Sunday, June 19, 2011

Curse of the Computer Gods

You know, the hardware gods hate me.

I currently have 7 corrupted hard drives with valuable data on them, two dead laptops and one I’m trying to reinstall to, and any number of other bits and pieces I’m too afraid to throw away.  I’m sort of getting tired of recreating files at this point.

I’ve started saving my data on Dropbox to help alleviate this.  These days, everyone wants you to store your data “in the cloud”; I’m a little leery of that overall, but the nice thing about Dropbox is that it stores your data in the cloud and on your local machines.  All of them, even.  So even if the Dropbox folks disappear tomorrow (which is always a problem with these ventures), I’ll still have multiple copies of it.  That beats my old solution, which was bidirectional sync’ing with Unison.  Which worked okay, but it was a pain in the ass if you made changes to the same file in two different places, and it doesn’t work at all if you can’t get Unison installed on a machine.  Another nice thing about Dropbox is, worse comes to worst, you can always use a browser to get at your stuff.  Of course the downside is that you have to have enough local storage space on every machine to hold all your stuff, but hard disks are cheap.  About the only thing I can’t reasonably put on Dropbox right now is my music.  I’d have to pay for the premium service to fit my 25Gb of MP3’s there, and I’d have to have 25Gb of space lying around on all my machines.  Which is problematic.  On the upside, I can get to my files from my phone, even.  So that’s nice.

Still not sure what to do about the music.  Amazon has a music vault service, but it has limited space, and you have to use their proprietary programs to upload and to download.  Not a very good option.  Google supposedly has a similar option, but too similar to be any better.  There are also streaming options like Subsonic, but the way they work is to stream your music off one server (which must always be available) which you can then access from other servers.  Moderately convenient, but it doesn’t solve the problem of what happens if the hard drive on that server bites the dust.

I also have several external hard drives, including two Passports.  They’re convenient, but I don’t want to have to lug drives around with me everywhere I go, and it still doesn’t solve the problem of what happens when the drive goes belly up.  Or when technology outpaces it: I have another pretty hefty USB hard drive that none of the newer computers I try it on will read.  Sort of like all those Jaz disks I have that I’ll never see the data on again.

And don’t even get me started on the tape drives.

I’m a technology guy.  I’ve been programming professionally for more than half my life; casually for nearly 75% of it.  I’ve built my own machines, installed hardware in everything from laptops to servers, even worked as a hardware technician for a while in my youth.  And I still hate dealing with hardware.  As a programmer, if there’s some piece of software I’m missing, I can always write it.  Now, granted, I may not be willing to write it; there are many classes of programs—hardware drivers, GUI applications, music players, spreadsheets, etc—that I wouldn’t bother wasting my time trying to create.  But I could write them if I wanted to, if I had the will and the gumption and the time.  But if there’s a piece of hardware that I’m missing, I have little choice but to go out and buy it.  And, even if I had a degree in Electrical Engineering and the brains (and will and gumption and time) to put together my own circuit boards, I’d still have to go out and buy the components.  You can create software from nothing.  Hardware requires stuff.  That’s why it frustrates me.

And the stuff is always changing.  I long ago gave up trying to keep track of all the latest technologies.  Many technogeeks (including many of my friends) do so, of course.  It’s like being a car guy and knowing what all the latest engine technologies and all that are coming out.  You can know all that cool stuff if you really want to, but it requires a significant investment of time and effort, and I just don’t have the patience for it.  Besides, I can just ask my friends and cheese off the time and effort they’ve already put into it.

The Internet (and, more recently, the “cloud”) have promised us a new technology life, a life free from the concerns of operating system or CPU.  We’re getting to that point, but we’re not there yet.  I’m looking forward to it, myself; we’re a multi-OS family around here, and, at any given time, there are several Linux machines, Windows machines, and Macs floating around the house.  I mostly like to work on Linux, but I’ll admit that its desktop apps have always lagged behind the Redmond giant.  I despise Windows, but there are some Microsoft products I like: Excel, for instance, pounded the nails in the coffin of Lotus 1-2-3 with both authority and flair.  Word’s always been a bit of a bloated whore, but Excel has always been a slick app, and, while Google Spreadsheets has managed to recreate some of its flash—and even surpassed it in a few small ways—honestly, it still lacks a lot of Excel’s magic.  And, of course, there are still programs that just only work on Windows, although those are growing fewer and fewer with the passing of the years.  Mostly it’s specialty programs, such as the excellent mapping program for one of my favorite hobbies.  So I like to have some Windows machines around.  And, while I’ve never been able to make myself love the Mac the way many have (primarily because it’s not keyboard-friendly enough for me—which is really an understatement: Macs are downright keyboard-hostile), I’ll admit to occasionally envying its ease of hardware use and a few of its programs (I’d love to be able to produce presentations in Keynote, for instance).  So why shouldn’t I be able to have all three operating systems running?  And be able to access the majority of my useful files from any of them?

I think we’ll get there eventually.  For now, I still feel like I spend just as much time configuring computers as I do using them, which pisses me off.  But that’s my curse.  I have offended the gods of hardware, and they do exact their price.  Perhaps I’ll go sacrifice a chicken.  Or a lolcat.  Something.

(In case it wasn’t obvious, I’ve spent most of the day reinstalling my laptop and didn’t really have time for a proper post.  So you got this crap instead.  See title of blog.)

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