Friday, October 31, 2008

tt4t_061 Its Halloween do you know where your backup is?

It’s Friday, October 31st, 2008 and welcome to episode 61 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Happy Halloween everyone! This week a couple of experiences have reminded me of the importance of backing up your computer files. I received a call earlier this week from a staff member that accidentally deleted a folder on their computer and all the files in the folder. Of course I asked if they had a backup and you can guess what the answer was.

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Once you delete a file and empty the recycle bin then it is extremely difficult to undelete the files. It may be impossible without the help of a FBI computer forensic team or dedicated expensive program that may be able to undelete something that is if another file has not already been saved over the files you are trying to recover. If the data has been overwritten there may be no hope of recovering the files.

There is always a chance that deleted files may be recovered because when you delete a file the computer basically deletes the indexing information that is used to point to the location of the file storage area on the hard disk, if an undelete program can recover this indexing information then there is a chance (although remote) that the file may be recovered. Why take a chance of worrying about recovering from an accidental file deletion or a computer crash? Take a lesson form the Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared”.

It literally only takes seconds to make a backup copy of your important data files and I hope that making backups is already a part of your routine computing practice, if it is not let me recommend that you turn off this podcast and go make a backup copy of your files right now. Go ahead, pause this podcast and I will wait.

OK, that wasn’t so bad was it? Now you can sleep better knowing you have made a recent backup of your important files especially since we are three-quarters of the way into the semester. Be sure to backup your gradebook files, email archives, and all other essential data regularly. If you have an online system and networked drives your IT department may already be doing this but you are responsible for locally stored files in most schools. If you do not know how to make a backup copy then find someone that can teach you. It really is easy once you know how and there are no excuses for not making regular backups. Consult with your IT staff regarding policies and procedures for protecting and securing school data.

Another reason that the backup topic is on my agenda this week is to protect yourself from the threat of disasters. I have had a couple of friends experience household fires that lost nearly all household possessions including their computers.

A true backup system consists of five parts, first is the backup copy of your files. Second is that the backup is stored in a different location other than the location of the computer in your home/office. Third is the need for a routine for your backups on a regular basis. You are only as good as your last backup in the event of a disaster. Fourth, is the ability to have access to a copy of the programs used to create your data. For example if you use Microsoft Word as your default word processor then you will need to have access to Microsoft Word once your files have been restored on a different computer. Finally you need to periodically test your backup plan to see if it would really work in the case of a disaster. If there is a flaw in the plan you do not want to wait until a disaster occurs to discover that you cannot recover and access your files.

Most information technology departments have disaster recovery plans that include off-site storage and most schools also have disaster recovery plans including an action plan for recovering from a disaster. You should also have a personal plan for your home including off-site storage of important files, especially digital pictures of your family that are irreplaceable. I personally have burned CD and DVD copies of pictures and placed them in my safety deposit box.

One problem with my plan is that over time there is often the need to move the data to more current technologies. I often joke that there is a conspiracy out there by corporations for what I call planned obsolescence. If you are as old as I am you have undoubtedly experienced this phenomena. For example it is getting harder and harder to find a VCR to play back old VHS tapes I have so I need to transfer the VHS content to a DVD to be assured that I can always access the content. Or you may have purchased your favorite music album several times in the form of 8-track tapes (yes I am that old), cassette tapes, CD’s, and now digital MP3 files.

Another option for storing photographs is to use online photo services like Flickr or Windows Live Gallery. Online photo sharing sites can give you peace of mind if you do not mind having your photos online that others may see. Another option would be to use an online storage solution like Microsoft SkyDrive or other online storage provider.

Our university is in the process of implementing a business class solution for online storage called Xythos that I am currently using in a pilot test and looking forward to using it in full production mode to address the needs our college has for online storage and backups. This solution will be backed up by the ITS department so it also serves the need for having the files stored in two different locations to protect against disasters.

Schools just like businesses need disaster recovery plans and policies protect information, much of which is confidential. With Internet technologies the capability of sharing information is very easy so there should also be policies and procedures in place to protect this information including backup and recovery plans.

The final reason for selecting the backup topic this week is that I migrated my data to a different computer this week and this gave me the opportunity to see if my practices really worked and I am happy to report that they did. I have a very structured folder system for storing files locally on my computer that makes it very easy for me to make backups and also allows for me to easily restore data if needed.

Let me tell you what has worked for me over the years and then you can adapt my system for your own use or develop one that will work for you. This system works for me and keeps my data files separate from the applications used to create the data. Every school year I create a new folder called AY0809 that stands for Academic Year 2008-2009. Everything that I do for the particular academic year goes into this folder. You will find that whether you work in a business or a school that there are many things that you repeat from year to year. For example, I am on several committees and I make a subfolder under the AY0809 folder for each committee that I serve on. I also have a subfolder for each section of each course that I teach for each academic year. This serves two purposes for me. First, it makes it extremely easy for me to make backup copies because all I have to do is copy the AY0809 folder and all subfolders to another storage device (whether it be a CD, DVD, Flash Drive, network drive, or external drive). Secondly, it allows for me to easily archive information from past years. If I need to go retrieve a report to see an example from a previous year all I have to do is go to the appropriate academic year and subfolder to retrieve the file that I need. Being organized in this way has been extremely helpful to me over the years and I encourage you to develop your own system of managing and backing up your data that works for you.

So when I got the new Vista PC installed this week all I had to do was install the computer applications I use like Microsoft Office 2007 and copy the files from my backup copy to the new computers hard drive and I was back in business!

Your recovery plan is only as good as your most recent backup so be sure to make backups regularly. The hardest part of moving to the new PC was setting up the email client but even this was straight forward. I use Outlook Exchange so all I needed to copy my archived email from my old machine to the new machine and then walk through a wizard to setup my email account info on the new computer. I moved from Office 2003 to Office 2007 but the migration was painless because all I needed to do was copy my archive.pst file to the new computer and point my email account to it as my new archive file. That was it, the only difficulty will be to customize my browser settings and other program settings the way I like them but most importantly I am back to work without skipping a beat!

Technology Pick of the Week

I have two Technology Picks of the Week this week. The first a hardware pick related to the backup topic just discussed. I recently purchased a Western Digital Passport 250GB external USB hard drive for a backup storage solution. This drive is well under $100 if you shop around and is compact in size and perfect for storing backup files. It also serves very well as a storage device for large multimedia audio and video files that can consume large amounts of space on your local computer. A link is provided in the show notes to the WD Passport external drive.

USB 2.0 Western Digital Passport External Drive

One caution with compact storage devices like the Passport drive and other even smaller USB flash drives is that you need to protect your data from theft of these devices by keeping them in a secure locked location. They are very small and easily stolen. Some businesses and schools may require a password and/or encryption on these devices to protect the data. Because they are small and portable they do pose a security risk so be sure you take proper precautions in protecting any data that may be stored on such devices.

My second Technology Pick of the Week is a Web 2.0 service that I have used for a few years now and was one of the first applications that I missed and installed when I switched computers earlier this week. Skype is a free audio and video conferencing solution that allows you to make free voice and video calls to other Skype users. I downloaded the Skype client to the new Vista machine and plugged in my Logitech Video Webcam to the USB port and I was back in business with using Skype. A link is provided in the show notes to the Skype service.


Skype allows for you to easily communicate with other Skype users from all around the world and all you need is a computer with a webcam, Internet access, and a free Skype account. You do not even need a webcam if you only want to communicate with other users via voice. Many of our international students use this service to communicate with their family back home and it complete avoids long distance charges. Skype also offers additional for fee services including the ability to dial regular phone lines but there are fees for these services.

That wraps it up for episode 61 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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