Category Archives: Technology

Random thoughts on subjects of technology.

The Linux Life Saver

As usual, I’m finding this super late but the Debian package “molly-guard” is amazing.

A lot of my SSH sessions are initiated from Windows which means I’m using Kitty (a fork of Putty). SSH sessions are fairly obvious when you’re using Windows but what if you’re using Linux or OS X? It’s so easy to confuse a remote session for a local session even if you use fancy prompts.

I have a web server, a home server, and a Raspberry Pi all of which have molly-guard installed to keep me from screwing something up. This is a no-brainer for the amateur and seasoned system administrator.

A Good Printer At A Nice Price

TidBITS — the best Apple news site with a 90’s design — has an article on the Brother HL-2270DW, a printer I happen to own and love.

For now, then I can recommend the Brother HL-2270DW monochrome laser printer for many people. Like every printer, it has its problems, but it’s wireless, fast, solidly built, and inexpensive to purchase and operate.

He has some good points, it’s not AirPrint compatible and maybe it’s noisy (I never really noticed) but it’s a darn good printer. When the wife asked me to buy a printer, I knew we wouldn’t be using it enough to justify the cost of an Inkjet. The longevity and initial cost of a laser printer makes a lot of sense if you don’t need to print photos, color, or if you don’t print very often.

At the time, I owned an Epson Stylus R200 which I had purchased years earlier to print photos but it uses 5 different ink cartridges which cost a mild fortune. I worried that any money I spent on new ink cartridges would be wasted once they dried out from lack of use. I may have been wrong about this, Marco Arment wrote about printers this week and he says the Epsons don’t use ink if turned off which is something I wasn’t aware of. Regardless, we don’t need a printer with 5 cartridges, we need something to occasionally churn out a standard black and white page or two. I should mention the R200 won’t even try to print a black and white page without every color cartridge being within operating levels. I’m not sure why I need a full cyan cartridge to print a black and white page but the R200 insists on it.

And so, I decided a laser printer would be the answer to our problems. Several internet searches later, I settled on the Brother HL-2270DW laser printer. It’s wireless, can print duplex, and isn’t a huge beast which met every requirement I had. Sure, I wish it could AirPrint but I’ve found Google Cloud Print to be sufficient when I need it. The starter toner will last roughly 700 pages which in my house should equal at least 3 years of printing which makes it a bargain. Even if you print a lot, the cost of toner doesn’t compare with the cost of an Inkjet.

Long story short, this printer has served my household very well and I highly recommend it.

When Tech News Attacks

Some time ago I brought this blog out of an almost 2 year dead zone and tried to write about technology. Now almost a year and a half later, I’m realizing I made a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology but what I was writing didn’t fill me with happiness, it kind of made me sad. I fell into the trap of taking sides, assuming anything I didn’t agree with was wrong, and generally being negative about almost everything. As time passed, I’ve watched myself change and — hopefully — grow out of that phase.

These days I’m less worried about who makes the product and more focused on what it can do for me. Isn’t that what technology is for? To better our lives? Who cares if Google or Microsoft or Apple is behind it, if it improves your daily life that’s all that matters.

Look at the state of tech news today. Do it, take a long hard look. It’s full of sites scrambling to be the first to publish the next doom and gloom piece. Do you really want to celebrate the loss of jobs at Blackberry? Do you want to cheer that Microsoft can’t sell the Surface RT? If so, why? Does it affect your life in any meaningful way?

The truth is, I have my preferred devices and how the Surface is selling doesn’t concern me. If anything, I should hope that Microsoft succeeds because the gadget world needs competition. If Apple sits at the top for too long, who’s to say they won’t start phoning it in? Along those lines, I’m glad Android has become a really good operating system, otherwise iOS may stagnate. The opposite is true as well, if iOS weren’t so dominate, would Google be trying this hard to improve Android?

That attitude seems lost on most writers today. They’re too busy writing headlines containing questions or sensationalizing random situations for page views. I understand why they do it, they need the ad views to make money, that’s what businesses do. That’s all well and good if you’re a professional writer but when you write an independent blog where page views don’t necessarily matter, it’s pointless to get bogged down in the same mire.

With that in mind, I’ve recently been spending time focusing on what technology does for me. Mainly how the gadgets I interact with on a daily basis affect my life. I hope to take that train of thought and move from feebly trying to report random old tech news and transition into writing about how technology improves our lives.

I’m also thinking it’s time to write about things that are fun. I enjoyed writing about RC cars & helicopters earlier this year so I intend to bring that back along with some other fun subjects.

Life is too short to spend worrying about what Tim Cook or Steve Ballmer is thinking, let’s have some fun. I hope you stick around and enjoy it with me.

The Auto Update Dilemma

By now you’ve probably heard that iOS 7 will allow apps to auto update. In theory it sounds like a great addition but here’s an example of where it might backfire.

Imagine if you rely on this app for work and you use iCloud. If iOS 7 automatically updates to this broken version, you’re out of luck. In an ideal world, developers wouldn’t ship with bugs that cripple their apps but we all know it happens to the best of them.

The good news is there’s a toggle to turn this feature off. The bad news is it’s unlikely normal users will know the toggle exists until after a bad update.

The Free Experience

There’s been a lot of talk about free services lately in the wake of Google shuttering Reader, most of it negative. The rally cry is one of pay for everything lest ye lose it. Sounds dire right? It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and shun all free services but is that right? Is free always bad?

If a stranger approached you on the street and offered you a free ice cream cone, you’d be skeptical. First because no one in their right mind would accept food from a random stranger but also because you’d assume there was a catch.

There’s almost always a catch for free, that much we know. Facebook gives you a free way to keep in contact with friends and family but you pay with ads. You also pay with all your data being harvested for a “social graph” whatever the hell that is. This is what keeps Facebook in business so you can see what your cousin is eating for dinner and it’s at least a mostly painless price to pay.

Let’s go back to the Google Reader thing for a moment. Reader was an RSS service which allowed you to subscribe to feeds from your favorite sites and read them in one place. Lots of apps and sites sprung up to improve the somewhat ugly Google experience. It didn’t matter if the site was ugly or clunky or lacked features, it was Google and no one could touch RSS after that point, at least not in a meaningful way. Then one day, we were told it was going away.

The nerd world erupted in panic, what would they do for RSS? As with anything of this nature, it quickly became evident that several newcomers would be staking a claim in the newly abandoned wasteland of feed readers and the panic was replaced with confusion. Who’s service do we all agree on? It better be something paid or we’re going to lose RSS again!

But did we lose something all that important? If RSS didn’t exist, what then? We’d all have to use bookmarks and visit sites manually, a method I happen to prefer. Was the loss all that great if the answer was simply a tiny bit more work? I don’t think so. Luckily we don’t have to find out, now we wait for someone to tell us what service is best or try them all and decide.

Right now the general consensus among the nerds I follow on Twitter is that Feedly is winning. Here’s the kicker, Feedly is a free service with no revenue model. Did we not learn anything from the Readerpocalypse?

Maybe we did, maybe we realized how easy it is to shuffle an OPML file from one service to another and the idea of paying for something so trivial seems silly even after facing this “crisis”. I know someone is reading this and getting angry because they value their RSS feeds, I understand that but I respectfully suggest it’s still not that big of a deal.

Let’s shift gears and look at another paid vs free scenario. I’m a fan of Marco Arment, he’s the creator of Instapaper and The Magazine – both of which he has sold – and one of the loudest voices in the campaign against free services. That’s not to say he’s anti-free but he often engaged in bickering matches with his competitors, And frequently referred to their business models as a negative thing.

For a long time I agreed with Marco and I embraced Instapaper as the only option for a read-it-later service. I refused to try the others simply because free cannot be sustained and I didn’t want to lose my data if they couldn’t keep their doors open.

Let’s get one thing clear here, I know free can’t last. I think we all know that, that’s why we’re so accepting of ads all over the internet. Would your mom pay for Facebook? Probably not and ads make it so she doesn’t have to. The venture backed RSS app with no revenue stream could shut down tomorrow unless someone with deep pockets buys them. There is always an argument for paying for a service you care about.

One day I started wondering why I was so against Pocket. Their app was so pretty and shiny compared to Instapaper. Nothing against Marco – he’s not a designer which he admits often on his podcasts – but Instapaper was starting to feel a little long in the tooth. I can’t exactly describe why but it felt clunky and old even though it functioned perfectly well. And so one day I exported my reading list from Instapaper and dropped it in Pocket.

You know what I won’t miss if Pocket goes under? The articles I have in Pocket. Yes, I find the service handy but I, like a lot of people, have an enormous backlog of things that I’ll never get around to reading. If I want to save a bookmark for the future, I save it in Pinboard where I’m fairly confident it will stay.

I pay for Pinboard because I want the things in there to have longevity, I don’t pay for Pocket because I don’t really care about their lifespan. What I do care about is my reading experience and I feel Pocket provides that better than Instapaper ever did. In my case, a free app works because I have a system in place to deal with things I want to keep.

That was a rather long-winded way to say this: free isn’t something to run away from, it simply means you need to evaluate what you get from the service and what losing it would mean to you. I’m sure you can come up with a thousand counterpoints to what I’ve said but in reality if you won’t shed a tear if your data disappears tomorrow, maybe you’re worrying too much about nothing.