Thursday, January 19, 2006

Backup, Backup, Backup

You live, you learn. Often, the data stored on mass storage devices such as hard disks, CDs and flash drives is more valuable than the price of the hardware itself. The solution is to get real good at backing up your work--develop strategies to prevent the loss of your important data. But there are places other than in your computer where important data is stored that you might not think of as a potential data black hole. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

1. RAM memory--the working memory for applications--is volatile, and only holds data as long as the power is on. A brief flicker in the electric current is enough to erase it. A software crash usually requires a restart, which also erases RAM. The solution is to save your work every five minutes. In the event of a crash or flicker, the most you can lose is five minutes worth of work.

2. Your data is not safe if you only have one copy of it on a storage device. Your computer's internal hard disk can crash, your CDs can get scratched or lost, your external hard disk can fall off the desk and your flash drive can get wiped out if you don't remove it properly. Murphy's Law says that if anything bad can happen, it usually will. The solution is to make backups of your important files. Burn one copy onto CDs, copy your files onto other physical storage devices, and save files to a server (such as .Mac), or email them to yourself and leave them in your email server (if capacity allows). The point is to always have more than one location where your files are stored. If one location goes down, you have a backup.

3. You might think online storage locations such as web sites or Internet servers are secure, but I've lost much valuable data on them. I had accumulated over 300 bookmarks in an online bookmarks website called One day the server crashed, and I had to build my bookmarks over again from scratch. The solution: after I spent time rebuilding my bookmarks, I backed up the list to my computer's hard disk, another bookmarks website called, and I launched a blog on, where I stored my bookmarks as well.

4. Cell phones can be easily lost, stolen or damaged. If you've accumulated a long list of addresses, back it up. If your phone permits syncing (most Motorola phones do), sync the phone's address book to your computer's address book. If syncing your phone is not possible, write down your important phone numbers in a paper address book.

Even though I preach this in all my classes, I often fall victim to not heeding my own advice. It's easy to feel safe and comfortable knowing that your data is in a certain location, but don't be lulled. Remember Murphy's Law. Don't wait for the worst to happen before you consider backing up your valuable data.

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