Author: Brian Danielak

Back That Mac Up

Oh noes! Your computer is toast

If you’re here, that means you’re serious about backing up your Mac. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Remember, we’re thinking about our backup fundamentals of redundancy, frequency, and spread.

Throughout this article, I want you to think to yourself: “what is my data worth to me?” In my case, My Mac holds pretty much everything important to me in my life:

  • My photos – including every digital photo I’ve ever taken. Ever.
  • My music – including every terrible Enrique Iglesisas song I downloaded off iTunes (Because you just can’t have too much “Don’t Turn Off The Lights”).
  • My writings – including that 7th-grade English report on Captain America that everyone made fun of me for. Who’s laughing at my detailed analysis of Cap’s Adamantium/Vibranium alloy shield now? That’s right, none of you.

I can’t be sure what you’ve got on your computer, but chances are it’s just as important to you as my stuff is to me. And believe me, if something were to happen to your stuff it’s impossible to underestimate just how much you’ll miss that fanfic of you getting Bat-grapple freaky with the Dark Knight. My stuff’s important. Your stuff’s important. What you have to remember is:

You need somewhere else to put your important stuff

Your stuff is currently on the hard drive inside of your computer, which is great. But if something happens to your computer, or even just your hard drive (they have been known to die on their own from time to time), you’re toast. What you want to do is secure an alternate location to stash your stuff. And that means…

You need to get yourself an external hard drive

No kidding. You really do. How big is up to you, but I would recommend getting one at least twice the size of your current hard drive. Right now external hard drives are running about $100 to $200 for the kind you’ll likely need. Pick a size that works, read some reviews, and get your hands on some external storage goodness. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to:

Grab a good piece of software for backin stuff up

I’m going to start with the easiest. If you’re running Mac OS X 10.4 (Panther) or later, then you need to get SuperDuper. It’s free. It makes an entire bootable clone of your hard drive. You can set it to run overnight and have your backup done by morning. Why are you not downloading it right now?

An image of SuperDuper's main backup window

If you’re willing to throw some cash down, I’d recommend buying SuperDuper for $28. When you buy/register the free version, you get access to superfun features like scheduling, so you can set your backups to run periodically.

Registering SuperDuper also gets you access to the program’s SmartUpdate feature, which is a fantastic way to backup. With the free version, every time you backup with the program it just makes a clone of your hard drive, file for file. That process can take hours, which is why you usually want to run it overnight. With the registered version of SuperDuper, you can set your backups to run more intelligently. The very first time you back up, the program makes a complete clone of your drive. But every subsequent time you back up, SuperDuper just compares all the files on your source drive to those on your backup drive, and copies/deletes only the ones necessary to make your backup drive identical to your source.

The upshot? Your first backup will take a few hours, but all backups after that tend to take about 20 minutes. A huge timesaver, and great incentive to backup more frequently.

That about does it for this post, but stay tuned. In my next post, I’m going to cover the backup features built in to Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), the current feature of the Mac operating system. We’re also going to talk about online backup solutions, so stick around!

Baby Got Back(up)

I’d like to write about something very close to my heart (it’s not babies): the art of backing up your stuff.

Some of the particular programs we’ll reference later are platform specific, but the principles here ought to apply to anyone with a computer. If you’re a non-Mac user, hang tight and hopefully Jason will be able to answer your specific backup needs in a future post.

Let’s get right down to it.

You need to backup your stuff

Which brings me to my second point.

You don’t think you need to backup your stuff, but you do

A good backup, like fire insurance, is something you hope you never ever have to use. Also, like fire insurance, a good backup keeps you sane, safe, and protected when something terrible happens. Which brings me to point three.

You may not think you have much worth protecting, but you do

I spent a fair amount of high school screwing around with Linux on my computer. I can’t count the number of times I formatted my hard drive or the number of precious songs I was into in high school that I now no longer have (may your cowboy twang Rest in Peace, “Don’t Tell Me” by Madonna). So, let’s put first things first.

How do we think about backing up our stuff?

All there really is to backing up is simply making additional copies of your important data and putting them in other places. At the core of it, that’s it. You want to have more than one copy of your data, you want those copies to be in safe places, and you want to be able to access them in the event of an emergency. So, while there are tons of fancy-pants tools and and programs to help you back up your data, they’re all doing essentially the same thing: helping you make copies of your data.

Some important things to remember when thinking about backup

I’m not an industry expert, but I have picked up a few things along the way that you can think of as guiding principles when it comes to backing up.

  • Redundancy – If you can, have more than one backup system: back up to multiple drives (we’ll talk about this later) and keep multiple copies.
  • Frequency – The more often you back up the more you’ll love yourself, because your data will be more recent in the event of an emergency.
  • Spread – This one is really redundancy with a geopgraphic twist. You want to have backups in more than one physical location. Say, for example, that your former romantic partner decides that Kyle Rayner is the worst Green Lantern even though you think he’s the best Green Lantern (he is) and gets Effigy to set fire to your apartment. If both your computer and your backups were in that apartment, you’re still toast no matter how diligently you backed up.

Come on back tomorrow for my first Mac backup guide. If your computer dies between now and then and you lose all of your data. I’m sorry.

Choose Your Own Learning Experience

Meet the Geek Whisperer’s latest contributor, Brian, and enjoy his first post:
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I’ve been a fan of O’Reilly Media’s HeadFirst series of books ever since a friend of mine showed me how he taught his computer science students using HeadFirst HTML (and CSS).

The ingenious approach the books take toward learning can be summed up in one hyphenate: brain-friendly. And I think their mission is admirable: create learning experiences that draw from content expertise and the best of what we know in cognitive science and educational research.

I’ve had tremendous success in working with the books, and I’ve seen other newcomers take to the books with enthusiasm, energy, and a sense of fun—things we don’t often associate with education. Those personal experiences with the books are also a big reason I listen to what people like Brett McLaughlin, series editor of HeadFirst, have to say about designing learning experiences. Continue reading “Choose Your Own Learning Experience”