by Brian Tomasik
First written: 8 May 2016; last update: 19 Jul. 2016
This piece describes the steps I took to back up the contents of my WordPress sites on paper.
A powerful geomagnetic storm is reasonably likely to occur within this century, and it could destroy data stored on magnetic media, like hard drives. One form of backup against this possibility is to store data on long-lasting optical discs. This is probably mostly foolproof, but it's still vulnerable to format rot of software or hardware to read the optical format (although presumably archivists of the future will have solutions to these problems; after all, people still play decades-old video games using emulation). Digital storage might have other unknown-unknown risks as well.
Backing up on paper is fairly robust because you can see the data in a non-cryptic format, so unless the paper is lost/destroyed or the ink fades, this backup option seems unlikely to fail.
Of course, paper backups are more of a pain to use for recovery than are backups already in electronic format, but presumably paper backups could be scanned and read back into electronic text using OCR.
Downloading your WordPress database
Following are the steps I took to extract the published versions of the pages on my websites for printing.
First, I went to phpMyAdmin. For me, that's accessible through HostGator's Control Panel page:
Then I clicked on the circled red items in the next few screenshots:
Then I edited the SQL query as shown below to get only published posts. The reason for this is that if you don't filter down to only published posts, you'll get several copies of each post. In my case, I was getting 3-5 or more copies of each post, which would have translated to an extra 1000+ pages to print out.
Once I got the results of the query, I selected all of the posts. To do this, I first showed a number of rows bigger than the total number of posts:
Then I went to the bottom of the page and clicked "Check All":
Then I clicked "Go" on the next screen:
This started a download of a .sql text file containing the contents of my posts. I did spot checks to verify that snippets from various pieces on my site were indeed contained in this file exactly once. Then the file was ready to be printed.
Formatting text for printing
I copied and pasted the file text into Microsoft Word, set the margins ("Page Layout" -> "Margins") to 0.5 inches on all sides, and set the text size to 8. Of course, you can choose different settings if you want.
If you have some articles on your website in PDF/Word/etc. formats, make sure to include them in the set of files to print as well, since they won't be included in the database dump described above.
Finding a printing service
TODO: ADD THIS SECTION
You may want to store the paper printouts in a fireproof safe to guard against your house burning down. That said, in the event of most house fires, the cloud versions of your data will still exist, so you can just make new printouts. The exception would be if a severe geomagnetic disaster also causes widespread fires; in this (unlikely?) event, a fireproof container would be important.