I lost three months of photos. Three months of scanned documents. Five months of financial data.
I’m upset at myself for such a rookie mistake, but also calm and reflective on the loss. I almost feel fortunate. Not because I lost data, but because I only lost three months worth. I’ve talked to professional businessmen and women who’ve lost all of their information because they had no backup.
I keep two. A sleek brushed aluminum LaCie external drive sits neglected on my desk. The power and USB cable are unsightly and stay in the closet until needed. Which is why the data on the LaCie drive is five months old. Fortunately I setup SyncToy to keep copies of my important files on both desktops. Unfortunately I didn’t automate the process.
I knew the moment the drive failed. I was transferring photos from Jenn’s iPhone. I copied all the photos and navigated to my Pictures folder. Then the screen froze. I waited several minutes but nothing happened. The hard drive spun and the screen glazed over with “Not Responding” opacity. I had no choice but to hard boot. As I held down the power button I yelled to Jenn in the other room “I think we’ve got a problem.”
For the first time in my life I hoped a computer would not boot up. I install Windows on a dedicated drive and keep data on another. I could lose the operating system and programs. I had my Windows disc and copies of the programs. After powering on I received the prompt to “Start Windows Normally”.
When the desktop appeared I opened Computer and confirmed my data drive was missing. For the next two days I attempted to retrieve the data, installing several applications to restore file systems and rebuild partitions, culminating with Ubuntu Rescue Remix and Ddrescue. Nothing worked. As I write the offending drive is double-bagged and sitting in my freezer, a half-hearted attempt for recovering data from a bad drive. I don’t think it will work, but I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t try.
We take too many pictures. I blame the iPhone. Before the iPhone Jenn and I used a D-SLR. Taking pictures was an event. I could not reach into my pocket and capture the moment. After taking my first picture with the iPhone 4S, I was addicted. Jenn too. Before we went to China our entire photo directory was a meager five Gigs. Now it takes up over a hundred Gigs. I realize our compulsion to record every moment with Penelope will diminish over time. After all, how many ten-year old children want to have their picture taken doing homework or watching TV? We’ve got a few solid years of growth and life to document. I can see our Pictures folder getting to the two hundred Gig point in another year or two.
Of everything we lost the photos hurt the most to lose. Everything else I can get back, recreate in some way. But I can’t restage Charlie’s birthday party or the expression on Penelope’s face going down the big slide at Grant Park. That’s the trade-off with technology. You can have so much that was out of reach, like the ability to take hundreds of pictures in an hour. But you can also lose it in a matter of seconds. With physical photographs theft and natural disasters were the enemy. Now it’s the inevitability that your hard drive will fail without warning. Such is the ephemeral nature of digital memories.
For now I’m keeping several copies of our Pictures library (along with Documents and Music) backed up weekly. Next I’ll start organizing and uploading our pics to Flickr. In case you don’t already know, Flickr gives you a Terabyte (that’s a 1,000 Gigs) of space. Flickr also permits restrictions on who can view your photos, though Edward Snowden may still have access regardless of what you select.
Other options include, but are not limited to:
- Picasa Web Albums. Another choice though the freebie setup is only a Gig. Oddly enough sister Google service Google+ gives you 15 Gigs. The intent with G+ is social media, not file storage. But still, 15 Gigs is 15 Gigs. You can also pay for additional Google Drive storage (starting at $4.99 for 100 Gigs) to keep pics safe from failed hard drives, natural disasters, or erroneous deletion of precious files.
- Microsoft offers SkyDrive with 7 Gigs free. According to one forum poster there’s an option, or was an option, to increase it to 25 Gigs for free. No idea if this is still the case since I don’t have an account and have no intention of getting one. On a side note signing up for a SkyDrive account also gives you access to cloud versions of MS Office apps Word, PowerPoint, and Excel for free.
- For Mac and iPhone users iCloud may be your best best. 5 Gigs are free just by signing up. After that the pricing starts at $20 a year for an additional 10 Gigs up to $100 a year for 50 Gigs. And yes, this also works for Windows users.
- For those looking for a “set it and forget it” solution, break out your credit cards. Carbonite, Mozy Backup, and a host of others are ready to get your digits (Credit Card digits that is) and ensure your data is safe and secure on the server farm. PC Magazine reviewed the major services in this article.
I hope I never have to write about this topic from personal experience. Ever. And I hope those reading this take action.
On a related note I recommend this article from Wired correspondent Mat Honan and how his entire digital existence, including all of his young daughters photographs, were wiped out by a hacker.