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James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

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Category: life

Some things are just emotionally difficult to think about, and I recognise that I can subconsciously make ill-considered decisions in lieu of rational ones.

My lost laptop scare brought some of these sharply into focus:

Backup – I conscientiously backed up all work code, websites and graphic files. There are, however, a few important things I’d missed, which would damage my productivity or take me longer to recover. Chiefly, I need to back up my emails, product registration codes and program settings files (like XAMPP config and local test databases). I need to think through the restore process and ensure I have an efficient recovery plan. I have a spare machine, but it’s a Mac rather than a PC. Would this be a problem?

Personal data – I need to copy the photos from my camera memory card and back them up- many exist there alone.

Insurance – I picked my travel insurance with very little thought on a couple of internet recommendations (from people who had not made claims). It has a maximum single item cap of £200 and pays current value rates rather ‘than new for old’… not sufficient for my laptop.

Travel – When packing, I should expect to lose everything and see how I feel, travelling ‘disposably’. This might mean purchasing a cheap netbook for taking abroad.

Security – It’s most likely that a thief would just wipe a laptop to sell on cheaply. However, I need to make sure any item is as worthless to the thief as possible- encrypting data and locking down the computer with a password to prevent identity fraud. [see: Encryption]

Police recovery – I need to take note of all serial numbers and perhaps take pictures of my items to aid any investigation. I should travel with a paper copy of these and/or have these available for me to find online.

‘Cloud’ storage – I could use GMail to store my emails rather than keeping local copies. Online backup systems may also be worth investigating.

With precautions, I could travel with peace of mind, rather than with blinkers!

My laptop is highly-specified, with a beautiful sharp screen, and I use it as my primary work machine. Anyone who has been around me when I’ve travelled with it will know how much I worry and take precautions for protecting it.

Recently, my ‘unthinkable’ happened – the laptop was stolen.

I’d taken it over to New Zealand for a ‘working holiday’. My Dad lives there now, so I have the luxury of being able to take, say, a month’s break over there. We’d left for a long weekend of camping (or ‘tramping’ as it’s known by Kiwis) along the Abel Tasman coastal route. We returned to our pick-up point a little weary, covered in insect bites, but very content. We were told that the house had been broken into. My heart crashed- my brain raced to remember what was on the laptop that I might have lost.

I keep a backup of my code and graphic work at home in the UK, so I knew that was recoverable, though I had a biting feeling that I’d not set up a backup routine for my emails (which I use intensively for reference) or program setup files. I also suspected I’d lost quite a bit of personal stuff, though I couldn’t quite remember what.

We made lists of what had disappeared and bought a cheap-ish home computer for our general use (in total, four laptops had gone).

The Wellington and surrounds crime investigation units were brilliant. Over the next couple of days they’d searched a couple of properties and made some seizures, some of which was definitely our gear. This was released to us about a week later.

A lot of stuff is still missing, but – astonishingly – my laptop (and that of my step-mother) were recovered. Hers was still in full working order. Mine would only boot into a Dell password-protected screen, so I suspected they’d attempted to wipe it. [See: The Dell 'White Screen of Death'].

An experience like this pulls reality into focus- was I prepared for losing my computer? The answer was ‘no’.

See: On losing a laptop – Lessons.