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Summary:

Last week, my 10-month old MacBook crashed. And died. And now I’m slowly uncovering the depth and breadth of my arrogance. Because, my dear readers, I had not backed up my computer for 10 months. And the only reason I had a 10-month old backup of my data is because it occurred as I was getting my files from my old G4 laptop to my MacBook last Fall. This is a cautionary tale for anyone out there who is still finding every excuse in the book not to back up their computer. And I had many.

macintoshIf you haven’t guessed already from my previous posts here, I’m a Mac user. Not just a Mac user, but a Mac disciple after many years journeying from WANG to DOS to Windows. I brag constantly about how I’ve never had a major crash on any Mac I’ve ever owned over the last 15 years – and I keep each one for at least 3-5 years which is eons for laptops. My Macs have been virtually bullet-proof.

But last week, my 10-month old MacBook crashed. And died. And now I’m slowly uncovering the depth and breadth of my arrogance. Because, my dear readers, I had not backed up my computer for 10 months. And the only reason I had a 10-month old backup of my data is because it occurred as I was getting my files from my old G4 laptop to my MacBook last Fall.

This is a cautionary tale for anyone out there who is still finding every excuse in the book not to back up their computer. And I had many.

My biggest excuse for not backing up was that I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to get it set up and how to make it happen. I think I also had a secret fear that I would set it up incorrectly and somehow save my files in the wrong place causing the disappearance of everything on my computer. I’m not sure how I got it into my head that backing up was going to be hard, but I avoided it like the Plague.

Today, less than a week after the Big Computer Meltdown (and my own tearful personal meltdown), I am assessing the business impact of lost data. My tears last week weren’t actually about my work files but about losing 10 months worth of photos and videos of my 2-year-old daughter. This week, I can’t muster up tears, but can see some dollars spinning down the drain as I have to:

  1. rewrite half a dozen proposals that I was readying to send out to new and existing clients.
  2. rewrite a new book proposal that was almost ready to send to my agent to shop around.
  3. do a salvage expedition through my Gmail Sent Box to find any documents I sent to clients so I still have some semblance of a business record.
  4. upload any documents I can find to Google Docs – the only other place where I had put some critical documents as part of my “experiment” with using Google Docs.
  5. rewrite my long list of sites that I use to market my various projects and client projects that took me over a year to compile.

time capsuleAnd for backups?

I left my local Mac store last week with red eyes from crying, a black MacBook, and an Apple Time Capsule. I charged the owner of the store to make sure I walked out with everything I needed to be up and working immediately as well as to be able to back up my files without any effort or thought on my part.

Now, every hour on the hour, when I am within range of my wifi connection (via the Time Capsule), my files are backed up (the Time Capsule has 500 GB of space). I don’t have to do anything more since configuring it. I don’t have to think about it. And I don’t have to wait until the end of the day or the weekend to do it. It happens behind-the-scenes while I’m still getting my work done.

My list of important files I have lost continues to grow. Each item I add to that list means another 1-3 hours of rewriting, recompiling, recreating. That is lost time. Lost income. I think if I had thought of backing up my computer in pure business terms – in dollars – I may have been motivated to do something sooner. For now, I just have to bite the bullet.

When was the last time you backed up your computer? And what is your backup set up like? Please share so anyone out there who is still making excuses can potentially find a solution that is right for them.

NOTE: I also blogged about the more “personal” side of this topic at Entrepreneur Mom on WorkItMom.

(photo by Apple; bullethole courtesy of clipart)

  1. Let me reassure you that most of us who have a backup plan in place have walked in your shoes! As a web developer, I lost a drive two years ago with all the source files for a clients e-commerce website. So every update to that site took hours and hours.

    I now run Intego Personal Backup X4 at the end of every day and backup my Powerbook to a 160 gig LaCie HD. Then every weekend, I back up everything to a LaCie NAS drive on the network (just as a precaution). I will say that the Time Capsule looks inviting, and easier to deal with than the NAS drive which is slow.

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  2. Aliza, I became a true backup fanatic a number of years ago, but thankfully not due to loss of data. I use Time Machine on my iMac to back up hourly to an external hard drive. And every night, I backup to an off-site location via Mozy for Mac (mozy.com). Time Machine means quick access. Mozy is protection against theft and/or fire. Mozy costs $4.95 per month for unlimited storage, which means I can protect all of my data, photos, and music.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your pain. I thought, as I read it, “been there, done that.” And, then patted my backup drive and realized that it was unplugged. Checked Time Machine and yup — it hasn’t been backed up in a while. Drat. So, I plugged it in and my latest backup is happening right now. My worst data loss was all my music. I recovered most of it but the software chopped many of the songs to 1 minute and 21 seconds. I am still finding songs that end in the middle. Never again!

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  4. Hi – my reason to upgrade to OS 10.5 was purely for TimeMachine. – Before, I had to manually triggera process using iCal every Friday to copy data to my old iBook. From there I copied everything to a FireWire drive and then made another full back-up of that FireWire drive to a second one.

    NOW: I have two LaCie 120gb FireWire harddrives connected to my Cinema Display. These identical drives are configured as a RAID-1 in OS.X. Every time I connect my MacBook to the Cinema Display, TimeMachine automatically backs ups all changes and every Friday is does a full back-up. Since I have two drives, which are constantly mirrored, three disks have to fail for me to loose all my data. – I am still thinking about offsite backup, but backing up 40+ gigabyte of data over the Internet is kind of scary…

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  5. Have you by any chance tried yanking your hard drive to see whether it can be salvaged? Or bringing it up as a Firewire drive? I’ve done both those (okay, it’s the wife who cracked open the machine) with otherwise failed machines with some success.

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  6. The thing that persuaded me to move on to a Mac was the availability of time machine. This is a killer application which was too much hassle for me to set up in Windows or Linux. I still need to find the ideal off-site storage answer

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  7. The problem wasn’t with the Mac and it wasn’t with the software. It was with the operator. The sentence in your post that alerted me was:
    “I charged the owner of the store to make sure I walked out with everything I needed to be up and working immediately as well as to be able to back up my files without any effort or thought on my part.”
    And specifically that last phrase.

    This is your data. This is, as you have tearfully discovered, a significant portion of your *life*. And yet you explicitly state that you don’t want to expend any effort on it or to think about it.

    Trust me, there is *no* system that can out-think you. You *should* expend effort on backups. You *should* think about them.

    Not because the process of backing up files is in itself very interesting. It’s because by going through that process, you force yourself to reconsider the body of information that is your electronic life–how it’s organized, what’s important, where it’s located. Even backup up *everything* isn’t right, because chances are you cannot restore *everything* because it will be to a newer device and can’t use the older system files.

    I really recommend that you wrestle the backup demon. It will mean you actually know where your stuff is. It will mean you’ll think once in a while about why you’re keeping it. It will mean no more rude surprises.

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  8. As one of the other commentors asked- you have checked to make sure that the drive is well and truly dead? Crashes can occur in other components, leave the computer looking completely dead, but actually the drive and the data is fine. If the computer has been left for dead anyhow, then open it up, get the hard drive out and take it to a repair shop for recovery (or buy one of those drive caddies and plug it in to your new machine). At least investigate the option before taking ages trying to partially recover the data from other sources…

    The new system sounds sweet though!

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  9. Thanks for sharing this story, and I’m sorry to read another tale of data loss. A few extra notes as food for thought:

    * a single-backup mechanism is not the safest way to go. Using at least two different tools to produce different backups ensures that a latent bug isn’t giving a false sense of security. I use Super Duper to make clones of a drive, and Time Machine as an hourly backup of some files.

    * a drive clone is more robust than a Time Machine backup, and is bootable. Drive failure can be worked around in minutes by booting from a clone.

    * Store a backup off-site. This one might not be the most up to date, but a hard drive clone stored at a friend’s house is a sure bet against fire, theft, flood, and other unthinkables.

    * Test it. A backup strategy where restoration has not been tested isn’t worth betting scores of wasted hours.

    Where does one find the time to do all this? It feels like the day doesn’t have enough hours as it is, but backups are insurance for future hours, and worth the investment. As I like to say on software projects, if we don’t have time to do it right the first time, how do we have time to re-do it all later?

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  10. Aliza, sorry for your loss. That’s a real bummer. No, not even Apple is immune from dying hardware.

    I’m a complete nutso about backing up. I have 4 external hard drives backed up to my Mac. Plus all my photos and music sitting on my 80G iPod. Plus some stuff backed up online using Amazon S3.

    I’ve tried using Mozy, as Robin suggested (the price is definitely dirt cheap) but was disappointed as my large uploads would always time out and there didn’t appear to be a way to resume the upload. The app always wanted to start all over again. Frustrating.

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  11. Ouch – sorry to hear what happened to you.

    As others have said, there’s a good chance you can recover your data from the hard drive – just because it doesn’t boot any more doesn’t mean your data is lost. Since my guess is you’re focused on web work than actually taking computers apart, I suggest you find a local Mac geek who’s willing to help you out. Or, if you can spare the money, there are plenty of data recovery services.

    Best summary on backup strategies is here: http://www.jwz.org/doc/backups.html

    And as for Google Docs, keep in mind they’re not *guaranteeing* your data. You might still lose it due to a freak accident. Any piece of data that you don’t have in at least two places *will* get lost at some point.

    As for Mozy, it does back up your data – but getting it back will take a *long* time. It’s an emergency recovery service if you lose some files, but getting all of them is a tedious process. Same goes for Time Machine – it will help you restore some files, but getting all data back is *very* time consuming.

    Same goes for Time Machine. There are also other quirks associated with it: http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2008/05/21/Time-Capsule-Pain

    So do yourself a favor, and get *TWO* backup drives for full backups right now.

    Now excuse me while I go backup my laptop, just in case – talking about data loss always makes me nervous…

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  12. [...] I also blogged about this topic from a more “business” angle at Web Worker Daily. Like this blog? Submit to: Digg [...]

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  13. Oh, I’m sorry to hear your story.

    I was a backup maniac: As a hobby photographer I had a daily backup of all my photos on a second harddisk on my computer. To be sure I had a second backup on a external harddisk and to be very sure I made a backup on DVD-RAM (which are much saver than a DVD or a CD). The DVD-RAMs are stored outside my home.

    Now I don’t take so much photos any more and I switched completely to Mac where I also use the time maschine. I don’t need any more such a strict backup plan. I trust the time maschine and I hope that my home won’t burn… Oh, and I have the most important documents on my MacBook Air too.

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  14. [...] And if you’re not convinced, see this blog: The Day a Bullet Got Through [...]

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  15. Funny, I’ve NEVER had a crash on my Dell Latitude D610 with Windows XP on it. I still do backup though. One year during a vigorous data spring cleaning, I deleted a few critical files for a client, so it was an easy restore.

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  16. I have never had a [major] crash, but I backup religiously. I’ve learned from the stories of others. The data is just too important!

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  17. I’m curious to know what the actual diagnosis was for the crash. What actually failed?

    I’m assuming it was the HDD, crashing and burning. So my next question would be…. why don’t you send the HDD off to a disk recovery specialist and see what they can save for you? Yes, it is expensive to do this, but isn’t 10 months of your daughter plus any recovered work and documents worth the money?

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  18. Backup?

    Actually I’ve been telling myself for a couple weeks now that it was time
    to dock into base, but the task is always so time consuming, I keep putting it off. However, not having my photos backed up definitely puts it in persective, and back on the priority list.

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  19. Aliza,

    So sorry to hear about your predicament. I switched from Tiger to Leopard solely for Time Machine. When using Tiger I would have to remind myself to backup and there were many days I would forget to.

    Good luck in your decision of what to do with your old drive.

    Jeb

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  20. Sorry to hear about your troubles. You know this only too well now, but there isn’t really any excuse. Stuff breaks, stuff gets stolen…But thanks for sharing this so openly and hopefully it will inspire others to get their house in order promptly!

    I use SuperDuper to back up my Mac – very easy and quick.

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  21. I’m a Macbook owner after switching a year ago and I have just started a new backing up procedure and today made my first ever Time Machine backup. I’ve ben using iBackup which is free and fantastic and has worked several times to backup and restore.

    The reason I’m now backing up is because although Macs are just fantastic, they are still computers and are not infallible.

    I now have a firewire-powered pocket-sized hard-drive and I connect it to my Mac about once a day to ensure everything is backed up. time Machine recognises it as the designated drive and back s up any changes made that day.

    Today I also purchased Email Backup Pro. Every day it backs up and highly compresses all my email accounts and saves it to my iDisk which syncs with .Mac regularly.

    I also have an Automator Workflow which copies/replaces key files onto my iDisk and this is part of start up items so thy back up every time I start up.

    So in the event that both my Mac and my firewire hard drive fail or get stolen, I will at the very least have my most important work and emails ready.

    .Mac also syncs Address Book, bookmarks, keychain, email accounts and various other elements. That’s three daily backups of my email!!!

    The next stage in my back up plan is to move some of my older non-sensitive documents to an online service such as Google Docs, Zoho Office or maybe just into storage using http://www.Box.net or http://www.drop.io

    What do you think?

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  22. [...] I came across this post by Aliza Sherman where she describes the results of ten months of procrastination. I brag constantly about how [...]

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  23. Cloud computing FTW! I wouldn’t really care if I lost my Eee PC … except for the fact I’d have to fork out $500 for a replacement. But I wouldn’t lose any data.

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  24. I don’t think cloud computing is the solution here. Or atleast I think that’s an overkill buzzword infested solution.

    With Time Machine built in into Mac OS X Leopard, there is really no reason why you shouldn’t be backing up. You don’t even need to by a Time Capsule. Any external hard disk capable of connecting (and being detected) by OS X, would have worked for you.

    Time Machine really is the killer feature of Leopard and everyone should be using it.

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  25. @Ian: Your backup strategy seems pretty good and extensive. And it should work for everyone.

    The point I was trying to make with my last comment was that everyone should, at the very least, be utilizing Time Machine.

    And no, I don’t work for Apple :-)

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  26. If the drive is not mechanically dead try SpinRite from Gibson Research at http://www.grc.com. I have recovered numerous drives with this utility.

    It works at such a low level that it is file system agnostic.

    I am using several drives that were not bootable but after running SpinRite against them they were bootable again. I also use it once a year as a maintenance tool.

    I do not work for Gibson Research. I am just a happy user of their product.

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  27. Sorry for the buzz words. Ok, I use GMail / Google Apps, Google Docs and don’t keep anything on my computer.

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  28. Aliza Sherman Wednesday, July 2, 2008

    Cody et.al. The Verdict: Well, I was definitely going to fork out $1500+ to save the baby photos. But my local shop just informed me that they salvaged my home folder which appears to have the photos. They are not guaranteeing everything is there but it is a really good sign (and a great feeling). They have my Rocstor external hard drive right now, uploading it all. I do not know what really happened – will ask but right now I’m just elated to have SOMETHING saved.

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  29. Roland Dobbins Saturday, July 5, 2008

    The phrase ‘I think I also had a secret fear that I would set it up incorrectly and somehow save my files in the wrong place causing the disappearance of everything on my computer. ‘ is one of the silliest I’ve ever read. You never believed this for a nanosecond, so why are you claiming you did?

    Look, you seem to be an intelligent and savvy person -why couldn’t you spend 30 seconds or so on a search-engine query which would’ve revealed to you the easiest and most cost-effective way of backing up your Mac, SuperDuper plus an external FireWire drive? It would take between 15 and 45 minutes to do an update every couple of nights while you slept.

    There’s just no excuse for this kind of sloppiness. I’m sorry that you had to go through this personal disaster, but it was 100% avoidable, and, no, it doesn’t take a technophile to figure out how to back up a Mac. No Leopard, no Time Machine required, either.

    At least you seem to’ve been shocked out of complacency, and are taking steps to ensure this can’t happen again – or are you? It sounds as if you’re making no provisions whatsoever for offsite backups, so what happens if you have a fire at your house or some other kind of extreme event and both your MacBook *and* your local backup drive end up being destroyed? Make a rotation with your hard drives and put one of them in a safety deposit box somewhere, or investigate one of the numerous online data backup services (ensure your data is encrypted before you back it up, and that it remains encrypted on your backup drives and when hosted at the backup site).

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  30. For those looking for a good off-site backup solution check out Jungle Disk (http://www.jungledisk.com/). Their software enables you to easily backup to Amazon’s S3 storage.

    Jungle Disk just released a new version for Linux, Mac and Windows that offers a big improvement in speed and usability over the old version. Jungle Disk doesn’t cost the earth and if you pay a little extra you get incremental backup and web browser access to your backed up files.

    A little time setting it up (understanding what you really need to back up) will reward you with a regular and efficient backup. I backup to a second hard drive daily and weekly to Jungle Disk. I’ve been through the lost photos saga and I don’t want to go through it again.

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  31. Aliza,

    Being the father of a five-year-old who has been digitally documented (god, that sounds impersonal! But it ain’t), I’m darn happy to hear you’re getting your important stuff (personal and business alike) back.

    What we do here at the house is three-part. First, the wife has a spacious hard drive which gets used, a lot. Second, she runs some level of networked off-site backup every night. (I don’t know the details, but I think it’s a pretty typical schedule, with a full backup every other week.) Third, for both family stuff and final copies of important work, she burns discs and takes them to her conveniently nearby parents, who stick those discs in their fire-proof safe. The hardest part, I think, was getting her application configurations to back up–all else was easy.

    Okay, being born to parents who owned their own safe helped.

    Give the family backup strategy a try. I can almost guarantee you know someone who Must! Have! All! Those! Pictures!

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  32. David Echols Monday, July 7, 2008

    Windows folks, despair not!

    Check out Syncback if you haven’t already.

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  33. [...] I recently experienced the Computer Crash of Doom and want to know I have reliable [...]

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  34. [...] I came across this post by Aliza Sherman where she describes the results of ten months of procrastination. I brag constantly about how [...]

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  35. [...] life depends on it. If you have been reading my posts for a while, you know that I experienced a devastating computer crash over a year ago. Haven’t we all at some point? Read my lips: Back. Up. [...]

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