Apr 6, 2014

Thoughts on Computers; Death and Resurrection

As recently as a year ago Dar and I were getting along with two computers on-board the good ship "bushouse". Both Windows machines, Dar's was an elderly Dell running XP and mine was a slightly less elderly little Acer running Win7. For years we worked away on these two machines, Dar processing photos and me writing, with only the most minor problems. We had reached the point where we considered them "appliances"... not unlike a toaster or a microwave oven. They performed the jobs they were built for, reliably, with little intervention or "tweaking" from their users... us.

But like all living things and most machines, time takes a toll. And technological advances with microprocessors and other gizmos and systems means the future is quite grim for any computer for which the fingers on both hands are needed to count years of service. Dar's Dell was becoming sluggish and temperamental. And then, a few weeks ago, the event every heavy computer user fears... breaks into a cold sweat just thinking about... the little Acer up and died. Suddenly. Just like that (snap). A post-mortem examination suggests it was a stroke, er, a scrambled brain, a crashed hard-drive.

But, surprisingly, it turned out to be a mostly trauma-free event. For a while now, being aware that as time went along the chances of something bad happening was increasingly probable, I've been backing up the folders that contain our important files to the "cloud". Constantly monitored, whenever any of those files change or a new file is added to the folder, it's immediately updated, backed up, to storage space up there in the sky somewhere... (maybe Honduras or France?). So when it came time to replace the computer it was a snap to rebuild those folders on the new computer using the nether-world drive.

But isn't the cloud a little risky? I mean, the NSA or that pesky hacker that lives down the street might break into your files and read all your secrets... steal your identity. There's no sure way to totally prevent that from happening, even if those same files are stored right there on your computer hard drive. But to make it a little tougher I do encrypt the folder that contains anything that could be valuable to a thief. Other than those few files, I really don't care who takes a look at my stuff... they'd surely find it all painfully boring anyway.

I replaced the now-dead little Acer with another Acer. We've found the 11.6 inch screen size to be very workable while keeping the form factor (size/weight) compact... important for people living in small spaces... or lugging it around to libraries or other hot spot locations... or traveling with it on a train or plane. For us, it's the perfect balance between usability and portability.

Resurrected From the Dead!
After a small ceremony we laid the dead little Acer in a tomb while Gage (my SIL) and I hatched a plan. After a quick (on his super-high speed cable internet connection) download and a new brain from Amazon (a snappy new solid state drive for less than a hundred bucks), and a little conjuring and praying over the various parts scattered around his office... after three days a new Linux machine rose from the dead.

Why Linux? I've been curious about it for a long time. From what I've read online, it's "pros" are that it's small, stable, quick, and free. On the other side of the equation, it's "cons" are that it can be a little "geeky" (technically challenging) and that some programs you've been using on Windows don't or won't run on Linux. As I use Linux more I'll have a better handle on how all this affects me.

Our current stable of computers is as follows: the new 11.6 inch Acer Windows machine (the "Win-book"), the "risen" 11.6 inch Acer Linux machine (the "Lin-book"), and an Acer 11.6 inch Chromebook. Does anyone catch the pattern forming here? We also have two 7" Android tablets, neither of which are Acer... just in case you were getting worried about our brand-sanity.

All our computer gear (coffee cup for scale)

So, to recap my thoughts, I give a big "thumbs up" to cloud backup storage and little Acer computers. And, at this point, I've also found both the Chromebook and the Lin-book perfectly acceptable for the majority of our computing needs. They both have a full sized regular keyboard that this writer just can't get along without.

For fun, I piled all our computer gear in one pile to see what it looked like. All of it together (3 computers, 2 tablets, a Canon printer, and a scanner) forms a heap about the size of a pile of legal pads 8 inches high -- not much larger than a toaster. A few years ago just the printer would have been larger than that.

I've also been experimenting with a tablet and blue-tooth keyboard combo for writing... but haven't found it to be nearly as usable as one of my Acers with a mouse.

With any luck, we're now back to the "appliance" stage with our computer stuff.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...