I spend almost two hours getting to and from work every day, time subtracted from my life that I don’t care to total up, because that figure would make me seriously question my own mortality and then I’d probably want to jump off a bridge. Most of this time is spent sitting on a train, but there’s a lot of other time I spend by myself getting to or from somewhere. I generally choose to fill this time listening to podcasts or music, so having proper headphones is a must. Unfortunately I’ve been skimping on this for years. I’ve mostly been using Apple’s standard earbuds, in their various models, and I guess they work fine. I can hear what I’m listening to, unless I’m under a plane or next to a bus or mowing the lawn, and I can stop, start, and adjust the volume of whatever I’m listening to.
I’m also constantly yanking on the cord as I’m walking, pulling a messenger bag over my head, or working around the house. The dog likes to hook her paw on the cord and yank them out of my ears as I’m putting her leash on. The cord catches on desks, toolboxes, bannisters, and doorknobs. And because they get pulled on all the time, the wires are getting frayed; I’ve got two pairs where the mic/sound control pad doesn’t work anymore, and another where the plug connection is weakened so that it triggers my phone to randomly stop/start/skip whatever I’m playing.
I bought an older set of “wireless” headphones made by Anker several years ago, which were actually two earbuds wired together, and they work pretty good. My two beefs with them were that the cord that connected them was getting caught on my clothes almost as much as an earbud cord, and the fact that they didn’t have a microphone to take calls. They work, and the battery life is pretty good, but they spent a lot of time at the bottom of my bag getting tangled on other stuff.
I see people walking through Union Station wearing AirPods as a matter of course. They are, by all reports, fantastic, but I was wondering if I could find an alternative that wasn’t as spendy but just as reliable. What I settled on was Anker’s Soundcore Life P2, which I got on deep sale through Amazon for a quarter the price of AirPods. They’re a set of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds that have most of the features AirPods do.
They fit my ears perfectly right out of the box, although they have five other pairs of rubber buds that can be fitted for people with dainty little ears or giant horse flaps. Each one has a small button on the side to turn the unit on or trigger several functions, which I haven’t mastered yet: on/off, start/stop, take a call, talk to Siri. The sound is fantastic. Bass is full, and the highs are crisp, but I also get a full range of midtones. It’s a wide range of sound that I’m not used to after years of tinny earbuds. It’s lovely to walk through the noisy platform area of Union Station next to idling diesel engines and not have to cover my ears to hear what’s playing, and they act as relatively decent noise protection when they’re off.
I used them to call my Mom on Sunday night, and while it worked, I found the experience strange. Because the earbuds had closed off my ear canals, I felt like I was talking inside my own head, as if I’d been talking to her with my fingers in my ears. I found it so distracting, I switched over to a set of wired earbuds to finish the call. Apple announced the AirPod Pro three days after I ordered my Ankers, which are built similarly. I read with interest about the Transparency Mode feature, where you can set them to listen to the surrounding noise, and I wondered what that added to the experience, but I get it now that I’ve been on a call: Transparency Mode opens the outside world back up so that you don’t sound like you’re talking inside a SCUBA mask.
Overall, I’m happy with these, and though I won’t be taking calls with them often (I’ll have to keep my earbuds wound up in my bag for those occasions) I’m cord-free and noise cancelled.
LEGO has just announced their new Imperial Star Destroyer set, clocking in at 4,784 pieces and measuring almost 4 feet long. It’s amazing. It’s also $700 and won’t fit over our fireplace.
Sometime last week, when I wrote about iPhone battery drain or our new family addition, I passed the 5,000 post milestone here on Idiotking. When I average out the numbers, that’s about 22 posts a month since March of 2001, including syndicated posts from the Scout blog. In the grand scheme of blogging, that’s probably peanuts; there are bloggers who have averaged two or three posts a day since before I started. But this site is still here, and I don’t intend on going anywhere. I look around at a wasteland of dead links and abandoned URLs and still feel a sense of perverse pride for keeping this thing going as long as I have.
I recently re-enabled Jetpack, WordPress’ do-it-all plugin for their publishing platform, here on idiotking, after a year or two without it. I had it working for a year or two and I liked the additional features it provided, but one day it brought my whole site down with no warning. Strangely, the Scout blog, which uses a forked version of the same homemade WordPress template, remained operational. I didn’t feel like chasing the problem down until recently, when I got a notice that the hosting provider for idiotking wanted me to update the version of PHP it was running. I did that without much fuss, and then let it sit for a while. Today in a meeting I downloaded the plugin and re-activated it, and it seems to be working smoothly. I’m going to fool around with some of the new features they’ve added, and hope it doesn’t break the whole thing again.
As regular readers here might know, I’m loyal to the Apple brand, because it’s been good to us. In the late 1990’s my friend Logan asked me if I thought it would be smart to invest in Apple stock; this was before Steve Jobs had rejoined and before Ameritrade was a thing on the internet. If I’d been a smarter man I would have scraped together $100 at that point and found a way to buy some; I’d have made about $10,000 on that paltry investment by now.
When I look back on my history with Apple machines, I realize there are a lot of them that have come through my door. Here’s a brief account, mostly for my own edification, of what I’ve had and what happened to them all.
- Mac IIcx (Norman): Norman was the first computer I bought myself, having learned the rudiments of Macs at our computer lab in college. I knew I was going to need to find a new job—contracting was becoming a financial drain—so I resolved to learn some design skills. It so happened that a neighbor of a friend who I’d house-sat for was selling her old IIcx and offered it to me with Quark 3.1, an early version of Illustrator, and some other programs already installed. I took her up on the deal—I think it was $400, which was a lot of money for me at the time—and had to scratch more money together to afford a monitor. When I bought it, it was already several generations older than the ones I’d learned on in college, but still usable. Once I had that purchased, I used it for learning page layout and organizing my illustration mailings. That experience, and a well-placed friend from college, got me an internship. Later I put a a DayStar Turbo 040 card, which, as I recall, involved nervously pulling and mailing the logic board off to the company to be soldered together with the new card. Norman ran faithfully and well for years, but he was old when I bought him and like any nerd I had my eye on a newer shinier machine.
- Power Macintosh 7100/80 (1996, G-Force): This Mac was purchased after the internship changed to a full-time design gig at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. While I was there I inhaled Apple/IT information and reorganized our small network of Macs—optimizing and networking a Quadra 900, a Quadra 840AV and an older IIfx, which I later upgraded with a Radius Rocket to boost its speed. The 7100 was a stable, solid unit that I’m sad I ever got rid of. It got me through years of after-hours freelancing, and when it was relegated to second-line status I experimented and got an install of MKLinux running on it so that I could bang around inside Apache and learn Perl and web services. I donated this machine and Norman to the AmVets sometime in 2003.
- Powerbook 520c (Max, 1999): I bought this machine after I switched to web design. I was working at a regional sales/rental/services company that had moved into web design, and our small band of designers and programmers had a big grey cube all to ourselves–the wild west days of the web. The Mac was a rental that they were disposing of, and I got it for cheap. It was an early laptop with a plastic cladding over a magnesium chassis, which meant that most of the screws were stripped and the clutch mechanism for the lid was worn out. In comparison to today’s laptops with their millimeters of clearance, this machine felt like it was put together at the Fisher-Price factory. But, it was COLOR! and it ran System 7 pretty well. It worked OK for a while, but the tired battery gave out soon after I bought it, and the screen started flaking out, and it was soon relegated to novelty status.
- Compaq (1999, beige box): This was one of two PCs I’ve owned, acquired when I was deep into coding and all of the tools I was using were written for that platform. I don’t remember if I bought this or they gave it to me, but I had it for several years. It ran Windows NT, which allowed me to set up local domains and build and serve sites right on the machine instead of out on expensive public subdomains. For what it was, it worked well, and I used it for several years before I went back to Macs. I don’t miss Windows NT.
- Power Macintosh 8500/150 (Alpha, 1999): I bought this from the rental department as well, intending to use it as a replacement for the 7100 and a server in the basement. It worked reasonably well for what it was, but I don’t remember using it as a main machine until I brought it to the game company and stuck it under my desk to use as a print design and light-duty graphics machine. Much of the interface for Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom was built on this machine. I don’t recall what happened to this unit, but I probably donated it when I moved out of the city.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (1999): While I was working on a Windows unit at work, I was also lusting after new laptops. When I switched jobs to the dot-com, they gave me a blank check, and I ordered a top-of-the-line Pismo maxed out with RAM. It served as my main machine up until the day I left. While I was there I had a Sun workstation running some form of UNIX that was neat to play with, but was way out of my league.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2000): After I was laid off, I needed something to work on, as all of my home machines were pretty creaky. I bought this machine off of eBay and miraculously didn’t get ripped off. It was in good shape and had no dead pixels, and it was my workhorse laptop for the next three years, getting me through multiple freelance jobs and the pivotal switch from System 9 to OSX. This remains one of my favorite Apple machines of all time; the styling of the case set it apart from all other beige laptops of the day, and the keyboard remains one of my favorite designs. It was modular and powerful and sturdy as hell.
The office in my first house: the beige PC, 8500 and a Pismo on the desk. Hi Penn!
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2001): I bought this from a friend for Jen to use as a freelance machine, and it served her very well until the day it fried itself.
- Various G3 iMacs (2003-8): I went through a phase where I was buying and fixing cheap old gumdrop iMacs and using them for various things, including reselling them. For a while I had a music server at home and one under my desk at work with a giant iTunes library, and ran them until they all fizzed out. Purple was the longest-lived unit, serving all the way to 2008, and then it finally gave up.
- Powerbook 100 (Junior): I found this little gem on Craigslist, I believe. This was the initial offering Apple made to the portable market, and was nothing more than a Mac SE with no floppy drive and limited memory. I used it for simple writing tasks for a year or so but again, because the batteries were long dead it was mostly just a novelty. My sister wound up with one of these and donated it to me when she moved. I tried, but couldn’t get one good machine to work out of two. At some point in the late 2000’s one of the caps blew and it stopped booting, so I traded it for a Powerbook 160 and $10.
- iBook G4 (2005): I upgraded to this machine when my Pismo was getting long in the tooth. It was between this and a full-size Powerbook, and I had to go the cheaper route for financial reasons. In hindsight it wasn’t a bad decision, although as the average browser screen size got larger the size of the iBook display limited the way I saw things unless I was hooked up to an external monitor. This machine served me through a year or so of back-stairwell freelance gigs (always be hustling) and two years of self-employment. It went to Orlando, out to Portland and later to San Francisco, and across the Baltimore/DC area. It was a great machine. I sold it in 2007 to finance the purchase of a new production machine.
- IBM Thinkpad R30 (2006): I bought this as a development machine when I got the TalkPlus gig in Portland, and used it as a coding box while I did all the visuals on the Mac. It was flaky when I bought it but did what I asked of it (running HomeSite and several other handy coding apps) and I humped it and the iBook west for both trips; in hindsight I should have just spent money on a single dual-boot Powerbook. After a while it devolved into chaos when the clock battery died; then there was some nonsense with the BIOS that involved a three-step boot process, and after lending it to my father-in-law for a brief period, it came home and sits on a shelf in the office. It needs to have the drive pulled and get donated.
The Thinkpad hard at work, California, 2007
- Powerbook G4 Aluminum (2007, Dugan Portable) I bought this for the low price of $300 on Craigslist, and while I don’t use it every day, it’s been a dependable workhorse of our fleet. It had a bad LCD, which I replaced soon after I purchased it, and since then it’s been pressed into service whenever I need to go back in time to use an old piece of software or hook up an old peripheral. It also came with a bombproof Brenthaven laptop backpack, which has been used for everything from carting the 17″ MacBook Pro around to hiking trips in the woods.
- Powerbook 160 (2007): I don’t remember why I bought this, but I did. It worked for a while and I had some fun with it (I think I loaded some old floppies in the drive to see if it could read them, that sort of thing) and then I put it aside. Soon after that it stopped booting. I haven’t followed up on it lately, but I’d love to find someone who can troubleshoot and repair it. Having done a little research online, I wonder if it’s the power supply?
- Powerbook 1400cs (2007): this was actually in response to the Powerbook 160 dying, and I wanted something that would still read some of the floppies I had laying around, as well as the ancient CD-R’s I’d burned in my early days. I got it off of Craigslist and was happy to see it booted quickly and came with a PCMCIA slot, which meant after some calisthenics and scavenging a first-gen Airport card from a sick Base Station, I was able to get it connected to our wireless network. I break it out every year or so and boot it up, and apart from a screen issue where the lower half is ghosted for a few minutes, it runs fine.
- Power Mac G5 (2009): I traded some IT time for two of these big boys, as a client was downsizing and didn’t need either of them. They were both finicky, fragile pieces of shit that were constantly overheating and randomly crashing, requiring constant vigilance and multiple surgeries. The first unit suffered from bad RAM and thus kept corrupting its startup disk, and the second had cooling issues which meant it would go down at random intervals with no warning. I installed a older copy of OSX Server and used these machines to learn how to administer it, which came in handy for several IT gigs. I dragged them along for as long as possible but replaced them with a decommissioned Mac Pro from work as soon as I could. When that was complete I gutted both chassis for usable parts and brought the aluminum cases to a recycler, where they fetched about $20. Good riddance.
- MacBook Pro 17” (2007, IdiotCentral): A big-boy portable that wound up being too big. I got this in December of 2006 after dealing with the aforementioned iBook screen, and I think in hindsight it was overkill. This machine was a monster in size and weight. It was great for working on large layouts, and all of the standard connections on a MBP were nice to have back after the limited selection on the iBook. I used this for several years of solid web design work both as a freelancer and at a full-time gig. It suffered from a video board issue later in its career where the lower half of the screen went blank. I cracked the case several times to install new parts, and after installing two inverter boards, I was able to resurrect it in order to put it up for sale. This was sold in 2011 to help pay for a new 15″ MacBook Pro.
- Macbook Pro 15″ (2010, IdiotBrain): This has been my workhorse machine for the last nine years. In frontline service for the first 6, it faithfully traveled with me to and from work at the agency, keeping my freelance work separate from my 9-5 gig. A couple of years ago I upgraded the spinning drive to a solid state unit, which sped it up dramatically. I had few problems with it up until early this year when it unceremoniously blew up. I figure the motherboard just fried itself after thousands of cycles. I pulled the drive and any swappable components out and put it out to pasture. I then put drive inside a decommissioned 15″ MacBook Pro I got from work. This model is two years older than the original, but the drive installed cleanly and it booted up like it was no big thing. The trackpad click function is broken but other than that it runs fine. To all outward appearances, IdiotCentral is still running, even if I’m only using it for personal email and backing up website data.
- iBook, Pismo G3 (2013): These two laptops, mirror images of two machines I’d already owned, were in a closet at the agency and weren’t being used for anything, so I dragged them home and cleaned them up, and they both run OK. The Pismo had never been converted over to OSX (WOW) and the iBook was used for someone’s travel laptop, so they were both used lightly. I recycled the batteries and put the iBook on my workbench downstairs for a couple of years for research needs. The Pismo got juiced with the leftover goodies I’d collected from our old fleet and sits in a container on the shelf.
- Mac Pro (2015, New Brain): I got this from work, as stated above. It had been sitting unused in the corner of a studio room for a year until I saved it and ran some tests. It turned out the RAM was bad, so I bought it for $50 and swapped the bad chips out for new ones. It’s been in the basement ever since, serving out 16TB of data flawlessly. Unfortunately, it’s trapped at OS 10.7 which means I can’t upgrade the OS beyond where it is, and that also caps some of the software I can install. I will eventually replace the platter boot drive with a solid state drive and fill all four bays with gianter drives for our data, but for now it hums along happily.
- Macbook Pro 13″ (2017, WRI Mobile): This is my work-issued laptop, and I’ve had it for about three years now. The first machine I had was an inherited 15″ MBP, which was decommissioned, and they replaced that with a used 13″ machine. That laptop met a sticky end with a full thermos of coffee in my messenger bag, so they gave me another used 13″ that had seen some hard use. I scraped and washed some old running stickers off the case, opened it to dust out the fans, and dropped a larger solid state drive in it, and it’s been my frontline machine ever since. I’m looking at trading it for a new Touchpad MBP sometime at the end of this year.