Thursday, February 28, 2008

Apple Air - uncovering the plan

I've never claimed on this blog or in any other forum to be a man of deep thought. I think that I have made a revelation. I feel that I already understand where the Jobs machine is motoring the future of Apple computing. I feel my recent experience has given me familiarity with the technology involved and was pondering the question posed by Harlem on the Freshubuntu podcast interview "How would I compare the Eee Pc to the new Macbook Air?".

I feel I need to explain my twisted logic and then summarize my conclusions. First Harlem's musing got me to ask the first and simple question that is "What is similar about them?". I had not until that point thought about them in the same class at all. In my mind they were not even attending the same school or grade. After some reflection, there are some similarities that both of these machines are hitting on. Size, weight and solid state disks which are faster but may not offer the same space one might ask for in their day-to-day PC.

This got me to thinking about my "computing in the cloud" analysis with the Eee PC. "Cloud Computing" is the obvious choice with the limited disk space of the Eee PC. But how much more removed is it from the Air? I know plenty of people who will not be able to put their entire iTunes library on 64 Gig. It was mentioned on a popular podcast that I listen to on the TWiT network that they would probably not recommend the Air as a first or primary computer and that sounds like good advice with some of the hardware that is missing. I probably wouldn't recommend the Eee PC to a user that didn't have a primary machine already either.

Remember that the Air was announced on the same day as their new product Time Capsule. This little device seems like just an over-priced external hard drive with wifi access. So, I ask Apple, through their product development, potentially teaching Apple users how to "compute in the cloud"? Is it such a removed idea that the large iMac in the home office actually becomes the house server? Could Apple not start offering server machines that would potentially compete with Windows Home Server? Do they not already have the media extender idea pretty much working with shared iTunes library over a LAN?

So, my grand conclusion is that the Air and Time Capsule are a primer and a "cloud computing" for dummies course via product release. We all know that Apple has gotten where they are by thinking like chess GrandMasters about 20 moves ahead. They are the masters of creating demand where there is and should be none. I feel that the Mac community may be getting spoon feed how to really embrace "cloud computing" via these new products. Which would allow Apple to make many devices that just access centralized information, rather than needing to store it locally too.

Ok, conspiracy over. Breath deeply. By the way, we Linux geeks have lots more experience at the client-server model. While Windows offers minesweeper and solitaire for new users to learn how to use a mouse, Linux has freeciv both the client and the server ;)


Monday, February 18, 2008

Geek woes

So, now that I have a blog about the geek and caffeine, I've started to look at my geekyness (is that a word) in a geeky way. That is to say I'm on a quest to answer the question "Why is CafeNinja so geek?"

I found myself in the office just the other day with a "novice" who didn't know how to do a simple action "I think copy and paste" on the new iMac. So I told him that instead of control + key (c,v,z) he should use the command button on the keyboard. He was amazed at my wealth of knowledge :) I then told him that I didn't like that method either since with Linux I could highlight and paste with wheel button click and that was much faster.

At this point the co-workers eyes just glazed over as I was clearly talking out of the mouth on my second head based on the looks he was giving me. I stopped and pondered just how strangely would this person look at me if I talked about replacing the windows shell with NextStep or not having a task list while using WindowMaker.

That was the moment I started to ask myself....why does a CafeNinja need to know this either. I mean, I should know the difference from fresh brewed and instant, but why do I feel I have to really study to figure out how to use the Eee PC in our normal work environment...that's just strange. And I always take for granted that any normal user might have half the understanding I do. I've given up on trying to explain to anyone how I fix things in any operating system any more since it takes less time for me to go there and put my hands on the machine.

I know there are others out there who have more technical knowledge than I in speciality areas to be sure. I also find myself in the country of the tech illiterate which makes it even more challenging. I hope that one day I can find the land of Geek which has a penguin on it's national flag, a happy mac symbol for a postage stamp and windows is blocked and held for interrogation at the border *snicker*. I can say that it is better in some European countries than others...but this is not one of them. At least in Germany, my co-workers knew what scripting was.

I think we can all thank Micro$oft visa vie Windows for bringing computers to the masses. I just think it's time for the masses to become wise in what they do, for if I find one more virus infected windows user pulling their hair, I'm going to hand them an Ubuntu CD and tell them that is the magic software to fix it. BLAH!


--by the way, I think the next gadget I would like to break would be the cloudbook.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ok, I was bored a while back.

I've already blogged about Boomshuffle. You know, build a playlist online and stream it from anywhere. It's relevant to my geek, I promise. I am using the Eee PC as previously blogged and with it's lack of physical disk space but easy access to the internet Boomshuffle is a great way to listen to music that I have preferred without storing anything locally.

This playlist was the first one that I set up just after I heard about the site on Textra with Natalie Del Conte who has just recently moved to CNet with her new show Loaded. She set up a very mellow playlist so I thought to try and beat her with one that would put you in a coma. I thought I would post my 3rd and final playlist from Boomshuffle just to for completeness:


Friday, February 15, 2008

FreshUbuntu podcast apperance

In case you actually know me, and I haven't told you...I was interviewed on the podcast FreshUbuntu today. I had a very nice chat with Harlem Quijano the host of FreshUbuntu in regards to my experiences with the EeePC. It was a very enjoyable interview and Harlem seemed to be quiet taken with the quality of the built in microphone on the EeePC as well.

I'd like to thank Harlem for the chance to participate in the podcast, it was a real honor and pleasure. I really hope to do it again sometimes. For those of you who haven't heard the podcast before, you can play it directly from the website or subscribe in iTunes. People, if you grandmother hasn't told you yet, you don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts. You don't even need an mp3 player. On Windows or Mac you just need iTunes on your computer, there are other ways but I have to say the interface makes it easy to find and manages the files very well. On linux my favorite is good old Amarok with adding the RSS feed directly. I promise, that is the easy part.

I found Harlem and FreshUbuntu while I was doing what I can only call "PodCast Fishing". In this sport all you have to do is look up and subscribe to as many different podcasts on an interesting topic as you can find, listen to about 3 episodes, decide if you like it or not and then move on. I say 3 episodes since if you happen to catch a special single topic episode or one that just didn't go that well, you would be making a snap decision about the whole series without giving it a proper go. I would recommend that newcomers to this sport start off light, it is easy to find daily podcasts that you enjoy and actually have more material to listen to than hours in a day.

There are plenty of great Linux podcasts out there, some very technical, some political and I found FreshUbuntu to be a nice blend of both. With his usual co-host Peter Nikolaidis, this cross-country pair make a nice balance and cover the gambit. Kudos to Harlem and Peter, keep up the good work.

Man, it's like I was interviewed on radio, but better as it can be aired over and over and over again :)


I need more time....and more hands for all these keyboards

Geek is easy, natural, you have to work at. In a recent twitter post, I said "It's sad when I wish there were an extra 5 hours in a day...hey wait a sec....sleep, I don't need to sleep!"

Let's go back to the beginning... I have the great fortune of being married to a wonderful lady who a mere 9 years ago suggested that I switch careers in order to make my hobby my professional pursuit. That hobby, computers...and things geek. Today, I make a buck doing what I really love and it paid off. With my passion and motivation for geek, in my new position, I managed to get promoted to a level where the career change was no longer a financial burden within a short 4 months.

This brings me back to my twitter. My problem today is that I LOVE the geek. I'll spend hours doing research on php, perl, ruby, IPv6, gadgets, tech podcasts, linux...etc. To keep the impact down on the role of bread-winner, husband and dad; I try to squeeze my geek sessions in "under the radar", that's my euphemism for after kids bedtime, but before I just fall over exhausted.

I know this sounds like a whine session. But truth be told, if left to my own devices, I would probably find a way to get paid without going to work and just abuse my wireless to update my blog, research and listen to podcasts all day long :) I love this stuff so much that I have and would miss meals in order to watch sound drivers compile with my fingers crossed.

So, for self confessed geeks out there, just know that one day you can be like me, run yourself into the ground and take the occasional Sunday morning coma sleep-in to make up for it. The only other option is to get all the sleep you need once your dead. :( (I prefer option number 1)


P.S. - Ubuntu kernel header updates.....get ready to recompile those drivers ;)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Ok, I was bored again.

So there's nothing on TV, and I was thinking more about my eee pc setup and just because I can't have hundreds of songs on my eee pc, doesn't mean that I can't enjoy music. The catch, I have to make plenty of playlists to satisfy my listening needs. So, bored again....


The EEE PC.....what it is

Back in November I wrote about a new little device without having the experience of putting my hands on it. I had a pretty good grasp of what it seemed to be about, but again...that was all sight unseen.

As I work for a large ISP, our engineers (myself included) have laptops so that during our on-call rotation we can all log into the equipment from remote and fix issues. I convinced our IT manager to get one so that I could put it through the paces for use as a device for the on-call team since for the price of one of the nice shiny new laptops we have, you could get 3 - 5 of the eee pc.

Well, I now have one in my hands, and I'm writing this post from it. I've had it for two weeks and tried using it "in the field", at my desk and everywhere in the middle. I won't let you read my very opinionated views to hear that this devices is a great value. I would recommend it for anyone who thought it COULD be for them, I'm here to tell you that it IS for you.

Let's set the stage so that everyone can beat me up over it. I'm a professional geek and use linux/Mac exclusively at home now for 4 years and at work for 8 years. So a linux envrionment is very comfortable for me. Getting under the hood and doing the command line thing or adding "questionable" software is a non-issue for me. With that being said, here goes my review.

Before I get too carried away, please read my previous blog post on the eee pc. I have and I don't want to repeat myself too much, but almost 100% of what I said there does stand the test of actually having this in my hands. Please read it so you can understand some of the items I'll discuss here.

I have several points and would like to look at this from the "big picture" so I'll make my laundry list of good and bad points and then explain:

The Good:
  1. Price
  2. Size/Weight
  3. Screen
  4. Performance
  5. Flexibility to expand via USB
  6. Interface
The Bad:

  1. Non replaceable hard drive
  2. Hard drive space
  3. Screen
  4. Single user

For the good points. For the price it is outstanding. When I consider that the same money would buy me only a 8G iPod Touch, I can do a LOT more with the eee pc. I would like very much to get my wife a new Macbook Pro 17" to replace her Linux desktop, but for the price of the tricked out model, I could buy 8 or 9 eee pc's!!!!!!

In regards to size and weight, I have a backpack by Crumpler that is designed for carrying a 15" laptop and my Dell Latitude (also a great box) fits in that perfectly. Using the same pouch for the laptop body, I can put the eee pc, rubber keyboard, mouse, power supply and have room for a sandwich at 2/3 the weight (with all the accessories).

The screen is small but amazingly crisp. I have heard the rumors that they may produce the same machine with a larger monitor. I also know that would affect the overall size of the device. That could be a plus or a minus and remains to be seen. From the video reviews available on YouTube I was worried that the screen quality might be good enough for a geek to do his remote command line, but not for average computing. Totally wrong, this screen is remarkably clear, obviously limited by the physical dimensions of the screen. It is great for on the fly and really, in ambient sunlight, still viewable. It (as any other) screen looses out to direct sunlight.

Performance was another concern I had with a Intel Celeron 900mHz, just how fast could it be. It would seem that what it misses in raw processor power it makes up for in the SSD hard drive speed. I have only managed to tap the machine and see a performance issue as I launched the 5th application (which was Java - ouch). I could do everything with the eee pc as I could from the Dell with little to no degradation in performance.

The USB ports allow me to add to it any peripheral that I might need. Maybe too many. I find that my keyboard, mouse and external hard drive fill my 3 USB ports quickly. A minor investment in a powered USB hub quickly resolve those issues. I had recognition of the USB bluetooth dongle also. The addition of my external mouse and keyboard immediately remove any issues one might have with the included track pad and keyboard size.

The user interface that comes with the eee pc (Easy Mode) cannot earn enough praise. It takes what could easily be a daunting task of migrating a user from windows/mac to linux or even a completely new computer user and makes it easy to digest. For more advanced users, something more desktop like is only a few tweaks away. This is the best of both worlds. I've spoken with a friend who recalled stories of having to guide his father through a format and install of windows on more than one occasion due to the fact that the senior doesn't understand the impact of what software he is installing may have on his system. This interface doesn't make the addition of software impossible, but not likely and therefore prevents new user errors. Basically, they applied the mobile phone user interface attitude where one button does web and you don't question "with which program" just works and that's fine.

For the aspects of the device I find less desirable, let's begin with the point that the hard drive is solid state memory with a finite number (even though it's a lot) of write/rewrites to the drive. This portion of the box has a limited life span and knowing that I would be able to buy it's replacement and change it out would be nice. Not a show stopper since at this price, there should be a new and better one to get when this one dies.

Hard drive space is a premium, I am currently using the 4G model and really look forward to getting an 8G model when it's available in my area. Not that I have a problem with the space limitation for how I use the machine, but when I travel it would be nice to put some of my video or music content on without needed an external drive. Obviously with my previously mentioned USB solution or a card for the SD card reader, some of that problem just goes away. But would be nice :). I do NOT consider this point a show stopper for the reasons I mentioned in my previous eee pc blog post.

There are times, at more than arms length that the screen size is frustrating as words disappear into an ant trail of gibberish on the page. Again, for most things it's great, and when connected to an external monitor this is immediately a non-issue.

As a linux user, both at home and work, I'm quite used to having different accounts for different people. Not having a superuser switch to just turn that on is a little disappointing. I can understand trying to make linux easy for the masses, but this may not have been the best solution. My personal beef with this is that if someone wants to just give this thing a "test drive" that I cannot offer them a guest account, so in effect they are using MY firefox and MY skype. When a real linux distro or windows are installed, this is something you could do without issue. Again, not a show stopper since the single user can be protected with a password so that the system is not wide open at boot.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic little machine. It won't replace my desktop for heavy duty tasks like video editing, but could replace my office workstation with all the correct peripherals. The eee pc receives an A+ from me especially considering that the first generation of this machine is such a fine product. Expect to hear more about the glowing qualities of the eee pc here in my blog as I intend to infect my family with them. I probably won't go into advanced modifications to the OS or anything here, but you will probably see it mentioned in the future. The website eeeuser is a great place to get tips and howto's on things you might want to do with an eee pc if you should get one, they have a great community forum and wiki.


When I'm bored

So, it seems when I'm bored I look for things to do on the net....last time that took me to Boomshuffle where I enjoyed setting up a couple of playlists. Now, I am looking at that and thinking... I need to put that somewhere :) For you enjoyment and to let you ridicule me as an "old man" I'm embedding my most recent playlist here. And before you ask, yes, I do like this music.