Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Laws of Computing and Growing Old with Computing

My trusty ASUS laptop is dying. It takes forever to boot up even after cleaning out the startup files. It also has exhibited a few blue screens of death in recent weeks. It is over three years old, which in computer years is two generations (and it was certainly not the most advanced when I bought it). So what to replace it with? I ended up with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3? Why? Well, let me tell you.

Buying computers these days is worse than buying a car. So many bells and whistles, add-ons. Of course, the temptation is to buy the newest and coolest. Apple has lived off of that impulse for decades. But do I really need a Ferrari or BMW (though I guess a Prius is considered cool by those concerned about global warming)?

I decided to take stock of what I needed in a computer. I’m 65 and supposedly retired, but ended up starting a technical consulting and innovative development business. That’s a challenge in itself. Try explaining to a 30-year old Venture Capitalist that you really are an entrepreneur even though you collect social security and a pension. Well, that’s a story for a different time. Back to the laptop. It must handle Microsoft Office to support the business and my writing. I recently self-published my first novel, so it would need a keyboard. Those two factors rule out most tablets. At age 65, I’m victim to the Law of Age-related Laptop Weight Inversion. What’s that you ask? It’s a modification to Newton’s Theory of Gravitation, and Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. It simply states that gravity has an age-related time function. At age 20, a three-pound laptop weighs a pound, or at least that’s the way it feels. By age 50, a three-pound laptop seems to weigh around three pounds, maybe a bit more. However, at 65 a three-pound laptop weighs seven or eight pounds, particularly in an airport. By the time you’re 72, its probably feels like ten or twelve pounds. Who knew that Newton’s Law of Gravitation had a time constant in it? I don’t think that not the relativity Einstein had in mind. Anyway, all of this ruminating on weight seemed to be pointing me to an ultralight. Wait, that’s an aircraft isn’t it? Ultrathin? Whatever they’re called.

I did the 21st century thing and went online, using different websites’ comparison software, and I discovered another law. You have two laptops of equal capability, but one is lighter. Which is cheaper? You would think it would be the lighter one. Less material, right? I learned that the Law of Inverse Laptop Weight ignores that factor. The lighter a laptop (usually with a smaller screen), the more it costs. I proved that empirically. The comparisons on the computer shopping websites brought that home.

After pondering all the variables in purchasing a laptop I decided I needed to touch and handle these machines to truly evaluate them. I don’t care what the purveyors of Web 2.0 think. Or is it 3.0 by now? I needed to determine how much a pound (of weight, not the British pound) was worth to me. So I decided to do the 20th century thing. Off to Best Buy we went. I dragged my wife Janeen along as my conscience in terms of cost.

Arriving at Best Buy and wandering among the machines I met the Microsoft Lady. I never caught her name. I’m not even sure what she did other than check computers for Microsoft products. For all I know she could have been a lonely old lady who liked to hang around computers but I don’t think so. She saw me looking for help and offered me some. She didn’t really care which computer I bought as long as it used Windows and wasn’t a Mac. More importantly, she was carrying a Surface Pro 3. She demonstrated how quickly it booted up. Compared to my old ASUS this machine seemed like it had a warp drive. And then I held it. Wow! My conscience spoke up. Janeen was standing at my elbow whispering in my ear about what I had said about keeping the cost down. So the Microsoft lady took me over to the cheaper laptops. I lifted one. My God! It was like lifting weights! I kept trying out different ones. Janeen grew bored and drifted off to look at cameras. Then we came to an HP 2-in-1. Their latest one. Ultra powerful. And light. Well, relatively so. Three pounds. I lifted it. No wait, ten pounds. And it cost $1100. But it was so cool with its swiveling screen and detachable pseudo-tablet. Janeen magically reappeared at my elbow and began urging me to make a decision already. “This isn’t rocket science,” she reminded me. With the help of the Microsoft Lady I realized I can get the same thing with a Surface Pro 3 and it weighed only two pounds! Of course, by the time I priced out the version I wanted with 8 gigs of memory and 256 gigs of hard drive, plus the keyboard/cover (which is extra), it came out a bit more than the HP. As expected, lighter cost more. I firmly proved the Law of Inverse Weight. Janeen sighed and gave in, happy to get out of Best Buy. I went home with my brand spanking new Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

I’ve had it for almost two weeks now. How do I like it? Like most technology I love it and hate it, with an overall lean toward love it. My biggest complaint probably has more to do with Windows 8. Once home I discovered another inverse law: the more powerful the processor, the software geeks who program it think they can make type on a screen smaller. The Surface has a default screen resolution setting of 2160 x 1440. This allows the geeks to think they can get away with 8pt font as a default. I guess they don’t know the Law of Inverse Font Size with Age. At age 20, 8 pt font seems like 12 or 15 pts while at 65 an 8pt font is really 4 pts. Windows 8 does not make it easy for you to change the defaults. Changing the resolution distorts everything plus you end up with ugly black bands around the screen. The personalization function allows you to change some font sizes but it doesn’t seem to change everything. So error messages and notifications are still too small, almost impossible to read. I can read them but at the price of squinting. I also downloaded Office365 that weekend and found that it exhibited the same law of small fonts. Outlook, in particular. I think the geeks think small is cool. It’s a struggle keeping things a size that I can read. To date there are parts of Outlook I haven’t been able to fix the font size despite repeated searches on Google.

Still, overall, I love the Surface. I even used it as a tablet at a meeting, taking notes with its stylus. (Yeah, I’m not immune to cool). Well, there goes another trusty friend, my black, bound notebook/journal. The Surface also takes up less room on my desk than the ASUS. However, another natural law prevents me from enjoying the new found spaciousness. Ever hear of the law that nature abhors a vacuum? Well, I proved its existence. My desk is as cluttered as ever.

Do I recommend the Surface? Yes. It’s a winner from a company that I grew up in the tech age with. Microsoft is 35 years old or so. In tech years that’s positively ancient. And here they are with some new innovations! Gives me hope for my own company. I can empathize with their attempts to innovate in this world of 20-something entrepreneurs. It does prove we old geezers ain’t quite dead yet.

About J. W. Morris

I had a successful forty year career as an aerospace engineer and project manager. During my career I earned six patents and two technical achievement awards for innovation and new technology. I also obtained a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. I also co-founded an Internet startup. With a passion for space travel and military history, science fiction became an extension of who I am. I was introduced to science fiction through the Tom Swift series by my third grade teacher in New York City more than fifty years ago. At one point I had a collection of more than 5,000 SF books before my first wife got tired of “decorating our house in early American science fiction.” I recently published my first book, Empire's Passing, to excellent reviews, and am working on its sequel, which should be out in a few months. I’m also passionate about sharing what I’ve learned to help others navigate their way through their career and business in general. So I split my time now between consulting, writing, and SCORE (a non-profit resource partner for the Small Business Administration offering free counseling from retired business executives to people interested in starting a business.)

Posted on May 16, 2015, in computer reviews, life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Haha… I really enjoy reading this post. I am on the fence of buying Surface Pro 3 or Surface 3, provided I have saved enough money… and your post has given me several new perspectives and, of course, chuckles :-)..

    Anyway, hope you liked the Surface Pro 3.. Cheers.

    Like

    • If I understand the differences, the Surface 3 has a smaller screen. So I suspect it may require even more squinting, depending on your age and eyesight. I’ve had the Pro for a month or so now and I love it. I sat down at my old laptop and it felt like one of the old original IBM PCs from the 1980’s.

      Like

      • I believe there are more than just screen size difference — Surface Pro 3 has more muscles to do more work. I guess it’s just a matter of finding the right balance between price and performance… which in the end depends on personal usage.

        Despite wanting this thing so bad, I think my old ThinkPad and Surface 2 are still working fine. Have to suppress this desire-to-acquire feeling…

        Cheers.

        Like

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