Categories
Life Technology

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.

Categories
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

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

Life Without Laptop

A while ago, back in September 2010, I made the decision to try and go without a laptop for myself. The reasons behind the decision were many and valid, not least of which being the fact that my job at the time did not require me to do any programming work at all and if it did I would not have been able to use my own machine anyway.

Now, almost four months later, I am regretting the decision to not keep a laptop of my own. It is not because of some lack in the iPad for any reason, but more for what limits I have now that I do not have a personal laptop.

Two things limit me the most:

  • lack of a mobile development platform
  • lack of a machine that I can personalize to my own taste and experiment on

Currently I am able to use our Mac Mini for any programming work that I need to accomplish. However, the limit there is that the Mini is also used by my wife for our family’s computer needs, including pictures and documents. As such, I dare not do anything too crazy so that I might not lost any information that is important to us.

With my own development laptop, I was free to mess up the OS installation as much as needed in order to experiment with things. With both my Thinkpad X40 and my 13″ MacBook Pro, I had become quite adept and reinstalling the OS and getting the system up and running as quickly as possible. This meant keeping my changes to a minimum and using system defaults as often as possible (along with backing up configuration files I might need). Usually this meant that, at worst, I would be down a day before I was back up and running.

That’s not a possibility right now and it is limiting.

So, I’m hoping to get something to use as a development laptop within the next couple of moths. Just to be clear, a development laptop, for me, is something that runs either Mac OS X or some flavor of Linux. For what I want to do, I need a POSIX environment of some sort or I get crabby.

So, while I would not consider the experiment a failure (the iPad gets a lot more use than any other computer device in the house), I would consider my needs to have changed since I had originally thought through things. As such, a course correction is needed and will be taken.

Any advice on laptops I should be looking for are appreciated. Leave them in the comments!