Hello, I'm from the Internet, and I'd like to talk to you about backup

I don't mean to alarm anyone, but:


I don't know what, or where, or when, but I'm pretty sure it'll happen to you. For one of hundreds of possible reasons, you are going to lose an electronic document that is very important to you. Backup can be cheap and easy, and as a brief follow-up to my previous post here, I'd like to make sure you're doing something about it.

Computers get old and break down, houses burn down, online services like Flickr may irrevocably delete all your data on spurious grounds, with no warning, and sometimes you just happily and confidently [shift]+[delete] the wrong file. Here's what to do to make sure you can recover that information (usually):
  1. Compose on your computer, publish to the net - anything that's worth keeping should be composed and saved on your computer, outside the web browser, not typed straight into a web-site. If you've got lots of stuff online already with no copy on your computer, just grab the most important bits first, don't worry about downloading every last Tweet immediately.
  2. Make it easy for yourself - keep all the personal files, from all users on your computer, under a single directory. All modern operating-systems have this as a convention - use it! On Windows that directory is "C:\Documents and Settings", and on UNIX type systems like Mac and Linux it's "/home".
  3. Back it up, this weekend! Run, don't walk, to the computer store, buy a 500GB hard drive (or larger, if you really have more than 500GB of "personal" data), and a USB enclosure to put it in. At the moment that'll cost you well under AU$100 here in Australia, and probably significantly less in real-terms in places like the US. Don't bother with expensive pre-packaged external hard disks with "one touch backup" systems, all you want to do is plug it in, copy the entire contents of that personal directory to it (leave it running overnight if you've got a lot to back up), and then...
  4. Get it as far away from you as possible. Have a family member or close friend store it at their house, or at the very least, take it to work and leve it in a secure location there. If fire, flood, natural disasters or theives do away with your PC, you don't want your backup in the same house.
  5. Repeat every 6 months to a year. No need to buy a new hard-drive and enclosure each time, you can just erase and re-use them, though it would be best to have at-least two and alternate between them, so while you've got one in your house to make the backup, there's another one tucked away safely.
There's a lot more that could be said about more advanced backup strategies, but if you haven't got any backup at all, the above is probably the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to protect the bulk of your data, so when the metiorite hits your home you only lose, say, 6 months worth of data, rather than the whole lot.
So, what are you waiting for? Go do it. Now!


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