Losing your hard drive sucks

You might recall, if I bothered to mention it (I’m not going to go back and look) that I had some trouble with the hard drive in my laptop back in November. For a couple of days the machine would not run at all. When I fired it up the drive just went clickety-clack, clickety-clack, while the screen showed the “I’ve got no hard drive” icon. Finally I figured I had nothing to lose and hit the computer firmly five times. Zing! The drive jumped to life and worked perfectly. I didn’t lose a single byte of data.

I said to myself, “Self, next time that drive takes a powder, percussive maintenance may not work. It’s time to get a new drive.”

On a sunny Friday afternoon in April the drive went clickety-clack again. I didn’t even bother to power it down, I just smacked it a good one and it started to work again. For maybe five minutes. Another whack, a little more time.

I keep pretty well backed up all the time, but it was time to devote myself exclusively to scraping every one and zero off the old dog and onto my external drive. I also have backup software that is all about putting things back where they used to be, so after I copied all the except the system folder onto the external, I created an additional backup using the backup software. Those, combined with my usual Internet backup, had me backed up out the wazoo.

On the weekend there was no getting a laptop drive here in the Czech Republic, but the old drive was hanging in there. Sunday I did a little bit of work, always knowing that at any moment my computer as I knew it could simply cease to exist. Monday morning I updated the backup made with the backup software and bought a new hard drive. What has followed has been the long and arduous task of getting things back the way they were. I loaded the operating system without any problems, then while the updates loaded over fuego’s Internet connection with agonizing slowness I reinstalled the backup software.

“Software installed successfully,” the window proclaimed, only… it wasn’t there.

Backup is a free program for Apple’s .Mac customers, and it’s worth every penny. I have given up submitting reports of grammar and spelling errors in the user interface (Spelling! In a product from a multi-billion dollar company.). Then there’s the fact if something goes wrong while you’re backing up you stand to lose your entire archive, and you’re certainly not going to restore anything until you redo the backup successfully.

I have no idea why the first attempts to install the software failed – this was about as clean an environment to install to as you could possibly imagine – but finally I futzed around and got it installed – mostly. While I was connected to the Internet it would try to read my archives up there and crash. There was no way for me to tell it, “Hey, screw the Internet, I’ve got a disk here.” Launch, read internet archives, crash. Great software design there, guys. I get the feeling Apple just paid some guy a six-pack to throw a backup application together that took advantage of their web services.

All right, so the easy way to restore wasn’t working out so well, so I’ve been doing it the slow, difficult way. My external drive kept seizing up reading one particular file, which made my life really friggin’ swell, and moving gigabytes of data around just isn’t a speedy process. Things will be better when I’m done – I downloaded newer versions of several programs I use, and there’s a lot of junk that is still tucked away in the backup that I will likely be able to delete.

So now I’m back. My plan tonight is to crank out several pent-up blog episodes, so by the time you see this there will be a veritable deluge. That’s how it goes in the blogosphere. Feast or famine, baby, feast or famine. I will be writing them here in a little bar, so perhaps you will be able to watch the evolution of my writing ‘style’.

Maybe Tin Can didn’t suck so bad

OK, I never thought Tin Can sucked — the title of this entry is theme-based — I just didn’t rank it with some of my other bits. I’ve only been a Piker contributor for a few months now, so I didn’t think I’d show up in the anniversary issue. It’s a huge issue, a lot to go through, but there’s some great stuff there this week. This is your chance to appreciate the talent at that rag.

So I was pleased to have one if my scribbles recognized by my piker peers, but I’m left asking myself ‘why that one?’

Perhaps my other stories are not accessible. Zelazny, in a comment between stories in an anthology of his early work said, “explain everything.” I’m having a hard time with that. But shit, he’s been camping for years while I’m still looking for the trail head. I should listen to his advice, but I like leaving things unsaid. I want there to be a question mark hanging over the reader when the last sentence is over and nothing is left but but the unknown. I imagine you, faithful reader, setting the story aside with a frustrated “dammit” and then building the unknown yourself. All I’ve done is give your imagination a Scooby Snack.

Pardon my pompous-ass declarations, the pseudo-intellectual trappings of a storyteller striving to be important, but the things I have written that I like the most have been about questions, not answers. There is a Giant Unsaid, a current of thought that we all know but try to ignore. It is the work of artists to speak of the Giant Unsaid, and it is why we are afraid of true artists. Or, at least, I’m afraid of them.

The implication of the above is that in some sense I am an artist. Craftsman I have no doubt. Artist, well, that’s not for me to decide. Giant Unsaid, well, crap, we’re human.

Tin Can is getting better the more I think about it,

Electricity sucks

Perhaps that’s not fair. Perhaps it’s a distrust of electrical appliances and not electricity itself, but many places I go it is not enough to turn off the appliance. The device must be unplugged as well. I think at the root of this is a need to make sure the machine is not stealing your electricity even while it’s turned off. There are times, of course, where such a suspicion is well-founded. Anything you can turn on with a remote control is never truly off. But here it goes deeper. No czech would ever admit this, but they really don’t trust the stuff.

OK, I have to qualify that. The latest generation is different. Fully indoctrinated into Western culture, they see the benefits of change but have not inherited their parents’ skepticism. The Czechs did not experience Blitzkrieg the way the Poles did, but there is a new blitz on and the old, impervious, skeptical czech nature that I love so much will not survive. They will buy their blenders and their cars, go to their office jobs, and become just like the rest of us.

The Media blitz is erasing the Czech identity more effectively than the Nazis ever could.

It’s a Schizophrenic Little Bar, But it doesn’t Suck.

I sit, knocking out a backlog of blog stories, sipping from a tall, thin, glass of Zwettler (a German beer). The café has six small tables, closely packed, and four stools at the bar. The sun is pounding in through the west-facing window with an intensity I have not seen lately.

When I got here today I thought perhaps I had come through the wrong door. I even recognized one face from the Cheap Budvar Place next door. The place was thick with flavored smoke and old men. My favorite neighborhood bartender was working, though, so I knew I belonged. She’s past her prime now, perhaps, which means I can still think when she’s around.

I made my way to the last empty table, settled in, and after a few minutes opened the laptop. After I had been working for a few minutes a guy near me started speaking louder in my direction. I actually did the look-over-the-shoulder thing to see who behind me he was talking to. No, he was talking to me. he had Harry Carray glasses and was wearing a suit only a golfer could love. He said some more stuff at me. I made an honest attempt to understand, but it’s hard enough figuring out what sober czechs are talking about. I finally had to shrug and apologize for not speaking czech.

It was as if I had “You don’t say, sir; please expand on that fascinating observation.” No sooner had I explained that I didn’t know what the hell he was saying that he opened up the tap and let the conversation fly. The man’s little buddy turned to give me a shrug and a smile filled with unhappy teeth. Instantly I liked Little Buddy. He was apologizing for his friend in a way, and I was apologizing to him for not knowing the local jazz, but more than that we were sharing a joke.

Gradually a transition took place. I’ve seen it happen once before here, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t publish that episode. As I’ve been sitting here, the bar has gently transitioned into a gay bar. I’m sure of that – for all the Czechs pride themselves on their laissez-faire attitude they seem less tolerant of homosexuality. Then again, I’m not really the guy to judge that.

But the old men with their cigars have been replaced with younger men who exchange clandestine gestures of familiarity. Perhaps at this moment this is not a gay bar but an in-the-closet bar. Or maybe these are just regular guys who are more physically expressive than their czech brethren. It’s all the same to me. [An aside: three or four years ago I was in a gay bar in San Diego, and I was worried about what I would do if some guy hit on me. Then it occurred to me that if no women hit on me in my regular bars, no men would hit on me either. Being non-sexy means I can go to any bar I want, and damn if they don’t mix the drinks twice as strong in gay bars. Karaoke night in Vegas, at a bar with the “buy one drink with good booze and drink beer free the rest of the night” deal, was a night to remember. I sang Kinks and Queen.]

Back to the here and now. There’s one guy, thinning gray streaky hair, bad teeth, scruffy, me in fifteen more years, standing at the bar. He’s watching the window and the door, and demanding far more of the bartender than she wants to give. I know that look; bartenders have looked at me that way many times.

There are three guys in one knot, speaking earnestly, and since I can’t understand them it sounds terribly important. Aesthetics, I think, or perhaps the nature of consciousness.

Another changing of the guard is taking place. The second couple just came in, young and with enough scent to send an owl running for cover. [Nature note: owls are the greatest natural enemy of skunks. I’ve been told by people who should know that some owls will leave a dead skunk rotting in the nest to keep other predators away from their offspring.] My eyes are watering. I’m sure there are times I don’t smell good, but this, this is a smell the person chose to wear on purpose.

I’ll save the rest of that rant for another day. What’s important is that the nature of this tiny place is changing again, as the sun makes its way toward the horizon. It is turning into a place to bring a date. Couples, groups, kids with their infectious cheer are starting to arrive. The music, which I hadn’t noticed before, seems to be moving with the trend; right now there is a calypso-disco cover of a 70’s disco song playing. D-I-S-C-O.

How does this place change so readily? Have the different groups come to a tacit understanding of who gets the bar when? Is it just that the place is so small that when one group dominates the others find somewhere else? There are other bars in the area; down the hill are restaurant bars and close by is the Cheap Budvar Place (not to be confused with the Cheap Beer Place, which in retrospect should have been named Cheap Gambrinus Place). This place is different than the others, though. They aren’t like the fancy places with a full menu, there’s a neighborhood feel here. At the same time this place is not like smoky boozerias that dominate this neighborhood. It’s a little place, with a fleeting touch of class.

The Meat Bears sucked

I hear the Padres are looking good this year, at least from a talent standpoint. Too many games to go to be predicting anything.

I mention that because I am not in San Diego, I am in Prague, and last year the performance of the team tracked inversely with my proximity to the stadium. The same thing happened with the Chargers, who made the playoffs for the first time since the ice age.

I am in Prague, and the city has two of the most powerful teams in the hockey league. Sparta (rhymes with Yankees) and Slavia (rhymes with Mets, sort of). Both teams underperformed this year. I can’t take full credit for that though – despite fuego’s encouragement I just can’t root for the big-city team with a payroll that dwarfs most of the other teams in the league. Instead I came to root for Liberec Bilý Tigre (pronounced Leebehrets White Tigers) and Hamé Zlin (rhymes with lamé spleen).

Of the four teams to make the semis, Liberec was the only one with the team logo larger than the logo for their biggest corporate sponsor. Pardubice (rhymes with Atlanta Braves – big payroll and not in Prague) had a big telecom logo where you would expect the team logo to be. I watched several games with Pardubice before I figured out the mascot is a burning horse (it’s on the goalie’s helmet). I also like Liberec because I was there with fuego a couple of years ago and had a good time. There’s a really great brew pub there. Go White Tigers!

Then there’s Hamé Zlin. Why was I rooting for them? Hamé is a food products company. The team is named after a company. I would say roughly a third of the teams in the league are named after the corporations that sponsor them. That would make Hamé the antithesis of why I was pulling for Liberec.

The Hamé corporate logo includes a red bear, and the company makes spreadable meat products. I dubbed the team “Meat Bears”, a name I enjoyed using so much I became a fan of the team. The poetry was infectious; by the end fuego was a meat bear fan as well. There’s just something about chanting “Go, Meat Bears! Go!”

Liberec was, from a payroll standpoint, the overachieving team of the year. They got to the semis and played some really great hockey along the way. The Pardubice Moeller Telecoms (who, by not choking in the playoffs, differentiated themselves from the Braves) finally got the best of them. I was disappointed. Meanwhile the Meat Bears came from a one game to three deficit to overcome Vitkovice (rhymes with Pittsburgh). Heady times in Zlin!

All these teams had some pretty big guns from the NHL (rhymes with not-there hockey league), but the biggest player of all in the minds of the czechs, Jaromír Jagr, who at least at one time wore the number 68 to commemorate the czech national team’s victory over russia not long after russian tanks rolled through Prague in 1968, and who (I’m told) grew up in Zlin, was not on any of the teams. He was playing for more money in Russia. Putz. It bothered me more until it occurred to me that it was in a way a counter-invasion — he went plunderin’ for rubles. Still he’s a jerk. The Meat Bears could have used him.

The Meat Bears were swept in the finals by the Moeller Telecom Burning Horses. I missed one of the games, one was painful to watch, and the other two were never really in doubt. Milan Hejduk got his championship, and in his own country, to boot. fuego and I watched the final game on the big screen at the Cheap Beer Place, and we agree that the officiating was awful, but in the end the bad guys had more points.

I can’t really say I cursed either the Meat Bears or the White Tigers, but I’m sure my presence here didn’t help.

Hats off to the Meat Bears, though, and hats on the ice for the White Tigers, who have no corporation in their name.

fuego’s working on scoring some tickets to the world hockey championships in Austria in May. Now’s the time to pay me to not root for your favorite team!