Monday, May 16, 2022

Dude, Where's My Stuff?

Azuriel mentioned, in a post the other day, he'd been having some issues migrating data from his old PC to the new one he'd just bought. SynCaine dropped by the comments to wonder why, if the data in question happened to be games, Azuriel was even bothering. "Why migrate games?", he asked. "Wouldn’t it be faster to download them off Steam than do whatever it is you are doing with multiple harddrives?"

That really made me think. I haven't bought a new PC (I wish!) but I have had to revisit all of my data following the involuntary renumbering of all my drives. 

The three of them together give me four terabytes of storage, three-quarters of which should, theoretically, have been pristine, seeing that one drive came with the PC and another I bought later. By that reckoning, only one drive should have had legacy data from my previous PC, the one I took out of the old and installed in the new.

That in itself would be confusing enough but in fact I also transferred a bunch of stuff from several old drives because it seemed easier than what I had been doing, namely sticking them into enclosures as using them externally. As a result I ended up with all kinds of data scattered across the three drives, a mess which I only partially cleared up by creating specific folders and copying data across.

It seems like it ought to be simple enough to pile everything into the case then sort it out after but there are several problems with doing it that way. The main one is the discipline and organization required to make a good job of it. Another is the time it takes. The real killer, though, is the tedium.

Here's the thing: I love inventory management so much that the idea of sorting terabytes of data into a coherent, ordered system always feels like it's going to be really good fun. I actively look forward to it, which is how I keep ending up doing it. 

The reality is somewhat different. It is fun to begin with but, like an awful lot of things, the fun stops before you get to the end.

If I'm sorting and tidying physical inventory (As I was this afternoon, when I opened a door in the lean-to we ironically call the conservatory, a door that hadn't been opened for at least a decade and a half, to find the space behind it entirely filled with dessicated driftwood, which I foolishly then began to clear out.) I pretty much have to finish what I've started. You can't really leave a job like that half done. We would literally not have been able to get out of the back door.

Digital tidying is much easier to give up on, unfortunately. When it stops being fun I tend to just bail. Unsurprisingly, with a six-year old computer, that leaves one hell of a lot of loose ends and most of them in a tangle.

It doesn't help that platforms like Steam and Amazon Games are so willing. They're happy to let you make multiple Libraries on different drives, then sew them all together invisibly so you never have to think about what's really stored where. It seems like an ideal solution until you find yourself having to stitch them all back together after some catastrophe tears them all apart.

I've spent a good few hours these last few days doing just that, with limited success. If you haven't tried to find them, you might be surprised where all these companies choose to hide their files. It's not in one, logical place, like it used to be back in the good old days of EverQuest, when I would routinely just open the game folder and find every single related file in there, somewhere.

If you're prepared to dig deep enough you can usually find most things. It can be quite good fun, a kind of digital treasure hunt. Satisfying, too, at least when you find what you're looking for. I was pretty pleased with myself when I finally located the save game files for Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis and managed to get the new installation to recognize them. I'd have hated to have had to play through thw whole thing again.

Some other missing pieces, though, I still haven't been able to find and sometimes even finding the right files and putting them in the right place doesn't make things work the way they should. Steam, for instance, has a set of protocols for moving files from one installation to another that has to be followed if you want the games to be recognized, let alone playable.

I could do that. It wasn't hard to track down the information and it would just be a question of following the instructions. Sure, it would be fiddly and annoying, but I'm confident it would work but, as SynCaine says, why bother? 

I have an answer. It's one I've been giving, often with a certain degree of smug self-satisfaction, for years. "It's the way I do things". Yeah, not much of an answer, is it?

I have a lot of ways I do things. I don't use menus. I like to have desktop icons for everything. I enjoy locating the icon for the app or game or program or utility or file I want visually. It's an aesthetic choice but it has an element of almost religious fervor to it as well. It always felt like the right way. I almost said the "morally correct" way. 

Only now I'm starting to think that, like an awful lot of other unconsidered practices of mine, it's really just a habit. I learned to do things a certain way a long time ago, when it was either just the way they were done or when there wasn't any other choice. When new ways of doing those things came along I either didn't notice or, if I did, shook my head somewhat condescendingly and said "No thanks, I'll stick with the old way, thanks. If it ain't broke..."

Except I'm starting to think that something doesn't have to be broken to be capable of improvement. I know. Revelatory!

It's also beginning to occur to me that my preferences don't represent much of a coherent aesthetic after all. I embrace minimalism. I turn off almost every option in most utilities I use. I like the cleanest possible appearance in browsers and websites. I actually seek out and install add-ons that suppress functions the designers put in to be helpful just so I can have everything looking as sparse and barebones as possible.

That doesn't sit comfortably with a desktop covered with so many icons I've twice had to reduce their size just to get them to fit on the screen. It's doubly ironic seeing that I take some care to set desktop backrounds that change every ten minutes, pulling pictures at random from files containing hundreds or even thousands of images, and yet I can barely make out what I'm looking at for the forest of thumbnails cluttering up the foreground.

When the glitch forced me to use my old installation of Windows 10 with its six-year old profile, more than three-quarters of all those icons simply vanished. Until I read that comment of SynCaine's I'd been diligently working to put them all back. Now I think I'm going to forget they were ever there.

More than that, instead of trying to find all my Steam and Amazon Games files and somehow teasing them back together, I think I might just delete the whole lot. Clear out the entire package and start again. Just download and install the games as I want to play them and let someone else worry about where to store them when I'm playing something else.

I'd want to be sure I had my screenshot files backed up but the saved games should be in the cloud. And even if they're not, what are the chances I'll ever want to start a completed game from a save, anyway? Have I ever done that in four decades of gaming? I doubt it.

It's not even as though you can play any of these games without an internet connection so the worst that could happen, if I suddenly decided I wanted to play something different, would seem to be a (relatively) short delay to download and install before logging in. I'm always doing that for new games anyway and it's not a problem. 

I'm still mulling it over but the prospect of clearing what would most likely be a terabyte or more of local storage is almost as appealing as the sight of a clean desktop. I've been trying to think of the downsides but I haven't come up with anything yet. If anyone has a good reason why I shouldn't sweep the decks, please don't keep it to yourself.

Otherwise, I think I'm going to do what everyone else probably did long ago: store my stuff in someone else's place.

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