lukegilman.com : High on the Hog Blog
Purveyor of Idle Observation

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love Hosting All My Mission-Critical Data with Google

So I lost my phone this week. Given the lifeline that my crackberry had become, you might think (or at least I would have thought) that this would be a big deal, of weeping and gnashing proportions. Oddly, not so much.

Verizon gave me a loaner crackberry until their shipment of Storms comes in, a now quaintly antiquated 8703. Once I figured out how to work the jog dial, I was up and running in about 20 minutes. I had restored all 500 or so contacts, my calendar and assorted task lists, etc. Only very recently, this recovery would have been a painful and laborious data restoration project. So why wasn’t it a big deal? One word – Google.

This revelation came to me while reading David Carr’s article The Media Equation, Google Seduces With Utility. I’m so used to having Google in my life that my dependence on it doesn’t even occur to me until someone else mentions it. I’ve come to think of Google as a benevolent borg-like overlord. When a new start up comes out that shows promise, I may start including in my nightly prayers that Google buys them up. This typically means the start up I once loved will become instantly free, gradually more stable and able to be integrated into the wider digital ecosystem. The alternative, being bought by Microsoft or Yahoo, generally means they’re about to screw it up. Google’s concessions to its Blogger fiefdom is to my recollection the anomalous and disappointing exception.

My set-up is pretty lo-fi in most respects, but I’ve run into a number of blackberry users who weren’t even aware of the possibilities, so consider this post a public service announcement:

  • Download and install Google Mobile for Blackberry; then open Google Apps on your phone and
    1. Install Gmail if you use that for personal mail like I do.
    2. Install Google Sync and set it up sync your calendar and contacts
  • Download and install the Google Talk app from Blackberry

The main advantage is that it weens you off clunky intermediaries such as Microsoft Outlook, which I used to use to keep all my contacts and calendar items synced up. Now I can update it from any computer with an internet connection, which gives me a lot of freedom in managing my schedule. I’ve experimented with other methods/technologies in the past, which have always fallen prey to ease of use (specifically lack thereof) and relying on myself to sync my data when I get busy and the fur starts to fly.

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An Economic View of Time Management

All people are equally good at time management, but some people are more willing than others to admit that they are doing what they want to do, while others maintain the illusion they wish they were doing something else.

A typically insightful observation from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution: My sentence on time management

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Seal a half-eaten bag of Chips with kung-fu folding technique

Video: Seal a half-eaten bag of Chips with kung-fu folding technique. (via lifehacker)

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Brilliant!


The ‘Scandinavian Way to Open a bottle of beer,’ though the question of how to open the last beer by this method now perplexes me. via BoingBoing

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In search of the perfect laptop – found

As recounted in my previous post In search of the perfect laptop I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect laptop (at least for me) before law school starts on May 30. In the previous post I detailed the first step of my buying process – deciding on what I needed, then setting out for the hunt. It occurred to me that detailing the experience would be an interesting project and perhaps provide some guidance for someone considering a next major purchase.

1. List out your requirements

If you’re completely clueless, ask someone tech-savvy to help you. If you live a sad, pitiful, geekless existence, e-mail me and I’ll help you out. Shining happy geeked out people. What else is the internet for anyway? Here’s what I was looking for as outlined in my first post – In search of the perfect laptop

  1. Windows XP Pro or Media Center [both run IIS (personal web server), unlike Windows Home; this proved to be a big limitation]
  2. Embedded wireless, preferably G
  3. 512 MB or more RAM
  4. 80 GB plus hard drive
  5. CD/DVD Burning
  6. built-in memory card reader
  7. Approximate Budget: $1000

2. See the thing in person

The first thing I did was set off to the big-box electronics retailer to see these things up close and I’m glad I did. The Gateway that had impressive specs online was considerably underwhelming in person, the ergonomics were terrible and it looked like a throwback from 2000. The Sony was slick, very well put together, but white, which through experience with white things of all types is typically a bad thing past the first month of ownership. The screen quality was also unexpectedly poor and Sony is too in love with their own MemoryStick format to include SD or CompactFlash. The Toshibas were nice, but a bit pricey for the specs, the Acers were alright, though a little sketchy. If there are any Mac-heads out there, sorry but the economics of proprietary hardware mean I’m priced out of that game, though I agree, a far superior product in most respects. The middle ground I found were the HP laptops which had great screens and terrific ergonomics. They appeared very well put together and everything seemed to be located exactly where I would expect it to be. The pricing was generally little higher than what I wanted to pay, but not out of the ballpark.

The other thing I discovered was that I just did not like wide format (17″) laptops. Some I saw had the image skewed horizontally, which I think is just a configuration mistake, but even the ones that looked great seemed awkward. I just like the regular old golden mean 4:3 aspect ratio. The $3,000 laptops we just got at the office have huge, beautiful screens, but the way most websites are designed, they only take up half the screen and introduced resolution issues. Anyway, I don’t like them. Good to know before paying the premium for something that sounds good in theory.

3. WAIT & WATCH

This may be the hardest part, particularly if you just saw the thing in person and really liked it, but it pays dividends. Wandering through I noticed distinct personality differences among the sales cultures at different stores. At Fry’s the sales people circle in chum(p) filled waters with the taste of blood in their noses. If you know what you want and wish to shop in peace you might want to bring a can of mace. Sales people at CompUSA are like rare birds, an elusive sighting can bring a stampede of customers. I made the mistake of wearing a red polo and was asked three times if I worked there, though twice by the same lady. I believe I could stand in front of a laptop for half an hour counting money and never be bothered. Best Buy seem to have had the best-trained and most courteous salespeople. The ones I spoke to seemed knowledgeable and would do a walk-by to see if you needed help but didn’t hover.

None of this matters of course, because I ended up buying online and probably will for almost every tech purchase I make from now on, simply because the web is really good at step #4 –

4. FIND THE DEAL

Computer makers are in an endless cycle of innovation. New better goodies are created every day, which makes last years best and shiniest a little less best and shiny. Since you, if you were selling computers, don’t want to carry inventory on last year’s best and shiniest, yet you still want to get rid of whatever you have left, you typically sell them very cheaply on the web.

While doing research on the Outpost (Fry’s) website, I saw a great deal on the HP dv5030us that matched virtually all of my requirements for $949 less a $50 rebate. Since there was one nearby and the website was going to charge me sales tax anyway, I drove down to Fry’s hoping to pick one up. No such luck. It was a discontinued model. Back to the batcave to order it online. It should arrive Tuesday. Let’s do a comparison just for shits and giggles –

What I Wanted What I Got
Windows XP Pro or Media Center [both run IIS (personal web server), unlike Windows Home; this proved to be a big limitation] Windows XP Media Center
Embedded wireless, preferably G 54g integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN
512 MB or more RAM 1 GB (1024MB) DDR SDRAM
80 GB plus hard drive 100GB hard drive
CD/DVD Burning Double-layer DVD+-R/RW and CD-RW combo drive with LightScribe
built-in memory card reader 6-in-1 digital media card reader
Approximate Budget: $1000 Grand total: $1057.83 with $50 rebate

To give you an example of the price difference, CompUSA was selling this same computer at the beginning of April for $1249

I’ll put up some follow-up info when I actually get the laptop and put it through it’s paces.

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In search of the perfect laptop

I’m starting law school in the not to distant future and one of the first orders of business is to find the perfect laptop. The University of Houston law center techies have a recommended Dell laptop that gets you 3 years of free technical support, but frankly I’ve used a Dell for the last 3 years and it’s just not worth it, in my humble opinion.

So what constitutes the perfect laptop these days? Before I get down to the technical, let’s step back for a moment. What do I need to really do with a laptop?

Mostly basic stuff. Personally I think only fools buy new cars and laptops with the fastest processors. Fools or rich people, that is. Primarily, I need to be able to take notes, take quizes (on software that only plays nice with Windows apparently, no mac for me) and check e-mail in the library wirelessly. Those are the big three, for which just about any PC laptop will suffice. What does that mean so far?

  • Windows Laptop running XP Pro
  • Embedded wireless card, preferably G

However, some of my supplementary requirements will likely narrow the field quite a bit. My inner-geek desparately wants to be able to record the lectures I attend, either to share with fellow students or to review prior to the test. This will enable me to be less of a transcription machine during class (terrified I’ll miss the quirks that are on the final but not in the book) and be more engaged with the material, knowing I can always go back and review the tape if I get lost in a rabbit trail of thought. Ideally, I would like to have both audio and video. Video would require a video camera, a video camera that could capture the feed and the appropriate hardware hookups. Just doing Audio would require a mic-in and a microphone. Video would also require beefier hardware to handle the encoding. There are a lot of hardware/software combinations here, but I think I’ll be able to find one running the Windows Media Center, along with the appropriate inputs.

  • Windows Laptop running XP Pro Windows Media Center
  • RCA or S-video inputs (not sure about this one)
  • 80 GB plus hard drive
  • 512 MB plus RAM

Since I’ll be away from home a lot, I’d like my computer to serve as a mobile command center. I’ve signed up for Skype and plan on getting Houston number in lieu of a land-line. As I’ve discovered, headsets are unworkable and you never have them set up when someone calls, so a built-in microphone is a must. Skype does video conferencing as well, so a built-in web cab would be ideal. So far I’ve only seen these in Sony VIAOs.

  • built-in microphone
  • built-in web cam

Storage and media are another issue. Any laptop I get must have a CD burner (CDRW) and it would be awfully nice to have a DVD-RW for backup purposes. With an eye on cost, though, only CDRW is a necessity. Also, since I like to take pictures and I hate camera cables, a built-in memory card reader is a must.

  • CDRW
  • built-in memory card reader

So that’s my initial list. Expensive? Normally, but I think I can find some diamonds in the rough. I don’t want to spend more than $1000. Definitely not more than $1200. Rebates abound and deal-watchers have plenty of tools at their disposal on the internet now. Since I won’t be ready to buy for another couple of months, this is mostly just to see what’s out there, but it would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?

What’s next? Off to Best Buy to see if there are any intangibles I’ve overlooked.

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Survival Skills – Open a Beer Bottle with Piece of Paper

Video: Open Beer Bottles with a Piece of Paper. (via lifehacker)

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