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A Digital World Part 3

The catch: Why and how to make backups

We have seen all the wonders of digital information in part 1, and then the wonders of an adequate tool in part 2. All that can't be all good, can it? No, because there is nothing worse about digital data than to see it vanish before your eyes. Especially since its ability to be cloned without loss makes it the perfect candidate to backups.

Naturally, in the typical household, the computer becomes the repository of all digital information. That's where you store all images, rip your CDs, download your favorite recipes from the web, etc...

This is a major misuse of a computer, as the computer has never been designed to act as a long term storage device. Indeed, it is a very bad one. There are four ways you can lose all your data by storing it on a computer:

  1. Hardware failure is the one people think of first. Hard Drives do fails, I have seen quite a few dying.
  2. Software failure. Computers keep data organised on a hard drive. If because of a software failure this organisation is compromised, an entire hard drive content can be lost. Thinking of all the viruses and malware that hang around our systems nowadays, I'd worry about those.
  3. The most obvious way is often the one right ahead of us: User error. YOU are a very probable cause for putting your data at risk. Because a computer hard drive is a read/write media, it is easy - not to say trivial - to lose all your data on a manipulation error. Any rewritable medium will be prone to this risk (think CD-RW).
  4. Last, but not least, the computer destruction will also result in data loss. I'll talk about that one later on as it is not really related to the computer, but to any storage.

A potentially valid backup would solve all of these concerns. One exist, is cheap and all current computers can write it: The CD-R (or DVD-R). Don't even consider doing your backups on CD-RW, as it would not solve all the issues.

Are we talking long term?

Of course, we are not. In 75 years, chances are that some of us will still be around, and all these CD-R/DVD-R will be long gone. Or maybe not, but there is no certainty as of today.

One good thing is that there will be no DVD players anymore at that time. Another media, bigger and faster will have taken its place. This will make a perfect opportunity to transfer data from one media to another, hence refreshing its longevity.

What if the media is destroyed?

Ahhhhh, that's an interesting one. Media can be destroyed, HDD, CD, anything. A fire, flooding, tornado, etc...

Some will argue that when your house went on fire, you have more urgent stuff to worry about that your MP3 collection. And yet, all the people I know that have seen their house go down in flames had one regret: Memories. All pictures, films, writings had disappeared in the process. Friends can provide you with a few pics here and there, but the core is gone.

Think about this possibility, and then think about the cost (in time and money) of burning an additional DVD with all these pictures to store it in another place? All of a sudden, it is worth it.

All my pictures fit on a couple of DVDs. I have one version at home, one at my parent's and one at my in-law's. Took me 2 hours overall. Sure, they are not the latest updated version of my pics, but they are the core.