Are you backing up? You should be

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. A manuscript I’ve been working on is gone. It simply disappeared from my computer. How can that happen?

A. There are two kinds of people who experience data loss: those who have, and those who will. The risk of data loss is always present. There are countless ways to lose files from your computer or smartphone. It would take a book to catalog them all. A friend of mine recently crashed into this reality when he lost months of work. He thought he had done everything correctly. He backed up his data. He kept his computer up to date. He did not open attachments that flooded his inbox.

Like many disasters, a chain of small events, any one of which would be a nuisance on its own, lined up together to create a catastrophe. He accidentally selected multiple chapters in a document and touched a key. That wiped the chapters out. The deletion wasn’t obvious for a few hours. Auto-save wrote the changes to disk. The backup was only a few days old, but had never been tested. In this case, it was corrupt and the document could not be recovered.

This one example will almost certainly never happen to you. It will be a completely different series of events. And before you think that it can’t happen to you, think again. Because it will. The key is to maintain at least three copies of everything: Archive copies, local disk backups, and an off-site disk backup.

Archive copies are easy. Copy your most valuable files onto a USB key or a cloud disk like Dropbox.

Make local backups on a second hard disk. Turn on Time Machine on a Mac, or go to the System Maintenance Control Panel on Windows and follow the instructions under Backup and Restore.

Inexpensive off-site backups are possible if you have fast Internet service. The big three are Backblaze (, Carbonite ( and CrashPlan (

On an iPhone, turn on iCloud backup in Settings -> iCloud -> Backup. On Android, the screen is Settings -> Backup and Reset -> Back Up My Data.

Any one of these choices is better than none, but if you follow all three, your data is safe.

Q. I retired recently and plan to write a memoir. I used Microsoft Word for years at work, but I’d rather use something different now. Any suggestions?

A. The first word processor I used was PROFS, an ungainly mainframe-inspired monster that invaded corporate offices in the early 1980s. As the PC revolution gained momentum, what followed was a long line of word processors that never seemed to fulfill their initial promise. Each successive version added features, but none of them addressed the deeper problems that most writers need to solve.

The old word processors were better than typewriters and produced excellent paper manuscripts. However, documents longer than a few pages require the writer to organize vital scaffolding such as outlines, notes and revisions.

For the last 10 years my favorite writing tool is Scrivener, the first truly modern word processor. I ended my love/hate relationship with Word a decade ago without regret.

Scrivener does almost everything old style apps like Word can do, plus a whole lot more, for a fraction of the cost. A Scrivener document is a container that holds every scrap of a writing project. It can ingest existing documents and images into a binder, organize drafts, and publish the manuscript in a variety of file formats, including Word, PDF and ePub. Scrivener is the best tool for anyone who needs to professionally process words. It is available from for Mac or Windows.

Q. My bank requested I give them my cell phone number as part of signing up for online banking. Is that safe?

A. Not only is it safe, you should probably use two-factor authentication, as this technique is usually called, with every online service you wish to protect. Most major companies use some version of it, including Facebook, Apple, Gmail, Dropbox and many more.

The basics are simple. When you first log in to an online account with a correct password, the service will send you a temporary code via text message. Enter the code in much the same way you entered the password.

At this point, you have told the online service who you are plus two things you know. Hence the name two-factor authentication. Of course if you lose your cellphone, it is vital to suspend the service immediately. Despite the disadvantages, two-factor authentication is very useful.

Wander the Web

Backup Redux

This article is a good starting point to learn more about backup services. There is plenty of detail if you need to dive that deep, but there is also a reasonable overview of the basics for people who want to keep it simple.

The View from Above

This collaboration between Time Magazine and Google presents a collection of time-lapse images taken by satellite. They include a collection of well-known places such as Las Vegas and the Columbia Glacier. You can also search for new places to explore.

Virtual London

This is a great way experience London. The website presents a map of about 30 different places with panoramic images. Places like St. Paul’s Cathedral and the view from atop the London Eye. All of them are captivating.

Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at