Stephen Wolfram Q&A

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Some collected questions and answers by Stephen Wolfram

Questions may be edited for brevity; see links for full questions.

March 26, 2019

From: Interview by Nick Douglas, Lifehacker

How do you avoid constant maintenance of your personal tracking systems?

First thing is, the more you can dashboard it in real time or every day, the less likely you are [to let the system fail]. Some report that came in this morning, a piece of it was blank. So I know that immediately. Something failed yesterday. I admit that there’s a bit of cheating going on there, because I have a sysadmin person who works for me, who I just sent mail saying “This seems to be blank, please figure out what’s happening”. Now, some of the code I wrote myself, and sometimes it’s faster for me to express myself by writing the code than it is for me to tell somebody, “Can you make a piece of code that does this?”

This is the value of having a computational language. I can express myself that way more efficiently than I can express myself by sending a piece of email or something saying in English “Please do this and this”.

Another thing is, I like to keep all my data myself. There are various kinds of devices I would love to use, but I’m just not going to leave the data in that provider’s cloud. If I can’t download it, I really don’t want it. Things which have been sitting actively on a disk, in my active file system for 40 years, they’re still there, they’re still fine. Things that were in somebody else’s file system or went into some other medium, who knows?

So keep it in your active file system. Check it. Have something that sends you mail every day, where you can take that half second to eyeball that it isn’t totally crazy. And I do have some systems that aggregate stuff that is supposed to be coming in from a bunch of other systems, and give me a master conclusion. There’s one that comes in every week that’s a master conclusion of “Did all of the things that were supposed to come in every day actually come in?”.

All these systems rot at a certain rate. And the trick is to fix them quickly rather than to discover this thing stopped taking data three months ago. In past years, a decade ago or more, I was caught a few times with the, “Oops the system stopped working a month ago”. And that’s why I now have the daily dashboard result.

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