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Backing up my father's old computer

Discussion in 'Tech Talk & Web Things' started by Floris, Mar 24, 2019.

  1. Floris

    Floris I'm just me :) Hi. Staff Member

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    Oof, this is a tough one. So no offbeat comments in this thread please.

    In February '19 my father passed away and we have a lot of things that we have to take care of, obviously. One thing is the tech stuff. What hardware and software does he have, what was he doing (not like that, but, .. to get an idea of what to backup and handle). And how are we going to store this without being able to ask him what's important to him or us, versus what we could potentially discard of.

    His hardware is a bit older, and ready to be replaced. So the most important thing is to make a full system backup. This has to be done in two steps. One being fully automatic, this way if all fails we can replace the internal drive and restore from this auto-backup and hopefully get it all back. Two, while at the same time do a manual backup of important things, like what was important to him. In the case of my father this was email correspondence, financial information, professional and personal letters, official documentation. Pictures and videos, some of his music, and the books he was writing (or has written), including research for it. Oof, yeah. Quite a lot. Where do I even start.

    Newer hardware might work, such as an external ssd, but the speed is limited by the usb port, and his system is old. It doesn't know all the fancy new APFS and whatever stuff. It has to be an older slower drive, that works on old and new systems, with enough space for both those backups. And then twice.

    What I've done is sacrifice two of my drives for this, and got myself a new faster more modern ssd for my own system to take that data, and have more space for future data (and an organised 'dad' folder with the stuff we think we might want to keep and/or share with family.

    Privacy and security is important to me, I respect my father tremendously and his privacy is his. Obviously some will be compromised as we try to analyze what is there, so we know what we can perhaps backup manually, or share with his wife (my mom), etc. I am not the person to go 'snooping', I see it more as a forensic task to help my father and respect his wishes, while helping the family with some memories. Plus, for financial reasons, and online accounts, etc. We also need to gather up things such as tax filings, bank info, social media accounts, etc. etc. Obviously a quite intrusive but understandable thing to deal with.

    One thing I will be trying to deal with is making sure we have organized these accounts, change passwords, delete profiles, lock profiles, update information. In the future as data leaks out on the Internet because websites constantly get compromised- it would be important that my father's information doesn't get out there because Facebook decided to store passwords in plain-text.

    But again, let's start at step one. And maybe I am writing this all out in the hope this a- helps me deal with it a bit easier, b- maybe helps someone else in the future, c- it might result in someone posting some useful tips that I didn't think of.

    Step one: backing it all up.

    The SSD has been purchased, I've organised the stuff on my own system and made the space. I have backed up my own stuff twice. I made sure of this. So I don't make silly mistakes and lose my own data. And if I do, I have hopefully an extra working backup to recover from.

    Leaving me with a couple of older and smaller drives that I can use on his usb-2 ports to initialize and partition/format etc for his system. Then before using it I will do a test dump of a directory. And move it to my system. See if the external drive will mount and read from it. Hopefully not causing any issues. Move a file to it, mount it back on my dad's old system and see if it can still be used there. Once I am convinced this 1 drive works on both systems I will first turn on time-machine and let it complete twice. While at the same time I will go through the file system and see if there's obvious locations of personal files and manually copy those over to a second drive.

    This second drive has then undergone the same process of making sure that it works on both systems.

    Once the auto backup and the manual backup has finished. I will go test these backups, making sure it can still be read by both systems after a full system shutdown and startup.

    I will then consider it to be at the stage of "at least we have that".
    What I wish to then do is make sure we have a central spot for all the login details to things, and a central spot for all contact stuff, from offline addresses and names to online email stuff with names and what not. So it's not spread over 4 documents and 3 folders, but in a central location. This makes it easier for the family to then search for someone and find out who they are and link that back to documents and emails. But that's a step for the (near) future.

    Another near-future step would be the documents. There are loads of broken tmp things due to how word handled things. And we have to manually check the dates and confirm which is the latest working version. It will be scary to decide what are final versions and temp files or resource files. We have to spend time understanding how my father worked with his system. But hopefully this will result in a collection of important documents from personal letters to more official stuff, a directory with his books and projects, etc.

    And finally, rich media, such as pictures, movies, music, and stuff like that. Surely some will be linked to emails, attachments in emails, and documents. But there's also things like dropbox/ with a camera upload, or a google drive, or stuff that synced from his phone.

    Which brings me to more backup stuff that I didn't mention. While doing this for the laptop, I also have thumb drives, external drives to process, as well as his iPhone for example.

    We will end up with duplicate contacts if they aren't synced, or duplicate photos and duplicate files. I'd have to spend time determining which are uniquely duplicate or just two separate files called img_001.jpg but both actually quite different. A problem I've been fighting in the past for my own systems.

    As you can tell, this isn't just a quick 'let's backup some data, and call it a data' project. This is constantly working on something small, step by step, but with the focus to at least back things up.

    Even backing things up comes with a risk. Due to higher temps and longer exposure of the system working above average. The system could fail, and the drive could finally die. I've seen that happen before. So doing things one step at a time, with high priority on 'lets get an auto backup completed at least', is not something to take lightly.

    A tip I can give people: This is not the time for an update. Do not run system update, or some intensive tasks. Leave apps closed, don't bother with the internet. Etc. Just focus on having the backup complete first.

    A further away future thingy. The system is old. It can use a replacement, I've mentioned this - but we won't. My dad unfortn. isn't here anymore. And I regret not getting him a newer system a few years ago. But we don't have money lying around and Apple's prices aren't something you just want to say: "oh sure, let's buy two.." So here we are.

    What I can do in the future is replace the older internal hard drive with a new internal sata3 SSD. A family member who has worked at an official Apple reseller/repair store has offered to help us out with this. Why take a risk, when someone with more experience could perhaps do this? Additionally. Once I have some money I want to max out the memory in the system as well. This combination of more breathing room with a faster internal drive, might keep the system alive for another year or so. Which I think is worth it.

    Known issues: The keyboard has a few buttons that don't work. The bluetooth doesn't recognize moderns Apple Keyboards. So right now we're using an external usb wired Apple keyboard of mine to operate it. Not the most comfy, but at least that's "patched", we're hoping this family member can address this as well. The battery is way old, we've replaced it once, but that's already 4+ years ago now. And the best way to use the system is by keeping it powered. I doubt Apple is still selling these batteries, but that could be another 'update'.

    Again: let's start this backup first.

    Any experience in this, for these type of situations? Any tips?
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