Backup: How I Do It | Protect Your Files

by JL Beeken on 12-18-2011

Every time I write about backup I think it’s going to be the last time because, I mean, what else is there to say about it?

After reading Susan Clark’s post about losing all her Google properties in an instant and the many comments following, it makes me wonder how many data loss disasters we have to hear about before we take backup seriously.

Good Lord, people, do take this seriously.

I think we fall into a daze with our computers as being physical things because the monitor is and the keyboard is and the mouse is. And pretty soon, the pictures and the words in front of the back-light seem to be. Do you remember the first time you turned on a computer and you felt like you’d gone to Mars? It seemed miraculous to me – all these people and boxes talking at me from … where??

And then it gets totally normal. First thing in the morning, haven’t even washed your face yet and you’re on Twitter, saying, Hey, peeps, it’s me, good morning! It’s like a college dorm 24/7 and we know how real that felt.

The words you’re typing, the words you’re reading, the words you’re collecting, the photos, the contacts, the genealogy records, your favorite websites, all of it – some other planet. If your computer crashes, if the infrastructure you’re depending on tosses you aside, they’re gone. Nothing but a memory.

Computers are a world onto themselves with their own set of rules and one of those rules is that if you haven’t lost anything yet, be patient, your turn is coming. And probably on a day when you already have a full schedule. It only takes a split-second and it’s happened to me twice. Both times I felt like the light bulb had gone out in the center of my head and I was sitting alone in a pitch-black tunnel. It’s a delightful experience.

First of all, you have to get over the thing about backing up computer files as being ‘too techy’. Instructions should come as a mandatory pamphlet for first-time computer users. It’s about as ‘techy’ as remembering to take your birth control pills. (Or pop your teeth in before you answer the front door.)

Here’s the easy way. Get an external hard-drive. Right now. Copy all your important computer files onto it. Now you’ve got a backup. If you get lost in the details from the onset you’ll never get this done. So, just do it.

Here’s the question you need to ask yourself. Of everything on your computer and on your blog and everywhere else you put yourself online, what are you NOT willing to lose?  Here’s the answer: Back It Up.

Website Backup

I don’t have much online because I’m not that much of an exhibitionist. I can go weeks without craving human attention if I have some intelligent books to read. I also prefer to keep my stuff close where I have some control. I attribute this trait to an excessively chaotic childhood with no clearly-defined personal boundaries. Fuzzy boundaries. OK, no boundaries. So, backing up my online ‘stuff’ is not a major concern.

I own my one and only website, as far as a piece of the sky can be owned. I prefer that to the vagaries of free hosting. And I keep it backed up. It’s not a hard thing to download a small xml file every time I make a change. All the graphics on my site are on my hard-drive. They were uploaded from there to my site using FileZilla Client. Even the html code for the widgets and navigation is backed up in text files so I don’t have to recreate it if I accidentally kill a widget here or there. The theme and any custom code for it is also backed up.

If you’re set up on a free site, you can still back up your data. (Maybe. Depending.) After you’ve written 100 or 1,000 posts it starts to look like a serious investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used my own site as a reference library for things I used to know but have already forgotten because my most personal hard-drive (my head) is too full of other things.

Twitter Backup

I don’t concern myself with the little blips I put out on Twitter. I can’t believe I’ve written 1,257 of them. What in the world was I talking about? I don’t use photo-sharing sites. I don’t spread myself all over social networking sites mostly because there’s a limit to how much I can think of saying. No-one really needs to know when I had a nap, a headache, a walk to the park or what I’m cooking for dinner. But, if you do care about recording all that, and back it up, there’s a personal diary for your rellies down the road. TweetBackup or … ?

Dropbox & SugarSync

I know most of you have already heard this before so I’m only writing it for the one or two beached starfish who may be trying to get back into the ocean.

I do keep files in Dropbox and My Dropbox folder is backed up daily to an external hard-drive and two others on a rotation schedule so if Dropbox goes down I’m not depending on them. SugarSync directly syncs files from their location on my hard-drive to their server so if they disappear the files are still on my hard-drive and backup drives; they haven’t gone anywhere.

Every time there’s a change, I back up my Firefox bookmarks, my email, my calendar, my address books, my rss feeds, (OPML file) and my Skype contacts. Everything except the email is kept in Dropbox. They’re all synced to my laptop regularly. If you keep any of that online for ‘convenience’, it should also be on your personal hard-drive. Look through each of those and find where it says ‘backup’. Or ‘export’.

A lot of my genealogy data, including my Legacy database, is synced between computers using SugarSync. It also works for lots of varieties of phones and other pocket-sized devices that I don’t know anything about. I believe Dropbox does too. If you’re confused by the word ‘sync’ don’t be. Just sign up for a free account and all mysteries shall be revealed.

All my ‘notes’ are in either mind maps, EverNote 2, ActionOutline or OneNote (don’t use the latter anymore but might) and all of this data is kept in My Dropbox so it’s available on my laptop. Or online should I ever find myself without one of my three computers, god forbid.

My Computer

All the files and folders in My Documents, My Music, My Pictures and My Videos are also backed up to external hard-drives.

What holds my backup strategy together is a program called Syncback. I tell it what to do, it does it and keeps everything all nicely cleaned up.

Online Backup

I keep 180GB of files backed up to Carbonite and I pay them for it. But do I depend on them for the only copy of my backup files? Not bloody likely.

Keeping your data with online services (even the Almighty Google) is not a fail-safe approach. I don’t have anything anywhere that I can’t put in my pocket on a small hard-drive and walk out the door with. Now, if computers disappear, then I’ll be in trouble.

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