Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Data management - Post 2 - Storage and backing up

By Maxine Smit

This was me after I lost two pages of world-changing writing mid-way through my honours year. (I tried to close Microsoft Word, it politely asked me if I wanted to save my changes, and I clicked no. I'm smart that way.) 

Every postgrad I know has at some point in their scientific career lost an unhealthily large portion of work due to losing a flash stick or forgetting to press “save” before their archaic laptop crashed.

Adjust the settings on Word/Excel/whatever program you are working in, so that it automatically saves every five minutes or so – don’t rely on your manic coffee-saturated brain to do something as menial as pressing save, when it is frantically trying to encapsulate a million escapee thoughts into words. You will forget to press the button, and your laptop will at some point freeze or crash.

Cloud storage is a life-saver. Download Dropbox, save all your data and documents there, and work directly from Dropbox wherever you are, from any computer. It will automatically sync and save (as long as you are connected to the internet) every time you save your document, so you don’t ever have to worry about backing up again. If you have a cap on your data bundle and need to use it sparingly, just use the “pause syncing” option for a while, and unpause it once or twice a day to back up your files (Dropbox replaces and saves the whole file each time you press save, so it can be a very data-hungry process if you’re saving a large file every five minutes). 

Don’t try to have a version of a file on your personal hard drive as well as on Dropbox – you will end up making changes to one and forgetting to update the other, leading to conflicting versions. Dropbox allows you to share documents with other Dropbox users, so make sure that you have protocols in place for shared folders – if someone makes a change in one of your files, there should be a document wherein they record what they did and when they did it. Dropbox allows you 2 GB of storage for free, after which you have to pay around R1500 a year for a full TB. Prioritise your data files, stats and writing, and rather back up all your papers from scientific journals on an external hard drive or flash – you can always download papers again. In addition, most referencing programs have a cloud storage option, so that your PDFs and citations can all be restored should something happen to your computer.  

AJP: Dropbox also offers an additional safety net for your files - it keeps every version of a file for 30 days. So, if Mendeley or Endnote corrupts your entire Word document, you can go onto Dropbox Online and revert the file back to a previous version. Saved my bacon (or rather sanity) more than once! 

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