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Thoughts and things I care to share

Backpacking – Rainbow Lake Wilderness

Welcome to Rainbow Lake Wilderness.
Signpost at the southern edge of the Rainbow Lake Wilderness

Finally, I’ve gotten a chance to get out backpacking and hiking. It’s something that I’d meant to do quite a few years ago, but somehow it never worked out. Either something came up, or people would back out, or that nobody was really interested in hoofing it with me out in the woods.

A couple of weekends ago, September 14th-15th, 2013, I headed out to the Rainbow Lake Wilderness in northern Wisconsin. It’s part of the Chequemegon-Nicolet National Forest, which part of the North Country Trail runs through on its Wisconsin section. Very remote, very thick forest.

asdIt was a simple solo overnight trip, and I got a lot out of it. Quiet contemplation, and a chance to test out a lot of the equipment I’ve gathered over the last year or so, specifically for this purpose. I’ll be doing more of this next year, but wanted to get one short trip in yet this fall before the really cold weather to test out my new mens hiking boots compared super well to all my other, more expensive pairs. Of course, I just might try a solo overnight yet this winter, but use my snowmobile rather than try to pack along everything in the middle of winter.

There simply isn’t a very good way to describe how relaxing and calming it is to get away from all the noise, the interruptions, and stress of our hectic modern lives and just listen to the wind in the trees. I you like getting away like this, then you know what I mean.

Here’s a few more pictures from that weekend:

Jobs

 

I’ve honestly not been interested much in Steve Jobs, or Apple to date. I watched the Apple/Microsoft/IBM ‘wars’ when I was a teen back in the 80’s and had always been interested in what a ‘real computer’ could do.

I didn’t really ‘get’ the idea of computer clubs and the passion hobbyists had for Apple at the time. I understand it today, but still don’t connect with Apple fans.

In reality, the world did loose a visionary when Steve Jobs died. I respect him for the work he did, and the passion that drove him to greatness. I miss the contribution and the competition that he brought to the technology world, and hope we can achieve as much as new people and new ideas continue to stream into the industry.

My Top Ten Android Apps

nexus4-homescreenIt seems I haven’t covered this in quite awhile so I thought I’d give it a go again. After all, what’s more important than what we’re running on our mobile devices?

Ok here’s my current Top 10 list, drum roll please:

Beautiful Widgets Pro

I can’t talk about top ten without the number-one thing I look at every time I turn on the phone. Maybe it’s not what I’m after whenever I hit the power button, but it’s my favorite clock/calendar/weather widget for phones (not so on tablets – but that’s another post).

WeatherBug Elite

Even though BW has weather in the widget, I still count on a really good forecast tool, and WeatherBug has been my go-to weather app for years. Heck they even updated it in the past day with a nifty new UI. Clear, concise, fast, detailed, and with animated maps.

Feedly

This is a fairly new addition in the last month.  While I wasn’t a big Google Reader app user on my phone, I was a gigantic Google Reader user on the desktop. Now that we see some forward innovation on the RSS reader front, I’m happy to report that Feedly brings innovation in megaton quantities  An absolutely gorgeous UI, fast, easy to navigate, and most important of all – they listen to their users and respond to suggestions, ideas, and criticize criticism very quickly (and constructively). Highly recommended!

Google+

Many people love Facebook, and I do to an extent as well. However, Google+ is where I’m spending most of my time reading and posting. It’s easy, it’s fast, and it does more than just tie into the rest of Google’s services. Since I’m a big Google user, it really does work better for me, and all the people that I interact with are more active there in any case.

Plume Premium for Twitter

While the default Twitter client is quite nice, it does fail at showing me the information from my streams that I want to see. With the demise of TweetDeck, I needed a Twitter client that could show my lists as well as the main stream and mentions. Plume does this very easily. I’m sure there may be others out there that do this as well, but the three other clients I tried just didn’t make it easy. Plume does.

Pulse

I’ve been using Pulse for a couple years now, and it’s been evolving quite well along the way as an all around great news aggregation app. Recently purchased by LinkedIn, I see Pulse becoming a very important and powerful tool for reading and sharing news with peers in my industry.  Great little app that keeps getting better.

Pocket

Ah, Pocket… one of my favorite read-it-later tools. In fact, Pocket used to go by the name Read It Later, then figured out how to make this type of tool/service even better. I can save things to Pocket from my phone, my tablet, and just about any browser that exists. They make it super simple, and very lightweight. Ties into Android like it was made for it.

Evernote

What can one say about Evernote? The all-around great note taking tool that runs on simply everything. It took me awhile to get into Evernote, mainly because I was a huge Microsoft OneNote user and, of course, they have no equivalent anywhere else (though there is a OneNote Android and iOS app now). Since I use Windows, Linux, and Android, I need apps that are on all these platforms. Evernote is  this as well as one of the best note taking apps that exists.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn on Android used to be a pain to use. This past year, they seem to have gotten serious about the user experience and really worked on their app (much as Facebook has on theirs). The latest rendition of LinkedIn on Android is a joy to use. Fast, intuitive, and easy to connect with or respond too my industry peers. LinkedIn is growing in importance for me as a consultant, and a quality app like this one helps immensely.

Rhapsody

Finally we get around to something more mundane, like listening to music. Unlike most people, I never seemed to accumulate a lot of music. This was true of CDs as well back in the 90’s as I just didn’t have the money then to buy every CD I wanted. Somehow this translated to MP3s as well. In any case, subscription models seem to work well for me and I really enjoy Rhapsody on my phone and my Nexus 7 mounted in the dash of my truck (hey, I’m a true tech nerd). Easy to use, good UI, and the ability to cache anything in my library locally.

Last but not least is an under-sung hero of the phone and mobile movie scene, check out the Movie Box App. Well, that’s my list and I hope I’ve helped answer a question you may have had regarding any of these apps. If not, don’t hesitate to jump into the comments and ask me about them. Or simply let me know of a better app or ones that I should check out.

Microsoft Windows Must Die

Microsoft WindowsNow, before you drop down to the comments to blast me as a Microsoft basher, and that I have my head up my ass or that I don’t have a clue about how the world runs on Windows… hear me out.

PC Dominance Is So 1995

The problem with Microsoft today, and historically, is that they base much of their business around Windows. This worked really well over the last 30 years as the PC gained dominance in computing. Our current enterprise Information Technology industry’s growth and success is a testament to that.

In fact, my entire career of 25+ years in IT is built around and upon Microsoft technologies and how they’re implemented in large and small businesses. I depend on the quality and success of those products to make a living. Moreover, I like them – Windows included.

While Windows is still a strong OS, and will continue to be a significant player in the server and personal device space for years to come, the future is not about the local operating systems we use.  It’s about what your “PC” can do.

As we continue down the path of cloud computing, Microsoft has huge potential to be so many things for many people. Their online productivity services are strong, and will likely outpace Google’s in the long run. As many of us are already invested in Microsoft Office, it’s not much of a leap to follow the progression to Office 365 and beyond.

Microsoft Everywhere

What Microsoft needs to do is to embrace every platform. From Linux to Mac to Windows. From BlackBerry, to iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Firefox OS, and Ubuntu Touch. If there is an emerging or popular platform, Microsoft must be there. Period.

This includes browsers too, Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera need to be first class citizens with IE as they develop and roll out all their products.  Microsoft must be pervasive. Development tools as well need to adhere and participate in non-Microsoft standards. Why can’t there be a variant of Visual Studio that focuses on LAMP development, or Ruby, or many other new technologies instead of just C++, C#, etc…

Two Paths

I also see to divergent paths for Microsoft.  One continues to be their “bread & butter” enterprise products and services.  The other is consumer-focused, with an emphasis on providing secure services (without being arrogant like they are today with the ‘Scroogled’ campaign). With Microsoft’s background in enterprise, and meeting many strict compliance requirements for business, this can be an asset to many consumers that worry greatly about online security.

In any case, I do see a bright future for Microsoft, but only if they put less emphasis on the PC and more on providing the services that our growing data hungry, instant satisfaction world demands. The stake in the sand for Windows was important 25 years ago… not as much today.

Analog Notebooks in Today’s Digital World

5yr Moleskine

The original pocketable, highly mobile personal assistant: the notebook.

I’ve owned many notebooks through the years, and not until the venerable Moleskine came along did I give them any thought. Most of the notebooks I’ve used through the years were simple, generic, disposable note-taking devices from the big brands. Filled with little more than random scraps of daily to-do’s, phone numbers and forgettable minutia, I never thought much about them.

Computers though, that was where my mind and thoughts could go wild and find unobstructed paths to creativity. That was, until I saw the Moleskine notebook.

While the Moleskine isn’t super unique today, after all there are many, many copies of this rugged simple little notebook.  It’s still the best at what it’s for.  I bought my first one back in 2008 and immediately had visions of keeping a journal, or writing scraps of my Great American Novel in it, with visions of Hemingway-esque quotes in my head.

Of course, I prized it too much to write that much in it. Not to mention thinking so much of it that I kept it either in my desk at home, or a quiet pocket of whatever bag I would carry, not daring to bring it out and deface another page with my silly thoughts of the day.

Of course, when I got this one, money was tight and I didn’t want to ‘waste’ it. I’ve since moved on from such thoughts, but I still haven’t filled it up as I thought it would.  Perhaps in time I will (I have another waiting to be unwrapped and pressed into service). I have a couple of others that I use more often now, mostly for notes at work and things like that.

Unusually, I’ve been thinking more of pen & paper of late, mainly because I miss blogging like I used to (used to be a post a day). I’ve been thinking that I need to do more random thoughts in a notebook like the old Moleskine rather than in OneNote, Evernote, or JotterPad on my tablet.  Something more permanent, where I need to focus on what I’m writing and can’t backspace my way out of an unfinished thought.

That’s why I need a notebook today. Sure, I need someplace to jot down the quick note or reminder that can pop up on my smarphone, but it’s the Moleskine that I will keep going back to for putting those longer thoughts together.  It’s there that I need to tell stories for the first time, and keep them as inspiration for the future.

I’ve recently discovered another great little notebook called Field Notes, made right here in the U.S.A.!  I’ll be picking up a set (or three) of these for the day-to-day notes, phone numbers, to-dos, and more that fit right in any pocket.  Nifty little notes indeed, with very high praise (just search for them online – you’ll see).

Anyway, it shouldn’t surprise me, though it sometimes does, that a simple device like the classic pocket notebook is still, like a good watch, an indispensable item for the daily carry.

My Technical Bent

... computer demo center! By x-ray delta one

… computer demo center! By x-ray delta one

It’s been awhile since I really delved into my technical side. So much so that it’s affected what I’ve written about for a couple of years. What this means is that I’ve been keeping myself from sharing a large chunk of life and work. Considering I’ve moved back to a technology-centric working role, this has kept me from telling more than a few good stories.

So its time to set the social media aspect aside for a while and bring back something that I’ve been missing for quite some time. Hey, I’m an Information Technology guy at heart, and while social media has brought a lot of learning and sharing to my life these last 6 or 8 years, the fact is that I like technology. A lot… just ask my wife.

With this updated focus in mind, I do have a fun project coming up in the next few weeks that I’ll be sharing here as well as a few forums. I’ll have a separate post up later describing the project in detail, but it’s simply about bringing Android-specific functionality to my daily driver.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about technology and what I do as an Information Technology architect & engineer. There’s a lot of fun things there that most of us in IT simply don’t talk about often. Some of it we can’t, of course, for various reasons like client confidentiality, or compliance-specific scenarios. But that’s mostly about actual data. Anyway, what I like to talk about is the capabilities of the technology, and the experiences implementing it.

Until next time! Cheers.

Photo Credits:

…computer demo center! by x-ray delta one

A lonely iMac waits for WALL·E to collect him (on top of home page) by tracilawson

The Start Menu Is Dead! Long Live The Start Menu.

It’s finally over, the window’s Start Menu is gone for good (though here’s at least one way to get it back) in the next version of Microsoft’s venerable desktop operating system: Windows 8.

Welcome to the era of the Windows Start Page.

Whether one likes it or not, the transition from the existing mouse-centric, task & productivity based computing model to the future of touch, location & action-based computing has begun.  This isn’t for the faint of heart, even though it is quite nice if you give it an honest try.

The new version of Windows launched last week in New York, with a glitzy two-part launch.  Windows 8, presented in morning, and the Microsoft Surface in the afternoon.  Both mark a new beginning for the company people love to hate.

I’ve been running various developer and consumer preview versions for the past year, and have seen an enormous amount of innovation and improvement along the way.  With the release of Windows 8 Pro last Thursday, I finally loaded up the official public version of the OS, and I have to say I’m greatly impressed.

Along with these Win8 Previews, I’ve been running a couple of Linux distros as well.  Namely, Ubuntu 12.04 and Mint 13 Cinnamon for comparison’s sake.  While I too like the traditional desktop metaphor for office productivity work, I do have to admit that the new Modern UI is growing on me.  I also happen to think that if a company would take either Ubuntu or Mint 13 Cinnamon under their wing and focus on the last remaining rough spots of either OS that Linux on the desktop could have a real, true shot. But it would have already have to have been underway by now, so that Linux desktop takeover is still a pipe dream.

In any case, the software company that has the most to lose in the game is taking the greatest risk right now.  Windows 8 is technically excellent, but will the drastic UI change make people think “Vista” and shun a truly great OS upgrade all because of the fear for change?

Either way, Microsoft will remain in the game, but whether Win8 will be perceived as a “winner” or a “looser” is purely in the hands of the consumer.

I Remember

I remember the morning, the stunned silence, the way the world stopped… I remember 9/11/2001.

The 32GB Sweet Spot

Transformer Prime by John Biehler

‘Transformer Prime’ by John Biehler

I’ve been thinking about mobile devices and storage space recently.  After a great conversation over lunch with @CloudScout last week, I concluded that 32GB is probably the perfect amount of storage space for mobile devices today.

Here’s my thinking:

16GB is just too small, it can’t hold the data we need.  Add a couple dozen tracks, a few hundred pics, and you’re just about there.

64GB on the other hand is overkill.  It’s the initial size for an SSD for a full size computer or laptop.  It does give you room to grow, but by the time you fill it up, you’ll be upgrading devices anyway.  On top of that, you’re going to pay a premium for that storage.

I consider myself to use a bit less local storage than the average person on my mobile devices.  I’m also a techy geek, so I tend to buy devices with more storage than I could possibly need.

In the past 18 months, the two tablets and the two phones I’ve had range wildly on storage.  The Google Nexus One I had only had an 8GB microSD card, and I was constantly around 2GB free.  When I replaced that phone, with the HTC Sensation 4G, I made sure to add a 32GB microSD – which I’ve not used over 18GB of data yet.

My Apple iPad 2 that I bought upon release in 2011 had 16GB, and, while I was always worried of running out of space, I never used more than 12GB.  When I replaced the iPad 2 with the Asus Transformer Prime, opted for the 64GB unit.  Again, I’ve yet to top 20GB of data used so far.

What I see here from my own experiences is that we tend to worry too much about running out of space.  However that limits us from really reaching the full potential of the devices we carry.  Also, in the last 18 months, online storage and the amount of time our mobile devices are constantly connected to the cloud has increased dramatically.

Currently, I can count up to 125GB of free storage space that I have at my disposal between my two mobile devices.  Along with that, the automatic uploads of pics to Google+ (Apple has a similar feature) allows me to not have to think about uploading or syncing pics.   In addition, my Asus tablet has a great feature (Asus bundled software) that allows selected folders to automatically be synced to the cloud.

It’s these new services and features that will reduce our dependence on local storage for mobile devices and allow us to have a much more seamless experience across computing devices.  Bring Google Drive/Docs and Microsoft Skydrive/Office Online into the mix, and you’re quickly covering much of what we need for storage AND productivity.

So if you’re trying to decide between the 16/32/64GB versions of a product, pick the middle option.  32GB is likely to fit your needs quite well.

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