How Backing Up Just Saved My Butt

You probably always hear people talk about backing up right? Well something happened to me recently that I figured I’d share in hopes that anyone not backing up, will start to.

The Night Before My Trip to Dubai
It all started last week. I taught at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai. The night before I left I did as I always do every night – backed up my Mac with Super Duper (it creates a bootable backup of my entire drive). I have it on an auto backup setting so at some point during the night a backup is created on to a Western Digital MyBook drive. However, since I was also traveling to teach, I always make a backup of the backup to travel with me. That way, if something happens to my computer I have a bootable backup that I can plug into any laptop and still go on teaching. At this point, everything was fine.

My Flight to Dubai (where things went terribly wrong)
First we flew to Atlanta to catch the 15 hour flight to Dubai. At the Atlanta airport I grabbed my laptop to send a quick email only to find it started into a blank gray screen. I tried every key combo I knew to start in single user, safe, whatever mode that I could think of – nothing! Then I called our IT guy (Paul) and asked what he thought. The outlook was bleak, but he asked if I had a backup and to try to boot from that. So I did. Things started booting and then froze and I got an error about my backup drive being corrupt. Ugh! Oh yeah, all of this was happening as they were boarding my flight.

On the Plane
So now I’m on the plane heading over the Atlantic Ocean and trying everything I could to figure this out (with no internet access by the way). After about an hour I lost all hope. My computer would only show a gray screen and wouldn’t boot into my backup drive. I started to weep and quickly took advantage of Delta’s free beer and wine offer on international flights :)

Day 1 in Dubai
Once I arrived I went up to the rooftop bar to hang out with some of the other instructors. I met David Nightingale there for the first time. As I told him my story, he immediately said let’s go check this out and spent about an hour with me trying to figure things out (seriously, this guy barely knew me and was helping me out). Again, no luck. My backup drive wouldn’t even mount to his computer. Double Ugh!

Day 2 in Dubai (my birthday by the way)
After Mohamed Somji, the guy who basically runs GPP, found out of my computer problems, he had someone take me to a computer repair store that he knew of (and one that specialized in Apple computers). I wasn’t there for 5 minutes when they diagnosed that my laptop’s hard drive had crashed. They were able to put a new drive in and have me up and running in less than 2 hours from start to finish (not bad huh?).

But just having a working computer was the least of my problems. I had to teach like 6 classes at GPP and all of them were on my previous hard drive (and backup drive). My photos were safe of course because they’re on a separate drive. But all of my outlines, materials, Lightroom library and everything else were gone.

So I called RC Concepcion at work and asked if he’d run to my house to get the other backup drive. He did and called me later to say that the drive wasn’t working. Triple Ugh!!! After some troubleshooting he realized the power supply was bad and luckily we had another one. Folks, I know this sounds crazy but all of these things were working 24 hours before this. I swear! Anyway, RC and Paul (our IT guy) tried a few things to get me the files I needed but ended up FedEx’ing me my backup drive (I also have a Time Capsule running at home so I knew I had yet another backup in case something happened to the drive in transit).

Day 3
Still no drive. Checked online and my drive was due to arrive the next day (which is when classes started).

Day 4
I went out sightseeing in the morning. Came back and about 1 hour before my class, the drive arrived at the hotel. I attached it to the laptop, restarted and booted from the drive and I was right back to where I was the night before I left for Dubai.

The Rest of the Trip
The rest of the trip went great. I had to continue to boot from my hard drive as the cable that was sent with it was USB and I couldn’t do the laptop hard drive swap (in the amount of time I had) without firewire. No sweat though. All I wanted was the stuff on my drive. I didn’t care where it came from.

Today
Today everything is good. I got back from the trip and was able to transfer everything from my backup drive at home to my laptop drive. It’s as if nothing ever happened. I did do one quick photo shoot the morning I left but I borrowed a camera and CF card from Brad Moore at the office. I deleted the files, but Brad had not reformatted or used the card and was able to use SanDisk RescuePro to recover the photos off the card so I literally lost nothing in this whole ordeal (aside from many hours of sleep and my sanity for a few days).

Moral of the Story
Backup your computer and anything else that’s important. When you’re done backing up, backup again. And heck, while you’re at it, back up one more time just to be sure. If you travel, and having the stuff on your computer is vital to you (as it is for me), then don’t just rely on the backup you travel with. You never know what can happen (as I painfully found out). Your computer bag could be stolen for all you know along with your backup drive. I know I can always find another computer to use, but if my backup druve was gone I wouldn’t have all of the important files that I needed to work with.

Thanks for reading. I hope you either a) feel the need to reevaluate and double check your backup process or, b) feel reakkt really sorry for me ;-)

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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60 Comments

  1. This has to be a novel, because Macs never have problems.
    ;)

    Tough set of experiences there Matt – good you planned yourself deep with emergency restore backups !

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  2. Wow! Talk about worst case scenario…I’m backing up as I’m writing this;) Hope you had some time to unwind after all that and maybe get some good photos of what looks to be an amazing place to post on your new website.

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  3. Totally agree. With presentations, I get paranoid and just email to myself so they’re accessible even if my laptop/bags gets abducted by aliens, sawed in half by a chainsaw or, ugh, my kids get to it.

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  4. That makes me very afraid! Maybe next year you can do a mini session on Backing up in Layers :)

    I’m sure it’s a coincidence but I’m due to buy a new pc & have been looking to be convinced to go Mac & it seemed that all of the GPP instructors were having laptop issues, eek.

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  5. I feel sorry for you. My external hard drive also crashed and it’s so frustrating because I was not as cautious as you and my backup files are all over the place. Luckily I was able to recover it, but I learned my lesson.

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  6. And this is why diofferent backup methods make sense too from SuperDuper, Timemachine, Drpbox, offsite Jungle Disk/Mozy/Crashplan with versions, and rotating externals so you have more than one backup. I am glad it worked out for you. Do you think the backup drive with SuperDuper just backed up the corrupt internal HD and hence was bad too? i.e why did the SuperDuper back up fail too?

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  7. My MacBook hard drive also crashed. Known problem with 2006-2007 MacBooks and Apple will replace faulty drive (announced Feb 10, 2010) – too late of course, I have had a new drive installed already…and yes, back-up saved mountains of photos, etc.

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  8. Backing up is great! External drives are really cheap these days and so there isn’t really any excuse for not backing up – Matt your scenario is definitely on the extreme end of the scale.

    I am pretty paranoid about backing up as I’m living in Indonesia where the electricity supply isn’t that consistent and there is always a chance of power surges especially at the moment during the many thunder storms that we are having. Two weeks ago we had a lightning strike close by that blew out two power cables and my iMac video card and screen. Using my Applecare it wasn’t a problem to get things fixed but i would have to wait for at least 2-3 weeks before getting my machine back. luckily I also use SuperDuper and was able to plug in my Macbook Pro and boot off the copy of my iMac drive and carry on working as though nothing had happened.

    My backup plan is:

    1TB firewire Time Machine
    1TB Partioned as 2 x 500GB for Super Duper and Photo Backup
    500gb as Video editing Scratch Disk

    4TB NAS RAID 5 for network Backup of all documents, Pictures, Movies etc for me adn my wife

    I know it’s a lot but i’m banking on at least one backup being OK if it is needed!!!!

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  9. Matt

    If I read your posting correctly you had three drives crash and one power supply blow??

    The one in the computer,the backup, the backup of the backup,and the power supply of the one at home?

    If so that has to be a record of sorts wow! … Were they all the same make of drive? How old were they?

    That is just so scary to think that FOUR DRIVES were not good enough to protect yourself. Guess you should have had at least eight backups??

    Glad you were able to survive!

    It’ll certainly make me think before traveling.

    George

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  10. Sorry about all the troubles, Matt! I teach in my workflow and photography classes the value of multiple on-disk and on-line redundant backups, and your story takes the cake over the stories of my hard disk crashes. Thanks for sharing – and sorry you had to sweat it so much on your trip. Welcome home!

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  11. SEE! I had an hd and it’s backup go out at almost the same exact time! No one believed me and Apple said that one probably wouldn’t cause the other.
    At least I wasn’t on a trip!

    Come to think of it, I need to go backup my backup…do you use Drobos?
    If so, in what capacity?

    Thanks for sharing your horror stories…

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  12. Hi Matt,

    This backup option and the ability to boot a full working OS copy from the external drive is on of the key reasons why I moved from Windows to Mac.

    My recommendation would be to get a Lacie Rugged drive with Firewire 800. It really speeds up things in regards to doing a full disc backup.

    BTW, once you need to do a restore from full hard disc backup simply boot into the external drive (can’t remember but I think this works both with USB and Firewire).

    Then Launch SuperDuper and simply restore the external drive to the internal hard drive. It will take a few hours but once you are done it’s like nothing ever happened.

    This little trick can also be used to do a relatively painless upgrade of the laptop hard drive… use SuperDuper to backup to external drive -> swap internal drive for new larger hard drive -> boot from external backup -> restore system from external drive. Works a treat and something that can’t be done with Windows that easily.

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  13. Holy c$&p!!!! Just when I thought I was paranoid about backing up, I now feel the need to backup again…lol

    Matt, what an ordeal; talk about a ‘Why me?’ moment! and over your Birthday too.

    Reading that I found myself leaning forward in my chair; I felt your pain man…lol

    So pleased to hear the ‘story’ has a happy ending and also that you were amongst such incredibly helpful friends. I’ve never personally met David Nightingale but have spoken to him several times via email over certain things; great guy huh!

    Anyway, time to take a deep breath and relax…you’re home now :o)

    All the best to you,
    Glyn

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  14. Ouch! I’ve lost a few drives in my time so can sympathise with you and echo everyone’s thoughts. I backup to 3 different disks at home and also use the Carbonite online backup tool (there’s a number of them). It’s a pretty good spread but whenever I read a story like this it always makes me go back and recheck all my backups.

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  15. I think most of us who back up regularly either know the value of losing the stuff we back up, or more likely have gone through your pain once before. Mine was on a trip to Sweden with a PC over 10 years ago, blew everything away when the hard drive failed.
    Now have 2 Drobo’s. So redundant backups, and backups of redundant backups. Not that I’m paranoid or anything. ;-)

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  16. For these reasons I always do an online backup for “disaster recovery”. I use Mozy, and using this method, Matt, you could just have downloaded all your files to wherever you were, anywhere in the World.

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  17. That’s quite a tale Matt. Glad to hear things did work out though. After watching your backup videos on KelbyTraining.com I bought a 2nd 1.5 TB drive that I use on the weekends to backup everything and then bring it into work on Monday for my offsite backup. I’m thinking now I may need to buy a 3rd drive just to be safe.

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  18. Matt,
    I recently had a problem where I was trying to retrieve archival data from my attached external hard drive and found it had gone bad. Fortunately (i thought) I had the same data on two other drives. I plugged them in and they didn’t work (they hadn’t been plugged in for over a year). I finally resorted to some DvDs I had burned as last resort and this worked. Since then, I purchased a new external drive with three year warranty (including rescue) and now subscribe to Carbonite, a cloud backup service that works in the background. Guess you have to get burned to get drastic.

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  19. Matt,

    Sorry to hear of your troubles in hard drive land. Glad everything ended well for you.

    A couple other things to point out regarding backups:

    - test them from time to time, to make sure your back-ups are actually functional. (What good is it to backup, only to find out your data is corrupt when you need it most?)

    - keep a 2nd backup at a different location than your primary backup. That way, if your house/office burns down or floods or is robbed, you still have your data safe at another location.

    - I’ve had multiple issues with the power supplies on external hard drives over the years. Several times I thought my drive was dead, when in fact, the power supply was bad.

    Thanks again, Matt, for all your blogs/articles/videos/lessons/workshops/books!

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  20. Wow hard story. I’m happy nothing happend to me so far. But I am ready: 2TB of BackUp are waiting :D TimeMachine is running every day and my MacBook is backuped as well.

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  21. Matt, Great story, I do back up my backup, but I couldn’t imagine having the laptop & backup drive dead… Great that you had it backed up again.. Did the backup drive you carried with you initially corrupt, or did that drive fail as well?

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  22. hi there. i was just wondering what kind of drive you take on trips. (In other words, what model drive was the back up of the back up on that you used to try to reboot to.)

    also, was the back up drive failure related to the computer hard drive failure?

    thanks for this blog. i learn sooooooooooo much.

    dana

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  23. Hi Matt,

    Wow … what an almost disaster! I appreciate your warning to back up. I started due diligence back ups after I was at the Denver Lightroom 2 Live seminar and Scott’s Laptop went south on him! :-) Like you, Scott had a back up and was able to finish the seminar. That’s when I said to myself … back up your drives.

    Glad everything turned out okay!

    Dennis

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  24. This is a great story with a happy ending. I purchased a backup drive after I lost many photos by not completely backing them up. It is a hard lesson. Backing up is an absolute must.

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  25. Matt,
    I have had the ‘it can’t happen to me attitude’ for a while.
    But the irony it, It Has Happened To ME!!!

    Luckily I had backups of my files on an external drive, but I have also learned that an external drive needs to be booted and used every 6 months, otherwise there is risk of damage feom inactivity! My sister is a documentary film maker and ran into this problem a few years ago.

    Have a good time at the conference too!

    Chris

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  26. Hey Matt
    Wow what a story, I can’t believe that this happened to you and with a Mac too. Glad everything worked out.
    I was wondering if you can maybe run some tips or video on a proper back up with Lightroom and anything else that’s related.
    thanks

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    • Hey Derek,
      Just do a search on Backup here and you’ll find its been written about a few times.

      Thanks,
      Matt

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  27. Out of curiosity, did the last nightly backup go to completion successfully? Did the notebook hard drive give any indication of failure: noise, read errors, or delays prior to failure? Most of the time, but not all, some hint of failure occurs. Obviously backing up is important, but how many times do we test the restore function?

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    • Hi William,
      Actually I’ve come to find out that it was giving me some indication of failure. I would have frequent delays when doing things on the computer and I just chalked it up to my processor not keeping up and maybe I needed to do some house cleaning on it. The guy at the store told me Macs don’t typically need house cleaning like that (defragging on PCs, etc…). But I never knew that ahead of time so I just kept going blissfully until it died :)

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      • If you have a warning disaster is about to occur: GRC’s Spinrite (Steve Gibson) might save the day b4 death occurs. For Mac users you would have to take the drive out of the MAC and put it into a PC. Pay for, download and run Spinrite on the PC. It may run for many hours/days trying to recover data on failing sectors, move it to good ones, and mark the failing sectors as bad. Then copy to another drive. OR another trick is to remove the drive, place it in a ziploc freezer bag, put into a freezer overnight. Return the drive to the computer and copy to another drive. The latter is documented on the web.

        For online backup try a service such as carbonite or backblaze (my choice). Just remember you need a plan to restore from these services in a timely manner.

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  28. Sounds extremely stressful, but glad everything worked out in the end. I’m in the IT field and constantly remind family, friends and the staff we support about the importance of backups. And yes, duplicate backups is definitely a great idea. I keep an image of my drive at home, and a backup of all important files (images, documents, music, etc) on an encrypted external drive at work.

    Thanks for sharing the story, and thanks for the fantastic website!

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  29. Wow that’s was an ordeal, glad to hear that you were able to get everything taken care of.
    It’s for situations like these that I use backblaze to backup all of my data on both my desktop and laptop. It costs me $10 a month for unlimited backup. Yes it takes forever to do the initial backup online but once it’s there you can access the files from anywhere, anytime. Additionally I have a raid setup (soon to be drobo) and super duper backups. The thing I like about backblaze is that they will backup your entire lightroom library regardless of file size. They also have a business version.

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  30. Thanks for sharing that story and now, I’m glad that I just did a double backup of my system this week.

    I’m wondering but more suspecting that the story his not legitimately true! I’m sure that what you have written here is calm but I would love to have been a fly on those walls and see the real reactions!!

    If computers keep crashing like this, soon enough we will have to get not only backup drives but backup laptops. Can you imagine going through custom, triple cameras bodies, multiple lenses, multiple batteries, multiple backup drives, and multiple laptops!! Airlines will be happy to see photogs in the line-ups now. To many bags and overweight, cow making machine!

    Cheers,
    GT

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  31. ok, you sufficiently scared me into doing multiple backups ;o)

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  32. Actually not related to the above story… but I’m heading to Dubai myself next week for vacation with my wife (taking the same Delta flight you were on…I’ll been looking for the free beverages myself!) …. Got a top 5 must see and photograph? We’re mainly going to visit family that got a job out there but I’ll be taking my new Canon T2i out for it’s first field test.

    Thanks & love the blog & podcasts,
    Chris

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  33. WOWZERS!!!! You are, without a doubt, the official poster child for BACKING UP!!! Good for you for having all the backups. And lucky for you to have all the peeps ready and able to help out in such a desperate situation!

    Thanks so much, Matt, for taking the time to relate the whole story and really drive home the idea of why backups – even if they seem like a PITA – are so important.

    All the best,
    John

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  34. Matt great stuff! I had a questions about SuperDuper. I recently bought this program but have yet to use it. I am still using Time Machine on the Mac. I have 4 internal hard drives and I want to back all the data on them onto 1 external drive. Can Super Duper do this? When I open the program it only gives me the option for choosing 1 drive? Any advice I would love thanks!

    Casey

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  35. I am one of David’s Facebook friends and told him you were coming to GPP so he was on the lookout for you as he said he wanted to meet you.

    My 5 month old laptop’s hard drive failed right before Christmas. For some reason the folder of images I was working on failed to be backed up to my hard drive but my bacon was saved by the remote backup service I use called Carbonite. Initially I tried to restore from that because everything was there but the band width meant that it would take forever. So I just used it to restore the files that were not included on my on site backup. Right now they only offer C Drive backup. Has anyone heard of an external service for backing up images that reside on my My Book hard drive? All it takes is one failure to be convinced of the importance of backup but your experience beats anything I could have imagined.

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  36. Thanks for the heads up, Matt. Really appreciate all you do to teach us how to use Lightroom and Photoshop and our computers. Would Mozy online backup been a solution to your problem of having a working computer but no files when traveling? I’ve been thinking of going with Carbonite or Mozy but Carbonite doesn’t back up system files.

    Chuck

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  37. I took a class from Vinny Versace once. He said he travels with four laptops because he’s had three crash on him at one time.

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  38. Matt, The first thing that came to my mind after the part about getting a new drive and needing files from the drive in the states. Dropbox. If you had Dropbox setup and your outline and etc saved there, you could have easily downloaded the files either from the web account or simply installed Dropbox and let it sync up to the new drive. You should seriously check it out. If you do, use my code so I get more free space!! :) https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTI2MzQyNjk

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  39. Having just suffered through two days of BSOD (Windows users understand), I sympathize. I put all presentations on 2 flashdrives plus 2 DVD’s. I figure you can always rent/borrow another computer and download whatever software you need. I triple BU my photos and double BU LR’s catalog. I use a dedicated image external drive, backed up on a second external and DVD’s. I retire the second external after 6 months so any catastrophe (lightning or robbery) will always be minimized. I’m sure that’s still not enough, but ….

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  40. Carolyn,

    Take a look at CrashPlan. I am a complete and utter fan of the service. I don’t use a MyBook, but I have no problem backing up files from my C:, D:, E: or F: drive, and I’m not aware that they place any limits on your ability to backup from any hard drive location. By the way, if you have a lot of data to back up, be sure to use their “seed” drive option. They ship you a 1TB drive (which holds about 1.5TB of compressed data), you backup onto that drive, then send it back to them. They upload the drive contents to their servers and then you only need to transmit incremental backups over the internet. They offer the same service in reverse, in case your hard drive fails and you need to restore a large amount of data. I should note, however, that in my sporadic tests, downloading files from their servers to restore lost files has been surprisingly fast. Oh, and they are cheap, too. With UNLIMITED backups – no size limits whatsoever.

    Be sure to upgrade to their CrashPlan+ software, which keeps your backups updated in real time and makes it unnecessary to schedule backups ever again.

    Best regards,
    Adam

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  41. I too swear by SuperDuper–for my Macs. But I’ve yet to find an equivalent on the Windows side, even after extensive google search. What do folks on Windows do?

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    • yeah would love to know the equivalent of “SuperDuper on the mac” on a pc/windows system.

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  42. I feel your pain. I’ve got so many backups that I have lost track of my backups.
    Three external drives – 2 connected, 1 stored way and then DVDs of imported originals. The way tech changes so quickly, I’m not sure if any of these will work in the future , i.e. zip drives, tape drives, floppies.

    Only sure thing maybe papyrus :)

    I’ve been looking for online options and would be curious as to what others think about carbonite and mozy. Had another person suggest Amazon.

    I’m sure you are also familiar with – http://www.dpbestflow.org/links/39

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  43. I am going to say it again Matt… get a drobo. If your timecapsule dies its dead.. it doesn’t have any redundancy.

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    • Not sure what benefit I get from the Drobo. Honestly, they’re really expensive. I have redundancy in my MyBook drive (since I have the Mirror edition). So I not only have time capsule for the incremental (oh crap I accidentally deleted a file) backup, but I also have my Super Duper backups on the MyBook mirror drives. At less than 25% of the price of the Drobo I think it covers me pretty well.

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  44. Wow!! I have been delaying making a backup of my work.. This makes me do it right away.

    Am glad things worked out in the end.

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  45. Put your tools on skydrive.com (25GB free gift of MS) and you don’t have a problem. You can get multiple skydrives if you need them I guess. Use Google apps or other sites for processing perhaps.

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  46. Julie hinted at my question: if the internal HD goes corrupt, how can we be sure the backup(s) aren’t also corrupt ? Is it all a matter of luck ?

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  47. I carry a pair of 32GB USB sticks with essentials on them (I teach week-long security classes). One has the courseware in PPT format (which I prefer) and the other has it in PDF. Both have copies of the other supporting files.

    The power connector (internal) on my laptop went out of commission Tuesday of this week. I borrowed a PC from an attendee for the afternoon and rented one for the rest of the week.The rental was a MAC, and I’ve never used one before. However, the USB stick didn’t care. The borrowed PC had Powerpoint on it, but the rental didn’t. No problem. Adobe reader in full screen mode on the rental and my PDF version and all was well.

    I’m writing this from the airport on the second half of my spare battery. I’ll be sending the laptop to the repair shop Monday AM.

    By the way, I second the suggestion to get and regularly use Spinwrite. Don’t wait for problems to become visible, its a great preventative maintenance tool. That portable backup drive gets a bit more wear and tear than the internal one, A little extra TLC goes a long way.

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  48. Matt,

    I’ve heard of the 3-2-1 back up rule that is a good starting point for most people to develop their own specific strategy. It goes like this:

    3 copies of your data
    2 different formats/mediums upon which it is stored.
    1 copy offsite

    hope that helps,
    Chuck

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  49. I used Time Machine daily to back up my MacBook. Last month the hard drive died. Apparently this is a problem with this particular model of the MacBook, but I used it as an excuse to get a MacBook Pro. Fortunately, I was able to restore everything including Lightroom and all my photos, which are also backed up on DVD as well as an external drive. Nothing was lost, so I echo BACKUP! Backup everyday, it will save a major headache and a great loss.

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  50. Wow. I have my back up with me all the time and another back up at home. Guess that isn’t really enough.

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  51. Matt Kloskowski – Thank you for wrting this. It terrified me enough to get off my but and start seriously backing up my data.

    William Chinn and Denver Photographer Noel Datko – Thank you for recommending Backblaze as an off-site back up service. After comparing them to Mozy and Carbonite, I felt that Backblaze had better customer service and I love the way Backblaze’s software backs up all of my files (even email messages!) seamlessly in the background. Actually, my computer is doing my initial back up with Backblaze as I write.

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  52. Dear Matt,

    would you be so kind and give me the address of the repair shop in Dubai? I lived 6 years in Dubai but don’ know this shop. The 2 Apple stores (Ibn Battuta Mall and Dubai Mall) are just shops. Currently I am living on Seychelles and have a regular trip to Dubai. There is no way that I could get my MBP repaired on Seychelles. Would be a great help.

    Thanks

    Post a Reply

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