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Knocked Back to the Dark Ages April 26, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in computers, life.

Ugh. A as-yet-undiagnosed hardware problem took our our group’s small mail server. I’m amazed at how much of a crimp this has put in my ability to get work done! I feel like I’m back operating in an environment about 10 years ago.

I guess the key thing about the way I work is I use multiple computers – regularly 3 of them (big machine at office, big machine at home, and portable). I’ve carefully set everything up so that if I do something on one machine about 5 minutes later I can look over at any other machine and see what I did. This is fantastic for traveling: I can be working on my home machine, finish. About 5 minutes later pack up my portable and jump in a taxi to the airport confident that the document I’d been editing on my home machine has propagated to my portable without me having to do anything extra.

One major component of this synchronization strategy is my Outlook mail server. It keeps contact lists, tasks (around which I organize about 80% of my professional life), and, of course, my email, all in sync across the various computers and my cell phone. This is now gone – which means when it comes to these three things each computer has become an island. All that work I did on making public versions of the paper – and the to-do lists I was keeping track of? Well, they are all back on my home computer. Not with me here in Geneva where I really need them.

There are temporary work arounds. I can log into my home computer from here and see what I was doing. I’ve redirected my email to a regular account run by the university, etc., but it feels like I’m spending real time keeping my computers in sync now, rather than getting work done. No wonder many of my colleagues have given up multiple computers and just carry a portable around everywhere, or split their computers by task so there is minimal reason for them to talk to each other.

BTW, I used UW’s web interface for email. Compared to the full interface I’m used to that wasn’t very pleasant! One of these days I need to spend some time trying out the various online services to see if anyone has done it better (I’m sure that is the case). Hopefully the hardware will be online Monday sometime! Of course, that is Monday USA time, by which time I will have already made it all the way through the day!



1. Christine - April 26, 2009

I use version control to sync files and paper drafts and online services to sync email and todos (Googlemail and Remember the Milk, respectively)

2. Gordon Watts - April 26, 2009

Version control is excellent for paper drafts – we use that all the time. The only thing I don’t like about it in this case is that it isn’t automatic. I have to remember to do something.

So you are using google mail offline? Nice! I knew that was possible, but I didn’t know anyone that was actually doing it.

I liked the looks of RTM, but what it was missing for me was being able to attach large files to it. For example, “Read Student’s Thesis” and then attach the 200 MB PDF file to it.

3. Gordon Stangler - April 27, 2009

The biggest issue I have with GMail is that I will attach a document, go work on it at a university computer, then forget to reupload it, so all my work is for naught.

Your solution sounds awesome, and I hope you diagnose and repair it quickly.

4. Gordon Watts - April 28, 2009

Thanks, Gordon! Me too!

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