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Data stewardship is important. There’s a saying I like to use: “There are two types of computer users: those who have lost data and those who will lose data.” I take it as a given that something bad will happen, and it has. I’ve owned home computers since 1985, a state of the art IBM AT clone with a 40MB hard drive and maybe 16k RAM. After investing hundreds if not thousands of hours into a story, the last thing I want to see on my computer is a big honkin’ error message telling my story is toast.

We need to discuss objectives first. Not every data solution fits everybody’s needs. I guess I’m a power user. I work in the business and I know how to do things your average Joe could never dream of knowing. But I’m a software guy. I’ve always left backup and recovery to the hardware guys, the server administrators.

I need access to my story wherever I am. I like to write at Starbucks, Magnolia’s Café, the city library, and if I’m on the road, a hotel. I also write in various locations around the house: my office/writing room, the living room, bedroom, or basement rec-room. I’ve even ventured out on the deck, but the light there doesn’t agree with my damaged eyes. *I’ll have to blog about diabetes proliferative retinopathy

I want easy recovery. I don’t want to have to rely on a piece of software to compress then decompress my files. If I need to recover, I want to copy the files. I have tons of backup space. My main rig has three drives. Two are two-gigabyte monsters and the other half a gig. My play box has a single 320 megabyte drive. Not sure what my netbook has. I also use my wife’s laptop. I have more than enough space to make copies, and I have enough boxes to spread the risk.

Lets look at some worst case scenarios. Say the house gets robbed and they steal one computer. My other one, hidden under the stairway, remains. I’m safe. Say the house burns down completely. Oops, there goes John’s novels. Say John’s wife once again leaves a tap running and the flood shorts out his downstairs box. We’re safe. Say a hard drive crashes completely. We’re safe. The biggest risk, from a complete loss perspective, is where all my boxes are destroyed. A house fire, a major earthquake, or maybe a hurricane or tornado are threats. Really only the house fire is, and I suppose theft is as well.

Fortunately enabling access from many points and keeping a backup copy off premise are easy objectives to fulfill. It’s called Dropbox. Dropbox is a cloud service that lets you store files, and it’s free for basic usage. I have a low 2.5 GB of free space, far more than I will ever need for my text files.

I also use another service called Evernote. It’s also a cloud service, but this one is designed to help you track notes. I’m always bookmarking websites, and this helps me organize it and store it. It actually stores copies of the webpages versus a simple link. How many times have you linked to something only to have it disappear on you? Then all your bookmarks need to be clicked on. With Evernote, I can browse all my bookmarks visually. But back to backups.

My primary workspace is Dropbox. That’s where my current files live. But of course I don’t trust Dropbox, not with my bestselling novel. For all I know, I might wake up one day to find it gone, a victim of chapter 11. *poof* No, I copy my files to my own computer drives.

I keep all my data in a folder called “_John” which lives on drive D. I back my files up with simple scripts that run an xcopy command. Here’s the simple steps to create the files:

1. Right-click on a folder, preferably the folder to file your backup scripts in, and create a new text document. Give it an appropriate name and change its file extension to .bat. Bat files will execute when double-clicked. *You can also run a bat file from anther bat file by including a single line with its path and full name.

2. Right-click the new bat file and edit it.

3. Type in the xcopy backup command and close the file.

4. Double-click the file and watch it run.

Step number three needs some elucidation. I assume you are running windows. If you are running anything else, you do not need these instructions anyway. Click the start button or windows button and in the search or run box, type “cmd” and hit enter. A black console window will open. Now type “help xcopy” in the new window and hit enter again. The resulting list shows you what all the switches do. Switches are added to the xcopy command to tell it how to perform in specific situations. I use the “/e” and “/y” switches. The first tells it to copy all subdirectories — otherwise you’ll need to run many, many commands — and the second says don’t ask if it’s okay to overwrite. I run these at night while I sleep, and I can’t sit there and say “yes” to everything. his is not a fancy command, but I don’t have fancy needs. I copy everything and let it run.

xcopy needs to use mapped files. You can’t copy server locations using UNC (universal naming convention) format such as \\servername\filename Let’s run through this process quickly. By the way, dropbox will map itself to your drive, so if you are simply copying from dropbox to disk location, no mapping is involved.

Main Writing Files: Dropbox at D:\_john\Dropbox\Dropbox *only the last folder is in the cloud. D:\_john\Dropbox is on my D drive.

All John’s Data Files: D_\john

Backup on 2nd PC”  We’ll call the pc “2nd_PC” because I don’t want to give out the names of my computers for security reasons. I mapped it to drive J and created a file on it which I shared and called _Backup_Dropbox. Here’s the quick steps.

*note that I like to start data file names with an underscore. It tells me it’s my data and not some file Windows or some stray software created.

1. Create the folder on the target computer

2. Right click the folder and share it. (You may need to enable file sharing. Google it.)

3. On the source computer, where you are copying from, you should now see the destination computer in teh network section of windows explorer. If not, fix it.

4. Browse to your shared target folder. Click on the target computer name listed under “Network” in windows explorer, and your shared folder should show up. If not, fix it. Refer to Dr. Google. Copy the address from the address bar.

5. Find your computer listing, where all your drives are displayed. Right click on the word “Computer” and click “Map Network Drive …” Select a drive letter to map to and paste the name of the folder you just copied. You do want to connect always. Click Finish.

File Location Summary

Location of Work:  D:\_john\Dropbox\Dropbox which is my dropbox cloud share.

Backup target 1 on pc_1:  D:\_john\dropbox\_backup

Backup target 2 on pc_2: j:\_Backup_Dropbox *my shared folder

Backup target 3 on pc_1: E:\_D_JOHN_BACKUP\_DROPBOX

The image shows five copy commands. The first three copy my Dropbox working files to three backup locations. The last two copy my writing folder from D to E. No, I am not yet copying this to pc_2.

So how do I execute this? There are two ways I use. Whenever I think I’ve written a significant amount of words that I don’t want to lose — it may only be a single comma 😉 — I will browse to the file and double click it.

I also schedule an execution each night via Task Scheduler. You need to be an administrator to create and execute a task, so if you are not, try to learn how to become one. You can find Task Scheduler in Control Panel->Administrative Tools. Create a task and a wizard will walk you through the steps. It’s pretty easy. Know where your bat file is so you can enter it into the schedule.

Test your work. First, double click your backup bat file. You should see a window open, and it will display all the files being copied. Resolve any errors. Create a new test file in Dropbox or wherever your main files live, and check the next day whether it got copied.

Remember, you can nest work. I also run backups for all my photos, but it takes forever to run. I only run that script once a week.

Good luck.