Restored to life

Confession: I backup everything I write, everything that lands on my Mac, everything. But I rarely go into the backups to restore anything. Until this week when my arm was twisted into powering up my last computer again and doing some work with it. I’m going to claim that it doesn’t matter what the work was but really, I just cannot remember – because of what I found instead.

Every five or six years I buy a new Mac and take a minute or two to bring over all my current documents. I also promise to sort out the pile of hard drives I have inside some of these Macs and outside all of them but I never do.

This week I did and it’s been like data archaeology. Let me just tell you this first: here on my old Mac Pro I found I’d got 44 feature films. They appear to have been ripped from my DVDs but I don’t remember doing that.

Then there are 279 whole episodes of TV series. Some DVD rips, some iTunes purchases, I don’t know.

And 15,768 radio or other audio tracks.

I do understand that one because I used to have my Mac Pro automatically switch itself on to record the Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4 every day so there’s a pile of those. It’s a pile with titles like ‘Afternoon Play -ep723.m4a’ and no other way to work out what each is but to listen.

Then, too, I’ve made a lot of radio on my Macs so there’s surely a thousand or more tracks to do with that.

One more thing. Somewhere in that Mac Pro’s folders there were also 3,336 scripts. A thousand or more movie scripts plus entire series of television ones. Oddly few radio, for some reason.

All of this is now on a drive connected to my iMac and Backblaze, my online backup service, is sweating as it uploads the lot to cloud storage to make sure it is never lost, that it is always available to me wherever I am.

And that would be where I’d stop. Look at this, I could say: I’ve found all this glorious material and that it will of course occupy me, enthral me, distract me.

Only, this digging into a massive personal archive turns out to be a delicate dig into the past. It’s delicate because at first you see a photograph and alongside it there’s the date. It’s a file on your Mac, there’s the name and there’s the the Date Modified. It’s putting a pin in a memory – but then opening that image, looking at that document, just glancing at it changes the Date Modified to today. It’s like grasping at something that crumbles in your hand.

Now, if you dig slightly to the left and down a bit there is way to show the Date Created. But I didn’t think of that until I’d go into paroxysms about the ephemeral nature of even digital memories.

And as I write this to you, I’m actually back by that old Mac Pro because I wanted to get that screen grab of its display looking whitewashed. (When did I take that whitewash photo? Apparently Sunday, 8 September 2013 at 11:12.)

But I’m looking for that date and the drives inside this Mac Pro began giving out a little scream.

They’re going to die. And I’ve already plugged in one ancient external drive that I pointlessly struggled to find the right cables for because it’s dead.

We use these machines to do our work and to do everything, but along the way we are inadvertently documenting our entire lives in sometimes minute-by-minute detail. It’s not always great detail. It’s sometimes scraping when you find an old email and the text comes along with a tsunami of upset.

It’s not great detail when you learn what open wounds you still have. But it is great detail, it is the greatest of all details, when you a To Do list from 2003 that has hopes for the future that you’ve since achieved.

I’m not saying you should dig through your old computer documents and I’m definitely not saying you should do it without a strong mug of tea beside you. But I am saying you should backup everything. I’ve said that for years and meant it in very practical terms but today I mean it in emotional ones too.

Food and whine

I can’t imagine this is still there and I definitely won’t look. But many years ago, I worked on the BBC Good Food website, in fact I worked toward the launch of it, whenever that was. I didn’t do much, don’t get me wrong. All I had to do was perform and record for the site’s audio glossary section: if you wanted to know how to correctly pronounce Chardonnay, you clicked on the name and my voice told you.

It’s likely that I also did food words as, even now, when I walk around a supermarket I will occasionally see something and feel compelled to say its name aloud and then again with each syllable separated out by short pauses. But it’s the wine I remember, though, because it tickled me that I don’t drink and so hadn’t remotely heard of half of the things I was saying.

The glossary was a good idea and it turned out okay: I remember feeling I’d got the content right but the audio wasn’t fantastic. Mind you, I also remember the launch party. It’s weird what sticks in your head but I can picture the entire room, the pillar I was leaning against, the man I was talking with, the woman who told us then that the idiot boyfriend who’d dumped her had just asked to come back. (They then got married, by the way, and I hope that fella now spends his days counting his lucky stars.)

I remember everything in this slice of that evening. Including the editor standing up to make a speech and quite laboriously thanking every individual who’d made even the smallest contribution to launching the site. I remember starting to think she could surely skip some of these people, when she did. She looked at me and she did not say my name. O-kay. Not getting a second commission, am I?

It did hurt, I won’t pretend it didn’t. I had been feeling proud to be part of this site, even in this small way, and then I felt shuttered. It was a lesson, too: thank everybody or thank generally, don’t do exhaustive-minus-one.

But the fact remains that BBC Good Food was an excellent site: I’m not a foodie but I could easily appreciate how well produced both it and the accompanying magazine were. And are: I use a cooking app called Paprika and having a quick scoot through the recipes I’ve collected in it, I can see a fair few came from BBC Good Food.

There was still the fact, though, that this was BBC Good Food and there is a completely separate site called BBC Food. Similarly, there is BBC Top Gear and there is TopGear.com. That latter and Good Food are actually the official websites of the magazines which are the official magazines of the TV shows which have their own websites. Of course they do.

It wasn’t confusing when you worked on them –– I actually did do a day or possibly just an afternoon on TopGear.com; I think my car reviews were light on engine performance detail, heavy on the sound quality from the radios –– but you knew. You knew this was a stupid idea and that it was going to confuse readers. But as long as all of these sites were really well done and were successful, that’s the way it was going to be.

It still is. Except for one thing.

BBC Good Food, which I’ve just decided I’m going call my old site – I did work on it, dammit – remains exactly as it was yesterday. BBC Food does not. At some point very soon, BBC Food is going to destroy 11,000 of the recipes on it. I should say delete but no, it’s destroy: that immense archive is going to be deliberately lost forever.

It’s part of the BBC’s response to the Government’s demands that it be more distinctive and save money. The usual bollocks, then. But this time the Corporation is being more distinctive by taking away a recipe archive that no other website will or perhaps could do. Not even BBC Good Food can touch this for the sheer volume of material and how it’s also tied to various cooking TV shows, how it’s a bit of a cultural history archive of what we ate.

There are whole swathes of BBC websites that are not updated and which tell you so: you’ll occasionally follow a Google search down into a site which has a nice note from the BBC saying that it hasn’t been updated since 1997 but is being left here as a record.

And this time the Corporation is saving money by destroying 11,000 pages of a website. These would be pages that had already been written and published. I suspect they do get updated: if you’re reading a Hairy Bikers recipe from five years ago, there’s a good argument that you could put a link to this year’s new series on there. You don’t have to and I don’t know that they did, but you could and so maybe the pages were updated.

But that isn’t necessary. So the only money that closing this site and this archive can achieve is by getting rid of the people who update it with the new recipes. Only, they’re still going to update it with new recipes. (The difference is that they’ll put on the latest BBC TV cooking show recipes today and then delete them in 30 days time.)

So no money is being saved and existing distinctiveness is being thrown away. The Government’s insistence on improvements at the BBC is, as ever, bluster from people trying to sound like they matter. And the BBC’s response is straight out of Yes, Minister: when Sir Humphrey is asked to do something about the high figures of civil servants, he does something. About the figures.

I think that makes both sides in this BBC vs Government issue seem like schoolboys who think we’ll believe their red-faced claims of the other boy did it or the dog ate the homework according to a particular recipe. Neither side would thank me for saying this, but then I’m used to that.