Tuesday, February 05, 2013

An absolutely essential tip for computer users

After nearly seven years at Type M – and proudly, the sole member of the founding team still here – I’ve written a heck of a lot of posts. A lot of virtual ink has been spilled in the pursuit of hopefully bringing something interesting, thought-provoking or helpful to folks who drop by here. It is an awesome responsibility. I only say that partly in jest…

I was up early today, and knowing that today is my day on Type M, I’ve been trying to get inspiration to hit and give me a little help on finding a topic for today’s posting. By ten-thirty I was beginning to despair. Would I be reduced to posting a number of really bad book covers that was passed on to me by a friend?

Then my Inbox chirped and there it was: inspiration in the guise of heartbreak.

What came in was an email cri de coeur from a writer friend. Her computer had burped (actually, it was probably something more akin to acid reflux) and she fears her hard drive has crapped, taking her partially finished (“More than halfway!” she wailed.) manuscript with it.

Why had she contacted me? Well, to be brief, people seem to think I know everything about computers. It’s not really true, of course, but I do admit an affinity for the cursed machines, and have made it my business to find out more than the average user about how they work and how to keep them ticking along nicely, and as I’ve always been an Apple proponent, I can sometimes provide expert help (well, as expert as I can be). More importantly, I usually also know where to send people when the problem is something beyond my skill set.

Anyway, today I had to be the deliverer of bad news to this person. Unless the hard drive in her computer has actually burned up (it does very occasionally happen), she will be able to get her manuscript back. The bad news is, depending on how big the hard drive is, it could cost her a packet. A design colleague recently had to retrieve information from a crapped one terrabyte hard drive and it cost him $6000.

Today, I’d like to share one huge tip with you, and no matter what computer you use, it could help you avoid a tight scrape and very bad situation.

It’s not a matter of if your hard drive will fail, it’s when. Remember this! Engrave it on your forehead backwards so that when you brush your hair in the morning, you’ll see it. Always plan for the worst. Your hard drive could fail at any moment and take everything that’s on it right down the toilet. A hard drive failure is the digital equivalent of a stroke: the information is still there, you just can’t access it. And like a stroke, it’s possible you may never be able to access it. Also: to get that information back could prove to be very expensive.

So what can you do? Always back up your work. “I already do that religiously!” you might be saying. I will counter with this: are you thinking catastrophically? You have to plan for all eventualities.

For those of you who back up to a second hard drive in your computer, kudos, that’s also my first line of defense. If one drive goes down, you still have your information on the second. (Sidebar: If you’re on a Mac, you can also use the Time Machine program that comes with all recent operating systems. I also use that and you should, too. It will only cost you the price of another hard drive and it works very well.)

But you’re not thinking catastrophically enough yet: what if someone stole your computer or your house was destroyed? Seriously, you have to think this way. I hope it neither thing ever happens to you, but it can come to that. What would you do?

Years ago, before hard drive storage was cheap and the Internet was in its infancy, I would copy my current ms onto a floppy disk every evening when I finished writing, throw it in my briefcase which was always with me at work. So I had my work effectively stored in two separate places. It was sort of a pain, but I had a reasonably failsafe back-up.

As technology moved along, I used CD-Rs (rewritable CDs), then flash sticks. All worked out okay.

Then a friend of a friend who did the same sort of thing I was doing lost his house and his car in a flood. Everything was still lost because he hadn’t been thinking catastrophically enough.

I took to zipping up my files and emailing them to myself every night. That sort of worked well until my files started getting too large for one email.

Now I use an online storage system.

I needed something more “robust” for backing up files for my small graphic design business. I could go with something fairly inexpensive like mac.com, but I wanted something a little more full-service – and automatic. It naturally made sense to hook my writing back-ups to this system. Now, at the end of the day, I push a button and everything new backs itself up. If I wanted to mess around with the software, I could probably get this to work without me having to push a button, but I haven’t taken the time for that so far.

The key to protecting yourself is to ALWAYS have your storage in at least two physically separate locations. If something goes horribly wrong, you can simply rent a computer, download your files, and start work immediately. This is the way businesses set themselves up (the smart ones, at least), and it’s because their solvency depends on it. Your “business” needs this, too, even if you’re merely an unpublished writer trying to finish your first story or novel. You simply don’t want to lose that, do you?

If I’ve set off alarm bells in your head, then I have done my job. You can mention me in the acknowledgements of your book if you wish. ;)

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick--You are so right. I know a guy who can retrieve anything. I have my desktop (C-drive) backed up on-line, and put a lot of "old" stuff on an exterior hard drive. The exterior one failed. A total hardware failure. It had never occurred to me that would happen. It cost me a lot of money to have the data on the exterior drive retrieved.