Bitching and Moaning

By now everyone must have heard the big news of the day. (OK, the big news in my world.) Chicago will not be getting one of the retired Space Shuttles.

Discovery will go to the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, which is certainly reasonable. They already have the Enterprise (named after the Starship Enterprise after a successful campaign by fans of the Star Trek series) which never went into space, but was used in landing and flight tests. Enterprise will now go to the Intrepid Museum in New York City.

Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Endeavour is headed for the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

As I say, the NASM certainly must have one, but why put three shuttles on the east coast? The retired shuttles should be somewhat geographically distributed. While the proposal by Chicago’s Adler Planetarium was weak (focusing on the architecture of the new building rather than the display of the shuttle) the New York proposal wasn’t any better. Besides, if you are in New York and want to see a shuttle, a day trip to Virginia isn’t that difficult.

As for Florida, I must say I never saw that choice coming despite many who declared it to be obvious. The KSC is where you can go to watch the actual current space systems being launched. They don’t need to display the past systems as well. Houston would have been a more logical choice if NASA wanted to keep one shuttle for display at a NASA facility.

So, if you are stuck out anywhere in the middle of the country, you have to take a few days off and travel a significant distance if you want to see a real shuttle up close and in person.

OK, enough ranting about a topic of interest only to me and six other people in the world. Sorry…

Geez, every frickin’ time I gotta hear about it! A snowstorm hits the east coast, and it’s national news. You know why? Because that’s where all the news organizations have their big offices–New York and Washington–and it’s not really news until it happens to them.

But you know what? North American weather patterns move from west to east, so every time you folks on the east coast get hit with a snowstorm, us midwesterners had the same storm a day or two earlier. And you didn’t hear us whining about it on and on like a bunch of pussies.

I’m just sayin’.

I just got my 2010 Census form in the mail. I assume some of you got one too. You may have noticed that the cover letter includes the following paragraph:

This is your official 2010 Census form. We need your help to count everyone in the United States by providing basic information about all the people living in this house or apartment. Please complete and mail back the enclosed census form today.

Today, huh? So, you take a look at the form, which seems otherwise well designed, and this is the first question you see:

How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?

Uh, that’s just over two weeks in the future, so what should you put down? At first, you’re tempted to guess, but a piece of the federal Census law in 13 U.S.C. 221 says:

(b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.

Or if that doesn’t seem harsh enough, there’s always 18 U.S.C. 1001:

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully–

(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.

(emphasis mine)

Now I’ve never heard of anyone getting five years in Leavenworth for lying on a census form, but do you really want to take that chance?

Let’s put it this way: If you’re a financial executive, and a frustrated federal prosecutor has been wasting thousands of investigative hours trying to launch his political career by indicting you for the entire bank meltdown, and you’re looking at your census form…call your lawyer first.

See update, below.  Timmy Dolan isn’t taking the disgrace of his deparment lying down; he’s issued a stern memo decrying . . .

. . . the criticism.  Sigh.

 

The Minnesota Metro Gang Strike Force scandal continues to unravel; hopefully some of the various coverups will, as well, sooner than later.  Among the latest developments:  Chief Tim Dolan of MPD announces that 

his department was informed by Luger and Campion that seven of his officers assigned to the Strike Force were involved in several allegations of misconduct. Dolan also said in an interview that some officers who were involved in allegations were supervisors.

Hmm… according to the Heimerl report, there were, at last report, three supervisor-grade (Sergeant or up) MPD cops on the MGSF. “Some” officers, according to Dolan, involved in “allegations” were supervisors.

But Dolan isn’t going to take that sitting down.  He and his cops are fed up.  (I think he misspelled “lawyered up.”)  Let’s take a look at just some of the recent of their greatest hits:

Fresh upon being returned to the MPD after the dissolution of the Strike Force Gang, Heimerl is now, according to the MPD, a sector commander.  Ghu knows what the others of the supervisors from the MGSF are up to.  But if any of MPD’s MGSF cops have been taken off the street and assigned counting the plastic spoons in the break room, it’s been a closely-held secret.  But it isn’t just the cops involved in the MGSF who have disgraced Dolan’s department.

The Jenkins video of  at least one MPD cop mistaking a possibly drunk driver for a soccer ball? No prosecution of the kicker; the FBI is looking into it.

Then there was the $495,000 settlement after one of Dolan’s badged boys punched an innocent bystander — resulting in two brain surgeries.  That not enough? 

There’s the “antics” at the end of last month, when a bunch of drunk MPD cops — these guys apparently can’t even play a game of softball without disgracing themselves after — “picked a couple of fights and told patrons no one could stop them because they were all cops,” according to witnesses.  (The gentle term, “antics” is that of the badgelickers at Fox9 — I’d find a less gentle term.)  This after being too drunk to get into a strip club, and before the shooting started . . . which the MPD carefully didn’t report.

And that’s just the recent news. 

The opening paragraph of Rochelle Olson’s story is chilling:

Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said today that he and his 900 officers are “fed up” with bad publicity about the department when he says they are performing better than ever in crime fighting and officer behavior.

Yeah, the poor dears are just underappreciated by the public.  I guess they need to go get themselves a new public.

“I believe the Minneapolis Police Department is better than ever,” Dolan said.

Shit, Timmy — you mean it’s always been worse than this?  Maybe it Olson quoted him wrong, or mistranslated; it probably sounded more credible in the original German.    

 

Update:

 

And this just in from Dolan, who is shocked, shocked at . . . the criticism of his department.

 

Let’s take a read:

 

The recent cases that have come to light in the media make me and other employees of the Department mad. 

… at the cops who have stunk up their badges?  Nah.

The alleged actions of a few are being used to discredit all the great work that my 1100 employees do everyday.  In reality, I believe that, in this region and possibly the country, the Minneapolis PD does the most and expects the most from our officers – and holds them to the highest degree of professionalism.

Who are you going to believe?  Dolan or your lying eyes?

Let’s talk about some realities of the MPD:
We have well over a million contacts per year with citizens.
A few less than 900 officers handle about 400,000 calls for service a year; that is about 1100 calls per day.
My officers make over 30,000 arrests a year; that comes to about a 100 arrests per day.
My officers conduct around 1,500 traffic stops in a busy week.

Although my officers have over a million contacts with citizens each year we still only see about 200 complaints a year against our officers.  And that number has decreased in each of the three years of my administration.  That percentage of complaints is actually lower than the percentage seen by the LAPD which is currently being praised for a low level of complaints.  Of the 200 cases that are filed about 90 result in open Internal Affairs cases.  Of those 90 cases we had about a dozen sustained excessive force cases last year.

There are, basically, only a few reasons why complaints might be low.

  • There really isn’t much to complain about.  That’s Dolan’s position, but him vouching for his department is kinda self-serving.  That doesn’t mean he’s lying or wrong, but it is the sort of thing where you’d want to count the change.
  • People who have legitimate complaints think that filing one with the MPD is just a waste of time.  That’s certainly my feeling — and given how Dolan himself, in a previous job, waved away a minor complaint I had, some years ago (it was just an arrogance and stupid public relations thing — a couple of his detectives decided to run my plates because they didn’t like my “Criminals [heart] Unarmed Victims” bumper sticker.  I happened to be in the coffee shop while they were giggling over the possibility of having the car towed if there was some outstanding traffic ticket, which is the only reason I know that).
  • People who have legitimate complaints fear retaliation.  By design, the complaint process makes an anonymous complaint impossible — and, to be fair, the MPD warns erstwhile complainants on their website that their complaint will not be anonymous, and that’s true.  (They also say that a complainant will be contacted by IA within five days; that’s simply not true.)

I take investigations of complaints against my officers seriously.  In my last three years in office 16 officers have either resigned or been terminated due to our investigations of: theft, domestic assault, misuse of force, DUI, lying, and other misconduct.  And I am likely not done this year.

Ya think?

That number of terminations exceeds any previous administration.  Let me make it clear – I don’t like firing police officers.  I wish I never had to fire an officer.  However, I must hold all my employees accountable for their conduct.

What we have also done is implemented internal technology and practices that make us the most transparent agency in the Midwest.  These are our videos being played on TV.   We take complaints against officers in many forms including on-line.  We publish our complaint statistics every year in our Annual Internal Affairs Unit report.

Yes, you do.  And you constantly aver that a low complaint rate means that you’re doing a peachy-keen job, rather than that it’s pointless.  Did the guy who got stopped for a DWB and arrested and booked into jail on a fictional crime (possession of hollowpoints) ever file a complaint?  Last time I heard, he hadn’t — and your sergeant apparently felt that “unarresting” him was all the apology he needed.  The guy who did get a gun pointed at him by one of your off-duty cops — like many MPD cops, he was of the ignorant opinion that permit holders must conceal their carried handguns to the satisfaction of MPD cops — had his complaint dismissed without any review at all.

So rest assured I take these recent allegations seriously. 

Gotta say, I’m not resting all that assured, Tim.

In looking at the recent allegations I can say that we were already aware of most of them and had already begun internal investigations before they became public.  The most recent video shown was sent to IAD for review the day after the incident.  At our request it was reviewed by an outside agency and declined for criminal prosecution, and it came back for our standard review process.  Our system worked for that incident.

Again, let’s go to the video, with particular attention to events starting at around 4:05 into it — on what planet is the kicking okay?

I view each incident as an opportunity to better our processes and review what we expect of our officers and how they are trained.  In light of recent incidents I have enhanced our force review process and I am changing our use of force training.

Sincerely,

Timothy J. Dolan
Chief of Police

I fail to see the sincerity.  The anger, sure.  Sincerity?  Nah.  You start encouraging complaints about bad service, figure out why that “Shots Fired” I mentioned some months ago never got a response, put an end to “arrest the gun” and treat rousting as a policy violation, and then let’s talk.

I won’t hold my breath.  

A couple of weeks ago, my main computer started crashing. Sometimes Windows would just hang, not responding to the keyboard or mouse, and sometimes I’d walk in to find it sitting there displaying the Blue Screen of Death. This happened two or three times a day.

I’m running a pair of Seagate Barracuda 500GB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration. This means that the hard drive controller circuits on the motherboard are keeping duplicate copies of my data, one on each physical hard drive. Windows sees the drive as a single virtual 500GB drive. Every time I change a file on my computer, the RAID controller updates both hard drives with the change.

After some of the crashes, when I rebooted, my RAID controller would tell me that one of the hard drives had failed. Because a RAID 1 set is redundant, my data was still intact and usable on the other drive with no need for me to restore backups or anything like that. My computer ran just fine without the second drive.

I was a little unwilling to believe that one of my 1-year-old drives had failed, so I just brought up the RAID management application and told it to rebuild the failed drive from the intact one. It spent a couple of hours doing this behind the scenes while I worked, and everything was fine. Until the next time the computer crashed and the drive failed out of the RAID set again.

I also have dual monitors on my computer, a widescreen main monitor and a smaller side monitor. A few days later, after restarting the computer from yet another crash, my right-hand monitor came up displaying a pure white screen. I power cycled it, and it was fine for a while and then it failed white again.

My instinct is to ignore problems like this and hope they go away. Sometimes that works, but not this time. I had to figure this out.

I decided that I was dealing with two issues, not some sort of systemic problem affecting two subsystems. By switching the cables to my system monitors, I was able to confirm that the problem was in the small monitor itself, not in the computer controlling it. This meant the hard drive problems were a separate and unrelated failure.

(Any professional IT people reading this are probably thinking “Duh!” but I’m a computer programmer, not an IT support expert, so solving problems like this does not come naturally.)

At this point, I could probably have referred the matter to Dell tech support, but…let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Instead, I went to Fry’s Electronics and bought a replacement drive which I swapped in on Saturday. My computer has been working fine ever since. (I’ll replace the monitor later.)

Now all I had to do was report the failed drive to Dell and get them to replace it under the warranty. Then I’ll use the new drive I just bought for something else. I was home free. Or so I thought.

Yesterday, right in the middle of submitting a trouble ticket to Dell, my Internet connection went down. I called tech support at Speakeasy (my DSL provider) and the technician quickly determined that the problem was a break in the line between my house and the central office.

That “last mile” of wire to my house is owned by my phone company, AT&T. Since they also sell DSL service, they’re actually in competition with Speakeasy. However, since the “last mile” of line is a monopoly, federal regulations force them to lease the line to Speakeasy. But federal regulations can’t force them to make it easy. They have 24 hours to respond to the problem.

I have to wait in my house all day in case they show up to test the line, because if they show up and I don’t answer the bell, they get another 24 hours.

Right now I’ve go the Verizon air card from my laptop plugged into a USB port on my main desktop computer. It’s not as fast as I’m used to. I’m also worried about the cost. Its data plan is not unlimited, and the per-megabyte charges for exceeding it are pretty high. The laptop is configured to minimize internet activity, but my desktop computer does all kinds of stuff by itself, including an offsite backup of important files on my computer. Who know how much data it transfers in a day?

I’ve got my other computer pinging the main internet connection. I’m just waiting for it to come back up.

Or for something else to break.

Update: My new best friend Glen fixed the problem with the line and I’m back on the internet.

While AT&T’s handling of 3rd-party DSL makes me feel unloved, the guys out in the field have always been courteous and professional.

Reason‘s Jacob Sullum points us to the story of New Orleans District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson’s new policy of inflating her felony prosecution statistics by charging minor marijuana offenders with felonies. Lousiana law allows second and following offenses to be charged as felonies, but hardly anyone ever did it before.

In the comments section, Andrew quotes from a DEA webpage:

There is a myth in this country that U.S. prisons are filled with drug users. This assertion is simply not true. Actually, only 5 percent of inmates in federal prison on drug charges are incarcerated for drug possession. In our state prisons, it’s somewhat higher–about 27% of drug offenders. In New York, which has received criticism from some because of its tough Rockefeller drug laws, it is estimated that 97% of drug felons sentenced to prison were charged with sale or intent to sell, not simply possession.

Intent to sell. That’s where they’re caught with drugs which they are intending to sell, but which they have not in fact been caught selling. That sounds like possession to me.

The page is full of an amazing number of not-quite-lies about the War on Drugs. For example,

The Michigan Department of Corrections just finished a study of their inmate population. They discovered that out of 47,000 inmates, only 15 people were incarcerated on first-time drug possession charges. (500 are incarcerated on drug possession charges, but 485 are there on multiple charges or pled down.)

In other words, 500 people are incarcerated for drug possesion. Just because the police had to catch them twice doesn’t make the incarceration any easier. And I don’t know what to make of the “pled down” factoid. From what, possession with intent? Sale? Some other victimless crime?

According to the DEA, most drug offenders get drug treatment programs, not jail time:

Drug treatment courts are working. Researchers estimate that more than 50 percent of defendants convicted of drug possession will return to criminal behavior within two to three years. Those who graduate from drug treatment courts have far lower rates of recidivism, ranging from 2 to 20 percent.

What makes drug treatment courts so different? Graduates are held accountable to the program. Unlike purely voluntary treatment programs, the addict–who has a physical need for drugs– can’t simply quit treatment whenever he or she feels like it.

Or it could be that unlike voluntary treatment programs, the court-ordered programs don’t distinguish between drug addicts and ordinary non-addicted drug users. It’s pretty easy to “cure” someone of an addiction they don’t have.

I don’t really have a point here. I’m just pissed off.

Kip Esquire has all the details from a New York Times article about changes in the 10021 zip code written by Sam Roberts, who warns us that “ZIP codes may not have the cachet they once did.”

Roberts recounts a few reactions:

“The truth is, there are some people whose whole identity is their ZIP code,” said Michele Kleier, the president of the real estate brokerage Gumley Haft Kleier.

“I don’t think everybody is going to move out of 80th Street, but obviously this is the most famous and most desired ZIP code in the city and in America,” she said.

[Author Gay] Talese said, “The first thing you think of is your stationery.”

“But it’s not like an elite number and now you’ve been demoted,” he said. “We still have the 212 area code, don’t we?”

This is some sort of New York inside joke, right? I mean, New Yorkers are supposed to be more sophisticated than us midwesterners…there’s no way they’d really be this vain and shallow, right?

I am popular with the ladies this week. First there was 17-year old Sammi who likes my photography but thinks I’m creepy. Then, late last night I got some email from a young lady:

Hello!

Yes, this is strange, I’ve never emailed a random blogger before.

Let me just interrupt and say that I get a lot of messages (especially on my MySpace account) from young ladies that start with an “I’ve never done this before” declaration. All of them say I seem like a really cool person in my profile and maybe we should get to know each other better so why don’t I check out their webcam? Oh, and by the way, they’re using their friend’s account and I should email them back at a different email address. (That last bit means they’ve stolen the account they’re sending from or spoofed the email system.) All it takes to get into that business is some pictures of a hot babe and some spam generating software…I almost deleted it without reading any further.

But I digress…

Hello!

Yes, this is strange, I’ve never emailed a random blogger before. But I wonder…maybe I could ask your thoughts. By your blog I gathered that you are very politically conscious.

Well, I’m in a bit of a pickle. For my Political Science class my big assignment is to write a proposal on a current issue. I have been researching all the main issues, from the immigration bill, to the phone tap issue, and it’s all been so tedious. While I find all the issues I’ve researched gripping, I just can’t decide on which one. I also don’t want to write on the “hottest” topic that probably a lot of my classmates will be writing on. Anyway, I feel like I’ve been hitting my head against the wall for two weeks now. So, I’m asking you…what is the one or two topic(s) that makes your blood boil? I might just base my paper around your viewpoint…or the opposing one…if your argument is convincing, or intriguing enough. That is, if you wouldn’t mind. :) Thank you.

Respectfully yours,

Deserae

DeseraeI Googled around a bit to make sure this wasn’t some new kind of spam I hadn’t seen before. It turns out Deserae is a 27-year old just-starting-out music promoter in Salt Lake City. [Insert lame joke about Utah club scene here] She also has a blog where she posts as FreeSpiritGal on which she mentions her PoliSci assignment. As a blogger, she’s the anti-me. I’m irreverent and swear a lot, she’s religious and pleasant. I’m angry and analytical, she’s hopeful and writes half her posts as prose poems.

But the important thing is that after years of ranting about all these important issues to my friends and my family and anybody who reads this blog, someone has finally come up to me and said “Mark, what’s going on in the world that pisses you off?”

Well, let me tell you…

Deserae is in college, so she might want to explore the impact of the Higher Education Act’s provision that permanently takes away financial aid from any college student convicted of possessing drugs. Wealthy students don’t need financial aid, and students whose grades suffer because they abuse drugs will lose their financial aid anyway, and students who lie on their financial aid application won’t get caught, so this law mostly just affects poor students with good grades who answer honestly. By the way, student shoplifters, robbers, and rapists are still able to get financial aid as soon as they get out of prison.

Or maybe Deserae should mine her music background for topics. How about the way law enforcement agencies are conducting military-style raids on concerts because some people there are using drugs? People use drugs at football games too, but you don’t see swarms of cops raiding the stadium and stopping the game so they can search everybody. Decades ago, they used to raid rock concerts, and before that it was jazz clubs. Nowadays it’s raves and electronica. It’s not about the drugs, it’s about a music and a culture that they don’t like and don’t understand. (By the way, the incident I linked to happened in Deserae’s home state of Utah.)

Continuing the Drug War theme, what about the recent law enforcement crackdown on pain medication? The most famous example is radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was caught illegally buying hydrocodone and oxycodone without a prescription. He has by now admitted his addiction and sought treatment for it, and it looks like he’s not going to be prosecuted.

No such luck for Richard Paey, who has multiple sclerosis and a serious back injury and requires a wheelchair. When he moved to Florida, he couldn’t find a new doctor that would prescribe enough painkillers for him, so rather than spending his days in unbearable pain, he created fake prescriptions for his meds. He got caught and was prosecuted and is now serving a 25-year prison term.

They’re going after doctors too. Pennsylvania prosecuted Doctor Paul Heberle for over-prescribing painkillers after one of his patients overdosed on fentanyl. A jury acquitted him of all charges last week. But while his practice was disrupted during the prosecution, six of his patients tried to kill themselves (one succeeded).

These are people in so much pain that some of them are on the brink of suicide, and rather than trying to help them, the government is investigating them to see if they’re abusing drugs. I’m ashamed that these prosecutors are my fellow countrymen.

How about Zero Tolerance Zealotry in our schools? There’s the 12-year old boy who was charged with a drug felony for pretending to have cocaine. Or the 17-year old arrested for conspiracy to start a food fight? Or all the students facing disciplinary action for things they wrote on their blog.

At a time when oil companies are being accused of colluding to artificially tighten the oil supply to increase profits, how about looking into the way many businesses have gotten local governments to tighten supplies for them? In Utah, for example, you need a license to be a Cosmetologist/Barber (which requires both a practical exam and an examination on Cosmetology/Barber theory), a nail technician, or an Esthetician (defined by statute as someone who does skin care procedures on the “head, face, neck, torso, abdomen, back, arms, hands, legs, feet, eyebrows, or eyelashes for cosmetic purposes and not for the treatment of medical, physical, or mental ailments” such as “cleansing, stimulating, manipulating, exercising, applying oils, antiseptics, clays, or masks, extraction, depilatories, waxes, tweezing, natural nail manicures or pedicures, or callous removal by buffing or filing,” in case you wanted to know). Actually, Utah is pretty good compared to Louisiana, which requires licensing to sell flowers. (Follow that link and check out the map of “States that License Florists.”)

Well, that’s more than the two issues Deserae requested. Anybody who knows me knows there are lots of other things that make my blood boil, but these are some of the ones that I thought might make for an interesting classroom topic.

How’s that, Deserae? I hope it helps. Now it’s your turn: Anything you think I should blog about that people would be interested in reading? Anything you think I’m wrong about? Would you rather just see more pictures of cats? Let me know.

I just sent $865.96 of my hard-earned money to the United States Government. Then I sent $246.60 to the State of Illinois. I feel pretty stupid about it, but it has to be done. In fact, it has to be done several times a year.

I incorporated my software consulting business a few years ago, so I have to pay my own payroll taxes. It works like this: I do the work. People pay me with checks I deposit in the corporate bank account. Every now and then, I want to move some of that money from the corporate bank account to my personal bank account. I track both accounts on my computer using Intuit’s Quicken and Quickbooks software, and both accounts are at the same bank. But when I want to move money from one account to the other, I have to send some of my money to the government.

When you work an ordinary job, all this happens behind the scenes. You get your paycheck and you see that some money has been taken out, withholding it’s called, but there’s still plenty of money for you. It’s relatively painless.

But when you run an incorporated business, you see behind the scenes. That money that gets taken out of the paycheck? I have to do that myself. I issue myself paychecks, with deductions for federal and state income tax withholding and for social security and medicare (sometimes called FICA).

There are also amounts the employer has to pay but which aren’t taken out of the paycheck. First, there’s social security and medicare, where the employer has to match what the employee had to pay. This means the government gets twice what you see on your paycheck for these items. Then—and this just kills me—there’s unemployment insurance. That’s right, I had to set aside $206.52 for unemployment insurance in case I decide to lay myself off.

Then comes the hard part. I have to take all that money and send it to the government.

It hurts. It hurts a lot.

I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been having a rough week. My car’s oil light lit up on Saturday just as I pulled up at a friend’s house. There was plenty of oil according to the dipstick, so I decided to leave the car there until Monday then have it towed to the shop. The tow charge plus the repairs plus a new set of tires before winter added up to $800 that I hadn’t been planning to spend.

Next, I’ve been upgrading my computer. I made a change which I thought would be simple, but between an IDE disk controller that was too old for my new disk drive and some bad RAM from Crucial, I spent most of the last two days untangling computer problems.

Then on Monday night my wife’s computer developed a problem of its own. After a little time running, the computer would crash and not reboot, saying it couldn’t access the disk drive. If I let it “rest” a while, it would all come back and run for maybe an hour before crashing again. I suspect the disk controller is flaky and acting up when it gets hot.

My wife’s computer is a laptop, so I can’t do much to fix it myself. We had to spend several hours power cycling her computer and copying off the important stuff to a portable USB hard drive. Then I packed it up and shipped it off to a computer repair place that supposedly fixes Toshiba laptops with a quick turnaround. It got there this morning, so we’ll see. That’s $140 just for shipping and diagnosis. Fixing it will cost more.

All this made me realize that a lot more of our lives are on the computers than ever before and (as usual) our backup strategy hasn’t kept up. For several years, we’ve been using Iron Mountain’s Connected Data Protector on-line service for backups. Every night, our most important 10 Gigabytes of data—personal and corporate financial data, email, various projects—are backed up to some remote site. The Connected Data Protector service is less expensive than its competition, but it’s not cheap. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent service that I highly recommend if you can afford it.

The plan was that if we ever lost a disk drive we could just re-install Windows and all the important software from scratch. It would only take a day or so. Then we download the critical data from Connected and we’re back in business.

I realized now, however, that our computer usage has grown and changed a lot in the past year. My new digital photography hobby is chewing up a lot of disk space, and I don’t want to lose those pictures. I have a lot more downloaded software than ever before. I could burn some of this stuff to optical media, but doing that on a regular basis would be tedious. We had to change our backup and disaster recovery strategy.

So I went out and bought a terabyte of disk storage.

One thousand gigabytes. One million megabytes.

Half of it was a pair of SATA drives which I set up as a 250GB RAID 1 (mirror) pair in my desktop computer to replace the 80GB IDE drive I had been using as a software/media library for stuff like downloaded programs, CD disk images, and all our pictures and music. Both drives have identical copies of the data. If either drive breaks, the other one still runs. If no problems develop with the RAID drives, I’ll probably RAID the system disk as well. That should cover me for hardware failures.

The other half terabyte was a pair of push-button backup drives that connect to the USB ports and are sized to backup everything on both of our computers. I think pushing the button will be a lot less tedious than burning DVDs.

That covers us for hardware, software, and user error problems. In case of disaster—hurricanes seem to be in vogue these days—we’ll still have all our most critical data stored off site, courtesy of Iron Mountain corporation.

Including disks, tools, and software, that’s about $1200 I wasn’t planning to spend.

Meanwhile, last night my wife’s brand-new Casio Exilim digital camera broke in a non-warranty kind of way. We’ll probably have to replace it. Crap.

Just in case some random multimillionaire is reading this and is moved by my heart-rending story—and is tired of donating to whining hurricane victims—the PayPal button is on the right.

Ah ha! I just found the income tax software I bought back in December. I’ve been looking for that.

Plenty of time. Plenty of time…