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.

Untethering your iOS Device

Listening to the most recent This Week in Tech, I heard the same thing from certain panel members that I hear from tech journalists all of the time: I just don’t want to plug in my iPhone/iPad/iPod into the computer (or something like that).

The want/need for an untethered experience for your iOS device seems to be the holy grail/unicorn-wearing-leprechaun-trousers for certain members of the technology press for the “one thing” that Apple needs to do to get them to drool over iOS.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that your needs are what the greater consumer needs, but many times that just isn’t the truth. I can think that people need to ditch Windows for Linux so that I don’t have to worry about supporting that OS, but that isn’t the reality of the situation.

The “tethering” of your iOS device to some computer serves some very important purposes that are just NOT REASONABLE AT THIS TIME to do over a wireless network (which is most often what is brought up as the alternative).

First is content movement back and forth between the device and the customer’s machine. Music, movies, pictures, apps, settings, etc. all travel back and forth between the iOS device and the computer via a USB cable. That can be GBs worth of data going back and forth at any one time, and doing that both in a timely fashion and consistently really is only doable over a cable.

Sure, streaming services can provide many of those services (as far as content is concerned) but with the reality of data caps and inconsistent network connectivity, that’s a non-starter for most consumers. Media stored on the persons device is infinitely more reliable than that streamed from the internet. Now, if you don’t use your device for media then who cares?

The second, and more importantly to me, is data backup. When you sync your iOS device with iTunes it makes a complete backup of the entire system. The importance of that cannot be overstated. I have had my wife’s iPhone fail (long story), but all of the data was safe because I had been able to backup the device the night before and I could restore it back to its former settings with no problem.

Professionals talk of getting consumers to backup their information, and Apple is maybe the most successful at this by, to an extent, forcing customers to plug in their iOS device to do certain things and doing a backup at that time. Working for the Apple Store for four months (shout out to all of my friends at Bayshore), I liked being able to tell someone that they will be able to get all of their stuff back just by plugging into iTunes are restoring from the last backup. That’s powerful and useful.

Finally, for now, networking is hard. Getting a wireless network up and running can be hard work depending on the house, the internet coming in, and the hardware you are using. People are reluctant to spend money on decent networking equipment, but if you are going to be pushing GBs of data over that wireless network to sync information and make backups then you are going to need some beefy networking equipment along with better standards supporting higher throughput.

The idea of having an untethered experience with your iOS device is awesome and I hope it comes one day, but there is a lot of infrastructure work to be had before that reality is going to come to pass. Apple is a forward-thinking, but also very conservative company that will more than likely not be moving to this until the very last moment that they have to, and when they can ensure that it will work well for customers.

Besides, think how fast things will be when we finally get Thunderbolt?

Firefox Moving to Chrome’s Dev Model

Firefox is moving to Chrome’s development model of rolling releases, getting away from the large, cumbersome release schedules that have been the norm for the project for a very long time.

Of course, the first thing they need to do is release Firefox 4, finally, and then ramp up the new production model to try and release new features as they are ready instead of setting milestones and rolling them into large releases.

I welcome the change and hope it will push Firefox ahead as fast as Chrome has been moving.

Five Days to Close

Today marks five days until we close on our first home. To say that we are excited would be a gross understatement.

However, I currently have a complete lack of nervousness about everything. I’ve been reading up on purchasing a home for quite a few years and I’m ready to get into the house and see what we can do. We purposefully went with an older house because both of us liked a house with a little more character than you can find today and both of us grew up in older houses. Nothing like a 100+ year old farm house to get you ready for owning a home and having to do work on it.

The house we are purchasing, however, is in great condition. We will have an electrician in on Tuesday to replace some wiring in the attic, otherwise everything should be set to go for us to move in, unpack, and start to make something of our life after eight months of decisions, moving, more decisions, more moving, more decisions and some more moving. We will be able to take a box, unpack it, and then leave that box unpacked for months, maybe even years! That’s a good thought.

We will be able to have friends again and start to get involved in the community for the first time in a long time. We will be able to make changes to the house, paint rooms, update fixtures, plan for the future and just live our lives as a family! When you live with others for a long enough time you start to lose your own family identity a little, and the idea of being able to open the door to our own home and be our own family is quite exciting.

One exciting thing for me is that I will have the opportunity to set up my Cave. I haven’t had a Cave for a little while and even when I did it was sometimes used as a guest bedroom quite a bit as well. Even when I did have my own Cave, it was hard to get settled in because we didn’t own the property where the Cave was located. You can’t do a lot to a place when you don’t own the property or know how long you are going to be there.

One thing I am missing is a desk worthy of my Cave. This desk will need to be found, but for the time being I will be using a temporary one to get me by while I search or build what I will call The Desk.

The Desk will be large and plain in order to accommodate the amount of technology that my Cave will contain. It will also be used exclusively for computing while a workstation will be built for all client machines and for taking apart computers. The workstation will be standing height so that I can work easier and The Desk will have a chair for me to sit on.

There will be three different computers at The Desk. The Mac Mini, a Linux/Windows workstation and a Linux laptop. It will (hopefully, in the future) hold up three monitors, two for the Mac Mini and one for the workstation. Storage will be an issues but will be dealt with in the future. Internet will be served to the room via a cable modem … and I still need to figure out where that is going to go.

My Cave still needs a plan, and that plan will be revised but it will happen … some day.

The Great Ubuntu Experiment … again?

Ubuntu: Social from the start

I’m doing it again, but with a little bit of a twist this time around.

I’ve toyed around with using Linux as a desktop operating system at different times over the past five years, and Ubuntu was the distro that allowed me to take the plunge at different points. I’ve been using Ubuntu since 5.10 and it has matured very quickly for its considerable youth. The latest release, 10.10 (see, five years there) is a very capable and quite good-looking operating system that (in my opinion) can fulfill the computing needs for a good portion of users. Two of my brothers would be great examples.

However, I have usually (for better or worse, depending on your perspective) gone back to using Apple’s Mac OS X as my operating system of choice. However, as my wife and I prepare to close on our first house (YAY!), money has once again reared its ugly head. Not in the sense that we have none, but in the sense of prioritizing where money needs to go. As such, I’m giving Ubuntu another test run as my main development platform. It allows me to purchase cheap hardware and use it effectively for my needs … hopefully.

If it works, I’ll be extremely happy. If it doesn’t to my satisfaction, then I’ll be saving up for another Apple portable for the future. I’m not pushing one way or the other and we will see where the chips fall.

Two “wrinkles” this time around:

First involved where I am starting this test: at work. My desktop was acting very strange using Windows 7 and I think I’ve nailed it down to faulty video drivers or video hardware. What I’m waiting for is to see if Ubuntu fails as well. Sadly, it has been rock-solid so far and I have had no issues at all. Using Ubuntu at work enables me to do some script testing at my desktop instead of needing either a VM or to log into a server environment. It also means not as many people use my machine when I’m not around. That’s nice.

The second is that I will still have a Mac Mini in the house that my wife will be using. It works so well for her that I’m not going to be getting rid of it. So, I’ll need to find a cheap laptop and scrounge together the parts for a beefier desktop soon after we move into the house. That’s less than two weeks away!

So, there you have it. Another experiment and we will see how it goes.

I should add that the procurement of a laptop and desktop is completely dependent on extra money coming in at the moment. With the Mac Mini and my work laptop I am more than capable of completing the work that I need to do. This is more a wishlist than anything else.