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Daylight savings ended today, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would have it begin a week earlier in Europe than in the States. Anyone?

Oh well, I’m suddenly an hour closer to home, which I don’t mind. I am also looking forward to waking up earlier, now that the sun will be coming up at a reasonable time instead of lazing around til 7:45 to do its thing. I mean really. The nerve.

I also seem to have picked up Gabe’s cold, which I guess was inevitable. Just before bed last night, I realized that my throat was feeling kind of scratchy, and by the time I went to sleep, I was sure of it. When I woke up at 2:30 AM, it was a full-blown porcupine in my throat, and this morning I awoke feeling bleary-eyed and stuffy, not just because of the time change. But at least it’s this weekend and not the next, which hopefully will give me time to get over my cold before we go to Venice. Hopefully.

Perhaps because of our colds, both ongoing and incipient, we had a homebody day yesterday. I think we are still recovering from having been transient for six weeks, because neither one of us seemed at all inclined to venture out of the house other than for a long, leisurely stint at the gym. I can justify having stayed home in the afternoon, however, because I actually attended a conference — in my pajamas, no less, from the comfort of my own desk! As the title says: I really do heart technology.

Back in July, I signed up for a virtual mystery writer’s conference, organized by a bookstore run by some good friends of the family. At the time, it all seemed terribly abstract, to be thinking ahead to the end of October and wondering where the heck I would be when I “attended” this conference — or if I would even be able to do it. But I found the entire concept intriguing, so I signed up anyway.

Barring some small technical glitches at the start of each session, the virtual conference turned out to be a great success. There were both video panels, filmed and broadcast from the bookstore, and audio ones, via BlogTalkRadio, which brought together authors literally from all around the world. There was also a chat room (or “coffee shop”) for people to continue their conversations behind the scenes, and even a virtual goodie bag with story downloads and other fun freebies.

Unfortunately due to the time difference I missed a few of the later panels, but I still got to “attend” the main attraction: my mom interviewing another big-name author and their mutual editor. It was wonderful to be sitting at my desk, looking out my window at the sun setting over the red roofs opposite, knowing that I was in Lisbon and yet hearing my mom’s voice as she talked shop with her colleagues. Very, very cool.

In general, advances in technology are already making my time abroad so much easier than when I lived in London five years ago. For one, they let me attend professional events virtually, which is fabulous — especially when compared to the conference I missed last weekend, which would have cost me at least $1000 and many hours of flying to attend.

The real difference, of course, comes with staying in touch with family and friends. It’s so much easier now to keep up with all of your lives, and with this blog, to let you know what’s happening in our own without subjecting you to mass emails. For example, our dear friends at home just had a baby on the day we arrived in Lisbon. Instead of bugging the new parents for photos and updates — or more likely missing out on the first months of their baby’s life — I can easily keep up with their progress on Facebook. It’s wonderful!

So yeah, this whole technology thing — it might yet catch on. I have high hopes. In the meantime, I will make full use of another recent technological advance to help me beat this cold: I will go curl up on the couch with my Kindle and read to my heart’s content.

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All three people who read this blog may have noticed some radio silence over the past weeks. Mostly that’s because I’m dealing with huge and insurmountable Issues, and don’t really want those to be internet fodder, thank you very much. But it’s also because I made the mistake of surrendering my beloved computer, my life’s blood and my muse, the fount of my creativity, over to the most inept and rude crew of computer geeks I have ever experienced in my whole life.

Two weeks they had my computer. Two weeks. For a flickering screen! The initial repair (oh sorry, that would be the initial second repair, since the first one Apple did a month ago didn’t work) only took about five days. But when I got my computer home, sat myself down in my favorite writing spot on the couch, and flicked on the power button… nothing. It booted up with Apple’s diagnostic programs still loaded onto it. Fantastic!

So I took it back in, and all hell broke loose. Initial diagnosis was that Apple had wiped my harddrive — duh. But it’s fine, right, because I paid $80 for a backup the first time that I brought it in for this same repair? Um, wrong. Even though two people had reassured me when I dropped it off that they still had my data and I did not in fact have to pay for another back up, now I was told that oh, by the way, they only keep their backup data for 30 days. And because they had turned me away when it first started having problems again, it had been in excess of that period.

Panic set in. Panic got exponentially worse when I suddenly realized that our wedding video had been shot straight to my harddrive and never copied.

Oh. My. God.

But then a light came through the darkness. They did a full data recovery, and it looked like they had almost all my files. Huzzah! So I went in to choose what I wanted to transfer back to my computer from their master harddrive… only the tech I’d been working with had just gone home sick ten minutes before — and wouldn’t be in until three days later. Fantastic.

I went back in three days later, very excited to have my computer AND my data back intact. The guy sits down at their master computer, starts looking through his files, and goes, “Uh oh. I don’t believe this.” Ummm… what?

Yeah, you guessed it. Somehow, the recovered data from my backup had been erased, written over, dumped, burned, something. No one could tell me what had happened, and no one offered me an apology. I was flabbergasted, but really, all I could do was laugh and walk out of there before I started screaming and crying like a banshee. I am a little on edge these days, after all.

No call came the next day. When I finally swallowed my pride and called the store, they simply told me to come and pick up my computer while they continued to search for my errant data. And still, not a single apology was heard. Oh wait, let me amend that. I apologized to them for causing them the inconvenience of having to search for my data. Remind me how that works again???

So after two full weeks, last night I finally pried my poor amnesiac computer from their utterly inept hands. I even managed not to break down in helpless tears until I was safely back in my car and on the phone with my husband. But the final indignity was yet to come. After I had cleaned myself up and gotten to my next destination relatively on time, I reached into my bag for my pen — only to find that the tech who made me sign off on five different invoices before I could retrieve my computer had kept my best pen. Damnation! They win again!

Since then, it has taken me another twelve hours to even turn my computer on, because I didn’t want to be faced with its poor blank stare and a stranger’s desktop image. Not to mention its harddrive devoid of my documents, pictures, music, and most importantly, a movie.

Not only is all of this devastating in its own right, but right now everything seems to get blown out of all proportion because it inevitably gets conflated with my dad’s illness. So instead of just shrugging my shoulders and getting on with it, I feel deeply violated by this whole experience. The anger and helplessness mirror my emotions around my dad’s cancer, as does the lack of comprehension as to why exactly this all happened.

So yes, I know it’s just a computer, but it’s the only one I feel comfortable writing on, and it’s an integral part of my daily life. The loss of my data is a deeply personal one, and the callousness with which this loss was treated is simply inexcusable.

What lessons have we learned today, children? 1) Always always ALWAYS back up your data yourself; and 2) never ever EVER go to this particular Mac store again.

And I thought researching my master’s thesis was bad. I just read a Wired article (thanks to Instapundit) about how East Germany has developed computer technology to piece together the files that the Stasi destroyed before the wall came down in 1989.

It seems that the Stasi documented every instant of every citizen’s life, big or small. Even while three-quarters of the population was protesting, they still held out hopes that they could continue business as usual after things had calmed down. Even so, they decided to destroy key documents just in case, and spent the next two months shredding and eventually ripping them by hand. (I love German – the shredders were called Papierwolfs and Reisswolfs — “paper-wolves” and “rip-wolves.” So literal!) Huge mountains of shredded paper were produced as a result.

Some years later, people decided to see what was so important that the Stasi had to destroy it rather than have it be found. A group started doing it by hand — talk about a needle in a haystack. Eventually, a German computer scientist heard about the project and decided to lend his expertise. Now they can do it digitally, but even so it could take up to five years to match the millions of tiny pieces together.

My question is… and then what? Surely the Stasi compulsively documented so much crap in everyone’s daily life that even the “important” stuff must be mostly trivia. Why not just destroy it and put the past safely in the past?

Apparently there was a huge debate following the end of the Cold War about whether they should do just that. In the end, it seems there is a hunger in East Germany to know what the Stasi had in their files:

“When we started in 1992, I thought we’d need five years and then close the office,” Bormann says. Instead, the Records Office was flooded with half a million requests in the first year alone. Even in cases where files hadn’t been destroyed, waiting times stretched to three years. In the past 15 years, 1.7 million people have asked to see what the Stasi knew about them.

I guess it brings a sense of catharsis, a way of making sense out of a time of tragedy that made no sense at all. Having spent years feeling like someone was watching you, it must feel good in the end to know that they were indeed watching your every moment — and here’s what they saw, page after detailed page of it.

Perhaps the shreds of those documents hold some kind of vindication for a life spent in fear, something concrete after years spent in doubt and uncertainty. If that is the case, then this is one of the best uses of technology I could possibly think of.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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