Computing the Cost of Minimalism


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The key to successful system deployment, management, and usability will always be the responsibility of the system owner. With an estimated 90% or more computer problems resulting almost entirely from user error, this is an inconvenient truth. When things go wrong in life, we often find it easier to blame others. But what's even more convenient, when playing the blame game, is going after objects like computers, especially since they can't argue back at you, unless it is in the form of an error message. The history of technical support is a history ripe with problems created by computer users and for computer users, and the sooner the general public can realize that, the less time can be wasted blaming corporations like Microsoft and those boxes we use to talk to our friends online.

Those who jumped off the bridge with me, and watched my latest one hour YouTube video review of Acronis Backup & Recovery 11, may have come to different conclusions about why the software seemed so promising, and yet failed to deliver adequately. Maybe my use of virtual machines was creating internal network problems. Perhaps an insurmountable bottleneck prevented the software from functioning properly. Maybe the software really is flawed when used as a centralized management product for backups. And maybe it just doesn't work well on workgroups, which is why the server version is so expensive. Maybe I screwed up and just failed to configure the software properly. No matter what, this was not time well served, and I really positioned this video, inadvertently and unintentionally, to be one of the more boring videos, if not the most boring video I have ever made for the website.

There are a number of reasons why I make YouTube videos for the website. My goal is usually to entertain and educate our audience of dedicated members, premium supporters, and guest viewers. But it is also to entertain and educate myself. All people learn from the examples and teachings of others. I learned a lot, and got certified, through my use and evaluation of software, watching of videos, and reading books. But I learned more in one week when I was on the job, working with other professionals in the field, who had years of experience on me. In that one week, I learned more than I had in any book or video. It is that kind of experience I often hope to transfer, somehow, through these videos. While I cannot claim to be a great teacher, I attempt to share my knowledge, opinions, and experiences with others in a visual format. I do this because I know that the forums are already filled with tutorials, questions and answers, and text-based content. That gives me a unique opportunity to make videos that actually brings the problem, idea, or concept (whatever it is) home, in a place where you can see it. My first videos made use of Windows Live Movie Maker and Fraps, When doing videos now, i will often use Adobe Premier Pro CS5, Adobe Soundbooth CS5, Windows Live Movie Maker, and a number of other tools, to try to improve my videos.

After all, if I find something I am doing to be interesting, maybe a larger audience will too. This is the nature of art in its purest form. And while I would not necessarily consider the publishing of numerous computer video tutorials to be artwork, I would consider the journey that leads to such a place, including production and design, to be worthy of it. Oscar Wilde once said, "Art is useless". This is a controversial statement to this day, but something that a pure artist will admit to. Art serves no use whatsoever, if it is truly art. If I write a song, it has no use. If I make a drawing, or design a graphic, if it is going to be viewed as a work of art, it must be useless. If it is going to be used for a utilitarian purpose, like integration into a website, than it is not useless, but it, perhaps, ceases to be art, when viewed from that angle. We can find art in the most simple things in life, but as the argument goes, once it is applied to a function, it cannot be viewed as art from that angle. We can hear old classic songs in car commercials, and we know that those songs are art. But the car commercial + song certainly isn't art. It is a marketing gimmick.

Ultimately, and after careful study, Oscar Wilde's statement can teach anyone that while art is useless, it is not worthless.

Let's face it: Backing up your hard drive adequately isn't the easiest thing to do, especially if you are a computer novice. But it shouldn't require an approach that's equivalent to building a rocket ship to Mars, either.

I will make the case for minimalism. In doing so, it's not hard to see how basic, light-weight software, which is coded properly, can do the job of a thousand dollar program that might take up over 1GB of disk space. Some of the world's most efficient power saving buildings come from an idea to make the building structurally simple, but accommodating to the occupants. Likewise, identifying and applying simple techniques in technology can improve our overall standards. "The God particle", or the Higgs boson, is a particle believed to be so small that you would need enormous equipment just to see it. The world's largest particle accelerator, at CERN, was created to find it. If found, the particle might prove a number of theories in quantum mechanics. In the 1990s, efforts were made to map every human gene through the Human Genome Project. Our entire DNA structure, including the HAR1 (Human Accelerated Region 1), is largely responsible for the development of the human brain and all our physical characteristics. One of the men who discovered the double helix and DNA, Francis Crick, was stunned by the complex nature of DNA. In a famous statement he concluded, "You would be more likely to assemble a fully functioning and flying jumbo jet by passing a hurricane through a junk yard than you would be to assemble the DNA molecule by chance. In any kind of primeval soup in 5 or 600 million years, it’s just not possible.” DNA is a great example of minimalism in science any way. The size of a molecule that contains, basically, every human gene, is extraordinarily small to us. Yet in the grand scheme of things, a DNA molecule is enormous. A molecule is yet one planet in a galaxy of other microscopic building blocks that make life possible. Francis Crick was so surprised by his DNA findings with Watson, that he began to theorize about how human life could have developed on earth. In his genius mind, there was no way humans simply evolved ten thousand years ago, and started building megalithic structures. In theories that Crick would publish in the 1970s leading up to the end of his life, he became a proponent of a concept called panspermia, whereas the colonization of our planet could have taken place by intelligent design through the careful planning of an advanced civilization, somewhere else in the universe. After the discovery of DNA, it is said that Dr. Crick became spiritual, and even religious, finding no conflict between science and faith.

We can apply these advanced concepts to every day life: Didn't some of the world's most important religious figures advocate minimalism? Isn't a vacation where people spend time with each other more important than staying at the best hotel and eating at the best restaurants. Isn't a life more fulfilling when you buy the clothes that make you comfortable, and not the clothes that make you popular? Don't we often find that simple things in life enrich our lives more than complex machinery and exuberant planning? I have found all of these things to be true. The idea of going back to roots is what made Windows 7 faster and better than Windows Vista. In what would have only been a minor upgrade, Microsoft chose to enhance their flagship operating system by simply making it perform better and re-act more efficiently. They focused on making their operating system the facilitator, and not the provider, of great software.

Minimalism is one of the reasons I like Paragon products. I am not paid to endorse these products, but I often go on about them often when I discuss backing up systems. In today's age, people in IT will often pay for minimalism whether they know it or not. Web site owners who don't want to physically manage their hosting account or server, will be inclined to look at WHM/cPanel or Plesk to help them with that task. These products, and especially WHM/cPanel, are small, light-weight, modular, and, when used properly, can allow a person to successfully keep a Linux web hosting server up to date and functioning properly with: even with an emphasis placed on security. They cost a lot of money for full licensing, but that is because they are the product of a number of ever-evolving simple scripts that work great.

The best, fastest, and most efficient Windows programs have no installers and are written in assembly language. The programming of these applications is said to be one of the most difficult modern tasks, as painstaking work must be placed in making sure the outcome is just right. Today, these programs now have added value: As USB flash drives have become commonplace, one can simply place a portable application on a USB drive and run it from anywhere.

Interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg designed Facebook in about two weeks at Harvard University in his dorm room. As the CEO of Facebook, he has become the world's youngest billionaire. On his profile page, he lists one of his interests as minimalism. Wikipedia says of computer minimalism, "In the early 21st century, changing applications for computing devices have brought minimalism to the forefront. It is no longer necessary to buy a high-end desktop personal computer merely to perform common computing tasks. Multiplication of devices such as smartphones, netbooks and plug computers have made minimalism an important design concern. Google's Chrome browser and Chrome OS are often cited as examples of minimalist design." It is my belief, that even Facebook's success can be seen from an angle of minimalist design. After all, you can now video chat with your friends, write about yourself, upload photographs, share your location, and tell everyone about your entire life, all from your web browser. And all of this is tied into what was a simple concept: Give some college kids the ability to network with each other, share what course they were taking, and what clubs they were in. Make a wall to write on.

After reviewing the Advanced Workstation product over my network, using two laptops, three computers, a Cisco-Linksys router, and 2 eSATA devices, I still encountered errors. I had problems initiating the backups, creating the "centralized" repository for the backups, and everything. I could not help but think about the numerous other applications that made backups so much easier, including Windows Backup and Clonezilla. Even Norton Ghost started feeling cozy. We live in an age where some of the best products and services are free, or cost very little. Why pay for a megalithic program? When you look at some companies, they even offer disk management programs for hundreds of dollars. You can adjust partitions in Windows 7 Professional and above without any product. Not only that, but with hard disk management software from normal companies, you can manage the partitions and hard drives connected to your computer for a price tag that is extraordinarily less. If you really know what you are doing, you can use the built-in tools that Microsoft includes with the Windows installation disc as extra support files. Many of these command-line utilities allow you to perform operations that companies want to charge you hundreds of dollars for. Again, minimalism.

Here at, we have shifted away from big goals and started looking at smaller, more practical ones. Let's let people give even more information about their computer if they want, or even their life. Let's make it possible for people to track their own activity or organize a group. Setting the stage for others to do something big is part of a minimalist philosophy. Our unfortunate need to limit the size of signatures in order to make the website faster can be considered an example of that philosophy in action. And in our documents on how moderators conduct themselves, we emphasize keeping things simple. There is something to be said about keeping things simple.

I hope that in the mindless droning and endless installing and clicking away that you witnessed in the last YouTube video, that you came away with something from it. Sure, an hour of your life was wasted if you watched this video, but it also serves as a good reminder that burning a backup CD, plugging in an external HD, and restarting your computer, even if you own a thousand of them, might actually be easier and more cost effective than paying $1,500+ dollars for a fancy 1GB program that has so many features, you're not really sure if a backup is even taking place. The effects of project and feature creep in information technology allowed once excellent programs like Norton Anti-virus to become big clunkers that ate up all your resources.

Software and IT is a balancing act. With careful evaluation, you can avoid those pitfalls while also protecting your computer.