Today's Chronicle of Higher Education includes an article about a student, Jessica Osuna, who must recreate her dissertation:
A doctoral candidate in ecological sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, Ms. Osuna was not naïve about safeguarding her work. She ran automatic backups of her 15-inch MacBook Pro onto a small external hard drive. Then every other day or so, she copied her work onto a one-terabyte hard drive that she kept locked in a safe, in case of fire. But whoever burglarized her home busted open the safe and took that drive, too.
As an MD, I never wrote a document as extensive as a dissertation. My father, a historian, recalls working on his around 1960. He typed everything in carbon copy. The original could then be used for editing, and the carbon copy stashed in his refrigerator. No, carbon copies are not temperature-sensitive; that was the most likely location in an apartment for his papers to survive a fire.
I feel very protective about the work I do now. Dropbox solves many of these issues. This service provides "cloud storage." A 2 GB account is free; larger storage can be purchased for an annual rate. You secure your documents with passwords, but public and shared files can be established at no additional cost. Apps make the service truly cool. You install them on any computer - Windows, Mac, or Linux - and anything you edit in your Dropbox folder automatically gets updated in your account when you have an open internet connection. Apps for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android mean you can view or edit your files almost anytime, anywhere.
Say I work on a file at home on my netbook. After I save it in the Dropbox file, the file automatically updates in the online account. The next day, when I boot up my desktop system at work, Dropbox automatically updates the same file on the desktop system.
You can see a video about the service here.
Of course, I have more redundancy in my current system than most people. I leave a terabyte hard drive plugged into my work computer. It automatically backs up everything on my hard drive, including the Dropbox folder, during my lunch time. Since accessing my office requires several swipes with a secure ID card plus one old-fashioned key, that provides another layer of back-up. Just in case.
I learned my lesson about back-up in a less dramatic way than Jessica Osuna. A few years back I got a new laptop for work. It did not like the antivirus software our university provides. Even though my department's technical support guy documented the issues and wanted to get me a copy of the competitor, the powers-that-be wanted to see for themselves. In the meantime, I found a virus and suffered the blue screen of death. Since I had just switched laptops, I only lost 1 document. Since that time, I have backed-up religiously.
I need to open my Dropbox now and get some real work done.