The Perils of Backing Up

Beware, all you files on the computer.  Be very afraid.  Bleep, bleep.  Writer backing up.   Bleep, bleep.  Writer may be reversing… (Hope not, though.)

What’s all this, you ask.  Writers jolly well ought to back up work from their computer hard discs on to a memory stick or portable hard drive, shouldn’t they?  Yes, indeed.   I work with IT students in further education who are notoriously slack about backing up anything, and I have seen, first hand and many times over, the anguish caused when crucial assignment work is lost.  I am pretty pedantic on backing up.  I save into the cloud (Dropbox) in case of computer failure and I copy files from Dropbox to my portable hard drive every few days.

And that’s exactly what I was doing last night, only I managed to drag and drop the wrong way round.  I overwrote the Dropbox file I’d just finished working on with the old version on my portable hard drive.  The file concerned was not a writing file (Thank God, you think), only my session plan for my teaching and learning observation for next week.  Gulp.  (Oh, sorry, that phrase is copyrighted to Sally Bercow, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t know.  I don’t follow her on Twitter.)  So, I had to set to and redo all my – substantial – edits, at ten o’clock at night.  Gulp again.

I confess that I’ve done this before, with about 10,000 words of a young adult novel I was writing.  My only plea in mitigation is that this was in 1996 and I hadn’t done again – until last night.  The 1996 accident happened using Windows 95, when operating systems were a lot simpler.  Do you remember the DOS commands we used to use to back up on floppy disc?  (diskcopy a: a: ) Much safer!  Copying files using Windows 7 is unnecessarily complicated, with prompts asking you if you want to merge subfolders and with big graphics to ask you whether you want to overwrite with a newer/ older copy or keep both.   Windows XP (which we use at work – I joke not) is much more straightforward – do you want to overwrite older file with newer file… or not?

What’s the solution?  I make it my practice always to drag and drop in one direction.  Because I’m right-handed, I always drag from right to left – that is, new files on the right overwrite old files on the left.  My reasoning is that, if I carelessly did it the other way, my brain would shout ‘No!’  But that method’s not foolproof… as I proved last night when I was backing up when I was tired and fed up.  Another way of dealing with the problem is to keep two back-ups, but that is onerous to keep going, and, if one is always out of date, there is not point in keeping it.

Backing up is a dangerous activity.  There is no solution… except extreme care.

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