TITLE: Shame at Causing Loved Ones Harm AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 06, 2010 7:36 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

The universe tends toward maximum irony.
Don't push it.
-- JWZ

I have had Jamie Zawinski's public service announcement on backups sitting on desk since last fall. I usually keep my laptop and my office machine pretty well in sync, so I pretty much always have a live back-up. But some files live outside the usual safety zone, such as a temporary audio files on my desktop, which also contains one or two folders of stuff. I knew I need to be more systematic and complete in safeguarding myself from disk failure, so printed Zawinski's warning and resolved to Do the Right Thing. Last week, I read John Gruber's ode to backups and disk recovery. This article offers a different prescription but the same message. You must be 100% backed up, including even the files that you are editing now in the minutes or hours before the next backup. Drives fail. Be prepared. Once again, I was energized to Do the Right Thing. I got out a couple of external drives that I had picked out for a good price recently. The plan was to implement a stable, complete backup process this coming weekend. The universe tends toward maximum irony. Don't push it. If the universe were punishing me for insufficient respect for its power, you would think that the hard drive in either my laptop or my office machine would have failed. But both chug along just fine. Indeed, I still have never had a hard drive fail in any of my personal or work computers. It turns out that the universe's sense of irony is much bigger than my machines. On Sunday evening, the hard drive in our family iMac failed. I rarely use this machine and store nothing of consequence there. Yet this is a much bigger deal. My wife lost a cache of e-mail, an address book, and a few files. She isn't a big techie, so she didn't have a lot to lose there. We can reassemble the contact information at little cost, and she'll probably use this as a chance to make a clean break from Eudora and POP mail and move to IMAP and mail in the cloud. In the end, it might be a net wash. My teenaged daughters are a different story. They are from a new generation and live a digital life. They have written a large number of papers, stories, and poems, all of which were on this machine. They have done numerous projects for schools and extracurricular activities. They have created artwork using various digital tools. They have taken photos. All on this machine, and now all gone. I cannot describe how I felt when I first realized what had happened, or how I feel now, two days later. I am the lead techie in our house, the computer science professor who knows better and preaches better, the husband and father who should be taking care of what matters to his family. This is my fault. Not that the hard drive failed, because drives fail. It is my fault that we don't have a reliable, complete backup of all the wonderful work my daughters have created. Fortunately, not all is lost. At various times, we have copied files to sundry external drives and servers for a variety of reasons. I sometimes copy poetry and stories and papers that I especially like onto my own machines, for easy access. The result is a scattering of files here and there, across a half dozen machines. I will spend the next few days reassembling what we have as best I can. But it will not be all, and it will not be enough. The universe maximized its irony this time around by getting me twice. First, I was gonna do it, but didn't. That was just the head fake. I was not thinking much at all about our home machine. That is where the irony came squarely to rest. Shut up. I know things. You will listen to me. Do it anyway. Trust Zawinski, Gruber, and every other sane computer user. Trust me. Do it. Run; don't walk. Whether your plan uses custom tools or a lowly cron running rysnc, do it now. Whether you go as far as using a service such as dropbox to maintain working files or not, set up an automatic, complete, and bootable backup of your hard drives. I know I can't be alone. There must be others like me out there. Maybe you used to maintain automatic and complete system backups and for whatever reason fell out of the habit. Maybe you have never done it but know it's the right thing to do. Maybe, for whatever reason, you have never thought about a hard drive failing. You've been lucky so far and don't even know that your luck might change at any moment. Do it now, before dinner, before breakfast. Do it before someone you love loses valuable possessions they care deeply about. I will say this: my daughters have been unbelievable through all this. Based on what happened Sunday night, I certainly don't deserve their trust or their faith. Now it's time to give them what they deserve. -----