A Dorky Data Disaster


It has been a rough little spell with tech in the Dorky House.

It started off small, a few weeks ago. DorkySon had an oopsie with his iPad, and while the tablet itself was fine, he snapped the jack on his headphones. I asked about getting them repaired, but apparently repairs aren’t really a thing that happens anymore unless you can do them yourself. It was cheaper to buy a new pair than it was to replace the jack… so I bought a new pair, and also took the opportunity to replace the cracked protective case on the iPad itself. Just to prevent any more serious future oopsies.

Next it was the electronic car key. Back in January, it had been taken for an accidental swim at Seven Mile Beach. We thought that a few days drying out in a box of rice had done the trick, and it did indeed buy us six more months of use. But whatever rusting has taken place inside now seems to have messed up the signals.

Every time we got in the car, we got an insistent message on the dash to change the battery. We tried that. But then the boot started popping open as we were driving along, which was disconcerting to say the least. Then we started struggling to lock the car. Then we started struggling to UNLOCK it. Definitely time for a replacement. That’s currently  being shipped from Germany… and as they don’t allow parcel tracking of keys for security reasons we are just waiting and hoping that it does, eventually, show up.


The latest incident of tech gone rogue was the worst of all.

Last Friday – a week ago today – I was sitting at my desk with headphones on, transcribing an hour-long interview with a CSIRO researcher. I was ghost-writing a thought leadership piece, and the interview was to form the basis of that work, due a few days later. I was about 1000 words and 20 minutes into it, when suddenly… uh-oh.

Up pops the little spinning rainbow ball of death.

Word is unresponsive. Voice Memos are unresponsive. Safari is unresponsive. Force Quit doesn’t work on any of those programs. I hit the power button and aim for a reboot.

There is a reassuring chime, and the reboot begins. The white Apple logo appears. The progress bar appears. And then it freezes.

Twenty minutes later, it is still frozen.

Hmmm. Power off again, and a restart in safe mode.

There is another reassuring chime, and the reboot begins. The white Apple logo appears. The progress bar appears. And then it freezes.

An hour and twenty minutes later, it is still frozen.

I use my phone to search for tech support in Hobart. PC Doctor says they cover the area. I call them. They do not cover the area.

I try Geek2U. Less than an hour later a calm, reassuring technician called Kahadawala is sitting at my desk. We make some small talk about how cold it is in Hobart compared to Sri Lanka, where he is from. I offer him tea, because I offer everyone tea, but he says no. I leave him to it, go and make lunch, and hope for good news.

At this stage, I don’t know how worried I need to be. I’m still just thinking of the immediate problem. How am I going to write this piece without being able to access the recording? Usually I take handwritten notes to back up a phone interview, but because this one was so long, I hadn’t bothered. I’ve never had any problems with Voice Memos before – I figured I could just rely on the recording, type up the transcript, and then save a copy of that. More fool me.

After a little over an hour, I hear Kahadawala call softly down the stairs, “Excuse me?”.

I go up.

“I’ve found the problem,” he says. “Your hard drive has failed.”

He texts me a screenshot of my serial number, gives me the number for the local Mac shop, and leaves.


I cry. A lot.

I keep thinking I’ve finished crying, and then discovering that I’m not. There are layers and layers of realisation about what was on that failed hard drive. The day’s work, obviously. All my current work projects.

But so much else.

Photos. I’d just transferred dozens of photos across from my phone so I could make DorkySon’s Age 10 photobook. Were they all gone? Was Age 10 going to be a gap in the photobook library that I’d have to look at with guilt for years to come?

All the accounts for my work and DorkyDad’s work. All the templates for our project proposals, letters, and invoices. All the back-up versions of our websites. Videos. Creative writing. Draft blog posts. Content from online courses. All the paperwork for our visa and citizenship applications. Old tax returns.

Taxes. Oh no. It is tax time in Australia at the end of June and suddenly I’m facing the prospect of doing that without access to any of our figures, or the screenshots of our receipts, or the proof of our quarterly instalments.

It is the taxes that properly break me and I put my head down on the desk for a proper sob before I go and pick DorkySon up from school. I explain to him what has happened, that I might have lost all my files, and his eyes widen in horror.

“Not the booky wish list?” he says. “Surely not the booky wish list.”

I nod sadly. The booky wishlist is exactly what it sounds like – a carefully maintained spreadsheet listing all the books I’ve read positive reviews of and want to buy. A few weeks ago, it passed the 200 mark. Now it might be gone.


You hear it so often. Back up your data, back up your data, back up your data. And I do. But not often enough. Not daily. Not weekly. Not even monthly.

I have an external storage device and aim to do a full back up of all my documents every six months, but in truth it usually ends up being once a year. When I connected it to DorkySon’s laptop earlier this week to check what was on there, it revealed that it was almost twelve months ago exactly – July 2019 – when I last did a backup. There is my nice clean, blank Excel spreadsheet for my 2019/2020 accounts, all ready to be worked on throughout the year. Urk.

Ironically enough, one of the reasons I haven’t used cloud storage before is that on the times when I have played around with it, I felt like it was too easy to accidentally delete a file in its entirety from the cloud, rather than just deleting it from a single device. But every article I read this week about backing up your files begins with a line saying ‘You’re probably here because you’ve just had a data disaster…’

I realise that I am a terrible cliché, and I realise that my processes will have to change. If my photos had all been saved to a backup drive, and if my voice memos automatically synched across all my devices, and if I worked online in Google Docs instead of on a standalone version of Word, then I wouldn’t have ended up in such a pickle.

I’d still be facing the inconvenient and costly prospect of a new computer, but in the interim I’d be able to borrow DorkySon’s laptop, pick up where I left off, and keep working.


It is one week since my computer died. Here is what has happened in that week.

On Friday night I played dominoes with DorkyDad in front of the fire and drank most of a bottle of wine. Then I went to bed with a notepad and pen on my bedside table and woke up several times during the night to tried and reconstruct as much of my phone interview as possible from memory. On Saturday morning I sat and typed up 1000 words of notes and started to believe that I could perhaps, somehow, still get the thing written.

While I did that, DorkyDad drove the computer, complete with dead hard drive, to a tech-minded former colleague. (He is a kind fella, DorkyDad. He has taken especially good care of me this week.) The tech minded former colleague replaced the hard drive and thought the machine was operational again. But on the first reboot it had a tantrum and refused to use the built-in screen, working only with an external monitor.

On Monday, we collected the old hard drive, packaged it in industrial quantities of bubblewrap and sent it to a specialist data recovery company in Sydney. It arrived with them on Tuesday, and by Wednesday night I had a response letting me know that they could likely recover most of the data. For a price. Thank you JobKeeper.

On Tuesday, I bought a new computer. (Thank you again JobKeeper.) Apple have been hinting for ages that they have a new desktop product coming out and the announcement about that was on… Tuesday morning. That meant none of the stores in Hobart have been taking delivery of 2019 iMacs for weeks. The guys in My Mac were really helpful but wouldn’t be able to get one in until mid to late July. Officeworks were out. Harvey Norman sold their last one the day before. Thank goodness for JB Hi-Fi, who had one left in stock, along with an extension drive that I can leave permanently plugged in to do daily Time Machine backups.

On Wednesday, I submitted the article that I’d been writing when the hard drive failure happened. Somehow, from a couple of pages of scribbled notes and half-remembered phrases, I managed to write a 1000-word piece that was signed-off and submitted by the deadline. The only thing I had to apologise for was that my comments in the margins were showing up under DorkySon’s name because I was working on his computer.

On Thursday, I bought a surge protector and a new version of Word for Mac which comes with 5 GB of free online storage. I won’t thank JobKeeper again, but you will realise by now that this has been a very expensive mistake. I highly recommend that if you don’t do regular backups of your own work, you start now. Do it today. And then do it again tomorrow.


Now I just have to wait to hear from the data recovery company to see if ‘most’ of my data really does mean most. Perhaps it means ‘all’. Perhaps it means ‘some’. Hopefully the ‘some’ will include our accounts, the website copy that I was halfway through writing, and the booky wish list.

I only paid for the Economy service, so I’ll let you know in 7-14 days.

Now it is Friday night, and I have spent enough time staring at screens this week. It is time to sit in front of the fire again, play dominoes with DorkyDad, and maybe drink a glass of wine.

But not the whole bottle tonight. And no need for a notepad by the bed either.


Photo by ETA+ on Unsplash







7 responses

  1. Sending much sympathy to you for this disaster, Ruth. Fingers crossed the data recovery people can work their magic and recover as much as possible. Much as I enjoy reading about the highs of your life, though, the lows, in a very different way, make good reading too. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Thanks so much Emma! Really appreciate your lovely kind comment. I always figure it’s more honest to share the lows as well as the highs! xx

  2. Grief, I visually imagined your trauma and felt the agony on a cellular level. Fingers crossed for the data recovery in total and some peace of mind when the good news arrives Ruth. I keep my desk top plugged into an external, and everything crosses the boundaries to all devices, none the less, I continue to breathe tech fear air!

  3. Pingback: Spring in Tasmania – Ruth Dawkins Freelance Writer

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