Monday, March 09, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Files

The very fact that you are reading this indicates that you are part of the (more-or-less) computer-literate masses. And the fact that you do anything at all with a computer means that you, by definition, have lost files at one time or another. Or at many times or another.

Yes, there's nothing like the terrible sinking feeling that comes when the screen suddenly goes blank and you realized you haven't saved that gigantic document you're working on since last St Swithen's Day. Or the feeling that comes when you just know you saved some desperately-needed item, but have no idea where it is. Is it on one of your fixed or removable hard drives? Which backup CD/DVD it is on? Or is it on a ... gasp! ... floppy disk (3.5 inch or, worse, 5.25 inch) for which you no longer have a reader? AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

Yep. Welcome to the Lost Data Zone.

I thought about the perils of lost data when I read this recent CNN SciTech blog article a while back. There's also a good overview of data preservation techniques and suggestions at the Library of Congress website.

I had the experience of the "ohmygawd where did I store that file" this weekend when I was desperately looking for the scanned copy of an appraisal I needed for insurance documentation. I looked everywhere I could think of on my Mac and my three external hard drives, and searched my stack of CD backups.

I finally found it on the Mac, in the folder labled "Insurance Documentation."


I can't save you from the perils of forgetting where you put things, but I can summarize the most common data preservation recommendations:

* Save your work every 10 seconds.

* No matter what medium you saved your work on, if it's really valuable, re-save it once a year.

* Save your work every 5 seconds.

* If your data is preserved in an off-the-wall, non-standard, or proprietary format, save it again as something else (for instance, if it's a graphic file, consider printing it out, scanning it, and saving it as a .jpeg or .gif rather than a .zpqx or whatever, or save documents as .pdf's).

* Save your work every time you blink.

* If your data is really, really important, back it up in more than one place and format...keep a printed copy, save one on a removable drive or CD, and save another in yet another place.

* And did I mention saving often?

Lost data today are the equivalent of the socks that have gone to the vast and mighty Black Hole 'O Hose over the years - you know, the mates of all those individual socks you keep saving because you know you'll find the other one sooner or later.

Take care of your data. You never know when you'll want to find one of those hysterically funny cartoons you lovingly saved from Bilbo's Cartoon Saturday two years ago.

Have a good day. Save something right now. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - My cartoon file is saved in three different places!



Mike said...

I save my really secret stuff on 8 track tape. I have the only working 8 track left in the world so it's really safe.

And I'm still not used to 'data are'. Data 'is' one thing as far as I'm concerned. Next thing you know we'll be saying 'information are'. (small rant there. I should do a post)

Wv - qualiv - An unfinished sentence about the qua habitat.

John A Hill said...

Save, save, save! Flash drive, CD, pc file. Save!

wv: avildhor..German talking about his nympho girlfriend.

Amanda said...

Since having Aaron, I've become a super saver. I have multiple CD copies. Then I also have it on external drives and of course on my laptop itself.

I just need to be more diligent with other documents....

fiona said...

(3.5 inch or, worse, 5.25 inch)

since when was smaller the new bigger?

Anonymous said...

The only thing I have worth saving is my pictures which are uploaded onto photobucket. My blog entries aren't THAT important. Of course I say that but do I really mean it? What would happen if I lost it all? My blogs are based on a true story! ME so if I lost them it'd be like losing all my memories.

Bilbo said...

Mike - the economy being what it is, your 8-track is only worth 4 tracks now.

John - best definition of a vw I've ever seen!

Amanda - a word to the wise...

Fiona - regardless of size, I always protect my floppy from viruses.

Twinkie - I periodically copy all my blog posts to MS-word documents and archive them. You never know what Blogger may do ...