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A laptop disappears

Posted in Personal on 2006-10-04 16:32

Losing a laptop is a traumatic experience, and Monday evening it was my turn. I was staying in a hotel in Amsterdam, and after the day's meetings I sat on the bed to quickly scan my email and look up the nearest good beer bar. Going out, I left the laptop on the bed, still running. I hesitated for a split second, wondering whether this was safe, but decided I didn't want the extra weight in my backpack, and left.

A 17" MacBook Pro

When I came back from dinner I undressed, got into bed, and then suddenly started wondering where my laptop was. Immediately, I suspected the worst. The room looked completely normal, however, which was confusing, and this delayed the realization for a few minutes. Looking around a little I suddenly found that one of the windows of my room had been completely removed, frame and all, and was leaning against the wall outside my window. (I was on the first floor, but outside the window was the roof, in a kind of closed backyard.) And then I knew, of course.

This was of course a disaster for me, and one that is partly of my own making. I don't have any proper backup, which is idiotic, but that's the way it is. So this means that my email is gone (all email before late night Monday), my photos from the Russia/Ukraine holiday (though luckily not Stine's), the new OKS features I wrote on the plane coming here (not yet checked into CVS), and so on. And, of course, I was left without my slides for the meeting the next day, and with no laptop to conduct the course Wednesday-Friday.

I had to report this to the hotel, of course, and they immediately moved me to another room, and called the police. Two police officers showed up within 15 minutes, and looked at the room, but declared that no fingerprints could be gotten from the window frame, because of the rain. (I'm pleasantly surprised they would do that for a relatively minor crime like this.) They told me to come to the station in the morning, and give a report. Eventually, I went to bed, by which time it was 0130 in the morning.

The night manager at the hotel showed me how they had probably done the break-in. You have to use a key-card to use the lift, but in the day and evening you can just walk up the stairs. Once in the corridor you can go into the fire-escape, and from there onto the roof. You can't get back into the hotel, but from the fire-escape there is a door out onto the street. So it's actually pretty simple to conduct a robbery from 1st-floor rooms in the Eden Rembrandt Square Hotel in Amsterdam. (Now you know, whether you're a thief or a potential hotel guest.)

The following day was pretty hectic. I got up at 0700 to go to the police and deliver a report. The station was a 5-minute walk from the hotel, and a young police woman took my statement. This covered the bare details of the case, including my observation that it would be pretty easy for someone working at the hotel to do the job, and then remove a window frame to deflect suspicion. She noted this, but it didn't seem that there have been similar robberies there before, so nothing further was done about it. (I have no reason to think it actually was someone from the hotel, but neither have I any reason to think it was an outsider.)

After this I had to answer some routine questions. One was whether, if they caught the thief, I wanted the thief to compensate me personally. I said no (I don't need the money, and the thief may have enough problems as it is). Another was whether I wanted help from the government victim care. As I don't think the government victim care would fund a photo safari to Moscow and the Ukraine, I declined. She then tried to explain a question to do with whether I wanted the thief to get extra punishment for the theft of my laptop, if (s)he was found to have stolen other things as well. She never got the details across, but the idea held great appeal to me, so I said yes, and suggested whipping as the extra punishment.

The next stop was breakfast at 0800, hotel checkout by 0845, then touring the Apple Stores in Amsterdam to find a new laptop. Eventually I found one that was open, and bought a new 17-inch MacBook Pro. This was an improvement over the stolen laptop, which was a 17-inch PowerBook G4. The PowerBook had a PowerPC CPU, while the MacBook is Intel-based, which makes it 4-5 times faster.

Surprised LMG

Having bought a laptop we set off for Utrecht, and a meeting with the Dutch Tax Office. The meeting starts with a round of introductions, and while people introduce themselves I start to configure the laptop. One new feature of the MacBook is the camera above the screen that can be used as a webcam. It's also used to make nice mugshots that are attached to the user profiles in the system. So in the middle of the setup the machine wants to take my photo. Surprised, and slightly amused, I hit the click button, and the machine starts counting to three. At 2.5 the meeting chair asks me to introduce myself, and I get a nice picture of myself looking at the chair in a surprised way.

After the meeting, I was off to Deventer to give my course. And now I've gotten to my new laptop to the point where I can give a course using a demo version of Microsoft Office (the CDs are in Oslo, of course), and I can write a blog entry. Eventually, things should return to normal, but some emails will never be answered, and some of the best photos from the holiday will never be used in the blog entries they were taken for. Such, I guess, is life. And once I get home I will set up a proper backup system.

Update: I've set up a backup system now, and I even got some of the photos back.

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Matthijs - 2006-10-06 19:50:36

I guess bicycles aren't the only things being stolen in Amsterdam.... Shame on the perpetrator(s). And be careful on the trains from Schiphol with your new Macbook! (another notorious spot in / around Amsterdam)

Jinie Min - 2006-10-10 02:55:04

Oh your God!!! How suprise! I know that's life, but sometimes it is cruel. (I've been expected the photos from the Russia/Ukraine holiday....) I pray you'll overcome all ASAP with nice new laptop. *^^*

Andrea - 2006-10-27 16:43:21


I can empathize completely with the shock you felt when you realized that your laptop got stolen.

A similar thing happened to me in a high-speed train in Germany back in May where my laptop got stolen. I also hesitated for that one second, but eventually did the unsafe thing - and gone it was after 1/2 hour.

Fortunately, I kept a back up of my MPhil thesis on a memory stick which I always keep close to my body. It saved me three months of my life.

Good luck with your new one!


Niko - 2006-11-07 23:19:36

Enjoyed your surprised view, which otherwise wouldn't had happened... Although the circumstance to loose data & configuration hurts quite a bit. Since I'm also relabeled from Linux to Mac, I use rsync to copy my complete harddisk (with some exceptions) to an external USB drive.

Hope you found time to start with a backup strategy?

Cheers, Niko

Lars Marius - 2006-11-07 23:24:02

Hi Niko,

I've ordered an external hard drive now, and plan to either use the software that comes with it, or SuperDuper, to do my backups. It hasn't arrived yet, but I'm betting my hard drive will stay with me until it does. :)

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