Friday, June 27, 2008

Nothing beats a good backup

Non-Mac owners can skip this.

I am nearing the end of the recovery from the March 25 hard disk failure that turned my professional life upside down. I spent 2 hours last night and an hour this morning manually merging between three backups for all my research, including papers in progress and the book.

From a technical standpoint, my main mistake was to rely on the Unix rsync command, which (until OS X 10.4?) doesn’t copy both parts of a Mac OS file (i.e., the resource fork). Fortunately, my March rsync backup is supplemented by a November 2007 finder copy and a few ad hoc .zip files. Also, a friend at Apple recommended FileXaminer, which can be used to fix the file creators (e.g. text files without .txt) of an entire folder of files.

I have a few object lessons that apply to Mac and non-Mac owners a like:

  • When you have multiple gigabytes and thousands of files, a great backup solution is much better than a good backup solution.
  • You should never rely on a single backup solution: a single type of software, a single piece of hardware at a single location, a single process.
My main backup is now Time Machine, which is convenient and automatic (other than I have to plug the hard disk in). I think my secondary backup will be probably be using a discrete backup solution (like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper) to a $150 hard disk from Fry’s stored at the office.

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