The Dawn of a New Era, Part 2

Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, I was about to tell you how I solved the problem of watching all the many videos my wife and I have of our kids when the only computers we have are a couple of chintzy little netbooks. Well, first of all I should probably mention again that I really want an iPad. The thing is that an iPad wouldn’t really solve any of the problems that we have. I could probably watch our home videos on it, but even the most expensive iPad only has 64 GB of storage space, which would only hold a small fraction of our expansive collection of home videos. So as much as I wanted (and still do want) an iPad, it really wouldn’t help out my family any more than buying another netbook would.

So we really needed something a little more robust. Not only that, but I’ve long been paranoid that our house is going to burn down and all of our pictures and videos would be lost. There is a good solution to this problem: online backup. The problem is that the service I want to use, Carbonite, only backs up the stuff on the internal hard drive of one computer. And we have too much stuff for it to fit on either of our netbooks. So we needed to get a computer with a big enough hard drive so that we could have all of our pictures and videos on it, plus it needed to have plenty of room for expansion so we wouldn’t need to get a new computer any time soon.

The problem with computers is that they are expensive. So I needed to do some research, because I wanted to find a computer that would fit all of our needs and continue to do so for years to come, but also it needed to be something that would have a minimal impact on our checking account. I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t just buy any old random computer like I have every other time I’ve bought a computer.

There are probably a great multitude of websites that review PCs, but the only one that I’m really familiar with is CNET. I went through a great deal of CNET’s PC reviews, but it was pretty obvious early on that there really was only one choice: the SX series by Gateway. As far as I can tell, these computers are pretty much the best balance of price and performance that you can currently get. Sure you can get a better computer, but not for this price. And you can certainly spend less than we did. But you have to make some serious compromises in terms of performance.

In case you’re interested in such things, the PC that we bought has a 3.07 Ghz Intel Core i3 processor with 4 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. It also has integrated Intel HD graphics. And a DVD drive. And with taxes and shipping, it cost us about $600. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. It’s definitely not top-of-the-line, but I think it’s going to last us a good long time. It’s got plenty of room for our current picture and video collection, and plenty of room to add to it. (Our picture and video collection currently takes up about 300 GB.)

So that’s my long-term solution to storing pictures and videos. But being a tech nerd, I have no intention of stopping there. Even with a fancy-shmancy new computer, I still do most of my computing on my iPod Touch. But as wonderful as the iPod Touch is, there are definitely some things that it doesn’t do well. iOS is a fantastic operating system, and as much as I’m enjoying Windows 7 so far, I definitely consider iOS to be superior. Not to mention that it still blows my mind to see how crisp and clear the Retina Display of the fourth generation iPod Touch is. But I definitely find that the 3.5 inch screen of the iPod Touch is just a little bit small for serious web browsing.

Now, this new computer is hooked up to a 26-inch HDTV with a resolution of 1360 x 768, so obviously it works just great for web browsing. But we have this setup in our bedroom (to keep it away from the kids), so it’s not particularly convenient to look up something quickly. Plus I can’t just lounge on the couch and surf the internets on this computer. So I really want something that’s kind of halfway between an iPod Touch and a full computer. And that thing would be, of course, an iPad.

There’s still some questions that I have in regards to an iPad. Mainly, I don’t really know how much I’m going to have to spend yet, because by the time I have enough money to buy one, it’s almost certain that the second generation will be available. I’m assuming that the iPad 2 will be priced comparably to the first. I’m hoping that it will be a little bit cheaper. I’m certain that it will have considerably more impressive features compared to the first version. But I have no idea yet what exactly those features will be (although there are plenty of rumors out there).

But even if I assume that the iPad 2 will be similar to the original in terms of pricing and storage space, I still have a decision to make. I could get the $500 16 GB iPad, or I could get the $600 32 GB iPad. Since the 16 GB version is cheaper, I could get it a little sooner, but I wouldn’t be able to put as much stuff on it. I could put more stuff on a 32 GB iPad, but I might have to wait a little longer to get it, since it’s a little bit more expensive.

And then there’s the question of accessories. But that could probably take up an entire blog post on its own, so I won’t even worry about that right now.

The Dawn of a New Era, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my computing set-up should look like, long-term. Of course, technology and computers are constantly changing, so it’s impossible to plan ahead with complete confidence, but I know a lot more now about computers than I ever have before, so I think I can put together something that will fit the needs of me and of my family for several years to come.

Up until recently, I’ve basically been flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to computing decisions. The first computer I ever bought was a Gateway laptop. I bought it in 2000, and it cost about a thousand bucks. Nowadays, $1000 would buy a beast of a laptop, but back then it got me a laptop that barely ran. Seriously, that thing was a turd, and I have to admit that I wasn’t all that devastated when my mom sat on it and cracked the screen. Of course, it did mean that I’d basically flushed a thousand bucks down the drain, but I had no bills and was making almost $20,000 a year at the time, so I had money to burn.

(Yes I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember I had no bills. Literally, none. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot more than I make now as a stay-at-home dad.)

My next laptop was a Dell, and this one lasted me much longer. I bought it about a year later, and it cost me about $2000. I was determined this time to get a laptop had that had some serious horsepower. In retrospect, I think I got a bit ripped off, since it didn’t even have a CD burner at a time when that was just starting to become common, but still, I used that laptop for several years and never regretted getting it.

It wasn’t until 2006 that my wife and I decided to replace our laptops. (She also had bought a Dell laptop before we got married.) We were trying to get pregnant, and we wanted to take digital videos of our new child. That meant that we needed a computer capable of processing and storing these videos. So we went out to Best Buy and basically picked up the first computer we saw that we could afford. We really didn’t much research at all. It was an HP desktop running Windows XP with an AMD Athlon 64 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 200 GB hard drive. Not too shabby for the time, but nothing spectacular either.

It worked for the purposes we bought it for, but I became obsessed with making it more powerful. I didn’t really understand graphics cards at the time, and so I bought a video game called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, thinking that my computer would be able to run it. I was wrong. So I ended up buying another gig of RAM and an ATI Radeon X1300 graphics card so that I could run it. The upgrades did the trick, and I ended up buying a whole bunch of PC games, but a few months later my computer started having trouble booting up. Once it was on, it was fine, but getting it to turn on was pretty difficult. I finally ended up taking it back to Best Buy, and after much poking and prodding, they told me that the graphics card I had installed required more power than my computer could give it.

So I ended up taking out the graphics card and putting aside all of the games I had bought that I could no longer play. I thought about buying a new power source, or a different graphics card that could run with the power source I had. But ultimately I decided that I had learned my lesson about messing with my computer’s innards.

After this I became obsessed with getting a laptop. Partially so I could play PC games again, and partially because I liked the portability aspect. I also wanted my wife to get a netbook, because I hated having to wait for her to get off the computer when I wanted to use it. In 2009, I finally convinced her to buy a little pink Acer netbook, and she loved it. In fact, I loved it too, and I realized that if I got a netbook and an Xbox 360, it would be cheaper than buying a full gaming laptop, but I would still get all the gaming and portability goodness that I wanted. So I bought a Lenovo netbook and an Xbox 360, and I thought I was all set.

At first, we intended to keep the old HP desktop so that we could transfer videos from our Samsung MiniDV camcorder via Firewire. Then we decided to give the HP to my in-laws, and we would just take our camcorder over there anytime we needed to transfer a video. (They live less than half a mile up the road.) Finally, we gave my in-laws the Samsung too, and bought a Flip Ultra HD instead, so that we could simplify and streamline the process of transferring videos from camera to computer.

There are two problems with this. First, these netbooks kind of suck at playing HD video. So we can take videos, and store them, but we can’t easily watch them. Plus, these netbooks have pretty tiny hard drives, so we couldn’t really store a lot either. Eventually we bought a 1 TB external hard drive, so the problem of storing videos was solved. But we still couldn’t easily watch them. I have a Playstation 3, and we can hook up the Flip to that and watch them from the Flip on the HDTV. But once the Flip is full and we take all the videos off of it, obviously we can’t watch those videos from the Flip anymore.

Obviously the setup that we had could only be a temporary thing. After all, what’s the point of having videos if you can’t watch them? I would love to tell you what our solution was, but I’ve run out of space this week. Check back next week for Part 2 of this thrilling saga!

I Enjoy Consumer Electronics

Ah, it’s that time of year again. CES time! What’s that? You don’t know what CES is? Well, allow me to enlighten you! CES, also known as the Consumer Electronics Show, is where all (or at least most) of the big electronics companies in the world get together and show off all the wonderful gadgets and doohickies that they may or may not release in the coming year. It’s a great way to delve into all of the weird and wonderful thingies that are coming down the pipe.

Actually this topic is a little bit outdated. CES was January 6-9, so by the time this actually gets posted, it will already be over. But that’s okay. I’ll just talk about some of the things that I heard about that particularly interested me.

Truth be told, this is the first year in a long time that I’ve paid any attention to CES. When I was a kid, CES was exciting because it was where all of the video game publishers would show off all of the new video games that they had in development. But in 1993 (or so) the video game industry started their own trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short. So I stopped paying any attention to CES and I paid attention to E3 instead. In fact, up until a few years ago, I actually thought that CES didn’t even exist anymore.

But now I’m interested in more than just video games, so CES is back on my radar. I’ve decided to devote this blog post to some of the things that were shown at CES that seemed the most interesting. I have to admit, this is pretty much going to be limited to smartphones and tablets. Those are really the only things I’m interested in. Cameras confuse and anger me, cars are just a way to get from point A to point B, laptops are boring and complicated, and I already have a TV. I think that about covers it.

First up is the Motorola Xoom. (Yes I know that’s a terrible name.) The Xoom is a tablet that runs Honeycomb, which is the version of Android that’s designed specifically for tablets. It’s got 10.1 inch, 1280 X 800 resolution screen (compared to the 1024 x 768 resolution of the iPad), it’s got front- and rear-facing cameras, and it supports Adobe Flash, which means it can play all of the streaming video that is available on the internet. It also has a dual-core processor and will (eventually) support Verizon’s new 4G wireless network. Basically, it’s a beast.

There are a few problems though. First of all, Honeycomb is still in development. Nobody seems to know exactly when it will be done, in fact, so there’s no way of knowing when tablets that run Honeycomb will be released. Second, there was no talk about what kind of battery life the Xoom will get. The current version of the iPad gets about 10 hours of battery life on a single charge. Apple is very good at maximizing battery life, so I wouldn’t expect other tablets to get that much. But I would say that anything below 8 hours is a deal-breaker.

Finally, and most importantly, there was no mention of price. Now, the Xoom is exclusive to Verizon, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Verizon subsidizes the price a bit. Unfortunately, that also means that it will require a 2-year contract as well. Which means being locked into an exorbitant monthly fee for 2 years for a service that I can’t use because I live in the woods. So probably no Xoom for me.

The second product announced at CES that really interested me was the Motorola Atrix. The Atrix is a pretty powerful smartphone with a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 4-inch 960×540 screen, and two cameras. It’s running Froyo, which is an older version of Android, but it will be possible to upgrade to Gingerbread, the current version, at some point. Nice specs, but nothing really mind-blowing. What is mind-blowing, at least to me, is that Motorola is going to have a laptop dock available as an accessory for this phone. Basically, the Atrix is powerful enough that you can plug it into this shell, and use it as a full computer, complete with keyboard, trackpad, and an 11-inch screen (I think). Pretty awesome, although, like all phones, the Atrix will require a 2-year contract, which means I won’t be getting one. Plus, there’s no word on how much the laptop dock will cost.

Finally, there is the Motorola Droid Bionic. (As a side note, Motorola apparently won CES.) It’s basically the same as the Atrix, only without the laptop dock. I guess I just like the name. Droid Bionic. Also this blog was paid for by Motorola. Actually that’s not true, but I wish it was.

There were some other things that I heard about and/or read about at CES that sounded cool. The Blackberry Playbook is another tablet (that’s actually NOT running Android) that sounds like it could provide some real competition to the iPad, which is somewhat ironic, because Blackberry smartphones are definitely not very impressive compared to the iPhone. Ford introduced a new all-electric version of the Focus that I would love to own if I lived in an urban area, but I don’t think it would cut it in the snowy, poorly paved back roads of Maine. Samsung showed off new TVs with virtually no bezel, which means that the picture goes from edge to edge, which would look pretty snazzy, I’d imagine. There were probably some other things that I’m forgetting about now.

Anyway, I could on and on for much longer about all the cool stuff at CES. I would love to be able to go someday and get to see and touch all the new and nifty stuff on display there. But until then, at least there’s the internet, so I can at least get a virtual gadget fix.

P. S. Credit for all of the product information contained in this post goes to CNET and TWiT.

Video Games Are Boring Me

I know that anybody who knows me is probably shocked by the title of this post. Heck, I have to admit to being a little shocked that I wrote that. But unfortunately, it is the truth. At least at this present moment. Will it be the truth in a week? Probably not, which is why it’s not as shocking as it might seem at first glance.

I tend to go through various waves of interest in regards to my various hobbies. Sometimes I’m really into reading and I don’t really care about video games. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes I’m not interested in either one of those things cause I’m too busy reading blogs or watching movies. I’m sure that sort of thing is perfectly normal for people with a number of different hobbies. Unfortunately I’m a neurotic and irrational individual, so nothing is ever as normal or as simple as it seems.

The problem is that when I’m in a phase where I’m not as interested in something, I decide that I’m never going to be interested in that thing again. There have actually been times when I’ve come close to selling all of my video games because I’ve been almost convinced that I’m never going to want to play video games again. In fact, although I’ve never sold ALL my video games before, I definitely have sold specific games and/or systems because I was convinced that I would never play them again. Later, I did want to play those games again, so of course I regretted those decisions.

I don’t know why I can’t just be okay with the fact that I’m not in the mood to play video games. After all, it’s not like those games are going anywhere. It’s not like video games expire if they sit on the shelf for too long. I just tend to feel a sense of urgency, like if I don’t play every game I own NOW then I won’t ever get a chance to play them in the future. I know. I’m irrational.

Maybe my sense of urgency stems from my childhood. My brother and I weren’t exactly easy on our video games when we were kids, and none of the games we had back then survived into my adulthood. Unfortunately a lot of those games were really good, and I would love to play them again. Several of them have been re-released and I now own them again, but there are many that haven’t been, and there’s no assurance that they ever will be.

I tend to worry that one or more of my consoles will break and I won’t be able to replace it. Of course, if my Xbox 360 dies tomorrow, it’s still under warranty, so I could get it replaced for free. But what happens if it dies 10 years from now, when something bigger and better has come out, and I can’t just buy a new one?

These are the sorts of things I worry about. Never mind that I could very well be dead in 10 years. (Which is not to say that I think I will be dead in 10 years. I’m just saying, death could come at any time. I could die tomorrow, in fact, and then all of my petty worries would be moot.) I still feel the need to worry about silly things like this. Once again, the lesson here is to just stop worrying and trust God. But if I was good at doing that, I wouldn’t have anything to whine about in my blog. And that, my friends, would be a tragedy.

I’m kidding, of course. Obviously I want to be able to just trust God and not have to worry so much about petty things. Of course, since I’m a sinful and flawed human, this is difficult to do. I know that someday I will be made perfect. But it can be hard to remember that when I’m busy worrying about whether or not I’m going to finish all of my video games before I die or whatever.

I’ve pretty much decided at this point that I need to more or less stop buying video games. Obviously I can’t stop entirely, because there’s always going to be awesome new games that come out. But I definitely need to cut WAY back. I don’t have any idea how many games I bought last year, but I imagine it was at least a couple of dozen. That’s insane. If I keep that pace up, there’s no way I’m going to get through all of the games I own. Especially when I tend to prefer games that take like 50 hours or so to beat.

But even if I did stop buying games entirely, I still have well over 100 games. And although I’ve probably beaten over half of them, that still leaves almost half that I still need to beat. And considering I don’t have a ton of time to play games thanks to my parental responsibilities, I figure it’s going to be a year or two before I get through all the games I currently own.

I may very well decide not to buy any more games until I’ve beaten all the games I own, though. The more I think about it, the more I realize that that’s actually a great idea. It would save me money. I wouldn’t have to worry about being overwhelmed with more games than I can possibly play. And I would eventually be able to get through this giant backlog of games that I have.

The problem is that it’s easy for me to say this now, when I have no money and there are no games on my wish list. What’s going to happen when my birthday rolls around and suddenly I have money and there are a bunch of new games that I want? Hard to say, but that will definitely be a test of my willpower. In any case, I think I’ll wait, and worry about that when the time comes.