Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 17, 2010

Terror in the Dark

I don’t want you to blame my former colleague, Steve, or think less of him for this story I’m about to tell at his expense. He was an innocent victim of the early days of personal computing technology. In those days, children, much of the technological world that you take for granted was being carved out of raw silicon and molded plastic by the early giants of computing, and computers were only just beginning to show up on desktops. In that time, there were no LCD color graphic displays or hard drives: we didn’t even have fax machines. Al Gore had invented the Internet already, but not Whirled Wide Web. There were no bar code scanning devices at most checkout stands or digital answering machines in our homes, although we did have a choice of media on which to play movies at home: VHS or Betamax tapes (Betamax was technically superior, but the adult video industry adopted VHS, and since that was the biggest market for rental movies, VHS won). Your pioneering forefathers endured travail and toil you can only guess at in order to bring you a world in which you can instantly receive tweets from P. Diddy right on your phone or, god help us, watch Wolf Blitzer any time, anywhere you like.

Back then, the common behaviors for using technology that we take for granted and which are, by now, programmed into our DNA, were not routine. Saving and backing up files, for example. What brought this to mind was my recent realization that I’d typed a year’s worth of writing into this little blog template, day after day, without truly “possessing” any of the work. That is to say, the articles resided out in the cybersphere — somewhere — on one or more servers (let’s hope there’s at least two, so there’s a backup), which probably are located in some river delta of India or a swamp in South Carolina near the sheltering banner of the Stars ‘n Bars. Should that server and its (presumed) backup go away some day, through a corporate takeover, sheer negligence, or a hack by a pimply teenager in Ireekistan, 250,000 words’ worth of articles would vanish. I didn’t write these pieces first as documents on my own computer and then paste them in. With only a very few  exceptions, I typed them directly into the WordPress interface. Once that realization hit, I copied them all over onto my hard drive and made a CD-ROM backup, so there’s some reasonable expectation that I’ll be able to access them at least until whatever mammoth catastrophe strikes us all — say the scenario in “Day of the Triffids” or “The Road.” I learned this lesson, as have many of you, the hard way. Save your work and keep a backup, because The Total Data Dump may occur at any time.

My first, and one of the most memorable examples of the critical nature of saving one’s work was witnessing Steve’s experience.

In those long-ago times, Steve and I worked with an outstanding group of fellow writer-directors in the basement of our company’s fabulous Education Center. There were six or eight of us crammed into cubicles in the windowless space, plus a couple more in a room that had a door, which is where Dick, our token Intellectual, smoked and wrote (almost everyone other than our younger group of writers smoked: the managers, cameramen, photographers — it was just how it was). I do want to say that it was a jolly place, with a great group of creative and lively people. There was a lot of joking around and throwing things at one another over cube walls and some truly outstanding work got done, too. It was as close to working with Rob Petrie, Buddy Sorell and Sally Rogers on “The Alan Brady Show” as I ever expect to get in real life.

One thing irked Steve, though: our managers would have nothing to do with getting us computers for writing. Carving on wet clay and baking it in ovens was good enough for them (including, especially, Dick, our eminence grise), and, by gar, it was good enough for us. If pressed, our boss would lead one to the supply cabinet, indicate the neat stacks of yellow legal pads and boxes of pens (although not his personal stash of Flairs) and indicate that real writers used these.

Steve, of course, found irony in the fact that we were working for — what else — a computer company. The company had been in business for a hundred years making office machines, and, in our management’s eye, that’s what computers were for: computing, as in processing big chunks of data and checks and things. I was on Steve’s side. I had a bodacious Radio Shack TRS-80 at home, and I was in favor of using a computer for writing, but I was in my first year of actually working inside an office building and wearing a suit and all, and I was a little recalcitrant about making waves, so I probably wasn’t a very helpful ally.

Steve, though, discovered a work-around. In our studio we had a couple of Sony microcomputers (that’s what we called them then; to be exact, click on the following link to see the exact mode;, the  SMC-70G). This was a very basic computer using a now-faded operating system called CPM, designed to insert titles and graphics into video programs. Sony had targeted them into their industry-dominating position of supplying video cameras, recording and editing equipment. Steve realized that this machine also was a form of word processor, and, since the unit was rarely in use in the studio or edit suite, he moved it into his cubicle and started happily clicking away.

Then dawned The Day of Darkness. It was fairly quiet in the bullpen, or whatever you want to call our little subterranean cube farm. Everyone was busy on one thing or another and there wasn’t much chitchat. Suddenly, there was an ominous CLICK. Immediately, there was the sound of ventilation going off and power shutting down; the room was instantly plunged into blackness: a total power outage. Then, in that dark and deathly-quiet little basement room, in the space it took for those of there to draw a breath and wonder, “What?” I heard a sound I hope never to hear again in this life: it was a wail of agony, of hopeless, nameless suffering and pain; at once a moan, a cry, inarticulate, yet fraught with the presence of primal terror. Was this some denizen of the subterranean deep, emerged in the darkness? No. It was Steve. He had been typing furiously for something like four hours, racing to meet a deadline for a script, pressing hard to get to the NEXT page, then the NEXT, and he was almost there … but … WITHOUT SAVING.

Four hours of writing. Gone. All gone.

We learned later that a car had struck a power pole and knocked down a transformer: the entire Education Center was blacked out. We did have some emergency lights, though the nearest one to our little cube cell was out in the hallway. As our eyes adjusted to the dim glow, we could only listen with sympathy to Steve’s tale of misery, and thank our lucky stars that we were writing on those yellow legal pads with the pens the company had thoughtfully supplied us.

I have never forgotten that day, my children. Steve recovered himself, if not his file, and continued on to great success: one of the funniest, smartest guys I’ve ever worked with (although we were all smart, funny and good-looking then) and, believe me, he knew where the SAVE command was after that. Let his story be a caution to you.

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Responses

  1. Unlike your writing and my own, Bradley, I never found Mr. Smith’s writing to be worth saving…

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    • Great. Now I’ll be hosting a flame war: Cincinnati East Side vs. West Side; Norwood vs. Mt. Healthy or wherever!

      Like

  2. I love that I could COMPLETELY picture all of this. Love love love this story. So grateful I got to work with all of you.

    Like

    • Maureen, it was very good to see your name as a follower of Mr. Nixon. I hope all is well with you.

      Like

  3. I still blame Smith, Luebbers and Cluxton for bringing the whole thing down…

    Like

  4. Mr. Prues… you can’t like what you can’t read.

    As for Brad, I have to meet anyone that writes as much as you without being paid.

    Like

  5. Touche! Mr. Smith. Again you see through my pompous facade. Should we see who we can muster up for a holiday lunch this year? Brad, Mo, travel plans?

    Like


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