The Computers of Scalziland

Since the disappearance (and eventual reappearance) of the MacBook Air, and the emergency purchase of the most recent Acer netbook, there has been some curiosity in among Whateverians about the current state of electronics at the Scalzi Compound. While I choose not to go into complete detail on the grounds that I would hate to give thieves a shopping list, I will note that as far as laptops go we have six functional ones at the moment, one for each human and each of the cats (the dog prefers not to go online). In chronological order, they are:

1. A 15-inch Toshiba (the one in the back on this picture), which I bought in 2007 when I was on my “Last Colony” book tour to replace the 12-inch tablet computer I had at the time, which died when I was in Ann Arbor. This computer wheezes and clicks and we bought a replacement for it because we were sure it was going to die, but like a silicon version of that old guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is Not Dead Yet. This is my wife’s primary computer.

2. A 17-inch Asus (not pictured) which I inherited as President of SFWA; the previous president bought it for business purposes and then shipped it to me when I ascended. It’s a desktop replacement, and as I had a desktop, I sent it into my daughter’s room (after removing anything confidential to SFWA, of course). Its keyboard is partially broken (the computer works fine when you plug in an outboard keyboard), so at the end of my tenure rather than passing it on I’ll probably purchase it from SFWA at current value; giving my replacement an only-partially operating piece of equipment is laden with too much metaphor, I would say.

3. A 12-inch CR-48, the prototype Chromebook I was sent by Google two Decembers ago (it’s to the left in the picture), which I wrote about half of Redshirts on. I’ve written about this one a bit; I liked the form factor of it but the trackpad was (and still is) awful, and at the time I was trying to use it, it had bugs integrating with Google Docs, which is what I needed it for. I still use it from time to time for Web browsing.

4. The MacBook Air (facing you in the picture). Lovely computer, for which I would note I paid more for than all the other computers on this list (a fact mitigated by inheriting one computer and being sent another by Google). From a practical point of view I’m not at all convinced that the premium I paid for the thing is justified; on the other hand when I use a non-Apple laptop I want to scream at its trackpad. I’ll be curious to see if Windows 8 mitigates the UI advantage Apple has to any serious effect. This is my primary computer at the moment.

5. A 15-inch (widescreen) Hewlett Packard (to the right of the picture). This is the replacement for the Toshiba, which hasn’t died yet, although probably will at some point in the reasonably near future, so we’re prepared, as it were. The HP is at the moment the “family computer” in that it sits at a built-in desk in the living room area, which makes it easily accessible when we’re all downstairs. You’ll often find Athena here, checking in on Facebook, or Krissy looking up something. I used it yesterday to make a video for a thing I’m doing after iMovie on my Mac made it clear to me that it didn’t want to be used.

6. An 11.6-inch Acer: Bought a week ago and the emergency replacement for the Mac, since I needed an actual computer while I was traveling. Right now it lives in my office and stays on the desk; the Mac tends to wander around the house with me.

I’m the first to admit that six laptops in one house is ridiculous, but I like to think the number is mitigated by the following facts: a) I was gifted one by Google, b) inherited another, c) bought a third to replace a computer that’s in the process of dying, d) bought a fourth to replace on I had every reason to suspect was lost forever. Nevertheless: SuperNerd, Thou Art I.

From a practical point of view I will say it’s easier now to have a bunch of laptops in the house than it used to be, because almost everything I write/do on a computer these days is stored online in some way. I do a lot of writing on Google Docs at the moment, store documents in Google Drive and/or Dropbox, and otherwise store material redundantly. When I lost the MacBook Air, I didn’t lose any work, because I could access it by signing in with another computer. It’s nice basically to pick up what you’re doing no matter where you are or what computer you’re using, and I definitely use that to my advantage these days. I don’t even have to save things to a USB drive anymore. Mind you, if Google goes down, I’m doomed, but then, if Google goes down, we may all be doomed.

(Before anyone makes the objection: I still DO save things locally, because, you know what? Google might go down one day. Also, there’s some stuff I don’t want to put online. Like my collection of badger porn! Wait, forget I wrote that last sentence. Anyway: Redundant data storage is your friend.)

So there you have it: A Scalzi computer census.

62 Comments on “The Computers of Scalziland”

  1. Hmmm. Let me think. 22-inch iMac in my office. 15-inch Macbook for travel and miscellaneous don’t-wanna-work-in-my-office purposes. Each son has a 13-inch Macbook. Wife has an iPad (was sort of supposed to be mine, dammit, but she got her hands on it before I did when it arrived and that was pretty much the end of the story ). So, y’know, just a modern stone-age family.

  2. At one point my husband and I had 8 computers in our household, a bit excessive for two people. By giving one back (borrowed for a project) and giving away three others (my family loves us), we were down to just 4, so I bought an iPad. Somehow all 4 and the iPad get used a quite a bit even with only two of us. Weird to think back that neither of us (or our families) actually owned a computer until age 24.

  3. Also, there’s some stuff I don’t want to put online. Like my collection of badger porn!

    Wisconsin has its own version of porn? That’s taking Rule 34 to a whole new level.

  4. I find it more than a bit ironic that the computer sent to you by Google had trouble accessing Google Docs…

  5. The correct number of laptops that can be owned/kept in a household can be represented with the formula S-1, where S is the number of laptops that can be owned while still keeping your relationship with your significant other intact.

  6. I’d like to think the four laptops are enjoying a background game of euchre, rather than pondering that maybe they don’t need chairs….

  7. Hooray for Krissy’s machine! I have an old Toshiba laptop, nicknamed “The Beast.” Don’t know the year, since I bought it used, but it runs Windows 95. And yes, it still runs, like a champ. Those Toshibas are some of the most stable computers I’ve ever owned – total workhorses.

    I suppose I should get rid of The Beast at some point, but I’m sentimental – I wrote my first novel AND my first screenplay on it.

  8. Badgers? We ain’t got no badgers. We don’t need no badgers! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badgers!

    House Gilmoure: 3 MacBooks, 1 iMac , 1 Mac Mini (family library server), 2 iPads.

    Daughter’s MacBook is chained to monitor after screen died last years (2006 model) and battery on Wife’s MB is down to 3 hour charge. The iPads are doing a handy job for most of the household data slurp needs but online flash games keep the MB’s in use. Also, Daughter is getting Portal 2 for end of 5th grade today. Will need MB for that. Once someone figures out a way to tap into an XBox with an iPad, we’ll be set.

  9. We’ve downsized. We’re down to one desktop, two Mac laptops (I don’t count the work laptop), three iPads and four iPhones. (IPhone/iPad developer here.) I don’t use Windows because it’s a pain to support. The price differential is more than made up by the better reliability hardware and all the hours I don’t have to waste messing with Windows. I also used to run a small server farm (Linux mostly, some Solaris) at home, but I rent servers now. It’s cheaper and better supported.

    Sorry no badgers!

  10. The first computer husband and I got, which we shared, died last winter after many years of loyal service. It was a Compaq desktop. We replaced it with an HP desktop which we share. I’ve been lobbying for either a laptop for me, or laptops for us both, for quite some time, but we just can’t justify it financially. Granted, the urge for a laptop has really diminished since we got iPhones last summer when my flip Razr died, but still.

  11. 3 people, 4 desktop systems (1 linux, 3 windows 7), 2 laptops, 2 android tablet ereaders, 1 nook and 1 blackberry. Plus enough parts to assemble at least 2 more systems in the garage. And 2 amiga 500s and 2 commodore 64s, also in the garage for now.

  12. Rachel Creager Ireland: “What intrigues me is that your fans are so interested to know every detail of your life. Apparently I’m one of them, as I read this post to the end.”

    I have found that I sound disturbingly stalkerish if I start talking about the Wonder of John Scalzi to the uninitiated….

  13. The true count to measure SuperNerd status is the number of operating systems on the computers. I only count three OS’s (Windows, OS X, CromeOS). You need to get one Linux box (Slackware distro for full nerd points) and Plan 9 (because Unix is *so* 1970). Then cluster the laptops together, and you will finally achieve SuperNerd status.

    I really never liked that style of capo. I found it hard to put on a guitar.

  14. If you want to amuse yourself, check out an application called MaxiVista. It lets you share a desktop across four different computers. It has a (time-limited) free trial version.

    (Not that I have a surfeit of computers. Including two with me while I’m travelling; the cheap netbook goes in the suitcase in case something happens to my main computer.)

  15. Between my daughter and myself, we have one ancient HP desktop on which our network is set up, a second not quite so ancient HP desktop that we need to wipe and get rid of, my first laptop that is missing keys and can hardly power up any longer but which I still can’t get rid of (14″ Acer), a 17″ Acer laptop I had given my father before he passed and which my mother gave back to me, a 15″ Compaq laptop which isn’t even a year old but which is also missing keys and has several others that don’t like to respond and my daughter’s 15″ HP laptop which she loves and says is WAY better than my Compaq.

    Definitely too many computers for 2 people (and 3 cats, a gecko and a cockatiel) but we only have so many because I HATE to throw things away! Hers will both be replaced with a Macbook in a year for her HS graduation. I’ve heard good things…

  16. “(after removing anything confidential to SFWA, of course)”

    SFWA has state secrets? Seriously?

  17. I’m seeing a disturbing pattern where there are more computers than people in many households. This is how the machines will take over!

    Oh, I just got a new Facebook message alert on my smartphone. I got to check it. Sorry about that. I’ll come back later to warn you about the tyranny of the machines!

  18. I have four internet-connected (or at least connectable) devices in my home: present laptop, nearly-bricked old laptop that I’m not sure why I still keep it around, iPhone, Wii. Himself once tried to count how many he’s got, and I believe he reached fifteen. Criminy.

  19. Huh. I think the trackpad on my Cr-48 is superior to anything I’ve used that’s not from Apple. The two-finger detection in particular is excellent (especially compared to how awful it was in Dec ’10 when I got it).

    We’ve got two desktop machines (plus some junkers I’ve never gotten rid of), the Cr-48 for my daily driver, an 11.6″ Acer Aspire 1410 for herself, and an ancient (2004) Dell laptop running Lubuntu/Qimo for my young daughter.

  20. Hmm…let’s see. There’s my finely tuned hex-core desktop box, with the dual monitors and three disk drives, that dual-boots Win7 and Ubuntu. There’s my fiancee’s quad-core desktop with the extra-large monitor (easier on her eyes when playing Wizard 101), that boots Win7. There’s my laptop, a dual-core Asus that dual-boots Win7 and Ubuntu. There’s my fiancee’s laptop, an eMachines unit I originally bought for cheap that boots Win7. There’s my netbook, another one of Google’s Cr-48 test units (I liked it, though I agree, the trackpad sucks rocks). There’s my fiancee’s netbook, an HP I bought her to help with her writing, another Win7 box.

    Plus I have my own server box on our network, a cheap Compaq tower system I modified by removing the factory hard drive and installing a matched pair of terabyte drives, which are mostly configured as a RAID-1 mirrored pair. It runs CentOS. And my fiancee has an iPad, and I have a Nook Color that’s been hacked with bootable MicroSD cards to run full-up Android (both Gingerbread/CM7 and ICS/CM9). And then I also have an OLPC XO-1. And throw in the iPhones, and Xboxes…

    Let’s just say I’m my own IT department. :-)

  21. I’m seeing a disturbing pattern where there are more computers than people in many households. This is how the machines will take over!
    It’s relatively easy if you have a mix of laptops and desktops, machines from work, and tablets.

    We have a desktop. We still have the previous desktop which began to act oddly after an XP service pack update from Microsoft. It retired to run Ubuntu and is rarely powered up. We have yet another desktop (c. 2000), which is really ready for the recyclers, though I suppose I should pull the drive.

  22. Huh. The computers:humans ratio at my premises is 50% higher than at yours, and appears ready to increase in the near future. I refuse to speculate on what, exactly, that means (if anything).

  23. If you store it in google docs then google owns your property! …. oh wait sorry, standard interweb reaction to google cloud storage.

  24. Whenever I tried using Google Docs, it would change the formatting to something funky that I couldn’t get rid of when I put it back into MS Word (I have no choice in using Word; it’s for work) AND it would change the spellcheck dictionary to Russian. Not sure if they ever fixed that particular bug, but it was enough to make me stop using it. I type meeting minutes in Evernote instead and use Dropbox to throw files around.

    We have two recent iMacs in the house, and a 2003 G4 PowerBook (that still works, but is too old to handle much more than writing or surfing non-flash websites – still a good computer though, hard to part with it); and I have a Dell Latitude that belongs to my office. I kinda hate the Dell (it’s from 2009 and freezes up all the time), but we bought new machines for the office before the State approved funding for Macs (boss would have bought Macs if we had it to do over again).

    My hubby and I started considering an iPad, but we went to BestBuy and played with one, and then decided all we’d do with it is surf Craigslist or check email. No point in spending that kind of money on a tablet that isn’t needed. I spend a lot of time in doctor’s waiting rooms, and I knit or read. I don’t need to be constantly entertained with the internet or games. *shrug*

  25. @Chris Sears says:
    The true count to measure SuperNerd status is the number of operating systems on the computers.

    We have one PowerBook running OS 8 with a serial port to drive the Braille Embosser, a Pismo OS 10.3 that’s my wife’s working laptop, and a G5 desktop with OS 10.4.11 that also runs all my old Graphics software in Classic (OS9). And a new(ish) MacBook with Lion that I had to get because my tax software leapfrogged all my hardware last year. Grrr.

    Oh, and a Windows Vista box my wife bought so she could learn to troubleshoot JAWS screenreader software.

    It’s not so much Nerdishness as cheapness. I could get a used laptop for a fraction of the cost of replacing the legacy software. And don’t even ask about a new USB-capable Brailler.

  26. We have five computers in the house. Two desktops, both generic things for the wife and I. An Acer 5515 that is my travel laptop and geeky Linux plaything. My wife has an older Dell laptop that she mostly uses to read recipes online when she is cooking. The fifth is a geriatric Macbook PPC.

    I use Google docs now exclusively since Google made them usable for me for everyday use.

  27. Man, I feel ya… for my son’s birthday last year he wanted to have a LAN party. We discovered that we could connect 8 nodes without any guests having to bring a box. There’s 3 of us here.

    To add to the ridiculousness: a while back we got a new Wi-Fi router from the cable company. We immediately had some trouble with devices getting kicked off, only to discover in the ‘advanced’ settings that the default configuration was to only accept 5 different IP addresses. We did a finger tally around the house and had to up it to 20, just to give us some wiggle room.

  28. We have 5 people and 8 laptops in various stages of newness and speed and screen size. The ones used the most are: My husband’s current work laptop which is a Dell –the biggest screen size he could get in a lap top and with enough juice to run SolidWorks. My 21-year-old twins each have a Toshiba –I think they are 17 inch. My 11-year-old has a net book (Acer? Toshiba?) but she prefers to use one of her sibling’s computers or her iphone because her netbook has become too slow for her. I am using a 14.5 (I think) inch Toshiba. I prefer the smallest computer I can get without it being a netbook, and with it still having the same performance as a larger screened computer. (I realize screen size is not the indicator of performance).

  29. “I’m seeing a disturbing pattern where there are more computers than people in many households. This is how the machines will take over!”

    If you are concerned about this, the number of laptop and desktop machines is nothing. Just about every device you own has one or more computers in it (mostly embedded processors). Looking around my room, I see a tape recorder (yep, tape), two printers, a radio, stopwatch, two monitors, keyboard, midi keyboard, camera, a GPS, etc. At least one embedded controller each, so there’s about a dozen even beyond the smartphone, ipod, and laptop. You are thinking in terms of computers outnumbering us. I think a better analogy would be computers outweighing us, sort of like the insects.

  30. “Badger pr0n” is all about the lovingly filmed luxurious application of shaving cream set to slow jazz, right?

  31. About that keyboard with disability — not too long ago my laptop’s keyboard started to have serious trouble, and I found an OEM replacement online for $20, and hod no trouble swapping it in. Please take my word for it that if I had no trouble with the mechanics, anyone with eight of their ten fingers shouldn’t either.

  32. @ Cindy Lou Who:

    “(after removing anything confidential to SFWA, of course)”

    SFWA has state secrets? Seriously?

    I assume it was the operational details for the invasion of SF Canada. But I’ve said too much, and now must look out for Death Rays.

  33. @ MikeT

    Re: PeterM’s suggestion of UofWI porn.
    Beer, sausages, what could go wrong?

    Also, Ice Cream from the U of Wi (Madison) Dairy.

  34. Dear Warren. Thanks for the advance warning.
    Please note, we defend our stuff by hurling poutine and beaver tails.

  35. John, do you have a server for all of these as a backup? I know your printer issues means you probably still don’t have one (ah, but Athena is going to high school soon, is she not?) so you don’t need a network for that, but are these all networked?

  36. Only one computer and one Kindle Fire here (although the Galaxy Nexus damn near qualifies as a computer). But back in the day I demonstrated my geek/nerd cred by pointing out that we had four phone lines for three people! (One voice, two dedicated to computers, one “car phone”. Remember car phones?)

  37. @Anne
    I knew Poutine had to be useful for something.

    (In fairness, I’ve never even seen Poutine, let alone tried it – but I’m not charmed by the description)

  38. We have three laptops (one of which might not work), one netbook, one iPad, three desktops, three printers. Everyone has smartphones (four), two Playstations, an XBox and a Wii. I think the kids still use the N64 when they’re bored. My husband insisted when we moved that the house be wired with CAT6. The netbook, one of the laptops and the iPad are supposed to be mine. Various children have appropriated them for their use. At least I can get the iPad back from the six year old (struggling to do that). Oh, and four Kindles. We’ve officially run out of room for books (time to weed out things). I’m sure in the near future the six year old will have her own Kindle. Too many chargers to keep track of!

  39. Poutine has gotten quite popular with the local foodies. Go figure. They do insist on improving it.

  40. The dog probably gets online just fine. She sneaks off with the iPad.

  41. Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit! Which computer does Cthulhu Lord Snuggleston use?

  42. Two people and no cats: 4 laptops and two desktops running windows and a very old but still working Amiga PC.

  43. I’ve always been a Toshiba fan. Yeah, they are usually heavier than other laptops, but you have to hit the things with a sledge hammer to kill them. Not good for those who like to be able to justify their lust for newer and faster every six months or so (i.e. teenaged boys) but great for their moms. I know have a Dell and it’s fine, but I wish I had purchased another Toshiba.

  44. Do any of the laptops have cat accessories like whisker interface devices?

  45. You’re a SuperNerd for having 6 laptops when you (almost) have one for every being in the house? My husband and I have so many computers we’re worried about the Robot Revolution. He has five (desktops and laptops), and I have another two computers and three screens. We’re not counting the iPhones, or the HTPCs. We also didn’t include the Kindle, Wii, or PS3.

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