18 April 2013
There's a lot to talk about when we bring up the concept of digital media, something I have many opinions on. Today I'm only going to go into one facet of this heated debate.
"Why don't digital downloads cost less than their physical counterparts?"
Now this seems like quite an obvious argument, take for example any music cd, the physical offering requires manufacturing, shipping and then a store to display it in! So surely a digital download must be cheaper, a single copy on a server for the whole world to enjoy.
We can apply the same logic to movies, books, magazines and anything else we can digitize and distribute.
Oh, but servers cost money, and the underlying technology will have license fees and then the power and support needed to keep it running 24/7 all has to be taken into consideration. But I'm not arguing whether this tips the scales in order to make digital downloads the more expensive medium to offer, no, I'm here to propose an idea that isn't quite so obvious. I'll demonstrate the general idea with the following images.
Oh look he's reading a Dan Brown book, which one is that? ah yes "Digital Fortress", I don't think I've read that one but I really enjoyed his other books.
Now let's have a look at what it'll be like when someone reads the next Dan Brown book.
Oh looks she's reading…wait, what on earth is she reading? Now you may not care, but the company that published whatever she's reading definitely does care about the fact that you don't know, they relied on every sale of that book to then lead on to a possible number of others seeing them reading that book, be interested, and maybe end up buying it themselves.
This is the crux of my view, digital downloads have wiped out enormous advertising streams. When you go round to your friend's house and see their cd rack and realise, "hey there's that Adele lady, maybe I should check her out". When someone walks out of blockbuster holding the latest Batman movie or sitting on a bench skimming the latest issue of GQ, all this is providing an incredible amount of advertising and when you go digital, this all dissapears.
This is also incredibly powerful advertising, the kind social media sites are desperately trying to duplicate, trustworthy recommendations, not, buy this because we say so banner ads.
So my theory is that digital download prices are set where they are because the distributors are forced to try and offset the lost knock on sales that the physical offering provided.
05 April 2013
I was lucky enough to receive some old tech to tinker with, to be exact, a 2001 Power Mac G4. Now this is a pretty old computer by today's standards(they hadn't even switched to intel yet, hence the name Power Mac as it uses a PowerPC processor) but it still chugs along with OSX and is perfectly usable. It's also an interesting piece of hardware with it's signature design and classic looks while holding some unique engineering ideas.
On the front we can see the dual bay covers, the power and reset buttons and then below them a big speaker, I've always thought that desktops should have a minimal speaker just for system sounds so of course Apple were way ahead of me on that front.
On the back we have the IO panel, The graphics card panel, 4 expansion slot covers and the out and in air grills.
One of the coolest things about this hardware is the way that you can open the box by just pulling on a lever and the whole right side folds down to reveal the insides of the computer, this makes cleaning and installing new hardware really simple.
To finish up with the external hardware we'll take a little look at the back panel to see what sort of IO we have available.
So what have we got, well on the top left we have the headphone and microphone plugs, then on the right we have the modem plug. Further down, below all the small print we can find a Gigabit Ethernet port(yes, I checked, it actually has Gigabit ethernet!), 2x Firewire 400 ports and 2x USB 1.1 ports. I feel I should also mention that the PowerMac also includes a b draft wifi card screwed to the motherboard.
Now let's switch it on and see what this thing can do.
The Power Mac is currently running OSX 10.4 so the UI may look a bit different than what you maybe used to but I assure you that nearly all of the default funcionality is already there and has been for who knows how long before even this computer.
An excellent example is the built-in print to PDF funcionality.
So… performance? well for what it has under the hood it actually runs quite well, compared to a Celeron 800 desktop I have on hand the PowerMac is by far more fluid and responsive.
This particular model is running a single core 733Mhz PowerPC CPU alongside 640MB of SDRAM, no DDR here, and to finish off we have an nVIDIA GeForce2 graphics card packing 32MB of memory and connected using the AGP interface.
Back to the OS, I was completely unaware that so much of the signature OSX funcionality was already present so far back, like for example the Dashboard and Exposé.
I'll continue to have a play around with the PowerMac, try out some software and see if it can still be used as a legitimate machine for getting work done.
Be sure to thank @mkprojeckt on Twitter for being so kind as to donate the PowerMac.
14 March 2013
You know what I haven't done in a while? Let you guys know how much I'm enjoying having a Macbook and the way it has improved my productivity and outlook on what a computer experience should be like.
But today I won't be talking about the why but the how I reached this point, because in a way, I may have cheated slightly by doing everything I can think of to get the most performance out of the Macbook that I have. If I hadn't done everything I discuss, then my opinion of OSX may be a little different.
So let's start with what I'm working with, I have an "Early 2009" white Macbook, this is the pre-unibody model with a Core 2 Duo processor. The state I received it in was with the stock 2GB of RAM and the 80GB mechanical hard disk along with a faulty disk drive and no working speakers.
But obviously I wasn't going to let this Macbook live on without trying to up some of these specs. The first thing I did was stick in a spare sata II SSD, that made a difference and the whole system became instantly more usable and piqued my interest to see what else could be done.
My next acquisition was a RAM upgrade to 4GB, unluckily, this laptop is still using DDR2 technology which is quite a bit more expensive than the current mass produced DDR3 technology. But as soon as I'd put the new modules in the change was definitely notable and pushed the laptop from being "usable" to actually becoming a valid machine to get some work done on.
I kept it like this for several months without any more changes, during this time I was able to become more familiar with OSX and all it's subtleties that just make you think "of course it does that, why wouldn't it?" and then "why doesn't everything do this?". This kept going until I was no longer using my other laptop, a 2012 Thinkpad with all the bells and whistles, a great laptop, but I just wasn't as productive on it. Then more recently I was finding that when I was sat at my desk using my desktop PC I'd find I'd rather be doing the same work but on my Macbook. This lead me to my most recent string of changes.
After realising that I could just connect the Macbook to my desktop monitor and see if I actually would be more productive, I ran out that same day to the local Apple store and picked up the mini-dvi to dvi adapter. Now I must mention that my local Apple store has barely been open a year, yet it had in stock an adapter that was superseded by mini display port adapters way back in '09. So I got home and hooked it up and quickly realised that this was the perfect setup for getting work done and has made me fully believe that the desktop isn't the way to go, a single machine in your laptop and then a hub at home for providing a larger workspace.
Now being an old Laptop, it has old technology and old technology tends to have trouble running the latest OS and software. Well my Macbook is no exception and it can tend to get a little hot when doing too much at once. I'd read a lot about Macbooks sometimes overheating but they always quoted numbers in the 90 plus degrees when idle, this definitely didn't apply to my situation but I was still curious if anything could be done. I eventually cracked and decided to replace the thermal paste on the processor and graphics, this would be my first time replacing thermal paste on a laptop so I was little unsure if was taking one too many risks. I couldn't have been more wrong, I'd already dismantled the Macbook many times before, it gets pretty dusty in there as you can see below but removing the heat sink was just one more quick step and I was good to go.
So what are the results, well, idle temperatures have dropped 10 degrees to below 50ºC. Now for a 65nm die inside a laptop this is pretty decent, obviously under load those temperatures can still rise pretty quickly but I've found that I can now do some light web browsing on the sofa without melting my thighs, a huge plus and made the risk truly worth it.
You may remember that I mentioned that when I received the laptop the speakers weren't working, well this was due to a problem where the optical audio connector(Macbooks have optical???) at the back of the headphone socket is permanently on from grime getting in there and causing the switch to stick. On several occasions I had attempted to resolve this problem by poking around a bit with the stick of a cotton bud but to no avail. While still on a high of having successfully replaced the thermal paste I decided to give it another shot. So I took a safety pin and bent the end into a little hook, now the good thing about the audio socket problem is that seeing as the optical signal is always on this means that the red light is always on and sufficiently illuminates the inside of the socket so that you can identify the different contacts and switches. I was able to hook under the switch for the optical audio which can be found right at the back of the socket and gave it a good tugging and to my relief the red light switched off and stayed off, I hit the volume keys and lo' and behold I had sound.
And that brings me up to today. Where I'm sat at my desk writing this on the external monitor that's connected to the Macbook while watching the legend Dave Grohl give his SXSW keynote on the screen below.
I have some remaining ideas to further improve on my work so far, but they require monetary investment and that is always a tough decision, just how deep a hole to dig. What I'd love to do is come across a trackpad from a Macbook pro from the same year. Although at first sight they may seem identical, the pro has multi-touch gestures and I just know that 4 finger spaces switching would bring a whole new level to my workflow. And while we're at it, a new battery would be great, not that there's much wrong with this one relatively speaking, its solid 3 hours of duration puts it in line with most budget laptops, but with 700+ cycles and 81% of the original capacity indicates that I could have a lot more. Sometime I wonder about fixing the optical drive as I'm sure that it's possible but I just know that I would never use it. One of the first things I did to the laptop was remove the optical disk drive completely, I can't stand the noise it makes every time you switch on the Macbook.
I never could have done anything without the great info provided by the following sources:
And countless other threads on macrumors and stackoverflow that provided those morsals of information that made all this possible.
13 January 2013
I'm not an expert on the Raspberry Pi, I barely find time to use mine except for watching videos on our old cathode TV at home. But I do get a lot of people asking me whether they should buy one, this has recently become less about whether they want a cheap Linux computer as to why the Raspberry Pi should be the cheap Linux computer they buy.
After the huge success that the Raspberry Pi has enjoyed it was obvious that it wouldn't be long until the cheaper "more" powerful clones would arrive. So now I found myself having the same old age argument of that specs shouldn't be the bottom line when considering a purchase and never has this been more so than with the Raspberry Pi vs its competition.
I'm not going to give any examples of the competition as I don't want to in anyway advertise an inferior product, there isn't even any need to draw comparisons as the differences are at the fundamental level.
It's really an apples and pears comparison, they're designed and marketed to different crowds but as always people will think they can get a better deal without considering the trade-offs.
The following is a simple list of what I consider as advantages against the current competition:
The hardware of the Raspberry Pi is 100% open source. This is incredibly important, maybe not to an end user but it allows developers to get every last drop of performance out of the provided hardware. It also makes developers life a lot easier at porting software and operating systems to the hardware. We are already seeing the fruits of this with stable ports of XBMC, plan9 , ARCH, RISC OS and countless others.
It has complete GPIO pin out, again to the end user this may not be of a lot of interest (although I recommend it as a lot of fun can be had with such low-level hardware access), but what it allows is third parties to create add-ons for the Raspberry Pi. There already exists a prototyping board add-on prototyping board add-on and soon there will be an official HD camera add-on.
Power consumption: As a headless server running LAMP the power consumption of the Raspberry Pi can drop to a mere 0.3A, any USB phone charger is perfectly capable of running it, whereas most of the competition seems to consume on average 2A or more.
Connectivity: The Raspberry Pi has 2 USB ports, a 100Mb Ethernet port, HDMI port, audio-out jack and an RCA port. Most of the competition is missing the Ethernet port(You can use this to connect multiple Raspberry Pi together in order to scale performance ), have one USB port(you would need a hub just to be able to connect a keyboard and mouse), A micro HDMI port(less common and require a special adapter) and no separate audio out(you have to rely on HDMI for all audio connectivity).
And I've saved the best until last, Community, the most important thing any open source project can have, and the Raspberry Pi has one of the biggest and varied communities that is currently thriving. Every week a port of some ancient operating system or some new ingenious contraption with a Raspberry Pi at it's core is unveiled. There are countless websites and forums where you can find out new things to try out and to find help in solving your problems. This is the beauty of everyone running the same hardware, there's a larger percentage of the population dedicated to this specific device.
This list has been written considering that you are someone who knows they must have a Raspberry Pi but think a cheaper alternative will provide the same experience. Reaching the previous decision of knowing you can make use of a Raspberry Pi is an entirely different argument that I won't go into.
If there's any other advantages I've missed out or if you think I've unfairly represented the competition then please let me know in the comments.
27 December 2012
This year has been a long one so I thought it deserved a brief rundown of what caught my attention the most, I'll probably neglect some great things from early on in the year but that's the nature of a list compiled so long afterwards.
The Dark Knight Rises. Now this was inevitable, I ended up seeing it 3 times in 3 different theatres including Imax. The first time was also extra special as it was the midnight screening after seeing the previous 2 films in the same theatre. Seen it a couple of more times since and it's still a thrill to watch.
21 Jump Street. I even surprised myself by putting this second but remembering how much I loved this movie and still loved it after watching it countless times there was no doubt about it's place on this list. Some of the best jokes and one liners and it even made me think Channing Tatum might not be so bad.
Iron sky. Ever since I first saw the trailer and thought "what on earth is this, I can't even..." it already had a spot reserved on this list. At times it can be hard to stay engrossed when a movie is so heavily wrapped in CGI but they pulled it off.
Nitro Circus: The movie. Yes, I'm going to include action sports in my movie rundown because they are what I watch the most. This movie is ridiculous, stunts that merit being in an action movie yet performed by a group of friends just looking to have some fun and push themselves.
Girl & Chocolate: Pretty Sweet. This year has been pretty slow for Skateboard movies but the much anticipated sequel to 2003's "Yeah Right" was spectacular. It was a bit of a shock getting used to the young blood having the longer parts and old legends such as Koston, Howard, Caroll and Biebel relegated to cameos but after re watching Pretty Sweet several times there's no way I couldn't include it on this list.
Honorable mention: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. if you were to ask me now, I would have put this in first place but it's still a recent movie for me so I felt it should be left off.
I See Stars - Digital Renegade. I haven't listened to it for a couple of months but it's a the top of my last.fm so there's no denying the top spot here as well.
The Wedding - No Direction. I can't explain why I love this album so much but the fact that it only took me one listen to head straight to Amazon and order it should say more than words.
Set it Off - Cinematics. Scene + Melodies + Orchestra, enough said, will probably be playing it long into 2013.
Handguns - Angst. Seeing as Man Overboard didn't release an album this year I was left with the next best thing.
Enter Shikari - Flash Flood of Colour. I had to double check that this actually came out this year as it feels so long ago and with a release date of the 16th January it just scrapes into this years list.
Honorable mention: Muse - The 2nd Law. A huge album that I've listened to a lot but it's been a long time since I last did and I feel that stops it from making a "best of" list.
Alan Wake (PC). Although this game technically first game out a few years ago on xbox and I played it their first, I can't miss an excuse to have it on another list seeing as it was only released on PC this February. Favourite game ever, it's hard to even put it in the same chart as traditional video games as this transcends everything before it. The most scared I have ever been in my life has been playing this game.
Sniper Elite V2 (PC). A bit of a niche title but has some of the best graphics I've seen matched with flawless gameplay earned it a solid second place on my list.
Max Payne 3 (PC). It may not have been what everyone had hoped from Rockstar but this was still a solid effort along with a Story that kept on going all the while keeping it fresh made this one of the few games I played through twice.
Honorary mention: Battlefield 3 (PC). Although the core game was released in 2011 the added multiplayer modes and maps that have been introduced over this year and with still one more pack to drop I felt this game has done a great job at keeping me playing through 2012.
- Are they even gadgets anymore? My gadget of 2012 is my laptop, a 15" Thinkpad, I felt it needed mentioning as without it I wouldn't have had such a successful summer with GSOC and as the work I did is how I define my year it earned some of the limelight.
Fail of the year:
- Windows 8. Yes, I use it, but if they had just brought the performance boosts and the sharper theme they would have had a winning solution, the whole metro thing is just awful. Along with all the little niggles I keep coming across have earned the latest from Microsoft my thumbs down this year.