Attending rAge involves quite a bit of hardware on my side to keep up with the manic rush of it all. Covering the expo means I’ll be taking loads of pics, recording interviews, then sitting down in the press room to edit, write and publish an article asap, before dashing onto the show floor again to find the next interesting thing. Back and forth, back and forth. So, much like everyone who has NAG LAN tickets is sharing their rig setup details, I thought I’d share my journo kit with you.
Back in 2013, I bought myself a netbook that I needed to write on while I was away. I don’t like big and bulky laptops all that much, preferring to reach for anything 14-inches in size or less. So I grabbed this puppy once it dropped down to a sale price of R3,000.
It isn’t much, to be honest. Based on a Sandy Bridge mobile processor, this notebook sports two cores clocked at 1.1GHz, along with Intel HD graphics that runs between 350MHz to 800MHz, which is on-battery and plugged in respectively. With only 2GB of DDR3-1066MHz of system memory and a 320GB Samsung 5200RPM hard drive, it was never cut out for the races. When it shipped with Windows 8, it was decently fast, but only barely. Windows 8.1 improved system responsiveness somewhat, but Windows 10 regressed somewhat in terms of performance. I should check out some of the advanced power-saving features when I install it again.
The display doesn’t have a very good LED backlight, nor great colour reproduction and it tends to blue more often than not, though I can mitigate some of that with f.lux. After much tinkering with the system, and using it to write my Windows 10 preview series, I wiped the slate clean a few weeks ago with Ubuntu 15.04. Currently my work is mostly done in the browser, with a few locally installed applications that I use for productivity, or file conversion, or playing a game. As it is, I’m writing this using Firefox signed into Microsoft Word Online. Switching to any other machine or operating system, for me at least, is painless. Battery life under Linux is a bit of a concern, even with TLP installed, and Unity isn’t very lightweight either. An average of four hours of run time, however, is a little more than I got out of Windows 10, so that’s one improvement.
I might replace this with a Chromebook next year, or possibly a newer version of this design with a Intel Cherry Trail processor. That’ll be the day, because I once said I’d never, ever, get a Chromebook. I may need to invest in an edible hat.
Prior to getting my Z1 Compact as a present to myself for my birthday this year, I’d never owned a good phone before. I’d always settled for handsets that compromised in one way or the other. Though I’d owned many Symbian devices in the past, including a Nokia E52, I’d been drawn to Android through owning an LG C660, stuck on Gingerbread with 512MB of RAM, a poor display, and the hardware keyboard being the device’s only saving grace. My experiments with Windows Phone had been positive, but the platform currently doesn’t interest me, as all of the really neat stuff is being reserved for better phones that Microsoft will announce next month.
The Z1 Compact, in short, is the best phone I’ve ever owned. It takes great pictures with acceptable noise levels, even in low light conditions. The battery lasts just as long as my E52’s did – a full two days. Having full-blown Android running on a platform still considered high-end (Snapdragon 800) is just great, and it plays Hillclimb Racing and Fallout Shelter very nicely. I can swim with it too, though I don’t really advise doing that.
There are, however, a few problems. To keep the phone’s IP65/IP68 rating, the USB port needs to be closed. Opening it up for charging the device or accessing photos is a pain. Sony doesn’t include magnetic chargers with any of their devices, which makes the inclusion of the charging points on the side of the phone rather superfluous, and means that I have to use the USB port for charging. The Snapdragon 800 platform also missed the boat for the quick charging capability added into other devices, which means that this phone takes an agonising three hours to charge off a standard 1A wall charger.
Still, this phone powers through everything and anything I ask of it. I have the Microsoft Office suite installed and I regularly jot down article ideas and do some writing in Word while away from my PC. I use Excel to edit a spreadsheet that I use to keep a track of what I spend, and that is backed up to my Dropbox account. All photos that I take are saved on to both Dropbox and Onedrive, so I never lose them and don’t have to worry about storage on the phone much at all. It syncs up my podcasts, keeps a record of all my voice notes and appointments, and even edits photos that I’ve taken. Before getting the Z1 Compact, I had no idea why people paid so much for more expensive mobile devices.
My godfather, an artist and photographer, once told me that the best camera that you have is the one you have right now (it’s also the title of a great book on the subject by Chase Jarvis, who blogged and detailed a year shooting pictures with just an iPhone 3Gs). My Canon camera has well outlasted every standard it was measured by when it first launched in 2003, and it still takes better still pictures and video than most point-and-shoot cameras, as well as several smartphones (including my own). When Canon made this model, it was marketed as the first DSLR for entry-level beginners, and users who managed to get custom firmware on to the device turned it back into an EOS 10D, which was a much more expensive model in the same body with more advanced features.
Being relevant 12 years later is quite an achievement for this camera. I can still buy replacement batteries, chargers, grips, lenses, spares, flash kits, remote controls, tripods, battery expanders, CompactFlash cards, and bags custom-made for this design. It is a testament to Canon’s philosophy of backwards compatibility and keeping to a design standard that has allowed this 300D to still be very usable today.
When I’m out on the floor taking pictures in the NAG LAN, or snapping pictures of the stands, this is what I’ll be using. The CompactFlash card is only 4GB in size, but it still holds quite a lot of photos for such old technology. Its only a 133x speed card, so it writes at around 10MB/s, but reads closer to 20MB/s. The flash memory inside is still good for thousands of writes, so as long as I have batteries for this camera, it’ll be taking pictures well into 2023, when it’ll be 20 years old. Chances are I’ll still be taking review pictures with it.
I’m a pen person. I love pens. Ever since I first wrote with one at the age of eight, I’ve never understood the point of a pencil. Yes, its erasable (I love erasers too), and cheap and easily replaceable, but the pen… the pen can have a metal body! It can feel cold and precise, and there are so many different shapes and sizes for your hand and your writing style. The pencil can write anywhere, but the pen had to be engineered to work upside down, in water, or inside the depressurised cockpit of a World War II fighter plane. There are even pens that had to be designed specifically for working in space. The pencil didn’t need to do any of that, because its just a pencil.
The Parker Jotter that I own has lasted me for just about two years, and the ink typically lasts me through one year. The previous ink refill exploded while en-route back from rAge last year, and somehow the spring got lost when I replaced it this year. Still, it writes as well as it did when I first took it out of the box. I’m left-handed, so its also a huge benefit that this pen’s ink dries up really quickly, reducing the amount of smudges I leave on a page. I often joke about my handicap when it comes to being a lefty, but it honestly drives me insane when I’m trying to find a new pen to use because they’re all made for right-handed people.
I’ve always urged anyone even mildly interested in improving their writing, or practicing calligraphy, to buy a good pen. Some of them are downright expensive (fountain pens, for example), but a good one lasts you years, even decades. Some of the original Fisher space pens, first designed for space use at the request of NASA, are still in use today. Though I’ve always stuck to ballpoints, I will own a fountain pen one day, and I hope to own a Fisher space pen as well. As a writer, good pens are indispensible, and I’ve had a new Parker pen almost every year since I first got one at the age of fifteen.
Just don’t take them to school or university, or a busy workplace, though. Good stationery left unsupervised disappears faster than unmonitored government funds.