Computing Hardware 2014

HP Chrombook 11Another year is coming to a close.  2013 has been a great year for me as a consultant, with a lot of opportunities for learning and working with new things.

In my professional life I consult with companies to help them build & maintain managed IT services, specifically around Microsoft Windows server and client environments.  It’s a lot of fun, and both large and small clients have unique requirements, technology, and cultures.

On the personal side though, I use a completely different set of technologies.  Every year it seems to morph, usually little bits at a time.  For example, we all have a desktop or laptop that lasts us for years, maybe a printer, WiFi, storage systems, and entertainment of course.  Me too, though the end of this year seems to have taken a bit of a turn for me.

Nexus 7It will be no secret that I’m a heavy Microsoft user, and that I’m also a big consumer of Google services.  During this past year, I’ve found myself almost completely using online services rather than local software.  I do have an Office 365 account for myself, and having Office 2013 is great, but it’s the online portion of that subscription that makes it really usable.

Google Docs is another service I have begun to use much, much more, to the point of rarely actually using MS Office for personal use.  I use Office for work all the time, of course.  Along with Google Docs and Office 365, I use Evernote rather than OneNote, self-hosted WordPress for blogging, all the usual social networks, of course, and several other services as they fit unique needs.

What this means, is that I really don’t need MS Windows for personal use any more.  So here at the end of 2013, I’m changing the computing tools that I use.  Much of this isn’t a surprise, a Nexus 7 (2013, 16GB, WiFi) for a tablet, and a Nexus 5 for phone.  I still have my 3-year-old Sony laptop, but that dual-boots Ubuntu 13.10 and Windows 8.1 (spending most of the time in Ubuntu).  The big change was picking up the Chromebook 11, built by HP and Google.

Nexus 5I’ve been leaning towards a Chromebook for a year or more, but this one checked all the boxes for me.  Small, lightweight, instant on, USB charging (very cool), a great keyboard, very good display (even though resolution is only 1366×768), and stylish.  I can literally do about 99% of what I need from a computer from this Chromebook.  The only thing I can’t is video editing, and that’s mighty rare for me anyway.

The interesting coincidence, is that all three of these new devices have only 16GB of local storage and, of course, rely very heavily on the cloud to function.  For where I live & work, that’s not an issue, so I’ve found a significant boost in personal productivity by having devices that are instantly available, have the same synchronized information a click away, and are in some cases interchangeable. A study source – has proven valuable to me, with so much tech advancement it helps to keep up with the professionals.

So for the next year or more, I’ll be mainly using Google hardware and, for heavy lifting, Ubuntu on my “big” laptop.  As I said earlier, I’ve been heading in this direction for some time.  Now that I’ve moved fully over, I feel more empowered to actually *do* things with the technology I own, rather than having to manage the technology… which is what I do in my professional life.

At least this makes things a little simpler.

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:



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.

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