The sods of the copybook headings

Well, I have just learned something interesting. If you are going to make backups onto CD, it’s not enough to make them regularly, keep backups of the backups, and so on: it’s also important not to use cheap bulk CDs. I just had occasion to go through a whole stack of backups from the years 1999 and 2000. Of the twenty or so disks I had made, three were still readable in their entirety: the ones made by Hewlett-Packard. All the ones labelled “Targa”, that I had picked up cheap, feeling clever, are riddled with errors.

So, if you need the data, pay good money for good disks. If you don’t need the data, why are you saving it?

The other lesson, as pointed outmany years ago by Rupert, is to use zip as your only backup format. I have about 120gb of backups made, carefully, devoutly, under Windows 98, in a format which can’t be read by any later operating system. Aren’t computers wonderful?

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5 Responses to The sods of the copybook headings

  1. Pete says:


    If you’re talking about backing up essentially text then the answer is simple – store it online as the network will always be readable by any system in the future.

    Simple/cheap solution: Get yourself several free email accounts and email multiple copies of your documents to all of them. You can password protect your files for security and if something goes wrong you’ll have multiple sources to recover from.

    Better/more expensive: Talk to a company that hosts data professionally.

    I don’t trust CDs here in the tropics as they go mouldy in no time. All my music gets ripped to the hard disk for everyday playback and the original CDs are kept in an air-conditioned office elsewhere. Only copy CDs are played in the car as it can reach +70C inside.

  2. acb says:

    This is possible now. But it wasn’t a sensible solution really, until gmail came along ith essentially unlimited storage.

    Besides, I don’t know that it’s a long-term plan. Even large ISPs can suddenly vanish, and take all their data with them. Look at Compuserve. When AOL bought it, all the forums, and all the informaiton in them, vanished overnight. Only those people who had kept offline backups were all right.

  3. Rupert says:

    Did I say that? Golly, I was smart once.

    Backups – in any form – are only any good at the moment you’ve successfully read them back. From that point on, they start to decay: you just don’t know the half-life.

    If I were inventing a truly bomb-proof backup system, I’d make it free, open source and peer to peer, so you’d store chunks of your data encrypted in multiple places on other volunteer PCs. You’d be allowed to store as much data as you were prepared to donate free disk space – so if you wanted to have 1GB stored eight times, you’d need 8GB. Or perhaps a little more, I’d have to think about the maths. With broadband, there’d be little overhead in checking for integrity daily (or more often) and duplicating chunks that haven’t appeared for a few days.

    I think that this would last as long as the Internet was a functioning entity and could survive any plausible disaster that didn’t render it pointless anyway, with the exception of a targetted attack on a coding vulnerability.


  4. Pete says:

    @ Andrew

    I said several mail accounts but I should have said multiple suppliers. As for suppliers going AWOL that is also covered by redundancy of multiple suppliers. FWIW, there are now shed loads of free mail services with fat allowances and some of them pre-dated gmail.

    @ Rupert

    No need to reinvent the wheel; “freenet”:

  5. Rupert says:

    Freenet’s more a publishing system, though. Looking around, there are some systems that have either been and gone or are promised (HiveCache), but nothing that’s quite what I’m thinking of – which looks to the user like a disk drive that never forgets.


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