Net Professionals: Do You Have a Work Contingency Plan?

If you work for yourself and spend a substantial portion of your day online, have you consciously considered how important your computer and Internet connection are? Do you have a contingency plan if something goes wrong?

While it’s nice to keep a positive attitude, sometimes things just go wrong. Consider: This past Wednesday night, for the first time in several years, I decided to write down some “affirmations”. After spending 10-15 minutes typing into a mindmap all the great things that would happen in my life for the next two years – and envisioning it all – my computer shut down on its own. It wouldn’t turn back on until Thursday morning, only to display a message about the CPU being shut down due to some “thermal event”.

Of course, my heart beat rapidly. My entire work life, passwords, contact info, online banking access, etc., was on there. And while I had intentions of getting another computer because of the way I work, I hadn’t planned on it financially just yet. Out of worry, I did buy another computer last night (thanks to my brother and a generous loan from Ryan). The service guy did manage to fix the old one, after nearly an hour of working on it, but I’m relieved to have a backup.

At this point, I have some redundancy in my equipment and accessories. While I don’t earn much in ad revenue, I do make a reasonable income freelancing. So like any business person, I have to protect my income-earning ability by ensure I have the necessary tools, even to the point of redundancy:

(1) Computers: Usable computers:

  1. Two active desktops.
  2. One old backup desktop.
  3. One active laptop.
  4. One old IBM thinkpad that some idiot friend of mine trashed but might be salvageable.

I have four functioning desktops but one is an ancient Linux machine that’s painfully slow and which I don’t have space for. Another desktop used to be part of my old home recording studio. However, after I blew away the 17 Gb drive where all my raw files for over 100 compositions lived, I stopped using it.  This happened between backup periods, and it put me off pursuing a composing career. Live and learn.

(2) Internet connection: Active connections [*] and additional options:

  1. [*] Cable Internet.
  2. [*] Wi-Fi to go.
  3. Cellular data plan, for my Palm Treo.
  4. High-speed dialup.
  5. Satellite Internet.
  6. Powerline Internet.
  7. Municipal Wi-Fi

Cable Internet is my primary access, and as of last night, I activated a Wi-Fi to go modem as a redundancy measure. It’ll be costly but it’s a necessary measure for me. That’s because, when I move to Toronto next year, I want no downtime in access. With this modem, I plug it in in any large city here and I can get online. I mean, we all know how long it takes the cable company to show up, and I can’t take the chance that I’ll be offline for weeks.

Wi-Fi to go modems do use a cellular network, but there’s no phone involved. I did have a cellular data plan on my Palm Treo, but it was absurdly expensive – Cdn$100/mth for a maximum 250Mb /month of bandwidth. I’ll only reinstate it when I get back into photography or get into film school, since I’ll possibly need it for location shoots. When revenue permits and needs dictate, of course. [The hardest part of freelancing, other than the ebb and flow of income, is separating “want” from “need”, in terms of technology expenditures.]

I’ve tried satellite Internet in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was unreliable during storms (about every day in the summer). As for Muni Wi-Fi, Toronto is in the first stages of partial citywide coverage. The only other option I’d explore is high-speed dialup as a backup, but only when I’m at the point of hiring someone to work for me. I know that four types of Internet connection sounds like overkill, but I that over a single superfast point of access.

(3) Software: I prefer redundancy in various software categories as well – not just in terms of specific applications but also in platform (desktop, web browser).

  1. Photo editing/ vector software /diagramming.
  2. Screen capture/ video capture.
  3. Video players.
  4. Mindmapping/ brainstorming.
  5. Text/ html/ blog editors.
  6. Chat/ IM/ VoIP.

(4) Cashflow: This is a tough one. Because I do have a few small online partnerships, and because I usually pay the writers each month before I collect from partners, I need to keep a minimum level of funds in my PayPal account at all times. Then there’s funds in my bank account for personal use and a very low-limit credit card. (I don’t like debt of any form.)

Pretty much the only redundancy I don’t have is two phones. I haven’t owned a landline in about ten years. When I worked for the consulting division of Bell Canada, I did carry around two pagers and two cell phones. I looked like a doofus, but I had my own devices as well as those for work – a necessity of the job. I’ll admit, though, that I might succumb to an Apple iPhone sometime in the future.

Are you as redunancy-obsessed as I am? What do you to ensure that your web working will not be affected by some unexpected event?

13 thoughts on “Net Professionals: Do You Have a Work Contingency Plan?

  1. Sharon: It’s amazing what some people have to go through for Internet access, else they can’t work. Maybe there’s a market for a “multiplexer” device that can put all Internet access redundancies into a single box, with a single monthly bill.

  2. I have had some grand adventures in making deadlines under duress… stringing 200 feet of telephone wire to tap into a neighbor’s phone line to use dial-up, when an ice storm took out both my phone and cable connection, packing up children for a 2AM cab ride across town to use my brother’s computer, when a localized cable outage shut me down, packing up laptop, children, Great Danes and leaving my house by rowboat during a flood when the electricity went… the tales are many.

    I have a desktop and a laptop. My sister lives downstairs and has a desktop. My brother is a short cab ride away, with a couple of desk tops and a laptop. He is also the emergency tech guy for the family, skilled enough to make it happen and does make emergency deadline house-calls with good cheer. I also have my computers set up for him to work on them remotely. I know the local hot-spots and will travel for Internet if I must. I have good focus and can work in the midst of chaos. I was writing in the hospital via laptop after the birth of my youngest.

    I keep an external hard drive and my brother has copies of much of my stuff. We just put my entire system on some mega external hard-drive he brought over when he switched the desktop from Windows to Linux. I dump stuff into shared files and copy the important stuff to my laptop.

    I would like to find an affordable back-up for Internet connection (I use cable for Internet and phone) that doesn’t involve dial-up/land-line phone options. I just can’t hand my money over to those companies after their collusion with the government on domestic spying… not in good conscience, anyway. I’d rather go through the whole pack everybody up and travel hassle.

    Best Regards…

  3. I have a college nearby that offers free wifi high speed internet. Also, I have a 2 computers. A laptop and a desktop. I try to backup my important files to a remote location every time I update them.

  4. Could be a nice article series about which desktop applications to sync with which services over the Internet to reach redundancy on an application level.

    I.e. Mail provider -> mail client = mail backup and fallback solution

  5. Ryan, I never mentioned Raid in my post. In fact, I didn’t mention data backup until the comments.

    I agree with you: where do you stop in redundancy? My simple answer: at the point you have diminishing returns. I don’t need a Raid disk array. I don’t need more than 500Gb of disk space, networked, but if I can afford it, I’ll buy 1Tb of networked backup space. But only when I can afford it, and have the necessary desk space. Until then, I’ll cross my fingers. [To clarify, I have no more room on my desk for more equipment.]

  6. usually people don’t listen to such advice unless they’re screwed (post-adaptive, as ryan says).

    storing your key data (including software) in an external drive (even if its a usb) and off-site (not in your regular work place) is the bare minimum. equipment backup is harder to do, but if you keep 2 PCs and 2 phones you can work through all but the most severe of crisis.

  7. Markus…apologies for the lack of quality control…but somethings are just outside of our control…

    quality control is only doable within reason (e.g. can’t be responsible for flaws in an open source CMS system)

  8. Now Raj, isn’t this one of those “i prefer not to think about it” topics? Aren’t most people post-adaptive … not just people, but governments too?

    How much backup is enough backup? Double, triple redundancy?

    I’ve seen triple RAID failure in my lifetime.

  9. Good post but in a sort of freak-me-out style. I not only worry about the stuff you mentioned but also sick days. I need to plan better for everything. I have two computers but one is iffy. Next year I’m getting a Thinkpad so I’ll have three and two will be in new and nice working order. My internet is what I really need to work on. I’ve got home dsl on both computers and also a deal that costs way too much on my pda and phone. But I need a new mobile option because I don’t like my current system. I need to look into other internet options being offline is my nightmare. You gave a very good list though to work from so thanks.

  10. I would make sure to have some working Internet cafés around the corner 🙂

    No, seriously I also have two backup PCs (one Laptop, one old PC) in my house. I also make sure that the necessary login informations are stored in several places (2 Palm, Plaxo,, Yahoo, Google). Not everything is perfect but I know that information is safe offline and in some some places online.

    Software redundancy and keeping the cash flow seems to be critical but after thinking about it, it is not as I mostly do new content and cash flow is handled by the bank I could easily switch or keep both.

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