Dodging Bullets

With over 35 years in the embroidery industry with particular emphasis on writing, education, and digitizing, Helen Hart Momsen is widely published in the trade press. Momsen founded and moderates the Embroidery Line (, the longest continuously running internet forum for apparel decorators. A sought-after speaker for many years for THE NBM SHOW, Momsen has authored two ground-breaking books on professional embroidery, available at

The blue screen of death

On a beautiful May morning, the “blue screen of death” appeared on my computer monitor. I had just finished deleting some programs (through add and delete programs in the control panel). The last one required a reboot—with no choice given to do it later, and no ability to uncheck the radio button. 
I had a column due Monday morning (which, ironically, morphed into this column) so when the error messages flashed on the screen, my blood ran cold. The next screen to appear (I call it the sorry screen, as it starts out by apologizing for the inconvenience . . .) gave me four choices to restart Windows, none of which worked.

The good news was that my son, an IT tech, had flown in for Mother’s Day and installed a Seagate external hard drive on my computer, setting it to back up at one a.m. each morning. He had also taught me to store all my data in My Documents which makes things easier, no matter how you back up.

I had followed his advice. In My Documents I have a separate folder for each program’s data. I don’t store the Corel files in the Corel area, or the digitized files in my digitizing program’s space. I have My Corel, My Designs, My Columns, My Whatever safely tucked inside My Documents. A back-up of data becomes as simple as copying the My Documents folder. Add to this a list of all the programs on the computer, and a safe storage place where all program and drivers can be easily found, and computer life becomes a lot simpler.

Okay, so it’s still not easy to contemplate the possible death of a hard drive, there wasn’t a lot of time for extra instruction on how to back up the email folders (I will forever more copy them into a folder under My Documents), and I have a lot stored there that has to do with my embroidery discussion forum ( as well as a folder called “My Treasures” where I store every email from my children—sort of like saving those old-fashioned things called letters, minus the ribbon.

A trip round the world

By the time my agony was over, I had talked to Bart, Ben, Glenn, Margarita, Fitz, Robert, Alex, Justin and was on my ninth tech, a soft-spoken young lady named Chrissie in the Philippines, where it was already after noon of the next day. Strange feeling, to be talking to tomorrow.

Each one of them took my name and computer’s “express service code” and reminded me that I had parts and support coverage until 2011 (and I hope I never need it again, but this event was a good argument for the extra expense).

A suggestion: Always ask for the tech’s name if you don’t hear it clearly, and write it down. I find it makes the person I am talking to feel valued and you can always try to get them back . . . if the sun hasn’t set in their world by then. (It never sets in the world where that blue screen is appearing over and over.)

This all began before noon on my Sunday—

The journey was fraught with accidental disconnects on my end and theirs and a run to the store for a USB keyboard; tapping F2 or F12 to get to the start or boot menu won’t work on a wireless keyboard that has yet to load, and you can’t get to any of the suggested courses of action if you can’t get in there).

—and wouldn’t end until after two in the morning.

Along the way, I discovered that a 30-minute test of the hard drive would take five hours (large hard drive) and a 39-minute repair of Windows would take over an hour. The support was superb, the techs were all patient and made detailed notes so that as my dilemma traveled across the USA, through Utah and into the South Pacific, everyone was on the same page; it was a study in synchronization.

I think I started breathing again when the hard drive passed all the diagnostics. It is said that a hard drive failure is not a matter of if but of when. And the whole time I kept thinking that if I had just backed up the email folders, I wouldn’t have had a worry in the world.

So what happened?

If the hard drive was fine, where did things go astray? Turns out that, when you delete a program, even with no other programs running, even a program you no longer need, some files needed to run the operating system may get . . . lost? Corrupted? And how do you remove a program without the operating system running? And where was the warning (I have seen it before) that this might occur?

“It happens,” they said. Each individual tech asked me for my email address so I could be sent a support and follow up-ticket, and I was reassured that soon I would be reading email again. It happens. And the answer was to repair Windows, which loses you no data.

I don’t think I was ever happier to see that Welcome screen when Windows finally booted. My icons were all there, my email was soon downloading. My world was caught up, up to speed and moving toward a tomorrow with which I had already held a conversation.

A bullet dodged

Why does it take a near-catastrophe to make us realize that all the warnings and sage advice are for a reason? I was halfway there, but that wasn’t good enough. If there is a next time, I will call it a day when I get tired, call back the next day and rest assured that everything I need to rebuild my world is backed up safely.

And a final, unrelated thought: A colleague, an instructor of glass etching and sandblasting at the Printwear Shows, recently passed away quite unexpectedly from a heart attack. Norm Dobbins was a talented artist and wonderful instructor. I send hugs and prayers out to Ruth Dobbins this month—and one skyward to Norm whose smile will be forever missed. Hugs, too, for many reasons, to my editor, Mark Buchanan and the esteemed head of National Business Media, Bob Wieber, both of whom let me share my written and spoken words in the name of education, which we all value highly. And hugs to each of you—and a reminder to appreciate each day, take good care of you—and back up that computer.