Personal Techie Technology

MacBook Pro 13 w/Touch Bar: First Impressions

Noticeable things coming from using a MacBook Air 11:

  • Keep hitting the ESC key, as that’s where my pinky would normally sit.
  • I need to get used to the MUCH larger trackpad.  Definitely had to change typing position of my wrists.
  • Add getting used to Force Touch to the list.  Still trying to get used to moving things around without engaging Force Touch.
  • Add getting used to Force Touch to the list.  Still trying to get used to moving things around without engaging Force Touch.
  • Bigger screen makes a LOT of difference with seeing things a lot more clearly!
  • It’s taking me a bit more time to deal with the ‘butterfly’ keyboard than the standard MBA/silver MBP keyboard.
    • Definitely something that needs time to get used to, especially the reach between the palm rest and keys and the key travel times.
      • One month later: still getting used to it.  I don’t think it’s as easy for touch typists, in my opinion.  But I am getting used to it.  Hopefully I’ll be ready by ASUG Annual Conference/Sapphire 2017.  I am definitely going to need to be on my ‘A’ game, typing-wise.

New things with the MacBook Pro that are leaving an impression:

  • All USB-C  ports requires dongles… and it’s just as annoying as you would think.
    • One month in and I have had to buy:
      • USB-C Cable ($10)
      • USB-C to USB 3.0 Adapters (3) ($30)
      • USB-C to Micro USB Adapter (2) ($7)
      • USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($15)
      • USB-C to VGA Adapter ($15)
    • Luckily I already had a USB-C  hub, so that’s money staying in my pocket. But I need to have it to use my CAT-5 network adapter or pay $20 for a USB-C version.
  • The 8 GB RAM/256 GB SSD is very snappy coming from 4 GB/128 GB SSD in the MBA 11.
  • Retina screen is definitely a nice upgrade from the MBA 11!
    • Still need to figure out the resolution vs text size settings to find the most comfortable viewing size.
    • I keep swapping back from full-size to zoomed-in since I’m trying trying to balance resolution and app sizes with comfortable text sizing.  Although to be fair, this only really seems to be an issue when I’m tired.  Maybe I’m just getting old!!

Touch Bar Impressions:

  • Where there is app support, it’s a ‘nice to have’.  Microsoft Office has really jumped out in front, especially Outlook.  OneNote is a bit lacking in Touch Bar support, though.
  • Still playing with the default setup.  I like the application specific icons (when available), but wish I could have a few more options in the ‘default’ expandable bar.
  • I really wish that instead of the Touch Bar, Apple would’ve gone with a Touch Screen.  I’ve used the one on the Dell XPS 13 and really appreciated the touch screen for my workflow, as opposed to the Touch Bar.

Portability Notes:

  • I really got used to the super-light MBA 11, but the MBP is only slightly taller and thicker than the MBA 11 when closed.  At the end of the day, I don’t mind the slightly heftier MBP 13 (3.48 lbs vs 2.38 lbs on the MNBA 11) to gain the screen real estate.
  • ASUG Annual Conference/Sapphire is on the docket for May and will look to see how it compares to the MBA 11 in a real-world, ‘carry it around all day’ scenario.

Price thoughts:

  • I am still trying to decide on the cost-benefit ratio, to be honest. If I wasn’t already big into the Apple ecosystem, I was strongly considering the Dell XPS 13.  Comparing  Apple Refurb to Dell Outlet prices, the XPS 13 was a much better deal.
  • If you’re locked into a particular ecosystem, that’s one thing.  But if you’re a free agent and self-sufficient in not downloading random stuff or clicking squishy links in your email; Windows 10 and the Dell XPS 13 may have a better cost/benefit ratio for web-surfing and office documents.  You’ll need to weigh your personal preferences in applications and workflow versus cost and specifications.

Final conclusion to be submitted after May’s conference travels.

Personal Travel

March Madness Road Trip Diary

<I’ve been meaning to get this out, but life seems to always get in the way.  I wanted to document as many details as possible, this way I don’t forget any as I get any older!>

With losses to Saint Louis and Butler, an entry to the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament was looking bleak for La Salle University.  But with the last pick, the NCAA Selection Committee chose the Explorers for a First Round/First Four game against Boise State University.  Formerly known as a ‘Play-In Game’, it was still a seat at the table for my alma mater.  Not having played a tournament game in 20 years, this  was big and I decided that I was going to drive to Dayton to see the game.  Surprising me though, was Staci’s suggestion that I take Abby along for the ride. It was the beginning of the new quarter, her extended spring break started a few days later and she’s a straight A student.  Spending some quality father/daughter time was alright by me.  I rented a car from our local Enterprise office and we left Wednesday morning and drove to Dayton, Ohio.  The University of Dayton arena was the First Four site to see whether the Explorers would come away with a #13 seed and enter the bracket of 64.

What I didn’t expect was to enter one of the most memorable two week periods of my entire life. A roller coaster ride for my family, alma mater and friends that could be described as ‘once in a lifetime’.  So here’s the long-form Travel Diary!

Day 1: Royersford to Dayton

  • 8 hour drive
  • 520 miles

We headed off in our trusty Enterprise rental, a Mazda 6.  I’ve always had good luck with renting Mazda’s from Enterprise, as they usually include Bluetooth and are pretty comfortable to drive.  I decided to tempt fate and told the clerk to give me unlimited miles all the way to Missouri, just in case.

We left Royersford and headed due west.  The lovely PA Turnpike and I-70 was our trek and we arrived at our hotel in Dayton a little before 3ish.  By good luck, we ran into Jim Gulick in the hotel lobby, La Salle Athletics Alumni head and he gave us a parking pass and instruction to the night’s Pre-Game Reception.  Abby and I caught a few hours rest and headed down to the reception, where we ran into some good friends and fellow road trippers from Royersford!  It was great to see Wade Brosius and his son Jack had the same idea as we did.

This was the most common sight of the road trip.

Picking up our tickets from the players/VIP entrance was pretty neat and we headed into the Dayton arena.  What a great spot for basketball!  The arena was large, but not monstrous. I think that an arena like Dayton’s is something that La Salle could strive for, as long as the entire University community is behind it.

It was great to see an actual crowd of folks there rooting the team on.  Students made the drive from Philly, as well as alumni, both local to Ohio and not.  Even seemed that the Dayton fans who stayed were rooting for a fellow Atlantic 10 team. Of course, I would be remiss in discussing fans rooting for the team without mentioning our very own ‘Glitter Bro’!  It was great to see the energy that he brought to each game and more importantly, am proud to call him friend and brother.  Big props to Lieutenant Colonel Douglas LeVien, USA.  Ringleader of the Glitter Bros, Sigma Phi Epsilon brother and friend.  Way to represent!

Final Score: La Salle 80, Boise State 71

First Round Score…AKA ‘Play-in Game’.

Staci, Abby and I decided- Father & Daughter would drive to the Round of 64 (Second Round) game in Kansas City.  Our alma mater was now a #13 seed, set to face off against #4 Kansas State in what seemed to be a home game for K-State.

Personal Technology

Amazon Kindle Fire HD: First Impressions

I've been wanting a smaller form factor tablet for a while. And when I got a couple of Amazon Gift Cards and a coupon for Christmas, I decided to take the plunge. I was torn for a long time between the Kindle Fire HD 7 (KFHD) and the Nexus 7. For me, the KFHD ended up winning the debate for these reasons:

  1. I am an Amazon Prime member. This gives me access to the large library of included free streaming movies and television available to US-based Prime members.
  2. The KFHD has a MicroUSB port. I have used this port and a $2 cable from to play the above mentioned media to my HD television. With my new Sony sound bar, the output looks good and sounds great.
  3. The price. At the end of the day (using giftcards and coupons), I got the KFHD for $30. I did just spend an additional $35 on a SquareTrade Accidental Damage warranty, since I plan on not really using a case for the KFHD.

So, why the 7-inch form factor. To be honest, I was looking for a 'one-handed' media consumption and internet browsing device. Something light and simple that I can use from my armchair and throw in the front pocket of a bag easily. I have been looking at the iPad Mini, but really couldn't justify the cost for a non-essential device. But for less than $200 MSRP, one could theoretically save enough pocket change to pick a KFHD up. Here are my thoughts:

Stock Apps:

If you aren't technologically savvy, a KFHD with the stock apps and downloads from Amazon's App Store may be enough. Especially if you're a reader and are just reading books, checking email and Facebook and doing some light web surfing. Amazon's Silk browser isn't really living up to the hype, though. You can open up attachments in the standard version of OfficePro. But if you're a bit more technologically astute, I would recommend 'sideloading'.


Sideloading is the process of manually loading an app (called an APK) to the KFHD. Change your KFHD's settings to allow for third party apps, install a file manager app from the Amazon App Store (I like ES File Explorer) and you're all set. This is how my KFHD has really become quite useful. Using the XDA developer forums and Reddit's Kindle Fire subreddit, I was able to discover the 'Google Apps' zip file. This has allowed me to get a KFHD Gmail client, Google Maps, Google Talk and most importantly- Chrome on my KFHD. I was also able to sideload a number of apps that I use daily on my iPad, including Dropbox, Zite and Wunderlist. So far, the only hiccup has been that for the Google apps, you must turn off the notifications or else the Kindle's status bar will disappear. A few simple clicks and that's taken care of. I use the stock email app to alert me and head over to Gmail in order to do any real emailing.

(My Kindle Fire HD 7 home screen. Google Chrome? Front and Center!)


App selection:

The reviews are correct- the Amazon App Store is definitely limited compared with Google Play or the Apple App Store. But that's OK by me- the KFHD isn't my main tablet. If there's an app I really need and not on the Amazon App Store- I'll try and find the apk online. If I can't find a trustworthy APK, I'll fire up my old Droid X and download the app from Google Play. Then, I back it up to the Droid X's SD card, connect it to my computer and copy it over to the KFHD. A few extra steps? Sure. But I saved myself a bunch of money and I get to tinker a bit with all those devices.

So, I've got some apps on it- what am I actually doing with the KFHD? Pretty much what I said at the beginning- it's my armchair companion. Instead of having my iPad open and on my lap while watching TV, I have the KFHD. It fits nicely in one hand to read a book, much like my Kindle Keyboard. The screen is quite nice and is easier on the eyes (resolution-wise, that is) than my iPad 2. It's portable enough to just slip in a pouch with my MiFi and earbuds and take it with me. Much less bulky than carrying around my iPad in a case. The verdict is still out on the KFHD long-term, but as an Amazon Prime member- I am definitely taking advantage of the larger movie and TV ecosystem. I haven't changed my spending habits, though. I don't think a device is going to make me do that!


Next steps? I am thinking that once I get bored of the stock look and feel, it'll be time to start playing with 'rooting' the device. Perhaps I'll just root it to remove the carousel and run Fancy Widgets or even take the plunge and completely wipe it and replace with Cyanogenmod. But the moral of the story is, the Kindle Fire HD 7 isn't really a bad option as an additional media consumption or companion device. Would I use it as replacement for my iPad? Nope. Would I use it as an optional or secondary device? Absolutely. And so far, the KFHD is doing a pretty good job at it.

And yes, I posted this via Blogsy on my iPad. But it was written (in Evernote) on my Dell Inspiron 11z, which I used to call a netbook, but it really isn't anymore. I'm thinking that a “what's in my bag” entry should be next on the blog roll!


Personal Techie

First Impressions: BlackBerry 9930

After recent (and frequent) fights  with my BlackBerry Tour 9630 (I am a Verizon subscriber), I started considering that it might be time to get a new phone.  I have been a BlackBerry fan since the days of the 8700 and will freely admit an addiction to BlackBerry Messenger for quick chats with my wife, Staci.  But recently, I have been experiencing slow performance, hourglasses and just HORRIBLE lag from my current 9630.  Mainly, my frustrations pretty much had me cursing at the phone and ready to throw it out the window.  Staci decided that she had enough of hearing me complain and told me just to go out and get a new phone.  For those that might know my wife- this is a big deal!

I have been due for an upgrade since my failed experiment with a Droid X last year.  I liked the Droid, but after months of horrible battery life and the fact that I just could NOT get used to using a touch screen for emails and texts.  After I couldn’t be reached for tragic family news because of the Droid’s dead battery (~6 hours of use), I switched back to the 9630.  Knowing that an iPhone isn’t in the cards (see ‘touch screen vs. my thumbs’), I was drawn to the new 9930.  I’ve been asking for RIM to release this model forever.  A gorgeous touch screen with that BlackBerry keyboard.  So, what do I think so far…

Keyboard: What can you say?  It’s a BlackBerry.  A great keyboard and actually larger than the one on my 9630.  To be honest, the larger keyboard is taking a bit to get used to- but that’s a GOOD thing!

Screen:  Best screen I’ve seen on a BlackBerry to date.  Bright and crisp. Feels like ‘Gorilla Glass’, but RIM calls it ‘Hardened Glass’.  Whatever it is, it feels like the glass on my iPad.  I’m still going to put a screen protector on it, since I’m kinda geeky like that!

Touchscreen: Listen, it’s a BlackBerry- not an iPad or iPhone.  I knew that I wasn’t going to get the most responsive touchscreen ever. But the fact that I can scroll up and down, select and click around without using the trackpad is GREAT!

The question I’ve been getting hasn’t been why the 9930?  That’s because those who know me, know the reasons why I’m sticking with a BlackBerry.  The questions have been about the ‘apps’.   I don’t need a whole lot of apps on my phone…I pretty much use it for Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, TripIt, BlackBerry Travel, BerryWeather and Google Maps. The one thing that I miss about my Droid X is the Google Navigation.  I can use VZ Navigator in a pinch, but Android’s free Google Navigation is great.

Why don’t I want more apps? Because I have an iPad (and an iPod Touch and a whole bunch of other gadgets).  If I want to Skype, FaceTime, play Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja- I’m good.  That’s why I’m perfectly happy with my BlackBerry- because it does what I need it to do and does it well.  It needs to first  and foremost: be a phone, then BBM with Staci and handle basic apps.  For everything else that needs  ‘apps’, I’ve got a better device along for the ride.  This setup works great for me!


Hurricane Irene- Running Diary

Well, here comes the rain! I think what I’m going to do is just update this post with my hurricane observations. Might not be too terribly scientific or accurate, but will give me something to do- other than watching the armageddon forecast from The Weather Channel.

Saturday- 1155
In North Jersey at my mom’s checking in on her and dropping Abby off for Camp Grandma. Regular old rain seems to have started, but Staci and I won’t start back to PA until we see the yellow bands on the radar around Delmarva.

Saturday- 1800
Made it back to PA. The New Jersey Turnpike had AWFUL rains and ponding, making for some treacherous driving conditions. Especially heavy rain and wind between exits 8 and 6. Glad to be home to ride out the storm. If that’s a small taste of what the eastern side is going to get- then its going to be a long night, even here.

Saturday- 1921
Rain has started falling more heavily now. Radar has more moderate bands of rain circling this way. Hopefully folks will heed the warnings and I won’t be called out tonight for preventable reasons.

Sunday- 1201
Well, made it through the night.  Wind was pretty bad, but not hurricane strength.  Power stayed on all night, didn’t even flicker.  Mingo Creek is definitely running high and fast and was likely at the top of the bridge overnight.  The sinkhole at Georgetowne Court reappeared as the water came over the banks and a big tree branch fell from in front of Bill & Kate’s house.  The sump pump at our neighbor’s house failed and they got about 2-3″ of water in their basement.  I lent them our ShopVac and dropped off some contractor trash bags.

Roads are still flooded and the rivers and creeks have yet to crest.  That’s what I’m keeping my eyes on.



Well, we ended up with a BEAUTIFUL afternoon for Easter.  The thunderstorms held off until the afternoon and the weather was perfect for an egg hunt.  Here are some egg hunt pictures and some bonus pics of when we got to watch Ms. Jenna a few weeks ago!

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Easter/Spring 2011, posted with vodpod

Piano Recital

Well, it’s that time of the year. The first of two piano recitals for Abby has come and gone. She did great! Here’s a link to the video up in a MobileMe gallery:

Keep an eye out for the invite to Performathon in May. Thanks!


Flower Show 2011

Another year, another great evening at the Philadelphia Flower Show. This year’s theme is ‘Paris’ and the Eiffel Tower replica that greeted you upon entering was neat. Abby really enjoyed the displays and Staci was able to do some research and put together ideas for the redo of our front landscaping. Good times were had by all!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Flower Show 2011, posted with vodpod

Finally got an iPad

Well, I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. I decided that I wasn’t going to get an iPad 1 while iPad 2 was on the horizon. So I waited, not so patiently, for the big announcement. Rescheduled a meeting to watch the live stream and was just as shocked as everyone else when they wouldn’t be doing any preorders. But I figured that would be alright-I’ll just pick one up on launch day. I had a decent amount of money saved up in Amex and Visa gift cards, so online ordering wasn’t in the cards since you can only use two credit cards at the max.

Lo and behold- I couldn’t get anywhere at 5 pm on launch day, since I had to work until 7:00. At 7, I trudged off to the Collegeville Best Buy and was given the bad news: ‘Sold Out’. But I could come back and preorder and be on the top of the waiting list for their next shipment. I mumbled under my breath and walked out to my car. I called 2 Apple stores, several Best Buys and Targets to find the same situation everywhere.

When I got home and went online, that’s when I started to read about it was sold out everywhere. I decided to head back to Best Buy in the morning and get on that list. At least I could use my gift cards there. 10am and I’m number 3 in line and first on the list for a 32GB AT&T 3G. And I stalked the macrumors and Best Buy message boards. And started to read the stories of limited shipments, scalpers waiting in line every morning to pay cash. Especially bad was that these scalpers were waiting and buying the model that I wanted!

After a week of constant reading and getting frustrated, I gave in and ordered from Apple. 4-5 weeks estimated delivery. At least the Navy SmartCover would be delivered within a week! So every so often I’d head over to MacRumors to see what the internets had to say. I’d also call Best Buy and make sure none had come in. And yes, I’m still first on the 32GB AT&T list. But then I checked MacRumors this Monday and a poster from Lansdale said that his Target had some. I checked the online inventory and my local store had ‘Availability’. I called and they said they had 4 left. I raced over and bought one…they had White 16GB Wifi’s. Definitely different than the black 3G I had on reserve at Best Buy. Impulse took a hold of me and I bought it.

So, I got home and activated it. Would I have buyers remorse? Then a buddy reminded me that I had a Verizon MiFi. Why do I need 3G, if I had that. My rationale was that if I go to London next year, the Verizon stuff won’t work. Then it dawned on me- I’m really over thinking this! The whole reason I waited for iPad 2 was for the cameras and speed boost. My impulse purchase just saved me a big dose of cash. If we’re lucky enough to win the Olympic ticket lottery, I’m going to need that cash to pay for the trip! Plus, by the time the 2012 Olympics start, iPad 3 will be released and maybe I’ll get that one in GSM 3G!

Do I like the iPad 2? Absolutely. Smart Cover is a neat addition to the device! And speaking of that, I cancelled the entire online order. The Ardmore apple store got a shipment in yesterday of the Navy leather version that I wanted. I didn’t buy a second iPad to try and sell because I believe in karma. If i bought them all to try and make a quick buck, I wouldn’t be paying it forward at all. Well, the smart cover being in the very next day was a nice cosmic reward!

After I start to use my new toy a bit more, I’ll post a more detailed review. Right now I’ll just say that this post was completely typed on the iPad using the WordPress app. Not too shabby.


The airport- a microcosm of society?

Last weekend on a snowy day, I ventured to Philadelphia International Airport to catch a flight to Chicago for the ASUG Volunteer Planning Meeting.  Since the roads were clear and schools were delayed two hours, I got there plenty early and had time to relax with a cup of coffee at Peet’s (Terminal E) and walk easily to the gate.  During the pre-flight and flight itself, I thought that I would jot down whatever societal observations I could.  Is the airport a microcosm of society?  A peek inside our lives?  Probably not, but there was some funny stuff going down!!