Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging: How to Save Your Posts from Catastrophe.

 

 Sumerian clay tablet with the text of the poem Inanna and Ebih by the priestess Enheduanna, Writing in cuneiform characters on clay tablets is a little laborious, but it ensures that your text is not vulnerable to accidental erasure: these tablets have survived for more than 5000 years. It is hard to think that the posts of our blogs will survive for so long. But, at least, we should try to protect them from accidental loss or direct attacks. Image from Wikipedia.

 

I don't know if it ever happened to you, but a few days ago I lost two post drafts in a row, the same day. Then I discovered something that I should have known: that Google's Blogger gives you zero chances to recover your text when you erase it by mistake. No way, impossible, I could have thrown those drafts into a black hole. 

No tragedy, but a few hours of work wasted. And that set my mind in motion: why is it that Google, the world's most powerful Internet company, can't provide even a minimal file recovery facility in their blogging platform? Call me paranoid, but I think they had something in mind when they structured Blogger the way it is. That is, prone to data loss. Just think of a few characteristics of the shiny new version of Blogger: there is no way to make an automatic backup. There is no trash can from which you can recover erased data. There is no way to disable the automatic saving that operates every two seconds or so, and that virtually guarantees that any mistake you make can't be reversed. I can't believe that these are bugs: they have to be features.

Google is not the only Internet company to be evil. You know how things are with Facebook, which you can see as a form of "micro-blogging." Since their service is free, you can't complain if they decide to erase one of your posts just because they don't like it. And they do that all the time. Of course it is not politically correct to use the term "censorship." They do that all in the name of fighting "fake news" to protect us. But, you know, sometimes the definition of "fake news" seems to be a little wide. 

Blogs aren't actively subjected to on-line censorship, at least not up to now and officially. But if you pause for a moment to think about the situation, you note how fragile blogs are. Suppose that Google just decided to stop its blogging service. They can do that, they have did that with other services they had been offering. Do you remember Google+ and Google Reader? They are gone forever because Google decided to pull the plug on them, despite the protests of their users. 

Of course, Google would give you some time to migrate to another platform (would they?), but just imagine that, suddenly, you find that your blog has disappeared. What do you do? Whom do you complain to? You paid nothing for the service, so you can't complain if that service suddenly doesn't exist anymore. 

One possible solution would be to hard-copy my post using cuneiform characters on clay tablets that could survive the worst: we still have the work by the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna that survived for some 5 thousand years! But I understand that this method is a little labor-intensive. So, what could you do, in practice? 

I think there are several methods feasible once you understand that there is a problem. Here is what I did. Suggestions in the comments are welcome. 

1. Switch platform. I have been blogging for several years, I tried WordPress, Joomla, Medium, and others. Yes, they do have text recovery facilities but, apart from that, I found that Google's "Blogger," is the simplest and most effective platform. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of WordPress, but it gives you good flexibility and control, much better than Medium. Besides, are your data really safe with another platform? You know that you just can't stand against a determined professional attack by someone who wants to destroy or hijack your data. No more than the Armenian soldiers could survive against the Azeri drones in Nagorno-Karabach.

2. Make backups. Once you realize how weak and exposed you are, the obvious solution is to backup your data. Note that Blogger gives you limited backup possibilities. Once you manage to find the hidden backup button (not so easy), it will produce an "eml" file that you cannot read off-line (at least I found no way to do that). All you can do with the file is to restore your whole blog from scratch, but your layout will not return alive. Besides, it won't allow you to recover just one of your posts or one of your drafts. Finally, there is no way to set up an automatic backup schedule. You have to remember to do that manually. That guarantees to lose a good chunk of your recent work if something goes wrong. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to remember to backup your blog every month or so. If you are truly paranoid, you can copy your eml files to an external USB memory that you keep in a drawer (I did). If they can destroy that, I give up: I can't win. 

3. Backup your files in HTM. I found a utility for "Firefox" called "WebScrapBook" that will download your entire blog in a form readable by any browser offline. There are other apps that claim to be able to do that, but I found that they just don't work with blogger (again, a bug or a feature? Who knows?). With WebScrapBook you can recover a single post, complete with images, by cutting and pasting it into Blogger or another platform. The problem is that you can't automate the saving process and not even customize where WebScrapBook saves your files. You have to manually transfer them to where you want to store them, including that USB memory I was mentioning before. Nevertheless, it is a good thing to have. 

4. Use a form saver. It would be nice be good to have something that automatically saves and stores what you type online, and not just for your blog posts. There was once a utility called "Lazarus" that worked very well but has now disappeared from the Web (I know that I am paranoid, but I can't avoid asking the question "why?"). After several tests I found an equivalent program called "Form History Control" that works as an extension for Firefox and, it seems, for other browsers. It will protect you from losing hours of work just because you pressed the wrong button. Of course, it is one of those fleeting apps that appear and disappear from the Web for unclear reason. But, as long as it exists, it seems to be working. 

And that's how things stand. The unbearable lightness of blogger remains a problem. Maybe we should really think about going back to cuneiform writing on clay tablets. 




13 comments:

  1. At least a third or so of Leonardo's notebooks survived 500 years of history's vagaries. So we could always print out each post.... I've concluded the only way to really back anything up in ways we control is to pay to have your own server and then back that up. Cumbersome but not that costly compared to many other expenses.

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  2. Did you try this to convert EML files into other formats?

    https://blog.storymirror.com/read/s1dqt3no/eml-converter

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  3. I copied and saved all my blogposts into a Word document. Of course, if Word disappears......

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  4. Could you not type up your post on Word, which you could both print up a hard copy, as well as copy/paste it to Blogger?

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    Replies
    1. You can. But a blogpost is not the same as a word document. Posts are more dynamic, can be changed, updated, and modifies. Then, of course, you don't want to go back and forth from blog to word, it takes too much time.

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    2. agreed Antoinetta. I have always done it that way after blogger did me in like what happened to to UGO. Wordpress is far easier and for a while I posted to both platforms. UGO: the first rule of life in this new decade is NEVER EVER have anything to do with the EVIL GOOGLE!

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  5. You may recall that Rumsfeld said, of bombing the oldest clay tablet library in the world in Baghdad...yet untranscribed...that shit happens. Professional librarian and archivist is one of my hats. I used to photocopy my letters to people and file them...I still have file drawers full of these. My writing drafts are almost all in paper form as well as on the computer. The story of Michener losing his only draft of his book on the national treasures of Japan in a plane crash in the Pacific is unforgettable. How could he not have had a copy? I am old, and old fashioned in some regards, but I have never believed the computer documentation will make it, including the library conversions to digital. Am going back and posting a new comment on EMP attacks in response to your end of consumerism/drone pieces.

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  6. What seems to be called for here is a distributed collaborative backup system with a very basic and resilient technology like HTML5. I would be happy to talk about this.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, of course! If you have suggestions, they are welcome.

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    2. There is the way back machine for any content that is/was published on the web at least. I see that there are quite a lot of copies of your blog there:
      https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/
      They are probably mostly from automatic crawls, but you can also trigger a manual copy of your site or any site for that matter.

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  7. Dear Ugo Bardi,
    I believe my original commment got lost-- I have had this trouble with my comments disappearing on Google blogs on and off for some time. Well, to say it once again, as someone with a Google Blogger blog ("Madam Mayo, launched in 2006), I had the very same concerns that you bring up here. A couple of years ago I moved "Madam Mayo" blog it to self-hosted WordPress (wordpress.org, not wordpress.com, there's a difference) so now I pay for the domain, the hosting, and also a Code Guard backup. But I don't find those services expensive given their value to me. Now I have control over my blog and my signups. So far so good. I did have one time when the new site went dark, so I called my hosting co telephone number, spoke with an actual human being, and the problem was immediately fixed. Yes, I spoke with an actual human being!! That certainly would never happen with such a problem on Google's platform.

    Ironically, since Google seems to be losing my comments when I use my name and URL here on Blogger comments, I am posting this using my Google account. I kept my old blogger blog online, but that sends readers to the new blog at www.madam-mayo.com.

    Good wishes

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  8. You don't have to call me paranoid. I am and I know it.

    Starting out I had a blogspot but quickly determined that I needed to have a more secure arrangement and I went independent. I am 100% independent. I don't even use a Wordpress template. I could, that fact that I wrote my own template is not relevant. The important thing is that I don't use a service at all but rent space on a server to which I upload my content. This means that I have an exact copy of everything in a folder on my own computer.

    As a backup that is not secure so I installed 'Git' which is the de-facto standard for version control by software people. Anything can be backed up with it. If I wanted to back up my site I would go to the folder open a command window and type:

    git commit -a

    That brings my backup up to date. The next step is to type:

    git push

    This simple command uses the fact that I have configured my folder to have a remote backup address. The command sends everything up to 'github' from which I can then download my backup and restore everything. In a matter of minutes.

    https://github.com/

    An alternative is bitbucket.

    https://bitbucket.org

    All you have to do is find a template you like since you probably don't want to write one from scratch. Installing and using git itself is basically a no-brainer though you have to learn a little bit.

    Then you open an account at a web hosting service and upload your content. Originally I was at https://www.fatcow.com/. I moved to a different web hosting service when they upped the fees. This is typical. Web services count on you being lazy and not shopping for a new provider when they raise rates. There is a rich a-hole who buys internet providers so he can up the fees. No matter who you go with it is only a matter of years before you have to search for a better deal.

    There is one other detail. You need a URL.

    I chose https://chasingthesquirrel.com/. This URL is registered to me. I believe I own it for another 4 years before I have to renew.

    I wish I had also registered the same thing in a dot 'org' version when I picked 'chasingthesquirrel'. It makes more sense since I am non-commercial but as soon as you register something there are parasites who register closely related versions of your URL to hold them for ransom should you want to buy them later. So it goes.

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  9. When I had time to blog I remember to have used semagic tool
    I tallowed simulatanius posting to blogger, wordpress and livejournal platform
    https://sourceforge.net/projects/semagic/
    Were I U - I'd give it a try.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)