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Burning a Backup
By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

We had a little scare the other day. Returning home at the end of the day we noticed a plume of white smoke rising from our neck of the asphalt and concrete woods. A fire.

The disaster recovery guys subsequently told us that the rainy season breeds more fires than any other, because it taxes household electrical systems. But we didn't appreciate that at the time. We were wondering exactly where this particularly fire was burning.

As we got closer, we saw traffic turn into a parking lot on the main boulevard through our neighborhood. Police were soon at the major intersections opening holes like NFL linemen for the fire trucks to get to the scene.

Eight fire trucks for a two-alarm roof fire just a few steps (probably 30) from our front door, as it turned out. The wind, blowing south, sent the fire away from us to the roof of the neighbor three doors down.

"We actually use two offsite backups for our work in progress."

We joined the hundreds of people on the opposite side of the street to watch the fire crews douse the fire and rip off the roofs. A few thoughts also kept us company as we watched the debris pile up in the street.

The first was what the H all our backups were doing in the same place?!

You can insure and replace clothes, furniture, appliances, and kitchenware easily enough, but salvaging your photos is another matter. Fortunately, digital photographers can easily duplicate their own collections. Our method of choice is to burn a CD. In a CD burner, not a house fire.

Unfortunately, we were between off-site backup locations. We'd recently vacated our second in a year and hadn't yet found a new location. We're probably a little more attentive to this than the typical shutterbug because, well, this is earthquake country, too. Things happen.

The lesson, of course, is to store a backup of your work somewhere other than where the rest of it is stored. That might be a safety deposit box, a friend's home, a relative's country estate, anywhere ... else. It should be close enough that you can get to it often enough that the backup isn't too out of date if you ever actually need it, though.

"You can insure and replace clothes, furniture, appliances, and kitchenware easily enough, but salvaging your photos is another matter."

In our case, we recently rented a garage half an hour from here, so our off-sites went there. But we were tempted to consider, at least in the interim, some Web-based storage alternative. That would certainly have been accessible and easy to update. Reliable and spacious, we didn't know, though.

We actually use two off-site backups for our work in progress. One is the one that isn't (usually) here. The other is the one that is here but updated just before we leave to visit the off-site location. Once there, we simply swap the off-sites. So something is always off-site and regularly refreshed.

Of course, we were caught in an embarrassing position the other day. "Very close," a neighbor from the corner said as he shook his head. It was all we could do to nod.

But it reminded us of Peter Dale Scott's recent poem "Minding the Darkness" where he recounts this episode from the 1991 Berkeley Hills fire: "[the woman two doors down / had loaded her car to the roof / and now it was too late / to go back inside / and find her car keys]."

The Moral: Be prepared.