The dog ate my homework ... and its modern versions
I have to confess that when students come to me and explain that their work (in an almost finished state) has been destroyed by a computer crash, I have two reactions: a) sympathy, b) disbelief. To be honest, I've alway had a sneaking suspicion that it isnt all that different from the old "dog ate homework" story. No doubt occasionally it is true, but quite how often...
A bit like all those old stories about people (eg T E Lawrence) losing the only manuscript of their books on some railway station (usually Bletchley or Reading). (Another comic variant would be Baldrick's dictionary.). Hang on I thnk.. you have a single manuscript of your book and you are taking it to Oxford and you actually forget it in the waiting room at Reading. How likely is that?
Anyway, this week it happened to me (and I have to rethink some of my earlier suspicions). It wasnt exactly a crash, more a stupid mistake. I had been checking the foot-notes of the fourth chapter of my Laughter book, and filling in the missing ones (you know, the vague notes that you put in as you are going through in some earlier version... "Does Le Goff have anything to say about this?" or "Surely somewhere in Plutarch's Caesar?". Etc.
Anyway it had taken a few days. I had started by Friday and saved the work to Dropbox when I went to bed on Friday night. I worked on the thing through the weekend up till Monday evening. On Saturday and Sunday I had simply saved the work on the desktop, but when I finished in the library at 6.00ish on Monday, I thought -- help-- better save another version. So I saved it again on the desktop, and then into Dropbox.. or so I thought.
To be honest I was knackered and I must have done something stupid. But when I had saved what I thought was the most recent version of the chapter into Dropbox, what happened was this: the late Friday version overlaid every version of the later Monday evening one. Irrevocably. That is to say, the work of three days had been wiped out. (No,I dont do Time-machine, if that is what you are about to ask.. I used to but it got irritating, so I stopped!).
I felt like crying, and indeed I did. (If I have been a bit long posting comments, that's why.. tired and emotional).
To be honest, it could have been worse, and I made up the three days in one long day. That's because it had been checking notes and inchoate notes. The answer to "Does Le Goff have have anything to say about this?" had been "no". That had taken a couple of hours to discover on Saturday, but today I knew what the answer was. I could also still remember who had said what about the end of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, which had also taken me a good couple of hours to reconstruct on Sunday.
But there were also some lessons. For a start, never mind what happened with the Dropbox (some synching issue?), it would have been a good idea to save on a USB stick at the end of every day. That way one coud never have lost more than 24 hours of work.
And maybe the old notebook method would have helped. I had decided to cut out the middle man, and not to take notes into a book, and then transcribe onto the laptop. That was, I thought, not only a waste of time and dead old fashioned, but also an entry mechanism for errors. You copy the stuff into your book and then you can't quite read it, but copy it into your chapter anyway... So everything had been done DIRECTLY onto the laptop.
Fine, but when it disappeared, it just disappeared... if I had had a version in my notebook, I could just have used that...I wouldnt have had to start all over again!
But then I thought that it was less than a month ago when we were searching for the hard copy of what the son had corrected (chaps one and two) but left in the library (and we thought lost-- irrevocably). So maybe you cant win. Just do the belt and braces... dropbox, USB, print it out, write it in a note book.. and dont leave it in Reading railway station.
Oh help..is finishing a book always like this?