An American Editor

May 7, 2014

The Business of Editing: Backing Up Is Easy to Do

The title of this article put me in mind of a Neil Sedaka concert I attended more than 50 years ago. So before getting into backups, I thought we would take a trip down my memory lane. The two videos are of the same song, but performed at different tempos. The song was a big hit in both tempos, but 50 years ago, it was the faster version that made number 1 on the charts. Here is Neil Sedaka and his song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”:

The faster, peppier version

The slower, more “soulful” version

Now onward…

My computers are my livelihood. But as we know, computers go bad, they get stolen, viruses infect them — in other words, disaster preparedness needs to be in my vocabulary.

In 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 as one method of protecting myself. And removable hard drives are really a boon. If you recall, I also wrote about twice getting hit with a ransomware virus that stopped me cold until it was removed at some expense (see Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses).

Even then, my data was well protected, but I wasn’t able to return to work within seconds, which is my goal. I had to wait until the ransomware was removed because the ransomware didn’t let me access my computer so that I could access backups.

Last week I took the next step in my quest for protection. I upgraded my computer. My computer has been so stress-free and satisfactory, that the last major overhaul was about 5 years ago. Previously, I replaced my computers every 18 to 24 months.

This overhaul was essentially building a new computer. I replaced the RAM (and doubled it to 16 GB), the motherboard, the processor (went from a dual core to a quad core), a couple of hard drives (replaced older drives with two 2 TB hard drives and added a third solid state drive [SSD]), and the video card. Basically, I kept the case (I’ll never give up my Antec case), my three monitors, and my two SSDs.

In terms of performance, the new computer is like lightning compared to the previous version. My Journals macro currently has a dataset of more than 27,500 entries (and is constantly growing); it is my benchmark for speed. On the prior system took approximately 20 to 25 minutes to run through 800+ references; on the new system, it took 10 minutes to run through 883.

I’m drifting; back to backups.

One of the reasons for the upgrade was that I wanted to modify how I was doing backups. Previously, I relied largely on Carbonite for offsite backup and Backup4All for onsite. This worked well when combined with the removable drives — until the ransomware struck. That demonstrated to me a weak link in my system.

With the upgrade, I have added a 2-TB drive just for imaging backups, a second 2-TB drive for the Backup4All backups, and a third SSD that is a clone boot drive.

For the imaging, I purchased Acronis 2014 software (3-license version). I have set it to do a full image of my boot and data drives every 3 days; between those times it is set to do incremental backups. The Backup4All does daily backups of my full data drives and of select files on the boot drive. Carbonite backs up files that change from both the boot and data drives.

But the key to my new procedure is the third SSD drive. That drive, like all of the other drives, is removable and “hot swappable.” More importantly, that drive is a clone of my boot drive.

When malware strikes, it generally seeks to infect the boot drive. After all, if it only infects a data file, the cure is easy and the malware is just an annoyance, not a major problem. But if it infects the boot drive, it becomes a major problem and headache. The ransomware is such a problem because it prevents you from accessing your boot drive to get at it.

With my clone boot drive, should I be infected, I simply pop out the infected boot drive and insert the clone boot drive. I now have a running computer as if never struck by the malware. Granted, I will need to do some updating of a few of the files on the boot and data drives, but that takes a few minutes and is easy to do from Carbonite, Backup4All, or the Acronis image. I can then put the infected drive in another slot and reformat it. Once the drive is reformatted, I can use the Acronis software to clone the boot drive to the reformatted drive and I’m set should malware strike again (or even the boot drive fail).

Of course, I want the clone drive to be as current as possible, so I use Acronis to update the clone drive daily. I usually do it first thing in the morning after bootup, when I am confident that I do not have an infection on my system.

Each of the programs I use for backing up include a scheduler. When first installed, it took a few minutes to set the scheduler for each program, but once that was done, the backups take place when scheduled and in the background. How much easier can it be?

The keys to successful backups are (1) establishing a backup schedule and adhering to it, (2) using established software that is popular and well supported (and something more than barebones like what comes with Windows), and (3) using removable drives.

The removable drives are important because I can physically separate the drives from the computer. Thus, if someone steals my computer, all they are getting is the shell: The important material, the data, is elsewhere.

The removable drives are also important for malware protection, because they let you have a clone boot drive. Even if I cannot or do not want to deal with an infected drive myself, having the removable drives lets me remove the infected drive, replace it with a clone so I can go back to work, and give the infected drive to my computer tech for him to deal with. My downtime is the time it takes to swap the drives and update the few files that need updating, 30 minutes at most.

In talking with colleagues, I find that few are prepared for disaster. Perhaps now is the time to rethink our disaster preparedness and figure out what we can do should disaster strike.

Richard Adin, 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.)

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