How to not screw yourself over three weeks before the end of the semester

Recently one of my teammates had a bit of computer problems which reminded me about the worst and most stressful 24 hours I ever experienced at the end of my last semester of school this past spring. Why, you might ask? Well, for several reasons: I failed to plan, my computer secretly hated me (or so I thought) and because you can always count on Murphy’s Law to catch you just at the right/wrong time. Let me explain.

I woke up early to a beautiful Saturday, thanks to the baying of my two Beagles, and started my day like normal — breakfast with my roommate, play time with my dogs and once the cobwebs in my brain dissipated, I decided it was time to get to work.

Only it wasn’t.

I opened my Macbook Pro, hit the power button and started to hear a very loud clacking noise. I thought, “Well, that’s not good…” and waited for it to boot up.

Only it didn’t.

Once the screen lit up, it didn’t go to the normal log in screen. Instead, a screen opened up with a folder with a question mark on it. Again, I thought, “Ummmm, that can’t be good either…” So I shut it down and rebooted, again and again, and yet again, to the same result.

After much research via my iPhone, several phone calls, trips to the Apple Store and Macadvantage, and enough tears shed you’d have thought a family member died, I finally had all of my information off of my laptop while it went away to be diagnosed.

So what should I have done differently to keep something like this from happening?

Backup regularly

Regularly is a very ambiguous term, but that’s because it depends on how often you’re creating, downloading or altering files on your hard drive. If you primarily use your machine for Internet surfing, then once a week may be good for you. For someone like me who spends the day creating, downloading and altering files all day, daily backups are good, while keeping your external drive connected always so it backs up as you go.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Yes, make sure you have a backup for your backup. I have all of my work files backed up to my hard drive (thankfully!) as well as our server at work, although that backup isn’t completely current (my last back up there was at the beginning of the week). My personal files are all on this external hard drive as well, but that’s it. What if this hard drive failed? Years of pictures, writing, school work — all gone. There are many cloud options out there that allow you to back up your valuable information via the Internet. Check out this article from NetworkWorld, which not only lists 12 free cloud storage options, but also pricing information for larger storage options.

Know your local IT options
Of course owning a Mac, whenever I have a problem, my first thought is “To the Apple Store!” Obviously from this experience, they do have limitations; they don’t do anything related to information retrieval. Actually, I was told in my case, they couldn’t even touch the hard drive other than for replacement. So the mighty Apple does have its limitations. Had I known that and known the abilities of the other Apple product service providers in the area, I could have gotten to Macadvantage much earlier, and possibly gotten to the root of my problem much quicker. It pays to know where to go.

Take a chill pill
Despite the frequency of technological problems in our day-to-day lives, methods for correcting and repairing those problems are keeping up at a good pace. It may hurt your wallet, it may take some time, but most likely, your computer problem can be resolved in a way that benefits you. Information can be recovered, software fixed and hardware replaced. Don’t have an aneurysm; just breathe and contact your local computer tech to find out what your options are.

So, how did my situation end? Rather anti-climatically. After spending three days worried and stressed to the max, my computer was OK. Yep, you read that right. It didn’t clack for them, rebooted perfectly 300 times in a row and the most they could find were a couple of software glitches. Thankfully, that’s it. So my computer may have made a liar out of me and I may have lost five years off my life, but I did learn a valuable lesson, albeit the hard way — always be prepared, especially when your computer’s concerned.