Steve Jobs and Power Outages

This isn’t going to be my main topic this week, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something quickly about Steve Jobs resigning as CEO of Apple. There’s  no one who has impacted personal computing quite as much as Steve Jobs. He didn’t invent the PC, but he contributed heavily to popularizing the PC, which would be enough to solidify his place in the annals of computer history if that had been all he did. The Apple II helped usher in the PC age (you could even argue that it was the first PC), and the original Macintosh was the first PC that had a graphical user interface (GUI) and a mouse. (Even if you’re a diehard Microsoft user, you owe a debt to the original Macintosh, considering that Microsoft pretty blatantly ripped off the Macintosh’s GUI when they made Windows. Of course, Apple ripped it off from Xerox originally, but Xerox probably wasn’t going to do anything with the idea anyway, so it’s okay.)

But Steve Jobs didn’t just set the stage for the computing revolution. He has been one of the leading figures, if not THE leading figure in continuing it. The iPod revolutionized the way people listen to music, the iPhone radically altered the entire cell phone industry and the way people think about and interact with cell phones, and the iPad is in the process of changing the very definition of what a computer is.

I could go on and on about the things that Steve Jobs has accomplished, but like I said, I don’t want that to be my main topic this week. Besides, it’s not like the guy is dead. Heck, he’s still involved with Apple, just in a more limited role. But this still feels like the end of an era. It will be interesting to see what happens to Apple now.

Anyway, on to the main topic of the week. Apparently there was supposed to be some sort of hurricane or something headed to the East Coast of the United States of America last weekend. I dunno, I guess it was kind of a big deal maybe. It didn’t really have much of an effect here, but it did make me think about something that bothers me, and that’s losing power.

I hate it when the power is out. I hate it with a passion. I never used to mind all that much. When I was a kid, it was annoying, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. But things are different now. For one, I now live  in the woods, and thus the power lines leading to my house are more vulnerable to trees falling over and whatnot than they are in other places I’ve lived. So the power goes out here more than I was used to growing up.

Not only that, but I use a lot more electricity now than I did when I was a kid. I’m sure I used more than my fair share of electricity as a kid. I loved watching TV and playing video games. But I also spent a lot of time reading books and playing with action figures and playing outside. Only one of those things entertains me now, and even reading books requires electricity now that I have a Kindle. (Although the battery life on the Kindle is good enough that as long as I make sure to charge it before a storm hits, I’m usually all set no matter how long the power is out. Too bad the screen isn’t backlit.) But the main thing is that I didn’t know about or care about the internet when I was a kid, and now I use the internet almost constantly. And of course, no power means no internet. Which is almost paralyzing to me at this point in my life.

So I live in an area that’s more vulnerable to power outages than where I grew up and I have more hobbies that require electricity than I did when I was a kid. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that living out the in middle of nowhere means that we have a well, and having a well means that we have to use an electric pump to get water, and having an electric pump means that if we lose power, we lose water as well. Which means no showers, no flushing the toilet, no washing hands, and, if we haven’t planned ahead, no drinking water. So that kinda sucks.

But, as with so many other things in life, losing power is just one of those things that must be dealt with. Until I get my own wind turbine and solar panels, I’m pretty much dependent on the power grid for my electricity, and unfortunately, sometimes the power grid gets damaged. It’s just something I have to accept, and fortunately it doesn’t happen all that frequently.

Actually it’s pretty amazing to me that we don’t lose power more often where I live. As I’ve said before, I pretty much live in the middle of the woods. Everywhere you look, for miles and miles and miles in every direction, there are trees. Not only that, but there are plenty of places up and down the street I live on where tree branches are pretty much resting right on the power lines. It never ceases to amaze me how often the power DOESN’T go out during big storms. You would think that all these trees would be knocking over power lines left and right.

Well anyway, that’s my blog post for the week. Steve Jobs and power outages. What a combination. I’m hoping to have something a little bit more coherent for you next week, but you know how it goes. Maybe I’ll provide an update about my bold move to sell all of my video games and use the money to buy an iPad. (Spoilers: I have no regrets.) Or maybe I’ll come up with something awesome. You’ll never know unless you come back next week.

Motogoog, WebOS, and the Long, Slow Death of the PC

I realize that I’m more than a week late to this party, but the tech world pretty much got turned on its head last week, and I wouldn’t have any right to call myself a tech journalist if I didn’t add my take on what happened. Granted, I don’t really have much of a right to call myself a tech journalist anyway, but I REALLY wouldn’t have any right if I ignored last week’s big news.

Of course, it would be one thing if there had only been one major, world-altering event that happened last week. But no, there were two. And as I write this, the week technically isn’t over yet, so maybe there will be three before Saturday comes to an end! Probably not though. (Update: There wasn’t.)

The first of these events was the news that Google is buying Motorola. Why is this huge news? Well, Google makes an operating system called Android that is designed for smartphones and tablets. And Motorola makes hardware that runs Android. Technically, Android is open source, which means (in part) that anyone can use it without paying Google a dime. In reality, Google exerts a significant amount of control over Android because they own very desirable pieces of it that are not open source. For example, if you don’t follow Google’s guidelines, your device will not have access to the Android Market, which is the official app store for Android. Of course, Android being open means you can install apps from other sources. In fact, Amazon has a very nice Android app store that anyone can use. But still, there are advantages to going the Google route.

And Android is free even if you do follow Google’s guidelines, which makes it very appealing to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Up until now, the relationship that Google had with OEMs was very similar to the one that Microsoft has with its OEMs, except, of course, Microsoft charges a fee for Windows licenses. But now that Google has announced that they plan to buy Motorola, Google will have the ability to build their own Android devices. Which means that Google’s OEM partners like Samsung and HTC are now going to be competing against it.

Or not. Google claims that they will be running Motorola as a separate business, and that Motorola won’t have any special advantage over other hardware manufacturers. Which may well be true. It’s entirely possible that Google is only buying Motorola because Motorola possesses something like 17,000 patents, and Google covets these patents because they have less than a thousand patents, and they need ammunition to fight the never-ending patent war that is constantly being waged between all of the tech companies.

In any case, that would have been enough big news for one week, but then another bombshell hit on Thursday. HP, the number one PC manufacturer in the world, announced that it was getting out of the PC business. Not only that, but they’re killing off their new WebOS hardware, including the TouchPad, which came out on July 1, and the Pre 3, which hasn’t actually come out yet.

Before I delve into this any more, here’s some background. WebOS is a mobile operating system like Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. It was originally created by Palm, as part of that company’s last ditch effort to stay relevant alive. The original Palm Pre was well reviewed, but it didn’t sell well. Eventually Palm was bought by HP, which pretty much had the entire tech journalism world scratching its collective head. The thought was that HP was going to try to be the next Apple, in the sense that they were going to build a platform where they controlled both the hardware and the software.

In any case, HP spent about 1.2 billion dollars on Palm, and they definitely had people wondering whether or not they made a good investment. Apparently the answer was no, although it’s possible that HP might still make a profit off of Palm after all. However, in the meantime it looks like HP screwed up big time, and they’re screwing some of their customers in the process. HP is aggressively selling off their entire stock of TouchPads at rock bottom prices, i.e., $99 for a piece of hardware that cost $499 less than two months ago. Oh yeah. I’d be mad if I bought a TouchPad at launch. (Update: HP is actually giving refunds to anybody who bought a TouchPad before last weekend. So maybe I wouldn’t be mad after all.)

But the crazier part of all this to me is that HP is getting out of the PC business. After all, there was always a strong possibility that the HP-Palm merger would end up being a disaster. But HP is the biggest PC manufacturer in the world. And they don’t want to make PCs anymore. Because there isn’t enough money in it. What does that say about the state of the PC industry? And what does this have to do with Google buying Motorola?

Well, the answers to those questions are “nothing good” and “everything”. If the world’s biggest PC maker is abandoning the PC business, then they must not expect to be able to make much money off of PCs in the future. But more broadly, I think these two stories show us that the Post-PC Era is well and truly underway, and only God knows what’s going to happen next. The old Windows model of one company making an OS and shipping it off to OEMs without a care for what happens next seems to have run its course. The days of having to fiddle with settings and reboot and reinstall and uninstall and whatnot to get your computer to work are coming to an end. In the Post-PC Era, things just work, without having to struggle with them. This is the secret of Apple’s success. Not that Apple’s products are perfect, but they work better and are more seemless than anybody else’s products. Google understands this, so they bought Motorola in order to shore up their control of their platform and make it more like Apple’s. HP understands this as well, and they understand that they don’t have the chops to execute this strategy, so they’re abandoning the market.

I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen now, but I’m excited. There’s never been a better time to be a technology enthusiast.

Just Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay

I’m contemplating writing about my kids every week now. That last post got the most traffic of any post I’ve ever written, by far. It’s tempting, but all I can think about when it comes to my kids right now is the fact that my daughter is talking and playing when she’s supposed to be laying in her bed sleeping. Kids. I tell ya.

Well, this post isn’t going to be about my kids, but they’ll probably get mentioned once or twice anyway. This week I’m talking about what it’s like to live in a small town. This is a topic that I know very well, because I’ve never lived in a town that had more than 35,000 people living in it, which was the biggest town I’ve ever lived in by far, and I only lived there for about a year and a half.

The town I live in now only contains about 900 people, and it is located somewhere deep in the woods of rural America. My wife and children and I have lived here since July 2006. My wife grew up here, and we actually live about three-tenths of a mile from the house where she grew up. Her parents still live there, and her sister lives next door to them. It’s a tight-knit family, to say the least.

It’s a little odd living in such a small town, but it’s more or less what I’m used to. I was born in a city of about 15,000 people, moved to one that only had about 100 people living in it, and then moved from there to a town that had a population of a little under 10,000. Finally, my family moved to a town with a population of a little less than 20,000, which is where I spent my teenage years, and where my parents still live to this day.

When my wife and I got married, we lived in a small university town with a population of about 7500, and then we moved to the aforementioned city of 35,000 people, and then we moved to her hometown. None of these places are suburbs of a larger city. They are all pretty much self-contained units. So you can see that I have experience living in a variety of different sizes of small towns, but nothing that could be considered a “city”, really.

One thing I tell people to give them a sense of the smallness of this town is that the closest Wal-Mart is a half-hour drive away. It doesn’t quite seem possible in this day and age that there COULD be a place in America that’s half an hour away from the closest Wal-Mart, but there you go. It’s not even a Super Wal-Mart. Just a regular ol’ dinky Wal-Mart.

The cliche about living in a small town is that everybody knows everybody, and I find that that’s pretty much true. I’m not much of a people person, so I try to ignore other humans as much as possible, but I find that people here tend to know who I am regardless. I suppose that has to do with the fact that my wife is the 8th grade teacher at the local school, which makes her a bit of a local celebrity. That and she’s descended from a family that’s lived here since the 18th century or so. Although that bit might apply to just about everybody who grew up here.

That reminds me of another thing about living in a small town. A few years ago, the 8th grade teacher at the local school retired. He had been teaching there for 30 years. My wife is trained as a teacher, so when he retired, she applied for his job and got it. A thoroughly unremarkable story, except for the fact that she was now a staff member at the school where she had once been a student. And she was replacing the man who had been her 8th grade teacher. And she now was working with people who had once been her teachers. Maybe this sort of thing happens in big-city schools too, but I bet it’s rare.

Going back to everybody knowing everybody though, that fact was well illustrated to me the first day we moved here. We actually got married here, in the church that my wife grew up in (which we are now members of), and we had come back to visit often as well, so I should have expected this, but it still caught me off guard. We ordered some pizza, since we were still unpacking and stuff and didn’t want to bother cooking. I went out to the store to get the pizza, and went up to the counter to pay for it. As far as I knew, I had never met the woman behind the counter in my life, but she called me by my name and acted like she knew me. Of course, I know who she is now. She’s the secretary at the school, and my son’s Sunday School teacher. But I had no idea back then. First day in town, and people already knew who I was. Small-town living, baby.

As with so much in my life, I never wanted to live in a small town. As a kid, I always imagined that I would end up in a city someday. (For some reason, Boston or Seattle always seemed like the most likely destinations.) But living in a small town isn’t so bad. I never have to worry about getting stuck in traffic. I don’t have to worry about my Wi-Fi network interfering with that of my neighbors’ (or vice versa). I can listen to music as loud as I want without worrying about it bothering my neighbors, and I don’t have to worry about my neighbors playing loud music of their own and bothering me.

There are downsides, of course, especially for a tech junkie like me. Cell phone coverage is spotty, at best. There’s no 3G coverage here, much less 4G. The nearest Best Buy is two hours away. The nearest Apple store is four hours away. But I make do.

Ultimately, I know that I am where God wants me to be. I may not always understand His reasons, but I know that they’re the right reasons. And that’s all I need.

My Kids Are Cute

You might not believe this, but I don’t just think about myself all the time. I can see where you’d get confused, since all I ever do is blather on about myself. But I really don’t spend all my time playing video games and reading about technology. Actually, as a stay-at-home dad, I spend most of my time taking care of two little kids. Since I usually just talk about myself and my interests on this blog, I thought it might be nice to spend a little time talking about my kids for a change. Plus, I couldn’t think of anything else to write about this week.

My eldest child is a boy, and he is five years old. As you may already know if you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, he has autism. Autism is a very strange thing. Trying to get him to put his socks on by himself is like pulling teeth from cats while you’re trying to herd them. It’s not that he can’t put his socks on, it’s just that he doesn’t want to, and it take an immense amount of persuasion to get him to, and he screams and cries the whole time. On the other hand, if you ask him to add two random numbers together, he’ll give you the answer almost immediately. It’s almost as if numbers are his native language, and English is something he’s just starting to learn.

But of course, there’s more to my son than simply the fact that he has autism. For example, he loves watching TV. Just like every kid! His favorite show right now is Yo Gabba Gabba!, which is a particularly bizarre children’s show on Nick Jr. Actually, my wife has always hated this show, so it irritated her immensely when our son became obsessed with it. But she has begrudgingly admitted that there’s nothing wrong with the show. It’s just very weird. But it’s also very repetitive and there’s a lot of music involved, both of which are things that my son loves.

My son also loves cats, which is good because we have two of them. They are sisters and they’re about a year old. My son greatly enjoys rolling on them. Fortunately, one of them seems to enjoy this behavior. Or she tolerates it, anyway. The other cat makes herself scarce whenever any kids are around, but hey, at least my son has one cat to return his excessive displays of affection.

My youngest child is a girl, who is almost two years old. As far as we know, she doesn’t have autism, but she’s still young enough that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that she might have it. So far so good, though. She has a lot of words that she says and she’ll come out with new ones spontaneously, which is way beyond where my son was at this age. (When he was little, it was the fact that he wasn’t talking at all that eventually led us to discover that he had autism.)

Here’s an example of the cute things that she does. She’ll run up to me and yell “HI!” and when I say “hi” back to her she says “too cute!” and then I have to say “too cute” back to her and then she giggles hysterically and runs away. She also seems to think that she’s a dog. She’ll say “anh yanh yanh DOG!” which seems to translate into “I’m a dog!” Usually, I respond to this with “are you a dog?” at which point she says “woof woof woof!” It’s all very cute.

My daughter loves TV just as much or more than her brother, but unlike him, she’s not picky about what’s on. She pretty much just watches whatever he wants to watch, which is certainly convenient. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to develop her own tastes and they start fighting over what they want to watch.

She is pretty much a little blond whirlwind. She gets into just about everything. She loves to bang things on other things and see what kind of noises she can make. One of her favorite toys is the piano, because it makes all kinds of cool noises. She also likes to carry things. Anything that’s small enough to fit in her hand, she’ll carry around with her wherever she goes, at least until she finds something else that’s fun to carry.

Having kids is such a strange thing. They’re loud and obnoxious, they make messes, they take up free time, and they’re demanding. And yet, hearing a little voice say “I love you, Daddy” or having a little person snuggle up as if you’re the only thing in the world that they need just somehow makes it all worthwhile. I’ll be honest, there are times when I wish I had never had kids. But then there are times when I wouldn’t give them up for the world, and the latter times definitely make the former times worth it.

To be perfectly honest, I never really wanted kids in the first place. I just kind of assumed that I HAD to have kids, and by the time I realized otherwise, I was already married to a woman who really wanted kids. Not only did I not really want kids, but I certainly never wanted or expected to have a kid with special needs. I’ve always been pretty freaked out by people with special needs. But God works in mysterious ways, and he certainly doesn’t just give us what we want. And I am grateful for that.

So here we are. I have two kids where I didn’t really even want one, and one of them has special needs. I would like to say that I definitely am not going to have any more kids, but I’ve learned that it’s never wise to make plans like that, because God doesn’t often take our plans into account when making His own. So maybe there are more kids in my future. I certainly hope not, though. Two is definitely enough for me.

So, I’m Getting an iPad After All

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I said that I was giving up on video games but I wasn’t going to sell the ones I had? Yeah, so I put all of my video games in a big box about a week ago and shipped them off to Gazelle. The tipping point came last week, when my wife and I took a day trip to our local medium-sized town, and I spent some time playing with tablets at Best Buy. I came to the sudden realization that I needed an iPad, and I was willing to give up my many video games to get it. Having put two and two together, the conclusion was simple. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

First of all, tablets. Back when I was originally going to get an iPad but then I ended up with a laptop instead, there weren’t really many options other than an iPad. When the iPad 2 first came out, there was pretty much the Motorola Xoom and, well, nothing. Now, there’s a plethora of different options. At my local Best Buy (and presumably every Best Buy) there is a large table set up with numerous tablets on display. These include a number of Android Honeycomb tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Acer Iconia Tab A500, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, and the Toshiba Thrive. There’s also the Blackberry Playbook which runs RIM’s QNX operating system,  the HP TouchPad that runs HP’s WebOS, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab which runs a pre-Honeycomb version of Android. Plus, there’s a couple of other generic Android tablets that are too ugly and too painfully sluggish to bother mentioning here.

Now, there’s a part of me that roots for the underdog. I have a tendency to be attracted to the unpopular thing simply because it’s unpopular, and to be repelled by the popular thing simply because it’s popular. That’s a large part of the reason why I bought five Zunes, and resisted buying an iPod for so long, and it’s why I grew up listening to bands like Zao and Emperor instead of bands like Nirvana or 311 or Korn or whatever. So I’ve really found myself drawn to Honeycomb tablets in general, and to the Acer Iconia Tab in particular. Honeycomb tablets have gotten a bit of a bad rap on tech review websites, and the Iconia Tab in particular is kind of a thick, ugly tablet with a mediocre screen. Even so, there’s something about it that I love. Maybe it’s the fact that I have an Acer laptop. Maybe it’s the fact that it costs a hundred dollars less than an iPad. If there was a Netflix app for it I’d probably buy it instead of an iPad.

Be that as it may, I can’t deny that the iPad is the most popular tablet for one simple reason: it’s the best. My last couple of trips to Best Buy have really driven that home. Having played with all of the various tablets available, I feel the need to compare them with a terrible food analogy. I would say that the Playbook and the TouchPad are like a great loaf of multigrain bread that’s covered with mold. The Honeycomb tablets are like a delicious, greasy pizza with pepperoni, ham, bacon, mushrooms and olives, but no Italian sausage, which happens to be my absolute favorite topping. Finally, the iPad 2 is like my mother’s lasagna, i.e., the best food I could possibly imagine. It’s just leaps and bounds better than every other tablet on the market, and there’s nothing on the foreseeable horizon that could possibly change that, except for, of course, the inevitable iPad 3.

So that’s that. But what about the other part? Why did I decide to sell all of my video games right after I wrote a blog post saying that I wasn’t going to sell all of my video games? Well, as I mentioned earlier, I had a bit of an epiphany while I was playing with an iPad at Best Buy last week. As I was browsing the internets and checking out various apps and desperately wanting an iPad to call my very own, I realized that I had a bunch of video games at home that were just sitting on a shelf collecting dust. I also realized that if I sold all those video games, I would probably have enough money to buy myself an iPad. And I was right.

Now, granted, my video games are still in a big box on their way to Gazelle. So it’s entirely possible that I’ve greatly overestimated the condition of my stuff and Gazelle will write me an email that says somthing like, “Um, yeah. We’ll give you, like, 300 bucks for this stuff.” In which case I probably won’t be buying an iPad anytime soon, since they cost at least $500. But I’m pretty confident that I evaluated my stuff fairly, so hopefully Gazelle will give me what they said they’re going to give me, which was about $600.

So there you have it. It will soon be iPad time around these here parts. I’m very excited to figure out how I’m going to use it. I already know that it will be my main Netflix device. I also imagine that it’s going to become my main web-browsing device. I haven’t decided if I want to do my writing on it or not, though. I may just keep using my laptop for that, or maybe I’ll invest in a Bluetooth keyboard at some point and see what happens.

My only hope with all of this is that some other newfangled tablet doesn’t come out in the next couple of months and make me wish that I had waited. Supposedly Amazon is coming out with a new tablet soon that could be a game-changer. There have also been persistent rumors that the iPad 3 is coming sometime this fall. I hope I don’t have any reason to regret getting an iPad 2 now, but if I do, then so be it.

I suppose I could always just sell my iPad 2 to Gazelle and buy something else.