Nothing compels thoughts of doom — serious thoughts, as in: my life is no longer worth living — like a computer crash.
Yes, sadly, computer crashes do still happen, and though most data is recoverable nowadays, much depends on the competence of the people working on it. If your computer gets fried and ends up in the hands of someone who has no idea what he is doing, but nonetheless speaks with great authority, you might find yourself without ten years of financial records, emails, correspondence, and all the rest.
In the same way that people invariably ask a widow if her dead spouse was insured, people will ask you: did you have a back up? And then they shake their heads in an annoyingly condescending way when you say no. It’s as if the technology gods smited you for your irresponsibility.
Your embarrassment is so intensely felt that you stop even raising the topic with others.
After you recover, or if you do, you will start backing up. A person I know who lost all his data in a thunderstorm started backing up three times a day, sometimes waking in the middle of the night to do it by hand.
But of course you will stop in time. And then your computer will crash.
This is all nuts. What the world needs now is a cheap, easy, and automated backup system.
One reason that people don’t backup is that it sounds like a pain in the neck. One solution is an external hard-drive with autobackup software. But this turns out to be not only expensive ($120 and up up up); it is also not necessary.
Now, what I offer below is absurdly obvious to most geeks, but to me, it took about a day to think through the solution. I offer it below in the hope that someone who is as nearly as dim as I am will not waste a day thinking through the same problem and solution.
What most people need to backup is not their hard-drive — programs can be reinstalled — but their user data, most of which can be found in one or two folders. And this data can fit on the flash disks (also called a jump drive) that you can find at the drug store for $20 to $120 depending on how much storage capacity you need. These slide into the USB port of any computer to create, instantly, another drive that acts just like your hard drive.
So the first step to an easy, cheap backup solution is to get one of these and plug in it. Use your windows explorer (right click on the start button) to make sure you can see it.
Forget the expensive software solution. Many geeks have volunteered their time to make nice little backup plugins that you can download for free. Here are a dozen or so. I used this one and found it just great.
Create a new job, choose the files you want backed, and where they should go, and set your calendar to run the thing by itself — every night at midnight for example.
You are done. So long as your flash drive is plugged into a port, you will have a data backup of what you should have if the end of the world threatens.
As you might have guessed, all these thoughts are prompted by a trip home during Thanksgiving, where you find delicious turkey, wonderful pies, happy members of the extended family, and also a hundred computer disasters.
Whoever said that Windows machines are now safe from spyware and adware thanks to SP2 or some other update, well, that person must be using Firefox. Internet Explorer appears to be as unsafe and destructive as ever.
One computer I found was six weeks old, and the IE browser had already been hijacked some 5 times. It once again underscores the most important thing that any windows users should do immediately: download Firefox and never again open IE unless you absolutely have to (and sometimes you do).
Why Microsoft spends untold billions on X-boxes and new software and online this and that, but can’t seem to put out a decent and safe browser, is a mystery I can’t fathom. Their browser remains the number one most dangerous threat you face to the value of your computer.