Backing Up

I put a lot of thought into the tools I use. Not just tools for my thesis, but all of them. As I stated at the beginning, I probably spend way too much time thinking about these sorts of things, but it’s my hobby. What can I say? I geek out about these sorts of things.

So when it came time to organize my thesis, I was already predisposed to digital solutions. That stated, there are several reasons that I chose to develop this system as a digital system and why I chose these specific applications.

The first reason is that digital is just easier to have around. My Mac and my iPad do not get any bigger or heavier when I add 1000 pages in PDFs to them. As students, we are always on the go. So digital just makes sense.

More importantly though, digital has the potential to be backed-up easily. You just have to either remember to back it up or try to automate it if you can. Not only are Evernote and Scrivener best in class apps as far as functionality, but they both make a basic level of back-ups easy with little effort.

Backing up your data is something that you all know you should be doing. I would be willing to bet money though that the majority of you do not back up your data, and those that do… do not do so as often as you know you should.

I am paranoid about data loss… SERIOUSLY paranoid. I have never really had a huge issue with this myself, but I have seen far too many of my peers lose anywhere between months and decades of irreplaceable work due to not backing up their data, then being hit with a stroke of bad luck.

Files corrupt. Hard-drives fail. Liquids get spilled. Computers get stolen.

Not a single one of these situations care if your thesis needs to be finished in two weeks.

Backing up your data is REALLY important.

Everything you do should exist in a MINIMUM of two places. If it doesn’t, it might as well not exist in the first place. Everything can seem fine one day, then the next day, you go to open a file and the operating system tells you it can’t be opened because it has been corrupted. No warning. No explanation. If this was your only version of the file… it no longer exists. It is that simple. So, no less than two copies, in physically different places.

You need to make sure that you are backing up your data often. The natural next question is “But HOW often?” That depends on how much work you are willing to lose. If you are willing to lose a week’s worth of work, then back up weekly. If you are willing to lose a year’s worth of work, then by all means, back up your data annually. Know that if you choose annual back ups though, I will have no sympathy when you lose your entire thesis. Not because I am heartless, but because I am telling you to know better than that now.

In my personal back-up system, everything that I am currently working on gets backed up every minute thanks to Dropbox. Dropbox is one level of back up in my system because, if possible, I do not want to lose much more than a minute or two of work.

So what is my back up system?

Originally, I had planned on making some sort of flowchart to show you. When I sat down to do this last night though, I just could not figure it out. So I am going to just tell you about it. Essentially, it boils down to redundancy.

Lets start with the easy stuff… things that back themselves up to the cloud while leaving a local version on my mac as well. This gets me to the bare minimum back up constraint. Data existing in two physically different places, my computer’s internal hard-drive and a service provider’s server somewhere out in the world.

  • Calendar: all of my calendar data is synced through iCloud. This means that it exists on my Mac, iPhone, iPad, and the iCloud website.
  • Evernote: I have Evernote installed on all my devices, so once again, the data exists locally on my devices, and up on the Evernote server.
  • Dropbox: Dropbox is central to my workflow in everything I do. I keep all current work in my dropbox folder; Adobe CS files, text files, presentations for class, client invoices for current projects. This makes sure that anything that is part of a active project exists both on my Mac and on the Dropbox server. This also makes it easy to refer to theses things while on the go, via the iOS Dropbox app. Dropbox also maintains version histories, so if I accidentally save over a file I didn’t mean to… I can get it back.

Dropbox is how I made sure that there was this first level of back-up for Scrivener data. Though Scrivener does not natively sync to a cloud server, by keeping my Scrivener file in Dropbox, it is backed up. Additionally, I have Scrivener set up to back itself up to a different folder in BuckeyeBox. I also kept PDFs of every draft in a Dropbox folder. I also imported those same PDFs into Evernote. Like I said before, I import copies of lots of stuff redundantly into Evernote in other aspects of my life. Invoices and contracts for clients, important stuff I do not want to lose.

With this system alone, my thesis work was pretty redundantly backed up.

  • Snapshots in Scrivener keeping track of major changes.
  • Primary Scrivener file in Dropbox, backed up and versioned on Dropbox server.
  • Versioned back ups of Scrivener database, in BuckeyeBox, so therefore backed up and versioned again on the BuckeyeBox server.
  • PDFs of drafts, backed up and versioned on Dropbox server.
  • PDFs of drafts in Evernote, so existing in local Evernote database and synced to Evernote Servers.

So now everything exists in at least two places, an offsite server in the cloud and my local hard-disc. At this point, PDFs of Drafts exist in a minimum of four places because of Evernote redundancy. Nearly all of this happens by itself so long as I have an internet connection. This is pretty good and most people would stop here. Not I.

Next Level of defense: External Drives.

I have two external drives that I use primarily. I have a few more that I use for archival purposes, but we won’t open that can of worms today.

  1. Time Machine – Time Machine does versioned back-ups to an external drive every hour that you have the external drive hooked up. My external time machine drive lives at my house, and every night backs up my Mac to the drive. This gives me daily backups of everything on my Mac.
  2. Bootable Back Up – I also have a firewire drive that I use a program called Super-Duper with to create Bootable Back-ups. During my thesis writing, I did this weekly (Every Friday night while my special lady friend and I were out for date night). This creates a drive that is more than just a back up. A bootable drive can be plugged into another compatible machine, and you can boot the computer straight from it. It is essentially like having a complete duplicate of your entire hard-drive, operating system, applications, data, everything. If my computer simply vanished, I could grab the bootable drive, plug it into another compatible machine and pick up right where I was the last time I formatted the drive. Even my desktop image settings. This drive lives in a fire-proof safe in my house.

So now, everything digital lives in at least four places; My internal hard-drive, various cloud servers, my time machine drive, and my bootable drive. Pretty good, but not done yet.

Informal Back-up via email.

While this is not a formal part of my back-up system, I will mention briefly that I had an unintentional additional layer of digital back up to all my drafts. Since I emailed all my drafts to my advisors, PDF versions of them existed both on my gMail server as well as on the OSU mail servers in my advisor’s email accounts. I only mention this because if catastrophe hits, you may be able to salvage something from an email account. It might not be a bad idea to talk to a trusted friend or family member about emailing drafts to them for safe keeping until your thesis is completed.

Paper Back-Up

So that is a lot of digital back-up, but there is still a final level of back-up that I did. In the event of alien attack via electromagnetic pulse, shutting down all electronics, I kept paper copies of all my drafts. Not just one, but two. One copy was kept at school in the grad studio, the other at home in the fire-proof safe. If needed, for any reason, I could always pay someone to retype my thesis, though in all honesty, I am not sure how since all my money exists as digital data in a bank system. That stated, I still did this because it helped make me feel like all my bases were covered.

The moral here is this. Back up, back up, back up! You cannot do this too much.

So that is what I have for you. I hope you find it helpful and I wish you the best of luck on your thesis project.

If you found this useful, found a typo, or just want to offer up some words of praise… I would love your Feedback!