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When I went to open my blog this morning, I noticed that it was extremely slow to load and I thought perhaps it was the recent installation of an RSS reader (NetNewsWire) that had caused problems. But no: all the other WordPress sites that I use were also slow or down or had lost their formatting.

Coincidentally, as I subscribe to AskDaveTaylor‘s excellent tech site, there is an article there today on how to back up a WordPress blog—naturally I am very interested! The article prompted me to have a few thoughts on how I organise my data in general and how I make sure that nothing ever gets lost. Of course, today I have to admit that I have not backed up my blog yet but now that are 43 or 44 posts, clearly this needs to be done.

I have been using personal computers since the very earliest days and as an ex-academic I was one of the first Internet users as well. Perhaps paradoxically this makes me less confident of the reliability of the cloud and cloud-based computer and then you might expect. I am completely familiar with the story of how the Internet began as a DARPA project for distributed information storage.

I have a local copy of all of my emails and it is pretty much up to date. I make a clone of my MacBook Air every couple of weeks also and make sure that it’s bootable—this way if the Air’s system gets corrupted irrevocably in some way, or suffers a logic board failure, I can simply attach that boot clone to a brand-new Macintosh and set it up in 20 minutes, and that includes all of my installed software as well. Now, as many of you know, some software requires deactivation and activation on a new machine but in the case of a massive failure these are small problem that can be coped with fairly easily. I have even had success with Adobe’s killer software protection by simply calling a number that led to a call centre in India, with someone was extremely helpful on the end of the line who performed the required reset of the “legitimate activations” number.

I have written elsewhere of two other strategies that I use on a daily basis: one is an excellent software called ChronoSync and the other is the syncing of 1Password‘s encrypted data base via DropBox. This takes another base up-to-date between my two machines and I only ever need to create and enter password once. I use a minimum 15 character alphanumeric randomly generated password for all sites.

I have described how I use ChronoSync elsewhere but the interaction between the two computers and the clone I will explore here. First, it’s necessary to understand that I use ChronoSync to make sure that my two computers’ documents folders are perfectly synced at all times. In the event of a catastrophic failure of either machine I can install my software and all other folders from the clone and then sync the new machine to the still-working computer, meaning that my documents folder will be completely up-to-date. I use a Quad-core 15″ Mac as my main video and image editing machine and for making YouTube clips and our products. The Air is mostly used for email and anything to do with browsing the net, and for all writing work. Whenever I finish working on one machine and move to the other (like after fa full day’s editing), I use ChronoSync to make sure the document folders are identical—ChronoSync is such an intelligent piece of software that this process only takes 30 seconds or so.

So we come to the WordPress blog the as the only as yet un-backed up writing I have been doing for the last month or so. I am confident that the loss of formatting is only a temporary glitch in the WordPress environment, but this remains to be tested. Ah: I just tested this and in fact formatting has returned to the blog, so I will now use Dave Taylor’s advice and use WordPress’s own backup feature to download a full copy of all text (including formatting) to the Air’s documents folder (whereupon the next time I sync with the MBP, two copies will exist, and when I make the next clone, three).

All this may seem like total overkill for the ephemera that is a blog. For me, the principle is as much philosophical as anything else: I simply don’t want to expend any effort whatsoever, if the results of this effort don’t have a certain permanence. Of course, this will fail the fifty-year test but most things do!

So I can attest that the WordPress export function is extremely economical, space-wise: a full export of the blog only needed about 500 kB and that included content, formatting, and comments. Kudos WordPress!

I also use the Apple Mac TimeMachine utility for backing up occasionally. One of the reasons for using this in addition to the other methods described above is the Time Machine uniquely will allow you to go back into your own writing and creating history, as finely as your backup timing allows (the default is hourly). On one occasion I found this useful to retrieve an earlier version of a document when I had been a bit hasty in creating a new one. I do not have TimeMachine operating constantly though because I find it slows the machine performance down. And I always make a TimeMachine backup on external drive once again, for data security. Unlike most people who use TimeMachine via their wi-fi system, I use wired HDDs; they are so much faster and using Airport (Mac’s wi-fi) slows the network down too much, at least until the first backup is done (which can take more than a day). Wired backup takes a fraction of the time.

In the creation of the new book Stretching Mindfully I will be using DropBox (a cloud-based system) for regular backing up. But, because text takes so little space, and I have all of the important images of the new book backed up on A RAID 1 array (which I’ll get to in a moment) I think that will be sufficient.

One of the truisms of the tech world is that it is not a question of if a hard drive will fail, it is only ever question of when. In the last 10 years I have lost two FireWire 800 drives that simply died and the data was unable to be recovered from the platter. But because I shoot in the raw format (even if I also have JPEGs enabled), and because I always store the raw files on a second drive, and as they come out of the camera) I was able to recover all of these images. Last week one of my 3 TB LaCie external hard disk drives had a bit of a conniption. As I was editing video, and the capture scratch folder is on this massive drive, I became concerned because although I keep the raw video files (AVCHD format) on yet another drive, to reconstruct the full footage would be hundreds of hours of work.

Accordingly, and for the first time, I bought a LaCie RAID array and I have set that up in what’s called the “mirror” configuration. The RAID contains two drives and they can be set up as either striped or mirrored. “Striped” means that the data throughput is phenomenally fast because it is split over the two drives and both drives are recording simultaneously. The system keeps track of where the different data packets end up. But because this RAID uses Thunderbolt technology it is already blazingly fast. I use the mirror option; as the name suggests the second drive simply mirrors the first, automatically making a perfect copy of whatever is written to the first drive, and a utility monitors drive ‘health’. If one of the drives is reporting some kind of error to the utility, a warning will come off on my desktop. I then have the option to copy from the good drive to another drive and order a replacement drive from LaCie.

When the new hot-swappable drive arrives, I will simply withdraw the faulty one, insert the new one, and the utility will immediately back up the good drive’s data to the new drive. In the modern era I believe this is the bare minimum for any important data—and please tell me, what data do you have that is not important to you?

My final data protection strategy is to compose my blog in TextEdit, save it into the documents folder, and then copy the content into the WordPress environment. Overkill probably, but in all the years of working with computers I have never lost anything important—so far.