Aperiodic Tech Update and Workflow

Hello, website. It’s been a while.

Three years ago, I posted on here about the current state of my workflow, and the pending changes to my standard arsenal of equipment I was considering at the time. I’ve been thinking a fair bit about that post since then, considering potential updates, and an explanation of where I’m at now.

I’ve made some recent (like, arrived hours ago) purchases that has expedited the process substantially, and since I’m calling it a day (or night, I suppose) much earlier than usual, I’ve decided to sit down and write this out.

Back then, I had decided on a Surface Pro 3, a new desktop PC, and a Droid Turbo as my three primary pieces of hardware. How well did that plan pan out?

As it happens, remarkably well!

I built my desktop PC, nicknamed Zerua (Basque for “sky”), in August of 2016. I actually have a full parts list and description up on PCPartPicker right here. That system has served me well for nearly two years with nothing more than a handful of minor issues, and I couldn’t be much happier with the end result.

On the Surface front, I ended up not purchasing a Surface Pro 3, simply because it had been replaced by the (far superior) Surface Pro 4 when I actually had the money to spend. My chosen configuration includes an i7 CPU, 16GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. This one is named Azalera (Basque for “surface”). This too was purchased in the summer of 2016, and that computer has served me remarkably well. In fact, much of my workflow (and the contents of this post and my bag) revolve around that device.

I bought that device to serve as a take-everywhere, do-almost-everything computer, and I’ve used it for exactly that. Many of my published pieces for SocTakes, the WPSL, Dallas Sports Fanatics, and more were entirely written on there. I’ve used it to record podcasts and work on vector art from just about everywhere I’ve been. It goes to work with me daily, and currently sees more use (in terms of time) than my desktop.

And so, my work bag, a grey Ikea Upptäcka messenger bag that has sadly been discontinued, is full of wonderful things related to getting work done wherever I happen to be.

Starting off simply, I have this ProCase Surface Pro sleeve that I purchased over a year ago, and it does exactly what one might think. Despite repeatedly knocking around my bag, my computer is unscathed. No complaints. On the Surface itself, I have a dbrand skin (or skins, really) covering everything on the front and back that isn’t a screen or camera. I have the blue carbon color on the front bezel, upper back, and logo, and the black carbon on the lower black. This is all continuing the theme started with my desktop build. The vinyl skins have survived a reasonable amount of abuse with only minor nicks and scratches, none of which breached through to the device itself. Perfect.

In the sleeve, I keep a Surface Pen. This feature was a massive selling point of the Surface for me. I received a Wacom tablet as a gift in late 2015, and by the summer of 2016, it was at my work desk full time. Turns out, using a pen in place of a mouse is really, really nice. There’s the added benefit of less hand and wrist strain, too. The Surface Pen isn’t quite as nice as Wacom, but it’s definitely good enough for what I need. I’m normally using it when I want to handwrite outlines or notes, or sketch out design ideas. I actually have one for my bag, one for my office at work, and one that stays at my desk at home.

Last summer, I found myself working on more vector projects than normal upon joining the Dallas Beer Guardians’ design committee. My one complaint with the new Surface Pen, the inclusion of only one side button, made working in Inkscape frustrating. On my desk at home, I have a six-button gaming mouse mapped to my most commonly used Inkscape functions. I needed to replicate that as best I could with something portable (read: wireless), comfortable, and programmable. I ended up purchasing a Logitech MX Master wireless mouse that has worked out beautifully. I’ve actually even upgraded the gear bag mouse to the newer MX Master 2S, which is even better. The original MX Master I purchased now stays in my office for that computer for when I don’t want to use my Wacom pad. I even have a third that stays at home for using my “writing laptops”.

Quick aside, the “writing laptop” is a Dell Latitude E6430 I’ve restored and refurbished from scrapped parts. It runs Windows 10 with my standard writing software FocusWriter, Excel, Firefox, OneDrive, and that’s it. I use this when I want to sit and write without having access to any of the distractions found at my desk, or when I want to write while watching something on my Surface. I’m actually writing this post on there right now.

Back to the bag.

With my Surface, I keep a standard wall charger with a longer AC cable. Battery life on the Surface is good, and I can usually eke 5 or 6 hours out of a single charge if I’m not running anything intense. But for days when I want to hole up in a coffee shop and make flags all afternoon, it’s not always enough.

In the past, I kept an Anker battery bank in the side pocket to recharge any USB-based devices on hand. I’ve just today swapped it with my latest purchase, this battery pack from a company called Gissaral. This one can actually recharge my Surface fully, twice, without needing a power outlet. So far, it seems to do what I’ve expected, and I really hope this pans out. I desperately want to be able to work for hours on end without electrically tethering myself to a wall.

Elsewhere in my bag, I have my Sony DSC-W830 camera that I bought for $50 from the Denton Camera Exchange. It’s nothing special, but does better than the average smartphone and has proper optical zoom. I keep a Rhodia No. 16 dotPad for analogue handwritten notes and sketches, along some variety of fountain pen (currently a Platinum Cool). There definitely are times where I want to physically write or sketch things, and this is the best possible way to do that.

In the cell phone department, I’m actually using a Droid Turbo. I upgraded to an LG V20 last year, but recently shattered the screen, and have been unable (read: too cheap) to get it repaired or replaced yet.

The e-reader discussion is interesting.

The features I was looking for were a front-lit screen, physical page-turning buttons, and a MicroSD slot for expandability. At the time, Barnes & Noble was offering the Nook GlowLight (not to be confused with the older Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight), which had physical page-turning buttons but no MicroSD slot. I bought one, and very soon after, scratched the screen. When front-lit screens scratch, the result is a hairline spot of maximum brightness. It’s absurdly distracting, and made the device borderline unusable. So, I went on ebay, and bought the aforementioned Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. It had everything I was looking for, but with wonky, uneven lighting, and turned out to be even more fragile than the successor. And then I received the Nook Glowlight+ as a gift at Christmas. It has touch-sensitive page-turning buttons and lacks a MicroSD slot, but otherwise works remarkably well. It’s even water-proof, allegedly. This has served me well for over a year and a half. Maybe I’ll upgrade to the new(ish) GlowLight 3 which features the return of physical buttons, or maybe I’ll end up with a Kindle. But in all honesty, I don’t have that much reason to complain or desire a replacement. I’ve even found the lack of expandable storage entirely unnoticeable.

I think I’ve rambled enough here.

Looking back at that post, I find it interesting just how many predictions on devices worked out almost exactly as intended. I’m very pleased with my current technological situation, and have been for nearly two years now. I just need to get that phone replaced.

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