Friday, May 31, 2013

I Got Your Six: Six Tips for Safeguarding/Recovering eData

You know this one: You're in the middle of either nowhere or chaotic everywhere. Suddenly, like manna from above, like the whisper of an extra-dimensional phantom artist's animus, an idea for a story forms. Good idea. Hell, a Hugo Award nomination idea. Hardly thought you had in you, but here...oh, man!

Now, you lunge for a pen and paper, or smart phone, or e-tablet, or a chapstick to write on your sleeve got nothing with which to etch. Suddenly there's not a blessed stylus in all the universe.

Hey, no worries. Because this idea is so astounding you can hardly believe you gave birth to said same. Surely, you will never, ever forget this plot line...this flash of blinding brilliance. Touched by the muse, you wuz. This? I can hear the usual mental machinations from here: "I totally got this!"

You rush somewhere to write down the idea...but, blank! And that feeling? It's times infinity when your computing device dies and destroys all your hard work and dreams. New tech just has it's own dangers. Heck, I remember getting my fingers caught in typewriter plattens, fer godz sake. Never forget: devious devices are devious.

It's a chilling loss for a writer to face the reality that your entire life's work is now nothing more than vanished electrons, leaving behind only a doorknob dead device. I'm all for "putting it out into the universe", but there's definitely a limit.

You throw back your face to the sky, like Number Six, and scream "I am not a computer, I am a free writer!"

Yet, alas Dear Data Prisoner, all 'tis gone: that idea, those writings, that body of work. Forever.

Maybe. You know, maybe even Number Six escaped the Village. Anything is possible. Like String Theory. Amirite?

Thank the human imagination for computers. And, damn it, too.

Fear not: my pals the Backup Beagles and I have got your six on this.

As I've spent several decades as an Information Security Consultant, a CISSP, and am certified to testify as a subject-area expert in Computer Forensics and Data Retrieval, I thought it might be of use to round up a few computer data safety Qs&As for the working writer. 

  1. When was your last backup?

    After 20+ years in Information Security I think I can wager that the most chilling (and yet most common) question I have to ask a distraught client is: "When was your last backup?"

    The above link points to a page on this issue written by Dave Mastic to his colleagues at the University of Notre Dame, Arts & Letters Computing Office. Listen to him. He knows where from he speaks.

  2. How Do System Back-Ups Work?

    Basics: Enable your operating system's back-up and restore functions. If you're using a Microsoft OS, peruse here. If you are working on a Macintosh OS, try this. If your machine is over five years me a message via comments. That gets complicated.

    And if you are working on prose, consider keeping a writable CD or DVD in your computer. Just before you step away from a project update, save a copy to that media. Saves a lot of e-tears.

  3. My hard drive contains my very life. How do I back up my drive so I could restore my setup just as it stands now?

    I do recommend doing a quarterly full drive backup to an external drive. The easiest method is use a well-known commercial full drive back-up utility. If you like to roll your own from your OS, here's the Microsoft how-to and the Macintosh how-to. Linux and UNIX folk, you're on your own...but we ole sysadmin pirates like it that way. Arrrgh.

  4. Are my data/notes/short story/novel-in-progress/life work really gone forever?
    Not necessarily. Data recovery technology has been with us for a long time now. And this magic is hardly only in the the hands of tech monk adepts. You can have the power to bring data back from the dead. Cool, eh?

    Note: If your data is suddenly missing or erased accidentally the very first thing you do is NOTHING. Stop writing data to that disk immediately. You can easily overwrite the sector where your "erased" data is stored.

    BTW: Data isn't immediately erased, it's just not visible to the filesystem you're usually looking at and sitting on the drive queued for reallocation. So don't start panicking and saving new things or using that computer much prior to a recovery attempt, because your sector of the computer universe is at overwrite risk. (Never thought I'd ever use that phrase in any context on a writer's blog , "overwrite risk"...heh.)

    I will say that Norton Utilities stills rocks the field for ease of use and is made to be safe and non-destructive to that ephemeral data lost (yet still extant) on disk. I've used Norton Utilities since version 0.99 (beta), and the first software company I consulted for was purchased by Symantec for their security warez, so I feel on firm ground in recommending this product for end-users.

    And please note, Thou Bravehearts, that free/cheap/shareware utilities certainly do exist for data recovery. A few are brilliant, a very few. But take extreme caution in deciding to use a recovery program that does not come backed by a warehouse full of hard-on support geeks that can take you by the hand through your hard drive's minefield. Not to mention, it's a trufax that some free recovery utilities are literally complete code-fails and sure to murder your media.

    Recovering data is much like playing the board game "Operation", make the wrong move by a fraction of a millimeter or input the wrong command and your data is NOW certifiably gone.

    I always advise caution in going at data recovery on your own without either a basic geeky grounding in disk technology, or a great friend that works in IT and loves you...loves you a lot, because data recovery can be tedious.

    If you have any further questions regarding basic data recovery, shoot me a comment.

  5. I use my computer's built-in backup/system restore. I'm good to go...right?


    Only cavets are: (a) If your machine is only set to run a system restore on rare occasion, don't hope running it will magically re-appear the doc you just closed while forgetting to save. Restores only bring your system back to the last run restore point. If that was last year, forget this method of returning anything you've done on that drive since then.

    (b) Do you have your OS's system restore/backup turned on and configured? If not, reference Item 1 above for how-to data.

    (c) Your hard-drive or whatever storage media is in good enough shape to run a restore. If your computer wakes up dead, that's different. If your data on that machine is uniquely stored on that boxen, and it is priceless, then you'll need to mortgage the hovel or your ride and call in a professional disk recovery crew. They cost a lot. After working to a certification in disk recovery for law enforcement, I now understand why.

    For the titanium-standard recovery geniuses, the wizards at Convar in Germany set the industry high mark. If they can't recover is gone to this world. Convar are the crew that recovered data from the disk fragments found in the rubble at World Trade Center Ground Zero.  So, take heart: the state of the art in data recovery is out there.

    Protip: If you truly need to go to Convar, remember to come with a pallet of Krugerrands for parsing your platten.

  6. Okay, so what do I do if the hard drive/data storage on my disk is entirely dead and beyond recovery, and all my life's work is lost?

    First, come here. *hugz*.

    Ahem. Remember how you've longed to purchase the latest and greatest newest gadget? Remember how you have at times longed as a writer to return to the days of halcyon as if there were an entirely new world before you ripe for biting into?

    The good news is that now...well, here's your chance.

Questions? Comment below.

Oh, and dear Clarion compatriots: if despite the best intentions in this weird e-world, you do have a sticky issue with lost data on your computer during the Clarion Write-A-Thon 2013, or have any general questions regarding data security, just shoot me a line via the comments section below. I'll try to help without exacerbating the situation.

One time free geek offer. For Clarion Write-A-Thon writers. Can't hurt.

Well, not hurt nearly as much as losing the single finest story concept of a new century. For eternity.