Backing up, backing up, backing up, backing up

What do you use for backing up your computer files? I’ve had a number of close calls in my academic career, and so I compulsively back everything up. Here’s how I do it:

First, I keep multiple revisions of my thesis in folders on my own personal computer. So I have the first revision of my thesis in a folder marked with the date I started it, and then when I make changes to it, I just copy the whole thesis folder and change the date. That way, if I really mess it up somehow and then push “save” by accident, the previous version is there, at least.

The next level of backing up is my periodic Time Machine backups. At the risk of sounding like an Apple commercial, I do actually like the way that my computer backs up my files. I just plug in the hard disc, and click on the little clock in my menu, and then it backs up all the files on my computer. This particular piece of software has saved me a number of times that I can think of. It is, in fact, one of the top five reasons why I would be reluctant to switch to Linux as my main computer of choice—there just isn’t any really comparable backup software that I could find.

That said, if someone wants to enlighten me as to some software for Ubuntu that does what Time Machine does—backs up the computer’s entire hard disc onto an external hard disc, and gives a nice interface for restoring old files, only backs up files that have been modified and doesn’t do anything weird—then please leave a comment!

What’s nice about using the Time Machine backup is knowing that even if someone were to steal my computer while I’m at the library or something like that, I would still have a copy of it in my backup at home.

The highest level of paranoia that I reach is that every once in a while, when I remember, I compress the most recent revision of my thesis into a .zip file, and then upload that to my Google Documents account.

This way, even if my apartment were to burn down and both my computer and external hard disc were destroyed in the blaze, my thesis would be alive and well, in the cloud.

Do you back up your files? How? Four points for anyone who has a more elaborate backup scheme than me!

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

5 thoughts on “Backing up, backing up, backing up, backing up”

  1. Personally I use to keep an extra ongoing backup of all my research an thesis files in addition to copies of every revision(you’re not the only paranoid one) and DVD copies of everything. Not sure if dropbox works with Linux but it might be worth checking out (let me know if you want a referral–you get extra space).

  2. My thesis (writing and code) is stored in git which I periodically push to github. ( If you want everyone to be able to see your stuff, its free, but I pay the $7/month so I can sleep at night.

    Personal documents are stored on dropbox ( I periodically copy my files from the my hard drive into my dropbox folder. Its free unless you need insane amounts of space. And you can get extra space for referring your friends (here’s my code:, being referred by a friend, having an email address at a University/College or by completing the dropquest which is just plain fun (

    It requires me to manually think to copy stuff and think of which version I’ve put up there, but you could also just work out of your dropbox directory or set up scripts to automatically copy over important docs every night.

    You might also like but I haven’t tried that myself.

  3. Here’s what I do.

    1. Use Google Documents for all my newly created documents. Available anywhere I have a browser and backed up implicitly. Also contains revisioning by default.

    2. Use DropBox. This creates a cloud-based backup of everything and is accessible from any internet-connected device. I store any file on my computer here. This is also an excellent way to get up and going with a new machine. Switching to a new machine recently meant that I simply had to install dropbox, allow it to download my files and away I went. This is also extrememly useful if you have multiple machines or need non-cloud based file sharing. All the files I have ever created (except photos and videos) fit into my 5gb dropbox. You can earn your way up to this amount of free space.

    3. I also use time machine. As simple as you described it. Note: you should really store your backup drive away from your house. I almost got burned on this when our laptops were stoled from our apartment. Thankfully, my backup drive wasn’t taken. The thieves could have really screwed me if so. Recovering from the backup was as simple as plugging in time machine.

    I guess my one recommendation to you: use dropbox

  4. I’ve started using Dropbox, but I think that storing my hard discs away from my apartment would be impractical.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

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