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Articles: Pounding the Tip of a Nuclear Warhead with a Hammer

According to a 2006 report from CNN, only 57 percent of computer users who store personal data on their machines actually back up their data. A later survey conducted by Apple indicated that only about a fourth of those users actually professed to backing up their data, with just four percent doing it regularly.

(What wasn't reported was that another twelve percent actually thought the question had to do with plugged-up toilets, but we won't worry about that at the moment.)

My guess as to why Apple users don't seem to backup as often has more to do with trusting their overall experience. There's a reason Windows users don't trust much of anything that goes on with their machines; which is ironically not a bad way to avoid some problems (and the additional migraines and office redecorations via baseball bats that often come with them). Unfortunately, Mac users' trust is very misplaced when it comes to the actual safety of their data. After all, a hard drive is a hard drive, whether it's in a PC or a Mac. And trust me... hard drives fail.

In the end, if you're not backing up, you're pounding the tip of a nuclear warhead with a hammer and hoping like hell the thing doesn't explode.

I have two internal drives in my tower, and both of them pooped out at almost exactly the same time. I thought perhaps it was a software issue, or even RAM or processor issue (bad data could be passing through the RAM and onto the drives). But after many hours of futzing with them (and ending up with one drive that's now completely unrecoverable), I have come to the conclusion that they joined hands and leapt off the Lover's Leap of drive cliffs, hand in hand. One just couldn't bear life without the other, so they Romeo and Julietted on me.

But lo! I was a loyal user of Backup: Apple's .Mac backup program (duh), and the predecessor of Time Machine. But lo and I mean reeeeal low actually that program, well, let's just be blunt here: sucks. I believe it's called Backup because that's exactly what you should do when you think of approaching it: "Back away sir! Back up very slowly and use something else!"

Because you see, a backup program can seem really spiffy when it's telling you it's backing up and making you feel so smug that you're not one of the ninety-six percent of Mac users who don't back up regularly. However, when you need to actually restore the data... well, let's just say I clicked and waited and read some of the online help and generally scratched my head and squinted my eyes at the screen like an annoyed Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson (sometimes it helps to intimidate the software) and never once would it loosen its grip on the backups I'd done on my music library. Thank God my gasping-for-life hard drive was spinning just enough for me to grab those files and copy them onto my new drive. If you don't believe me (or perhaps believe that I just have no idea how to run the software which is certainly possible, I'm a Mac user for goodness' sake, so I don't read no stinkin' manuals!), go to and see what they're saying about the program. The current version rates a whopping one star out of five. If you're using Backup now... well, just pretend you're not doing any backups and consider a new strategy.

So all of the falderal I had to go through to get my machine up and running finally pushed me into installing Leopard. Frankly, I had avoided it up to this point because it's only a good idea to do a major install of a new OS if you completely backup your drive to another via programs such as Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! And frankly, that takes time, and I didn't really have it. Secondly, everything on my system was working just fine, thank you, so I really didn't feel the need.

Little did I know that need was boiling right beneath the surface, despite my misplaced reliance on Backup as the lead shielding around the warhead that was ready to scorch my data. I got off lucky. With the help of our crack PowerMax technical staff, we salvaged the data, made sure the other components of my system weren't causing the problems, and got Leopard (and Time Machine) installed with new (and bigger) hard drives. And one of those hard drives is reserved for Time Machine.

Time Machine is the single best reason to upgrade to Leopard. If you've upgraded to Leopard but haven't pulled the switch on Time Machine, you really should. Of course, if you are so inclined, you could set up a RAID 1 instead, which involves two drives, whereby if one fails, the other still contains all the same data. But most people just need to make sure their stuff is backed up onto a different piece of hardware than their main drive. Time Machine is really slick at helping with that.

Over the years, I've learned that Apple's first version of most of their software is often a bit problematic. I spent a lot of time in Final Cut Pro 1.0, and felt like the projects I was creating were like houses built out of matchsticks, whereby one soft wind would send the whole thing tumbling down. Subsequent versions have stabilized the program substantially. Aperture 1.0 was the same thing: slow, clunky and prone to misfiring. I just loaded 2.0, and whoa! Nice upgrade. Fast, smooth, and some terrific integration with iPhoto.

So my history with Apple's 1.0's worries me a little about Time Machine, especially after my Backup experience (which somehow made it to version 3 without being any more useful than an umbrella in the Antarctic). But the reviews of Time Machine are pretty positive, and my guess is that by the time I need another serious reinstall of my data, Time Machine will have received regular upgrades and be just dandy, because it is a very slick idea and very high profile. I'm sure Apple will be paying close attention to it to make sure it doesn't have much in the way of the 1.0 jiggies.

Anyway, whatever you do, if you have pictures, music, spreadsheets, videos, letters, even programs that you really don't want to ever see evaporate into thin air, do yourself a favor. Create a backup strategy. Most computer users should either have two drives as part of their system, or at the least use something like .Mac or their iPod to backup their critical data. As mentioned above, Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper! are also great choices and are highly recommended. In case of a complete meltdown, it would actually be easier to restore with either of those programs than Time Machine. But Time Machine is hard to beat when it comes to looking for old docs that have disappeared for whatever reason.

Let me tell you, even if you do run into a problem but are able to salvage all your stuff... it's still a major pain in the tuchis to replace it all and get some of the applications reloaded and so on. So the more thorough you can be in your backup strategy, the sooner you'll be up and running as if nothing happened.

So if you aren't backing up, just imagine every keystroke you make as a tap-tap-tap of a hammer on that warhead. Do you really want to be responsible for blowing up Kansas, Chicago or Boston?

(Um. you have to know the 70s rock scene to get that groaner)
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