The Library of Alexandria and the 3-2-1 Backup Principle

The Library of Alexandria was the largest library of antiquity, founded in the 3rd century BC. It kept hundreds of thousands of documents, mainly in Greek, among which there were many religious texts, stories or scientific writings originally written in another language, translated into Greek.

The library was therefore the greatest holder and custodian of knowledge in the world at that time. The greatest cultural loss of mankind is that the library was eventually completely destroyed. It has been a serious disaster on several occasions as to how it finally disappeared for good, there is no unified position.

It is even sadder that the library was built with the very purpose of making copies of everything possible for the scribes, so they tried to accumulate as complete a collection as possible. We can say that what was available in written form at that time, there was a copy of it in the library. A huge catalog was even made of the large number of documents and books stored in the library.

Science, religion and culture lost an unimaginable amount and quality of knowledge with the destruction of the library. Unfortunately, the most important reason for this was that, in accordance with the development of the world at that time, the books were practically only made using parchment, which burns easily and quickly. But if there had been texts engraved in clay or documents written on metal scrolls, they would have been scattered and disappeared or destroyed in the storms of history, as a result of repeated attacks and destruction on the library.

Unfortunately, this was not the only example of the brutal destruction of humanity’s cultural treasures. During the destruction of images, icons, statues, paintings and carvings fell victim to religious fanaticism on several occasions. And let’s not forget, there were also book burnings in the 20th century, and although these were also brutal and inhuman acts, they did not cause irreparable damage.

But let’s go back to the Library of Alexandria. Could the destruction have been avoided? Probably not. Could at least part of the library, the most important documents, have been preserved? The answer is yes. The books of the Holy Scriptures, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the apocryphal writings were able to survive because the texts were constantly copied, and they tried to take the copies to as many places as possible. The best way to preserve your content is to copy and distribute it. Today, of course, it is easy to describe this, since individual books and documents can be copied and distributed in a matter of seconds in digital form. But whether our digital treasures are really safe is not so certain anymore.

Many people store their hard-to-collect digital information, photos, videos, and books on their smartphones, tablets, desktop computers’ hard drives, flash drives, or cloud-based storage, which is in vogue these days. Then something happens, and the user suddenly realizes that nothing remains of his feared and unobtainable treasures stored in a single place. The reason for this is that digital information is extremely vulnerable, and very few people know this.

I myself was twice faced with the moments in which digital information can be destroyed, once the power supply destroyed two hard drives in my machine at the same time, one of which also contained the saves of the other, another time my 500 gigabyte mobile winchester was on the carpet , while I was copying it, I started watering my flowers, and when I stepped off the chair, I managed to step on the device that was working. The case was not designed for such a load, all it took was to bend it enough so that the moving heads touched the moving plate, and the device was destroyed in an instant, with almost 500 gigabytes of material on it. Anyone who has ever worked with a 1.2-megabyte floppy disk or a 20-megabyte hard disk knows that this is a hundred thousand times the amount of data.

In both cases, the fact that I already applied the 3-2-1 backup principle saved me from complete data loss, which is actually the main topic of this article. I thought it was important to write about this because I have often seen how people who use digital technology take it for granted that what is available to them now will also be available safely in the future. And as I wrote, living examples prove that this is not the case.

What is this 3-2-1 principle? We must make 3 backups of our data , this does not include the original data, so we must have a total of 4 copies of all the data we consider important. Why? We could see that in my case, a power supply destroyed not only the original content, but also its save, so if I had only one save, I would have been in a lot of trouble.

backups on at least 2 types of media, for example a hard drive and a cloud-based backup, or a hard drive and optical discs (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, M-Disc), larger organizations also use tape units for multiple backups. But we can also save to a flash drive, but we have to know that a flash drive can become inaccessible in an instant, I’ve also encountered this before, after a few writing errors, suddenly we can no longer connect the device, the operating system no longer recognizes the content disappears.

Finally, 1 : a copy of the save set should be stored elsewhere, preferably as far away as possible. In large companies, there may be a requirement that there must be hundreds of kilometers between storage locations. This would obviously be excessive in a home environment, but keeping the hard drives in a separate room is already a basic requirement.

Let’s take as an example a large American company with a lot of customer and other business data, they apply the 3-2-1 principle, their backups are stored in basement rooms several kilometers from each other near the beach. Then comes a hurricane that floods both storage facilities. If they are lucky, the contents of the disks can still be saved, if they are unlucky, then their company has gone bankrupt, as they cannot continue the work.

At home, it is worth selecting a master copy, this can be one of the mobile Winchesters that we can take with us in an emergency. But if we are even more careful and want to be prepared for the event that we are not there when the trouble happens, we also save our most important sources, images, and writings to an Internet storage location. In this case, it is worth encrypting the content with a password that we will remember even in our dreams . And, of course, we have to keep in mind the availability of the Internet storage space and the associated password.

The 3-2-1 system is not perfect either, there are situations, such as a war attack, which has become a tangible danger these days, in which case we are powerless. But, for example, a massive solar flare, which can destroy all electronic devices, is unlikely to cause any damage to our data stored on M-Disc. But we don’t have to prepare for extraordinary situations, since there are other things more important than the security of our data, but for cases and malfunctions that occur in general, even often. The 3-2-1 system is suitable to prevent these and avoid data loss.

How does the save system relate to the Library of Alexandria? Let’s imagine that the librarian at that time would have known and assessed the threats to the library and would have known the 3-2-1 rescue principle. Then they could have created another library outside of Alexandria, as far as possible, say in the British Isles, there would have been two copies of each text in
both libraries, and one of the copies would have been burned into clay, or scratched into metal plates, or engraved on stone tablets for posterity. But perhaps even better than the 3-2-1 principle would have been to use the technique used by viruses, to spread as quickly as possible, as many copies as possible, over as large an area as possible.

If any of the rescue and preservation methods had really been used, we cannot estimate how much richer religion, science, culture, and humanity would be now. We could have in our hands the most ancient writings about the creation of the world, about the flood, we could read 6-8 thousand year old texts or their copies, maybe we could also have in our hands the very first written Old Testament. We would have a direct report on the Trojan War, Atlantis, maybe even some reports on aliens visiting our Earth.

Unfortunately, the Alexandrian library could only be completely reconstructed with the help of a time machine, but the chances of this are very small, since a time machine would generate paradoxes that would probably never build such a structure.

So we have no other option but to accept that humanity has already lost the Alexandrian library forever, with contents that we can never, ever recreate.

English translation: January 9, 2024

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