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With backups, do as I say, not as I do - California Newspaper Publishers Association : California Publisher

With backups, do as I say, not as I do

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Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 2:59 pm

You’ve heard me say it time and time again. Julie, in Minnesota, even wrote to me a couple of years ago to thank me for “saving her life” after convincing her to add backup drives to all her machines.

So it is with much chagrin (I’ve been waiting almost 20 years for an opportunity to use “chagrin” in a column) that I admit that this doctor is his own worst patient.

That’s right. On July 2, two days before my country’s Independence celebration, my five-year-old iMac began to crawl.

To be completely frank, I thought the computer was about two years old. Between computers at my home and office, not to mention laptops, iPads and iPhones, I have a hard time remembering when I got what.

I did what any self-respecting guru would do at a sign of slowdown. I restarted. Upon restart, I was greeted by a gray screen. You know the one. The one that eventually turns to blue, then fills with folders and drives.

The problem was that I didn’t see any folders. Or drives. All I saw was a gray screen.

No problem, I thought. I pulled out my handy Disk Warrior CD, restarted the computer, then ran the utility that can fix just about anything wrong with a Mac, other than a “fried” drive or faulty memory chip.

Disk Warrior found the errant drive, then began a process of checking the hard disk for problems. It found one. Then another. Before it was done, Disk Warrior found dozens of bad sectors on the drive.

I began the process in Disk Warrior to restore the files on the bad disk and copy them over to my backup drive. I quickly learned there were two problems.

First, the files and folders on the hard drive would not transfer. Every time I tried to move a folder, the computer locked up and had to be restarted.

Second, I soon learned that my hard drive wasn’t the only thing destined to make my holiday week less than celebratory. Something had happened to my LaCie external backup drive. It, too, was history. I quickly tried to restore it using Data Rescue III, by Prosoft. But it was too little, too late.

Never one to give in to hardware hyperbole, I didn’t panic. I had a second backup in the “cloud.”

I get asked quite often about clouds. Clouds are nothing more than computer servers in a remote location that you use as if they were in your own building. My data was being stored on a computer up in the “cloud” somewhere.

Much to my chagrin (there’s that word again), I quickly learned that my space in the cloud was full and hadn’t backed up anything in a few weeks.

After a full day trying to resurrect my critical information, I realized this drive was dead. No files were going to be saved.

Fortunately, I have a third backup. It’s a Western Digital external USB drive that I used to back up my Time Capsule backup (original backup drive that had gone bad). For PC users, Time Capsule is a utility built into Macs since OS 10.6. This means it’s been around for a couple of years. Time Capsule automatically backs up your entire computer and external drives throughout the day. At any time, you can go back to any point in history and restore your computer to that point.

I make it a habit to leave this drive at my home, in case some type of emergency destroys my computer and all its drives. Newspapers who have dealt with fires know of what I speak.

Every couple of weeks, I bring this drive to the office and do a complete clone of the original backup.

So at least I have my information from two weeks ago. This meant I could restore most of my email and critical files, but anything I’ve saved on my computer over the past two weeks is history.

I really am mad at myself. After spending three full days restoring my computer, you have no idea how mad that is.

What can you learn from my mistakes? Plenty. Let me share what I relearned, never to forget again:

1. Have some type of backup device for each computer in your office. Most of mine are Firewire drives, but there are others.

 2. Have an off-site backup plan. There are many of these around. I was using a popular application called Dropbox. I just installed a new cloud backup called “Just Cloud” that gets great reviews for both Macs and PCs. Unlimited backup space for one computer runs around $10 per month.

3. Make sure that Time Machine (if you’re a Mac user), your backup drive and off-site backups are all working correctly. I thought mine were. I was wrong.

Like Julie in Minnesota, someone will write me soon to let me know that I’ve “saved his life” by reminding him to get his backup program up to date.

Kevin Slimp is a newspaper trainer and industry speaker. To reach him, or to read past columns, visit his website, kevinslimp.com.