Seniors these days are more tech savvy than they used to be, but they still did not grow up plugged in. That said, many seniors have come to embrace the home computer and its capacity to store records, documents, and even photos of the grandkids.

But with the increasing ease of digital storage comes the increasing risk that a lifetime of records and memories could be wiped out in just a few moments. To that end, David Shinkfield, an instructor at the SeniorNet Computer Literacy Center in Ewing will present "How to Back Up Your Computer and Protect Your Information," a free workshop, on Tuesday, March 11, at 1 p.m. at the Ewing Community Center on Hollowbrook Road. The workshop is open to all ages. Call 609-882-5086 or 609-883-1009.

Shinkfield grew up in Dover, U.K., the son of two very low-tech parents. "My father ran a company in London and Dover that manufactured specialized cardboard boxes for products such as fountain pens, candy, and vinyl disks," he says. "That dates us." He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Salford, in the north of England, in 1962, and went to work with AEI Ltd. "I managed the building of electrical substations for the 400kv system in the U.K.," he says.

In 1966 Shinkfield joined PA Consulting Group in London and worked for a wide variety of industries in the UK, Europe, and the United States. He and his family moved to the States in 1979. Before he retired, he spent the last 15 years of his career still with PA working with the major pharmaceutical companies in the US, UK, Europe and Japan, "to reduce the time taken to develop new drugs and to get them to market."

Though he is an instructor at SeniorNet, Shinkfield says he barely touched computers beyond sending E-mails while he was with PA. "My current interest in computers has developed since I retired, and was developed through reading – and asking technical questions to Google," he says. "I started teaching at SeniorNet three or four years ago.

Shinkfield mainly concentrates on Windows XP, Quicken – which helps manage finances – and the ins and outs of the Internet. But all the technical know-how in the world is no match for a dropped machine or a power surge, and Shinkfield recommends several methods of backing up digitally stored information.

External storage. The most obvious method for backing up files is to copy them to CD or copy them to an external hard drive. "It is good practice to install a second drive in your computer and back up to this as well as the external drive," he says. But adding second drives and carrying clunky external drives, he says, are often a bit much for seniors already behind the curve on advanced technology. A good alternative is a flash drive, which simply plugs into the USB port, copies what you want it to, and stores it on a device smaller than a pen.

Auto-backup. "I use a free program called Replicator," Shinkfield says. "It enables me to back up my data automatically every day at a selected time. I don’t need to do anything once the schedule is set up."

Developed by computer journalist Karen Kenworthy, Replicator automatically backs up files, directories, or drives and stores them anywhere you tell it to place them. It copies only those files that have changed. It can be downloaded for free at www.karenware.com.

On-line storage. "For many people, the size of their data files in "My Documents," bookmarks, E-mails, and contacts is frequently less that 2GB," Shinkfield says. "This may change if seniors start downloading movies, but at present, our audience does not." Smaller amounts of data to store means users can safely backup their files in their E-mail accounts or through their ISPs.

Shinkfield says the two most frequent causes for loss of data are as low-tech as his father’s business – hard disk failure and damage or loss of a laptop. "Disks are getting better, but several of my friends, my daughter, and I have all had a hard drive fail completely," he says. "When I was working, I was always traveling internationally and we were very conscious of computers being stolen, particularly at airports." And while his company redesigned its laptop bags to make them less obvious, one act of carelessness could wipe out enormous amounts of data.

"Dropping a laptop can have a disastrous effect on drives," he says.

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