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Backup a moment…

Backup a moment… published on 2 Comments on Backup a moment…

Originally posted to ReadWriteWeb

Apparently March 31 was World Backup Day—a term I initially misunderstood, and took to be impressively but impossibly ambitious. Their message is well worth repeating: your hard drive will fail, and when it does, you’ll be a lot happier if you’ve backed it up.

Everyone I’ve asked has a data-loss story to share. Here are two of mine, tales of wrenching heartbreak worthy of the full IMAX treatment:


The bus is filled with reporters and political staff, chatting, checking messages on absurdly large cell phones, perusing newspapers, and opening large, bulky laptop computers.

TITLE: “Canadian federal election campaign, 1997”

We pick out ROB, a staffer in his mid-30s, sporting a goofy ponytail and drumming his fingers nervously on the surface of his computer as it boots.


Come on, come on…

Tight on the computer screen as it runs through the usual diagnostic messages… and then displays the fateful words “FATAL HARD DRIVE ERROR”.



(he looks up, swallows hard, and yells toward the front of the bus)

The, uh, speech may be a little late.



A busy city street in the full flush of a morning commute. A compact grey Honda pulls into a parking spot, and out comes ROB, his hair now greyer and close-cropped. He walks around the car and lets his DAUGHTER out of a rear passenger door, then locks the car. They walk away chattering to each other.

Through the front passenger window, we can see a COMPUTER BRIEFCASE on the floor as their voices die out in the distance.

A rock smashes the window. An arm reaches through, grabs the briefcase and quickly hauls it out. We hear the sound of running feet as we…


Okay, so it’s more meditation-on-loss-and-longing than Michael-Bay-spectacle. All I know is I’ve played those two scenes over and over on the ol’ cranial QuickTime.

That first time out, I was relying on someone else to be storing the speeches I’d written throughout the campaign; that turned out to be a false hope, and I lost everything I’d worked on for a month and a half. The second time, I’d only owned the computer for half a year, and was able to recover a lot of my older work from its predecessor; I resurrected a chunk of more recent stuff as attachments in sent email messages—thank you, IMAP! But I still lost a lot. (Crazy thing is, I’m still angrier about losing the bag than the computer. It was a damn fine bag.)

Granted, I was being stupid about it that second time, 10 years later (“I’ll only be a minute, and it’s a busy street—I’m sure my laptop’s safe”). But sooner or later, nearly everyone seems to be dumb about data… and when it comes to data, fate loves yielding to temptation.

Ever since then, I’ve become religious about backing up. My daily devotion is practiced via Apple’sTime Machine. It may not be the most efficient or full-featured piece of software, but it’s the best backup solution for me for one really simple reason: I actually use it. And although my company started using Dropbox as a collaboration tool, it also happens to serve as a perfectly good offsite backup for key business files.

How about you – got a backup horror story to share?


Our company was moving offices from North York to downtown Toronto. My laptop was sitting on my brandnew desk, amidst all the hubub of 100 people moving into an office building. The IT guy was on his way to secure everything by adding those Kensington locks to our laptops, making sure that the monitors matched the CPUs, etc.

I went off to a meeting for 45 minutes and returned to a now-empty desktop, where only shortly before a laptop had sat. It turns out that one of the people helping with the moving had decided to take a few items out of the building, instead of just bringing them in. It turns out a couple of laptops and a brand new projector disappeared that day.

No problem, I thought to myself. I turned to our IT manager, and asked him how quickly he could restore another laptop from my backup. His face turned a funny colour.

"Actually," he admitted, "We were supposed to reconfigure the backup server and we haven't gotten around to it."

"Oh. So when is the last backup from?"

"About two years ago."

The only good thing that came out of that episode was the feeling I got when I fired the IT manager.

Oh – and I discovered a couple of disks at home the next week with a fairly recent copy of most of my user files – but all my emails were gone forever.

Like you, I now depend on Time Machine to back everything up every day, plus I have a bootable backup that's updated every night and I have all my user files backed up to cloud storage. I firmly believe in the saying that "a file doesn't exist until it exists in at least three places."

Oh, lord, Dave: that's painful.

I'd like to think that all of our lost data isn't gone forever — that somewhere out there is a kind of Island of Lost Files, where those evaporated emails, deleted databases and scuttled spreadsheets can romp without a care for the rest of their days.

I actually wrote up an extensive treatment for a screenplay about that, but lost it to file corruption…

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