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Defensive Computing

Sure, I know, there's probably already a term "defensive computing", and my re-coining of the phrase will conflict with it, etc. But right now I feel in too much of a hurry to google it or think of a better phrase.

Why am I in a hurry? Because I am paranoid the computer will crash.

What, my laptop? It's only a couple years old; since when does it crash?

Well, the laptop doesn't crash, but my main PC does. I'm getting to the point where I type first and think later because I am so worried about my computer screen suddenly getting garbled, forcing me to lose my work and reboot.

So in the spirit of ailing computers, I'd like to post some thoughts about defensive computing. No, not the real "defensive computing" (whatever that is), just my version. Maybe it's the real version. Or maybe not. It doesn't really matter because I'm not gonna google it! Gotta save now…

Ten steps to safe computing

1) pick up computer

2) walk 8 steps to nearest trash can

3) drop computer in trash can

Okay, I know, bad joke. Who knows, maybe that one's been done before too. I have no idea. Again, googling just isn't in my reach right now because I have to get this ideas down right now now now before the computer crashes because computers crash crash crash… Gotta save…

Well, my "joke" had a point, and you have to be an idiot not to guess it. Either an idiot or a non-psychic. No, scratch that… an idiot. Only idiots will miss my point… And my point is… gotta save.

Okay, now that I've saved, I've forgotten my point. Hmm. You know, that's the problem with saving in Wordpress. It's slow. It refreshes the screen. It forces a context switch. That sucks. In the most profane, crude, teenage-language way. Sucks sucks sucks. Context switches are to be avoided. Avoided avoided avoided. Okay. Gotta save.

Save save save. Okay, I forget what I was saying. Man, Wordpress is making me feel like a stoner. Gone is my lucidity. Gone is my Lucida Console.

Sorry, font joke, and I probably spelled it wrong. No, I'm not gonna google. it. But I did let Firefox's spell-checker recommend some re-spellings. It didn't have any good ones, but it's nice to see that I can check spelling without leaving this screen (which would force a context switch). Firefox good, Wordpress bad. Stoners bad. Save.

Okay, I remember my point. There is no safe computing. End of point. Save.

Just like driving, you know? No way to drop the risk to 0%. So you're gonna have risk, no matter what. What "risk" am I talking about? The risk of ending a sentence with a preposition? The risk of a not finding a sentence to not end a preposition with? The risk of a bad joke? The risk of a… ummm… Okay, Save.

Okay, enough jokes. Fast forward to the reason I bothered to subject myself to Wordpress's suck-tastic WYSIWYG editor and horridly slow save mechanism. The reason is… Save.

The reason is: recycling. Like my jokes. No, not recycling… Redundancy. Yeah, that's it. That's the only sure way to prevent "unsafe computing".

Q: What is unsafe computing?

A: Computing without ten condoms, one on each finger. Or eleven, depending on which sitez you vizit.

Pow! Ha! Ho! Hum! Groan! Grumble! Click! Back! Bye! Bye! Lost! My! Audience! With! That! One! Save.

Okay, I know, I know, I thought I said no jokes. Well, sorry. When you read my blog, you run the risk of being offended, bored, annoyed, and inspired to write your own blog, so that you can "beat" me. So that you can "slaughter" me. So that you can "pwn" me. So you get on your computer, and you have all these cool ideas…

And then it crashes.


So yeah, it crashes. And you're bummed. And annoyed. And paranoid. And you start saving frequently, context shift or no context shift… And as a result you start writing like a stoner. And you end up blogging about your pathetic paranoia as if it's important to anyone else other than yourself, even when you know deep down it isn't. But it doesn't matter to you that other people don't even read your blog. Because it really just is a set of notes to your future self. You're your primary audience. You're your biggest fan. Your ideas are gold to you. They are mana. You are protective of them. Very. And you would hate if –


There it goes again. Your ideas, gone. Your work, gone. Gotta do it again. Gotta save. Often. So often. So suck-tastically often. Context shift. Stoner talk. Running in circles. Save. Save. Stoner. Save. Save. Stoner.

And suddenly you realize that computing is not fun anymore. Writing is not fun anymore. Creating is not fun anymore. Life is not fun anymore. Death would be fun, except while you are thinking about death, you have to keep saving, which forces context shifts to more mundane topics… And pretty soon all you can think about is the context shifts themselves. And you talk about them. Over and over. Over and over.

"It's like resetting" you say. "I keep resetting".

And you drive everyone nuts with your talk of "resetting".



Okay, I'm assuming you've got the gist of my point. So now's the time for some ideas. I'll start (and finish, since no one reads this).

NOTE: These next bullets are serious, so if you are looking for more humor, trying looking in a mirror. Ha ha ha ha ha!!!

1) Redundancy is key. Reuse software among your computers, even if you violate license agreements. If you are a stickler for license agreements, then you will need to switch to linux, which you are probably already doing if you are bothering to read this. No 100%-windows or 100%-mac fanboy/fangirl/fanbot is likely to have the attention span required to get this far into my boring, boring deluge of keypresses.

2) Redundancy is still key. I didn't really finish what I was saying in the first bullet. Instead, I rushed to the second bullet. I feel like I'm in a hurry because at any moment my computer can crash. Oh yeah, I have a second bold term for this second bullet: Save Often. Yeah. So much for consistency, though. These bullets aren't really well organized, are they? Oh well. I guess that's not the end of the world. As long as I keep typing, I'm okay, right?

3) Keep Typing. Organize your computers so that if one dies (or a piece of one dies), you can immediately continue your work on another computer. This means that you need to have backups available to your other computers. So, you need a centralized backup, which is itself backed up in multiple locations in case it dies. Of course, make sure you have offsite backups, but you already know that, right?

4) Use platform-independent software. Anything that runs in a web browser is great, because you can use it from windows, linux, mac, etc. Web 2.0 (which I equate with as "browser based apps") rocks. Except for Wordpress's WYSIWYG editor, which sucks. (Of course, it's screwing up these numbered bullets repeatedly, almost as if it were psychic… but then it would be a sucky WYTIWYG [what you think is what you get] editor instead of a sucky WYSIWYG editor). Since Wordpress's editor sucks, I need some other text editor. Ideally, I'd use a platform independent one like VI or EMACS. But I'm not patient enough to learn a billion keypress combinations, no matter how efficient they are. I don't speak Esperanto either. And I think in terms of inches instead of centimeters. So, unless I grow another brain or see some convincing "proof" that there's a long-term benefit in switching to VI or EMACS, I'm gonna stick with my current text editor, which I will discuss in the next bullet.

5) When you can't find adequate platform-independent software, at least try to use hardware-independent software. I bought UltraEdit (an excellent Windows-based text editor) and use it on multiple computers. Ditto for CoolEdit (an audio editor). Ditto for Sonar. All great apps. All bought by me (several times in the case of Sonar, which is up to version 6 now). And all installed on multiple computers so that I can use the app in multiple rooms. There's one user (me), and there's no way in heck that I'm gonna pay for multiple licenses since I am the only user. One me, one payment. Period. I've stopped purchasing apps that force me to purchase multiple licenses (bye bye Symantec, bye bye Zone Alarm) Fortunately, the copy protection on my favorite apps (UltraEdit, CoolEdit, and Sonar) is either nonexistant or easy to bypass. That's why I bought 'em, and why I recommend other people buy them. Support companies who [intentionally or not] allow a single user to use their app on multiple computers. Multi-pc computing is defensive computing. Do not support companies who discourage multi-pc computing by forcing you to buy yourself multiple licenses.

6) Pick your battles. Don't try to fight Microsoft. They've got you by the, um, "tentacles". You cannot find an easy alternative to XP. So, either buy an XP license for each PC or switch to linux. Don't try to pirate XP because then the Microsoft updates might not work. Then your computer will be at greater risk for viruses. And crashes. And that would degrade your productivity, big time. Meanwhile, the main risk of installing Sonar on 2 PCs (e.g., your desktop and laptop) is a twinge of guilt, but if you take defensive computing seriously, you shouldn't feel any guilt. Support the companies that let you work on multiple computers, but pay Microsoft its "protection money" if you're gonna be hanging around its neighborhood.

7) Don't be afraid of spare parts. Over and over and over again I find myself digging out some forgotten hardware as a quick replacement for a Frankensteined box. My current linux server is a mix of several years' spare parts, and so far it's doing its job very well. It can't run Google Earth very smoothly, but the other linux PC runs Google Earth very well thanks to an old Geforce Ti 4200 that I dug from my closet the other day. If you are having hardware problems, find or buy some more parts so that you can swap out bits until you find the culprit. Of course, it helps if you buy parts that work well with lots of other parts; purchasing based on popularity (rather than lowest price, most features, or greatest performance) helps. Stick to name brands, as in names you've actually heard several times before. Intel. nVidia. ASUS. Crucial. M-Audio.

You know, this reminds me… I wish that magazine editors would post their system specs/brands. We get to hear about what games they play and what they did on their summer vacation, but we rarely get to hear what hardware they use. In music magazines we get to read about featured musicians' hardware and software, but for some reason computer editors don't talk about the tools they use. Maybe that's because their jobs force them to continually upgrade/crossgrade? Or maybe there's a stigma against "bragging" about their hardware? Or what? Why don't we hear what the PCMag editors use? And how about the guys who review games for a living? What do they use in "real life"? How long do their systems stay stable? How frequently do they swap in new parts? How many PCs do they have?

Sure, some forums have people who list their hardware in their sigs. But these people seem like braggarts to me. Well, maybe not braggarts, but they seem to care more about hardware than "normal people", and of course I'm including myself in the "normal people" category. Most people can't be bothered to post their system specs. People without hardware problems (or fetishes) have no clear motivation for listing their hardware. Only outliers post their hardware. Notice how I've not even mentioned the specific hardware which constitutes this laptop. That's because hardware is boring. Unless it's not working, in which case it's an emotional thorn in our cornea.

Okay, that's enough for today. Gotta read something fun. Gotta get away from the computers. I've been on 'em 15 hours straight. By the way, at work and home today I physically used 5 different PCs. They ranged from my measly Pentium2-350MHz running Win98 to a PentiumM-1.8GHz running XP. Somewhere in the middle is a P3 or P4-1.6GHz running linux. None of these PCs is anything close to being a "fast" or "modern" computer. They're all clunky and most are "ancient". Yet they each helped me be productive and efficient, partly due to my being able to reuse tools on them. For example, I used UltraEdit on 3 of them, Firefox on 3 of them, PERL on 3 of them, SSH on 2 of them, and FTP and/or rsync on 3 of them. All of those apps are IMO great tools, letting me be efficiently productive on whatever computer is available at the moment. Tool redundancy is the spirit of defensive computing. Unfortunately, I'm still dependent upon a single copy of Dreamweaver, a single decent 19" monitor for programming (where I like to use small fonts), and a single pair of hands, which wasted a lot of time typing notes about my crashing pc and then fixing Wordpress's horrible WYSIWYG butchering.

Hands (and non-existent readers), it's time for beddie-bye.

Multimedia Keyboard

My Logitech speakers' control pod is malfunctioning. When I turn the volume knob I get horribly loud static in the left front speaker. I've tried several times to fix it, and have called the company twice. I even squirted compressed air and tape head cleaner inside the volume control, but I still get the popping sound whenever I adjust the volume knob.

Other than the volume knob popping, the speakers are fine. So, I don't want to pay hundreds of dollars to replace them.

Instead, the other day it dawned on me that what I needed was an easy way to adjust the volume without turning the knob. I wanted a non-software solution (since I multitask and it's hard to find the volume control quickly). I thought about buying an external mixer or USB volume knob, but that seems like overkill.

Instead, I decided to look at multimedia keyboards. These are keyboards with extra keys mapped to common multimedia functions. They range in price from $6 up. Most have volume up/down buttons. A couple have volume knobs, but they start around $25.

The one that caught my eye was an HP multimedia keyboard (sold by with a volume knob. I love the placement of the volume knob: it's in the upper right corner, close to where my mouse usually is. Other keyboards put the volume controls in the center top, which is less convenient.

Anyway, it arrived today. I followed the part of the instructions that said to turn the PC off, then plug in the keyboard, and then turn the PC on. However, I didn't bother installing any drivers. Funny thing is, it worked anyway, with no driver installation. I can adjust the volume and start and stop windows media player using the keyboard. Cool.

One bad thing is they put the normal function key labels (F1 .. F12) on the front rather than the top. Weird. I guess I'll get used to it.

Anyway, this was a really boring blog entry, I know. I don't know why I keep writing these things. It's not as if anyone reads 'em.

Laptop in Bed – Ergonomics

My right hand hurts. It's been hurting for a few days. I first noticed it when I was staining the front deck last weekend. It still bothers me, especially at night. Actually, only at night. During the day it's fine.

What does this have to do with using laptops in bed?

Well, I want to make sure I don't make my hands and wrists worse by straining my hands and wrists any more than I already strain my hands and wrists. Get it? Do you get my "joke" about straining hands and wrists, or do you not get my "joke" about straining hands and wrists.

Actually, I was trying to be funny. I was trying to simulate repetitive stuff. Repetitively repetitive repetition. Get it?

So if I keep typing and my hands are at a bad position, I can hurt my hands and my hands will hurt like hurt hands. I don't want that.

I also don't want more blog entries like this beast, so I will put this beast to bed, which reminds me: I need to get back to the topic.

Laptop in bed. How do I put the mouse at a decent height so that my wrist isn't bending downwards? And how do I not hunch over? My eyes seem to glaze when my head is too far away from the laptop monitor. Right now it's about 3 feet away. I think I need it about 6 inches away. That's a good geekorific distance. 5 inches is too geeky. 7 is too pedestrian. 6 is just right.

I want the "just right" feeling when I am using the laptop in bed. Has anyone felt that just right feeling? If so, what multi-hundred dollar laptop stand thingie are you using or did you actually learn how to use your laptop's native keyboard and touch pad? I haven't. I still use an external keyboard and mouse. Just like a newbie.

That's right, I'm geeky enough to warrant a precision 6 inch LCD clearance but not so dweebish that I know how to use a touch pad efficiently.

Actually, does any geek actually use the touch pad? Or do true geeks use keyboard shortcuts for everything, including web browsing? (If you answered "what" then, um, like, huh?)