L. Neil Smith's
Number 335, September 4, 2005

U.S. Out of New Orleans!

So What's Your Back-Up Plan?
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

Most of my columns aren't written or even planned much in advance. I wait to see what happens in any given week, and then I write about whatever has affected me the most. Occasionally, it's something I'm happy about. More often, I write about things that scare me or make me mad. I suppose I'm inspired by anger the same way country and western songwriters are inspired by suicidal depression. This week, though, things were going to be different...

Before I explain, I need to backtrack to last fall. That's when the company I work for bought a couple of new computers. I lobbied as hard as anybody to get those new computers, and I was happier than most when they arrived. They're fast, they're powerful, and they look seriously cool sitting on a desk (I really do place more importance on points one and two, though point three doesn't hurt). It didn't take me long to decide I needed the same system for personal use, and so I got myself a fast, powerful, and cool looking computer at home, too.

It should be pointed out to those of you who aren't computer geeks that there's also a kind of unspoken "cool" factor where computers are concerned that has absolutely nothing to do with hardware specs or what it looks like. That factor is the one that has to do with whether or not the machine is the very latest and greatest available. I'm pleased to tell you that our new computers were exceedingly cool on that score, too.

Now I need to backtrack even further for a moment. Long before such cool looking (or fast and powerful) machines existed, I learned something very important where software is concerned and that is this: Never, never, never buy any new software that is Version Point Oh. WidgetWorks 1.0 is brand new, and the bugs haven't been worked out of it yet. It's better to wait and buy WidgetWorks 1.3 which is 1.0 with the bugs fixed. The same caveat is true for WidgetWorks v. 3.0. Sure, it's new and improved, but those new features and improvements almost certainly have bugs just like an entirely new program does. Wait for Version 3.1, or better still, 3.2.

Our beautiful new fast, powerful, and very cool looking computers were not just the latest and greatest, but some of the first off of the assembly line. Cooler still, right? Well, as it turns out, when you buy the latest and greatest in hardware technology, you're buying what is essentially Version Point Oh of whatever it is, too. We should have known there'd be bugs, and sure enough, there were, and they were really big, scary ones: some of these early models have power source issues right out of The Wizard of Oz.

You may think that bringing up The Wizard of Oz is a non sequitur. And you'll keep thinking so right up until the morning you come in to work, turn the computer on, and it looks you right in the eye and says, "Heeeeelp me, I'm meeeeeellllllllting!" The seriously cool computer was seriously melting, spreading the unmistakable smell of hot styrene everywhere and decorating its own cool looking self with scorch marks.

Two weeks later, the computer came back from the computer doctor with what we sincerely hope is Power Source v. 1.2 installed in its innards. We were told to put the incident behind us, that the failure of some important part of the power source wasn't a particularly common occurrence. Fair enough. Besides, we were looking really cool again when we worked. And we stayed that way for two months. And then...

"Heeeeelp me, I'm meeeeeellllllllting!" A second computer emulated its sister with little wisps of yellow smoke and that unmistakable smell. This time, we knew what the likely problem was. What we didn't know was that it would take over a week just for the part to arrive, and then that apparently the only computer tech capable of doing any work on cool computers wasn't available to do anything for anybody until the week after that. Eventually, though, the computer came back with, we trust, its bugs thoroughly squashed.

Sometimes it takes me a little while, but no one can say that I don't learn from experience. These computers were all purchased at the same time and arrived on the same day. Since numbers one and two have experienced meltdowns, I started to think that number three—the computer I have at home—could very well be next. The manufacturer can tell me all day long how uncommon such problems are. I'm looking at a 67% failure rate and calculating the odds which I find to be not particularly good.

I'm not usually big on back-ups, especially not where web sites are concerned. I keep thinking that the most current pages are on my server and I can download them if need be. I do back up master graphic files and the like, but even that I do only occasionally (probably because I've never endured a hard drive failure, nor attempted to recover unrecoverable data). Besides, even the meltdowns didn't cause data loss. But for some reason, I took a look at the likelihood I might have to live without my primary computer for a couple of weeks at some point in the near future, and I decided to back up most of my files yesterday.

Maybe I'm psychic. Either that, or lucky. Because earlier today, as I started working on web site updates, there was a sudden flash from the cool looking screen in front of me, and then, "Heeeeelp me, I'm meeeeeellllllllting!" On the other hand, maybe I'm not as psychic or as lucky as I should have been because all of the work I did after the back-ups—and there was quite a bit—didn't get backed up at all before it became completely inaccessible to me. That includes, unfortunately, the column I'd actually intended to run this week.

My computer, of course, already has an appointment at the computer doctor. And me? Well, at least I learned something from past history in time to save myself a whole lot more trouble than I might otherwise have had to deal with. Real problems that happen again and again—and in much the same way—teach most of us something unless we're incredibly naive or irredeemably dumb. Or unless you're the government. Maybe I should tell my tale of PC woe to:

  • Managers at the Transportation Security Administration who were told by Congress that CAPPS and CAPPS II were violations of privacy and thus not authorized, but who have now offered up essentially the same program as Secure Flight (perhaps in the hopes that the name will fool people into thinking it will actually keep them safer even if it does trample on civil liberties)

  • Ranking personnel in the administration who saw a massive public outcry against the violations inherent in the Pentagon's proposed Total Information Awareness program, but who apparently believe the same program under the name Terror Information Awareness is somehow less offensive to freedom

  • Administration officials who are demanding that Congress take some action to help those citizens who suffer the loss of personal information in inevitable data breaches, but who are never-the-less considering a national medical records database they claim will be secure

  • City leaders in Columbus, Ohio who are instituting an assault weapons ban there despite the demonstrated lack of any effect whatsoever of the national assault weapons ban

  • The mayor and other officials in Washington DC who, although living in a city with one of the highest violent crime rates in the country, still think an almost total gun ban there is a good idea (apparently, they're either ignorant of statistics that conclusively show a positive effect on crime accompanies liberalized gun laws, or they're irredeemably dumb—guess which option I'm choosing?)

  • "Soldiers" in the War on Terror who refuse to profile based on race and religion when, to date, every single terrorist (or accused terrorist) we've caught has been of a certain race and/or religion

  • The powers that be in connection with the Border Patrol who say the borders can't be secured with current resources, but who chastise largely untrained and volunteer civilians who seem to be able to manage security pretty well when they give it a try for themselves

Most importantly, the critical need to learn from history ought to be brought home to the American people themselves. They know full well how police states become police states, or they should. There are lots of books about Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Idi Amin, and far less deadly but not much less tyrannical men like King George and Richard M. Daley. And yet, to the peril of us all, they look around and nod when someone suggests Secure Flight or MATRIX databases. They willingly line up for subway searches. They don't understand what the problem with a national ID card is, and they certainly are at a loss as to why anyone might oppose such "for your own good" measures as the PATRIOT Act.

When slippery slopes and roads to police states are mentioned, "It can't happen here," they say, as if other peoples in other places and times actually thought that it could happen to them.

My computer will almost certainly be resurrected with some patience and some parts. In the meantime, I have my back-ups. But what about the Constitution and the freedoms enshrined within it? Will it come back? And what, precisely, do we have for back-up if it doesn't?

News, commentary, and a patriotic goodie shoppe. Visit www.ladylibrty.com today!
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