Keep a backup!

Have you ever had that moment when you’ve completed a whole load of work and then your computer crashes before saving things? Well, I had something similar happen to me the other day - but worse. To be honest, it was possibly my worst nightmare come true

The eerie question mark

On Tuesday this week, I ran my first WordPress workshop for General Assembly in London. This was a new course that I’d developed recently where I’d take students through the process of converting a static site into a custom WordPress theme. I’d created a fake site to work with and planned out a whole load of slides and materials for the group.

On Tuesday morning, I did one final rehearsal and made some last minute tweaks to my slides before packing my laptop into my bag and heading for the Tube.

When I arrived at GA, I got myself set up and opened my laptop to connect up to the projector.


That all too familiar cursor just wouldn’t stop spinning so I hit the power button and forced a shut down.

When the machine booted up, I didn’t see my familiar AtoZ CSS wallpaper but a grey screen with a flashing question mark in the center of it.

Flashing question mark gif

I thought that was a bit weird so I turned it off and on again.

Same thing.


Still nothing.

Google to the rescue!

I borrowed a spare laptop and went in search of answers.

Google search: “Macbook pro startup flashing question mark”. Apple Answer: “If you see a flashing question mark or a flashing globe appear when you start your Mac, it usually means that your Mac can’t find the system software it needs to start up.”


As far as I could work out after tying various solutions, my computer was completely knackered.

I looked up to see 25 people in the room, awaiting the start of the morning session.

More crap.

Dropbox to the rescue!

Fortunately, I’d been smart enough to add all the sample code for the two-day workshop to my Dropbox. I also had a backup copy of my slides there too, in PDF format rather than Keynote, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I went to the Dropbox site on the borrowed laptop and attempted to log in.

“Invalid Username or Password”

I tried a couple of other variations of passwords I might have used.


I then remembered that I’d recently gone on a massive security bender and moved all of my “standard” passwords into LastPass. Last Pass is a password management app that generates complex passwords and stores them in a database in the cloud. This database can be unlocked with a master password.

However, in the heat of the moment, I completely forgot that I could access my passwords online I thought I could only access them from the app on my laptop. I went in search of another solution while my heart-rate started to rise

Would I have to send 25 people home with their money back???

Email to the rescue!

Even more fortunately, I had emailed my teaching assistant Andrea Kennedy a copy of the slides and starter code so she could get up to speed with the material before the class.

Within a matter of minutes, I was back up and running again having had her send my material back to me.

Sigh of relief

I was able to get my breath back and my heart rate down and after just a few minutes delay, we kicked things off. Finally!

I had my laptop dropped off at a local repair shop and within a few hours, my computer (which contains all my personal data, business documents and client projects - my life) was returned to me in full working order again.

The issue was the failure of the SATA cable that connects up the hard drive to the rest of the machine. £110 including VAT was all it took to fix - I’d have paid double if that’s what they’d invoiced me for!

The moral of this story is that things break and you never know when it’s going to happen. I’ve been a bit careless with keeping proper, secure backups for too long but this has prompted me to become a bit more diligent.

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Guy Routledge avatar
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