My Christmas Present to You – PSA

**update*** Humbly Anne’s computer is fine – it was just a loose connection. Hooray for Christmas Miracles!
Now if you haven’t read this post and/or haven’t figured out your backup strategy get going! In fact, it’s not too late to ask Santa for a large external hard drive for Christmas.

I was going to write a post about my crazy anxiety dream about the Escape from Alcatraz and I was going to tell you about how I didn’t get a job I really wanted and about how part of that dream was emblematic of how I am feeling about life right now but I just wasn’t feeling it. Then, this morning my sweet Humbly Anne called in tears to tell me that her computer – the one that was working fine last night when she turned it off, the one that is holding all of the files she needs to finish her graduate school applications, the one she was planning on working on all day today, wouldn’t start. The power came on but the disk didn’t spin and the Operating System never came up.

That reminded me that I have been meaning to admonish the whole blogosphere to back up your computers and to tell you how to do it. It’s really easy and the pain of losing a hard drive or a computer can be really severe. Just ask my daughter.

How you back stuff up is a function of how much stuff you have. If you have a lot of digital photos on your machine you probably want to burn those to a CD or a DVD for safe keeping. Many of us have lots of photos stored on-line at sites like Flickr and Photobucket but I know I still have a ton of stuff on my hard drive so I back it up to physical media because there are so many gigabytes and getting stuff off the CDs is faster than downloading it from the internet where I back up everything else.

There are a number of sites where you can easily back up all of your documents and it will run every day, automatically. I like these sites because:
1). They are very easy to set up. You download and install a small program and then use the easy, intuitive interface to point and click or drag and drop the folders you want backed up.
2). They run automatically every day to backup any new or changed files. The first time it runs takes a while but after that it is very quick and painless.
3). They are encrypted and very secure. In fact, if you lose your password you are hosed because the service doesn’t store it and it is used as your encryption key.
4). They keep your files in the same structure as on your hard drive (same folders and sub folder)
5). They compress your files so that 2 GB of storage space holds more than 2 GB of your data
6). If you use a laptop and it isn’t connected to the internet for the scheduled backup time or if your desktop machine is not turned on, the backup will run immediately the next time your computer has an internet connection.
7). Peace of mind is knowing that nothing will ever be lost.

Here are some sites:

eDrive – you can backup 2 GB for free or, for $4.95/mo have unlimited space on their servers.
Mozy – same as iDrive
iBackup – $9.95/mo for 5 GB. This is a little fancier in that it saves entire backups from earlier dates so you can restore from a point back in time. Not probably necessary for home use but nice.

I have used iDrive and iBackup and they are both super easy. I suspect Mozy is the same.

What should you back up?
Graphics files
Financial data (Quicken, Quickbooks, MS-Money)
eMail stored in Outlook or another desktop client
Music folders
Anything else that is important to you

What shouldn’t you back up?
Software. You cannot restore software the way you can restore files – it has to be loaded. There are programs that can restore an entire drive, software and all but you don’t need that for home use. What you need are legal, legitimate copies of all of your software so that if you lose a drive or a computer you can load it again.

Another thing you can do to be double safe if you are working on something important right now is to save your document to an email on your internet email account. In fact, you can store lots of stuff in email but that isn’t reliable. If you use one of these backup programs it will run automatically every day and store any files that are new or have changed if they are in a folder that you specified should be backed up.

If using the internet and having your files on some strange server gives you the creeps then buy a large, external hard drive and learn how to use the software that comes with it. I suspect they all come with some sort of backup software that will run automatically but I don’t know. I prefer the on-line solution.

Another thing you must do is make sure you have legal, current copy of a virus scanner on your machine. The $40 you spend is well worth it because you can pick up a virus anywhere and a nasty virus can bring your system to its knees. McAfee , Symantec (Norton) and Avast are all fine

Please don’t ever find yourself wailing “My whole life was on that computer!” because it’s gone or dead. Practice safe computing by backing your stuff up and running a virus scanner so that you can dream dreams and not live a nightmare.

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13 Responses to My Christmas Present to You – PSA

  1. david says:

    Now that was a good stocking stuffer.

  2. Good PSA!

    Can also use USB portable harddrives for backup, especially if bandwith challenged and have lots of stuff.

  3. jeanne says:

    I should REALLY REALLY do this.

  4. momo says:

    THANK you for the reminder. i lost every single thing i had awhile back and it sucked. i just signed up with idrive.

  5. hilary says:

    completely coincidentally, I was backing up my laptop when I read your post.
    if Humbly Anne needs any editing help for her applications, holler my way. it’s one of those things I’m good at. I keep considering freelance editing, but haven’t gotten around to doing much about it.

  6. Bill says:

    $9.95 for 5GB? Schmoly that’s pricey.

    Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service) is where it’s at. I’ve got about 135GB in photos uploaded and storage is running me about $21/month. Since I sell my photos, having that backup is a small price to pay. Plus, with Amazon, I’m confident that they won’t go anywhere soon. Wish I could say that about most other companies.

    The 5GB that you get at idrive for $9.95/month is $.75/month at S3.

    I also dump to an external HDD as well as DVDs. I’m a bit paranoid. But it’s deserved, after I had a HDD failure a few years back. I lost about six months of photos. Worst part was that I had installed and formatted the a new disk the night before and planned on waking up to finish the job. Instead I woke to the sound of the drive head skipping on the disk.

    Great PSA!

  7. Rural Girl says:

    This did happen to me once. Sucked. Appreciate your knowledge, it’s helpful for those of us (myself) who know so little.

  8. Tammy says:

    Dammit woman! Why didn’t you do this PSA BEFORE I spent $150+ on a backup thingy that I’ve now lost the cord for, and they probably want another $50+ for a new cord. sigh. bastards.
    Oh sorry, is this a family blog? 😉

  9. Susan says:

    I have over 7000 photos on my mac and I would DIE if I lost them. I must back up now.

  10. comm's says:

    Seen too many co-workers loss vital data to not back up files. I even export my Outlook once a week to My Documents b/c of the way I back everything up to a 80 gig external hard drive.

    They are so cheap now at any electronic store. And my 80 is about 4x6x.5, reasonably small.

  11. comm's says:

    Seen too many co-workers loss vital data to not back up files. I even export my Outlook once a week to My Documents b/c of the way I back everything up to a 80 gig external hard drive.

    They are so cheap now at any electronic store. And my 80 is about 4x6x.5, reasonably small.

  12. Nancy Toby says:

    Thanks for posting this!!! Very kind of you – nice reminder to me to get on the stick!!

  13. IHateToast says:

    i lost everything when my comp died. i was in that happy zone where i wasn’t working or in school. i actually liked just letting go. had to get over it. i back things up, but it was good to see that i survived. i also email myself all my drafts of any assignment.

    and i always make sure to back up all my home videos with the leather thigh-high boots and the special rack.

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