An Inexcusable Stupidity

When I was in seminary one of my professors had the following notice on his office door.

All work must be handed in by the assigned due date. Late work will only be accepted in the case of an unavoidable catastrophe. Note: Failure to back up your hard drive is not an unavoidable catastrophe. It is an inexcusable stupidity.

Well, I am now guilty of an inexcusable stupidity. My hard drive crashed last week, and I did not have everything backed up. The computer was working fine on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning I came downstairs to a blank screen with the following words blinking ominously in the upper left-hand corner: “Operating system not found.” I tried rebooting but got nothing. A friend who works with computers came over and tried, but the hard drive was not spinning. We couldn’t even look at the files on it. My hard drive is dead.

I thought I had a good system synchronizing files on my work and home computer over the internet, but after the crash I found some gaping holes in the system. The system worked well for word-processing files, but because photos are much larger I did not always synchronize them at the same time. Also, not all files were being kept in the folders that were synchronized. As a result we have now lost our most recent photos plus other important files. I contacted several hard drive data recovery companies, and the average quote for retrieval is about $1500. So, my poor hard drive now sits in a zip-lock bag filled with data that I cannot retrieve.

It could have been worse. Just read this guy’s story. (And he was far better at backing up than I am.) Thankfully, I still have all my document files stretching back some 20 years – sermons, Bible study notes, thesis, church documents, etc. We have all the boys’ school work. We have all of our photos up through 2006 and some scattered photos from 2007 that happened to be on CDs. But we lost a lot of important files, and it was all completely unnecessary.

Lessons learned:

  1. Things don’t last forever. Love God, love your family, enjoy your friends. (That’s the big philosophical lesson for the day.)
  2. Back up! (There’s the highly practical one.)

I am now backing up and synchronizing all data on both computers via external hard drive. Much more efficient and no more gaps. I am using Laplink Gold software for this. PC Sync is a cheaper solution, but I already had the Gold version. I also signed up with Mozy, an online backup company that gives you unlimited storage for $5 a month. (They also have a free service for backups under 2 gig.) The initial backup with them is painfully slow, but once everything is backed up, you can set and forget, and they automatically keep all your designated files backed up for you. You can read about other online storage options here.

Do you have a good backup system in place? If your hard drive crashed right now, without warning, would you lose anything of importance? Remember, failure to back up your data is not an unavoidable catastrophe. It is an inexcusable stupidity. Just ask me. I know.


  1. I’ve been there, and luckily didn’t lose anything. Due to my NASA background (triple redundancy, off-site storage, etc) I have two backups: An external server (off-site) and a local USB hard drive. I use Microsoft’s free SyncToy to back up to both, along with WebDrive, which lets me mount SSH-based servers as local drives. The combo works pretty well, and I’m quite rigorous about syncing daily.


  2. Tom says:

    I work in the computer field, and Matthew… You are a rare breed.
    The life of hard drives is normally taken as infinite (although it is not). Ray was a reminder for all of us to BACKUP our personal and important data.

  3. Ray Fowler says:


    Thank you for commenting. I will have to check out SyncToy and WebDrive. Where I am already paying for server space for this blog, it would be great to be able to back up here rather than pay an additional monthly fee for off-site backup.

    For those of you who don’t know, Matthew runs a great productivity site over at Matt’s Idea Blog. You can find a lot of great ideas and productivity tips browsing his archives.

  4. Personally, I never let a week pass w/o backing up my laptop.

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