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Getting Yer Backup

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Kickin' it Old Skool

Kickin’ it Old Skool


Preppers may be on to something.

I don’t mean stockpiling canned beets in case of the zombie apocalypse or making bows and arrows out of your neighbour’s sapling.

No, I mean being prepared, ready for the worst–or at least the very bad. I once worked for a guy who didn’t believe in B plans. Then the company went under and we were all laid off. Me, I usually have B plans, C plans even. What will happen if something goes well, what will happen if it goes okay, what will happen if it all goes to shit? I’m ready. When I was laid off, I had plan and it worked out like clockwork mostly. There were things I missed that I will plan for next time, but largely I was ready.

I was prepared and had my backups.

One editor I knew scoffed at the idea of backups. Nothing was worth keeping, she said. I was shocked. The idea still makes my stomach drop. What if you lose something? What if you need that document, phone number, photo, email? I’m a little old school: paper, scans, CDs. Check, check, check. I’m a fan of clouds for some documents. Multiple clouds. Friggen weather systems full of ’em.

Oh, I hear some of you sneer, “The Internet keeps everything. You can’t escape it. Everything is on the web.” Is it? I edited a friend’s CV and found a dead link for an essay she wanted to include. Not even the Wayback Machine could find it. Don’t believe me? Ask Carter Maness. He’ll tell you. When asked what he’d done lately, he couldn’ t find it and documented his experince for The Awl, “All My Blogs Are Dead.”

That said, we all know what will stay online for all posterity: photos of cats, food, and twenty-somethings being drunk and stupid.

If that doesn’t get yer backup, I don’t know what will.

Get with the Program

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code: 3. b.Telegr. A system of words arbitrarily used for other words or for phrases, to secure brevity and secrecy; c. Computing. Any system of symbols and rules for expressing information or instructions in a form usable by a computer or other machine for processing or transmitting information (OED).

In other words, it ain’t rocket science. If you can punctuate, you can code. It’s true. Certainly some code is more difficult than others, but if you look at very basic things like HTML, it can be learned. Indeed, it should be learned. There’s a movement afoot to have coding taught in schools. One of the (many) things I regret about high school is only learning languages like Spanish and French, not languages like C++ and Fortran. As a result, I feel I’ve contributed to the continuing sexism and occultism of tech.

To be clear, by “occult” I mean, “Not disclosed or divulged, secret; kept secret; communicated only to the initiated” (OED).

One the best things a boss ever made me do was take an introductory UNIX course. While it didn’t change me into a programmer or drive me to switch from Windows to Linux, learning a little UNIX opened my eyes. I understood how to talk to a computer; that my coworkers were merely writing instructions. Yes, some “instructions” were complex algorighhms that I haven’t learned how to do (yet), but still this chink let through a wee ray of light. I’m still chipping away.

By not knowing how our devices work, we yield control. The same is true for everything from cofffee makers to cars, but code is all around us; indeed, it’s in our coffee makers and cars. But so what? Samuel Arbesman, in his Aeon essay, “Get Under the Hood,” explains:

The more we can play with a system, take it apart, tweak it, even make it fail, the more we are comfortable with a technology. We don’t view it as something foreign or strange, as solely the domain of experts, who overcharge us to fix our stuff, under threat of a voided warranty. We see how our machines work, creaky joints and all, and we can take a certain amount of intellectual ownership in them. And more importantly, we can see what sort of role they play in society. Knowing how a car uses gasoline, how the steering mechanism operates, or what the precious metals are in a vehicle, are all windows into various larger issues involving energy, the environment and even commodity pricing.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to get with the program.

Hard Day’s . . . Night

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The Night Sky by  Blake Nancarrow

The Night Sky by Blake Nancarrow

Legend has it that after a particularly long recording session, Ringo Starr left Abbey Road muttering something like “That was a hard day’s…” when he looked up, realized the time and said, “…night.”

True or not, I’m sure you’ve shared that experience: a long work day during which you rarely look up and made worse if you don’t leave the office or have a window. The concept of time that was once gauged by the sun is now dictated by the clock. How many times in the winter have you looked up at 5 p.m. and said, “It looks like nine o’clock at night!” Yes, but who said what nine o’clock looks like?

Indeed the appearance of time, day and night, has changed since the invention (and popularity) of gas then electric light. Compounded with the popularlity of “smart” devices, we are inundated with light to the point that we can’t sleep. And if we can’t sleep then, well, shouldn’t we be productive?

We haven’t always slept through the night. In the distant past, we used to go to bed “early,” dog tired after a labourious day, wake up later in the night or early morning, do stuff in the dark, fall asleep again, and wake up with rooster. Some people still do this, only they write, as Karen Emslie tells us in her Aeon piece, “Broken Sleep.”

Unfortunately this schedule doen’t work for many people. Perhaps we’ve been programmed. Regardless, light affects our melatonin which affects our sleep which affects our mood which determines our mental and physical health. Sure there are pills and exercises and sex and yoga and mantras, but let’s to go to the source: light. Humans cannot cope in a world without darkness, says Rebecca Boyle in her article “The End of Night,” published in Aeon. Not only does it rob us of biological needs but it compels us to produce, to be “on” all the time. We’re surrounded by (very rich) role models, leading us to believe if Highly Successful Person can be highly successful with only four hours’ sleep, then so can I because I’m efficient, not a slacker like other people! For the record, I count myself among the “other people.” You really don’t want to around me when I’ve only had four hours’ sleep. In fact, I think that says something about Highly Successful Person too.

The idea that we must be productive most of the time makes me wonder about the definition of productive. From my North American perspective, it appears to mean making something tangible. Thinking isn’t seen as productive. Oh, you’ll hear lots of discussion about “creatives” and “knowledge workers” “innovating” in “collaborative work environments,” but I think that’s all marketing spin. As I sit alone in my home office by my window looking out onto a tree and a neighbouring building, I wonder what a boss would think, all buttoned up in a dark blue wool suit. He or she would likely scold me for daydreaming then request a status report on something, probably the very thing I was “daydreaming” about.

One thing I do daydream/think about is space. It gives us perspective. Once upon a time I witnessed the northern lights. Recently, my Facebook feed was filled with other people’s photos of the glorious phenomenon. I’d like to see the northern lights again as well as the other celestial shows, but judging from Toronto’s light-polluted night sky, I’ll have to drive pretty far north to do so. Having lived in a city for most of my life, I used to shrug this off. Then I saw the wonderful doc The City Dark and I realized I’m missing something–something important.

It’s a hard day’s night, indeed.

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