I've told this story before (most recently in short form in discussion on Ed Winkleman's blog) but I'm going to expand it here because I think it's so important.
In 2006 I installed an updated anti-virus system (Norton). A few days after installation, when I went to access some images of my artwork—images that I saw in thumbnail form on the screen—a message came up saying "Image unavailable." That was odd. I tried another image; same message. Then another; same thing. I panicked when I saw that the first four or five images in each folder were visible in thumbnail but not in actual fact. I felt like the astronaut in 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the mercy of the computer.
The view from HAL in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Spacy Odyssey
My geek-service guy made a house call. I greeted him with, "It's like my computer has turned into HAL."
He looked at me and coolly responded: "It is HAL."
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. My own sci-fi nightmare. This is how he explained it: "These anti-virus programs work on heuristic algorithms, which means that the program is 'taught' to learn from each new alien encounter. It can't be programmed to defend against a virus that doesn’t yet exist, but extrapolating from what it already knows, it can identify the parameters that make a virus a virus, and use it to attack new invaders." HAL, he added, was short for Heuristic ALgorithm (not the one-letter-over from IBM, which now seems quaint).
Apparently my little HAL was also misfiring, seeing the ones and zeros of my images as the enemy. Aside from being insulted, I was totally freaked. Yes, I had some images backed up on CDs, but I wasn't sure that I had everything. All those hours of shooting the work, editing images, Photoshopping them, and then archiving everything…
Lens eye of the infamous HAL 9000
Long story short, the service guy removed Norton, which he identified as the source of the frozen images ("I've seen this problem before, but never as bad as yours") and installed McAfee, which I've been using with no ill effects ever since. The images that were "Unavailable" remained unavailable—even after Norton was removed its damage could not be undone—but with the help of an Unlocker program he installed, I was at least able to get them out of the folders and into Trash so that I could replace them with functioning image files.
Fortunately, I was able—over the course of some 30 hours—to fully restore my image files because I had created a number of different folders for different ways of accessing my images:
. Work by series, which contained several years' worth of work
. Work by year, which contained the various series I'd created
. Work by gallery, which contained work in different series and years
. Work sold, same as above
. Work available, same as above
I also had hard-copy printouts of all the folders, and I checked those against what was available in each e-folder, not because I was expecting an algorithmic meltdown but because of how I access my images. Let's hear it for redundantly redundant redundancy!
Once that was done I purchased and installed an external hard drive, which backs up my data once a week. I also put all my images onto several 8 gig memory sticks, along with some data, and put them into my safe-deposit box. I'm going to put all of 2008 and half of 2009 onto a new memory stick this week.
So here's my Marketing Mondays message today: Don’t keep all your e-eggs in one e-basket. If you don’t have a back-up drive, install one. And you might think about physically placing information in a second location as well.
Readers—especially those of you who are more cyber sophisticated—please tell us what you do: Who uses a software program as opposed to my images-in-a-folder system? . . Do you back up? .. . Where do you store your backup? . . Is anyone using an online storage system?