There’s No Place Like Home Sweet Cube

We were supposed to move to a new area at work recently.  Of course, everyone got excited and went to the new area to stake their claim…I picked out my new cube, and was looking forward to the move.  Things were looking up at work.   I soon took to going down to my future cube whenever I needed some quiet time.  I quickly adjusted the seat to the way that I liked it, and mentally placed my PC, whiteboard, and comics in their appropriate locations as I sat in My New Home and soaked in the newness of it all.  I smiled when I first saw the “Future Desk of Eduardo Soliz” sign taped to the desktop.

A few days later, we found out that we would not be moving to the new area; it had already been assigned to another team.  (Insert joke about bureaucracy here)   Instead, we will be moving to a different area with “open seating,” which sounds like a big ball of SUCK.  I felt disappointed.  The next day I went down to my former-future work home and sighed upon seeing that my “Future Desk” sign was gone, replaced with some random stranger’s name.

I’m not sure why was I disappointed, or even excited, in the first place.  After all, a cube is a cube; a box exactly like all the other boxes on the floor where I sit for 40 hours a week and make my living.  It doesn’t sound like something to get emotionally attached to, but yet I did.  Perhaps, despite its utility, a cubicle is a home-away-from home.  There, I not only make my living, but I also do some living as well; talking with friends, receiving occasional phone calls from family, and getting things accomplished at work.

On a normal week, those forty hours represent about twenty-three percent of my week, which is a not much less than the time I spend asleep in my bed at night.  When guests stay overnight, I like to tell them about how comfortable the bed is and how much they will enjoy sleeping in it.  (in the Soliz household, it is a tradition to give guests your bed)  Thus, it would be a fair statement to say that I am emotionally attached to my bed.  Perhaps, then, being attached to one’s workspace isn’t the big stretch it appears to be.

Work life might be boring, mundane, and many other unpleasant adjectives, but for what its worth, it it is still life nonetheless…

Or maybe I just need a new job. 😛

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Frak, Doctor…Just Call Me A Muggle

I don’t know if there is such a thing as “geek cred” but if there is, I’ve certainly lost quite a bit of it. I have just not kept up with all the cool sci-fi and fantasy stuff that’s been out these last few years.  As a youngster, I had a voracious appetite for science fiction and fantasy both written and on TV.  I would stay up to watch reruns of the original Star Trek on Sunday nights, had to watch Doctor Who just before bedtime, and read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings in high school for fun.

These days, TV just doesn’t interest me any more, I don’t have cable, and I find other things to do with my free time, like play games, watch DVDs, and write, of course.

Thus, I did not watch the Battlestar Galactica or the Doctor Who reboots, nor have I read any of the Harry Potter books or even seen any of the movies all the way through.   I feel a little vindicated now that Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who are cool now, or at least as cool as sci-fi can get.

As I write this, I keep thinking of more things I missed out on…Heroes, Smallville, and the only thing I know about Twilight is that it has something to do with vampires…didn’t we go through this awhile back with the whole “Interview with the Vampire” business?  I guess everything boomerangs sooner or later.

The sci-fi geek I used to be slowly has morphed into a gamer geek over the years, and that’s fine…but if they ever reboot Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, I am SO there!

randomizER911

The weekend started out well enough: I got out of work at 4, went home to take it easy for a bit, and then went to visit some old friends at a hotel they were staying at.  We had some pizza and some laughs.  I eventually left, and hit I-10 to go back to my apartment for another exciting Friday of grocery shopping and Guitar Hero.

Life was good, I was cruising on up the freeway, Phil Collins was on the radio and somewhere around West Avenue it hit me…I felt a numbing sensation on the left side of my body.  I immediately suspected the worst…and next thing I know I am flying up the freeway towards the Medical Center trying to remember where the nearest ER was that wasn’t University Hospital.

(for the record, yes I have been there before, and yes, the waits are as long as people say)

In addition to the numbness, my heart felt like it was pounding a mile a minute, and yet I wasn’t breathing hard.  Occasionally, for some odd reason, I would check my pulse, perhaps to make sure it was still there.  I have been involved in medical emergencies before, but prior it was stuff that I either saw coming (appendix blowing up) or that weren’t life-threatening (broken wrist, pulled back).  This one had me scared, I think I recited every prayer I could think of as I sped towards Methodist Specialst and Transplant Hospital.

I parked the Reliant, took an extra minute to place my Netbook in the trunk (old habits and all that) and waited in the Emergency Room frightened out of my wits.  I preferred to stand up, I figured that if Something Bad occurred, the sound of my 275-pound body hitting the ground would garner more attention than me simply slumping over and going off into The Big Goodnight.

I called one of my brothers, whom I had just seen, and let him know what was going on.  I asked him not to tell our parents, I didn’t want them to worry.  About five minutes later, I called them beause I didn’t want them to be the last ones to know either.

I filled out a form saying what I was there for, handed it to the triage nurse, and watched the TV in the ER waiting room for a bit.  The Simpsons were on, followed by Family Guy, and they temporarily distracted me from the more pressing issue at hand.

The triage nurse called me over, and I must have sounded very nervous as I rattled off my symptoms, meds, and other pertinent information.  The nurse took my vitals and sent me to registration to get checked in so that she could start some tests.

The gal at the registration desk was cute, I remember thinking at the time that if my clock was to be punched tonight, this wouldn’t be a bad time for it.  At least the last thing I would see on God’s Green Earth would be something pretty.  I gave out more information; insurance, address, yadda yadda yadda, and sat back down briefly before the triage nurse called me over to do an EKG and take some blood samples.

After taking the EKG and before taking the blood, she got a phone call, and she started discussing “Mr. Soliz” and his “abnormal EKG” which didn’t help matters much.  I was then told that the EKG did not appear to be a heart attack.  To her credit, the nurse nailed the IV on the first shot, which is no mean feat, I am quite literally “thick skinned”.  One nurse way back when actually TWISTED the needle while it was in my arm and had the effing nerve to ask if it hurt.  I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to kick someone’s ass so badly.

I phoned the family with an update, and I was soon whisked to a room in the ER, where I waited, and waited and waited.  A new nurse peeked in on me about two hours in, remarking that they were quite busy.  I didn’t let it bother me, hey, its Friday night, right?

Two hours and change after that, I finally saw the doctor.  He gave the the usual once-over with the stethescope, and asked me a lot of questions about the day.  Everything looked fine, he said, but he wanted to take a chest X-ray, so not 15 minutes later, another gal and the giant X-ray machine drop in.  She also looked cute, so I tried to be Mr. Cool and failed miserably…my fly had been open the entire time.  Story of my life, I tell you.

I sheepishly zipped up and awaited the doctor.  He came about a half hour later and told me that everything had come up roses, blood, urine, x-ray, and vitals (don’t ask where the roses came from…Just.  Don’t.  Ask.).  I have had odd unexplained things happen to me in the past that had no explanation (for example, I am allergic to something but don’t know what, I break out in hives every few years or so) and so we dismissed it as Just One Of Those Things, and I was sent home with instructions to return should it flare up again.  The nurse then removed the IV and I was sent on my merry way.

As I got up I saw someone who didn’t make it being wheeled by, and it served as a reminder of the initial gravity of the situation.

I called the family again and assured them that all was well and then I hit the road.  An hour later, here I am banging out a blog post about the whole experience, but at least I won’t be known as “that guy that sent tweets from the ER.”

I did consder it though.

RANDOM REVIEW – HP Mini 1000

WHO NEEDS A LAPTOP?

For all the yakking I have been doing about my iMac, it has been easy to forget that I also recently acquired an HP Mini 1000 (just prior to the Great Gateway Crash of 2009).  It is also the second portable computer I have ever owned.  The first was a “luggable” 386 that I had back in college that also happened to be my first PC (my first-ever computer was a Commodore 64).  Eventually, it went to binary heaven and all of my PCs before purchasing the Mini since have been desktops.

I never gave any thought to owning another portable computer, having rarely lugged my luggable anywhere.  It was nice to be able to take it home during long holidays, but it was bulky enough to where I really didn’t want to take it anywhere else.  My advice to friends regarding laptops was always the same:  “Be 200% certain you need one before you buy one.”

I held to that philosophy for quite a few years.  At the time, laptops were expensive and easily broken.  To me, they only made sense for students and businesspeople, but not really for anyone else.  Prices eventually went down, but even then, I was uncertain of the quality of the less-expensive models.  I was also unwilling to spend enough to purchase one of decent quality; I figured that even the best laptop wouldn’t last very long. That mindset kept me from even considering a laptop.  I would occasionally flirt with the idea, but would never follow through on it.

ENTER THE NETBOOK

I was intrigued by Netbooks when they first came onto the scene, but I initially turned my nose up at them.  They had limited storage space, cramped keyboards, underpowered processors, small screens, no CD/DVD drives (admittedly, not as big a deal as it used to be) and just plain could not do all of the things that a full-powered notebook could.   Also, my T-Mobile Dash was good enough to get by when I was “off the grid.”  I could check my email and do some light web browsing with my Dash, and that was all I needed.

It soon occurred to me that if the only things that I were doing on the road were email and web browsing, why not do them on a bigger screen using an actual computer that could also do a few other things?  After all, whenever I was on the road, I was doing little things like email and web.  The desktop was for all the big nasty stuff.   I figured that spending $300 on a quality Netbook was a better idea than spending $400-600 on a cheap notebook, so I picked up a HP Mini 1116NR at Ye Olde Best Buy.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The first thing that impressed me about the Mini was its size.  The length and width are about equal to a comic book and it is only one inch tall.  The 8.9-inch screen is nice, but I should have spent the extra fifty bucks for the 10.  The keyboard is easily one of the best things about the Mini.  According to HP, the keyboard is about 92% the size of a laptop keyboard, and quickly took to it.  Incidentally, the iMac’s keyboard is just a bit larger, the difference being a little additional space in between the keys.  Unlike the iMac’s keyboard, though, the Mini’s keyboard also has all the keys I need to get around Windows.  The touch pad took a little getting used to, and I eventualy started carrying my iMac’s Mighty Mouse around for extended computing.

I was a little disappointed with the Mini’s performance at first; there were noticeable lags when running Firefox, and occasionally the system would stutter as if waiting for something.  It also seemed to take awhile to get going after I turned it on.

After doing some research I found that the main bottleneck is the hard drive.  The Mini has a new-fangled Solid State Drive which is basically some flash memory chips with a hard drive controller attached.  The benefits are durability and reduced power usage, but they come at the cost of speed and performance.  After doing some searching online, I found some Windows tweaks that improved performance somewhat, and tossed in an extra gigabyte of memory for good measure.  The Mini takes a little while to get up to speed, but once it gets going, the performance is acceptable for web browsing and running Microsoft Word.  I have also been able to do some light audio editing using Audacity.  Frankly, I think this could be a pretty capable PC if it had a regular hard drive.

Speaking of the hard drive, the 1116NR has a 16GB hard drive, about half of which is taken up by Windows and the (thankfully small) amount of crapware installed on the machine.  Expansion options are available (see below) and an SD card slot provides an easyway to transfer files.

ON THE ROAD

The first “road trip” I took with the Mini was to my parents’ house for Easter.  Everyone oohed and aaahed at the Mini’s size and I was pleased to find that I could tether it to my cell phone and surf the Net at a whopping 10 mb/sec on T-Mobile’s crappy 2G cell phone network.  The connection would get flaky at times, and T-Mobile’s 3G coverage is way behind their competitors.  I think I’ll be looking for a new cell phone provider when my contract ends in December.

I soon bought a small case for the Mini, and while I’m pretty sure carrying it around costs me a few Man Points, the utility of having everything I need (and a few things I don’t) is worth it.

DICK MOVES

Ironically, the HP Mini’s biggest problem is HP.  I know that they have mouths to feed at home, and stockholders that need to be kept happy, but there are some pretty blatant design decisions that appear to have been made for the sake of squeezing more money out of customers.  It might be good business, but certain things come off as outright “dick moves” when compared to other Netbooks.

Many Netbooks have standard VGA connectors, which are identical to those found on full-sized notebooks. These are used to connect the Netbook to a monitor, which can be used as a secondary display.  You simply plug the monitor’s cable into the connector and press the appropriate button.  Instead of a standard VGA connector, though, the HP Mini uses a custom connector, which, of course, requires a custom cable, which, of course, can be bought from HP.  Shortly after I purchased the Mini, I went to HP’s website to see how much the cable was going to cost.  Initially, the cable was priced at $20…and was out of stock.  A few weeks later, the cable was available, but priced at $35.  While I certainly now have no intention of using the Mini’s VGA-out functionality, I would be pretty upset if I needed to.

The HP Mini also “features” a recessed USB port on the right side to the back. This connector is for HP’s “Mini Mobile” expansion drive, which can be had for $25 and bumps up the Mini’s internal storage capacity by an additional 4GB.  Some smart guy figured out that the “Mini Mobile” drive was actually a thin Transcend USB drive attached to a cover…the same cover that is included with the HP Mini.  I picked up a 8GB drive for $30 from Amazon, attached the cover, snapped it into place, and got twice the storage capacity for only a few dollars more.

The Mini’s 3-cell battery life clocks in at about two and a half to three hours.  I have read that is good for a Netbook, but I find myself looking for an outlet quicker than I would like to at the coffee shop.  HP is more than happy to sell an extended life battery for over a hundred dollars which makes zero sense to me considering that it raises the Mini’s cost of ownership into cheap-laptop territory, which, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of a Netbook!

CONCLUSION

Overall, the Mini does its job well, has a great keyboard and screen, and is highly portable.

If I could go back and do it again, though, I would have gone with the 10-inch screen, as well as purchasing a Mini with a standard hard drive instead of the SSD.  In my opinion, the performance hit that comes from using a SSD is too high, and mars what is an otherwise nice portable computer.  Also, while I can easily live with 16GB of storage, I know I am in the minority.

Despite the performance issues and HP’s over-reliance on add-ons, I have enjoyed my Mini so far, and hope to continue to do so for some time.  I may try to install Windows 7 out of morbid curiosity, XP is growing a little long in the tooth, and I hear 7 has some SSD optimizations that just might give the Mini a performance boost.

The decision to get a Netbook rests on whether you can live with the compromises that come with owning one.  The HP Mini is not meant for power users or gamers, but for those who would like an inexpensive computer to handle light duties while on the road, it hits the spot.

NOTE: The author received no compensation for this review.