Posts in "Geek"

How to build a mini PC

It’s always been a dream of mine to build my own computer. I don’t know why, I think it’s my inner nerd. I was always the kid that made huge Lego spaceships. Maybe I have an urge to make things.

Why I decided to build a mini PC

When I returned to the UK after spending 10 years in India, the first purchase I made was a large HP all-in-one machine. “Why did you have to go and buy that?” My wife demanded. “You already have a laptop.”

There was no right answer there. I just wanted a big computer. I’ll let your Freudian minds make of that what you will.

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Chimps Have Better Recall Than Humans?

Just watched the video in the link below where a chimpanzee can see a series of numbers flashed on to a computer screen quicker than it takes a human eye to register what it’s seeing and then proceed to recall the exact position where the sequence of numbers appeared. I don’t think even the Rain Man can compete with that! I certainly could have done with some chimp memory back when I was applying for my air force scholarship, apparently my own number recall ability was beyond useless!

BBC Nature - Ape versus machine: Do primates enjoy computer games?

BBC Nature – Ape versus machine: Do primates enjoy computer games?http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/16832378A chimp genius can complete a computer memory test in less time than it takes the average person to blink – and much faster than any human rival. But do the world’s…

Christmas Carols Like You’ve Never Heard Them Before

This is a video that will be understood by geeks and confuse the hell out of most regular folk. So the musical duo in the video below recorded themselves singing popular Christmas carols and then uploaded the videos to Youtube. Now Youtube has some automated closed caption technology that tries to understand what’s being said and show the correct words in the captions. As you can imagine the computer coded heuristic algorithms are still a long way from being perfect and famous lyrics like “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” becomes “there is no, that is now, let us know”. Aww, bless those useless algorithms. Anyway, once the captions had been automatically generated the duo then sing the words that Youtube decided they were singing. Sound strange? It is, but it’ll put a smile on your face!

 

Steve Jobs Apple Store Memorial

Took this photo outside the Covent Garden Apple Store in London on Thursday afternoon. Big crowds had gathered outside to pay tribute to the man. I’m not a mac fan myself but you can’t argue with the success Steve brought to Apple when he returned to the company he founded in the mid-90’s. He left the company as one of the biggest in the world when it eclipsed Exxon in August (but then lost some ground) having already succeeded Microsoft and Dell.

Steve Jobs Apple Store London Memorial

Why Does The Sky Turn Purple?

The other day I posted a rather smashing photo of a Chennai sunset which lit up the sky in purples, pinks, oranges and reds. I referred a question to my fellow blogger, Tom, about why the sky had all these amazing colours. Many thanks Tom for taking the time to answer it!

Blogstronomy: Why is the Sky Purple?

Blogstronomy: Why is the Sky Purple?http://blogstronomy.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-is-sky-purple.htmlQuestion posed by Peter, in this blog post. Of course, the more usual question is “why is the sky blue?”, but Peter, an ex-pat schoolmate of mine living in India, snapped the…

There Are 3D Artists And Then There’s Fredo

Forget stupid 3D TV’s and 3D films, these 3D pencil drawings pretty much jump out at you and sure beat anything Sony or LG can come up with not to mention they beat the pants off even my best stick man sketches. The guy is only 20 years old but it looks like he’s got himself a nice online income already by selling his prints on Deviant Art.

Artist's amazing 3D images | The Sun |News

Artist’s amazing 3D images | The Sun |Newshttp://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3800012/Artists-amazing-3D-images.htmlA YOUNG artist is making a huge impression on the art world with his 3D drawings. The incredible pictures by Chilean etcher Fredo were drawn using only pencil and paper and seem…

The Attraction of the Netbook

About a year ago I followed all the other geeks and nerds in this world and bought myself a netbook. I’d seen the hype and exposure they got over on Engadget throughout 2008 and made up my mind that I wanted one 🙂

Incase you are still not sure what a netbook is, it’s like a mini laptop, reduced keyboard size, very low technical specifications and very, very cheap for what it is. As you might infer from the name, a netbook is designed specifically for browsing the Internet and not too much else.

NetBook Vs Laptop

The black machine in the picture below is my work Laptop, a 15.3″ screen and since the company gave me an unlimited budget, I set it up like a gaming rig which makes it insanely quick (even two years later) but unfortunately it’s bloody heavy and not convenient to cart around. The cute white thing is my netbook, grossly underpowered but I probably use it more than my laptop.

dell xps 1530 vs asus eeepc 901

eeepc vs dell

my work and play laptops

In the photo below you can see some deformation in the top left of the underside of my netbook. I’m not entirely sure what happened but I assume the battery was charging and resting on something circular, which somehow melted it – although I don’t even know how that’s possible….

A deformed eeepc

The reason I wanted one was because they looked really cool and my work laptop is the size and weight of a fridge so it’s not convenient for lugging about except to the office and back.

The thing with netbooks is that they are pretty much all the same in terms of technical spec. They all have the same processor and same amount of memory. The reason for this is that they nearly all run Windows XP and Microsoft, being desperate to get rid of the thing (although not quite as desperate as getting rid of Vista), imposed technical limits on the type of machine XP could be installed on.

For that reason, even now, with Windows 7 out, netbooks are still run on Atom processors with 1 GB of RAM and an Intel Integrated Graphics Accelerator (which is a fancy name for something that doesn’t do too much).

The chief selling point of netbooks are that they are small, light, extremely portable and have a very long battery life – and what traveling businessman or self confessed nerd could say “no” to such a thing!

Back in December 2008, I bought the Asus EeePC 901 (the Eee stands for education because these things were originally designed for kids in poor countries to use) for £250. It had all the usual specs with a 9″ screen and a fantastic 7 hour battery life – that’s about 85% of the time it takes me to get to India!

After a year of using this netbook, I have to say it’s probably my best purchase ever. I knew that it was going to be useful, but bloody hell, I didn’t think it would become like an extension of me.

Even now, after a year, there isn’t one single thing that I would change about it and I use it virtually everyday for several hours. Whether it’s sitting in bed (and writing this blog post), crashed infront of the TV, on an airplane or train, not only does it still have the ability to turn heads, but it’s so damn convenient.

Sidenote: I was coming back from India in October and I had this netbook out, watching movies on it and no fewer than 3 people stopped and asked me about it – it’s that good 😀

The small form factor might put a few people off given that the keys are about 2/3rds the size of a normal keyboard, but unless you have ham fists and podgy fingers you’ll be touchtyping away within hours of using it. To me, the smaller keyboard makes no difference whatso ever – but I have been informed that I have girls hands, a fact that I strenuously deny and put down to unbridled jealousy 😀

I’ve used my netbook to write reports, articles, blog posts, budget reports and keep track of my finances, literally, when it comes to light admin and “office” related tasks, there’s nothing it cant handle.

Watching movies on it is awesome aswell, the Asus EeePC range produces an incredible sound from such a tiny box, I remember a friend conceding that the speakers were louder than their full sized Dell laptop!

However, there are things you can’t do on a netbook that you can on a full sized laptop, chief amongst them are multi-tasking. You definitely can’t have dozens of different applications open and expect to be able to work efficiently. At the most, you will be able to have 2 or 3 different applications open, for example I have Opera (the best browser) and StarOffice (awesome free alternative to MS Office and doesn’t require half the amount of power to run) open right now, but if I opened another app, then I’d start to see some lag.

Naturally, you can’t do photo editing (I can crop photos, like the ones above using GIMP) or play the latest games on it either, although I installed DOS-BOX and got loads of late 90’s / early 2000’s games to run decently enough.

If you are literally going to:

  • Browse the Internet
  • Chat on Skype / Use IM
  • Write documents
  • Do things in a spreadsheet
  • Watch movies (non-HD)
  • Listen / Manage your music
  • Manage your photos

Then you seriously wouldn’t go wrong with a Netbook. I can’t imagine how I would cope without it now as it goes with me everywhere! Not only that, but laptop batteries generally get weaker over time, but amazingly, my Asus EeePC 901 has kept going well and I still get 6 1/2 to 7 hours battery life out of it. With WiFi turned on and Internet browsing that does reduce to around 3 to 3 1/2 hours though.

I’ve got an SSD drive which is way more power efficient and quicker than a standard hard drive – XP boot up time is just seconds. The down side is that you have a smaller storage capacity (about 15% compared to a HDD) but the upside is a faster and longer lasting machine.

Even if you need to do more taxing things, then obviously a more powerful laptop is required, but you can’t rule out a netbook, simply because it is so portable.

I love it when I’m on a plane or train and people get out ridiculously large laptops (like my work one) that weigh a tonne, and simply use it to watch a film or write a Word document. I get out this tiny little thing (the netbook!), which can be shoved in the top of your rucksack and proceed to do everything that people with laptops are doing – and I can’t help but stifle a smirk when their battery gives up after a couple of hours and I still have another 4 hours left!

I can get a train to the airport, and use my netbook, sit in the departure lounge, using the netbook, get on the plane and use the netbook and there will still be a couple of hours of battery left at the end of the journey!

Beware of Cheap Laptops

Some people I know have said they don’t see the point of buying a small netbook for £300 when you can get a full sized ‘proper’ laptop from just £399 now.

This is something that catches most tech illiterates out, the cheap computers are going to be not much better than a netbook. For a start, they run Windows 7 now, which is very resource intensive, and the cheap laptops provide you with just enough power to run Windows 7 and very little else.

Cheap £399 laptops is why Windows gets a bad name for being slow, clunky and unstable – the hardware it runs on is barely enough to support it…but I feel that is a rant for another day 😀

Don’t buy a cheap laptop, especially not from a supermarket!

Future of Netbooks

I got the Asus EeePC 901 from my current favourite online retailer, eBuyer. I’ve generally found them to be cheaper than elsewhere, especially the ripoff merchants also known as supermarkets. It has a 9″ screen which has a resolution up to 1024×768 which I’ve found to be perfect for everything and have never wished that it could have a bigger one (steady!).

Unfortunately, it seems that that the trend is leaning towards larger screens and I’m not sure if you can even get a 9″ one anymore. The smallest that Asus do are now 10″, I’m not too sure how much that affects the size of the netbook though as I haven’t seen one, but if I find a 9″ one to be perfect, I’m sure 10″ is going to be fine.

With the onset of Windows 7 which has a version specifically built for low powered computers, the technical restraints have largely been removed, meaning that netbooks can become more powerful, while retaining their portability and convenience. However, a more powerful system is likely to come at the expense of a reduced battery life, and how can you smirk at people when your netbook only lasts for one hour more than their laptops?!

The next logical evolution in netbooks is to take their portability to the next level and bring in 3G cards where you can pop in a sim and access the Internet just like you do on your phone, and with the introduction of the new Nokia Booklet (I think it will be next on my list of things to buy – once they’ve upped the power and specs of course!), this will just be around the corner.

I’m sure they could make netbooks a whole lot more powerful than they currently are, but to be honest, there is absolutely no need, it already does everything 90% of computer users will require anyway.

Netbook Buying Tips

If you are going to buy a netbook, here’s some things to consider:

  • Virtually all netbooks have the same hardware meaning there is very little difference in terms of performance
  • The cheaper netbooks have smaller batteries, so one of the deciding factors should be the battery life – do your research!
  • If you go for a setup that’s different to the Atom N270 / 1GB RAM / WinXP be aware that the battery life will be significantly reduced
  • I’m more than pleased with my 9″ netbook, if you go for anything larger, you may lose some of that portability
  • Storage space or performance and long life. If you need storage, get one with a traditional hard drive. If you want performance and long life, choose an SSD. I put backup everything on an external hard drive anyway.
  • Shop online rather than offline, it’s always cheaper 😀

Well, I hope you found that informative and helps you decide whether a netbook might be for you. Thanks to Tom and William for inspiring me to write this thoroughly nerdy post!

Let’s Try Not To Break This One

I’ve gained a rather unfortunate reputation amongst friends and family for being a little careless with small electrical items. It’s not entirely unwarranted since I have managed to put two phones in the washing machine (and proving that Nokia’s are infact the best phones money can buy, the N73 survived and still worked) and managed to drop a very expensive camera (although in my defence I was being chased by a 7ft Neanderthal across a very slippery surface). I’ve also misplaced countless memory cards which is unfathomable because there is not enough places to lose the amount that I have.

Oh yeah, and then there was that incident with the beer and my beautiful baby laptop 🙁

So anyway, business has been good recently, so I thought it was about time to buy a new digital camera, and maybe some insurance to go with it 😀

Before I go ahead and buy stuff over £100, and especially electrical items, I become a super nerd, slightly obsessive and research things thoroughly before making a decision. In this case I became a temporary expert on compact digital cameras. Although I would quite like a digital SLR and think they are really cool, they are a) out of my budget b) ridiculously large c) probably slightly overkill for taking pictures of all the tigers and elephants in and around Chennai.

So, after lots and lots of research I decided that I wanted a compact digital camera that did the following:

  • 5x Optical Zoom – all my other cameras have been 3x and it’s just not good enough
  • Optical anti-blur – if you are anything like me then you have hands which shake more than Muhammad Ali so need all the help you can get to take sharp photos, especially with a 5x zoom. There are two types of anti-blur, the cheapest is done digitally and is mediocre at best, but the choice for people like me is optical anti-blur, which if my understanding is correct, places gyroscopes on the actual sensor to remove all the blurs. The result? Professional, sharp photos even when fully zoomed.
  • Very high ISO – I’m still a bit fuzzy on this, but I think it has something to do with light sensitivity and how much light you need before you have to resort to a flash. In this case, I decided I wanted a camera with an ISO of 3200, which I think means it will take good quality photos with little light.
  • Megapixels – this is an interesting concept, to the layman (such as girls, mums and sisters), the more megapixels, the better the image quality. This isn’t entirely true because the quality of the lens and the quality of the light sensor plays a bigger role in the quality of the photo. Also, I read that the higher the megapixels the less light you can get on the sensor, or something like that! So you can quite easily have a 6 megapixel camera take better photos than a 10 megapixel one simply because it has a better lens, hardware and processing software inside.
  • The memory card – I prefer a camera with an SD Card, because the Sony Memory Stick Duo is stupid in that it needs an adapter to be put in to most card slots on laptops.

So with those stringent requirements, I set about researching for the right camera. I checked Amazon, Argos, Curry’s, numerous specialist camera sites. It seems that even supermarkets, traditionally the place to buy food, are now pedaling overpriced digital cameras to the masses as well now.

Spreadsheets, comparison charts and a mind full of user and editorial reviews later (we don’t talk about OCD around here), eventually I settled on the Sony DSC-W270, it met all the requirements except for the memory card one. However, I know that the Sony Cybershot cameras take very good photos in low light, so it’s a bit of a trade off. I also looked at some Panasonic ones and Canon but they were a little pricey and didn’t have as good reviews.

So Sony it was.

The Sony DSC W270

True enough, it doesn’t win any prizes on styling and beauty, but a camera should take good photos, not look good, right?

After more research on the price, I headed over to eBuyer who I used last year to buy my incredible Asus eeePC Netbook (which has to go down as my best ever purchase). If you haven’t used them before, I’ve found them to be cheaper than everyone else for electronic items and were £20-£100 cheaper than elsewhere – for the exact same camera. Sony, for example, sell this camera in their Sony Stores for a massive £199.99, whereas I paid just £142 for it.

Update: I just noticed that the price has gone up by £30 since I wrote this, so maybe it was an error on their site which is why it was so cheap?!

Anyway, I ordered the free delivery option (I ordered on the Sunday) and they said it would arrive by Friday, which is fine, I’m in no hurry, however this morning there was a knock at the door and they delivered it to me – something I could have paid £4.99 for to have it guaranteed by Tuesday. Result!

I thought I’d include a photo (taken with the new camera of course, you can’t write about a new camera without posting some sample shots) of the stupid packaging that the memory card, which I also purchased, arrived in…

Stupid packaging
(The photo was taken indoors with no flash)

Doesn’t it just seem a little over the top for a memory card? I even had to add a helpful little arrow (and pushed the boundaries of my photoshop skills to uncharted territories) to point out to readers where the memory card was in relation to the packaging. Even the box that the camera arrived in was a quarter of the size of this envelope.

I’ll try and remember to post some sample photos tomorrow of the winter landscape outside my house.

Smile; We’re All Doomed

Tomorrow, about lunch time, we’re all gonna be doomed.

Why?

Scientists in France and Switzland are going to switch on a $9bn experiment which contains a ‘slight’ chance of creating black holes. On Earth.

For anyone that doesn’t know what a Black Hole is, it’s one of the most destructive things in nature. Nothing can escape from it, not even light (which is why it’s called a black hole).

So, about this time tomorrow, scientists are going to switch on this machine which they are ‘reasonably’ sure won’t create a black hole. Just like they were ‘reasonably sure’ there would be no long term effects from a nuclear bomb blast.

The aim of the experiment is to recreate conditions just a billionth of a second after the big bang (you know, it all began with nothing. Which exploded). It accelerates particles to near light speed, and recklessly smashes them together “to see what happens”.

So, what’s it going to be? A black hole or a big bang?

We’ll find out tomorrow. Only, we probably won’t because we’ll never know what hit us.

If you are truly nerdy enough to want to find out more, check out what the BBC is merrily calling “Big Bang Day“.

Right, time to make a tin foil hat and retreat to my country bunker. I may be gone some time…

(for anyone nerdy enough to understand this post, we’re really not going to die in a big explosion or get sucked in to a black hole, but a little paranoia never hurt anyone 🙂 )

Me, A Microsoft Fanboy?

Warning: This is a totally nerdy blog post!

I’m getting more and more concerned that I’m turning in to a Windows fanboy!

A couple of months ago I got new laptop which had Vista pre-installed. Convinced I would hate it I tried to get the IT guy at the office to put XP on instead. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible so I had to get to grips with it.

To my increasing horror, I actually found that I was liking Vista more than XP. After a week I was converted and now I’ll never go back to XP.

I can’t understand why Vista got such a bad name – there is nothing wrong with it! It’s fantastic to use, more user friendly, easier to navigate and very fast!

Infact, Microsoft suspected it was the anti-Microsoft hype that was causing people to have a bad opinion of Vista (and to be fair, that’s what my opinion was based on), so they set up an experiment in San Fransico with 150 people who refused to use and upgrade to Vista because they thought it was so bad. Microsoft told them that they would be trialing their brand new operating system, the successor to Vista.

The result?

They all loved it.

The best part?

They were actually using an out of the box copy of Vista.

Conclusion?

People’s hate of Vista is based on media biased.

If that doesn’t make me sound like a Microsoft fanboy, I don’t know what will!

But it gets even worse.

Recently I lent my phone to my buddy in India. A Nokia N73. I really liked that phone. I had it for two years. I lent it to him for one day and he manages to lose it.

Sidenote: This is not the first phone he has lost, and it wasn’t the first phone I even lent him. He runs a multi-million dollar company, but since I’ve known him, he’s lost 3 phones.

Anyway, since he lost my phone, with all my contacts, all my photos (including the first match at Wembly!), all my notes, everything, he was only right and proper that he bought me a new one.

The phone I chose was a HTC with a touch screen, there’s no keypad, everything is done by touch. My buddy wanted to get my an iPhone, but there’s just something so wrong about it. Everyone seems to love it so much, and it’s considered cool to have one, but to me when everyone wants something, it loses it’s ‘cool’ appeal.

Anyway, back to the HTC phone. It runs Windows Mobile, which I was aprehensive about because everyone knows Nokia has the best usability and easiest navigation. However, once again, Windows exceeded my expectations! Windows Mobile 6 is great to use, the whole touch screen is really intuitive and even better, it makes me cooler than an iPhone user because not everyone has a HTC phone!

Me, a Windows fanboy? Never! Umm.

(sorry for the totally nerdy post guys!)

The CD Was Nearly Called The Compact Rack

The Compact Disc is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary today. The BBC has run an article looking at the history of the CD from development to the present day decline as new media takes over. Some interesting facts about the CD…

  • The original disc was going to be 11.5cm in diameter but Sony insisted that the disc should be able to hold the full 74 minute recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony so it was increased to 12cm to accomodate it
  • Abba released the first commercial CD with their song The Visitor
  • Research on using lasers to read the data on the CD began as far back as 1969
  • Proof of concept using lasers was completed 12 years earlier
  • Record sales of CD’s peaked in 2000 with 2.455 billion. In 2006 that figure was down to 1.755 billion.

Now that new digital mediums are taking over, the CD could become as obsolete as the 3.5″ diskette. With software companies turning to digital delivery of their products over the internet there could be a time when there is no need for CD’s. Even now, with music being downloaded by more and more people, could buying albums on a CD become a niche market like buying albums on vinyl?

The full BBC article can be found here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6950933.stm