Scan it. I have gradually
shifted from analog to digital with everything I can. We only have
one copy of most of the photos in our family albums. If those were
ever lost in a fire or flood, even the negatives might very likely be lost
in the blaze or deluge. I have a Pentax 600, and that's the easiest
scanner on the market for digitizing your photographic history. It
also handles single sheets of paper, so I have also scanned in hundreds
of pages of letters. The obvious advantage of digital is that you
can make an infinite number of copies, so I back up the digital versions
and distribute them to family and friends.
Burn it. A relatively quick
and dirty way to back everything up is on old-fashioned cd- or dvd-roms.
These have the disadvantage that you can't update them as easily as you
do the contents or your hard drive, and you also have to do a bit of math
to see what will fit on each disc (e.g., your mp3 collection may be spread
over several whereas you might be able to fit My Documents with your pics
and other miscellany).
Image it. One of the best
investments I ever made was an external hard drive. I only plug it
in long enough to back up the entire hard drive (except for system and
program files since those would need to be freshly installed in the case
of a crash, so why bother?). I started off with a 180MB external
drive which was more than enough to accommodate everything I needed from
my 120MB hard drive a couple times over... so I was able to save subsequent
back-ups concurrently. Over time I had to upgrade, so I went with
a 500MB external (contrast with my 200MB hard drive at the moment).
Want to know what I did with the original external HD? Read on.
Bank on it. Like I said, Hurricane
Katrina made me realize that an entire home (or subdivision even) could
be lost. It didn't matter that I backed everything up if the backups
were lost with the CPU. After I used the external drive to image
the contents of the computer, I put it someplace safe from theft or damage:
in the bank. Maybe a safety deposit box is going a bit overboard,
but it's cheaper even than insuring the computer. Now, short of perhaps
a nuclear strike, everything should be secure from any event that would
affect the computer itself. I keep the larger hard drive at home
and update that regularly whenever I'm about to do anything significant
to the computer (for fear I'll have to do a clean install if something
goes awry). The safety deposit box is a less-frequent back-up, but
it's money well-spent.