Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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A couple of days ago I was rummaging through some old files and found a folder of some personal files I had copied from work computer at my old long-time place of work. One thing I was hoping to find there was this TODO text file that I kept throughout the years I worked there, even as I moved from one computer to another. It was a very long, append-only file, accumulated over some number of years. It served as some combination of task list, temporary clipboard, notes repository and logging of random thoughts throughout the day. Sadly, I could no longer find the file.

I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff – things that remind you of your journey and the passage of time and give you a glimpse of who you were and what you were doing at a certain point in time. It’s part of why I still keep up with this blogging thing. My target audience is 99% future me. Every so often I’ll wonder about something like “What year was it that I lost my eyeglasses to the sea?” or “Who did I vote for in the 2010 elections again?” (In hindsight, some poor choices there.) or “When did I first travel to Hong Kong?” This blog has been around for a while – the archives go all the way back to 2002. (Not that I was already on WordPress and my own domain back then, I just keep importing all the content as I move platforms.) This blog serves as an extension of my memory, which as you know is fragile and easily confused, especially as one grows older. Time ravages your memory, and as you grow older the years start to blur together, and it’s nice to have an easy index of the sort of things happening to you back during those days.

In the parlance of my old job, it serves as an audit trail of your life.

It’s also part of why I’m not in a rush to quit social media despite all the privacy issues involved: I find that they provide a useful service because they help keep track of my history. (That they are using this data to try to sell advertising is annoying, but that’s a subject for another post.). I also do regular extracts of all my data on the social media sites so that I still have access to them if things go south.

Aside from public writings and musings on the internet, I also tend to keep personal logs. The text file I mentioned in the opening paragraph was one such example. Once cloud-based note-taking services became popular, I tended to latch onto them. It was EverNote for the longest time, before their free tier restrictions became untenable for me. I eventually settled on some combination of Google Drive + Dropbox + Google Keep. Most of my writings are on Google Drive at the moment, while other files (pictures etc) are on Dropbox, and todos/quick notes on Google Keep.

Since 2015, I’ve been gradually getting more and more detailed with my logging. Initially I was just logging things once a week as a sort of weekly review document on EverNote. I kept tracking more new things like daily meals, and expenses until eventually I ended up with a day-to-day spreadsheet with a whole bunch of columns. (This is how I’ve managed to make detailed yearly reviews.) One of my side projects at the moment is even my own personal tracking/logging system, I have a small prototype running, but nowhere near enough functionality that I want. Like many of side projects it’s fallen into some kind of black hole. Ah, maybe I’ll finish it someday.

A couple of months ago I was going through some old boxes that I thought contained some old high-school notebooks and found that I had thrown them out some time before. Sadness. I had some sweet drawings in some of those. It would have been a lot easier to archive them digitally nowadays since I have a scanner at home now. Oh well. If I could send some messages back to my younger self, “Keep your old notebooks and log files” would be among my highest priorities. (Probably after “Buy Bitcoin”, “Buy Apple stock”, and “Keep your G1 Transformers”)

Sometimes I wonder if this tendency to look back at the past is some kind of sign of growing old. I’ve certainly appreciated it more as I grew older. I mean, when you’re young and stupid  you kind of feel invincible and that you’ll live forever and remember everything. I remember at some point in high school I had convinced myself that I had something close to a photographic memory. These days eh, if you ask me where I was last Thursday I’ll have to check my spreadsheet. For me, I still consider the ability to record a lot of our day to day lives as one of the better things that technology has brought us. Some might say we are recording too much, but hey it’s my life right. I shouldn’t be deprived of those memories just because my flesh is starting to fail. (And maybe in the future I can use all this data to model and simulate my consciousness and personality – oh wait, Black Mirror did that already.)


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