Backing up your data is hard!

I lost the last 3 months of data on my Palm. People who know me can imagine my face right now. I take all my notes on my Palm. It is my primary data source/data management tool.

It is stupid, really. Every time there is some quarters in my pocket, the Palm goes crazy. I think the metal from the quarters does something to the Palm. If there is a good engineer out there, maybe he could explain what happens? I have a Palm m500, and it comes with a builtin cover. In theory, a quarter should do nothing, but in practice, it destroys the Palm: I have to do a hard reset, losing all data.

Anyhow, today, I bought coffee and dropped a quarter in my Palm pocket (I always carry my Palm). I could tell it was dead when I picked it up and the green light was permanently bright and the unit unresponsive.

The good thing about the Palm m500 is that it has excellent (several weeks) battery life. It has no color, no Wifi, no… just plain Palm software. The downside is that when you lose your data, well, you might have an old backup.

In my case, things got worse. Some months ago, I switched from coldsync, a solid Linux Desktop Palm syncing software, to KPilot, a shiny, but buggy Palm syncing software.The nice thing about KPilot is that it is integrated with KDE, so you get calendar and address book syncing for free.

However, I just learned that KPilot doesn’t have reliable backups. While I had synced two weeks ago, I was only able to retrieve my data up until September 15th. It might be the date I upgraded KDE from 3.2 to 3.3, I don’t know…

Now, I tried tweaking KPilot so that it would do better backups, I couldn’t find what could possibly have gone wrong, but I tried switching options randomly… but how do I know whether it has reliable backups now?

I have no way to know. I could switch back to coldsync, but coldsync appears to be frozen in time.

This is a general problem. For example, the Mysql tables for this blog are dumped and saved carefully on another machine. How do I know that I could retrieve all of the data and put back my blog together should something bad happen? Only way to know would be to periodically rollback my blog from my backups. Seems awkward. So I’ll just wait until something bad happens and pray.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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