Not OK Computer

Hello, ComputerI have important news for all of you computer users out there. Your current computer is going to die. Maybe sooner than later; who knows? But your data does not have to disappear with it.

This seems obvious, but when my G4 laptop conked out two weeks ago, it was a big surprise to me. I realized that most news stories or ads about backing up your computer data make it sound like, “You should back up just in case your hard drive dies.” What they should say is, “Back up your data because your computer will die.” Americans may like to deny death in all its forms, but, like pretending that each of us will live forever, we can lose a ton of vital information by refusing to believe that our computers are mortal.

Data back-up is like safe sex (with much less dangerous consequences) — you can’t afford NOT to do it. And I’m not just talking about your Word and Excel files. If you’re like me, there’s important data lurking in all corners of your computer. Do any of these places sound familiar?

Let me first express gratitude to Chris, who bought me an external drive several years ago. Because of that, I’ve been backing up my documents weekly for the last six months.

But there were some basic, almost invisible items I failed to back-up, the most vital being thousands of e-mail messages downloaded onto my hard drive.

Let my near-wipeout be a lesson to you. Here’s my list of “Oops!” data that I’d forgotten to back up, with links to FAQ on exporting this info.

E-mail messages

Address Books

iTunes Music

iTunes Playlists
(if you’re like me, you have carefully crafted and ordered playlists that you would be bummed to lose.)

  1. Select the Playlist you want to copy.
  2. Right-click on the Playlist, and select Export Song List
  3. Select the location to which you want it to save. (By default, it’ll save as .XML, which will allow you to import it easily into iTunes again, when you next upgrade your computer.)
  4. Click Save. Repeat for each Playlist.
  5. Of course, this will only work on your new computer if you’ve copied all of your iTunes music files onto your new computer.

Web browser bookmarks

FTP Shortcuts and Passwords
(There are a ton of these programs, so search for the one you use and export those puppies!)

Data on your desktop


Sticky Notes (Mac)

  • This one’s easy — just click on each sticky note, then go to File > Export Text > and then save it in your back-up location.


Heaven help me if I can remember where I put that Final Draft CD that I’d need to install it on a new computer. So I just copied it onto my back-up drive, so I can put it on the new one easily.

~ ~ ~

I think that’s everywhere I found useful info on my computer, but I’m sure there are other nooks where it might lurk on yours. Feel free to post suggestions for other places to look!

P.S. As it turns out, my logic board was blown, but my hard drive was intact. And because Chris is an awesome computer nerd, we were able to disassemble my iBook, pull the hard drive, and boot his old Mac desktop with my hard drive. I have just finished pulling all the missing data I forgot about, and have done a Rocky-style victory lap around the apartment. Also, major applause to our good friend Earnest, who’s donating an old MacBook to this writer so that she can keep working, at home and abroad.

If you can stomach it, here’s a quick video of us dissecting my iBook (as per the instructions at I gotta say, it was fun to see the guts inside that sleek Mac design…


Filed under Science & Technology, Writing

4 responses to “Not OK Computer

  1. Oh poor baby! How traumatic! Good for you guys for trying to tackle the problem yourself!

    I miss you sooooooooo much. We’re coming to Austin whether you want us to or not!

  2. I will admit, it was traumatic at first, but I got great perspective after a few days. I’m now trying to make sure that I step away from the computer… slowly… slowly… at least once a day.

    And I miss you too. We do want you to come! Soon, soon!

  3. Courtney Martin

    Wow, you guys are geniuses. Pure unadulterated geniuses.

  4. Pingback: Not OK Computer – Part II · Crucial Minutiae