Toting the wee Mac

Thought I’d toss this together for anyone who might be interested.

I recently picked up a 12″ MacBook to replace the position that my iPad has held these past couple years–that of my mobile computing rig. There’s about a million opinions on the New MacBook, from the complementary to the not-so complimentary.

I myself think it’s great for what I’m doing with it. In a nutshell, I think its shortfalls are well overblown, and the things it does do not only surpass my needs, but are often surprizing to me in good ways. How that’s for the TL;DR version? :)

My larger concern was how I was going to carry it around. The laptop is eminently portable. In fact I’d say that if you’re not traveling at least as far as the coffee shop with this thing on a regular basis, you’re doing it wrong. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like taking a computer along with me wasn’t remotely cumbersome. If there’s one thing the pundits can’t complain about, it’s the portability of the thing.

I spent altogether too long researching ways to get this laptop from place to place. It’s made more difficult by the fact that it’s a new form factor, and most of the people who make cases and whatnot for Macs haven’t gotten around to creating any. Truthfully though, even the ones that have made it to market as of this writing don’t really do much for me. I wanted something classy, and all the classy ones are also brutally expensive. In a world where a simple sleeve can cost this much, well, I’m surely not going to fork that over.

I’ve been super happy with my STM bag where the iPad is concerned. The thing’s been bullet proof for years, and I like the form factor. I have a variation on this bag (couple generations older). Given that I like it so much, I’m tempted to grab the solution for the MacBook. I may yet go that route, except I found that the MacBook is actually small enough to fit in the iPad bag… sorta. It fits width-wise, but the top (or I guess technically the side) pokes up past the top of the bag. The flap still closes, but you can tell it’s not meant for that, and it loses whatever weather protection it offers to an iPad. Still, I wanted something classier for the new addition. Something leather.

Seems the solution was right under my nose. Earlier this year, I picked up this bag from Roots. I got it because I had my eye on for the iPad many moons ago, and it was a really sweet deal. I think I saved nearly 50% at the time, which is great. I’ve had another Roots messenger bag for years, and I love the thing. It’s a bit too big for what I typically carry these days though. I wanted smaller and less bulky.

When the MacBook finally entered my life, I was thrilled that it fit the bag perfectly. But, there was a problem. Not being designed specifically for Apple gear, the Roots bag contains a badge and magnetic clip on the inside of the bag that would scratch the hell out of the Mac if I put it in there. What I needed was a liner of some sort. Thing is, all the good ones added too much bulk to the works. Even the thinnest ones wouldn’t fit in the bag with the Mac inside. I was thinking of simply sewing my own sleeve with felt from the hobby store when I read about this case on David Sparks’ site.

I took a chance and ordered it, and lo and behold, I have the perfect, classy laptop bag. It’s so tiny! I can’t believe that I can carry this around and have pretty much my full computer workflow with me at all times. Now, bear in mind, you’re not going to be carrying a lot. But the bag fits my everyday carry without issue: Laptop, keys, iPhone, wallet, change purse. I love that the iPhone slides neatly into the back pouch for easier access. If it weren’t for all the non-electronics-friendly hardware on bag, I’d swear Roots inadvertently built the perfect MacBook bag.

But because nothing is entirely unicorns and roses, here’s the few cons I’ve noticed:

  • The computer fits so snugly that when you’ve got the bag on, it’s pretty much a rigid slab. There’s no ‘drape’ to the bag, if that makes sense. It’s stuffed outwardly to every millimeter, and it looks that way. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it does seem reminiscent of 2D video games. :)
  • The bag is small enough that you cannot get a standard letter sized sheet of paper into it flat. You’ll need to fold your paperwork if you want to bring it with you. If roots would have designed this bag to be just a little bigger–big enough to fit a folder of 8.5×11″ papers flat, it would be heavenly and would solve both this issue and the one above.
  • The strap is thinner than most messenger bags. I imagine this bag was meant more as a women’s tote than a laptop bag, but I find it seems masculine enough (especially once I removed all the silly dangley leather bits, which was easy), and I’ve never been laughed at (that I’m aware of). Still, if you’re walking around for a day, you may find the strap less comfortable than a wider one.

Otherwise, this solution works for me. I’m totally digging the mobile writing rig. It’s a perfect complement to my desktop iMac.

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Photo on 2015-08-10 at 9.31 PM

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Incorrect demographic, or just lonely?

When I was much younger, I loved to watch horror movies. They were fun, mostly because they were so bad they were good. I remember more laughter than terror on my part from them. Really, I can count the number of good horror flicks I’ve watched on two hands. Every now and then though, one kind of comes out of left field and surprises me.

I watch them when there’s nothing else going on and I need to chill and Suzanne is out of town or busy or whatever. I mostly gave up on horror after Paranormal Activity though. There’s scenes in that movie that still run through my head on nights where I can’t sleep and it’s not good when movies do that. I gave up on much of what was going on after that, just to save myself from having these movies get their hooks into the worst of my innate psychology. That, and I’m not in the least interested in the torture-porn that seems to have been en vogue for the last little while. I can usually sniff out the ones that’ll get to me. Like for instance, I won’t be watching Goodnight Mommy – that just looks like a psychological shit show waiting to happen.

But I did recently take in Unfriended (yay, iTunes), and it surprised me in a good way. It isn’t a horror movie in the classical sense. I didn’t watch it with a sense of foreboding or fear. I watched it more from the perspective of how teens operate today vs. how they operated back when I was a teen. I’m wondering how accurate it is. It really did shine a light on the way times have changed for me.

A typical Saturday night in 2015?
A typical Saturday night in 2015?

The thing that got to me was I got to see how someone uses a computer in the evening these days, seeing as how the entire movie takes place on a computer screen (which is a damned clever narrative device). I was interested in how a group of people get together to hangout in the evening using Skype.

Back when I was that age, you had to go get together. It was a much more involved process. You had to make phone calls, agree to locations, get yourself ready to go out, get yourself there (which depending upon the weather and where it was could be more difficult than you imagined), arrange for how to get home, ensure you had money if the place was a hangout spot or whatever. There was a lot you had to do to spend some time with your friends.

I totally get how using Skype could be a great way of just hanging out with one’s friends, assuming everyone has a computer that can handle a video chat, which I guess by now, most everyone that age does. Hell, any recent iPhone does.

I was curious if it really worked as well as it seems to in the movie. I would have thought there’d be all kinds of stutter and drop-outs and image quality issues to the point where the whole system would become unusable, even with three people on board, never mind five or six. I know that my FaceTime conversations with Europe tend to be touch-and-go, but I always wondered if that was maybe due to my chat partner’s overall luddite status.

So I thought maybe I’d give it a try. Downloaded Skype. Promptly realized that I don’t have a single person to talk to. All of my generation and the people I grew up with apparently are either in the wind, or don’t go in for video chat at all.

Hmm.

I’m trying to decide if that’s good, bad, or neither. Have we not kept up with the times, or is our mind set simply that this isn’t anything we’re interested in doing? Maybe we’ve all got cars now so getting together isn’t as big a deal, or maybe awe’ve all just kind of settled on the one or two people we actually want to talk to every day, most often our spouses, and the rest we see often enough–video chats in the evening just aren’t necessary. Not sure what it is, but I kinda regret missing out on some of the technology.

But then, today they miss out on the true hangout–shooting pool or coffee shops. There’s something to be said for that stuff. I think I miss that more. In those days, cyber-bullying didn’t exist. If there’s one thing I really am glad about, it’s that I did the majority of my stupid shit before the internet.

Thieves

When I got into the office this morning, one of my colleagues pulled me aside and showed me his bike lock. It was still intact, but someone had a good go of trying to chew through it yesterday afternoon with some kind of tool. This happened in broad daylight, in the parking lot of our office, pretty much right next to my own bike.

It’s incredible. I don’t understand people. I don’t get why you’d want to take things that aren’t yours to sell and get money. There are way better, not to mention legal ways to make money. The effort it takes plus the risk involved just doesn’t equate into any kind of value proposition in my mind. But then, maybe I just don’t get it, as I am not in the head of a thief.

One of my friends works in a correctional facility, and he’s in charge of people’s probation. Some of the people he works with are recently arrived immigrants who don’t get it. Apparently, they just see people who have so much where they don’t have anything, and so there’s this disconnect in their heads and they feel like it’s just and perfectly fine to Robin Hood their way through society; especially if they’re ‘the poor’. I guess I can understand that mentality far more than the people out there who have all they need and yet steal just for shits and giggles, or for the thrill of it. Those folks I don’t get. There’s loads of ways to get thrills that aren’t in the least frowned upon by society. For them, it’s the fact that their actions are frowned upon that gets them off. I don’t get it.

I bought my bike new in 2013, and I really do rather like it. I got the bike that worked best for the job, and I intend to keep it around for as long as I’m able. My bike has become my primary means of transportation this summer, seeing as how our car is often needed elsewhere during the day. Being a consummate cheap skate, I want to try to avoid getting another car if I can. We’ll see how much my tune changes come the cold weather, but for now, the intent is to keep finding car-free methods to work. That being the case, it’s pretty important that I don’t have my wheels stolen out from under me. That, and I’ve found that I honestly don’t mind the cycle-commute. It ticks off the ‘exercise’ box I’ve had such trouble ticking off in the past couple years, and for the most part, it’s quite enjoyable.

My current means of commuting.
My current means of commuting.

Thing is, I didn’t rev my bike lock when I got the bike. I just kept using the old one. I’m not at all convinced that my lock is all that good. Certainly, it’s no better than the one my colleague nearly had chomped through yesterday. It’s a wonder the thief didn’t go for my bike instead, but there’s a possibility that the theft attempt happened in the 15 minutes between when I left the office and my colleague did.

I spent at least some of today repeatedly wandering to the kitchen so I could look out the window and assure myself that my bike was still there. After a day of that, I knew I had to do something. So, enter the new beast.

This will be harder to get through
This will be harder to get through

Yeah, it was expensive, but still a fraction of my deductible. I’d rather not have to go through replacing my bike. This should at least remove my wheels from the ‘low hanging fruit’ category of bicycles available for theft out there. Still a crappy state of affairs when people need to worry about things like this. I wish people weren’t so… I dunno, lost?

Anyway, paws off my bike. I need it to commute.

Retro Dungeons

I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of the ones that keeps me company on my daily cycle-commute is Mac Power Users. A couple very helpful people who would have never gotten jobs in radio for their voices, who none the less make a really useful podcast typically full of valuable info for the Mac geek in me. One of their guests recently mentioned a little piece of software called Crossover, which allows one to run Windows programs on Macs. I’m well aware that you can do this with parallels or bootcamp, but I never felt like I wanted to have a full install of Windows on my machine for the three or four instances where I’d want to still run a Windows program. Still, Crossover is expensive by way of apps these days, and I didn’t want to check it out–the price of entry was something I’d rather spend elsewhere.

Coincidentally, later that day, there was a deal on at StackSocial that allowed me to pick up Crossover (plus 9 other software packages I’ll likely seldom use) for 6 bucks. I schmidt you not. That’s like 90% off what you’d pay full price. Well, for that price, I’ll bite. So I downloaded the package, toyed around with Crossover for a bit last night, and after a few false starts, lo and behold, I had this:

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And the warm wash of nostalgia came shining through. What you’re looking at there is Dungeons of Daggorath. It’s a seminal game for me, the thing that got me into video games whole hog, and into computers rather than systems my friends had like Atari 2600. I remember being in Radio Shack and seeing the game there, but I don’t recall what made me want it.

We had inherited a TRS-80 Color Computer from my older brother, who bought it for reasons I don’t recall–I think he got it for school, but I’m not sure. I do recall he upgraded to a different Tandy machine because the poor little TRS-80 couldn’t handle much. With a staggering 4K of RAM, I recall you could only type about 4 pages of text before you had to stop and create a new file for whatever document you were working on. But, it did have a few games, and when I was kid I used to waste some time on them, but it was never a huge thing.

Then came Daggorath. I wanted to play it, but the system needed at least 16K RAM to run. Somehow, I got my parents to front for a computer upgrade, which brought with it a new keyboard and the coveted increase in RAM. I was gifted the game for my 12th birthday. I recall my mom saying that I shouldn’t play it too much.

I did exactly the opposite. I played it all the time. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. You could could run around a dungeon in 3D and fight monsters. That in itself was really fun for me. Once my then new friend Erik (who would be best man at my wedding some 28 years later) came over and I wanted to show him the game. My brother was playing and facing a wall. Erik didn’t get it. Then with one “T L” (Turn Left) command, you saw the whole hallway disappearing into the torchlight in perspective, and could hear the sounds of the various creatures–louder if they were closer, softer if far away. Erik was pretty much sold then.

Heck, Erik and I formed what would become a lifelong friendship partially around this game. We used to come over to my place after school and take turns playing. Erik used to draw the characters from the game in his notebook. We delighted in every new discovery, and pondered incantations for the rings. In our pre-internet world, it was pretty easy to spend considerable time just pondering these things and trying them out when we got to the game.

A sea change came when we figured out the simple strategy of dropping items. Most creatures in the dungeon apparently were greedy above all else, and picked up all the dropped items around you before they’d attack, giving you ample time to hack away at them, often enough to do them in. That was enough to take us to lower dungeon levels where there were creatures that didn’t care about your stuff, and creatures that couldn’t be seen under normal torch light. Those needed new strategies that we had to devise.

The game is surprizingly engaging. The heart beat totally makes the game, adding urgency and calm at the right times, and the stepping around in the dark is really absorbing. The game’s got this creepiness about it, this way of keeping you just a little on guard at all times. It’s seriously one of the best games I’ve played, and the obvious granddaddy to modern 1st-person shooters. It’s easy to see that Skyrim owes a lot to DoD. But alas, eventually, after what seemed like forever but was probably the same year, we beat the game. It was so cool to do that. It was a long play, and when you won, you felt like a champion.

The game didn’t have a lot of replayability, though. I sort of forgot about it once it was done, and eventually, I sold that TRS-80 to another friend’s parents, never to be seen again. A number of years later, I got to missing DoD and I even tried to buy the system back, just for that game. It never happened though.

Then sometime in the early 2000’s, I happened upon an internet site (now apparently gone) populated by geeks like me (who loved the game) who had talent (unlike me) and they’d gotten in touch with the original programmer, gotten permission to use the code, and embarked upon a project to port the game over to PC. I found this, downloaded it, and was astounded to see the game come to life again on my crappy little IBM ThinkPad. I was totally overcome with nostalgia, and I played the game through to the end over a couple days. It was still totally fun. I returned to it again and again just for some down time fun for the next couple months, and then as fate would have it, I got into Mac computers. As is common with Mac ownership, that pretty much ended my PC use, and the game with it. DoD would not run on a Mac, and there was no OS X port, or plan to make one.

But now it’s come home. One silly little emulation package coupled with my hoarding which kept the PC Port exe on my archive drives has enabled me to toss this little game that felt so huge into my roster once again. A game that originally needed a Motorola 6809 processor and 16K of ram is now running on a system that has a Core i5 processor and 16GIG of RAM. It’s really pretty amazing. I imagine if a geek were truly bored, this could be ported to run on a fraction of the power in the current Apple Watch. That’s something I’d like to see. Or even more, an iPhone version. Oh, for want of talents I don’t have.

In any case, it’s fun for me. I love these little nostalgic romps. I’m going to see if I can play this through again, just to say I’ve done it on a Mac.

I posted the above screen grab over on Facebook, and one of my friends shared this in response. Too much hilarity.

Best intentions

Apparently, I have little to say.

I started out 2015 thinking I’d try to blog more, but it seems like I never really did. Instead of more social presence, I have less this year, which is both good and bad. Twitter’s the main driver, and anything long-form I need to say, I tend to not publish. Ah well.

I suppose I’ll keep the blog going, just ‘coz it’s free. Maybe someday I will find my voice.

Bereft of things to say

Haven’t been much for writing of late, have I? Best laid plans and all that. Sigh. Well, you get what you get when you get it, I suppose. Most of my writing isn’t public right now. To tide you over (and mark the season) here’s what’s happening outside my office window right now:

Thankfully, it seems to have abated in the past few minutes…

Coldest night of the year

I think this is it. They say that we are tied with a record that has stood for 135 years for the coldest February on record. To say I’m ready for some spring is an understatement.

Have some Bruce in acknowledgement. :)

And yeah, i’m at least very grateful that I know where my love is… and we are together on the coldest night of the year.

-40 with the wind chill. The winter can shove it now, please.