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Wednesday, 16 September 2009 16:05

Hard drive connects, but some data is lost

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By Jon Beckman • Guest Columnist

The human brain must have been the first computer, capable of capturing and storing data for future reference, helping us learn to get out of the rain and not to put our hands in the fire a second time. Those millions of experiential bytes it processes over one’s lifetime are sorted and filed, covering all five senses as well as emotions, reason, free thought and imagination. Where that stuff’s piled and how it’s programmed precisely remains a mystery, but it’s clear that it’s always there, and sometimes it’s downright amazing what you can find in those dusty bins.

On Aug. 29 I was selling produce at the Sylva Farmers Market, as I do every Saturday. I saw a face in the crowd that I hadn’t seen there before, but there was something strangely familiar about it. I didn’t think it was just because she was attractive (which can scramble a memory card, even for a farmer), so I ran a quick scan of my mental hard drive while I hawked watermelons, typing in the search bar “Do I know her?” was the only thing that came back on my “I”screen.

I went back to business, passing it off as something my Spam Blocker had failed to filter. But as I packed up at the market’s close the image reappeared with more detail, making me think I had missed something with my driver’s first search. I re-Googled my search to “Lovely maiden with blond hair to her neck that I must have known who would cause me to pursue this” and ran it again, sending a virtual ME-mail link to all the other addresses on my cerebral list serve.

A minute or two later a thin file came back from the depths of my own cyberspace: “Four Days in Cape Cod 1975” .

I asked myself “What’s this old file?” With little hope, I right clicked and opened two lines of text and three attached JPEG’s. The text read: “Went on vacation with Grandma, Mom, bro & sis to Cape Cod. I met some guy named Grog with a fast car and later a girl on the beach. Not much else happened.”

“Huh” no info here, I’d better keep looking. My cursor opened the first grainy attachment: a modest, shingle-sided Cape set on a knoll surrounded by maritime vegetation. Yeah, so, I thought. I moved my mind’s mouse to open photo #2: a sandy beach with rolling waves. O.K., O.K., and, and. I clicked #3, my driver slowed to retrieve the larger file before filling the screen with faded pixels ... then, there she was.

“That’s the image! Bingo! “OMG!” I texted back to the unknown. It was the same face and the same hair and same smile (well, I did have to virtually Photoshop in 34 years of graceful aging). I studied the image for a while before noticing the two hyperlinks below it.

Curious to know more I hit the first link which took me to the site “Boy meets girl on beach, goes Gaa-Gaa.” It told the story of a chance meeting, summer teens in love, the girl’s crazy brother, stolen wine and analogous kisses on the moonlit sands, breaking rules and a small-town boy is swept away by an angel. It ends with the boy going to see her on his last night there only to find her gone, with someone else. He leaves crushed; the perfect teenage tragedy. “Wow, poor bastard,” I thought.

Reluctantly, I hit the other link to “Boy Returns to Chase Angel,” it simply read, “He returned the next year alone with a 1966 Rambler and a rose to look for her. She is not to be found, nor a trace of their few blissful days. Crushed again, the difficulty of catching angels becomes clear to him on the long quiet road from the Cape Cod shores back to Buffalo. “Wow, poor bastard,” I thought.

Not knowing quite what to do with this new info, I minimized it on my brain’s desktop and got back to driving home to clean out the truck and cut grass. I must have forgotten to close that window because a day or two later the page auto-refreshed and a tweet came across my cranial Blackberry ... “Kathy, er...um.. McCloud, MacLeod, maybe?” Who’s this? I queried. The thread went back to the angelic image of 1975, perhaps driven by an entry error or a misfiring synapse. I rebooted and refreshed the system, tried defragging and compaction but the only reply was .

It’s true, I lamented, you can’t expand an existing file without adding data, and I had none. I called my brother with the flypaper memory for backup. He confirmed the dates and some shenanigans with Grog, but nothing on the girl. “Sorry Dude, you’re the only one with that data” was the most he could offer. I ran the search a few more times over the next few days, pleading with my server for a better connection, but there was no more info to be gleaned from those miles of magnetic tape from the 8-track days.

I returned to the market the next Saturday hoping to see that face again and verify the ancient data I had found. Once again, the angel had disappeared.

I decide to end my search and close the file before the guys in the white suits showed up for me or my wife, accused me of being a delusional, middle-aged loser chasing unrequited love. I logged off and a message came through my inbox: “Four days in Cape Cod 1975” .

I came to the conclusion that not all files are created equal and that the mind’s motherboard — like any machine — has its limitations. It seems our human hard drives really only crash one time, when the Great Ethernet no longer responds. And until that time comes, there are some files that simply cannot be deleted. They are yours until you scroll that final message .

(John Beckman is a farmer, builder and human hard drive in Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)
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