Tech Tips
My Mac Magazine #34, Feb. ’98

Welcome to Tech Tips! This month I revisit the most critical of all things you can do with your computer: backups. This was originally covered in issue 22, but a few recent incidents remind me of just how critical backing up your important data is.

Before we discuss the what’s and how’s, let me talk about a few actual service calls that I’ve had within the past few months. These calls came from infrequent clients (ones that I don’t deal with everyday and most likely have only needed minor things such as battery replacement or OS reinstallations).

Scenario one: Client calls in a general state of panic, indicating that they are having trouble with their accounting software. To be fair, I should indicate that they use low-buck Wintel boxes with Win95, but they had the equipment before we became acquainted. The story that unfolds over the phone is general mayhem, in my opinion, and simply tends downward as they talk. Here’s a recap of the scenario that has happened prior to the phone call:
Accounting package giving error when trying to save file.
Client reinstalls software.
Error persists, client performs one backup on same set of floppy disks that last backup is on.
They delete all accounting software (and the data files but, heck, they’re backed up right?).
Then they reinstall all versions of accounting software.
Finally time to restore the data files, software gives an error with one of the disks.
Next they run a utility program to repair the “damaged” floppy which wipes out the data on it.
Now they call me, and to sum it up: both the Jan. and Dec. backups are toast because the single damaged floppy (out of 4) is toast.

Worst part of the whole ordeal is that the lost data included ALL of their Accounts Payable/Receivable and Payroll. Next closest backup was from July.

Just so I don’t make you completely paranoid, I’ll only mention one other disaster. This one started out as what sounded like minor directory damage or a corrupt system. After looking at the machine, it was determined to be a failed hard drive. They thought the information was backed up, but in fact the backups they were performing only contained one application and none of the data… data they had no hard copies of and several years worth of data entry. This one could have been prevented by understanding how the backup program worked.

Ok, now that I hopefully have a decent case for backing up your data, let’s review what and how. Simply put, what should you backup and how it is best done.

What should you backup? Anything that has financial records, personal/corporate data and generally anything that you would really not like to lose. These include any documents that you’ve created, as you should have the original disks for the system software and any application software that you are using. Many of your documents will fit on a floppy disk. If they don’t and you don’t have a Zip drive or some other removable media, I suggest checking out a compression program (Aladdin’s DropStuff and StuffIt Deluxe are great) so that you can squeeze the larger ones down to size. There are plenty of other items that you may want to backup, things like your email address book or your bookmarks.

How should you backup all of this stuff? (pun intended) Starting from the higher tech to no tech:

  • Buy a tape drive, get Retrospect, (there is nothing else worthy) and set your Mac to backup everything every night.
  • Use your Zip drive, buy extra disks if you need to.
  • Get several boxes of floppies and start copying.
  • Make a hard copy. Yes, actually print the stuff out, especially if we’re talking financial data.It also makes great sense to make multiple copies of your backups. At the least, try to rotate the media you use. A basic example of this concept is (assuming you backup once per week) that in the first week you backup to disk set A, the following week you use set B, third week you use set A, and so on. The idea is that if one set of media fails you will only loose one weeks worth of work.

    You may be wondering, talk is cheap but…. Yes, I backup religiously. Every day. Actually, every night my backup software copies everything to tape (which I rotate every 3 weeks). The nightly backup performs an incremental copy, meaning only the things that have changed. Every couple of weeks I also toss in a full copy which contains everything. On top of that, after every session in my accounting package, I archive the data on Zip (dating every item) which means I have my financial files in each state before I made a change. So, yes, I do backup (I’ve learned from my client’s mistakes).

    Real World Experience

    The system: PowerMac 6500.
    The problem: Consistent crashes and hideous performance.
    The solution: Formatted hard drive.
    The explanation:

    Not much of a “wow” problem, but interesting in the cause. A little testing showed tremendous directory damage on the hard drive, the kind that happens from frequent system errors and/or not shutting the system down properly. The cause of the problem is/was frequent power outages to the entire building (several per week). A UPS (Universal Power Supply) has been ordered for the system to prevent it from being powered off before its time which I’m sure will prevent the problem from resurfacing (If it does you will be reading about it in the future).

    Jeramey R. Valley (

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