From agent Rachelle Gardner:
I received a panicked email from a client—and this was seriouspanic. His computer had crashed and died; his external backup was corrupted. His manuscript—the one he’d been writing for months—was due to the publisher in a couple of weeks. And it was GONE.
All of his hard work. All his moments of epiphany, his late nights and early mornings, his flashes of brilliance and the hours spent rewriting the not-so-brilliant. Each little God-given nugget of wisdom, each carefully-placed word and sentence and comma. All of it just gone.
He sent his computer off to an expensive service, who made no promises but committed to extracting as many X’s and O’s from his hard drive as possible, to see if there was any semblance of a book left there. Weeks went by. Meanwhile, the writer was heartsick and grieving. He cycled through the stages of grief (repeatedly): denial, anger, bargaining, depression… although I’m not sure he ever really got to #5, acceptance.
. . . .
Finally, a miraculous happy ending. The document was largely recovered—albeit a messy, unformatted and incomplete version. And very expensive. But it was there. Phew! We worked out a new delivery date with the publisher. And the author could finally get on with life.
. . . .
The technology available at our fingertips is so easy to use, so inexpensive, so foolproof that there is NO EXCUSE to lose work to a computer problem, a virus, or an unfortunate airplane crash landing. (I had a client whose laptop ended up in the bottom of the Hudson when his pilot—Sully Sullenberger—landed the flight on that river in 2009).
Link to the rest at Rachelle Gardner
Passive Guy has owned personal computers for over thirty years, long enough to have lost important computer files in all sorts of unexpected ways. The result is a deep paranoia that he has translated into a backup system bordering on the obsessive-compulsive.
PG has two large capacity external hard drives (something like this one) attached to his computer. Mrs. PG has a similar setup for her computer.
Just having the storage capacity doesn’t mean you will use it, so PG and Mrs. PG each have an automatic backup program running on their computers. We use SyncBack, but there are others.
Every night between 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM, while we’re tucked into bed, SyncBack does a lot of work. First, it creates a mirror copy of all documents, photos, Quicken files, etc. A mirror copy is one that looks exactly like what’s on the computer at 1:00 AM. SyncBack makes a copy of Mrs. PG’s latest manuscript with the day’s additions and edits and replaces the one it made the day before. It does this twice, once for each of the two external hard drives. Another copy of SyncBack is doing the same thing on Mrs. PG’s computer, so that’s backups on four different external hard drives.
Next, SyncBack creates a cumulative daily backup of those same files. The cumulative backup adds today’s version of Mrs. PG’s manuscript to yesterday’s to the one that existed the day before yesterday, etc. That way, if Mrs. PG inadvertently deleted a couple of chapters when she was writing today, we can go back and pull up yesterday’s manuscript with those two chapters intact.
PG does two different types of backups – Mirror and Cumulative – for different purposes. The benefits of cumulative backups are fairly obvious. A file may be inadvertently deleted or corrupted without the damage being noticed for awhile. A backup copy of yesterday’s corrupted file doesn’t solve any problems.
However if the computer’s internal hard drive checks out, a cumulative backup with 200 different versions of several hundred or several thousand files is a nightmare to restore to a replacement hard drive or a new computer. For restoring a lot of files, you want a mirror copy of yesterday’s hard drive before it died.
In addition to daily local backups of key files, PG has SyncBack automatically make weekly and monthly backups. If a virus infects a computer and does dirty work for awhile, he wants the option to look back a week or a month instead of just a day. If something has gone hinky with the backup process and daily backups are corrupted, those weekly or monthly backups are valuable.
PG saves these backups on each of his two separate hard drives because no hard drive lasts forever. If one of the hard drives has problems and PG doesn’t notice it for awhile, he has the same backups on the other one.
This sounds complex, but all you have to do is set up your backup schedule on SyncBack one time and it runs the whole complicated structure automatically after that. The program will show you when it ran each of the backups the last time and flag any that don’t run correctly.
The local backups are PG’s front-line insurance. Because the external hard drives are connected directly to the computer, a lot of files or even the entire MyDocuments folder can be restored to the computer’s internal hard drive very quickly.
Readers will observe a lot of belt and suspenders stuff going on here. PG has had belts fail and suspenders fail at critical times in the past.
If an earthquake happens and Casa PG slides down the mountain, those external hard drives will go along for the ride. Similar consequences will occur with a brush fire or a burglar. That’s why some of PG’s backup belts and suspenders are not located in Casa PG.
PG has a pair of small, portable external hard drives that look something like this. They’ll fit in a pocket or purse. You plug one of these into your computer with a USB cable and it’s up and running.
PG sees a couple of PG offspring once or twice a week. Before one of the offspring arrives, PG uses SyncBack to make a mirror copy of all the files he backs up each day on one of the small portable hard drives. It takes less than a minute. He hands the small hard drive to the offspring and the offspring takes it to his home.
The following week, PG makes another backup on the second portable hard drive and reminds the offspring to bring back the first hard drive when he comes to Casa PG. They swap hard drives and the offspring takes the latest backup.
Because PG has a million things to remember, he has a weekly calendar reminder tell him to make this backup.
Mozy – Mozy is a remote backup service. You go to the Mozy website, sign up for the service, install a small piece of software on your computer, spend ten minutes telling it what files you want to back up and it just runs.
So long as your computer is turned on and you’re not typing or surfing the web, day and night, every few hours, Mozy automatically makes a backup of your files and sends those files in encrypted form over the Internet to Mozy’s servers. It pops up a screen after every backup so you know it’s working.
If you lose a file, you log onto Mozy which looks like another hard drive that’s attached to your computer, navigate to locate the backup file and download it over the Internet back to your computer. It’s quick and slick and, in PG’s experience, bulletproof. (PG was going to say it’s foolproof, but fools can be so ingenious.)
Mozy currently costs $5.99 per month for an account large enough to back up almost any author’s files. Carbonite is a service that’s similar to Mozy, but PG hasn’t tried it.
Dropbox – In addition to Mozy (more belts and suspenders), PG uses Dropbox. Dropbox works a lot like Mozy, but it watches for whenever a file changes and automatically updates that file on the Dropbox servers. Think of Dropbox like another file folder. However, instead of those files residing only on your hard drive, they also live on Dropbox’s servers in the cloud. It’s a lot like Google Drive with a few more bells and whistles.
When you install Dropbox, it puts a little Dropbox icon on your desktop that you can use just like a file folder.
Dropbox is installed on all the desktop and laptop computers at Casa PG. PG and Mrs. PG keep all their document files on Dropbox. This means everybody’s documents are available on all computers. When Mrs. PG finishes work on her current manuscript and saves it on her desktop, she’ll find that same manuscript on her laptop. If she wants to talk to PG about something in the manuscript and enters his cave, he can pull up her current manuscript on his computer as well.
Essentially, Dropbox acts like a server that holds all the documents in PG World. The documents reside both on our local hard drives and in the cloud on Dropbox’s servers.
When PG gets a new computer, he installs Dropbox on that computer and Dropbox brings all of his files and Mrs. PG’s files into the new computer.
Like Mozy, Dropbox only stores encrypted files and has passed muster with lots of paranoid security types.
There is more overlap between features offered by Mozy and Dropbox now than there was when PG started using each of the services. He continues to use both for the same reason he does local backups on two different hard drives. If one gets dodgy, he has the other as a backup.
So there it is, a whole pile of belts and suspenders. At the beginning of this post, PG described it as bordering on obsessive-compulsive. Now he’s decided that he’s crossed the border but he still feels fine. It’s a more useful form of obsession than washing your hands all the time.
Describing the entire system makes it seem like an overgrown monster and it does cost some money (not a lot) to put together and maintain. However, it’s the repository of Mrs. PG’s current and past manuscripts together with all the publication files for her books and PG’s files for his clients and all the tax and financial information that government entities want you to keep, so the value of the data the backup system is protecting exceeds its cost by a vast margin.
PG hopes the information may prevent some author somewhere from losing a manuscript.