01 August 2006

Some of life's irritants

by Phil Johnson

esterday when I arrived at the office, my desk was crawling with ants. Ants are a common problem during heatwaves in Southern California, so there's nothing remarkable about finding a few ants on your desk. It's usually a signal that someone needs to call the exterminator.

Problem is, it wasn't "a few" ants. It was dozens. This whole summer the ant problem has been unusually persistent, and the exterminator has already been to our office three times in the past two weeks. His most recent visit was Friday, when he was supposed to give the building a thorough treatment that would take care of the issue once and for all.

It didn't work, obviously. The surviving ants apparently all sought refuge at my desk. I don't know why. There's no food source for ants in or around my desk, unless these ants eat books and paper. Besides, we had been instructed to remove all edibles in preparation for Friday's extermination treatment. The only remaining organic item on my desk is my Betta, Darwin, and the ants were on a whole different part of my desk. They seemed to be investigating the possibility of building a nest in my power outlet.

I hosed them with a simple can of off-the-shelf ant spray, and that seemed to do the trick. I just don't understand why a professional exterminator can't seem to rid the building of ants. I suspect he's been spraying our building with concentrated sugar water, hoping to drown the ants.

That strategy isn't working.

n a similar vein, here's one of several excuses I have for posting sporadically lately: My life has been made considerably more complex for the past three weeks, because the company that makes the software that syncronizes my computers released an "upgrade" that doesn't work.

When you work like I do (with laptop and desktop computers), it's vital to synchronize the two properly. Even when you sync compulsively at least twice a day (as I do), if you forget or the software fails, you can easily lose a day's work. So keeping things properly synced is something I am passionate about.

So anyway, this company "upgraded" their software (which was working perfectly before the "upgrade"), and now it takes me a half hour to do manually what the software did automatically until three weeks ago. Three "upgrades" later, the problem is still not fixed.

The ironic thing is that the slogan for this particular software, appearing at the top of every window the program opens, is "File synchronization that works." Pheh.

I liked this software because it was cheap, simple, and it really did work. But after three failed upgrades, I'm ditching it today for something more expensive.

I would have been happy to roll back to a previous version that really did work, and after several failed attempts to correct the problem, I even suggested that strategy to their support people. They sent me this friendly reply:


Sorry, but 4.6.5 isn't available now.


Anyone out there know some good file synchronization software?

Phil's signature


FX Turk said...

uh, Dock your laptop so you don't have to sync, and backup daily?

Catez said...

Ants leave a pheromone trail (insect hormone) which the other ants follow. It doesn't matter if there's no food - once a few leave a trail somewhere all the others follow.

I spray the trail with ordinary flyspray. Follow it as far as you can. I find they diappear after that - because the spray has killed off the pheromone scent.

They may be building some kind of nest - unusual since ants prefer the ground. Or some large insect may have died in your light socket and they went after it.

Anyway - I suggest spraying the trail. At least until the exterminator arrives!

Barring that - you're a Pyromaniac - where's your flamethrower!

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid we had that problem, only it was honey bees. Somehow the queen ended up inside the siding of our house.

That was a bad thing.

Catez said...

I hosed them with a simple can of off-the-shelf ant spray, and that seemed to do the trick

Oh sorry - I missed that (but then had just read 3 posts on this blog). Anyways, try spraying the trail if they return. Of flamethrower.

Catez said...

or flamethrower. typo.

Kaffinator said...

You can spray ants but that just kills a few of them. A single colony can have thousands.

Sprays are temporary. Those cute little "ant hotels" don't do anything. But there is one solution my family has used that works. Stick "Tarro" ant bait wherever the ants are entering your room. They love the stuff and will make a beeline for it. Then they take it back to the nest, share it with everybody, including the queen, and the colony dies. You win.

As for syncing...hmmm. Put your files on a portable USB 2.0 hard drive?

Phil Johnson said...

Frank: The laptop is my main computer, and it docks with the network at the office. My home desktop serves as a backup system, and I keep all my working directories (18 of them, plus dozens of subdirs) constantly updated on all three systems.

That way a catastrophic disk failure on one or the other system won't cause any loss of data. It's what works for me, and it's a system I have used for ages.

The simplest kind of file-sync software serves me best. Adding "special features" to such software inevitably renders it useless.

I started years ago with Laplink, but dumped it when all the useless "special features" took over my computer so completely that I couldn't even play a DVD on my laptop.

All I want to do is keep some directories synchronized on multiple systems. I don't need word-processors and graphics editors and search functions and whatnot built into the synchronization software.

Why is this such a difficult concept for software companies where synchronization is supposed to be their main gig?

And why can't professional exterminators even kill ants?

Whatever happened to the concept of "expertise"?


Jeremy Weaver said...

Sounds like someone needs to remove the Twinkies from his desk drawer. Or at least leave them in the wrappers.

Carla Rolfe said...


I can't help you with the file sync thing. Half the time, I can't even find the scissors, let alone keep things organized.

I will however, pass along an ant-killer tip that always worked for grandma.

Mix some regular table sugar with powdered laundry soap (half & half I guess, grandma doesn't measure anything) and sprinkle it where you see the trail. They take it all back to the nest and before you know it, no more ants!

Grandmas know their stuff. Maybe they should be exterminators?


Mike Y said...


I'm not sure how much you need to keep syncd at all times. If it's just your active files, then perhaps this will work:


If you need to do more, let me know or email me. I sort of make my living on this type of storage related stuff, making new "things" for various companies to market as their own.

And I can't stand ants. It has been pretty good this year. But in past years it would sicken me to sit there with a vacuum sucking ants out of the outlets.

FX Turk said...


Being totally serious now, we have an 80 GB HD external backup by Seagate at the bookstore which runs the basic Seagate backup express software. It mirrors the HD of the main terminal as often as I want it to -- which, right now, is twice a week. However, you can set it up to Auto-BKUP as often as it takes to quell your paranoia, and you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to do it.

Installation? USB plug-and-play with about 15minutes of software installation, plus about an hour for the intial backup. Subsequent backups take long enough to mirror all changed files -- which for us is about 45 minutes because in the course of 3-4 days the database for the register system maks a lot of file changes.

Cost? Depending on what size you need, it's less than $200. We got ours for about $100.

That's my suggestion. Of course, you may prefer the experience of shopping for new software every time your current provider decised he's tire of being the bargain-basement IT solution for sync-ing. In which case, far be it from me to deprive your of that extremely-pleasurable hobby.

BTW, I bought mine at WMT. You might find something more aggressive at Best Buy -- something bigger or faster.

Peter Bogert said...

The one I finally bought and use daily is http://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html.

dan said...


At the rist of being pummeled by Mac zealots, I have tried using amd have had some succes with is Microsofts free (amazing, but true) Sync Toy http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=E0FC1154-C975-4814-9649-CCE41AF06EB7&displaylang=en

As with all Microsoft free-bees, use at your own risk! :)

stauf46 said...

Haven't had any luck with sync software, though the concept appeals to me.

Breaking a trail with ant spray has worked for me.

What I really want to know is why D.A. Carson is pointing at me under the word "Persecution"? Is it because of your hard cessation stand around here (cf. his "Showing the Spirit").

Mike Y said...


We may be talking of the same software. MS acquired FolderShare.

Kim said...

I don't know how to get rid of ants; if I did, I would have rid myself of the barrage of them in my kitchen. My advice is follow the advice of Carla's grandma. She's right; grandma's know their stuff.

As for the techno stuff. Well, when you guys talk like that it sounds like -- dare I say it? -- tongues to me.

Scott Hill said...

Phil, I learned a few things about getting rid of ants from similar problems at our office.

Apparently CA changed the pesticide laws again a few years back making it hard to get rid of ants. Recently some new things are on the market that will actually do the job, but companies are slow about using them because of cost. We changed companies and made them guarentee they got rid of ants or we don't pay.

So far, so good no ant problems.

None Ya Bussines said...

for your sync dilemma there's always or or SyncToy.
i use FolderShare because of it's simplicity, but i'm not sure it is what you need, so i've included the other two. i have limited expierience with the other two, so i can't speak to their usefulness, reliability, etc.
regarding the ants; i had the same problem at the place i live. i bought some ant spray (not ant killer) that claimed to be a repellant and anti-pheremone. i sprayed it outdoors around my windows and doors and indoors around the baseboards. i've only applied it once about 14 or so months ago and they've not been back. i'm sorry i don't remember the name, but look for something with similar claims.


Phil Johnson said...

See, Frank: Backup's only half the problem. I want to be able to work on the same files with multiple computers without a lot of manually copying and moving files around, or always having to think about whether this or that computer has the latest iteration of whatever data file I need at the moment, etc.

And since I'm on the road so much (often without online access), I need all my working files on my laptop's local drive. Trust me: file synchronization, not merely data backup, is necessary here.

Some of the stuff people have linked to here looks helpful. Thanks for the tips.

Mike Y said...


I get that a lot on techno speak. I think this illustrates something I've said in the past, it should edify someone else, not myself.


wulffenstein said...

The sync problems are far from easy. Having done this with pastors and comptuer systems I can verify it can get complicated.

Here is what I would suggest. Your files should be kept on a server at GTY. That server should be backed up daily if not more. This should be invisible to you. The laptop in xp has the built in ablity to sync files. Microsoft's term is offline files. All document directories and subdirectories can be made offline and will sync when you are on the network. (It also serves as another backup should the server and back fall. It happens!! Don't ask.)

Getting them onto a third computer is where it gets complicated. But to be honest if you have a laptop isn't that kinda the point to have the portablity. So why put them on the desktop at home? Just use the laptop.

FX Turk said...


I'm trying to think of something else I could say that would antagonize you by missing the point, and I got nothin'.

4given said...

This is all a part of your sanctification process.

I'm techno impaired...

But Hey! Maybe you can collect those ants to build a really cool ant farm. Oh yeah, you aren't a homeschool mom.


Phil Johnson said...

Wulffenstein: "But to be honest if you have a laptop isn't that kinda the point to have the portablity. So why put them on the desktop at home? Just use the laptop."

That kind of attitude could earn you an upper-management job at Microsoft. After all, why give the user what he needs when it's so much easier to give him workarounds and tell him how you think he ought to work?

See: the point of having a laptop is so that I can take my work anywhere. But the point of having a desktop at home is so that when I'm working there, I can sit in a comfortable chair at a big desk with a bright, large flatscreen monitor and a real keyboard and huge fast drives and multiple CD-Rom drives where all my backup data and stuff are easily available.

The point of multiple systems is that all the redundancy is a better hedge against disaster than a bi-weekly backup.

That's how I want it to work.

What's so irritating is that it would be quite easy to have it work that way—if only the folks who make file-sync software cared more about making it work than they cared about making it flashy, or whatever.

That's not too much to ask. Requiring me to use a laptop all the time as a workaround for such a simple problem is way too much to ask.

Gordon said...

Ants--I hate 'em.

Neil said...

"Comparator Pro" is what I use. Find it at softbytelabs.com.

It's cheap and works well at synchronizing folders and subfolders.

To my wife: yes I know I said I wouldn't read any blogs today, but the guy is clearly in distress and in need of assistance.

Steve said...


is it possible the company that produced the synchronization software you liked so much was taken over by New Perspective or emergent types?

Otherwise, how would you explain their taking a perfectly good program and encumbering it with unnecessary revisions, upgrades, and add-ons? (In the same way that NPP and emergent folk have done with the Bible...)

Taliesin said...


I highly recommend SureSync. Given your experience one thing that may appeal to you is that they do keep older versions of the software available on their website for download.

We used to use this at work until the IT department decided we should always work off of network drives. A nice idea as long as the network is up and you are in a location where you can access it (which is getting closer to everywhere). But I use it at home primarily for backup purposes, but is has mirroring and multi-mirror capabilities, which is what it sounds like you are looking for. /nerd

FX Turk said...


Apparently the ants are in more than the power recepticle. This is a theology blog, not a tech rant blog which decries the evils of both MS and Apple.

Have some juice or something. It's hot and you're getting red in the ears. :-)

Steve said...

Frank: Are you hinting that Phil has hijacked his own blog? If nothing else, the ant graphics were superb (although that one big one was kind of overwhelming to look at on my screen).

Taliesin said...

MS Apple - sounds like a feminist theology weblog.

John Haller said...

I use the freeware version of syncback. Works like a charm.

lee n. field said...

"Anyone out there know some good file synchronization software?"


(looks like there is a Windows version -- http://www.aboutmyip.com/AboutMyXApp/DeltaCopy.jsp)

Lindsay Todd said...

It's a bit geeky, but I use Unison for file synchronization. I haven't tried it with Windows (yet), but I know there is a Windows version, and I think even a Mac version. I keep my working files in sync on a laptop and two desktops with this tool. It only handles folders and files; it can't merge contact lists or bookmarks, though it can do a bit toward merging files that have changed in more than one place. Data synchronization is a fascinating problem, with lots of unintuitive twists to it.

Anonymous said...

Phil, when i saw the first pic on this blog i thought the little black things were remnants of pec's long lost hair! ahhhh, memories, eh!

Colin Maxwell said...

Meditate upon Proverbs 6:6
You don't even have to go to the ants since they, providentially, have come to you
Share your meditations with us over the next few days on this blog
It'll take your mind of your laptop problems

Silly Old Mom said...

Grant's Kills Ants. It's another bait product. And since I'm local, I know you can buy it in LA.

Chris Tenbrook said...

Clark Pest Control. They're in your area, and, at least in my experience, they are very competent with eradicating ant problems.

A Birdy said...

Let me guess - Argentine ants?
We have the same problem. Impossible to get rid of.

Steve said...

For what it's worth, here's another program (appears to be free?) in case no one else has brought it up:


Jeri said...

No, but I know how to get rid of ants!

Get DAWN dish liquid (as in, for hand washing dishes, not for the dishwasher).

Spread it very thinly (as in, rub it in) to the surfaces that surround your desk.
The ants absolutely will not cross that line of DAWN dish soap. Just make sure it is an unbroken line.

One year my apartment complex turned into an ant hill, and we had ants crawling all through our cars. While my friends were using ant bombs, etc., I looked up non-toxic ways to get rid of ants and found this method on the internet. I rubbed DAWN dish
soap over the entire plastic interior of my car and along all door and window frames.

I never had ants again. And let me tell you, prior to that, they were everywhere.

And the DAWN dish soap simply made the car smell good for a while. But ants will not walk where there has been DAWN rubbed into the surface.

Best wishes,

CuriousSaint said...

Use Suse Linux (or install cygwin) and rsync. ;D

wulffenstein said...


I hope that one of the software solutions works out for you.

BTW: If you are working on your files that much I would recommend backing more in 2 times a week.


Russ said...

I do everything on a single laptop now, but I used to use Briefcase Plus (www.rekenwonder.com/brfcplus.htm), which is quick and never gave me any problems (though I haven't used the current version).

For ants, we tried every kind of bait and only one worked - Combat ant gel. Squirt a dab near an ant trail and they immediately mob the gel, then go off and die somewhere else.