Backups: cloudy and cloudless.

Trip update: I am still in Old Lyme, Connecticut, visiting some cousins whom I have not seen in years, my aunt whom I have missed seeing for what seems like forever, and training in the hills by riding metric half-centuries, so that the riding will be more manageable when I resume the Northern Trek 2014. I have also been translating, writing and revising. I have even been fielding a request to present a class in July, which would test my responsiveness on the road.

When one works in a paperless environment, how to protect one’s precious electronic files becomes a concern. I no longer print and file hard copies of my work, but I may need to produce it for any number of reasons in the future.

If one translates or writes confidential material for clients, there is the additional issue of internet security. I have devised some strategies for dealing with this, and I have learned about others, some of which do not fit my situation, but may fit yours.

The first and most basic issue with backing up one’s work is backing it up while one is working. Many word processing programs and other software will automatically backup your work so that if something happens in the middle of a project you don’t lose everything. My computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool does this with every keystroke. Microsoft word saves things on a schedule. However, my Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint do not save automatically, so I must have the habit of saving often while I work.

The next issue about backup is to have a copy of your files somewhere other than on your computer.

One of the first, and much talked about, ways of doing this is with a service on the cloud. The cloud is not really a cloud at all. The word is used to describe the concept of having a data service that physically resides in multiple data centers around the world. These data centers are constantly talking to one another and backing each other up so that if something happens to one of them, the files that you have stored are still available from one of the other data centers, and come to you instantly over the Internet from wherever they are.

One may work entirely in the cloud, for example, using Google Docs and similar services. In this case, your computer is simply a terminal to a remote data server the in cloud, and your files are actually being saved as you work. Usually the SAVE action takes place whenever you hit the ENTER key. As far as you are concerned as a user, there is only one copy of your work, however, there actually multiple copies of your work spread throughout the cloud. You get your file back whenever you want it, regardless of where it is actually stored.

Another way to use the cloud is to have a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, which gives you a generous allowance of space on the data servers of the service to store your backup files. You simply have to upload a copy of whatever is on your computer to the service. Like the cloud-based software, the copy that you uploaded is immediately shared with multiple data centers so that it is kept safe until you download it later.

One of the happy side effects of the proliferation of cloud services is that most of them offer a fairly generous allowance (several gigabytes or more) for free. I have used several services, and have never come close to filling my allowance, or needing to buy premium services. However, the premium services are affordable if you want the convenience or the additional storage.

The companies that provide these cloud services do not want to lose your work. In fact, they are obsessively devoted to making it as convenient as possible for you to use their services, and part of that is helping you feel confident that nothing will happen to your work, and that you will always be able to get it as conveniently as if it were on your own computer.

The fact remains, however, that you do not know where your work is being stored and, all assurances aside, control and possession of the work remains with the cloud service. For this reason, many government agencies and corporate entities do not want their data stored on the cloud. As a translator, I often deal with this type of confidential information, and I need to assure my customers that I am not using any kind of cloud-based service either to store their material or to handle it. For example, there are many cloud-based translation tools, but I do not use them when working on confidential material.

So how does one achieve backup, living on a bicycle and forbidden to use the cloud?

WD MyBook 1TB HD

Western Digital:

In my work, I use a variation on the old technique of copying files to a floppy drive and keeping the floppy drive in a safe place. Today I have two systems for backing up my files. One of them is a Western Digital® terabyte hard drive back at the home office. Whenever I swing by Charlottesville, I dump the entire contents of my computer to it. It saves the backups according to the date stored, so I never overwrite the older files by accident.

While I am on the road, I carry a pocket-sized terabyte hard drive from Seagate Technologies®. For physical safety, I store it in the pannier opposite the one that carries my computer. Arguably, if I survive a particular collision or accident, it is unlikely that both my computer and the portable hard drive will be damaged. When I am working, I periodically back up to the portable hard drive so that I always have a backup of my files in case my computer fails. I also have a setting on the portable hard drive that will back up my computer continuously as long as it is plugged into the USB port on my computer. A computer theft or failure is the most common scenario that requires backup; as long as I have the portable hard drive I can recover my files as soon as I can replace the computer.

It is interesting to note that the cloud services paradigm is becoming so widespread, that hard drive producers like Seagate and Western Digital now offer cloud backup services with their equipment. In fact, if you are concerned with confidential material ending up on the cloud, you should be careful to check the default settings of any backup technology that you use. The default setting may be to use the cloud service provided by the manufacturer or the backup service. If you need to be careful not to use the cloud for backup, you need to change that setting.

I do not pretend to be an expert on cloud services or online backups. If you have anything to contribute, please share it with us.

Next week, another sea story. Until then,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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