Another Year, Another Set Of Backups

February 08, 2014 at 01:50 PM

You might not be able to call it a New Years Resolution anyone, but it’s not too late to backup everything you did online last year. I usually get around to doing this in December/January over Christmas holiday, but this year I have been slacking. Maybe you have too. It’s not too late, make a backup!


I have a couple services that I use for my documents, my writing, my photos, and everything else that is a file. Files are easiest to deal with, as long you have them organized easily. You always want your files in two places (your current computer and online), since you will drop your laptop and your current HDD will fail randomly. You want your files in a simple file format that doesn’t depend on a specific application: usually text, lossless image (PNG), or PDF. PDF might be a terrible format for technical reasons, but it’s a great way to preserve websites or Word documents exactly how they currently are. Every application has “Print as PDF”.

Dropbox is the natural choice for most temporary files. You can get 2GB to 5GB free starting out, it is constantly backed up when you are connected to the internet, and instantly available across all your devices. I keep most temporary files in my Dropbox folder, until I can organize them by date and archive them in a more permanent way.

A more permanent home solution for large file backup is an external HDD or NAS. I finally invested in a consumer NAS last year, the Synology Diskstation DS213 for about $200. Drobo is a another well known consumer NAS, but way too expensive in my opinion, especially considering how cheap hardware has become. The Synology has really impressed me in ease of use, software quality, and overall value. Dual disk RAID support, gigabit ethernet, and “app” support with automatic AWS Glacier backup are some of the more technical features that really make it impressive. Here is another good review, from the Wirecutter.

To balance everything out, you want permanent offsite backups: Backblaze or Crashplan are both good. I’ve used Backblaze for years at work, but am considering Crashplan personally, since Backblaze does not support backing up NAS. These programs are similar to Dropbox, but offer a longterm backup for around $50/year, which is a great price for safety and value of an offsite backup.

Important Online Services

Now that you have someplace to backup files, backup every important online service you used last year into a simple file format.

  • Email: most online email providers are now offering simple backup solutions, even Gmail.
  • Passwords: I also switched this year to religiously using 1Password, an application that stores all of your passwords and automatically fills them in, like when you need to access your bank account website. This has not only made my life easier, but improved the overall security of my passwords, since 1Password can generate a unique password for each website you use. I can write volumes about this topic, but for now, get some application that stores your passwords for you.
  • Bank account and credit card statements: all my banking is done online with e-paper statements. It saves time and paper. At the end of the year, most banks offer a Year End Summary, which you should download and store as a PDF. Most banks store these statements for up to seven years, but why not keep the copy locally? It makes keeping financial records much easier.
  • Bookmarks: Pinboard is an online bookmark service I use, which offers an export here. If you just use Firefox or Chrome bookmarks and have hundreds or thousands of bookmarks, back them up!
  • Social media services: I used to find value in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, but lately, I don’t think the value is worth longterm backing up. JWZ argues for backing these services up and offers some helpful exporters. Facebook offers an export under Settings and Twitter does also.

Physical Things

Another project I started last year was backing up my childhood photo albums and VHS tapes! Well, I called my mom and asked her to mail them to me, but it’s a first step. How many boxes of tapes or old photographs do you have at your parent’s house? Convert them to a digital format today, before they fall apart.

Legoland 1994

I’ve looked at local video conversion places and have been quoted $25/tape for VHS to digital conversions, which seems pricey. I think I will wait to find a VCR and manually convert the videos myself with an Elgato USB recorder, which seems to offer a good value/quality trade off.

That’s my recommendation for the year. Everything that is physical fades eventually and everything that is digital can instantly disappear if you aren’t careful. Understand the digital world and do what is necessary to preserve your important memories and documents!

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