What regular folks can do when their computers crash

Computer meltdowns, data loss, spyware invasions - all the demons of the digital age I'd read about but never thought would visit my home PC. After all, I protected my home computer with a firewall, virus protection software and an anti-spyware program. Plus I had a subscription to Carbonite, an online backup service, that for $50 a year promised to save a copy of all my files, which could be safely sent me via the internet.

So when the hard drive of my home computer crashed a few weeks ago, I was unprepared for my feeling of utter disorientation. It was like the great Northeast blackout of 1965. Or the no-television punishment of my childhood. Or staring at my keys through the sewer grate.

No internet at home to look up a quick answer to a question or a phone number, no e-mail and no ability to work at home. As a freelance writer and editor, I frequently work at the editorial offices of various magazines. But my next assignment was to edit at home some stories that would arrive via e-mail. Plus, all my notations about my work schedule, my assignments and my business contacts were, for now, inaccessible.