The Knewton Blog

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Knerd Tip: How to Protect Your Hard Drive

Posted in Knerds on May 19, 2011 by

The hard drive on my work laptop failed to boot last week after encountering a bunch of corrupted files. After trying all the options for fixing it myself—solutions like “reset the PRAM”—I took it to our system administrator and asked him to completely wipe the hard drive rather than try to fix the files and risk dragging out a repair.

Sound like a disaster? Actually, it wasn’t so bad — thanks to a few key preparations I’d made in anticipation of this moment.

Here’s why I wasn’t worried about wiping the hard drive:

Dropbox: day-to-day storage, synching, and versioning

We use Dropbox at Knewton to sync files with groups who need them, but I also keep most of my important files in the Dropbox folder. I use one folder called “Current Work” that always has recent stuff—the same way someone typically uses the “desktop” folder. It removes any hassle from working on multiple computers. Plus, every single file is versioned, so I have access to old versions if something goes awry.

I use a Pro 50 account that backs up 50 GB for $10/month.

After HD refresh: installed Dropbox. All the files were re-synched over the course of 4 hours.

Download Dropbox ›

Backblaze: continuous backup

My entire hard drive backs itself up continuously for $5/month.

After HD refresh: downloaded a 37 GB zip file of my old files—6 hours overnight thanks to FiOS—and unpacked it using StuffIt Expander (free). Copied over the files I wanted to recover, trashed the rest.

Sign up for Backblaze ›

Xmarks: bookmark synching

This syncs my bookmarks across all browsers on all my computers. Free.

After HD refresh: installed Xmarks on all browsers, logged in, and got my bookmarks back.

Sign up for Xmarks ›

What was missing?

My applications. Before wiping the HD, I wrote down a list of the apps I wanted to reinstall (I’ve included the list at the end of this post). After getting a fresh OS X install with MS Office, I spent another 30 minutes installing the remaining apps and entering registration keys (thanks, email confirmations). I recovered the plist (preferences) files for some of the important apps like Coda, but otherwise it wasn’t a big deal to start fresh.

Here’s my list of essential Mac apps:

  • A Better Finder Rename – rules-based bulk file renaming
  • Adium – chat client
  • Backblaze – continuous backup
  • Caffeine – temporarily disable screensaver and sleep state
  • Cinch – snap windows to half/full screen
  • CloudApp – file sharing via short URL
  • Coda – web development coding and file management
  • Dropbox – file synching, backup, and versioning
  • f.lux – shifts the monitor color temperature at night
  • Growl – application notifications
  • Jing – easy, lo-fi screencasts and sharing
  • – live screen sharing
  • ScreenFlow – record and edit screencasts
  • ScreenShade – dim the monitor brightness, including external monitors
  • Skype
  • TextWrangler – TextEdit replacement
  • Transmit – FTP
  • Tweetie – Twitter client