The Importance of Backups

How important is your term paper? Oh, that important. So you must be taking precautions against losing it, right? Right?

It's the time of year for term papers to be handed in, or for excuses to be given about why they're not being handed in. "The computer ate my paper" is an increasingly popular occurrence. (By the way, I'm going to assume that no one is lying about this. I like to assume the best about students, not the worst.) Here are a few suggestions about how to keep your term paper from getting vanished.

  • Save. Save save save. Don't just type away and then save your document right before you power down. Be compulsive about saving. When I work on my lecture notes, I have a Ctrl-S twitch that goes off about every couple minutes.
  • Make a local backup. This is easy to do: just copy your term paper to another location on your hard drive. So why don't people just do that? It can be a hassle. You've got to remember to do it every time you close down your word processor. And then it's still possible for your whole hard drive to crash.
  • Make a local backup to another device. This backup solution avoids the hard drive crash-problem. You could copy your file to a flash drive. You don't need a fancy 16GB drive to save your term paper; even 128MB will do, and those ones are going for $5. Or you could shell out a few more bucks for an external hard drive. But what about the remember-to-backup problem? Some external drives (and even some flash drives) come with software that automatically backs up certain files. A free software option for Windows is Microsoft's SyncToy using the "echo" option.
  • Make a backup to the cloud. Cloud computing is a big buzzword in computing right now. In this option, you send your data over the Internet to a distant server, where it resides. You might not even have a copy of your document on your computer. There are even some cloud services that won't cost you a cent.
    - Google Docs allows you to work on your document from any computer with a browser over the Web. If your Internet connection goes down, however, you can't get your term paper--unless you've saved a local copy to your hard drive.
    - Live Mesh is a free service run by Microsoft (works with Windows XP/Vista/7 and Mac OS X). It runs in the background and can synchronize any changes you make to a local document folder on your computer with its online cloud storage (up to 5 GB, which is enough for a couple of term papers, eh?). Again, you have to have an active Internet connection for this to work. Another downside it that if you've forgotten to save your term paper, any changes will be lost if you experience a crash.
Putting some thought into keeping your data safe will help you avoid the computer equivalent of "My dog ate my homework." (How do you keep your data safe? Write a post in the comments below.)

Why aren't you studying?


Anastasia said...

Last year my computer thought it would be as good a time as any to malfunction. Epically. And no matter how much I pleaded with it to change its mind, it remained firm in its opinion. Thus, I lost a rather important paper.

Ever since I have been saving all important documents on a flash drive in a very OCD sort of way.

Y said...

Dear Dr. Loepelmann,

I really like your blog! I also really enjoyed your classes even thuogh I'm done with them now. Thank you for your enthusiasm and consideration for students!

Nadia said...

I learned this lesson the hard way. The night before my Psyco 105 final, my computer crashed, taking the majority of my class notes with it. Since then I email drafts and final copies of all papers/assignments to myself and regularly backup all class notes/documents on an external harddrive.

Anonymous said...

You make a good point but these days at the university I'd be more likey to believe "the computer ate my homework" than "I got swine flu". Let's guess how many times that's been abused last term!

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