Back to School Electronics

Every year, I get a question or two about the best laptop (or other technology) that I’d recommend for people to send with their students. This year, I include myself in that group – it was time for a technology refresh for the boy. The iPad Air he’s been using the last four years has served him quite well and is still going strong, but it’s time for something a little better.

I know he’ll need something he can use for browsing, writing a paper, maybe assembling a presentation. I also know he’ll have Office 365 available to him at school. What I didn’t know was what other interests does he have that are facilitated by one technology or another. I included him in the discussions, and all options (all makes, all models) were on the table.

That said, here’s the decision process I went through – and I’ll extend it to include the people with college-bound kids (because it’s essentially the same decision tree). If you want to jump straight to the recommended shopping links, click here. Otherwise, here we go – and it’s pretty close to the order that we we used.

Consideration 1: Cost

It’s usually the first things that comes up – the budget. Let’s table that, because I’m more about overall fit and function, versus the overall cost. This is a 3-4 year decision (barring unforeseen circumstances), so in the grand scheme, a few hundred dollars really isn’t as big a factor to me. Can’t speak for everyone on that, just me.

Consideration 2: Screen Size

We first thought about a 15″ solution – until the boy looked at it and said “that’s too big to carry around”. He’ll be carrying his device most of the time, so it’s a factor in his decisions. He was pretty firmly in the camp of smaller screen – so that left us with anywhere from 11″ to 14″ devices.

Consideration 3: Battery

Most devices tout 6-7 hours + of battery life. My experience with battery life is that it depends on what you’re doing. If you’re just working on a paper, then life is extended. Play/stream a lot of video, and you will crush the battery. One thing that’s not as subjective is that the bigger the screen, the more power it requires, so the batteries get bigger. Bigger batteries = more weight.

Consideration 4: Storage

If you can, get something with a solid state drive (SSD). They’re faster, and consume less power. Less power spent on the drive means more battery for the screen (or a longer lasting battery). For most people, 256GB is plenty, and many can get away with as little as 128GB (no less than that). That depends on what’s being stored – photos and video take a lot of space, documents very little space. Having readily available cloud storage might also help with reducing the need for a lot of on-device storage.

Consideration 5: Tablet-like things

Among the nicer aspects of “tablet life” are how fast they wake up, battery life, and how portable they are. The boy has gotten used to that, and frankly I’m spoiled on it myself with my phone. We talked to a number of people who have kids in high school, asking for feedback on how they use technology at school and what they’d suggest. One of the frequent comments was they used an iPad in the classroom (because it fires up quickly), and a laptop or other computer at home. It’s no secret that mobility in computing is a huge deal, and will be even more so for those a lot younger than me.

We looked at a number of 2-in-1 solutions (combination laptop/tablet, usually with a screen that either detaches or just flips all the way over to function as a tablet). They are all Windows 10 machines (Apple doesn’t offer a solution like that), and they’re really nice solutions. Lenovo, Dell and Asus all make a very nice 2-in-1. The Microsoft Surface Book is also excellent. There are many price points between them, which means there are options.

In the case of Apple, they have MacBooks and iPads. One way to create a hybrid is to add a Bluetooth keyboard to the iPad; in the case of the iPad Pro (which is absolutely laptop-grade hardware), it becomes a very interesting solution.

Consideration 6: Operating System/Ecosystem

This is usually where the “holy war” starts – the Mac/iOS versus Windows argument. In all honesty (because I use both), it’s hard to go wrong with either one. There’s good and not-so-good to each, so here’s the quick rundown (at least in my eyes).

  • Apple is a captive ecosystem – there’s one hardware vendor, and that vendor doesn’t haggle on price.
  • Apple runs everything from iCloud – and that includes the other i-things a person might own. If you are a person that likes for everything to play nice together, this becomes a compelling argument. If you’re in the mode of still having to manage a device (read: device tracking/location and throttles on things like YouTube for your still-learning-how-to-balance-screen-time teens), it’s really helpful.
  • Windows machine manufacturers offer a lot of options in terms of hardware, so there’s a much broader range of price points and options.
  • Add-on devices (things like webcams, and other third-party hardware) tend to be more plentiful on the Windows side.
  • If you’re an Office 365 user, make no mistake that the applications on the desktop play much nicer in Windows (though it’s improving in MacOS and iOS).

What we chose (and why)

We went the route of iPad Pro 11, and attached a keyboard/folio cover.

  • Size and portability became the driving factor in our decision.
  • He’s got an interest in working with photos and video, something he’s already tinkering with on his iPad. For those kinds of activities, the Apple platform is a better place to be.
  • We use the Family Sharing tools in iCloud, which also gives me the ability to easily apply management controls. I can use Find My iPhone to locate it, lock it down if necessary, share apps and content, back it up passively with no intervention, and govern screen time – at no additional cost.
  • We know we needed a way to encase it to make it a little tougher, so adding a keyboard that doubled as a protective case (we went with this item from Logitech) would get us to more of the “laptop experience”.
  • It should last him another four years, and is a supported configuration at school.
  • We have another Windows machine at home he can use, if needed.

The decision tree is the same, regardless of what platform you choose. Here are a few hardware options I’d feel good about recommending.

For Windows:

  • Windows 10 Operating System.
  • Window 10 Home (vs Professional) should be good enough – if you’re not sure what the differences are, look at this reference from Microsoft.
  • Nothing less than an Intel i5 processor.
  • Nothing less than 8GB of RAM, I’d go 16GB if at all possible.
  • Solid State Drive, minimum 128GB.

Manufacturers I’d recommend are Dell, Asus, Lenovo and also the Microsoft Surface and Surface Book. The Surface is much more of a tablet than it is a laptop (though it runs Windows 10), where the Surface Book is a laptop than can behave like a tablet if necessary.

The Microsoft solutions are on the higher end of the price range, with the Surface starting at $899, and the Surface Book at $1,149. I know, a little salty, but the hardware is very good.

For the others, I know that Best Buy is everywhere, so I did a quick search on the criteria I would use – this link should get you there. It came up with 39 results based on the bullets above.

Dell is running a pretty good back-to-school deal on an XPS 13 laptop – I mention this one because Dell offers more comprehensive support options at the time of purchase. Based on conversations with others, they do a good job with it (meaning this isn’t like the third party extended warranty kind of deal). For those far-flung students, it might not be a bad option.

For Mac:

  • MacBook Air – starts at $1,099
  • MacBook Pro – starts at $1,299
  • iPad Pro – starts at $799 for 64GB storage (but realistically $949 for 256 GB)
  • iPad Air – starts at $499 for 64GB storage (but realistically $649 for 256 GB)

Other places to check (if you’re so inclined) for recommendations:

  • The Wirecutter -here’s their Best Laptops rundown (updated 7/23/2019).
  • The Wirecutter also does a Back To School rundown that might be worth the peek.
  • If you’re a subscriber to Consumer Reports, they too have a recommended list. If you don’t have a subscription, here’s their top 10:
    • MacBook Pro 13
    • LG Gram 13
    • MacBook Air 13
    • Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Core i7)
    • Samsung Notebook 9
    • HP Spectre 13
    • Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 (Core i7)
    • Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Core i5)
    • Asus Zenbook
    • Microsoft Surface Laptop (Core i7)
    • (Coming in at #12 was the Microsoft Surface Book 2)

I hope this helps – feel free to comment here or on Facebook.

Remember the Bridegroom Report?

We got a holiday card this year with someone urging us to bring back The Bridegroom Report. It’s tempting, it really is.

Doing the report was a lot of fun, and usually very nerve wracking right before the holiday. Add to that mix work, playing groundskeeper for Pug Hollow, and a teenaged boy = not a lot of time.

I’ll give it some thought – but in the mean time, if you’re bored and want to take a ride in “the wayback machine”, you can find a compilation of all the published issues (1994 through 2009) at the PDF page.

Enjoy!

From the dust, it awakens.

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The last post on Pug Hollow News before this one? December 2013, with some not-so-great news.

That’s quite a long time. Since then, a lot has changed:

  • Facebook picked up a lot of steam.
  • So did Twitter.
  • People got pissed at both Facebook and Twitter, and quit using them.
  • Bridegroom Technologies is very different – a big deal since it’s the nerd home for PHN.

That last item meant finding a new home for PHN. Rather than let it just ride off into the sunset (which I did consider), I decided to resurrect it on a new platform (WordPress) and maybe even start writing out here again. Who knows, maybe the other Pug Holloweenies will find as much therapeutic benefit in posting things here – that’s up to them.

The goal is to get all of the content moved from where it lived before to these new digs. That’s Pug Hollow News, Nicholas’ Place and even The Bridegroom Report archives. While I make that transition, bear with me because it’s going to take a little while. We’re talking years of posts.

Cathy and I both have a lot of sentimental attachment to the words and pictures posted at PHN. Many of you, our faithful readers (ok, friends and family), have asked about the site as well. In keeping it alive, we hope to once again make this a fun place to visit.

Check back, and let us know how we’re doing.

It’s Been a Weird Few Months

And then the radio silence ended…

I’ve struggled to find the right words that describe the last several months for those of us at Pug Hollow. Weird is the first to come to mind (coupled with a variety of adjectives), but it’s been much more than that. We could easily include eventful, exhausting, frustrating, hectic, chaotic, refreshing and memory-making in the list. There’s much more to share than one post can contain, so I’ll break it up over the coming days.

Earlier this week, we laid to rest Betty Just – Cathy’s mom. She was 83. It’s been a long, difficult road for everyone involved, but especially for Betty and her daughters. The ravages of COPD exacted their toll in what seemed to be one-inch increments. Amazingly, she was able to stay at home until only two months ago, when it was no longer safe for her to be there. The last few months were spent in home hospice care at Cathy’s sister Cindy’s house. When she passed, it was with Cathy and Cindy at her side – the way all three of them hoped it would be.

As my friend and former collegiate offensive lineman Jim said, “she’s the only 75-pound lady that could scare the bejesus out of me with just a look.” Everyone in the family got the opportunity to experience that at some point. My turn came when all I tried to do was arrange for regular pest control for their house – and when she found out how much it was going to cost, that 4’10” lady (she was taller in those days) stood toe-to-toe with me, jabbing her finger into my chest, all the while looking up at me and telling me that there was no way in hell she or anyone was going to pay that. (It should be noted that Cathy’s dad sat in his chair and laughed during the entire episode.) She made it quite clear how things were going to run in her house.

It can never be said that she didn’t raise daughters that were equally tough – they just didn’t know how tough until recently. She was able to stay at home for as long as she did because of the girls’ never-ending pharmacy, grocery, doctor and hair appointment runs. Home hospice was a bold and heroic step, particularly for Cindy. Most people can’t do it. Hospice professionals often discourage it, because of the toll it can take. Quite frankly, I don’t know that I could have done what she did. Assuming the role of round-the-clock caregiver takes extreme commitment, extreme patience and the ability to run on close to zero sleep. Cathy provided as much help as she could, quite often being at home only long enough to grab some clothes to head to her sister’s to provide a relief shift. I know heroic seems like a strong word for their efforts, but what they have done for their mother over the last several years was nothing short of it. I mean that.

Her grandchildren were the highlights of her life – and made her smile into her final days. Cathy and I both believe that Nicholas gave her years she otherwise would not have had. We’re glad, for both of them, that the opportunity to bring each other happiness was there.

Betty’s passing was the culmination of 15 years (my best guess) of declining health; she’s finally at rest, no longer struggling to breathe, and no longer angered by the fact that she was being challenged to do so. She’s with Bob again, who she’s missed terribly these last seven years. The best I can figure is that his first words to her upon arrival were “what’s for supper?” – and she’d have it no other way.

Rest in peace, Betty. And don’t worry about your girls, they’re going to be just fine. That’s the way you raised them.

Why Be Like Most People?

At the risk of this appearing to be shameless self-promotion (because it is), I’d like you to visit http://beyondthedefaults.com.

BTDLogo-75

Beyond the Defaults is a collaborative effort with a colleague of mine, Abby Butts. Abby’s been writing on technology topics for quite a while on her own, as have I. When we compared our sites, we realized we were answering a lot of similar questions but from different angles, and were referring people to each other’s sites frequently. The more we thought about it, the more it made some sense to have one place for people go to find answers to technology related questions.

We plan to offer tips, suggestions, software and hardware reviews and general technology thoughts for the average non-technical person. Not sure what to do about managing the Internet for your family? We’ll address that. Making the most of Facebook and other social media? Got that covered too. Using your smartphone for things other than calls and Angry Birds? All over it. You might not see some of these topics today, but you will; we’ve got a pipeline of posts already stacked up and a release schedule in mind. Be sure to visit often, or better yet, get on the mailing list and we’ll send them to you.

Abby and I regularly answer questions for friends, family and acquaintances about all things technical, and we think that’s because they’re not sure where else to look. Beyond the Defaults is our effort to at least provide a starting point, helping the average person get the most from their technology investments.

The site is free, a public service to all the non-techs out there. Take it for a spin, and tell us what you think.

Nerf Gun Turkey Hunt

Tonight’s Scout Meeting included an agenda item called Nerf Gun Turkey Hunt. No, I’m not making this up.

They were told to arrive dressed in camouflage, in preparation for the turkey hunt. The hunt itself looked a lot more like a Civil War battle, where two lines of troops were facing each other, separated by about a 10 foot wide “no shoot zone”. There were brief breaks in the battle, to permit reloading.

It was a sight to behold. And honestly, I didn’t know they made that many different varieties of Nerf Guns. Quite an impressive display of firepower.

Mom, the den mother, had to venture into the “no shoot” zone to toss spent ammunition back to the warriors.

22 Years

Wow, that’s a long time.

20111021It was 22 years ago that we were anxiously waiting for the snow to melt from the record 9″ of it that fell two days before. I picked up my best man and his wife at the airport – flying in from Phoenix, so they were dressed for fall in Indiana. Winter was not on the radar.

Mike’s first words to me when I saw him in baggage claim: “What the hell is this?”

And then there was the rehearsal dinner – we were supposed to be in a “party room”, and it didn’t work out that way. Heat was not working in the room, apparently it too was a little stunned by snow in October. So we had dinner in the main dining area, with everyone else.

Then came wedding day. I can’t speak for the bride, but the groom and the best man were sitting in front of my trusty 13″ television watching a football game eating pizza at 3:30 in the afternoon, until one of us (can’t remember who) looked at the clock and said “we should probably get ready.”

I had one thing to remember to bring with me – the now famous pina colada scented unity candle. Did I remember to bring it? Hell no. Mike jumps in my car, drives back to the apartment to get the candle in record time. Did I mentioned he lived in Phoenix, and may not have had the best grasp of the roadways in Indianapolis? Good thing he’s smart.

Nerves were starting to catch up with me. Fortunately, our good friend Jim (who had just finished playing in a Butler football game that afternoon) arrived with the gym bag that made clinking noises. My hero.

I almost won the bet during the ceremony that Cathy would pass out – she still denies it to this day, but she did a big “I’m gonna pass out swoop” about halfway through. But she survived. We should have had the pool set up for whether or not Cathy’s dad would get through it without incident. He had one line – “Her mother and I” when asked who gives this woman. He was circling another planet when the time came, and all I could hear was Cathy and her sister talking out of the sides of their mouths “Her mother and I”. When he returned from orbit, he said “Come again?”

It took us 20 minutes to get married. It took us 90 minutes (or what seemed like an eternity) to take pictures. The natives were getting restless at the reception; the wedding was at 6:30, so people were getting hungry. The food line was held until we arrived. Needless to say, we were hustled to the food.

The reception was a party. And a half. We still hear stories about how much fun people had at our wedding reception. The bar bill was an accurate reflection of that. About 90 minutes into it, my freshly-minted father-in-law checked to see where the bar tab was, and the response was “How much?!?!!” (extra punctuation is necessary and appropriate). Good thing the bride’s freshly-minted father-in-law jumped into the fray with subsidy offers. A good time was had by all. Those of you that were there and are reading this – testify.

Funny how after 22 years, I still remember all of this. Even funnier is that I remember most of the other things that have happened since, and there’s been a lot. So to my dearest Fartblossom I say this: It’s been a terrific ride so far, and I’m sure the rest of it will be just as much fun. For me, it’s been “friends with benefits” all along. Which is nice. We’re in what’s becoming an elite club – those of us still married after all of these years. Thank you for putting up with me (I know it’s not easy), and for allowing me the privilege of putting up with you.

Notice I didn’t mention anything about putting up with you being easy (or not)? It’s things like that you learn after 22 years.

Happy Anniversary, Cathy!

School Pics 2011

Well, we’re finally back to batting .500 – the fourth year of school pictures, and now we have two editions where we can actually not grimace when opening the package. Now, some of you are thinking “he’s only in first grade, so how did computer boy get to four?” Remember, we had two years of Early Childhood programs as a warm-up.

Our record for quality school pictures got off to a really poor start. Our first attempt in the fall of 2008, was just that – an attempt. We tried, we really did. We got him up a little earlier for school, so he could get a bath (instead of the night before) to dull down his normally freaked out morning hair.

In return for our efforts, we got this:

Portrait_resize-2008

It’s also been referred to as “The Mug Shot”. To this day, Cathy’s cousin Thom starts laughing every time he sees it.

In 2009, we had high hopes for a better picture. Once again, we got him up early for school for a morning bath/shower to minimize hair impact. Dressed and cleaned up, we sent him off.  Later in the week, Cathy asks his teacher how picture day went (with Mrs.Mark’s awareness of the prior year’s outcome). She says “I think it’s going to be just fine, I think we got a good one.”

Well, she was wrong. Instead, we got this:

Portrait_resize-2009

I can’t speak for Cathy, but I was getting flashbacks to a comic strip that originally ran on 9/24/1989 (yes, I’m that old):

ch890924

I even threatened to start calling him Calvin.

But as good parents, we hung the already paid-for 8×10 in the family room with our other family photos. It’s funny to watch other people try to be complimentary when they see it. We had coffee mugs made with his first two school pictures (along with a handful of other stellar boy images) and gave them to select people. Thom got one, of course. Others who received them have also related stories of people trying to be complimentary when they see it. They only difference is that most of them can say they’re not related to him.

We were ready to surrender.

So when 2010 rolled around, we thought “what the hell, let’s shower him in the morning again and just hope for the best. Can’t be any worse than last year’s picture.”

To our surprise, it wasn’t. Actually, it was pretty good:

cm1_2-2010

Finally, a school picture we can hang without requiring a background story. We had hope for future photos.

The 2011 edition did not disappoint – it’s the best one so far:

cm1-2011

It’s funny, and maybe it’s just me, but he looks more than just one year older in this one. He really is growing up. I still can’t decide which of us he favors – many have said he looks like me, but I still dont’ see it. If anything, I see my mom in him.

So we’re back to .500 now – we’ll see what next year brings.

A Strange Place To Park

Like many who read Pug Hollow News, we’ve had a fair amount of rain in these parts over the last month or so. By fair I mean we’ve been enduring a monsoon every 3-4 days.

I’m coming home from a client site one evening a few weeks ago, and Cathy’s standing in the middle of the driveway looking up at the roof. She stops me, and tells me to get out of the car and look at this.

Sitting on the peak of the garage roof: a duck.

Now the last time I checked, ducks normally like to glide in for that soft water landing. I don’t remember seeing too many of them shooting for the pinpoint accuracy of my 12/12 roof ridge.

Needless to say, I went to fetch my camera. My only worry was he’d fly off before I could get back outside. As it turned out, it was quite the opposite. He sat there for quite a while, perfectly content to take in the surroundings from his high perch. The whole family was out in the driveway watching this, and he was not bothered at all by the attention.

He sat there for about an hour – until the next monsoon rolled in. Probably thought finding a place to land in water might be a little safer.