Awesome Conferences

Disaster Recovery for our Loved Ones

I never thought I'd be recommending gifts for the holidays but I recently had a realization. The gift I can give everyone I love is the gift of making sure they have their PC or laptop backed up, and making sure that in a medical emergency I have the information that I need. In the digital age, there is no greater gift of love.

Neither is very difficult if you follow these tips.


In the last year I've helped more than a few people recover from destroyed harddrives and/or laptops. Most of the "help" I had to provid was a shoulder to cry on because they had no backups. As non-technical people they didn't see the need for backups ("It won't happen to me!"). As technical people, it is our job to educate them about the importance of backups and help them set up a solution.

The solutions used to be complicated, but now it's a lot easier: Buy an external USB or Firewire hard drive that is 2x larger than their computer's drive. Set up something like CMS's BounceBack Pro (which is extremely fast on a Mac. Incremental backups in less than 7 minutes on my system. Much slower on my Windows box, which I have to kick it off and let it run while I sleep). Give them an icon on their desktop that kicks off the backup. Better yet, configure it to activate when the button is pressed on the external hard disk. Explain to them that once a week they should press the pretty button. (If the external disk is big enough, split it in two and have two sets of backups.)

Personal backups are different than business backups. I feel off-site backups are less important for people. In my experience, personal data is lost not because backups were destoryed but because there were no backups in the first place. Anything that complicates the process of backing up data makes it more difficult to do, and therefore less likely that backups will be done. Focus on simplicity, not on fancy features or schemes.

Of course, you must test any configuration you set up. In fact, if you really love this person you will visit them a week later to make sure the configuration still works. Know what I mean? I knew that you would.

Having an external hard disk larger than my PC's drive can only be described as "liberating". Previously backing up my PC was a pain. I would spend an hour figuring out what not to back up, or how to cram what I wanted to back up onto a set of DVDs. I don't think I ever did it the same way twice, which means the backups I had done are most likely useless. With a disk bigger than your PC's disk everything is different: Just backup "all" and be done with it. Less thinking, less planning, less work.

A 300G external hard drive can be bought for about $200. They usually come with some kind of backup software, though upgrading to the full version is often worth it.

Medical information

In the last 10 years, I've had many loved ones that needed emergency medical service and in every case I felt powerless as medical personel asked us questions that I didn't know the answer to. For example: Do you know all the precriptions your partner is on? More specifically... If your girlfriend is on the pill, do you know which pill she's on? Sure, you could run to the medicine cabinet and check, but that doesn't help you when you are already in the emergency room.

The solution to this problem comes from a surprising place: ACM's "Queue" magazine! In the article Better Health Care Through Technology Mache Creeger explains

When they go to a physician for the first time, the doctor or nurse struggles to extract a viable medical history. Critical issues are often omitted or incorrectly captured. Extending health and subsequently life in the face of increasing complex illness requires efficient capture and management of medical information. To address this deficiency, I integrate all pertinent medical facts into a single set of summary documents. The patient walks in, hands the doctor the summary, and then waits for any questions. If the job is done right, the only questions will be about the patient's current health status.

The article details what information to maintain in these documents. Keep a copy in the car, on a hidden web page, or maybe on your PDA. But here's the interesting thing: He keeps the documents on a computer with a fax modem because, "(fax seems to be the lingua franca of the medical community). " I have an account with eFax that lets me fax PDFs from anywhere I can upload them to their site. He points out "although ERs have computers, e-mail accounts are usually not accessible, and staff is discouraged from using Internet browsers."

While there are privacy concerns, I would even consider putting such documents on a Google Writely page. At least then it is password protected but available from anywhere I can find a web browser. I can even bookmark it on my PDA's web browser.


When we think of "Disaster Recovery" it usually is in terms of spending thousands or millions of dollars at work. With these tips we can all mitigate or better manage the kinds of personal disasters that affect our loved ones.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Ideas

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

1 Comment | Leave a comment

I think offsite backups are become a much bigger possibility now with the numerous cloud backup services available.

I've has the misfortune of using a popular image backup solution a while back, and the boot cd was not compatible with my motherboard, so it did not recognise any of my hard drives.

Annoyed at the failed backup, I ran a clean install of windows, and restored my use files from dropbox, allowing me to fully restore them online.

I actually think for the domestic user, online/offsite services are much better as they make all the backups so it's not up to the user to make them manually.

Leave a comment