Tech Dilemmas

For a variety of reasons, I’ve lately had the need to rethink my technological footprint. Over the past five months or so my job has taken a few left turns that now have me working on projects that were not contemplated when I was originally hired. Many of these find me making treks back and forth between my offices on the U of A campus. In turn, I’ve felt the pull to travel lighter, and to pair down my tech footprint to only the essentials.

Enter Apple’s new iPad Air (or iPad Air 3).

As any good technophile knows, the decision was not one easily made. I had five key criteria in seeking a new tablet:

  • Portability
  • Digital Note-Taking
  • Laptop Replacement
  • Processing Power
  • Word Processing Capability

I’ll explain each below.

Portability. As mentioned, my new job obligations see me schlepping across resort-like U of A on a fairly regular basis now (I’m clearly not biased toward my alma mater at all). By way of explanation, the University of Arizona is in the midst of developing programs that involve a major commitment to Native American Advancement at the institution, and I’m grateful to be a part of the team that’s seeing some of these initiatives through. But the changed reality for me is that I’m no longer tethered to a desk at any particular location, on any given day. This means that much of my work was being done on my MacBook laptop circa 2016.

To be fair, my MacBook is still a fine machine. It has ample storage and I’ve yet to run into a processing task (or series of processing tasks) that it can’t handle. Even so, having replaced the keyboard twice, it was quickly becoming less portable and more a computing station in my home office. The wear and tear of trips across campus would not have served its longevity very well, and I’m not overly eager to spend upwards of $2k USD on a replacement. I could probably have made the arrangement work for another year or two, but the hinge of the screen and top case had become gradually more flexible (loose), and the screen itself was beginning to show faint signs of degradation in the coating of its Retina display. Not something uncommon after a usage-intensive three year run, but clearly happenstances that would not bode well over the long-term.

Thus, my need for a newer, portable replacement.

Note: The iPad was not an obvious choice for me. I had considered getting a new laptop altogether. The price point of the MacBook line is still pretty good and some of the internal hardware has been upgraded overtime. But in my three year break from the iPad, some quick research told me that the internal processing, app selections and software upgrades had all made the iPad a much more formidable player in the productivity space. (I had an ailing iPad Air 2 that hadn’t really seen much use since my, then, toddler son scraped up the back of it while playing on a less-than-sparkling wood floor). Given the price difference between a tablet and a laptop in the Apple ecosystem, a tablet replacement for my laptop seemed like a good option for what I envisioned.

Digital Note-Taking. Another key component of my job involves taking copious amounts of notes. Formerly, I had done most of these by hand and then manually transcribed them word-for-word on my work computer. In a laptop replacement, I wanted to avoid this if at all possible and find a combination of hardware and software that would transcribe my abysmal scrawl into usable text that I could edit and modify as needed without the need to transcribe. On this score, the Apple Pencil seemed like a nice alternative. So, whatever iPad I bought would need to be compatible with this function of the Apple Pencil.

I should probably mention that I’m not an artist by any means. Some users seek out the Apple Pencil purely for sketching and drawing – and nearly any iPad available today has this function and capability. But given how atrocious my handwriting is, despite Mrs. Gensman’s best efforts during Senior year of High School, I needed something with the power and ability to do the impossible: make my handwriting legible, recognize it (something my Mother still can’t do), and transform it into digital text like you’re seeing now.

Laptop Replacement. Above all, the replacement had to wield the ability to take the place of my laptop in my technological day-to-day existence. This may seem an obvious point but I reckon it’s an important distinction. Some tablets are great at providing options to consume media. One can use a Kindle to read voluminous amounts of books. The iPads of yore, even, were great vehicles for watching movies and streaming videos on YouTube and Netflix.

But whatever I opted to purchase needed not only to handle both reading books and watching movies (flights are long after all), but also help me stay atop the steady and increasing workload that is now coming in. In sum, I needed a machine that would both allow me to consume media, and be productive. (This narrowed the options considerably but more on this later).

Processing Power. Given the above, the device I sought would need to have top of the line processing power. It would need to handle multiple applications at once and accommodate my spastic nature. It’s not uncommon for me to type a few paragraphs, hit on a word that pops into my mind, and then send me reeling on a lesson in etymology, and wondering whether the word selected is fit for the occasion. Self-doubt is a cruel mistress.

Suffice it to say, the ability of the internal processor needed to be stronger than my undiagnosed, adult ADD at a price that wouldn’t break the bank.

Word Processing Capability. And finally, my “forever” device needed to provide multiple, and ample opportunities for me to write.

To the kids reading (I so hope you’re not reading, kids), pay attention during your English class. Pay attention to your English professors in college (no matter how lame they may be). And above all learn to write. And when you’ve mastered this basic skill, learn to write well.

As a university yokel-in-residence, I can’t claim to have followed the advice I’ve just given. But writing in all its forms, from emails, to contracts, to law review articles (yay – new publication coming soon!), to hiring decisions, to blog posts – writing is 90% of what I do. So, my laptop replacement needed to provide the capacity to accomplish this basic function with aplomb.

(Lest anyone think I’m being overly dramatic, think about the apps any given professional might use on a daily basis: Apple Mail. Outlook. Microsoft Word. Dropbox (file syncing across devices and because Box sucks). iA Writer. Scrivener. Facebook Messenger. iMessage. Skype. Snapchat. Kik. Twitter. The lone thread in all of these apps is that they all depend upon the ability of an individual to translate the thoughts in the mind to digital text on a platform. Simply this and nothing more. And as our robot overlords come to take our jobs, the ability to write and communicate is one of the lone bastions of human ingenuity that they have not quite mastered. Or have they?)

Outcome

Out the gate, I immediately bought the new iPad Mini (or iPad Mini 5) that was released alongside the iPad Air this past March. The Mini ticked nearly all of the boxes above. It’s portable. It accommodates the Apple Pencil and digital note-taking. It has superb processing power. And I thought that this made it was a viable laptop replacement. Until it wasn’t. Alas, I overlooked the key final component: It was incredibly difficult to actually write on the iPad Mini.

Consider the following image:

The iPad Mini checks four out of the five boxes that I wanted in a laptop replacement. It’s incredibly portable. The entire bezel of the device is only slightly larger than than the largest Apple iPhone. It’s size makes it great for note-taking. Any moleskin notebook aficionado will appreciate the form factor of the new Mini. And it’s processing power is actually equal to that of the iPad Air. It is also an amazing media consumption device. Users can happily surf the web, watch movies, and read books to their electronic heart’s desire.

But it’s 7.9 inch screen means it also has a concurrent 7.9 inch (or so) keyboard. And this made it terrible for word processing, and thus a terrible laptop replacement. I honestly didn’t think that this would be a problem given that my hands are only slightly larger than those of a large child. But even for me, it was ridiculously difficult to type on the external keyboard that I purchased for the Mini, and the onscreen keyboard wasn’t any more convenient. Suffice it to say, I had made a costly miscalculation (the iPad Mini with 256 GB of storage, and Wi-Fi only capability runs $549.00 USD – excluding tax).

Given the tech dilemma, I wrote off the mistake à la Seinfeld  and purchased an iPad Air (or iPad Air 3).

As you can see in the image above, the iPad Air 3 is considerably larger than the iPad Mini. The extra 2.6 inches doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the context of onscreen real estate, the difference is dramatic. The iPad Air allows me to tick the final box and actually be productive in the crucial area of word processing capability. This transforms the device from one that permits media consumption to one that also allows for creativity, and communication. I’m sure there are some users that would not see so stark a contrast, but here are some side-by-side comparisons that illustrate the point:

Above, the Air and Mini showcase their respective screen viewing capacities. The Mini is scarcely larger than the Apple Pencil that I used for taking notes, while the Air has a full-sized keyboard that makes typing a breeze.

Above, you can see how much easier it is to write on the iPad Air than the Mini. Both are actually great for taking notes. But the larger screen makes transcribing my scrawl much easier – both to do, and to read!

Afterward

In sum, I’m a few weeks into the experiment, and I can’t say that I’ve missed a beat by not lugging around my laptop. Even when I work from home, the experience of using the Air makes me inclined to sit at the kitchen table with my iced coffee and work, rather than dragging the laptop out from the doldrums of my home office. In terms of price point, the iPad Air is in the almost dead center of the iPad lineup and retails for $649 USD, excluding tax. I find that this extra $100 over the Mini is worth every cent for its larger screen and word processing capability.

While there are some limitations, and a few processes that can be done faster on a computer, unless you are in the top 1% of tablet users, I think the iPad Air is a reasonable middle ground between Apple’s smallest iPad and its most expensive (the iPad Pro).

With that, here’s that a new device will inspire more blogging, and increased productivity.

New Adventures in the Desert

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I moved back to Tucson in early November of 2016. I hadn’t spent any time to speak of here since I left shortly after Clark’s birth in 2013. But a failed marriage (June 2016), new opportunities (August 2016), and the promise of sun (Jan – Dec. 2016) – all have a way of drawing a man back to a place.

So, here I am beginning a new adventure in the desert. And if the early billing is any indication, I’m in for quite the ride.

Truth is, while I love my job (more on that in a future post), a city can still be a dreadfully lonely place. Particularly when one is in their mid-30s, newly a bachelor, a bit out of shape, and settling into the routine of life anew.

Given the predicament, this week, I did what any rationally-thinking, non-impusive, risk-averse person would do: I adopted a two-year old Cocker Spaniel.

Originally, his name was Mickey. But this was far too plebeian for so august a dog.  So, I renamed him Nigel, after the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the cartoons Rio 1 and Rio 2. (See here).

See also, exhibit A:

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Now, Nigel, is a wonderful dog in many respects. When I’m home during the day, on balance, he either lays in his bed or at my feet in a crumpled ball of fluff on the floor.

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Which was all fine until this afternoon. I came home from work per usual. The blinds were partly open just as I had left them. There was no barking or noise to speak of. And upon entering my abode, I see my pooch, bounding in my direction from the hallway, excited to see me, and even more ready to go potty downstairs.

So far, so good.

After taking him downstairs to do his business, I came back up, entered the apartment and pulled the screen door to. It was a lovely day. High 70s low 80s. And I wanted nothing more than to have some dinner and enjoy the evening breeze.

As I’m mulling about, however, I glance in the corner near my bedroom door. The carpet looked oddly pixelated – as if the real life image I had tried to see was still downloading from the servers that span the breadth of time.

It was only after I glanced again that I was able to process the magnitude of what had happened.

Whilst away for the day, it seems that young Nigel tried to dig his way to freedom through the carpet of my hallway. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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After conversations with friends, an expletive laden evening spent cleaning up the mess, and a couple of DIY videos on youtube for dog training, as it stands now, I really have two options for Nigel.

I can:

A) try to rehome him (viz., get rid of him); it’s an option that’s easy, elegant in its simplicity, and ruthless in its execution.

Or…B) give him another chance; an option grounded in the hope that a sturdy crate and the promise of routine can mute his burrowing sensibilities. Not nearly so neat or final an option as A.

It’s a tough call.

Thinking back to last year, there were more than a couple of sleepless nights when I wish that I had had a second chance. Given the outcome, it’s especially ironic that the Christian set amongst us are so often the least forgiving. And as this applies to Nigel, do I really want to be like THEM?

On the other hand, perhaps what Nigel did is beyond the pale? He did bore a hole in my carpet after all – a surely expensive mess that I will have to sort out with my apartment company.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the rub seems to depend upon whether or not an ‘old’ dog can be taught new tricks. And, of course, the extent to which I am willing to entertain this fact. Funny how it is all sounding so very familiar…

One can say many things about my life in Tucson. But it hasn’t been boring.

Life: Standard or Fast?

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I mailed a letter to a friend Friend back home the other day.  When I looked at the New Zealand Post mailbox outside our student centre, I reveled in the appropriateness of their signage.

Over the past year, my life has been lived on the ‘fast’ side of life’s mailbox. Looking back over my 31st year of life, I can see that it would really serve me well to downshift to ‘standard.’ I suspect the fare would be cheaper to boot. Beginning with Clark’s birth, extending to our relocation from Tucson, and finally to our re-relocation to Hamilton, New Zealand, looking back over the past year the lone thread that ties it all together is how unexpected the whole lot of it was. And seeing as I entered my 32nd year of life this past week (or turned 31), now seems a fine time to think on such things. Here are three lessons I’ve learned from the past year. 

1. Life’s Uncertainty Is the Norm Not the Exception

If there’s a lesson I’ve learned this year, it’s that life is veritably unpredictable. When 2012 began, I had little thought that I would be a father the following year, and even less thought still that I would be leaving for life in a new country roughly 13 months hence. In fact, had you brought any of these eventualities to my attention, I suspect that my reaction would have been to promptly enter a catatonic state induced by a debilitating panic. My comfort zone was something to be guarded rather than deserted, something to be kept neat and tidy. Kids, by contrast, are messy and international excursions messier still. They have socialized medicine here!

And yet, here we are – with a perfectly healthy son, now one year old, and plans to stay here in New Zealand for roughly 18 months time, returning to America in June 2014. None of this was planned, per se. It just happened. And slowly I’m coming to realize that that’s okay.

2. Embrace New Opportunities by Letting Go of Expectations

The second lesson I’ve learned from life in the fast track has been that expectations are really illusory. While it’s wise to plan and anticipate the futures we would like, it’s important to keep in mind that all of this planning we do on a daily basis is with a grain of salt. Planing is always done “Insha’Allah,” or ‘Lord willing’ as they say in the Muslim world. Following the completion of my SJD, I expected to remain in the U.S. and teach at a tribal college close to home. Had I stubbornly clung to this expectation, I would have missed out on the opportunity to live abroad and gain first-hand insights into the situation of Indigenous governance in a country I had only seen in the Lord of the Rings. Now, I actually live in the Shire. And, more importantly, I would never have met so many of the individuals we now consider dear friends.

Letting go of my expectations was honestly the best outcome that could have happened. 

3. Enjoy the Day

Earlier I mentioned that I’d like to downshift from the fast iteration of life I’ve been living to something more pedestrian. While I’ve come to terms with life’s uncertainty, and the need to be somewhat flexible in my expectations, I still feel like there’s something to be said for living and enjoying a slower life.

The first point to make is that it’s dreadfully easy not to live a slow life. Recently, I read a fascinating essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Michael Ignatieff, former opposition leader of the Canadian Parliament. The biography highlighted the career of Mr. Ignatieff, detailing his swift rise in academia, and his slower, gradual ascent to political power – before ultimately documenting his resounding defeat at the hand of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The theme of the piece was how rapidly a career can peak and plummet. Not exactly inspirational material. 

What I took away from this past year, and the unintentional case study of Mr. Ignatieff, is that the best way to navigate life’s vicissitudes is to simply enjoy the day you have. Our ambitions may fail. Our best laid plans may be upended like a landslide, Canadian electoral loss. So, really the best we can do is focus the madness of existence through the lens of the now, and enjoy the moment of life we have – however fleeting and uncertain it may be.

I don’t know that I’ve shared the details of our son, Clark’s birth before. But toward the end, just prior to his successful delivery (viz., everything turned out alright), his heart rate began to drop. Gwyn had been in labor north of 30 hours and the stress had taken a toll on Mom and Baby alike. When the doctor’s brow furrowed and the medical team began to discuss emergency procedures, my heart sank and fear set in. There was a moment in the delivery room when I would even have given my own life to buy a bit more time for my wife and son. It was a primal, visceral reaction to situation and ultimately completely needless. But it was also telling. Seldom does a day go by that I look at our healthy, happy, and beautiful baby boy and don’t think about how fortunate we are that the moment came to pass so favorably for us all.

Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the now.     

Resurrecting Pax Plena

In sum, I’ve learned much this past year and have more or less put Pax Plena and blogging on hold as a result. My plan, wholly bereft of certainty and expectation, is to begin blogging more frequently. Toward this end, I also plan to teach a course on behalf of the University of Wyoming this spring semester and hope to use the blog here as a way to transmit supplemental information and connect with students, whether through social media or comments on reactions to readings, etc. This means that I’ll be culling some of the old posts and generally trying to whip this nearly 10 year-old project into shape. My hope (as opposed to expectation) is that this will provide a way to reconnect with blogging as a genre of writing and as a means of living life in the slow – a way to remember that in the end, the tortoise wins. 

The Lone Star Restaurant, New Zealand Style


Having long grown tired of my much-too-small flat, I decided to brave the wilds of public transport and mosey on down to the Lone Star Cafe & Bar.

As you can see in the photo above, the decor is almost spot on. Wood floors, exposed beams on the ceiling, and above all American country music blaring on the speakers. Granted the music is country music circa 1990, but it’s still quite good relative to the rest of New Zealand.

Naturally, while the restaurant excelled in ambiance the food was sorely lacking. The first tell was the sign in the photo above. No self-respecting, Texas-imitation restaurant would ever advertise lamb as their special of the day. That’s much too ‘high falutin’ for Texas. Most Texans can barely spell lamb. Needless to say, when I saw the sign above, alas, I knew I was doomed.

The second tell was the arrival of my burrito meal, which was inexplicably served with what was billed as the New Zealand equivalent of cold slaw.

My “burrito” meal is below.

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Having lived in Arizona and having there enjoyed some of the best Mexican food there is, I’m obviously not an objective critic. But even by frozen-Mexican-food-from-Wal-Mart standards the burrito was subpar.

For starters, the alleged burrito contained BBQ sauce on the inside, a holy accoutrement that should be reserved only for steak and ribs – as all good Texans know. Unless of course one is from Austin, in which case, the bar for knowledge is considerably lower.

The meal did get one thing right, however, and this impressed me greatly. It was served with a small cup of sour cream and salsa, just like God Himself intended. How the Lone Star got this detail right and, nonetheless, put BBQ Sauce on its burrito, is something I’ll never understand.

As I alluded to earlier, the frozen Chimichangas at good ‘ole Wally World are a better substitute for the burritos at The Lone Star Cafe & Bar in Hamilton, NZ.

But I heard Johnny Cash’s Jackson in New Zealand. And, by God, that ain’t bad.

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Winter Books Reviews – 2013

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It seems no sooner did I resolve to post more often then the first week of the new year slipped away.

Much is afoot here in the Sooner State. My family and I are planning a temporary relocation to New Zealand (more on that later) and it seems like the paperwork for our visa applications will never end.

Closer to home, I am planning three book reviews for the winter months – all of which look quite promising. Here’s a brief run down of coming attractions:

Ron Rash’s The Cove debuted in the Spring of 2012. The paperback came out recently, reprinting the haunting tale of an outcast girl, and a mysterious wanderer who happens upon her isolated homestead.

Alexander Snegirev’s Petroleum Venus is set for release next month. The book is on he shortlist for the Russian National Bestseller Prize. The novel depicts the relationship between a single father and his soon who was born with Down’s syndrome.

Finally, Nell Leyshon’s The Colour of Milk was released in late December. The slim book explores the temptations of a young father’s daughter as she leaves the family farm to work for an aging couple living nearby. The young girl is introduced to knowledge of the intellectual and carnal variety as she is forced to grapple with the consequences of both.

In all, a busy schedule but one that hopefully generates many more conversations to come. As always, stay tuned.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone