Wherein Everything That Could Go Wrong, Did, and Then Was Fixed

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Tough day here on the technology front. Late last night into early morning, Maccius – our Zimbra host – was offline. After an earlier than expected wakeup (paw in the eye), bishop booted into something called BusyBox. Midday the Windows box cut out in the middle of an MF Doom track, with Windows suddenly unable to find the external drive that serves as the primary home for my music collection. Meanwhile, Easy CD Creator told me on two occasions that it had successfully burned a Knoppix Live CD, when in actuality it had produced two very shiny coasters. An hour after that, I locked up the new workstation, drake, by screwing around with the boot order. At least give me credit for this: I’ve stayed away from hicks all day.

But it can’t rain all the time, as they say. Digging through a bin of old discs, I found – against all odds – an old Knoppix CD. After using the various diagnostic tools available to me to conclude that bishop had not been waylaid by either faulty RAM or a failing hard drive, I used Knoppix to chroot into my crippled environment (@ /dev/sda3, for future reference). Per the recommendation of the forums, I installed ubuntu-minimal, rebooted, and everything is magically fixed. I still don’t know what caused the problem (best guess is udev, but I hadn’t touched it), or why the fix worked, which is bad, but it works. As you might expect, I’ve got a fresh rsync running right now, just in case, which is putting the directory up to Strongspace (thanks to Jason and the gang for the account there). The USB drive also miraculously repaired itself after a 30 second reboot. No idea on that score, either. So obviously it’s currently rsyncing to my local external backup, and will be mirrored offsite via my normal Sunday night S3 job. The moral of the story? Backups are your friend.

Experiences like today confirm that I’m not even close to being desktop independent. I’m still amazed at how disruptive the experience of switching desktops is for me. One might suspect that with the bulk of my must have applications available to me on the web – Zimbra, Google Reader, Gmail, WordPress, and – of course – the Hype Machine – that it’d be a fairly seamless transition from one machine to another. Not so much. How do I get to those links, as an example? Via the browser, yes, but more specifically via the del.icio.us toolbar. Well, none of my other workstations have that installed. So I struggle to remember even the simple URI’s I visit every day.

That’s a solvable problem, of course, but switching is still death from a thousand – or at least a couple of dozen – papercuts. I’m no closer to being operating system or platform independent than I was when I cut over from Windows, and if anything I’m getting further away. Those operating systems are increasingly like Dvorak keyboards to me; sure, all the keys are there, but none of them are where I expect them to be. Using XP as I did for most of the day was painful, and the few times recently that I’ve been OS X the experience has been – if anything – worse. I simply can’t work the way those operating systems want me to. Alex has argued that I could train myself to use OS X given enough time, and of course he’s right – but the experience would be painful. Of course, booting off a Live CD to correct some mystifying and random udev error isn’t exactly my idea of operating system bliss either.

Anyway, I’m going to sign off today to a.) let my multiple backups finish, and b.) try to prevent anything else from breaking. In the meantime, take heart, those of you weathering freezing weather: Monday is Truck Day.


  1. Hmm… I think if I could get my programming environment hosted somewhere I could be effectively desktop independent.

    I mean, I’ve got a lot of application settings I like, but aside from my shell and editor settings, nothing that I’m critically dependent on.

    The worst part of my current computer dying would be losing all the shiny UI customizations I’ve gotten setup.

    Even losing my browser wouldn’t be too bad. Almost all of my toolbar links are to google products.

    If I did get forced off of OS X though I would very much miss the seamless PDF viewing and creation. Mm… PDF that doesn’t suck.

  2. Man, what a mess! Sorry to hear about all of this.

    The main point of my argument:

    Alex has argued that I could train myself to use OS X given enough time, and of course he’s right – but the experience would be painful.

    is that without even realizing it, we adapt to our tools as much as we adapt our tools to our preferences. What we are accustomed to becomes “right” and things that behave otherwise are unfamiliar and “wrong”.

    This is true of just about anything from operating systems to text editors to remote controls to automobiles.

    Sure, some systems are probably empirically superior to others, but it’s rare that the distinctions are so great as to overcome the “familiarity factor”.

  3. Danno: the customization is indeed the problem on this end. whether it’s a dev environment, a browser, a theme – whatever – many users rely on little things to make their lives easier. me being a prime example. losing that is not the end of the world, but not ideal either.

    Alex: as we discussed, i agree. i can’t help but see the way OS X does things as “wrong,” although from a usability perspective they’re likely “right.”

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