Five Things to Back Up

Who hasn’t suffered when a computer crashes, taking your email, your half-finished novel and your child’s life in photography with it? You may have heard the advice to make a back up of your computer data so your hard work and precious memories aren’t lost — and taking the time to do so will save a lot of heartache.

But you should also consider other things in your life (besides computer files) worthy of back up. Because if you lost them, wouldn’t you be lost as well? Save your sanity by making back ups of these valuable items:

1. Back up computer files. Yes, when people think “back up,” the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, computer files. So we know we should, yet so many people neglect to make copies of the files they’ve created.

It’s a good idea to take the time to back up documents you’ve written, images and photographs you’ve saved, and even all your Web browser bookmarks. If you’ve created and saved anything onto your computer, you should back it up. Stories of people losing all in a computer crash are common. Do not risk it happening to you.

Thumb drives and CDs are ideal for creating a back up to carry with you, keep at work, a friend’s house or locked up in your safe. Many computers have CD burners (or you can install one if you don’t have one) and CDs are cheap to buy. Practically all computers have USB ports for thumb drives, which also allow you to make simple, interactive changes.
Use floppy disks if you have no other option. Keep in mind, however, floppies are a magnetic media and easily corruptible (besides being woefully short on storage space). Dust, fingerprints and stray magnetic fields can damage floppy disks. This noted, a floppy disk back up is better than no back up at all.

No matter what method you choose, having those back ups of important data will ease the heartache when — not if — you lose your computer.

If you’re extra-paranoid, you can make more than one copy. For example, you could make a copy to keep in your desk drawer, where you can get at it easily and a copy to keep at work, in case anything happens to the one in your desk drawer. Be sure to store one copy in a location other than your home. Besides computer crashes, computers can be stolen or destroyed in a house fire, and having your information stored off-site can be a lifesaver.

How often should you make or update your back up? This depends on how much work you are willing to lose. Could you afford to lose a month’s worth of work? A week’s worth? If you use your computer mostly for Web browsing and the occasional digital camera dump, you may be okay with a monthly back up. But if you regularly create and save documents, images, music and more, a weekly or even daily back up may be a better option.

2. Keep copies of information stored on other electronic devices. When we think of a crash, we tend to think of our PC. But what about the other electronic devices in our lives? They are susceptible to loss and failure as well.

Back up your phone book from your mobile phone, data from your palm pilot and even the music from your mp3 player. Most electronic devices are able to share information with a computer, so copy your data to a computer and burn it to CD or thumb drive. Then if your mobile phone is stolen, or you drop your Blackberry in a puddle, you won’t lose your valuable information. Insurance may cover the loss of the device, but it won’t cover the loss of the data.

3. Make photocopies of the contents of your wallet. Wallets get lost or stolen all the time. If you lost your wallet, would you know, off the top of your head, what was in there? How many ID cards do you have? What about credit/debit cards? Amid the stress of having to cope with your wallet loss, there is the chance you might forget to report something. With a photocopy of your wallet contents, you will know what cards — including any serial numbers and other info — you need to cancel or replace as soon as possible.

4. Make photocopies of all important paper documents. We rely on birth certificates, passports and more to establish our identity, get bank loans, enroll in school and more. The loss of these can make life difficult. It is important to keep a copy of these records. While the copies aren’t considered legal unless notarized, you will, at least, have a record on hand, should something happen to the original.

This includes copies of your mortgage papers, rental agreements, car ownership papers and, especially, insurance papers. Keep a set of copies somewhere other than at home — at work or a friend/relative’s house is a good place — in case disaster strikes your house. If you have access to a scanner, you can scan these documents and keep an electronic copy along with your computer back up.

Be sure you can get to them easily. (It’s ironic because the situations when we most need our ownership and insurance papers are the very same situations usually causing the loss of them … fire, flood, theft).

Along with a copy of your insurance papers, keep inventory lists. For example, keep a list of the contents of your house with a copy of your Home & Contents insurance policy.

5. Scan photographs into digital copies. People keep a record of their lives through photographs to be brought out time and again, rekindling memories. Unfortunately, photos can fade, be damaged and get lost. This can be devastating. You can preserve photos by scanning them into an electronic format.

Another advantage to scanning photographs is many photo developers can make prints from scans. This is useful if the negatives are not in your possession.

Many local schools, photocopy shops and libraries have scanners for public use. If you can’t access one at a public location or don’t know anyone with a scanner, a simple flatbed scanner is inexpensive to purchase.

You want to consider taking the time to do these back ups as they will preserve information should anything go wrong and something happens to the original. If you have anything you depend on, anything you deem worth keeping, anything you would regret losing … make a copy; make a back up.

Heidi Wessman Kneale has worked in the IT industry for more than fifteen years. She’s had wallets stolen, taken mobile phones for a swim, has seen tornadoes tear through houses in her neighborhood and knows the value of a good back up.


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