A Digital Guy’s Quest to be Analog Again

A Digital Guy’s Quest to be Analog Again

It’s no secret that I’m a techie type of person. This blog is filled with reviews on tech products, how-to’s and fixes for obscure problems related to computers. I enjoy that stuff. I enjoy building new things with computers and leveraging technology to do things that I find useful. For 12 years it was even my job as a Systems Administrator. I was building and maintaining servers, networks virtual environments and supporting workstations among other tech related duties. I enjoyed every bit of it too. Many times I’d get an idea for something and build a small-scale setup of it at home to test out and then if it worked the way I wanted, I’d go to work and build another one and deploy it for a practical application.

I like to think I’m skilled in software operating systems like Windows, macOS (OS X), and Linux distributions including Raspbian. I love those little Raspberry Pi computers because you can do some many neat things with them and they cost next to nothing too.

For about the last 15 to 20 years my home had lots of computers and computer parts in it. I frequently would build myself computers and do the same for others too. A lot of the time I’d be fixing other people’s computers at home which left me with lots of parts; some useful, some not so much. I didn’t mind that too much because I was helping others and once in a while making a few bucks too. I almost never charged anyone for my work and would say they can pay me whatever it was worth to them. It didn’t garner me much money that way but I didn’t mind as long as any of my out-of-pocket costs were covered.

But after a while, (quite a few years actually) I got sick of having a bunch of extra parts and computer shells stored all over the place. I was also getting tired of having to unplug my setup to fix someone else’s computer. I usually didn’t have an extra monitor back then because they were huge and cost a lot. Remember those old CRT things? So I started cutting back on my builds and repairs and would refer people out to local businesses when they needed major repairs. Once in a while I’d work on someone’s PC in the office for them. It wasn’t much to do that because most of the time is spent waiting for something to install like Windows where you just click a button a wait a while. So I’d click a button and go back to doing regular work and check on the progress of an install once in a while and then click the button again. Over the last few years that has cut down a lot too, to even doing none on the side. That’s just fine for me because as I start to age I don’t like working on computers in my spare time anymore. I’m getting a bit too tired with all of my other, increasing, responsibilities and workload to deal with.

At home over the last year or so I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of “in my face technology” that I have setup. What I mean is that I’m tired of seeing network switches, extra tech gear like external hard drives, CAT5e cabling strung about to connect various things in the apartment and so on. So I’ve been paring it down slowly to only having a small desktop computer, a Mac mini and a small laptop, a 2018 MacBook Air. I’ve tried to do away with the extra’s too and rely on internal storage or iCloud Drive to store things and files I need.

While I enjoy technology I don’t always like the stigmatism that if you were to visit my home it would be like walking into a huge data center with computers and servers all over the place. I want to live in a home that looks like a home with comfortable furniture and a nice lived in look and feel.

I also have a great passion that has been underdeveloped in my life and one that I regret not cultivating much sooner and that is writing. I’ve loved writing and the idea of writing since I was in grade school. But I spent too much time hating school and desiring to go outside and play and later on playing too much Nintendo. Then as adulthood came along and the US Marines called I kind of forgot about writing.

Going back to grade school for a bit, I recall an assembly where there was a speaker, probably an author, who was there to talk about writing and encourage us to get involved with it. I don’t recall anything of what they said except for one concept. That is that for a writer they should also keep a pen and paper handy, whether you’re on the road, or sleeping, you have them close at hand. That is because you don’t want to lose an idea or a thought because you couldn’t write it down and then later on when you were ready to write about it, you couldn’t remember it.

Then there was summer school once. I had to attend because I failed French class and needed the credits; remember I hated school? One day we had a creative writing assignment where we were to write about anything we wanted. There was no direction or instructions except to write for the allotted class time. I had taken it to heart and literally wrote about any thoughts that came into my mind and filled up several sheets of paper in doing so. When I turned it in the teacher read it over and more or less gushed in exuberance over it to the class. He had said this is exactly what creative writing was all about. While I was a bit embarrassed at the spotlight on me, I was secretly pleased with myself on that one. I don’t know anymore what it was I wrote about and I wish I still had that paper today so I could read it again.

That leads me up to today. After writing and publishing my first book two years ago, “Preaching to Patronizing: How Religion Made Me Lose My Faith“, it has rekindled my early desire to write. With writing comes lots of reading too, as the famous author Stephen King points out in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft“.

I had to ask myself why I don’t write more and read more books, because I enjoy both. The answer was staring me in the face. It was TV. I love TV, I really do. But I spend way too much time in front of it doing next to nothing after getting home from work. I decided it was time to make another change in my life, much like I did when I started to cut back on all the computer stuff in my home. I decided to cut back on TV time. That was another thing Stephen King mentioned in his book about writing, and that was to throw out the TV. One can take that at face value or figuratively. I took it figuratively in a sense and rather than throwing it in the trash, I took it down off the credenza in the front room and put in the back room closet on the floor. I also took down the one in the bedroom as well. I replaced the TV in the front room with a pair of Apple HomePod’s for listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks. All of which I can do while I write or read. Now I still have TV, but its in the back room now. I took my Apple TV 4K and a Dell 4K monitor and set it up back there next to the desk with the Mac mini so I can watch 4K TV if I want to. This should limit my time in front of the TV because it means I have to go to the back and sit in my desk chair to watch anything. That is less comfortable long term so I won’t spend hours at a time there like I did in the more comfortable chairs of the front room. I do my writing up front on the MacBook Air far more than I do at the Mac mini.

Now the analog part of this story relates to the reading and writing and the reduction of technology in my home life. In addition to the stuff I already mentioned, a few months back I disabled all visual and audible notifications on my iPhone and iPad with the exception of the actual telephone part of the iPhone. I was getting a digital overload of notifications from text messages, emails, Twitter and other apps. I kept it down to a minimum and to some people what I was getting would probably be nothing to them. But to me, it was more than I cared to deal with. I actually miss the old days in the 1980’s and part of the 1990’s when we didn’t have cell phones. All we had was a telephone screwed to the wall with a cord and no answering machine. If we were out, we got no calls. I miss that in today’s overly connected society where we’ve come to expect instant gratification to our queries, texts, calls, chat’s and whatnot. I hate that. I’d rather reply and check my messages in my own time.

Since I disabled notifications the last few months have been much more pleasurable for me. I’m not distracted by noises and screen light ups from the iPhone anymore and I feel more relaxed and calm because of it even less anxious too.

Since I like to write, I’ve also used a few apps on the computer as journals and I end up stopping with them after a short period of time. I think it’s because they’re on a computer and I still allow myself to get distracted when writing in them with switching apps to check other stuff out instead. But there is also the art of the craft too, the analog part of writing. Remember that old pen and pad? That’s what I’m talking about. I actually enjoy the feeling and experience of putting pen to paper and writing. Now, a fair warning, my penmanship is awful and I hate that about myself. But that doesn’t stop me from writing in a physical journal each day and night. I like books and I like seeing empty books getting filled up with writing too.

I mentioned earlier that I was a Systems Administrator for 12 years. Over the summer my boss retired and I was promoted up to his old job as an Executive Director. That means my tech guy days are now over professionally and now I’m just an administrator. That means that I’m now working more with my words than with the technology systems I can build and manage. With that now comes more reading and writing professionally, which is fine because I enjoy those things as well.

In combination of reducing my reliance, my addiction, to technology, and a change in roles at work, I’m trying to gradually get back to a more analog life at home. I know that it’s not practical to do so completely because technology is ubiquitous now, but I can still do a lot of enjoyable things without it. Eliminating the TV as the main focal point in the front room and physically writing in a journal are steps in this journey to return to a more analog life, a slower, perhaps easier life that isn’t so fast-paced and driven by technology.

My book writing remains on the computer despite my journal writing being done on paper. This is because its much easier to publish when it’s all done on a computer versus paper. Plus, you’ll be able to read it too!

2018 Apple MacBook Air, Real World Review

2018 Apple MacBook Air, Real World Review

It seems as though I purchase and use a laptop, specifically Apple laptops, for about 6 years before getting a new one. My very first Apple computer was a 2006 MacBook Pro which was one of the early Intel powered MacBooks where Apple was transitioning away from the PowerPC chips. I used that MacBook Pro until 2012 when I bought a new one, a non-Retina 15″ MacBook Pro. Here we are 6 years later again, in 2018 and I decided to buy a new MacBook, this time the just announced Air.

I always wanted the Pro models so I could have the necessary power I wanted to be able to edit some video when I used to go to church. I also liked to run virtual machines which required a substantial amount of resources as well. The two Pro’s I had always did everything I wanted them to do. However, this time around I wanted to go in a different direction; lightweight portability.

I’ve considered the MacBook Air’s in the past but the big turn off’s of the older models were a lack of real power, the big ugly and silver bezels and no Retina screens. So I never bought one. Now with Apple’s new update to the line they remedied those things and made me very interested in it.

My life and work has changed considerably over the last six years in that I’ve left church and religion behind which means I no longer edit audio and video. I’ve also received a promotion at work which means I’m now an executive administrator and no longer a systems administrator dealing with enterprise class hardware and software. Now my skills and abilities are put to use by my words, not by the systems I can build.

With those major changes in mind, I knew that I no longer needed the power of the MacBook Pro. My new job entails many meetings, travel and a lot of writing and reading. The new MacBook Air fits the bill perfectly for me and my current needs. It is lightweight, ultra portable and has a very long lasting battery. So far I’m getting better than 15 hours of usage from it on a single charge. At 2.75 pounds it’s much easier to carry around than the old MacBook Pro which was larger and weighed a lot more. The smaller design of the Air also means I don’t need as big of a bag to carry it and a few things around with me. I also really like the tapered design of the Air and it just makes it feel even more portable and easier to open up.

I know a lot of people have been complaining about Apple’s new butterfly keyboard style for the past 3 years on the MacBook Pro’s. Apparently the 2018 MacBook Air has a 3rd generation version of the keyboard. This is my first experience with this keyboard and I quite like it. So far I haven’t had any problems with it. On the past Pro’s apparently people were getting numerous typos’s, repeated letters or letters that wouldn’t register when pressed. But so far so good for me on this new Air. I actually feel like I can type faster on this style than other more traditional keyboards and my typo’s aren’t any worse than before either.

In fact, I’ve been using it at work and on the road at meetings a lot since I received it on launch day. I’ve been writing and working on policies, letters and reports with it as well as picking up work on my book again. To date I still haven’t had any issues with the keyboard.

As for the screen, this is my first experience with a Retina screen. It is very nice and with the slimmer and black bezels it is so much better than the older generation Airs. There are however complaints about screen brightness. Apparently it only goes up to 300 nits. I agree it could be a tad brighter, but I’m not really complaining about it. Its plenty bright enough for my needs and most of the time I don’t even have it at full brightness anyhow. I assume that the 300 nits was a battery cost saving measure by Apple. The brighter they make the screen capable of, the shorter the battery life will be. But that’s just a guess on my part.

Another thing I really like about this laptop is that I can actually use it as a laptop. For instance, right now as I am typing this, the Air is on my lap with a blanket between it and my legs. With my older MacBook Pro even just typing a simple blog post and doing no other tasks, having it in a position like this would get my legs, and the laptop very hot. It required a good amount of airspace around it to stay cool and keep the fans from spinning up. What I would do with the Pro is either keep it on a table or I had bought a laptop tray thing to keep it on so it wasn’t in direct contact with me and had some air flow around it. This MacBook Air does not do what the Pro did and stays nice and cool, or at least just room temperature. I’ve not yet heard a fan spin up once on this machine.

Now for some people the lack of ports on this new Air can be a problem. It only has a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the right and two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports on the left, either of which can be used for charging. For me this minimal port offering is not an issue. I rarely plug anything into my laptops anymore and do everything online or over my local WiFi LAN. I did buy a USB-C to USB-A cable and a USB-C to Lightning cable just in case I might need them.

Apple boasted a little bit about the speakers in this model compared to the previous model. I don’t normally listen to music or much of anything on the laptop. I’m a bit of an audiophile and listen to lossless music on a DAP (digital audio player) or on the Mac mini which has an external amplifier and DAC (digital to analog converter) setup with some very nice Sennheiser headphones. But with that said, I did listen to some music on the Tidal app with the lossless music subscription and the speakers sounded decent enough for what they are. They are small, thin and narrow and in an ultra portable laptop. They sounded ok and didn’t make my ears bleed or anything.

A couple of other things that I like are the force touch trackpad which has a larger area than my old MacBook Pro. Having the ability to click or tap anywhere on the pad is very nice compared to the older one where you had to click/tap only on the bottom. Another thing that is valuable is the Touch ID built into it. Having that is huge as far as convenience goes and double so when used in conjunction with Apple Pay on websites that support it. That combination is so much more secure and safe for your PII (personally identifiable information).

The other specifications of my 2018 MacBook Air are that I went with the optional Space Gray color,  16 GB of RAM and went with the 512 GB SSD. I don’t normally buy the AppleCare support on products and I haven’t done so with this either. But given this is a big update to the Air and the known history with the butterfly keyboard on the Pro’s, I’m considering buying the AppleCare+ just in case. I still have a month to decide before I am ineligible to buy it anymore.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the 2018 Apple MacBook Air. I recommend it to anyone who needs a general purpose laptop for the basic things such as web browsing, email, writing and the sort of casual use one might use a computer for. If you are into very intensive tasks such as audio and video editing, or photo editing, doing lots of other high CPU usage tasks, this might not be the right choice for you. The MacBook Air excels at everyday general use which is probably what most people do anyhow.

I’m looking forward to another 6 years before I need or decide to buy a new laptop.


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