Of Belts and Suspenders

All too often, I hear about some unfortunate ham who lost their computer-based log files due to some hardware or software failure. I don’t know about you, but just the thought of losing a decade or more of QSO data gives me the chills. 

Back in my working days as a Systems Engineer, I was called upon a few times to develop contingency plans for large computer systems and networks. While working on those projects, I would continually ask myself, “What would we do if…” 

As a result of all that, I still think about backup plans and backups for those backups. One customer once told me I was a belt and suspenders kind of guy; one method of holding up my pants just wasn’t enough.

The Problem in a Nut Shell

Storing your log files—or any data that’s important to you—in one place is a recipe for disaster. Hard drives can and do fail. (Been there, done that.) If your log file only exists on that failed hard drive, you’re out of luck.

The obvious solution is to keep a copy of your log somewhere other than your hard drive. I’ve had computers fail on me a few times over the years, and I was thankful I had backup copies of my important files.

External Storage Media

The easiest way to backup your log files is to create copies of them on removable storage media, such as an external hard drive, USB flash drive, or SD memory card. 

The cost of storage devices has dropped significantly over the years. You can get a 1TB external hard drive these days for less than $50. I have a 1T USB-connected drive that I use to backup all of my data, including my log files. 

If you’re just concerned with backing up your log files, a USB flash drive or an SD memory card is an inexpensive way to go. I often see 32GB flash drives for less than $10. I also use a thumb drive for an extra nightly backup of my logs. (Remember the belt and suspenders thing?)

If you’re an N3FJP ACLog user, you have an easy way to back up your logs. You can configure ACLog to save a backup each time you close the program. So, if you attach an external storage device (flash drive, SD memory card, etc.) to your computer, your backups will happen automatically. I do this with SD memory cards on each of my laptops. So, when I’m logging in the field with no Internet access, I’m still backing up my logs. More belts and suspenders. 

Off-Site Storage

Back in the day, the computer systems I worked with regularly transported copies of their backups to another location across town. These off-site backups ensured that copies of data would survive a catastrophic event in the computer room. Hopefully, none of us ever face that situation.

For off-site storage, you could make a copy of your log data on removable media and take it to another location for safe-keeping. I’m too lazy for that. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, however, there are ways to do this electronically—and for free.

An easier way is to use cloud-based storage. There are several cloud storage providers, and most of them offer a no-cost option. I use Dropbox and Google Drive for my ham radio logs.

I keep my main log files (N3FJP ACLog and SKCC Logger) in a Dropbox folder that gets replicated to all of my computers. This approach allows me to run those logging programs on any of my computers using the same database. It also keeps a copy on Dropbox’s server.  For good measure, I also backup my logs to Google Drive. (There are the belt and suspenders again.) 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Logbook of the World as an off-site backup method. If you routinely upload to LoTW, you have a backup of at least the rudimentary information about your QSOs (callsign, date, time, band, mode, etc.). In my case, there is information in my logs that isn’t captured by LoTW. So, restoring from LoTW would be the last resort for me.

My approach to backing up my logs might be overkill, but I can always restores my logs in the event of a computer failure.
My approach to backing up my logs might be overkill, but I can always restore my logs in the event of a computer failure.

Making It All Happen

I make nightly backups of all my logs to an external hard drive, a thumb drive, and Google Drive. If I was disciplined enough, I could manually copy the necessary files to all three locations. Knowing me, though, that probably wouldn’t be a very reliable option.

So, I use backup software to automate all that. I use a paid version of SyncBakSE, but there are lots of other options available. I know Windows has a built-in backup capability, for example, but I have no experience using it.

Wrap-Up

Admittedly, my approach is somewhat overkill, bordering on paranoia. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same; I’m just offering up some possibilities for your consideration. 

Regardless of how you do it, please make regular backup copies of your logs or any other data that’s important to you. Someday, if your computer goes belly-up, you’ll be awful glad you did.

73, Craig WB3GCK

4 thoughts on “Of Belts and Suspenders”

  1. Backups are invaluable. External hard drives, if powered down when not in use, last and last and last. I have some that are well over 10 years old and are still going strong. But multiple backups are even better than single ones. Here’s what I do for the computer I’m using right now.
    I have two external hard drives. Each has four partitions: one small one for each of three operating system versions, minimal installations for three generations, with nothing much but repair software on each of them. Booting up on one of these can let me repair directory damage easily and quickly.
    The fourth partition, the lion’s share, is for data storage; downloaded software installers and such go there, as well as my backups (plural). I use dedicated backup software which can make incremental backups. Incremental backups are quick because all they have to do is discard things no longer on the main computer hard drive, add new things, and replace modified things; unaltered things just sit there. I make these backups in sparse bundle format so several of them with different file names can live side-by-side without getting in each other’s hair. One of my two external drives has seven such sparse bundle backup files, for the last seven odd numbered days. The other has seven for the last seven even numbered days. Each evening before shutting the computer down I connect the appropriate hard drive depending upon whether the date is odd or even, and update the fourteen day old file. That way if I wish I hadn’t discarded or modified some file, say five days ago, I can go retrieve it quickly. If I wait fifteen days before I wish I had an old file back, it’s too late though!
    Hard drives inside computers, even SSDs, do go belly-up — the question is not whether, but when. When this happens you can restore yesterday’s backup to your newly installed internal drive in a hurry. (You boot up on one of the other three partitions, the ones with minimal operating system and repair software on them, to do the restoration.) As to important things less than 24 hours old, that’s where something like Dropbox comes into play.
    There are two kinds of computer users: those who have been making backups, and those who from now on will!
    David VE7EZM and AF7BZ

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Strange how variations in a country’s language converts existing phrases. I originally thought your customer misquoted the ‘Belt and Suspenders’. Here in the UK we would say ‘Belt and Braces’ as both hold up trousers (ie your pants) as suspenders hold up another piece of apparel, usually worn by ladies, but then I see in the US you call ‘braces’ ‘suspenders’. Enjoying your blogs…

    Like

    1. Thanks, Steve. I had forgotten about the term “braces” in the UK. As they say, we are two countries divided by a common language. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words about the blog. 73, Craig

      Like

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