Life with a desktop

Yes – that is an official Hot Bench coffee mug.

This year the technology department decided to ditch our laptops in lieu of a an iMac. That’s right we got rid of those super convenient computers that we can tuck under our arm and take nearly anywhere. So why did we do this? What was the motivation behind such a portable convenience to tie us to our desks? Well read on for the answers and leave some comments below.

Computer cycles

At our school an employee receives a new computer every four years whether they want one or not. We then take those older laptops and use them to slowly replace laptops on carts or we give them to our teaching assistants to use.

We also keep a few on hand for loaners in case someone forgets their computer or in case a speaker needs one. Overall it works pretty well and if we ever find ourself with a surplus we either donate them to local schools or within our school community.

Summer of ’21

This was the time when we had to hand in our laptops and look for a replacement. We could have gone with the 13″ MacBook Air with the M1 chip, but one of my colleagues said “Why don’t we get iMacs instead?” I couldn’t tell if she was half joking or half serious.

At any rate, the next few weeks as we looked around the idea grew on us as a department. Why not? What would be giving up? What would we be gaining? So we started talking seriously about switching from a laptop to a desktop. Here is how that played out.

What we gain

The most obvious gain is the screen real estate. Going from a 13″ laptop to a 24″ desktop is no small jump. I can fit two full websites side-by-side on one screen.

No, I am not writing about sports I just needed two websites to show off 🙂

That is pretty great, especially when researching or working in multiple databases. This may seem like a small quality of life improvement, but it speeds up my workflow tremendously.

The next big gain is that this desktop has an ethernet port. That means I can plug into our school’s LAN and have uninterrupted Internet access and the fastest speeds that our school offers. Sometimes when there are a lot of people visiting the school, the WiFi in my office can bog down a little. This fixes that problem. Also, system updates that used to take 40 minutes now are essentially 30% or more faster because the download is so much speedier. Lots to like there.

What we lose

Portability – this is the obvious one. We need to meet with other teachers or staff members and having a laptop can be helpful to compare calendars, pull up agendas, open up databases or other systems. That is helpful, but worry not dear reader – we have a solution. We either use one of the older replacement MacBook Airs we have or we use our own laptop (which is what I do).

You also lose the ability to work anywhere in the school. Having a laptop means I could work in the conference room, outside in the pavilion, in a hallway. The choice was mine and having a desktop means I have to give that up. I guess I could unplug the iMac and tote it around, but realistically if I need to do that then I should have just chosen a laptop.

What’s the same?

I do most serious work in my office. That is work where I am writing out strategic plans, proposals and working within various databases or systems. That work I do in my office, even with a laptop. So having the desktop doesn’t change that aspect.

I am already used to toting my laptop to and from school so no big deal. Most of my work is in the cloud so there is very, very little that I can do on my desktop that I cannot do on my personal laptop. I also don’t mind doing schoolwork on my personal laptop. I know there are others who like to keep their personal and professional lives as separate as possible and I do like to have that separation. You can achieve this with multiple accounts on the laptop, so there is that solution.

So far so good

It’s been over three months and I have to say those gains or far outweighing the losses right now. I think we’ve made a good choice. I really love the larger screen. It frees up more space on my desk and I can find that I work more efficiently. I did have a monitor that I hooked up my laptop up to and I have kept it. The two 24″ screens make a very spacious digital working environment.

What do you think? If you were offered the choice of a desktop or a laptop which would you choose and why? Leave those comments below!

Laptop recommendations? Check with your school

Back in June I wrote this same article. You can read it here. Basically it was in response to an article written by Monica Chen of The Verge. The article “recommends” the best laptop for students at all levels by students.

Well, they just republished the article again and I thought I’d just remind parents and students out there to use these articles as a jumping off point. A place to start your research not as a definitive source.

Remember that all of these sites are powered off of ad revenue. All of them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these recommendations were actually paid for. For example, no way I would recommend an iPad Air for a high school student where I live. I know that all the surrounding high schools are either Google Workspace schools or Office 365 schools. There are much better options at that price point for those students than an iPad. An advertisement that looks like an actual article is a native ad and it may be what is happening here.

Again, check with your school. They will have recommendations and can help you narrow down your search much better than a tech journalist or a blogger like myself 🙂

The Absolute Best Accessory for Your Apple Laptop

usb1By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

I am not one to recommend products. However, lately, I have come to realize that since Apple removed all the useful ports on their laptops, I am reliant on a single $2.00 piece of hardware: a USB C-Port Adapter. This little piece of plastic magic makes my workflow work.

This tool is a simple design at a modest price point, yet, it is often the solution that moves a project from idea to reality. I connect dozens of devices using this technology bridge in order to deliver curriculum, podcasts, 3D printed objects, etc.

The most remarkable quality this small island of magic possesses is that is constantly reminds me that we do not need solve problems via upgrades. We should be solving problems with technology and educational technology by tightening our workflows and being resourceful.

There seems to be a constant insistence that X is not fast enough, or Y is not dependable. I constantly hear people state that the equipment they have in 2019 cannot solve a 2001 problem. The issue is rarely the stuff, the issue is usually the workflow.

Try Something New with Something Old

Here is an exercise I would recommend everyone try on their campus. This can be done for fun, as club, or as some type of fun challenge.

Have departments, staff, students, and other community members submit some issues or problems that continue to linger in the classrooms (learning spaces). Appoint a small team to review the problems, and choose one.

Finally, put this problem out to those willing to compete for a solution with the following criteria:

  1. The total budget that can be used to solve the problem must be less than $10.00 (or equivalent)
  2. Solving the problem using used equipment, materials, recyclables, etc. earns teams extra points
  3. Using school owned equipment to plan and produce a solution is required; donations are not allowed

Professionally, I actually try to follow this process all the time. The items above are on a personal check-list. My goal is to model a solution using existing resources.

What if It Works?

Often real solutions arise that are functional, but below standard. That is not a bad thing. The school has empowered a community driven development cycle, and created a working prototype under the umbrella of healthy competition. There are no losers in this game, everyone learns, and everyone wins.

In fact, if a school can continue to improve the process, and raise the standard internally, the outcome would be a community built and maintained solution. Older students can keep the momentum going as long as school mentors and leaders provide regular oversight.

Small Solutions have Real Power

This small solution below, is actually very important to my workflow.


No one needs to build a Tesla to change the world for the better. It is important to develop a philosophy of empowering students and teachers to create small things that improve daily workflows, increase efficiency, and add comfort and entertainment to the campus.

Start small. Ask questions. Find a problem. Make a prototype. Change the world.

I’m getting a new computer!

Yep, it’s been nearly four years and it is time to make that all important purchase and boy has it been exciting. I haven’t decided yet (but I’m close) and I’d like to share the journey I’ve been on so far.

Right now

A this moment, I am writing on my current machine, a 2013 MacBook Air (not unlike the one pictured above). It’s awesome. I love this computer and it has been my favorite computer since I started buying computers back in 1994. I love the for factor, the weight, the variety of ports, the MagSafe adapter, the battery (holy crap it’s been great). About the only thing I could really wish for is a higher resolution. Even in 2013, this resolution was a little behind the times, so when the end of 2016 started to roll around, I started to look and what I thought would be a simple decision became a little more complicated than I thought.

What I need it to do

This is what I have been asking myself and what anyone who is in the market should ask themselves. You shouldn’t just buy a computer based on its brand, but how it fits into your workflow and your life. At the time my MacBook Air was a perfect fit. It had enough power to do what I needed it to do back in 2013 and in 2017. I needed a computer that could last and it has.

That’s a little vague, so here is a more specific list of requirements.

  1. Light image editing/creation – Basically it should be able to run Photoshop or another image editor like Affinity/Pixelmator.
  2. Light video editing – I enjoy making video tutorials for my students and staff. That’s basically a screen capture program and then basic editing (adding titles, transitions, annotation, music and voice overs).
  3. Blogging – Yeah, that goes without saying.
  4. Decent battery life – In this day and age, it should last more than 9 hours (based on company claims)
  5. Live writing – I teach math and being able to hook it up to a projector and do math problems is very helpful.
  6. Future safe – I didn’t say future proof. I need this thing to be like my Air and last at least four years. I would still be using my Air, but my wife needs a computer for much of the same thing and she is really looking forward to using this thing, so I get a new computer (thanks baby!)
  7. Light weight – I would like it to be around 3.5 pounds or less.
  8. Screen size – I would love for it to be a 13″ screen. Anything more becomes pretty bulky carrying it to and from school.
  9. Resolution – At least 1080p, but with a lot of screens going 4K out there that would be a bonus.


This of course is important. I’ve got around $1500 with which to work. I can stretch that a little but of course would love to pay less. This is why my decision was so difficult. I was hoping for an upgrade to the MacBook Air and just stick with what I know, but Apple screwed that up for me. Man, how could they be so inconsiderate to me? Tim Cook, I hope you’re reading this 🙂

You see Apple did not update the MacBook Air and only update the MacBook Pros and then gave them a substantial price hike. So I started looking across the pond at Microsoft. This is where my journey began.

Apple Options

My budget is the obvious limiting factor here. My MacBook Air is basically the same spec wise as the one Apple is peddling and they are doing everything they can to keep people from buying it. So this leaves the base model 13″ MacBook Pro ($1500) and the MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar ($1800).

I have a Wacom tablet so even though there is no touch screen I already have a solution, but it still feels like too much money for the same product and then there are the ports. I would need a new dongle in order to read my SD card, connect it to my classroom’s projector or even charge my iPhone. This makes my head hurt.

Windows options

I had a bunch but have narrowed it down considerably to four and they are good choices.

Dell XPS 13″

The price is right, the battery life is exceptional (more than 13 hours) and meets all my requirements. Again, the Wacom tablet I have would allow me to draw on it but Dell does offer a touch screen option that still falls under my $1500 budget. Oh yeah, the screen on this thing has almost no bezel and is re-donk-u-lous.

Lenovo Yoga 910

This is a 2-in–1 computer. Meaning the screen can rotate completely around to become a “tablet.” The screen is great, the hinge is great, the keyboard is OK and it’s a touch screen. It is hard to beat Lenovo’s quality, customer service and customization options. This “laptop” meets all my specifications and is right at my price point. It looks good too boot.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (with touchpad keyboard)

Then there is the Surface Pro 4. This is a very attractive option. The price point is under my budget (even with the keyboard) for what I want. It has a pen that works directly on the screen itself and is actually pretty nice to use. It is crazy light – less than two pounds and just as powerful as most 13″ laptops. The screen is great. It definitely ticks all my boxes (at least most of them). So what’s wrong? The battery isn’t that great and typing on the keyboard feels hollow since it is raised off the surface and I’ve heard it’s a little awkward to have on the lap.

Microsoft Surface Book

This is just like the Surface Pro, but the screen can detach and become a tablet or “Clipboard” as Microsoft calls it. It will have a dedicated GPU (at least the model I’m looking at). It also has a pen, and a dedicated keyboard which will make it much more comfortable on the lap. It’s crazy innovative with a solid battery  but it is definitely higher on the budget coming in around$1800. OUCH!


So which to choose? My decision is coming soon. Feel free to vote below.

My Summer with the Surface Pro 4

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I rarely do hardware or software reviews. Patrick Cauley, here at IT Babble, is much better at those. However, I did swap my Apple Macbook Retina for a Surface Pro 4 for the summer. After the use and abuse, I can make a firm recommendation for schools thinking about buying these in bulk: Don’t Do It.

I hate saying that. I actually love/d using this machine. It is flexible, and should be the answer to many issues found in the day-to-day life of teachers and students. The model I had, had 4 GB of memory, and 128 GB solid state drive. I also had the keyboard and pen.

Daily performance was great. I had adequate battery life. The speed was good. The pen was extremely useful for me during a two week course I completed. I added a trial of Acrobat Pro, and the combo was outstanding.

I traveled alot. The Surface is so light, you don’t even realise you have it. The hybrid format is awesome from reading portrait style on the Kindle App. In hotel rooms with “smart TVs”, the surface can wirelessly project itself and stream audio. In a classroom, this feature means no wires for doing presentations. Imagine an iPad that actually does something real without 10 apps working in concert.

The Surface used the thunderbolt display, the same as Apple, so my Apple accessories worked seamlessly.

I have an iPad, and I feel the Surface has the same touch responsiveness as the iPad.

So why cannot I not recommend it? After 8 weeks of daily use, the Surface broke. The screen cracked from the inside out. The damage was very strange, and the final cause was attributed to me laying a book on the back cover of the surface. Just a normal book, not a full sized Oxford dictionary. This was a standard item anyone would have on a desk, and possibly place on top of their laptop when packing-up their bag.

The front glass and frame are fairly durable. I know, I dropped it several times. The back, however, is literally a thin [EDIT]thin flexible material shell[EDIT] with nothing to absorb shock or weight. The pressure from the book, and possibly the two items being picked-up at the same time, cracked the screen.

In a school, laptops and devices need to be able to handle the wear and tear of life for at least three years, and unfortunately, I do not think the Surface Pro 4 can make the cut.

As a personal device, I would recommend it. I am tough on equipment due to my rugged life as a commuter in Shanghai. People with a normal transportation plan, and a life void of pushing and shoving, would probably keep a Surface healthy for many years.

EDIT: I used the word “plastic”, but the material is not plastic. However, it is flexible and lacking a decent buffer between the back and the screen.