14 April 2020

Byte Me

Back up your files!

So many stories are no longer accessible.
I’ve been hearing this since the advent of personal computers, and I’ve always tried to adhere to what is, on the surface, good advice.

I no longer have the cassette tapes from my first computer—a Radio Shack TRS-80—but I have a collection of 5.25” floppy disks, 3.5” diskettes, Zip drives, and CDs containing word-processing files created with WordStar and various iterations of Microsoft Word on a variety of PCs and Macintoshes. Except for the CDs, I no longer have any working computers that can read the disks, and the self-extracting archives I created to store large documents and then copied over each time I’ve upgraded to a new computer no longer self-extract. So, even though I have backed up much of what I’ve written, I can’t access the work from the first few, post-personal computer, decades of my writing career.

More than four decades of writing.
On the other hand, almost everything I’ve archived on paper in my six files cabinets is still readable. The few exceptions are contracts I copied using my fax machine before I had regular access to a photocopier or my own copiers and scanners. (Faxes and copies created using thermal fax machines slowly darken over time.)


How we submitted electronic ms.
Back in the day—sometime after the advent of personal computers with word processing programs and before the use of email for manuscript submission—several of the publications for which I wrote liked to receive electronic files on diskettes. So, I prepared a label with my (no longer valid) contact information as well as information about the disk and what was on it. I’m unsure why the disk pictured was returned to me, but apparently I submitted a story titled “I Hired a Private Eye,” which I saved in Rich Text Format as a file named PrivateEye.rtf on an IBM-formatted diskette.


I’ve written before about my typewriters—“Three Typewriters and a Desk”—but I’ve never written about my computers. Alas, they have mostly just been tools to which I have no inherent emotional attachment.

My "computer museum."
My first personal computer was a TRS-80 connected to a small black-and-white television I used as a monitor and to a cassette tape player I used to back up files. I was never able to use it to write, and my most significant accomplishment was learning enough BASIC to create a short, text-based choose-your-own-adventure type game.

My next computer was an IBM PC, provided by a client who subcontracted consulting work to me, and since then I’ve worked my way through several brands of PCs before transitioning to Macintoshes and working my way through several generations of Macs.

I still use both PCs and Macintoshes on a regular basis, but the Mac has become my computer of choice, and I no longer own a functioning PC. Temple calls the collection of dead PCs in the garage my “computer museum.”


So, backing up your files is still valid advice—especially backing up unsold work and unfinished works-in-progress—but think ahead. How will you access those files next year or next decade when the software used to create the files no long exists and the media they are stored on is no longer accessible?

I certainly wish I’d planned ahead.

“Sleepy River” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, due out later this month.


  1. I'm in the same boat as you, Michael. Things backed up on mediums I can no longer access or in programs (like XyWrite) that no longer exist. The problem is the technology changes so quickly it's hard to keep up. Like that white and red Igloo computer on your shelf. There's just no back up for those lost beers ;-) .

  2. I print out hard copies of just about everything. Other than that...
    Hey, all technology vanishes. There's not a lot of wax tablets or scrolls left from the Roman empire, either.

  3. Paper copies are forever but I am sure I am not the only writer who has had to retype an entire manuscript into a new computer system.
    Congratulations on your newest AHMM story.

  4. My first computer was also a TRS-80, and I too wrote some of those adventure games in Basic (!). Like you, I then moved to PCs--several of them, as a lifelong IBM employee--but now just about everything we own, computerwise, has an apple on it. iMac desktop, MacBook Air laptop, iPhone, iPads, Apple TV, etc. I love 'em. And most of my backups are offsite via Carbonite.

    Good memories here, Michael, and good advice too. Great column!

  5. Been trying to post. Blog won't let me.

    I suspect this Curt Lennix just hacked our blog.

  6. Ok, it went through. I just wanted to compliment Michael on a good posting.

  7. You aren't the only one, Michael. It's a major headache for government and business. It was the chief concern of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (aka SarbOx aka SOX) and the target of companies (and local governments) that didn't wish to comply. It one of the reasons PDFs rose to prominence.

    I also have a computer museum dating from… let's not get personal. I used one of the external SCSI drives to resurrect a weird cartridge drive a colleague had in her dead PC.

    These days I maintain 8 2-terabyte drives for backup and a NAS– network attached storage. As you might detect, I'm paranoid. Where's my backup?


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