Backups … I may be paranoid, but am I paranoid enough?!

… you have them, right? So when a computer crashes, you have some way of carrying on. You don’t? Hoping that your hard-drive or computer will last forever? Think about it … it’s not a case of if but when your computer dies on you, and the only question is how easy it will be for you to recover your valuable, irreplaceable photos and other files.

Do I sound paranoid? Maybe a little, but it’s much better to be prepared in advance for this eventuality, rather than bemoan not having made plans after the event. Some people seem remarkably relaxed about the whole thing. Me? Well, anything I’ve spent an hour or two on even, it will probably get put on a pen-drive / memory stick / thumb drive / USB stick … or whatever else you can come up with in terms of variants on the name: For a few seconds work, you can get over a lot of those ‘oops’ moments, is my theory.

So, what to use and how paranoid to be? Those are the only real decisions, in my book. I have two laptops and a netbook, so I tend to copy thing to the stick and manually transfer them across. A little cumbersome, and sometimes involves a scribbled list of folders and files to transfer, but it works. End of the working day, part of the routine.

I also have a Western Digital external 1.5Tb HDD with two full-sized hard drives in it, set up to be mirrored (so, ‘only’ 750Gb of storage). So, the theory is that if one goes, the replacement you drop in can rebuild itself from the twin. Except that one gave out still under guarantee, and I obviously wanted the whole unit replaced for free. Credit to WD for that one: There was a standard return option to have a replacement sent out first, with a month to return your defective one, once the new one was sorted out. It required a credit card, which would be charged if it was not returned. Fair enough, a good system, and got me sorted out. The software, however, turned out to be the problem: A cut-down version of the Memeo backup software. It worked, mostly, being designed to monitor the specified folders and note what had changed, and hence needed backing-up when the drive was reconnected. Sounds great. But every so often, the incremental backup would get confused, meaning that it had to start with a full backup again, taking some hours. The update to the full (paid) version of the software proved to be even worse, and I removed it quite fast. Unfortunately, this has left some relics in the registry of my computer, which make it a little slow on start-up, as though a ‘ghost’ of the software is still checking through all my files. Registry cleaning software works for a few restarts on my Windows7 machine, then all returns to as it was, and this has caused some other problems too. I get around it by turning the machine on and then having breakfast whilst it sorts itself out!

… so, the manual backup system is the best I have for now. And the large external HDD is useful for moving the Documents folder to a new machine, plus all the other bits which the Windows File and Settings Transfer Wizard swaps: I like this, it works very well, moving a lot of important things and saving me some hard work. Again, writing so much data to a HDD takes some time, as does reading it to the new machine, but I’ve read that using the Windows transfer cable can be even slower.

And if a computer does die, assuming it is not the HDD, I have external caddies so that I can remove the drive and extract any files I may need (which should be very few, given how I work!). If you go this path, just be sure you get the right kind to (1) physically fit your drive, (2) have the right internal connector to plug in aforesaid drive to the caddy, and (3) a suitable connector (such as USB) to connect the device to your computer.

OK, so I have three copies around (the old ‘grandfather, father, son’ method I was taught, in case the act of copying itself manages to destroy both source and destination copies). And a means of reading drives in dead machines. But what about theft or fire? Yes, I know, who’s going to steal a computer that’s on fire?! Seriously, that leaves on-line cloud storage. Many places offer this, such as my favourite (currently free with 3Gb) Dropbox account. However, I’m keeping an eye on Circ, which promises unlimited, free storage of photos according to the article on PetaPixel. It is currently in Beta as I write (18 December 2012), so I’ll be waiting for the finished version. Free is good, for two devices; $50 per year for up to 20 devices doesn’t seem too bad either. And the ‘intelligent recompression’ of your original image, depending on the device you are using to view it, sounds wonderful. As I said, will be keeping an eye on this one for sure. It will give me time to work out how the heck I am supposed to do the initial upload of lots and lots of gigs of images. Suggestions welcomed on that one!

By contrast, Dropbox charge $99 per year for 100Gb of storage. There may be more to it than that, and competition may also reduce the rate. Stay tuned! Currently, I use the free Dropbox account for my phone: It is set to automatically back-up my photos over wifi, so as soon as I sit outside the house to take off muddy boots, it will be working away. When my phone declared last week that the micro-SD card was damaged and the only option was to reformat it, this was indeed a nice feeling to have! OK, the phone photos tend to be more ‘snaps’ and many end up on Facebook anyway, but still a good feeling to be able to download them from Dropbox and put them on the new card.

… I used it as an excuse to upgrade to a 64Gb Sandisk class 10 card, with room finally for all my music, some files I carry, Kindle books, phone photos and time-lapses, maybe some backup of my CF card from the camera when travelling (I have USB OTG and can add a card-reader to the phone directly to view, backup or upload images). Suddenly 64Gb (plus the 16Gb on board) doesn’t seem so excessive perhaps? And an 80GB Galaxy S2 … nice!

Back to the point: Even the phone was backed up, and I lost maybe a couple of panoramas which write to a different folder (with no option to change it). Again, a nice feeling.

So, the moral is simple: Plan now for the day that your computer or phone stops working or loses its storage. It may all sound a bit geeky, but there are plenty of ways of ensuring that you don’t lose precious data, including all those great photos you have.

How many times in your life are you going to get this close to a wild Arctic wolf? And what if you lost the photos you took?

How many times in your life are you going to get this close to a wild Arctic wolf? And what if you lost the photos you took?

About Chris Senior

Photographer, wit, travel-junkie, MSc student and practising eccentric! Prog rock nut and baker of tasty cakes.
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