The shifting concept of permanence

Over the past week, my latest geeky little project has been to take a look at all the IT infrastructure that I operate and rearrange things around a little to match its current utility. Nothing drastic, just tweaks here and there, consolidating a few VPS‘s, swapping out email services and setting up a more robust DNS solution.

Which has brought me to today’s reflection on permanence and the irony of how such a concept survives in our hyper-transient digital world.

Permanence is typically associated with physical mass and tangibility, while transience, the lack thereof. A dead-tree bank statement bears far more permanence than a PDF. Molding a lump of clay with your bare hands, more than pushing polygons. Capturing light on photo-sensitive celluloid more than voltages on a CMOS chip.

But something dawned upon me as I was fixing up some mail forwarding settings for my primary email address: I’ve changed my physical real-world address at least 5 times since I last swapped email addresses. Going a little further, I must have gone through many more mobile phone devices since I signed up for my current mobile number.

Somehow, or some why, these very transient entities (email addresses, mobile number) seem to have lasted far longer than items that we traditionally deem “more permanent”. Don’t even get me started on how difficult it is to mop up an incriminating information leak, or an embarrassing photo on your social network.

This surely begs further and more thorough discourse, but here’s where my thought ends today. Maybe you’d like to chime in: how does such a shift affect the we live, and the way we value things?


So yesterday was #2202. And what a blast it was. Brother took wifey and I for scrumptious greek dinner out in Brunswick, after which, we adjourned to our place to play with my brand new gadget.

Speaking of gadgets, my recent experiences have led me to better appreciate the idea of sentimental items – birthday presents and all. I am just beginning to discover how tangible objects can be infused with meaning; bearing witness to past events, or sentiments that have been exchanged.

Similar to the way ceremonies mark an event on the time continuum, it seems, mementos have the inherent ability to mark a memory in finite space.

Come to think of it, this has been something that I’ve unconsciously practiced over the years. For example, almost every time there’s been a positive change with my work, I would be compelled to purchase an item, mostly as a personal “reward”, thinly veiled behind an excuse to commemorate such an event.

I’m selective about these items too. No silly medals, trophies or certificates, but things that would embed themselves in my daily grind: a wallet, a pen, some gadget, etc.

Peculiar? I’d beg to differ.

I actually think it’s a brilliant way of persisting significant transient memory to a more durable form of off-line storage. Plus, I’m kind of looking forward to being able to tell my kids, “When daddy got this wallet…”

How a nerd finds rest

People often wonder what nerds do during their down time, you know, to relax, or to wind down. Allow me to provide you with some insight.

Back in my early teenage years, computer operating systems (read: Windows) would age and deteriorate with use. No, this wasn’t some time-limited DRM or SaaS strategy. Just poor engineering. So, 2-3 times a year, I would make it a point to do a “fresh” reinstall of the operating system to keep things humming along optimally.

If you’ve got everything in place, I discovered that performing a reinstall can be a very rewarding therapeutic zone-out activity. All you’ve got to do is step through a long sequence of actions, and stare at the screen in between. If you follow it correctly, you’re rewarded with a brand spanking new computational canvas upon which you etch out your digital life, all over again.

Kinda like how some people like to sort their wardrobe by wavelength, or rake tiny pebble around in a zen gardenExcept, you get a faster computer at the end of it!

I’m not sure what got into me back then, but I was doing this reinstall thing so often (probably because I’d always find a new way to ruin the system) that I perfected the process of getting my computer from bare metal to a functioning Windows NT 4 workstation in under 15 mins. Yes, you read right – in less that a quarter of an hour, I could drop a blank hard drive into the system, install the operating system with drivers, and be surfing the ‘net on Internet Explorer 5.5.

That was what I did for fun.

Fast forward to yesterday, I’d recently commissioned a brand new VPS to run some of my clients’ websites, and it was 1999 all over again for me. Selecting and rebuilding the server with a CentOS 5 image, updating and hardening the machine. Setting up BIND, and Apache, and MySQL. Meddling with Postfix, ssh, iptables, etc. Did someone say multiple versions of PHP over FastCGI?

Every time I go over the steps again, I try to take the “advanced” route for a component or two. I’d attempt to perform manually something that was previously done automatically through a pretty GUI. This time, it was setting up mail forwarding. It used to be all point-and-click through a cPanel Reseller account, but I spent a good few hours tweaking it by hand, and understanding a little more how email plumbing works.

Fascinating, and incredibly satisfying.

Maybe next time, I’ll try and roll out a Gentoo or FreeBSD box.