It is thankfully not often my heart actually stops beating momentarily after clicking a mouse button. Unfortunately, one of these moments happened this evening when I was updating my online vitae.
Have you ever accidentally overwritten a computer file you did NOT have properly backed up? I have. A few of those instances are burned indelibly into my neocortex and wherever else long term memories are stored in my brain. Even though tonight’s experience did not turn out tragically, I think I’ll be remembering it for a long time to come none-the-less.
My earliest computer-related near-heart stoppage took place in the early 1980s, when I was working on a relatively simple but for me, pretty complex program in BASIC. My experiences with computers started with the Commodore 64 in 7th grade math class, writing amazing programs like the following:
Eventually I advanced to slightly more sophisticated programs, and I was working on one I had developed to keep track of my personal finances on that fateful night in 1983 (or thereabouts) when I made the fatal error. My homebrew personal finance program had several hundred lines of code in it, and I THOUGHT I had the program opened in BASIC. As you will recall if you used BASIC in those days, everything was done from a command line, the computing “mouse” had been invented in 1981 but hadn’t yet found its way into the Fryer household. Unfortunately, I had NOT opened my multi-line BASIC finance program into RAM, so when I typed the command to save my program to a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk (our computer didn’t have a hard drive then) I actually saved a BLANK, EMPTY file over my existing program.
Uh oh. I didn’t have a backup.
Hours and hours of work at the computer screen, with one ill-advised click on the keyboard– down the toilet. Ouch.
Let’s fast forward twenty-five years to this evening. I needed to update my personal contact page, bio page, and vitae with new information since my resignation from AT&T was effective at the end of the day Friday and I begin work for the Oklahoma Heritage Association on Monday. I am still using an older version of Dreamweaver to update those pages on my wesfryer.com site, so once I update a page I have to ftp the file (I use CyberDuck) from my local computer’s hard drive up to the server in the sky. After I reviewed the updated file I’d changed and set to the server, I realized the mistake I’d made. Darn. I’d been considering moving my vitae as well as other personal pages over to a personal wiki site. If I had, older versions / revisions of the page would have been accessible and I could have “reverted” my page back to a previous version. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been using a wiki.
I’d used a pre-December 2007 version of my vitae webpage to update my site. By uploading that version of the page to my server, I OVERWROTE the existing page which had HUNDREDS of new entries in it for all the articles I wrote and presentations / workshops I shared in 2007. Ouch. I put my head down in despair on my laptop’s keyboard. My son came over and asked in a concerned voice, “What happened, Dad?” I didn’t have a backup on my computer of my most recently updated vitae… and that meant HOURS and HOURS of work had just gone up in smoke. Or been overwritten through the magic ether of the Internet at the speed of light. Or whatever. I was seriously bummed.
Yet in the midst of this near tragic nightmare on HTML-street, a light appeared. A narrow chance my work could yet be salvaged.
Two in fact. And the second one proved golden.
My first glimmer of hope came when I remembered the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The site takes a “snapshot” of many websites at regular intervals. If I was lucky, the site would have a snapshot of my vitae page which included all the new additions I’d added in December 2007 and January 2008.
Unfortunately, the last Wayback snapshot of my vitae was from 16 Feb 2007. The site showed a snapshot was available for 27 Jul 2007, but I couldn’t get it to display in my browser, and if it WAS available it wouldn’t help. That date was too early. I needed something after January 2008, and before about three minutes before I had started this desperate search.
My second glimmer of hope came when I remembered that Google automatically caches webpage versions. Could it be that Google could come to my rescue? I performed a quick search for my vitae address on Google.
I clicked the CACHED link and held my breath. Would it be Christmas in July? Can furtive prayers at the keyboard of a Macbook be answered so quickly?
Yes indeed! The wonderful Google search engine had indexed and cached my vitae website automatically back on July 4, 2008, and I was able to view the source code of that page and save it to my local hard drive. WHAT A RELIEF! Hours and hours of work had been saved!
Hooray for Google, and hooray for Google’s caching functionality!
There are other examples we’ve heard about where Google’s caching function or the Internet Archive’s Wayback machine has come back to haunt someone (like when an unwanted, inappropriate photo is posted online and is cached so it can’t be deleted forever) but my experiences this evening provide a compelling counter-example to those stories.
I’m delighted Google automatically caches webpages. That’s was life-saving functionality for me!
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