Tweaking Tech & The How Much Is Your Time Worth

2014-05-04 Mac Mini OS Refresh - 3

I have a co-worker whom I tease endlessly because when he switched from iPhone to a Samsung phone, he always seemed to be spending his time tweaking the device to do the things his iPhone used to do. He is happier having a much larger screen for less money. And I’m all about having choices and competition between tech vendors, but the question cannot really be settled based only on the price he paid to bring his new device home. How much time is he spending, as in days, getting the thing to work, and not just setting it up, but also all the endless tweaking? And how much is his time that he’s spending on all of this worth?

Believe me, I know all about tweaking devices because before I went full-time Mac I spent most of my tech-time tweaking my PC’s settings, just to get stuff to work. I may have gotten into tech because I was looking for a better way to do my writing, but I spent most of my time making my desktop theme look really cool and not writing. I may have had many more choices in apps and add-on peripheral devices back in the PC days, but I spent so much more time getting these devices to work, to the point that I became something of a troubleshooting expert, but that’s not why I got the thing in the first place. In terms of hours and days spent looking for answers and tweaking settings, how much did it cost me to get my cheaper PCs to run versus the more expensive Mac equivalents to work?

The irony of all this is that I have an old Mac Mini that I’ve been resisting replacing even though it can’t run the current OS, it can’t handle anymore RAM or hard drive space and is in need of an OS re-fresh because more and more things are beginning to not work. Refreshing the OS wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that when I bought it all those years ago I went cheap and only got the CD drive model and now the OS requires a DVD drive to work. So, I just spent the past week trying to figure out how to make this refresh work. Couldn’t find a way to make a bootable USB drive, that didn’t require the missing DVD drive, etc., etc. Yeah, given all of the hours I’ve spent researching and trying different OS imaging methods without success, if my time was only worth $80 an hour (typical tech support fee), I could have bought a new Mac Mini and be done with all this crap. Damn. I hate it sometimes when I’m right about the cost on my own time. To be continued…

Aspirational Technology Acquisitions: My New Kindle Paperwhite

2014-04-22 Kindle and Aspirational Tech - 2

It’s either a genuine first world problem or a sign that I really need a life, or both, but I’ve come to discover that sometimes I’ve purchase technology with great intentions, but seem to fall way short. Sad. In my earlier lifetime before PCs I bought books. Notice, I said that I bought books, not that I read books. In the short time that I lived with Tricia and her mom I had to face the fact that unlike them, I liked the idea of reading more than the actual practice of reading. My first guess is that my brain doesn’t seem to have the patience to put up with the slow speed that I seem to read at versus how quickly I’ve learned to absorb information via other means, often TV or video-related media.

It makes sense. I grew up with TV. I grew up in a large not-so-quiet family. As a teenager I got in trouble if I was too quiet (usually secretly reading my bible). So, I tend to be most comfortable in a busy household with many things going on at once. And sitting down with a good book is something I do when on vacation, when I give myself permission to live other lives. Then I’ll dive deep into multiple volume works like Azimov’s Foundation series or Herbert’s Dune universe. Alas, I may not give myself permission, but I recognize the need to be more “literate” as part of being a better writer (something that I also seem to aspire to more than practice… ugh). So, because I’m always using my iPad for multiple things, I decided that I needed a more single-purpose device like a Kindle to facilitate all this reading that I wanted to do.

In our separation, Tricia ended up with the previous Kindle I’d purchased, but I thought my iPad, especially after switching to an iPad Mini, would suffice. Not so much. Then I discovered that I had more than enough AMEX-points to cover the purchase of a new Kindle, so why not? I’ve had the new Kindle for a couple weeks… only books I’ve “read” have been audio-books on my iPhone. Yeah, the problem is clearly not technological. Damn. Well, at least I’ve answered that question in my life (and it only cost a ton of AMEX-points). Yeah.

If you’re interested in joining me with this aspirational function please feel free to click my amazon associates link to purchase your own Kindle Paperwhite. Enjoy.

Lightening the Load

iPad Only.
Me and my backpack and walker. Image by Joe Bustillos.

Me and my backpack and walker. Image by Joe Bustillos.

This past week when I went into the office I left the ranks of the computer-backpack downtrodden. Over a year ago, back when I was ill, I had to carry everything in a bag because I needed both hands to support myself with my walker. It was bad enough to have to use a bag just to carry a water bottle or anything, but going to the office was all the worse because I had to lug around all this heavy gear like some broken down pack mule. I experimented with a few things like using my Mac Mini at work and iPad for everything else, but they were just too slow and I had problems with things running different versions of the software I used, so I gave up. Then I got stronger and didn’t mind carrying the computer backpack as much.

As fate would have it I recently installed some software on the work laptop that made a bunch of stuff incompatible, so I needed to have the thing re-imaged and that made it run much better than it had in the past. That made me think that maybe I could forgo my former pack-mule existence and just carry about my iPad mini like I’d previously imagined. I spent some time making sure that I had all the software and documents I needed on the work laptop and the means to keep everything in sync. When I thought that I’d tested everything and made sure it all worked I went to work without any backpack of any kind. It was glorious. And thanks to my 5.11 Tactical Pant (cargo pants modeled after their military and law-enforcement brothers), everything I needed fit in my pockets. No giant backpack carrying all of my worldly possessions, cables, connectors, adapters and the like. Just my iPad mini, a small external-hard-drive (because I had some image collections I’d forgotten to load on the work laptop), a ziplock baggy with a few iOS connectors, a micro-fiber cloth & Olloclip iPhone camera adapter and my Pencil (an iPad stylus from Paper 53) all fit comfortably in my pants’ pockets.

I know that this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, “So you have a computer at home and a computer at work and you’ve got weird cargo pants to fit your tablet in”… but having carried a laptop to work and back everyday going back to when I first started teaching in the mid-90s… hell, I was carrying my personal laptop going back to my phone company days… so, I’m happy to think that I can give my poor back and shoulders a break and be able to get away with carrying my technology in my iPhone and my iPad-mini. First-world problem, I know, but it’s taken over a year to get here and I’m going to enjoy the freedom to have my hands-free and my back unencumbered.

Not Me. Toulouse, France by theritters, Some rights reserved (Attribution).

Not Me. Toulouse, France by theritters, Some rights reserved (Attribution).


5.11 #74251 Men’s Cotton Tactical Pant

Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens Solution for iPhone 5/5s – RED/Black

Walnut + Magnetic Snap Pencil. Made for Paper.

Graphite Pencil by FiftyThree

image: Toulouse, France by theritters, Some rights reserved (Attribution),

The Frustrated Confessions of a former Tele-Commuter


The recent kerfuffle about letting go of news anchor Tom Merritt resurfaced the conversation about whether teams can really work together when some team members work remotely. Turns out that it may have been more a contract issue than an “in the office” issue, but it still is a thing that even high tech companies have prejudices connected to team members not working in the same physical space. It seems counterintuitive that companies connected to technology would struggle with this, the more famous example being when Yahoo CEO, Marissa Meyer decided to pull the plug on their work-from-home program. How could a company based on Internet usage close down one of the cherished promises of the Internet: working from home? Having spent only two-months working from home this past year, I can say that there are real issues that need to be address by any enterprise undertaking having team members work remotely.

If your job primarily requires interacting with data or others via a computer screen than it would seem pretty obvious that the job can be done almost anywhere with a good Internet connection. Small tech start-ups routinely are small teams where no one lives in the same city. Hell, one IBM-er (NOT a small start-up), manages his world-wide team from the Canary Islands and he does it without relying on email! So where does this scenario not work, why is it that Yahoo is calling back all it’s employees and Chief-TWiT, Leo Laporte, cite the need to have the News Director in the office as a requirement?

For the employer the question is how to track employee productivity and for the worker how to interact with coworkers. The first one seems like it should be relatively easy to deal with, but may require the manager to do more than look to see who is sitting in their cubes to get a sense of whether the employees are doing their jobs. This is where the yearly employee improvement plan and review might come to actually mean something and should be more carefully constructed and considered. On the worker-interaction end of the question, my office actually began a two-day-a-week-work-from-home plan because we needed the time away from each other to focus on the paper-work because we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we weren’t always getting the paperwork done. But when my work-from-home stretched from two-days to two-months I missed the energy that I get from my coworkers when they discuss what they’re working on or when we’re troubleshooting some problem. But the real hassle working-remotely was when I tried to participate in meetings where most of the team was meeting physically somewhere. I very much believe in the tools like Skype and Go-To-Meeting/Go-To-Training as far as staying connected. But the problem with mixed-some-present-some-remote meetings is that unless there is an individual monitor set up for every remote person and that what slides the presenter is using is directly piped through something like Go-To-Meeting, then those remotely sitting in are reduced to the largely ignored peanut gallery. You would think that this wouldn’t be a problem for a work group that’s been teaching purely online for five-years, but it really was a point of failure. But just like manager’s not being able to manage their groups by tallying butts in seats, one cannot conduct mixed meetings without putting extra effort into providing the means for those attending remotely to have a real presence in the meeting.

One monitor per remote participant

One monitor per remote participant

And just like teaching online, it is not enough to have the tools and just convert what you normally do to something more “techy.” It requires some work-culture changes and more focused uses of technology to get the job done. When Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur interviewed the remote IBM-er, Luis Suarez, he shared that he carefully chose his communication tools, including in-house blogs, collaborative platforms and twitter, so that his managers and coworkers were always in the loop on what he was working on. But he added that it’s not about the tools but on the office culture that understands the job they are trying to accomplish and that just clearing one’s email inbox is not the job. That’s the last point in Chris Pirillo’s five steps that are essential to having a successful virtual workspace experience:

  • In Virtual Offices, Close Communication is Key
  • Define Goals for the Virtual Offices of Your Team
  • Train Your Virtual Offices Team Well
  • Set Performance Standards for Your Virtual Offices
  • Foster a Collaborative Mindset Among Virtual Offices

I completely believe that teams spread across the globe can do great work, but it requires extra work by all parties. Most of us already think about work differently from a place to do something to something we do… we just need to be more focused that we stay connected with team members using the tech we’re already using.