Friday, August 7, 2009

Disappearing Data

A software development blog that I read had an entry on alternative data storage. It referred to a tongue in cheek project called PaperBack. The idea is that your data is printed out to paper so that it will not degrade like magnetic or optical storage. There are serious people thinking on this subject. All in all I cannot tell if PaperBack is a joke or serious. Regardless, it highlights something that I often think about.

I look at all the data that I and my family have acquired over time and wonder about it. Documents, audio files, image files, videos and others. I have managed over time to collapse them down to a single large collection, which I have on multiple different hard drives. The collection represents all the floppy and zip disks I'd hauled around for 20+ years plus CD and DVD archives. Luckily external hard drives have plunged in price.

I should have started all this sooner than I did and count myself lucky that catastrophe did not strike. I have personally encountered tape that could not be used for anything or there was no software to read it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of data inaccessible. Myself, I have CD's from the late 80's that are no longer readable. I also have a graveyard of dead hard drives.

It makes me think about how fleeting all this is. The fact that hard drives even work is something of a miracle with all the things that have to work JUST so between the hardware and software, at many levels. Every couple of years I have a fit of getting things together and saved. After I spend all the time doing it and making sure I've got it all I worry about the drives that I am backed up to failing. Or that a tornado will come in and annihilate it all regardless, making my efforts futile.

Then I get very philosophical and wonder what is so important with what I have. One time when I thought I had lost about six months worth of photos I felt physically ill and dreaded telling my wife. Luckily I found the files on another backup and all was saved. Regardless, if a tornado came along and annihilated the house and both backups we would be glad just to be alive.

I guess sometimes you have to balance off covering yourself against absolutely everything and what really matters.

Regardless, if you have not already done it, go out and buy an external hard drive and back up all your data. It is only a matter of time before your main hard drive fails. It is the cheapest insurance you will ever buy.

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