Category: Tech

Using an iPad for Work Travel: Replacing My Laptop For Ten Days 

Questions like “can an iPad replace my laptop?” are often asked. iPads are pretty powerful machines and the availability of a huge selection of apps makes them an attractive option. While some believe it’s definitely possible, others think tablets aren’t quite there yet.

My everyday machine is a 2019 MacBook Pro. It’s a proper workhorse for my daily tasks – audio recording/editing, coding, preparing presentations, documents, spreadsheets, etc, as well as the usual work communications stuff. Recently, an iPad Air (5th Generation M1 chip – review) became part of my technological arsenal. In May, I had a work trip coming up which would involve three flights and numerous bus and train journeys. Travelling as light as possible was a priority. While abroad, it would be mostly Office and communications applications I’d use – did I need to bring the MacBook? Perhaps the iPad could replace the laptop for a limited time? 

My trip involved travelling from Ireland to Toronto, attending and presenting at an academic conference. After that, I’d be heading south to cross the Canadian/US border at Niagara Falls to join an Erasmus+ meeting in New York State. I’d have a weekend to myself in New York City afterwards, before flying home early the following week. I was pretty certain I could do all this on the iPad, so why not put it to the test?

Crossing at Niagara Falls. I swear Superman just flew by …

The most striking thing about the iPad (with the Magic keyboard) is just how light it weighs and how little space it takes up. I’ve read some criticisms of the device with respect to portability, but those just don’t resonate with me. The Magic Keyboard itself is very comfortable for typing and greatly increases the usability of the machine. I didn’t really use the trackpad much, but I could imagine plenty of situations where it’d be handy (e.g. Photoshop). The USB-C interface was brilliant, and in my opinion, Apple should retire the Lightning port across its entire device lineup. Via a dongle, I was easily able to connect a bog-standard USB memory stick for copying files. I didn’t use it to connect to an external HDMI monitor, but it’s not difficulty to see how that would extremely useful.

The iPad fit neatly onto the tray of the Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Toronto. It was effortless to carry around in my backpack once I landed and very easy to whip out for a bit of work at any desk or table at a café. It didn’t look out of place on a bar top either! The battery life was excellent and simple to charge via mains electricity, USB ports or a battery pack.

A neat little machine

In terms of applications, I was mainly using: 

  • Outlook for emails 
  • the various applications in the Microsoft Office365 suite 
  • Keynote for my presentation at the conference
  • Slack/Teams for communications
  • WordPress for some minor website editing 

Since all my files are saved on either OneDrive or Dropbox, I didn’t face any storage issues. For browsing, Safari is my go-to app, and the likes of YouTube, Disney+, etc were handy for a bit of entertainment. On the flight over, I started playing the addictive strategy game Into The Breach. I know the game is years old, but I never had time to play it before. Into The Breach has become my new just-one-more-turn obsession and I’ll be damned if I don’t condemn The Vek to oblivion!

At the conference, the iPad was perfect for taking notes, editing my presentation and keeping in touch with colleagues in SETU. Once I travelled to New York, it handled the Erasmus+ meeting easily (again taking notes, writing documents, etc). One morning in New York, I had to attend an online exam meeting from SETU. The session was at 6.30am New York time. This was too early for the office I could access, but I found a beautiful spot on the grounds of Columbia University, connected to the global Eduroam network and easily joined the Teams session. The split-screen feature on iPadOS was perfect for this situation, with Teams on one half of the screen and the ability to mark up PDFs with the Apple Pencil on the other. My backdrop was the Columbia library – famous among nerds like me as the location from the start of Ghostbusters.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost …

Nearly 20 years ago, I travelled quite extensively around continental Europe as I worked on EU-funded research projects. Back then, a ridiculously large Dell laptop was my everyday machine. It was quite powerful in terms of processing – but absolutely USELESS in terms of portability. It was too large for an airplane seat tray, barely fit in my backpack and weighed a tonne (^ not an actual tonne). To say that devices have become more portable in the intervening period would be an understatement! Back then, WiFi connectivity was still a novelty and battery life was rubbish. There’s a Grand Canyon of a difference between using an iPad Air in 2023 and that Dell machine in the mid noughties. (not ragging on Dell – their newer machines are obviously much more portable, but that’s my point of reference.)

Circling back around to find out if the initial question – could the iPad permanently replace my laptop? Well, not entirely – for audio recording/editing*, I can’t see my workflows transferring easily to the iPad. Applications like Xcode, VSCode and Android Studio aren’t available for the iPad. However, when it comes to “light” work, the iPad was an absolute joy. Unless specific software is necessary, I can’t imagine myself ever travelling with a laptop again. I hate to be overly gushing about a piece of technology, but Apple have really hit a sweet spot with this machine. If you have the budget and the need, the iPad Air (5th Gen) with the Magic Keyboard is a smashing bit of kit.

Now, I’ll just have another quick round of Into The Breach …

* Apple have recently announced an iPadOS version of Logic X and the initial reviews are quite positive, so what do I know?! I haven’t tried it yet.

Five Podcasts to Help You Learn About Computing & Technology

I learn a lot from listening. There’s nothing profound in that short sentence – it’s a pretty obvious statement actually. Whether through real-life conversations, radio programmes or podcasts, I’ve always found audio to be a fantastic medium through which information can be absorbed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new student, a seasoned professional or somewhere in between – everyone can learn something new every day.

Staying on top of technology and computing news can be daunting. Things change constantly and new developments are always on the horizon. The life-cycle of new technologies can be incredibly short – sometimes things can go from being novel and exciting to discontinued incredibly quickly (here’s looking at you Quibi)

With that in mind, here are five recommendations of technology podcasts you can digest in your own time to help you navigate the technology currents and stay afloat. Hopefully you might enjoy these while out for a walk, cleaning up the kitchen, sitting on a bus or wherever you listen to audio. There’s no shortage of tech podcasts available, but these are one I regularly listen to, so can personally vouch for their high quality.

The VergeCast

The flagship tech podcast from the Vox media group (their words!). Hosted by Nilay Patel and Dieter Bohn (with a revolving cast of side characters), this weekly podcast takes a wry and irreverent look at computing and gadget news. Episodes typically last 1hr 15mins in duration, though they often go past the 1hr 30 mark. It’s always divided up into chunks though, so if you just want to hear them review the latest phone or tech gadget, you can usually skip the first 30 minutes.


A beast in the world of technology podcasts. Produced by Gimlet Media, ReplyAll has been going since 2014. They mostly cover internet technologies, but always from a human angle. Hosts Alex Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi are total pros and are always easy to listen to. Since they have such a huge archive, the producers have created a handy “New Listeners” guide, highlighting some of the best jumping off points. Episode 79 (Boy in the Photo) is particularly good. There’s an element of mystery to that one, so I’ll say nothing and let you experience it spoiler-free.


OK, this is two podcasts rather than one, but they’re from the same gene pool, both produced by Relay FM. If you want to get a handle on the latest gadgets, apps and services, these are well worth a listen. Clockwise’s format is where the 4 person panel discuss 4 tech topics in 30 minutes. It definitely has a very American feel and they tend to focus on the Apple ecosystem a lot. If you’re busy, this is definitely the one to check out (I usually catch Clockwise each week).

Upgrade is a deeper dive covering similar topics and episodes can last up to 90 minutes. They’re both well produced and easy to listen to, whatever your own level of technical knowledge. 

If I was to make a criticism, it’d be that there’s a lot of faffing about at the start of episodes – the radio producer part of my brain wants them to cut the waffle and get to the good stuff earlier. However, this seems to be a feature of many podcasts and Relay FM aren’t alone here.

The Digital Human

The Digital Human is a BBC Radio 4 production that discusses social aspects of techno-culture. Aleks Krotoski (PhD) and the production team usually take an abstract topic and explore how it is impacted by technology. For example, one memorable episode explored the concept of “getting lost” and how mapping technology has removed the random factors of wandering around a new city, trying to find a place of interest. If you’re following a line on a screen, you’re not looking around you and perhaps missing some unexpected gems. I absolutely ADORE this series as it prompts me to question technology from different perspectives.

One of my all time favourite episodes of The Digital Human was ‘Devotion’ about TempleOS which unexpectedly turned into a mini-thesis on operating systems, religion and the divine elegance of good design: 

“When a homeless man was killed by a train on 11/08/18 in The Dalles, Oregon, no-one realised how many people it would effect. He was Terry Davis, and he was on a mission from God.”

The Digital Human is produced in series batches and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. However, most listeners outside the UK (such as me!) will enjoy it as a podcast on BBC Sounds or their preferred podcast app.

The Machine

Naturally, when recommending tech podcasts, I’d include our own one, geared specifically towards computer science education! The Machine is produced internally in WIT, where a bunch of faculty members (hosted by yours truly) discuss topics related to computing and technology, such as programming, AI, Big Data, etc. The conversations are targeted at tech novices, so we don’t assume a huge amount of prior knowledge before listening. That said, we also seem to have a decent audience amongst technology professionals, so hopefully that means the conversations are both accessible and reasonably deep. 

The Machine is a bit sporadic in its output as everyone contributes to this in their spare time. We aim to release six episodes per semester, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Last year, more episodes than expected were produced, whereas we’re behind this year. Can I still blame the global pandemic??? 😜

The Machine is available on pretty much every podcast platform. It probably the best tech podcast produced at 3rd Level in Ireland (I may be biased in my pronouncement)

Pop In Those Earbuds

All of these are pretty much general purpose computing podcasts. If you need something that’s a bit more focussed or specific to a technology, there’s probably a podcast for that too. For example, when I was first learning Kotlin a few years back, I found JetBrain’s Talking Kotlin podcast very useful, but you’re really getting into niche listening there. 

Obviously, these podcasts are not meant as a substitute for real-life conversations, but we don’t always have fellow geeks around to talk tech in person. Next time you’re alone and seeking some brain food of the technology variety, pop in those earbuds and give one of these podcasts a whirl. If you find any of these worthwhile or have any recommendations yourself, I’d love to hear about it – drop me a line on Twitter @roboconnor_irl

Falling Down a Pi-hole

As part of a 4th year module, some students and I performed some test on Pi-hole, a network level ad blocker for your LAN. We wrote a short article about the experience and published it on Medium.

You’ll find the original piece here, but I’ll copy it after the jump to keep things handy for myself on the blog! Written by Andrew Brennan, Gianluca Zuccarelli and myself (they did most of the work BTW!)

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The Machine Podcast – Walton Institute

Last week, we published an episode of The Machine podcast all about The Walton Institute, which is the new name for the TSSG research group in WIT. I’m proud o say that once upon a time, I worked with these folks (and completed an MSc by Research there). I’ve tried to keep up with their activities, though it’s become increasingly difficult as the years go by – mostly because the group has grown so much.

The TSSG originally had a telecommunications and networks focus, which was the area I largely worked in. However, over the years they’ve broadened to include all aspects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and more importantly, lead some ground breaking cross-disciplinary research.

The Walton Institute isn’t just a renaming – it reflects the change in ICT research over the past 20 years and how the folks are looking towards a wider future. I’m very enthusiastic about this. I get a kick out of seeing how computing technology can be applied to other areas in a positive fashion. Are the results always for the better? No! However, I firmly believe that when people actually think about problems, we can come up with innovative solutions. What can I say, I’m an optimist.

Anyway, I enjoyed the chat with co-directors Sasitharan Balasubramaniam and Kevin Doolin who’s enthusiasm is infectious – for research and the opportunities for the South East.

This week, I’m recording an episode with some TSSG/Walton staff members about Virtual Reality and Augment Reality, so that’ll be proper geeky.

Lockdown Coding for Kids

During the mid-term break last week, a few friends were in touch seeking some advice on coding activities to keep their children occupied while they were no longer home-schooling but still hanging around the house. I’ve sent out versions of this via WhatsApp to people, so I figured it might be a good idea to get this down on virtual paper so someone else might stumble across it and find it useful. Regardless of mid-term or home schooling, some of this might be useful for kids starting out with some computer programming.

Normally, I’d recommend checking out your local Coder Dojo, but that’s probably not an option at the moment. All of the resources I’ll recommend here are free and readily available. All you’ll need is an internet connection and a computer or new-ish tablet to work from.

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