Please do this one thing to start the new year

The downtime between semesters is a great time to do “digital hygiene”-type tasks. One of the big ones that everyone should be doing—especially those of us who make things with computers for a living—is to back up everything we do. I have had more than one student in this calendar year who lost work due to a computer problem. There are a lot of different backup strategies, but I think for those of us who work regularly on a portable computer, online backup is a must. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Cloud sync services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive are great, and they are backup-adjacent, but cloud sync is not backup. They serve a different function, and you can and should have both.
  2. Local backups are also great. If you have a Mac, the built-in Time Machine on your computer is excellent and easy. But local backup drives have some important drawbacks. Notably, you have to make sure they’re plugged in and working all the time (not trivial for a laptop!). They are subject to the same kinds of failures as the internal drives of your computer. And lastly, they are subject to theft and disasters (eg. fires, spilled coffee) that online backups avoid. They can be fast to restore from, which is great in an emergency, but again, you should have both.
  3. File history is a feature of any good online backup service, and it can save your butt in all kinds of user-error situations. Raise your hand if you’ve ever overwritten a file and lost the original because you thought you were editing a copy (🙋‍♂️). A 30-day history is a good start, but a few months or a year is even better.

About a month after I finished my D.M.A., my computer died. It was the desktop computer that had gotten me through my masters and doctorate at Michigan State. The only reason I have any of my compositions, performance recordings, or even class work, from before 2012 is that I had an online backup service.

I’ve used a few different services over the years, but the one I like the most now is Backblaze. It is the easiest $70 I spend every year (their annual rate). It includes unlimited data storage, and you can add a year+ of file history for something like $2/month. Here is a nice referral link you can use if you want to get an extra month or two free (and I will too). No pressure though! Feel free to not use this, or use another backup service. The imporant thing is that you have some online backup running!

Please—I am begging you—start 2023 right with a good backup plan for your files.