Mobile Me

In the interest of confusing the hell out of search engines and readers alike, I titled this post “Mobile Me”, in the style of Apple’s signature syncing technology (which I completely need to purchase but never end up doing).

No, I’m thinking more about the relationship (and yes, it’s a relationship) I have to the internet and how closely tied I am to my phone, my netbook and my Nook (eReader).

While in Mexico for Spring Break I turned off my iPhone, had the Nook in Airplane mode (for battery conservation) and only used the netbook once. It was like being on an island.

It was actually Cozumel, so it was literally an island, but it was also metaphorically an island of (self-imposed) lack of connectivity.

What the trip taught me, aside from the fact that I don’t necessarily need to be as connected as I am, is that being connected on a mobile device is much more meaningful than connecting on a desktop or laptop. Heck, my work laptop hardly ever leaves its stand in my office and my desktop has been resigned to near-paperweight status, so my main modes of internet usage are primarily handheld and mobile these days.

Turns out I’m not alone (and will be getting much more company soon).

The video above (linked & embedded) is a presentation by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley, given at Google recently. GigaOM has the pull quotes that hit me the hardest (emphasis mine):

The Morgan Stanley analyst says that the world is currently in the midst of the fifth major technology cycle of the past half a century. The previous four were the mainframe era of the 1950s and 60s, the mini-computer era of the 1970s and the desktop Internet era of the 80s. The current cycle is the era of the mobile Internet, she says — predicting that within the next five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.” As she puts it on one of the slides in the report: “Rapid Ramp of Mobile Internet Usage Will be a Boon to Consumers and Some Companies Will Likely Win Big (Potentially Very Big) While Many Will Wonder What Just Happened.”

I’m already 75% there myself and we’ve gotten Raelyn a netbook for her upcoming birthday and Jenn & I are likely to replace our current desktops with laptops (and large terabyte+ external HDs) when the time comes. The future (as it usually is) is already here.

I’m even more excited to make the move to a more mobile-connected future now that I’ve seen these photos & video of the new iPhone. Yowza! My current contract is up in June and hopefully the new iPhones won’t be far behind.

Some of the things I love about being able to carry the internet with me (instead of waiting around catalog the day’s events):

  • Checking in via Foursquare/Gowalla
  • Though I’m clearly a creature of considerable habit, it’s still fun to keep folks up-to-date.

  • Sharing pictures of my beer drinking
  • A man should have hobbies.

  • Share my rapier wit/spew bile
  • Hello, Twitter!

  • Download a bestseller based on the readership of others in the airport
  • A horrible practice if you’re looking for quality literature, but still fun to do! Also, it’s fun to imagine a paperless world.

I need to upgrade my photographic capabilities (Eye-Fi Explore X2 [hint, hint!]) to really take advantage of the DSLR + Vacation + Flickr + Facebook + Twitter math, but I’m working on it. It would also make workflow easier, but that’s another post entirely.

Despite the fact that this entire post was written sitting at my desk, connected to the internet via a laptop serving as a desktop, I feel completely confident that won’t be the case for the majority of my internet usage this year or any year in the future.

See you on my phone!

A (Holly) Jolicloud Christmas

I am a tinkerer.
I can’t leave well enough alone, especially where technology is involved.

I’m the guy who just had to spend a week getting the wireless sharing working on the TiVos (TiVoes?) only to discover I’d broken the ability to upload DivX from PC.

I’m also the guy who just had to show the whole family how to get their iPhones to auto-download photos pre-synch.

And lastly, I’m the guy who has to try and run Linux at every opportunity. As true in 2009 (Jolicloud Pre-Beta) as it was in 1998 (Suse).

So it was that with a light heart and a devilish grin that I decided to take my perfectly functioning Dell Mini 9 (running a Dell-specific Ubuntu 8.0.4) and try to install Jolicloud. I say “perfectly” but honestly part of my desire to try something new came from the slowness of Firefox when running more than 3 tabs. And seeing as the machine only has a 4GB hard drive, the only use case I have for the thing is surfing while watching TV, so being limited to Gmail, CoTweet and one “” tab is pretty limiting.

My father-in-law had been pushing Kubuntu on me, but I found the USB creation a little wonky and I wasn’t sold on the interface. I wanted to move away from KDE (and GNOME) and focus on something truly unique for the Netbook form factor. I looked at Moblin, but the track record for supporting my Dell Mini 9 just didn’t seem quite there. I even briefly considered Ubuntu Netbook Remix but couldn’t justify staying with a Canonical project given the bugginess of Dell’s default Ubuntu distro.

Then Drew Olanoff tweeted this:

finally installing @jolicloud on my dell mini! oh im so geekily happy right now!

And I knew I had to check it out.

For those of you who don’t know @drew, he’s the Philadelphia blogger (I know him from my previous Metroblogs days) who has been very publicly battling cancer, working with LiveStrong, Lance Armstrong and using the Twitter hashtag #blamedrewscancer. He’s a hell of a guy and an avowed Mimobot fan to boot. I had no choice but to follow him down the Dell/Jolicloud rabbit hole.

I know enough shell commands from my regional ISP stint to be really dangerous, so it took me about 2 hours of fiddling to make the install USB using the Python script. I’m an idiot and a poor typist (especially on a tiny keyboard), hence the need for a distro that didn’t require me to know how to use a Terminal app or Synaptic. I don’t do dependencies: software, chemical or interpersonal.

After my brief wrestling match with install USB creation I rebooted and went through about 30 minutes of blissfully non-technical screens to install an operating system. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Easier and breezier than any Windows or Mac OS install I can remember (though, to be fair, I’ve only upgraded Mac OS’s on work laptops).

I jettisoned the old OS and filled up the hard drive with Jolicloud and got a sizable space savings (around 700 MB on a 4 GB disk) and was greeted with happy sounds, floating heart clouds and full screen optimization (through Mozilla, I believe) for all the “apps”. Plus, it’ll install & run Linux apps (like Boxee or Seesmic Desktop [which is Adobe Air]) as well.

I’m no (true) technical guy (obviously) but the one-click install of web apps and utilization of the full 9-inch screen are home runs. The user experience – which doesn’t look like Windows through a fishbowl anymore – is more touchscreen smart phone than laptop and I love it.

I’m confident that if I were sneaky enough I could get it on my in-laws’ Acer Aspire to run alongside Windows and they’d have no trouble accessing their files OR using the internet – checking email/Facebook and uploading their pictures.

I’m certainly not pushing the boundaries of computing with my own netbook usage, I just wanted to feel happier about having a barebones computing device on my lap most evenings. I wanted faster performance, I wanted easier (installs, updates & mousing around) and I wanted something a little tinier (since my HD space is *so* limited).

Christmas came early. I got everything I wanted.

The only remaining issue is that Jolicloud keeps reminding me that the driver for wireless on the Dell Mini 9 is proprietary, but I guess that was the sticking point for Moblin users too. I honestly don’t care about open source or not so long as I didn’t have to jump through hoops on installation, which I didn’t.

Anyhow, I’m a much happier netbooker today.

I <3 Jolicloud
I <3 Jolicloud

Hey and if you don’t believe me, listen to Engadget.

Enjoy your Thursday!

Dell Mini 9 Unboxing and Review

So I got my much-anticipated Dell Mini 9 (Inspiron 910) last Friday (they’re on sale until early tomorrow morning, btw) and I’ve saved up a couple of days worth of testing notes to share. The first half of the post is unbox pr0n, so skip down if you don’t want to see the reveal.

FedEx box:
There's a Dell Mini 9 in there!

Creamy Dell center:
Opening the box

Holding it in my arms:
Holding the computer for the first time

Box laid bare:
Dell Mini 9 contents

I was struck by the fact that I got install/recovery CDs despite the lack of any kind of optical drive on the computer.

Funny enough, there’s actually burn/rip software included with the OS (Ubuntu 8.04 – Hardy Heron) if you wanted to hook up such a device, but why would you want to?

Me, I’m planning on using it for light blogging & social networking, some photo uploads (but not full-on picture management though it came with F-Spot and The Gimp), Skype and chat/IM.

The Review:

If you’ve skipped down this far to avoid the pictures (or maybe you like ruining Christmas morning and the end of mystery novels?) here’s the skinny: I love this machine.

For me, I wasn’t going to settle for a plastic computer, no matter how cheap it got. That meant I couldn’t get an ASUS Eee PC from Target or go the route of my mother-in-law and get an Acer Aspire One from Costco.

I knew I still wanted it to be cheap, so I was willing to accept/try Linux and avoid the Windows tax. Thus far Ubuntu has been as inviting and familiar as Windows is.

That came out wrong.

What I meant to say is that, for a Windows user, Ubuntu doesn’t seem foreign or “hard”. It just works and Dell’s launcher application that runs on startup is a really easy interface to jumping right in and “doing” something on the Dell Mini 9.

I’m running the standard Ubuntu interface now, which seems just as easy if you can understand that the taskbar is at the top (like a Mac) as opposed to the bottom.

If you want to see a video of the OS in action, DellVlog has it. You can also see the features of Ubuntu on their official site.

But I’m not here to talk about Ubuntu since there are plenty of other places that recap all the features, tools & community better.

I want to talk about the hardware – the netbook itself, the Dell Mini 9 – and how much fun I’ve had with it so far.

The good (for me):

  • It’s metal and it feels like a real piece of computing hardware; something a grown-up would use.
  • The trackpad is also metal (and part of the solid structure of the clamshell) and it isn’t overly sensitive.
  • The Dell name – at least for me – still carries a ton of value/weight. All my PCs (both work and home) have been Dells and I know their service and support systems.
  • Sound. It certainly wasn’t a big concern that I’d be listening to a ton of music or video, but the placement and power of the speakers really stands out.

The bad (for me):

  • It gets really hot. A fact exacerbated by the all-metal construction. But hey, no moving parts or fans, so at least it isn’t loud, in fact it’s silent.
  • The keyboard is cramped around the edges. Wanna type poetry like e e cummings – all lower case and munged together – you’re in luck! Wanna use the shift key (especially on the right side) or type any kind of quotation (single or double)? You’re gonna spend some time learning the layout and hunting/pecking for a while.
  • I’m not one to complain about aesthetics too much – and I like how shiny/sleek the inner and outer clamshell surfaces are – but the screen really needs an anti-glare coating. Outside on a sunny, Spring Friday it was almost completely unreadable. Indoors and at all the angles I’ve used, it’s fine.

The indifferent:

  • Battery life seems fine. Right around 3.5 to 4 hours on a full charge and using WiFi the whole time.
  • Dell’s webcam/video conferencing software. I installed Skype.

Here are some pretty pictures for making it this far:

My new Facebook profile picture, courtesy of cheese:

My new Facebook profile pic

My Desktop wallpaper, also courtesy of cheese:

The Family

Finally, a list of interesting/useful links related to this post:

Thanks for reading. If you’ve got a netbook or are in the market for one, leave a comment or feel free to ask a question.