The smell of a melting hard drive…

…is not pleasant.

Fortunately it was a spare external drive that wasn’t in active use. (I think. But I can’t check what was on it any more, can I?) But I’m getting really tired of disk failures now. Off-site on-line back-up is not a luxury, folks. Do it now. There are plenty of options. Mozy is pretty good, simple to use, and not expensive.

Something old, something new

We bought a car on Friday. (In fact, we bought it two weeks ago, but the infuriatingly slow Dutch bureaucracy meant that we couldn’t actually take possession of it until yesterday.)

Vauxhall Astra, circa 1989Despite having driven many other cars over the years, this is actually only the second car Abi and I have owned. The first one was a sky blue 1989 Vauxhall Astra (G934 PHS). We bought it for £3500 in 1995 when I got my first teaching job. We were living in Leith, but the school was in West Lothian, and it took me the best part of an hour to get out there in the morning. I only lasted three months in the job, but even though it was a drain on our finances, we kept the car for a few years after that.

That car was also the source of the sunpig moniker. Abi has a variety of hand-painted cars in her childhood, and we joked about painting a bright yellow sun on the sky-blue hood of the Astra. I have always thought that Astras of that era look like pigs when seen from the side, so even though we never followed through on the paint job, the car became the Sun Pig.

The intervening cars never acquired names, but we are starting to call this new one (a green Daewoo Matiz from 2000, for €4000) the Turtwig, or Turty for short. Turtwig, as you probably know, is one of the starter Pokémon you are offered in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. It’s an obvious choice, as I’m sure you’ll agree they look uncannily similar.


Also on Friday, I set up my old Mac Classic on my desk. This is the first computer I bought myself, back in the summer of 1991. It saw duty until late early 1996 (still running OS 6), at which point I assembled Frankenstein, my first Windows PC. Frank has evolved (like a Pokémon) since then, and he is still my main computer. You can see Frank and the Mac side-by-side on my desk in the photo below.

Frank and the Mac

The Mac still works perfectly. Alex has been enjoying Sim City (version 1.4), and Fiona has been discovering the joys of SuperPaint. (The Fool’s Errand is still a bit beyond them, though.) The main reason I brought the Mac with me to the Netherlands was so that I could spend some time extracting all the old files if have on it, and converting them into more durable and open formats. It’s too old to have digital photos on it (it has a 9″ black and white, not even grayscale screen, and a 40MB hard disk), but it has a whole lot of text and email, most of it in Word documents and Compuserve filing cabinet archives.

Pipe Dream High ScoresBut it was the game Bioshock that provided the impetus to actually set it up this week. Why? Bioshock features a hacking mini-game that is based on Pipe Dream, which is one of the games I played most on the Mac, and I felt hugely nostalgic for it. It’s still a great game.

(Incidentally, the Mac version of Pipe Dream was coded by Eric Johnson, a friend of Abi’s. We went white-water rafting with Eric in 1992, and as I was digging through old photos this evening to see if I could find any of the original Sun Pig, I found some snapshots of that trip. Wow. I think I have a lot of negative scanning to do this winter.)

At the same time as I’ve been feeling nostalgic for old-skool Macs, so have other people: Peter Merholz posted some pictures of the original Macintosh user manual last week, and earlier today Steven Poole was reminiscing about how good version 5 of Microsoft Word was.

He is absolutely right. The ribbon interface in Office 2007 makes me weep. But every time I see it, it reminds me how little I actually use “Word documents” these days. Most of my word processing is all about the text, and for the purposes of editing, preserving, and archiving text, MS Word is more than just overkill, it’s actively counter-productive.

I may have been PC-based for the last decade, but I’m returning to my Mac roots. The Mac Mini was just a taster. My new work laptop is a MacBook Pro, and my eye is on one of those new 24″ iMacs once Leopard drops.

Everything old is new again.

The Rules of Stuff

I have spent a lot of time recently compressing and optimizing my life: files, books, ornaments, mementoes, and random clutter. Moving house was a convenient opportunity to cut down on the proliferation of sheer stuff. In doing so, I have learned an important lesson: there are four distinct types of stuff:

  1. Stuff you still need. Easy to deal with: keep it.
  2. Stuff you don’t need any more, and to which you are not emotionally attached. Also easy: toss it.
  3. Stuff you don’t need any more, but you are emotionally attached to. This takes longer to deal with, because you spend time reminiscing about it. But you should keep it.
  4. Stuff you don’t need any more, but have kept around because you think you have an emotional connection to it, or even worse: you think you should have an emotional connection to it.

It’s the Type 4 Stuff that takes up all the time. Maybe it’s a collection of oddly-shaped seashells, stuck in a box in the back of your desk. You collected the shells as a kid, and have never thrown them out because, well, you’ve always had them around, and they’re a connection to your childhood. But do you really remember the beach where you collected them, and does seeing the shells remind you of that holiday?

Maybe it’s a stash of crystal wine glasses tucked away in a corner of your kitchen and never used. You haven’t thrown them out before because, well, they were wedding presents. But do you still remember who gave them to you?

Do you really intend to re-read those old class notes from college? Will you ever look over all those old birthday cards again? Worst of all is your kids’ early artwork. If it’s the first recognizable stick figure your child drew, that’s significant. But what about all the other random swirls and hand-prints? How certain are you that they were made by your child, and that the nursery didn’t accidentally give you another kid’s paintings?

It’s an agonizing and painstaking process, but if you don’t want to end up drowning in a sea of random clutter, every now and then you have to be ruthless and say: what does this item really mean to me?

If the answer is “nothing”, that’s a strong argument for throwing it out.