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Back up your work!

Everyone who uses a computer knows someone who has lost their work because of a computer crash. I know of at least one person who dropped out of PhD candidature when his computer died and he lost all his files: there was no backup and he did not have the heart to start all over again.

Don't let it happen to you!

Even the best of us sometimes has problems. I recently had a new hard drive installed on my computer. I backed everything up before I took the computer to the shop. I thought everything was okay.

It wasn't.

I opened my website software today, and could not find the files for this website anywhere. They had simply vanished. I checked the hard drive where they should have been. I checked the backup copy. Nope. Nowhere.

I must admit I panicked a little bit.

Then I thought about what backups I have done. The one onto CD was quite old. Wait! Didn't I have the website on a USB stick? Yes!

But they, too, were old files.

So I have spent a considerable amount of time today checking every single page, and copying the source info from the web server back into Dreamweaver. I hope I've caught everything.

My next job is to check every single file on all my other sites.

No, on second thought, my next job is to back up all my sites onto CD, and put a procedure into place where I update the backups every week.

I suggest you do the same.

When I was doing my PhD, I was a backup freak. I backed up every night. I made lists of every file I opened every day, and made sure I backed them up that night. I had two sets of backups going, so that if one of them was corrupted I still had the files. I kept a printout of all my files at work as well as at home. I had piles of floppy disks that contained months of backups.

Then I got lazy. It was too much work to remember which files I had used, when I had backed them up, and which sets were the most recent ones. I investigated other, more automated methods. I bought a Zip Drive, and used it. Then, as technology changed and became more affordable, I bought a recordable CD drive and Nero software. Then I found out about the Maxtor OneTouch system, an external hard drive with proprietary software that automatically backs up the files you specify when you press a button on the drive (hence the name OneTouch). On subsequent backups, it will copy only those files that have changed since the last backup.

This was good!

But then the Maxtor OneTouch failed. It simply would not work. I couldn't even turn it on. Luckily, it was under warranty, so after a long phonecall overseas, I was told to return it to the place where I had bought it, and they would organise for it to be repaired or replaced. It seems that the Maxtor experts couldn't get it to work either, so I ended up with a new one. A bit wary, I used it as a backup for some time.

One day, though, I wanted to check the date of a particular file. I couldn't find it in the backup, because the compression software had changed from the original OneTouch I owned, and it now compresses everything into one file instead of allowing you to check each individual file. What a pain! I'm not saying that this system is bad: I thought it was wonderful. Perhaps the glitch in the software the second time around was because my computer still thought it was the same hard drive. I don't know. I still back up occasionally to it, as a further safeguard.

There other other alternatives: Acronic True Image and Norton Ghost do a disk image, which can then be loaded onto your hard drive if it fails. It replaces everything on your drive with what was backed up, including any viruses or corrupt files your computer might have. Windows has a backup program that I have not used. I know there are other systems out there somewhere, but I asked the computer staff who upgraded my computer what they use. The answer? They don't use proprietary software or hardware at all. They do a copy and paste. Simple, and cheap. If you copy all files from a folder into your backup folder, the computer will ask you if you want to overwrite files of the same name. If you click on 'Yes to All', you save yourself some time.

The whole aim of this article is to get you to think about how often you back up your work, and how you do it. I strongly urge you to think about the system that will work best for you. You should, at the very least:

  • Back up all your altered files once a week.
  • Alternate your backup places (i.e. back up your Week 1 files in place A, and your Week 2 files in place B, then your Week 3 files in place A again).
  • Do a complete back up of all relevant files once a month.
  • Keep an up to date printout somewhere away from your work area. This includes a photocopy of your dissertation or lab journal.

So there you have it. Whatever back up method you use, make sure you use it!

Copyright © Gaye Wilson 2007. All rights reserved.

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