A Near Disaster

This summer I started having a series of problems with my MacBook Air. The computer had to go in for service a number of times which meant on several occasions the data was completely erased and had to be restored from a backup. I wrote about this process earlier this year. The process almost became mundane. I wasn’t too worried. After all, I’m Katie Floyd, the Mac Power User. I talk about the importance of Backup all the time. I got this.

But I messed up.

I have a secure disk image in the root level of my home folder where I store some of my most important financial information, mainly tax returns and related information dating back the last several years. I typically only access this information a couple times a year, generally around tax time. As such I haven’t opened the secure image in months, sometime in April or May, before my computer problems started and likely wouldn’t need them again until January when I start preparing tax documents. Generally I don’t keep single documents or files in the root level of my home folder, they’re stored on Dropbox, in my Documents file (which is synced to my Transporter) or inside other folders. In fact, this very important secure disk image is the only random file I keep in the root level of my home directory.

Somehow - apparently months ago during my various erase and reinstalls - I missed restoring the disk image containing all my financial information from my backup. I didn’t notice until recently when a question from a vendor required me to pull up and verify information from my tax return and I went looking for the file for the first time in months. But it wasn’t there. So I started looking through my backups.

My daily clone backup had long been overwritten…

I had a Time Machine backup but because my computer’s logic board was replaced several times over the summer this caused Time Machine to generate new backup files on my NAS. Ironically, just weeks ago, I received the notification the partition on my NAS was running low on space so I deleted the old images. This meant the Time Machine history dating back to the summer months was also gone.

I had an older clone backup from my last backup/restore. I tend to keep these around for a month or so to make sure all is well with the restore. I thought that would be my saving grace. I attached the drive, but the file wasn’t there. This meant I had missed restoring the image from some point earlier in the summer.

I checked my Backblaze online archive. However, the file was not there. Backblaze warns that any deleted files will be retained for only 30 days. This means if, like me, you deleted a file and didn’t notice it until months later, you’re out of luck. Also, by default Backblaze doesn’t backup certain file types - including Disk Images. These exclusions can be removed in the settings tab - so check your settings.

Crap. (I didn’t actually say that, I’ll leave it to your imagination.) So much for my comprehensive backup strategy. It hasn’t protected me from my own simple mistake.

This story does have a happy ending. (Thank you past paranoid Katie.) I remembered in the back of my mind before my computer’s very first service appointment I made a backup of my user directory to a sparse bundle on my Drobo. This was from early July - before the multiple erase and restores of my system. It was the last place I could think to look for the file, and to my relief - it was there.

I made a simple mistake one day months ago. When restoring my computer from a backup, I missed a single file. It just so happened that file contained some of the most critical data on my computer. It could have happened to anyone. It probably happened to me because I was complacent after multiple backup and restores of my system. The only thing that saved me was having an archive of my system as it existed in a known good state, and saving that archive for several months - long enough for a problem to present itself.

I’ve learned a couple things from this experience. First, I will be more careful in the future when restoring my system from a backup and I will remember that is never a routine process. Second, I have moved where I store this critical file. It is now stored in my documents folder which is backed up to cloud storage and less likely to get missed in a restore. Third, I will occasionally make archives of my computer to my NAS and I will keep them for a long time to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.

Disaster averted - barely. 

This article first appeared in the November 2015 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits