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Life Technology

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.

Categories
Technology

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.

Categories
Technology

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.

Categories
Technology

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?

Categories
Technology

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.