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You get up one morning, get your cup of coffee, go sit down at the computer to check your email, and it says "Boot Fail--Boot Disk Not Found".  Odds are your hard disk has died. Yes this does happen, and too often.  Can it be recovered?  Maybe.  If you are really lucky, you might get it to boot after a few tries--if so copy everything you care about off onto DVD or CD as quickly as you can.  If not, there are recovery services that will attempt to get data off of your drive--starting at around $250.

Or you go out to a New Year's Eve party, and come home at 1:00 am to find your front door standing open.  You call the police (don't go in--many murders happen when burglaries are interrupted) and find all of your electronics equipment, including your computer, is gone.  First question--what is on  your computer that you don't want someone else to have?  Never put Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, etc on your computer, always enable your log in password, and make it a not obvious password. Some word that has meaning to only you plus an old address number would make a good medium strength password.  And never have the computer remember passwords for internet accounts containing financial or other  sensitive data, unless you use a password manager (with a strong password) that you have to log into when  you start your computer.

In the event that your hard disk is dead, or gone, then you should have a backup. Backups are fairly easy to do now with the advent of DVD writers on many computers.  When you set up your first backup, go into your DVD burning software, tell it you want to make a data DVD.  Most programs will put you into a screen where you can drag and drop files and directories that you want to save into a window that shows what is to be copied.  Note that the backup I am defining here does not backup your programs or the operating system, just the files that you have created while running your various programs.

Hopefully all of your programs (except  very likely your email program) will have your files somewhere under your My Documents folder.  If you aren't sure where files are going from various programs, you can open the program, and then open a file.  Then do a Save As, and the default directory will be where the file is stored.  If you click on the down arrow in the little window at the top of the Save As window where it shows the name of your current directory, it will show you the directory tree that contains the current directory.

If you don't care about emails, once you have indicated which directories and files to save, you can burn your DVD.  If you use rewriteable DVDs, you can reuse them, but be sure to have at least two sets.  One DVD will hold approximately 4.7 GB (GigaBytes).  If you have more than that, you can write two DVDs.  After ( or in some programs before) your DVD is written, the program will ask if you  want to save the layout.  You must test to see if you can re-use your layouts before you answer yes to this question.  Some DVD software will save the names of all the files, rather than just the directories. In this case if you answer "yes" and then use the saved layout for your next backup it will not save any new files.  Test this by saving a layout and then save a new file somewhere within the directory structure that you are backing up.  Then re-open the layout and see if the new file is there.  If it is, then you can save the layout and reuse it for your next backup. Do remember that if you make a new directory that is not under a directory that you are backing up, it will not be backed up from the layout.

Backing up emails is a special problem, because the files are usually kept in strange out of the way places.  The most straightforward way to backup emails, is to export the emails, and export the address book.  Some programs will let you export your settings.  Make a directory under your My Documents directory to export all of this into, and then after the export make sure your layout includes this directory in your backup.

There are backup programs out there designed specifically to do backups, that do some very nice things, and some of them will actually back up to DVD. To look for these kinds of backup programs, go to www.CNET.com and click on the "Downloads" tab, and then search for "DVD backup". In the meantime this is a simple, inexpensive and fairly straight forward way to have a little insurance that in the event of a catastrophe you will not have lost everything on your computer. Incidentally, www.CNET.com is an excellent resource for all kinds of tech information as well as software in the shareware and freeware category.

One other note--Do keep a backup "Off Site".  If, God forbid, a tornado or fire strikes your home, your backup will likely be gone.  After you make a backup, take it with you to work or church, and leave a copy there.  On  your next backup use a new set of disks, and when you take them to your "Off Site Storage Facility" you can bring the old disks back to reuse for the next backup.


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