10 July 2011

How Do I Use a Computer?

I posed this question to myself amid the paradigm shifts happening in the desktop computer world.

To start off, I had been using various Wintel boxes ever since I was a little squirt. I got my own Dell box in 6th grade. The computer was a portal to the internet, so the handful of windows I had open were Internet Explorer and probably AIM instances. I may have had a couple of Internet Explorer instances open at once, but that became history when I discovered Firefox and tabbed browsing. I rarely had a need for minimizing windows. Simple and clutter free.

I got a Mac mini in 7th grade. With it came iLife, the consumer media applications suite, which I used to manage my family's photographs and learn more about and have been engrossed in the creation of digital media ever since. Unfortunately, the mini was underpowered so running more than a couple of apps would cause it to page out. Thus, all of my open windows could neatly be contained on one desktop. Since the Mac is application-based, I could easily hide applications I wasn't currently using, which more or less eliminated the need for minimization.

Another year passed and I discovered Ubuntu, which introduced virtual desktops, among bring back the taskbar and other things. They were decent, but I was never a fan because I never had a large number of open windows at once. I don't remember using the command line much either. In any event, Ubuntu became irrelevant when I acquired my trusty MacBook Pro, picking up where I had left off in the Mac world.

Two things happened in sophomore year of high school: I started programming in Java and C++ and Apple released Mac OS X Leopard, which included Spaces. Programming introduced me to the wonderful land of the Terminal (with a capital T!), which I actually have come to love. It was so simple, so clean; unlike a Windows or Linux GUI, it didn't immediately show you all the available options unless you asked for it. As for Leopard, it reunited me with virtual desktops, which I actually started to use because I had a more capable computer and thus built up more desktop clutter.

In my junior year of high school, I dual booted Linux on my desktop and tried out XMonad per a friend's suggestion. I don't remember how I quite felt about it ever since I broke it, other than it was simple and clean, but wasn't for me because I didn't need to see all of my windows on a virtual desktop at once. XMonad might have had layers within a desktop at the cost of adding complexity, so I never took advantage of it. Then I came across EvilWM, which I loved because it was so simple. The minimalist controls just included basic window manipulation: terminal spawn, moving, resizing, alt-tabbing; I do not use move-in-front or move-behind controls. Combined with a lack of a file manager (good riddance, Nautilus), my computing experience became minimalist, lightweight, nonintrusive, and almost eerily Mac-like [1].

Come 2011: I finally acquired an iPad to complement my relatively nascent MacBook Air. It handled most of what I did on my Air with aplomb, save for remote coding and photo post-production jobs with Aperture. It was even less obtrusive and had even better battery life, at half the weight of my laptop. When I was traveling from Cupertino back to Boston for the holidays and had noticed the weight of my backpack (which contained a change of clothes, headphones, iPad, MacBook Air, and its charger), this question occurred to me: How do I use a computer, and did I need what I was carrying?

[1] By Mac-like, I mean that it adheres to nine of Dieter Ram's ten design principles

05 July 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Man, if only I had brought my tripod and held the exposure longer would I not have had to jack the ISO up to 2500. Next year!

[edit] The photograph was untouched except for the watermark.