Backing Up Your Work: Mac Time Machine

24 01 2010

I tell my students time and time again to back up their work in several places every time they work on a paper or project because I know, from personal experience, how devastating it can be to lose work in the middle of a project.  I made the mistake of beginning my dissertation data collection without backing up what I was doing as I went.  Three weeks in (and hours and hours and hours of data collection in), my computer died.  It wouldn’t start; it wouldn’t respond; it wouldn’t do anything.  It died, so I had to start over because I hadn’t taken the time to back up my work.  I learned the hard way, but my hope is that there are still people out there who can learn the lesson the easy way: listening to someone who has been through it.

The first thing to remember is that your computer will die at an integral point in your work.  Your computer will eat every word you’ve slaved over without caring about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into picking those words.  It is the only thing you can count on in the world of computers: They die or freeze or explode only during critical moments.  Count on it.  Be prepared for it.  That way, the only thing you’re mourning when your computer dies is the fact that you have to get a new one–you won’t have to mourn the loss of your hard-earned work.

After my computer died, I learned my lesson and invested in an external hard drive for my computer, which at the time was a PC.  I bought a Western Digital external hard drive and hooked it up; shortly after, I hit my first wall.  I found out that if I wanted the instant update feature on the hard drive, I had to buy special software from WD.  Otherwise, I had to remember to drag and drop new files I had worked on onto my external hard drive.  I was good about it for a few weeks, but then… I started forgetting to update; once I started forgetting to update on a regular basis, I couldn’t remember which files I worked on that needed re-saving on the hard drive.  After a while, the hard drive started collecting dust on my desk, and I was once again counting on my luck to keep my work safe.

And then I bought a Mac and was introduced to the wonderful world of the Time Machine…

I hooked up my handy WD external hard drive and turned on the Time Machine, and my Mac took over from there.  It asked me if I wanted to make the hard drive my preferred Time Machine, and I said, “Yes, please.”  That was the smartest computer decision I made since I got my Mac.  When my hard drive isn’t hooked up, nothing happens.  But as soon as I hook my hard drive up, an automatic update begins; if I keep it hooked up, it will continue doing automatic updates every hour (my preferred time interval) until I eject the hard drive.  The updates are saved at those intervals, and if something happens, I get to pick which point I want my computer to be restored to.

With the Time Machine feature, there doesn’t have to be a catastrophe–I might simply want my computer to go back to the way it was an hour ago, before I made a drastic change that I’m not happy with to a story I was working on.  As long as I had my hard drive hooked up and doing the automatic updates, I’m only a few clicks away from erasing the unpleasant changes.

While doing NaNoWriMo, I had my hard drive running every time my computer was running because I was paranoid I would lose everything.  As computer axioms go, since I was prepared for computer problems, my computer performed perfectly.  Yet I was happy to know that my novel was securely saved on more than one device.

If you have a Mac and haven’t yet hooked up a hard drive to start your own Time Machine experience, I highly suggest you do so.  You don’t need to be a writer to want to take advantage of the continual updates–you just need to be a computer user who keeps personal documents stored on your computer.  It’s minimal hassle for maximal ease-of-mind.




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