Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If your house were on fire what would you grab first?

It has often amazed me how magazines and Sunday papers ask this question of celebrities. Partly because those kind of people are likely to have an entourage who would swoop in and save all for them and partly because of the answers they give. Not a passport or birth certificate or family heirloom among them. You would hope that their answers are tongue-in-cheek or an attempt to be interesting, but their responses are often bizarre. As the lady behind the counter at my local dairy told me this week when we were both looking at the latest reported doings of Brangelina on the cover of a magazine, "Rich people just don't act like normal people. It's like they are from another planet".

A quick search of online forums uncovers the kinds of answers to that question my dairy lady would relate to. 'Normal' people write that they would save things like photos, scrapbooks, a child's special toy and, increasingly, 'my laptop'.

What started me thinking about this was having the hard drive on my MacBook die a week ago. I am not going into the long story of why my recent backup is gone as well, but suffice it to say that I have to go back to May of this year to recover my work data and June of 2007 for personal data, including photos. There have been enough people telling me wisely in the last few days that Time Machine is brilliant to make me keep a sharp object handy for the next person who says it - it doesn't really help right now. I think everyone who has witnessed my misery has dashed off and ensured that they have backed up AND that the back up is stored securely.

I have had two friends who have had their laptops stolen recently. Hopefully insurance gives them a nice new shiny laptop out of it but for them there is no point looking back- in one case everything is gone, and in the other back ups will resurrect most of the data.

I have been fortunate to have my hard drive replaced very quickly under the Apple warranty and have taken the dead hard drive in to a data recovery place. The good news from them is that if I am prepared to pay a large sum they are confident that at least some of the data can be recovered. The bad news to me is that they have asked me to prioritise the order in which they search for my data. Apparently they may only get one window of time to dig around inside so they want to target the files that are most important to me first.

This data recovery option posed quite a dilemna. First is the data important enough to spend serious money on? Then if it is, personal or work related data first? And then which files? I was holding the phone racking my brains about what was most precious to me or most necessary, and I had to give the answer on the spot. What would you choose?


  1. I'm pleased we are separated by a fairly large stretch of water as I am concerned that if I was handier I might have my eye poked out with a sharp stick.

    My Time Machine looks all sparkly and new but is, as yet, and hopefully untested when it comes to having to restore any lost data from it.

    AS well I back up my documents, delicious and contacts to an external 30gb hard-drive taken from an old computer and take it off site.

    Seeing I work from my own laptop I think I would take my own photographs first if pressed for time- they are memories that are most precious to me.

    Work files can be recreated or retrieved from the school server if I needed them to be.

    Plus a lot of stuff is in the cloud now and I could get some of it back that way as well.

    I back my contacts onto my 80GB iPod and could at a pinch get stuff back off it as well.

    It is not until you have lost stuff from file corruption or other miseries that you understand the importance of a back up.

    A couple of years ago in pre-server ddays our library software got itself tangled and I was able to restore from the back-up. The alternative would have been to re-scan and barcode the entire collection- a task too enormous to contemplate- the time spent manually backing up paid for itself on one Thursday afternoon!

  2. My photos!

    My contacts and music are on my 80GB iPod & I also burn back up CDs for my purchased music. I have photos on my iPod too but not all of them. Most of my important links are in "delicious", I have copies of school work - plans, etc on my school laptop as well as my own laptop and in the school server so any that I really want are retrievable.

    My husband lost his HD about 2 years ago and I was devastated as unlike me he didn't back things up. Sitting on his HD were some of the last photos ever taken of my Dad before he died, plus some from after (they were taken with my husbands camera). He'd meant to burn me a copy onto disc, or email them to me, but just hadn't got round to it. Of course he'd already deleted them from his camera too.

    Definitely photos... They can't be easily replaced.

  3. At the risk of having my eye poked out, I'll happily sing the virtues of Time Machine, but ONLY because I found out the hard way. A few weeks back, I managed to delete (and trash) the most important file I'd been working on for days at work. Thankfully I'd backed up with Time Machine the day before and essentially only lost a day's work (but it was a busy day, I tell you!), but it was not fun.

    Comments like "how did you manage to delete the file you're working on?" and "why did you do that?" didn't help AT ALL. The point is: I did it, and the file was gone, so who was going to help me get it back?!?

    However, I haven't yet backed up to the myriad of places I should be and would seriously be in trouble if my home burned down with both my laptop and my external hard drive in it. But, in the meantime, I'm in love with Time Machine. :-)

  4. I think that you do tend to not really worry about back-ups unless someones had a bad experience. As one of the laptop victims it was lucky that you'd had the unfortunate experience first because it allowed me to think about having my work saved in three locations. It cant possibly happen that I lose data at school, home and my laptop all at once! Surely its impossible! Hands down if my house was on fire I'd save my cowbells and Waikato flags. Its all about priorities!

  5. Hello Dorothy, thank you for commenting on my blog. You've all made me really worried now. I'm going to ask the technician at school tomorrow what I should do about my backup.

  6. Thanks to you all for the responses and insights. I have taken notice of what you have said :) and I have rung the data recovery folk and reprioritised and put my photos at the top of the list....
    Not worrying about music because I bought a brilliant little piece of software online this week for US$20 called TuneAid. It has restored the entire contents of my iPod to my laptop with no fuss. The best thing to me was that it restored the playlists and metadata. As people have pointed out if your music is legal you could always tediously rip your CDs again, but the playlists and other tags I have added over the years would have been awful to redo.
    @allanahk Time machine certainly seems to work like magic. The test for me will be when I do finally set up my replacement hard drive and only want to take some of the data off time machine and mix it up with what ever is recovered from my old one. Will TM let you pick and choose for a restoration?
    @keamac Because I had not prviously had a device big enough to use TM with I have had bits and pieces on iPods, DVDs etc like you. I am now sold on cloud computing and so thankful I had started using Google docs as more than just a collaborative space since coming back from there in July. So some important docs I have been working on are safely tucked away on Google servers somewhere and life could carry on.
    @cafechic@tamakitoday @hellz The storage of the back up is another issues. Heaps of people still have the original and the backup in the same place. Not a good idea. Schools and businesses really need to have a system in place for getting backups located off site. But for individuals I am currently sold on a combination of .Mac (mobileme) and Google. I have been surprised by the number of schools I visit who seem to take no responsibility for backing up teacher content on their networks. As I have learned the hard way, you should never rely on someone else to be doing it for you....