State and mess in our computers


My post about FreeBSD on my tiny Panasonic laptop reminded me of a pitfall of suspend/resume. It’s great for power consumption on desktops, and saves time when you’re carrying a laptop around, but it encourages you to accumulate more stuff, such as:

  • open browser tabs
  • open terminal tabs
  • unsaved text editor buffers

I’ve talked before about seeing colleagues and friends open their laptops to hundreds of open things, and being amazed that their brains don’t collapse form cognitive overload, to say nothing about the RAM and swap space on their machines! My machines are lightly-loaded by comparison, but there’s room for improvement.

It plays into an overall issue with state. The dream would be that I could immediately pick up where I left off if my laptop were to be stolen or broken. These get in the way:

  • I try and keep meticulous file system trees for documents, but I still end up with random stuff in Downloads and Desktop folders.

  • Git repos for work projects are always checked out and committed, but I can go for days without doing that for my blog, for example.

  • I can stand up servers with Ansible and scripts down to the exact packages I need. Software on my desktop seems to be an ever-moving target.

These are somewhat mitigated by having automated backups, but that only encourages a pile of junk somewhere else as well. Information you can’t find or use is just data.

It’s getting a bit silly, so I’m thinking through what I can do:

  • Discipline! I thought about applying David Allen’s Getting Things Done task system to other things, like open files and tabs:

    • Do: It’s open for a reason. Action it.
    • Defer: Save the file, bookmark on Pinboard, make a #TODO.
    • Delegate: To a script to process without me thinking.
    • Delete: Just close the damn thing!
  • Supporting infrastructure. The wisest advice I ever got for backups is that it has to be automatic, otherwise you won’t do it. Maybe I need to have a Perl script to watch specific folders for new files and organise it for me. Like Hazel, but cross-platform.

  • Make it easier to do the right thing. This overlaps with above. Using pkgsrc instead of multiple other package managers has helped. Having fewer folders and a less complicated tree structure for projects makes it easier to regularly use them. Tree Style Tabs for Firefox enables hoarding even more open tabs, so going back to a limited horizontal list means I have to keep the list short.

I’ll report how successful (or not!) I’ve been with this.

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

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