Going paperless & backing up data

My latest project was to find a way to safely back up our home data. The pictures of Alex are by far the most important, but we also recently decided to go paperless. Paperless means everything that would have been in a filing cabinet, or more accurately in a giant pile next to our filing cabinet, was scanned into our computer using our new Cannon 3000ex scanner.

PDF Creator: The only thing in our way of true paperless-ness was the need to print out web receipts or online credit reports in order to then scan them into our computer. Open Source to the rescue… I found this great program called PDF Creator. Once installed it works just like a printer, except it writes a PDF to your disk instead of using paper. Try it out… Save a tree…

Having recently lost a number of family photos to a hard drive melt down I was sufficiently motivated to get backups working. Here's what I did:

  1. I bought a Western Digital 160GB USB 2.0 External Drive for $117 on tax free day in MA.

  2. Per my brothers recommendation I downloaded an Open Source Synchronization/Backup tool called Unison.

Unison is very slick. Basically you write a short property file (called a profile) that describes what you want backed up, and then you call Unison and pass it the name of the property file. The doc on the Unison website is very good.

Backing up turned out to take a while since I had about 95GB of docs, pictures and music, so I decided to have three separate backup profiles. Documents, pictures and music. Below is an example of the "documents" backup profile. In it you can see how I keep it from backing up pictures and music so that I can do that separately.

## my_documents_backup.prf
## This is the backup script tht backsup everything in My Documents
## except pictures and Music it was created 2005-08-21 by russelldad.
## to call this profile type `unison my_documents_backup`
##at the command line
label = My Documents backup script

## take the stuff from here
root = C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/My Documents/
## and synk it to here (the external drive)
root = K:/my_documents/

## this tells unison to make `root = K:/my_documents/` an
## exact copy of the source location. I only use this property
## when backing up music files since the directories often get
## reordered. without this force command I'd end up with
## multiple copies of my music in both locations. With it, I get
## an exact mirror of my music files.
## so just to be clear, this force command doesnt belong
## in this property file, but its an important tidbit
## from another one, so I driped in into the blog
force = C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/My Documents/

auto = true
batch = true

## Changes under this directory will get backed up
backup = Name *

## this is where the backups will go
backupdir = K:/backups/

## files under this director will not have their
## changes backed up
backupnot = Path My Music

## dont backup My Music
ignore = Path My Music
ignore = Path My Pictures
ignore = Path My Videos

## 10 backups will be kept of a changed file
maxbackups = 10

## make unison log everything
log = true

I put shortcuts on my desktop to batch files with the unison calls to the different profiles, and now we just click the shortcut and the data gets backed up. I could have put them on a cron job, but our computer is in standby mode a lot due to a heating issue. Stay tuned they'll be power tools involved in fixing that one...

So that’s it. If either my computer or the backup drive dies, I immediately copy the contents of the other drive somewhere else. And because I lost them once, and am now a bit neurotic, I keep DVD backups of the family pictures.