Originally created 09/13/98

Backing up files averts learning hard lessons



One of the very important maxims of our digital age is also one of the most ignored: Back up your files.

I had a close encounter with lost files recently, which bears repeating, for it wasn't just any file, but one of the most important files I use every day: the bookmark file for my Netscape browser.

Bookmark files are collections of World Wide Web addresses, called Uniform Resource Locators, or URLs, which make it much easier to return to a specific Web site.

I was encountering computer problems the day my bookmarks disappeared. When logged on to a more complex Web site, one with Java applets, animations and fairly resource-intensive features, the page would either stall for several minutes during loading or not load at all.

I also received several system error messages, suggesting there was something amiss with my browser.

I recall rebooting several times. As I usually do when I get these types of freeze-ups, which in the Windows environment are called general protection faults (GPF), I restarted my computer.

In some cases, you can quit the specific software application that caused the GPF, but in most cases you have to quit all your applications and restart your computer.

I completely restarted my computer, something techie types call a "cold boot." With a cold boot, you quit all applications, quit your operating system and turn the computer completely off. It's best to wait a few minutes before turning the computer back on and relaunching your operating system, although, as with backup files, I know few people actually do this.

The other option is a "warm boot," which means the user quits his or her applications and restarts the machine but doesn't turn it completely off.

During one of the last cold boots I made that frustrating day, I discovered that my entire Netscape bookmark folder had disappeared, or so it seemed. No bookmarks appeared when I clicked on the bookmark icon on my browser and the bookmark folder under my Netscape directory bookmark.htm was empty.

I consulted Netscape's help section on their World Wide Web page at www.help.netscape.com and learned that users of Windows NT and Windows 9598 easily can recover their lost bookmark files. However, because I use 3.11 for Workgroups at the moment, no contingency plan existed.

To make matters worse, the same help page included instructions on how to save the entire or selected bookmarks. "Hmm. This might help me next time," I thought, "but it doesn't do me much good at the moment."

After searching the Netscape site for more specific information on the reasons behind lost bookmark files, which I didn't find, I called the folks at Netscape and eventually spoke with Miki Seibel, a product manager for Netscape's end-user software.

She said she hadn't heard about the problem I was having, but she suggested I upgrade my browser to 4.06 from 4.0. Thanks to the browser wars between Netscape and Window's Internet Explorer, both browsers are now free and available for download on the Internet.

She also suggested I contact the company's technical support folks, through the Netscape help Web page.

I did that but was still intrigued. Where exactly did my bookmarks go?

One of our technical support people at The Allentown Morning Call also looked at my machine and discovered a large bookmark file under my "C" drive rather than under my Netscape directory. It seems that during one of the freeze-ups or during one of my reboots, the entire file had been moved to my main, or "C," drive, meaning that when my browser went in search of the bookmark file, it wasn't in its usual location.

That episode of the almost-lost file taught me two things. First, backing up your data is important, which I knew already but, unfortunately, it usually takes an event like this to drive home the point.

To back up data, users of Netscape should locate their bookmark file and, using the "Save As" command, copy it to another folder or, better yet, to a separate floppy or data drive.

Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer can do the same. With IE, the bookmarks are in a folder called "Favorites." In Windows, this should be under the C directory. For Mac OS users, this should be part of the IE folder.

The second thing this incident taught me is that I've come to rely heavily on my bookmarks and that re-creating them isn't easy or guaranteed. In one case, I searched for a specific page for more than two hours, using the exact search terms I initially had used to originally find it. I never found the page doing those searches and was only able to locate it when, with help, I was able to recover the "lost" bookmark files.

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MATH WEB SITE: I get dozens of suggestions for new Web sites each week, but most of them are nothing more than illustrated business cards for a particular commercial concern. Few, it seems to me, would interest the average Web surfer, whomever that might be.

Last week, I got a letter from the Argonne National Laboratory, which is operated by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The letter announced a free arithmetic-teaching program, developed by David Baurac, one of the scientists at Argonne. The interesting thing about the software, which attempts to improve basic math skills, is that you can use it online, or download it and use it later on a computer that has either a Netscape or Internet Explorer browser but is not necessarily connected to the Net.

Log onto www.dep.anl.govaattack.htm for more information. It is set up like a game, with the goal being to do as many correct calculations (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing) within a 60-second period. You can vary the difficulty of the game. It is written entirely in Java script, which means it should be able to be used by either Windows or Mac machines. It also tells you immediately if you've entered an incorrect answer and tells you the correct answer.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service