Sunday, May 11, 2014

File organization, how not to do it

I appear to have the same computer file backup structure as xkcd's Randall.

Every now and again, I'll unearth something that was written on a Mac last century and Word staggers around with the back of its hand to its brow until I bring the fainting couch for it. Emails surface detailing my neverending enthusiasm for things I can't begin to remember being interested in. I have Yahoo chat logs from 1998. Getting any sort of logical file hierarchy is difficult because you make the decision the first time, change computers five years later and since all your brain cells have been replaced at least once, plus you've learned a lot and forgotten even more about the world around you, you make a completely different decision on how to archive the next lot. And so forth.

It's not just virtual stuff. Sometimes this overlaps with physical life. My bank sells checks in little flimsy boxes in batches of 180 or something ridiculous, and there are 30 to a book, or pad, of checks.  You put one at a time in your purse and the rest have to be kept handy for when you'll need the next pad, in about a year, at the rate people use checks nowadays.

I always used to keep my stash of checks-to-be-used-later in a CompuServe set-up disks binder[1] which had a handy slip-case for concealing things, because that was the most boring thing in the house and no burglar would look there.

Eventually, even I couldn't kid myself that a CompuServe binder on the bookshelf looked natural and in fact might instead invite inspection, so I moved the checks to a Brilliant Place That No One Would Ever Think Of Looking In, and no it wasn't the toilet cistern. (That would be silly. My toilet cistern is opened up about three times a week because it is a problematic toilet cistern.) That was about ten years ago. I have placed the little thin-cardboard boxes of checks in exactly the same place, as they arrive, for about ten years, and taken a pad out of there numerous times over ten years.

Last Sunday, I ran out of checks in my book and went to look for the bank's little flimsy box. It was not there.  I took everything out of the place to make sure. Twice. I went to a place that looks similar on the surface in case I'd been drunk the last time I got a pad of checks out of the box. Not there either. Took everything out. Still not there.

So, with almost a hundred checks left to go, my check stash was missing. On Monday morning, when I knew I had a check to write, I went through everything again. Still not there, but I had a nagging feeling I'd done something different the last time I placed a pad of checks in my book. Couldn't shake that feeling.

Paid the vendor in cash. Ordered emergency checks after much deliberation on what number to start at. Eventually landed on starting at the usual reorder number, i.e. not reusing any of the missing check numbers so that, on the teeny weeny chance they'd actually been lifted by some sort of weird burglar who had ignored all the easily fenced things, like my phone, I would know as soon as that block of numbers came up.

Paid a fortune for the overnight postage and tracking. Got the little flimsy box of checks from the bank. (The FedEx guy said, "Checks, eh?" as he handed them to me, so it's a good thing these guys are honest, I suppose. All our information passes through the computer hackers on the ordering end and FedEx/UPS on the delivering end.)

Anyway, you've guessed the ending. I opened up the Brilliant Place That No One Would Ever Think Of Looking In to place the new box in there, and of course the unused checks were there too. The nagging feeling I had of doing something different referred to the fact that I'd thrown away the previous flimsy box and just kept the three little pads of checks, the check register and the reorder card loose in the usual place.

Simply not having the box itself threw me off. I'd been looking for the box, not four paper pads and a card. I'd looked and looked and had not seen the checks because I'd only looked for something the size and shape of the bank's box.

My dear mother used to have a saying in situations like this. "It just goes to show something or other."

It just does.

Addendum: I've just checked the new ones against the old ones, and the ones I've been using for three years have the wrong telephone number on them. Not an old number, a completely off-the-wall number I don't recognize. Possibly the bank's customer service number. Still if no one has noticed up until now, I suppose I can use the rest. :-)

[1] Exactly like this one
here. I threw mine away. Didn't even think of selling it on eBay. How enterprising.

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