Letter to a Friend from a Tech - Protecting Your Files

Hello Friend,

An auto mechanic sees many cars brought into their repair shop with barely any oil left in the engine, frayed and worn down timing or serpentine belts, and expired or misfiring spark plugs. The car expert knows that negligence under the hood can spell disaster for an engine, costing thousands of dollars in repair for the customer.

Similarly, though not as costly, I encounter many computers with files stored on the desktop or in the My Documents folder. Tons of files, software installers, and downloaded attachments are conveniently scattered all over both Mac and PC computers in various locations. Just like junk mail, magazines, and newspapers quietly stacked up over time in the corner of the kitchen counter, we pay no attention to it. Pretty soon there’s no place to cook a meal.

Here’s my point. Files stored on the desktop or in My Documents are easy to access, but most likely not backed up. And this, dear friend, concerns me. Let’s come back to this in a little while.

Most cars have a 200,000-mile lifespan until things really start breaking down. Just like a car engine, the hard drive inside a computer has a limited lifespan, usually about five to six years, before bad things start to happen. Picture a phonograph record that is played over and over again. Eventually the record needle is going to wear out the grooves of the music, and skips will occur. Some people call me the Space Cowboy, pace Cowboy, pace Cowboy, pace Cowboy, pace Cowboy. (Hopefully by now you get my point.) This is the same concept for computer hard drives. Inside the hard drive, there are little platter discs with tiny “needles” quickly writing and reading your data and software. As time marches on, these needles will eventually start creating tiny skips on the platters where it accessed the data. And that’s when bad things happen.

A customer brings a car into a mechanic shop complaining about herky-jerky motion when accelerating. The mechanic tests things out, runs diagnostics on the engine, discovers the problem, and has to tell the customer their transmission is dead. The customer needs a replacement transmission, so the mechanic orders one from the parts supplier, and installs it in the customer’s car. The customer pays for the parts and labor, and drives away, most likely continuing a pattern of inattentiveness to maintaining their car.

A client brings their desktop computer or laptop into my “repair shop” complaining about lots of system error messages and herky-jerky motion when opening their files. I test things out, run diagnostics on the operating system, discover the problem, and have to tell my client that their hard drive is failing or dead. I’m able to order a replacement hard drive, install it inside the computer, and reinstall the operating system all the software programs. But there’s one important thing I am unable to do for my client.

If the client doesn’t have their pictures, music, videos, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations, and PDF files backed up somewhere, I can’t grab them off the dead or failing hard drive. Lost memories, lost budgets, lost letters, lost information. This has happened to me many times in the past, and the knot in my stomach from the remorse over lost data is awful. I want to help prevent this from happening to you, dear friend. So here’s how we can avoid data loss. It’s a two-step process.

Here’s step one. Create a folder on your desktop. Label it Desktop Files. Drag every file on your desktop into it. And move this file into the place where the rest of your files are located on your computer. For PC users, it would most likely be the My Documents folder. For Mac users, files are divides up into Documents, Music, Movies, Pictures, and Downloads. The object of the game is to create one mega-mega folder where all your personal files, music, pictures, and videos are located.

The final part of step one is to purchase an external USB drive. I’m betting you don’t have more than 200 gigabytes of personal files on your computer,so this is a solid solution. About $65 as I’m currently writing this. You plug this drive into your computer, and copy your mega-mega folder onto it. Might take an hour or so. Go have a cup of coffee or tea with some loved ones. When your mega-mega folder has been successfully copied onto your external drive, disconnect it from your computer and put it in a safe location in your desk drawer, your closet, your kitchen cupboard, anywhere that it won’t be dropped or banged around. This external drive is your insurance policy. Your safe deposit box for your personal files. When SHTF (stuff hits the fan), or a worst-case scenario occurs for your computer, this drive will ensure your memories can be brought back for you to use. Do be aware, though, this won’t be the only time we use this external drive*.

Here’s step two. Create an account on a cloud-based storage provider.Dropbox is the most popular. Box is excellent, too. So is iCloud if you’re a Mac user, and Google Drive if you have a Gmail account. For step two, I’m going to recommend Box, because you get 10 gigabytes of data for free, five times more than what Dropbox gives you for free. Google Drive gives you more gigabytes of data, but also makes you sign up for a Google account, and I’d rather help you with your data security by using your current e-mail account. Most likely you will be able to install a little program from Box that acts as a folder on your desktop that syncs your files on your folder to its storage farm in the cloud. If it’s possible to move your entire mega-mega folder into the Box folder, we’re good to go. If your files, pictures, music, and video take up more than 10 GB of space, we may need to discuss other options**. Once your mega-mega folder is synchronized to Box, let’s go back to that Desktop Files folder you made back in step one. Create a shortcut for it, and drag it to the desktop. Now you are just a double-click away from accessing all your desktop files, and they are securely backed up.

My hopes for you, dear friend, is that your computing experience will be a stressless and enjoyable one. By eliminating the possibility of losing important information, we can take one step closer to a better experience.

- Your friend, the Tech