Everyone take a deep breath and keep calm; or, how to backup without really trying

April 11, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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I really haven’t been writing very much lately, for several reasons, the main one being that in two weeks I move to the US to work for three months. It turns out that agreeing to go and work in another country, no matter how temporarily, is incredibly disruptive to one’s equilibrium – surprise, surprise! However, everything’s mostly organised now, and I am definitely on the downward slide to packing my life into a couple of bags and hauling it to another hemisphere for a while. So, typically, the universe had to throw something else at me just to remind me that I was alive: yesterday, through a series of very stupid occurrences, my user profile on this computer got corrupted, and for the space of a couple of hours, I thought I’d lost access to all of my files.

This was very bad, but not as bad as it could have been. It was bad because I had a backup on an external hard drive, but it was from almost a month ago. It was bad because I have 35Gb of music on this machine, and since that backup I’d bought more music which – obviously – I hadn’t yet backed up. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been because although I also have all my writing on this computer, I’ve been using other backup methods aside from the trusty-yet-fraught-with-issues-because-of-user-laziness external hard drive. So, even though for two hours I thought I’d lost a lot of stuff, I knew that I hadn’t lost a single word of any work in progress, of which I have several.

Using those alternative backup methods definitely paid off for me yesterday, and it occurred to me that there are probably other people who could benefit from them, but might not know of them, so here I am to tell you about them. I’m nice like that!

As far as I know, both these things are available for both Windows and Mac, and both are free for a certain amount of disk space. Both require that you download a small program to your hard drive, but downloading and installation was very easy and I’ve not detected that they came with any spyware or malware as of yet, so I think they’re fine.

The first is Windows Live Sync, which you sign into using a Windows Live ID, which you have automatically if you have a Hotmail or Messenger account. If you don’t, it’s still easy to sign up – I signed up using a Gmail address with no problem. Windows Live Sync is more something you’d use if you were in the habit of using multiple computers, like a desktop for home use and a laptop for travelling/times when you’re out and about – it doesn’t actually store any information online, but it ensures that the designated folders get synced between the machines that have Live Sync loaded on them, so that no matter what machine you’re using, the document you’re working on is always the current one, as long as it’s in that folder. I can tell you that the syncing is almost instantaneous – I can save the file on one machine, shut the document down and walk into the other room to my other computer in less than two minutes and access the updated file straight away.

The second thing I’ve been using is called Dropbox, which is free for up to 2 Gb of files. Now, this one is an online backup tool, and well as a synchronisation tool – once you’ve downloaded the programme to the computers that you want to use it on, all you have to do is drop the files into the Dropbox folder, and you have a copy on all your “Dropbox’d” machines and also online, so even if you don’t have access to your computers, you can still access a copy of your docs by logging into the webpage. This one does require that you actually update the file within the Dropbox folder, but if you only work on files within the Dropbox folder, then everything would sync automatically; it would only not sync if you were working on a file from another location, and then didn’t save a copy to the Dropbox folder. It also doesn’t sync on computers that are turned off, obviously, but does update from the webpage straight away when those computers are powered up again.

Both of these methods are similar, but different – I use both, because I’m massively paranoid like that, and also I travel a lot, so I use multiple machines and also computers that aren’t necessarily mine, so having things stored on a webpage is an additional safeguard against being caught without access to files I might need, without having to remember to save everything to a USB drive and keep track of that. If I was to choose to use only one, it would be Dropbox, but your mileage may vary.

Hopefully this is news to some of you, and hopefully one of these things will save you from panic just like they saved me yesterday. As someone who has also had to build their profile again from scratch, installing all programs as if they were completely new, I’d also recommend the Firefox extension Xmarks bookmarks and passwords sync, but that’s a story for another day…

Edited to fix links, because I am a muppet



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  1. If you’re anywhere near the DC area while you’re in the US, you should drop by!

    • I’ll be in Philadelphia – I’ve already vaguely discussed a meetup with you DC folks with , but at the time I wasn’t sure of dates because I had to get a work visa and wasn’t sure how long it’d take, and I also had possible conferences to attend. Now I’m more sure of what I’m doing it’ll be easier to organise something, so we can all talk together. I’ll be in Philly from April 23 to July 3, with the exception of a conference in New Orleans May 14-19, so surely there’s at least one weekend where I can be organised enough to make it to DC!

      • Awesome! Philly is only a 2 hour drive from here and is easily accessible by train, too.

      • So people have told me. 🙂 I’ll probably spend the first couple of weekends in Philly settling in, and then there’s the conference, but after that I’ll be intending on making weekend trips to DC and also New York. Should be good!

  2. At the beginning of your post I was freaking out that all your WIPs had vanished. PHEW! I’ve been not doing anything about backing up, but your post is a timely reminder for me to pull finger! And thank you for the suggestions!
    Just so you know, I’ll definitely miss you while you are away 🙂 YAH for email and text and chat options 🙂 Don’t worry, I won’t be indulging in any stalking…much *grin*

    • OMG if that had happened I would have absolutely died. Even the thought of losing 50,000 words of WIP makes me shudder in horror. It was bad enough as it was, stupid computer! All it was that the computer froze and I couldn’t shut it down properly, so I just turned it off, and bam, trouble started.
      I like Dropbox, Dropbox is good. I think I’m going to put my ebook library in there too. The thought of losing that doesn’t make me happy either.
      It’ll be weird being away from everyone for so long! But as you say, there’s email and chatting, and for us there’s blog options too, which is good. And I suppose it’ll go fast, probably faster than I think it will.

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