An American Editor

May 6, 2013

Business of Editing: Preparing for Disaster

I run a business; I am a professional editor; I work full-time as an editor. In addition, I have several professional editors who work for me. All of us rely on my ability to obtain work and keep clients happy and returning. Fortunately, I have been successful at this for many years.

Yet always in the back of my mind is a worry. I worry about what will happen should I be struck by a virus, by malware, or have equipment failure. I worry because my business depends on my equipment.

My worrying was much greater in my early years than it is today. The years have seen significant improvements in both hardware and software. Additionally, over the years I have learned how best to prepare myself for an emergency.

Let me begin with hardware. Over the years, it was my practice to replace our computers every 18 to 24 months. Technology was making great strides and I wanted to stay abreast — not cutting edge but just one step behind. In the very beginning, I bought, as most people do, off-the-shelf computers. I learned very quickly that I was throwing away my money.

I have never owned an Apple product. I do understand why people swear by Apple computers, but I look at Apple computers and see a high price for mediocre equipment. I do not mean that negatively. Apple’s mediocre components can be much better than many of the off-the-shelf computers’ components. What I do mean is that for the same or a little more money (or even a little less money), I can have a custom-built computer that uses the best-quality individual components. Apple’s mediocre quality is in comparison to high-quality custom-built computers. The other problem with Apples has been the behind-the-times support for Word’s macro language. I rely on macros and Microsoft’s Apple support has always been half-hearted, and Apple itself hasn’t shown much interest in supporting Microsoft VBA on its computers. The combination of inability to customize my computer and lack of robust macro support led me to the Windows world, where I have remained.

What I want are computers that meet my future needs, not my current needs. I also want computers that work with me to prevent a disaster from destroying my business. Thus, I have our computers custom built. Our current computers are now about 5 years old and still going strong (although I am thinking about a couple of upgrades this summer, even though the upgrades will make no visible difference in my work).

There are two things that are absolute must-haves for my computers: (1) an Antec (or similar) case and (2) hot-swappable hard drives. The Antec case is required because I like quiet and want superior component cooling. Although expensive, the Antec cases are very quiet and offer superior cooling. If I unplugged my NAS (network-attached storage) box, you would be able to hear a pin drop in my office because my computer is so quiet, and I’ve never had to worry about hardware failure from overheating. This is purely a luxury must-have as the case doesn’t enhance performance; it just eliminates annoying sounds and minimizes the risk of component overheating.

But the hot-swappable hard drives are very important. These are drives that can be easily and quickly (in a couple of seconds) be removed from the computer and replaced with another drive. It isn’t so much the being replaced with another drive that is important as that I have duplicate drives — one in safe storage, the other in the computer — which minimizes the risk of downtime and lost work. And when I travel, I can remove all of the hard drives and put them in a safe deposit box and not worry about something happening in my absence that would put me out of business (or let thieves get hold of my data). (Removable hard drives are available aftermarket for Macs.)

The removable drives also let me take weekly images of my hard drives on a dedicated drive as a way to protect against a disaster that would require all new drives or a new computer. The image would let me recreate my computer in minutes. Combined with Carbonite‘s remote backup, which occurs automatically every time I modify a file, I can recreate my current computer in a few hours. (Carbonite is available for Macs.)

Also important hardware-wise are my triple-monitor setup and the NAS box. The NAS box has four hard drives (two paired sets) in it and is responsible for storing my daily backups. I like easy and automatic backups, so I use Backup4All, which backs up the files into standard zip files. The NAS box lets me store several months worth of backups. (NAS boxes are available for use with Macs.)

Software also plays an important role in my disaster preparations. I have already mentioned two, Carbonite and Backup4All, and I use the built-in imaging software that comes with Windows 7 to do the disk imaging. But a very important program is PC Tools’ Registry Mechanic. I have been using the program for a number of years and it has come to the rescue a couple of times. I have it run every day after bootup. What I especially like about Registry Mechanic is that it creates a restore point so that I can restore a problem Registry to an earlier one that was problem-free. To do the restore takes a few seconds — a couple of mouse clicks and a reboot.

Being able to go back in time and replace my Registry is an important tool in fighting malware. Malware often changes entries in the Registry and sometimes it is very difficult to remove the malware from the Registry. Restoring an older version of the Registry, from before the malware invasion, often can solve the problem. In all my years of using a computer, I have never had to completely erase my boot drive and reinstall all my software in order to remove a virus or malware or to fix a problem Registry.

I also use BitDefender Internet Security for antivirus and firewall protection. Over the years, I have used various antivirus and firewall software programs, including free ones, but for the past 5 years, my choice has been BitDefender. I am not a fan of free antivirus software. It is not that such software cannot be good, but I know from my own business that I cannot give away my services and survive. So there has to be something that is held back or that doesn’t work as well with the free versions; otherwise, what would induce you to upgrade to a paid version? And if there is limited income coming in to an antivirus/antimalware company, how does the company generate enough income to constantly update the virus and malware signatures? (One exception may be Microsoft’s AV software because Microsoft generates a lot of revenue from other products.)

As I’ve said before, if my computer is not working, I’m not working. If I’m not working, I’m not earning any money and I’m not meeting my client’s needs. It is not uncommon to read about an editor whose computer got infected with a virus and now is having problems. I can say that in all my years of editing on computer — and I started back in the late 1980s — I have never been down because of virus or malware invasion. I attribute this to using the right tools in the right combinations.

Passwords also concern me. I worry about password theft. I don’t care if someone steals my password to Consumers Report, but I do care if they steal my banking passwords or the passwords to my websites and e-mail. Consequently, I use RoboForm to store and input my passwords. I have been using it for many years, since version 1. Letting RoboForm enter the information avoids the problem of keyloggers grabbing my password as I type.

Finally, as we have discussed in previous articles, I use an online stylesheet. This stylesheet is at my website. If my website goes down, I’m in trouble. Over the years I have tried several different website hosts. About 9 years ago, I moved to 1and1, where I have remained. In the past 5 years, my website has been unavailable a total of 2 hours (approximately), with one exception, which was my fault, when it was down nearly 4 hours while 1and1 restored my website. (In doing a programming upgrade, I accidentally erased all of the coding of the live site rather than of a sandbox site. I called 1and1 tech support — they always answer with a live person within 2 or 3 minutes, and usually less — and it took them a few hours, but they did fully restore my websites.)

Although some of the programs may not be available for Apple computers, I suspect that equivalent programs are. We rely on our computers to earn our living, which means we should be taking those steps necessary to ensure that any downtime is minimal — and that all our data is safe.

What special steps do you take?

(Disclosure: I have no financial interest in any of the products mentioned. They are products that I have purchased and use.)


  1. I’m a computer guy long before I’m a writer, so my setup is pretty solid. I’m on a Mac, but good backup practices are important regardless of your OS. There’s an old saying among IT geeks:

    It’s not a question of IF your hard drive will fail, but WHEN.

    Sadly, it’s usually followed by:

    No one gets religious about backups until they’ve lost everything at least once.

    I NEARLY lost everything once. Once. That was pretty much all it took for me to get religious about backups. As a result, I have the following setup:

    Scrivener is my writing tool, and it auto-saves my work every few seconds. On top of that, it creates a .zip backup of my manuscript every time I manually save, though it can be configured to do the same on project open, project close, or all of the above. It also syncs plain text copies of every chapter / scene to an external folder.

    That external folder is in Dropbox, which then pushes up to their servers and out to my other machines (my wife’s desktop and two laptops). Dropbox also keeps a revision history of every file change. As a programmer, I work for a source control management software company. Revision history is awesome.

    OS X has Time Machine, which does an hourly backup of everything changed on my machine and keeps a revision history going back as far as the drive space will allow it. My current time machine drive has over three years of revisions for every file on my machine. Did I mention how revision history is awesome?

    Last, but certainly not least, I do a full clone of my drive every night. The clone is an exact duplicate of my internal drive, done over firewire and only backing up changed files, so it’s usually done in a few minutes. If I sit down in the morning and my drive has died, I can boot directly from the firewire drive and keep going while plugging in another drive and cloning again. This drive is swapped every month or so with a duplicate drive that I keep at an offsite location.

    Since my machine is a laptop (I don’t own desktops anymore), everything I do is external. It’s not quite the same as hot-swappable drives, but it’s close enough. I haven’t lost data in five years. Hell, with Time Machine, I’ve accidentally overwritten a file or some code I was working on and was able to pull the previous version from 30 minutes ago.

    Hard drives are cheap. All the software I use is free or comes with the Mac. There is NO excuse for poor backups. You will pay for it eventually.


    Comment by Damon J Courtney — May 8, 2013 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  2. I work on a Mac, too. I’ve also custom built several pc’s. I wouldn’t say that custom is necessarily any more stable or secure than my Macbook–any system needs backups. Like Damon, I use external systems (hard drives and various online databanks) to keep at least a triple backup of everything.


    Comment by Will Harmon — May 9, 2013 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  3. I use the Fetch FTP program, an external hard drive, Dropbox, CDs (formerly zip disks, which I still miss), and having both a desktop and a laptop computer to make sure that I don’t – fingers tightly crossed – lose important files or documents. I also get disk versions of programs/applications that reach me by download. So far, so good.

    I use Macs and haven’t had any real problems with them in terms of either security or file safety. I don’t use macros, though, so that aspect is less of an issue for me than it might be for colleagues.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — May 20, 2013 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

  4. […] prior articles (see, e.g., Business of Editing: Preparing for Disaster), I talked about how I have gone from fixed internal hard drives to removable internal hard drives […]


    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Backing Up Is Easy to Do | An American Editor — May 7, 2014 @ 4:03 am | Reply

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