Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Dark Side: A Stormtrooper's Tale

It has happened. It started back in April, and I have to admit that I haven't looked back.

I got a MacBook Pro.

It's the most amazing laptop I've ever had. Beautiful, powerful, and just plain pleasurable to use. I can go on and on about how "it just works," but I'll sound like a fanboy. One thing I've learned since tossing my prejudice and putting aside my disdain for Apple's business practices is that you don't really understand how awesome Apple products are to use and own until you use and own them. Seriously. Looking in from the outside, it's easy to toss aside Apple products as over-priced over-marketed hype, but once you actually use them, you learn that the products are designed to just work without too much effort. I know, the hacker in me (and in you) likes to be able to fix things. Well, with OSX you can. It's called Terminal, and anyone with UNIX or Linux experience will find themselves unbelievably at home in Terminal. Talk about hacking ability!

Back to the MacBook Pro. Aside from OSX, I find that the experience I have using the MBP is superior to any laptop I've ever owned before. I have lots and lots of laptops including a brand-new HP laptop, and while the Envy comes close, it's just not quite there. I don't know how close the Ultrabooks can/will get to the ergonomics and just solid feel of Apple products, but so far, nothing compares.

Finally, and most importantly, I've also started buying into the Apple ecosystem. I have an Airport Extreme (router that you can attach USB drives/printers to) and as of yesterday, an iPhone 5. I'm finding more and more ways that the products work together, and while it's annoying that I have to spend nickels and dimes here and there for connectors and apps to make things share with each other that I think should have been able to share with each other in the first place(Bluetooth file sharing? Not on the iPhone!), everything just works better. I won't even go into little things like the TiVo app working on the iPhone vs my Galaxy SII.

So, I'm going down a dark path that appears to have disco lights at the end of the tunnel. I'm embracing these products more and more, which of course sullies my status as a geek to many of my friends and my wife. That's okay. That's why I'm the worst kind of geek.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For The Love of Gadgets

The last gadget I got was the Kindle Fire. I got it on the day they were released, having pre-ordered it months earlier. When I purchased it (or pre-ordered it), I wasn't sure what role the Fire would play in my gadget lineup. I use a netbook, desktop computer, notebook computer (including the old PowerBook I'm writing this on) as well as my 10' gTablet Android tablet. I wasn't sure if a 7' tablet would fill a need I didn't know I had, but fill that need it did. And then some.

I find that I read a lot more now than I have been, even since getting the Kindle e-ink devices. It's not because the screen is easier to read; to the contrary, I still prefer reading on e-ink vs LCD. What it comes down to is the breadth of information I have access to on the Fire in a form factor that is so much easier to wield and handle than a larger tablet, whether it's an Android tablet, or iPad. The form factor just makes sense.

What do I find myself reading besides books? EVERYTHING!!! I read more magazines now, more news, Reddit (via Baconreader), and many more forums using Tapatalk (an Android app). I also find myself watching movies as I sit the Fire on my desk in it's elegant Marware cover. It's a great device that is primarily made for consuming media, and consume media I do!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Apple's business practices, but Steve Jobs was a man who created an atmosphere of invention and innovation that has rarely been seen outside of Apple. Microsoft was such a place until the 90's when things seemed to slow down a bit before really picking up within the past two-three years, but Apple under Jobs' leadership was a place of wonder, creating products no-one knew they needed until being told so, and innovating in areas others had so miserably failed in or had neglected. Jobs had vision that allowed him to focus on something that was being done in a mediocre way and transform it into something magical. His leadership brought out the best in people and allowed them to flourish not only technically, but creatively. Engineers were allowed and encouraged to be creative, and the creative folks were encouraged to use engineering processes. Jobs didn't invent everything Apple did, but he gave the nudges in the right direction when needed and provided the guidance that the company needed to become a world leader in technology.

I had the opportunity to visit the Apple campus a few times, and the people there are all very excited all the time. Yeah, all the time. They really love what they're doing, and they put their hearts and souls into it. It's one of the things Jobs believed in most, and it's a quality that the people of Apple share. I believe that we spend so much time at work (more than we do at home!) that we should love what we do. I was not surprised to know that Jobs felt the same way. That makes me happy for him, in that he was not trudging along every day. He was doing something he loved, and that is a life well-lived.

Jobs was Apple. I hope they're able to continue with his vision of always innovating and thinking differently. It's good for the entire industry, and for consumers.

Not so fast...

I said in my last entry that I didn't need a new phone and that I was happy with the Evo. That was well and true until I got my hands on the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch on Sprint (WHO thinks up these long names?!?!). I guess what I didn't know didn't hurt me until I knew it.

I now have a new phone.

The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (hereafter known as the GS2) is an amazing phone with incredible speed, beautiful screen, and great battery life (in my experience; I'm getting over 24 hours with normal use).

I thought the Evo 4G was all I needed. I still believe that. It is still a great phone with great features and can still do pretty much everything I needed it to do. So why get the new phone? Well, I guess it's because it does everything the Evo does, but better. The biggest kicker for me was the screen. Super AMOLED is AMAZING as compared to the Evo's backlit screen. Especially in daylight. Everything else is just smoother, prettier, or faster.

Oh, and there's the fact that it's pretty much the coolest phone on the market right now. That's a big one that a worst kind of geek would place high value on.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Over a Year with the Same Phone

I'm slipping.

One area in which I'm not the worst kind of geek is that of the cellular, or mobile phone. In this area, I typically do what most other true geeks do: I get a new phone every year (or sometimes sooner). Fortunately, we have enough phones on our account to facilitate this early changing, and I've taken advantage of that over the past seven or eight years annually. This has changed with my last phone purchase.

Now, when it comes to cell phones, I'm once again the worst kind of geek.

On June 6th last year, I waited at the counter of Best Buy for nearly four hours while they struggled with their failing system to activate my Sprint Evo 4G. Fortunately I had an appointment and a nice, padded seat to sit on through the process. However, it didn't negate the fact that I waited and waited and waited.

Once the process was complete, however, it became apparent to me very quickly that the Evo 4G was a different smartphone than the others I had before it. This phone was actually SMART. It worked the way I expected it to. It was fast. It had a big app market. It made great phone calls. It had a beautiful screen. In short, it was everything I ever wanted in a phone.

And it still is all those things and more.

With Cyanogen Mod, the Evo 4G is even faster, smoother, and more responsive than ever. A year later, the phone still feels fresh and new, something no other phone I've had has been able to do. It still satisfies.

So, while there are new phones coming out all the time to include the Evo Shift and Evo 3D, none of them have been able to draw me away from the Evo 4G. It really is the perfect phone. For me, at least.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Spotify = Love

I love music. A lot. Seriously, it's my drug, religion, and the fuel that energizes me daily. Anyone who knows me knows that music is a big deal to me.

I've used everything from Winamp to Zune desktop software, all with varying degrees of love and hate. Since I love my ZuneHD and use it frequently, I have been using the Zune desktop software for the past three or four years. That was, I did until a few weeks ago when Spotify arrived in the US.

I immediately purchased a premium subscription because I wanted to try out all that Spotify had to offer. I wanted to freeze it, ice skate on it, then thaw it out, swim in it, and then drink it in all it's yummy goodness. I'm glad I did.

Spotify has a ginormous library. 15 million songs is what they boast. That's a heck of a lot of songs! I have almost 130GB of music on my home NAS, the vast majority of it either ripped from CD's I own or purchased through Zune, Amazon, or even iTunes (back in the day; I quit using iTunes a LONG time ago!). It used to be that I had to either purchase a CD or music online to be able to listen to it or get a subscription to Zunepass (which was a great deal, btw!). Of course, Zune didn't always have everything I wanted, so I ended up having to purchase from many different sources. That was, until Spotify.

With few exceptions, I've been able to augment my own ample collection with lots and lots of music. I've been able to revisit music from my youth, and from various stages in my life. I'm in the process of putting together a late 80's playlist as well as some 90's playlists, and with Spotify, it's super-easy! Better yet, I can share those playlists with friends who have Spotify, and they can even subscribe to my playlists or I can subscribe to theirs!

The one major downside to Spotify is its ability to play genres or music based on a certain band. Let's say I'm a huge fan of Metric (and I am!) and I would like to hear music that sounds like them. In a service like Pandora or Grooveshark, you can do that. Spotify? Not so much. But for me, that's really the only downside.

Sound quality on Spotify is amazing, and for me, the Android app works quite well. I never was a big fan of listening to music with my smartphone, but Spotify has made me throw that old notion of bringing an mp3 player along with my smartphone since I can literally look up just about any song I can think of and play it on my phone now.

So, if you're looking for an amazing music service and you know what you want to listen to, give Spotify a try. Seriously; it's a great deal.

Note: There are three flavors of Spotify. Free (limits the user to 20 hours of ad-supported music), $5 a month, and $10 a month premium service which allows you to listen on an Android, Logitech, Sonos, or iDevice.

It's the little things

I have an old Linksys WPS11 v3.1 parallel port print server. It's been sitting in a box in my closet for years. And when I say years, I mean close to 10 years. I bought it back when we lived in my dad's house and I wanted to have a printer that was centrally located in the house for everyone to print to. Back then, it was more a novelty than a real need, and I even got it to work for a while, but it was a bit buggy with the craptastic (sorry Linksys) software that you had to install on your desktops to get it to work. Eventually, we moved to our first new home on Spring Lilac and the parallel port print server was once again put to work, but again, the craptastic (apologies again, Linksys) software limited its true effectiveness. It was so buggy that I eventually replaced it with a Kodak printer that had built-in wireless. I then retired the WPS11 and stuck it in a box. I figured, you never know when you might be able to put something to work again.

Fast forward to last night. I became the owner of a Laserjet 2100TN printer. It's pretty nice, and even came with a spare toner cartridge for the awesome price of FREE. I decided to go ahead and put it to work for me in my home office, but I didn't want to run a hella-long parallel cable across the room. Since the 2100TN is a networkable printer equipped with a JetDirect card, I could have just wired it with some CAT-5, but again, I didn't want to run a cable across the room. Enter the WPN11.

I sent my son up into the attic to retrieve the WPN11. Coincidentally, I literally just had him move a box from my office's closet into the attic the day before, and having inventoried the box, I knew the WPN11 was in it.

My son brought the WPN11 down and I connected the printer to it. The good news: it immediately recognized the printer. The bad news: there was no software that would run on my 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium desktop computer. Try as I might, there was no way to get the program to install.

Trying to discover the server on the network was fruitless. I searched the Internet for instructions on how to make the WPN11 work with Windows 7, but all I found was statements like, "Won't work without the client software" and "Can't use it with an OS past WinXP." I was about to give up when I figured there'd be no harm in trying to make it work somehow by just trying some custom settings.

I went about trying some different things, and by luck, on my third attempt, I got the printer to work. Wanting to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I set it up on a second, then third, and eventually even a fourth machine here in the house. All of them printed perfectly to the WPN11.

I decided to make a little video for others who may have the WPN11 and Windows 7 and I posted it onto Youtube. I don't expect it to be a smash hit or very highly viewed video, but I'm sure there are just a few folks out there who could use the instructions.

Hopefully, it saves some WPN11's from being sent to landfills.