I putÂ everythingÂ on that drive — class notes, quizzes, exams, manuscripts of books and articles, scans of images obtained on research trips, the occasional pdf of a boarding pass, playlists for mix CDs, a complete list of all books I own, a complete list of all CDs I own. Â Every time I am in my office, I transfer the files from my home computer to my office computer. Â I also do this the other way, transferring files from office computer to home computer. Â The good news is that I’ve lost hardly any data. Â The bad news is that I often leave the files on the drive after transferring copies to the other machine. Â The drive holds many gigabytes of information, and thus itself serves as an additional back-up location.
On Sunday, I noticed it was missing. Â On Monday, I checked my office. Â It wasn’t there either. Â That afternoon, a colleague said he saw precisely such a drive in the classroom where we both teach. Â Ah! Â I must have left it there on Thursday evening, after my last class, I thought. Â I couldn’t pick up the drive then because there was a class using the room. Â Well, I figured,Â I’ll just pick it up first thing next morning, before classes begin. Â I’ve forgotten things in that classroom before, and they’ve always stayed there. Â I once abandoned aÂ DVD ofÂ Private SNAFUÂ cartoons there for nearly a month before I realized it was missing. Â Sure enough, it was still there, on top of the DVD player. Â I’ve left flash drives behind before, too, always finding them waiting for me upon my return. Â So, this morning, when I unlocked the door of the classroom (Eisenhower 021, for any Kansas State colleagues who may be reading this), I fully expected to find the drive there. Â But there was no sign of any drive at all.
I’ve emailed everyone who teaches in the room: perhaps they picked it up, to bring it to Lost and Found or to see whose it was (my name is on many documents on the disc). Â As yet, the drive remains missing, but I only sent the email two hours ago. And four colleagues have already responded to my query, three reporting seeing it there — so, it’s yet possible that the drive will turn up.
As I wait, I’m anxious… and am having a hard time concentrating on my other work. Â Only now do I realize how careless I was with that information. Â The manuscript of a biography that took me a decade to write is on that drive. Â What if some malicious person posts it on the web? Â Exams and quizzes are on that drive. Â What if they all end up in some fraternity’s files? Â Do I now need to scrap all past exams and quizzes? Â I post a version of the class notes for my students — it’s a mix of what they said in class and what I prepared in advance. Â I only have one copy of that, and it’s on the flash drive. Â There are a couple of weeks’ worth of notes that I’ve yet to post. Â If I don’t get the drive, the notes my students are expecting will be lost.
It’s also frustrating because I could have prevented this. Â On Sunday night, when I realized the drive was missing, I should have come looking for it. Â Had I done so, I’d likely have thought to check the classroom, gone there, unlocked it… and found the drive. Â Another way I could have prevented this would be regularly purging the drive, deleting documents immediately after I’d backed them up on another machine.
I’m chronically absent-minded — part of this is due to having so much to do, my attention pulled in multiple directions. Part of it is simply disposition. Â I’ve always been prone to forgetting. Â Once, in college, I found myself exiting the dormitory… still carrying my towel. Â I’d intended to hang it on the door before leaving the room, but instead had just kept walking. Â That was funny — indeed, often my absent-mindedness is a source of amusement.
But it’s also a source of paranoia. Each night before bed, I make a “to do” list for the next day (or several days). Â In addition to the obvious reason for this nightly ritual (i.e., wanting to get the items done), I also do it so that I can go to sleep. Â If I don’t create such a list, then I can’t shut my mind off and I can’t sleep. Â By transferring the worry about all that I have to do (and thus am likely to forget) onto a list, I can relax enough to sleep.
And now, I’ve just created another source of anxiety. Â I do realize that this is very much a First-World Problem. Â I only wish that the realization somehow made the problem less real. Â So, fellow absent-minded professors (and other absent-minded friends), may you learn from my negative example! Â Take better care of your data, lest you pull a Phil Nel and lose it all. Â :-(
UPDATE, 6:55 pm, 9 Nov. 2011: DRIVE FOUND. Huzzah! Â See fourth comment, below.