Memorandum from the Synoptical Charts sysadmin

For readers with an interest in the nuts and bolts, here’s a look at how we operate — literally.


iMac 24″ (OS X) – Big Mac
Acer Desktop (Windows Vista/Ubuntu Linux) –
Quarter Pounder
Dell Studio Laptop (Windows Vista) – Hamburger
Macbook Pro (OS X) – Cheeseburger
Macbook Air (OS X) – Filet o’ Fish
Macbook (OS X) – McRib (retired)
Ubuntu Netbook (Ubuntu Netbook Remix) – Fries
XP Netbook (XP Home) – Milkshake

Software running:

Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint (Win/Mac)
Visio (Win)
OmniGraffle Pro (Mac)
NitroPDF Pro (Win)
PDFPen Pro (Mac)
Adobe Acrobat, Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop (Mac)
Adobe InDesign, Framemaker (Win)
Espresso (Mac)

Free and/or open-source apps (installed on all platforms)

Cyberduck (FTP/Mac)
Filezilla (FTP/Win)

We have a small flat aluminum case named To Go that holds our 3G USB modem, a 6ft length of Cat5, and a couple of USB drives with tools on them, including an Ubuntu boot disk on-a-stick that will boot every computer we own (srsly).

If one of us needs to be mobile-outside-known-WiFi-range for the day (increasingly frequent), we take a laptop or netbook and announce our intentions to take (e.g.) “Fries to go” for the day (or for the duration of a business trip).

I still travel with the Macbook Air, which is really a functional piece of modern sculpture; however, I am absolutely flabbergasted at how acceptable a $200 netbook running Ubuntu Network Remix is. For the price I paid for the Air, one could buy eight of them. Two netbooks for $200 each was the biggest bang-for-the-buck purchase I’ve made in 20+ years of buying computer gear for self and others.

We do online backups, so we have to leave machines on until those are complete. Now that we’re doing incremental backups mostly, we can shut down our machines every night (good for both power conservation and security reasons) and run ultra-lite with just the netbooks on the weekend.

In fact, the hardware now seems more or less interchangeable. All the stuff we at SC create and refer to is stored on a remote server, with the local machine acting as a lens that allows us to find and focus on the items we want. Advantages:

  • (Almost) infinite storage space!
  • Data safety (even if, say, you are on a business trip to New York City and your beloved MacBook decides to implode)!
  • Total mobility! (Since everything has been synced up and is now stored in the ether, anything we need can be downloaded to any machine we may happen to be using.)

My sysadmin does good work.

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  • One note from the sysadmin – we’re using cloud storage as backup, not primary storage, and as a master directory to sync between and among working machines.

    It is not revolutionary – Apple, Mozy, and SugarSync (among others) have consumer level products that manage this for some time now.

    But it is awesome when it works. Carrie was bummed about losing a few days of work on her MacBook (she hadn’t connected to the Time Machine backup disk in about a week). The worst case was she lost everything since the last physical backup.

    We had backed up all her important stuff, including her Desktop, which she uses as a work-in-progress area, using an online backup provider.

    The look on her face when I showed her all of her Mac files on the Windows laptop (physically there) was kinda priceless.

    Then I wish you coulda seen the look on her face when I showed her how to find and manage and e-mail (etc.) files in our backup store from her iPhone…


    Good times.

Your thoughts?