An American Editor

August 13, 2018

On the Basics — All the Backups

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

A recent Facebook group post from someone whose computer conked out when she was on deadline for a project reminded me of the importance of different kinds of backup. We’ve talked about backing up files, but that’s different from backing up equipment — perhaps because equipment can be so expensive, while backup systems can be free, or at least less expensive than buying an additional computer.

Because our ability to meet deadlines and keep our commitments to clients is essential to a freelancer’s business survival, it’s worth assessing what kinds of backups we need to make that happen. These suggestions might seem obvious, but should be useful reminders of practical basics for a freelance business.

The Ephemeral

First, the easy — and inexpensive — stuff. To make sure files and documents don’t disappear mid-project, open an online backup account on Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, or something similar so you can stash items as you go along and once you’ve finished them.

If you believe in “belts and braces” (both a belt and suspenders to hold up a pair of pants, even if just one or the other would do the job) as I do, back up to Time Machine as well as an external hard drive, disks, or any other physical backup system that you find easy to use. Backups to your backups are essential, because you never know what will continue to work and which providers will stay in business.

Make sure your essential software programs are live and licensed on every computer you have, and that you have the original disks or downloads so you can reinstall them as needed. That way, if the software goes wonky on one machine, it should still work on another, or you should be able to reinstall it on a new one (or maybe even on a friend’s loaner, temporarily). Keep in mind that many, if not most, programs can be licensed for more than one computer. Know about those options before you need them.

Oh, and save-save-save! Remember to save as you work, the more often, (usually) the better. With lengthy and complex documents, consider doing a Save As with a different filename before Word gets cranky. You’ll have several versions of the document, but that’s better than losing even a few minutes’, much less several hours’, worth of work. The client only has to see the final version, and you can ditch the interim versions once you’ve turned it in.

The Physical

The reality is that computers are not infallible. Even the most-respected brands can develop problems, and my experience — as well as what I’ve observed among colleagues — is that they will break down when we have the fewest resources in terms of money, time, contacts, and material to deal with a crisis. In budgeting to launch or maintain a freelance business, the ideal is to save, set aside, or maintain enough funds and credit so you can have at least two computers with the same software on them, just in case one of them goes south or you can’t use one of them. If you have more than one computer, you can send current files to yourself so they’re accessible on both or all machines, and you can work on them no matter which machine is handy or which one goes rogue and stops working.

I have an iMac desktop computer and a MacBook Air laptop, with the same software programs on each, so I can switch between them as needed. I also have an iPad that my brothers gave me a few years ago that I can use for e-mail and some rudimentary other programs in a pinch. I even have an old MacBook Pro that doesn’t hold a charge on its own but still works when plugged in, just in case all of the other three give up the ghost at the same time. Not that I’m a pessimist, but you never know.

I’ve usually maintained two current computers because of needing to work in different locations, either within my apartment or on the road versus at home, but the old iMac conked out recently, making the laptop even more essential to keeping my work going than usual. I was lucky enough to have funds in hand to replace it right away, but if I couldn’t have done so, I could still get my work done and meet those deadlines.

The Collegial

There’s yet one other option to develop and maintain: offsite ways to work through colleagues. In case your electricity goes out, for instance, or something other event makes it difficult or impossible to work at home for a while, have alternatives already in place.

That can mean knowing where the nearest public library is with computers you can use, a cyber café, co-working spaces, etc. It also can mean having friends who might lend you a computer or let you come over and camp out at their place to get the urgent work done.

It also can be a lifesaver to belong to a local computer users’ group. Once you’re active in one, you can usually count on other members to help with troubleshooting, equipment loans, repairs at less than what retail vendors might charge, and similar hand-holding in a crisis.

If you’ve had a software or equipment crash in mid-project, how did you handle it?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com or Ruth@writerruth.com.

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

November 22, 2013

Articles Worth Reading: More on Ransomware

Recently, I wrote about being attacked by ransomware (see Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses). It appears that the problem is getting worse. I thought you would be interested in this short Ars Technica article (and the comments that follow it):

Soaring price of Bitcoin prompts CryptoLocker ransomware price break.”

The ransomware mentioned in the article is even more frightening (to me) than the ransomware I “caught,” and makes clear that it is more important than ever to regularly backup and image my hard drives.

Although the article is short, it is worth spending a few minutes to read. There are a lot of comments, but the first few are enough to emphasize the danger of ransomware and the need to be increasingly vigilant.

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