Magazine | July 21, 2014, Issue

Apocalypse-Proof E-Mail

Lucky Lois Lerner: I couldn’t lose old e-mails if I wanted to. Let me explain.

First: I hate e-mail. Loathe it. Oh, it was fun at first, back when AOL was training everyone for the day the Internet arrived. Now each day is a fire hose of e-mail, with the ones you want to read interspersed with notices to appear in Spanish court to face charges (viruses, every one of them, and besides, I was acquitted); spoofed messages from apple.com that actually redirect to a place where you can buy knock-off penis pills if only you hand over your credit-card information to people who lied to get your click; blast e-mails from political organizations from the left and right, each equally convinced that the flood of Huns pouring over the horizon can be stopped if only I contribute; an e-mail from Amazon asking if I wouldn’t mind answering a question about the belt I bought a few months back, which makes you wonder what sort of question someone might have, and how you could possibly help. Does it have holes? It has Holes.

It’s like having someone gong your doorbell every three minutes with a telegram.

At work I find I can reduce my inbox by searching the term “For Immediate Release” and sending it all to Trash. The only time “For Immediate Release” gets my attention is when we’re talking about Abu al-Murder getting out of Gitmo.

But I save them. I save them all.

Not because I want to; not because I wish to leave the future a record of the daily tsunami that hammers the levee of a modern man’s mind. It’s just the way I’ve set things up. I have a program that periodically downloads all the e-mail, which is then compressed into a wad of hurt and automatically archived on my computer.

Ah, but you say, your computer could crash, and the servers on which the e-mails reside could be struck by lightning, and their backups could be corrupted by a power surge, and an asteroid could strike the moon a glancing blow, sending chunks of rock streaking into the atmosphere — most would burn, but a few could get through and hit the archived servers at the precise point where e-mails of people under congressional investigation reside. It’s possible.

Yes, it is; the drives could also be ruined by a sudden plague that swept through a flock of pigs flying overhead, causing them to crash into the car of the one fellow who knew how to retrieve the data from a 1966 tape-based IBM mainframe that controlled the IRS e-mail backups. But: My nightly backup regimen sprays the archived e-mails on a local network-attached server, which in turn backs them up on a mirrored disk, just in case the main disk gets clicky and decides to die.

All well and good, you say, but if a fire took your house, then the data would be lost. True! That’s why it’s all backed up to the Cloud, because nothing says eternal security like a puffy thing that blows away.

Anyway. Years ago I put some crucial data on a Zip disk, which was capable of holding an unimaginable quantity of data. 100 MB. There are graybeard nerds in the audience who surely know: That’s an awful lot of ASCII Cindy Crawford pictures. One day the disk began to clack upon insertion. You went on this new thing, the Internet, and typed words into Yahoo! or Alta Vista, and learned that the Click of Death — oh no, there’s a term for it — meant the disk was probably useless. Ever since then I have regarded all storage media as a gouty old rich man regards his chorus-line paramour: You have to assume eventual faithlessness.

So the local backups and the cloud backups aren’t enough. Once a month I clone everything on a hard drive I keep in a locked drawer offsite. Now: If someone walks past the location testing out a Pentagon super-magnet capable of picking up tanks from a distance of two miles and flipping them over like hapless turtles, the drives will suffer.

So I burn critical data to CDs. Of course, CDs degrade at the same speed as the morals of a European vacationing at Ibiza — and in both cases it happens sooner if you leave them in the sun — so the CDs must be duplicated every so often. When I do this, it’s a reminder I should also visit the safe-deposit vault where I have a small hard drive containing the mission-critical data, because the interface has changed from SCSI to SATA. Also, kill me now.

I don’t do all of the above to save e-mail; it’s part of an automated, pathetically anal-retentive regime to protect family photos, movies, and everything I’ve written. (I also print everything off, in case of EMP, and store the copies in a box with candles and matches, so they can be read at night if electrical civilization takes it on the chin.) I do it because the pictures and movies and words mean something to our family. The e-mails get dragged along for the ride. They matter only because I back up everything.

I believe the IRS did what I do, and more, because they’re the government, and the idea that a massive institution is more lackadaisical than a guy who wants to save his daughter’s birthday pictures — well, it’s preposterous. So there had to be some catastrophic failure.

I should note that somehow the unflattering photos got trashed and purged from all backups. Oops! Now how did I do that.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Take Two

En route from New York to Philadelphia — It would be hard to imagine a nicer, swankier bus than Dinesh D’Souza’s. “It’s a lot better than Tom Cruise’s,” says Jerry ...

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Hillary’s War of Fog

Reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her State Department years is like wading through an ocean of oatmeal. Cloying, tiring (sometimes to the point of exhaustion), and as controversy-free as possible, ...
Politics & Policy

Shaper of Modern America

Docents at William Tecumseh Sherman’s boyhood home in Lancaster, Ohio, treat visitors to a telling anecdote from the general’s youth. The ginger-complected Sherman was so incensed when a foster brother ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Okay, the World Cup starts when? ‐ Hillary Clinton can’t leave wealthy enough alone. After her “dead broke” interview, she told the Guardian that regular Americans “don’t see me as ...
Athwart

Apocalypse-Proof E-Mail

Lucky Lois Lerner: I couldn’t lose old e-mails if I wanted to. Let me explain. First: I hate e-mail. Loathe it. Oh, it was fun at first, back when AOL was ...
The Long View

Official Transcript: Your Money Matters

Syndicated radio call-in show with the Clintons Hillary Clinton: “Hi, is the caller there?” Caller: “Hi, Hillary. Can I call you ‘Hillary’?” Hillary Clinton: “Of course! I’m just an ordinary American grandmother!” Caller: “Oh, ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

THE PAINTING When I was sleeping in the sun A window seeped into my eyes: Bright green, soft green, then overrun With orange. There was no gift, no prize Greater than seeing it, no thought Of ...
Happy Warrior

Glorious Gridlock

Fact: Washington’s inability to get stuff done is the most critical issue facing our nation today — and, who knows, maybe ever. I know this because D.C.’s lack of productivity has ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

Writing and the Right Adam Bellow’s cover piece, “Let Your Right Brain Run Free” (July 7), argues compellingly that without engaging the arts, conservatives’ political efforts are doomed to fail — ...

Most Popular

Film & TV

Joker: An Honest Treatment of Madness

When I saw that the New York Times and The New Yorker had run columns berating the new Joker movie, criticizing it not simply on cinematic grounds but instead insisting that the film amounted to a clandestine defense of “whiteness” in an attempt to buttress the electoral aim of “Republicans” — this is a ... Read More
Elections

The Democrats’ Disastrous CNN LGBT Town Hall

A few days after Donald Trump committed the worst foreign-policy blunder of his presidency by betraying America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman and co-frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary, was on a national stage talking to CNN’s primetime ... Read More
White House

What Is Impeachment For?

W hat is impeachment for? Seems like a simple question. Constitutionally speaking, it also appears to have a simple answer: to cite and remove from power a president guilty of wrongdoing. Aye, there’s the rub. What sort of wrongdoing warrants removal from power? I’d wager that the flames of ... Read More
Elections

Beto Proposes to Oppress Church with State

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Resigns

Fox News Channel's chief anchor, Shepard Smith, announced on air Friday that he would be resigning from his post after 23 years with the network. “This is my last newscast here,” said Smith. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” He ... Read More
Film & TV

The Breaking Bad Movie

I considered staying up until midnight last night to watch Netflix's two-hour Breaking Bad movie El Camino as soon as it went up, but I'm glad I didn't. It's fine, it's worth watching if you're a fan of the series (otherwise it'll mean nothing to you). But it doesn't answer any particularly compelling questions. ... Read More