Things we take for granted #3: Saving work
Remember Murphy’s law? Anything that can screw up, will. Especially computers.
And we all know how just how reliable Microsoft is, right?
It’s not just Microsoft though…so long as it’s a computer, it will find a way, when you’re least expecting it, to kick you in the nether region (regardless of gender) and laugh in your face.
I once read that 100% of people working on computers have lost their work somehow. Thousands of computers die and/or software crashes every second, losing some, most or all of our hard work. Regardless of how advanced auto-saving and network harddrives etc are, we’re still going to lose work one way or the other.
Here’s a guide to saving yourself the pain from losing work. Here is the beginning of a series that I am devoting to these little things that we take for granted, but by paying attention to them will save us from those little pangs of depression brought forth by nasty surprises.
I used to tell friends to just copy and paste on an email. But as text, rather than an attachment, because if it’s corrupted, attaching it isn’t really going to make it better; zero multiplied by a gazillion mazillion is still a big fat “OH!”. So copy all your text and paste them onto an email. Nowadays with auto saving you don’t even need to click on the “save as draft” button anymore. Since it’s on the internet, if you get the dreaded blue screen and your machine dies, your precious work can still be retrieved elsewhere.
You can also use a website called Ubernote, which I use as my virtual Microsoft Word/Apple Pages sort of thing. Of course, it’s not a means to an end as I save my work with feverish paranoia all over the place – 1 external USB drive, 1 network drive, ubernote, email, and Google docs, or Microsoft Live Office. I normally have Ubernote open so that I can just switch to the tab and jot down or paste whatever I need to.
If you haven’t tried Google Apps, or Microsoft Live, I suggest you try it. I feel really sorry for friends when I hear that they’ve lost work. Sometimes, you just forget to back stuff up. Or you’re working so hard you never realised that an hour has gone by and you haven’t backed up anything. Some of us just aren’t that paranoid. But like I said, it’s those unexpected moments when things suddenly stop working and that’s when you wished you’d spared that 2 minutes to back up. Designers will know what I mean. When Photoshop/Illustrator crashes after you’ve been painstakingly working on an image. I can’t even remember the times I’ve kicked a computer because of that (OH! So that’s why I keep having to buy new machines. Note to self: kicking a computer won’t really do it much good and probably won’t retrieve files with the bottom of your foot). Here are a few screengrabs to show what these Google/Microsoft web apps look like:
These days, most of us will have either a Google or Microsoft Live sign in name. Some have either, most have both. With your sign in names, you can quickly start using these web apps. As you can see this is the Google docs (GD) home. This screen shows you all your work. here you can start new docs, spreadsheets and presentations. You can even down/upload work from here. As you can see in the screens below GD lets you save and export in several formats e.g. the most popular filetypes. They don’t do Apple Pages, though, which is really weird. But with Pages ’08, you can easily read/write Word docs. Still!
Here’s a screen of the word processor. Very clean and mostly responsive. No fancy-schmancy pretty graphics to mess things up. The more extras something has in it, the more likely it is to mess up itself and what you’re doing with it. Gadgets with extra features will die quicker and have shorter battery life. Software with tonnes of features and buttons means higher chances for us to click on something unfamiliar unexpectedly, send the machine into cardiac arrest, then shoot ourselves in the foot. In which case, ctrl-z ain’t going to be much help.
Like I said earlier, GD lets you export to popular filetypes. No surprises there. It’s also worth noting that you can export/save as HTML. There’s nothing more frustrating than compiling hours’ worth of HTML and then having the machine crash on you. The agony is similar to having your head in a vice that is laced with arsenic and salt. Must not be too pleasant, methinks. The following are screen grabs of GD’s spreadsheet and presentation functionality. They’ll be familiar to you so I won’t need to ramble on for too much.
Yes, GD gives you several themes to so you can spice up your backups. Okay, they’re not the prettiest, but most would agree with me when I say the most important rule in a presentation is less is more (I’ll post an entry about presentation skills soon). And there’s nothing more annoying than when someone comes up with a really flash presentation, all glammed up, building your expectations. Just as he or she opens her mouth you can feel the fireworks about to explode in an array of sights and sounds, and then….*fizzle*…..*poof*………So my point is, the themes, are there just for the heck of it. I can’t see many people taking it seriously.
Remember, the more complicated something is, the more likely it is to fizzle poof. Worst is you make a laughing stock of yourself. Keep it simple, and besides, this is a guide to not losing your work. Save the barebones of the presentation then add all the mascara, deep red lipstick, plastic nails and corset later.Remember the three most important things of working with computers: Backup, backup, backup.
Then here we Microsoft Office Live. For Hotmail (or Live) users, this interface will be very familiar. But it works sort of differently to GD. For example, it doesn’t let you create a new document but rather, you have to upload yours and work from it there. You can create a new note though. I’ve tried it with standard documents and spreadsheets and they work fine. I have yet to try it with Powerpoint prezzes. But maybe you have, what was it like? Give it a try, upload some really funky dazzling ones full of transitions and see how Live handles it. Let us know.
Regardless of the lack of features on both of them, they’re perfect for saving work halfway, which was, if you remember, the whole point of this post. Another great plus of using the web apps are that if you have a team of people who are all over the world, you can come together online, using Skype or other VoIP apps to chat, and work on your report/presentation live. I’ve done that on several occasions when I just don’t want to get changed to get out of the house. God, I love technology.
Apart from these, there are also several things you can do. If printing costs are not much of a big deal, you can set the printer to an economy setting, and using scrap paper, print out your work as you go along, like after each paragraph/presentation slide. So even if the machine dies and the WWW (or your ISP) is down, you still have a hard copy of the progress from which you can re-type. Then there are screengrabs. I tell you, these babies are underused, except for pornography. Let’s put it to good use, people. If you have other methods, you use, let us know.
Just remember that things will go belly up eventually. Especially computers. Macs aren’t safe from this either. No computers are. Probably not even the web apps I’ve just recommended. But multiply your backup places and you’ll decrease your chances of hair being pulled out 3 hours away from deadline and 90% work gone.
My next article on this series, coming out next week, will be on web apps, apps, and sites I use to increase productivity. They allow me to lie back a bit and not have to worry so much since everything I need is floating somewhere on the double-you-double-you-double-you.
If you think this article will help someone you know, feel free to pass it on, and let’s stop dying computers from ruining our lives.
header image by CCBImages
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