Backup Your Backups

I’ve mentioned before about how important it is to have backups in place – to carry spare equipment, and to have a method for archiving your work.  I’m pretty good about this sort of thing generally, but an incident the other weekend made me stop and think a bit, and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.

I set out very early on Sunday morning to go and do what I hoped would be about 30 quick miles on the bike.  Not just for the exercise, but because I need to work on the route for this year’s 33 Boroughs charity ride, and I wanted to get used to using Strava, and see how easy the route is to follow.  I’d got as far as Woolwich – about 6 miles in – when I heard a funny noise behind me, and realised I’d got a flat tyre.

Small diversion here – about 4 years ago I had 4 punctures in 6 weeks, and in a rage went out and bought a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus kevlar tyres.  I’ve not had a puncture since, although I’ll admit they’re a bit heavier and slower than normal road tyres.  I was concerned recently that since the inner tubes had been in there for more than 4 years that they might be perishing or wearing out in some way, but I was assured by more experienced cyclists than myself that this wouldn’t happen.

Of course, that’s exactly what had happened once I got the tyre off – the inner tube had given way around the valve.  Wet, and dirty, but not too pissed off, I took my spare out from my saddle bag, and began the process of replacing it.  This took a lot longer than it should, and I began to think there was something wrong with my pump.  It took quite a while to realise that in fact, the spare inner tube was the problem, as it too had perished.  It had been sitting there in my saddlebag for about 4 years as well.

Perished Inner Tube
That hole below the valve may be small, but it can ruin your Sunday morning!

Cue a 6 mile walk home in cycling shoes, and a slightly disappointing Sunday.

The other week I was shooting up in Lincolnshire for those nice chaps at Golf Monthly, a mix of reportage stuff and some location portraits, as well as some video.  One of my Profoto B1 heads was in for repair, and since I knew there wouldn’t be too many demands on them, I opted just to use my flashguns for the first time this year.  I’d had the SB900 on top of the camera for a couple of hours, but only as a fill light, and then set it up in a softbox for the portraits.  I kept getting lots of dark frames, and assumed it was the Pocket Wizards, as they have Alkalines in, rather than rechargeables, only to discover it was the batteries in the SB900.  I hadn’t charged them since I’d last used the flashgun, which was about a month ago, so they’d steadily drained away.  No major problem, as I carry lots of spares, but a bit of a schoolboy error.

Last April I had one of the more unpleasant experiences of my professional life when I suffered a major computer crash.  It shouldn’t have been a big deal, except that when I came to reinstall my accounts software I found that for more than 2 years the backup had been pointing at the wrong file, rather than the current one.  This meant I was faced with rebuilding a huge pile of accounts BY HAND, entry after entry.  This, I should point out, isn’t fun.  It’s not much fun the first time round, but it’s distinctly less fun the second.

RAID Drives - essential for backups
These things are very expensive, but only really work properly if you’ve bothered to set everything up right….

The moral of the story is, having backups and contingency plans is all very well, but have you actually checked them out and thought them through?  When was the last time you checked the spare inner tube you carry?  How long since those spare rechargeable batteries were charged up?  Is your backup software actually doing EXACTLY what it’s supposed to?  I’m sure there will be dozens of examples in your own workflow that could do with a bit of attention, so please, let me go and make stupid, painful mistakes and walk 6 miles home in the rain, and you can have the pleasure of learning without getting your hands dirty.

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