My Tech Life, 2012

Three years ago, I gave an accounting of the technology I use and why, because people seem to be fairly curious about what I use and how it has an impact on my work. In the three years since I posted that piece, the day-to-day technology I use has changed quite a bit, so I thought I would give an update and what’s going on in my tech life and the reasons I have to use what I do. Here’s what I’m using now.

Desktop Computer: 2011 edition Mac Mini, 2.5Ghz Intel i5, 4GB RAM, AMD Radeon 6630M GPU, 500GB Hard Drive. The last time I did this, I referred to my desktop computer as my “primary computer,” but I don’t know if such a designation would be accurate these days. I spend a lot of time at my desktop computer, of course, but I’m equally likely these days to be working/viewing the Internet on a laptop or tablet. As time goes by I’m using my desktop for specialized things, or when I want to look at the Internet through a large monitor. There are also things I am doing less of; for example, I’m not playing PC-based videogames nearly as much as I used to, mostly because, in the last year, I’ve had less time just to chill out and shoot things. I do hope to correct that in 2013. Nevertheless, in 2012 this is where I am.

Earlier this year my former desktop died on me, and I decided not to immediately swap it out another monster rig; instead I used the MacBook Air I had, which suited me just fine for a bit. When I lost that (it was stolen, but then it was stolen because stupidly I left it somewhere it could be stolen), I decided that, for at least an interim basis, I would replace the desktop with a Mac Mini. Why? Because it was small, it wasn’t noisy, it would reduce clutter around my desk and because spending time with the Air made me fall in love with the Mac trackpad, which I now vastly prefer for my day-to-day work tasks over a mouse.

It’s not a monster machine, and in fact in almost every way is less robustly specced than my previous desktop, which is now three years old. I haven’t even bothered to play video games on it yet, and I do miss playing video games on my computer, so it’s possible I will get back to a larger, more powerful rig at some point. But for writing, Web browsing and basic photo/audio stuff, it works just fine, and at this moment that’s what I need it to do. I’m not in a huge rush to upgrade this.

Laptop: Acer Aspire One 11.6″ Netbook, AMD Dual Core Processor, 2GB RAM, 320GB Hard Drive. It used to be the 2011 MacBook Air, which I still consider the best all-around computer I’ve owned. But I lost it in May and needed a good, cheap travel-sized laptop, and I’d had relatively good luck with Acers before, so this what I got. The Air came back to me, but then I lost it again, basically because I’m an idiot. So this is my laptop for the moment at least.

It’s basic: It allows me to write, answer e-mail and do stuff on the Web. It’s okay but not great to write on and its build quality is sufficient but not memorable. The keys on the keyboard feel a tiny bit wobbly but only a tiny bit. I don’t get angry with it for not being fantastic because, you know what? I knew what was getting when I spent $250 on a laptop. It does what I bought it to do.

That said, the laptop is the piece of equipment mostly likely to be upgraded next, either to an Air again or to another kind of ultrabook after Windows 8 comes out. Basically I want to know how Windows 8 handles as an operating system (and whether Windows OS computers will stop having such suck-ass trackpads). There’s also another possibility, which I will detail below.

Tablet: Galaxy Tab 2, 7 inch. Yes, I just got the 2012 iPad, and I’m liking it a lot, and depending on how things work out with the incoming keyboard I got for the thing, it might de facto slide into the “laptop” slot for me moving forward. That said, when it comes to walking around the house with a computing device for reading the Web, fooling about on Twitter and quickly going through e-mail, the Galaxy Tab gets the nod. I like its size and it gets the job done, and the form factor is especially good for book reading. The iPad I have for business purposes (the video game I have a hand in is being developed for it), whereas the Galaxy Tab is more congenial for my daily life.

Phone: Motorola RAZR MAXX. When I went to upgrade my phone last year it came down to the Razr Maxx and the Galaxy Nexus. The Maxx had a ridiculously long lasting battery, but the Nexus had a better screen and Android 4.0. I went with the shiny and was mostly happy with the Nexus, except for its battery life, which, frankly, sucked. And then it died on me and I replaced it with the Maxx, and I have to say I’m glad I did. I really almost never have to worry about if I’m going to run out of battery, and at the end of the day I find that’s the thing I worry about most with my phone. The Nexus’ display is still better, but the Maxx’s is perfectly fine and otherwise I find nothing to complain about with the phone, with the exception that the power button is too flush with the phone, which makes it hard to activate sometimes. But if that’s your major problem with a phone? You’re fine.

Operating System: Varies. Mountain Lion on the Mini, Windows 7, iOS6 on the iPad, Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Tab and Maxx. Esthetically I like Mountain Lion, and especially the ability to flip back and forth between programs with a swipe of the keypad. Functionally Windows 7 is still substantially better for how I do things. The mobile OSes I find I don’t really care about one way or another although if you put a gun to my head I would probably give Android the nod over iOS6, and not just because of the maps but for overall functionality. But these days operating systems are much less of a deal than they were before, at least for me, not in the least because so much of what I need for computing goes on over the Internet, which is increasingly agnostic about operating systems.

Browser: Chrome (currently version 21.0.1180.89). It’s the browser that works the best across multiple platforms, and these days that’s important to me. It’s also stable and seems to handle memory management better than Firebox, my previous go-to browser. Also, I tend to use a lot of Google-based or -oriented services, and Chrome, which is made by Google, not surprisingly seems to integrate those better than other browsers. Firefox is now my backup browser; I miss its plugins but not how it would eventually cause my computers to chug. Safari and Internet Explorer I use exactly as long as it takes to download Chrome and Firefox. I acknowledge that Opera exists.

Mail: GMail: Was using it three years ago and still using it today because I am used to the interface and it works well for what I do with e-mail. And if something works, why change it?

Photo Management: Flickr. Again, something I’ve been using for a while, for the same reasons (applied to photo management) I use Gmail. I had some mild concerns for a while about how long Flickr might be around because Yahoo, its parent company, seems have made a concerted effort to mess itself up, and I was also concerned Yahoo would decide that Flickr was not part of its “core strengths” or whatever. But for the moment at least their new CEO seems to be helping. Hopefully it will not go away.

Photo Editing: Varies. I used to use the latest iteration of Photoshop exclusively, but these days I find that what I use depends on where I am sitting and how I am taking the picture. If I use my Nikon to take the picture, I’ll use the Photoshop Elements and CameraBag 2, which I have on the Mini (which has a slot for my Nikon’s memory card). If I’m using the iPad, I’ll use Snapseed or PS Touch. On the Galaxy Tab, I have Vignette, Pixlromatic or Instagram, which I also have on the Maxx, along with Flickr’s app and Perfectly Clear. I’ll also often use Aviary, which is now integrated into Flickr. Really, this category is just kind of a mess at this point.

Music Management: Rhapsody. Again, still, and again, for the same reasons as I use GMail, as they relate to music. That said, these days “music management” means something different than it meant three years ago. At this point I don’t really download music anymore. I still buy it — I think it’s important to support musicians — but I tend not to buy it to own the files, I buy it to give the musicians money. So what happens is that I’ll listen to an album on Rhapsody, if I like it I buy it on Amazon, Amazon will store it in that music locker service of theirs so I can download it later if I want, and then I listen to it on Rhapsody some more. That way the musician gets paid twice — first for the album I’ve bought and then for the streaming. I like paying people twice!

Video: Netflix. Krissy and Athena are all about streaming TV series (Krissy: Sons of Anarchy; Athena: Black Butler) and I will on occasion dip in for Asian action films (most recently: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame), and the service is ubiquitous — hell, it even came packaged in a TV we just bought. We also still do subscribe to their BluRay service, which I understand makes us old people. And get this — sometimes we even still buy BluRays. I know! It’s crazy. I also have Amazon’s streaming service because I’m a Prime member, but I use it very rarely.

eBook Managment: Nook. Mostly because I was given a Nook eReader a couple of years ago as a gift, and therefore did a number of purchases through it, but also because, well, I see no point in just handing the eBook field to Amazon (which I use for other things, however). I rarely use the Nook eReader anymore; I have the Nook app on my mobile devices now. I do also have Amazon’s Kindle, and Google Books and (on the iPad) iBooks, although I’ve bought  almost nothing on the latter because of lack of cross-platform apps. I still tend to default to Nook when I buy eBooks. What I would really like is to be able to buy my eBooks through my local indie book retailer, but that’s not doable yet.

Cloud Service: Google Drive. I primarily use this because, again, I tend to use a lot of Google services. However, I do have iCloud turned on for my Apple stuff, and as noted also use Amazon’s offerings from time to time. And I have a personal “cloud” option, namely, my Web site provider, which offers me effectively unlimited storage space on my site. This is a reminder that “the cloud” is just a silly metaphorical name for “a bunch of servers that are not in your house at the moment.”

Web Hosting: I’ve been with for I think eight years now and in that time I’ve been very pleased with their service. I have their business package, which means effectively I have unlimited space and unlimited bandwidth. The only problem I ever had, in fact, was when Whatever became a processor hog on their servers, which would time out processes before they could complete, causing me all sorts of headaches. But now Whatever is elsewhere (more on that in a minute) and in any event I’m pretty sure the problem there was me — specifically my lack of competence in setting up the blog — not them. 1and1 does its job so well I don’t even think about them anymore, which is really the highest compliment one can give a Web host.

Blog Software/Hosting: WordPress. I’ve been using WordPress for Whatever since 2008, and Whatever has been hosted via WordPress’ VIP service since October 2008, and I’ve been deeply pleased with both. I’ll have more to say about both of those on October 8, which is the day in 2008 the site switched over, but for now I’ll say I can happily endorse both services.

Word Processor: Google Docs. Which is now integrated in Google Drive, so honestly I don’t know if that’s what it’s still called, but screw it, that’s what I knew it by when I started using it, so that’s what I’m going to keep calling it. I’ve had a largely dissatisfied relationship with Google Docs over the years — the “write and edit from anywhere” proposition is largely undeniably a compelling one, but the program itself was half-baked for a very long time. But here in 2012 they’ve finally largely got it working for what I need it to do: I can write, edit and format words, it has a built-in spell-check and word count, and I can work on the same document across multiple computers and platforms just by clicking into the document. Done and done.

It’s interesting to me how important “working across multiple computers and platforms by clicking into the document” has become to me, and it, not cost issues, is why I use Google Docs more at the moment than I do my previous default word processor, Microsoft Word. It’s possible to use Word across multiple platforms, but to do so is more kludgy at the moment than anything else, in my experience. I imagine this will be directly addressed in Word 2013, which I understand is better integrated with Microsoft’s cloud offering, and so on and so forth. So we’ll see. At the moment, however, Google Docs is working for me. I am also using Apple’s Pages, which uses the company’s iCloud storage component, but it’s not my preferred word processor. I haven’t stopped using Word, I should note, but I use it for specialized purposes at the moment.

(Writers, before you try to pimp me your favorite writing tool — especially Scrivener — be aware that I try them all. If I don’t mention using your favorite, it’s because it doesn’t work for me. Especially Scrivener. Man, you Scrivener fanboys drive me a little crazy sometimes.)

Twitter Client: Janetter. It does everything I used to use TweetDeck for, before Twitter bought TweetDeck and made it suck. I understand Twitter is cracking down on third-party companies, which makes me worry about Janetter’s future. But for now, I like it better than any other Twitter client. At least on my computers; on my mobile devices, I find Twitter’s client perfectly adequate.

Things On the Previous List Not Really on This One: Video Game Management, Audio/Video Editing, IM Software, Personal Music/Video Player. As I’m not really playing games at the moment, I’m not really using Steam, my prior game management software, although when I come back around to gaming on the PC, it’s what I’ll use again. I’m playing games on my tablets and phone, but they don’t need specialized management software. I’m using Apple’s basic audio/video tools and hate them with a blinding passion and will be looking for something better (no, I’m not looking for recommendations at this time). As for IM, I’ve mostly stopped using it on a day-to-day basis, although when I do use it, I’m using Apple’s Messaging software that came with Mountain Lion. For music/video playing, those functions have been totally subsumed by my phone and tablets, and on those I use Rhapsody or Spotify primarily.

I think that’s a pretty exhaustive list, but if there’s something more you want to know, drop it into the comments.


Various and Sundry, 9/22/12

Because a Saturday is a fine time to talk about a number of things:

* Charlie Stross has an interesting post up about the diminishing marginal utility of stuff, in which among other things he speculates why people who have more money than is possible to spend in one lifetime still go out and try to get more of the stuff. My own thought about it, to use a video game term, is that we’re basically tuned and trained to level up all the time, and to keep grinding away until we do — “I’m only a 79th level rich guy! 80th level is the top!” — regardless of whether the payoff is worth the investment. Also, of course, as status seeking primates, when you stop grinding away, then you lose status, and that’s when all the other monkeys turn on you.

One thing I think a lot about these days, and which I think I’ll probably writer a longer piece on at some point, is the idea of sufficiency: Knowing when you have enough for yourself and learning to ask whether you need anything more, or even want it. This is something I have no big answers for yet, but it rolls about in my head a lot. Writing is often how I figure out what I’m thinking about something, so once I have my writing schedule clear, maybe I’ll give it a tackle.

* For those of you wondering: The writing on The Human Division is coming along nicely, and as with many things where you are trying to do something new (or at least new to you) it’s going off in interesting and surprising (but I think positive) ways. When it’s done I’ll do a post-mortem, as I often do at the end of a project, and talk a little more about it then.

* I had a lot of people ping me for my thoughts about the Amanda Palmer thing involving the volunteer musicians she asked for while on the road. Actually, my thoughts were along the line of “Oh, look, an Internet kerfuffle involving the wife of a friend of mine. I think I’ll stay out of this one.” And I think those were perfectly reasonable thoughts. I will say I approve of the way she decided to resolve the issue. I’ll also say, on a related topic, that her new album Theatre is Evil is excellent and I’m delighted it debuted on the Billboard Top 10 for last week.

* I also have been asked for thoughts on the fact that in the last week the polls seem to have swung Obama’s way, and what that means for the election. My thought on that is that it is September 22, the election is November 6 and there are six and a half weeks between now and then, so let’s not either panic or get complacent, depending on who you are and who you support (if you support Gary Johnson, dude, have another bowl and enjoy yourself, since you already know how your November 6 is going to go). There are still the presidential debates and a bunch of chances for both Romney and Obama to do well or screw up — or for news and events to take their toll or lift either of them. So please let’s not all lose our brains.

* Also, it’s my sister’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Heather!

* It’s also the first day of fall here, and this is what it looks like from my back deck:

Hope your first day of fall (or spring!) is equally pretty.

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