In which I lose the originals of the last three months of comics and the laptop I create them with.

I draw all my comics on paper, but I scan and process them on my lovely Fujitsu Lifebook P1510, a tiny hybrid tablet computer (it’s the size of a hardback book). I have high-resolution versions of all the comics, which I use for print versions and shirts and such. I used to save them to my Linux desktop, but recently I’ve been moving around a lot and I got in the habit of saving the comic files on my laptop. I’d gotten lazy about backing them up as I drew them, as evidenced by this exchange with the xkcd sysadmin last night:

18:02 <davean> Also, is [the high-res backup collection] up to date?

18:02 <xkcd> nope [Editor's note: here I was recognizing how guilty I should feel about this. I was answering casually because I knew both of us knew this was stupid and we didn't need to go over it again.]

18:02 <xkcd> I’m now sending in computer for repair

18:02 <xkcd> I’ll update the files when I back up the laptop later today

My laptop has had some hardware problems, so I was backing it up before I sent it in to Fujitsu to get it fixed. I was repartitioning my Linux desktop’s drive to make room for the files, and since that was taking a while I decided to go to sleep and finish the (months-overdue) backup when I woke up. Then, files nice and safe, I could send it to Fujitsu.

I slept in until about 1:25 PM. I’m a heavy sleeper, which explains why I didn’t wake up when, at 12:55 PM, someone forced opened a window to my apartment, came into my room, and stole my laptop off my desk within arm’s reach of where I was sleeping.

So, I have no laptop now. I think I can still manage to do comics on schedule (sans tablet screen or any sort of speed) via the cheap old XP machine I set up for that purpose during the repair. And I still have the pencil-and-ink copies of everything. But I do all the editing, arranging, coloring, etc. on the computer. The full versions of, for example, the recent kite comic, the Lisp comic, the Richard Stallman comic, and everything else since around New Year’s? Gone.

Nothing else was stolen except a little cash from my wallet. The police came and filed reports. There were a couple other burglaries in the complex on the same day. If it’s picked up they’ll call me, but I’m not holding my breath. If anyone sees it for sale on eBay, it’s a Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D with an extended battery pack, off-brand charger, and all the little logos removed. Sigh.

For the folks suggesting ways of tracking it online: my cryptography-geek security paranoia was canceled out by my laziness. I set up all sorts of ideas for dealing with stolen laptops, but never actually maintained them (after all, they were just paranoia). A year ago I bought, with the idea that every time it got online it could (securely) update the site with information about where it was and who was using it. But I never set that up. I have it automatically log in to a VPN, and I should be able to see it that way. But the VPN had stopped connecting a few weeks ago and I didn’t fix it. I’ll keep an eye out in case it phones home. I had also planned to make stickers that says “CONTAINS GPS, WILL BE TRACKED IF STOLEN,” (bluffing) but that’s part of my xkcd stickers plan that’s on a back burner right now.

Other than the comics, there’s not much that’s irreplaceable. But the laptop did contain assorted xkcd shipping records from last year (before I moved to the online system). Fortunately, there is no financial information about anyone (except me), but it did have the addresses I’ve shipped shirts to. And I had just removed the system passwords so the Fujitsu guys would be able to work on it. But I expect it’s just gonna be wiped and sold anyway. It was a mess — I’d be surprised if anyone else can use it.

And lastly, my roommates got me a RoboRaptor for Christmas, some sort of mini version of the popular toy you see everywhere. And I can’t help but notice that during the burglary it sat on the shelf and did nothing but watch. Fucking raptors. I guess it should have at least served as a reminder to never let ground-level windows go unsecured.

Fortunately, the place is a huge mess, so the thief didn’t spot my digital camera on the floor. It contains the results of a physics experiment involving 50 gallons of water and a parking deck that I’ll blag about later.

Edit: I know the lost data is my own damn fault, and it’s not so bad. I’m a lot more upset about the break-in while I was here and the loss of the laptop than the — rarely used — high-res comic files. I just want to share the awful irony that it was just when I was about to get back on track with backups that it happened.

I have also, in the past, been that obnoxious backup guy — the one who insists we back things up both here and here every six hours in case there’s a terrorist attack AND a tornado at the same time. So I feel even dumber about this.

Regarding offers of donations — thank you, I appreciate the support. But I should be able to replace the laptop. I feel like if this is the worst problem you have, you’re doing okay, you know?

Edit #2:

(Thanks to Matthew.)

163 thoughts on “In which I lose the originals of the last three months of comics and the laptop I create them with.

  1. markansoul Says:
    “you are lying, an ISP or a hosting company always has your stuff backed-uped! Are you pulling a fast one. Forgive me I am Jaded!”

    Having worked in a large datacenter / hosting provider for over a year, and over 5 years in ISP tech support, I can tell you that unless you specifically pay your provider (of whatever service), you ain’t getting backups. Plus, you’d have to actually set up your system to back things up or do the backups manually, unless you pay the ISP / hosting provider to configure this (possibly part of the cost of the backup service – better check). You might get it with your service for “free” but generally that’ll mean your service costs “more” than elsewhere..

    I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard someone complain “but I don’t HAVE backups!” when we tell him his drive has failed, OS crapped itself, or otherwise had their data doomed. Then there’s the people who buy a backup service, then never set it up, or set it up then don’t check that it’s still working.. they’re always suprised when they have no backups or out of date backups.

    To be honest, most of what I have isn’t backed up, but I haven’t much that I can’t get again. Over 1TB of storage space and usually less than 20-30GB free at any one time in my “desktop” (full tower actually). Nearly all of that is a huge anime/manga collection (video, audio, etc) of which most of it is either burned off someplace or my friends have also.. my own projects aren’t backed up, but oh well. If I ever actually FINISHED anything it would be.

  2. >Marcus Says:

    >March 16th, 2007 at 2:37 am
    >Sorry to hear that! I have never understood theft.

    wtf?? jx%k&#w@qz|pf?y! huh?

    and sorry about your laptop. great comics though

    *does geek fraternity sign*

    no? never mind

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  4. install large spikes and bits of broken glass to your next laptop… make those raptors work for it!

  5. I’m both lazy and the paranoid geek for backing up, so I feel your pain. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it before, but has become my best friend. I currently have upwards of 70+GB backed up through Mozy and I think I’m paying only ~$50 a year for it. (There are cheaper plans/options of course.)

    Anyways, I stumbled across your website via ArsTechnica and love it!

  6. Dear xkcd,

    I know you said that you can replace it yourself. We believe you, but we want to help. So set up the friggin’ paypal or whatever for the laptop fund, as a service to us, who feel bad, and want to help you, even though you don’t need it. Then, when you have all the money that people give, secretly donate that exact amount to to buy llamas and stuff. Then, you’ll feel happy because you bought llamas for poor people, we will feel happy because we could help you out. It seems like you could cut out the middleman and just tell people to buy llamas (or ducks or whatever–I guess as a perl programmer I’m partial to the llamas), but sometimes life is circuitous.

    Alternate idea–add a “check this box to contribute a dollar to the replace-the-laptop-fund” to your checkout for the shirts. It’s lazier that way.

    Alternate (and completely orthogonal, for that matter) idea: agree that if we, the people, contribute enough to replace the laptop, you will, in gratitude to us for our generosity, set up an automated backup of your full resolution work as the very first thing, and put up some public place where we can see the file list so we can check up and bother you if it’s out of date.

    Most of all, I hope this gives you ideas for new comics.

  7. It’s possible he isn’t setting up a paypal to make this all seem like some sort of scam, and wants to keep up a reputation among fools who might think it is.

  8. A bit late to the party, but I’m sorry to hear about the laptop. Glad you’re okay, though.

    For what it’s worth, I keep the assets for my own comic in git. The main reason for this is that it makes moving work between my shared projects volume and my laptop much easier. I find myself switching machines much more often, as there’s no danger of losing work due to copying one conflicting change over another, a problem even with rsync.

    This has a nice side-effect: the cloned repository on each machine has a near-full copy of everything, so I don’t have to worry too much about losing data. I also periodically push to an off-site repository. It seems to be easier to keep up than a full backup strategy.

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  10. Dude!
    If your place can be broken into that easily by a mere thief, you stand absolutely no chance against raptors.

  11. Not to make light but high res stick figure art doesn’t contain that much more detail than low rez stick figure art. Vectorize them if you need to print them.

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  18. Sorry to hear that. I also had my laptop stolen in December 2007. If anyone finds a “Compaq Armada” please let me know. It was stolen from my apartment in California, then sold to a truck driver (Thomas Hank), who called me from Chicago, IL and tried extorting money from me to get it back. Needless to say, with his number on my cell and his full name, the police couldn’t do anything. My email:

  19. Sorry to hear that. I also had my laptop stolen in December 2007. If anyone finds a “Compaq Armada” please let me know. It was stolen from my apartment in California, then sold to a truck driver (Thomas Hank), who called me from Chicago, IL and tried extorting money from me to get it back. Needless to say, with his number on my cell and his full name, the police couldn’t do anything. Sucks. My email:

  20. That’s.. OHH! The.. OHHH! Well that’s terrible, I’m sorry it happened. I hope you can somehow find it.. maybe the Linux will scare them and they’ll just leave it somewhere easy to find. Sending condolences, it’s NOT nice to be invaded like that!

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  23. Well, I’m sorry to hear about this — I’ve never been robbed, but I feel for you. My condolences.

  24. That is really rough. Hard to believe that someone could have enough nerve to sneak into your apartment, rip your cash and then your laptop through a window. It’s not your fault at all that there are people out there that are criminals. I guess the best thing to take from the experience is just to invest in a good hardware backup program out of the way from everything else and perhaps have an alarm system to tip off the police of a burglery. Is it possible to place a piece of wood in such a way into the window from the inside to prevent someone outside from opening it? This really sucks…. ~Phil

  25. My 42inch monitor was stolen from my home while I was sleeping. If that isn’t bad enough, the only route from the inside of my house to the outside world passes within 4 feet of my bed (which I was, of course, in). My bedroom door was basically open.

  26. It’s possible he isn’t setting up a paypal to make this all seem like some sort of scam, and wants to keep up a reputation among fools who might think it is

  27. Everybody learns a lesson for some bad experiences. Before sleeping it is a good habit to check if the house is really secured..

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  29. hey be sure to back your stuff up… oh and i know you will probobly never see this but i love your work

  30. you should look into the trick i have set up to prevent my laptop from being stolen put a sticky not on it that says “Dead, Replace Cpu” or “Backup Data and Remove Virus/Spyware” i had a break in to my shop(i repair computers) and out of the 50 or so computers i had in the shop at the time the only thing that was stolen was a broken mini fridge that was being used as extra work surface apparently people will believe what is written on a sticky note

  31. That royally sucks… I’m a big fan of these comics. Even though it’s two years after the fact, here’s hoping everything is back to normal and that everything gets backed up on a regular basis. Hardware is replaceable, but data many times cannot be recovered.

  32. Sigh…this will prlly never happen to me, as my laptop is a piece-o-crap inspiron without internal wi-fi, but i sympathize, and HAVE checked ebay, but only motherboards and batteries…It is interesting how the thief managed to steal your laptop rite after u removed the passwords from it… also interesting how he didnt look for anything else…cursed raptors…well, good luck finding it and with the comic!

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