Emails From the Command-Line: Backing Up and Checking Out

By Ethan Net on at

They say all good things must come to an end, and they’re right. It started last week, when the boss asked if I could make a home visit to sort out his Wi-Fi; his wife’s email account (goodness knows why), and his children’s iTunes stuff. He lives near Brighton, so I thought it would make a nice day out.

Arriving at about 10am, the taxi from the station lead me into a very long gravel drive. "Wow, this is something else entirely," I thought to myself, tipping the driver and wondering just how many bedrooms this place must have. As I rang the bell, I was startled to see a housekeeper answer -- evidently she is expecting me, and shows me where the main computers are, and where to put my bag of tools, spare fuses, network cables, laptop, and assorted miscellaneous tricks of the trade. Then, my boss wanders in, waving his iPad in the air, still not having got the hang of the map app.

“Right then Sir, what do you need me to do?” I ask.

“Well Ethan, I need the main computer fixed, it just doesn’t turn on at all. Then I need my wife’s MacBook to connect to all her email addresses, and sync with her BlackBerry photos and iPhone mail and the main computer, with iTunes music too. Then the kids each have a laptop, and they have informed me they'd like to play their games on the TV wirelessly when they visit from boarding school, and sync with their email contacts for the gaming sessions. I’m here for an hour, is all of that OK?”

“Errrrrr, I’ll see what I can do,” I nervously reply. I’ve been in this situation before, getting a synchronisation the wrong way 'round can cause damage to one’s health. And losing somebody’s iTunes collection when it’s made up of CDs laboriously copied to the computer is just not pleasant for anyone involved. Especially when they’ve chucked out all the original CDs. Let me tell you, that was a day I was thankful for BitTorrent.

“Here you go, that’s my computer, it has everything on it -- all my music, photos and contacts from the last five years, so don’t go losing anything, will you?" It's like my boss is fully aware of what's circling in my head at that very moment.

First things first; let's fix the master computer, get that up and running, and see where we can go from there. Pressing various buttons seems to do absolutely zilch; just a clicking noise sounds inside.

“Sir, have you backed up all the data from this computer?” I ask. “Yes, as you told me to, all copied over safely last week.” Crumbs, it appears he’s finally getting the message! I remove the failing hard drive; install a brand new one; boot up the PC on a USB key prepared earlier, and start installing Windows. In the interests of security, I take the old hard drive apart, expose its insides and smash it to pieces. Very small pieces. Can’t have a tabloid newspaper rummaging around the boss' private bits. I wander around, looking at some paintings that are probably worth more than a lifetime’s salary. Never did understand modern art.

With Windows installing, and then updating, I ask where the data is that my boss had backed up so vigilantly. And that’s where it goes horribly wrong...

“In a folder called Backup. Obviously.”

“Yes, but where is that folder?”

...And then it starts...that horrible sinking feeling your heart gets when the penny finally drops: he’s backed up his data...onto the same hard drive, just a different location...meaning I have just single-handedly smashed up his life in pictures, not to mention his complete music collection (which is probably a blessing to be honest -- I had already clocked that he listens to Genesis and Ry Cooder almost religiously); his contact list; his wife’s archived emails; his children’s iTunes library...

There’s no escaping this one Ethan, you muppet.

“Just popping out for some fresh air Sir,” I lie.

Train back to London; these iPads really are quite useful you know. Resignation letter sent, and I’m now back on the IT job sites. I just hope they don’t ask for a reference.


Ethan Net is a pseudonym for an overworked and underpaid IT Manager. It doesn’t matter where he works or who he is — unless he happens to be your IT Manager. Look out for his column Wednesday afternoons, here on Gizmodo UK.

Image Credit: Server Room from Shutterstock