Sunday, September 2, 2012

Its the little things that matter

Just because its a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.  When I started doing projects for Growsafe they insisted on giving me a laptop that they weren’t using.  They clearly thought that whatever I was using at the time wouldn’t be current enough technology to serve me in my new duties.  I’m not sure exactly what high horsepower computing they envisioned me doing – Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint – that’s pretty standard fare these days.  The fact that my Dell at the time was likely already 5 or maybe 7 years old certainly lent credence to the assumption that it would be outdated technology but as it turned out that wasn’t a true assumption. 

I’ve always had a habit of buying leading edge laptops and then keeping them for a really long time so it didn’t come as any surprise to me to learn that the “new” Asus that I ended up using wasn’t measurably better than the “old” Dell D830 that it replaced.  In many regards the Asus was a serious step backwards.  It did have a nice big wide shiny screen that seemed pleasant at first.  Then I discovered that while the resolution of my Dell would go to 1920 pixels wide, the physically wider Asus was limited to somewhere around 1600 pixels of screen width.  Which meant that when I want to have multiple windows open simultaneously I simply didn’t have the screen real estate available to do what I was accustomed to.  And then I tried flying with the Asus.  The physically wider screen was nothing short of a PITA – it wouldn’t fit in any standard computer bag, didn’t fit easily under the seat on a plane and was physically too wide to comfortably use onboard a plane. 

Meanwhile my old Dell was serving us just fine as a nav computer up until our trip to Port Angeles this spring.  Somewhere along the way the keyboard failed and on those Dell Latitude models the keyboard contains the on/off switch so the laptop was 100% dead at that point.  I had my nav software loaded on the Asus so we were able to find Port Angeles and subsequently Seattle but I had to do something and I was lucky enough to find someone who could repair the Dell.  “Repair” in this case meant swapping in a keyboard that can be bought off eBay for maybe $30, at the most.  Of course in that case it was $30 for the keyboard and $100 for knowing that the keyboard needed changing but the whole process got me to thinking that all my computers should be the same model.  Since the Dell had served me so well, despite the keyboard failure, I decided first to start looking for a spare identical nav computer.  That would allow me to simply swap hard drives in the event of a non-drive failure and assuming I had the spare computer properly configured, in the event of a hard drive failure I should be able to get back running in relatively short order as well.

I soon discovered that this particular model of Dell still sells for over $300 on eBay.  There’s D830s out there for less than that but for a 2.5 GHz model with 4 Gigs of RAM that’s what you still have to pay.  I ended up buying 3 spares, parked the Asus and I’m using one of the “spare” D830s right now.  Which brings us to the topic of this morning’s post – its the small things that matter the most.  The D830 fits easily in a computer bag, is easy to use onboard, draws less power because it isn’t running that big shiny screen so the battery lasts WAY longer and is just generally a treat to travel with. 

I got to Baltimore BWI three hours before my flight time this morning, found a relatively quiet corner of the terminal complete with a plug in and a row of seats to put my feet up on and I’ve been happily catching up on some work that I had been procrastinating during this trip.  And that brings up another small pleasure – airports that provide free wifi connections.  This morning I had to watch a 15 second video in exchange for the privilege but I left the sound muted so it wasn’t any great hardship.   The only real annoyance this morning has been a surfeit of God-music blasting out of a nearby food booth.  Normally I doubt I would even be able to hear it from where I’m sitting but this morning the terminal is so quiet that I can hear and be annoyed by it.  In the big scheme of things though a little bit of God music while travelling is a relatively minor annoyance. 

Yesterday I spent a few hours in downtown Baltimore.  I didn’t know where I was going but I let Streets and Trips guide me to the harbour and then followed Marine Drive or Harbour Road or whatever the hell they called the street that runs closest to the water.  At first I landed in the commercial section but after following the water for a while I saw a sign for the Rusty Scupper restaurant which turned out to be a great place for dinner.  From there I walked around the harbour for a while and eventually caught a water taxi back to where I started.  As it turned out if I had been coming from any other direction I likely wouldn’t have made it to the harbour because there was some kind of Grand Prix road race going on in the downtown.  There were bleachers set up in a couple of places and blue plastic screens to keep the unwashed from viewing the formula cars for free.  I couldn’t be bothered to pay anything to watch very fast cars zip by occasionally but I could certainly hear and smell them whenever they went by.  Judging by the crowds not sitting in the bleachers I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

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