I Bought a Chromebook

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Chromebook:Acer C720

In the past decade, I’ve switched positions on mobile computing more times than I care to admit. I’ve run the entire gamut. I thought that at one point that my desktop-buying days were over and I’d only own a laptop in the future. But I couldn’t stomach the expense of trying to keep up with new video games. I tried buying middle-of-the-road desktops and laptops to get the best of both worlds, but I really wound up getting neither. When I bought my first tablet, I envisioned using a tablet for all of my mobile computing and using a beefy desktop for everything else. But I found the tablet universe a bit constricting when it came to working on my blog, specifically trying to write. I thought maybe a bigger tablet would allow for better writing, but the onscreen keyboards just don’t cut it, and every tablet keyboard I found would require sitting at some sort of desk or table.

However, the tablet spoiled me. It was small, portable and convenient. I couldn’t envision hauling around another typically-sized laptop, and especially not the gargantuan desktop-replacement laptops that I had sworn off. But small, portable laptops are not affordable, even the older ones. Ever since the first ASUS Transformer I have been keeping my eye on netbooks, something ultra-portable and capable of taking care of 70-80% of the computing that I’d need to do away from my desktop. But I’ve always felt that they were a bit expensive; at their cost I could have bought a low-end laptop or a used laptop with a bit more horsepower. But ultimately that laptop would be nearing obsolescence and would likely still be much bulkier for my tastes.

When Chromebooks first got announced, I was pretty interested. The concept of Chrome OS seemed interesting, but I was curious and hesitant to bring on yet another operating system. Due to buying an iPad, I was up to five different operating systems running in the household. Even with all the things in “the Cloud,” I was concerned about being able to contiguously perform tasks across my different devices. Thriving in an iOS/Windows/Android universe emboldened me to start seriously considering a Chromebook.

I started shopping the different Chromebooks. I originally honed in on the HP Chromebook 11 and the HP Chromebook 14. My experience with the Nexus 7, the Nexus 5, and other Google-influenced hardware has has left a positive imprint on me. The price was in the right neighborhood but I had a concern that my Chromebook might very quickly be gathering dust and neglected if it didn’t work out so the expense worried me. My lack of impulse control when it comes to gadgets and devices is pretty severe and there are a few devices that didn’t catch fire sitting around the house.

Ultimately, I wound up coming across an article on Gizmodo advertising a refurbished Acer C720 for $150 a couple weeks ago. The specifications seemed to be on the lighter side but I was pretty confident that horsepower wasn’t going to be what I needed to do on my Chromebook. Plus, the price was quite right. The Acer C720 is a slightly older model than latest Chromebook coming out, but my research suggested that the C720 had enough horsepower for me. My biggest concern was internal storage, but that fear was dissuaded by the fact that it was possible to upgrade the internal storage. And by the fact that Based on Google’s recent price drop on Google Drive, I didn’t necessarily think more storage was needed unless I tried to do something exotic like dual-booting.

I was pretty excited for the Acer C720 to show up and was a bit disappointed that the device only had a sliver of battery when I first turned it on. I let it charge overnight and set out to write the entirety of this blog on my new Chromebook. My blog engine is Octopress, so the first thing I did was find a way to move my Octopress files to Google Drive. Previously, I’d been doing the same thing on Dropbox. I was a bit surprised at how difficult it wound up being, not because of the Chromebook, but more because of how Google Drive Client works, but in the end there was nothing too tricky that my (somewhat) clever mind could not get me around. I had not extensively used Google Drive yet, so I’ve had a few hiccups, mostly where my Windows client stops synching files.

Initially, I had some cordial disagreements with the keyboard. The layout is a bit peculiar. Specifically, I have been having a hard time with the enter and backspace keys. Nothing especially significant, but the first few instant messages and paragraphs of this blog were a bit interesting and strewn with interesting oddball characters. After a couple hours and a few paragraphs into this blog, I started settling and began to get comfortable with the keyboard.

Using the Chromebook is a bit interesting because of Chrome OS. It’s a bit peculiar that everything runs as a browser tab or extension, but it isn’t a bad thing. I’ve found Chrome OS to be pretty easy to use. It did not take me long on the Chrome Store to find a text editor for editing my blog, Google Drive is handling the synching of the blog files, and a Remote Desktop Client back to my desktop PC for some previewing of my very rough drafts. Having a few Chrome tabs opened, my text editor, the remote desktop client and other random stuff open without any issues.


Acer Chromebook C720 in Lightbox Acer Chromebook C720 on Table All three Computing Devices All three Computing Devices Powered On

All things considered, I think that my iPad Air, Nexus 5 and Acer C720 have turned into the perfect trifecta for my mobile computing needs. They’re all small and portable enough to be easy to use everywhere, plus they’re capable enough that I’d gladly leave laptops behind. The growing cornucopia of operating systems on my devices isn’t much of a hurdle, everything that I’m concerned about is synchronized across the devices with Google Drive and Google Chrome. I am really impressed with how lightweight and inexpensive the Acer C720 turned out to be. Despite some early awkward opening forrays with the keyboard, I wound up enjoying writing this blog over a few hours of leisurely weekend television watching perched upon my couch.

A New Diabetic Supply Carrying Case

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AmazonBasics Universal Electronics Carrying Case with Diabetic Supplies inside

The day after I was released from the hospital after my diagnosis of being a Type 1 Diabetic, I looked over my syringes, vials, test strips, lancets, logbook and other such supplies and decided I needed some sort of carrying case. However, in being either vain or private, I wanted it to be discrete. Thankfully, this was before the age of smartphones, and toting around a day planner wasn’t all that uncommon. I wound up using my diagnosis as an excuse to buy a Palm Vx to eliminate the logbook and my paper sliding scale and then I picked up a day planner from Franklin Covey. I wound up emptying it of everything except the zip-lock pouch inside, and that’s where I stored my supplies. It had a nice little pocket inside for PDAs, which fit my Palm Vx nicely, and when it was obsolete, that’s where my glucometer and lancing device went. I had this day planner so long that it even got nicknames, it was known as “The Diabetes.”

I’ve always been afraid of losing “The Diabetes.” It had its own place everywhere that I’ve lived, and the minute it is moved from that place, chaos and anarchy began to take over my life. 999 times out of 1000, “The Diabetes” just wound up getting pushed out of the way, relocated over to my computer desk, left in my laptop bag or scooped up by my loving wife and tucked away because she takes such good care of me. I remember scolding her a little bit and telling her that I loved how much she helped out but that one day I’d take it for granted and we’d both forget “The Diabetes” and we’d wind up somewhere and needing it, or worse, forgetting it somewhere. We tackled that challenge and it just became part of our routine, she grabbed it and packed it in her purse and then I asked her before we left to make sure she had it. Every time that I thought I lost “The Diabetes,” it was sitting somewhere right where I left it and that’s how things worked for over a decade.

But then while on my fantastic trip to Spring Training, disaster struck. My Dad and I went off to dinner. I hadn’t been feeling well, so I tested my blood sugar before we left the hotel. Then we headed down to the lobby, looked at their smart display near the front desk, and then asked for some suggestions before heading out in the rental car. There was no parking near the restaurant, so we parked in a nearby garage. About halfway between the garage and the restaurant, I realized I’d forgotten my kit. I grabbed the keys from my Dad and told him to have a beer waiting for me when I got back. I went back to the rental car expecting to find it right where I had been keeping it the whole trip, except it wasn’t there. I did a pretty thorough search of the entire car, even finding an empty beer bottle from a previous renter, but did not find my Diabetes kit. Assuming this was like the million other times I misplaced it, I figured it was sitting right on the hotel bed where I left it after testing it last. Because I was using my continuous glucose monitoring and I had measured before leaving the hotel, I was pretty confident I could give myself the right amount of insulin.

Things got tricky, we had zero-dark-thirty flights out of Phoenix the next morning and rental cars in the Phoenix area are ridiculously expensive. To save time, stress, and money our plan was to return the car the night before, catch the hotel shuttle back, and just worry about waking up on time. We executed this plan with incredible precision and got back to the hotel when I realized The Diabetes wasn’t there. Panic, frustration and inward fury set in. Here I was, on vacation, with no transportation, and I’d lost just about the only thing that I’d owned for the previous decade. We turned the hotel room upside down, we paced the route that we took when we left the hotel, we scoured the lobby, and interrogated the front-desk employees but The Diabetes could not be found. I called the folks at SIXT Car Rental and at least two or three of their kind employees searched the car without any luck. After a couple hours of searching and calling myself every name in the book, we gave up. It was getting late and we had to spring into action still. A 24-hour pharmacy that had a 24-hour pharmacist was located because the test strips are expensive and frequently found behind counters, a cab was summoned, and I bought new supplies.

Thankfully, some of the urgency was mitigated by the fact that I always travel with almost double of my supplies. I pack twice as many test strips, insulin, insulin pump infusion sets and CGM sensors than I actually need. But I don’t pack an extra glucometer, lancing device or an extra version of my trusty old day planner.

One of the first things I did upon getting home was start searching for a replacement carrying case for my Diabetic supplies. I actually started again looking at day planners even though I’ve been teased by people the past few years for actually carrying around a day planner to stay organized instead of using my smart phone. I searched for Diabetic Carrying Cases on Amazon.com and dug through numerous products. Unfortunately for those products, I’m still pretty vain. I just don’t want it to be obvious that I’m carrying around some sort of medical supplies. Further complicating matters, I wanted something smaller, and I wanted it to be a bit sturdy to protect the contents. Just about every one of the Diabetic carrying cases I saw were big, soft, and (to me) screamed “Hey! Look at me! I’m a diabetic!”

I’m not sure what happened to steer me that way, but I wandered out of the Health and Beauty section in Amazon and wound up looking at some random electronics repair tool kit, which came in what looked to be a pretty nice case that met my needs. It was an inexpensive kit, and at its price, I was tempted to buy it just to empty out the tools and use the case for my Diabetic supplies. That inspired to search all of Amazon for ‘small electronics case’, which had a plethora of interesting little cases for me to consider. Two items jumped out at me immediately:


AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case
Grid-It Organizer 7” x 5”

I ordered both; my intent was to use them at the same time. The Grid-It was barely small enough to fit inside the case, but it didn’t fit very well and I didn’t really have that many supplies to make use of it. The AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case, on the other hand, was nearly perfect for it’s job. My only complaint is that the most “convenient” portions of storage aren’t very restrictive. I’d much rather have things that I’m frequently using like my testing supplies in these convenient areas, but if I did that they’d get loose and roam around the inside of the case, begging to fall out and get lost when I opened it. Thankfully my glucometer is from the Bayer USB Glucometer line of products and is pretty narrow and skinny. The glucometer and lancing device both fit nicely in the zippered pockets, my test strips stay nicely in the pocket above it without falling out, I have some extra AAA batteries and lancets in the velcro pouch behind the glucometer. There’s also some extra room in the pocket on the left to store additional supplies if needed. The outside of the case is a bit rigid, so I feel that it could stand up to getting crammed into my laptop bag and into an overhead bin in a plane without me worrying about the contents getting crunched.

My only real complaint about the case is the fact that it’s a bit taller and a bit deeper than my old day planner. But at its price, it is a fraction of what I paid a decade ago for my day planner and is an excellent bargain at $10.49 when you compare it to similar electronics carrying cases, and its an even better bargain when you compare it to some of the Diabetic carrying cases, which are at least 2-3 times as much.

And what about the Grid-It? Well, at first I thought about incorporating it into my laptop bag but seeing as how my bag is already organized just the way I like it, I thought of a different better use. Next time I go on vacation, I can use it to pack an extra glucometer, lancing device and test strips just in case I need them for my next adventure. The best way to insure I won’t need my backup plan is to make sure my backup plan is always queued up and ready to go.


Diabetic Supplies Amazon Basics Case Closed Amazon Basics Case Open #1 Amazon Basics Case Open #2 Amazon Basics Case with Supplies #1 Amazon Basics Case with Supplies #2 Small Grid-It Empty Grid-It with Supplies

Why I Chose Non-ECC RAM for my FreeNAS

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ECC All the Things!

Since posting the first of my few FreeNAS build blogs, I’ve had a steady stream of informed, well-wishing people drop comments related to the fact that I had not selected ECC RAM for my personal build or any of my other different FreeNAS build suggestions. In the comments alone of these blogs, I’ve probably written a couple different blogs’ worth of material about my thoughts on FreeNAS and ECC RAM. It made sense for me to consolidate that down into its own article and refer to it in the future.

The Risk

Let’s start off by clarifying a bit… In no way am I suggesting that ECC is an inferior choice to Non-ECC for FreeNAS. All things being equal, ECC is hands down the better choice. In fact, for almost all things computing, ECC is a better choice. Even more so for any ZFS filesystem like FreeNAS uses, bad RAM in ZFS could potentially do more than just corrupt a file or two, it could — and has — render the pool unmountable. Add the lack of recovery tools for the ZFS file system out there and this becomes a catastrophic failure. There is a discussion thread on the FreeNAS users’ forum covering ECC vs Non-ECC, in my opinion there’s not really an discussion at all in the thread and opposing opinions don’t seem to be either encouraged or welcome. However, if you can get past the totalitarian tone of the thread, there is actually some good information in there about what could happen to your ZFS filesystem when the filesystem data gets corrupted by bad RAM. And this is just the scariest single risk possible, there’s plenty of other risk out there. Due to data decay there’s a possibility that a bit in RAM may get flipped while the file is in RAM and has not yet been written to disk. If that happens, then ZFS will write that bit to disk causing undetected corruption to the file.

Many other comments have also pointed to the FreeNAS Hardware Recommendations, which states:

If your system supports it and your budget allows for it, install ECC RAM.

From these two sources we can more or less establish two facts:

  1. There’s a greater-than-zero chance that corruption could happen to your ZFS filesystem when using Non-ECC RAM.
  2. FreeNAS encourages you to use ECC in their hardware recommendations.

My Thoughts

As a quick catchup, my FreeNAS box was built for a single primary purpose: to house backups from the computers in my household. After a few months of using my Freenas box, I decided that I wanted to upgrade primary hard drive in my PC to an SSD. Because of SSDs smaller sizes, especially those in my price range, I was forced to do a little bit of housecleaning and decided that a large amount of important of data kept on my desktop would actually be safer on my FreeNAS box.

It is tempting at this point to arrive at the conclusion that ECC must be used with ZFS without exception. Which raises the question, why didn’t I choose ECC? And why do I continue to suggest that others consider the same?

  1. The real-world evidence is anecdotal for (and against) with regards to the rates of errors caused to ZFS and its contents as a result.
  2. Every bad stick of RAM I’ve experienced came to me that way from the factory and could be found via some burn-in testing.
  3. ECC RAM is more expensive.
  4. There’s more useful ways to protect yourself against this kind of failure.

Firstly, there’s no debate to these risks. The risks are real and they do happen. Despite what you might see claimed in the comments below, I acknowledge these risks and I’m not trying to explain them away. What I do question and wonder about however, is the likelihood of these events happen and whether the premium in price (for ECC) is worth that benefit. As best as I can find, no data like that exists yet. There are studies that show the data decay error rates overall (see below and comments) but I’ve yet to see any kind of study connecting those kinds of errors with actual found problems on a ZFS file system. What percentage of correctable data decay errors actually wind up corrupting a file or the filesystem in ZFS? Does the amount vary with utilization? If someone has some data on that, I’d be very interested in going over it. Until that exists, I think people are well within their rights to debate the value of ECC vs. Non-ECC RAM.

A friend made an apt analogy to me the other day when discussing this blog; firstly, consider the street in front of your house. The street is your amount of memory throughput, traffic in the street are your file writes to ZFS and finally pedestrians are your bits of data decay. When it comes to the sanctity of your file system and files, corruption happens each time a pedestrian is struck by a car. A study by Google is quoted on Wikipedia and in the comments of this article found that roughly 92% (11/12) of Google’s DIMMs have never experienced this kind of error. In my analogy, that’s basically saying that 11 out of 12 roads never have had any kind of pedestrians on them. Futhermoer, the approximation of 5 flipped bits per 8GB of throughput an hour is the equivalent of 5 pedestrians playing in the street. Given that the usage of the FreeNAS in my house (and most DIYers) is on the low side, I’m not anticipating a whole slew of file writes having to happen throughout the hour. Im my mind, my utilization of FreeNAS is low, the chance of a problematic DIMM is low (~8.34%), and even if I do have one of those problematic DIMMs that actual error rate is low too based on Google’s data. However, I completely understand that in someone else’s (like Google’s) shoes I might have a completely different definition of low, low to them justifiably should be “virtually non existent.”

Secondly, I’ve been tinkering with and building PCs for nearly two decades, I’ve worked as a technician in a computer store where we built custom computers and repaired customers’ PCs and I’ve worked in Information Technology dealing with all sorts of server hardware. Each of the bad sticks of RAM that I can remember were bad from the get-go. In my experience and the experience of people that I trust, I can’t come up with any scenario where a stick of RAM was good one day and then bad some day later. A reasonable amount of burn-in testing, especially a few passes of Memtest86+, should catch this bad RAM. In the event you were suspicious that your RAM could spontaneously go bad, it wouldn’t be that much work to periodically run Memtest86+ and make sure everything is in working order. In that ECC discussion thread from the FreeNAS forums, the ECC advocate makes an analogy:

For those that don’t want to read, just understand that ECC is one of the legs on your kitchen table, and you’ve removed that leg because you wanted to reuse old hardware that uses non-ECC RAM.

Straw Man and Slippery Slope fallacies notwithstanding, running Memtest86+ would be the equivalent of testing that table out and determining how reliably it can hold any weight.

Thirdly, ECC RAM is expensive. It’s not nearly the price premium that it used to be, but for my last build blog, ECC RAM would cost between $150 and $200 more. Before buying drives, that has been roughly a 40-50% premium. For a DIYer, that’s quite a price to pay to avoid a scenario of indeterminate probability. I would assert that in this regard, the FreeNAS hardware recommendations are pretty well written. They’re advocating ECC use but acknowledging there is both a budgetary reason not to use ECC and allowing for the possibility there may be a better way to spend that money to improve your NAS.

And lastly, even if ECC is within your budget, I believe that you can get more utility if you spent that money on something else. My point being, the extra money you spend on ECC could be spent elsewhere and provide you with more utility beyond protecting you from dataset or file corruption caused by bad RAM or bit decay. In my case, I’m leveraging a co-located server that hosts my blog and backing up the contents to that machine. Thankfully, because I have some nice connections this isn’t costing me more than it would cost to put ECC hardware in my NAS. I’m essentially placing a wager that I believe my NAS to be at more risk from other threats like burglary, fire, flood, etc.. than I do from memory errors that could be caught and fixed by ECC RAM. Furthermore, a backup of your data is not something that can be replaced by a RAID, in this case having either a backup or a raid are good, and having both is even better.

Conclusion

I think that the benefits of using Non-ECC (cost) and the benefits of ZFS (far too many to succinctly list) add up together for a very cost-effective and powerful NAS to be using at the house. Compared to systems priced similarly from other sources, it’s features and redundancy will put the other devices to shame. In my opinion, those added features and redundancy make up for the added risk of using Non-ECC RAM. I believe the investment in ECC RAM is a reasonable upgrade, but I also believe that that extra money could be spent elsewhere to help protect against other kinds of problems and potentially to help with some of the failures that could happen as a result of using Non-ECC RAM.

Update (4/01): I re-organized this article a bit and included a bit of background to further illustrate what can go wrong when using non-ECC memory, explain how I’m using my FreeNAS system, and why I still feel comfortable living with these risks.

Update (3/29): Andrew Galloway a.k.a. nex7 wrote an excellent response to this blog that proves as an excellent counter-point to what I’ve suggested. Furthermore, I think that anybody who’s tempted to build a FreeNAS box and use non-ECC memory should give it the same consideration given to anything I’ve suggested in this blog. If you choose non-ECC RAM (like I did, and still would) just make sure you understand what you could be getting into with non-ECC RAM. I still think that risk is minor and I think it’s manageable, but that’s ultimately your decision to make and I wouldn’t fault you for going in either direction.

Gizmo Crate Unboxing: March 2014

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Earbuds from March '14 Gizmo Crate

After my wife signed me up for Gizmo Crate, she asked me what kinds of items I thought might come each month. We brainstormed a bit, and my guess was that I thought it’d be a mishmash of items. One month it’d be 2-3 reasonably useful geeky items and some food, and other months it’d be a few food-type items and one really high-quality item. So far, I’m two-for-two. February’s crate contained a few moderately priced items of utility and this month’s Gizmo Crate featured a single headline item.

Food Units

Just because they’re not as expensive or have as much utility doesn’t mean that the food units aren’t appreciated. Neither this month’s Kettle Corn from Popcornopolis or the package of Pacific Gold Original Beef Jerky survived the act of being unboxed, photographed and then written about. I was a bit disappointed to get beef jerky again after receiving it February’s Gizmo Crate however the kettle corn was delicious and I devoured it quite quickly.

Geek Items

The first of the two geeky items is the Unplug Key Ring. Its design is very similar to European-style electrical outlets and has a matching keyring which “plugs” into the outlet. The outlet base has some adhesive so that you could affix it to the wall. I’m a bit of a keychain-minimalist, so this item didn’t really intrigue me all that much. But surely, I know someone who misplaces their keys and could make use of a good gag gift.

The second headline item of the Gizmo Crate is a pair of STREET by 50 Cent Wired In-Ear Headphones from SMS Audio. Apparently it’s 50 Cent’s answer to Beats by Dre. Unfortunately, I have had atrocious luck with earbud headphones. I’ve yet to find a pair that fits comfortably and manages to stay in my ear. I’ve tried a number of pairs, usually inexpensive ones, that never fit quite right and go into a junk drawer somewhere shortly after being purchased. Here, recently when I blogged about what’s in my backpack, I lamented the fact I was still using old over-the-ear headphones that took up so much room. I’m a bit conflicted on this item. They go for $50 on Amazon.com, which is a good value, but because I’ve never had any luck with earbuds I’m concerned that I’m going to miss out on this value.


Contents Food Items Geek Items Earbuds #1 Earbuds #2

Conclusion

I enjoyed the food items shipped this month, in fact I’m a bit ashamed that they replaced any kind of dinner for me tonight as I quickly wrote this blog. The Unplug Key Ring missed its mark as I won’t really have much use for it. And the STREET by 50 Cent Wired In-Ear Headphones go for roughly $50 on Amazon.com, so there’s definitely plenty of value in there. I figure if this set of earbuds doesn’t work well with my ears, then maybe I’ll use them to build my own custom-molded in ear headphones. Unless you’ve got some sort of quarrel with earbuds, I think you’ll find lots of value in this month’s Gizmo Crate.

Top 3 Items Ever Won at Dave & Busters

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Quite a few years ago, my roommate Pat and I went to Dave & Busters frequently. Frequently probably was putting it mildly. We were and continue to be geeks, we were hungry and we had little-to-no-regard for our disposable income. We’d pretty frequently meet up after work and head to Dave & Busters for a few hours.

One day, we were talking about all the 80’s arcades we remembered hanging out in growing up and just off-handedly, I mentioned the typical gift-shop where you could buy prizes with tickets won at that games. And about how all the really cool stuff was so prohibitively expensive tickets-wise that it made more sense to save our small allowances for months and just buy the items directly.

Most of the times we’d play a few ticketed games and then buy useless knick-knacks that were probably lost or forgotten about by the next morning. Eventually, I got sick of trying to buy the really cheap stuff and tried to think of other things to do with the tickets. One evening, there was a young kid in the gift shop counting and re-counting his tickets with an armful of stuff. Myself, I had a little cupful of probably a good 200-300 tickets. Not really thinking it through, I walked up to the little guy and said “Here you go bud, you can have my tickets.” I guess I had expected shock, awe and gratitude from the guy, but what I had inadvertently done is to set off his STRANGER DANGER alarm and he completely conflicted; scared of the stranger offering him free things and tempted by the hundreds of tickets I was giving away. I quickly tried to correct things and told him to go find his Mom or Dad first and I’d be waiting. For a few brief moments, I wondered to myself if he was running to the nearest store manager or police officer he could find and what kind of trouble I’d just brought on myself. Thankfully, he came back nearly immediately towing his mother and I was able to give her the tickets I didn’t want to spend.

Pat and I decided that instead of trying to appear as if we were trying to lure children with our unwanted tickets that we’d try and see just how many tickets we could collect. As somewhat mature adults, we had the tools in our toolbox to figure out which games had the best return on our investment and the ability to resist spending every single ticket within an hour of winning them. We immediately set out at playing some of the ticket games which we typically ignored because we found all the other games a bit more interesting. We now had a new goal: acquisition and hoarding of a copious amount of tickets. Over the next few weeks, we became regulars of the gift shop and got on a first-name basis with the people who had the responsibility of weighing/counting the tickets and crediting them to our accounts.

We established our ticket wealth primarily by recognizing there were a few games that seemed to pay out more tickets for our effort than others. For example, there was a linked basketball game each and each time a player hit 30 points everyone got more time in the game. It had a maximum of 6 players. If there were 3-4 people there that looked like they could eventually hit 30 points, it was a no-brainer to stand over there and play as long as you could keep the game full.

Another game we played a ton of was called Chip Away, it was basically some sort of odd game where you flung poker chips around trying to match up 3 or more of the same poker chip to score points. The more points you scored the more tickets you got. For some reason, the payout on this game was quite astonishing. I can’t recall the game mechanics that made it pay out so well, it just seemed like incredibly easy “money” to us at the time.

As it stands today, I never see the same behavior from either of these games. Somewhere along the line, just like at the casino, they changed the behavior of the game and the payouts dropped back down to pedestrian levels. In our numerous trips to different Dave and Busters since then both Pat and I notice that our favorite games from back then pay out at a greatly diminished rate. We’ve joked once or twice that it’s probably our fault that those particular games got toned down.

I can’t recall an exact number of the tickets we earned, but I believe by now it’s easily in the hundreds of thousands of tickets. Naturally, this happened over the years and we wound up buying quite a few items along the way. Some of the “bigger” ticket items were things that cost up to a couple hundred dollars. While playing we tried to keep loose track of how much money we were spending in order to earn those tickets and in every instance I’m sure we would have been much better off just buying the items we wound up spending the tickets on. But in some cases we felt that we were dangerously close to the break-even point. It was a bit entertaining to think that we were close to basically spending the same amount of money to acquire an item and also getting to play games and have fun along the way. Hopefully for the accountants at Dave and Busters, that wasn’t ever the case.

At any rate, of all the items I’ve ever “won” at Dave and Busters, here’s my all-time top three. I used a variety of factors in determining my favorites. Primarily, how much enjoyment I got in the prize. But I also factored other things in like the perceived value of the tickets compared to the actual cost of the award.

3. InfraRed Remote Control Helicopter

This item inspired this blog as we went to D&B’s to celebrate Pat’s birthday recently. I happened to have a ton of tickets saved on my Power Card and we bought a few random odds and ends, but the helicopter was the big-ticket item. I didn’t have much faith that it’d be fun, but after throwing 6 AA batteries in the remote control and then using those batteries to charge the smaller battery in the helicopter it actually was pretty fun to fly. We started talking about ranking all the things we’d bought at D&B’s and that’s how this blog article was conceived. Earing the helicopter an automatic admission to this top three list.

2. Sony Playstation 2

At the time, we had a functioning Playstation 2 that up and died on us. We were pretty feverishly playing both Gran Turismo 3 and The Simpsons: Road Rage in our idle time. Then one traumatic day our PS2 died. Naturally, we had more idle time and needed to get our video gaming fix somehow, so we started going to D&B’s more often. We didn’t set out to replace the broken PS2 with one that we scored at D&B’s but that’s the path we wound up going down. One day Pat suggested buying a new PS2 and then we discussed the very remote possibility that we could earn enough tickets to just buy a PS2 by earning tickets at D&B’s. This is when we got most focused on our return-on-investment and nearly burnt us out on Dave and Busters entirely. The sheer number of tickets needed seemed incomprehensible, but when we crunched numbers (very roughly) the dollars almost seemed to add up. The cheapest route was definitely to pay for the PS2 ourselves, but dollar-for-dollar our D&B PS2 wasn’t all that far behind.

1. Animal

Animal wins in a landslide. Within the three purchases, I believe he landed somewhere in the middle chronologically. We were pretty spent accumulating the tickets in the most frugal of fashion for the Playstation 2. There most certainly was quite a bit of fatigue associated with that purchase. After finally “winning” the PS2, we went to Dave and Buster’s less frequently and just accumulated tickets. On a lark one day, we went in and I saw this 4 foot tall stuffed animal of Animal from the Muppets.

Those of you who know me well have probably heard me tell the story about how if it hadn’t been for The Muppet Show my parents probably would have had to resort to sedatives to get me to actually bathe on any kind of regular schedule. We all loved the Muppets and I still do to this day.

At any rate, it struck both Pat and I as hysterical to this monstrous stuffed animal. We both had sports cars at the time and we thought it’d be comical to leave him in one of the car’s passenger seat. For a very long time, Animal was in the backseat of my ‘92 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX staring out the back window looking at whomever was right behind me. During one traffic stop an amused state patrolman asked me if I ever put him up in the front seat in order to get in the HOV lane, naturally I told the officer no and that would be against the law! Within the car club we frequently hung out with, I was known as that-guy-who-has-Animal-in-his-car.

Shortly after winning/buying Animal, we took him all around our apartment and did a silly pictorial and this is how Animal ultimately wound up in the the back of my car. It was a fun couple of hours we took a gazillion pictures and narrowed it down to these best few:


On the Beanbag On the John On the John On the John Drank too Much Drank too Much Grooming Under the Bed Can't Take it Any More Captured Chillin' Munchin' Surfin the Web Surfin the Web Hit by Car Hit by Car Modeling on Car Driving Driving Flying! Flying! Flying! Staring at Tailgaters Staring at Tailgaters Staring at Tailgaters


Spring Training 2014

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Salt River Field - Home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks

For this past Christmas, my father surprised me with a great gift: a father-son trip to Arizona in the spring to catch some Spring-Training baseball. When I grew up Colorado was a baseball wasteland without any sort of a major league team. Regardless, my father is responsible for instilling in me a love and respect for the baseball. It started off by coaching my little league teams and watching the nationally televised baseball games with me when we got a chance. For my birthday one year, my parents threw a birthday party at AAA minor league affiliate, the Denver Zephyrs, which featured a player who shared the same birthday as me, Joey Meyer, who holds the record of the longest recorded professional home run at 582 feet. My Dad is also responsible for setting me down the road of fantasy sports geekdom by buying my brother a copy of Earl Weaver Baseball, which the three of us drafted fantasy teams across all of baseball’s eras and played a 3-team league against each other. Earl Weaver Baseball can also be credited for my rooting interest in the New York Yankees. At the time I was a pre-teen, and this was before we had 12,563 television channels and the Internet to occupy all of our free time, instead we had books.

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of authors were writing books for the tweenage boy. So whenever we made a trip to the library, I’d wind up in the sports section of the library. The autobiographies of legends like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig and the like led me to become fascinated with the Yankees, much to my father’s chagrin.

A week or so ago, Dad and I flew out of Denver and Dallas respectively and met up in Arizona for a long weekend. In the next 3 days, we’d go see 3 different spring-training complexes, 6 different baseball teams, 25+ innings of baseball, 2 nature preserves, and 1 authentic Arizona Diamondback:


Which wasn’t exactly the Arizona Diamondbacks that I necessarily had in mind when we were planning this trip. However, in addition to being a baseball fan, my father is an avid hiker and photographer. I’m not nearly as active outdoors in Texas, but I do appreciate a good hike, so we hiked in the mornings a couple days near the ball fields we were visiting. On Thursday, we hiked in Estrella Mountain Regional Park, where we ran into our friend above not a stone’s throw away from the visitor center. Nothing quite like seeing a venomous pit viper slither across the hiking trail to incentivize you to keep your eyes peeled the rest of your vacation. On Friday, we hiked the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and marveled at the many Sagauro Cactus in the park, which I later learned are only found in this region of the North American continent. As a first-time visitor, the Sonoran Desert area seemed like another world. It’s a desolate and dangerous yet uniquely beautiful part of the world. Here are some of our photos from the two hikes:



We caught three different games while we were visiting; on Thursday we watched the Chicago Cubs take on the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, which the Indians eventually won 1-0. On Friday we watched the Texas Rangers take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch Stadium, with the Dodgers ultimately winning 2-1. Our final, game we caught the Oakland Athletics visiting the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields, which ended in an odd fashion as the A’s completely misplayed the last out of the 9th inning, leading to the game-winning run crossing the plate with the Rockies on top 5-4.

Each of the ballparks we visited were amazing, not a single bad seat in the house. We more or less wound up sitting in the same location along the 1st or 3rd baselines for each game. We were at field level and had a great view for each game. The tickets were moderately priced, and every stadium had affordable lawn seating in the outfield. The weather was absolutely spectacular for each game, it was overcast the first game and sunny the next two games. The stadiums were all intimate with Camelback Ranch Stadium being the largest of the three. You could count on mostly starters for the first few innings, then the minor leaguers would get rotated in the rest of the game. Aside the one miscue by the A’s the games were played pretty well by all six teams. One of the things I really appreciated was the lack of television time outs, constant visits to the mound (I didn’t see a single manager come out of the dugout), and other nonsense which causes baseball games to be interminably long.

For those of you considering attending Spring Training, I encourage it. I have a couple pointers that I thought I’d share: 1. Except for weekend games, there’s no need to buy your tickets far in advance. Dad and I bought our tickets the morning of each game before our other touristy activity. 2. If you’re visiting a particular team, spend the extra few bucks on the tickets to sit as close to the field and/or dugout as possible. Players constantly sign autographs and interact with the fans, it’s a real treat. 3. Buy your tickets for weekend games in advance, even before you fly in to town.
4. See as many baseball games as you can fit in. Most of the games are at 1:05 p.m., and there are occasional games at 7:05 p.m.


Cubs vs. Indians #1 Cubs vs. Indians #2 Cubs vs. Indians #3 Cubs vs. Indians #4 Cubs vs. Indians #5 Cubs vs. Indians #6 Cubs vs. Indians #7 Rangers vs. Dodgers #1 Rangers vs. Dodgers #2 Rangers vs. Dodgers #3 Rangers vs. Dodgers #4 Rangers vs. Dodgers #5 Athletics vs. Rockies #1 Athletics vs. Rockies #2 Athletics vs. Rockies #3 Athletics vs. Rockies #4 Athletics vs. Rockies #5 Athletics vs. Rockies #6 Athletics vs. Rockies #7 Athletics vs. Rockies #8 Athletics vs. Rockies #9 Athletics vs. Rockies #10 Athletics vs. Rockies #11 Athletics vs. Rockies #12 Athletics vs. Rockies #13 Athletics vs. Rockies #14 Athletics vs. Rockies #15 Athletics vs. Rockies #16 Athletics vs. Rockies #17 Athletics vs. Rockies #18 Athletics vs. Rockies #19 Athletics vs. Rockies #20 Athletics vs. Rockies #21 Athletics vs. Rockies #22 Athletics vs. Rockies #23 Athletics vs. Rockies #24 Athletics vs. Rockies #25 Athletics vs. Rockies #26 Athletics vs. Rockies #27 Athletics vs. Rockies #28 Athletics vs. Rockies #29 Athletics vs. Rockies #30 Athletics vs. Rockies #31

Lastly, on Thursday, we visited Haus Murphy’s, a German restaurant in Glendale not too far from Camelback Ranch Stadium where we enjoyed a pretzel, some schnitzel, a proper Oktoberfest-sized beer and some Black Forest Cake. The food was tremendous and reminded me very much of all the wonderful time I spent in Germany.


Entrance Menu Ein Masse! Pretzel Bratwurst, Potatoes and Sauerkraut Blackforest Cake

Altogether, this was a wonderful trip. Now that I’ve done the Cactus League spring training, I’m tempted to take my love for baseball and see the Grapefruit League in the future. Maybe this time, instead of seeing an authentic Arizona Diamondback, I’d see a Tampa Bay (Devil) Ray or a Florida Marlin!

Gizmo Crate Unboxing: February 2014

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Gizmo Crate's Contents 02/14

This year for Christmas, my puppies (via my wife) asked for BarkBox to be under the Christmas tree. I was a little worried that Santa had them on the naughty list, so I swapped their coal out for the BarkBox subscription and we’ve really liked it so far. In fact, my wife liked it so much that for Valentine’s day, she started fishing for hints trying to figure which of several “geeky” box-a-month subscriptions I might like best. Ultimately, I wound up selecting the Gizmo Crate based on what I could find out online. Apparently, I was not alone in my selection, as my wife reported back that demand seemed to outpace what Gizmo Crate anticipated and that delays were to be expected.

Per the Gizmo Crate website their aim is to have the crates shipped by mid-month and in their customers’ hands 2-3 days later. My crate showed up on Wednesday March 5th, so roughly two weeks late. The delays are regrettable, but I’m a bit more sympathetic than some vocal people out there on the Internets. Hopefully, as they get more experience, they’ll iron the wrinkles out of their process. The good news is, the next Gizmo Crate will hopefully be sent soon! Unfortunately, I went on vacation the same day that the crate showed up, so I had to postpone writing this blog until returning from vacation.

The first item out of the box was a 3.25-ounce package of Krave Basil and Citrus flavored turkey jerky, much to my wife’s delight, since she’s huge jerky fan. I’m not sure I’ve ever had basil-and-citrus-flavored jerky before, but I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it enough to look around online and see that Krave has quite a few different offerings. I would not complain a bit if another variety of jerky was sent in the upcoming months. I don’t tend to be a very adventurous eater, so I’m a bit curious to find out what I think about each months’ foodie item.

The next item out of the box was a pair of iGloves, which are a touch-capacitive glove that allows you to continue using your smartphones and tablets while keeping your hands warm. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a miss for me. I live in a warm climate, and despite what the natives might say, it just doesn’t get all that cold down here. I grew up in Colorado, and the winters down here are incredibly mild. I very rarely wear a jacket, let alone gloves. That being said, I won’t mind having these tucked away just in case the Polar Vortex makes its return and freezes us over, or in case I decide to visit friends and family further north.

After that, I pulled out a package of multi-purpose cable clips for cable management. For those of you who read my article about what’s in my laptop bag, you know how much I like cable management and keeping things tied up nicely. I’ve wanted something like these to keep my various charging cables more handy on my night stand. On top of that, there’s probably a number of loose USB cables at my desk that are just begging to be tied down and organized more neatly.

Following the clips, I pulled out an item that I was pretty excited about and started wishing that the crate had come a couple months earlier. The Power Bank 2600 mAh is a little battery that can be used to recharge your devices like tablets, smart phones, iPods, etc… I have a similar item already in my laptop bag which has managed to nearly charge my Nexus 5 from empty to mostly full (about 75%) but that charger’s battery came from an old disassembled laptop battery and may be a little run down. I’m hoping this new battery is fresher and can provide even more juice to my devices. Either way, it is compact enough that I’ll carry two for at least twice the juice. Maybe I’ll even find a way to take them both apart and Frankenstein them together into some sort of super Minty Boost.

The last item out of the Gizmo Crate was a Wireless Blutetooth Speaker. I couldn’t quite determine from the packaging or the contents who the exact manufacturer is or what the model is, but it appears to be a bit of a Jawbone knock-off. I found a number of similar knock-offs on Amazon.com and linked one of the more inexpensive models for you to look at. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the sound when I paired it up to my phone and left it playing my music while I wrote this blog. I’m not much of an audiophile, but this speaker sounded far superior to my run-of-the-mill amplified computer speakers on my desktop PC.


Card Describing Everything in Crate Everything Removed from the Gizmo Crate Krave Jerky iGlove iGlove Unboxed Cable Management Clips Power Bank Power Bank Unboxed #1 Power Bank Unboxed #2 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker Bluetooth Wireless Speaker Unboxed

In researching the dollar value, I thought that the price of the subscription certainly was trumped by the value of the items in the Gizmo Crate. The dollar value of the items in the crate didn’t quite match up with the dollar value of the same products I found on Amazon.com, but what we paid was considerably lower than buying the items individually, which makes it a good financial bargain. What really gives it value is the fact that each of these items has its own unique utility. Aside from the slight problem caused by the fact that Texas is generally hot, I have a use for each of these products. Several useful items for at a financial bargain means that the first Gizmo Crate winds up being a great deal for those who subscribed to it. I look forward to unboxing a few more Gizmo Crates and blogging about it here!

What’s In Brian’s Laptop Bag?

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This year for Christmas, my stocking contained a couple 6-inch NiteIze GearTies from my mother (Hi, Mom! I love you!) which I absolutely loved. In fact, they got me thinking I could use quite a few more and some longer ones, and I’d finally tackle the rat’s nest that had become my laptop bag. In all honesty, my laptop bag is far from a rat’s nest. But, as anal-retentive as I can be about such things, it felt like a rat’s nest. While I had everything out, I started yanking out some old, obsolete items like a DB9 to DB25 Serial Adapter. I wound up consolidating down a little bit, but not necessarily all the way down to the least common denominator. I have a few items which could be considered redundant, but I like having a couple extras just in case I need them.

My laptop bag is a MobileEdge MEBPS1 that I bought in a closeout deal for $30 more than six years ago. I wanted to link to the backpack, but wasn’t surprised when I couldn’t find any. About the closest I could find was this MobileEdge Select Backpack on Amazon.com. Aside from the awesome “Dr. Pepper/Black” color combination on it, I love that the product description specifically mentions CDs and PDAs, two things people probably don’t carry around a whole lot these days. I’m sure there are better bags out there right now, but I’ve really liked this bag and have not been given a reason to upgrade it.

The Contents

Everything in Brian's Laptop Bag


  1. “The Diabetes”: My glucometer, test strips, etc… I don’t (can’t) usually go far without this.
  2. MobileEdge Select Backpack
  3. Panasonic RP-HC101 Headphones: My ears are anti-earbud, so an over-the-ears set of headphones is a must.
  4. USB Micro On The Go Cable: This cable has come in handy a time or two in order to write files from my phone directly to some sort of USB storage. usually when doing some sort of backup/restore of the phone.
  5. 3-foot Micro USB Cable – White: Used primarily for plugging phones/tablets into computers’ USB ports.
  6. 5-foot Micro USB Cable – Black: Used primarily for plugging phones/tablets into a power adapter.
  7. 3-foot USB Extension Cable – Clear: This came with one of my very first flash drives and wound up being handy a time or two, so I’ve kept it.
  8. 10-foot CAT5e Network Cable – Blue : Pretty self-explanatory.
  9. 6-foot Mini USB Cable – Black: I’m not 100% sure why I still carry a Mini USB cable. My digital camera has a MiniUSB port but my use of an Eye-Fi card makes it a bit of an extravagance.
  10. 6-foot USB 3.0 Extension Cable – White: For when my other 3-5 feet of USB cable just isn’t enough.
  11. 6-inch NiteIze GearTie: Extras just in case I decide to buy a new cable and my overpowering anal-retentive nature can’t be corralled.
  12. Bobino Cord Wrap – White: This also was a stocking stuffer. If my ears weren’t earbud-resistant, they’d work awesome with this. It seems like it’d come in handy for some unknown cable down the road, so I keep it near by.
  13. 12-inch NiteIze GearTie: See above, plus I use this tie to wrap up the other loose ties.
  14. Mini to Micro USB Adapter: I picked this up when I bought my first Micro USB device and figured it’d be handy so I could keep using my Mini USB cable. Little did I know that I’d be overrun with Micro USB cables a year or two later.
  15. Ethernet Crossover Adapter: A crossover adapter for a network cable just in case I wanted to network two computers together, or the odd occasion where I need to plug into a piece of hardware like a router or a switch.
  16. Micro to Mini USB Adapter: Considering my dearth of Micro USB cables, I thought one of these would be handy, and I could possibly quit carrying #9 above.
  17. Micro USB to Lightning Adapter: As a recent iPad Air user, I figured a couple of these would save me money from having to buy additional cables from Apple.
  18. Dual USB 4.2 Amp Travel Charger: A portable charger with enough output to charge both my Nexus 5 and iPad Air at the same time.
  19. Universal 18650 Battery Box: This is just a little portable battery box, there’s an 18650 battery cell inside and it can be used as an emergency charger for both the Nexus 5 and iPad Air if needed.
  20. Canon G12 Digital Camera: My digital camera.
  21. Work Laptop: Nothing special; I hope to switch this in and out with a Chromebook depending on whether I’m headed towards a personal or professional destination.
  22. iPad Air: I decided to try a bigger tablet when my company started a bonus program to subsidize iPad purchases.
  23. RJ45 Coupler (not pictured): I’ve been waiting for these to show up from Amazon, for when a network cable provided just isn’t long enough and I’m too lazy to go find one of the appropriate length. I can think of a couple hotels I stayed at before which had wired networks but no WiFi and loaned out horrendously short network cables.

So, there’s a little bit of redundancy in my choices. I have multiple Micro USB cables, but I carry multiple devices which require a Micro USB cable to charge. I’d hate to be put in a position between charging my phone or my tablet. I also have enough adapters to ditch the Mini USB cable permanently, but in the event that my Eye-Fi can’t talk over WiFi to transmit my photos, I’d like to have the cable handy just in case. I don’t find myself in data centers nearly as often as I did ten years ago in my career, so a lot of the tools that I used to see in my backpack have been relocated over time. However, because of my own network I wired up in my house I decided some sort of network tester would be a good idea. Thankfully, the Pocketethernet was brought to my attention, and in a few weeks I’ll be adding it to my bag. I’d definitely like to pick up some sort of nice, compact screwdriver set just in case I do need to get into a computer away from home.

One thing you’ll notice is the absolute lack of any kind of installation media, not even Operating Systems. Thankfully, an app called DriveDroid has made it unnecessary to tote around a bunch of software DVDs. I keep whatever’s important enough in ISO form on my phone, and in the event I ever need it, then DriveDroid will let me mount the ISO and boot right off the phone’s storage via USB.

Suggestions and Feedback

Aside from the items I mentioned above, what other kinds of things am I missing from my bag? For the items I’m considering adding, do you have any recommendations on products that I should try? Finally, what kinds of things are you carrying and why? Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comments!


All of the contents of my Laptop Bag Various USB and Network Adapters Various USB and Network Cables Chargers for different Devices Computers and Tablet Extra Ties for More Organization

DFW Cars and Coffee - March 2014

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Mosler MT900 from March 2014 Cars & Coffee

On the first Saturday of every month, car enthusiasts of all kinds descend on Classic BMW of Plano for a car show called Cars and Coffee. I’ve attended a few times it’s an exceptional gathering for motorheads and on mornings like this one, it’s nice to be outdoors. Cars and Coffee have events across United States as well as in Europe too. I showed up as the event started to wind down around 9:30 AM, and cars were beginning to pull out of the lot. But I still got to see quite a few great looking cars.

My favorite thing about Cars and Coffee is that the majority of the cars there are “real” cars that people own and not some sort of dedicated show car that rarely gets driven. It’s also a melting pot of exotics, muscle cars, sports cars, imports, classics, etc… the variety of different cars is very enjoyable.

I meant to take my camera but I left it at home on my desk. I tried to take a few photos with my smartphone but my polarized sunglasses made it impossible to see what I was actually taking a picture of. I will have to remember to take a my regular glasses and my camera next time. At any rate, here’s a few of the usable photos that I took. As an owner of a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, there may be a heavy dosage of Corvette pictures:


Brian's Favorite Logo - Porsche 911 Turbo Audi R8 C5 Corvette Z06 Lamborghini Gallardo C6 Corvette ZR1 Nissan GT-R C6 Corvette ZR1 - Lingenfelter Lotus Exiges C7 Corvette Stingray - Blue C7 Corvette Stingray - Blue Mazda RX-7 C7 Corvette Stingray Three Different Generations of Corvette Mosler MT900 I have no idea what this is.

Buy a Bigger Tablet

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I have been experiencing a problem the past couple years with my smartphones and tablets. Each time I upgrade my smartphone to newer hardware than my tablet, or vice versa, I pretty much abandon the older device. I’ve always attributed this to the age of the hardware, but I’m beginning to think it’s more a matter of size than anything else. My tablets have generally been smaller. I started out with the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 as my first tablet, and not too long after that I was an early adopter of the first Nexus 7. Because I’ve been buying bigger and bigger smartphones, I began to find that whichever of the two devices was more powerful, I would use it in place of the other device. Case and point, my darling wife Julia gave me an early Christmas gift when the Nexus 5 came out. For the most part, my Nexus 7 sits uncharged and neglected on a coffee table at home. There’s nothing wrong with the Nexus 7 it just lacks the horsepower that the Nexus 5 has, and the size advantage of the Nexus 7 is easily mitigated by that performance difference.

When in Doubt, Buy a Bigger Tablet

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking about my neglected Nexus 7, thinking that if it were just a little bit bigger, I’d use it more often than I am. I’d even entertained the thought of buying something like the Nexus 10 but in comparing the Android Geekbench scores, I was a bit worried about paying four hundred dollars to buy equivalent hardware and a bigger display as my Nexus 5. If I wanted more display real estate for the same price, I could’ve bought an additional 27” 2560x1440 IPS display and a video card to drive it for my desktop computer. I just couldn’t honestly justify spending the money on the Nexus 10.

Thankfully, my Christmas present to myself was a new job this year. At work, they believe that 80% of the decision-making executives of our clients are iPad users. Because our company provides software-as-a-service, there is an emphasis on making sure that our web-apps work well on iOS devices, especially the iPad. They instituted a program where the company contributes money towards the purchase of iPads in the form of an Apple Store Gift Card, and negotiated corporate discounts. I’m usually pretty oblivious to when the planets align like this, but in this case the light bulb immediately went off above my head. I’m a pretty dedicated Android guy but in this case, it was too good to pass up on an iPad Air at an extremely discounted rate. My out-of-pocket for the 16GB WiFi version of the iPad was roughly $200 plus tax. My bottom line ultimately was an iPad Air at the same price out of my pocket as the latest Nexus 7.

First Thoughts

Aside from an early wave of “Why doesn’t this work like it works in Android?!?!” confusion, most of my first thoughts naturally related to the size. I have a couple initial observations about the size:

It’s difficult to type well and hold at the same time. I imagine that much of this can be attributed to what I think is an awful keyboard in iOS devices. The iOS keyboard pales in comparison to the current Android keyboard and is downright rudimentary when compared to aftermarket Android keyboards like Swype. The 10-inch form factor of the iPad Air includes enough added weight and size that I don’t think I could easily hold the tablet in one hand and type well with the other like I currently do with my Nexus 7. However, I could very easily rest the tablet in my lap, hold it with one hand and type with the other if the iOS keyboard weren’t so bad. Hopefully this is something I get acclimated to with use.

This shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s on the list, but I am disappointed it’s not the first thing that came to mind. Regardless of its ranking it makes a tremendous difference in comparison to the 7-inch tablet. Even though I had my TV on, my Chromecast ready to go and the app installed on my tablet, I watched an entire episode of House of Cards to kick off a 5-6 episode marathon this week on the iPad and enjoyed watching it—not nearly as much as I did when I watched the next few episodes on my television, but the fact that a 10-inch tablet can compete with a television is impressive.

I think probably the best analogy I can make contrasting the sizes is this: The difference between a 7-inch tablet and a 10-inch tablet really reminds me of the difference between reading a paperback and hardback book. The 7-inch tablet is easier to hold for longer periods of time, but everything feel compressed and condensed. The 10-inch tablet is fancier, looks nicer, and the content is easier to consume, but the size difference takes a bit of a toll on you over long stretches of use.

What’s Next?

My main objective here is to see if there’s a niche in my mobile computing for a 10-inch tablet that survives when I get my next phone upgrade. Considering that I’ve bought a new phone and tablet, their latest editions respectively, in the past couple months, it might be quite a while before I get to put this theory to the test. I guess how much I set down my Nexus 5 and use the iPad Air over the next few months will suggest how much weight that extra screen real estate actually carries. Additionally, I’m curious to find out if the 10-inch tablet is enough for me to break me away from my desk when working on writing things for the blog. My experience using the keyboard app on the iPad has been disappointing so far and I get the impression that if I had a Bluetooth keyboard, I’d need to sit at an actual table to do any work which is a bit defeating. If I have to sit at a desk to use a “real” keyboard with an iPad Air, then why not just go over and sit down at my desk? I have a sneaking suspicion that a Chromebook may need to supplement my 10-inch tablet to meet all of my mobile computing needs.


Nexus 7 and Nexus 5 iPad Air and Nexus 7 iPad Air and Nexus 5 iPad Air / Nexus 7 / Nexus 5

Note: That is not some weird lumpy texture on each of the phones/tablets, it’s the reflection of the 1970’s popcorn ceiling that’s directly above it!