When Will They Ever Learn (to Back Up)?

By  |  Monday, September 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

Someone stole John Boldt’s laptop out of the trunk of his car. Nothing really newsworthy about that. But according to a CTV Calgary article, that laptop contained the University of Calgary grad student’s nearly-completed master’s thesis, as well as his research and notes.

“It’s so many years of my life just thrown away,” Boldt told CTV. “The computer can be replaced. It’s what’s on it that can’t.” Unless an honest thief returns the precious files, Boldt figures that he can’t return to the University. His academic life and future career, judging from the article, are pretty much over.

Neither Boldt nor the article’s unnamed author mentions the obvious: That he has no backup. If there was a second copy of those files on an external hard drive in his home, on a server at the University, or somewhere in the cloud, he would have lost only the hardware (and the clothes, cash, and credit cards that were also stolen).

Backing up has never been easier; we used to do it on floppies. Yet Boldt has either never heard of the practice or simply didn’t bother. He’s paying a high price for that. And the author of the article apparently never thought to bring up the issue.

It’s really simple, folks. You should never have only one copy of anything, and you should never have all of your copies on the same machine. As long as people don’t get that message, or choose to ignore it when they do get it, more college degrees, careers, and family photographs will be lost.

The article didn’t mention Boldt’s major. Let’s hope it wasn’t computer sciences.



7 Comments For This Post

  1. Josh Says:

    What an idiot. Anyone this stupid should not be granted a Master's degree in any subject.

  2. Matthew Guay Says:

    This is why I save everything in Dropbox and sync it to multiple devices. With files in the cloud and 2+ physical devices or storage mediums, you're much less likely to lose crucial files. Dropbox works great for this, and doesn't really take any extra effort … just save your files to the Dropbox folder. Easy and efficient!

  3. Drew Says:

    the article states the following
    "thesis he was writing for his master's degree in history"

    I have a master's in goverment (which I wrote 20 years ago) and I have a digital copy somewhere. More importantly, I have a clean printed copy that if need be, I could scan OCR. More than that, I agree with ilo. Email a copy to myself, a markup version, etc.

    I teach high school, and if I am working on say a PPT lesson for my kids, I email copies to three different address. On the occasion I can't find it on my main computer, there is always a copy in one of three places, plus my Time Machine backup, plus on my hard drive. In this day and age, I have trouble buying the whole story.

  4. Tony Smit Says:

    Same thing would have happened if his hard drive crashed. Or his laptop got dropped over a railing.
    I will wager that he also doesn't have a safe deposit box at a bank, credit union, or other financial institution, where he could store the title to his car, his social security card, and backups to all his computer work.
    Wait, I didn't have a safe deposit box when I was a college student either ! Oh well.

  5. ilo Says:

    This is almost not credible. As Josh pointed out, if he isn’t smart enough to back up that much work, then he doesn’t deserve a Master’s degree in anything. Secondly, I find it hard to believe he has never emailed a copy for review, printed out parts of it, saved the paper references, etc. Thirdly, if he spent that much time on it, he must remember at least some part of the work. If he is totally unable to recreate it in less time, then he wasn’t really learning it.

    One must have a slight suspicion that he was never actually doing the work, and now has to cover his tracks by making up a story about a theft.

  6. Mike Thrane Says:


  7. Karl-Franz Says:

    Sounds like a classic case of "my dog ate my homework"!