Technology

Its a Dongle Life we lead

Its a dongle life one way or the other no matter what device I decide to travel with. I’ve settled on a laptop which is the MacBook 12 inch 2017 model with a single Type C connector. It has a headphone jack too. A single Type C connector for all the “connectedness” that I may have.

What’s needed then is a dongle. I must dongle. So I go shopping for a single dongle which will do power, memory card, USB drives, etc. There are a few types. One type plugs right into the port and sits against the body of the laptop. I don’t particularly like those. The second type has a type C connector and a separate body which sits apart from the laptop. I like these better. So, I went shopping for one on Amazon.

I found this one which I have tested a few ways.

This one has a variety of inputs and also does power but it has the little cable connecting it and sits apart from the laptop. So I tested it a bit on the laptop by:

  1. Time Machine backup while the device is powered on the dongle with a 2TB USB drive. Success!
  2. Basic power supply with my type C power connector. Success!
  3. Memory card access. Success!
  4. Small Flash drive access while powered up. Success!
  5. And… multiple things at the same time. Success!

So the dongle life is good and by buying a device on Amazon, I extend the ports significantly while still allowing power delivery. If you’re interested in the device, I can recommend this one on Amazon. It works very well and is not terribly expensive. It does not sit flush against the laptop body and that may be an issue for you. For me, its what I want.

We’re getting to the point hopefully of a single interface on laptops and maybe someday on phones that is a Type C connector. The important part is that my laptop only has a single port while yours may have multiples. What I give up though with this laptop is made up with the form factor to me. The 12 inch MacBook 2017 model is the bees knees for productivity and mobility.

Just remember you need to lead a dongle life!

Ulysses is my Tool User’s Choice

I’ve been thinking a lot about a centralized publishing and writing application on my new ecosystem; namely Apple. The truth is that Apple devices whether they are MAC or IOS are very well suited for finding a single application which can provide service to write short-form articles or longer term book or story type publications. I’ve settled on Ulysses on my IPad Pro as the central environment from which I can do blog posts like this, write longer form stories, or diary and journal entries.

What does it take to have a single application that will provide a full and multi-faceted document creation and management environment? I’ll play back a huge error I made in Starbucks today and you can see what you do want.

I inadvertently deleted three years of journal posts in long text files which I painstakingly imported from google docs into Ulysses. I was mad and disappointed at the stupidity of what I had done. Then I remembered that I had chosen Ulysses for a reason. It does really nice backups and restores. So I launched the “manage” function and found the latest backups for my journals and restored them. This was the “huzzah” moment I must say. I then knew that Ulysses with its intelligent handling of backups and restores was my perfect thing. You can have a wonderful integrated environment but with no service wrapped around it, a stupid yet human error can bring it all down.

So the single application you want manages all that and when the time disaster recovery time comes you have the acid test of how it handles a oops. I got my files back with a single touch or maybe two. I became a happy camper at Starbucks and realized that I should not split the journal across multiple apps nor should I install a second app that may provide writing services. You want to find an application but you really want the service that backs it up and makes it relevant and useful. We are all tool users and the idea that a single thing with intelligent handling of my files really makes the subscription worthwhile to me. I don’t mind paying for a thing that provides a set of values and when disaster hints offers me a path.

Here is where it ends up at least for me.

The use of Ulysses is not just a text or writing application. It’s an integrated solution which lets me create but it also protects me from myself. I don’t want to lose things so if I split things across multiple applications or clouds I may lose sight of where a thing is or the latest. Multiple applications cause that faster because I will hunt which app was it that I put X or Y in.

When I go to travel first part of next year, I will want to record the things but have a place to track my things when I get ready to leave the US after my train trip across it.

If you are looking for an application and you are on this ecosystem, consider Ulysses. I moved ecosystems to IOS because I wanted that centralized set of tools that I believed Apple offered. Sure I could have done it all on Google Docs. But I wanted the presentation layer too. I wanted a thing which made creation fun and extended my use. I am not an Apple lover. I don’t really care for it one way or the other. What I do care about is the presentation of information it does and how the applications I have chosen extend across the available environments. If you are a tool user like me, a habilis by trade, you know. You don’t want to use a metate for a projectile point.

Find the tool that may work. It may surprise you when you weigh what it can do. I sure was.

Digital Doodads and Sunday Thoughts

I’ve been considering my upcoming trip next year a lot lately. One of the areas which is key for me is what mobile technology to bring. I have some requirements especially for train and international air travel. I also have a few devices I am currently testing which may or may not survive.

MacBook Pro 2017 13 inch no touch bar. I love this device. Its made for creating, being productive. Its speed and reliability is perhaps legendary and the applications and the OS are sturdy and resilient. Battery life is not so bad. One needs to have a Type C dongle or two. I have a multi card reader which works very well for taking photo’s off my memory card and then populating Google Photos. I don’t really need more dongles but the face I am even discussing dongles is interesting. One must consider dongles with the new Type C laptops though. The laptop wins in many areas for me such as size, speed, use.

iPad Pro 10.5 2017. This is a newcomer to the battle zone. It has some advantages since I also have the apple keyboard case with it and have bought the pencil. Battery life is no slouch and I get a group of apps I really like to consume, read, and do tasks. I could share the same dongle if there were an adapter from type C to lightning which seemed decent. Most of them on Amazon get three stars and they look cheap. The iPad wins due to its flexible screen and size, ability to fold it up on itself and save a lot of space. I don’t have to remove it going through security at airports. It runs Ulysses which is where just about all content comes from these days.

I don’t have to make some final choice for some months. I can dally around and test each and enjoy both of them. The real test is the one that takes place when I go though. I won’t know which one is the best or most reliable or useful until I go. I can read thousands of blogs and news sites which tell me that one or the other is better. There is no way of knowing until I actually use one or the other in my real life adventures. I think when I do the rail trip here next year, I will have an idea about which one will work. My gut feel is that the MacBook Pro is the one. But the iPad Pro has a lot of nice things going for it.

Notice there is no smartphone included. I’m pretty convinced a smartphone, with its requirements for a SIM card and data plan and phone number and more cables and all that is not a choice. There is nothing necessary about the need for a smartphone when traveling. Google Voice/Hangouts, Skype, or a VOIP service can do it all and mean no extra cables or charges for data plans.

The idea is to travel light and flexible and not have enough stuff where you forget a cable or plug or something. A single device is the way to go when your duffle is limited and you plan on moving slow.

What do you all think? Best device to interact with a real camera? Best to use in a life spent on the road? I will not use the term digital nomad. That seems to carry a certain connotation which I am not desiring. I will say “on the road with no clear destination”. There’s a device out there which fulfills the requirements and I may own it now. I hope I do. I don’t want to spend more $$ on digital doodads.

Integrating Ulysses – some ideas

Writing on Ulysses – An exploration

I decided awhile ago to explore different tools which allow me to have a central environment to writing and exploring whether its a journal, blog post, ideas about travel or planning. I started using Day One for journaling but now it appears I could use one tool instead so will investigate the use of Ulysses to record daily thoughts as well.

I store everything on iCloud having bought more storage there. I wish Ulysses would integrate with Google Drive natively. That would be ideal but I’m a realist.

So here’s my first attempt at publishing to WordPress using Ulysses. I have yet to learn keywords and categories.

For the journal, I believe that a single drawer for each year would suffice but I will explore more and if Day One is not the best solution, will change. I would prefer to have everything in a single elegant but easy application which backs up to some cloud out there.

Moving Tech

I’m a tool user by trade so I find things which will work for tasks or things I want to focus on. I decided long ago that open source provided answers to questions that a lot of smaller businesses would ask. I still do not see a compelling method for bringing small business and open source together. Perhaps there is a business in there somewhere.

I also really enjoy the personal technology choices or changes. I used Android and Chrome OS devices for a long time. I liked the flexibility and choice around it. In my latest update I went to a MacBook Pro 13 inch 2017 version. This choice resonated at a few levels. There are tools and applications and approaches which blend the laptop with Apple tablets and phones in a way that Android cannot do. So I made the choice to buy the iPad 2017 model because tablets do have a place but the tablet must be intelligent and swift and usable. On the Android side, the ecosystem there is changing. Android tablets were never a big deal yet we invested in them because we wanted to show our love and support. The truth is that iPads are still superior media consumption devices.

Now we get to the choice of phones. I’ve been using a Nexus 6p android phone for awhile but now that will also change. I have a iPhone 6s plus waiting for a sim card from Tmobile and I will retire that phone and end up using Apple gear again. There’s nothing wrong with me nor is there something globally good with Apple stuff. The truth is we all need change and we need to see how another thing will work to satisfy our tool using needs.

I think there are a few main precepts to this whole thing which I elucidate below for my satisfaction and your disagreement 🙂 –

  1. We choose devices because we want to use them in certain ways and we want them to integrate with services whether cloud or cloud enabling that lets us build our repositories of use. We move around to new devices because they promise more of that use. We also change platforms because we believe the competing platform and its ecosystem goes over the 80% threshold of satisfaction.
  2. We want technology that stimulates us, makes us more productive, challenges us. Its best if the things all talk together, build components within applications that we can share. This lets us use a variety of devices keyed to use parameters and that excites us.
  3. Life is too short to use dumb technology that does not do 1 or 2 above and I believe if we just stay a certain way with a certain thing we cannot explore more of what another ecosystem and platform may offer. Imagine hunter gatherers in their choice for making flaked stone tools with obsidian or the cherts using granite. Not the best choice and by choosing the right thing the use magnified and was built upon by succeeding generations and uses. Dumb technology does not excite, enthrall, or keep us signed up. To do that though, the competing technology needs to allow us to move over gracefully. We don’t need ivory towers of technology where you cannot find a way to peacefully change.
  4. Finally, we want freedom. Our data and its use must reside in a place we can access on many tools or devices. This lets us read, write, create, manage the data bits that are important from many locations. We also travel our landscape with technology and we capture and use that for things which excite, make us mad, or in the end set us free.

I don’t know if its a manifesto for technology freedom and use but what it does provide is a method and reason for us to be those tool users and experiment and use new things or competing things. It enriches out moments by not allowing us to use the same staid technology year in and out. Be bold and try what you hate! You may find more to love in what you hate. The OS ecosystem is rich and tapestried and both have sets of compelling tools. How will you know what’s good or bad if you don’t play the tool user?

Accumulating Stuff

I slimmed down some old paperwork and gizmo cables, old routers, and a few cameras before. Today I did the same with a collection of suitcases, a TV, a fan, some chromebooks and a new router and powerline ethernet kit. This stuff accumulated since living in the current place and today it goes away. Its amazing how the stuff builds up but I always feel better when it goes and nothing replaces it. I don’t know why I managed to accumulate so many suitcases other than I’m a bag junkie and I like to find carry-on bags for my trips that fit what I need. I slimmed the bags down to one today which is the newest one. I bought myself the Tortuga Outbreaker bag. I believe it represents the best value for carry-on at this point.

This bag combines the best of two bags I had before with its integrated laptop and device containers plus a decent zip around main compartment. It means I don’t need two carry-on devices which I travel which is a big deal. None of the previous bags included this.

In the main compartment there are 4 zippered pouches for carrying the smaller things like socks and underwear. This means I change my bundle wrapping to a new technique to use the space I just got. I’m going to do rolling plus folding in the one bag. Going to fold the bigger things like jeans and roll the smaller things like t-shirts, underwear, and socks.

I also bought a daypack but its use is questionable. I most likely would carry my camera bag only which is the ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 20. This holds my Fuji X series, its telephoto lens, extra batteries and memory cards with room to spare and it slings over the shoulder. I recommend the bag highly. It looks like this.

This is not a minimal bag but its also not huge. Its that middle range bag that has some nice internal pockets and compartments but still has room if I decided to get the wide angle lens for my Fuji.

Considering what will be left after this “purging” event, I will be down to a significant few things of value that I need and a few things I want to keep.

Vacation Bound!

I also am vacation bound in a week and change. I’ll take a week off from work and its craziness and fly up to Vancouver BC and do the last walking trip of the year. I’m happy to be able to get a second trip in this year. I also lock in my frequent flyer miles for 18 more months with this trip so when I’m really ready to pull the plug on the whole work thing, my miles are waiting. I will spend most or all of them next year I think.

A friend asked what I expected to accomplish in Vancouver. My answer is nothing. I am not going to accomplish a thing. I am going to walk the streets, see the city, meet the blocks I can walk down head on. I’ll tire out these old legs and head back to the room after having lunch and a beer out. I’ll repeat it each day and be glad I was able to do the last city on my list.

I’ll also take a lot of photographs with the Fuji and get them saved here and there. I love taking photographs with it and learning more.

Workflows at a cheaper cost point

One can spend umpteen hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars on Apple gear and high end photo editing software or one can take another approach. What are the primary goals in getting photographs from the camera memory to a place where the applications can work on them?

  1. Transfer photo files from the camera to a holding place where they can be shared, edited, copied to new albums. I use a Samsung Chromebook Plus for my day to day compute needs so I insert the card reader with the memory card from the camera and the laptop mounts up the drive and I can open the gallery application and view the photos. At this point, I choose which ones I want to upload to Google Photos.
  2. I open the web version of Google Photos initially and upload the photos I have chosen from the memory card to Google Photos. When this exercise is done, I close the web version and start the Android version of Google Photos since I now can use the Android applications on Chrome OS.
  3. I can leave the photos the way they are or open them from the Android Google Photos in Android Snapseed to do post processing. I am not big on post processing because I’m still learning the ropes with the camera so I more often delete the memory card contents or reformat after saving only a few.
  4. Here is where the productivity mode kicks in with these Android applications. I can see them in windowed mode like this.

Screenshot 2017-06-10 at 4.01.57 PM

This creates a more compelling experience for me since I can see both applications running on the screen, use the keyboard and interact with both applications much easier. I think that this is one of the compelling use cases for the chromebooks which have or will have Android app support. This windowed mode is very useful and beats the full screen thing on iPads or Android tablets completely. I can also open a web browser if need be.

The other major factor with this is cost. I did spend more on the Samsung Chromebook Plus because I wanted the stable android apps and the screen resolution but other chromebooks can do this easily at lesser of a cost point. You can get the same apps on a Apple device but the cost of entry is a bit more and you will not get windowed view quite like this. Perhaps you will have it in newer IOS releases though.

The final thing with this workflow is that the android apps are technology I am used to using and I can build the supporting flow to allow easy backups to Google Photos.

Since my chosen FujiFilm camera uses regular memory cards, I bought a cheap card reader with both a Type C and regular USB connector on each end. Very useful as well and quite cheap.

If you are looking to build a workflow and use case which will let you harvest your photographs or images, the Chromebook with Android app support is a reasonable and cost effective solution. Having Google Play Store support makes a lot of difference but the laptop form factor, apps in windowed mode, and the obvious productivity enhancements like keyboard and larger screen that can be split or use with other tools is very nice.

Upgrading the house internets

I spent last evening upgrading our house internets. First off was a replacement for our aged and infirm Arris combo device modem and wifi which seemed to drop every other packet and not let upstairs residents have reasonable wifi. It often felt like the Arris was blocks away instead of some feet. Perhaps some attributable to the house itself. I wanted to move away from combination devices though since when you get one, one or the other component will suck. I think both sucked on the Arris.

I got this cheapo modem from Amazon to replace it.

This one cost all of $44.00 with Amazon Prime. Its not a combo device and its tiny.

Since it has no WiFi included I had to then procure wireless for the house. I had first thought I would just get another single router and install downstairs but I realized that I would most likely be faced with the same issues as before with that approach.

I have been wanting to try wireless mesh networks for awhile so the Google WiFi mesh sounded pretty cool to use.

This cost a bit more but I enjoyed learning how it works and perhaps I will get some of it back from the landlord. I don’t really care though. It was the fun of learning and improving on really dismal internet in the house.

All you do is setup the modem first and get it running but therein was the problem. Its been my experience dealing with Comcast that while the service is pretty good most times the actual dealings with the company leave a lot to be desired. In this case, I could not get the modem going because my name is not on the account. Bah and humbug. I also could not get the home owner who does not live here to pick up his cell phone for awhile. Finally though I had the modem and was ready for step 2.

I plugged in the first of the Google Wifi devices by the modem and used my Galaxy 8plus to set it up. It runs through some self-tests and then it asks the big question. It wanted to know if I had more than one. I said yes. It then switches on its mesh networking and tests its connectivity to the modem. It passes and then wants the second one. I move over by the downstairs bedrooms and install it. I tell the app I have the second one up and it runs a set of tests for connectivity from first to second and sets up the mesh on the second. Now the second is done. Finally I move the problem part of the house. Upstairs. That’s where I live. Never had good wifi upstairs. I installed the third one and it called home to the first one and checked things out.

Then I was done and I wanted to test out what the result was. So I headed over to speedtest.net and ran a speed test and got this.

Screenshot 2017-05-21 at 9.32.54 AM

So that is better than I ever got upstairs!

As a result of doing the upgrade for the house, I learned that comcast is still frustrating to deal with and wireless mesh networking is cool beans. I chose the Google WiFi mesh because I wanted to try it. I did not compare it against other wireless mesh networks.

The Coming of Age of the Common Chromebook

Chromebooks have been around for awhile and we’ve used them, joked about them, and people have misrepresented what it is they do. A lof of misconceptions until I think Google decided to start putting Android apps on them. Suddenly these low cost devices had another thing. A thing called potential. Instead of a group of extensions and some apps suddenly they would be able to load millions of apps in the Google Play Store. If you are an android user, the world suddenly became better.

We’ve seen a number of the devices so far which have had the Play Store on the stable channel. I first saw them on the Asus R11. That’s a nice device but I did not really care for the fit and finish. Next I got the Asus C302. Now that’s a nice device but it takes the beta channel. Finally, I received today the Samsung Chromebook Plus.Chromebook-Plus-4-New

What this device does is extend the play store to more stable channel devices but it does more than just that. Its a device with a 3:2 aspect ratio so android apps appear to be more scalable and exact.

Its smaller so it bears a resemblance to a tablet but there’s the keyboard and trackpad as well.

Perhaps the greatest thing though that I thought I would not use is the stylus. In tablet form factor, what a great tool to do things like manipulate open windows. I could see hefting this thing across the world in a small carry on. Its that good.

Soon though we will have the Samsung Chromebook Pro. My guess is it will extend things even further and we will all enjoy even more potential.

The android apps have a way to go and the devices have to get more shaped and structured to maximize the use of the applications. Resizable windows, better keyboard support, more integration with the host OS. All of this increases the potential.

But wait a minute there. These things are fun now! And you can be productive with a full web browser and the apps. I almost considered getting another Surface Pro device but these truly take their place and if you are Google guy, these turn out almost perfect. Notice I said almost.

The thing with potential is that there is some striving and learning and time needed to maximize the potential. But the Samsung Chromebook Plus is a fun thing and I only use Chromebooks at home now. My work laptop stays safely packed away on the weekends. Windows 10 be gone!

All that I need to do I can do with these things. So for me it crosses over potential value into real time use cases. The common little chromebook has come a long way!

Look for it to take the place of more Apple gear in schools and other settings. I think soon businesses will decide to get smarter with what they give employees. Give them a thin client and let them RDP or SSH to virtual machine once in the office. Security issues go way down. Productivity goes way up.

That’s how you drive value and potential. Make it worthwhile in more and more corporate, educational, and technology climates.

There’s always time to Ponder

Ponder is a fun word. It sounds like a combination word of puzzle and wonder. When I practiced archeology, I got to meet a variety of people that did anthropology, geology, history. Many of these worlds I pondered yet I ended up doing archeology. I’ve always thought that archeology is not some passive pastime. Its a active, reaching, doing thing. You are outdoors. In my case, my favorite world was that western part of the Mojave Desert known as the Antelope Valley. It forms a wedge where the desert towns north of Mojave and Rosamond lead one to Edwards Air Force Base. Go east and you drive through buttes and desert and wild flowers and may end up at Lake Isabella. But its the desert for me and was then. Its not a place for everyone so archeologists tend to like places they love. I worked with archeologists that loved the desert, the foothills, the mountains, the coast. Each one had a challenge and thrill to doing the work.

Yes, there was a lot to ponder doing archeology. 

Then we get to doing IT. There is not so much to ponder doing IT. Then when you add the magical words Program Management after it you get my title. I am Program Manager of IT focusing on complex data center migration projects to cloud, premised, and mixed data centers. But there is not much to ponder there. No puzzle and no wonder really. Its kinda all there defined and you have the rules for doing it. To be a project manager one must:

  • understand and manage risk and change
  • define requirements and scope
  • build consensus with diverse teams
  • manage the process
  • manage the people

I’ve been told that you don’t have to have technical chops so I tend to hide some of mine because the common belief is how could a Program Manager know anything about Linux or open source. Its just not a commonly combined skillset. But… We all come from somewhere and we are in a place and we are going somewhere. IT is not a genius field either so plotting out the locations does not require a lot of mindfulness or skills. Its like a bunch of steps you do over and over again. You know the steps may change a bit but there are still the same steps.

I thought through all this before when I considered leaving IT or perhaps IT had considered leaving me. I was locked in due to a debt and I had to outlive and complete and win that battle. There was no half-way measure. Then it was divorce and kids and the so-called community split where we each got 50%. Nothing much to ponder there. IT was just the handmaiden that took my hand and with some bit of guile said,

don’t worry. you just bow to my needs and I’ll take care of you. 

Mistress IT is a wonky one you see. And there is not much to then ponder or wonder or puzzle about. You do a set of things and you win. You do one wrong and it screws up the outcome and people point fingers. I’m told I am part of the so-called “A Team” but really its the steps. I’ve done the steps a few times so when I can feel that the next brick in the path may be loose I am not tricked so often. Yet I do fall. At a few companies I failed doing project management. One thought I was best suited as a travel advisor and budget analyst. The other thought I should take the blame for their Asia team screwing up and not managing correctly. Of course the VP of Sales and I then had to bail them out and get more money.

So IT is not a pondering thing. Its a plodding thing. If you desire it, its a meddling whorish thing that will make demands when you are least likely to fulfill them. Perhaps you should consider working at a gas station or at a park. I don’t hate IT. Emotions have no place in it. Its more the boring, plodding, no pondering thing.

Go ponder that.