Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Fire! Save yourself--and your manuscript!"

Today I have a guest blogger: my husband, Jim VanderMeer. He'll provide some tips and suggestions to lower your chances of ever losing a manuscript. You see, he's a computer guru. Seriously. If you don't believe me, check out his bio.

Just so we're not all business-business-business today, here's a picture of us in Hawaii.

No laughing at my glow-in-the-dark legs, okay? That would be rude, and I want my blog to be a happy place. :)

Without further ado, heeeeere's Jim!

Backup vs. Disaster Recovery - What's the Difference? (And Dawn asks, "Why should we care?")

If you treasure your manuscript anywhere close to how Dawn treasures hers, you should have both a backup copy as well as a disaster recovery plan (in the event of--yes, a disaster).

A good backup and disaster recovery plan should include at least four levels of defense against the unexpected.

Level One - Your original manuscript.
You need to be aware of where you are keeping the original manuscript, your precious gem. For example, is it being saved to a hard drive on a laptop? Also, how old is your computer?
Risks to your original manuscript include:

  • Power loss if you are not working off a computer such as a laptop that has a battery
  • Hardware or system failure: hard drive/computer crashes or you experience a UAE (Unrecoverable Application Error), GP fault (General Protection), or accidental shutdown of the computer (see power loss)
  • Accidental deletion or overwriting of a document (We are human, after all...)
  • Theft: everything is gone
Level Two - Word auto save/recovery feature. If you have not enabled this, do so and set it to five (5) minutes or less. If possible, select a backup location that is different from where you keep your original document. If you work on a machine that is on a home network (or any type of network), then set the auto save location to another hard drive. Dawn has this set to every five minutes (or every five sips of a Vanilla Frappuccino).
  • This will give you added protection against UAE's, GP and/or accidental shutdown of the computer, etc.
  • Allows you to quickly recover and not lose more than five (5) minutes of work (in theory)
Level Three - Backup. You should backup your manuscript at least once a day. There are several ways to do this.
  • Manually copy your manuscript to another location--preferably a different hard drive or computer.
  • Utilize backup software to backup the directory containing your manuscript(s)--I know you have more than one...
  • For the more technically savvy, create a script that copies your documents to another location at the click of a mouse. Dawn does this daily to ensure that there is a backup copy on an external hard drive plugged into the main computer - her script name is "dawnstopclickingthis.bat".
Level Four - Disaster Recovery. This is more than just a backup of your manuscript; this is a plan to get back in the saddle and get writing again. Remember, the disasters you are planning for include:
  • Fire or flooding - both are bad for computers
  • Theft - laptops are highly prized and easy to carry off
  • Power surges - too much power for the computer is a bad thing just like too much caffeine for Dawn in the morning is a bad thing (for Jim and the dogs!)
Your disaster recovery plan should include the following (at a minimum):
  • At least once a month, burn a copy of your manuscript(s) to a DVD, CD, or thumb drive and store this in a secure location--preferably a fire proof safe, a safety deposit box, or a physically different location (e.g., a friend's house)
  • Ensure you have a surge protector between your computer and the wall outlet
  • Obtain personal property insurance to replace your computer and the software (such as Office or Word)
  • Complete an inventory of applications and documents that are on your computer
  • Develop a plan for replacing your existing computer as well as planned (scheduled) upgrades to your computer's hardware and software (OS)
Dawn's disaster recovery plan is constantly up-to-date and ready to be implemented. It consists of one word: "JIM!"


Anonymous said...

Informative - very good - need to get external hard drive??? I save to a stick I guess that's part way there.
What about uploading to a private blog? then if there was a fire you could access it from anywhere???

Tabitha Bird said...

Great list. I back up my work by sending it to my husbands computer. He has his own business at another location. He also burns copies to CD for me. What a man!

Abby Annis said...

These are great tips! Can I add one to the list?

September of last year, the transformer on the power pole in front of my house was struck by lightning. Guess where it went? Straight to my computer. That was a very bad day. (though I did get a shiny new computer out of it) Fortunately for me, while it fried my router, my internet antenna, my internal power supply and my mother board (and who knows what else, I couldn't get it to boot to find out), my hard drive was only minorly damaged and I was still able to access my files and move them to a new hard drive. (Now I backup obsessively.)

If I'd had a battery backup in place instead of a standard surge protector, it would have absorbed most of the very large power surge and saved my computer. A battery backup is a little more expensive than a surge protector, but well worth the investment. I would recommend this for all of your expensive electronics.

Also, Dawn, I have a little something for you over on my blog! :D

Tamika: said...

Wow- thanks Jim! Dawn kuddos to you for marrying an expert!

I've been backing up at least ten to twelve times a day, now I don't feel so bad about being so paranoid!

Lydia Sharp said...

This is exactly what I needed right now. Thanks! :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Hmmmm... I think I just closed myself out of the comment box before I did the word verification. I hate Mondays- my brain doesn't work!

Thanks for the reminder! I email myself a copy of my manuscript when I'm working on it, plus burning a copy to CD every week or so.

Paul Greci said...

Thanks for this information. I was just discussing this with a friend. I'm curious what Jim's thoughts are on having a copy of your mss in an email as an attachment as another backup spot?

Susan R. Mills said...

Great tips. I must go now and back up my manuscript. :)

Deb said...

Thanks for the great advice. My monitor blew up recently and the surge fried my computer, so many things can go wrong. Luckily I had recently e-mailed myself a copy of my ms.

Patti said...

Great advice, especially the level two. I will be doing that as soon as I get home.

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks for all the comments. Jim can answer questions tonight. In the meantime...

Michelle, I told Jim your comment this morning and he said uploading to a private blog sounded like a good alternative. He said another option is uploading to a free, secure, online backup provider.

Tabitha, you're set! :)

Abby, what a nightmare. Good thing you were able to access your files!! Thanks for the battery backup tip--that's a great one. *I just peeked at your blog, Abby. Thank you so much for the shout out and award! You're very kind. <3

Tamika, I definitely married well. :) Guess what? He also likes to bake cookies! Don't feel paranoid about backing up a lot--it would be so horrible to lose your work!

You're welcome, Lydia!

It sounds like you're on top of things, Stephanie! (Sorry about the word verification thing. I know it's kind of a pain.)

Hi, Paul! Jim can answer that this evening.

Hi, Susan! Sounds good.

Deb, I remember. Thank goodness you'd recently sent yourself a copy of your manuscript!

Patti, I'm so glad we were helpful. ("We" being a loose term for "Jim". Hee!)

Anonymous said...

Good tips! Wish I had a full time computer guru in my house too. :O)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I am not very computer savvy, but now that I live in a hurricane zone, I (try) to remember to email myself a current copy of my manuscripts every few months.

I thumb drive, too, but if that's lost, my email copies are out there.

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks, Diane! Yeah, having my own tech support guy is pretty nice. :)

Caroline, it's great that you're actively taking steps to prevent losing your work, too. I'm not uber computer savvy, either. Just enough to be dangerous. ;)

Jim said...


Regarding thumb drives and blogs

1. Most thumb drives utilize inexpensive memory and can easily become damaged (I just recently fried a thumb drive while using to transfer files to a scanner - the cause was static electricity!)

2. A blog is a good alternative - addresses the need for a different physical location. Be sure you understand how secure your private blog is and your blog hosting provider's retention policy - remember, blogs are out on the world wide web!


Regarding using email as a backup...

One Advantage: Easy way to save a copy - along with a time stamp to know when you emailed a copy to yourself

Things to keep in mind:
1. Email is not necessarily secure
2. Depends upon your email provider - for example, if you use gmail or msn (hotmail), is a copy of the email retained on a remote server? If so, then that adds a level of redundancy to your backup. If not and a copy of your email is only retained on your computer, then you are still at risk of loosing your ms if your computer experiences an unrecoverable failure. Make sure you understand/have set your retention policy with your email provider to ensure that a copy is retained on the remote mail server.

Bottom line - you cannot eliminate the risk, just mitigate it as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

OK Thanks for that - that's great info.

Unknown said...

Great post!

I have a google calendar reminder e-mail once a week to backup my laptop. I also e-mail a copy of my WIPs to myself once every few weeks.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Ha! That's awesome!

Dawn, it's great to meet you! Thanks so much for coming by my blog! I look forward to getting to know you!

I'm about to invest in an external hard drive. I think it'll make me breathe a lot easier to know I have that in case of the blue screen of death.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

This is great! I use Mozy because it takes all the work off my hands. It is a HUGE relief to know my files are backed up.

Dawn Simon said...

You're welcome, Michelle! Thanks for stopping by!

Karen, I love the idea of the Google calendar reminder.

Kristen, nice to meet you, too! The external hard drive is a good idea. Just the thought of the blue screen of death--EEK.

Good for you, Rosslyn! And regarding your post yesterday, I'm excited things are going so well for you. :)

Donna Gambale said...

My disaster recovery plan is "STEVE!" -- my boyfriend, the computer geek. (I actually recognize most of these tips from him.) Dawn, this was an excellent idea for a post, and Jim, thanks for sharing!

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks, Donna! We're lucky to have such fabulous disaster recovery plans. :)

Kristi Faith said...

I don't know how I skipped over this post...I'm so glad I found it tonight while catching up. it possible for me to get that "JIM" plan? Believe it or not I only understood 30% of what he said. LOL I do email myself the original manuscripts and have that stupid little memory stick USB thingie. ... See, I really need the JIM plan!! :0)

Great post!

Dawn Simon said...

Kristi, you cracked me up with the JIM plan! :) I definitely feel lucky to have him--though I didn't marry him for his computer skills. They're just a benny. ;)