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A backup wake-up call

30 Jan

Last night I received a nasty reminder from my computer on the importance of having a good backup.

It was around 10 o’clock and I had just finished working on my family history for the night and started my nightly backup routine. I synchronised my family history files to my USB flash drive, my grab and run emergency backup (and netbook synchroniser).

I started the synchronisation to my external hard drive and was met with a couple of error messages, to the effect that the external hard drive didn’t exist. Surely there must be some mistake, I thought, it had probably been assigned the wrong drive letter.

I opened Windows Explorer and there it was, with the correct drive letter and it looked like all the folders were there. As I drilled down I found each folder was in fact empty. All my files had gone.

I stopped and thought about it, this was my backup, I still had the original files on my PC and my USB flash drive. There were a few non-genealogy files lost that didn’t really matter, but the external hard drive stores all my digital photos. Fortunately they are all backed up on DVD and stored off-site, so I hadn’t lost anything important, it would just be annoying to have to replace the external hard drive and start again.

But something still didn’t seem right, surely the files couldn’t just disappear and leave the folders where they are, that didn’t sound like hard drive failure? The more I thought about it the more it didn’t seem right. Something told my they were still there but I couldn’t see them.

So I did the most obvious thing and rebooted my PC. Of course when the system came back up all the files were there present and correct. I ran my backups successfully and shut the system down.

Does this mean my external hard drive is on the way out or is my PC getting it’s USB connections confused? I don’t know, but it sure made me stop and think. I would consider my backup regime pretty good, but those few minutes of lost data really made me wonder if it would all work if I had to restore my files.

Not only am I going to give my external hard drive a thorough going over, I am going to review what is actual stored on it. I shall probably burn a couple more copies of my digital photos and hide them away somewhere else. Truth is I can probably delete a load of those photos, just because I have the space to store them isn’t an excuse for not going through and deleting the rubbish.

No genealogy again!

12 Dec

Today is the second Saturday in a row where I have not really done any family history work.

Today was mainly devoted to getting my new PC up and running, and this is the first post written using my (nearly) new PC and Windows Live Writer, which must mean that everything is working properly.

There wasn’t really any problem with installing everything, I have all the CDs and licences, but what was really time-consuming was getting everything set up just the way I like it.

Family Historian is the best example, there are so many different settings and customizations that you can do, it took forever to get it back to what I am used to.

Apart from removing a couple of bits from my old PC (the CD/DVD writer and USB expansion card) it is now sitting unwanted on the floor. I’m not sure what I will do with it, I am reluctant to throw it away, but I’m not sure anyone else would get any further use from it either.

I’ve just remembered one thing I haven’t plug in and installed yet, that is my printer/scanner/copier. I am hoping not to use the printer too much, but the scanner I couldn’t live without.

Perhaps once I have that up and running I can spend a bit of time on my family tree, on second thoughts, perhaps I have spent enough time on my various computers today.

How to get ahead in filing

3 Dec

I made a big dent in my filing today, my stuff to sort folder is looking a lot thinner tonight. I have to confess though, I cheated.

I took advantage of the scanner at work, and whizzed through forty or fifty A4 pages of notes and various other prints. The beauty of this scanner (actually it is a photocopier, scanner, fax and printer) is that it is quick, has a document feeder and best of all converts the images into a PDF file. The drawback is that it is not a very high resolution and only scans in black and white, but it is good enough for handwriting or print.

So now I have a stuff to sort folder on my PC as well, but it will be much easier to work through on the PC, and takes up less space than the paper folder.

I think I am going to make an effort to get the physical folder emptied by the end of the week. There is not a lot left, and I need to get it out of the way so that I have space to put my new PC on the desk, plus I am sure you are sick to death of hearing about my stuff to sort folder.

In search of a new scanner

2 Dec

I am after a new scanner, mainly for family history purposes of course.

At the moment I have a Hewlett Packard printer/scanner/copier which serves most of my needs. It is a little on the slow side, and the software is not as user-friendly as I would like, but I can live with it.

The thing it doesn’t do is scan slides and negatives. My parent’s attic is full of slides, and I would dearly love to have digital copies of them. I don’t know what the life span of a slide is, but it is a safe bet they won’t last for ever and a digital copy would a better chance of survival.

Ideally my new scanner will be portable, or at least more portable than my current set-up. I envisage visiting relations (not just my parents) armed with my netbook and a scanner and just plugging them in and being able to scan anything that gets thrown at me, from A4 pages to slides and negatives.

In terms of price, I appreciate that you get what you pay for, but I have a limited budget, I spend enough on my family history already! Current favourite is the Canon CanoScan 5600F, the price looks about right for my budget, but it looks a bit too bulky.

So I am asking you for your recommendations. What sort of scanner do you have? Is there anything on the market that is going to meet all my needs without me having to spending a fortune? Is there any advantage in getting two separate scanners, one flatbed A4 and one slide and film scanner? What do you use for your scanning? Let me know in the comments.

Introducing the GenTower

21 Nov

This is my new PC (codename: GenTower) and it has one purpose in life, to be my genealogy PC. As you can see it is not really new, that is rather given away by the presence of a 3½” floppy drive on the front.

Introducing the GenTower

Interestingly I have never bought a new PC in my entire life, only a new netbook. All my other PCs have either been second-hand or upgraded from existing PCs. I just can’t bear to throw away a PC that is still working, without at least pulling parts out of it for re-use.

The truth is that most of what I will use it for is not going to be that demanding, it doesn’t need an expensive graphics card or a water-cooled processor for viewing census images. What I do need is more memory and a newer operating system than my current PC provides.

It already has more memory than my current PC, but importantly it has the capacity for more, so I will probably add the maximum I can over the next few months, dependant on the price of course.

The hard drive is a reasonable 80GB, which doesn’t sound a lot these days, but knowing that my family history files all still fit on a 4GB memory stick makes me think that 80GB will probably be sufficient for the time being, unless I happen to come across a large hoard of family photos that need scanning.

It has a DVD player, but I will probably swap that with the DVD writer from my current PC. I can’t actually see much use for the 3½” floppy drive, although I do still have some old DOS games on 3½” disks, but I expect they are probably unreadable now anyway.

For some strange reason I am overcome by the desire to have a 5¼” floppy drive in the machine as well. I don’t really know why, I can’t imagine that I would ever use, but I think it would be really cool just to have it sitting there alongside the DVD writer.

The operating system on the GenTower is Windows XP Pro, which is a step up from the Windows 2000 that I have on my current PC. I know I am still a couple of operating systems behind, but XP should be good enough to keep me going for another couple of years at least, and at least now I will have a PC that will be capable of handling a newer operating system.

Most of the software I need will be removed from my old PC and re-installed on the new one. Having Windows XP will give me a greater choice of software to use, because so much new software doesn’t support Windows 2000 and several online services don’t support Windows 2000 either, like Dropbox.

Before I can start using it there is much to be done, in it’s previous life the GenTower was a business machine and today, after having a good look around it’s hard drive, I decided that best option was to do a complete restore, back to it’s original factory settings.

That has cleared out a lot of rubbish, but it has also cluttered it up with a few bits of unwanted and out-dated software (like Norton Anti-Virus 2004), so my next task is to remove all that, get some fresh virus and firewall protection on it and then plug it in to the internet.

Then I will point it to the Microsoft Update website and let it spend several hours updating everything in sight. Only then will it be ready for me to plug in all my other devices and start cluttering up the hard drive with my family history.


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