link, which goes to MailChimp and is forwarded to yourself. From there you send out the codes. Simple.

chimpA useful piece of technology like that – with such a cute, cuddly name, too (Awwww, MailChimp, look at him) – could hardly be part of a conspiracy to take over the world, surely?

Then it begins. Trying to set up a mailbox to get notifications sent to me of new members on the list, I am informed both my Yahoo and Gmail accounts aren’t suitable. Because messages are being sent out from a third party (MailChimp) then Yahoo and Google will think they are up to no good and attempting to steal all the goodies from your email account.

Fortunately, you can click a button which says “I’ll take that risk” which, of course, I did.

Then I ran the ads and in one day had 22 clicks for just a fiver. Not a bad start.

When I checked the Email list, though… Nothing, zilch, nada.

So 22 people clicked through to my website and, one step away from their free gift, decided “Nah, can’t be arsed with that”.

I’m sure that does happen, but all 22?

I checked the link and, lo and behold, while my website said my email address had been accepted, nothing was passed on to my MailChimp list. The technology didn’t work. This, by the way, comes after five hours of tinkering about, trying to get the Ad together on Facebook before it rejects about half the things I want to do. So this is a hair-tearing moment… No wonder I have the hairstyle of Buster Bloodvessel.

Anyway, I try everything: Building a new list, tinkering with the forms, changing the website around… nothing works. I have to suspend the ad campaign, imaging that some people will be pretty fed up with the fact they haven’t got their audio codes even though they filled in the Email box.

Finally I take the plunge. I am told I need a website with my own personal domain. Which costs money. Luckily I spent some a while ago buying the domain name for my website, so I can set one up with that.

My website is from a firm called Wix. Quite frankly they get on my Wix on regular occasions. Other lucky writers take the plunge and “employ” website designers, but I figure: I design pages on a national newspaper, what can be so difficult?

The f***ing technology, that’s what.

Anyway, on we plunge and I obtain the website incorporating my own personal domain name. I am now nickripp@theripperfile.com. Only trouble is this has to be verified. I click for it to be verified and where do I end up? Google, of course.

Now, Google already runs my computer. Everything happens through Chrome. It knows all my passwords, usernames, inside leg measurements, length of… well, you get the picture.

Apparently Google is in charge of Emails, even if you thought you were setting them up with Wix, or Go Daddy, or any number of other companies.

And Google won’t make things easy for you. Oh no. There is a “How to get verified” video that lasts five minutes. I dare anyone to watch it and NOT find their mind well and truly boggled.

I give up and try different ways. “Congrats”, pings my old email. “You now have your own Email domain!”

“No I soddin’ don’t,” I reply, ranting at the screen. Google won’t let me play!

I try a variety of other tricks, none of which work. I am supposed to stick some code on the end of my website address as verification. How? “Watch the simple-to-follow video” says Google. “F*!*”|!”

By this time my wife has run for cover, my little girl is riding around the living room on a tiny bike which goes squeak, squeak, squeak and I’ve put my head through the computer and am shouting “Here’s Nicky!!!” having just typed 3,000 times “All Google and no play makes Nick a dull boy”.

Then, without warning, and I still don’t know how… it lets me in.

Ha…lle…lu…jah!

Unfortunately, now my brain is mush. I am mumbling to myself. I am sweating. I am picking bugs off the wall and eating them whole because I didn’t have time for lunch, or dinner.

My wife is whispering on the phone to someone… in my paranoia I am convinced it is the men with white coats.

Of course, Google isn’t the Terminator or SkyNet. It is much more subtle than that. It is not going to destroy us with guns, or lazers, or flying, whirling machines of death. It is just going to send us all slowly  mad.

google

So here I am, staring blankly at my screen, the Google logo in its jolly colours taunting me in its untouchable status.

And one question is whirring around and around and around in my head: “Who died and made you boss?”