Vivek Haldar

Rules for Computing Happiness

Inspired by Alex Payne’s rules. This is a distillation of and update to a much longer description of my setup. This is from the point of view of my personal, not professional, usage. I want to frame this in terms of general principles, rather than specific prescriptive implementations, which will be different for everyone.


  • We’re in a transitory period now, which is why there are still people who like to use machines with tons of local storage. That is about to become irrelevant. The datacenter is your compute and storage. The device in your hand (be it a phone, a tablet, or a laptop) is your modern “dumb terminal” with pretty graphics that acts as a conduit to all that data. Local, on-device storage is just a cache.
  • Find a computing setup that does not harm or injure your body.


  • Treat service providers like banks. When you store your money in a bank rather than under your mattress, you are trusting them, while buying yourself the convenience and flexibility of not lugging around sacks of cash. But there are also a number of safeguards and incentives in place for the banks to keep your money safe and liquid. It is the same with cloud services holding your data. Also, they know this stuff much better than you. Corollary: run from providers that make it hard to get your data out.
  • Data longevity is a hard problem, but you can improve your chances by using plain text as much as possible (preferably in a long-term-friendly encoding like ASCII or UTF-8), and the most-used file formats for images (I think that’s JPEG).
  • Keep one local backup of all your cloud data for the ultimate apocalypse scenario.


  • Over the long run, it is your data that matters, not the software. That’s why this goes last. That wedding photograph from 1999 is more important than the image editor you used to touch it up. Pick one for each of your common activities (writing, image management, browsing etc.) and stick with it. Don’t listen to the lifehackers and productivity gurus–moving to the latest shiny editor will not make your prose better.
  • Corollary of the above: never use software that locks you into proprietary formats, or if you must, make sure to export your files out to a more portable format. The chance that you will be able to run the same hardware/software/version snowflake in a decade to decode your data is close to zero.