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Monday, April 14, 2014

My Microsoft Surface RT

You may wonder why I recently purchased a Microsoft Surface RT.  I have an HP Pavilion g7 laptop as my main home computer for writing this blog, paying bills, doing work from home, and surfing the net.  It's what I use to edit my photos, and to email friends, family, and colleagues.  It's been my go-to device for a couple of years now.  It does it's job well and I have been, in general, quite happy with it.

It really all started with Manuel getting a new laptop to replace the old Toshiba laptop we'd had since 2006.  The one that accidentally got beer on it's keyboard within the first week of ownership (which would have been OK except that Manuel and his friend Rick decided to use some special product that Rick used at work to help dry electronic parts ... except it literally melted the keyboard, making the down arrow obsolete from that point on - a bone of contention for me throughout the years we used the Toshiba).  Manuel's new laptop was a fairly low-cost piece that came loaded with Windows 8.  It's one great feature was a touchscreen monitor that everyone liked.  But in the early days I was uncomfortable with the whole modern Metro User Interface (UI).  From my Windows 7 experience it just felt all wrong.  As the resident IT person for our house it was me that had to learn how to deal with it.  I managed, but I didn't use it much in the beginning.  But as time went on and I had more time with it I began to understand that Metro UI.  I began to realize it was just brilliant.  I could touch the screen for some actions and still use my mouse or touchpad for other actions.  They co-mingled perfectly.  There even came a point when I would be at my HP and accidentally touch the screen when I should have been using my mouse.  I became frustrated that I only had a mouse and touchpad.  I was ... jealous.  The modern Metro UI that frustrated me so much in the beginning I now loved and longed for.  It was simple and elegant.  I loved that you could build the desktop to reflect your needs and design style.  I wanted it for myself, but I had a perfectly working laptop.  Sigh.

Now into Fall 2013 Manuel's old cell phone was barely working.  That's when I started toying with the Windows phones.  After much deliberation I bought myself a pre-paid cell phone - the Nokia 520, a basic entry level Windows phone - so that I could test it out to see if it would work for Manuel.  I liked it enough to encourage Manuel to buy one.  He did and we became of family of Windows cell phone owners.

Those two cell phones were the beginning of my true infatuation with the Windows 8 eco-system of cell phones, tablets, and PCs.  I started using my cell phone all the time - reading my emails, keeping our calendars up-to-date (I loved the family room concept that allowed Manuel and I to share not only conversations and photos, but to keep a synchronized calendar between us).  It was the place I went to when I wanted to read the news (Huffington Post, Flipboards, Bing News, etc.).  It came out at meetings at work, was in hand during weekly grocery shopping with the Simply Shopping app I had downloaded for free.  I liked the Windows Store - it wasn't as over-crowded as the Google Play Store.  I was able to find everything that I needed to make the phone useful, and fun.  And, of course, those Nokia off-line maps.  Wonderful.

I was so into the Nokia 520 that I started to fantasize about using it to maintain my blog.  I tried ... but with only 4" of screen and no solid keyboard I came to the conclusion that it really wasn't a real option.  Close - I could just manage to create a brief text based entry, but not sustainable.

At the same time, my old trusty Archos 43 tablet wasn't doing well.  I'd had it since 2008.  It had served me well.  But it's aging 2.3 Android OS was clearly showing it's age, and Walter had banged the screen in his eagerness a few too many times.



I was thinking about something to replace the Archos 43.  I toyed with getting an Apple iPad, but just didn't want to fork out that kind of money knowing that Walter would be using it.  I considered just getting a cheap Android tablet that he and I could share.  I so wished that Nokia had a tablet since I really liked the Nokia 520 cell phone.  Although there were rumours while I was researching my options there wasn't anything available in the Canadian market at the time.  That's when I started thinking about the Microsoft Surface.  I had initially read such bad things about it.  It seemed everyone thought the RT OS was just a bad concept, and the initial cost for the Surface made it as expensive as an Apple.  But, by the end of January 2014 the prices were dropping on the Surface, and I was starting to find some people who like the RT.  I also found out there were two styles of Surface - the RT/2 and the Pro/Pro 2.  Because I was thinking about sharing it with Walter I liked the idea of the RT - a closed OS that didn't allow users to simply download and install anything they wanted.  It meant I wouldn't have to worry so much about Walter did.  And, just like with the Nokia 520, I wanted to see what I could do with the lowest level model - the Microsoft Surface RT.  I was able to purchase the 64G version at an educational discount for under $300.  I knew I wanted to get a keyboard with it - I wasn't sure whether to go with the touch or the type.  Again, I figured I would go low-end (touch) to see if I could make it work.  The touch and type keyboards act as a cover for the screen which makes them wonderful double-duty devices.


There were posts complaining about the quality of the Surface RT screen (something much improved on the Surface 2) - I haven't had a problem with it.  The screen resolution is just fine.  Others complained that it could be sluggish in rendering websites - again, I find it just fine (and I work with some fairly high-end computers at work, so I know what fast should look like).  I love the built-in kickstand which makes it a wonderful stand-in for a laptop.

The keyboard that I was worried about is an interesting experience.  You don't slam the keys with the pads of your fingers - you press them.  The keyboards come in multiple colours - Walter asked me to choose white.  I like that it can be easily pulled away (it's held in place with strong magnets) when you just want to hold the tablet - so versatile.


Not only am I fine with typing on the touch keyboard, I actually enjoy it, and find that my carpal tunnel pain is less of a problem with it.

The Surface RT/2 comes pre-installed with Office.  With the update to Windows 8.1 it even gets Outlook.  So, I'm able to keep up with my work, as well as maintain content for my blog.  I use the included OneNote to maintain notes and ideas.  Since I keep many of my OneNote notebooks in the Microsoft OneDrive (nee SkyDrive) I have up-to-date content that's accessible at work, on my cell phone, on my laptop, and on the Surface - WOW!


When I'm done working, I can also enjoy Netflix or any number of games ... many free for download from the Microsoft Store.  I can easily connect my Surface to our TV HDMI connectors, and with an Xbox PC controller we can have large-screen play time.  I love that I can monitor Walter's access time with the Family Safety feature - it even sends me weekly reports to let me know how he spent his time.


If we were replacing our old Toshiba laptop today I would totally by-pass the laptops for Manuel and get him a Surface.  It's just so practical for so many of life's everyday needs.  When my HP laptop goes I will likely replace it with a Surface Pro (you do need the Pro level if you want to load software beyond the scope of the Windows Store).  The Pro would allow me to install Photoshop Elements and Lightroom - two software packages I use quite a bit.  Yes, I could definitely see us becoming a three-Surface family in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kruppa Joe - Our New Coffee Machine

I'm sitting here writing this while sipping my wonderful cup of hot coffee made with our new coffee machine.  Yes, after months of researching everything to do with making a cuppa Joe and going into countless stores to check out the display models we finally, unexpectedly, found the perfect coffee machine for our needs - The KRUPS KM611D Automatic Drip Coffee Machine.



We had gone to Costco's to buy one of those huge packs of toilet paper and, of course, like everyone else we wandered the aisles looking at things we didn't really need.  Down one of the aisles we saw a couple of coffee machines, including the KRUPS.  We lifted the lid, pulled out the carafe.  12 cups capacity - check.  Strong brew - check.  Finally, we checked the price $57.  Hmmm ... nothing too fancy, but at that price it wouldn't hurt our bank account either.  And really, having to keep things closed with a piece of string was getting old.

BAM!  Done.  And we couldn't be happier.



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why I Blog

I've been wanting to write a post since … forever.  I can't believe how much time has passed since my last one.  There's just so much I need and want to do in my life.   There's a fulltime job, a child to raise, a husband to connect with, a home to keep somewhat clean, meals to cook, baking I want to try out, DIY and crafty projects begging for attention, and a garden to tend.  And, of course, time for friends and family.  I don't know how people can juggle it all, consistently, on-going.  And it pains me because I enjoy creating this blog.  Developing new ideas, building the content.  Yes, it's work, but it's different from my day job in such a fundamental way.  There's no set agenda - I create it, I decide everything.

All this fretting got me thinking about why I enjoy blogging because it does add stress and work to an already full existence.  I realized there are at least three compelling reasons why I feel committed to this blog - income, frugality, and creativity.

INCOME

Manuel and I have good paying jobs with wonderful benefits, and a strong pension plan to draw from when we retire.  We don't need more money (although extra money is always welcome in paying down the mortgage) … we do just fine on what comes in.  But there are no guarantees in life that tomorrow will be the same as today.  We could lose our jobs, there could be some natural disaster (we do live on the West Coast of Canada and an earthquake is a real possibility), one of our vehicles could need major repairs.  You just never know.  Developing and growing new skills is just a smart idea.  It gives you more flexibility in adjusting to changes that can come your way.

The blog allows me to think beyond my day job.  It grants me the opportunity to stretch my skills, to learn new concepts, and to try different ideas out without worrying about failure.  Some of the skills I've learned definitely have the potential to bring in income.  That's a total win for me.

FRUGALITY

It might sound strange to follow income with frugality, but they do go hand in hand.

There are two ways of growing income - being paid more, or doing with less.  Instead of working harder and harder we can choose to alter our life expectations so that we don't need as much money.  By learning to develop frugal skills I'm also working on that idea of you never know what tomorrow might bring.  If we lose one or both of our incomes having learned some frugal skills will definitely come in handy.  I also love the challenge of seeing how I can save money without feeling cheap.  And, there is the added benefit of having a gentler footprint on the Earth since many frugal ideas include recycling, reusing, and reducing.  Another win in my books.

CREATIVITY

I love being creative.  I was the kid with the huge Lego set who could build and re-build for hours.  I'm the one who loved drawing and painting.  The one who saved her money so that I could buy a 4-track machine to record music that I wrote and sang.

Having a grown-up job, with a family that I'm responsible to has meant me dropping many of the creative outlets I had when I was a young adult.  The blog gives me the freedom to delve back into that creative stream.  I love that - being able to photograph, to write, to design.  Coming up with ideas to try out at home, and then showing how I did it.  Wonderful.  That's one of the biggest wins for me.


There are other, lesser reasons for wanting to write a blog, but these three are definitely the most compelling for me.  With that in mind, I've got my creative energy revving and am planning future posts about … our new coffee machine (yes, we finally committed to one!), my decision to buy a Microsoft Surface RT (I wrote this blog post on it), and a baking challenge.

Do you have multiple sources of income or have you learned some frugal methods to help reduce your need for more income?  How do you bring creativity into your life?