I am one of those obnoxious people who begins his filenames with an ISO date, like 2024-03-06_blog_post_idea.md. I know that file metadata already tracks creation and revision dates, but I don’t like those: The creation date is misleading when you duplicate a file to reuse its format or content, and the revision date is all but meaningless because modern software modifies files on disk in all kinds of spurious ways. I put an ISO date in my filenames to assign them a canonical date. The canonical date means something like “the last date at which this file underwent a significant change,” and I alone (not software) can determine what that means.1

Another reprehensible habit of mine is that I often duplicate files (creating a new, ISO-datestamped copy) before making big changes despite knowing I can roll things back in our sync software (OneDrive). I do so because I have essentially unlimited storage space (1TB), and visiting the web UI means leaving the comfort of my local file manager for a terrible, laggy web app. But this practice is not just a matter of personal preference; it’s also a crucial mitigation against the version-control issues wrought by the collaboration features of the “modern office tech stack.” See, I have colleagues who, at the end of their work day, leave their computer on with all their Office files open.2 A few hours later, their VPN session expires, which disconnects OneDrive. So, if I log in before them in the morning and make some edits, their version of the file goes out of date, but their OneDrive is powerless to detect it or show them my changes. This results in an instant version conflict when they come back online, make an edit, and reflexively press Ctrl + s. I munificently prevent this problem by copying each file and advancing the ISO date before making edits so that everyone can see that my version is the newest.

Ironically, the VPN vs. OneDrive fight would never arise on an old-school NAS or “S:// drive,” because (assuming the shared drive is behind the VPN), when the VPN lease expires, the ~$whatever.docx lock file (a hidden file that indicates when a file is being edited, and is completely ignored by OneDrive) would stay on the NAS, and I would be forced to make my edits on a copy of the file instead of the original—which is exactly what I already do, manually, now that I’ve learned never to trust software.

  1. An example of the spurious ways in which modern software modifies files on disk: If you open a Microsoft Excel worksheet, adjust the zoom, and try to close Excel, it will issue a “Do you want to save your changes?” warning. I’m not sure why the zoom level is stored in the .xlsx file at all. In Word (as far as I can tell), the zoom level, like scroll position, belongs to your session state and will thus be remembered separately for different viewers of the document.

    I have had some funny moments in client meetings where I pulled up an Excel sheet and it loaded at an illegible 50% because my last edit was to finalize the layout. 100% is the default for a reason! 

  2. When I sign off for the day, I like to shut my computer all the way down to purge the demons. But I can’t fault others for not doing so, because cold-booting Windows with all the bloat, reopening all your files and email, and logging into Workday and so on is a fifteen-minute process at best.