As Light As Air

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

While I’ve talked quite a bit about software in this series, I haven’t really dedicated enough time to the hardware on which I work. The reason for this has always been two-fold as 1) I really wanted to get started with the software first so you could take advantage of it and 2) It’s important to think multi-platform and multi-device when creating your own personal workflows. However after mentioning my intent to talk about my geek-laden, uber-fanboy love for my MacBook Air, Yuvi Zalkow mentioned that he was looking forward to it and I put it to the top of the list. You see, I have a tendency of prioritizing whatever Yuvi tells me and so far that system is working out pretty well… so, here goes:

I’m not going to lie, I was nervous when I first decided to abandon my 15″ MacBook Pro in favor of the smaller, less powerful MacBook Air. Without fail, every computer I’ve ever owned has been “better” and has had more bells and whistles than the one that came before it. This move to the Air a few months back marked the first time a new computer would fall short of its predecessor.

At a time in history where computers are rapidly getting faster, bigger and cheaper, it doesn’t necessarily make sense that I would chose to go for a slower, smaller, more expensive machine. It certainly doesn’t sound good when I say it like that, but this shift has proven to be one of the best tech decisions I’ve ever made.

So why switch?

Well, first off, there is my compulsion to purchase whatever new product Apple is focusing on (it’s a disease). When you consider the discontinuation of the standard MacBook and many of the decisions in the new Lion OS, it is clear that they feel that the Air family of computers is the future. More importantly (or at least easier to crap rationalize), my MBP1 was getting on in its years, the battery life was horrible, it often got hot as all hell and I was constantly butting up against the maximum capacity of the 320GB hard drive2. Wear and tear aside, I found I was spending way too much time offloading files to external drives, trying to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. It was quickly getting to the point where it was no longer a pleasure to use the machine.

And why go slower, smaller and more expensive again?!?

As I mentioned, I’m an Apple junky. I dutifully own an iPhone, iPad and have been on one Mac or another for some time now. I tend to travel a decent amount and tried to crap rationalize my iPad purchase3 by leaving my cumbersome 15″ MBP at home. While the battery life and the lighter bag were a pleasure, the iPad just isn’t at a point where it can replace a full-fledged computer (at least it can’t for me). Once I started considering my needs and my lifestyle, the weight, portability and excellent battery life of the Air became extremely alluring.

I had to be honest with myself…

Specs aside, I also started to take a deeper look at what had driven my computer purchases of the past. Geeks (or at least geeks of the past) look at their computers like many look at their cars. How much horsepower does it have? How quickly can it go from 0 to 60? We just replace cylinders with RAM. The thing is, with rare exception, most of us geeks and most of those car fanatics don’t need the power. We aren’t even capable of taking advantage of it. We just sought out the biggest, most powerful thing out there and let what we want get in the way of what we can actually use. I never needed what I had. In fact, it was so damn powerful, I never even bothered to figure out or even attempt to see what it could really do.

It was a well needed fresh start!

The move forced me to reexamine the way I’ve always approached computers. My priority was to always make sure there was enough room for everything, rather than determining was truly needed. Macs have always made it easy to transfer over data, but this time, I was starting from scratch. There would be no mass move of files; there would be no excess. I would have to take the time to think about everything I put on the machine. It sounds tedious, but the restrictions encouraged me to figure out what I really wanted to use it for.

It sounds silly, but so much of the streamlining in my life started here with the decision to opt for less, rather than more. To force a restriction upon myself that led to better decisions.

OK, but why are you so in love with this computer again?

It’s light, it’s snappy, it has a battery that lasts for hours and never runs hot. I thought I’d miss the 15″ screen, but after spending so much time over the past few years with the iPhone and iPad, 13″ feels more than sufficient. I won’t even bore you with the tech specs, because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t even tell you what they are. It does what I need it to do, so why care? Unless you are working with intensive programs for video like Final Cut or editing heavy-duty images in Photoshop, this computer is enough.

More than anything, this isn’t only a computer you can take with you, it is the computer you WANT to take with you. Don’t understand what I mean? Ever go from having any old job to having a job you really wanted? Remember the immediate difference you felt? How it unlocked something inside you and made you want to do more? This is the computer version of that feeling. You want to use this machine. And because that usage comes from a place of want, you end up making more than you ever thought possible. I’ve always loved computers, loved the potential, loved the ability to lose myself while sitting in front of a screen, but I’ve never loved a particular machine. They never felt right, they were never a fit. The MacBook Air changed that, it helped me to stop thinking about the “best” computer and start thinking about the best computer for me.

Geeky Quick Tip

As I had mentioned, I spent a good amount of time maxing out the capacity of my MacBook Pro’s 320GB hard drive. I was fed up with the constant time suck of deciding which files would stay and which would go and had to make a change. About 30,000 pictures of my kids and a healthy love of music, movies and television led to an iPhoto library well over 100GB and an iTunes library that over 300GB. The only way I was able to make this work was to offload all of my photos and all of my media to an external hard drive. Western Digital4 makes a 1TB external hard drive5 that is about the size of a deck of cards and still weighs significantly less that my old setup when combined with the MacBook Air. The minor inconvenience of having to pull out the drive offers the added benefit of keeping me from slacking off and watching The Wire when I really would rather read or write.

So how about you? What’s your primary computer and how does it impact the work you’re doing? Does hardware really make a difference or am I just a rambling, somewhat delusional, fanboy and this shouldn’t matter at all?

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  1. MacBook Pro for those playing along at home.  

  2. Yes, I know that the Air’s cap out at 256GB, but bear with me…  

  3. It’s a pleasurable device and has its uses, but it is far from a necessary piece of tech.  

  4. Disclaimer: I’ve been to an event of theirs and was gifted a 500GB My Passport, but I’ve been using their products and this system long before that.  

  5. Affiliate link, cause I’m shameless and stuff…  

12 Responses to As Light As Air

  1. Before I answer your question, this is by far the most useful article of yours that I have ever read. It’s really helping me decide if I should go for the Air, or the iPad first. I have a MacBook Pro I bought in March 2007, and it has been more than adequate. For a year I thought it was useless due to a power supply issue, only to discover an external charger for the batter. So I bought an extra and the 2 reasons it wasn’t my only computer was a- the stunningly short battery life when I run things like Camtasia, in which I need better than average brightness and b- the space constraints on the hard drive.

    I, too, bought a 1 TB external hard drive for all my personal crap, movies and TV shows about 2 years ago, and with the battery power it is impossible to use.

    So my current default workhorse, to answer your question, is a Toshiba Satellite L655D – I think it’s the newest model you can get without USB Sleep and Charge. Or at least was at the time. I stupidly did not get one that cost just a little more because I couldn’t find a use for that feature. I find it to be … adequate, as so much of my daily work was tied to things you can technically do on Windows but just have sexier end results in Mac, or can even be generated faster.

    My favorite was Keynote presentations. Sigh…

    The instant I can justify the cost of an Air or iPad, I’ll get one, and then another MBP. I don’t hate Windows, I run it on my Mac as well (I don’t even hate PCs, really.) It’s just that my Mac brings a joy to my process that is hard to articulate, and has yet to be matched. Also: Backlit keyboard, FTW.

    • Wow, thanks for that! Wasn’t 100% sure when I hit publish as it don’t really hit on specs or anything. Glad it connected. All I can tell you is what I’ve experienced. Because the MBA is so lightweight, I don’t use the iPad as much. I still prefer the iPad for strict consumption (e.g. movies, kindle books), but even my feed reading has has moved more and more to the Mac as I find commenting on blogs to be a pain from the iPad.

      Out of curiosity, if you got an MBA, why would you inevitably get another Pro? Wouldn’t it be easier to just refurbish your old Pro and use it for the few heavy duty tasks that require it?

      As for the backlit keyboard, I’m jealous. I got the last model without it, but it makes no difference to me.

      • The processor makes a difference to the work I end up doing, especially in product creation. The one advantage the Toshiba has over my MBP is the quad-core processor. And before that, the dual-core on the MBP made it the fastest thing in a house with 2 towers and 7 other laptops. The price of that upgrade Plus the one it already needs is the price of a new one.

        But I still need something light for travel, especially local travel, so it’s inevitable that I get an Air or an iPad.

        • Just one man’s opinion, if you are at a point where you still need an MBP, go Air over iPad. You’re a power user and will probably find yourself limited by the iPad. Unless you are just looking to show presentations. Then the iPad is 100% the way to go. If you have any need to create on the go, Air all the way.

  2. Before I answer your question, this is by far the most useful article of yours that I have ever read. It’s really helping me decide if I should go for the Air, or the iPad first. I have a MacBook Pro I bought in March 2007, and it has been more than adequate. For a year I thought it was useless due to a power supply issue, only to discover an external charger for the batter. So I bought an extra and the 2 reasons it wasn’t my only computer was a- the stunningly short battery life when I run things like Camtasia, in which I need better than average brightness and b- the space constraints on the hard drive.

    I, too, bought a 1 TB external hard drive for all my personal crap, movies and TV shows about 2 years ago, and with the battery power it is impossible to use.

    So my current default workhorse, to answer your question, is a Toshiba Satellite L655D – I think it’s the newest model you can get without USB Sleep and Charge. Or at least was at the time. I stupidly did not get one that cost just a little more because I couldn’t find a use for that feature. I find it to be … adequate, as so much of my daily work was tied to things you can technically do on Windows but just have sexier end results in Mac, or can even be generated faster.

    My favorite was Keynote presentations. Sigh…

    The instant I can justify the cost of an Air or iPad, I’ll get one, and then another MBP. I don’t hate Windows, I run it on my Mac as well (I don’t even hate PCs, really.) It’s just that my Mac brings a joy to my process that is hard to articulate, and has yet to be matched. Also: Backlit keyboard, FTW.

  3. Really great post, Michael. I think it’s perfect that you don’t hit on specs in this post, especially with the Macbook Air, since specs do so little to characterize what makes this computer so great. It looks right, it feels right, and it does what you need it to do. I just got a Macbook Air and I’m just loving it. The only place where I crave a little more power is when I’m working on screencasts or exporting screencasts to various video formats. (And even then it does the job.) For everything else, it just feels and works like the best system I’ve ever used… and I don’t care how many gigamegabajigaherz it requires to do what it does.

    • It’s not ideal for the heavy lifting, but thankfully I still have the MBP sitting up on the shelf. I’ve been in the process of cleaning it up to focus on some of the heavy lifting and to serve as a backup incase this bad boy goes down. Have some work projects coming up that are going to require some fun with video, so it’ll be nice to have a bit more power there. You hit the nail on the head… it just feels right.

  4. I have a 17″ HP laptop that I love most of the time. I have big hands so the full size keyboard is closer to a need than a preference and the large screen reduces wear/tear on my eyes.

    However, it is pretty damn heavy and the size makes it cumbersome to use on planes or in small spaces. There are certainly moments where I think that something smaller might be of interest. 

    I have friends who swear by their airbooks, but the cost of most Apple products irks me so I have stayed away.

    • There are many things in my life that I’ve had trouble paying for. Quality isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s so rare, I’ll overpay with pleasure.

      I’m a biggin as well and it’s part of why I stuck with the 15″ for so long. Don’t miss it one bit. Took a few days to get over the typing curve and the beauty of Lion is it really is made to make the most out of the full screen.

  5. [...] of I’ve been (and will be) sharing in the Techie Scheky series. While I’ve talked about my undying love for my MacBook Air, I’m actually referring more to way I setup the machine and the apps I use to accomplish my work. [...]

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