Consolidating all the things, also watches


As American scientific chef extraordinaire Alton Brown always said, “don’t use a unitasker”. This idea can be fraught with peril in software, but I’ve come to internalise this so much in the physical world. Some examples:

  • I use a FreeBSD tower at home as a router, jumpbox, NAS, VPN end point, virtualisation sandbox, build server, PleX transcoder, glorified peripheral charger, and more.

  • My vintage Pentium 1 tower is a chimera of sorts, with parts from my parents’ original and long since dead 486SX tower, and a few parts from my second-ever machine. It boots DOS, Windows NT 4, Red Hat Linux 6.3, and NetBSD 8.1. I get my retro x86 computer hit from a single beige box that with hindsight I’ve spent more money refurbishing than when I built it new as a kid.

The only unitasker in my kitchen is the fire extinguisher

  • I forgo (oh yah) a bit of interest and slightly higher fees to have multiple accounts in the same bank or brokerage. The fewer logins that stand between me and my weekly spreadsheet reconciling the better.

  • My daily carry, as we say now, has a small pouch with essential cables and other IT gear. One of these is multiheaded with adaptors, rather than having discrete cables for everything.

  • I avoided getting a dedicated rice cooker, until I realised you can steam stuff, cook oats, and make other unreasonably tasty vittles. I had to look up how to spell vittles.

  • I used to have more than a dozen blogs. Almost all of these have been merged into this one, including my silly podcast.

The key advantage of consolidation is fewer things to maintain for the same amount of output, which if done well translates to time and energy savings. This does mean you potentially lose more in one hit if there’s a problem, but the problem domain is smaller, and presumably you maintain it better because you spend more time with it.

So we come to smart watches. I wear a $20 quartz Casio with a white analogue face. It’s the best watch I’ve ever owned: it’s clear, it never needs charging, it weighs nothing, it has a tiny complication for the date, and it looks minimalistic. But now I’m looking at tracking fitness again, and every single wrist thingy today has a clock. I could wear both, but they have redundant information. I also prefer the Casio’s clock to anything on a fitness tracker.

I gave up on the original Apple Watch because the constant visual notifications and haptic vibrations did more to trigger my anxiety than any other technology I’ve ever owned. (Don’t email me with any suggestions, I tried them all).

So it does mean I’ll probably end up getting a separate device. But just like I feel guilty now when I buy more stuff, splitting a single device into two also feels wrong.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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