How often do you hear a story of an easy software solution to a widespread problem? If you leave your computer running (with sleeps) for days like I do, the back up program might never back up the most important files which are open. A skeptic developed a quick inexpensive answer, and we’re impressed. I hardly ever hear David enthused about software. He said, “I was building backup software I’d do it like this!” – Jo
Backing up Joanne’s inbox
Guest post by David Evans
Joanne’s old computer developed a very flaky main hard drive (HDD) last year, and died after a few fits and splutters. With donations from this blog (thank you!) she bought a new Windows computer, which works wonderfully, and seems much quicker mainly due to the solid state drive (SSD).
We’d been using Microsoft’s SyncToy to do daily backups, like a lot of technical trendies from around 2007. SyncToy just synchronizes your data with a backup folder, thereby making a backup in the usual file format, without needing a special back up program to recover backed up files. Last year it turned out Joanne’s old HDD was cajoled into running a bit longer so we got everything off it without resorting to backups, but it was good to know the backups were there.
At the time, reader Ashleigh popped up and offered copies of his backup program for Windows, QuickShadow. I was extremely busy at the time (just discovered the notch-delay solar theory, see the update below*), so I made a note of this backup program and promised to have a look when I wasn’t so rushed.
A few days ago I’d finished a paper for submission, and felt it was time (time for a change of topic, anyway). I installed QuickShadow, and had that rare moment of surprise (shock even!) because for once everything went better, and worked better, than I expected, so I thought I’d write this note.
Quickshadow is pretty much the program I’ve thought about building for myself. I develop software, and have been frustrated at backup software that is too complex, has a geeky interface with arcane terms or far too many options, doesn’t schedule backups automatically, doesn’t tell you what it is doing, use some weird file format, or otherwise needlessly sucks your time. So, thank you
The shortcomings with SyncToy
SyncToy’s main weaknesses are that (a) if you delete a file accidentally then it will delete it from its copy, and (b) it does not copy files that are open – in use by say Word or Excel. More critically, Joanne’s mail client is open all the time, and it keeps its files open when in use, so SyncToy rarely got to back up its data files. Joanne uses it to run the blog, it acts as her to do list, and it is of course her main communication tool. The Inbox perennially has 20,000 items (she laments she hasn’t figured out a good way to manage the volume).
QuickShadow — if I was building backup software I’d do it like this!
Quickshadow makes a backup copy of the selected bits of your hard drive on another drive, either locally or on a network drive. It does it automatically, continually, and efficiently in the background. It simply reproduces the file structure in the usual formats, very simple. By default it does not delete files when you do, keeping all the old stuff, so it is proof against accidental deletions. And crucially, it copies open (in use) files—yep, it really does (it’s a slightly difficult technical trick, but did it flawlessly in my testing).
Joanne’s computer and mine (they are identical, except mine is 6 months older) both have an SDD with all the programs and data, and an HDD that is just for backup and odd big stuff like photos and movies. By backing up daily all of the data on the SDD to the HDD, we are good against SDD or machine failure—just pull out the HDD and move it to a new machine. For theft or fire we have occasional offsite backups—but in 20+ years of computer use, the failures I’ve personally known about have all been failures of disks or computers.
Finally, Joanne’s Inbox is getting backup daily! Three days now. All automatic (or we’d forget, or put it off).
QuickShadow will even monitor your disk and backup every time you make a change. Simple to set up; the defaults are all about right IMHO. Select a file, and on the mouse menu (right click for most of you) there is an option to open a Windows Explorer window showing the backups of that file—very cool! And it keeps up to 10 old versions of the files that change, so it is easy to go back a few iterations, which is nice. It’s a mature commercial product, US$25 for the full version, free for a fairly capable version which does not include copying open files or auto scheduling.
Haven’t tried the network backup, but will when I install a NAS (when I get time, next year). One limitation: QuickShadow is limited to one scheduled time to run all backups or synchronizations, so cannot schedule different backups for different times (hint Ashleigh). Of course, that would complicate it a wee bit more.
UPDATE on the Solar Model
As will become clearer soon, despite the silence, I have been working pretty non-stop on climate stuff, mostly writing up papers for submission. The ND theory is one of three developments. To recap, the Notch Delay (ND) theory is only the second quantified physical explanation for global warming, its use of a delay overcoming previous objections to all solar theories that TSI and so on peaked in 1986 but warming continued until the mid to late 90s. The notch in the step response initially suggested a delay of one solar cycle was mandatory, but with help from readers, this was corrected to being possible, but not guaranteed by the notch. It doesn’t make much difference, the evidence for the delay still comes from several papers studying solar cycle length, and lags in correlations with Northern Hemisphere temperatures and solar activity. Updating the step response is not hard and will, I believe, lead to similar conclusions. Getting to it real soon now. : )