Category Archives: Family

The stuff that really matters.

My First Laptop

It is not everyday that a new computer comes into my life, but I am getting ahead of myself. The story starts back in February when I had the unfortunate incident with my hard drive and came to the realization that I do not actually have my own computer. I’m not exactly sure when it happened or how such a thing is even possible in a tech-filled house, but I think it started like this- When my wife’s Macbook finally died, I transferred her files to my roomy Mac Mini. Over time she grew to love the Mini, so I moved on to the spare gaming PC that I had built a few years ago. Back then I owned an iMac and decided to sell it to build a couple of PCs for me and my son. My plan was to build gaming rigs that would allow for epic multiplayer madness. The project was a great success but it ended up costing me twice what I budgeted for. Although we had some great gaming sessions throughout the years, these days he prefers to go solo.

Having a PC to fall back on was great. It was a powerhouse of a machine, great for running games, a fact the my daughter quickly picked up on. When I built the PCs, my daughter was too young to use the computer, but since then she has become a computer whiz. She plays Minecraft with her brother and soon she will need the computer for homework. I thought I could bide my time by using a Raspberry PI 2 to fill in while the computers were booked. The problem with this plan was that the PI, although a truly amazing $45 computer, it was simply too slow to function as a desktop. The more time I spent with it, the more I yearned for power. I feel like a should break out into Dr. Evil laughter at this point, but seriously the PI tested my patience. I wanted a machine that would snap to attention when I clicked and would carry out my every wish with unrelenting determination, brute-force speed and efficiency.

Now, it might sound ridiculous that everyone in our house has their own computer, but we are a family of gamers and nerds. In fact as I write this, my kiddos are sitting behind me playing Minecraft. I know there will come a day when I will sit alone in my office but for now, I am enjoying their little noises, laughter and company. They are fun to be around.

OK, so I decided I wanted my own computer, but what kind of computer should I buy? This was going to be a tough decision. I knew from my previous purchases that once you choose a computer, the best way to get the most from your investment was to use until it stopped working. The decision was complicated by the fact that this wasn’t just about Mac versus PC anymore. There is a reason Apple stopped that campaign a while back. The lines between the traditional desktop and laptop have become blurred. Now there are phones that look like tablets, laptops that work like tablets but with a tethered keyboard, mini tablets that are as portable as phones and large tablets that function like laptops but without the keyboard. It seems tablets are blurring lines everywhere. The central theme here is portability. Historically, I had always focused on power and never gave much thought to portability. I equated value with power, but computers aren’t really about power anymore, no more than they are about the OS that runs on them. People have stopped asking more from their computer for quite some time now. If you don’t believe me, watch your CPU activity for a while and unless you are using a Raspberry PI, you will likely find that your computer is completely idle 99% of the time.

I started my search off in the PC camp, looking at DIY builder  websites, pricing parts and looking for great deals. I was attempting to get the most bang for my buck by building a machine with great specs but for a price less than a store bought model. My mindset was all specs and hardware. I started to price things out and things got pricey pretty fast. I just didn’t have it in me to build another PC again. It is a time consuming process and there is an element of chance that the components you put together may not play nice. If that happens, the defective parts need to be mailed back and try, try again. I’d rather spend my time playing Minecraft with my kiddos.

So, I stepped back and took a look at the personal computing landscape. Maybe it was PC versus Mac after all, but now seen in a new light of portability. I had been happily tethered to my desktop for years, or so I thought. When I owned an iMac, it was a beautiful computer but I felt something was missing. Back then I thought I just needed to upgrade it, but even after maxing out the memory, I still found the experience lacking. I started sniffing about on the Apple website at different models. I must have run through 50 variations of iMacs, MacBooks and MacBook Pro configurations. By the way, I love shopping for computers on Apple’a website. It is such a better experience than at Dell.

I kept coming back to the MacBook Pro, particularly the 13″ model. It had the power I wanted and with the new Broadwell processor, I knew it would offer unmatched battery life. But could it play games? If I was to be honest with myself, I knew I wanted a computer that could play games. After a bit of research, I learned that the new integrated Iris Pro chip was fully up to the task of running my favs, Star Craft II and Civilization V. Now the MacBook Pro has a lot more going for it than that. It had the new Force Touch Trackpad, something that I was eager to try out.

At first I headed to Best Buy, but they didn’t have the computer that I wanted and the sales guy kept hovering over us, even after I asked for some time to discuss the decision over with my wife. Decisions like these are best made at the source, no I’m not talking about RadioShack, I mean the Apple Store.

If you are going to buy an Apple anything, go to the Apple Store. The people there are so good at what they do. Somehow they are there when you need them, but give you space when you need it and seem to empathically know the balance (Could some Apple Store employees actually be from the planet Betazoid?). I truly loved the experience and left the Apple Store totally stoked! They helped me make the best choice for my needs and I came home with exactly the right computer. I cannot express how much I love this computer! It feels like an extension of me. The Force Track Pad is nothing short of magical. How can it be clicking without actually moving?!

Here is a short series of photos from my unboxing:

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Happy!

*Technically, this is not my first laptop. Back in 1997 my brother graciously gave me his old PC laptop. If I remember correctly, it ran Windows 3 and was about as powerful as a Texas Instrument calculator. In those days, laptops were a different breed. What you can do today with a laptop is a world of difference since those times.

Learn Python the Hard (Fun) Way

LPTHW-3rd
The course is available online and you can try it for free!

A couple of weeks ago I purchased a book called “Learn Python the Hard Way” (LPTHW). The book sat by my bedside under a stack of other reads until I rediscovered it over the weekend. I bought the book because of the unusual way it marketed itself. Learning something the hard way struck a chord with me because taking the easy way has so seldomly worked out for me. I had dabbled with Python throughout the years and even purchased a neglected book or two on the topic. One of my first professional experiences with Python was when I was tasked with fixing an automated process that was scripted in Python.  Googling here and there I was able to patch up the script and get things running again, but I didn’t have the chance to really solidify my knowledge. I was amazed by how much I could do with so little code, but I found debugging and deciphering the code challenging. Since then I transitioned to other jobs, and worked with teams who preferred a different standard for scripting (For reasons I will never understand, Perl is a common favorite). Python felt accessible and yet mysterious and powerful to me. I wanted to learn more and see what other cool things I could do. Perhaps it reminded me of my early programming experiences.

When I was a kid, I used to go to my school library and read the RUN magazine. I would scour the pages to catch up on the latest techno gadgets and games that were on the horizon, but I also loved taking home code to try on my Commodore 64. I would meticulously transcribe the BASIC and assembly code from the magazine to my notebook. I couldn’t wait to get home to try out the new programs and games on my C-64. Often my programs would not run at all and I had to figure out what was causing the crash. This was a terrific training ground for teaching me how to write and troubleshoot code, skills I use to this day at work. Fast-forward to today where all of the information you could possibly need is at your whim and you might think kids have it made. Learning should be easier than ever, but people still need to go through the process and learn a wide array of skills. That takes time, effort, patience and a lot of hard work. You can’t skim over it. You can’t Google your way through it. You just have to do it.

Now, if you review Learning Python the Hard Way, you might think that the text is really just for beginners, but I believe anyone can benefit from the instructional approach to learning. I am going to work my way through each and every chapter in the book, not skipping a page, skimming over an exercise or cutting and pasting so much as a line of code. I am hoping to become a better programmer in the process, but also, I would like to teach my children how to program in Python using the same textbook. I think LPTHW offers a terrific start for anyone making their first steps into the wonderful world of software development. The book even comes with instructional videos to help you through the rough sections. Learning the Hard Way might be a tough sell for kids, but I hope they will gain an appreciation for programming but also learn important life skills like: self discipline, analytical thinking and problem-solving.