Backups, they’re not just for Geeks anymore!

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Doctor WhoBy now the number of computers I’ve repaired are in the high hundreds and might be over a thousand.  I’ve been fixing computers since before I joined the Navy in 1994 and it’s been my career ever since.  Though sometimes when I’m helping someone with their computer, I feel like I’m Doctor Who and using my Sonic Screwdriver, I have to pull a miracle out of thin air to help someone before they lose all their data forever.

Just last night, I helped a friend recover her digital photos from a computer that Microsoft themselves deemed unable to be saved.  After a bit of mucking about, turns out her hard drive had started to become corrupt and the system would not boot up no matter what option was chosen.  So instead I downloaded a Linux Live CD.  Booted to it instead of using the internal hard drive.  Then using a USB Flash Drive managed to copy her photos and documents.  Managing to save them, as thankfully part of the hard drive still functioned, but with much frustration.

Of course I rambled on about how backups would’ve saved her all of this headache.

There are lots of online backup and cloud services out there.  Many offer some sort of free account option that gives you between 2 to 5 gigabytes of storage.  SugarySync, Carbonite, Dropbox, Mozy, just to name a few. These could be lifesavers to many of you out there.  Especially since I don’t know many people these days who even have actual hardcover, book style photo albums anymore.  Meaning, many of today’s shutterbugs don’t have hard copy photos in photo albums like we did as kids.  Thanks to digital cameras and smartphones, almost all images are digital and never make it to print.  Any time they want to show you a picture, it’s on their phone, tablet or have you come to their computer to show you.  They don’t print out photos.  I do on occasion, but even then, I do the same thing.  Trick is, I can show you any picture or document I have on any device I have because I use SugarSync.  Not only does it backup my files, but it shares them across all my devices.

Like this:

SugarSync Cloud Backups, Syncing & Sharing

The mindset of, ” I don’t care how it works, I just want it to work the way I want it to work.” is a bunch of rubbish.  You either learn to take better care of your personal files on your computer, tablet or smartphone.  Or accept that your memories may one day be wiped out forever.  This also goes for keeping your Anti-virus and Malware scanners up to date and scan regularly.  Otherwise when it dies, there may be a time when I or one of my colleagues have to give you that look as if someone in your family died because you just lost all your bookmarks, digital photos, important documents and your music collection all because you didn’t take a few minutes to care if your files were saved elsewhere…  Not to mention the possibility of a big repair bill.  It’s your device, they are your files.  It’s your responsibility to ensure they are safe.  Not Mr. Tech, and certainly not Doctor Who.

Now you could simply pay a monthly fee and have all your files backed up and shared across your devices.  However, in the long run you could spend hundreds to thousands of dollars over several years to backup your entire music collection, your enormous collection of self photos that all include your right arm {ahem Bethany}, your Nobel Prize thesis on ending world hunger, or if you’re like me you have your entire DVD/Blu-ray collection in digital form so you don’t have to have 5 bookshelves full of movies.  (Instead they’re all in boxes in the closet for safe keeping.)

I’m a thrifty person.  I manage to back everything up using the following tools.  This way I don’t have to pay a recurring fee to keep my files safe.  I don’t expect anyone to mimic what I do fully, but if you just do one or two of these, you’ll thank me later if your device goes boom (or poof if it lets out the magic smoke).  I’ve been doing much of this same method for almost a decade now.  I know I saved a lot on monthly charges by doing these few things.

SugarSyncSugarSync Free (5GB) – As I mentioned before, I use this to backup my Pictures, Documents and other miscellaneous files that I have.  I actually have 6GB of free space because I did some things they asked me to do and got an extra bit of space for free.  I don’t have an extensive photo collection, perhaps just under 2GB of photos, less than half a gigabyte of documents and another gigabyte of other nominal stuff.  Since they are under the 5GB limit, I use just the free service offered by SugarSync.  Unfortunately I can’t save my music this way as I have nearly 8GB of music.  So I use my smartphone as a backup drive for my music.  I’ll tell you more about that in a bit.

SugarSync allows me to not only backup my files, but I can view them on my PC, my Laptop and my Smartphone.  So if I want to show someone a photo of my kids, I can just open SugarSync and in a few seconds any photo I have is available to me.  I can even send links to other folks for them to view the photos on their own computer, tablet or phone.

Micro SD CardMicro SDHC Memory Card ($23.75 for my Android)  – So I grabbed me a 32GB SD card from Amazon and I’ve been moving it from Smartphone to Smartphone as I’ve replaced them.  Either because I’ve upgraded to a new phone, new cellphone service provider or because I dropped my phone down the staircase in front of my apartment.  In any case the SD card survived and I have my entire music library saved to it.  This does two things.  One it’s another place to keep my music files in case my hard drive craps out or my apartment burns down.  Two because I can use my Android as an MP3 player while I go for my daily walks.  I’ll never understand why anyone with a smartphone would also have a separate MP3 player these days.  I can only think it’s because they overlooked the fact you can do that or because they like wasting money.  It certainly is an inexpensive backup plan for my music 🙂

PowerArchiver Backups PowerArchiver ($22.95) – Actually I only paid $19.95 because I bought it in 2005. Almost 10 years of this amazing product.  It’s a lot like WinZip, only it’s faster, cheaper, you get lifetime upgrades.  Plus it’s most invaluable when it comes to doing my monthly backups.  Once a month I backup my entire computer.  Sure I could make an image of my entire computer, but when I say I backup my whole computer, I don’t actually do that.  I backup all my personal files.  I don’t actually like making an image of my computer as I’d be keeping all the driver updates, endless junk files that got created when installing and uninstalling software and more.   That’s like keeping a copy of all the dust in your house.   Just icky.  PowerArchiver allows me to create nifty files that I walk through a fairly simple wizard to create.  Once created I just double click the resulting file each month and it automatically backs up whatever I previously asked to backup originally.  Including new files or changed files.  I even have it slap on a date to the resulting .zip file.

Example: Documents.pbs (the PowerArchiver backup file) created Documents_10-01-2013.zipx file on October first.  It did all the work for me, and only took a few minutes.  I do that for each file.  I can even have PowerArchiver schedule to do this automatically, but I don’t, as the less software I leave running the better my PC performs.  Since I do this once a month, it’s just as simple for me to double click those few files myself.  Then copy the end result to my external hard drive.

External Hard DriveExternal Hard Drive (2TB – $100) – The most expensive component, and it does come with a couple of really low risk issues.  While I can backup all my files, photos, music and my entire DVD/Blu-ray libarary… I also run the risk of losing it all if there is a fire and I don’t manage to grab it on my way out.  (providing I’m home when it happens of course)  Also, it can suffer from disc failure as well.  Whether it be magnetic corruption, mechanical failure or what-have-you.  However, that’s only a risk of loss if the original data was previously lost on my PC.  Even then only a partial loss as my music is on my phone.  My photos and documents are backed up to other devices and the cloud.  So honestly the only real risk is losing my movies as that is the only place they are stored.  Well, that isn’t true either, I could just rip them again from the hard copies in the closet.  Provided I ever want to be that bored doing it.

USB Flash Drive USB Flash Drive (32GB – $23.99) – This little gem stays in my pocket.  If my house burns down, I’ll likely grab my pants and it will be in there.  It has my most important files, backups of all my websites, and copies of all the software I use.  This comes in handy when I do tech work on site and their internet either isn’t working or so slow I would want to tear my own eyes out waiting for a download.  I keep it up to date when I have a few minutes to kill.

As you can see, none of my backup methods are actually hard, nor are they very time consuming.  A little bit of preparation and preventative maintenance, I should never have to worry about losing things that are digitally important to me.  Granted, that doesn’t account for theft of physical items as we well know.

If I may quote the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant – my favorite!) from the episode “School Reunion“.  Only I’ll replace the word “physics” with the word “backups”.

Right, backups! Backups, eh? Backups, backups, backups, backups, backups, backups. Backups! Hope you’re getting all this down.

~ The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)

Words to live by.