I think I may have finally done it!

Without blabbering on too much I think I may have finally found the winning plagtech combo. Before I explain, here are the two key pieces of tech that I have now standardized on:

  1. Browser = Firefox
  2. Productivity = Microsoft Office 365

Using Firefox & Firefox Sync to keep all of my browsing history, tabs, usernames, and passwords together I can literally use any desktop or mobile operating system and have everything in one place.

Similarly, for Office 365 I now have a seamless experience for Outlook across any desktop or mobile operating system as well as full access to industry standard applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc. (as not all online application systems/companies accept Pages or GDocs) on any platform at any time!

I will continue using iOS and my iCloud account, as my Apple ID is tied to a lot of iTunes/App Store purchases, iCloud Photo Library, and iMessage. As for which computer I use it literally doesn’t matter anymore! LITERALLY… DOESN’T… MATTER!!

I love Microsoft’s productivity tools and they really do make a difference with regards to how I get things done and with Firefox as my browser there is no bias to a particular system e.g. it’s no surprise that Safari is only available on macOS and iOS or that Google Chrome works extremely well with GSuite.

It’s 10:14pm PST on April 27th 2018 and my time starts… now!


C# fundamentals for absolute beginners

This is by far my favorite programming tutorial!

After doing some more research on Xamarin I realized that C# could pave the way to building apps on multiple platforms using a single language. 

Another cool thing is that Microsoft released Visual Studio for Mac, so not only is there a plagtech programming language that I can learn I can also use the same tools across Windows 10 and macOS!


Windows 10

I have been using Windows 10 on both my Dell E6430 and my workstation at the office. It is very slick looking and like the fact that the start menu has returned to its former self, but with still enough change to make it more than just the kind of start menu from previous versions.

I don’t have any complaints to be brutally honest. By doing this I have finally found an awesome PuTTY replacement. The Git for Windows application comes with a Bash Shell, which is far better to use for SSH’ing to servers than the NT looking PuTTY application. It’s also nice to be able to use the command line for Git operations versus a GUI.

This week I’ll be switching back to OS X as my primary operating system to see what I have missed. At the same time I will be switching my workstation over to Ubuntu 15.10 (Wily Werewolf). I’ll keep the E6430 running Windows 10, so that way I can interchange between all three.


Plagtech revamp

As I switch between different operating systems I have always tried to use applications that work across these different environments, for example I use Firefox as my browser because it works flawlessly across Windows, OS X, and any Linux distro.

However, using Firefox as an example again, it doesn’t work so well on iOS and Android, especially on iOS compared to Safari.

Similarly, in a bid to try and break out of the so called walled garden I switched to Outlook.com instead of me.com and started using the Outlook.com iOS app instead of the native Mail, Contacts, and Calendar iOS apps that Apple provides.

I then went one step further and completely stopped using my iCloud account altogether, restored my iPhone back to factory defaults, then setup my iPhone from scratch under a brand new Apple ID.

Again, this was all in a bid to cut off any ties from one vendor and try to keep everything neutral. However, what I have learned from doing this is two things:

  1. My iPhone is my primary computing device (welcome to the post-PC era!).
  2. Native apps provide the best experience.

Yes, it really is true. Even though I am typing this blog post from my Windows 10 PC (my iPhone is currently restoring from my iCloud backup), my iPhone really is my primary computing device. As I switch between different desktop OS’s the one constant in my digital life is my phone. As I use it so heavily I started to realize the importance of native apps.

Without using my primary iCloud account on my iPhone I noticed how much I depend on it, which was one of the points I raised in an earlier blog post. I think iCloud is the sole reason iOS is so freakin’ awesome!

The Outlook.com app is great in a sense that a single app allows you to work with your mail, contacts, and calendars in one place, but I noticed that this severely impacted my GTD work flow. The app is completely decoupled from Notes and Reminders, which I rely on heavily. Also, the built-in Messages app would not work properly because it is not capable of pulling the contacts from the Outlook.com app. This meant that iMessage and FaceTime could not work on my iPhone, which is another must have because I use it to communicate with friends and family overseas.

Switching back to my primary iCloud account has enabled me to revive all of the integrations that I took for granted with the native apps on iOS. So, that’s iOS sorted, but what about OS X, Windows, and Linux?

  • Linux: Let’s start with the easy one. I am very confident that I will not be using Linux as a primary desktop OS again for a long long time, so I do not need to worry about that. I have been using Ubuntu & Fedora as virtual machines within OS X and Windows, but I do not need to worry about syncing my data to the VM’s, as everything is on the host.
  • OS X: The second easiest one is OS X, because I will set this up just like iOS.
  • Windows: So here is where things get interesting and I know I have touched on this point before. I love using Microsoft Office and having signed up for Office365 with my Outlook.com account I can still use that to sync documents and continue using OneNote. However, I can use the iCloud Control Panel application in Windows to sync with Outlook for mail, contacts, calendars, and reminders as well as Internet Explorer (and now Firefox!) for my bookmarks.

This gives me the best of both worlds, as I can now fully utilize the native apps across iOS, OS X, and Windows that are designed to work extremely well within their own environment all the while utilizing iCloud as the glue (or SaaS if you feel so inclined) that holds all of the information together between each environment.

I feel as though this is still very platform agnostic, because if I continue to use Windows I can! With the added benefit that I don’t have to switch cloud providers, which for some strange reason I always feel is necessary!

What about Android? Exactly! What about it?! I very rarely use it for personal use like browsing/shopping/checking emails etc, so I was actually thinking of using it primarily for work. Seeing as the company I work for is a Google Business Apps shop and Android is drenched in Googleism why not use it for meetings instead of obnoxiously  pounding away on a physical keyboard when taking notes? Anyway, that can be it’s very own post.

Going back to the context and title of this post the reason I am calling this a plagtech revamp is that this experience has changed the way I look at being a platform agnostic technologist. In order to be plagtech one does not have to abandon the native apps that work so well on each respective platform. I can still enjoy the power of native apps and the seamless integrations they provide, so long as the cloud service providing the behind-the-scenes mojo works well across multiple platforms. In this case, so far, iCloud seems to do a bloody good job across iOS, OS X, and Windows.

A week with Fedora 23

After my week with Fedora I am once again drawing to the same conclusion that I have before. It’s a solid OS, especially for all of my geeky tasks like running Vagrant boxes, writing Chef recipes, using Git, and various other tools, then Fedora is a dream come true.

However, for day-to-day GTD I really like the native Microsoft Office apps on Windows and OS X. I don’t mind using their web-based counterparts (in Firefox) when using Linux for say, a quick glance at OneNote, but the Linux platform doesn’t have the neat integration’s with apps like Box as they do with OS X & Windows. This, you will say, is because Box doesn’t develop the same apps for Linux, but that’s not my fault unfortunately.

Also, when it comes to tasks like managing my photos or music there’s just something that feels unfinished about Fedora. It’s as if the software is in constant beta mode. People may snarl at me for saying so, and yes, I know it is all open source software and community driven work (which I do admire!), but when it comes to trusting software with my sacred photo collection of almost 10 years I can’t help but feel safer using software that is more well polished. From my experience the application Shotwell is an iPhoto clone and I can’t stand iPhoto (now Photos), especially with the way it sorts my pics. I’ve fully converted back to the old school method of creating my own folders and dragging and dropping the pics from my camera’s SD card. So retro, but it works the way I like it!

So, do I still like Linux? No, I love Linux! However, it will still not be my full time OS for personal computing at this time.

What’s coming next? I am currently on my RDMBP typing this post as I wipe Fedora off the E6430 and install Windows 10.

I am out of my Vulcan mind!

I just got settled into a harmonious digital lifestyle of all things Apple when suddenly I decided once again that the world of technology is too vast to stick to just one kind! 

It’s me. I can’t help it. I just have to try different things! But the thing is… I love it! I love using all Apple technology, as everything really does just work, but the truth is I like switching it up every once in a while too!

Here is my current setup:

  • Primary laptop: 15″ Retina Display MacBook Pro running OS X El Capitan. 
  • Secondary laptop: 14″ Dell E6430 running Fedora 23. 
  • Workstation: Supermicro running Windows 7 Professional. 
  • Phone: iPhone 6 running iOS 9.1

Why all of these machines? Well, here is where you’ll think I am out of my Vulcan mind, but each one serves a purpose. 

The MacBook Pro is what I use mostly for personal computing and work stuff when I am not in the office. It is setup to use my personal iCloud account and I use Photos to ship all of the pics from my SLR and videos from my GoPro to my iPhoto Library in iCloud. 

The Fedora laptop is for all of my experimental stuff like learning Swift, Python, and the internals of Fedora/Red Hat Linux. Messing around with this machine comes at no risk because if I royally screw it up I’ll just reinstall Fedora. 

The Windows 7 Pro desktop is my primary work computer when I am in the office. It’s the ultimate GTD machine, as I have the latest version of Office installed and I love using Outlook to organize my tasks and emails. Nothing beats it as far as I am aware. 

Lastly, the iPhone is of course the best mobile phone you could possibly ever buy! I have previously tried other platforms and none of them offer an experience that comes anywhere near iOS. 

So there you have it! Plagtech is back and I’ll be writing more posts about the applications that I use across each of the aforementioned platforms. 


OS X Yosemite vs Ubuntu 14.04

Before I dive in I just want to list (in no particular order) the devices I use on a daily basis:

  • iPhone 6 running iOS 8.1
  • Retina Display MacBook Pro running OS X Yosemite
  • 2x Quad Core Workstation running Ubuntu 14.04
  • HP Pavilion dm4 laptop running Ubuntu 14.04

I don’t know the brand of the Workstation because it’s just a black box that work provided for me. I think they are built by SuperMicro, as that is who builds the servers we use in our data centers.

Anyway, I have been a user of Mac OS X since the early 2000’s with a bit of Windows usage and a bunch of different Linux distro’s in-between. My first “smartphone” was a BlackBerry 8870, which I used from 2006-2008 and since then I have always had an iPhone.

I really like Apple technology and I evangelize their products to all of my friends and family. I absolutely agree with their mission statement, which has always been focused around taking the everyday complexities of computing away from the end user. This is a major part of the reason why I recommend Apple to my parents and I can imagine even my Grandad would be more than capable of operating an iOS device.

However, I sometimes feel as though with each iteration of OS X and iOS the “ease of use” mission, while understandable, robs me of the tinkering aspect of computing that I enjoy. Now, I’m sure that for every few thousand people there are just a handful of people out there that like to arrange their files and folders in a particular way and don’t mind spending the time to manage the file system.

I know I am definitely not alone because a neighbor of mine who had always been a Windows person inherited a Mac from a friend of theirs. He was trying to organize iPhoto in the same way that he would manage his Pictures folder on his Windows PC, which was a fine art in terms of file system management! He would have a year folder, then separate folders for Holidays, Birthdays, and other activities in that year, then they would be further organized and divided up within each of those folders. When he imported these photos into iPhoto, it organized them according to its own magical process, which was somewhat impressive (the timestamps of the photo are preserved in the file, so it was able to sort the pictures based on date). However, this didn’t bode well with my neighbor and he looked for alternative applications, but those did not support his style of organization either. In the end, he settled for utilizing folders like he did in Windows, but Preview doesn’t work quite the same way when viewing your photos like this, as Apple assumes you are going to use iPhoto.

It’s this kind of assumption that annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, Apple does a lot of things right, you could say most things right, but there are little pieces here and there that just irk me. I had no solution for my neighbor and he has settled with keeping to his usual mode of organizing his photos, then temporarily importing an album to iPhoto when he needs to showcase them.

I haven’t been a fan of iPhoto for a long time. I use it for importing photos from my iPhone and SD card because the one cool thing about iPhoto is the option to delete all of the photos from said device/media after the import has completed. But, that’s as far as I go with iPhoto, as similarly to my neighbor, I like to organize my photos in folders within corresponding subfolders for each event etc.

Since the issue with my external hard drive I have been using Ubuntu 14.04 more and more on my HP Pavilion dm4 laptop. It started off solely as an interface into my external hard drive, but today I have been using it to peruse the file system of my wife’s and my own iPhone. It’s actually really cool (if you’re included in that handful in a few thousand) to be able to peek into specific folders and pull files, photos, songs, and videos on to your computer in the “traditional” way. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to do things this way.

My wife’s MacBook Pro (Mid-2010) model is still going strong, but iPhoto is absurdly slow. Just to do a basic function like double-click on a photo take 96 seconds to load (yes, I timed it!). So when my wife asks me to offload the photos from her iPhone because she is out of capacity I groan. Even more so when she has to leave the house in 10 minutes, so that she can get to my nephews Halloween show at the school he goes to. I gave iPhoto the benefit of the doubt and began the process of offloading all 1,218 photos. It was a nightmare. I lost a few minutes just opening iPhoto. Then a couple more while it prepared the import, then after another few minutes it was only 10 pics in to the import. “STOP! This can’t go on any longer!” I said. So I plugged my wife’s iPhone into the HP and copied all of the photo’s there instead. It took 5 minutes! I’m sure it could have been the same on the MacBook Pro if Apple would just let me browse the file system the old fashioned way, but it wasn’t to be. Once I had successfully offloaded my wife’s iPhone photos to the HP I then repeated the process to the external hard drive.

I may sound like an old curmudgeon that is stuck in his old ways, but sometimes the simple things work better. With OS X Yosemite there are a lot of hip features like the ever increasing integration between your Mac and iPhone with things like Handoff and Continuity, but a major drawback was iCloud Drive. One would assume it could be used just like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive etc. but nope, it’s used in conjunction with apps that save data to iCloud. That’s not quite the same.

Now that my usage of Ubuntu has extended beyond the office and into things I do with my personal computing life I am starting to appreciate the level of control I have over what I do on my computer. There’s a lot of stuff you take for granted in OS X, but I am really starting to like being able to things my way, on my on my computer.

This also extends to the reason why I want to build my own in-house NAS solution. Time Machine works beautifully as a 1-to-1 backup solution. It’s especially awesome when you have the need to swap out a hard drive or buy an entirely new Mac and restore from a Time Machine backup. However, for sharing files, photos, and videos that we have recorded we need something that is always on that we can both access at any time. Using FreeNAS on a micro ATX computer stuffed with hard drives I can use it for both Time Machine (for the nice restore features) and it can support traditional network file sharing, so I can setup a network folder to mount on mine and my wife’s computer whenever we are connected to the home WiFi. FreeNAS also supports multiple file sharing protocols, so that anybody with a Mac, PC, Linux, iOS, or Android device can upload/download whatever they want to/from the NAS (if I permit them to of course!).

Like I said, there are a lot more people in the world that couldn’t give two hoots about how their file system is managed (if they even care to know what a file system is!), but I do like to tinker with this kind of stuff. I am not going cold turkey on OS X or making any rash decisions to change what I use, but once again I am keeping my mind open to other technologies and hence my plagtech blog continues.