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30 March 2011 @ 10:01 am
On the importance of backups  
Word count: 68818 | Since last entry: 4088

Last weekend we spent a lovely four days at a cozy little rustic shack on the Olympic Peninsula in Union, Washington. This place was an amazing McMansion with seven bedrooms, dual ovens, dual microwaves, four refrigerators including a wine fridge, three fireplaces, five gigantic televisions, pool table, foosball, heated tile floors throughout, and more light switches than God. A little overwhelming, perhaps, and yet not completely without taste. If only the owners had not taken down all of the art when they turned it into a rental...

The occasion was the thirtieth wedding anniversary of our friends Paul and Debbie, to which they'd also invited our friends Marc and Patty, John and Ruth, Malinda, and Judy (none of whom, curiously, are on LiveJournal or Twitter). We spent the weekend eating, chatting, playing games (including a variant on Apples to Apples in which you select your noun card before the adjective card you're trying to match is revealed, then have to explain why it's a match!), watching videos, and just generally hanging out. Very relaxing. The weather was generally too rainy for outdoor activities but the view of the Olympics was occasionally very impressive.

I only did a few hundred words of writing, but this novel is very very very close to a finished draft. I might even write THE END before the end of March, as I promised myself I would at the beginning of the year.

When we returned home, I found that the TiVo was stuck on "powering up" and I had to pull the power plug a couple of times before I could get it to wake all the way up. Then, while we were watching The Amazing Race (and, by the way, the current season -- in which all the teams are returning former contestants -- is the best I can recall, with unexpected twists and some truly devious challenges), I noticed that the clock on the music player powered by the server in the attic had stopped. Turns out that the hard drive on the server, a 2006 Mac Mini, had Died The Death. I suspect that there may have been a power fluctuation while we were gone.

After trying all of the usual things to bring the hard disk back from the dead, I decided that the old Mini had accumulated enough hardware problems in recent years that it was better to replace it completely. So off to the Mac Store I went, and by 3:00 the next day the new server was up and running in its place.

Let me take a moment here to reflect on the importance of backups. This is actually the second time this year I've suffered a catastrophic hard disk failure, and neither one was more than an expensive inconvenience. New hardware, restore backup, done. Instead of enjoying my music right now I might be cursing and trying to re-create my music library, or still moaning about all of the writing and email and other stuff I'd lost back in January. In this case, the computer actually died in the middle of a backup, causing the backup to be unusable, but because I'm paranoid there was an older backup available as well.

There are a lot of alternatives for backing up your computer. Pick one and use it. (I clone each computer's hard drive to a bootable external disk on a monthly basis, and use Time Machine for incremental backups on the main computer.) Check your backups every once in a while to be sure they're good.

You know how they say you should only floss the teeth you want to keep? The same is true for backing up your data.
 
 
 
eddvickeddvick on March 30th, 2011 05:54 pm (UTC)
You should only floss the hard drive you want to keep
Having lost some of Katie's baby pictures to a hard drive crash, I heartily endorse your exhortation.

I like the adaptation of Apples to Apples. We'll have to give it a try.
Wolf Lahtiwolflahti on March 30th, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC)

Time Machine, to my understanding, does not give one a bootable copy. For that I use the excellent and supremely easy-to-use SuperDuper.

I back up to an external drive that is connected to the computer only when I am backing up. That way, if some catastrophe occurs, the backup is safely removed from it.

To be really safe, I should have at least one other backup stored off site, but I'm not that paranoid. Yet.
dd-bdd_b on March 30th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
You really should be. One of the areas where digital wins is that you can have multiple copies, and a tornado / flood / fire hitting your house doesn't have to steal all your history.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on March 30th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
Yep, me too. I use SuperDuper on all computers plus an additional Time Machine backup on the main computer (which also gets copies of my working files from the laptop, synchronized with ChronoSync). The main computer is backed up onto two different external disks, one of which lives in the trunk of my car (when I worked outside the home I took it to the office).
David D. Levinedavidlevine on March 30th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I also upload copies of my most critical files to a hidden directory on my ISP's web server.
chiefwireheadchiefwirehead on March 31st, 2011 07:03 am (UTC)
I did have a catastrophic (head scraping on platters) crash once.
It was expensive to retrieve the data off that - but possible.

I finally got a NAS drive to backup all the machines in the house over ethernet (using Time Machine).

Naturally, that drive died last week. Now, I suspect the drive is OK, but the controller is toast. Not quite sure how to retrieve it without voiding the warranty, and I don't particularly want to ship my (nearly only) backup drive with all my personal data on it to Texas....

I have another NAS drive, but that one isn't Time Machine compatible, of course... I'd love a simple backup program where I could tell it just to save everything that is newer than some date (if I can't use Time Machine, that is, which I like)

I do have some "hard" copies (CDs, DVDs) - too bad they deteriorate.