Gremlins in machina

We’ve probably all seen the film with the cute but remarkably troublesome Gremlins in it. We’ve probably also heard the phrase “gremlins in the machine.” Well, there is nothing cute or funny about having gremlins hit your tech while on a research trip. I know because it just happened to me.

Technology has revolutionized the humanities just like it has other fields. Heck, widespread access to digital databases means you can go years before stepping into a physical archive for the first time. And when you do go to the archive, cameras and computers can greatly increase your productivity and the amount of material you can collect and organize. But technology can and does break down. Below is my developing list of archive tech and suggestions for surviving a crash.

Ensure redundancy

  • Make sure all devices are up to date on security and system updates. But be careful if you have a Windows 10 OS running on a third party device, as sometimes Windows doesn’t play well with other companies’ hardware. The recent Creators Update messed up the drivers in both my and my brother’s Lenovo laptops, making it impossible to power up our machines.
  • Before leaving on each trip, make a full system backup of all devices and store them to an external drive (maybe two) in case you have to rebuild your devices. Consider bringing one copy of recovery file with you, particularly if traveling for a while. I wish I had this one with me right now.
  • Make general copies (these are not the same as official recovery files) of all your most important files to an external drive and, except for financial or sensitive data, to a cloud based storage like Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox. I also do a lot of my work in cloud based apps like Evernote. Just remember that nothing in the Cloud is completely secure, so don’t put up passwords.
  • Consider also bringing backups of key items, like that conference paper you are presenting, on portable storage like USBs or SD cards. Also email copies to yourself.
  • If you are using computers and cameras to collect research, bring along overlapping technology such as your main laptop, a smaller tablet or 2 in 1, a cell phone, and a real camera.  On my current trip, my main laptop stopped. Fortunately I just happened to have a small 2 in 1 tablet running an earlier OS with me, and this is has saved me.
  • Go old school. Pens, paper, and notecards can’t break down. If everything else fails, go back to the analog world.

Bring appropriate gear to support devices. There is a surprising amount of gear needed to make technology work (which is why going analog can be easier).

  • For your computer: power cord, case, possibly a wireless mouse, USB cable, ethernet cable, HDMI cable, extra USB
  • For your tablet or 2 in 1: tablet, keyboard, stylus, case, all of the above items for a computer, plus the necessary converters like micro USB to full USB adapters, or mini display port to HDMI adapters, mini or micro SD readers, USB hub.
  • Cell phone: charger and cable, protective case and screen cover, Earphones or headphones, car charger, charging brick, AUX cable (to plug into car speakers if driving your own or a rental car and using GPS on phone), micro SD reader, ejector tool (for getting out your internal SD card and copying off images. If you don’t have the tool, use a small gauge paperclip).
  • Camera: protective case, any additional lenses and filters, extra batteries, battery charger, extra SD cards, file transfer cable, SD card reader.

Be prepared. Additional items that maybe helpful or useful:

  • Portable wand scanner. I’m eyeing these to prevent my rapidly worsening carpal tunnel syndrome after taking pictures on my phone so much.
  • Bluetooth earpiece. Useful if you need your hands free.
  • Precision screwdrivers, in case you have to open your laptop and perform your own repairs.
  • Paperclips

These are my current suggestions. Let me know any of your tech suggestions for handling research trips in the comments and check in to see any updates.

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