These Guys Didn’t Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened

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screamingcomputer   These Guys Didnt Back Up Their Files, Now Look What HappenedBack in college, I used to work just about every day as a computer cluster consultant. I remember a month after getting promoted to a supervisor, I was in the process of training a new consultant in the library computer cluster. Suddenly, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned around I was confronted with a frantic graduate student – a 30-something year old man who I believe was Eastern European based on his accent – who was nearly in tears.

“Please need help – my document is all gone and disk stuck!” he said as he frantically pointed to his PC.

Now, right off the bat I could have told you three facts about the guy. One glance at the blue screen of the archaic DOS-based version of Wordperfect told me that – like most of the other graduate students at the time – he had not yet decided to upgrade to the newer, point-and-click style word processing software. For some reason, graduate students had become so accustomed to all of the keyboard hot-keys associated with typing in a DOS-like environment that they all refused to evolve into point-and-click users.

The second fact, gathered from a quick glance at his blank document screen and the sweat on his brow told me that he had not saved his document as he worked. The last fact, based on his thick accent, was that communicating the gravity of his situation wouldn’t be easy. In fact, it was made even worse by his answer to my question when I asked him when he last saved.

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“I wrote 30 pages.”

Calculated out at about 600 words a page, that’s 18000 words. Ouch.

Then he pointed at the disk drive. The floppy disk was stuck, and from the marks on the drive he had clearly tried to get it out with something like a paper clip. By the time I had carefully fished the torn and destroyed disk out of the drive, it was clear he’d never recover anything off of it. I asked him what was on it.

“My thesis.”

I gulped. I asked him if he was serious. He was. I asked him if he’d made any backups. He hadn’t.

Making Backups of Backups

If there is anything I learned during those early years of working with computers (and the people that use them), it was how critical it is to not only save important stuff, but also to save it in different places. I would back up floppy drives to those cool new zip drives as well as the local PC hard drive. Never, ever had a single copy of anything.

Unfortunately, even today, people have not learned that lesson. Whether it’s at work, at home, or talking with friends, I keep hearing stories of people losing hundreds to thousands of files, sometimes they lose data worth actual dollars in time and resources that were used to develop the information.

To drive that lesson home, I wanted to share a collection of stories that I found around the Internet about some recent cases were people suffered that horrible fate – from thousands of files to entire drives worth of data completely lost. These are people where the only remaining option is to start running recovery software and praying, or in other cases paying thousands of dollars to a data recovery firm and hoping there’s something to find.

Not Backing Up Projects

The first example comes from Yahoo Answers, where a user that only provided a “?” for a user name (out of embarrassment probably), posted:

“I lost all my files from my hard drive? help please? I did a project that took me 3 days and now i lost it, its powerpoint presentation, where can i look for it? its not there where i save it, thank you”

The folks answering immediately dove into suggesting that the person run recovery software, and one person suggested that the person run a search on the computer for *.ppt.

externaldrive   These Guys Didnt Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened

Probably a good idea to do a search, but the odds are pretty good that the person accidentally deleted the file accidentally. Hopefully they simply moved it – but from past experience I’ve seen this scenario far too often – a person literally spends days building a project and doesn’t think even once to save it in more than just one location.

How important can that project really be if you don’t bother to back it up as you work along?  When I program at work, I’ve learned the hard lesson in the past of losing several days worth of programming effort with a simple slip of the “save” button – saving over my past work with a bad program. I now back up everything – at each stage of development – in 3 or 4 different places.

Doing Backups Wrong

Then, there’s a scenario of actually trying to do a backup and doing it wrong, losing all of the files on the original drive.  That was the case for the person who posted on Tech Support Forum, that after purchasing a brand new Toshiba Laptop and attempting to transfer old files from an external hard drive, inadvertently wiped the files on the hard drive.

Please someone help me…I last week brought a Toshiba Satellite laptop running windows 7, to replace my blue screening Dell vista laptop. On plugged in my sumo external hard drive to copy over some much treasured photos and some of my (work – music/writing.) it said installing driver. it said completed I clicked on the hard drive and found a copy of my documents from the new laptop and nothing else. 

While the description of the problem is a little broken, from the sound of it, the person thought they were backing up from one direction, while they were actually backing up in the other direction. At least in this case not all of the original files were deleted, but a majority were.

windowsscreen   These Guys Didnt Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened

Thankfully, this would be a case where recovery software could likely help, but why risk it? Take your time when you’re backing up files, especially if you’ve never used the backup software before. Why click “OK” or “YES” on dialog windows before you really know what it’s asking? Take your time and understand each step of the process. It’ll be worth your while.

My Mac Ate My Files

Before you start laughing and pointing your finger at all of the silly Windows people, keep in mind that this affliction also affects Mac users as well. Case in point, a user by the name of Tas over at DaniWeb, who posted that simply shutting down and starting up the Mac wiped out music, photos and even contact lists. Now that’s scary. And no backups? Are you kidding?

I shut down my mac and when I started it up again all the files I had saved, all my music, all my photo’s and numbers and adresses and everything else I have worked on in the last year has just gone. No trace of it. If any of you have any idea how to get it back, I would love to know. Also, all the applications are still there but some of them need to be registered again.

Many users thought that the user had simply booted off the wrong drive, and one IT person piped in that it had happened at her place of work and she recovered files for someone in a root folder named “Previous Systems”.

maclogo   These Guys Didnt Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened

Unfortunately, more users piped up in the thread where they’d similarly lost years of data. I think the following post was the worst case I’d ever heard of.

“Today, I just lost all my Web-sites (my entire parent-Web folder is gone with all its contents).
Wonderful. Years of work just gone. Popped away in less than a second. I still have the mail server, etc, plus 60GB extra free space, which means the files are totally gone from the harddisk.
No more Mac for me.”

In all fairness, I do think that last poster went a bit overboard stating “No mor Mac for me,” after all the epidemic of data loss is an equal opportunity destroyer – regardless of OS. It comes down to human nature and sheer laziness when it comes to taking proper backups. It’s the, “It’ll never happen to me” mentality.

Do Backups Before Messing Around

Before I ever play around with utilities or install any serious apps on my PC, I take backups. Even more-so if I’m going to be trying out anything to do with the operating system. So, I was shocked to read at post over at TechGuy.org, where one person tested out Windows 8 thinking it was going to somehow back up and save his previous system setup and files.

“I’m in a real mess at the moment, I’ve lost some important word documents after I did a Windows 8 refresh. The documents I need were on my desktop in folders and what’s strange is the folders are still there but the files inside them aren’t. I’ve tried ‘Recuva’ and I’ve got like 3 word documents back but the it says the rest are unrecoverable and have been overwritten. I’ve been trying other programs but not luck so far. I know it’s a long shot but is there any possible way to recover these word documents? It’s work I can’t replicate again and I’m screwed if I can’t get it back.”

He was beat up pretty badly by tech folks telling him what an idiot he’d been, and the poor guy almost left the forum crying.  One user informed him:

“If you want to recover the data, stop using the computer, and get ready to write a big check. That’s your only option at this point.”

Ultimately, if you are going to do something like test a new operating system and don’t bother backing up at least your most important files, then you probably deserve to write a big fat check to some data recovery company – at the very least it would be a very difficult lesson to ever forget.

Use Common Sense When Installing Software

The last example I wanted to offer was one that I discovered over at R-TT Forums. It involves a person that installed software, and not only did they not bother doing regular backups of their most important files, but they also decided to go ahead and install that new software directly into the folder where all of those important files are stored. Say what?

Yesterday i installed a program (Sony Vegas) on my computer, i installed it to a specific folder where i keep all my personal files, a folder which contains over 150gbs worth of files and docs. When i installed Sony Vegas to that folder, it installed in a funny way, all the program’s files were spread out across the folder, so i decided uninstall Sony Vegas. When uninstalled, i went to open my folder but could no longer locate it, so i did system restore and the folder was back, but with nothing inside, all the files were gone except for empty folders here and there. Do i have any chance of recovering my files? I desperately need them back, i have had that folder for almost 10 years now, and it is full of memories, video files, documents etc. I just need them back.

Imagine – a folder filled with 10 years of memories and important files. No backups, and then installing software directly into that folder.

frustrated   These Guys Didnt Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened

Hard lesson – not only should you take backups, but you should also install software as far away as possible from important memories and critical files. Common sense, right?

So now that you’ve learned from everyone else’s mistakes, I bet you’re ready to take your own backups, right? That’s what I thought.

Thankfully, you’re at MakeUseOf, where there are lots of fantastic free options. I like Microsoft SyncToy, while there are others that like FreeFileSync. Choose one and use it. Or go with one of the backup solutions offered by Matt. Have a Mac? James has triple-backup tips. Have a pile of photo memories you can’t afford to lose? Use Saikat’s advice and triple-upload them.

Don’t wait any longer, and don’t think it won’t happen to you. One day it will, and you want to be prepared. Trust me.

Do you take regular backups? What solutions do you use? Have you ever had your own data-loss horror story? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Stressed & Frustrated via Shutterstock, Stressed & Frustrated via ShutterstockSongquan Deng / Shutterstock.com, Adriano Castelli / Shutterstock.com, Apple Sign in NYC via Shutterstock, Windows in Milan via Shutterstock External Hard Drive via Shutterstock

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36 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Efi Dreyshner

I am backing up my PC every month, just to be safe :P

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Truefire_

64GB flashdrive + the cloud. That’s my backup. I really want to setup a small server with two or three terabytes and a backup power supply though. If only I had the dough.

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Reý Aetar

what should be trusted and how to be safe

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GrrGrrr

It’s a reminder for me to take a backup….

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Richard Steven Hack

As a freelance PC support person, I run into this fairly often.

I told one client who has a lot of video files to buy an external USB drive and back up everything to it. Then, because external USB drives are notoriously fragile, I told him to buy another one and back up to it as well.

Always have your files in at least three places. Given the laws of probability, you will likely lose one drive, but not two, and it is very unlikely to lose three short of a physical disaster to the room. And the latter can be resolved by either taking a backup and storing it offsite, or storing it online.

I had the two hard drives that were installed in my main machine when I bought it both fail within 24 hours of each other. Fortunately my nearly 2TB of data were backed up on an external Western Digital MyBook drive. But that made me very paranoid about that backup drive and I intend to do what I recommended to my client – get another one – or better, buy a cheap computer that does nothing but host 2TB of hard drives.

External hard drives tend to be fragile, but hard drives in a computer tend to be more reliable. Plus having a second computer means you’re not down when your system fails due to a hard drive crash or other reasons – you can continue to access the Net and find solutions.

So the best solution is a second backup computer, an external USB hard drive – or two – you can take off site, and cloud storage for your most critical files. And if you’re really paranoid, make sure your cloud storage operates like Amazon’s S3 – multiple redundancy over several data centers in different US regions.

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Timothy Liem

I really want to backup my files. but external hard drive is so expensive here. that’s why I really need to win the SSD giveaway. a lot of files here. I once lost all of my movie files and don’t wanna it happen again.

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Kurt

Thanks for the memories! I ran academic computing labs in the early 90s and saw the same event many time….lots of tears…from men!!!

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illegal3alien

Save important files to Dropbox. Crashplan automatically backs up files to my file server. Backblaze backs everything up to the cloud (but it can take a couple days to catch up if I transfer a lot of pictures or files). I used to use Acronis to do weekly images, but I’ve been having too many problems with auto consolidation.

Dropbox is nice since it will sync the file to other computers and Dropbox’s servers. I never have to manually back anything up; it’s all done automatically.

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Stay See Kate

Well this happened to me a long time ago.. when One day my Mom just suddenly decided to reformat our CPU without telling me when I got home and I opened our desktop. I was like where’s my files??!!?? I went ballistic and I really got mad with my mom she didn’t tell me that she’ll reformat our PC and she didn’t backed up all the files. I’m shaking her like crazy telling her why didn’t you tell me??why didn’t you backed it up?? but now I realized that I can’t really blame her we actually don’t have External drive or any SATA to save my files or even a partition in the hardisk and our cd writer at that time is broken and uploading to some file storage sites is not possible since we’re only using dial-up connection. So there’s really no use in shoving all the blame to my mom but we both learned from that experience of loss and from now then on We always backed up files that are really important and CTRL + S became our fave hot key! :)

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Lee

On my old desktop (that I’m in the process of transferring everything off of and replacing), I have iDrive and Fbackup for my backup software. iDrive gives you 5gb free (but I upped it to, I think, 15gb from some kind of promotion/advertising thing, I don’t really remember now). There I backup most of my documents, pictures, etc. With Fbackup, I have it set to copy my entire Documents, Pictures, and Videos folder to my 500gb external hard drive (I have a 2TB one sitting in a box now, I just don’t have enough room on my desk right now to set it up, will be doing that when I move in to my dorm next week).
I also use services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive, Box, etc to store files that I want synced to other computers or backed up online. Dropbox worked really well for a programming project because I could set the project directory to a folder in Dropbox and then, no matter what computer I was using, I could download files from that project and work on them (even if an iDE wasn’t installed because I had Notepad++ installed on a flash drive).

I’ve thought about having some kind of system image taken on a monthly basis or something, so I might look into that more now that I have a hard drive capable of storing that much data.

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infmom

Years ago I worked in a small store that was owned by probably the most disorganized man on the planet. Because he couldn’t keep track of his paperwork, he was chronically short of cash (and it’s too bad the Hoarders show wasn’t on the air then because the back area of the store would have qualified, no questions asked).

So he went to buy a backup tape drive for the store’s computer, but didn’t think he could afford to buy a drive with enough capacity on one tape to back up the whole thing all at once. He got a drive with just half that capacity.

Oh, and he only bought two tapes. You know, because he was going to back up half the system on each tape.

It didn’t occur to him to use the tape drive software to select just the essentials to back up so maybe it could have fit on one tape. And because the backups took a long time and he didn’t want to sit around after work long enough to swap tapes… OK, I know you can all see where this is headed.

He got the Michelangelo virus from a floppy disk his brother brought in. By the time I got there, pretty much everything was gone. I was able to get rid of the virus OK, but when I asked him where the backup tapes were, that’s when he admitted that he’d never done a full backup and the only tape he had was 6 months old.

So that was all the store’s bookkeeping, the mailing list, the inventory, a bunch of personal files and heaven knows what else, gone for good. It was stressful enough for me to have to deal with all that without having to watch him cry when I told him that I’d done all I could do.

The Car Talk brothers are right: It’s the stingy person who spends the most.

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Muhannad Agha

one does not simply forget to backup

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Collin Hoffman

Several months ago, I attempted an Ubuntu installation that went awry (I believe it was interrupted in the middle) that succeeded in destroying the Master Boot Record on my computer. This meant that all my files were intact but Windows repair couldn’t detect an operating system to repair and I was stuck. I didn’t have to worry because all my irreplaceable files were backed up on Google Drive. My only concern was ~300GB of Steam games, but I knew that those could be re-downloaded, it would just be time consuming. However, I was able to copy the games to my external drive using an Ubuntu live CD, then reinstall Windows and copy my games back over. By the end of the next day, I had everything back to basically how it should be, and with a fresh Windows install to boot.

I like Google Drive for it’s integration with my existing Google services and the fact that it simply creates a folder that I can save documents, school projects, etc… into like saving it anywhere else, and the files are also stored on my hard drive for offline access.

Side note: I should be more diligent about maintaining a backup of my Steam library on a external drive, but I can’t be bothered because the worst that will happen is I will have to spend a few days re-downloading them.

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Laga Mahesa

Currently I have two primary drives: The first is for the OS, downloads, games, and other expendables. This I don’t back up. The second is pure data, ranging from documents to media. The data I back up regulary, the media selectively – some never, due to size.

However. Every six months-1 year, or if something shady occurs, I’ll upgrade the second drive by cloning. The new one becomes the primary, the old one becomes a biannual grand backup.

Aside from this, I keep a manual monthly backup on large, reliable Patriot flash drives. I used to use Corsair, but I’ve lost all confidence in them.

Finally, my Data partition (10 Gb) on the second drive is mirrored via Dropbox to my Laptop, Work computer and, of course, Dropbox itself.

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Vipul Jain

this is why i always keep important data synced to dropbox.
I know that many think its not safe and can be hacked & accessed, but right now i’m a college student and dont give a crap if someone accesses it.
After i get a job & get some confidential data, the best way i would follow is buy a 64gig flash drive and wear it like a chain! :p

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Ryashini Krish

My friend did the same mistake of not backing up his files. When his laptop got stolen along with his DSLR, he also lost his college assignment, just two days before he needed to present it. Now, he is repeating the semester because he could not redo it on time.

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Aaron Hill

Dropbox has saved me on several occasions. When my computer crashed, I was not worried about any of my files, as they were all sitting safely in the cloud. Thank you, Dropbox! :)

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susendeep dutta

I don’t have a large external HDD and have a small 8 GB pen drive in which there are summary backup of important files.I like to transfer big files which my pen drive can’t accommodate to another partition of my HDD.So,I didn’t lost any files.So,I don’t fear experimenting anything in my PC.

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AP

Backing up files is more a commonsense rather than a technical issue.

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Andrea

I perform incremental and encrypted backups of all my personal and work documents once a week to an external HDD and on my 25G skydrive account, using Duplicati (opensource, windows). Simple and effective

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Kurt Decker

Wise advise, indeed! I don’t how many laptops I have had in the past 18 years and I somehow always end up having to have a new hard before the guarantee runs out (extended, that is). Makes a lot of sense to me.

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xbalesx

Was never a huge backup guy until I started reading MUO and a few other tech blogs. The more I read the more proficient I am becoming with all things tech related.

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Flladi

I do back but only on my external hard disc ever month.
First I do the Image Back up and then also I use SyncToy to back up my private files in a separate folder on my external disc.
Almost forgot I do them manually.

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Bakr Alazawe

Well , as for windows I do not do back-ups . I can always format it !
I do not store important files on my notebook , everything is stored on my external hard driver !
I do not trust the online back up stuff , because one does not know whether he can get access to the internet or not but on the other hand it’s safer than the “local” back up method. I am considering using SkyDrive but I dont trust microsoft tbh …
I have always wanted to try the back software , but I just do not trust’em !

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Ellen Odza

WHY do people today still not understand the importance of backing up your computer? I learned this a LONG time ago, back in grad school. Back then, we wrote our theses on a terminal using a line editor. For those who’ve never seen one, this was pre-mouse – you have to tell the cursor where to go. For example, L10 told the cursor to go left 10 spaces and R10 was right 10 spaces. U50 told the cursor to go up 50 lines in the document. Now, you would think that if U meant up, D would be down, right? Nope – to go down, you typed N50 (for next apparently). D50 meant DELETE the next 50 lines – and there was no failsafe – no “are you sure” before the computer program went ahead and deleted. Anyway, one night I was working very late on my thesis and instead of N500 I unthinkingly typed D500. ARGH! Fortunately, the university backed everything up nightly, so I was able to go to to the computer lab and recover the previous version of my thesis – all I lost was the work I’d done that evening, which was negligible considering what could have happened!

I learned this lesson very well and back all my stuff offsite. As a result, a couple months ago, when my desktop HD decided to stop working properly, I was annoyed at the inconvenience but not at all worried about losing a single file. :-)

The thing is that I know so many people still today who don’t back up files. A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues came to me in a panic because his laptop wasn’t working (why me, I still don’t know, I’m not a computer techie or anything!) I took him over to the computer center and they basically said his HD was toast. He had not backed up ANYTHING on it – all his files were gone. Okay, it happens. However, about six months ago he bursts into my office again with another dead computer (again – why me? I’m a social scientist, not a computer guru – although even I know enough to say, “It’s dead, Jim”). You guessed it – still no backups. Once again, he lost everything on the computer. You’d think he’d have learned the first time!

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Tony

The 1st question I ask clients before repairing their systems…Do you back up regularly? 90% blushingly say no or I did some time back. I say $150 – $200. is cheap insurance compared to lost data. I always suggest Ghosting systems. If it’s a business, do it daily. If its home/personal once a week or more depending on what they are using their computers for.

Just this past week I have had 3 systems crashed. Mortgage broker, RealEstate agent and a professional recruiter. Two of them tried to save their systems by restoring to the factory default. They were crying trying to save pennies at the chance of losing DOLLARS!

The mortgage broker was using ghost as I had set it up for just about all of my business clients. One and 1/2 hours after I arrived, the broker was back up and running business as usual!

Do you want to wimper now or cry later? Back up, back up, back up!!!
The saying is “Not if, but when failure will happen.”

Have it scheduled to run automatically and don’t worry.

Do you have a battery backup also??

Tina

It’s shocking that even professionals who depend on their computers and the data on them don’t know or act better. Thanks for sharing your stories, Tony!

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Tony

PS: All may not be lost…. .

I do data recovery and have recovered most of my clients data from failed systems. Yes, there is a cost and it takes some time. How important are your invoices, your databases, your treasured unreplacable photographs, and oh .. your music and videos?

Just do it and be happy!

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Paul Rutherford

I have 5 x HDD’s on my desktop.

Using Acronis True Image Home 2010 I backup the entire C-Drive (which is my system drive) every 14 days and the remaining 4 x HDD’s (which hold Software, Music, Data and a temporary Workspace in that order) every month (i.e. not incrementally).

I do this at night-time.

I keep two generations of each backup.

Without fail!

****

The backup’s are to external HDD’s – which are kept in lidded, PE shoeboxes in a (dry!), sheltered north-facing garden shed – which is about 40 feet away from my house (so I don’t lose it if I’m burgled – or the house burns down).

This strategy has saved me many, many hours – particularly as the C-drive needs be restored from its image (happens 2 -3 times a year – usually due to a software incompatability).

Statistically, about 9% of HDD’s fail each year.

So, if you don’t keep reasonably current, restorable disk image backups … I think you are just …. bonkers.

Cordially

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tomchicago01

toshiba external hard drive, first of every month

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Todd

Recently, in an effort to expand the truecrypt container that contains movies and applications that I’ve downloaded over the past 2 years, I accumulated about 300GB’s of data. It is a 1.5TB drive, and I was just trying to move files from each partition, to the other partitions… swapping them.

The first swap worked fine, I copied all of the files off the non-TC partition to the TC partition, and formatted the larger partition in prep for a TC based partition.

Once that was done, I moved everything from the old TC partition to the new version. Everything was still cool. But there was doubles of some things, and didn’t really think about deleting what I thought was doubles.

As I moved the unessential data (just random files and non-movie/applications) to the smaller non-TC partition…. I managed to have lost 300 GB’s of movies. Now, they are just movies. But it still stands that I should have checked and made sure of what TeraCopy was doing, was right…..

Lesson learned. keep multiple copies. :)

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Wade Potter

We used to call losing data that you did not have backed up a “resume-generating event”. The other important part of backups is testing them. I went to help a customer who had lost a hard drive. He was very happy that he had been faithfully backing everything up like I suggested. Unfortunately the backups were corrupt. Luckily I was able to recover the hard drive.

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Nathan B.

u no i probably should have done that- now im screwed

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Patrick Jackson

A very nice article. I too have a backup for all my data, but the problem is that the total data spreads over many GBs. This simply means that it would be tough to keep multiple backups, at least for me.

I too tried having all my data on a flash drive years ago when I started to accumulate data, but one day, it got damaged and all my ‘valuable possessions’ got lost! :(

I still regret that. Alas!

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John

All of the following are tips/tricks I use and are not guaranteed 100%.

If something is important, email it to yourself, especially with an internet based email service, GMail anyone??

I NEVER use a USB Thumb drive for anything that cannot be replaced.

If you don’t have at least one external drive, go get one. I have several 500gb drives for various backups and use another drive (2tb) to back that one up.

Robocopy scripts are definitely the best for backing up files. I have never used anything else. In fact, sometimes I just copy files manually, especially after scanning files/slides/pictures.

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Sashritha Peiris

I backup every hour thanks to TimeMachine built into Macs. It automatically does hourly backups and switches to weekly as space runs out and then strats deleting the old backups.

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