Monthly Archives: September 2007

Smelling fresh asphalt (or repaving a PC)

Repaving – def. the computer-based act of reformatting the system partition followed by installing a fresh operating system followed by fresh application installations followed by user settings restoration

For starters, it’s a good idea to separate your data from your applications (e.g. C: has OS and software; D: has documents, pictures, music, videos, etc.). You can accomplish this separation via separate physical hard disk drives or drive partitions. (Given the amount of software I use regularly due to my professional as well as the volume of digital content I posses, I go the multiple drive route.) So, if you currently run a one-disk-and-one-partition environment (RAID 1 (mirror), RAID 0 (striped) or no RAID), consider creating two partitions in your new environment.

Any robust repaving process should begin with current backups. If you don’t already possess a current backup of your critical files, settings, software installers, etc., find your backup medium of choice and start that process. If your backup solution is online and off-premise, just make certain that you save the means to reconnect to your service from your new computing environment–same applies to your ISP. If you choose, for example, to backup to disc (DVD or (gasp) CD) be sure to validate written data is readable before calling it a day. Also, be sure to exit out of all applications before commencing backup–even to the point of confirming exits via Task Manager (e.g. OUTLOOK.EXE isn’t hanging around nor is any other desktop search software that maintain a lock on your PST file, etc.).

Recently I’ve found it useful to maintain a list of what I install on a machine, especially for work (software architecture). When I’m repaving, I simply review this list to trigger anything specific that may require backing up. This list also comes in handy further into the repaving process when I start re-installing software. As a cross-checking measure, I save the contents of my Start menu, my Quick Launch toolbar, and a listing from my Program Files directory, too. Be sure to save the means to reinstall each piece of software (e.g. URL’s, license keys, setup programs, access credentials, etc.).

Use care when your repave involves software or content with activation (e.g. Adobe) or other rights management (e.g. music). By “care” I mean take time to confirm that nothing OS-specific forms a basis for rights (e.g. seen as one machine under XP and a different, second machine under Vista, or not). Omar Shahine has a useful post about persistent application cache care and other concerns.

So, you have your current system backed up and your ready to repave.

First, restart your PC using your Windows operating system installation disc and not your existing OS. Select the existing system partition and perform a complete reformatting of this partition–nothing less than NTFS, of course. This reformatting should not affect any other partition or hard disk drive on your computer. Depending on the size of the system partition/drive, reformatting can take some time (i.e. window of opportunity to break for another activity of choice).

Next, install the software you require. Unlike looking over everything in your closet of garage before you get rid of it, take the time to consider whether or not you really need to restore a particular piece of software in your new computing home. If no compelling reason comes to mind, don’t install it–instead just save it for a later day (that may never come).

Finally, restore or apply your particular software configuration, app-by-app. Fortunately a growing amount of software provides an automated way to backup and restore user settings (e.g. Microsoft Office). For me, this also involves a review of my Start menu, Quick Launch bar, Windows environment variables, Windows Registry favorites, IE favorites, Firefox bookmarks, etc.

Once you have your new environment finally setup and configured to preference, it’s a good idea to create an image (e.g. built-in ImageX software on Windows Vista or third party software like Acronis True Image). By creating an image, should your system partition head south, you can restore your OS and applications back to a known state in minutes rather than hours. Of course, as your system changes over time, it’s worth periodically updating your system image.

One last tip: Increasingly I’m using virtualization as a means to partition my computing environments (e.g. I have several VMware-based virtual machine images for work-related projects). Virtualization allows me to keep my physical computing environment (i.e. host OS in VMware parlance) simple and more spartan. Virtual images compress well; so, I regularly archive these to my data partition/drive.

This process has served me well over the years. Fortunately as Windows has matured, my need to repave has decreased. Alas, it hasn’t gone away completely, though…  :-|

Everything Is Miscellaneous

During my recent, reasonably long (and fully unplugged!) vacation, I was able to read David Weinberger’s latest work, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. I enjoyed this book every bit as much as I enjoyed reading Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

David begins by asking how our ideas, organizations, and knowledge itself might change if we could arrange such concepts without the “silent limitations of the physical.” He immediately suggests that in such a world, being free (as in freedom) is not the desired result; being miscellaneous is.

In the process of making music miscellaneous, iTunes et al revealed that the natural unit of music is track, not album. Translating this to the world of ECM, what is the natural unit of content (or if you prefer, information)? Is it document, or is it something else? Does the answer depend on whether you sort it all out on the way in or sort it all out on the way out?

One of the early solutions from Documentum–long before its acquisition by EMC–provided the ability to take a collection of PowerPoint presentations and present the end user with a filtered collection of individual slides to promote visibility of already authored content and therefore increase the likelihood of content reuse via assembly. (Fast forward to the present and an offering like SlideShare.) Since then, XML has taken center stage along with macro-formats like ODF and Open XML, increasing the potential for chunking, decomposition, remixing, etc.

David defines three orders of order as follows:

  • First: organize things themselves
  • Second: separate information regarding first order objects (e.g. catalog)
  • Third: digitizing content and metadata then being extravagant about placement/categorization/fulfillment

ECM operates largely in a third order world where traditional terms such as document, content and information are exploding–requiring long-held views to be rethought (e.g. are we talking about content or metadata? What is the difference between the two? What about indexing, full-text or otherwise?). Just when you near clarity the landscape shifts again (e.g. a binary/closed document format becomes a more open envelope of embedded documents–some content, some behavior, some presentation-related, etc.; a pivot occurs that swaps foreground concerns with background concerns–authors and publications, content and metadata, taxonomies and folksonomies, indices and relationships, etc.).

Is it fair to continue talking about structured information and unstructured information in the way largely batted around today (e.g. structured information fits neatly into rows and columns, typically within a database)? Or is this characterization increasing less black and white (e.g. databases handling BLOB’s, document assembly at runtime via a managed (structured) process, etc.)?

What other premises are accepted that can/should be re-thought (e.g. there is a set of appropriate criteria for finding–one right way to find)?

Returning to iTunes, browsing Apple’s online music store requires a particular approach (i.e. genre, artist, album–in that order) to find tunes of interest to buy. However, once you return to the iTune music player software, there is more freedom to order and sort your collection–from Apple’s store and/or elsewhere. Better yet, you can create playlists (i.e. pure metadata collections) to share with family and friends–and this is so popular that practically every digital music player supports the creation, import and export of playlists.

“Now that information is being commoditized, it has more value if it’s set free into the miscellaneous.” -David Weinberger

Arguably there are a number of content-related playlists already (e.g. bookmarks/favorites and sites like Delicious, feeds based in Atom or RSS, subscription outlines in OPML). Does your content management system satisfy your playlist needs? How do you share content-related playlists at work or outside of work (e.g. like you would share an .m3u file with a friend)?

I plan to post more about Everything Is Miscellaneous; there is certainly much more to this book.

In the meantime, my feed reader is enriched thanks to David’s references to the following thought leaders: Danah Boyd, Peter Morville, and Thomas Vander Wal–plus David Weinberger, too. Of course, in keeping with this post, you’ll find my updated “playlist” with these inputs now, too. :-)

Update 12/1/2008: For more of my book reviews and to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein), please visit my Books page.

Dogfooding 101

Whether you like to think of it as “eating your own dogfood” or “drinking your own champagne”, you may appreciate the following succinct expression of why doing so is vital to your enterprise:

You sell what you know.
You know what you use.
You use what you have access to.

To be clear, “sell” isn’t merely limited to the traditional definition highly relevant to your sales force. In the context of creative, architectural and engineering staff, “sell” can be substituted with “innovate.” How can you innovate upon your current product offerings if you aren’t regularly using and stressing them?

Credit to Tod Tompkins for sharing this expression.

Excellence in school design – MVROP

Time to brag about my brother again… :-)

The new campus for the Mission Valley Regional Occupation Program is ready for its grand opening next month! Brent Randall was the senior designer and project architect on project from Loving & Campos Architects.

This looks like a great space in which to prepare for business, medical and technical careers!

To appreciate more of what this project produced for MVROP, please visit photographer Jay Graham online:

You can also see more of the conceptual work by visiting LCA online.