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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Free photo app Instagram just got better

iglogo.jpgThe free and popular instant photography sharing app for iOS, Instagram, just pushed an update through — and it’s a nifty little update too!

Aside from some bug fixes, two new filters were added in the 1.0.7 update;

Walden
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Hefe
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And one has been retrieved from the cutting room floor after a bit of a populous revolt;

PopRocket
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I love the filter upgrades, but the app upgrade didn’t go off without a hitch.

In my case, Instagram lives on my iPad, which I use for post-production editing and sharing of my photos. I like to think of it as my iPad Darkroom.

And this update to Instagram had me worried for a moment — it wouldn’t read any images from my photo roll or photo albums.

But after a full shutdown and restart, whatever database issues it had seemed to clear up, and I’m happily playing in the darkroom again.

iOS devices seem to be the most prolific when it comes to mobile digital darkroom apps, for now. I’m thinking that once more developers get busy working on the other devices, there’s going to be a whole lot more awesome photography happening out there… and I can’t wait!
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Revisiting an old friend

It’s a new year, so the slate is clean and there’s lots of new things to try. Or old things that dropped off the radar to revisit.

In my case, it’s photography and image processing. I used to enjoy working in a wet darkroom and watching images materialize on paper. That was years and many moves ago. My wet gear has long since vanished, and my attention turned to other things.

Recently, you’ll have noticed I’ve started exploring iPad Darkroom apps and technology — and have once again become interested in making and enhancing images in post production.

Continue reading “Revisiting an old friend”

Keeping your holiday photos safe

fz50.jpgThe holiday season is upon us, which means that we’ll be enjoying time spent with family and friends. Many of us will grab our handy camera-enabled data phones and snap priceless shots that we’ll want to share, and keep for posterity.

But that’s where the tech can get a bit tricky. Sure, we’ve tried sharing to our various Facebook, Flickr and Picasa accounts, but what about the ‘saving for posterity’ part.

Photos in the Cloud
Well, two of those three services mentioned above are a great start. Here’s the four that I’ve seen and used that will offer solid photo service over the holidays and into the future:

  • Flickr offers a Pro level account (about $25 per year for unlimited photo and video storage) that will keep all your photos online and available. Free gives you unlimited storage, but only your most recent 200 photos are viewable. Online image editing provided by Picnik.
  • Picasa has a free account that offers 1GB of free photo storage and basic image editing tools.
  • SmugMug is pricier, offers three levels of service, and is geared toward the more serious photographer.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express gives you access to basic online photo editing and organization tools, and 2GB of free photo storage. Additional storage space can be purchased annually.

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So, what’s so great about storing your photos online anyway?

  1. Backup — you don’t have to worry about keeping your images safe; the service you’re using does that.
  2. Sharing — easy to embed the images into blogs, email and twitter messages. Each photo usually has a public URL that’s sharable (or private, if that’s your thing).
  3. Printing — a few of the services are offering partnerships with professional printing labs which lets you produce photobooks, custom prints etc.
  4. Integration — some of the more popular services are already integrated into your iPhone camera applications (such as Instragram). Push a button and your latest shot is uploaded to the service, ready for you to edit and share.

Local storage?
Yep, you can keep your photos on your own computer, but you do run risks should your computer crash or worse. I do keep the majority of my images at home, stored on a network attached storage device that’s got two drives, one a mirror of the other. So if one should die, I’ve got a copy of my data on the other.

Also, I backup my photos weekly, and move the backup drive to an offsite location for even greater safety. Yeah, a housefire would ruin a lot of things, but I know my photos and other important data would be safe.

Your needs?
It depends. Take a solid think about what you plan to do with your photos, how you want to share them, and how important they are to you (can you afford to lose them?). I’ve likely given you some ideas to try and experiment with as we head into the holidays. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it worked (or didn’t).

Print? Scan? Copy? Fax? It’s covered!

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Recently I had an opportunity to put one of the new Brother multi-function printer devices through it’s paces, and overall, I liked what I saw.

Priced as an entry level unit, the Brother MFC-J615W (that’s a mouthful, why can’t they just use names) is a solid home and light-duty small business document centre.

The first thing that impressed me was the packaging — no styrofoam. Now I know that’s minor, but I appreciate it when companies make the effort to design their packaging with the environmental impact in mind.

Judge me by my size, do you.
This is a fairly small unit, and very well designed. Once it’s set up and ready to use, the unit is smaller than most toaster ovens. Unlike my current printer, which when in print mode has a huge paper ream support rising out of the back and another finisher support out the front, the Brother has an internal paper tray and feed system that keeps the footprint small — great for small home-office situations.

Continue reading “Print? Scan? Copy? Fax? It’s covered!”