“LET’S GET READDDDDDDYYYYYYY TO RUMMMMMMMMBBBBBBBBBBBLLLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEE”
Deafening cheers from the crowd fill the air as heavy bass is pumped into the room. Strobe lights flash. The anticipation is palpable.
All of the sudden, a concentrated beam of light appears on the announcer standing towards the front of the ring. All eyes focus on him as the cheers escalate to new heights.
“ARE YOU PREPARED.….….….. FOR A BATTLE ROYALE?!?”
More cheers from the darkened room.
“LET’S MEET.….. TONIGHT’S CONTESTANTS! FROM HOBOKEN NEW JERSEY, 6 FEET 2 INCHES TALL, WEIGHING IN AT 185 WE HAVE.….….….…… DAVE!!!!!”
A second spotlight joins the first, highlighting Dave’s rumpled brown hair and glinting off his horn rimmed glasses. He strolls casually to the corner nearest him and lifts a hand in acknowledgement to the crowd. A smile plays about the corner of his mouth.
“FOR OUR SECOND CONTESTANT, WE HAVE A NEWCOMER. FRESH FROM THE VALLEY, STANDING 5 FEET 8 INCHES TALL, WEIGHT UNKNOWN.….…. WELCOME ALEC!!”
The cheering dies off and a smattering of boos rain down on the stage as Alec makes his appearance on the stage opposite Dave. A penguin graces the front of his rumpled T‑shirt. He’s noticeably more nervous than Dave. After all, he is the challenger to the reigning champion.
The announcer continues hyping up the crowd as he explains the night’s entertainment. Massive screens suddenly pop on in the back of the room.
“TONIGHT WE HAVE A NEW CHALLENGE AND A NEW CHALLENGER WITH IT. ALEC HAS LAID THE SMACKDOWN. HE CLAIMS” a pause as the crowd laughs and jeers, “HE CLAIMS HE CAN SET UP AND WRITE A FREELANCE ARTICLE ON HIS LINUX DESKTOP FASTER THAN DAVE ON HARDWARE OF HIS CHOICE!”
The screen on the left has Dave’s name. The screen on the right, Alec.
“GENTLEMEN.…… TAKE YOUR POSITIONS.….. ANNNNNNNNNNNNDDDDDDDD GO!”
A stopwatch starts.
Dave chooses a MacBook Pro. He lifts the lid and hits the power button. An Apple logo appears on the screen as it boots up.
Alec is pressing the power button on his desktop. Nothing is appearing on his screen. He fumbles under the table and takes the side of the tower off and hits the button again. A black screen with lines of white code fill his screen now as he starts rapidly typing in code.
Dave logs into his profile and selects Safari. The window shines bright against the darkened background as he begins to research the details for his article.
Alec has finally managed to get the login screen to appear and types in his details. His desktop pops up and he attempts to bring up the browser. It loads for a few seconds and then crashes repeatedly. He’s forced to go into the download manager and re-download the package and do several other updates.
Dave opens a new program. It’s a standalone writing app. The crowd cheers loudly at its appearance as Dave begins to type with smooth strokes. Alec looks noticeably strained now, his brow beaded with sweat. He has finally managed to get the browser up and start researching.
Dave types away.
Alec keeps researching.
Dave types away, seemingly unbothered by the crowd and the solid wall of noise they’re producing.
Alec opens a new tab to his WordPress site and begins to type frantically on his article.
Dave checks his grammar and spelling one last time, and satisfied with the result walks over to the front of the ring to press the big red buzzer. A loud air horn sounds as Alec slumps on the table, beaten.
The crowd chants “DAVE DAVE DAVE!”
He is.….…. THE OPTIMIZER.
Stranger than Fiction
Now, obviously this is an entirely fictional tale.
Or is it entirely fictional?
The setting and scenario are completely ridiculous, but the ease or difficulty of using various technologies is real. My very first computer purchased for myself was a 2009 MacBook Pro. The only time it didn’t work was when I did something to it — like trying to partition the drive without backing up the data first (yes it hurt and no, I wasn’t yet a CS student when I did that).
It served me faithfully until about 2015, when the hard drive failed. I put a new one in it, along with some upgraded RAM, but I couldn’t update to the newest OSx so it was basically an expensive door stop.
Obviously, I needed a replacement computer. I was tired of supporting the big tech companies so I went open source. I actually went whole hog and built myself a Linux desktop. Most of the time, it works well enough and I got an immense amount of satisfaction from proving to myself I could do it. I also saved myself a ton of money!
That being said.….. it’s not an optimal arrangement.
I travel fairly often. A desktop computer, although energy and cost efficient, is NOT conducive to travel. I mean, can you imagine me setting this thing up on my tray table in coach? HA! Not a chance. Fortunately, I’ve had a work laptop that can fill in the gaps when I’m not home, but that doesn’t sit right with me. I would hate to lose or damage my work computer on a personal vacation. Also, there are some things I can’t do with a work computer (forbidden) or won’t do on a work computer where it can be monitored by my employer (common sense). Nonetheless, I’ve managed since my MacBook died.
Open Source Limitations
Open source software is incredible. Many programs are a labor of love from volunteers. As such, they are free.… but definitely full of limitations. Sometimes open source programs just stop working. Sometimes they do what you need, but the UI is straight out of 1998 and distracting. And sometimes, there is no open source program for some software you need, leaving you high and dry.
Resisting the man
I resisted as long as I could. In the end, I gave in. I bought a new-to-me from a techie friend of mine who upgraded to a new laptop. (Said friend also handles IT stuff on this blog and is awesome. Happy to hand out a recommendation if anyone is looking for help!)
Say hello to my beautiful new laptop:
I am now the proud owner of a late model 2014 MacBook Pro! It’s been so long since I was on a MacBook that everything has changed. The App Store was barely a thing when I stopped using my Mac. I used it to play Angry Birds and that was about it. Now, it’s a robust service with a ton of different apps that are beautiful and functional.
Even better, my mic connects to the laptop and Skype works perfectly every. single. time, which means I’ve been producing higher quality podcasts for Fire Drill Podcast! No more sounding like I’m underwater! Woo!
There are also a number of apps I’ve found useful. They range from writing apps to a time tracking app to an app that dims everything but the top window to cut down on distractions to my personal favorite, an app dedicated solely to writing. I’ve been able to dial in and focus on writing without getting distracted by other things on the screen. I also have an app that blocks pretty much every fun major website on the Internet for a set amount of time (or set times during the day!), which is super useful for those with an Internet browsing problem. <— that’s me, by the way.
Not Just Technology
Now, optimizing my life hasn’t been limited to just technology. I’ve been on the lookout for other ways as well.
Tolls: I’ve got out of my way — literally — to avoid tolls, sometimes tacking on an extra hour or more to my travel time in a vain attempt to stop feeding the vampires in the booth. Was that really the best use of my time and money? After some reflection, I’ve decided it is not the best use. When it makes sense, I will be taking the toll roads in the future. My time has value. I only have so much time, whereas I can always earn more money. If paying $5 saves 30 minutes of driving, then the tolls will be worth paying.
Parking: I’ve tried to “hack” parking before by leaving my car with friends and catching an Uber to the airport instead. The last time I tried this, I ended up with 2 $50 Uber rides. I’m not sure I saved money in the long run. Ergo, the next time I flew I paid $125 to park my car at the close off-airport lot. It was fabulous. I got off the plane, collected my luggage, walked to my car, and drove off happily into the sunset. Speaking of luggage….
Checked baggage: I have checked bags on most of my flights in 2017. I have been flying carriers that don’t have bag fees (Southwest for the win), so it’s not really costing me money. However, I can bring liquids and other bigger items with me on trips that I can’t fit in a carryon. Being able to fly with a growler of beer to FinCon, for instance, was totally worth the hassle of having to collect my luggage.
(Pro-tip: If you plan an overnight layover on a trip, pack some clothes and toiletries in your carryon because your luggage will get an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the airport while you’re gallivanting about town.)
I also benefitted from being able to bring home extra stuff from trips. I scored most of my families’ Christmas presents in Ecuador this year and was happy I could bring them home without cramming everything into a book bag. This was also helpful at FinCon when I brought home 9 new wonderful t‑shirts and other swag.
I’m always on the lookout for ways I can streamline my life and work smarter. I’ve hit some of the big stuff but I know there’s more to do. Let me know in the comments some of the ways you’ve optimized your life!