Remember: backups are your friends

The Ranting Part

Much ado has been made of Google disabling the blog and Gmail account of artist Dennis Cooper. Apparently, beyond a general reference to ‘violation of terms of service’, Google has yet to explain why they took the action they did.

More importantly for Cooper is that he had posted ‘years of work’ to his blog, and is now unable to access it.

However, totally absent from the discussion so far is the question of why Cooper does not have backup copies of his work, whether on physical hard drives or write-once media in his possession, in ‘the cloud’ or on another service, or in hard-copy form.

I always thought it was common sense to keep at least one backup copy of important files. That way, if a copy stored in one place is lost for some reason (hard drives do fail, after all), it can be replaced with a backup copy. With a regular backup routine in place, even if updates to a file have not yet been backed up, the amount of work on that file lost due to a hard drive failure, data corruption, or accidental erasure can be minimized

Google does owe Cooper a proper explanation for why his accounts were suspended. But it is neither their fault nor their responsibility that Cooper did not maintain backups of his work.

Making Regular Backups

Creating regular backups of your work is not only a smart thing to do, it’s also easy. There are a number of ways you can go about it.

Hard-drive Backup

External hard drives are relatively inexpensive—and probably the best method to use. They’re also essential, since you should be backing up your computer on a regular basis anyway. Not only will using an external hard drive and a reliable backup program to clone your computer’s internal drive help you keep important data safe, but having a bootable backup will help you troubleshoot internal hard drive problems, and make restoring your system much simpler in the event you have to replace an internal drive.

Even if you do not choose to clone your internal hard drive to an external disk, storing copies of important files on an external disk ensures they will not be lost in the event your computer’s internal drive fails or is corrupted by viruses or electrical surges.

Of course, external drives are just as capable of failing as internal drives, so it is helpful to have more than one. I regularly back up my computer to two different drives. I use one drive with Apple’s Time Machine for incremental backups, and the other drive for cloning my internal drive with the backup application SuperDuper.

The Cloud and/or Other Online Services

Cloud backup services are all over the place. Box, Dropbox, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple—all these companies and more offer online storage. A small amount of storage is usually available for free, with more storage available for a price. Not only can cloud storage be useful for backing up important files, those files can be accessed from any computer as long as you have either a link or your username and password.

After years of resistance, I use Dropbox to store my working files for copy-editing jobs, poems, and my ‘love notes to the days of the week’ series. Thanks to synchronization, I can switch back and forth between my desktop computer and my laptop, and always be sure that the version of the file I am working on is up to date.

Even if you don’t make use of cloud storage, there are always other online services and social media that can serve quite nicely as backups. Do you upload photos to Flickr? Those photos will still be there if something happens to your hard drive. Do you upload drafts of your novel-in-progress to Wattpad? That text will still be there if something happens to your working files. Do you upload videos to YouTube or Vimeo, or sound files to SoundCloud? A corrupted file on your hard drive won’t affect the files you have stored on those services. All that stuff you’ve uploaded to Facebook? It’s pretty much there until you remove it, so it will be there for you if something happens to your files.

Hard Copies and Recordable Media

For a lot of people, these are going by the wayside—but don’t rule them out. Much like the way you can re-rip your CDs if something happens to your iTunes or MP3 files, printouts of your digital photos on quality inkjet photo paper can be scanned if you should lose your digital photos. Or, you can store copies of digital photos, videos, and MP3s to CD-R or DVD-R discs. If you buy digital downloads instead of physical CDs, burning those albums and songs to CD-R can come in handy, particularly in those instances where a purchase was made long enough ago that the album or song is no longer available to re-download.

The Summary

Hard drives, the cloud, online services, social media, recordable media, hard copies—all are options for backing up important stuff. Most of them are relatively inexpensive—and their benefits far outweigh their cost.

On more than one occasion, my propensity for making multiple backups has saved my bacon. Instead of having to spend money to reacquire media, or spending hours to try to recreate lost work, I have been able to limit my losses and restore files by turning to backups. They have saved me from having to buy new copies of CDs, replace no-longer-available software, and recreate lost work from scratch, In short, backups have saved my bacon.

Even if you use only one backup method, if you use it regularly, it will get you out of a jam someday. Promise.

(15 July 2016)