Back up if You Want to Move Forward


Forty years of removable storage media
(Photo credit:

This & That ― Vignettes of a Professional Journey
a column by Ines Bojlesen


This is not a driving lesson but a story about drivers, drives, and computing… backing up our work. It also illustrates “ancient” times when the computer tower housed a hard disk and one slot for a floppy disk.

There was a time in Brazil when we could have an “expert” build a machine according to our specifications, with parts manufactured by suppliers in different countries. As a result, motherboards often disagreed with other parts and could freeze or die in the middle of an important project.

The most nerve-racking experience of my professional life happened during this period. I had been asked to translate the entire cosmetic products line of a large U.S. company, but received no digital files; the source text was printed on multiple boxes, tubes, jars, brushes, and all kinds of packaging.

After one week of producing and organizing the translations, plus several trips to pharmacies, drug stores, libraries, and book stores to search for information (no Google was available then), I decided to save the work on a floppy as a back-up. I’ll spare you the details of what I did wrong; just think of the horror of copying nothing onto the floppy with any actual translations. I erased, deleted, and obliterated seven days’ worth of translations with one single command! No Undo or Go Back buttons were available at the time.

This probably sounds totally foreign to the younger generation of translators who know only external drives, the cloud, and crowd storage resources. So I would like to give you a flashback to the evolution of the PC, when single hard-disk towers gained slots for 5.25″ floppy disks, then for 3.5″ diskettes, and even for the short-lived “super floppy,” the zip drive. Slots for these drives were later replaced by trays for CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives. Even this hardware is becoming superfluous; computers are now sold stripped of CD and DVD drives but offer many USB and other types of ports for optional external devices to back up data.

So much of the information stored in the old media can no longer be recovered unless you are willing to pay a lot of money to have it transferred to the current media. And how long will they remain current? Familiarize yourself with what is available, upgrade your media, and update your storage devices or systems. Do not allow obsolescence to render useless the data you need stored for the long term.

For short-term storage, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to copy your work as you progress. Whatever media you use, backing up should be like brushing your teeth. Computers crash, power outages happen, hackers may break into the “safest” systems, and cats, dogs, and birds can still chew on cables. Any of these accidents can make your work disappear in no time.

I now use an external drive to back up my system once a week. When translating large projects, I store the day’s work in a memory stick before I close up shop. And I must confess: I even make a back-up of my back-up.

Taking time to make copies of work and store them in my media of preference is a lesson I learned the hard way. I hope you have been spared from a similar catastrophic loss and that you have a reliable back-up system in place. If not… it is never too soon to start looking for the system that best suits your needs.

If you have had a negative or positive experience with backing up your data, why don’t you share it here with our fellow bloggers?


  1. When it comes to backing up our work, redundancy is key at our company. We have a little bit of everything:

    – external hard drives for yearly backups,
    – a sever for real-time backups,
    – a cloud service, Dropbox, for real-time backups and accessibility through different locations, and
    – USB drives, when internet won’t be available while working remotely.

  2. Sure! Quite a few years ago, I thought I was very wise by using some sort of software to back up on a very regular basis (I honestly can’t remember which one — selective memory, I think). I worked on a laptop at the time and for a remote Internet connection, I had a Sprint card inserted in a slot. Lo and behold, I dropped the laptop, which fell on the side where the card was inserted, so… the motherboard was smashed into oblivion in an instant. I’m smugly thinking, no problem, I have everything backed up. Uh, yeah, right. The back-up file turned out to be corrupted, thus unsalvageable!

    It was a bit traumatic, but I decided to not cry or fret about it. On the rare occasion when someone needs revisions to something I worked on that far back, they’re very understanding (because it’s probably happened to them at some point) and sometimes they can provide a digital file, or I scan the hard copies I used to keep in those days. I still have two drawersful of those old files.

    I started my digital life over without looking back. I did learn to verify the integrity of my backed-up files and that I can access easily… just to be sure. That’s one thing I would recommend to everyone: make sure whatever backup you use is working and you know how to get to it. I now back up to a 1T Ultra Passport and to the cloud (included in my ISP monthly service fee).

    If you don’t, be prepared to lose everything… but know that the world won’t end because of it. And b-r-e-a-t-h-e…

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