Where’s My Stuff?

I’ve become convinced that the most pressing challenge of computer usability in the very-near future is organizing the mass of data we’re now capable of accumulating into something we’ll be able to use effectively later. With hard drives becoming larger and cheaper at the same time, the amount of data that a person can accumulate is becoming mind-boggling.

Take me, for example. Between a thumb drive, Memory Stick, SD card, external hard drive, two drives in a Linux server, Gmail account, web hosting provider’s space, and my Mac’s hard drive, I’m about to break the terabyte barrier. (I already have, if you count the dozens of CD-R’s and DVD-R’s lying around). Consider that my first computer had a 20 MB drive (that was an upgrade), and it’s amazing how far the technology has come.

The problem, I’ve noticed, is that with all of this space, things get lost. Developing ways to organize my files has been challenging. Apple helps me somewhat by integrating rich metadata support into the OS, but I’m of the school of thought that says that making an effort to sort files makes for easier retrieval in the long run.

Keeping Synchronized

Another related problem has been keeping track of multiple copies of the same file. This was a nightmare – I work from multiple locations, and having to track changes made to different documents on different media at different times is a monumental undertaking. Thankfully, through the slightly eccentric but surprisingly useful advice of Debian Linux developer Joey Hess, I’ve found a solution that I’ve been adopting: version control.

Version control is useful for programmers, but it has a major strength for non-programmers: it forces users to designate a “golden copy” of a file that all other copies are updated against. Suddenly, the task of figuring out which file has which change disappears, because the version control software (in my case, Subversion) takes care of all that.

I’m not quite up to Joey’s level of reliance on Subversion (he keeps everything in it), but I’m getting there. Currently, almost all school work is in Subversion – the major exceptions being large media files that are almost certain not to change. As I continue working with Subversion, I expect that my setup will eventually look a lot like Joey’s.

Microsoft/Apple: The Letdown

Perhaps the primary reason we’re so far behind in the file organization war is the less-than-stellar tools provided by Microsoft and Apple. Apple currently holds a commanding lead with Spotlight and iLife, but there’s definite room for improvement. For example, opening a shell window to query Spotlight with specific metadata is a usability disaster, as is trying to figure out how to organize images that aren’t photos (importing them into iPhoto seems like a waste here).

And as for Microsoft? If they had spent the last years concentrating on WinFS instead of buggy, draconian copy protection technologies that nobody actually wants, I might not have had to write this post.

Despite Quakes, Church Keeps Praising

Screenshot of eNewHope.org 'site closed' message

Hawai’i’s 6.6 and 5.8 magnitude earthquakes yesterday morning shook many, but not churchgoers at New Hope Christian Fellowship, one of the state’s larger churches, with a typical weekly attendence of 12,000 spread across five services. New Hope’s web site was down as of the time of this post. Instead, a front-page story describes a scene which sounds much like business-as-usual:

During the 7 am service, worship leader Tiffany Thurston was speaking about worshiping through restrictions. Just then, the electricity in Farrington Auditorium went off. Lights, sound, cameras, everything all at once ceased to work. But instead of panicking, a collective chuckle rose from the congregation.

Teams at the church passed out flashlights to the congregation and jury-rigged a sound system using portable generators and other supplies on hand. The 9 AM service was also held “normally.”

As luck would have it, I was at service yesterday, and missed all the fun this morning. The church often has people roaming with portable camcorders. Hopefully, some of the footage will make next week’s service. Service times are Saturdays at 5:00 and 7:00 PM, and Sundays at 7:00, 9:00, and 11:00 AM (all Hawai’i Standard Time).

I’d encourage you to check out this dynamic church if you live on O’ahu, or watch the live webcast. They make sure every attendee (including me) is surrounded by positive role models of the impact a life centered on Christ can have on one’s self, family, and the larger community. Their mantra, “Doing Church as a Team,” doesn’t begin to describe the true feeling of ‘ohana you feel there.

Newsgathering Now and Then

Today marks the Honolulu Advertiser’s 150th anniversary issue. In 1856 (five years after the first edition of the New York Times), a few hundred colorless editions came off the press. Today, the Advertiser can print 48 full-color pages per issue.

The longevity of newspapers in an increasingly digital age seems to be a testament of simpler times. Despite the proliferation of radio, television, blogs, RSS, podcasts, and vidcasts, the nature of informing the public has changed dramatically, yet enough things stay the same. Even with all the competition, dailies still sell millions of copies a day.

Standards developed by papers over a century ago are largely still followed today, and in many cases have influenced competing media. For example, considered the “inverted pyramid” style of writing – originally developed to cope with the unreliability of the telegraph, but now a staple of reporting found in every form of news we use today.

With news now mallable and routinely edited by the reader, it’ll be interesting to see how newspapers continue to adapt to the brave new world delivered by technology.


Marriage ProposalAn enterprising young man took advantage of an Apple media campaign today to deliver a somewhat unorthodox marriage proposal.

The anonymous man stood outside Apple’s Fifth Avenue retail store this morning between 5:30 AM and 6:00 AM Eastern Time with three paper signs reading “Uschi Lang, I love you, will you marry me?” A time-lapse camera captured the proposal. It was only 10 seconds on Apple’s web site, but if the 30-second movie shows pictures at a constant rate, the man was standing there for 20 minutes. That’s dedication. The complete movie is available at the URL above, for millions of people to see.

No word yet on the identity of this hopeless romantic, or whether Ms. Lang had the good humor to say yes. Best wishes to the couple, regardless of the outcome.

The Barrier to Intelligence

Nothing truly enables you to understand the power of education quite like studying a foreign language. I just completed my final exam for what will be (hopefully) my last Spanish and foreign language class. I learned very little español in my two years of study. What I did realize, earlier this year, is how important language is to your intelligence, or at least your perceived intelligence.

During my Spanish classes, I often found myself with an idea that was important to the class discussion. Usually, however, I would stay silent. I couldn’t figure out how to translate my thought into Spanish and was too intent on learning the language to ask in English.

It occurred to me that for the 1.2 million people who immigrate to the U.S. annually, mastery of English is critical to their success. If they can’t speak English well, they won’t do well during job interviews. This would be the case even if they were a certified genius or a renowned scholar from their country of origin.

It also seems that as Christians, we must be mindful of how we treat people who didn’t grow up learning our language. They are of equal worth in God’s eyes.