Life Hacks: the magic of flat files

Tech: This is the second entry talking about ‘Life Hacks’. Possibly the best tip I came away from the talk with, is this one:

All geeks have a todo.txt file. They use texteditors (Word, BBEdit, Emacs, Notepad) not Outlook or whathaveyou.

What we keep in our todo is the stuff we want to forget. Geeks say they remember details well, but they forget their spouses’ birthdays and the dry-cleaning. Because it’s not interesting.

It’s the 10-second rule: if you can’t file something in 10 seconds, you won’t do it. Todo.txt involves cut-and-paste, the simplest interface we can imagine.

It’s also the simplest way to find intercomation. EMACS, Moz and Panther have incremental search: when you type a “t” it goes to the first mention of “t”, add “to” and you jump to the first instance of “to”, etc.

Power-users don’t trust complicated apps. Every time power-geeks has had a crash, s/he moves away from it. You can’t trust software unless you’ve written it — and then you’re just more forgiving. Text files are portable (except for CRLF issues) between mac and win and *nix. Geeks will try the Brain, etc, but they want to stay in text.

I was already doing this, having learned the latter lesson ;), but I was making one mistake — I was trying to keep the TODO.txt file small by clearing out old stuff, done stuff, and cut-and-paste snippets of command lines, and by moving things into files in ‘storage’ directories.

That doesn’t work. You think you’ll be able to grep for it later, but you’ll have forgotten what to grep for. You’ll even have forgotten what storage directory you used. The solution is to keep it all in one big file, and use i-search. That really does work.

In fairness, I actually have two files of this type. One is the “real” TODO.txt. But the other is a GPG-encrypted file containing usernames, URLs, passwords, nameservers, VPN settings, etc. I have a feeling this is another common Life Hack idiom, too…

Another great tip in the same vein, from JWZmake an /etc/LOG:

Every machine I admin has a file called /etc/LOG where I keep a script of every system-level change I make (installing software, etc.) I rsync these LOG files around (keeping redundant copies of all of them in several places) so that if/when I need to re-build a server from scratch, it’s just a matter of following the script.

This has been working out great (when I remember to do it. Discipline! ;)

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