Tag: PC

I am Apple

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve ditched my Windows PC and bought a MacBook Air so all my PC tech is now Apple.

Am I a fanboy? Possibly. But for me it’s more about things working easily, and I’m not really into hacking stuff these days so the fact I can plugin an Airport Express in and instantly I can bounce music to a nice beefy set of speakers across the room, or fire up a video on either my MacBook, iPhone or iPad and bounce it to Apple TV to watch on my big screen… well it’s simple, easy and works. For me.

I don’t feel “locked in”, I still use a hybrid service for things like email and calendaring (Google), and I don’t use many of the default Apple apps (Sssshhhh I have Microsoft Office installed on my MacBook!). It all just works for what I want to do, I will continue to tweak things like that but I’m very happy that things are just working (I won’t mention the failed hard drive in my NAS box the other day..).

I’m very aware it’s materialistic but I’d argue that having a simple, reliable system for entertainment, is good for me. It lets me relax and as I don’t watch to all that much TV, being able to bounce 6Music round my flat is a just wonderful. I no longer spend frustrating hours trying to get something ‘simple’ to work and whilst I don’t ‘hack’ things all that much these days it’s still nice to not have that stress in my life.

Faff

I cannot be bothered with faff.

This is one personality trait that has definitely changed as I’ve gotten older, or perhaps it’s just a reaction to the years I spent indulging my ‘gadget-geek’ and allowing myself to think that jumping through 5 hoops to get a simple task done was “OK”.

My mindset these days is very much that technology is there to serve me. If something starts getting in my road I’ll work around it, or replace it completely, ruthlessly.

I’m about to talk about a technology company which I know some people don’t like, but bear with me.

I have an iPhone, an iPad, Apple TV and an internet connected Samsung TV. The bulk of my content consumption happens through those devices. I have a desktop PC, running Windows 7, which is where all of my content creation occurs. More of my time is spent consuming content so I recently bought a NAS drive to allow me to remove the desktop PC (and it’s large hard drive) as a middleman.

I can now watch movies on my TV that I created (ripped from bought copies) on my desktop PC as they now live on my NAS drive. I can view photos the same way.

I can also browse and play music from my NAS drive using my iPhone, or iPad. Unfortunately I can’t hear it.

My plan was to use an Airport Express, connected wirelessly to the NAS box, with audio out to a dedicated set of speakers. I have an old (“g” standard) Airport Express and bought some new speakers (AudioEngine 2).

Alas, the plan is failing and whilst I’m still not sure why, it’s getting the Airport Express setup that is causing the problems. That might be down to the Airport Express itself, or the Windows box, or even the router (a Thomson box supplied by O2). I’ve tried every set of instructions I can find but still nothing.

What are my options now? I could buy a newer Airport Express in the hope that works easily, or I could buy Airplay enabled speakers and be done with that extra step.

Too much faff ya see. If it had just worked I wouldn’t even be moaning about it here.

Purchase Ponderings

File this in the “idle window shopping for stuff I don’t need” category.

BUT.

If can anyone see any gaps or improvements to the following (and yes, I am largely going with Apple because it is easy to setup and I have no desire to hack, configure or otherwise spend ages of my time to get the thing working), please let me know. You might save me a lot of money.

Not that I’m gonna be spending anything on any of this, no no, that’d be silly and I have more important items to buy soon, like a bed, that kind of thing. This is purely and utterly an academic exercise, a small indulgementation if you will to keep me from going stir-crazy in this house.

So, the proposed new system is as follows:

  • A Mac Mini – which will be hooked up to the TV
  • Drobo S – which will (in the short term) hold two 500GB drives from my PC with music/photos/movies/work stuff
  • Airport Express – so I can stream iTunes to a set of speakers
  • Karmon Soundsticks – because they look and sound good

I’ll pick up a wireless keyboard and mouse for the Mac Mini as well. Which means that, when version 2 of the iPad comes out, I can slot that in for ‘casual web usage’ and the like.

My thinking is that I want a quiet and energy efficient machine that I can stream music from, and do a little web design work on too (with a nice big 40″ screen!). The Drobo allows me to easily add more storage space (just slot a new drive in), and if I want music elsewhere I can always buy another Airport Express (or stream through my iPhone/iPad?). Mind you, I’ll be moving to a flat so not much need for that in the near future.

Yes, it’s a bit pricey as it’s Apple equipment but it gives me a system that SHOULD just plug and play (previous experience suggests this to hold true), and is expandable to meet my needs. I could probably get the same with another (cheaper) system but having looked into it, PC/Linux equivalents require a level of configuration that I just can’t be arsed with any more, happy to pay more to have it just work.

Am I missing anything? Performance wise the Mac Mini will be more than enough for me for many years, and they’ve good reliability. The Drobo I’ve heard a lot of good things about and I’ve used an Airport Express before with my PC. I think it’s about as future proof as it can be, add in a USB hub for things like card readers and whatnot and I don’t think I’m losing out on anything.

Well, apart from the money to buy it all with…

Change of scenery

Having a few days off, I had it in the back of my mind to do some writing. Nothing particularly serious but just to write and see what happened.

The problem I had was getting rid of distractions. If I sit at my desk, then there is always a wee pile of things to get done, various notes and other detritus to distract my attention … ohh that reminds, I need to order a replacement bank card, ack! see how easy it is.

I use programs like Q10 (for the PC) and WriteRoom (for the Mac) to help remove onscreen distractions, but I realised I need a cleaner physical space as well.

Until such times as I can completely clear out my ‘office’, I decided to relocate to the living room, and sit with the laptop at dining table. No distractions there, well not once I’d gotten rid of the ever curious cat.

And, a couple of hours later I sat back and metaphorically patted myself on the back, having written a couple of ‘chapters’ for that writing website of mine, as well as a couple of posts that just need a final edit before they can go up on my other blog.

I also felt a good deal more relaxed having gotten that particular monkey off my back, and I’ve got plans tomorrow to really gut my office space so I can achieve similar results in the future.

Now, where did I put the bin bags?

Music Futures

Prompted by some questions about Spotify on Twitter, questions which sparked a heated debate that is still raging*, I thought I’d revisit my own music purchasing and usage habits and see where I sit in the consumer spectrum.

First things first then, I do purchase music mostly, these days, through iTunes. Mostly because it’s handy and I’m a total Apple fanboy (yeah, Windows SUCK!!). That last bit is a lie, of course, as my home PC runs Windows and I’m really enjoying using Windows 7 (something else I’ll be purchasing soon).

I digress.

I spent a long time digitally converting my CDs, and as they now reside in boxes in the loft I don’t see the need to purchase anything on physical media. I have bought a couple in the past few months, mainly band specific special releases though, so they aren’t available through iTunes. I’m sure there are other ways I could purchase music but for what I listen my system works for me.

Do I miss the act of going into a music shop, flipping through the stacks? Yes I do, but not so much that I’m losing sleep over it, although it’s easy to say that since my current office is miles from anywhere, whereas working in the city centre made access to places like Fopp an always entertaining lunchtime visit.

As for listening to music, well that mostly happens either at work (when time/task allow) or at home when I’m sitting at the PC or just generally faffing about upstairs. More recently I have started taking my iPod Shuffle to the gym.

So where does Spotify fit in all this? Well it should fit perfectly, at home at least (I’ve not tried but guessing company firewall restrictions would rule it out there). I do have it, I have an account yet, for some reason, I don’t use it. To be honest I’ve only used it a couple of times, and I do like the idea of sharing playlists with others but what about all that music that I have?

I LIKE all the music I have, well most of it**, except when it’s on shuffle of course, and whilst I am open to hearing new artists I only tend to use work as a backdrop so I’m not usually actively listening. With that in mind, it largely doesn’t matter where the music comes from, but I’m far more likely to put on something I know so I don’t HAVE to listen to it.

You know what I mean, right?

Perhaps I just need to give Spotify more of a try, perhaps I’m missing something fundamental but I really don’t see it as a game changer. Yet.

But then I said that about blogging, and Twitter so hey, what do I know?

* or perhaps just one or two polite replies, poetic license, innit
** the joys of a shared library of music and Last.fm listing tracks from Louise’s iPod, for the record I did not listen to Girls Aloud AT ALL that week

Space

The final front ears.

1 TB for £59.99, the advert announces, loudly, in my inbox. Regardless I move the cursor up to the Delete button and, hang on… £59.99, that’s not that bad.

Hmmm, I could replace the current second drive in my PC (it’s “only” 250GB) and then I could rip all our DVDs to the PC, convert them ready for viewing on any device, and then stream them downstairs to the PlayStation so we can watch any movie we want without having to shift from the sofa, walk 12 paces to the bookcase, and then walk 12 back.

So, by my reckoning, by shelling out £59.99 and spending weeks carefully ripping DVDs and probably reformatting them for something a bit ‘friendlier’ (MP4?), I could save us walking the length of the living room now and then.

All of these thoughts take place in an instant and, without even realising, my brain has moved my hand and subsequently the mouse cursor is hovering over said advert and the first, all too easy step, towards a purchase is at the end of my finger.

One click is all it would take.

But then, I wonder, I could certainly put £59.99 to good use on something else, something like.. like…

*CLICK*

Ohh shoot.

Still, at least I know what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks..

XAMPP

In my copious spare time I have been known to design and build websites. The first website I ever built was for the first company I worked for, back in 1996, so I’ve been at it a while.

However it’s only been the past couple of years that I’ve started to get some larger clients with grander ideas, and that has meant getting a bit more organised. As such I now have a standard questionnaire that I ask all prospective clients to fill in, a standard design proposal document which I use to present back my ideas based on the answers to the questionnaire, and I have a nice little area of my PC which is dedicated to building websites.

The key part of which is XAMPP.

I discovered this marvellous application about 3 years ago, and if you are building websites, or installing and customising anything that requires MySQL and PHP then you must give it a look.

Many people know from their own experience that it’s not easy to install an Apache web server and it gets harder if you want to add MySQL, PHP and Perl.

XAMPP is an easy to install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP and Perl. XAMPP is really very easy to install and to use – just download, extract and start.

It really is that simple. Once you’ve downloaded it, start up the Control Panel, start Apache and MySQL, then head to http://localhost. Done!

A lot of my web design work is creating custom themes based around WordPress, sometimes it is just a look and feel but more often than not custom code is required. Now, rather than having to upload a file to a test web server somewhere, I can work locally on the php files, and just refresh the browser to see my changes. Much faster.

XAMPP is one of those applications that, after you’ve used it once you think “how the hell did I manage without this!”.

Given that a lot of technical communicators are looking towards other distribution models (blogs, Wikis and so on), then XAMPP is an easy (and free) way to get a test system setup, allowing you to run short proof of concept projects. I hope you find it as useful as I do.

Lessons learned

It’s all go at McLean Mansions but that’s nothing new for the first week in May with my sister celebrating her birthday on the 5th and my sister-in-law celebrating hers on the 7th. Of course that means presents and nice meals in restaurants, so we were out for dinner on Monday evening, and we’re back out tonight. Twice in one week! I know, I know, such a heady life I lead.

It’s not all fun and games though, I’ve spent the rest of my evenings either watching football, working on a client website, and royally screwing up my Windows PC (thank heavens I have a Macbook as well). Add in a fairly mental week at work and a rapidly filling list of things to do and I’ll admit that I’ve not really been fully concentrating on some things.

In other words I’ve fucked up a couple of things. But hey, a wise man once said you “learn by your mistakes”, although this stupid man is wondering how many more mistakes I need to make before being granted “wise” status.

However, in the spirit of sharing, here are a couple of the lessons learned.

* Geek warning active *
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To hell with what people think

I had a long post planned but, ultimately it was really just a way to some how gain approval that buying a new iPod was the right solution.

I had planned to waffle on at some length about the size of my music library (stop, phhnarring at the back you!), and about how I listen to music at work more than most places but can’t store all of my library on my work PC and how slow and cumbersome using a separate USB drive is and how HARD it is (ohh woe is me, I know, I know) to have to sync the USB drive with the home PC and goddamn I wish iTunes had an easier way to switch libraries as I really need my own as well as a larger “everything” library and wwwahhh wahhhh wahhhhh.

And then I read this post over at Swiss Toni’s and realised just how lucky I am and all that stuff.

As the old adage goes, I might have MS, but MS doesn’t have me. I’m not going to NOT write about it because I’m worried about what people might think of it and of me. Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing that MS Week is trying to change? I think it is, and so over the next few days, I’m going to write about pretty much nothing else but MS, and to hell with what people think.

To which I say, quite bloody right Mister!

What to do when you can't

It was a normal evening. Arrived home, fed the cat, started dinner, ate dinner, watched a bit of TV. Ordinary, staid, perhaps even boring.

With a couple of things to do I turned on the PC. I checked my email, skimmed some RSS feeds and pondered what I’d do next. Perhaps a blog post, perhaps I’d see if the writing muse had bothered her pretty little arse to turn up, or maybe I’d push on with my current mini-project (er… noodling about in Photoshop trying to rework the banner graphics a little).

At this point I turned to my current “what can I do that will divert my brain from the fact that I’m still not sure what I want to do” service. You may also know it by its proper name, Twitter.

It was at this point that everything came tumbling down, the lights dimmed, the room vibrated with the tremor and, somewhere, the sound of a helpless baby crying could be heard. Trees were uprooted, cars overturned and lumps of debris were launched into the air, terrorising all as they landed with sickening crunches and thumps.

I had no internet connection.

The eery silence was unsettling at first, punctuated only by the incessant click click clicking of a mouse button and the almost silent cursing of a man who knows some rather choice swear words.

I checked the flashy lights on the modem, the other flashy lights on the wireless router, and I even turned on the strobe light just so I could check another flashy light. After realising that the strobe was just giving me a headache and didn’t, in fact, have any impact on my lack of internet connection (and for the sake of clarity it also has no impact when I do have an internet connection) I turned it off and checked all the cable connections.

Everything LOOKED a-ok so I fired up a web browser to go and check the status page handily provided by my supplier. It’s a great idea, it shows any outages or planned maintenance across all of the services they provide. With a quick click I can check whether I have broadband or not. Brilliant.

What I did do at this point was connect my iPhone to a certain Wifi connection that could, may, possibly, be coming from next door and which is open to the world. Lo and behold the status page showed a red dot (this is a bad thing) next to the word BROADBAND. Next step is to phone and be told, by recorded voice, “if you are in the ML postcode area, you may be experiencing broadband conn…”. I hung up at this point.

And you know what I did then, dear reader?

I read a book. Ain’t NOT having the internet wunnerful??