Winning The War on Computer Disasters

Posted: July 22nd, 2010

The Deceased

The Deceased (R.I.P.)

Well, it happened sooner than I thought it would. Not too long ago, I gave the automated online backup a try so I could relieve myself of the pesky task of having to remember to do it myself. Turns out it was like buying life insurance before a vacation to Afghanistan. The beloved tower of power, a workhorse to countless projects and surviving several deadly viruses, had passed away.

He was 4.

Despite a quick mourning, the sudden death didn’t really phase me. His understudy, the Vista laptop, quickly took over the reins and was left a nice fortune from the completed and up-to-date backup sitting online.

Carrying out the work duties from the little Vista wasn’t cause for much pain and downtime. There are, however, some new protocols that I’ve put in place in order for the next unexpected death to create absolutely zero downtime and zero cause for pain, work buddy death notwithstanding.

1. Having a laptop that is completely synchronized to your desktop computer

I’m pretty thankful for the Carbonite backup saving my ass but there is one gripe I now have about it. I have about 20 GB of data to download and it takes three days to complete it. While I’d recommend to get an online backup, of any kind at the very least, a three day wait for your data can set you back.

Recently, though, I tried out Dropbox (thanks Jon) and wished I had started with this from the beginning. It not only backs up your data, it can synchronize files between any number of computers so, if one bites the dust, you have another computer to fall back on without the wait to update it.

Dropbox is even free for up to 2 GB of data and 10 USD/month for up to 50 GB of data.

2. Using an online service for the RSS reader and bookmarks

To me, it made the most sense to utilize a Firefox add-on for an RSS reader and save bookmarks through the browser. They are all part of a happy family so why not?

Not so smart. These were long forgotten as a part of the backup. Similar to the feeling of losing a few dollars from your wallet, it wasn’t anything too serious, but I would like them back.

While you can technically utilize an add-on, FEBE (Firefox only), to backup your bookmarks, RSS and browser configurations, it’s easier just to stick to online appplications with Google Reader and Delicious to store bookmarks. You can carry on without missing a step if you have to switch to another computer.

3. Use a password storage service instead of auto-saving passwords in the browser

OK, this one I started doing even before the online backup. We do tend to get lazy when it comes to passwords though. I mean, do you autosave in the browser (not exactly bad) or, worse, use the same password for everything from the Gmail account to your blog server to your online bank?

The issue is, of course, is that it is hard to remember all those passwords, much less, coming up with them. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have to handle this than someone who hacked my PayPal account then emailed all my friends to tell them about it from my Gmail. Uhm, not that it happened…

Anyway, I’d highly recommend you try out Mitto which has proven to be safe, using online security similar to those of banks. Plus it’s free. And it would be wise to change those “password123” passwords you’ve been using since the 90’s to stronger ones with a random mix of letters and numbers. This password generator makes it a whole lot easier.

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Have any Plan B’s in case your computer goes down or have any other suggestions to minimize downtime upon computer disaster? Let’s hear it in a comment!

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

9 Comments. Join In!

  • Jon Buscall

    July 22nd, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Ouch! That really is my worst nightmare happeneing. I love Dropbox and, having drunk the Mac Kool Aide, I like Timemachine.

    Google Reader is perfect for keeping copies of those RSS feeds if you use something like NetNewsWire (Mac again) because you can sync them across machines.

    Finally, anything that I really have to keep hold of no matter what goes to a Google email account I set up for just keeping copies. CC: that address of stuff being sent to a client and Google does all the work for you.
    Jon BuscallĀ“s last blog post ..21 Lessons We Need To Learn

  • Averil Buchanan

    July 22nd, 2010 at 7:31 am

    I use Xmarks to sync my browser booksmarks, and Brief (with Firefox) for my RSS feeds, so I can easily switch to my laptop when necessary.

    Dropbox is a must, but I also back up to an external hard drive every evening.

    The big problem is email – it would be great to find a way to sync email profiles (it doesn’t work through Dropbox – I’ve tried).I back up my email profile (Thunderbird) to the external hard drive each evening, but that doesn’t offer the same benefits as syncing. An Xmarks for email would be good.

  • Johnny

    July 22nd, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    @Averil – Cheers for the Xmarks and Brief suggestions! Best way to keep bookmarking and using RSS the old fashion way.

    As for the emails, ever since I switched to Gmail from Outlook (years ago) I haven’t been disappointed. The only downside is getting use to the change but you can import your profiles through the Gmail loader detailed here:

  • Johnny

    July 22nd, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    @Jon – It didn’t take me long to start loving Dropbox especially since I ran into a problem halfway into downloading the 20 GB backup from Carbonite. I’m STILL downloading after 3 days and I have 2 to go!

    I’m a Gmail fan too. Get a good, unique password for it though since a hack to it would be a disaster in itself. Come to think of it, backing it up would probably be a good idea [light bulb going off in head].

  • Averil Buchanan

    July 22nd, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Sorry, I can’t stand webmail.

    I have at least 4 different email addresses all used for different purposes which I pick up through Thunderbird, filtered through a set of colour tags and other filters. TB sits in my system tray all day, and is set to alert me only to the really important ones, but I get to monitor my discussion threads when I fancy a break.

    It’s easy to back up my Thunderbird profile, addresses, passwords, filters and archive of emails to the external hard drive, but it would be really neat if I could sync it in real time.

  • Johnny

    July 23rd, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    @Averil – If you can back up you TB profile to a hard drive, couldn’t you create a folder in your Dropbox and back it up there too (or instead of the HD)?

    It may require an extra step when backing up to your hard drive but it would take care of the synching problem.

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  • Averil Buchanan

    July 23rd, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    @Johnny – Yes I tried that, but because Dropbox continuously syncs and I have my TB open and running all day, TB just kept syncing continuously too (the little wheel cursor just kept turning and turning, like it does when checking for new mail). Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that, but it seemed unsatisfactory to me.

    Xmarks only syncs bookmarks when the browser closes. That seems like an ideal solution to sync email – that day’s email & profile changes synced each time TB closes.

  • Johnny

    July 23rd, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    @Averil – Bummer… I wouldn’t put up with the spinning wheel either. Sounds like a crash waiting to happen.

    Afraid I’m all out of ideas here except there’s one thing I can say to try. Give the bookmarks and emails a spring cleaning. I had probably hundreds of bookmarks that I lost but I’m only missing five that I really need. With a little Google sleuthing I got a few back and found replacements for the others. A cleaner inbox also makes for less stress.

    Who knows, maybe the Dropbox synch might work again too.