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October 22, 2012

Doing a Manual Backup Automatically, Part I

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Backup! It’s so important! I’ve written about it lots. But recently I received an email question, “How can I backup my stuff to a thumb drive?” It’s a decent question.

First, you could use a regular backup program, such as the stinky one that comes with Windows, to backup to a thumb drive. But today’s backup programs lack the sophistication to do so. Also, a 16GB thumb drive lacks the storage capacity to make a traditional backup program interested in using that media.

Second, you can manually copy the files, by dragging them from one window to the thumb drive’s window. The problem: That operation is a pain to setup, not to mention that you have to remind yourself to do it. And that process kinda goes against the whole “computers make your life easier” argument. What would be better is:

Third, a utility that would backup your stuff — say just your work files or a single, popular folder full o’ stuff — to a thumb drive. That tool would be the robocopy command. Yes, it’s a DOS command. Be afraid!

Fourth, you could automate the process by using the Windows Task Scheduler. Not many people use the Task Scheduler, mostly because its interface is horrid, but it’s a valid tool for such operations.

I present the solution to these issues over this week’s blog posts in three steps.

Step 1: Discover how much storage space you need

There’s no point backing up to a thumb drive when you really a whole hand drive.

On my PC, I do a nightly thumb-drive sync of my entire Work folder. That folder contains all my current book projects. That includes completed-but-not-published books, the one I’m working on now, plus upcoming books and proposals. The Work folder contains subfolders for all that stuff — a monstrous directory tree of files.

Keep in mind that I’m backing up, or duplicating, just one folder (and it’s subfolders). I’m not copying my email files, downloads, porn, or other current documents. The key to this process as I’m describing it is to limit the manual backup to just some key files.

The thumb drive I’m using is a new SanDisk Ultra 16GB. Even though 16GB is a lot of storage, it doesn’t get any bigger. Therefore I would limit backup storage on that thumb drive to 8GB. Any more than that, and the thumb drive will get full rather quickly.

According to Windows, my Work folder contains 799MB (0.8GB) of data. That’s far less than my self-imposed 8GB limit, so I’m okay. But more importantly, how did I know that the Work folder contains 799GB of data?

To calculate how much storage you’d be backing up, locate the folder you want to backup. Right-click on the folder and choose Properties. You’ll see the folder’s Properties dialog box, such as the one shown in Figure 1. The Size on Disk value give you an idea of how much information you need to backup.

Figure 1. A folder’s properties dialog box.

In Figure 1, the Size on Disk value is 799MB. As long as the value you see is less than the half the total capacity of the thumb drive, you’re good to go.

On Wednesday’s blog post, I’ll move on to Step 2, working with the robocopy.


  1. One thing I wanted to ask you is did you or anyone you know use a TTY back in the day? Something like this:
    For those who dont know a TTY is a teletype terminal that connects to a mainframe over a phone modem. These were used in the 60s and early 70s before home computers existed. What is interesting about this is that it had a typewriter that used a heated typing head on heat-sensitive paper so it never needed ink. And so they would buy large rolls of this paper and it would record entire sessions on the computer, so the typewriter would serve as both a monitor and storage. I kind of thought that was clever that they would rely on paper because cheap digital storage media did not even exist then.

    Comment by BradC — October 23, 2012 @ 10:28 am

  2. They had a TTY 33 at the “computer lab” at my high school. That was back in 1977. I had friends who were computer nerds back then, and I hung out a bit in the lab, though I never took a computer class. I remember playing Star Trek on the TTY 33. I also had a roll of the paper tape, which was the long-term storage media. I was fascinated by it.

    Comment by admin — October 23, 2012 @ 10:33 am

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