On Backups and Copernicus

Today’s Google Doodle was in honor of Nicolaus Copernicus’ 540th birthday. Because I don’t know much about the history of Copernicus or his seminal work which defined the theory of heliocentrism, I popped over to Wikipedia to browse the article. I learned many things but the most critical was that pre-information-age authors had balls the size of Volkswagens!

Copernicus worked on his manuscript from approximately 1510 until “the 1530s” when it was substantially complete.1 He then sat on it for another decade before it was printed in 1543.

And never once did he back up to an external, location separated hard drive.

This gives me the freaking willies! I mean, I back up *everything* including ever y single personal file I’ve created since 1996. I have my entire digital existence2 backed up in three spots, one of which is rarely (and briefly) in the same place as the other two.

Copernicus, while he may have had hand written copies of his work, was sitting around in Warmia, Poland in what to a modern set of eyes is a fire/flood/vermin infested area specifically designed for destroying important life-changing manuscripts. We were one accidental fire away from remaining with a Ptolemaic system and making a trip to the moon a complicated mathematical proposition. Copernicus had that masterpiece in his desk for ten years and no rats nibbled on it, no coffee was spilled on it, and no rabid nieces or nephews grabbed it for paper mache. Close call.

Of course, what this tiny essay of mine illustrates is that I have no clue what sort of provisions were used by scholars in the Renaissance to avoid disasters such as I described. I imagine that they weren’t stupid and realized that recreating their life’s work was more difficult than having fair copies made. Or something.

But still. It gives me the willies.

  1. All information here is from Wikipedia, so your mileage may vary. []
  2. Minus all that stuff sitting out in the ‘verse. []
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