I’ve been using laptops pretty much since they became available. I need the portability, while the small footprint on the desktop – the real one, that is – is a bonus when it’s also cluttered up with cameras or lenses or whatever is going through testing at the time. For a least a decade or so back there, the pace of development was frenetic so there was always justification for upgrading on a regular basis, usually every two years. Then things slowed down – along with dramatic price reductions which usually saw you getting twice as much new laptop for what you’d paid previously – so there was less need to change. Consequently, my current laptop was heading towards its fifth birthday and I was just starting to think it might be time to replace it… when it took matters into its own hands. After a weekend away, I went to start it up… and nothing happened. Panic stations. After jabbing the power button a dozen or so times, the reality dawns that… something… is… not... right.
Now, of course, I back up stuff. I do it manually and I reckon I’m pretty disciplined about saving copies of files to the external archiver drive… but with one little blindspot. For a reason not even best known to myself, I don’t archive until a file is finished with… in other words, an article is fully completed or the editing of an image is all done. That means there could be quite a bit of work-in-progress floating around when your five-year-old laptop decides to call it a day. Quite a bit.
Although I live in small town, we’re fortunate enough to have an excellent local computer shop so it was into the ambulance with the unresponsive laptop which was hurriedly rushed into surgery. After an anxious wait, examining the racks of cables, connectors and card readers (what part of the word “standardisation” don’t we understand?), there was, inevitably, Good News and Bad News. The bad news was that my laptop was, indeed, cactus (a technical term meaning kaput), but the good news was that its hard drive was hale and hearty. In fact, here it is now in its own little hard casing with a USB connection so you can plug it into something else. Wow! Really? Yes, replies the computer technician, but I think we need to have a little chat. Uh oh. So, she says, it was really rather full (ah yes, well that’d be all those Phase One XF 100 MP test files I downloaded last Friday) and what have you been doing about making back-ups because there really shouldn’t be so much data sitting on your computer?
Now we all know about this, don’t we? That we really should only use a workstation – be it desktop or laptop – for actual work, and then everything else should be hived off to multiple back-ups. And that HDDs do have a finite lifespan – work on it being five years max – and so everything should be transferred on at, to be safe, four-yearly intervals. But how easy it is to let things slip. Back in my office, I realised that all my back-up drives were well past their use-by dates. All of them… and there’s a few too. And because we’re now dealing with just so much data – thanks to ultra-high res cameras and, for some, 4K video – a three terabyte drive is pretty much base spec.
The bottom line here – ahem – is that a back-up system that provides effective protection against all the likely risks costs money. But it has to be done and it has to be done properly, not piecemeal, no matter how much we think we know what we’re doing. Some of you may have chosen to ‘outsource’ these operations (although this isn’t entirely riskfree either), but it can be done effectively in-house provided you’re prepared to invest not only money, but time and effort. As somebody who came from the film era, having something physical to look at – such as a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive, which is the route I’m now taking – is re-assuring even if it is illogical.
But attitudes are a big part of this… most particularly the idea which seems to be hard-wired into the human psyche and can be summed up as, “it won’t happen to me”. Of course, we need to think this way in order to get out of bed each morning and, in the area of digital imaging, we’re even more convinced it won’t happen because it so rarely does. However, if this is because, like my laptops, we’ve been renewing at roughly two-year intervals, things could change now that we’re hanging onto hardware for much longer.
My computer technician’s advice about the potential of something breaking is very simple, “Don’t think ‘if’, think ‘when’.”
Like me, you’ve been warned.