Over the last several days, I've been working on a very large, very complicated, high-profile project on a very tight deadline for an important client (important, at least to me, because they pay their invoices). Working on spreadsheets and computer models has kept me up late at night, and I've even stopped going out to see live music evenings in order to try to get done everything that needs to get accomplished. There's a lot of data and a lot of analysis required to make sense of it all, but this is what I do to make a living and I'm grateful for the opportunity.
Around 11:00 last night, as I was wrapping up one of several of those analytical spreadsheets, the unthinkable happened - my computer crashed. Fortunately, I had just saved my work, and almost as soon as I had, the computer unexpectedly turned itself off just like that. I wasn't sure what had just happened, so I restarted the computer. The familiar windows start-up screen appeared, and then it suddenly just shut itself off again. I re-started it again, and it shut itself off again. This process was repeated several times.
I gave the computer some time to cool off and tried starting it again with the same dismaying result. I couldn't get to my data, I couldn't even operate the computer that had my data, and of course I had no backup. The report was due in a week, with several conference calls and meetings between now and then to discuss the project, and I had lost everything.
If I couldn't access the files, there was no way that I could have recreated all the work I've done over the past week (the models, the spreadsheets, the analysis), and even if I had wanted to try, the raw data, the material I was modeling, spreadsheeting and analyzing, was also in the computer and inaccessible to me. Even if I called the client and asked them to resend all of the raw data, I still wouldn't have had a computer with which to attempt to recreate all of that work that I had done.
I was sunk. Failure was looking into my eyes, and saying, "You're mine, bitch."
A realization of my dependency on that little box sunk in as I pondered what to do. The computer also contained all of my business records, my outstanding invoices, my time not yet billed, and my tax records. It contained my music, my photographs, my Zen studies, and my blogs. It contained my life. It was, in a McLuhanesque sense, an extension of my mind. I had lost my mind.
Worried over what to do, I did not get a good night's sleep last night.
This morning, I got up, tried the computer again (same result), and calmly waited until my friendly, local computer repair shop opened. Within 10 minutes of their unlocking the door, I carried the computer in and explained the situation. They were not encouraging.
"It sounds like either a virus or a damaged hard drive," they explained. "It's doubtful we'll be able to recover anything, but we'll see if we can extract any data from your hard drive, and give you a call. It will take a couple of hours before we know." He wasn't even considering repair of the machine - he was doubtful that there would even be data left to transmigrate over to the next incarnation of my machine.
A couple hours passed this morning before I knew if I had to call my client and tell him that I've failed - that I wouldn't have the report he needs by the time of his deadline, effectively ending my career as a consultant. This was, in a very real sense, an existential crisis. My existence as I know it now would quite literally cease if I couldn't get my computer back.
Here's where the story gets happier. As promised, the computer guy called me after a couple hours and said that so far, about 25% of the data was already recovered - he was cloning all of the data onto another hard drive before running any diagnostics to find out what was wrong with my machine - and it looked guardedly optimistic that with time, the rest of the data could be recovered as well, "unless we hit any bad sectors on the hard drive." But once the cloning was complete, I could stop by the shop and copy the files I needed to continue my little project onto a flash drive.
Provided, of course, I could find a computer with which to work with the recovered files. I priced some computers at a local office-goods store, and realized that I would also have to buy several suites of software to replace what I had lost, and spend a commodity I had even less of than money, time, to load it all and get everything working. So, humbled, I stopped by my old office, the very same firm that laid me off a year ago, and asked if I could borrow my old laptop. I explained my dilemma and they were sympathetic, and said I could use the laptop for the weekend until my old computer is repaired or I buy a replacement. It made me glad that I hadn't spoken my mind and burned that bridge behind me on that grim day last year when I walked out the door. I'm using that old laptop right now to post this blog.
The data, spreadsheets, and models all appear intact, correct, and uncorrupted on the flash drive with which I left the computer shop. The bad news is that I've lost one full day on what was already a very tight, arguably unrealistic, schedule, but I can work even later into the evenings next week and make up for the lost time, and that bad news is not nearly as bad as what appeared to possibly have been the case just a short while ago.