For most people I know, backing up their data typically falls under the same heading as cleaning out the garage or sewing on that shirt button that came off last year - the 'next week I really have to' heading.  Well, I have learned the hard way what the benefits of backing up my data on a regular basis are.  I have also learned, firsthand, about the consequences of backup procrastination.  I also purposely used the generic term data, because, when it comes to backing up, any device that stores important data needs to be backed up on a regular basis.  For me, important data is any information I'd rather not recreate unless I want to.

Before I go any further, please indulge me in a few tech-related reminiscences.  A few years ago I was traveling overseas during a semester break.  The day after I arrived at my destination, I took out my trusty PDA and turned it on, only to find out that the rechargeable battery had died.  My only option was resetting the device to its factory defaults and, thereby, losing all the data I had entered - my calendar, phone numbers, top scores from my favorite games, etc.  Needless to say, I wasn't a happy camper.  I didn't have a laptop at the time and, even if I did, the last time I had synced my PDA with my computer was several weeks before my trip.  After a couple of similar incidents with my PDA, usually when I was away from home, I made it a practice of backing it up on a daily basis to a card in the PDA's expansion slot.  This definitely pro

ved to be a prudent decision on my part.  A couple of months ago, as I was getting ready to go out for the evening, I laid my coat on the stairs (with my PDA in the pocket).  My four year old son bounded down the stairs to send me on my way with a goodbye hug and kiss.  The rest of the story is probably already being completed in your head.  On the way down the stairs he stepped on my coat, because a coat on the stairs to a four year old is the equivalent to a puddle on the street - if it's there I must step in/on it, and consequently on the PDA, cracking its screen.  It made an interesting design on the glass but rendered the PDA useless.  However, since my automatic backup had done its thing about an hour or two before, I had all my current data.  I rationalized buying a new PDA by telling myself that it was time to buy a new one anyway.  After it arrived, I restored my data and was up and running with a minimal amount of effort.

So, these personal experiences, along with a few others not mentioned here, have taught me to consider and incorporate a regular backup strategy with any piece data-storage hardware I purchase.  This includes my computer, PDA, cell phone, USB drives, and other miscellaneous devices.

Hopefully I've made enough of a compelling argument so that you'll at least consider a regular backup strategy.  Once in place, it's actually quite painless.  Rather than going through all the possible backup techniques/methods - you can find numerous articles on the subject all over the internet - I'm going to tell you what has been working very well for me.  When I started backing up, albeit on a very occasional basis, I used those relics of computer history, floppy disks.  Then I moved onto Zip? disks.  These days, however, a separate hard drive (external or internal) is a very affordable option.  I purchased one that is about one and half times the size of my main drive and partitioned it so that one partition is the same size as my hard drive the other is big enough for audio editing.  Now  that I had my hardware, I needed to find some software that would create a duplicate of my hard drive.  In the OSX world there are a number of choices from the commercial, shareware, and freeware arenas.  After trying out several, I have settled on the freeware application PsyncX by Acorn Software.  To quote the help file, ' PsyncX is a free backup utility based on a command-line script written by Dan Kogai <>.  You can download it from his website at <>  Or you can use the PsyncX package to install it and the PsyncX GUI.O  I like PsyncX because it's inexpensive (free, however the author does accept donations), it's reliable (once you schedule a backup, it runs in the background, without fail so far), and it works (it creates a bootable backup of my hard drive).  I'm sure there is an equivalent application in the Windows universe.

I have chosen the backup-everything-rather-than-just-my-documents strategy for the reason I mentioned earlier - I would rather not recreate ANY data on my hard drive if it should fail.  And these days I can do that for less than $100.

The only decision I had left to make was how often to backup.  For me, that depends on the device.  I also refer, again, to my previous statement - how much data do I want to recreate?  When it comes to my PDA, that's about a day's worth of data.  For my computers, which tend to be a little more reliable in the general, I'm comfortable with backing up once a week.  I backup my cell phone less frequently because the address book doesn't change very often.

Of course, you can choose not to backup at all.  However, when your hard drive fails (and it's a matter of when not if), you really have only two alternatives.  Get a new hard drive, reinstall all your software (and hope the software companies don't give you too much trouble when you ask for another serial number), then hope you can remember all the data in your documents.  Or send your drive to a company that will try to recover your data (assuming you have an extra $2000 laying around).

Or, to paraphrase the president of DriveSavers (one of those drive recovery companies), the three most important words when it comes to the safety of your data - backup, backup, backup!

I also wanted to say a few words about file management - where to store your files so you can find them.  At the moment I go with the default Macintosh or Windows organization scheme.  I store my documents in Documents or My Documents, my digital photos in Pictures, etc.  Within each of these folders I my create a sub-folder if there enough related documents (i.e., letters, memo, syllabi).that should be grouped so they can be more easily found.  This all assumes that you are always diligent about where you're storing your documents when you hit the Save button.  I always grit my teeth when I here a colleague or relative tell me that they know they created a document but it's no longer on their computer.  I ask them where they saved it and invariably the answer is, 'I don't know, I just hit save, but now the document isn't there.O  As I tell my students, the typical Open/Save dialog box for both Windows and Macintosh has three areas (see figure 1), the What, the Where, and the How.  Pay attention to all three areas, but especially to the What and Where before you click OK to save your document.

Also, when naming files, I've tried to find a balance between files names that are too cryptic (res4_108_ab.doc) or too long (this is the first resume I have ever written.doc).  If I every suffer from a bout of amnesia, after I recover, I'd like to be able to figure out what's in my files just by their names.  These days I try for something like 2005Resume.doc.  The name tells me what sort of data the documents contains and when it was written, just about all the information I need when searching for that letter to Aunt Jane or that creamed corn recipe.

My organizational skills were put to the test a few weeks ago when I needed to have a file from my home computer emailed to me.  I called my wife and asked her to look in the folder that I would normally save the file and sure enough it was there.  Perhaps that might be a good test of a person's file management skills.  If another person can easily find a file on your computer then you are in good shape for that next 'senior moment.O

Now if I can only get my computer to help me remember to put the seat down, my wife will be much happier.


by Craig Sylvern

Craig Sylvern earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from The Ohio State University and a master of music degree in performance and bachelors degrees in music composition and music education from The Florida State University. His principal teachers include Patrick Meighan, John Boda, Harold Schiffman, Michael Ruszczynski, and Marc Ainger. He is an Associate Professor at Keene State College, where he teaches applied saxophone, composition, woodwind methods, and is the Coordinator of Music Technology. As a professional saxophonist, he has performed with many symphony orchestras and big bands throughout the United States and has toured for many years with Keith Brion and his New Sousa Band. He can be heard on recordings with the New Sousa Band, the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet, and the Ohio State University Concert Band. His compositions have had premieres throughout North America. One of his more recent works, Roku, for tenor saxophone and percussion, received its world premiere at the 12th World Saxophone Congress in Montreal. Prior to joining Keene State’s Music Department in 1998, Dr. Sylvern taught at Plattsburgh State University of New York.

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