RIP Steve Krauzer, “Paperback Writer”

Soon after I moved to Missoula, I started working (very occasionally) for the University of Montana, as a grader for the writing test that all students must pass before graduating. As this work continued, periodically, over the last year and a half, I got to know another regular grader, Steve Krauzer, a fellow easterner, about 60, who had moved to Missoula in the 1970s.

I saw Steve’s obituary in today’s Missoulian ; he apparently died almost two weeks ago. “Friends said he was in fragile health,” writes the anonymous obituarist, and I must say this was evident to me when he and I last worked together.

It’s sad to see the death of any friend, but it’s even sadder to learn only from his obituary what an interesting life he led: prolific writer and collector of pulp and Western fiction, screenwriter on two Roger Corman movies, magazine columnist.

In a day job “as a transmitter technician in Missoula, he snowmobiled weekly to the summit of Television Mountain…” Perhaps those weekly trips whetted his appetite for “the first known sled descent of Mount Jumbo,” described as “a half-mile ‘luge run'”; regular Outside contributor Peter Stark helped him “survey, clear, bank and ice the run.”

The accomplishment of the “luge run” seems all the more impressive for the fact that Steve was apparently not a natural athlete. His fellow softball players on the local rec-league team “Montana Review of Books” dubbed him “Merc, short for Mercury, because he reminded none of his teammates of the fleet Roman god.” But that didn’t stop him from eventually becoming “an adept all-around waterman, especially an able and enthusiastic – if not artistic – rafter and kayaker.”

As for writing: “Though well-versed in the Great Works, his real literary love was pulp fiction”; a writer of the stuff himself, he was in “the ‘her body would make a bishop put his foot through a stained-glass window’ school.” Further, “he believed that the point of fiction was to entertain…” and once observed that “big-time stylists impress me like big-time bus drivers.”

Oh, and: “He could finish the New York Times crossword puzzle before you could uncap your pen.”

I hope my obituary is half as interesting. So long, Steve, I’m glad we met.

The Week’s Twitters (2009-03-28)

  • Sorry for ruining Earth Hour (Mountain Time) by leaving five lights on when we went out. #
  • I wonder if the hosts of the party we’re about to go to realize that I don’t skip Cops for just anyone. #
  • Does the idiom “ballpark figure” mean anything to a Brit? #
  • The transcription disappoints me. #
  • She told me that the haircut I wanted was “more of a challenge” than the men’s haircuts she usually does, which might be good or might not. #
  • Milk, beer, index cards. #
  • More police cars than I knew Missoula had, headed north over Scott St. bridge, lights and sirens. #
  • Cleaning the oven. Or, rather, letting it clean itself. #
  • Charismatic witchcraft? #
  • No email is good email. #
  • Excited to hear that the conference call service has switched up the hold music, without sacrifixing the soulful sax. #
  • Preparing for another conference call interview. #
  • The road to the Bear Creek Overlook trailhead is impassable to Toyota Corollas. #
  • Eating brunch at home, listening to Sidney Bechet. #

Snowy Tuesday Hike

Recent warm weather was interrupted by accumulating snow on Tuesday morning, so naturally I went for a walk in the woods. Two inches of fresh powder crunched underfoot, growing wetter as the sun climbed. There were soft rustling cries from birds who had perhaps been expecting spring. An intermittent stiff breeze knocked big flakes of snow from tree branches, brilliant white specks against the now blue sky.

I’ve been exploring Crazy Canyon lately and have a hike I like to do when I have about two hours to spend, a loop starting from the parking lot on trail 302.3, picking up trail 302 at junction B, and then coming back to the parking lot via trails 302.3, 302.6, and 302.5. (As of Tuesday, the map box at the parking area was stocked up, which is the only way I knew how to do this.)

The real fun, of course, is getting off-trail, which I like to do with an uphill bushwhack just before trail 302 makes its last sharp right turn toward junction F. I climbed to where some yellow markers on trees indicated I’d reached the edge of the National Forest boundary and took a seat on a big downed tree to take in the view back in the direction I’d come from: the back of Mount Sentinel to the left and the wall of the ridge line connecting it to University Mountain panoramic in front of me, everything dusted with snow, the air cool and crisp.

The woods were mostly silent, save the rough distracted grunts of occasional ravens, patrolling the tops of nearby firs. I watched two of these big black birds depart from my side of the valley, headed for the other side. One flew straight, true, and silent, as if trying to make time, while the other croaked repeatedly and seemed to be hazing the first one, flying in loops and buzzing in close again and again. As they neared the forested slope on the far side, the active raven let the other one go and returned quietly toward my side of the valley. It glided directly above my head to land in a tree about 20 yards upslope from me, and I was startled by how loud its wing beats were against the quiet stillness of the new-fallen snow.

After 15 minutes’ rest I started wandering downhill as aimlessly as possible, my eyes open for intriguing little clearings and meadows and stands of trees, just enjoying the way the snow lay on branches and drifted up against rocks and tree trunks. After I’d walked about 100 yards, I realized I’d left my hat hanging on a tree branch back at my rest stop and climbed back up for it.* In another mindset, I might have been irritated at myself for this, but I’d actually been trying to stretch out my beautiful downhill stroll, and the return to the top allowed me to pick another route down, so it was all for the best.

The intersection at junction F was well-trampled, but by the time I branched off from Crazy Canyon Road onto trail 302.3, I was breaking through snow as yet undisturbed except by two or three deer. The snowy fairy-tale woods were all mine, like I was my own Corps of Discovery of one. But across the Forest Service Road near junction G, the deer tracks and I were joined by a pair of phantom human prints, and the thrill of exploration was no longer mine, kind of like when Scott reached the South Pole only to find Amundsen’s crushed beer cans and used toilet paper.

It was snowing again as I started to drive home.
* My recent practice has been to carry all my hiking items in my pockets, but this incident underlined the advantage of a bag, which makes it easier to check on the presence of your equipment (first aid pouch, sunglasses, notebook, pen, phone, water bottle, weapons) before moving. Even with a bag, of course, the notebook and pen must probably remain in a convenient pocket, lest the bother of getting it out become an excuse for delaying (and thus, likely, forgetting) to make a note. Come to think of it, similar reasoning must probably guide the placement of the weapons, too.

Twitter Updates for 2009-03-19

  • The sun is most definitely over the yardarm. #
  • Thinking of moving the party from the coffee shop to the home office. #
  • Passive-aggressively lashing out at Mozy via a blog post. THAT WILL SHOW THEM. #

Mozy: Great, Until You Need to Restore

This is the second and final part of my account of my experiences with the on-line backup service offered by Mozy. The first part is here.

As I related in my last Mozy-related post, I started using the on-line backup service in late 2007, and all went reasonably well at first. The initial backup took well over a month, but – once it was complete – it was a great load off my mind to know that I had 30 gigabytes worth of photos, music, personal and work-related documents, and applications and settings saved remotely. My data was protected against both machine failure and – because my data was spread out all over Mozy’s servers – theft, fire, or tsunamis.

Then my hard drive failed. I had Computer ER, a computer-repair shop here in Missoula, replace it with a new one, and looked ahead to restoring my files quickly and easily from my Mozy backup.

There are several methods of restoring from a Mozy backup, but the company’s tech support told me that the ideal method for my situation was what is called a “web restore” (i.e., downloads, as opposed to using the Mozy application on the desktop, which didn’t seem able to find all of the files I had specified for backup).

I signed onto the Mozy web site and began my web restore. I selected the files that I wanted restored (which turned out to be far from all of them) and submitted my request.

In a few hours, I received an email from Mozy indicating that my requested files were now available for download. Following the link, I found a web page with about seven downloadable files, each named something like “download 1″ and each containing about 1 GB of data. I also learned that these downloads would only be available for seven days, at which point I would need to start the web restore process over from scratch.

Over the next few days, I downloaded all of the seven files, which turned into “disk image” files on my desktop. These had names like “restore_2009_02_27_17_23_572237.dmg”; when I expanded these files, they generated “mounted disks” with names like “345802.2.dmg.”

As I explored the various mounted disks, I discovered that fully five of them contained a folder named Documents, none of which were complete.

  • One version of Documents contained the subfolder “writing” but nothing else; another version of Documents contained a version of “writing” and several other subfolders, etc.
  • My Documents subfolder “Clients” was available in several versions, none of which contained all of my original Clients subfolders.
  • In turn, one version of my Clients folder would contain the subfolder for a given client but only some of the completed projects that should have been in that folder; the rest were scattered across several other versions of the Clients folder, in turn contained within several versions of “writing,” within several versions of Documents, etc., ad nauseam (and I do mean nausea).

What all of this meant was that I could not easily drag and drop the contents of the restored files back into the proper locations on my hard drive. If I dragged Documents from one mounted disk onto the hard drive, the next version of Documents I dragged in would erase the first one. I couldn’t even drag and drop the first level of subfolders, since, for example, I had several versions of the subfolder “writing,” each containing different files.

After mucking about in disbelief for a while, I determined that the only way to reassemble the files and hierarchies I had before would be to go folder by folder, starting at the lowest level of subfolder and working backwards to the main folder, combining files as I went. For my Documents folder alone, this would have meant having five finder windows open at once in order to be able to compare the contents of the various subfolders, so as to ensure I wasn’t leaving anything out.

At a rough estimate, this would have taken me days and days. I quickly gave up on this method. Too hard to monitor, too hard to be sure I was being complete, too much time wasted. Instead, I pulled all of the versions of the contents of my various restored fragments of my Documents folders into specially named folders on my hard drive. It’s all there, and I should be able to find everything by using my laptop’s search function, but I can’t just navigate through folders to an old project like I could before.*

To say this is not the outcome I’d been expecting from a restore would be an understatement.

Thinking maybe I’d missed something, I checked the Mozy web site. Nope, they do advertise their service as being “easy to use,” and – as far as I can find  there is no fine print reading “unless you actually need to restore anything” or “but of course your file hierarchy will be left in smoking ruins.” The site also presents a list of snarky alternatives to Mozy (as in, only an idiot wouldn’t use Mozy), such as “pay $200/year for an online backup service that uses old, mediocre software.” In fact, after this experience, it is difficult to imagine software more mediocre than Mozy’s, at least when it comes to the actual restore process.

My upgraded hard drive has approximately four times as much space as my old one. Looking ahead to the kind of shambles that would result from this sort of restore of that much more information, I quickly decided that there must be a better way and decided to cancel my Mozy account. This put me on the radar of the company’s Customer Retention department; a representative contacted me, writing:

“We would love the chance to work with you to resolve any issues you have and to make sure your experience with Mozy is positive. If you like, I can escalate your issue and get any problem or concern is resolved quickly.”

In response, I explained the problems I’d been having in essentially the same terms as above, and  saying that I felt that Mozy was advertising more than it was capable of delivering  I reiterated my desire to cancel my account and requested all of my money back ($5 a month for about a year, so around $60).

I take it as a final verdict on Mozy that the next contact from Customer Retention was not an explanation of how I’d gotten something wrong, how the restore process is really easy if you just take these additional steps, etc.

Nope. The next contact simply advised that my account had been cancelled and a whole $5 had been refunded to my account, and expressed the “hope that we can do business in the future.”

Not likely.

*I also discovered that I had apparently not saved all the files necessary to restore my calendar; that was my fault, not Mozy’s, but it’s a good word to the wise that even backing up requires some technical knowledge to do well.

The Latest Library Books: Black, Kerr, McEwan

The latest armload, from about two weeks ago:

  • Silver Swan, by Benjamin Black
  • The Lemur, by Benjamin Black
  • March Violets, by Phillip Kerr
  • The Child in Time, by Ian McEwan

I was put onto Benjamin Black and Phillip Kerr by Ron Rosenbaum, who writes in Slate that recent works by these two authors were among several books that have “restored pleasure to reading” for him. (He mentioned a third such author, Henry Chang; I realize now that I forgot to look for Chang’s books on this trip to the library, an oversight I’ll have to correct). Writes Rosenbaum:

“What these books have in common, of course, is that they are formally genre novels, literally detective stories… yet they surpass both in artistry and pleasure every highly praised sophomoric attempt at literary fiction I’ve thrown against the wall in the past few years.”

Well, of course I don’t know what’s bounced off Rosenbaum’s wall lately, but I do often find myself longing for the finely wrought plot. Especially mysteries: if I could write mysteries, I would happily do nothing else, so it’s always a pleasure to encounter new authors who do it well.*

Speaking of good plotting, I read all about Ian McEwan in his recent New Yorker profile and realized that there were a few titles of his I’d never yet gotten to. I’m saving Saturday for now, but I checked out Child Out of Time because it seemed most likely to have the mystery-like suspense and nerve-wracking atmosphere of other early works of his, like Black Dogs or The Cement Garden.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

*I should note that March Violets was not the title of the book that sent Rosenbaum into such raptures, but it is the start of a trilogy featuring the same character, so I thought I’d start there.

What’s the Point of Twitter?

Diane asked this question, in essence, in the comments to a recent post. Here’s a particularly heartfelt explanation of the value, to some of us, of following the “status updates” of Twitter and Facebook friends.

“As a user of Twitter and Facebook status updates, I can tell you that they have come to matter to me in a way that I find surprising. Seeing a list of what all my friends, family, and acquaintances are up to helps me to feel connected to them. This is not just silly “Joe Blow is at the mall shopping for an iPhone” trivia either, though that is a crucial element of social currency. Important information can be conveyed, too. It was through a status update that I learned of an old friend’s work in freeing slaves in Calcutta, for example.”

Read the rest here. And here is the whale essay Brad mentions, which is worth a full read for its own sake.