Marketing Mondays: Are All Your Electronic Eggs in One Cyber Basket?

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?


Hylla Evans said...

Two things. TimeMachine is a wonder for mac users.
External hard drives are good for anyone, as are cds and flash drives.
For iPhone and/or Mac users, Mobile Me will store photos in the cyber cloud.
I don't trust folders on a desktop anymore than on my messy real desk. As a rule, taking it off your computer and onto another life form (such as your safe deposit box, Joanne) is best.
For most people working at home and using webmail, sending a jpg to oneself and keeping that email with the jpg attachment in the webmail files is a good enough backup.
All said, redundant redundancy takes a lot of time which might be better spent, umm, painting.
So to redundantly reiterate, Time Machine or external hard drive would be enough.

Now if anyone has an idea for backign up an entire database, email me. I need a database manager!

Jan Pope said...

Backups are an absolute must if you're an artist with any kind of electronic presence. I have not one, but two external drives. One that I use for image editing work and the other is a 1 TB drive for backups. I have found that my internal hard drive needs to be the drive supplying the operating system, software and swap files and not the images. Keeping the images on a separate file keeps my internal drive from trashing. I use Retrospect for full backups and Windows Synctoy for quick backups.

I have lots of digital photos too (approaching 9000) and I use SmugMug as a backup for them. For $39.99 a year, I can have as much space as I need to backup all of my photos or digital scans. I'm pleased with them and would recommend them to anyone needed to backup digital images. I've been a customer now for 2 years. If you're interested, send me email and I'll send you a discount code.

Sky Pape said...

I'm another one using two external hard drives, and also have original images burned on CD. Still, I think it would be a good idea to be even more redundantly redundant than I am at present, and burn CD back-ups and/or memory sticks to make extra copies of the images that have been color-corrected and cleaned up. No way do I want to do all that work over again!

marc said...

O.K. ...What is the typical lifespan of an external hard-drive or cd? I also recall web based storage systems closing down. This constant backing up and tracking almost makes me sentimental for shooting 35mm slides.

Joanne Mattera said...

I'm guessing the hard drive will have a longer life than the online storage. Jan Pope, above, suggests something called Smug Mug. I want to research a few more. Also, posting his response to this topic at the previous post (eag, we're over here) comes the suggestion that flash drives/memory sticks may not be the best vehicles for storage.

So keep those answers coming folks. We'll figure this out.

Anonymous said...

Good reminder, Joanne. I just put a "backup your painting info" reminder into my monthly calendar.

I do, however, have 2 hard drives on my computer. So I back up important folders/directories info to my second hard drive, as I update info.

I also use carbon copy cloner (freeware) with a portable hard drive that I do a few a few times a year (probably not enough...)

There's also the concept of creating a dbase with inventory numbers rather than series and titles etc. I am considering that for tracking in general.

As usual, thanks for your thought provoking post!

Hylla Evans said...

By way of reminder, a redundant word to the wise...
copying jpg to several places will mean the last copy has lost some quality. Though they take up more space, saving TIFF pictures is well worth the trouble. They don't degrade with repeated copies and if you ever need to blow them up large, the file can support that.

Tina Mammoser said...

We can never get this message too often! And it's never to late.

You had a warning, which was great. My Mac harddrive died earlier this year and I was very lucky that I do regular backups. I lost about one week's worth of work, if that, partly because I realised my harddrive was making clicking sounds and immediately dragged all current projects to my online file storage as an emergency measure. Between my external HD backup and that I restored all but a couple files after my drive was replaced. Whew!

Yet even quite organised folk like me forget. I've got a(nother) new hard drive and my externals aren't large enough for a full backup. Keep meaning to buy a terabyte one to run TimeMachine with - thanks for the reminder!

PS. Copied jpgs don't lose any quality. Re-saving jpgs do, it's the compression algorithm that removes data; just duplicating an actual file from one folder to another makes an exact copy.

Eva said...

I have always stored all my files at home but I also recently had a situation which is roughly about this issue. I had prepared a lecture for a local college, often linking to my own site when I discussed certain works. Then wouldn't you know it, my site was down that morning. That never happens, but it happened. I wanted the images online as I was talking about more than just my own work and showed all kinds of images in the presentation. Then I recalled that I had a lot of my work on Facebook. I still had time to upload a few more and that was how I delivered my lecture, for the most part - through Facebook photos. This is one instance where a social networking site really helped me!

PS Marc - CDs don't last forever, that's for sure. But I found that most of my old slides from 35mm have faded too.

Franklin said...

You might look at an online storage service like ADrive.

Joanne Mattera said...

A nightmare rescued by your resourcefulness. Another possibility might be to post images on a blogsite for your talk. Redundant redundancy.

Thanks for the link to ADrive. Do you use it? Or have you? I like the idea of online storage, because it means I can access material when I'm traveling.

Two hard drives. I love that!

Some days I find myself edging closer to Mac.

Nancy Ewart said...

I have used a Mac for years because I encountered all the PC issues that I ever wanted when I worked. My Mac is a great old workhorse - maybe nine years old by now but has never given me a moment's trouble. However, years of working at a medical center have made me extra careful about backups. I have an external HD where I back up my image files. I also burn images to CD's and print them out in "good" paper and keep them organized by year. I also put an inventory sheet in the front of every folder with the CD and the print outs. So far, so good.
But I never like to pat myself too much on the back. The gremlins will see me and cause trouble (what me superstitious? never!)

Kate Beck said...

I have a mirrored dual hard drive and also use an on-line backup source - Mosey. I send myself quarterly 'memo' reminders to back up in hard copy...

Bradley Hankey said...

I use the online storage service Carbonite ( which is useful, because it not only backs up digital images, but everything on your hard drive. This may include grant proposals, art writings, contacts, pretty much everything that is on your computer. It is only $55 per year, and the application works in the background while you are doing your normal tasks. It has been great for me so far, and I recommend their service.

Franklin said...

I have not used ADrive, but I've been looking at online storage because I'm terrible about backing things up. Carbonite looks good but it's Windows/Mac only, and I'm running Ubuntu. Currently I'm considering at Jungledisk. I like the idea of online storage because someone would have to nuke the Internet to take it down. The only problem I've had is that upload speeds are typically much slower than download speeds on most Internet connections, and if you have big files, you feel it. I'll try it out and let you know.

Franklin said...

I have a friend who handles backups by setting up RAID 1 on his home machine. This is beyond the capability of most painters, and he's an extreme exception, but it's a possibility.

Luis Colan said...

Recently my PC crashed and I lost all information stored in it. I didn't have many word documents but I did have important images (including art work). Years ago I got in the habit of using as a storage system for all my digital images. I did save a lot of images on there and was able to retrieve them once I got a new computer. And yes I did make the switch to a Mac!

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Irene S said...

Mozy online backup is really good ( Backup is really important - i had my laptops stolen twice and it was really a big deal that i hadn’t lost a single bit of info. It depends on what you want to backup, but i would recommend Mozy, it is easy and the offer some free trial, then you can sign up for unlimited storage. It works with all the platforms, including Mac. I use it and it is great, better then Jungledisk, easier. The harder thing is to backup video data, if you are a video artist, keep the external hard drive just in case because of the amount of data is huge to keep it online.

Anonymous said...

Do a remote backup as well. If your studio has a fire, between the fire and the water, even if they are in different rooms, you'll lose everything. That happened to a friend of mine who's a lighting designer- he'd lost years of work which he can't reproduce, since they were all live shows.

Having a local backup is also importaint, but there are some cheap storage solutions online. Get an online backup as well.

The added bonus of an online backup is that you can access it anywhere- so if you've met someone who might be interested in your work, you can show them even if you don't have anything with you.

Something that I've seen a few photographers use as a backup device/marketing device is an iPod touch with all their pictures on it. You can just hand it to someone to look at your work while you're chatting.