Tracking truth

As I mentioned in my previous post, organization on today’s computers is getting harder and harder, given rapidly increasing disk space and more stuff we want to store.

One of the more important techniques I’ve developed to combat this problem is something I’m calling “designating the truth.” It’s a simple concept with strong real-world parallels, but it often gets neglected in the computer realm.

“Truth” is based on terminology used by Apple’s Sync Services API. The concept of Sync Services is invisible: Mac OS X keeps a variety of data, including calendar events, contacts, and tasks in internal databases that users can’t get to. This data is used to synchronize any software, web sites, and portable devices that want to make use of. Software that the everyday user thinks of as the place for their information – iCal, Address Book, and so forth – are just pretty Sync Services clients.

Once everything has its place, the trick to staying organized is to designate which copy of a given piece of information is authoritative. This copy has a variety of different names. For example, “truth” is Apple’s moniker, while “golden master” is used in software manufacturing.

Here’s where I keep my designated truth for different types of information:

Type Location of “truth” Additional copies
Appointments OS X Sync Services (iCal) Palm PDA
Contacts OS X Sync Services (Address Book) Palm PDA
School work Subversion Working copies on a shell server and my Mac
Music FLAC files on a home server iTunes, Palm PDA, Creative Rio, and more

The beauty of this approach is that I can backup to my heart’s desire, and I no longer lose track of which version is which. This is particularly important for my school work – now, if I want to do an assignment at school, it travels to me in a Subversion working copy on a USB key. When I get home, I check in changes to my server, and no longer have to worry about which copy is more recent.

I also can add new gadgets (the iPod is tempting), and since I know what my truth copy is, I’ll never overwrite it, knock wood.

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