The Computers of

Post by blogger | April 2, 2014      

Geek alert. Those of you who noticed my lack of backcountry skiing blog productivity over past weeks, computer tech work has been gnawing on my creative time like European toll roads strip a travel budget. We finally got our webcam working at WildSnow Field HQ — that took basically all winter (big groan). Along with that I configured another satellite-solar-satphone blogging system for an Alaska trip that didn’t happen (though another one is in the works for a crew of WildSnow guest bloggers headed for the Kahiltna.)

Then, to make sure I used up every scant second of my allotted lifespan in paying homage to Billysoft, I got a new Asus Zenbook that’s supposed to be the ONE computer that’ll do everything. Prior to that fine day I’d been running a variety of netbooks, along with a laptop dedicated to the desk. Plan now is to carry the Asus during major travel (portable office), but keep running a netbook for quick dashes here and about. I also run a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy Note) that’ll do just about anything given time to figure out the sometimes kludgy touch-software solutions, but when it comes to serious blogging I like having a mouse and a computer keyboard at my fingertips with a screen larger than my hand. Way faster. More fluid for creative writing.

In any case, we have too many computers around here. So I thought it would be fun to share our heap of silicon and plastic with you guys. Perhaps you’ll find it amusing. Wait, can I already hear the laughter?

The workhorse that built

The workhorse that built This Systemax ruggedized model S14Y wouldn't quit. I began working with the internet many many years ago, hacking on raw HTML with a big steel box blowing enough hot air to heat the whole mobile home we lived in. From there, I began operating the office on a variety of laptops (for quiet and portability). I got this Systemax in 2006 and ran it till just a few weeks ago with a dual monitor configuration and wireless keyboard/mouse. It's spill proof (although dried espresso makes the keys sticky), with an amazingly legible LCD due to matt finish that has little problem with ambient reflections, (unlike many of today's laptops that sport screens that might as well be a bathroom mirror). I heavily optimized the Systemax. Maxed out the RAM, big fast hard drive, tweaked Windows XP until it was whipped into submission. For such a beater the thing was amazing, and actually still is. I can edit video on it using Vegas Pro, do fairly major Photoshop work, and so forth. But 7 years on the same PC? Give me an award! And yes, the thing has a bad case of Windows arthritis that's gotten harder and harder to strip away. Latest, some virus or malware got in there that plays CNN news at random times with no user intervention. We wake up at 2:00 a.m. to the muffled sounds of network news coming from the office -- ghost in the machine! Yep, way past due for an UPGRADE.

UPGRADE. So, I'm glad I waited as long as I did. Asus Zenbook UX301L is the new WildSnow HQ office hub.

UPGRADE. So, I'm glad I waited as long as I did. Asus Zenbook UX301L with Core i7 CPU and SSD hard drive is the new WildSnow HQ office hub. I got this puppy from Xotic PC, paid a bit more than deep-discount but got various custom configurations that make it sweet. Windows 7 instead of 8, bloatware stripped at the factory, speed optimized, RAM maxed out. Turnkey. All I've had to do for the computer swap is spend perhaps eight hours installing my data and favorite softwares: The big two, Photoshop and Dreamweaver, along with a dozen or so of the niggly little things one needs to keep the work happening, viruses at bay, etcetera. Last few years I've gone ever deeper into cloud computing, primarily using Google Drive apps (and of course working with server based CMS such as WordPress). But I still like some powerful stand-alone stuff available with the flick of a finger, internet or not. Sadly, my old favorite vid editing app, Vegas Pro, won't run on Windows 7. So I downloaded CyberLink Pro for a whirl -- can't justify the higher end stuff for the basic video we do.

Zenbook in the office, hooked to large monitor that's out of photo to right.

Asus Zenbook in the office, hooked to large monitor that's out of photo to right. At home I run things as a dual monitor system, generally keeping app menus on the smaller laptop screen to my left, with a large LCD in front of me showing the stuff I'm working on. I didn't get a docking station for the Zenbook. Instead, by using a USB hub I can jerk three or 4 connectors out of the computer and be on the road in minutes. Again, idea being I can essentially take the office with me while traveling. Good concept, anyhow, but little details such as security and chance of damage to the expensive PC do intrude on one's thoughts. Thus, I'm inclined to leave the Zenbook at home during rougher travel, and use one of our netbooks instead. Main thing is to have the choice. Month in Europe? I'd probably bring the Zenbook, or perhaps both computers. Overnight at backcountry cabin? Just grab the 'throw-away' netbook unless I've got some major work to do.

So, about those netbooks. Another amazingly useful computer we've run for years now is the Acer Aspire One model AOA, tiny 9 inch LCD.

So, about those netbooks. Another amazingly useful computer we've run for years now is the Acer Aspire One model AOA, tiny 9 inch LCD, heavily optimized with 2 gig RAM (I know, I know, but that's all it'll take) and a fast SSD hard drive, you can actually edit video on these things and run Photoshop. They're incredibly durable. We took one to 14,000 feet on Denali during our three week ski mountaineering expedition in 2010, operated the little guy at below zero temperatures, it never quit. I've carried an Aspire One all over western Europe and the western United States. Only thing we've had fail is the keyboards, and they're easy to replace. Presently we've got two of these: one here at the office, one boxed up with our satphone blogging system. Frankly, I'm not sure what to do with our AOAs as my 'beater' traveling computer is now a later model Acer (see below). But I love the 10 inch form factor and the keyboard -- about 10 hours battery life with an oversized battery isn't too shabby either for a computer you can pick up for around $200.00.

To get a bit more power and larger screen than the dinosaur 9-inch Acers, I've been using the slimmer 11-inch Acer 725 as my main travel netbook.

To get a bit more power and larger screen than the dinosaur Windows XP 9-inch Acers, I've been using the slimmer 11-inch Acer 725 as my main travel netbook, running Windows 7. I swapped in an SSD hard drive and more RAM. The AMD C60 CPU of the thing doesn't exactly sprint, but neither does it sizzle crisp your loins when using your lap as a desk. I get a good six hours of work on one charge, perfect for a ten hour Europe flight when you kill the extra time playing hookey on the in-flight video system. Biggest downside of this model Acer is the perversely located SD card reader, indented into the side of the case so you have to flick the card with your finger and attempt to sligngshot it out like a bullet (hopefully landing on your desk), as you can't grab the card with normal sized fingers. The person who designed this probably uses needle nosed pliers to remove SD cards, or else has fingers the diameter of pencil tips. Is that a geek thing? Pencil fingers?

Acer D270 used for backcountry skiing blogging.

WildSnow Acer Aspire computer number 6, or something like that. This model D270 is at the moment Lisa's main computer, office or travel. It's not a screamer, but again sports optimized Windows XP along with maximum RAM and a snappy SSD hard drive. Interestingly, the Intel Atom processor claims a faster speed than our AOA Acers, but in real life seems slower. Overall, another super solid Acer that's not only been a travel computer, but was bought used and hauled to an Alaskan glacier as a spare.

Wildsnow guest blogger and assistant Joe's Acer V5-131, just activated.

Wildsnow guest blogger and assistant Joe's Acer V5-131, just activated. Wildsnow Acer number 7? He runs a faux 'dual monitor' system by having his iPad there for ongoing music and email monitoring.

There you go. A few extra Acers that’ll probably grace Ebay, the old Systemax will be screwed to the wall along side my backcountry ski binding collection, and my shiny new Zenbook is already saving me at least 30 minutes a day due to faster speed of everything (5g wireless, amazing). The future? Probably more on the cloud — with good local backups for all one-of-a-kind creative products. I’m not sure what the cloud input device will end up being. I got a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for the Galaxy Note phone, perhaps that’s a hint of the future. In that case the Zenbook might eventually remain in a deep meditative state — but not until I wring it out. Will it go for six or seven years like the Systemax? Doubtful, but you never know. With Windows 8 (or greater) looming as a possible mandatory downgrade, one is tempted to keep the same hardware running as long as possible. After all, I skipped the Windows Vista disaster and stayed with XP longer than I probably should have, as I got so good at XP optimization and upkeep I’ve been able to run multiple computers crash-free and way faster than what their price would indicate. Nonetheless, it would feel oh-so-good to skip Windows altogether and end up without the word Microsoft anywhere on my next human-electronic input device. And that goes for Apple as well. Android everything, or something we’ve not heard of yet? Interesting times.

Bonus shot. It's 2014 and I've still got this many wires? So wrong.

Bonus shot. It's 2014 and I've still got this many wires? So wrong.


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18 Responses to “The Computers of”

  1. DLV April 2nd, 2014 4:04 pm

    I feel your pain as I’m typing on a white mac laptop with 2 gigs of memory. I believe I purchased it in 2006. I did purchase some new skis this year, which is nice. Priorities.

  2. Mark Worley April 2nd, 2014 9:42 pm

    Windows 8 is just plain weird. A coworker who used to work both for Intel and HP agrees it is terrible and a replacement is already being worked on.

  3. Ronald Cassiani April 3rd, 2014 7:09 am

    What carrier has 5g?I thought 4g LTE was the highest rate ?

  4. Lou Dawson April 3rd, 2014 8:36 am

    My router, at home.

  5. Sky April 4th, 2014 11:35 am

    I’m surprised by no desktop. Not that I have one at home. But I like having multiple desktops in my office….

  6. Lou Dawson April 4th, 2014 5:12 pm

    Sky, I’ve got a big office with a bunch of desk space, actually more than I really need. It’s a legacy setup from back when I was doing ink-paper guidebooks and film photography, when a person needed things like light tables and layout tables. I still find I need more desk space than expected, mainly because I’ve still got several scanners, external hard drives, stuff like that. But I’m always trying to simplify.

  7. John J April 8th, 2014 7:42 pm

    Lou, I am looking for a short-term solution to the end of XP support for web browsing. A netbook might be it. Have you ever run yours with remote mouse, keyboard, and monitor, or do you know if that is impossible? I imagine that one would have to connect a monitor with usb…Not sure if that is possible.

  8. Lou Dawson April 8th, 2014 10:14 pm

    John, I’ve run various netbooks with external monitor. Easier when it’s got a standard VGA connector with drivers already ready to go, you just plug it in and configure with Windows display options (right click on blank area in screen display). Wireless keyboard and mouse goe easily through USB. Get a cheapo USB hub as well. Lisa runs her Acer as a desktop computer, I’ve run mine the same way. Optimize Windows XP, google it, you can wring out a lot of performance. Lou

  9. Tom Gos April 9th, 2014 7:16 am

    Lou, I’m struggling with the random CNN audio feed virus that you mentioned. Any tips for getting rid of it? Thanks.

  10. Lou Dawson April 9th, 2014 8:11 am

    Tom, I think it’s some kind of remnant from a Google adsense ad containing the video… Adsense is constantly exploited by bogus stuff that’s not quite a virus, but could be considered to be one. I have Adsense ads here on WildSnow, and am constantly working on blocking bad ad networks and bad URLs to try and be polite to you guys. It’s a job (grin). The first thing I’d look for is mystery startup stuff using msconfig.exe as your tool. Clean that up first. After that, disable all plugins in your browser, then see if you still get the feed. I had one exploit that was part of one of my Google Chrome plugins. Lou

  11. Tom Gos April 9th, 2014 12:44 pm

    Thanks Lou!

  12. John J April 9th, 2014 8:46 pm

    Thanks, Lou. I didn’t figure a netbook would have a vga connector. One more thing to check while shopping.

  13. Lou Dawson April 10th, 2014 7:07 am

    John, all our Acer Aspire netbooks have a VGA connector. I’ve always taken it for granted that they’d have them, the later ones also have an HDMI connector, which can take the place of the VGA connector (that’s how I hooked up my new Zenbook to my old external monitor. One thing that makes a good netbook, in my opinion, is no shortage of connectors even if they make the unit a bit thicker and heavier. Amazingly, the Acer A0A model has 2 SD card slots, 3 USB connectors, VGA, audio, and the requisite cat 5 network cable plug (somewhat vestigial these days, though could come in handy if you end up on a network with no wireless). That’s actually more connectors than my Zenbook! Though of course nearly anything can be done these days through USB if you’ve got the right drivers and adapters. Lou

  14. Brittany April 10th, 2014 2:33 pm

    Are you gonna start a techy blog now Lou? 🙂 Wild Snow Tech Solutions?

  15. Lou Dawson April 10th, 2014 2:41 pm

    I just go where the money is (grin). Besides, skiing is just so 1970s.

  16. Patrick April 10th, 2014 4:33 pm

    and the I-Phone 4 is soooo last August

  17. Chase Harrison April 12th, 2014 10:35 am

    Man, I am wiped out after trying to decipher all that tech talk.
    I think i’ll just stick with my 17 inch Mack I Book Pro.
    Lou, you gotta get out more(GRIN).

  18. Lou Dawson 2 August 25th, 2014 5:47 pm

    Thought I’d let you guys know we tried a Chromebook. Incredibly lame, reminded me of the days of Windows 3.1. Software features that didn’t work, crashes, the supposed software/app that was a “substitute” for Photoshop doesn’t even have a batch/automate feature for processing multiple images at once. And the built-in imaging app you get with Chrome is built for 2-year-olds. Super disappointing as I was so so looking forward to no more Apple or Microsoft at least for basic blogging and content creation. Makes me really wonder about the future of Google, when they can brand a product that is so bad. My faith in their brand isn’t shattered, but it’s shaken. Lou

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