Family Tech Support

A couple of days ago, as I was fading into a jet-lag induced foggy sleep, my wife complained that her laptop (A 13″ MacBook Pro, probably 4 years old) was getting slow on email. I  knew that it had about 1/3 of the disk free (about 90 gigs) so it wasn’t running out of space.

The next morning came this conversation:

Wife: “Uh, I need DiskWarrior to see if I can make my laptop better.”

Me: “Sure, let me get it for you”

(DiskWarrior is a mac utility that does wonders to fix inconsistent file systems caused by clutter, or entropy over time. It has been a miracle worker in my experience.)

Wife (sheepishly): “Uh, I dropped my laptop a few days ago…”

Me: “Again?”

Result:

  • The 4 year old HD that had been dropped at least three times that I know about is dead as dillinger. All my whiz bang utilities couldn’t bring it back to life.
  • The MacBook Pro is remarkably resilient to clumsy handling. Dented, dinged, it has withstood the punishment my wife gives it.
  • A spare 750G  7200 RPM hard drive is in there, the laptop is up on 10.7, and is running well.

Fortunately, most of the important documents are on her iMac, and the laptop was really a roving computer.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t use migration tools as the disk was totally hosed. So it is a fresh start.

Travel Notes – Going Home Edition

It has been a long two weeks in Europe. A good set of meetings, and less hectic that trips to the continent commonly are (6 countries in 4 days, all by car is standard fare).

I got to spend almost a whole week in England, for the most part based in London. The last three days were in a itty bitty hotel room near Paddington Station. Convenient, but cramped (the bed took up the whole width of the room, there wasn’t a proper desk to work on). Fortunately I barely had time to sleep in this room.

There is nothing like getting a text at 3:00 AM telling you that your flight back is canceled. That gets the adrenaline flowing right quick! Fortunately, I am NOT stuck for another day.

Pro-Tip: Having status, and being a million mile flier means that even in these times of crappy customer service, and fees out the wazoo, United did rebook me automatically

This trip was chaotic, and changed several times while I was en route. From changing meetings and agendas, to different cities, and expectations, it wasn’t boring, but it did make it tight.

I originally packed with the intention to do some laundry on Monday. Unfortunately, I had two more hotel changes before that so I was a bit cramped for clean clothes. Finally, on Wednesday, I was able to get some clean clothes to finish the week, and to have clean jeans for the flight home. Whoopee!

I am a bit disappointed in the number of hotels that charge for internet. My cheapest room here was about $170 a night (up to $250) and two of the hotels gouged me for another $14 – $25 for internet (or had internet that was so slow as to be useless, thus guiding me to pay for the faster service.

I don’t know how people can afford to live in London. Not just the cost of a flat, but even a tube fare is like 4 quid (about half price if you have an oyster card). That is stupid expensive. Cabs? Fuggedaboutit. I will say the system is efficient, and mostly clean, even during rush hour. Meals are expensive. I tried my best to get to out of the way places, but it was not uncommon for a simple meal to be $40 or more without alcohol. Sigh.

Well, I am at LHR, waiting for my gate to be announced, and then to head home. Instead of arriving at 7:30 PM, I will get in at midnight, so I will be home late. But I will be home. Yay!

Travel Notes – Luggage

I am rapidly approaching the need for new baggage. I am pretty hard on my luggage, so it’s not surprising that it wears out. However, all the zippers are failing, and it is looking like it has been dragged through a war zone.

I have had Tumi bags, and they wore well, but the hardware failed spectacularly one trip. It literally disintegrated before my eyes.

I replaced it with "Travel Pro". Endorsed by flight attendants and airline employees, it seemed like a safe bet. Snort. Of course their bags last a long time because they NEVER have to check their bags. Both my carry on sized roller, and my big roller looked like hell almost immediately. The first trip with my big bag, the big zipper pulls were lost. And it has gone downhill from there. My current trip is probably the last with this bag.

Not sure where to go next. But, I am certain whatever brand of luggage I buy, it will have a finite lifespan before the rigors of travel shred it mercilessly. I am tempted to go hard shell, but much of that looks and feels cheap as well.

Everytime I see a DSLR with a kit lens, the Baby Jesus cries

Been on the road lately, and spent a couple days taking in the sights in London. Central London, tourist heaven, so much to see, so much to do. As a bit of a photographer, I take notice of what gear I see people shooting with. I can’t help it, I am a geek.

And I am absolutely stunned how many people I see with decent DSLR cameras from Canon or Nikon with the standard “kit” lens.

Most DSLR’s, until you get to the pro-sumer or professional grade, come with a lens. That lets people use them immediately, and get some results. Universally these lenses are inexpensive, fairly low quality, and often built with plastic elements. Yes, you can take pictures with them, but they are without a doubt the weakest link in the package.

You are supposed to step up to better optics. The whole concept behind the DSLR is to allow you to switch lenses to match your style. Doing sports photography? a long telephoto is in order. Landscape photography? A wide angle zoom is in your future. Portraiture? A small telephoto lens with a wide aperture for rockin’ bokeh.

You don’t have to jump to the ‘L’series from Canon to get great pictures, but you can.

However a large number of people are schlepping around their DSLR with the gawdawful kit lens. If you are going to do that, you might as well be using a Canon G12.

Travel Notes

As someone who travels extensively for work, I have a few habits that are “odd”.

  1. I never watch TV in my hotel. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in the hotel room. Probably early 2002 or so. I don’t watch much live TV at home, so it is pretty easy to just leave the telly off. Additionally, since I am not a huge sports fan (except for MotoGP and WSBK), I don’t find that I miss it.
  2. I don’t watch movies in airplanes. Even with the advent of personal video/entertainment systems, I just read or sleep. Old habits are hard to kick, and I got out of the habit of watching the in-flight entertainment a long time ago.
  3. I try to not rent cars. Unless I need to go significant distance in a location, even in the US, I usually just cab it. Internationally? No brainer. Cab, train, subway is the way to go.
  4. I never read the newspapers that they hang on the door. I swear that USA Today pretty much exists to be tossed at hotel room doors. But even overseas I just leave the paper on the ground. What I want to read, I get from the web (I subscribe to The Economist and the NY Times, so I am not starved for content).
  5. If breakfast costs money in the hotel, I will go out. I find it astounding how much hotels charge for breakfast. $25 – $30 is not uncommon. Unless they are serving shaved truffles, and beluga caviar omelettes, there is no way I can eat that much worth of food. Just about anywhere in the world I have stayed will have a small coffee shop/bakery within walking distance. They get my custom. Of course, in the US at least, most business hotels include a small breakfast service. That is still catching on worldwide.
  6. Kitsh and gifts – long ago I stopped buying stuff on the road. I know my wife likes the trinkets, but really, how many “Hello Kitty” keychains does one need? I do still buy chocolate to bring back though. Yummy
  7. I rarely try to upgrade to business or first class. I just don’t care that much about the uplift. I have many peers who get visibly agitated when they can’t get an upgrade. I would rather keep the miles and use it to take the wife on a real vacation (and then I prefer to use the miles to upgrade to business class). Of course, upgrades are rarer than ever with airlines doing their best to overbook their seats.
  8. I hate airlines. All airlines. Yes, some are better than others (Singapore or Thai), but all of them are working towards treating their patrons as steerage. For small vacations, I far prefer to drive than to book rewards tickets. Besides the hassle of trying to get a seat with your rewards (and since all airlines are running near capacity, that becomes ever more difficult), I find that I just prefer driving.

A lot of people hear that I travel a lot for work and instantly assume that it is all glamorous. It isn’t. Hotels aren’t ever as comfortable as your own bed. You can eat some great food, but equally often you are grabbing packaged sandwiches at gas stations. High cuisine indeed.

I do drink too much on the road though. Spending long hours in hotel bars, or local watering holes that I have found over the years can erase some of the pain of traveling.