Friday, November 23, 2007

backup, backup, backup, backup......

A recent story written by Derek about 3.5 inch floppy disks and a dissertation brought back some memories for me. The fact that I am currently looking for an external hard drive to store my rapidly expanding digital information also stirred these memories. I am looking for a 500 GB drive which would be 2.5E5 times larger than the good old fashioned 3.5 inch floppy drive I stored my MS thesis on.

I was in grad school (for the first time) back in the mid-90s. I was doing work on organometallics (heavy on the organo, light on the metallics), specifically porphyrins. After a couple of years, I was offered a teaching position, and I opted for a MS and the pursuit of wealth in the world of academia.

The internet was still in its youth, but it was a rapidly growing toddler that was learning to run. Netscape was still good, and computers were becoming much more than glorified word processors.

I bought a Macintosh PowerBook 520c (the 'c' means "color"). I love that computer ("love" in the present tense. I still have this computer and use it occasionally). It was a workhorse when I wrote my thesis. I would often have 6-8 applications running at the same time, and the little thing only crashed once.

As I wrote my thesis, I realized my paranoia of losing my work was directly proportional to the thesis length. I became a compulsive saver. I would save everything I had on a 3.5 inch floppy drive. I started saving everything on just one disk. As my work got longer and longer, I started saving 2 copies. Then an event occurred that threw me deep into backup paranoia.

I was writing at home. I decided to have a beer while writing at my desk. It was a 22 oz microbrew and I had poured it into a tall glass (see where this is going?). I was typing away enjoy what I recall as bing a pale ale. I don't know what happened, but due to what was some sort of flailing arm movement I knocked the beer over.

Sudden panic. Beer every where. My bed was next to my desk and there was enough beer on my quilt so I threw that on the wood floor to sop up the beer that was cascading off of my desk. I quickly assessed the situation. Somehow, somehow, very little beer got on my computer. It had only splashed on the display and on a few keys. My stylewriter printer on the other hand got the worst of it. It would never recover. I cleaned up the mess, tried heroic efforts to resuscitate the printer, and apologized to my PowerBook for putting it in harms way.

That's also when I decided to increase the number of copies I backed up. It eventually became 10. I would literally spend about 30 minutes backing everything up each day. The floppy disks were dispersed everywhere to ensure the survival of at least one if a catastrophic beer spill of biblical proportions were to occur.

When I returned to grad school to finish my Ph.D., I followed a similar pattern, albeit with CDs. I was eventually burning 3-4 CDs daily.

Yes, I was paranoid.


Ψ*Ψ said...

I've been in need of a good external hard drive also. It IS Black Friday, though--have you checked around the stores? I decided to skip the traffic and got one off Best Buy's website.

Chemgeek said...

I HATE going to stores on Black Friday. I will gladly pay $20 more for something than compete with 5000 at Walmart.

DJ said...

Yikes! I'm paranoid about keeping beer near the keyboard. On a side note, don't get the 500Gb MyBook. The thing overheats very quicky and shuts down. I'm looking for a new one too.

Leo said...

An external hard drive is like having a lifesaver ring in the boat. But without an automatic backup and independent restoring solutions, is like having the ring chained to the boat and the key thrown to the water.
From all the solutions I've tried BOS (backup prOxy server) was the most satisfactory. You can give it a try for free, and it is also free for students and home users. => downloads.

Chemgeek said...

One nice thing about where I teach (and this may be the case for other schools) is that I have my own space on a server where I can backup my computer. I automatically sync my computer every 4 hours.

My main purpose for having an external drive is to store pictures. My wife is a photographer and the pictures they are aplenty.

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Lab Cat said...

I ended up with so many back ups of my thesis that I was never really sure which was the most up to date. The back up at work or the one at home. In the end I had to cull my back ups to make sure I only had the most recent saved.

I think I did lose 6 h of my thesis at one point. At least it wasn't the whole thing.