1 June 2007

Backup, backup and again I say backup

The little known saying of Paul, "Backup, backup and again I say backup"
is something which every Biblical Scholar (and everyone else) should heed.
A book will survive 1000 years or more with benign neglect in a dry place,
but a hard drive will function inside a computer for only 3 - 10 years.
A floppy disc will fade, a CD will scratch, and even flash memory will die.
So whatever we want to keep, we have to keep on backing up.

1) Backup onto what?
2) Backup software (free or cheap)
3) How to make your work last forever.

1) Backup onto what?
Backup onto something which is normally separate from your computer.
A Tyndale scholar had his laptop and backups stolen from his car 3 months before
submission. His only other backup was 5 months old. Could this happen to you?

Good choices:
DVDs, Flash memory, portable drives, internet spaces

DVDs are already old technology but they will last some time yet, mainly because of movies.
Like paper, they survive well with benign neglect. They don't fade or crack (though early ones did)
Unlike other media, they should survive the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear bomb.
Warnings: Don't leave recordable CDs in the sun, and don't buy non-branded DVDs or CDs

Flash memory (aka USB stick, SD card etc) lasts a long time.
No one knows how long in practice (yet) but some come with a 10-year guarantee.
This is the memory of the future. Mini computers are being built with flash memory
instead of a hard drive - they are smaller, with longer battery life and more reliable.
My prediction: SD cards (or Mini SDs) will be the next 'floppy' to replace CDs.
My tip: Buy " Ultra II SD Plus" cards - an SD card which has a click-out for USB slots.
You can use it as a tiny USB memory stick, and also put it in your SD camera, PDA
or MP3 player, so it is easy to swap files without any leads.

Portable drives can hold much more than flash memory (at present).
So if your data includes lots of pictures or music, or you want to copy your whole drive,
you need a portable drive. If you have a desktop computer, you can add a permanent
drive inside, but remember it will be stolen or burned along with the original,
so make a separate backup of your data.
My tip: Buy a drive which is powered through the USB slot,
so you don't have another cumbersome power supply.

Internet space means that you don't have to worry about re-copying your backups.
Someone else will do it. Several firms will sell you space with easy backup software
Carbonite is cheap and forget-about-it automatic. MediaMax gives 25G backup free.
You can also email files to yourself - Google provides 2G space and others are following this lead.
Or you can use a GMail account as backup space using software like GSpace
My tip: You can own more than one GMail account, so register another just for backup.

2) Backup software (free or cheap)

Backing up can be done in two main ways: Copy the data, or Clone the drive.
If you have spent ages setting up your computer exactly as you want it, clone it.
If the data is more important (ie the documents, photos etc), just copy the data.
If you want to preserve older copies of documents, use incremental backup.
If you work on more than one computer, you need to backup with synchronisation to
make sure that both computers keep in step and that you always work on the latest version.

Copy the data:
Copy everything in My Documents (plus the Desktop if you are untidy like me and often leave
things there). You should check that all your programs are leaving documents there - email is
often a culprit, so you may need to find your email folder.
If you have limited room (on a small memory stick) you can buy a bigger stick or copy less.
The common culprits for full memory sticks are photos, music, and email spam attachments.
You can just copy your email texts and leave the attachments in Eudora (though not in Outlook).
Or, you could get a portable drive.

Clone the drive:
A "clone" is an exact copy of the drive. This is harder to make than in the old days
when you just copied the files. Now software is moulded to the machine when it is installed,
and many files can't be copied while the operating system is running. Nevertheless, some
programs have found ways round this (see below).
Macs can be booted from an external clone, but Windows will not allow this (supposedly for security
reasons), so you have to either install your clone in the machine, or clone it again to your new computer.

If you are really clever you will make a RAID mirror, which makes a constant fail-safe clone,
by writing the data onto two identical hard drives. Follow the instructions here.
I used to use command-line batch files instead of backup programs, but life is too short.
OS X and Windows have free backup software which is good, but there is room for improvement.

Here are the programs I recommend as being easy, powerful and mostly cheap or free.
Retrospect is perhaps the best - it copies and makes increments, but it is expensive
and can be confusing, and there is now a cheap and easy-to-use alternative:
SuperDuper, despite its cutesie name, is a very powerful tool.
Even the free version can make a complete bootable clone of a drive, as well as normal backups.
The $28 version can incrementally add to a clone, so you always have an exact copy.
There are many backup programs for the PC - here is a good partial list. These are my favourites:
BackPack Professional copies, compresses, writes to DVD etc, with schedule - FREE (for personal use)
SyncBack synchronises so you can carry backups between two computers, eg at home and at work.
This remarkable software synchronises by data or content, over networks and FTP, and all for FREE!
Either synchronise over the internet by FTP or synchronise via a memory stick.
It can also backup automatically in the background on a schedule, copying only the files you have changed.
The $30 version copies files even when open, and keeps previous copies (up to a limit you set) and works faster.
Katchall Archive keeps a copy every time you save a file. At any time you can right-click on a
file and ask for an earlier copy. You can set a limit to the number of copies, though texts take
up very little room because only the changes are saved, and they are highly compressed.
Ever discovered you accidentally deleted a footnote a month ago? This would have saved it.
No longer free, but your documents are worth $30.
XXClone makes a bootable clone. FREE for personal use - for $40 it updates incrementally.
Tip: To make sure your emails are safe, create another email account and use a filter to copy every email to it.

3) How to make your work last forever.
Floppy disks and hard drives are magnetic, so they gradually leak their data. Long before
this happens, the mechanism goes out of fashion. I remember Don Carson writing the first
Gramcord morphological NT and saving it on a state-of-the art double-8" floppy drives.
I showed my daughters one of those floppies and they laughed at me derisively,
as if I was claiming that we all used to wear meter-long clown's shoes.

All present-day media formats will pass away, but your documents need to remain forever.
The secret to eternal life for documents is the internet. Make several copies in various sites,
and let other people help themselves to copies so your work is preserved also by others.
If you really think you can make money out of it, publish it as a book at www.LuLu.com
(it can be sold as an eBook, or as a paper book - you fix the price and keep the profit).
Virtually the whole internet is being archived at present (see www.Archive.org) so even if your site
disappears, your document will survive. One day an internet archaeologist will find your work.

If you follow all the above advice, you will feel paranoid and safe both at the same time.
And one day your work may make you famous - probably after you are dead, because you are so ahead of your time.


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zoyi330 said...
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zoyi330 said...
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