I was giving a presentation about “Creating and Keeping Raving Fans” for your podcast. Before setting out on my fateful drive down to Ontario, I put a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, complete with audio clips, onto the handy USB stick the Ur-Guru gave me for Christmas last year. (Aren’t we the romantic couple?) So I knew, standing by the ditch looking at the remains of my car, that even if my laptop had died in the crash, I had what I needed to give my presentation.
Since this was a podcasting conference, the organizers had arranged for all the speakers to be recorded and to have the recordings released as podcasts. I was looking forward to this, because I’ve only had homemade recordings of my presentations to date, and they don’t pick up either the audio from the computer or the questions from the audience, even when I’m not dealing with a mangled microphone cord or horrendous background noise.
Being the backup fiend that I am, I asked the conference organizer if it would be all right to make my own recording of my talk, so I could put it on a CD and send it to my mother. (My mother not only doesn’t have an MP3 player, she doesn’t have a computer.) He said it was fine, so I packed along my newly-purchased iriver IFP-895, which I had tested out the week before.
This particular model of iriver gets great audio quality with its built-in mic, but it has one real drawback from my point of view: the buttons are all too sensitive. They react to the lightest of touches, which makes putting the thing in your hip pocket a less than stellar idea, as I learned the hard way.
It turned out that when I thought I was starting the recording on the iriver, I was actually pausing it, so what I ended up with was 15 minutes’ worth of pre-presentation setup discussion with the sound and projector person. (And somehow neither of us noticed until halfway through the presentation that the projector’s resolution wasn’t up to Enna’s 1440 x 900 widescreen and I should have re-set it before starting. I blame it on the angle I was seeing the screen from, up there on the stage, but I don’t know what his excuse was.)
I was disappointed and embarrassed when I got home and checked the recording, but was reassured that at least the professional, plugged-into-the-computer, second-microphone-for-the-audience recording would be coming out in a week or so.
And then I got an e-mail message from Tim Bourquin:
I am so embarrassed and upset to have to write this email, but I am afraid the audio-visual recording company we used for the show has made a huge error and recorded over your session at the Expo.
It was a terrible error, and while the AV company has apologized profusely, it doesn’t bring back the audio file. Apparently they lost a total of 4 sessions (including yours) from the upstairs sessions on Friday afternoon.
I have spent the past two days speaking with the president of their company, because they were told and knew from the beginning how critical these audio recordings were to us. Nonetheless, they failed to make backups and lost 4 of the sessions.
Now, I’d like to know how you can record over a digital file. Ron Moore of the Battlestar Galactica podcast had just finished telling us that morning about the way his digital recorder started a new file every time he tried to go back and “tape over” a mistake. There wouldn’t be any reason to give recordings of different talks the same file name. I suspect them of using actual magnetic tape for the recordings, which not many companies do these days.
The most important line in the message might well be “they failed to make backups.” There are nearly infinite ways to lose a file, but a great many ways to back one up, as well, and even physical tapes can be copied without too much trouble, even if it takes more time.
If I hadn’t botched my recording, it could have saved the day for them. If they hadn’t botched their recording, it could have saved the day for me. But neither of us produced a usable recording.
Sometimes that happens. Sometimes you have four copies of a file and every one is corrupt. As I said last week, I have multiple copies of everything, but right now they’re almost all in the same building, so fire, flood, or earthquake could destroy all of them at once. (I have trouble imagining even a dedicated thief going through all the file boxes in the garage to get every last end-of-year DVD I make.)
No backup strategy, and in particular no implementation of that strategy, is completely foolproof. Murphy’s Law is alive and well and flourishing inside your computer. But the more backups you have, and the more places you keep copies of your data, the safer you’ll be.
Don’t go too far overboard: you don’t want your backup system to interfere with your ability to create that valuable business data in the first place. But especially if you’re going into a risky situation (like traveling to a conference), it can be worth making just one more backup of the most important data.