18 May 2006

the big E

(written by hand over the past couple of weeks)

I had a friend who often referred to a power known as the Big E—E for Equaliser. She didn’t see this power as god in the traditional sense, but more of a necessary super-thwack to keep you from getting too full of yourself. I believe in a vaguely Newtonian karmic balance, but I have never really believed that things happen according to some divine plan, nor do I attach any meaning to the convenient coincidences we call luck. Looking closely at the events of the past few months, I am beginning to wonder if I should rethink my position.

About a year ago, a change in personal health forced me to give up my day job. This has been tougher psychologically than I ever imagined. Every writer dreams of the day he or she will have the time to concentrate more fully on their craft, but the winter hit me hard and I found it almost impossible to string two words together during that time. As the days started to get longer I felt a bit better, but this ruddy big E seemed to block my path at every turn.

A Trojan had its way with my main computer, wiping out my master boot record. After much work, I managed to get it put back together using a separate 20 gigabyte drive as a boot disk. The final copy of the Winter Solstice issue of Bonfire went to edit in pdf format just after the Vernal Equinox—and just before a second (different) virus reared its ugly head with a time bomb set to go off at 3 April, wreaking havoc on my system. When I started to input the revisions on the Bonfire master document, I discovered that the original document had been corrupted beyond help. I found an older copy on my laptop, but it was missing the entire editorial content and many other changes I had made along the way. I converted the pdf back to Word, but the page formatting (margins, headers, footers, fonts, etc.) was lost.

I unplugged my main computer from the broadband modem and stopped answering emails. A thorough check of my laptop uncovered no signs of infection. I was able to read incoming emails with web mail but I was hesitant to reply, fearing that to do so might inadvertently infect someone else’s computer. I had no way to capture the sent emails, so would have no record of the correspondence.

I decided the best course of action would be to discontinue using the fandango email address. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put a notice on the website because my ftp program was on the quarantined computer. Moving files that might be corrupt seemed unwise, so I downloaded and installed a fresh copy of my ftp program on the laptop. I created a new email address to use for replies from the laptop and started revising the archive copies of the fandango web page files to reflect the new information. On Thursday evening (4 May) I shut down all of the computers to enjoy a quiet birthday celebration for my husband, Jimmy. This was to be more fortunate than I realised. Jimmy spent most of the evening at the window as an electrical storm grew more and more intense. He was transfixed by the amount of forked lightning, apparently quite a rare experience in this part of the world. As he stood watching, a huge bolt struck the power cable outside the house. Everything in the house crackled and went black briefly. The sound of the crack followed then most of the electrical things came back. The outage didn’t last long enough to kill any of the time displays, but I had to change a couple of light bulbs and reset some breakers. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered that my water heater and the ac adaptor for my laptop were both fried. I had used the laptop again after the storm settled, not realising that I was on battery. By Friday morning, the battery was well and truly dead. We couldn’t get a connection on any of the computers and Jimmy called from work to say that ntl had initiated a planned national outage that would last for several days. We have been without an internet connection for a week now. The service rep assured me our area would be back up by 9 am on the 11th. Right. I can’t believe how much I have come to depend on the internet. I use it to pay my bills, check my bank balance, order grocery deliveries, in fact to buy just about everything.

I need to get a new ac adaptor for my laptop, but I have to order it online. Priceless.

Update: 18 May 06

I spent much of Saturday on the phone with ntl tech types trying to work out which components were defective, but we were eventually able to get a connection using a usb cable on Jimmy’s computer. We still don’t know whether the problem is in the cable modem’s ethernet port, the router, any or all of the cables or the network cards inside the computers. One of the ntl guys told me it was definitely not the cable modem but another said he had written it down as a possible problem. It will take me a few days to get things sorted.

I got a new mains adaptor from eBay and now have my laptop fully charged. It is a tremendous relief to be able to work on my own machine again.