Your Computer Will Die and You'll Lose EVERYTHING!

Sorry to hit you so hard with the head line there, but hey, someone had to say it :)

Computers are kind of like motorcycles... its not "if" you are going to crash, its "when".

To start with, there are 2 possible areas to be aware of.

1. Your computer will have a "mechanical" problem of some sort. That may be the hard drive dying, or a power supply failing, or any number of other physical parts frying, zapping, grinding to a halt, etc.

2. Or, your computer may have a programming problem of some sort. In this case, the physical computer is technically still ok, but you can't get to your information. Maybe its a virus, or a file got corrupted that prevents the computer from starting up correctly.

3. I guess you could also have a 3rd area problem, like Theft, Natural Disaster, Act of God, or Random acts of Violence. And if you're wondering, I do have solutions to that too! Would you believe they're the same as the first two? Really!

In the first case, it might be a simple matter of replacing a defective part, and the computer comes back life. All is good! Or in the second case, maybe you remove the virus, and you're back to surfing the internet like nothing happened. Whew, you dodged a bullet there right?

In either case, maybe you got lucky, THIS TIME!

In my world, I hear a saying, Which is better, to be lucky, or to be good??" Or Prepared would be ok too.

I'll be writing a series of posts on this thread here, because I'm thinking that a single post would be way to long to read, and I'd still never cover everything! This, then, will be the introduction. I'm going to hit you with some ideas for now, and then we'll get into something hopefully more useful next time, deal?

In both of the above cases above, to you, my dear "end user", the person who is actually using the computer, I know that you really don't care why the computer is dead. It doesn't matter at all. All you know is you can't get to your email, and that bothers you. Might be a virus, might be a small fire under your desk, completely not an issue to you. You want Email!

Lets say, worst case scenario. This sucker is DEAD. At this moment, EVERYTHING you have on that computer is lost to you. How bad do feel right now? Me? It hurts me to even type that! I've had that happen to me. I know... its not supposed to happen to me, I was a computer tech, I have resources, theory, and practice on my side. Except, like the plumber with a leaky sink, I put most of my attention toward everyone elses computer!

Now, at the moment that you realize that you may just have lost all your email addresses, and your kids homework, and the best damn fruitcake recipe EVER, if I were to offer you a simple way to recover all of it, in just a few minutes, what would that be worth to you? Hey, I'd be happy with the fruitcake, really!

Lets start with an overview, like I promised a few minutes ago, right?

If your computer is a year old, say, maybe it has a 500 GB hard drive on it, has Windows XP or Vista, or even a Mac OS X or what ever. For today, I won't discriminate, ok? Say you have all the photos you've ever taken on your digital camera, you have some home movies you shot on your new digital video camera, you have jokes and songs downloaded from everywhere. And its all on the computer.

And you have no back up of any of it. Oh.

Lets also consider that if your computer is fairly new, it probably has a CD burner, or maybe even a DVD burner. And it has USB ports. And you are probably on the internet, since you're reading this blog!

Some ideas --

You could burn CD or DVDs of all your stuff. Lets say we can burn a DVD. A DVD holds 4.7 GB. If we don't do the heavy math, and just round it up to 5 GB, it will take you 100 DVD to back up your 500 GB hard drive. Not very practical, but if you shop at Costco like I do, a 100 pack of DVD is only about $35 now. So its not too bad really. Except its not very automated, so you'd be sitting there for DAYS loading all the DVDs...

But there is a better way.

First some background theory ok? When you bought your computer, hopefully it came with a set of disks, sometimes called Quick Restore or what ever, or at least a Windows disk, or a OS X disk. Meaning if you wanted to, you could completely reinstall the main operating system (Windows or OS X, etc) yourself, or with some help. So, that means you really don't need to back up that part of the computer, see? Because you have that already. Same with all your programs. If you needed to, you can reinstall them from the disks that you have carefully stored on the shelf somewhere (right??)

What you really have to be thinking about is backing up what you have created yourself. Photos, Documents, Emails, that kind of thing.

I don't have enough experience with Mac, but I do try to pay attention to them when I get a chance! But for now I'm just going to deal with Windows computers, cause that's what I know.

I'll have to be careful of some of the specifics here, because each version of Windows moved things slightly, and then just to be clever, I sometimes over ride the settings, for my own devious reasons! Oh, and some of you may just be logged in as "administrator" instead of a user name.

If you have Vista, the "default file location" for all of your documents is going to be somewhere around C:Documents and Settings"your name" then there will be folders inside of that. So if you were to back up just the Your Name folder and everything inside of that, odds are you'd be in pretty good shape. With in that, you'd see Pictures, Movies, Music, Documents, or some variation of those names.

On XP, its also Documents and Settings, usually on the C drive. Or just look in My Documents. I haven't had a chance to look at Windows 7 yet, but I hear its very much like Vista. Maybe I'll update this later.

If you have Windows 2000, or anything older, it is slightly different again. I am too lazy at this moment to look it up. Remind me later ok? haha. I do have at least one computer here running Windows 2000, so I'll check into that later, maybe...

Since backing everything up to DVD would be painful, here are some other options. You could use an external USB hard drive, or just a thumb drive even. But first you should find out how much space you need. I'll get into more specifics on this soon, because I realize from past experience that most people who use computers really don't know how to navigate through the drives and folders in order to find things. So I'll really get into detail on that, soon, I promise ok?

As for how much space things might take, let me give you a starting place to start guessing from ok? Lets say you take pictures. I just got a new Canon Digital Rebel T1i. Its a 15 Megapixel camera, the pictures are 4752 x 3168 pixels. When I bought it, I got three 8 GB memory cards for it, cause I sometimes shoot weddings, and I take too many pictures! On a recent trip to San Diego, I shot about 400 pictures, and that folder is about 2 GB in size. Some of the weddings I've shot were between 5 and 10 GB worth of pictures, for 1 wedding.

I have a folder with some MP3 songs in it, about 450 songs, and also about 2 GB. That's not very many compared to most people. I make up for it in photos and video I guess!

When I shoot HD video, on a HDV camera, it works out to about 12 or 13 GB per hour of video. I have some projects that take around 500 GB of storage!

For contrast, up to this paragraph, this post has about 1250 words. About 6500 characters, or about 6.5 KB. There are 1000 KB in one MB, and 1000 MB in 1 GB. Well, not exactly because computer count in binary, so they go in 1024s, not even 1000s... nice huh? Anyway, about a Million characters equals 1 MB. If you divide that by 6 (5 letter words and a space) that comes out to 166,666 words. So, who ever said that a Picture is worth a thousand words, were way off!

Earlier this year, I wrote a book. It came out to about 300 pages. The digital file size of the book, in PDF format, took up less space, for all 300 pages, than the Cover did! The book is 1.75 MB, the cover is 2.74 MB... anyway... who cares right?

If you want to get a head start, I have a plan you can start putting together, based on how I do things here. I typically don't back up "everything", I back things up in logical groups. My music doesn't change very fast, so about once a year or so I'll back up all my music. That might be one or two DVD. Costs me maybe $2 total for that. More like $1 now that I think of it!

When I shoot photos, I usually end up taking several GB worth of photos per job. So when I first get home, I'll back up everything I shot, before I do any editing on them, and put that on a DVD or several DVD, what ever it takes. Those are my "digital negatives". If you shoot less, you might be able to back them on to CD instead, and save a few cents! Then when I'm done editing, I'll burn a new set of disks, for the EDITED photos, and then I'll make labels on the disks so I know what they are later.

Or maybe end of the year, or end of a project, I'll burn a disk with everything from that project. Like Taxes, receipts if you scan them, bank statements, your business records. Try to think of how to group things, that you'll want later.

Up to now you'd have nice logical... "Incremental" back ups. As things change, you'll incrementally update these disks. In the case of some things, like last years vacation photos, that set will never change, right? But your music will change.

You could also occasionally do a Full back up, by using an external hard drive. Many of the drives on the market now come with software that will do this automatically. It can take a LONG time, but if you let it run over night, its not so bad, and if you remember to do it occasionally, you'll feel slightly better about things if you do have a computer die on you. Typically these plug into your USB port, some software gets auto-magically installed, and maybe a wizard program takes you through some steps, a couple clicks, and off it goes. Then you go take a nap or go to work or something. With any luck it won't decide to ask you "are you sure" just after you leave. That is really annoying, ya know?

Ok, I think that's a good start for now, right? I'll be thinking of how I want to do videos to make some of this easier to grasp. In the comments, please let me know what kind of computers you're all using ok? Windows or Mac, what OS (Vista, Snow Leopard, Linux, etc) and if you know, how big your hard drive is, and how much of it is used. We'll call that the bonus points part!

For example, this laptop I'm using now has-
Windows Vista
a 320 GB hard drive
which is partitioned into:
C drive - 70 GB total / 37 GB used / 31 GB Free
D drive - 228 GB Total / 90 GB used / 138 GB Free
and has a DVD burner
Notice how the numbers don't exactly add up right? Yeah go figure!

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Thanks! Talk to you soon!
UnSexyGeek :)

By Carlin Comm posted on 2009-10-09 18:57:56