Several months ago, I informed my wife that I was in the market for a new laptop. We started shuffling a few bucks each paycheck over to the savings account for this purpose, and in February I stopped by the Apple store on my way home from work and picked up my shiny new MacBook Air.
At home, I made sure to cleanly back up my old laptop (2007-era MacBook Pro with a lot of miles on it). I was going from a 320GB hard drive down to a 128GB SSD, so space would be at a premium. The one thing I knew I didn’t have to worry about, though, was the stuff in my Dropbox.
What I did, in fact, was discover a really neat way you can TOTALLY HOSE YOUR LIFE using Dropbox. This is a cautionary tale intended to save you from shooting yourself in the dick like I did.
First, kill all the lawyers. Then, do this.
If you are initializing a new Mac from a Time Machine backup, then before you make your final “clean” backup which will be used to set up your new machine:
- Open your Dropbox preferences.
- Go to the “Accounts” tab.
- Click (and confirm) “Unlink this computer”
Basically, this completely removes that machine from Dropbox.
What heinousness be this?
I didn’t do this, and here’s what exploded when I logged into my new machine.
First, at startup I got errors because Dropbox couldn’t find its folder. It had inherited the path from the backup restoration but that folder didn’t exist, since I wasn’t using Time Machine to back it up. (It was already “backed up”… by Dropbox. See?) So I went and created that folder.
WHICH CAUSED DROPBOX TO GO “OH SHITZ, LOOK AT THAT, YOUR DROPBOX FOLDER IS EMPTY. YOU MUSTA DELETED ALL YOUR CONTENT.” And being the obedient little whelp that it is, to propagate that deletion up to the cloud.
It was immediately obvious to me that I had done The Wrong Thing(tm). I hastily killed Dropbox, went to the dropbox.com site and undeleted the folders that had gotten wiped. No harm, no foul! Yay, Dropbox!
But wait, it gets worse
Deleting and restoring a folder that you have shared with other people does something really neat: it creates two entirely separate clones of that folder that enjoy shared history but no shared future. That is to say, YOUR copy of the folder is no longer the same as THEIR copy of the folder. So, say, when you put the file for your writers group meeting in the folder, and everyone in the group sends you hate mail about how you’re a complete moron because you don’t even know how to use Dropbox? They’re right.
The only way to fix this is to have one of them re-share the folder BACK to you. Which results in two folders called (e.g.) “Writing Group Files” and “Writing Group Files (1)”, which as we all know is super-cool and not at all confusing.
Still not finished with the getting worse, btw
Then there was tonight’s debacle. The complete pants-shitting moment of sheer dread. This is what happens if you commit all this stupidity AND you happen to use Scrivener.
Scrivener saves its files in a Mac bundle, which looks like a file but is actually a folder. Inside that folder are various sub-files that comprise your document–some rtf files that contain the “chunks” of your doc, and various indexes and things that describe its structure. One of these (in the newest version of Scrivener) is the .scrivx file, which is like the master project file that ties the whole thing together.
Earlier tonight I decided to reopen the novel that I was working on last year until my 5k short story for the Armadillocon workshop blossomed into a 20K novella for whenever I manage to finish it. And it wouldn’t open, because that .scrivx didn’t exist. Apparently, when I restored my writing top level folder, for some reason Dropbox did not restore the nested .scrivx files (although it appears to have restored everything else inside of the .scriv bundle).
Brief cardiac incident ensued, as I tried to remember whether the wipe and restore incident had occurred within 30 days, because Dropbox keeps your deleted files for 30 days. If those files weren’t recoverable, then my options for restoring a huge chunk of my writing files was, in descending order of apocalyptic nightmare:
- Rebuild by hand from old PDF reference
- Retype from old printed copy (if I had one… not likely)
- Rewrite from memory
Fortunately, it was within the 30 day window and I was able to recover all of my files. HOWEVER, this was the impetus I needed to finally upgrade my Dropbox account to paid. Not because I need the space–still have plenty of that–but for the “pack rat” add-on, which causes Dropbox to retain every version of every file for ever and ever, allowing you to easily recover any file from any point in its history… even if you deleted it umpteen years ago. That’s well worth $15 a month to me.
So the moral of the story is: if you use Dropbox… and Scrivener… and you’re transitioning to a new machine: DO the thing I described at the top of this article, or you may find yourself sorely regretting it.