In case of emergency

If you’ve scanned the headlines lately or simply live downwind of the central portion of the 31st state, you’re aware that far too much of California has been ablaze in the last month. It happens that I live darned close to a couple of these hot-spots and, having packed the car twice now with the idea of fleeing with family and felines when the reverse 911 call comes in, it’s natural that my attention has been increasingly devoted to emergency preparedness—and that includes the protection and salvation of my data.

When Fire 1 ignited about a month ago, my office was a mess. I had files scattered across seven separate hard drives and three different computers. Had I been in a position where I had to leave Right Now, every bit of data I owned would have been lost. Fortunately I had time so I chose the brute-force technique—I threw all the computers in the car along with a duffel-bag full of hard drives. You can imagine the “You say you do this kind of thing for a living?” look I got from my wife who, wisely, had her most important data backed up onto a single drive that she’d stuffed into her purse.

Last weekend’s Fire 2—closer than the first—saw little improvement on my part. Although I’d procured a new 750GB drive to feed Time Machine—and thus had a readily grabbable backup of my current work files, email, contacts, and calendars—the files I really wanted remained parsed out among a host of internal and external hard drives. And by “really wanted” I don’t mean MacUser Help Folder columns from 1997, a Breen’s Bungalow video from 2000, or even the iTunes-procured copy of Noel Harrison’s Life is a Dream.

What I do mean is my photos and home movies.

I can replace music. I can let go of a couple of decades worth of work. I can buy another computer. But I can’t replace the images of a child’s first years or a parent’s last. And to risk losing those images to a natural disaster—even one as natural and predictable as a hard drive crash—because I’m disorganized is just stupid.

So in the “fool me once/fool me twice” vein, I’m changing my ways, in these ways:

Gathered memories I have multiple iPhoto Library archives scattered about. I’ve now copied those archives to a single hard drive. Similarly I’ve copied my Aperture libraries to that same drive. In addition, I’ve used Leopard’s Smart Folder feature to seek out all Camera Raw images and copied those to that same drive. Yes, I have duplicate files. At some point I may sort through the images and remove the duplicates. For now, I’m happy to know that I have all my images within easy reach.

Home movies are easier as I haven’t made a ton of them. A Smart Folder that looks for files with the extension .DV with a file size over 500MB nicely rounded up the movies I was after.

Out of the house Fat lot of good a backup hard drive does me if a tornado whips it into the next county. While on-site backups are fine, you need to get your data off-site as well. One way to do that is to lug hard drives from Location A to Location B. Another is to burn through your bandwidth like there’s no tomorrow (cuz, who knows, maybe there isn’t) and upload your most precious data to a server somewhere in The Cloud.

Like a lot of .Mac members, I have an iDisk that goes largely unused. Currently .Mac members are provided with up to 10GB of storage and, when MobileMe launches, that limit moves to 20GB. With a .Mac membership comes a copy of Apple’s Backup application—one that can be configured to store items on your iDisk. At first I vowed to go through my photos, pare them down to the absolute keepers, and then upload those keepers to my iDisk via Backup. But then I realized I had too much stuff—20GB just wouldn’t do.

So I explored other online options and came up with Mozy. This is an online service that allows you to upload an unlimited amount of data for $4.95 per computer per month (personal use only, for this price). It includes a simple client (available for Mac or Windows) that lets you choose common files and folders (Address Book, Documents Folder, Keychains, and Microsoft Word Documents, for example) as well as select specific files and folders. It includes a scheduling component so your files are backed up automatically. And yes, it takes a long time to upload your files—like days long if you’re dealing with dozens of gigabytes.

Aperture ho! I like iPhoto a lot. The current version is fast and it provides just enough tools that I can perform nice looking edits without a lot of bother. But its ability to back up your pictures is primitive. When you query iPhoto’s Help about backing up your iPhoto library you’re offered the option of using Time Machine or dragging your library to another disk or burning it to CD or DVD.

I also like Aperture a lot and its ability to create vaults of my photos and easily save them to another drive has won me over. I’ve imported my iPhoto libraries into the program and have since saved them as part of an Aperture vault, which I’m in the process of uploading to Mozy.

A UPS that makes sense A couple of years ago I got smart and installed two uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) in my office. And then I got dumb and plugged devices into them willy nilly. Last weekend, PG&E cut the power to aid the firefighters.

“No problem,” I smugly thought, “I’ve got UPS.”

Right. That is until the laser printer plugged into one drained it within seconds and the two Macs, one PC, one scanner, six hard drives, and powered speakers did the same to the other.

And that was a problem.

And it was a problem because with the TV out of commission and our local NPR stations loath to interrupt A Prairie Home Companion to alert their listeners about the proximity and direction of the fire, the Internet was my best source of information—a source I couldn’t get to because I had no power.

So, while the power was out I occupied my time by unplugging every device in my office and creating a smarter UPS setup. And it goes like this:

I will no longer print with the power out. The laser printer is now plugged into the UPS’ surge suppressor, but won’t draw power from the battery.

UPS 1 is now jacked into my DSL broadband modem, AirPort Extreme Base Station, Ethernet switch, and telephone. And that’s it. If the power goes down, I can still access the Internet.

UPS 2 will power my Mac Pro, monitors, and external hard drives. When the power goes out, I will unmount those external hard drives and then switch them off. This seems a better policy than letting them suddenly die when their juice is cut. In all likelihood, I’ll switch this computer off when the power goes out.

I can do that because I’ve vowed to keep my laptop plugged in whenever it’s in the office. When there’s no power in the office, I’ll use the laptop. If I’m feeling particularly miserly, I’ll switch it off as well and use my iPhone and iPod touch to access the Web and email.

Sheesh... Sure, this has all been a bother, but it’s a bother that I’ve left unaddressed for far too long. Maybe you have as well.

It’s going to be a long, hot—and, at this rate, smokey—summer. Unpleasant as it has been (far more so for those who’ve dealt with it in a more tragically direct way) I feel better knowing that I’m more prepared to deal with it.

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