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Entries in Computing (15)

Tuesday
Apr082003

On Keeping Technology in Perspective

Lately I've been contemplating how to best integrate technology into my life so that it balances well against non-technical things. I've come to the conclusion that while high-tech often has great value, it is also important to deliberately choose low-tech solutions and spend time in no-tech activities.

For instance, the past few months I've noticed my desire to work on my Mac during weekends has diminished greatly. Not very long ago, I could be found on my computer on weekends, checking email, surfing the web and so on. Now I feel much happier leaving my hi-tech devices idle on the weekend. Instead I visit the library, read a good book, sketch, run errands, and spend quality no-tech time with my wife, son, family and friends.

After years of high-tech experience, I've reached the point of getting enough of technology during the week. This might be better stated as a realistic view of technology. I work in a high tech field (web design) and several of my hobbies are high-tech (Palm handhelds and Macs), which fill my week with high-tech input. I'm now finding I really need weekends away from technology to decompress and recover.

I've also always had a bit of resistance to the idea that technology is the "great solution" to all problems. I'm no Luddite, but I do think technology may not necessarily be the right solution for every problem we encounter — often low-tech solutions are better. Maybe this resistance is because my life experience pre-dates computers being entwined into daily life.

The Benefits of Learning the Old Ways

As a young graphic design student in college, I was fortunate to have been taught the traditional, manual methods of art and design, using pencils, pens, chalk, pastels, brushes, paint and paper. During my early career as a graphic designer, I can still recall days when the power would go out at our design studios.

The computer systems running Quark Express, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator would shut down, yet I was able to grab a pad of paper and a pencil and continue working, while many other designers were lost without a computer.

Now, I don't mean to knock computer systems, but rather want to point out how valuable a traditional, low-tech design education can be. I believe too much reliance on computer hardware tends to dull a designer's creative mind, hands and eyes.

Think Deeply About Technology Dependence

What's the point I'm driving at here? I think we all need to think deeply about how much we rely on technology. High-tech solutions are great where appropriate but I also believe we should also seek to incorporate low and no-tech solutions and activities into our lives.

Activities and solutions that are not reliant on high-tech can help provide a break from the constant pressure a high tech life generates. Further, maintaining a low and no-tech aspect to our lives gives us opportunities to explore our human creativity in ways that don't require a computer or high tech device.

Turn off your computer, leave your PDA and mobile phone behind. Forget about your email. Go have a cuppa coffee or tea with good friends, read a great book for pleasure, take time to write a real letter to a friend, sketch something, take a walk on a sunny day, go for a bike ride, visit the beach, explore your own hometown. Whatever it is that you enjoy that doesn't require a high-tech device to do... do it!

Friday
Apr042003

Email Carefully!

I've always tried to make the email messages I write "safe for public consumption", because I never know where an email message might end up. I was reminded of this guideline after reading the eye-opening story Misfired Messages Roil Businesses at Wired.com. The article is a cautionary tale filled with email horror stories like this one:

In a note intended for a few friends, marketing executive Alex Clark once mocked his company's CEO and his inability to properly attach a document to an e-mail message, only to discover he had sent the missive to the chief executive himself. "Working with the IT department and the CEO's personal secretary," said Clark, "I attempted to intercept the message before it reached his inbox -- to no avail. Later that night, I received the response. The CEO made his outrage abundantly clear in the most scathing e-mail I have ever received."

For me, the article makes obvious just how easy it is to send disastrous messages if you're not very careful. Because email is almost a blend between written notes and phone conversations, I think it's often treated a bit too casually.

Combine the relaxed nature of email with its immediacy and multiple recipient capability and you've got a recipe that could potentially cook up a batch of serious trouble.

The moral of the story? Be careful what you write. Consider it "safe for public consumption", because you never know where any email message might land.

If in doubt, don't send it out!

Enjoy your weekend! :-)

Tuesday
Mar252003

One View On The Future of Technology

Last week, a good friend sent me a link to a very comprehensive article written by tech consultant Andrew Grygus. The article discusses technology trends of 2003 and beyond, with analysis and references that provide a view of what the future for technology might be. Grygus' piece specifically addresses Microsoft's role in the future, because they are now so deeply intertwined with the technology industry.

Now, I admit I'm a Mac user and have always been a little suspicious of Microsoft's plans for the future, just based on how they've dealt with competitors and their users in the past. I do realize that there are many Windows users out there and that Windows does a fine job for many people and businesses, which is great. Further, I use some of Microsoft's products on my Mac and really like them.

However, after looking at this in-depth overview of where Microsoft is headed, I must say I'm very happy that I'm a Mac user with an alternative to Windows and Microsoft applications. I had always felt Microsoft's general approach tended toward restrictiveness and exclusivity. The facts presented in the Grygus article really made clear what could happen if Microsoft were left unchecked.

Now whether you love or hate Microsoft (or are ambivalent), I strongly suggest you take the time to read through this article. I was a bit surprised to see what amounted to Microsoft moving completely to a forced subscription system of dealing with Windows and Office that could require users to get on an upgrade treadmill like nothing ever seen before.

It's possible that these predictions are not what will exactly happen, especially since there are alternative options like Linux and Mac OS X and those who would challenge Microsoft. Whatever the case, I always think it's wise to be fully informed. In this case it seems especially critical if you're a Windows user contemplating what the future may hold for your computing needs.

Friday
Feb282003

Vintage Hardware: Resources

Apple IEarlier this week I mentioned my love for old hardware, in particular Mac hardware and my Powerbook Duo 230. Well, I thought one way to encourage others to get some "Old Iron" cranking again would be by mention useful resources for old computers, parts and info.

First is MacResQ, a favorite company of mine. They offer both complete vintage Mac systems, parts and software for sale. Anything from old beige G3 systems to refurbished PowerBooks and parts for various machines at low prices. I especially like their weekly specials newsletter as they often offer great deals that somtimes sell out before they're noticed on the website.

For good information on old Macs, check out LowEndMac, The Pickle's Low End Mac FAQ, and Jag's House.

Apple History is a fun place to visit if you want to review old Apple hardware, all the way from the Apple I in 1976 through the Apple PowerBook G4 12" in 2003.

Lastly, check out Leander Kahney's Cult of Mac series of articles, particularly these about vintage Macs: Where Old Macs Go Off to Thrive and One Man's Retro Mac Revival, both very interesting reads.

Wednesday
Feb262003

Vintage Hardware Several years ago

Several years ago I read an excellent Wired magazine article by Mark Frauenfelder called Never Say Die. I just came across the article again the other day after a discussion of old computer hardware with a friend of mine.

I found it fascinating that there are still loyal users and supportive user communities actively using really old computer hardware and software. I'm not talking Y2K vintage Pentium or PowerPC boxes... I'm talking seriously ancient Commodore 64s, Apple ][s, Ataris, Amigas and old NeXt cubes.

And this brings me round to the point of why I'm mentioning this story, which is, I love old hardware! I love that old computers just keep churning away, refusing to die, like my trusty '93 PowerBook Duo 230.

Well, I've been inspired. I'm going to get my little Duo working again for travel. It's small, light, goes a long time on a charge and if it's lost or stolen, no big deal. I'll keep you posted on the Duo resurrection project.

Hopefully you too will consider dusting off a bit of trustworthy old iron and get it rolling again, just to show those newfangled whippersnappers what's for! :-)

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