Monday, 23 January 2012

Time to Defrag?

The other day I set the old PC to defragment itself. For the totally uninitiated  I'll quickly explain the rough idea I have of how it works (and it is a rough idea: apologies to any IT minded people reading this who really do understand it). Fragmentation is what happens to a hard drive when it gets used in a computer. Files get left all over the place on it, as the computer tries to carry out its operations as quickly as possible. Like an over-busy, distracted human being, it puts things down wherever it is at the time without any thought of putting them away. Result: chaos. There's a hairbrush on the mantlepiece and the bedside table bristles with dirty coffee mugs. Where the car keys are is anybody's guess. Defragmentation is the computer's equivalent of tidying up. Once its disk is defragmented, it doesn't need to rush around it looking for what it needs.

So much for spring cleaning. I was struck with the wider analogies to life in general, too. We up sticks to go to college, take work where we can find it (I've moved around a lot myself. My children find themselves having to do the same thing. Personal choice comes into it, but it goes beyond personal choice, too. Decisions beget choices, more decisions...). If families split up, the fragments can find themselves heading off in opposite directions. The results fill up the trains and motorways every morning. Hours are spent travelling and hours are spent earning the money needed to travel. Fossil fuels, carbon emissions... (Travel used to be far more fun. Same with computers. In older versions of Windows a pretty pattern of brightly-coloured bricks filled the screen and methodically rearranged themselves when the computer defragged. The effect was hypnotic - certainly more pleasant to watch than your average soap, if you ask me. Sadly, the defragmenter in more recent versions is a boring affair: you click on the mouse and it just gets on with the job). 

I often find myself trying to think up a list of "things we would do if we really took global warming seriously". One of the things I'd put close to the top of this list is: defrag. But how?


Furtheron said...

I defraged my daughters ageing and slowly dying Vista machine the other week - it took over 24 hours! It only avoided the inevitable - i.e. she now has a new laptop!

I've not moved much - I live less than a mile from where I was born and have lived in the same small area all my life, 3 houses all within about 15/20mins walk of each other. I think it maybe genetic, I've traced back up my fathers line and back to the early 1800s, before the railway came to our "village" and there is the mark of John Costen a brickfield labourer - on the brick fields the second of the houses mentioned above used to look out on... that is all a housing estate now too. My sister lives about 3 miles away near many old houses of other bits of the family - my 2nd cousin passes away a couple of years back, she'd been in the same house from the 1920s... My brother moved to Surrey... always thought he was a maverick ;-)

Gwil W said...

It is as you say quite hypnotic watching those blue blocks rearranging themselves. Do our brains defrag when themselves when we are asleep I wonder.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Wash the hairbrush and put it back in the bedroom, wash the coffee mugs and put them away in the cupboard and if you decide to defrag your life's possessions watch out that you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Reading Gwil's comment I think he may have a point - maybe that is why we dream such daft things (well I do)

George said...

A very fine post, Dominic, and I quite agree that our lives need defragmentation more than our computers. "Simplify, simplify, simplify," said Thoreau. Things always work better that way. Here's the problem, however: After living enough years or recklessly using one's computer for too long, the task of defragmentation can seem quite daunting. Press forward nonetheless—get rid of everything that is neither useful or beautiful.

Alan Burnett said...

I have tried defragging but it doesn't seem to work any more. I am just going to have to get myself a new computer - or a new life.

The Solitary Walker said...

We lost or had stolen — now the more likely option by far after three days of fruitless and stultifying searching — a bunch of keys last week (house key plus car key). You can imagine the torment, the wasted time, the expense. Please, someone out there — defrag my life!

Rachel Fenton said...

I'd love a defrag. Nice metaphor, Dominic.

Rachel Fox said...

Having an IT professional for my nearest/dearest means I never give these things a second thought! Here the computers work like magic... elves/shoemakers, all that kind of thing.

Kat Mortensen said...

You really ought to create a poem on the idea of defragmentation.

I so often start the defrag process and then get fed up with waiting and just abort the mission. No patience, me.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everybody!

Furtheron: Part of me envies those who've stayed put - and when I pass the place I first lived as a child (in the Lincolnshire countryside) I wonder what life would have been like if I had.

GwilW: I kind of get the impression that mine hasn't. :)

WG: I've never really thought of washing hairbrushes.

George: I might - if I can find the time:)

AB: I'm told that if an old computer won't defrag, one should try starting it up in safe mode before starting the defragmenter.

SW: A P.I.T.A., losing car keys these days. I thought I'd done it last week. Thankfully they turned up. Hope yours do.

RF: You make it sound like a kind of psychological "detox" which I rather like.

RF: Very useful. I do enjoy the challenge though, of trying to keep the things working.

KM: Perhaps Margery wrote one: she was/is something of a time traveller. I'll have to check it out.