After a very long hiatus, I’m going to start blogging on my personal site again. If you are a new reader, welcome! If you are an old time reader (all three of you), sorry for the delay. Other things have been taking time. Some of those I’m blog about.
One of my clear recollections of my early computer usage was the day that I bought my first hard drive. At 5 MEGA BYTES it seemed a luxury beyond all imagining. It only cost me $3,000.00. In 1980.
Had the same feeling in the mid 80’s when I upgraded my Amiga to 2MB of RAM (remember the sidekick?) and a 40 MB hard drive. It seemed like RAM beyond measure. Storage beyond possible utilization.
In the early 90’s my work gave me a computer with a super high rez screen, UNIX, 4 MB of RAM, and 1GB of hard disk, and a SPARC Based UNIX operating system with INTERNETS. Mere PC’s were useless to me. Imagine the _power_ of my configuration.
In the early 2000’s (naught’s?), my laptop came with dozens and dozens of GB’s of hard disk space, and a Gigabyte of RAM. It used windows, but that’s before OSX became stable.
By the mid 2000’s my laptop had a 17″ screen with super high rez screen, 120 GB’s of hard disk, 1.5 GB of RAM, and UNIXes. Welcome to the vortex of Steve. The power was mind boggling.
In the mid 2010’s my laptop still had a 17″ screen, but hi-rez to a new level, 8GB of RAM, and 500GB of HD. The processor had two cores each of which is nothing less than a super computer.
By the late 2010’s I got the first desktop I’ve used consistently since the early 90’s UNIX workstations. It has a 27″ inch screen, 8 cores of super duper computer horsepower, more RAM than I have used yet (no swap), it’s connected to 20+ TB of storage in my home gigabit network. My DCF has officially exceeded a [LOC](http://libraryofcongress.gov).
My current laptop has 128GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, and two cores.
What just happened? When did it become a feature for less to be more?
Simple: we have too much juice. All around. What we __can get__ and what we __use__ are worlds apart now.
Sitting on a plane right now. Flight got delayed because of a “mechanical problem.” Good news is that I was upgraded and we were allowed to board early. This is the first flight. Experienced the joy of 11″ (no comments from the peanut gallery). Check it:
![First Flight](http://dl.dropbox.com/u/360385/img/airplane.JPG “Flying with Air”)
## It’s nice when a theory works
One of the nice things about my job is that there’s no set hours. That’s nice when it works out to my advantage. However, most times it doesn’t and my job means I’m working all the time. Witness tonight. I’m getting ready to launch a product and need to develop much material before my hard dead stop. So, after putting the wee-one to bed I spent a few minutes with the Mrs. and wandered over to my office. My office is in my basement. Our media entertainment complex (big screen HD tv, couches, tivo, etc) is also in the basement, within shouting distance of aforementioned office. After a couple of important calls and some deep powerpointing on the iMac, my wife asked me a question. In the past, I would have yelled (as in elevated voice, not angry-white-man) back. Or, I would have stood up, and in a huff gone over to the MEC, answered whatever question had come up, and then return.
However, tonight, I just announced “one moment darling.” Closed all open documents on my iMac, grabbed the MBA and went to my comfy couch. There, I talked to the Mrs. for a few, and then opened up powerpoint on the MBA… and … resumed working.
So – the workflow was:
2. Wife asks questions
3. Save all work
4. Close all apps
5. Grab MBA
6. Open all apps
7. Open all work
8. Resume work
## On to Lion
That was really cool. My data transparently migrated to all my devices and I was able to move from where I was. Problem is that I had to remember to close all open apps. My state didn’t transfer from one machine to another. Now how cool would it be if __state__ transferred that cleanly? One of the new cool features of OSX Lion is that you don’t _save_ work. It’s automatically done for you. See where I’m headed? Another feature is that the position and state of your applications is preserved across reboots. Now you see where I’m headed?
How cool would it be if that state was stored in a format that’s cloud enabled?
In this fantasy world (Steve, o steve, make it so) – my workflow would have been:
2. Wife asks question
3. Grab MBA
4. Resume work in different location
How f’ing cool would that be?
## Act without doing
One of the big pleasured I found since switching to the mac is [Quicksilver](http://blacktree.com). For years it was _the_ way for me to launch, open, do anything. If you’ve never used it, it’s definitely worth you looking at. Unfortunately, the developer Alcor, has moved on to a lucrative job at google and left it’s future to the tubes. When leopard came out, QS broke (supposedly – it’s fixed, but I’m fickle). That sucked for me. I’ve been looking for a replacement since. There’s a ton of products that kind of do the same thing: [launchbar](http://www.obdev.at), Google’s [quicksearchbox](http://google.com/quicksearchbox), and [butler](http://manytricks.com/butler/). But – I’ve just started using [alfred](http://www.alfredapp.com/). I like it because it’s FAST, lightweight (for me with full indexing of everything, it only consumes 12.5MB of real RAM), and it has a clipboard manager (when you buy the powerpack).
The developer is very active on twitter and on their support forums. For $15 bucks (was on special at [AppSumo](http://appsumo.com)). It’s well worth the bucks.
## It’s about who uses it
So I’ve been ranting about how, for me, the iPad is not the device for content creation. After further reflection, that needs to be revised. I should change my tone because it could be for others. At the iPad 2 introduction The Steve made a point of mentioning that this is the intersection of technology and liberal arts. That’s it. That’s who can use the pad for _creation_. My world is emphatically not liberal arts. My passions all revolve around technology. My work is _all_ technology. Interestingly, my content creation, although putatively creative, is all technology driven. The closest I get to liberal arts is … media consumption. Aha.
Now, the truly creative folks – the artists/authors/painters – they are typically not technology driven. They want something to capture their creative expression in an intuitive way. They could care less about the megaseekels and geegasquirtz. They care that it turns on, they point, and it does. iPad.
I get it.
But not for me.
## My move to the cloud
It turns out that my move to the cloud might be what everyone else is going to be doing. Over the last week or so, I’ve changed the way I look at my computing devices. For a very long time (well just about forever), I’ve really only had one computer that I used as “the computer.” That’s despite having a ton of hardware laying around doing things in my basement and my desk. Those “other” computers were utility devices: my vmware farm for email/http/etc services, my mac mini for desktop/utility services, my netapp/open solaris boxes for file storage. My laptop was still the primary holder of what I considered critical functionality and data. If I lost or broke my laptop, I’d be in a world of hurt. Well, not really, backups are a good thing. I’d be in a world of “recover, waste time waiting, and then do work.”
With my acquisition of a truly powerful desktop (iMac 27″ core i7 – woot!), I needed to make a change. I’d prefer to work on my desktop when I can, and then go mobile when necessary – and do it seamlessly. The email part was easy, or should have been easy. I’ll post on that later. What was not easy was the data. In retrospect, it should have been easy, but I made it hard for myself. In my ultimate fantasy world, I would have liked a complete copy of all data, application state, and application configuration transferred from one machine to another. That way I could literally get up from my desk, move to the couch with the laptop, and just continue. Sure – I could have done that with remote desktop of some sort, but that’s not really an option when I’m on a plane or in a hotel with crappy internet. In the ideal world, I would only be sacrificing compute performance and screen real-estate for mobility. To get there, I played with a ton of sync options, both commercial and open source: rsync, goodsync, chronosync, etc. Unfortunately, none of them really give you the state of applications, and in the case of chronosync – your computers have to be physically close (as in the same network) to effectively keep them in sync.
My path to the cloud became clearer with the acquisition of the MBA 11″. Even though it’s a top of the line 128GB SSD model, it simply does not have the capacity to hold all of the data that I kept on my previous core machine – my 17″ MBP. That meant sacrifice. Out of sacrifice came clarity. Before this, I had not fully committed to the iMac being “the computer”. That’s because I wanted full access to everything while on the road. Well, the 11″ is going to be the on-the-road machine. I can’t have full access on it. The decision was simple: the iMac became the ‘puter. All of my iTunes and iPhoto stuff left the MBP and moved over to the iMac. With that move, I loose the ability to sync my i-devices on the road, but that’s ok. I’ve not been fanatical about that anyways.
All that was left was the problem of having my core important data available to me at all times on all computers. Enter Dropbox. Finally, I purchased a paid account on the dropbox service, and sync’d all of my core data to the cloud. My work flow had to be changed a little bit based on where I placed my stuff. Instead of ~/Documents/xxx, I now place it in ~/Dropbox/xxx. That service now automatically sync’s all data to the cloud and back to my devices – even my iDevices if needed.
### the network is not the computer
Sun’s vision was to make all services cloud based – including compute. The only thing you would need is an access terminal and your data and applications would bet there. The access device really needed only enough horsepower to run authentication, the network, and the display. VMware’s view and the rest of the VDI gang are headed down this same path. For much of the enterprise needs (think call centers and things like that), this is __the right way__. But – for me that means I have to be on the network. I’m not always on a reliable network or even a fast one. I have to have local compute and storage to do what I need to do. In all honesty, I think a very large segment of the non-home, non-drone corporate worker user base is in the same boat. The problem has been exactly the path that I went through: how to make the data and the compute always available.
### where I ended up at
After much mashing of teeth, and angst, I ended up here:
– The iMac is my central compute platform and also acts as the master sync for all data, including the iDevices
– Core data is hosted on Dropbox and automatically sync’d to all my devices, mobile or not (great value for $100/year)
– My MacBook’s have essentially become interchangeable. Use the Air for when I need light weight and simplicity (most of the time). Use the MBP when I’m traveling and need a desktop replacement (large screen, compute horsepower, etc.)
– The idevices (iPhone, iPad) have become more useful because I can use the data from Dropbox to do quick work on recent data
To accomplish this, I had to make one major workflow change: Close all apps at the end of the day. Because OSX is so reliable about sleep mode, I’ve gotten into the habit of just closing my laptop and moving on. Many times I don’t even save my work. Really. It is that good. Well, the sync thing requires that I do not do that. It’ll take a little while to break a 7 year old habit, but that can be done.
Anyways, if you think about what I have gotten to, it is this: My compute devices are interchangeable and I can select which one I use based on practical location requirements (i.e. am I sitting at my desk?, on a plane?, at a customer’s?, etc.). As a side effect of this, my data is now also safe. It’s on the cloud, and multiple devices. Loosing any device due to theft, negligence, failure, etc – means little other than replacement of the device. The important stuff, my work and data, are simply re-instated. Pretty damn cool.
## So – I lost some images…
Today I had to do some errands, one of which included me going to a car wash. It was more than just a simple wash – it was the first wash of my wife’s 1.5 year old car. Yeah – that’s not good, but it is what it is. Naturally, that wash took some time \(and money\). During the wait, I fired up my MacBook 11.6″ \(weee!!!\). I looked and saw that there was no open wifi around. But not to fear, I whipped out my trusty clear hotspot. In a manner of a few minutes, I’m settled and I start doing today’s stuff.
Today’s stuff happened to be an update my daughter’s lacrosse website ([rhsgirlslax](http://rhsgirlslax.com/ “RHS Lax”)). I had to put some of the sponsor images on the website via a pretty cool WordPress plugin called [Ad Squares Widget](http://www.primothemes.com/ “Ad Squares”). It felt good to be happily resizing images, redoing some of the logos so they would fit, etc on a really small form factor computer. Definitely something I could not have done (well easily) on an iPad. Anywho, about halfway through the mini project, I noticed that the plugin had been updated. WordPress does a nice job of notifying you about this. So – not thinking twice about it, I told wordpress to go ahead and update the plugin. While it was doing that, I finished fixing the code for the plugin and then added all the URL’s to the adds into the widget. But, when I went to reload the site, none of my images worked. A serious WTF moment later and some digging showed me what should have been pretty evident all along. The example code from the plugin places the images in the folder with the plugin. I did that. Well – when you update the plugin, it doesn’t update the directories and files – it replaces them! BAM! All my images were gone.
No big deal, right? Just upload them to the server again and poof. Well, that wasn’t so easy. The 11″ MBA just came into duty and all I had was the images that I was working on that day (got them from my email). Well – the good news is that the iMac that had those images was at home. A quick ssh to my home server and a hop over to the iMac and I was there. Then I ran into a simple problem: how do I efficiently transfer those files back to my 11″. That’s when Dropbox did a double whami AHA! on me. A quick “mv rhsimages ~/Dropbox” later they were in the cloud and seconds later on the 11″. Wee!!
It gets better. I serve the website from my home server via my DSL line that has a relatively meager 750Kb/s uplink. It works well for most things, but it sure isn’t enough to quickly serve something with tons of images. Well Dropbox, has this public folder thing. If you want, you can generate a URL to any file in that folder. So rather than copying those images back to my server, I left them on Dropbox and grabbed the public URL. I used that in the Ad Squares page and now my daughter’s site is being served a zillion times faster.
So – what is this then? I like to think of it as my cloud migration experiment. I’m doing a blend of private (my vmware farm with the web server) and public (Dropbox) clouds to do something better. How about that.
## So I travel a lot
I’ve been on a plane a ton lately. Last year, for the first time in many, many years, I made platinum with Delta. However, even with that semi-rarified status, I still don’t get upgraded to first class all of the time. That means that I have to figure out how to spend my time in coach often. Very often. So lately, I’ve been using my ipad as “the device” on the plane. I can listen to music, do some light email, read a book, etc. – you know the drill. However, as you can tell from my previous post, I can not use the ipad for everything that I need it to be: a real computer. I can’t do email, correctly. I can’t — well, simply put – I can’t *create* on the ipad. Now, I do know that there’s apps that let you do a lot of stuff, but when it comes down to word processing, spreadsheeting (that sounds wrong somehow), and presentation creating, the ipad just won’t do.
The dilemma I have is that my work laptop is a very generously provided 17″ MBP. It’s an awesome laptop. The screen is beautiful, the horsepower is amazing, the hard disk size is stupendous, etc., etc. But – it’s *big*. Too big. I can’t open it in rookie class on the plane unless I happen to sit on an exit row. Even then, that means that I’m giving up the meager refreshments that are served to us during the flight. That laptop consumes all of my generous space allocation. I have on occasion gotten a drink and played the very dangerous balancing game of putting the drink __on my laptop__.
Enter the MacBook Air 11.6″. I’ve just come into possession of one. It is clearly an amazing piece of technology. The form factor is truly hard to describe, unless you actually hold one and use one. You do sacrifice a ton: screen real estate, cpu horsepower, storage space, and ports. My specimen happens to be a top of the line 1.6GHz, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM unit. In my mind – those are essentially minimum specs. They happen to be the maximum at this point, but they are what they are. That said, what you gain for that sacrifice is an laptop that you can actually forget you have in your hand. I closed it and was walking from my office to the kitchen when my daughter waylaid me and we started talking. 20 minutes later, I’m still standing there, and the laptop was honestly forgotten in my hand. It’s that light. That’s very cool.
I’ve been using it for a couple of days now. Battery life on this is rated at 5 hours. That turns out to be 5 real hours in my experience. As in, I did just about anything I would normally do during a day of using the laptop and it gave me about 5 hours. That’s actually fricking amazing. There’s few flights that I take that are much longer than 5 hours – and I suspect that if I’m careful with wifi, bluetooth, etc. I can get much more. The CPU you get on this is surprisingly fast. My office productivity apps (MS and Apple) all fire up nearly instantly – even the first time after a reboot. All thanks to that cool SSD drive. My spreadsheets are not monster computationally challenging things. My presentations are kinda creative, but don’t require supercomputer’s worth of processing to deliver. And even though I do create some pretty complex Word documents – everything is fast enough. I mean, can I tell the difference between this and my 27″ Core i7 Imac? You bet – but the beauty of it is – that I can use that whenever I’m home. I can usually reserve the long sessions of content creation to when I am around the super ‘puter. The 11″ air is way more than good enough. And that’s cool.
### oh and what about doing that email thing?
That is honestly, my number one annoyance with the pad. I can use it, just like I use my iphone, for quick emails and status checks. I can’t use it for __real__ email. That means doing real answers – which includes a lot of typing, documents, replies, flagging of importance, __and__ filing of emails.
Does the 11″ do this? Yes! It does, it’s a full computer. The whole thing. I mean everything. I can CREATE, FILE, DO IT ALL!!!
I’m giddy with excitement for having this cool thing.
### one more thing
It’s so small I can actually take it to bed. When I’m done using it, I close it and lay down on my nightstand. Without having to do the one arm sweep of everything else so it will fit. I wrote this whole article – in bed. My lap is not scorched. And I like it.
I like it a lot.
### so what do you do with the other computers?
The iMac will remain as the main production ‘puter. The 17″ MBP, will become the playground/take it on the road when you know you will need to do heavy duty content creation computer. The 11″ will become the default travel companion _along with_ the iPad. Media consumption will remain on the iPad. That’s what it’s made fore and it’s much better than OSX computers.
More on this once I actually travel with this thing.
Sorry for the length. Had to get it out while I was thinking about it.
I’m back (and a review of the ZaggMate)
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything to this blog. Sorry about that. Had some issues with hackers, patience, a new baby, and laziness. It happens.
Things have changed much since I last wrote: baby, new mbp, imac, mac mini, iphone, and ipad. Yes, Apple has my garnished my wages in a very interesting way.
So – I figured a review would be a good way to bring this back to life. I love my iPad and I’ve been looking for a way to turn it into “the” tool to use while I’m flying. I really hate to lug around my 17″ MBP, specially on day trips. However, the iPad by itself is not really that efficient of a machine for me to sort the 100’s of emails. The onscreen keyboard is also difficult to use if you are trying to write anything but just a few sentences (better than an iPhone, but much less than a real keyboard). Zagg introduced the ZaggMate and some of the reviews said it was cool. I found out you could get one at a bestbuy and I did. My hopes were that it was going to at least let me reduce my backpack load down to two things: ipad+zaggmate and Clear hot spot. I tried it and this is what came of it:
- The fit and overall polish is very high. It looks like it was made for the ipad.
- The keyboard is pretty responsive and can keep up with me at my fastest, but that’s a limited thing because of some of the downsides
- Battery life is rated at months and recharge time is very quick.
- There are several function keys that are built into the keyboard that are nice touches: volume keys, media keys (ipod control) and screen keyboard controls.
- Having a full keyboard makes things like SSH eminently usable now. Also using text note utilities that do things like Markdown are much more usable. You no longer need a special app, just to get the markdown symbols.
- The case+ipad = real thin.
- The keyboard is not full sized, so it takes some getting used to. I definitely can not type as fast as I can with a real full sized keyboard. However, it is much faster than the onscreen keyboard.
- There is no cutout for the headphone. That means that to use the ipad as an audio device, you have to take it out of the case. There’s not way to fit the case and the audio plugins at the same time. Period.
- Once you take the ipad out of the case, you can not flip it over and put it back in the case. Basically, unless you are using it as a stand, you can not use the case. On my flight, before we took off, I had to take the ipad out, put the keyboard in the seat back and wait until we were up in the air before I could use it.
- The f’ing caps lock key! The keyboard is small already and it’s really easy to hit the caps lock key. I don’t need that key. I wish there was a way to turn it off or remap it like there is in OSX.
- The osx mail.app keyboard shortcuts don’t work. So – you use the keyboard only to type stuff in. Sending, moving, replying, deleting, etc are all done through screen interactions.- The back of the ipad is not protected while it’s in the case. You can get another thingy, but those are another $30-$70
- The plastic thing that props the ipad up feels very cheap. I don’t trust it to survive in the long run
The final result = me returning the case this weekend. Cool experiment, but not really all there. The killers for me:
- No back protection
- No way for it to latch on the back when you are not using the keyboard
- No audio hole
- Flimsy build of the stand thing