My main computer died, and I'm on my backup system.  While I can still work, it feels like I've shifted from my starship bridge to the tiny emergency control room, while still on full battle alert.

I have many working computers in the house.  Between my main (a linux PC), the Windows box (for when you absolutely need 100% Windows compatibility), the 2 netbooks, and the music/vid box, I can 'do' stuff.  I just can't do it as seamlessly, and that's caused frustration.

I have no data loss, in theory-- I have a backup drive with all my files.  And despite the crash, I'm still up to date with paid work, with proposal writing, and with satellite building.  In fact, I'm wrapping up two fine DIY articles for you all coming in October (on close-up photography rigs and on PCB fabrication).

But I'm suffering from change.  Not good change, like bedding a new lover, but bad change, like driving a cheap rental car.  And with change there is loss.

It's loss of transitory organization for the top-of-mind items.  Basically, my assumptions disappeared.  I've lost the natural space and order of my workflow.  It's like being locked out of your office for a week.  You lose intangibles-- those post-its stuck to the monitor, the way you had papers strewn meaningfully on your desk, the calendar with the annotations.  Even the backup data doesn't have the 'at my fingertips' feel it had resident in my usual environment.

Using your home PC is like using your own kitchen, versus cooking at a friends.  Regardless of how well or poorly stocked either is, you are more productive in your home environment.

Without starting a linux/windows flame war, I prefer my main linux box because it handles my preferred workspace (multiple desktops, shells, easy app switching), has my familiar software (for mail, browsing, programming, writing, tracking, etc), and it 'just works'.

But with 1 day diagnosing why my PC died, and a 7 day wait on a new power supply, I am forced to alternatives.  Do I shift to Windows, which (via a KVM switch) means I can sit in the exact same space, using the same screen and keyboard and mouse, but being forced into a different user interface paradigm?  Or move in the older linux box, but then spend a day bringing all the data and programs to how I like it, knowing I'll just be switching back in a week?

Or do I switch to the linux Netbook, with its familiar user interface but underpowered hardware and smaller keyboard?  That is what I chose.  In essence, I'm taking the hit in performance so I can just grind through work until my main system is back up.  That way, I don't lose time configuring a temporary solution, but just ride out this blip of a crisis.

It is tempting to untether from the idea of a 'home PC'  I could just switch to  dropbox and network hosts for all storage so any networked computer is 'mine'.   But I still make use of the speed and reliability of a local, non-networked system. 

And I would get frustrated by the little bits of being fully network-reliant.  No latency in fetching files, everything at my fingertips-- these are helpful in maximizing productivity by minimizing distraction and delay.  Having the comfortable environment and ergonomics (even down to window behavior and hotkeys) that I expect boosts my productivity and my morale.

So I can do work without my main box, it's just more mentally tiring, and some things are more likely to fall by the wayside. 

In the corporate world, shifting to anything new always incurs these costs.  You need a mix of novelty and upgrades, because it's fun to get something new, and it breaks up the usual routine.  But you want to avoid massive change unless necessary.

This is why offices reliant on Windows often say they won't shift to Mac or Linux (or OpenOffice instead of Word) because of 'retraining costs'.  This is because any significant change, even if it's the improvement of a new version, is jarring.  And things that are jarring at work take a ding out of productivity.

Avoiding a switch on the basis of 'never change' is ultimately a false proposition, alas, as Windows worksites end up being forced to spend time and money retraining when the latest version of Windows comes out.  You can't escape change.  All you can do is delay it or plan for it.

For this week of 'main PC down', I'm dealing with it by moving to a familiar but less productive system.  I'm also mitigating future problems by purchasing an inexpensive backup system that I can use as a mirror.  To truly reduce risk, you can't just back up data, you also need to back up your way of interacting with the world as well.


Launching Project Calliope, sponsored by Science 2.0, in 2011

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