Today, I wrote a quick tech-recipe on how to use Garmin Bobcat to edit/join tracks. Initially, when I found botcat, I saw some forum posts of people wondering how to get data from bobcat into google earth.

It’s not obvious, but it is really easy.

– From Bobcat’s File menu, select Export Folder
– This will create a GPX file in the location you pick.
– Drag this GPX file into Google Earth.
Manipulation of this data in Google Earth is easy.

With my father considering a new computer purchase, he will soon have to decide if he wants a new laptop or another desktop. The popularity of laptop computers continues to grow. Although the differences between laptops and desktops have narrowed over the years, going portable involves many trade offs. Is going mobile worth it?


Creative Commons License photo credit: jeremyfoo

The goal of the laptop is mobile computing. They are frequently called portable, mobile, or notebook systems. Laptops are powered by a rechargeable battery. The monitor is either a standard size or widescreen LCD. Keyboards allow for easy input. Mouse control is typically provided by a trackpad. Also contained within the device are the typical computer components such as a CPU, video card, and hard drive. In a laptop everything is included in one package. Getting “under the hood” and changing components can range from hard to impossible.

Although the desktop largely contains the same components, the parts are not as integrated. Any beginner can change the keyboard or monitor of a desktop; however, the same beginner would find that changing those components on a laptop near impossible.

In contrast, a desktop is not portable either. Desktops and laptops are very different beasts.

Strengths of the Desktop–

Price. Based on similar specifications, a laptop can cost over twice as much as a desktop. For the same money, you will always be able to get a much more powerful desktop with a larger screen and more storage. A desktop is always going to give you more for your money.

Creative Commons License credit: PPDIGITAL

Power. Many high end desktops contain components that are not available in laptops. Some of the video cards out now are almost as big as some entire portable systems. Power requires cores and chips. Power requires cooling. Power requires wattage. Large desktop systems have plenty of room for big components, big power supplies, and redundant cooling. Power dependent task such as editing and rendering video will proceed less painfully on a desktop beast. A laptop is always going to settle for smaller, more efficient hardware. Many laptops that were sold as “Windows Vista Compatible” were not able to run Vista with all features enabled. Because it is purchased with less reserve, a laptop will not provide as many years of productivity before seeming underpowered and dated.

Screen size. We are in the world of ever growing LCDs. A 30 inch LCD computer screen is beautiful. If you have a desktop, you can even have multiple monitors. Many laptops start at 13 inches and the largest is 19-20 inches. If you go with a laptop over a desktop, sacrifice of screen real estate is the norm. External monitors can easily be connected to a laptop; however, there is the obvious loss of portability.

Wireless Network Required. With a desktop system ethernet works well. Having a notebook that is tethered by cat-5 cable makes no sense at all. To enjoy using a notebook system, a wireless network and internet is really required. Wireless networking is getting easier but is nowhere as easy as just plugging in a cable. Using and securing a wireless network requires learning a whole new set of computer skills.

Toughness. Laptops get dropped, banged, and generally mistreated. A desktop stays at home in general safety. My son broke the “e” key off one of my laptops after my daughter took it up to her room. He knows not to bang on my desktop but a laptop in his sister’s room was too inviting to pass up.

Creative Commons License credit: booleansplit

Upgrading / Fixing. Another hard drive can be added to most desktops easily, and changing out a keyboard or monitor is trivial. Upgrading or fixing a laptop frequently requires a trip to the shop. Desktops can frequently be given new life with a newer, more powerful video card. As video is integrated in a laptop, this upgrade is not possible. The difficulty in upgrading is another reason that a laptop will not provide as many years of productivity when compared to a desktop.

The Powerful Portability of the Laptop–

The strength of a laptop is its mobility. It is the trump card that can overwhelm any of the desktop’s advantages. The cheapest, most powerful desktop in the world does not help the student that needs a computer in class. Chilling at a coffee shop with a mocha and your lappie can be magic. Recording or making music at a club or friend’s house is easy on a laptop. Getting work done or watching a movie on a plane can make the time fly. Can you really put a value on checking email from the potty?

Although portability is amazing, it is frequently not required or utilized. I know three of my neighbors that have their notebook sitting on the exact same place on their desk day after day. They are never mobile with their mobile computers. Many people really think they will take their computer everywhere, but then they never do.

In Defense of the Laptop–

Desktop worshippers will die arguing the strengths of the desktop that I have described; however, none of them are really deal breakers if portability is required. A laptop will always be more expensive and underpowered compared to the desktop. The careful consumer, however, can purchase a powerful laptop that will run non-gaming applications perfectly. (The majority of games will run on a laptop system too, but occasionally the video may not be as impressive.) A 15 to 17 inch laptop screen is plenty for most users. The integration of wireless networking into the major operating systems is making wifi easier as well. Industrial strength laptops that can tolerate the toughest of conditions are available for the clumsiest of us. If mobility is required, these are trade offs that can be comfortably tolerated.


A desktop is always going to provide the biggest bang for the buck. Users rendering high definition video files or playing the latest games will naturally gravitate toward the powerful desktop systems. Users that must have mobility will require a laptop. The rest of us will have to decide if the convenience of portability is worth sacrificing the strength of the desktop.

You can follow the entire computer4dad series here.

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The journey starts off innocently enough…

To: “David Kirk”
Subject: Lap Top
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 09:41:18 -0400
MIME-Version: 1.0

I am going to get a laptop. I need your help on what and where to get .


My father wants to get a laptop. I have that feeling that a parent gets when a child asks for a car or a bike or whatever. What appears to be a simple task is really a challenge to find the perfect fit.

Clark Kent glasses
Creative Commons License photo credit: Andrew*

Easy answers exist. If I were a zealot one way or another, then I would tell him to get whatever is my favorite device of the moment. I could be lazy and just send him a bunch of links and then hope he figures it out all on his own. Easy answers would lead to confusion and frustration for both of us — especially with parents living 13 hours away.

Dad is currently running an XP box with broadband, printer, scanner, and a couple of digital cameras. He learns well through step-by-step directions but can stumble if new obstacles are thrown his way. He transitioned away from AOL easily enough. However, storing, editing, and retrieving photos in an efficient way still seems challenging.

Just when I think Dad’s system is running well, he wants a laptop. Of course, he does. Everybody wants a laptop. My desktop is used less and less since I started with my laptop. My wife is the same way. A laptop, however, introduces a whole bunch of new challenges.

To work well, a laptop needs a wifi network. To exchange files between a laptop and desktop is not painless or intuitive. Using a scanner and a printer with a laptop has unique challenges too. To top it all off, I have to decide if now would be a good time to introduce Dad to the world of Apple and OS X.

I wanted Dad and me to sit down over some adult beverages and discuss this; however, he is excited to get started. Anxiously, I have been pondering my plan, and I hope I have found the correct path. I am going to tackle each potential decision as a separate blog post. I will try to weigh the strengths and weakness at each step to help Dad make his choice. Hopefully, my blog readers will chime in with additional information as well.

Here are a few examples of planned posts:

  • Laptop versus desktop
  • Apple versus Microsoft
  • Save or ditch the desktop

I will start each post from a beginner level and expand into our normal geek territory. If interesting comments appear, I will amend and edit my posts to reflect new ideas as well.

My father was key into getting me into computers. I get my technology-loving side honestly. Help us find him the best system.

I will blog these entries as computer4dad if you want to keep up with the series.

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NTLDR is missing…

February 20th, 2007

A buddy of mine sent me this screenshot.  What does it mean?

On his system it meant that he has a dead hard drive. 

Dead. Dead. Dead.

So, yes.  Your day could get worse.

Consumer Reports recently destroyed the infant car seat industry by reporting that  most car seats on the market were not adequate.  Having several friends and family members who are expecting children, we read the report with great interest.  We actually bought two car seats based on this information.

However, consumer reports now has pulled the story and admitted that they tested the car seats at much higher speeds than expected.

Consumer Reports obviously had to report their error; however, will this affect my purchases?  Hmmmm…. no.

The fact that two car seats did fairly well at these higher forces is enough information for me.  I would rather have a car seat that can protect the little one at the highest speeds possible.  I do not think most people plan their accidents at 38 mph.

Here were the two acceptable choices of the higher crash forces:

  • Baby Trend Flex-Loc Adjustable Back:  Score 64
  • Graco SnugRide with EPS: Score 61

All other seats scored 34 or less.

One of the few things I never liked about my Microsoft BlueTooth mouse was that the device needed to be reinstalled (reconnected) after changing the batteries.  This morning, by joy of joys, I discovered this is not true.

Before, my mouse would complain of low batteries for days and days and days.  I never wanted to change it because I did not want to go through the trouble of reinstalling the bluetooth device. 

Typically, the mouse would finally quit moving on the screen.  I would switch out both batteries.  In the switch out, the OS loses contact with the device.  Reinstalling anything without a working mouse is not fun.  So I could either keep a USB mouse close by or I could use my uber-keyboarding skills to reinstall–neither options are very efficent.

This morning I noticed that when I pulled out one of the two batteries that the optical light still stayed on.  Thinking I could preserve the bluetooth connection, I switched out one battery at a time. 

Old battery out, new battery in.  Old battery out, new battery in.

As the second new battery went in, my mouse once again sprang to life.  The bluetooth connection was never lost.  w00t!

Does this work with other bluetooth devices as well?

Will My Computer Run Vista?

November 12th, 2006

Many, many people will soon be asking this question:

Will my computer run vista?

“Yes” is the likely answer no matter who you are.  Basic vista will run on most XP hardware.  You’ll get many of the security enhancements at current XP speeds.  However, the real question should be…

Will my computer run vista well?

To use many of the new features available on vista, you will need a more powerful system than a basic XP system.  Vista’s new glass effects require a kicking video card.  With the new graphic-intensive interface, programs in vista will need more hardware to run at current XP-speeds.

So to find out if you computer will run vista with all of its new eye-candy features enabled, you should visit the Windows Upgrade Advisor.  This program will tell you which version of vista your current system will be able to run effectively.  With vista coming out soon, check out your hardware first.

Imagine if your map program (or website) actually had a physical picture of the intersection at which you were suppose to turn. That idea merges new technology with your uncle Bill’s method of “turn right down yonder at the K-Marts on the corner.” It’s a great fusion.

How do you get that information? You drive around in a van that is equiped with 4 directional cameras mounted to the top. Tie that to a computer-video recording system and a gps, and you are golden.

How do I know this?  Because I spotted this dude outside a coffee shop and pointed Garrett his way.  You can view his video and read about it as well.

Uncrossedover cable

October 12th, 2005

When I went to my hotel room last night after a day at the local Infragard annual conference, I raised the lid on my laptop, saw that there was no wifi, and scanned the walls for an RJ-45. Finding one under the desk (why do they do that?) I connected with my only straight through ethernet cable and saw no link light. Unclick-click-unclick-click, no light. I assumed that the problem was on the hotel’s side since this was my trusty 25 ft reach-the-hotel-bed-from-under-the-desk patch cable. A few minutes of trying to pace out my net withdrawls and I was pulling everything out of my laptop bag madly searching for another cable. I found two. Both crossover cables. Doh!

Wanting to know if it was my trusty cable, I tried a crossover cable (the link lights will still light although no data will flow). I saw the light. Unthwarted, I slid out the serrated blade on my Leatherman Wave and split open the sheathing, separated the greens and oranges, cut them, stripped the ends a little, and spliced solid orange with solid green twice and striped orange with striped green twice. I pulled out the roll of red electrical tape (long story) from my laptop bag and made tiny little rectangles of tape (I thought it was a nice touch given that my hands were shaking from hypointernetia) and covered the ends like thus:

Being obsessive about my MacGyvering, I smooshed things together (why not minimize inductive coupling?) and added strain relief with another piece of tape. And to top it off, it worked.

At the hospital, parking is very, very tight. Students and residents are always trying to find places to park that are closer than their designated lots. Six dollars is not a lot of money to prevent one from walking a mile in the rain. Previously, the threats of towing kept many people scared away, now we have big brother.

The thought is that the computer will match your tag against the database of employee automobiles and the parking cop will know to find the illegal red VW bug or whatever. This had me scared away from my illegal parking practice for a few months now. However, I was running late a few days ago and I was in my wife’s car. I knew that the hospital did not have that tag on record so I would be safe. Here’s my entrance ticket.

On the ticket reads “Entry LP#: No plate”. What? So now I know that the machine is not reading my wife’s tag correctly. The next day I decide to try my blazer — same thing. Come to find out, from a student who was walking out of the parking deck, that it is only hitting about 50%. Bye, bye fear for half of us! If they would have just left the tag text off, none of us would have realized that the system was working so poorly.

Here, let me fix your code…

If $cartag != null
then print “Entry LP#: ” + $cartag
print “Have a Nice Day!”
End if