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This is What My "Workspace" Looks Like Right Now

My Workspace (Oct 2013)

Yep, there it is. Take it all in, folks. This is where I've been doing the majority of my writing (i.e. "where the magic happens") since I got released into the wild nearly one month ago.

I made literally no effort to clean up the space before taking this photo. It's the real deal.

  • The iPad + keyboard is pretty self-explanatory.
  • I have no idea why my son's shoes are on the table.
  • A few minutes ago, that bowl was full of cereal. After this post goes up I'll rinse it out and put it in the dishwasher.
  • The candle is always there, for those cases when the house smells weird for whatever reason and we've got company coming over. Before you go all, "Ew!" on me, just remember that we've got a toddler running around the place.
  • The little remote controls the stereo sitting on the lower shelf of our entertainment center. Brendon likes to walk up to the stereo and push random buttons on the thing, meaning he usually ends up accidentally cranking the classical station to 11 (figuratively speaking, since it technically goes up to 30). The remote is just an emergency precaution for those situations.
  • Yes, the chair is dumpy. Yes, there's a hole in the back cover. Yes, the seat cover is coming off because the zipper broke. And yes, that is a lone safety pin ghetto-rigged in an attempt to hold the seat cover together better. But you know what, it's really a comfy place to sit cross-legged and drink coffee and write, so there.
  • The barnyard toys are Brendon's, not mine.

Super glamorous, right?

Maybe someday I'll have a real desk inside a real home office. Until then, I'm making do with my humble little setup.

Overhauling My Tech Life

This morning, Shawn Blanc provided a handy Mac media server setup guide that I think is worth checking out. This particular quote at the end struck a chord with me though:

"See? For some of us, all we need to for an iOS-only workflow is a Mac at home doing the heavy lifting."

For several months now, my wife and I have been saving up some money on the side so that we can do an overhaul on our home tech situation, and an iOS-workflow is actually something I've been considering.

Some Background

Each of us owns an iPhone 4S, but we have no Macs or iPads at the moment. This may come as a surprise to some of you considering the content of this blog and the fact that I used to work for Apple, but it's not really something I've wanted to make a big deal of on the blog.

If you look back through the archives, you'll notice that I talk about iOS a lot, but not so much the really nerdy Mac stuff that I'd love to sink my teeth into. I've also had to come up with some Windows workarounds for my Tools and Toys writing workflow in the meantime, which is a bit of a pain.

All of this is going to change soon, which I couldn't be more excited about.

Current Setup

Here's what I'm working with right now:

  • At my full-time job, we only use Windows 7 Dell desktops. This happens to be where I get most of my writing work done at the moment.
  • At home, my wife has a Windows 7 laptop that is servicable, but it tends to overheat and gets bogged down easily.
  • My own laptop completely died over a year ago and we've never had a desktop, so whenever I'm writing at home I'm either on my iPhone or her laptop. Blech.

Decisions, Decisions

We know for sure that we want to set up an office area at home with a 21.5" iMac (probably not the newest slim model but the one prior, since she occasionally requires an optical drive for burning CDs), but for our respective mobile purposes we're still undecided on whether to get MacBooks or use iPad+keyboard setups.

If we've got an always-on iMac powering things at home, we could feasibly do the iPad thing and have no problems at all. She doesn't care about getting into the nerdy stuff, and most of my usage will probably be reading and writing, so really it just comes down to how much I want to tinker with scripts and stuff on the go.

At this point she's leaning toward getting an iPad 4 regardless of what I do, but I'm still deciding between:

  • 13" MacBook Pro (non-Retina, because it's too expensive otherwise)
  • 13" MacBook Air
  • iPad 4
  • iPad mini

If I opt for either iPad, there are further decisions to make, such as what keyboard to use. I've heard great things about using an Apple wireless keyboard along with the Incase Origami Workstation, but there are lots of great iPad-specific keyboard cases to choose from as well. There's also a case to be made for waiting until a Retina iPad mini is announced later this year (as is rumored) before I make a final decision.

Perhaps I'm just thinking about this stuff too hard, but this is a seriously huge expense for us and I do not take it lightly. Any recommendations are more than welcome here.

Netflix vs Hulu+

I recently came across this short post by Brad Gessler, describing why he likes Hulu+ over Netflix.

"The problem with Netflix is that lack of regularly published content. I could subscribe to Netflix streaming services once every six months, watch all of the new stuff for a month, drop the subscription, and not miss a beat."

This ties into my recent post about streaming services vs cable TV. In that post, I talked about how I'm subscribed to both Netflix and Hulu+, but didn't really discuss why, so here goes.

I don't actually see either service as being better than the other, because they serve different purposes for me. Hulu+ is fantastic for watching up-to-date episodes of my favorite TV series, while Netflix is better for watching movies, especially documentaries. I'm pretty sure I've watched more documentaries as a Netflix user than I have for the rest of my life combined. Same goes for indie films.

With Hulu+, although they are very good about having the most recent episodes of a given show, their shows often don't go all the way back to season one. It's not uncommon to come across a show that only starts at season three or something similar. In most cases, those same shows happen to be on Netflix and do go back to season one, so I can typically make it as far as Netflix allows and then switch over to Hulu+ to watch the rest and get caught up. It's a messy system but it works.

Both services have the more popular kids shows, but this is definitely an area where Netflix excels, due to its "Just For Kids" section. Whenever we boot Netflix up on the PS3 to put a show on for Brendon (Blue's Clues, Super Why, etc) we can immediately switch over to the kids section and know that if he somehow gets his hands on the controller, he's not going to suddenly find himself watching a violent action movie.

The point of all this is to say that I see the services as supplemental to one another, not conflicting. They both have their pros and cons.

If Netflix could get the kinds of TV content deals that Hulu+ has, or if Hulu+ got rid of its interstitial ads and added all the older content Netflix carries, then I could see switching wholly to one service. Until then, I'm happy to keep both around. Even combined, they still don't cost as much as a cable TV package so I'm happy.

Printed Books vs eBooks

A couple days ago, J.D. Bentley discussed his reasoning behind any purchase of an ebook over a printed copy. He prefers ebooks when they are:

  1. Cheaper
  2. Not dependent on layout
  3. Not available as a printed artifact

I hadn't ever really put much thought into my ebook purchasing habits before reading his piece, but I've since concluded that he and I think alike in this respect.

Most of the books I buy are text-only, and as a result, most books I purchase are ebooks. They're convenient, nearly always cheaper, and they save me from feeling bad about needlessly wasting paper when I have devices perfectly capable of displaying simple blocks of text.

Of course, there are also books that I find worth owning hard copies of, something J.D. touches on:

"This also touches on the third point about printed artifacts, which is to say, books worth looking at. I appreciate beautiful printed books, well-designed physical objects."

Couldn't agree more. I love the look and feel of a well-designed book, and most of the time I'll opt to spend the few extra bucks in order to have one on my shelf. What can I say, I enjoy bookshelf porn.

It's not always about beauty for me, though. I also enjoy owning physical copies of books closer to my heart, especially ones I grew up with such as Ender's Game, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Wheel of Time series, and the Harry Potter series. These are the kinds of things I'd like to pass down to my son whenever he's old enough to appreciate them.

The way J.D. and I differ is that I typically don't take layout into account when purchasing a book the way he does. I've yet to come across any ebooks that have presented problems for me in terms of format, and if I think format will be an issue, I attempt to obtain a PDF copy so that the original layout is preserved.

Obvious exclusions from this rule are books full of artwork, such as graphic novels or collections of an artist's work. I always opt for physical copies of that sort of thing.

The only real problem with my current setup is that I haven't settled on where I want to keep my ebooks. On my iPhone, my ebook library is pretty evenly split between Kindle.app and iBooks.app, leading me to often forget where a particular book is saved.

I'd rather keep everything in one place, but switching wholly to either app will require re-purchasing some books and I haven't wanted to make that leap just yet. Someday, though.

'TV is Broken'

Patrick Rhone, in one of my favorite tech pieces from 2012:

"Then, a commercial for The Secret World of Arrietty comes on.

“This! I want to watch this!”, Beatrix exclaims.

“We can’t honey. It’s not out yet. It’s just a commercial.”, I say. She seems more confused so I try an analogy.

“You know when we go to a movie theater, and they show you previews of movies that are not out yet before the real movie? It’s like that.”

“Oh.”, she resigns. Not sure she gets this but I think the television executives and I have finally worn down her curious resolve."

Like Patrick, we don't have cable TV at our house. Instead, we use a combination of Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, and even Amazon Instant Video for the occasional rental. All of this is streamed through our PS3 and is relatively easy to deal with. It's certainly convenient, anyway.

Because of this setup, the only times we ever see commercials at home are when we're using the Hulu Plus service. If I could pay a few more bucks a month to get rid of those commercials too, I would do it in an instant. Not only for myself, but for Brendon. If he can grow up hardly ever seeing a TV commercial, I'd consider that a parenting success.

When visiting relatives from either side of our family, there tends to be a TV consantly on whether anybody's watching it or not, providing background noise at all times. Don't ask me why, that's just how it is. If I ever happen to glance at the TV during a commercial break, I'm always astounded and annoyed by the sheer bottom-of-the-barrel stupidity being shoved into my eyeballs. I honestly have no idea why or how people put up with it.

By contrast, our experience at home is like living in another, better world. Custom queues full of content that we have chosen for ourselves. Fantastic recommendation engines suggesting great content that we might not have otherwise found, almost like hearing about something cool via trusted word-of-mouth (which I believe to be the best kind of advertising). Convenient access to just about anything we'd ever be interested in watching. No need or temptation to flip through hundreds of pointless channels, hoping something decent will be on somewhere.

I've tried to sell my parents on such a setup, but alas, they cling to their old ways. Mom still likes to watch her evening reality shows and Dad has never minded the process of flipping channels a bunch until he finds something good. Both of them are inextricably hooked on the Food Network, which is always the most likely thing I'll see on their TV as soon as I walk in the door.

If that's what works for them, then that's great. As for me, I can't justify spending so much more money on a huge cable/satellite package that not only offers ~1000% more channels than I'm interested in, but is somehow still less convenient and can't even bother to advertise products in a way that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out.

No, I think I'll keep on living in the future. It's more comfortable here.

Now, Exhale

Christmas Season 2012 is over. The flurry of family, food, shopping, wrapping paper, and gifts has subsided, leaving behind almost strange feelings of stillness and peace. The supposed end of the world has not come to pass, and life returns to normal.

Today was spent putting our house back in order. Dishes have been washed and put away. Piles of wasteful packaging and other trash have been thrown away. Brendon's new toys have been sorted into two groups: "Keep" and "Donate". Anything worth keeping has been stored in its proper place, while everything else will be taken elsewhere.

The grandparents (meaning, my parents and in-laws) had their fun unloading a mountain of toys on our son, thinking to get their "revenge" on us for having lots of noisemakers when we were children, but what they don't yet know is that we made a certain decision a long time ago: we're going to limit the number of things Brendon owns and get rid of anything unnecessary as he grows up.

Not that we want to be mean about it of course, but in a day where children are constantly bombarded by advertisements and peer pressure, I feel it important to make sure we avoid instilling any sense of entitlement. I see too many kids and teenagers taking to Twitter every year, complaining about not getting the exact gift(s) they wanted. Or even getting the right gift but not the right color (such as a white iPad vs a black one). It's sickening.

For now, we will choose for him which things will be kept or given away, but as he gets older he will be asked to pick out which older toys to donate. These won't be blind donations though. He will be taken to see donation centers and homeless shelters in order to see and understand why it's important to donate to those in need. Even our lower middle class lifestyle is one of comparative opulence.

But I digress.

As 2012 winds to a close, I find myself excitedly thinking ahead to 2013 and what it holds. In years past, I've often done what many others do, making a list of New Year's resolutions and not keeping them, but something about this year feels different (yes, I know people always say that).

While I obviously can't predict the future, I have this oddly optimistic feeling that some sort of positive shift is about to take place in my life. Maybe it means I'll finally be able to write for this site full-time as I've so dearly hoped. Or perhaps some other big opportunity will present itself.

Whatever the outcome, I sense that 2013 is going to be huge for me. Can't wait.