Another Technological Change in Direction: Week One

So it has been one week since we dropped our Mac Mini into someone else’s lap and picked up a used MacBook for my wife to use. I thought I’d post some quick thoughts on how things have done so far. Yes, it is a list, so bear with me.

  • I spend far less time in my office at the moment now that I have all of my stuff on my MacBook Pro. Granted, part of that has to do with me ditching caffeine as well and needing more sleep. I am interested to see if that will change as I get more and more into the development side of things again.
  • My wife uses her laptop A LOT, which is great.
  • The speed increase between Late 2009 and Early 2011 for the MacBook/MacBook Pro is pretty amazing, but the MacBook is still REALLY usable. Actually, more than that, I would still use it as a main development machine if it was mine.
  • An SSD really can make all the difference. I don’t have any right now, but my old MacBook Pro was fast ONLY because of the SSD I had in it.
  • OS X is worth the “price of admission” for me and my family. The amount of time I spend fixing things is nil now, which is great.
  • The glass screen of the MacBook Pro might be glossy, but it is SO strong that it is worth it.
  • I can’t believe I missed it, but purchasing an entire cable (instead of just an adapter) to run from my monitor to my MacBook Pro is worth it. So much simpler.
  • Mice are a crapshoot. The Magic Mouse is a great mouse, but you will need to try out a number of mice to find one that works for you.
  • I really wish Apple was still making the smaller USB keyboard (the one that looks like the Apple Wireless Keyboard).
  • The iPad is still incredibly useful. I was worried that its usefulness would go away with the purchase of another laptop, but that has not been the case. The experience is still completely different, and different in a good way (both using a laptop and using the iPad).
  • Apple’s MagSafe adapter might be my favorite change to laptops along with LED-backlit screens. A minor thing overall, but it makes a HUGE difference.
  • We really need to get a desk just to hide the power adapter. Would really like a roll-top desk so that we can hide the MacBook from our son.

That’s about it. More later!

Another Technological Change in Direction

Where the confluence of life and technology meet, I waver back and forth. I’ve always been this way, for better or worse, but it seems to be at pandemic levels at the moment as I waffle back and forth on my technology setup for the future.

If you’ve been keeping track for long, you’ve seen me go between Windows, Mac, Linux, Mac, Linux, Mac and then Linux again. I probably missed one or two transitions in there, but you get the general idea from that list.

One positive has been my ability to stay rather neutral as far as file formats go, and moving between platforms has been relatively painless for me since my initial move to Mac back in the Spring of 2005.

However, I’m set to make another course correction in the near future, one necessitated for a number of reasons. I’ll split them into Work Reasons and Home Reasons.

Work Reasons

Work purchased me a new 13″ MacBook Pro, so that really made the decision pretty easy. I had my T61 set up pretty nicely for the time being, but when the opportunity presented itself I jumped ship back to Apple pretty much as fast as I could. I have no scruples when it comes to technology and right now Apple provides me with what I both want and need.

There is also the little bit about how I’m unofficially/officially the “Mac guy” at work as well. Part of benefit of my Genius training I suppose. So, having a Mac, using one and thus, keeping up with what is happening on the platform is probably a good idea. I’ll also get to keep up with Linux because I interact with them at the server-level every day.

So, I’m ditching my T61. If you are looking for a T61, let me know.

Home Reasons

Since I now have a Mac portable, I’m going to go ahead and consolidate on that single machine for ease-of-use. It makes sense for me, and the power of the Core i7-powered MacBook Pro is WAY more than I am used to having, so it works rather nicely.

However, that leaves a wonderful Mac Mini sitting in my office not getting used anymore. That’s not 100% true, as it does get used for pictures and videos and music at the moment for the family, but not as much as it did and not even as often as it should because of its location in the basement of our house.

The basement means having to go down a flight of not-quite-awesome stairs and also putting yourself farther away from the rest of the family. Since the machine will now be used mostly by my wife, and she can really only use it when our son is asleep (and will be able to do it even less-so when our next child arrives in July), she doesn’t get down there often. You also can’t hear much when you are in my basement office.

What does it all mean?

It means I’d like to get a machine into the main part of the house for my wife. However, we don’t have a desk to set it on, and if we did we really don’t want a huge monitor staring us straight in the face somewhere in the main living area. It also only draws our son’s attention, which we don’t want either. The boy loves looking at pictures, videos and just pounding on the keyboard as well.

Because of those needs, I am working on selling the Mac Mini and we are going to use the money to purchase an inexpensive Apple portable for my wife to use (used, refurbished, won at a drawing, etc.). This makes sense for a number of reasons.

First, it can be closed so it is not staring our son in the face the whole day. Second, it can be stowed away in a case or a roll-top desk (which we would like to get) so that it is not always out for people to look at. Third, because of the above two, it can be in the main living area so that she can use it more often to get her pictures up on Facebook or edit some video for various groups.

Now, the idea is to use any money we get from the Mac Mini to purchase the laptop so that it is an equal trade. We might have to trade some processing power for the size and portability, but that is a choice we’ve made.

I don’t know when this is all going to happen, but I’m hoping relatively soon. Sometimes things just keep on changing.

Technologists Anonymous

I have come out and just say it.

I’m addicted to technology.

Alright, that might be an overly broad statement, so I’ll specify it a little bit (but I’m not going to change my title).

I’m addicted to changing laptops.

It started way back into 2001 when I built my first computer from nothing but parts. I still remember the exact model numbers of what I used. ASUS A7V266-E/AA motherboard with an AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processor coupled with two sticks of 128MB of DDR RAM. A Sony CD-RW drive and a 60GB Seagate hard drive. Finally, an 8MB ATI Rage XL graphics card topped it off. All of it sat in a beige Antec case with a 300watt power supply. Oh, there was a floppy involved as well.

A week of my summer was spent putting it together and troubleshooting all of the problems I had. When you offset the power cable of the floppy drive by one pin, it will short out the system so that it will not boot. Learned that one the hard way.

Through the process I learned about formatting a hard drive, installing an operating system and just how computers are put together. It was wonderful. It was enlightening. I still marvel at the fact that my parents put up the money for me to build a computer for them, knowing full well that I had never done it before.

That computer lasted them eight years. EIGHT YEARS! Eight years with the most impressive updates being an ATI Radeon 8500 graphics card and 256MB of extra RAM. It still boggles my mind that the machine lasted that long.

I tell you that story so that what I have to tell has more effect. In 2005, I bought my first computer with my own money. It was a 15” Apple PowerBook G4. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was fast.

It also was only the start of my laptop purchases over the next six years. Here is a list:

  • IBM Thinkpad R50
  • Apple Black MacBook
  • IBM Thinkpad X40
  • Apple 13”  MacBook Pro
  • Lenovo Thinkpad T61

I’ve been pretty consistent with one laptop purchase a year (including the PowerBook). Granted, each of new purchases has normally been bracketed by used laptops, but that is still a lot of change going on over time. That’s also just six years.

My parents used the same machine for eight years and I change my laptop every year. During the same time, I’ve had three different desktop machines (that includes the Mac Mini that we currently have right now). A better track record, but still worse than a single machine in eight years.

So, I have a problem, a huge one, when it comes to the tools that I use. A laptop is a tool. I have purchased more tools than I have actually created piece of software. I have more hammers than houses built. More spatulas than omelets . You get the picture.

Now, if each one of those had broken, for whatever reason, then I wouldn’t feel so bad. However, that is not the case. All of those, except for the R50, are still in working condition and I personally know exactly where three of them are (family and friends).

I have a problem. Now what is the solution?

I’m going to set a goal for myself, and then I’m going to probably break it so that I can keep it. The goal is to keep a laptop for three years, and that goes for each machine in my house.

Three years is the limit of AppleCare, and what I consider to be the reasonable lifespan of a computer. At that point, you tend to start to wonder if it is worth it to fix a machine because of its age, availability of parts, and speed increases available with newer hardware. At three years, even purchasing nice, new hardware from Apple, I would end up spending less money (far less) than I would if I keep up with my current Apple => used Thinkpad => Apple => used Thinkpad routine.

With my tool, I will then work on actually building usable software and providing some value besides new bells and whistles. If I would have followed this, here is what it would look like:

  • Apple PowerBook G4 (2005)
  • Apple Aluminum MacBook (2008)

That’s it! I would still have a perfectly usable Aluminum MacBook at my disposal with the AppleCare running out shortly and new MacBook Pros (or Airs) to choose from. That sure looks and sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it.

It isn’t eight years, but it is a lot better than what I have been doing, and I know I can do better. Now I just need to.

State Your Price

One of my pet peeves at the moment happens to be websites which do not clearly display the prices of various services or products.

Canonical has brought this to the fore again. What I write has nothing to do with the company or their services (both of which I think are great), but has everything to do with their website.

If you are selling a product or service, hiding the price behind either sales representatives or registration walls is not going to make me more willing to part with my money. I might just end up paying more money to someone else because they clearly state their prices. This happens for a number of reasons:

  • I know what I am getting into. This probably goes without saying, but I like knowing what I might be paying right away so that I can start formulating what value the product might have. My mind needs that frame of reference and hiding it isn’t going to help me make a decision.
  • You seem more confident. Just come out and say what you are charging because you are confident that is what it is worth! Hiding the price just screams “you might not like this, so let us try and talk you into it.”
  • It is more honest. I’m going to be more willing to trust your company if you are honest with me, and part of that is laying out how much you are charging me. Yes, there are going to be times when I am going to have to contact a sales representative, but I already know that if I am an edge case. Let me make that decision.
  • No more steps needed. I am not required to take another step (call you or contact you) to continue with my research. As much as we might not want to admit it, price is a part of every decision (in determining value) so make it easy for me to do what research I need.

I’m more likely to leave a site and move onto a competitor than try and hunt for prices. Simple as that.

The Return of Odysseus

After a long and arduous process over the past two months I finally purchased my development laptop. Oh, you thought this was going to be about Greek mythology? Sorry, I just happen to use Greek mythos for my computer and networking names and Odysseus has been the name of whatever laptop I currently have with me for a long, LONG time.

It was a longer process than I was hoping because I’m both very picky and very cheap (right now). Since purchasing a house, the available money for extra expenses hasn’t just dried up, it has also been fired in a kiln. However, that didn’t dispel the need for a mobile development machine and that is what Odysseus is going to be.

So, what did I get?

I knew that a Mac was out of the question (at least for a while), so that narrowed it down in one way and opened up Pandora’s Box of Windows-based machines in another. However, I was able to quickly narrow it down when the defining thing I needed was Linux-compatibility.

Quite simply, I can’t develop very effectively in Windows. I’m not sure what has happened since early 2005 and now, but my use of Mac OS X and various distributions of Linux has rewired many parts of my brain to just expect a bash-like command line for me to work with. So, I’ll be running the newest releases of Ubuntu for the time being or until something better shows up.

Now, back to the hardware (sorry for the diversion there). I narrowed it down to IBM/Lenovo and Dell as the two I was going to focus on. Keep in mind that I am looking at used machines and I like to be able to “toss around” my laptop a little bit as I move from place to place. With that in mind, I focused on the business-class of machines from both as well. So it was ultimately down to the Dell Latitude D-series and the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad X/T series as well.

Spending a month or more looking around I finally fell onto a deal on an IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad T61 and decided to give it a shot. That’s what I’m currently typing this post on right now. I’m hoping to keep it around for a while and wear it out as my traveling companion so that I might be able to save up some money for something smaller and lighter in the future. For now, however, it does everything I need and runs Ubuntu 10.10 like a champ. Not too bad for under $250.