TagSimple Tools

Simple Tools

I spend my days repairing computers for the federal government. I support the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institute of Health. I support Macs, PCs, iPhone, Blackberries, iPads and a host of scientific equipment I don’t pretend to begin to understand their function.

Day in and day out I scratch my head, Google obscure error codes, and reach deeply into my brain for the acquired knowledge I’ve accumulated over the near-decade I’ve been doing this work.

My home is an extension of my geekiness. I have a small armada of computers. Some run all the time performing menial functions. Others are test beds for my random whims. Some are the work horses I turn to day in and day out. And some, I honestly no longer have any real use for and need to sell.

My primary machine was a little white MacBook which served me dutifully for years until a fan replacement gone wrong fried the logic board and the cost to replace it was just too great.

Today, it is a PC laptop that I bought thinking it was what I wanted. These days, I find it looking a little long in the tooth and never quite matching up to the Mac’s speed and stability. ((And I’m not going to get into Windows 8 here…)) More and more, when I get home I reach for the simplest tools in my arsenal.

I have a 1st Generation iPad and a prototype Google CR-48 Chromebook.

When I get home, all I want to do is dive into a book-in-progress. When I get home, I reach for my iPad, open the Kindle app, sync it if I’ve read at all on my iPhone during the day, and pickup my story where I left off. There is something very calming and peaceful about reading. After a long day of diagnosing, repairing and explaining I want to get lost inside a story.

After putting down the book, I’ll dig into my RSS feeds on the iPad, stick my toe into Twitter and then open Instapaper and thumb through the articles waiting for me there. I’ll do some filing since Instapaper is my catch-all for any interesting article or story that catches my attention throughout the day.

Once I’ve moved the items for safe keeping or for reference later, I read what is left. I love reading and I post the things I’ve read and liked to Twitter at @CarlLikes.

After I do my reading I’ll move to the CR-48 for some writing. Sometimes there is an article that has sparked my interest or an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head. Often times I reach for it to evict thoughts from my head into 750 Words where I make an effort to put 750 new words on the page every single day.

The CR-48 is ideal for its light weight and relative slowness so it combats my wish to open countless tabs in Chrome. Where I will usually keep 5 tabs open in Chrome always, I always quit every tab on the CR-48 and start fresh every time I open the lid.

I find starting fresh on the small machine lends itself to not getting sidetracked into a social network or a forgotten story I’d left half-read when I closed the lid. When I sit down to write, I want to sit down and make the clackity noise.

In addition to being small, the laptop runs very cool and has great battery life. As I sit here, I have 46% battery left which afford me nearly 3 hours of time to clack along.

There are so many great apps to put words into and the web apps are not lagging behind in quality.

I am typing this entry into Dillinger. Though more and more I have been writing in Draft which deserves a post of its own. When I’m offline I will open Pillarbox which is free from the Chrome Web Store and a great, simple writing app that will auto-save your work and works even if the Chromebook doesn’t have a network connection.

Simple Tools: GParted

GParted short for the Gnome Partition Manager is my savior application of the week. Before your thoughts drift to garden gnomes like Squatsie or the one from Amelie or even the strange world of Linux, GParted works on Windows for a very important task.

GParted main screenshot from GParted site

It will edit your partitions without trashing Windows. This weekend, I imaged my laptop at home in order to replace hard drives. Because I’m a geek, I imaged it to an external hard drive then swapped drives and sent the image back down to the PC so it would be exactly as I left it.

However, this left me with a problem. The image only used 150GB of the 250GB drive since that’s all it had before. So instead od my glorious free space, I was stuck with nearly nothing left.

I popped in my USB key with GParted. I booted it up. I dragged and resized the partitions on my drive and hit apply. Fifteen minutes and a reboot later I was staring at a perfectly usable 250GB hard drive.

GParted has become an essential part of my toolkit. There are instructions for booting off a CD or USB key. I’ve tried a lot of tools for Windows partition management and at best they are expensive and at worse, they trash your partitions. GParted is free, reliable and does the job right every time. It supports FAT and NTFS partitions perfectly.

Simple Tools: Infrarecorder

Tonight, I’d like to profess my love for Infrarecorder.

Infrarecorder

This is my preferred method for putting data onto discs and removing it from them. This simple application will rip you a disc to an ISO as well as right the ISO back to a disc, copy an existing disc, write audio, video or straight data.

There are so many bloated programs out there that want to be your video recorder, sound editor, or make you a pot of coffee while you wait. I prefer to stick to simple programs that do one thing or a core set of features well.

This wonderful application clocks in at just above 15MB installed and offers portable versions as well as source code if that’s your thing.

I am a big believer in simple tools and you will love this one.