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Double Stamp is an easy-to-understand guide to useful computer and internet technology. It's written to be readable by everyday computer users.

Avoid a Meltdown: Back up Your Data!

Here's a true story.

On April 26, 1999, I went to turn on my computer as I had done hundreds of times before. Instead of getting the boot-up screen, all I heard was a short beep. The computer was on, but nothing was appearing on the screen. I turned it off and tried again, but the same thing happened. This wasn't the first time that something wrong had happened on my computer, so I went to work trying to fix the problem. Many hours later, I was completely stumped, but I was sure something really bad had happened.

The next day I heard about a breaking news story from one of my computer geek friends: A computer virus called "Chernobyl" had erupted in a huge number of computers across the world. It remained dormant on a user's system until a special date (April 26, 1999, an anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Russia), upon which the virus severely damaged the data of the system's hard disk. After reading the news reports, there was no doubt in my mind that I had been a victim of this vandalism. My data was long gone. All my school work, all my personal files, all my programming projects... it was all wiped clean, and I didn't have a backup.

You probably have thousands of irreplaceable photos and documents that could be lost in an instant. How would you feel if tomorrow they were erased completely from your computer? You can lose your data in countless ways, even if you're on a Mac and don't worry so much about viruses. Do you have an adequate backup? Don't be as stupid as I was. If you do not have a backup system, you need to get one immediately.

Ok, so now your scared (as you should be), and want to get your act together by setting up a backup system. How do you do it? I suggest that you invest $65 to $100 on what is called an "external hard drive." This is a hard drive that remains outside of your computer case, and connects to your computer via a USB cable. Once you set it up following the manufacturer's instructions, you can easily copy your sensitive files to the drive. Most drives will come with a backup utility that may allow you to schedule backups of certain files or directories at a particular time.

Another option is to pay for an online storage service such as Mozy, which allows you to upload your data to their company computers. This is nice because your data is safer when stored in two different locations ( If you're house burns down, your computer AND external drive would most likely be burned.) The downside is that it takes a long time to transfer a lot of data across the internet.

It doesn't really matter how you do it, just do it! And do it often.

It's not important for you to backup your entire system. Things like programs can be easily replaced by reinstalling them from a CD or download. The data that is essential to backup are the things that are irreplaceable: photos, personal documents, and anything else that can't be recovered for a price. Data storage nowadays is very cheap, so if you're in doubt about what to backup, play it safe.

Now, don't think that a data disaster won't happen to you. Make sure that you are ready for a catastrophe by creating a backup plan right now. For less than $100 bucks and just a little bit of setup time, you'll be much safer. Is your data worth $100 bucks?

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