Backups. A personal rant.

by nikken, created on and last updated on .
CC0 Public Domain no rights reserved.

A (digital) lifetime of slacking.
Assorting things here and there.
Nothing too precious to take special care of.
The burns of previous losses.

How do you make your backups?

I am in a weird state of enthusiasm and utter frustration with computers. In the last few years – despite having spent tons of time in front of PCs since childhood – a flood gate has been opened. I had no idea of computing history, what computers are capable of, by which means you control them and so on and so on. Despite being the computer guy in my family and some of my circle, I had come to a realization:

I am a casual computer user.

Not that there is anything wrong with that in the least. Computers are supposed to be tools through which you enhance your intellect to get the work done that you set out to do.

A physicist doesn't (necessarily) program a computer because she finds it neat to flip bits here and there and string pieces of code together. She wants to find out how the universe works!

My parents use their computer to keep in touch with friends far away and do research, plan holidays and so on. They do not want to know why program X is failing and they are right to assume that it shouldn't be doing that anyways!

If you have stuff to do then you use the tools at your disposal to do that. The computer cannot (yet) think for the physicist but it can calculate a bazillion times faster than her – while she attacks the next step. If you want to write a story then a word processor, with it's saving and editing capabilities, sure beats doing that by hand. Plus there is (virtually) no limit to replicating your data:

Dropped the coffee over your hand-written manuscript? Tough luck. Your laptop died in a fire? Good thing you had that thing copied to 7 different USB sticks and 4 different clouds! (This sounds like we're getting close to backups, right? But there's more.)

What I'm getting at, though, is this: I thought I knew computers. I thought I was good at them. Sure, there were phases where I didn't particularly care for computers and had plenty of other things to do. But I always thought of myself as a computer person (and others would have agreed).

Well, imagine my astonishment when in my early 20s (which I have just left – this is all a very recent thing) I discover the concept of a compiler. You know, that thing that translates a programming language, code, into ones and zeros for the computer to compute on it. To do anything at all in the first place. How, in all those years did I not come across any of that?

Sure, I could keep my PCs running and help others to bring theirs back to life after catastrophe. Maybe that made me a somewhat competent computer operator, but boy, had I no idea of my unknown unkowns!

This leaves me with these observations:

I had never even begun to use the computer at its full potential. I had never created with it. Granted, I had a lot of fun doing things with it, like gaming and communicating online and other such meaningless things. But creating, producing things (be they programs, games, digital art or just plain text) – that is a totally different thing. And I had not done a lot of that thing.

Which is why I had never put much though into archiving and backing up the little data I had accumulated. What are a couple of photos? I lost a good chunk of photos from my teens to a unrecoverable disk failure (also, there was this one time when I formatted the wrong disk by accident...), surely I should just quit putting faith in the machine and treat any data as losable by default. It's not like a put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in it in the first place, did I?

That's all about to change. My frustration stems from the fact that I don't know how. The way I imagine people that have always been doing computer things choose their tools is this: Why do I use X to do Y? Uhm... I don't remember, really. It's what someone showed me when I first used this or It's what came preinstalled/it was the only option at that time, so I just got used to it. Ahhh, simpler times.

But this rant wouldn't be so incoherent if I had a similar story. Obviously I didn't have a lot of other computer people around me or I would have gotten all of this a wee bit earlier. And when there's noone to show you stuff, you figure things out by yourself (or find something else to do). This is not a heroic DIY story, this is just dealing with it day to day.

So down the rabbit hole I go, once I stumble upon it. And once you start down the road (with no clear perception of how you would have done that thing before because you didn't do it because you didn't know that you could) you feel like a kid in a candy store. Legends and icons and tales of heroic engineering feats left and right and there you are, trying to make sense of all of it.

What has that to do with backups, now? Let me find a point somewhere. Here I am, assessing what I have and what I've done and what I should do next. Assessing the cruft that I have collected over the years, going through my 20110305-backup2 and backupbackup and save4 folders, trying to figure out what the hell is eating up my disk space and what can be deleted. Copypastes of whole operating system installs because something obviously had to be done quickly and there was no time to figure out what was important and what was not.

And I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I am tired of doing that. I want all my important stuff in one place and then back that up to two or more places. But I want to do it The Right Way®. And that is the source of frustration, I guess. Now that I know that there are so many options I can't just chose the one that's closest, because something else could be so much cleverer, safer, freer, etc.

I think, however, that I am onto something. And that will be the topic of a future post. With less rambling and more details. I promise.