2143: Disk Usage
Many personal computers provide a way to obtain a graphical breakdown of how their storage space is being used, most commonly by representing the filesystem as a pie chart in which each slice represents the proportion of the total storage space being taken up by a particular item.
In this comic, Randall has illustrated the usage of his hard disk drive in just such a way, although as is common for him, the items in his hard drive start off seemingly normal and become increasingly strange:
- Digital photographs are a common item to be stored on a hard disk; many people take lots of photographs with their smartphone or a camera and will commonly transfer them to a disk drive for safekeeping, editing, or organizing. With the high resolution of modern cameras and the ease of taking photos, it is common for photo collections to consume a significant amount of disk space.
- Good photos
- On the flipside, the ease of taking photographs means that it is very easy to take bad photographs, particularly as most people are not experienced at photography. The pie chart is rather bluntly indicating that of the many photographs Randall has taken, only a vanishingly small fraction of them are actually good.
- On a file system, "Documents" is generally used as a catch-all term for the user's personal files.
- Everything you've streamed since 2017
- Streaming is a term that refers to accessing audio or video content on the Internet without downloading the entire media file first - it is instead played while it's being retrieved. An example of streaming is watching a YouTube video. Assuming a weekly 2h live stream (@4Mbps) between 2017-01-01 and 2019-04-29, these recordings would be 425GB in size. When these files take up 6% of all the used disk space, the full amount of used space would be roughly 7TB, which is plausible, given the rise of 10TB hard disks in 2016.
- It might also be referring to temporary media files that were stored on the disk while it was being "streamed" for viewing or listening from the Internet and never deleted when done.
- A single five-year old PowerPoint presentation
- Almost a tenth of the entire disk space is taken up by a single file, a presentation made five years ago in Microsoft PowerPoint. It's unclear why Randall has kept this file or why it is so huge - possibly it is important to him for some reason, or perhaps he can't bear the thought of throwing information away, regardless of how much storage it requires.
- While it's possible that the file may genuinely be long or detailed enough to require so much space, it could also be that the file is bloated due to PowerPoint's strategy of converting compressed graphics to full-resolution bitmaps for historical cross-platform compatibility. This has been known to result in PowerPoint decks that are much larger than the sum of their component files.
- This would be files related to the computer's Operating System. While these files will generally show up on a disk usage analysis, it is generally recommended to leave them alone, as they may be critical to the computer's operation. A well-known trolling tactic involves tricking unsuspecting users into deleting their critical system files (eg. the "System32" folder on Windows), which renders the operating system unusable.
- Parkinson's law, the computer storage corollary, says that data expands to fill the space available for storage. As such, this sliver representing the unused portion of the storage device will always be tiny.
- The operating system and other programs often keep copies of data they've used or downloaded in case they need to use that data again; such data is usually stored in cache files. Often these can be deleted without too much ill effect, but some programs have different ways of deleting their own cache files.
- People attempting to organize their files will often end up creating a directory called "Other" or "Misc" for any files that they could not categorize. On Randall's hard disk, this "Other" directory takes up a significant amount of disk space, indicating that either his categorization system isn't working very well, or he doesn't have the discipline to properly maintain his file organization. Alternatively, this could be a category defined by the usage report, which would include anything it can't categorize - often a strangely large portion of the files.
- Why are there two full backups of my phone from 2015 deep in a settings folder?
- Full backups of an old phone may have been stored to "settings" by a version of backup or file synchronization software which wanted to keep the resulting backup images in a location away from user control so they would be less likely to modify any of their component files, which might, for example, tend to clobber new versions with the modified old versions. Renaming a device under such circumstances might lead to duplicate backup images.
Another possible explanation is that folder names like "Other", "Cache" and "System" refer to storing porn while trying to hide this fact by using unsuspicious folder names. Hence the quotes.
Alarmingly, the "Unused" portion of the pie chart is extremely small, which means the disk is nearly full with very little remaining capacity. Users don't usually worry about what is using space on their computer disk until they get an alert about the disk running out of space - this is likely when a user would resort to viewing this type of graph to figure out what they can delete to free up disk space.
The title text references the management UI of a hypothetical disk cleaning utility. The following options are mentioned in its menu:
- Optimize space usage
- A common nondescript phrase often found in such tools.
- Encrypt disk usage report
- Often, one might want to encrypt data on the disk, not reports about said data. This may suggest that the unusual disk usage is embarrassing enough that the user may want to encrypt the usage report, preventing other people from reading it.
- Convert photos to text-only
- Plain-text documents take less space than pictures. The most high-compression option would be to replace the photo file with a text file containing a short description of the photo, for example using an AI algorithm like CaptionBot. Scanned documents can be automatically transcribed (OCR). However, applying such an algorithm to photos will result in garbage. One alternative, could be that the tool turns image files into text files by changing the extension to .txt. This would not save any space, and would only make the files more difficult to open. Another alternative would be converting the images into so called ASCII art, by converting regularly sampled blocks of pixels to ASCII characters that closely approximate the general shape and at times color of those pixels, potentially saving a general impression of the content of the images while significantly reducing file size.
- Delete temporary files
- Another real option. Temporary files are often not deleted automatically, so deleting them can save a significant amount of disk space.
- Delete permanent files
- A made-up term, that might refer to the user's documents, pictures, etc. You would not want to delete them.
- Delete all files currently in use
- Deleting files that are in use would most definitely result in data loss or program crashes, including perhaps even the program doing the deleting, making it effectively single-use. Windows explicitly disallows deleting open files & Linux, etc. provide locking mechanisms to prevent it, since it can cause data loss. Deleting all open files would be catastrophic, especially if it included system utilities & the kernel. If the program is capable of deleting all files in use anywhere on the planet, it would be considerably worse (& looking at these options, it's hard to say for sure the program won't try to go that far).
- Optimize menu options
- Those options could really do with some optimization. (a reference to the first entry?)
- Download cloud, Optimize cloud
- Here, the cloud probably refers to cloud storage (online storage). Cloud storage would be too large by many orders of magnitude to fit, let alone download onto a desktop computer, but in 908: The Cloud, the cloud is depicted as (ultimately) running on a single desktop-sized server in Black Hat's house. Perhaps the "Optimize cloud" option would be used to enable such an arrangement.
- Upload unused space to cloud
- "Uploading empty space" is a) impossible and b) would result in less space being available, which is the opposite of what a disk cleaner utility is supposed to do. Note that "unused space" may contain actual data. Often, when a file is deleted, the operating system just marks the content as available. The result is that it stays there until overwritten by new data. There are many data recovery tools that takes advantage of it in order to "undelete" files.
- [This comic shows a pie chart with 10 slices, each with a label and a line pointing to these ten different sized slices. There is a caption above the chart:]
- Disk Space Usage Report
- [The labels on each slice is given in anti-clockwise order starting from the 12 o'clock position. The percentages are estimated from the image and are noted in the square brackets before the transcript:]
- [18%] Photos
- [1%] Good Photos
- [3%]: Documents
- [6%]: Everything you've streamed since 2017
- [9%]: A single five-year-old PowerPoint presentation
- [21%]: "System"
- [2%]: Unused
- [9%]: "Cache"
- [23%]: "Other"
- [8%]: Why are there two full backups of my phone from 2015 deep in a settings folder?
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