Monday, March 23, 2009

Disaster! Don't Let This Happen to You

You think I would have learned by now. I came home the other day to discover my desktop computer had departed for the big motherboard in the sky.

In other words, she crashed.

I made the classic mistake of not backing up a couple of blog posts I’d written for Prairie Chicks, one of which I was hoping to post today. It’s not even so much the blog posts I’m upset about. I have so much information on my computer, from the site builder for my website to the library for my Sony e-book reader. So here I am, gentle readers, looking for answers and hoping my husband can retrieve the information from my dead computer. What are the best ways to back up my work? How can I make backing up as easy as possible so even an idiot like me can do it? And how do I back up non Word or Adobe files, things like emails and other important files?

The purpose of a backup is to protect data in the event of a harddrive crash, or a virus that renders your computer useless. For this, you need some form of external backup (ie: not on your harddrive) that allows you to get up and running on another computer as quickly as possible. Another question gets added to my list. What’s the best medium for storing your backup?

So the first place I turned was the Internet. A quick search on Google using “computer backups” brought up a plethora of information. One site I liked is here. I’m not a total idiot (well, that’s debatable). I’ve known for a long time how to back up individual files. Once I’ve saved a file to my harddrive I click File and then “Save As” and point the computer to my removable disk.

Another method of backing up individual files or folders is to right-click the file or folder you want to save and clicking on Copy from the menu. Then in My Computer, right-click the disk or external harddrive where you want to store the backup copy, and press Paste.

Lately I’ve been using a USB drive, also known as a jump drive, key drive or thumb drive, for my backups. I like its ease of use and portability, and you can get a lot of storage space for a low price. However I did read that they may have not as long a life as some other mediums.

External harddrives can be purchased at any computer supply store and will hold a lot of information. They plug into any USB port on your computer and are simple to use, and although they are more expensive than USB drives, they provide much more storage. They promise one button backup for the contents of the entire computer. This sounds kind of idiot proof, and the price isn’t horrendous at $100 to $150, so I’m going to check them out. I looked at this website after I saw the product recommended elsewhere:

Several sources I read in my research recommended backing up on a regular basis using CDs or DVDs. Most computers have either a CD or DVD burner. DVDs are preferable because of their greater storage. CD-Rs (the kind you can’t rewrite) are simple to use and the cost is low enough that backups can be made frequently and simply thrown away when the information on them is no longer current. Most people make a fresh CD-R backup once a week, keep two weeks worth of backups in storage, and throw away the older ones.

What I didn’t realize before, and really should have, was that the contents of my entire computer can be backed up. My old desktop uses Windows XP Home Edition. There are instructions for how to backup the entire contents of this computer, plus other operating systems such as Windows XP Professional here.

It is also possible to backup the contents of Outlook Express, which is something that interests me because I have (or had) many, many folders of saved emails. To find out how to do it click here.

When I checked with fellow writers about how they do their backups, some mentioned offsite storage. This is when you pay a company to store your backups for you. One mentioned was A low cost method of storing files other writers mentioned was to mail yourself a copy of a piece of work at an Internet email address like Yahoo or gmail. That way if your computer fails, your work is still there for you.

I’ve learned my lesson. I swear I will do regular backups. Assuming, of course, that my husband finds something on the old computer to back up.

Have you ever had a major computer crash? Did you ever lose some of your writing? Or are you a fanatic about backing up? What’s your backup schedule?


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Ugh, that's just awful Jana. Absolutely miserable. I hope you can recover all your data!

I've had a few computer issues over the years. One over-heated in our sad little apartment that got the brunt of the setting sun. The one before that caught a virus, and we only recovered things before a certain date that hadn't been opened and thus infected. I lost a lot of my high school poetry in that incident. We've also had a motherboard die on us, but thankfully our beloved techies were able to retrieve all our data and revive the poor thing.

In case of minor catastrophes, I try to keep important files on both PC and laptop, in case one goes on the fritz. I seriously need to go burn a whole bunch of photos, however. But really, all my music, settings and bookmarks could go up in smoke and I wouldn't care so long as my writing survived. I make sure that's updated on both computers whenever I finish a chapter or get a significant chunk written. I'm hesitant to rely on a flash drive, as I think they can sometimes hiccup when you remove them. A separate hard drive sounds like a great plan, but I still like to store things online, in the event of house-wide catastrophe.

I use GoogleDocs to keep my writing saved online. After I finish a chapter I upload the document to GoogleDocs, and go back if I make significant changes. It's simple, and not likely to disappear in the event of host problems or spontaneous company collapse.

Tara Maya said...


I mean it. I've been there. Just. Ouch.

Btw, for blog posts explicitly, you can compose on Blogger itself, choose Post Options and change the publishing date to a date in the future. Then when you push the button Publish, it will appeared as "Scheduled" in your line-up of posts.

If you don't know when you want to Schedule it, you can always Save as Draft. When you do publish it, though, be sure to change the date or else it will be published buried somewhere in the old posts instead of appearing first on the blog.

Hayley, Google Docs is new to me. Thanks for the tip.

Helena said...

Talk about learning from others' misfortunes! I can hear the cyber scrambling that's going on right now to change bad habits.

I have had a crippled desktop sitting useless for about a year, but haven't learned much from the experience. I have been using my laptop with my fingers crossed for too long. Not long ago I started backing up anything to do with my writing, using a USB flash drive. Now I'm concerned about the long term viability of that method.

I am on Windows XP and I am going to check out the instructions for backing up the whole system, which is the approach I should be wedded to from my work experience. (Too far in my past, I guess)

A friend of mine who once had a house fire is super-careful now. She has backup copies of at least her files of writing, some in away from home locations, and never goes anywhere without her laptop tucked under her arm.

You have done everyone a great service with your post today, Jana. But I'm so sorry you are going through such a traumatic experience. Hope you can make a complete recovery.

Karen said...

Okay back again, took a detour to back up files on CD. Not that I was ignorant of the need to back up my work, I'm just lazy about it. So thanks, Jana, for the reminder and I hope you are able to recover your info. I tried Hayley's suggestion of saving some stuff to Google Docs but it didn't work so will try it again later because I like that idea. Will also look into the external harddrive idea for backing up the whole computer.

Janet C. said...

Lesson learned - I will back up, Jana.

Thanks for link for e-mail - one I hadn't heard of and never thought about all those e-mails that could be gone forever. I'm seriously looking at purchasing an external hard-drive. I've heard about them before and think they would be the easiest back up.

Thanks, Hayley, for the Google docs suggestion. We, the Chicks, are just exploring that option for possible link days (where we can store themed links so that we all have access). I'll have to look at it for myself.

Right now, I use a jumpdrive, and I save to a CD (not faithfully, though). And I have started e-mailing my documents as attachments to my hotmail account (always accessible for those days at work that border on boring - don't tell the boss and an away from home option).

Great post - thanks, Jana.


Erika said...

SO SO SORRY to hear about your crash. There are programs you can buy for your computer that will back up your computer every day to the place to tell it to. Not that I have one, but I have heard of such things. Best of luck in your backing up efforts.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
Well, the good news is my husband was able to fix my computer. It was the power supply that crashed so no damage done to any of my files and nothing lost. Whew! But it sure scared me, especially since it happened the day after my husband went out of town for a week. I spent several tense days wondering how much I lost, and kicking myself for not backing up.

I hadn't thought of Google docs for backup Haley. Interesting idea. I know some people email themselves their writing as an attachment to an Internet email address. Both cheap methods of storing writing.

Thanks for commiserating.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Tara,
There's no worse feeling than having your computer crash and knowing you didn't back up. Ouch is right.

I know I can write the posts in blogger, but I've been reluctant to do that. I write, rewrite, and then rewrite again. And not being very tech savvy I'm afraid I'm going to screw something up. Like for instance, I accidently posted today's blog post yesterday. Had to delete it and try again. I'm kind of hopeless, technically, but I'm determined to pull up my socks and not be foiled again.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,

In my research I found many articles on backing up. A lot were aimed at people like us who know better but don't do it. The writers of some of the articles tried to make backing up as simple as possible so people would actually do it.

In talking to other writers I found there are two camps: those like us who are a little lax about backing up, and those who are super careful, and practically backup their backups. I'm still trying to come up with a method that will work for me and that I can easily follow.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
When you figure out how to the google docs thing, let me know.

The first thing we did when we got my desktop working again was to back up the whole thing to an external harddrive. My husband found some program online to do it and supposedly it will prompt me to do another backup every week. I'll have to see how that works.

One writer I talked to does a complete backup like that and then she does a partial backup where she copies her most important folders, files and programs and drags them to some sort of external drive in My Computer. And then she does individual backups of her writing. I'm aiming for something like that. Oh, to be that organized.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
If nothing else I hope my scare prompts others to be diligent.

This isn't even the stupidest thing I've done when it comes to not backing up. A few years ago I typed "The End" on a novel I was working on and was feeling pretty good. At the time I was using a computer on loan to my husband through work so I didn't want to put my work on the harddrive of that computer (you can see where this is going, I'm sure). Anyway, back in those days I was using 3 1/2 by 5 inch floppy disks to back up, but really this wasn't the back up, it was the only copy. I pressed Save As, and somehow I managed to save a blank document to that disk instead of my 300 page manuscript! After I had a small meltdown, I went crying to my husband. He worked in IT at that time and so he took the disk to one of the techie geniuses in his office. The fellow was able to recover my writing from the blank disk!

So I've been really lucky twice now and I don't think I should push my luck anymore.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Erika,
Glad you could join us!

Yes, there are so many products out there for making back ups. Like I said earlier, my husband found one on line free that he downloaded. It's called Handy Backup and he used it to back up my whole system once I was up and running again. We'll have to see how well it works.

The main thing now is to get consistent about doing these backups on a regular basis. It does me no good to have all the equipment and not use it.

Thanks for dropping by. I hope we see you again soon.

ban said...

google docs - definately gonna look into that !
i lost a whole bunch of files once, when the 3/5 reader on my last desktop died :( i've since been backing up files on a jump drive AND an external hard drive. i have the seagate 500gb - got it for $99 at best buy and it will automatically backup whatever files selected. oh - and i take my laptop everywhere too ... can't be TOO careful.
sorry you had to go through that ordeal but at least you learned a few things and better yet - you got you files back ! ! !

Jana Richards said...

Hi ban,
I looked at the Seagate website and was quite impressed. The prices were not that bad. The smaller, more portable external harddrive, the Free Agent, was on sale for $79.99 US. That one comes in models with up to 500gb of capacity. The larger model was on sale for $119 US I think. Not horrendous prices, considering if you had to pay someone to recover your files you'd probably have to pay way more than that.

Is the Seagate as easy to use as they say? Does it backup all the files on your computer?


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana - so sorry you had to go through that. The last time I lost some work was during Nov's NaNo when I lost about 3000 words and still haven't figured out how. I do know it was while I was saving it, if you can believe that. Every time I finish writing or revising, I save on the C drive as well as to 2 flash drives. I have 1 flash drive dedicated to my novels and 1 dedicated to all my writing. I save to both every time I do anything with writing. I don't like saving to CD's because it just seems like a waste. I have so many that I don't need any longer and the only thing they're good for is hanging in my garden to keep the birds and deer away. :)

I never knew what GoogleDocs was until Janet mentioned them this week (or at the last mtg). And even then, I haven't had a chance to go check it out, yet.

Hubby's the techie in the family and has taken courses in computer repair, etc albeit 10 yrs ago (yikes!) and he's never seen the need for any external drives - yet.

So, I'll be watching you all closely to see what you come up with. I can't argue for something until I know for sure it works. :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I love the image of thousands of old CDs, glittering in the sun as they wave in the wind, frightening away Bambi.

I'm still exploring options as well. I have to admit burning stuff to CD is not my favorite idea either. I like to do it when something is complete, but with the number of rewrites I do, I'd go through far too many CDs. I don't need that many shiny coasters.

Talk to you soon.

Molli said...

Unfortunately, I can relate--from personal experience. My sympathies, and my thanks for the links. I've been backing up to CD-RW since my own "melt down", and hadn't considered an external hard drive, but from the sounds of it I'll be looking into that as an option, so thanks for that tip, too. In the meantime I'm hoping(cheeky as always) you're having fun saying "thanks" to your own rescuing hero.