I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer

A couple of years ago, I was all into and enjoyed building desktop computers, picking out the right video card, selecting the best motherboard and generally digging deep into the innards of my future computing platform. And designing the perfect ‘office’ computing environment with short cable runs, ample power for my accessories and lots of desktop space. Yes it was complex and involved and detailed, but it was a hobby — building computers.

These days, I’m not so concerned about it. What I need to do on a computer hasn’t changed, but the computing industry has matured, my needs are now becoming much more mainstream, and the significant differences between one component and another aren’t quite so significant any more.

Put another way, what I have been doing and want to do on a computer, is now much more in demand by everyday consumers. And the hardware, is becoming much more homogeneous. They’ve caught up. Welcome to the future.

Honey, I shrunk the CPU
Moore’s Law has also caught up, to the point where the hardware is smaller, lighter, faster, and cheaper to make. On today’s hardware you can have full audio and video editing studios in the software that runs your phone. You can remotely pilot vehicles with your phone or mobile computing device, and you can easily communicate with anyone on the planet using any number of mobile technologies.

Any of the modern notebook computers have all that stuff in a very tiny package.

Home file sharing
It used to be that you had files on one computer, and you shared them with the other. Both computers had to be on to share the files. Now, with ubiquitous WiFi and home network storage appliances (basically network-aware hard drives) in your household, any computer or compatible device can access any document, video, mp3, at any time. No need to have a big Master Server.

Printing
The same goes for network-aware printers. Most manufacturers have WiFi models available that know how to play nice with your home network environment. Again, no need for a computer directly connected to a printer.

Storage
I mentioned home network storage above, but these days storage devices are dirt cheap. So much so that it’s become possible for commercial business to be built up around the concept of offering you free online storage of your documents, photos, music, whatever…for free.

And they won’t only store your files, they’ll give you free access to applications and tools to create and edit your stuff. Again, I no longer have a need for a huge drive attached to a big desktop box — all this stuff is in the cloud.

One caveat
There’s only two real reason that I can think of for needing a dedicated desktop computer these days; high-quality media creation, and gaming.

If you’re into music making, video editing, photography, art, design, anything that needs you to move masses of pixels or gigs of data around, the architecture of a desktop computer box is more suited to that than many of the notebook computers on the market. And you’re likely using the computer in a professional setting as a photographer, composer and the like.

Gaming also is a hardware resource hog, and falls into that category as many of the same computing tasks in media creation are also necessary in game creation and playing. Of course, there are exceptions — I’ve seen some very powerful (and pretty) gaming laptops.

Interesting, but not enough
But gaming isn’t enough for me to build my desktop around it, any more. Console gaming systems have edged in with comparable graphics and gameplay, on much bigger screens than could fit on my desktop.

So it looks like my next new system, likely in a year or two, won’t be a power-sucking behemoth that sits under my desk. Rather, it’ll be something small, light, can connect to desktop monitors, mice & keyboards, and the home net, yet is still portable. And I think the same holds true for most of you too. Yes, welcome to the future 🙂
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How your mobile phone or tablet could save your life

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Believe it or not, there are many ways your mobile smart phone could be used when you find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation,  aside from the obvious — making a phone call for emergency assistance, I mean.

The recent events in Japan and New Zealand have shown that when disaster strikes, getting the most accurate information is likely the best way to make choices that could save your life.

Browser
Provided the event hasn’t taken out the local mobile network, your mobile phone’s browser will help, linking you with many local, national, and international news services, as well as many different channels of communication (email, voice chat, twitter, etc).

Hardware
f1.jpgBut there are other ways your smart phone can help. For example, many smart phone’s display screens are bright enough to be used as a makeshift flashlight when the power goes out. Color Flashlight is a leading Android app and Flashlight 4 is one of the most popular ones in Japan right now.

As well, most phones these days know where they are in the world, either by triangulating between communications towers, wifi sources, or built-in GPS systems. Tie this in with any of the popular mapping applications and you have a good visual understanding of where you are. Helpful when you have to find an alternate route or transportation system in an unfamiliar city.

An app for that? You bet!
As you can imagine, there are many things that you could need in an emergency. And, of course, there are some apps that can help.

During the Tsunami warnings following the Japan earthquake, information like that provided by this Hawaiian-developed Disaster Alert app helped keep islanders informed about the impending waves.

And after an event, finding people and shelter is a priority.

Google launched their Google Person Finder during the Christchurch earthquake, and updated it for the Japan event.

And the American Red Cross has released their free Shelter View app.

So as you can see, with just a few bookmarks, perhaps an hour of app-store browsing, and a few dollars investment, you can have a pretty good emergency preparedness kit all tucked neatly into your mobile data phone.

I think it’s time I started on mine, what have I missed that I should add?
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Apple vs the App Developers

boot.jpgPreviously I’d written about the impending launch of Garage Band for iPad, and mentioned how Apple’s release of this app will challenge smaller independent app developers in the music creation space.

Today’ I’m at it again. With yesterday’s release of iOS 4.3, it seems that Apple has again taken a bite out of a developer’s revenue stream.

I’m talking specifically about enhancements to iTunes Home Sharing that enable video and audio streaming from any properly configured iTunes-running computer on your network.

Yep, this is a good thing, and it’s very cool tech. It’s great that Apple is making it available for free. And it’s unfortunate that it’s also putting pressure on the developers of the Air Video and StreamToMe apps, both very good streaming applications.

Innovate or else. This is competition?
So now the ball is back in the developers court. They have to prove that their apps worth real money, and are better or different than iTunes Home Sharing, which is free and just an update away.

And the developers aren’t working from a position of strength that Apple is with all the resources at it’s disposal.

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Air Video and StreamToMe and others offer significant differentiators from Apple’s Home Sharing, in that they can be set up to stream video from your home server to your location anywhere on the Internet, provided you’ve properly configured your network and the apps. I’ve not seen an easy way to set iTunes up to extend Home Sharing to an Internet connected device. It may exist, but I’ve not seen it yet.

But wait, there’s more!
Home media streaming isn’t the only area Apple’s jumped into recently. As mentioned at the start of this post, Garage Band for iPad launched today. And it looks like an awesome app!

korg.jpgWhich has some music app makers re-evaluating their product and pricing structures when compared against Garage Band iPad.

For example, today KORG dropped the price of its hugely awe-inspiringly-complex synth, the iMS-20. Given the complexity and power of the app, KORG had it initially pegged at $32.99. Today the price dropped to half at $15.99.

No update. No improvements. Just a change in the landscape tomorrow and an app is worth $15.00 less.

Sure, comparing a $4.99 iPad Garage Band against a full featured $32.99 $15.99 synth is Apples to Oranges. But is it? Many buyers of iPad Garage Band have Macs, which already have the full computer version of Garage Band installed as part of the standard Mac bundle. A built-in audience and income stream for the iPad app.

Winning!
In the end, the consumer is winning, it seems. With Garage Band, they get a new, reasonably priced and powerful app for their iPads. And they’ll also benefit by some price cuts on other apps whose developers will feel the need to compete with Garage Band’s price, bringing them into line with consumer new expectations. Winning – for the consumer.

For the app developers? That remains to be seen.

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Boppin’ with the BeBot!

bebot.jpgiPad music and synth apps all seem to be trying to exactly replicate the
experience of using a real synthesizer or instrument, like Virtuoso Piano 3 .

Recently I discovered BeBot, an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad music app that breaks that stereotype.

According to the developer, BeBot is:

…Part synthesizer, part animated robot.

Touching the screen causes the robot to move and make sounds controlled by your movements. Play it like a musical instrument, or just have fun watching the robot and making sounds with your fingers.

Features 4-finger multitouch polyphony, multiple synthesis modes, user-definable presets and scales, tweakable synth settings and effects, and more!

And for me, this reads as pure fun! Robots! Synths! What more could you want.

Well, how ’bout a Theremin? Yep, the developers have built in a preset that emulates a Theremin pretty darn well.

Some will see this as a musical time-waster or toy, yet it can have serious musical applications. Check out the video  below of Jordan Rudess working the BeBot on an iPhone.

So, for $1.99, I’m thinking this is a pretty versitile piece of musical tech. How ’bout you? Got a favourite musical iOS  app? Let me know about it in the comments.

And, as an aside, check out this awesome video of a Theremin being used to play the Star Trek theme!


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How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications

photo.JPGIn the course of my day, I use two or three main desktop and laptop computers in two or three different parts of the city.

And yet, working on different devices, I still have access to a core set of tools and utilities that I find essential to my daily work. Here’s how I do it.

Some of the computers are ‘client’ managed, so I don’t have complete control over the software suite I have available to me.

There are two options that I use, though I find myself moving to one more often these days.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me write a little bit about the applications. Continue reading “How to run your favourite desktop utilities from almost any computer using Portable Applications”

Remote control your computer from your iPad

Some say that the iPad is a magical device. I won’t go that far, but it is kinda cool, though it does have its shortcomings — especially when you compare it to a desktop or laptop computer. There are just many things done much better on a computer than on an iPad, which is why it’s neat that there’s computer remote control software for the iPad.

One of the easiest I’ve found to use is LogMeIn Ignition. Part of the LogMeIn family, Ignition lives on your iPad (or iPhone, or iPod Touch, or Android) and allows you to control any computer you’ve registered with the LogMeIn service.

Here’s how the process works:
1. Get a free LogMeIn account
2. Install LogMeIn Free client software on every PC/Mac you want to control
3. Register those computers with your LogMeIn account information

If you stop here, you now have the ability to control any of your registered computers from any other registered computer (that’s running the client software), or through the LogMeIn web interface (which is very slick!).

4. Install the LogMeIn:Ignition client on your iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad

And you’re done. You can now control any of your computers via your iPad.

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Continue reading “Remote control your computer from your iPad”

Lots to think about when diagnosing a slow Internet

Occasionally I get a tech question in the inbox that is quite common. So much so that it makes sense for me to put and answer the question here where more can read and benefit from it.  By the way, if you’ve got something you’d like to ask, feel free to drop me a line through my contact me page.

So, the question deals with Internet speed, and this one is pretty complex because there are quite a number of factors that contribute to the ‘perceived’ speed of the Internet on any given computer:

Q:Hi, my laptop’s internet runs really slow.  I use firefox and internet explorer (they’re both updated). I have tried my laptop on quite a few different internet connections and have run multiple virus and defrag tests with no problems I have 24% free space on my hard drive.  My internet runs really laggy, and i want to sign up for a mobile / stick plan but if my computer can’t run fast there isn’t a point.  is there anything I can do to fix this?

Ok, there’s a lot in those few lines but not really enough to diagnose the problem completely.  Sadly there are a number of things that could impact internet speed, including;

  • the sites you try to connect to,
  • other running applications competing for network or system resources,
  • virus / trojan infection (though in this case the computer was scanned quite heavily),
  • the amount of RAM memory in the system,
  • the age and version of the operating system in use and the age of the computer — this one is important as a 6 year old computer trying to run a modern operating system may have issues as drivers are outdated,
  • hardware no longer supported, or it’s simply not capable of performing modern multi-media tasks that didn’t exist when the computer was originally designed.

As you can see, there are a number of potential issues here, and all of them require more information. So, in this case my recommendation was to consult an expert — giving them access to the machine so they can bring all their experience to bear on the problem.

Since at this point, we’re  not experiencing proper internet speeds, call your internet service provider, and discuss the speed issue with them.  They’ll likely ask a number of questions and have a few tests and tweaks you can perform while on the phone.

Then, if there’s nothing more they can do, perhaps find a trusted service tech or tech-savvy friend and have them help you out, since there’s so many variables that could cause the problems.

Bottom line, good instincts in searching out help. Giving your consulting tech a lot of information or access to the machine will likely generate a number of possible improvements.

And, since I mentioned it above but you likely skimmed over it to get to the meat of this post, if you’ve got a tech question that you think I could help you with,  feel free to drop me a line through my contact me page. I’ll give it a shot 🙂