Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Computer Ate my Paper!

Here’s some information that might be useful now, or might be useful later — but I guarantee you will eventually need it.

If you store information on a hard drive, or even on a thumb drive (flash drive, USB stick, whatever you call it) -- you will one day find that you have lost access to all your files. Your computer will crash, you will drop your thumb drive in the toilet, or you’ll leave either of those devices in a hot car.... the list of things that can kill electronics can go on and non. You’ll be giving the 21st centuray answer to “the dog ate my paper”--the computer did it. Because everything that is on physical media will (not might—will) eventually fail.

There are services that will let you store your stuff for free. They are called “the cloud” because like clouds, they are everywhere and nowhere. Your data may be stored in Wisconsin, California and Florida for all I know. They use a “freemium” model to capitalize. That is, they offer you a relatively generous limited amount of their service, in hopes that you’ll find it useful enough to pay for when you want more.

Here is a line I have put on all my syllabi policy statements this past semester, and will continue including with updates if any:

Backing up your documents:
All storage media can fail (computer hard drives, USB sticks, and so on). I strongly suggest you store backup copies in the cloud. Here is a good, recent article comparing some free services: http://gizmodo.com/5828035/the-best-way-to-store-stuff-in-the-cloud. I personally use Dropbox, Google and Box.net, and would be happy to discuss them. 

The article I reference in that link is to a September 28, 2011 article; I haven’t seen a better one for complete beginners who need an quick overview. (Over half a year ago is a looooong time to geeks! Lots can change.)

I’ll also add that I don’t have paid accounts with any of these services, nor am I promoting one over another. I have found, however, that since I am not storing music, photos, movies or other media (just documents), I can very comfortably accommodate all my working documents in any one of these services’ free space.

PS: Is the cloud fail-safe? No, of course not. But copying materials to more than one cloud service, and making a backup at least every week, is a pretty good way to insulate yourself from the messy consequences of not backing up.

PPS: Is it safe from prying eyes? Well, I don’t store openly-written passwords in any of the documents on these sites, nor do I store bank records, stuff that somebody could swipe my identity using. 

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