Backup day

I hereby declare today to be Back Up Your Data Day.

Today, I recommend doing a backup that you don't normally do. For example:

  • If you don't normally back up anything at all, then back up your most important files. Burn them onto a CD, or email them to your Gmail account, or copy them to an external hard drive or to a backup folder on another computer in your house. You could copy them to a thumb drive, but note that thumb drives are easily lost, so be careful. With any of these options, if the files are highly confidential, then you might want to encrypt them first, in any of various ways. One backup method to avoid: best not to just make a copy on the same computer as the original; not only does that not protect you from a hard drive crash, but it may cause problems if you accidentally edit the backups instead of the originals.
  • If you're confident that your most important files are safe, then take some time today to back up the rest of your data. Anything you'd be unhappy to lose, make a copy of it. What about your website? Do you edit files directly on the server? If you make a mistake while editing and destroy a file, will you be able to restore it from backup?
  • Say you already back up all your files. Do you back them up offsite? Imagine something terrible happens (heaven forfend): your house burns down, or an earthquake or tornado or hurricane or flood or fire or mudslide destroys your office building. Will you lose all your data, both backups and originals? There are online backup services you can use; alternatively, you could papermail a CD to an out-of-state friend; you could get a portable hard drive, copy all your files onto it, and put that in a safe deposit box; there are various other options.
  • You already do all of that stuff? Great! Do you have an automated system (or as automated as possible) to run backups regularly? If not, consider implementing one. If that's not feasible, then do one of your non-automated backups today.

My uncle mentioned yesterday that he'd lost a lot of data in a computer failure recently, which reminded me that most of us don't have good backup systems in place.

I use Apple's Time Machine, which is by far the best automated system I've encountered (though it only works on Macs), but that's not an offsite backup; if my house were destroyed while my laptop was at home, that would wipe out most of my data. So today I'm gonna try to finally get around to implementing an automated network-backup system that I started setting up a couple years ago but got sidetracked on.

If you have useful or interesting approaches to backing stuff up, feel free to post them here. But don't let discussing backups distract you from actually backing stuff up.

(As I was waking up this morning, I had a moment of thinking that I really ought to back up my brain, 'cause in the event of a crash or something, I would be really upset to lose all that data. I thought something like "This is ridiculous! Why don't I have a good backup system in place for my brain?" But then I woke up a little more.)

5 Responses to “Backup day”

  1. wbradley

    What an excellent idea. I’ve already lost data in a couple of computer crashes. My problem is that I’m too computerklutzy to feel competent either backing up or, more to the point, restoring stuff. I long for an idiot-proof automated system – definitely a market opportunity there for someone!

    • Jed

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost data in crashes.

      Do you have a CD burner in your computer? If so, then I strongly recommend backing up your important files by burning them to a CD. (If your computer has a CD burner, then it also has a Help screen explaining how to use it. CD burners are generally very easy to use.) Then label the CD and put it somewhere safe (maybe the same place where you store your important paper documents like taxes and medical stuff).

      See the first bullet item of my blog entry here for more suggestions.

      If you have a recent Mac, I highly highly recommend getting an external hard drive (possibly even Apple’s Time Capsule) and using the built-in Time Machine backup software.

      If you have a Windows machine, there are various systems out there where you can connect an external hard drive and install some software that will take care of backups for you. I haven’t used them, so I can’t personally recommend them, but I bet your local computer store could recommend something fairly easy to use.

      • wbradley

        Good advice, thanks. I think I might try emailing them to my googlemail address – the last time I changed computers I paid someone to suck the old one’s brains onto CD but had the devil of a job doing anything with the CD and its files once I’d got them.

  2. Jed

    Here’s another suggestion (for everyone, not just wbradley): If a lot of your data is in your Google account (Gmail, Docs, photos, videos, etc), then I strongly recommend using Google Takeout to download a copy of all of your data.

    Most of the time, Google does a great job of keeping track of your data for you. But once in a while, Google suddenly locks people out of their accounts permanently, with no recourse and no way to retrieve their data. So it’s a good idea to have a copy of your data outside of Google.

  3. Jed

    Last year, on Facebook, Mike Pope suggested another good idea about something to back up: “if you use Microsoft Word, back up your Normal.dotm file, which has your macros, your keyboard shortcuts, and other customizations. Better yet, automate the backup


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