Backing-up is hard to do — until you’re bitten by a data disaster

Three memorable data nightmares and Craig Grannell finally woke up to keeping his digital files secure. Let his pain be your gain…

Digital data is easy to lose, and I found that out the hard way.

Over the course of a decade, fate lobbed curve balls at my head that I ineptly took swings at with all the grace of a drunk roller-skating on an ice rink.

House on a broken disk

Strike one involved a Commodore 64 and Little Computer People. Advertised as a ‘house on a disk,’ the game was a proto-Sims, featuring a little bloke wandering about a rather lavish home, followed by his tiny dog that emitted fart-like barks. Occasionally, he’d knock on the screen, challenging you to a game of poker, or demanding food so he wouldn’t starve to death, the needy little blighter.

Unlike most C64 fare, Little Computer People was unique to each player and had a memory. My LCP, Thomas, was a sourpuss with a gambling problem, and would go into a deep funk when ignored. He’d remember being shunned between sessions and glare menacingly from the screen. One day, the disk corrupted — the 1541 disk drive’s red light blinked sadly, and Thomas went into an infinite loop, like a rubbish Groundhog Day. I suddenly realised I should have made a copy of the disk, so I said my goodbyes and set about ridding space of evil robots in Paradroid.

The click of death

Strike two involved my first Mac and the final push towards a university degree. Helpfully, my Mac’s hard drive started dying as I was working on my final showpiece for a digital installation, but this time I had a back-up. Sadly, it was on a Jaz disk, a contraption designed by sadists at Iomega. For 140 dollars, you got a 1 GB cartridge that would, without warning, abruptly make a noise known as the click of death. Suddenly: no back-up, and almost no degree. Fortunately, I managed to coax my hard drive across the finish line, only losing a little work, a lot of time, and a chunk of sanity. I vowed to never put myself in that situation again.

Several years later, I was in that situation again. Strike three occurred in the mid-2000s. Presumably due to my university experience, I stored important work documents on an external drive, leaving the Mac’s one for software installs. CDR back-ups were taken, but only sporadically. One day: click… click… click… grind. One major panic later, followed by two days of toil with disk recovery software, and I’d managed to salvage 90 per cent of my data.

More after the break...

Attack of the Clones

There was no strike four, not only because the rubbish baseball analogy would no longer work, but also because I’d finally learned my lesson. Now, I’m super-paranoid regarding back-ups. My main Mac is cloned daily to an external drive (and weekly to another external drive), and important data is backed-up to CrashPlan every day. Ongoing work is stored in Dropbox, adding another layer of security in case my iMac spontaneously combusts.

However, on buying two new devices recently, it struck me how companies still don’t do enough to help safeguard people’s data. My Nexus 4 never breezily asked “and how shall I back everything up for you?” during set-up. And although the iPhone 5s had a better stab at that with iCloud, Apple’s miserly 5 GB per user (rather than per device) means you’re forced to prune back-ups or pay through the nose should you do precisely what Apple wants and purchase multiple devices.

No excuses

Worryingly, I know people who can’t be bothered to manage back-ups or don’t know how, and so they simply avoid doing so. But devices are easily damaged and lost, and although technology has marched on since the time of the incidents mentioned earlier, local storage isn’t any more reliable. My hope is the glimmers of light evident within the tech industry spread far and wide. Flickr is a particularly shining example, offering a huge 1 TB of storage. With auto-upload options from various sources, there’s now no excuse to ever again lose an image from a smartphone.

Elsewhere, things are less simple, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the effort. An external USB drive can be grabbed for 80 dollars, and cloning software is dirt cheap or free. An additional $7 per month can get you unlimited incremental online back-ups to the likes of CrashPlan and Backblaze, meaning your data would be safe even if your entire street was catapulted into the sea. It might seem a hassle when there are dozens of other things to do with tech gadgets and your time, but the click of doom could happen to you today. Make sure you’re prepared if it does.

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