Somewhere Between Darkness and Light

I find that the older I get, the harder it is for me to concentrate. I’ve always been a bit prone to aimless mental flights of fancy. But it seems like that problem seems to get worse and worse as I approach the dreaded (or not so much) age of 30. I feel like it gets harder and harder for me to concentrate on things that are important. Or maybe it’s just that I have a lot more important things to concentrate on now that I’m thoroughly into adulthood.

See, when I was a kid, I didn’t have a whole lot of responsibilities. I pretty much just went to school, and that was it. It wasn’t a huge deal if I zoned out in class and didn’t pay any attention to the teacher. Sure I might have gotten a slightly worse grade on a test or whatever, but who cared? (Other than my parents, of course.)

Even after I graduated from high school, the first job I had didn’t require a great deal of concentration, so it was easy for me to just zone out most of the time and think about other things. I had no responsibilities outside my job either. I lived with my parents and I had no wife or kids or anything. So there wasn’t much I had to concentrate on.

Now, however, I have a wife and two kids. Plus, I stay home alone with the two kids while my wife works. So I have a lot of responsibilities, and a lot of things that I need to concentrate on. I find it all a bit overwhelming, to be honest. When my son asks for a bagel, and then he asks for a drink of water, and then another bagel, and then a drink of milk, all in rapid succession, and my daughter is screaming her little head off somewhere in there because she wants a drink of milk too, and all of this is happening while I’m trying to eat lunch or clean the kitchen or something… it’s a little hectic.

As all of this is going on, my brain is desperately trying to withdraw to it’s own little world and think about iPads or Dark Lords or some other random nerdy thing. But I can’t just let my brain withdraw to Nerdvana while my son is asking for something to eat. So I’m constantly struggling to keep myself focused on the here and now.

Exacerbating this problem is the fact that, as a parent, I get a lot less sleep than I was used to as a non-parent. As a teenager, I used to stay up until 2:00 in the morning or so, and then I wouldn’t get up until noon or later the next day. I mean, sure, I had school and stuff, so I couldn’t do that EVERY day, but once I graduated from high school, I could, especially after I dropped out of college. I had no job and I didn’t go to school, so I slept ALL the time. And then when I finally did get a job, about a year after I graduated, I was working the night shift. So I’d get home around 6:30 in the morning, go to bed at 7 or 8, and then sleep until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. As a night person who hates and fears sunlight, this was absolutely wonderful. And then I got married.

My wife is a beautiful and amazing woman, but she has never been one to sleep in until noon. So one of the first unpleasant things I discovered about marriage was that I was no longer going to get to sleep in until noon, because my wife would wake up at 8 or so, and then hound me incessantly until I got up as well. I guess I can’t blame her. I mean, what’s the point of having a husband if he sleeps all the time? In any case, the amount of sleep I lost by having a wife was nothing compared to the amount of sleep I lost by having a baby.

Anyone out there who has kids of their own probably knows what I mean when I say that, for the first few months after my son was born, I didn’t think I would ever get to sleep again. For someone who really needs a good 10 to 12 hours of sleep to feel really rested, getting a couple of hours here and there was a really, really hard thing for me to adjust to. Even now, when my kids sleep through the night, the days of sleeping until noon are definitely a thing of the distant past. You can’t exactly tell your 4-year-old or your 1-year-old to go back to bed when they wake up ready to go at 6 o’clock in the morning.

So more responsibilities and less sleep means that I feel like I wander around in a daze most of the time. I’ve started drinking coffee, which helps, but coffee doesn’t give me several extra hours of sleep or feed my children for me.

There are, of course, still a few moments throughout the average day when I can still just let my mind drift. I prize those precious few moments , like when I’m driving my son to school, or right before I fall asleep at night. But it’s almost like I’m losing the ability to just think about random stuff. Whenever I have a few minutes where I don’t really have anything I have to concentrate on, it’s like my mind just goes blank. Kind of a shame, but I guess it’s all part of growing up.

And so, like all of my posts where I whine about some personal issue that I have, the ultimate lesson here is that I just need to learn to deal with it. I’m not a kid anymore. I have responsibilities. I can’t just zone out and think about random nerdy things. Maybe someday when I’m old and stuck in a nursing home I can go back to just zoning out and thinking all the time. Until then, I should probably go feed my screaming children.

P.S. That last line is a joke. My kids are asleep as I write these words.

Random Thoughts from a Random Mind

Once again, I find myself staring at a blank computer screen with no idea how to fill it. That’s probably the hardest thing about having a blog, the fact that I constantly have to think of things to write about. So this week, I figured I’d just start writing and see what comes out. I’ll probably end up having to scrap this whole thing once I actually think of something to write about.

I suppose I could get political. I harbor a deep and burning anger towards the Republican Party and towards the American people for voting the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives. Yet at the same time I’m not too thrilled about the Democrats either. I tend to feel like ranting on about politics is just a big waste of time and energy anyway. After all, it’s not likely that anything a 30-year-old stay-at-home dad in rural Maine posts on the internet is going to have any resonance in the halls of power in Washington, D.C. Nor is it likely that I’m going to change the mind of any voter who happens to read this. So what’s even the point?

I could rant on about bad parenting. I have a particular situation in mind when I say that it amazes how truly terrible some people are at raising children. Obviously I’m not going to name names here, so let’s just say that it astonishes me how some people seem to have absolutely no interest in even lifting a finger to raise their own kids. I do not approve of abortion. I wholeheartedly believe that aborting an unborn baby is murder. But you know what? It is legal in this country. Not to mention that even if you were opposed to abortion, you can always give your kid up for adoption. Nobody’s forcing you to keep a kid that you have no interest in raising.

Unfortunately, this too is a situation that will not change in anyway simply because I talk about it. I’m sure there have been bad and lazy parents since the beginning of time, and there will be until Jesus comes back and puts an end to all this nonsense.

I suppose I could talk about technology some more. I’m still thoroughly smitten by the iPod Touch. It really is a fantastic device. The only thing is that I still need to use my Zune HD for music, because most of my music is stuff that I downloaded using a Zune Pass, and that will only play on a Zune. I would love to be able to switch to Rhapsody, which is another subscription service that offers an app for the iPod. They have a very nice selection, and in fact it’s slightly cheaper than the Zune Pass as well, although if my wife wanted to use it too, then it would be the same price. The problem is that the Zune Pass allows you to pick 10 songs every month that you want to keep, whereas Rhapsody does not. So if I switched to Rhapsody, I wouldn’t be able to keep building my permanent collection. Which means I’m probably going to just stick with the Zune Pass for now. Oh well.

One thing that’s really wonderful about the iPod Touch is how capable it is as a gaming platform. For one, the 4th generation iPod Touch is a beast of a machine. Games that are designed specifically for it, such as Infinity Blade, are absolutely gorgeous, with graphics that rival those of the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. For two, these games are dirt cheap. The aforementioned Infinity Blade only cost me 6 bucks. A game of comparable quality on the PS3 or Xbox would easily cost 60 bucks.

(Well, maybe not. The developer of Infinity Blade, Chair, also made a game for the Xbox 360 called Shadow Complex, which was fantastic, and it only cost 15 bucks. Still though, 6 < 15. Plus, Infinity Blade has better graphics.)

I suppose I could talk about the fact that Christmas is coming up. I’ve always loved Christmas. It’s not just the presents, although I’d be a bald-faced liar if I said I didn’t care about presents at all. But there’s just a… a… an atmosphere, I guess you could call it, to Christmas that’s just unmatched by any other time of the year. I suppose as a Christian I should say that the main reason I love Christmas is because it celebrates the birth of my Savior. But if I’m being perfectly honest, I would have to say that that fact doesn’t really factor into it that much.

First of all, Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born on December 25, so Christmas is really just a symbolic thing. Secondly, as the pastor at my church emphasized in his sermon this week, as important as the birth of Christ is, it pales in significance to the reason that Jesus took on human form in the first place. Jesus didn’t become a baby simply for the sole purpose of becoming a baby. That baby grew up to become a man, and that man walked on water, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, and performed countless other signs and wonders to prove that he was who he said he was, i.e. the Son of God. And then, this man, who faced all the same temptations that we are faced with and yet did not succumb, took on the punishment that was supposed to be inflicted on us, because we sinned and rebelled against God. And then he rose again from the dead to prove that he is victorious over death, and that he has the power to save us from death as well.

So it’s good to think about the birth of Jesus around Christmas time. But it’s much better to remember why Jesus came into our world in the first place, and what he accomplished while he was here, and what he is still accomplishing right now.

Anyway, as promised, I gave you a little bit of everything that’s been on my mind lately. It’s actually not too bad, if I do say so myself, so I think I’ll keep it. Maybe next week you’ll get a blog post that’s a little more focused. I wouldn’t cross my fingers though.

Seriously, This Post Is Not About Apple (I Think)

If I ranked all of things I’m interested in, technology would be at the top of that list right now. Which is good, because now is a really good time to be interested in technology. The rise of smartphones and the flowering of mobile operating systems that is going on right now means that there are new and exciting things going on in the technology world all the time. Take last week’s announcements from Google for example.

In case you don’t feel like clicking on a link, I shall summarize for you. Sometime in the recent past, Google announced that they were developing an OS for laptops called Chrome OS. This is in addition to their smartphone OS which is called Android. Chrome is different from older OSes like Windows or Mac OS in that it is basically a glorified web browser. That is, everything that you do on a Chrome laptop is done on the internet. All of your data is stored on the internet, all of the apps you use are stored on the internet, and so forth.

There are several aspects of this that interest me. First of all, Chrome is a much more lightweight OS than Windows or Mac OS, which means that machines running Chrome should be faster and require less powerful processors and such than machines running those other OSes, which means that Chrome laptops should also be cheaper than Windows or Mac laptops.

Second, doing everything in the cloud means that you don’t have to worry about losing your data because of something going wrong with your computer. Hard drive failure? Not a problem, because Chrome laptops don’t have hard drives. Computer crashes? Who cares? All of your data is on the internet. Now, I suppose if you don’t trust Google with your data, that would be an issue. But it’s not something I’m particularly concerned about. And, since everything you do on a Chrome laptop is stored in the cloud, you can log onto any Chrome laptop, or the Chrome browser on a Windows or Mac laptop, and get access to all of your stuff. You don’t have to worry about transferring files or whatever.

Another cool thing about Chrome OS is that every device running Chrome OS is going to have 3G internet access. But unlike most devices with 3G, you don’t have to sign a two-year contract with a service provider. In fact, Verizon is actually providing 100 MB of data per month free for the first two years after you buy a Chrome laptop. Now, 100 MB isn’t a ton, but when you consider that it’s free, and that 3G data plans are usually ridiculously expensive (for example, AT&T has a plan that gives you 200 MB of data a month for $15), you could maybe start to see what an awesome deal this. And if you want or need to use more than 100 MB per month of 3G data, you can of course pay for more. And the plans seems to be pretty reasonably priced as well.

I’m not an expert on computer security by any means, but the security features of Chrome OS definitely sound solid. Chrome OS utilizes something called “sandboxing,” which means that every app is kept separate from every other app. So if one app becomes infected with malware, that malware can’t spread to any other app. Sounds pretty good.

Another security feature of Chrome OS that sounds interesting is something called “Verified Boot.” This means that whenever Chrome OS boots up, it checks itself to make sure that nothing is wrong. If something wrong is detected, then Chrome OS can automatically revert back to the last known good state. And if there is no last known good state, then it can automatically download a new version of the OS. Pretty sweet.

Speaking of automatically downloading things, that reminds of another awesome feature of Chrome OS: it updates itself automatically. That means no more annoying pop-up boxes telling you that your computer needs to restart so it can update. Heck, even when you don’t have to restart, it’s pretty annoying to get notifications telling you that you need to update stuff. So that’s something I certainly won’t miss if I start using Chrome OS.

By the way, here’s a link to the Chrome OS website. Just in case you were interested in learning more about it straight from the source.

Now, I must mention that since I started writing this post, my enthusiasm for Chrome OS has been tempered somewhat. I’ve read some stuff by people who have actually had a chance to use it, and they’ve had some negative things to say. The biggest complaint seems to be that it’s very slow, which is highly disappointing to me, because something that was very exciting to me about Chrome OS was that it was supposed to be blazing fast. But it’s in beta right now, so hopefully they’ll make some major improvements before it’s actually released to consumers.

In any case, all of this probably means nothing for my long-term plans of buying an iPad and shifting all of my computing over to iOS. Chrome OS is a neat idea, and if Google can pull it off and package it up in a machine that costs $200 or so, I will definitely be interested. But if Chrome laptops cost any more than that, I highly doubt if I would buy one. After all, Chrome OS is virtually identical to the Chrome browser, which is free and runs on the computer I already have. I’m using it right now to write this blog, in fact. But as excited as I initially was about Chrome OS, it’s getting less and less likely that I would actually want to plunk down the cash on a laptop running Chrome OS when I can use the Chrome browser for free on my two year old Lenovo netbook that’s running Windows XP.

I still want to get into the Pilot Program though. Just wanted to add that in case anybody from Google reads this. After all, I might change my mind if I actually use it myself.

I Still Love Apple, Part 2

So I know I rambled on at great length last week about how I’ve converted to the Apple way of life. But I realized that I still have quite a bit more to say.  I figured I could have either written an extra long post last week, or I could have just waited and written more about Apple this week. I figured it made more sense to spread my Apple love out.

Rest assured, this blog has not been paid for in any way by Apple. For starters, not nearly enough people read my blog for it to be worth anything to Apple. I would certainly be willing to spend a year writing about how wonderful Apple is in exchange for an iPad. If you or anyone you know works for Apple, please let them know. But as it stands, I am merely writing out of a newfound enthusiasm for their products.

There is a simplicity, an elegance if you will, to iOS, the operating system that powers the iPod Touch, the iPhone, and the iPad. Windows has always been bulky,  cumbersome, and not overly reliable. For a long time, I believed that this was how computers were supposed to be. But when I first became aware, a few years ago, of what Apple was doing with Mac OS X, (which is the operating system that they use on their laptops and desktops) I began to wonder if that really was the case.

Of course, Apple’s laptops and desktops were and are way too expensive for me. But I’m not sure that that matters that much any more. When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, everybody realized that it was a big deal. But I’m not sure that anybody really realized how much of a game changer it would be.

Frankly, big, bulky, and cumbersome operating systems like Windows and, to a lesser extent, Mac OS, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But they’re becoming increasingly irrelevent and uninteresting. iOS, and other mobile operating systems such as Android and the unfortunately named Windows Phone 7, are the future.

And that future is, to a great extent, now. I have spent a great deal of time lately contemplating how to move all of the computing that I do onto iOS. Ever since the iPad was first announced earlier this year, I’ve heard a great deal of talk about how it is a toy, an accessory, and it can’t replace the computer you already have. I am becoming more and more convinced that, for me at least, this is not true.

I thought a great deal about what I actually do with a computer, and I did a little research, and I realized that there is absolutely nothing that I do on my computer that I can’t do on an iPad. In fact, I already do almost everything on my iPod Touch, and an iPad is basically a large iPod Touch. So I have to think that an iPad would be just about perfect for me.

I do lament the end of an era in my life, at least a little bit. I’ve been a Zune guy for almost as long as the Zune has been around. (Although I never went so far as to get the Zune logo tattooed on my arm. Yes, somebody actually did that. He eventually bought an iPod.) But I finally have had to accept that Zune is the inferior platform. Microsoft has done and is doing some nice things with Zune, and with Windows Phone 7, which grew out of the Zune platform. But frankly, they seem to always be a step or two behind Apple.

Now, granted, Apple pretty much caught the entire tech world with its collective pants down with the original version of the iPhone and with the original version of iOS (which was then known as iPhone OS). But it’s not as if no one has caught up to iOS either. Android, which is made by Google, is rapidly becoming the most popular mobile operating system in the world, and there are a lot of things that it does better than iOS. I would find Microsoft’s lack of urgency in this matter more forgivable if the existence of Android didn’t prove that it is, in fact, possible to match and even exceed Apple.

I really wanted to buy a device that was running Windows Phone 7. I still do. But I can’t afford a phone. And I don’t need a phone. I would be paying at least 50 bucks a month for a service that I can’t use, because I live in the middle of nowhere. And unfortunately, Microsoft dropped the ball and didn’t release a Windows Phone 7 device that was not a phone and thus didn’t require a contract. I simply got tired of waiting for Microsoft to do something that they really should have done two years ago.

So I bought an iPod Touch as something of a compromise, a device to hold me over until the Zune HD 2 with Windows Phone 7 (or whatever) was released. But I find that I don’t really care about Windows Phone 7 anymore. iOS is truly fantastic. And the stuff that sets WP7 apart from iOS isn’t stuff that I really care about. Heck, if the Zune Pass wasn’t such a fantastic service, I wouldn’t have any problem turning my back on Microsoft for good.

So there you have it. I’m now an Apple guy, which is not something that I ever thought I would say. But there is a certain indefinable quality to the products that Apple creates. Just holding my iPod in my hand, I can just sense the care and the craftsmanship that went creating this beautiful little device. It’s a feeling I’ve gotten from my Zunes as well, but never quite to this extent. After all these years of referring to Apple fans as “iSheep” and whatnot, I finally get it.

I still wish that Apple’s products were a little cheaper. But that’s okay. I’ll just save up my pennies, and someday that lovely iPad will be mine. Unless I get distracted by something else in the meantime. Maybe at this time next year I’ll be extolling the virtues of Android. You never know.

Suddenly, I’m an Apple Fanboy

For years, I have been a hardcore Zune fan. I’ve loved the Zune platform and the Zune devices ever since the first brown brick Zune appeared in the fall of 2006. I actually debated for a long time whether or not I should get one, but it wasn’t because I was also considering an iPod. I was actually considering getting a Creative Zen Vision M, perhaps the finest non-iPod, non-Zune hard drive-based digitial media player ever created. But I got to play around with a Zune that was on display at Target, and I fell completely in love with the UI (user interface). It was a thing of beauty for 2006, trust me.

Fast forward to 2010. I have, at one time or another, owned a total of 5 Zune devices. I’ve been a Zune Pass subscriber since the fall of 2007. My wife has also owned 2 different Zunes. I never thought that I would ever feel any sort of loyalty to any other MP3 player or mobile device platform or whatever. I’d certainly toyed with the idea of getting an iPod. But I figured that even if I did, Zune would still be my first and best love.

Before I go on, I should clarify my feelings towards Apple. I’ve never been an Apple hater, per se. I’ve always understood the appeal of Apple’s products. They are absolutely beautiful, inside and out. Every new device that Apple has introduced in the past few years, from the iPhone to the iPad, I’ve wanted desperately, at least at first. But there’s always been two things that have held me back.

One, these devices always seem to have some sort of (seemingly) fatal flaw. For the iPhone, it’s the same flaw as every smart phone: these things require an utterly ridiculous monthly payment to a cell phone service provider. The iPad is too heavy, has a screen that’s too square, and has no cameras. As for the iPod Touch, I always saw the lack of a music subscription service from iTunes as a dealbreaker.

The second problem is price. Even if these devices hadn’t had their flaws, I wouldn’t have been able to afford any of them anyway. Apple products are very high quality, and they have a high price to match.

So I’ve never really been an Apple hater, but I’ve never been an Apple lover either. I was like the nerdy kid in high school who looks at the cool kids who exclude him with disdain, cause they’re all looks and no substance, but deep down inside he’s jealous and wants to be friends with them. But then he does get to be friends with them, and finds out he was wrong all along about them. Allow me to explain.

You might be wondering why I even bought an Apple product in the first place. Well, it all goes back to Windows Phone, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. See, I’ve always wanted an iPhone-like handheld computer. iPhone, Android, whatever, I didn’t really care what kind. I just wanted one. The problem has always been twofold. One, with the notable exception of the iPod Touch, these devices are all smartphones, which require an exorbitant monthly fee and the signing of a two-year contract. Two, I loved my Zune, and I kept hoping that Microsoft would release their own iPhone-esque handheld computer based on Zune. So I’ve been waiting.

When the Zune HD came out last year, I thought maybe my wait was over. The Zune HD had a lot in common with the iPod Touch. In some ways, it was significantly better than last year’s iPod Touch (better screen, better music features, etc.) But in one major way, it was worse. It did not have the iTunes App Store.

For those of you who may not know, the App Store is what makes the iPod Touch (and the iPhone and iPad) awesome. The App Store is a one-stop-shop for just about anything you would ever want to do on a portable device. I don’t want to waste time explaining it further, so go here if you want more information.

The Zune HD technically has an app store. And all the apps on it are free. The difference is that the iTunes App Store is open to third-party developers and it services one of the most popular platforms in the world. Therefore, there are hundreds of thousands of apps. The Zune HD’s “app store” is closed to third-party developers, and services a fairly niche platform. The result is that there are a little over thirty apps, most of which are crappy games.

I had held out hope that Microsoft would do something to counter or tap into the appeal of the App Store. I really didn’t expect them to open up the Zune app store to third party developers, but I thought maybe they would release a new version of the Zune HD that would be running the Windows Phone OS, which does have an app marketplace where third party developers can sell their apps. But alas, they have not yet done so.

So I finally just broke down and bought an iPod Touch. I initially intended for it to be a companion to my Zune HD. Because of the Zune Pass, I listen to a great deal of music that I don’t own, and that music is only playable on a Zune device. (Well, technically it’s playable on other things too, but certainly not an iPod Touch.) So I figured I would use my Zune for music, and my iPod for other things.

Technically, that is the way it has turned out. But I love my iPod Touch so much more than I expected to. It is an amazing little device. I use it more than I use my netbook. In fact, about the only thing that I use my netbook for now is working on this blog. And now I love Apple. And I want more Apple products. Which is a problem, because they’re still expensive. Oh well. Such is life.