So I wanted to buy a new laptop. My requirements were: has to have XP because I’m a PC user who’s not convinced Vista’s features and performance gains outweigh the hassles. It has to be a workhorse for infrequent onsite development. No bloatware, just the OS and drivers and maybe some OEM software. And a high res, matte screen, with a screamin new processor and maxed out 4GB memory. And it had to be a Dell.
Dell has some pretty good laptop offerings IMO. The XPS 1730 is a nice machine, and I particularly like that I can have XP installed, and have a RAID 1 drive setup for data security, and it’s definitely a workhorse I could use to get some serious work done on the road, but it’s also a bloody brick, weighing in at 10.6 lbs6 (4.81 kg) — holy crap, I want a laptop, not a portable computer.
The Inspiron series is is just too old and busted IMO for my taste, and problems in its older models which I’ve had first hand experience have left a bad taste. It’s still not a good looking machine IMO, no matter how fancy the cover is. And more importantly it didn’t quite have the power I was looking for.
- You can’t get XP as an option anymore. I guess I waited too long.
- There is no opt-out of the bloatware in Canada for the home machines, only in the US, which really sucks.
- All Dell’s new laptops use TrueLife displays, which are the shiniest, most awfully glare-prone screens I have ever seen. My god how can people buy screens they can’t see unless they’re in a darkened cave? No wonder they need a backlit keyboard!
Having seen the XPS laptops first hand, that last one killed it for me. Dell really needs to work on this if I’m ever going to buy an upgrade.
Now, I’ve bought a few laptops from other places before, and their customer support and warranty policy has always left a bad taste in my mouth. Mind you it’s all relative: if I were a corporate customer with a dozen or more of their machines to support with some wildly expensive premium plan, I’m sure I would get decent support. The reason I chose Dell over all other brands, is primarily customer service and support. With a premium support package, I can drop this baby down a flight of stairs, and it be my fault (more or less), and they will replace the entire machine, no questions asked, and come to my door to deliver it. That’s how good the warranty is.
But one of the main criticisms lobbed against Dell is the amount of bloatware preinstalled on their machines. I had to buy a Dell de-crappifier utility to remove all the junk that came installed on my previous machine, and although it worked quite well, I still had to remove a few things by hand. Still, it saved me reinstalling the entire OS, which I didn’t have time for.
In Canada, the only way you can opt out of the pre-installation crap is to buy a business machine, which is what I did. I got a brand new laptop with only the OS and OEM CD drive software installed.
Now their home and home office support is not bad, never had any complaints in the seven years I’ve been buying Dell through four machines, but the wait times can be a little long. So this time, because I purchased it as a business user, I get connected inside of one minute, and get to talk to a person who is NOT based in Bangalordesh… and have their direct extension if I need to talk to them about a previous issue (which is unheard of in customer service).
Mind you, you pay for that level of service, like around $300, but considering the hassles I’ve had to put up with warranties, customer service and tech support, it’s worth every penny. Even with my XPS 400 system I bought two years ago, I’ve had to replace my 24″ monitor three times, twice because of dead pixels, once because of a broken power button… and because I paid for the best support package, they replaced it no questions asked, right to my door. So I’ve been very impressed with Dell in that regard.
So I wanted to buy a Dell, but I could not get past the awful screen, and I didn’t want some cheap adhesive film or bulky filter plate just to simulate a matte screen.
So what did I do? I bought an “older” model, with new insides.
I went with the Latitude D830, which some of my former co-workers were using, and it’s not a bad looking machine. Even got some decent reviews. Definitely no worse than the Inspiron. And I guess because it’s an older line, it’s available with a matte screen, with XP installed. And because I’m buying it from the business section, I can opt out of all the bloatware.
The video card is nothing to write home about, which seems to be its only major weakness, but I’m also not running WoW on it either. And it didn’t have a RAID option, but SSDs are going to come down in price in the next six months anyways, so I’ll upgrade when that happens. It also only has 3 USB sockets and no integrated webcam, but the bluetooth, wireless, fingerprint reader and the great specs make up for it.
Which BTW are:
- 2.6 GHz Dual Core, 4GB RAM
- 15.4″ 1920×1600 Matte screen
- XP SP2 x64 Pro
- No preinstalled security software, or any bloatware of any kind
For about $1000 cheaper than the XPS 1530, at around $2500 including 3-year full warranty and support.
So my guess is that the Latitude is a no-frills-powerhouse-XP-lovers’ best kept secret, because I’ve not heard of anyone raving about this machine, but it’s pretty solid, and will do everything I want it to.
I’m going to enjoy working on my screamin’ machine running circles around all the more expensive, Vista-bloated fancy-pants XPSs. :)
And that’s how I got my dream XP laptop.
I do like writing books, Sam I Am… I would write them on a train, or in a plane, in a tree, they are so good, so good, you see!
I am writing this partly in response to Jesse Warden’s post “I Will Not Write a Book“, partly in response to all those enquiries about helping out with the upcoming Professional Flex 3 book, partly to share my experience for all those writers-to-be.
There are several reasons not to write a book, as Jesse mentions:
- the money generally sucks
- it’s a huge effort
- the return is not tangible, or obvious
- I could be playing XBox
For me, though, there are several more reasons to actually write a book or pen a tech article. The most obvious one is that I’ve always loved writing, and have kept a journal with miscellaneous thoughts and ideas since I was 14.
I also love to teach, even though I don’t do that much of it these days. I caught the teaching bug by giving private Flash lessons back in 2002, and achieved one of my dreams when I worked at Humber College in 2005-2006 as a Flash instructor, and later as an Adobe Trainer with New Toronto Group. I love watching students’ eyes light up as they figured out a key concept in class, almost as if I could see the light bulb going off in their heads. Sharing in that Eureka! moment is what makes teaching very special for me. Giving a lecture or seminar, or penning an article or writing for a book holds a similar fascination.
I also remember being inspired by the Visual Quickstart Guides and Friends of Ed books back in the Flash 4 and 5 days, by so many authors. I still get inspired by a good “Flash” book. My latest favourites are Head First Design Patterns and ActionScript 3 Design Patterns.
Now that I’ve learned a thing or two worthy of sharing with others on their learning path, to have the opportunity and the potential to inspire others, knowing that somewhere I will have contributed to more Eureka! moments as I have been inspired and coached, is a real honour. That is mostly why I write.
In describing motivations, I won’t use the word “selfless”, because I dislike thinking in those terms, for me it reinforces the notion of martyrdom — if writing for you seems selfless, as in thankless, as in feeling like a martyr to the Great Hordes of N00bs, you’re missing the point IMO.
I would also not describe the motivation as one of ego. Sure, it’s nice, seeing one’s name in print or a book on the shelf (which I have yet to experience, but I’m sure it feels good ;)), one’s name on a course completion certificate as the instructor, or an article in a reputable journal. It’s a validation, a reward for all the hard work of sharing the work and building community and paying it forward that to me says, “see, I’ve done something important, I’ve built something.” But if you let this feeling of validation, of recognition become one of the dominating raisons-d’être of your teaching or writing, the result becomes some twisted, misshapen thing funnelled through the lens of your own selfish need for gratification. I’ve seen a few developers who take the stage go all starry eyed after a few lectures, and have even fallen prey to that beast myself on occasion. Writing is also similar in this respect.
Make no mistake, more often than not the money totally sucks. As Jesse pointed out, I also could make ten times more money in consulting. It’s a given that people don’t write books for the money, it’s more of a fringe benefit than anything. That’s not to say that tech writing is completely without tangible payback. Sometimes, the money is actually pretty good, even if it isn’t a primary motivator. I don’t think I could stay committed to the hours it takes to consistently produce well-written tutorials for Community MX (with a little help from the editors ;) ) without some reasonable renumeration. At first it was hard work, but after two years of writing two or three articles a month, you develop shortcuts and tricks for quality writing that make the mechanics of it less of a chore, such that now writing for that publication is actually a pretty decent part time job for me.
And the other month my agent brought me a book for which the advance was equivalent to a few months’ salary, which granted is not the norm, but it made the proposition an interesting one to be sure — I could do it part time for four months and maybe have to either lessen my consulting workload or work 80 hours a week, or I could just take a few months off and do nothing but write the book. As it turns out the commitment was too great, so I turned it down in favour of the Flex 3 book I am currently writing. So it can pay, not nearly as well as consulting, but it can have a financial benefit to offset some of the long hours.
I won’t blow sunshine up you arse and tell you that I’m not doing it for a little self-promotion as a freelancer. I think every author is in it for that angle to some degree, whether it’s for one’s own consulting business or the company you work for, even though it’s not something we like to advertise, lest people get the wrong impression. There is no question as to the networking angle: I have gotten consulting gigs based my writing exposure, as well as the many other ways of meeting people such as workshops, lectures, conferences, training sessions and discussion forums. So there is definitely a benefit to improving one’s visibility in the community.
There is also the spirit of sharing, which I equate less to “a selfless desire to build community,” which is more a result than a motivation, as it is a desire to share some awesome thing and totally geek out on the coolness of some shiny new toy. Which to my mind is very similar to the drive programmers have to develop open source code and blog about their discoveries. It’s announcing to the world, “hey check this out! Isn’t this like, SO COOL DUUUUDE! Geekout, man!!” (okay, I would never actually say that, it sounds dumb, but you get the idea.)
And then there is the self-exploration angle. Someone once said, “I write to know what I think.” * For me, there is a very direct and personal gain I get from writing. Because this particular book I’m writing now is on the cutting edge of the technology, it feels a little like writing a PHD thesis (not that I’ve ever written one, mind you), where you log the results of experiments investigating new territory, with empirically verified results for other scientists to replicate. And in every tutorial I write, no matter how basic, I always discover something new, reinforce something I thought I knew, and boy, do I ever know it well now. So writing actually makes me a much better programmer. In fact, I don’t know how I could remember half the stuff I know without having written about it.
* I’m killing myself trying to find the author to that original quote. If anyone knows who said it please let me know. Some days the internet feels like a billion terrabytes of utter shiite when you’re looking for something that should so obviously be there.
I am excited to be writing my first book on Flex 3 with a group of superbly talented individuals, none of whom need another book under their belt, believe me. The fringe benefit of writing this book with such brilliant people* is that I would have never met them otherwise. And writing these past two years alongside the likes of Tom Green, Stephanie Sullivan, David Stiller and many many more has been a huge huge honour, and to be considered a close acquaintance and even friend by some to be an even bigger honour still. So another benefit to writing is meeting such cool people.
* Sorry I cannot announce who else is on the team at this point because the co-author lineup has yet to be finalized)
So to summarize, to me the benefits of tech writing in general are:
- I get to inspire others and share in their victories
- I get a warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment
- I get to geek out on sharing cool shit I’ve discovered, or cool shit others have discovered
- sometimes it actually pays
- I am a much better programmer as a result
- I may even get a contract or two from the exposure
- I get to meet cool people in the industry I’ve admired for years
And if everything I’ve been coached on by my estimable colleagues and my agent is of any indication, writing books is indeed hard work, make no mistake about it, so I can see how one could get burned out on them if you don’t balance your life. Granted, most of my experience is in article writing and teaching for the moment, so my enthusiasm for book writing may be premature, but somehow, with the proper perspective and balance, I think these words will still ring true for me in a few years to come.
When evaluating enquiries in response to my call for writers, if the first question in the email was “what’s the compensation,” forget it, out to lunch, not even worth a reply. Or if the email did not contain a link to any work or writing of any kind, ditto. You’ve got to give something to get something. So I apologize to those whom did not get a reply to their queries; many of you did.
You’ve got to be passionate about sharing knowledge to do technical writing, and it can’t come from a place of ego or martyrdom, and you’ll need to balance your life carefully to go the long haul. Humility and generosity are huge must-haves if you’re going to go into this. One starts in the writing biz much like in programming: at first you get volunteer, pro-bono work, like tech editing or making a contribution, eventually making a name for yourself in training, teaching or publication writing, and eventually graduate to being asked to co-author or write a book on your own. And it need not be a thankless job without tangible recompense: if the money is not good enough, hold out for another book, another writing avenue, or go into corporate training.
It’s a long, arduous road, but if you’re passionate about it, it’s worth it in the long run, so I’ve been told, and based on what I’ve experienced thus far on the path, I am certain that is completely true.
I’m the kind of guy who’s proud to be a geek, and more particularly a board game geek. As a kid I played everything from Clue, Twister, Six Million Dollar Man, Monopooly, Trouble and dozens of others I can’t even remember right now. Risk was the gateway game for me when I was 10, which quickly turned me on to all the Milton Bradly games like Axis & Allies, Shogun and Fortress America by the time I was twelve. A few of my buddies were military strategy buffs, so I’ve even played those SSI games on a huge sheet of hex paper with the little cardboard markers that would take a few days to finish. When I was a kid I would play Risk, Axis and Allies and D&D at my cousin’s place almost every single weekend during the summer. I even won a Dungeons and Dragons tournament and placed third in an Axis competition.
Being in my 30’s, I don’t get much chance to play anymore, but I still have a particular fondness for the genre. So this past summer, when it was revealed that I’d never played Cranuim, there was a collective gasp in the room.
And so, at Christmas was a shiny new copy of Cranium Wow Edition, waiting for me under the tree. (I was later told my wife got it at Starbucks ;)
I have to say, gosh is it fun. It’s like a combination of Pictionary, Scene-it, Trivial Pursuit and Charades. There’s something in it for the exhibitionist, the intellectual, and the artist. Finally, a whole brain game. I love it.
The only down side is that you need minimum of four people to play, as it’s a team game. The good news is, the more the merrier, so it’s great for parties. You could conceivably play 20 people at this game, with four teams of five people, as one person in each team is always drawing, sculpting or acting out something for the other team members to guess before the timer runs out.
We had so much fun playing this at the family New Years’ gathering, I’m going to see if I can rustle up a regular group to play this every once and a while. What a great way to ring in the new year.
Happy New Year everyone. Hope yours started as good as mine.
Over the years I have toyed with the concept of having my own blog to post Flash tips and tricks encountered in my travels, first as a “deseloper” in my early days, then as a hard core “developer” from 2004 onwards. I even started one in 2003, but being somewhat of a perfectionist, never quite got around to launching it. The list of things I wanted to to write about got quite large over the years, comprised of notes like this:
Blog Topic: Variable Listener - About Object.watch. Handy to keep in mind.
See this thread.
… but I never quite got around to actually installing Wordpress properly and writing about all of them. In the interim, I got a gig as staff writer or ‘partner’ with Community MX, and so all of my writing energies that were not funnelled into community forums went there for the first few years.
Recently, I looked up the idea of getting down to it and just getting ‘er done. Now that I find myself programming mainly in ActionScript 3.0 and Flex, I look up all of my old notes for blog topics and realize that writing about ActionScript 2.0 seems… outdated for me. Maybe later, when this new blog is firmly up and running with sufficient content, I’ll revisit all the old code and share the tips and tricks of AS 1 & 2 from an old-timer. :)
For now, the new site still has the same old storefront, but the inside just got a new coat of paint. ;)
Why did I suddenly decide to start blogging about my main passion, Flash? Well, first, it seemed kind of silly to be involved in the community for so many years, teaching courses, attending user group gatherings, conferences, and writing weekly articles, without also having my own blog. Until now I’ve procrastinated, telling myself there was no time in between community involvement, project development and technical writing to contribute enough posts in a blog to make it worth while for my readers, and not be just another half-hearted attempt by a flash developer to “be out there”. I also didn’t want to start a blog just to say I had a blog, posting everything flash-related that travelled through my brain just to say “look at me, I’m blogging, even though a thousand other developers have already covered this!!” :P (okay, I’m being facetious, but you get the idea)
Second, the forums on Community MX where I am a staff writer are members-only forums, and there have been some really good tips posted there that I’d like to share with the community. And I realize there are a few things I’ve noticed/used just this past year while dealing with ActionScript 3.0 and Flex that no one seems to have blogged about much, which are a little too advanced for a CMX article.
So here we are. And when and if the MXNA or other aggregators deem this blog good enough or complete enough or relevant enough to include in their list, well great, but that’s not why I’m doing this. As far as fancy blog widgets and other links, I’m still getting my feet wet once again with Wordpress after a long hiaitus, so please bear with me while I try out a few things.