Aug 9

If you’ve been following my series of posts on scheduling automatic backups to the cloud, you’ll have read how it’s possible to select just the daily, changed files for backup. It occurred to me when setting this up that what I also needed to be able to do is delete files older than a certain age from the backup folder.

Why delete files?

Well for me, my main backup location is my external hard drive. As a secondary backup, I backup all important daily business files to my cloud storage until a client job is satisfactorily completed, then I can delete them from this secondary storage. Another reason for deleting files is when a business client specifies that I delete them a certain number of days after job completion. Finally, most cloud storage providers only give you a limited amount of free storage, so it’s useful to be able to delete files older than a certain age to prevent going over the free quota.

Batch file to delete old files

A quick Google search revealed that Windows includes a program called forfiles which will do this job – I had no idea about this! Here’s the basic line you’ll need to add to your backup batch file:

forfiles.exe /p “C:\<directory with files>” /s /m *.* /d -<number of days> /c “cmd /c del @file”

Looks daunting, but it’s just the program name followed by a number of parameters. What follows /p is the path to the files to delete; /s tells the program to delete from subfolders as well; what follows /m specifies the file types to delete; what follows /d is the key parameter here and selects files with a last modified date earlier than or equal to (-) the current date minus the number of days specified, e.g. /d –45 would delete files older than 45 days; what follows /c runs the specified command on the path specified earlier. Command strings are enclosed in quotation marks.

I’ve added this to my scheduled batch file given in the earlier post so it now backs up encrypted daily files and also deletes all files older than 45 days. These changes are then synced to my cloud storage.

Finally, a word of warning. Deleting files is dangerous, especially when you are setting up scheduled automated deletion. Be sure to back up all you data before testing and implementing this routine.


Jul 25

I’ve already blogged about scheduling daily backups of changed files to cloud storage. Well, that’s fine but what if you want the added security of encrypting the files before you upload them? Well I’ve found a couple of ways to add client-side encryption to the backup process, just in case you are uneasy about sending unencrypted files to the cloud. I read a post about Cloudfogger on the tech blog Instant Fundas. Cloudfogger adds a virtual X: drive to your PC where your changed/new documents are passed to first. Cloudfogger then encrypts the files using AES 256 bit encryption and sends them to your nominated drop folder on your PC. From there, the encrypted files are synced to your cloud storage. In my case, the CX Sync folder mentioned in my earlier post is my drop folder syncing to CX in the cloud, but you could just as easily use Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive as your drop folder.

So instead of backing up changed/new files to the CX-Sync folder as in the earlier post, you now backup to the virtual X: drive instead. Here’s an example batch file:

echo off

echo Encrypted daily files to CX

Robocopy “c:\Users\<user name>\Documents” X:\  /MAXAGE:1 /S

echo Backup complete
pause

The changed files are thus copied to the X: drive by this simple batch file, then encrypted and passed to your nominated drop folder:

Cloudfogger

The encrypted files in your drop folder are then synced to your cloud storage.

One drawback of this automatic approach is that everything is sent to the same drop folder and thus sent on to the same online storage provider. Suppose you wanted to send different encrypted files to different cloud storage providers? Well, you could use a second encryption app like SecretSync to pass other encrypted files to a second drop folder and then on to a different cloud storage provider. And you could set it all up as a second scheduled task, just as I’ve outlined in the earlier post.

So now all your daily data is secure in the cloud using a simple batch file and Cloudfogger together with a cloud storage provider like CX, Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive.


Jul 19

I’ve already blogged about backing up your WordPress database and files to your hard drive and external drive but how do you keep your backups up to date quickly?

Automatic Backup of Blog Database

The database contains your posts, comments, etc. The best way to keep this up to date is to use a plugin like WP-DB-Backup and automatically email database backups to yourself daily. You can then back this up to your external drive or to the cloud. An automatic backup is as quick as you can get and needs no planning so that’s that covered.

Backup Only WordPress Files that Have Changed or Been Added

So you’ve already backed up your wp-content folder, with your uploads, themes, plugins, etc to your hard drive. Fine, but then you add a post or two. What files do you need to back up to keep everything up to date? The problem I’ve found is that if you use an FTP client (I use CoffeeCup Free FTP) to copy your updated wp-content folder from your webhost to your hard drive, it may just copy everything again rather than sync only the changed or new files, and that takes time. I have almost 250 posts on this blog now and the wp-content folder has a total of almost 4000 files reaching over 200MB. That seems a pointless waste of precious bandwidth when just a few files are added with each new post. We only want to back up those new files.

Here’s the thing. When you add a new post and don’t change any settings in your theme and you don’t update any plugins, the only folder that’s changed is your uploads folder containing the images added for the new post, and of course the database. So after adding a new post and changing nothing else, really all you have to backup is the uploads (images) for the current month. For me, that’s at public_html/wp-content/uploads/current year/. So just fire up your FTP client and download the images for the current month to the appropriate folder on your hard drive and make sure those new files are also backed up to your external drive.

Free FTP

Of course, if you’ve updated your plugins, copy public_html/wp-content/plugins and if you updated your theme, download public_html/wp-content/themes/current theme. And that should save you some time and bandwidth.  Until I have to do a blog restore, I personally haven’t checked this. But when I asked what files have changed since the last post on the forum at WordPress.org, the reply I got was ‘the DB would have changed and any media files added should be backed up also’. No one else commented to contradict this, so I assume it’s correct. If you know differently, please let me know!


May 16

I’ve already talked about my backup routine in an earlier post. Part of that involves daily backups to CX (Cloud Exchange) –  it’s my first choice cloud storage site as it gives 10GB free storage. Like Dropbox and SkyDrive etc, just drag your files to the CX desktop folder and they are automatically synced to the cloud.

That’s great, but what about scheduling automatic daily backups of your changed documents to the cloud? For me, it’s important to have a second copy of my recently changed work files in the cloud, just in case my PC doesn’t boot next morning, for example. We need a way to automatically select documents you’ve worked on that day, and at a preset time, copy those files to your CX folder for syncing to the cloud. I’m going to show you how I do this.

Get some free cloud storage

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for free cloud storage and make a note where your desktop folder is for syncing to the cloud. For me, it’s C:\Users\<user name> \Desktop\CX Sync.

Create a batch file to copy daily changed files to the CX folder

Yes, I know batch files are a little old school but, once set up correctly, they get the job done. We’ll make one to execute a simple command to copy today’s changed files to our syncing folder, but first why select just changed files? Well, if you have a good backup routine in place, all your documents older than today should be on your external drive anyway. During the current day, you’ve been editing documents, photos or videos and these current files should be backed up to your external drive and the cloud at the end of the day. You could use a backup program but why download another utility when you already have the tools to do it for free in Windows.

We can create a batch file with a text editor like Notepad++. In the batch file, the command Robocopy is used to copy your daily files from the source folders to a destination folder, your syncing folder. Robocopy is available in Windows Vista and Windows 7.  The format for the Robocopy command here is Robocopy <source folder> <destination folder> switches. The switch /MAXAGE:1 makes the command select just today’s files (i.e. it excludes files older than 1 day). The switch /S tells Robocopy to copy subfolders. Open your text editor and copy and paste the following lines to make your batch file:

echo off

echo Daily files to CX

Robocopy “c:\Users\<user name>\Documents” “C:\Users\<user name>\Desktop\CX Sync” /MAXAGE:1 /S

echo Backup complete
pause

You’ll have to edit <user name> to your own user name and you’ll have to change some details to point to your correct source and destination folders. The destination folder should be your syncing folder, in my case CX Sync. If the source or destination paths contain spaces in them, enclose these in double quotes as shown above. Now save it as a batch file (.bat) on your desktop, NOT as a text file (.txt). Give it a sensible name, something like Daily docs to CX.bat. Here’s how the Save as screen looks in Notepad++:

Save as batch file

Try it out by double clicking this batch file on your Desktop  to see if it’s copying today’s changed files to your syncing folder.

Schedule your daily backup with Windows Task Scheduler

So far so good I hope. But so far we’re relying on remembering to click this batch file each day. Much better if we could automate this process to run the batch file at a specific time each day, say 9pm when all work for the day is finished and we are doing other things on our PC. Well, we can set up Windows Task Scheduler to do this.

Click the Windows Start button and key in Task in the search window. This should bring up Task Scheduler on the list. Click it, then right click Task Scheduler Library and choose Create Task. Under the General tab, fill out the task Name:

Task Scheduler1

Then click on the Triggers tab and click New. Fill out the time for your scheduled backup to run and make sure Daily is selected. Click OK.

Task Scheduler2

Then click on the Actions tab and click New. Fill out the location of your batch file by browsing to your desktop and selecting the file. Click OK.

Task Scheduler3

Select the Conditions tab and set it up as shown.

Task Scheduler4

I found it best to uncheck the default ‘Start the task only if the computer is idle for:’ I want it to run right away at 9pm with no delay. Click OK to complete setting up your scheduled backup task and close the Task Scheduler.

When this scheduled task runs at your chosen time, it runs in the background anyway. The pause command at the end of the batch file means the window will remain open so you can check it has run correctly.  When you’re satisfied everything is okay, press any key to close the batch file window.

So there we have a free route to set up a scheduled backup of your daily edited files to the cloud without downloading any utilities. Eventually, when your free online storage starts to fill up, you can delete some of the older files to free up space. They should all be on your external drive anyway. How do you schedule backups? Have you any suggestions to improve this routine. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update (28 July 2012): If you want to take this a little further, and you’re interested in client-side encryption before backing up, I’ve recently added a new post on Scheduling Encrypted Daily Backups of Changed Files to Cloud Storage.


May 7

I’ve already blogged about backing up all your Thunderbird emails using MozBackup. Well that’s fine but what about restoring all the mails and settings to make sure MozBackup has done the job correctly. I use Windows 7 on my main PC but I have a backup PC running Windows XP. Could I restore Thunderbird to the backup PC? There are a couple of ways to do it, one uses MozBackup and the other just involves copying the Thunderbird profile from PC to PC, even across operating systems. So I tried it.

Restoring Thunderbird on the same or another Windows PC using MozBackup

On my main Windows 7 PC, I ran a Thunderbird backup to my external hard drive using MozBackup as described in my earlier post in the first link. I then installed the current version of Thunderbird on my backup Windows XP PC and also installed MozBackup on it. On both the Windows 7 PC and the Windows XP PC, Thunderbird installs to C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird. Then I restored Thunderbird from my external hard drive to my backup Windows XP PC by running MozBackup, choosing ‘Restore a profile’ and selecting Thunderbird to restore:

MozBackup2

I then chose the default profile to restore and browsed to the directory on the external hard drive with the Thunderbird backup. Everything restored perfectly, even after backing up Thunderbird on a Windows 7 PC and restoring on a Windows XP PC. This despite the fact that the emails and settings are stored in different places in each Windows OS. In Windows 7, Thunderbird emails and settings are stored at C:\Users\<user name>\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\ while in Windows XP, the emails and settings are at C:\Documents and Settings\<user name>\Application Data\Thunderbird\. MozBackup must be checking the directory structure, doesn’t find the Windows 7 structure, determines which directory structure is present (Windows XP) and automatically restores to that directory. That’s very nice. Of course, restoring Thunderbird on your main PC with MozBackup is just as simple.

Restoring Thunderbird on a Linux Netbook

So far so good, I’ve managed to restore all my emails either on the same or another Windows PC using MozBackup. But I’ve also got an Acer Aspire netbook running Ubuntu. Could I restore Thunderbird there too? MozBackup doesn’t run on Linux so I had to copy the Thunderbird profile this time. First I installed Thunderbird on my netbook running Ubuntu. Then all you have to do is copy the Thunderbird profile in the C:\Users\<user name>\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\ on my Windows 7 PC into the folder /home/<user name>/.thunderbird/ on the Ubuntu netbook. For those not familiar with file management in Ubuntu, here’s the procedure I used. I copied the C:\Users\<user name>\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird directory on the Windows 7 PC onto a USB stick then plugged the stick into my Ubuntu netbook. When Nautilus opened, I navigated to the folder <user name> at the top. I clicked F3 to get an extra viewing pane then in the left pane, I clicked Ctrl-H to see hidden folders and files (the Thunderbird profile is in the hidden .thunderbird folder). Then I navigated down to the .thunderbird folder and double clicked it. In the right pane, I navigated to the USB stick shown in the listing on the left, and double clicked the Thunderbird folder in the right pane. This is what you should now see:

Thunderbird directories

Then I dragged the files and folders present in the right pane to the left pane. I merged folders replacing everything. I launched Thunderbird and all the emails were present just as they were on my Windows 7 PC.

I should say I don’t need to sync my emails between different PCs, I just need a way to ensure that if my main PC packs up for whatever reason, I can be up and running with all my emails on my backup PC or my Linux netbook. Of course, when I do go travelling, I can now happily get all my emails in Thunderbird on my netbook, then when I return just reverse the above process to restore my current emails back to my main Windows 7 PC.

I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on working with Thunderbird on different PCs and operating systems. Drop a comment below.


Apr 12
My Current PC Backup Routine
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Backup | icon4 April 12, 2012| icon32 Comments »

Backing up your PCs digital data is obviously important, but I suspect some people are not sure how best to go about this to make sure they have everything covered. Well I’ll go through my current backup routine here. It’s a little long but if you want to follow it, just skip to the parts that concern your own backup requirements.  You’ll also find there is a bit of duplication in this routine. I don’t think there’s any harm in having more that one backup route for your data so that you have a choice of restore options if one is unsuccessful.

As you’ll see, I backup my registry, browser profiles etc. to a folder called My Backups which I created under My Documents. The beauty of this is that whenever My Documents is backed up, the My Backups folder is automatically included. Then I backup all the data and settings to an external 1TB hard drive. I also backup the documents I am working on to the cloud daily. Hopefully I’ve covered all the bases here so that if disaster strikes and my hard drive fails suddenly and the data can’t be recovered, I’ll be able to get all my data and settings back reasonably quickly.

Preparation

First off, I delete temporary files, history, cookies, etc. using CCleaner to prevent backing up unnecessary files. If you’re going to follow my routine, create a folder called My Backups under My Documents. You may also need an online backup service although this isn’t essential. I use CX (Cloud Experience) which gives 10GB of free online space, perfect for daily backups of documents I’ve been working on.

Backup the Windows Registry

I’ve given two choices here.

1. Export the registry backup using regedit:
Click Start, Run, and type regedit
File, Export
Save as: Registry backup date.reg
Save in: C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups

2. [Updated, 29th August 2012] Or use the free program Tweaking.com – Registry Backup. Read more about it on Technibble.
Once installed, click the Settings tab and change the backup location to say C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups\Tweaking Registry Backup. Set Auto Delete Old Backups, and then create a schedule to run it say daily at a certain time, and to delete any backups older than a certain age. That way, registry backups are automatically scheduled so you don’t have to worry about it. You can restore backups from within the program.

Backup drivers

You don’t need to do this backup regularly, just when you add new hardware. I use a free program called DriverMax (version 5.5). I’ve tried a newer version and for some reason it doesn’t backup as many drivers. I prefer the GUI on version 5.5 too. You can get DriverMax 5.5 on cnet here at the moment, or Google ‘DriverMax 5.5’ if that link is no longer valid when you read this article.
Once installed, go to Start, All Programs, DriverMax and Run DriverMax (version 5.5)
Go To Driver Backup and Restore, Backup drivers, Next, Select all drivers
Exports drivers to C:\Users\XXX\Documents\My Drivers\ (doesn’t seem to matter that this is not empty)

Backup Thunderbird

If you use the Thunderbird email client, you need to backup your emails and settings. Download the free program MozBackup

MozBackup

Run MozBackup
Select Backup a profile
Select Thunderbird (as shown above)
Select profile: for me it’s default
Save in: C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups
Password protect: No
Select all details to backup
Took 3 minutes to backup my 640MB of email data
Because of the backup size I just retain the last 2 Thunderbird backups

Backup Firefox

Run MozBackup again (FavBackup will also backup Firefox as mentioned later)
Select Backup a profile
Select Firefox
Select profile: for me it’s default
Save in: C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups
Password protect: No
Select all details to backup
Took 20 s
I just retain the last 2 backups

Backup Google Chrome

Download the free program Google Chrome Backup (FavBackup will also backup Firefox as mentioned later)
Close Google Chrome Chrome
Go to C:\Program Files\Google Chrome Backup
Run gcb
Select Run Wizard
Select Backup
Backup default profile
Select Backup path C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups
Empty cache before backup

Backup Internet Explorer

FavBackup

Download the free program FavBackup. Works with IE6, 7 and 8. I should mention that FavBackup will backup other browser profiles as well – Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome and Flock, so you could use FavBackup instead of the backup solutions just mentioned for Firefox and Chrome. See which you prefer or use both for good measure.

It saves the profiles as just default.dat so I found it best to save these to subfolders in the My Backups folder

Select the Browser profiles you want to backup.

Select everything you want to backup and choose the backup location:

Save profiles in:
C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups\FavBackup\Chrome
C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups\FavBackup\Firefox

Backup PC profile and software licences

Download and run free Belarc Advisor for a complete profile of your PC hardware, installed programs and software licences. The audit will be displayed as a web page in your browser. To save it, just right click on the page and then click Save as.. and save it as a web page in your My Backups folder.

Backup data and settings to external hard drive

Now down to the main part of the backup – backing up all the data and settings to an external hard drive. There’s a myriad of free applications which will do this – SyncBack and EaseUS Todo Backup are two examples. There’s a nice example of using SyncBack here, but I’ve chosen to use Fabs AutoBackup 3 and if you follow that link, it shows all the files, folders and settings it will backup. I’ve listened to enough podcasts by PC repair techs to know this is a great solution for backing up data and settings. The greatest recommendation they come up with is that after recovering a PC for a client using FABs AutoBackup, all the settings have been restored and the client gets his PC back just as he used to have it set up. That’s good enough for me. It’s not free though, but for home use, FABs AutoBackup 3 is just 4.90 euro so that’s great value and covers 1 year of updates. It’s very simple to use:

Run FABs Autobackup 3
Tick: Backup in subfolder date-user and check through everything you want to backup.
Backup to E:\FABS Backup\ (my external hard drive is the E: drive, yours may be different).

Backup daily to the cloud

I don’t do a full backup to the cloud. Any important documents I’ve been working on during that day I backup to CX. Once installed, you just drag your files to the CX Cloud folder on your PC and they get synced to your free 10GB online account.

Backup a list of installed applications

Okay, so your hard drive has failed and you managed to restore your data and settings from your backup drive to your new hard drive, what about all your apps? Do you remember what you had installed? Well, I’ve included some ways to back up a list of your installed software and the Start menu which will help you remember what you had installed. Thanks to PC Mech for this:

Click Start, Run and type cmd
At the command prompt, type wmic
Then copy the following line (except the text in brackets) and paste it at the command prompt (right click in command prompt box and click Paste):
/output:C:\InstallListdate.txt product get name,version (insert the current date in the file name but don’t use hyphens in the date, e.g. InstallList040412.txt)
The routine has finished when the prompt wmic:root\cli> reappears
Type Exit twice to leave the command prompt and then move the file to the My Backups folder.

Backup Start-menu

Again thanks to PC Mech for this:

Click Start, Run and type cmd
Then copy the following line (except the text in brackets) and paste it at the command prompt (right click in command prompt box and click Paste):
DIR /S “%PROGRAMDATA%\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\START MENU” > C:\Startmenudate.txt (insert the current date in the file name but don’t use hyphens in the date, e.g. Startmenu040412.txt)
Type Exit to leave the command prompt and then move the file to the My Backups folder.

Create a screenshot of installed programs

I use the free program PicPick to create screenshots – it’s useful because you will need to be able to capture a scrolling window of the list of programs. Download PicPick here.

Click Start, Control Panel, Programs and Features
This will list all your installed programs
Use the Screen Capture utility of PicPick and select Scrolling Window
Move the mouse over the window you want to capture. It will have a red outline border; click the left mouse button then let go and wait patiently as it scrolls down to the bottom of the list of applications. Then it opens the list in PicPick editor.
Save the screenshot as Installed programs.jpg in the usual backup folder.

Where to store your backups

My daily document backups are in the cloud and my full data and settings backups are on my external hard drive beside my PC. If you can afford it, it’s a really good idea to purchase a second external hard drive and swap them out on a weekly basis. Always keep one off-site, say at your parents, in case of fire or theft at your own home.

How often to backup

This is really up to you but obviously the more often the better. Here’s my schedule:

New files (documents, photos, etc)
To CX (cloud): daily
To external drive: daily if possible

Registry: Scheduled to backup daily

Drivers: Not so important: backup when you install new hardware

Thunderbird: Weekly

Firefox and Chrome settings: Weekly

Full FABs backup: Weekly

PC profile and software licences: Backup when you install new software or hardware

Well I hope that gives you some ideas for a backup routine.  Thankfully, I haven’t had to restore anything yet but that will be the ultimate test of any backup routine. Can you suggest any improvements from your experience? Drop a comment below.


Sep 12

Iomega external hard drive

Just a cautionary tale today. Until recently I was only partially backing up this WordPress blog. I didn’t realise this and thankfully I never had to restore the blog from backups otherwise I would have learned my mistake too late – and it’s just not enough to rely on your blog host to come up with the backups when there’s a problem. Some are better than others but they can’t be relied upon.

So where was I going wrong? Well to put it simply, there are two important things you should be considering in a WordPress backup – your blog database AND your files. I had read enough posts about WordPress backup plugins and I installed one (WP-DB-Backup) very early in my blogging history to backup the database of posts. But that’s actually not enough. If you’re not backing up your files then really important stuff like all the image uploads for each post, your plugins, and your themes (including css and php files) aren’t being backed up and you’ll need these to completely restore your blog quickly in the event of a disaster or your blog being hacked.

Backing up your WordPress blog database

There are different ways to do this but I’ve always used WP-DB-Backup and use the option to download the backup to my hard drive although you can also have it emailed to you. On my PC, I’ve created a new folder called My Sites for my blogs as I already have My Documents, My Pictures, etc and this continues a consistent folder naming policy. I then created the folders Techandlife/Database Backups in this folder. I also backup this database backup regularly to an external backup hard drive so I have a second copy.

Backing up your WordPress blog files

Again there are different ways to do this but I use an FTP client to download the WordPress files to my hard drive and again also backing this up to an external hard drive. The important files on your WordPress blog are all in the directory public_html/wp-content. Again this goes into my My Sites/Techandlife folder. I must admit I don’t back up regularly enough but I try and do it once a month, so at worst I’ve lost just the last month of posts. The FTP client I use, Ipswitch WS FTP LE is a classic freeware product and still works fine under Windows 7. You could also use FileZilla for your file backups.

Another way to backup your files is with the WordPress Backup plugin.

Backup everything at once

I haven’t tried this but understand that EZPZ One Click Backup will backup (and restore) both the database and files but I note on the download page that quite a few people have problems getting it to work. Everything mentioned so far are free solutions but there are also paid solutions like WP Dolly Pro and monthly subscription services like blogVault.

Backup Windows Live Writer

If you compose your posts in Windows Live Writer, you can back up your settings, recent posts, drafts and plugins with Windows Live Writer Backup.

I’ve never had to restore my blog from backup yet so I’d love to hear your experiences with backing up and particularly restoring your WordPress blog. Did it work for you? What did you learn? Which backup plugins do you use if any? We all want to be fully prepared for this disaster waiting to happen and know that we’re in good shape to get going again as quickly as possible. Drop a comment below with your experiences, good and bad.


Mar 29

Standby PC

A recent poll on MakeUseOf suggests that most of now have at least one computer in the house, and many of us have three or more! Admittedly, MakeUseOf readers are perhaps a little more tech savvy than others but I’m pretty sure the poll isn’t too wide of the mark for most of us now.

So you’ve bought a shiny new desktop PC, laptop or tablet and your old PC or laptop has been forgotten and consigned to a dusty old corner. Well it might just be worth pulling it out and putting it to use, particularly if it’s still reasonably fast and has a network card installed. David Pierce suggests using one machine for work and one for leisure and that’s pretty good advice. If you’re a freelancer and work from home, you rely on your primary machine to earn money! So it’s a great idea just to keep one machine solely for work, i.e. avoid too much surfing and downloading which may lead to a malware attack. Leave all this to your older secondary ‘leisure’ machine.

But if your old PC is just too old for everyday leisure use, at least make sure it’s ready to go in the event of a major issue on your main machine. So before you consign it to a corner, run some maintenance tools (eg CCleaner and Malwarebytes) and make sure all program updates have been downloaded and installed. There’s great peace of mind for a freelancer knowing that you have a standby machine ready to help out when your main PC or laptop has a problem (failed hard drive, failed power supply, malware attack, etc). You can work away on your standby machine as you run malware scans on your main machine, or indeed if the repair is too much for you, your standby machine should see you through while your primary machine is at the repair shop.


Jan 19

So you’ve backed up your data and photos from your PC to an external drive, NAS, or DVDs. That’s great but problem is the files mightn’t last intact there long term. Five years perhaps… 10 years, perhaps not. Point is you don’t want to go back to a dusty old DVD of cherished photos to find that the files have become corrupt through bit-rot or degradation of the storage media. ‘Bit rot?’ I hear you say. I hadn’t heard of the term either till I read a great post on it by Rich Menga of PCMech yesterday. Rich suggests putting your photos in file archives and testing these regularly for errors. He says that if the archive file is damaged due to age, it can be repaired without the need for any special utilities. Usually, all it takes to test an archive is a right-click/Test Archive.

In a follow-up post today, he has a further great article looking at how long media – hard drives, optical media and USB drives – will last. He comes to the conclusion that storage on flash drives might well outlast hard drives and optical media.

I think the message from all this is to keep more than one copy of your data and photos in backups locally, backup to the cloud, and refresh the files on new media every 2 or 3 years.

Here’s links to Rich’s two posts:

How to Avoid Bit Rot – PCMech

How Long will that Media Last? – PCMech

Head over there and read the posts. If you value your data and photos, they’re must-read articles.


Nov 18

House fire

You wake during the night to the smell of smoke, and jump out of bed to find the living room of the house is ablaze. Your first priority is to get your family to safety of course and phone the emergency services. That taken care of, say you’ve got one chance to take something as you leave your home for possibly the last time. What would it be? Something valuable, something sentimental?

When I considered this scenario, I concluded that if I had a chance, I would take my photos with me if I could. Pretty much everything else could be replaced but, when I thought about it, my photos are priceless memories which I’ll enjoy for years to come… memories of my childhood, holidays, friends, our wedding, my own family growing up. Much of my older photos are still in albums, while some are still in their wallets piled in boxes in the loft. I’ve also got quite a few wooden slide boxes full of 35mm transparencies (yip, no chance in a fire!). More recently, my digital photos are on my PC and backed up to an external hard drive.

It’s very, very  easy to get complacent about this and hope it will never happen to you. So I guess I should make an effort to get all my photo albums and 35mm transparencies digitised and get everything onto my external backup drive. Another possibility would be a fireproof safe but could I trust it to save all my photos and transparencies? I doubt it. Anyway it would have to be pretty large and therefore the cost would be prohibitive. Going the digital route, ideally, I should have two backup drives and do weekly rolling backups, keeping one drive away from the house, say at my parents’ house and swapping these out weekly to update them. That way I’d be covered against fire, flooding, theft, etc. and wouldn’t have to hunt for a laptop or external drive in a burning house. Wouldn’t cost too much either, in fact I reckon buying two external 500GB backup drives would cost around £100 ($160). I don’t have videos so 500GB drives should be fine and I can always upgrade them when I need more storage. Alternatively, I could backup my photos to the cloud but this would take quite some time to upload and with an annual cost of around $50-100 per year, I think I’m better off with offsite storage. I wouldn’t rely on keeping everything just in the cloud anyway – I would have to have a physical backups. But surely two drives doing a rolling backup would be enough wouldn’t it. Any thoughts?

So what would you take with you from your burning home?

Image credit: 111Emergency


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