Tag Archives: Backup

Backing up hard to do, but worth it

This is an edited version of my weekly column for Loose Wire Service, a service providing print publications with technology writing designed for the general reader. Email me if you’re interested in learning more.

Sometimes it takes something like an earthquake to realize that you’re vulnerable.

Once the ground stops shaking and you’ve begun to sense that your life — and those of your loved one(s) — are not in imminent danger, your thoughts turn to the next most important thing in your world: Your data.

Well, of course, that may not be your exact train of thought, but it’s the general direction. So much of our lives are digital these days — e-mails, music, photos, social lives — the first thing we tend to clutch when we’re in trouble is our cell phone/laptop/external disk drive.

Or at least it should be. So what should you prepare for when things go wrong and you need to evacuate, pronto?

Here, in brief, is how to do it:

Whatever can be online, should be. E-mails, for example, should be on something like Google’s Gmail (or Yahoo!, who have launched a new e-mail service that’s at least as generous in terms of storage as Google’s.)

This doesn’t mean you can’t also keep your e-mails on your own computer, but make sure they are also online. Get in the habit of e-mailing important documents to yourself, as well, so you’ve got an extra copy online.

This means you can evacuate in a relaxed state of mind. Well, as relaxed as you can be fleeing a building that is burning/falling/swaying/no longer strictly speaking a building.

Same goes with photos: Get in the habit of uploading your favorite photos to an online photo album service like Flickr (www.flickr.com), because if there’s one thing you don’t want to lose it’s family snaps.

Sign up for the Pro edition if you’ve got the cash and a fast(ish) Internet connection, since at US$25 a year for unlimited storage it’s a reasonably cheap way of backing up.

Add photos incrementally: Just get into the habit of uploading photos to your Flickr account when you upload them from your camera/cellphone to the computer (I’m assuming you do this; you do do this, right?)

Of course, online options are only good if you’re online. And, tellingly, I’m not right now because there’s a problem with the Internet — and quite a big problem, since even my trusty backup connection is down — so you shouldn’t rely exclusively on connectivity.

(The other problem is that as more of us go digital, we can’t hope to store everything online, because there’s so much of it. Our iPods store 60 GB or more these days, which is still impractical to back up online.)

In which case you need to have a hard drive backup. There are several ways of doing this, but here’s the best one: Back up everything on all the PCs and laptops in your house to one big external drive the size of hardback book, which you can then grab as you exit the building in an orderly manner.

Here’s how to do that:

Maxtor offer a pretty reasonable range of backup hard drives — the cheapest are really just hard drives in a plastic casing (good to prevent damage: hard drives are not as tough as they pretend to be.)

Expect a whopping 500 gigabyte drive to cost you less than $200. Attach the drive to a USB port and you’ve now got a seriously large drive attached to your computer.

Then buy a program called Acronis True Image ($50 from here) and make a backup image of all the computers in your house.

(An image is a sort of snapshot of your computer. It’s faster than backing up individual files, but will still allow you to restore individual files or folders if you need to.)

It’s a little tricky to set up but you’ll get the hang of it, since you’re going to be backing up once a week. (Yes, you are.)

If you think this is too much for you and that the only data you really need to save are a few documents, then get a USB flash drive (those little sticks you can put on a key ring.)

Prices have fallen to the point where they’re a cheap option now for up to four gigabytes. I would recommend the SanDisk Cruzer micro, not only because they don’t have removable caps (which always get lost) but because they include software that make backing up important files easy. (Stick the drive in a USB slot and follow the instructions.)

A word of warning: Think hard about what data you’ve got and what you want to save. It’s easy to forget stuff hidden in an obscure folder.

Get into the habit of saving important files — whether they’re attachments, photos, spreadsheets or whatever — into the same folder. It’ll make finding them to back them up much easier and quicker.

Oh, and try not to wait until the building is swaying/filled with smoke/has moved down the street before actually doing the backing up.

Trust me: You can’t count on thinking as clearly as you might expect.

The Jakarta Post – The Journal of Indonesia Today

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Restoring Corrupted MyInfo Files

Here’s a tip for a piece of software I love, but which I know is not exactly mainstream. It’s an outliner called MyInfo, and it’s a great example of how versatile outliners can be. However, files can get corrupted, and, despite a good backup mechanism, it’s not impossible both the backup and the main file is rendered irretrievable. This is what happened to me, and despite the best efforts of the software’s inventor, Petko Georgiev, things looked hopeless.  But actually there is something you can do if your MyInfo file (MIO) and the back up (MIB) won’t open:

  • Open the directory or folder in which you keep the MyInfo file (using a program like ExplorerPlus which lets you preview the contents of the file helps here);
  • Look for the most recent TMP file that containts RVF files (these should appear in ExplorerPlus’ preview window as a directory tree). Many of the TMP files may appear to be a decent size (i.e. not empty) but in fact contain no usable data. So this will only work if the TMP file contains those RVF files.
  • Rename the file with an MIO extension.
  • Open the file. Your MyInfo file should now be restored.

Xdrive Responds: Patience, Please

Further to several comments from readers about problems with Xdrive, the online storage service recently bought by AOL, I sought comment from their PR. Here, somewhat belatedly, is what they have to say:

Recently, Xdrive began a system upgrade designed to improve the quality and overall performance of the Xdrive experience. When complete, these upgrades will greatly improve the overall Xdrive experience which will result in unparalleled service and features. Unfortunately, during this process, some of our customers have experienced difficulty while using Xdrive’s services. Xdrive is aware of these issues and is working diligently to resolve them in a timely manner. We ask for our subscriber’s continued patience. For any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact customer support either by email at support@xdrive.com or via phone at 866-GO-Xdrive. –Jose Martinez, Xdrive Customer Support Manager.

These upgrades should be finished any day now, Xdrive says. This comment doesn’t differ hugely from their previous one of more than two months ago, but it’s at least something. One can’t help wondering, though, whether the damage is already done. Why stick with an online storage service that offers such unreliable service for nearly three months? Isn’t the whole point of online backup to be, well, a backup?

Xdrive: Not Out Of The Woods

Further to my post a couple of months back on problems at Xdrive , seems the company recently acquired by AOL isn’t out of the woods yet. Two readers posted comments in the past 24 hours: One wrote

Xdrive – one of the worst services I have had of any web-based provider. I couldn’t sign up for the automated free trial, and after leaving messages there eventually someone called back to take my credit card. Since then, I have been unable to login to the account on a number of occasions, and tech support has yet to call me back. thumbs down for xdrive!

While another, apparently unconnected user wrote:

I’ve been hosed for the past 7 days as well. Which is too bad – because the service really is cool. But ANY BACKUP company that will just STICK IT to me for 7 days… doesn’t get the point of a backup company. I’ve only been able to log in intermittently, and when I’ve done so I’ve seen that I’ve lost tons of data/files/etc. I work with software – so I know problems can happen – but they’ve gone completely over the top.

I’m going to ask AOL/Xdrive for comment on this. Last time the company talked of being “in the process of making significant upgrades to its technology infrastructure that will greatly enhance user experience”. If the comments above are anything to go by, it doesn’t sound like much of an enhanced user experience. Whether or not there are two months between the two lapses in service, backup is supposed to be backup, and you can’t have it going down.

In the meantime, does anyone have suggestions for alternatives? I’ve tried to list a few here, but there must be more.

News: The Dark Side of Backing Up

 From the We Should Have Known This Dept comes news that CD-ROMs degrade in months, even at room temperature without sunlight. Dutch magazine PC Active tested data disks from 30 manufacturers that were recorded 20 months ago. Several data CDs developed serious errors, or became virtually unreadable, The Register reports.
 
It’s perhaps too early to tell, but the word seems to be: different dye systems used for CD-R disks are the root of the evil and that you’re better off storing your stuff on the more expensive disks. My tuppennies’: Keep backups of your most important data on different media — hard drive, online drive, CD-ROMs, DVD — in several copies.