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The power of the dark side

How much time do you spend organising your picture files or negatives? How about documents or files? Compare that with how much time you spend looking for them.

I worked at a place where one department in the business made large efforts to properly file their shared documents. They built trees of folders within folders (within… you get the idea). They made recursion into an art form. This meant that some files could rightly be saved in more than one place. So they did. So they lost track of which version of the file was the most recent, or they edited one copy and caused the others to be inaccurate. And unless you completely understood the filing system, you couldn’t find anything or you saved your files somewhere that made sense to you. Then they hit the next wall – that Windows needs the name of a folder tree to be unique within the first 256 characters. As the folders became ever more nested they hit the limit. Files could be seen but not saved or moved. There was a sense of humour crisis and an outbreak of tetchyness.

What’s this got to do with you? Because sometimes the appearance of organisation causes harm and frustration.

There are some simple methods of filing and finding pictures that go wide rather than deep. Search tools are very good. I use Agent Ransack but if you are at the commercial level of filing and storage, go for the full version (File Locator Pro). It can find just about anything, anywhere. If you think you may have duplicate copies of files, try Duplicate File Detective. If, like me, you may have several copies of the same picture in different places, use something like Duplicate Photos Finder. Another tool that is a charm for files spread across multiple drives is a utility from the Sith Lords of computing themselves. SyncToy can compare pairs of folders or folder trees and move the most recent copy of each file into one of them. Basically, grab the most recent versions of files from a bunch of drives or storage cards and put them all into one place. I also use it to make backups, as it can copy only new or newer files and so saves time.

Was it under B for bird or L for lunch?

… And a brief diversion – before we moved house I had a lot of books; around 750. They were spread across multiple shelves and rooms. I catalogued them using a phone application that scans the barcode and uses the ISBN to get the book’s details. I recorded which shelf each book was on and saved myself wandering about the house. It also meant that if I found some pre-loved treasure in a charity shop I could tell at once if I already had a copy. The key thing though was that the location had no finer detail than which set of shelves a book was on. That was good enough to find it, and resilient to putting the book back in a different place on the shelf. The lesson learned was from the Department mentioned above, where perfection failed to survive reality.

You could also try an organisational tip that comes from caching theory, called LRU or least recently used. Whenever you take a physical file or folder out of a filing drawer, put it back at the front of the drawer. Very soon the things you use most will be at the front. If it’s a stack or pile, put things back on the top and the things you want most will be where they are easiest to find. For files on a computer, see if you can change the view to put the most recently used or changed items at the top.

Why do you care? Because as the number of files and folders increases (like 1,000 picture shoots) things get harder to find. And as even Obama said, life is too short to bubble-sort.


Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

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