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Backup your data, please

I just had a friend lose 200 GB of data and come running to me asking for help. Unfortunately, the usual tricks didn’t work (Windows won’t even mount the drive).

Please please please backup your data. Buy an external hard drive and have it backup daily (or at least once a week).

I have my computer automatically backup to an external hard drive every night at 2am. I am working on a plan to burn all of my data to DVD’s and storing them off-site somewhere, to protect myself against the fire scenario.

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The backup strategy

A week ago the Windows machine decided that it was a good time for its hard drive to die. I lucked out and was able to get the data off of the drive before it passed the point of no return. Since then, I have worked hard on implementing a nightly backup strategy for both my Mac and the Windows machine.

Prior to a week ago, I did backups only when I remembered, which was once every few months if I was lucky. A horrible policy, especially for someone who makes a living in the IT business and have seen clients lose data in the past due to no backups. I was determined to get things done right this time.

The Mac side of things is pretty simple. I did some searches and came up with a program called SuperDuper! that made backing up as easy as it gets. I already had an external 120 GB hard drive, so the storage was taken care of. A few clicks and presto, I had a backup at 1:30 AM every day of the week of all of my user files. Couldn’t have been any easier. I just have to remember to keep the external hard drive on at all times.

I am still working on the Windows side of things to get that machine backed up. I need to experiment with SuperDuper! to make sure it can backup a Windows machine over the network. It looks like I can do it, but it might take some tweaking to get everything working right. That is my project for this week. The good news is that backup will be really quick…only Katie uses that computer and her data storage needs are slim outside of pictures and music. If I backup 3 GB of data I would be shocked.

I also plan on doing the following:

  • Do at least a quarterly backup of all files onto DVD’s and store them offsite, securely.
  • Find a way to make my 120 GB external hard drive be connected directly to the network. This would allow both computers (the Mac and PC) to access the drive independently, which would be useful if one of the computers is offsite. This also means if one computer fails on the backup due to software issues, the other computer will still backup (hopefully).
  • Get UPS’ for the router/modem and each computer. That way everything is protected from lightning strikes and power surges. Would be nice if I could get at least on TV on them too.
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Backups are good

So last night at around midnight, Katie’s Toshiba laptop (which was my laptop until I switched to Macs full-time back in April) decided to freeze and give a very nice blue screen.

I should have wrote it down, but the blue screen looked really really bad. As if something was wrong with one of the computer’s drives.

I attempted to reboot and got a message about IDE #0 missing. Lovely, a hard drive crash.
Just make most PC users, Katie does not keep backups. Just like most busy geeks, I never got around to doing it for her. I also never implemented a backup strategy for my Mac. It was always one of those “oh, let’s run a manual backup” moments that happens maybe once a month.”

Luckily at my old job, I had run into so many dead hard drives that I knew how to resurrect them briefly to get the data off of them. So I decided to wait 10 minutes, hoping that perhaps the hard drive was overheating.

That worked. Luckily, she isn’t a heavy computer user…she had at most around 2 GB of data to backup. I was able to boot into Windows and burn most of her data (documents, photos, and music) onto two CD’s. Then the computer blue screened again. I waited another 10 minutes and got the computer to boot up again. The rest of the data I threw onto my flash drive, since it was much faster then burning a CD.

I learned some important lessons last night:

  • Never assume the user has their own backups. Odds are, they won’t. A backup plan is a MUST.
  • Always buy the extended warranty with a laptop. This incident, combined with when the laptop’s fan decided to die, should now total up more then the cost of the extended warranty itself.

Today I am going to BestBuy to drop off the laptop for repair. In the meantime, Katie and I will be sharing the Macbook for probably the next two weeks.

Always take the time make sure you have a proper backup strategy. I am going to spend part of today looking at Mac backup programs and getting it all configured. I hope I can use it to also backup Katie’s laptop (when it is repaired) over the network.

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Blank pages in IE & no print dialog

I ran into a weird issue with a client the other day. Internet Explorer was displaying blank pages for many sites, including Windows Update. Also, the print dialog window would not come up in any application (File –> Print).
It took awhile to figure out what the issue was, but thanks to Google and some brainstorming for the right keywords to search for, I was able to resolve the issue.

I first tried to reinstall Service Pack 2 for XP, but that didn’t fix the problem to my surprise.

I then looked more into the problem, trying to figure out why some web sites would display fine, while others were showing up as blank pages. I finally discovered a pattern that sites who heavily relied on JavaScript and ActiveX were the ones that weren’t working, while sites that used plain old HTML/CSS were working alright.

So I think started to think of keywords that describe the issue I was having. Using a combination of blank pages, ie, and windows update, I was able to track down a few sites and USENET postings that talked about similar problems. However, none of those solutions worked for me.

Finally, I tracked down a post on a forum about someone who reinstalled Windows Script 5.6 and that fixed this exact issue. I quickly downloaded Windows Script 5.6 and installed it. After a reboot, both issues were resolved. I could now visit sites like Windows Update with no issues and the print dialog window was now appearing.