Mobility pays

Hi all, sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Really not much has been up. I’ve spent the past week or so battling a killer sore throat and then a persistent cough that’s still with me as I write this. I started taking an absolutely disgusting British cough syrup. It’s so bad they don’t even have a flavor, it’s just pure chemicals. At least its helping me sleep at night.

So no exciting stories about London and UK, but I did want to share some thoughts I have about technology in this country in two parts. Today I will go over some personal realizations I have had about technology adoption. Part two will focus more on my observations about tech use in London.

Living here has really converted me to two technologies I initially blew off: netbooks and podcasts. I understood the cost aspect of netbooks: most casual computer users could get all the computing power they needed for email, Internet, and word processing from an inexpensive netbook. I never thought I would use a netbook though because I need something more substantial both in terms of size and processing power in case I needed to do more advanced computing. To an extent that’s still true; I can’t imagine forsaking my Thinkpad completely. However, lugging this thing around London (it’s heavier than usual because I opted to go for the entry model) along with the rest of my books has convinced me that a netbook is a worthy investment. I bring a computer to class with me because I want to check email, read articles, and work on homework in between classes. LSE is too far away from my dorm to go back between classes and LSE’s computer labs are always packed and really slow. The Thinkpad is a great computer for typing long essays or doing some prolonged reading, but honestly all I really need when I’m at school is a netbook that can get me on Outlook and Facebook for a few minutes.

I’m a firm believer in netbooks now. Commercially I think they’ll be incredibly successful because they appeal not only to new computer users but to existing desktop or laptop users like me who want an ultra-portable companion to their larger, more powerful machines. In the near future, I can see computer labs as we know them being replaced by docking stations where people can plug their netbooks in to do more serious work on a larger screen. I would definitely consider purchasing a netbook to use alongside my Thinkpad. Perhaps one that runs Chrome OS when it comes out?

The other technology I’ve really begun to appreciate in London is the podcast. Yes, I know I’m a little behind the times on this one, but in my defense I never listened to radio. I had my mp3 player and playlists for music and the Internet for news. Radio just seemed like an outdated medium that had no appeal over TV and Internet. Living in London though has changed that because I actually have a reasonable commute. Listening to music all the time though gets a little repetitive and mindless. At the same time, I have a need to keep up with what’s going on in the world and as described above it’s not easy to whip out the laptop all the time. Thus, podcasts have turned out to be the perfect remedy for boredom on my walks and desire for information.

The three podcasts I usually listen to are BBC Global NewsWall Street Journal This Morning, and This Week in Tech(thanks to @codykieltyka for introducing me to this one over the summer). Global News does a pretty good job of highlighting the major events going on around the world each morning. It also usually features a special report on global issues that don’t necessarily get coverage in the U.S. WSJ This Morning is one of my favorites. It’s almost like the audiobook version of the WSJ. It covers U.S. political and financial news. The downside is that because of time zones,This Morning is really This Afternoon for me. Also Gordon Deal can get a little too editorial with his hosting. Still it helps me keep up with U.S. news because the WSJ here focuses almost exclusively on European news. Plus they have some pretty sweet background music (mix of recent stuff like Matchbox Twenty and Keane, Billy Joel, and 80s guitar riffs). It’s like they took my favorite playlists and inserted them into the transitions.

I’m not sure if I’ll maintain my podcast habit once I return to the U.S. After all, you can’t really listen to that much while walking from Lower to Fulton. I definitely understand its value for commuters though. If I took a bus or train to school everyday, I might even go with a video podcast.

There’s one last piece of technology that I sorely miss here, and that’s mobile Internet. As imperfect as it may be, my LG Voyager would really be a great asset here. Not only is it much easier to text with, it would nicely complement what I said above. It fulfills part of the function of the netbook: I can check email, news, and Facebook without having to carry a laptop. It would also make podcast management much easier as I can download and listen to them directly. I get a little jealous when I see people with their iPhones and Blackberries here, but data just isn’t worth it. I’ll live.

I didn’t necessarily have to come to London to make the following discoveries, but I certainly needed the lifestyle change (namely commuting to school and having to take everything I need for the day with me). Who knows what other realizations I’ll have as the year goes on! Check back soon for part 2 of my tech in London series!

Computers and modern life: Reflections from being without a laptop

So the video card on my laptop has apparently died. On the surface it’s been a very annoying ordeal: I was unable to start on my 25 page paper that’s due next week, I have to use a crappy old Dell laptop right now (I didn’t realize how much I loved Thinkpads until now), and I may need to fork over a couple hundred bucks for a new video card/motherboard. On the other hand this has been an interesting case study for technology use and the impact it has on my life.

Even though technically I was without a laptop for about 12 hours (6 of which were spent sleeping) the experience even for just those few hours was striking. First of all, it made me realize just how much I needed my laptop for work. I couldn’t work on my paper. I couldn’t access lecture notes and slides. I couldn’t go on Google. It almost made me wonder how people (including me) went to school before computers. And it wasn’t just that: so much of my routine throughout the day is centered around a computer. I just didn’t know what to do without it.

Which brings me to my second observation. Disregarding the fact that Verizon’s service is nonexistent in 66, I actually didn’t miss that much in terms of communication because my phone has web access. Therefore I could still do a lot of the things I did on my computer: Check e-mail, check the stock market, check sports scores, check the weather, check Facebook, and read news articles from CNN and NYT. Basically if I didn’t have the paper, I would not have noticed too great of a disruption in my communication with the outside world (except reading everything on a smaller screen). This for me was more incredible than anything else. It really goes to show that our mobile phones are no longer just phones anymore, and with Moore’s Law that will only become more and more true in the future. I completely understand now why so many companies are looking to mobile as the future of consumer electronics.

Before I get to my last realization, I want to step aside for a moment and criticize how poor and cheap Dells look, work and feel compared to my Thinkpad (I’m leaving Macs out of this conversation because I haven’t used them enough to get past the learning curve). In particular I miss the full sized keyboard and the full sized Trackpoint button in the middle. Without those two, operating this machine just feels uncomfortable.

To be fair, this laptop is OLD. It still has a square screen and 512MB Ram. In fact, I believe my dad had this laptop when I was in high school. In addition, since it’s a school laptop, I’ve been saving any work I do to my flash drive. So after thinking about this for a bit, I realized that I am basically using a netbook right now (it even runs XP). Now granted it’s not small or lightweight like real netbooks, but functionally it’s a netbook. The only applications I’ve opened up are Firefox and Word. Everything is saved on a separate location. All this machine is really good for is its screen and Internet connection. Incredible. I understand the netbook phenomenon now.

Last comment: One other thing I miss from my Thinkpad is Outlook. I love e-mail, so right now I’m going back to what I did before I got Outlook: opened tabs in Firefox to my BC and personal e-mail accounts, just like I did through most of high school. Speaking of throwback computing, check out this Colbert clip.

P.S. I also miss Google Chrome. As solid as Firefox is, Chrome is just so much cleaner and easier to use. Please hurry up BC Hardware Repair.