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Backing Up – Securing Your Files for the Present and the Future

Backing Up – Securing Your Files for the Present and the Future

Backing Up – Securing Your Files for the Present and the Future

In an increasingly paperless world more and more of our data is being digitised. While offering many opportunities, there are (at least) three challenges presented by this:

  1. Backup of data in case of loss or destruction of the host system;
  2. Accessibility of the data by others in the event of your inability to do so yourself; and,
  3. Usability of the data into the future (i.e. future-proofing).

Every inhabitant of the digital world needs to consider ensuring they maintain their data for now and into the future. This article addresses some of how I approach these tasks.

Over on SimplicityBliss, Sven Fechner recently outlined his comprehensive backup and emergency data access strategy for Mac.

Today I have not one, but effectively four different backups of my data. Three of them are always up-to-date, while the fourth one is the ‘nuclear event’ offsite contingency.

Sven has very ably outlined an approach that addresses the first two points in detail, and I’d suggest you read his article and digest his approach.

My own approach is not dissimilar, at least for three of the four levels described:

  1. Onsite backups with Time Machine (I use Time Capsule for MacBooks and an old Drobo for my iMac);
  2. Data in Dropbox (aff) and Evernote, protected with strong passwords and 2 factor authentication (Dropbox only for now). I am also playing with the Transporter for having my own distributed data.
  3. Cloud backup using Crashplan.

As for the third consideration – future-proofing – we need to think very seriously about whether the masses of data we’re producing daily today will be readable into the future. We have an unprecedented opportunity to capture data for future generations, but we have a responsibility to ensure they will be able to read it.

There are two aspects to this problem – the storage media and the format the data is stored in.

Try listening to an old mixtape you made on an actual cassette tape. I’d bet that most people couldn’t find a (working) cassette player in their house, so unless you drive an old car, you’re quite likely out of luck! Having as much stuff in the cloud as possible deals with at least the media part of the problem, as most cloud solutions will incrementally migrate their storage media, progressively over time. You should do the same at home.

As for the format, this is an equally important consideration. While it might be inconceivable that your current .doc, .jpg or .xls files might not be readable in decades to come, try opening an early 1990’s WordPerfect document. I dare you.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and have no idea as to what formats will be readable in the future. But my gut feel tells me this:

Storing your data in the most raw form possible gives you the best chance of being able to read it into the future

In other words, applying as few photographic enhancements as possible, or using little or no rich text formating is your best strategy for future proofing your data. If you’ve tried to “restore” an old photo, you’ll know you have more chance if you can use the original film (or negative) than if you use a print. If you’ve tried to scan old, heck, even read old text, you’ll know that the simpler the font the better.

My two main forms of data that I want to preserve are my photos and my writing.

I capture all photos in RAW format, and I keep the raw files of the keepers. Backed up.

This is also one of the benefits of having made the decision to write in plain text, using Markdown. Seriously, if you write and you don’t write in Markdown, go and learn more about it. It’s not difficult, and there’s even a great book to help you learn Markdown.

I only wish that I had started writing in plain text sooner. Some of my old writing is literally locked up on on 5.25" floppy disks in WordPerfect format. I have a project to do something about that.

We are in the digital era. Being productive in this era means backing, ensuring others can access if and when needed, and ensuring your data is available now and into the future. I urge everyone to consider an appropropriate backup startegy, including an offsite solution like Crashplan. I also suggest that you learn more about future proofing your data by using the simplest possible formats for storage, including Markdown for plaintext.

How do you backup? And how do you future proof your data?

New MacSparky Field Guide for Markdown

New MacSparky Field Guide for Markdown

Since the dawn of this weblog, I’ve undertaken different approaches to my writing. I’ve used different content management systems (it’s currently a self-hosted WordPress blog, but I also have Squarespace and Scriptogr.am sites), and I’ve used a variety of tools and apps to making writing for this blog easier. Although I have a reasonable handle on HTML, I am not a coder, and hate writing in it. It’s a poor format for editing, and an even worse format if I want to re-use my writing for other purposes.

My current writing process involves Multimarkdown Composer and Mars Edit on OSX and Byword and Poster on iOS. I could just use the WYSIWYG interface on MarsEdit or Poster, but find that I like to write first in plain text so that I can edit and re-use. Frankly, the HTML rendered through most WYSIWYG tools is pretty clunky.

The “glue” that binds these disparate sites and apps together, however, is John Gruber’s Markdown syntax, which makes writing easy, regardless of whether I start in Drafts on iOS or nvAlt on OSX and then continue in Byword/Multimarkdown Composer, or start straight in Byword/MMC. Every time I start, I start in Markdown.

Markdown is quite easy to learn, but it is still a little “geeky”. It is also cool because most non-geeky people could read a text document in Markdown and get it. And it renders well in a variety of outputs – HTML obviously, but it also works nicely for written publications.

David Sparks of MacSparky and the Mac Power Users podcast has published his latest MacSparky Field Guide – this one being the MacSparky Markdown Field Guide, co-authored with Eddie Smith. It follows on from his wonderful Paperless Field Guide, which is one of the best resources for Mac users (in particular) who want to move to a paperless lifestyle.

I saw David’s post today announcing the release of the new Markdown Field Guide. I immediately downloaded it from the iBooks store (it’s also available as a PDF book) and will start reading it today. I may review it in detail later on, but if my experience with the MacSparky Field Guide’s and Markdown is any indication, this is one that any writer (particularly for the web) will want to download today.

The MacSparky Markdown Field Guide is available for A$9.99 from the iBooks Store, or from the MacSparky website.

Drafts for iPhone and iPad

Drafts for iPhone and iPad

Drafts for iPhoneIts not often that an iOS app makes its way to take up precious position on my device’s dock. Actually, its not often an app goes onto my main screen, let alone the dock, so when this does occur its really saying something about the potential of that app.
David Sparks of the Mac Power Users podcast has mentioned once or twice about an iPhone app called Drafts, which is a quick way to collect thoughts and info as they arise. David, along with his co-host Katie Floyd, have become people who I pay attention to when it comes to productivity on Mac and iOS devices, and when David recently blogged about the release of a new version of Drafts for the iPhone along with a new version for the iPad, it was time to give the app a try.

Of course, the fact that Brett Terpstra and the Time Management Ninja blog also posted about the release of Drafts 2 / Drafts for the iPad only reinforced the need for me to check it out.

This “quick collect” system fits nicely with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) as it allows an iPhone user to quickly collect ideas and thoughts as they arise, so that they can be processed and organised later for action.

On opening Drafts, the first thing seen is a blank note. You can quickly type your thought and leave the app, no other action required. By default, if you reopen the open more than 60 seconds later, it will automotically start a new note, but of course you can review older captured thoughts. If you’re running Drafts on both iPhone and iPad, there is a seamless syncing capability of the notes.

Once you’ve got your drafts, its quite simple to later do something with them. You can Tweet, post to Facebook, send emails or messages, send to apps like Byword or DayOne, or other web services like Evernote and Dropbox.

As a writer, I like that Drafts supports John Gruber’s Markdown. This allows me to easily integrate Drafts to my writing workflow, which is built around Byword as my editing device. From Byword, its easy for me to then export to my Squarespace or WordPress blogs, or to apps like Pages, Scrivener or iBooks Author. My only criticism of Drafts is that the Markdown preview process seems a little flakey at this time. I am sure that will be fixed shortly.

I like the seamless, low-threshhold method of quickly capturing thoughts and ideas. The app has a lot of power, and easily integrate into many workflows. As with any capture device (such an in-trays and inboxes), the trick is to ensure that it’s contents are regularly processed and organised for action. Get Drafts for iPhone and iPad