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Digital fatigue - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Digital fatigue [Jun. 25th, 2008|12:50 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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I own 3 computers. One of these has 2 OS's. Also, I administer one machine at school and have an account on another school network. Plus I have accounts on 3 machines on various places on the Internet. Those are just the ones I use regularly; there are two more accounts I don't use anymore. I also have a couple of external hard drives, storage on my phone and my kindle, some SD cards and USB drives.

Altogether, that's a total of about 20 different places where my files could be. It's a nightmare.

I try my best to keep it under control -- I put most of my documents online, my code and latex work in svn repositories, etc. But once in a while I need to find something and I'm stumped; I have no idea which computer or device it's on. As far as I know, I have backups of all the important stuff, but I can't possibly be sure.

I want to get away from it all and move to Montana.

What I really want is for there to be one universal repository of all my data that is perfectly reliable and lets me access it instantly in any shape or form. That will remain a dream for the forseeable future.

It's actually worse than that: most of my accounts are configured to connect without a password to most of my other accounts (ssh-agent if you know what I'm talking about). Keeping track of that matrix is way, way out of my (and likely anyone else's) mental ability. Many of these accounts are administered by other people; each of them, then, has complete power over all of my data.

It scares me. But I don't think there's a choice.

[User Picture]From: haran
2008-06-25 02:46 pm (UTC)
Get rid of your 3 machines.
Get a laptop and carry it around with you. Keep your mail and anything else you need on it.
Backup to an external hard disk every so often (every day if possible).
Even if you need stuff on your remote accounts, keep copies on your notebook.
For really important stuff, throw backups onto whatever accounts you have anywhere else but those are only backups for when Murphy's law kicks in and your laptop and external disk both fail at the same time.

Why do you need 3 machines anyway?

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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-25 03:10 pm (UTC)
two of those machines are absolutely essential. i can't do my regular work on a laptop -- i have RSI waiting to rear its ugly head in my back, wrist and neck. i'd probably last a week without my desktop with all its ergonomic stuff set up just the way i need.

and of course, i need a laptop since i'm on the move often. the laptop needs to have both windows and linux.

the third machine i can maybe dispose of. i just need to make sure i've migrated all the data out of it. i've been keeping it around in case i decide to make a living room media player out of it; i guess that's never gonna happen. let's see.

there is absolutely no way i will keep mail on a local machine! i stopped doing that the minute gmail came out and that's the best thing i ever did. i consider the failure probability of gmail to be lower than that of two of my own machines failing at the same time, so i don't even see the need for a backup.

my remote accounts are servers. there's way too much data to back up on my laptop.

i guess we just have very different ways of thinking about things :)
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[User Picture]From: haran
2008-06-25 03:25 pm (UTC)
i guess we just have very different ways of thinking about things :)

Yeah, definitely.

I have only 2 types of 'large data'.

1. Music which I keep on my laptop with backups.
If I'm running out of space on music partition, then I decide I've got too much music and remove the crap I listen to the least.

2. Photos which are too many to keep on my notebook. I just store them on an external drive.

If that drive goes bad before I can backup them up to somewhere else, then oh well, that's life.

But any important documents and all my code is on my disk. I've only recently started putting them under remote version control.

You're technically right about mail. Keeping it on Gmail or something is safer.
I just have a instinctual aversion (which is not completely justified) to keeping my mail on a remote server and requiring a good internet connection to access it (which is kinda silly because I almost always have internet wherever I go).

Hm. maybe I should start using gmail for my mail backups.

Another reason I hate having to use multiple machines is customizations.
Keeping my vimrc files in sync is itself a burden for me.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-25 03:30 pm (UTC)
i know what you mean about vimrc. i also need my bashrc, inputrc and ipythonrc to be able to get any work done. but then i've only made one change to my vimrc in the last 4 years (sheesh, i'm old :-), so whenever i get a new account i just copy those 4 files over from any of the old accounts.

i have my own library of useful utility functions for python, which i update all the time. but i have it in svn so it's not a big deal either.
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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2008-06-26 05:46 am (UTC)
I'd suggest you backup ALL your mail on a local machine. It might never happen (I lerve Gmail too), but GMail could go paid or something one day or like all good things, just come to an end. That's a long shot, but backing up is still a good idea.
If there's too much data on your remote accounts to back up on your laptop, use an external hard disk or that extra "machine" of yours! Should simplify things significantly...
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 05:54 am (UTC)
i once tried it with thunderbird. half an hour into the process, i was 10% done. that's when i gave up. i should look for a script.

you don't understand re. the servers. i'm crawling (parts of) the web.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 06:03 am (UTC)
found it. running now. thanks for prompting.

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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2008-06-26 06:12 am (UTC)
found it. running now.

Hey, that's great!

thanks for prompting.
Anytime :)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 06:15 am (UTC)
btw if gmail went for-pay i'd gladly pony up my last penny. in general i have no problem at all with paying for stuff on the internet and vastly prefer it to advertising. money is not important to me, my time is.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 07:41 pm (UTC)
hey guess what happened. pop-based gmail on my crappy treo mysteriously started working after last night. must have something to do with my running the backup script. makes my life a lot easier. it hasn't been working for 1.5 years! tell you what, when we meet, i'll buy you dinner :)
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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2008-06-27 01:32 am (UTC)
Oh wow!
Right, now, am gonna attribute all that to the butterfly effect and that would be the easiest dinner of my life :)
There's something as free beer, I guess :P
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From: jakespeak
2008-06-26 09:06 am (UTC)

Regarding your ergonomic porblems

and your needing a desktop. If your laptop is the kind that can be put on a port extender bay (of sorts), then you can just plug you wide screen monitor, a comfortable mouse, external hardisks, et al. on to the bay and just plug in the laptop when you are not on the move. That way, when you do need to be on the move, you can just unplug the laptop and up away. I use this both at home and work, one laptop, two bays. Works like a charm :)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 09:18 am (UTC)

Re: Regarding your ergonomic porblems

yeah, i used to do something like that for a long time. it was inconvenient but manageable. but that wasn't the only reason i needed two computers: the problem was when i was doing webdev. i needed windows and linux at the *same time*. so two computers. i spent a lot of time trying to get vmware to work, gave up.

but really, if i get it down from 3 personal machines to two, i'll go from 9 unix account + 1 windows account to 7 unix account + 1 windows account. when you think about it that way it doesn't seem like much of a difference.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-07-07 06:52 pm (UTC)
First the disclosure: I have just started working with Microsoft.

now the recommendation. Have you tried

I have just started using it and it looks great.


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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-07-07 07:37 pm (UTC)
i boot into windows about once a month to do powerpoint or test a website on internet explorer. i doubt i will have much use for that software :)
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