Tag Archives: computers

#firstworldproblems

Here's the replacement...

Here’s the replacement…

A few weeks ago, on a Thursday night, I was playing XCOM on my Windows box.  Everything was running smoothly, no problems.  On Friday, I got home and turned on the computer to listen to some music and, for some odd reason, the hard drive wasn’t detected.  As in, the hard drive containing the Windows OS wasn’t even there, so far as the system was concerned.

Thankfully, I only stored Windows and some replaceable programs on the drive that failed (an SSD), and my pictures, music, and videos were all stored on a separate hard drive (a traditional HDD).  Typically when one uses an SSD (or “solid state drive”), you only run programs on it as they can take advantage of the speeds afforded by SSD technology, while slower traditional hard drives (“HDD”) are just fine for other stuff.  So really, all I lost in the drive failure were a few programs (that I could re-install) and some game save files (or so I thought…).

Also, thankfully, the drive was still under warranty.  I’ve had it for less than a year, so I contacted the manufacturer, sent the drive in (last Tuesday) and got the replacement (last Saturday), which is a pretty quick turn-around.  On Saturday, I spent my time re-installing the drive and getting some of those programs back on, but this time, I installed Windows 8 rather than Windows 7 (hey, if I’ve got to re-install everything, I may as well try out the new hottness, right?).  Microsoft is trying to get everyone to upgrade, so they’ve had it on sale for $40, which is a pretty good deal compared with the regular price of $120 (which Win8 will return to after January 31st).  I may write more about Windows 8 later but, for now, it’s “alright.”  My mind isn’t blown.  If you’ve got Windows 7, you’re fine sticking with 7, but 8 isn’t horrible (and it boots really fast).

I mentioned that I lost a few game save files, and this was the worst part of the experience.  I’d put about 9 hours of time into XCOM since picking it up months ago, so I wasn’t looking forward to having to repeat the lost time.  Also thankfully, the program I use to manage the game (Steambacked the save files up to “the cloud,” meaning that once I re-installed the program, my save files were also re-downloaded and restored.

In the end, I lost nothing except for a week of using my Windows-based computer.  All in all, not a bad deal.  And we had the Linux box (that this site runs on…) to use in the meantime.

As a side-note, having no Windows PC to use, and thus, no computer to run iTunes, I couldn’t update my iPod for listening to podcasts during that week.  Instead, I relied upon my cell phone (an HTC One X) for downloading new podcasts and music.  To be honest, I kinda don’t want to go back to the iPod.  I’ve gotten used to downloading podcasts and music immediately from work (or wherever), rather than waiting to go home, turn on the Windows PC, download the podcast or music to the computer, then transfer it to the iPod: it’s much easier to just do it directly.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to use my phone in my car, except for relying on the phone’s speakers (which aren’t really loud enough).

Oh well.

#firstworldproblems

Living In The Cloud

I find myself getting less and less patient with having to move data around between devices.  I want to have access to things where I want them, when I want them.  A lot of this has been building up over recent months, but I think the recent death of my old laptop (it’s GPU died…sad, sad day…) has brought it to a head.

Once the laptop died, I transferred some games to a desktop PC, but one I don’t leave on all the time.  This computer used to be my Linux web server, so this 5+ year old system is hardly up to heavy gaming…but that’s another story.  The new Linux server runs all the time, so it provides what we need for internet use, but there are a few key things it won’t do:  card reader functionality and iTunes.  I only have one device that has an SD card reader in it now, and it’s our netbook (Brooke has a USB card reader…somewhere…).  That, and iTunes is Windows and Mac, exclusive, so I can’t use it under Linux.

This means I’m relegated to using the netbook until I get some replacement parts to help speed up what is currently serving as my Windows machine.  And that netbook only has a 10″ screen, making it less than ideal for any kind of photo editing, or messing with an iTunes library.  Sure, it’s fine in a pinch, but netbooks weren’t really designed for heavy use.  Also, this poor netbook apparently won’t run Picasa: it actually “Blue Screens” Windows XP every time I try.  Because of these shenanigans, I haven’t been able to move pictures from our Nikon DSLR from the SD card up to the interwebs because the Picasa program is how I generally do this.

Which brings me to the point at hand: I love me some cloud computing.  Products like Dropbox (or Ubuntu One) to act as online storage, allowing me to share my files between the netbook, my Linux server, my work computer and my phone on the fly.  Google Music, so I can sync music from the cloud with my phone, and never mess with iTunes again.  Google+, which will automatically upload my photos from my phone to their servers (including Picasa) without me having to do anything.  Google Docs, which is where I’ve been typing countless cover letters and maintaining a spreadsheet of various jobs I’ve applied to, giving me access from anywhere on any device, including my phone.

Case in point: I could have transferred those pictures from the SD card to the netbook, and then in turn to a USB stick, and then to the Windows desktop that’s capable of actually running Picasa (or I could have found the cable to plug the camera directly into the computer…but seriously…who knows where it is…), or I could just transfer those pictures to my Dropbox folder on the netbook, allowing them to “magically appear” on whatever computer I wanted to use.  So much easier, and just as fast.

In short?  I’ve become too lazy for USB sticks and SD cards.  The act of physically connecting one thing to another has become a chore.  I’m in the 21st century and want everything, including my hard drive, to be “wireless.”

I have fully embraced the cloud.

The only thing keeping me from going “all the way” is my iPod Nano.  As our Kia Sportage doesn’t have an auxiliary jack, I can’t plug my phone into the stereo system.  My radio transmitter will only accept iPod-like devices: not my phone.  Thus, in order to listen to 8 GB of music or podcasts in my car, I have to use the iPod, which means I have to use iTunes, which means I have to use a cable to switch things around and update the playlist.

That, or I spend $250+ to get a new car stereo with an auxiliary jack, or $20,000+ on a new car.

I think I’m just spoiled…

Who Needs Another Music Player?

Spotify just launched in the United States this week, yet another music player entering the digital ecosystem. This time, however, we get one that has been around for awhile in Europe, and quite popular.  In short, it’s an audio program that lets you stream millions of songs to your device, and has other functional features including Facebook integration to check out your friend’s playlists.  One of the key features is that it functions much like Apple’s iCloud will, scanning your personal MP3 library and “mirroring” it on their servers, allowing you to stream that same library to any computer without needing to carry the physical media around with you.  It will do the same thing with your mobile phone.  Spotify’s library is substantially larger than many of the others (Pandora has maybe 800,000 songs, while Spotify has 13 million available), and most reviewers simply think it provides the better service for the money.  You get about 20 hrs of listening time per month for free, $5/mo gets you no ads, and $10/mo gets you other features, including the ability to use the service on your mobile phone.

Digitaltrends has a good summary of the pros and cons of a few of the popular options.

Spotify is not alone in this venture, though it’s new to the U.S.  Grooveshark is another, alternative, web-based application with a mobile version, though I question its legality.  Like Spotify, it has a massive library, but it works a bit more like YouTube in that other users have uploaded music that you then stream to your computer or to your mobile device.  While Spotify has high-quality, licensed music, your experience is more “hit or miss” with Grooveshark, as some people may have uploaded high bitrate versions of music (i.e. good sounding) while others uploaded lower bitrate versions (i.e. very, very bad sounding).  Of course, Grooveshark is free, so most people don’t complain when the song selection is that good.  They also charge various amounts for their services above and beyond the base service, but it doesn’t sound like many people do.

Pandora is the main competitor that folks in the United States have at least heard of, if not used.  It’s much more of a radio system in that you select a station and then music will come up almost at random that you can then skip or “Thumbs Up” so that more music like it ends up in your station.  You have no real choice in what the next song played is, though, while you can make your own playlists in Spotify and Grooveshark.  Pandora also has a very nice mobile app and has been integrated into a wealth of home devices, including Bluray players.  Their only paid plan is $36/yr, removes all ads, and grants you higher sound quality.

For now, I’ll give Spotify a quick go-round, though I doubt I’ll get much use out of it.  The only computer in the house with good speakers attached is a Linux box, and as there is no native Linux client available, I can’t use it.  I will probably try their “preview release” for Linux – thankfully, Linux is more popular in Europe, so this company actually has an incentive to make a client.  Obviously, this is where its competitors, Grooveshark, Pandora, Google Music and Amazon MP3 shine, as they are almost completely multi-platform.

That said, the Spotify client under Windows is silky smooth, unlike iTunes.  It’s nice to see iTunes finally getting some viable competition (and no, Windows Media Player is not “competition”…).  It navigates similarly to iTunes, so if you’re familiar with its style of getting around your library and making playlists, you should feel right at home.

In the end, I’m glad there are plenty of options out there for your digital music needs.  Gone are the days where you would walk down to the record store and thumb through various discs until you found something interesting, then bought it for $20.  Now you can get your music in the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go, and it’s great that there are countless ways to do it effectively.

And legally.

Tough Choice

There have been various announcements over the past few months that got me excited about both options.  They both have some great benefits and the implementations are very functional, if not even downright awesome.  To some degree, it isn’t really a “tough choice” at all, as I already know which option I’m going to go with.

Of course, I’m talking about Google Music vs Amazon Cloud Player.

To be fair, as of this writing, I haven’t actually tried the Google Music Beta, though I signed up for an invite as soon as I found out that this thing exists at all.  I’ve been using the Amazon Cloud Player, though, and like it quite a bit.

I guess I should describe the pros and cons.  The Amazon Cloud Player was launched in late March, providing users with 5 GB of free storage space for their files.  MP3s, documents, pictures, videos, etc.  Any MP3s stored on this virtual drive, however, can be streamed over the internet through your web browser or smart phone (i.e. Android and iOS),  through what they call the Cloud Player.  If you buy any digital album from Amazon MP3, then your 5 GB of storage is increased to 20 GB – you can purchase additional space thereafter.  The service has worked well, from my perspective, and it’s nice to be able to pull up any of my albums and play them from practically anywhere, especially as I’m not carrying my laptop around with me 24/7 like I used to.

Amazon kinda shocked the world when they released this, however.  It was long expected that Apple or Google would go there first, but they were dealing with the legal rights to stream music over the internet.  The question, from a legal standpoint, is whether it is legal to purchase music, upload it to a different location, and then stream it like a radio station.  Does that violate the license that you agree to when you purchase an MP3?  No clear answer was given, so Google and Apple were trying to get things finalized before going ahead with their respective plans.

Amazon basically just said “oh well” and did it anyway.  And so far, to my knowledge, no one has sued them.

Therefore, it was expected that Google would make an announcement during their now annual I/O developer’s conference.  And as expected, Google announced their long-awaited solution: Google Music.  Since Amazon took the lead, they had to come forward with something to show their burgeoning community.  And show they did.

The Google Music Beta, rolling out piecemeal by invitation only (much like Gmail did), allows you to upload 20,000 songs to their cloud service, and then you can stream it to your Android devices or the web.  In that way, it’s very similar to the Amazon Cloud Player.  The catch is that Google Music should be capable of providing better sound quality, even over a relatively slow 3G wireless connection.  Right now, however, you cannot actually purchase music through the Google Music interface like you can from the Amazon system.  Therefore, for digital music, you still need Amazon MP3 or iTunes.

The kicker for me, however, is offline play.

With Google Music, you can “pin” a song, album, or playlist that will synchronize that music on your various devices.  It will automatically synchronize your “recently played” music, as well.  So, for example, if I want to “pin” Under The Table And Dreaming (and I will…), Google Music will download the album to my phone, allowing me to play that music even when my phone isn’t on an internet connection.  And this is extremely important for people like us that don’t have unlimited data plans, or that tend to drive long distances through areas that don’t have the best cellular coverage.  I can rely on streaming, but I don’t have to.

With a single, software-based approach, Google provided me with a good reason to abandon my iPod Nano.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my iPod.  The thing is light, gets good battery life, and is tiny.  Or “nano,” if you will.  But, I have to physically connect it to my laptop to transfer podcasts and music.  This isn’t that huge of a deal breaker for me, to tell you the truth, but I’ve got its cute little 8 GB hard drive maxed out, so I’m constantly selecting which podcasts need to go on the hard drive and when.  And sometimes, new editions of my podcasts are released while I’m at work, preventing me from being able to actually add them to my iPod, because my iPod is only linked with my laptop.

Now, using my phone, I can stream all of my music (~15 GB?) over the internet, and save the ones I want on my phone’s mini-SD card.  Moreover, as my phone has WiFi on it and a wealth of apps, I can access most if not all of those podcasts without having to download them to whatever device I’m using.

So in the end, I think I’ll be using the Google Music offering.  At least, once I get an invite.  For the time-being, I’ll settle for the Amazon Cloud Player.  It’ll be interesting to see what Amazon does to compete here, as Apple will be announcing their own “iCloud” service sometime in the relatively near future, and if Amazon wants to compete, they’ll have to do some drastic things.  iCloud will be built into every iOS device, and Google Music will be built into every Android device.  And the legal drama certainly isn’t over, as the record labels are unhappy with Google’s plan, and likely won’t be all that happy with Apple’s, either.

Where does Amazon go?

A View From The Top

While I was sitting at my parents house over Easter talking with my Dad, it suddenly dawned on me that Linux had finally gained supremacy over Windows and Apple, something that I never thought I’d see.  However, it wasn’t able to pull off the feat using a traditional PC: instead, it used mobile devices via Android OS.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a new idea.  The thought has been broadcast across the interwebs over the past few years, though only recently did Android actually surpass iOS in adoption across the phone and tablet markets.  Seeing the range of new products coming out on the horizon, this trend will only continue upwards as multiple companies release products using the Android OS as the backbone for their software.

What some forget, however, is that the core of Android is, in fact, the Linux kernel.  My HTC Inspire 4G, running Android 2.2.1, is using Linux kernel 2.6.32.  My Linux box at home runs Linux kernel 2.6.35, a slightly newer version.  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of differences in kernels (nor do I care…), but let’s just say that there has been some disagreement between Google and the maintainers of the Linux kernel as to whether Android OS technically counts as “Linux,” though I believe most would say that it absolutely does.

I guess I just find it fascinating that this “Little Operating System That Could” finally found an audience and most people don’t even know it.  Dad introduced me to computers when DOS and Windows 3.1 were king.  However, once our family started having multiple computers, he toyed with other operating systems, including OS/2 Warp and Red Hat Linux 5.2.  While he purchased a copy of OS/2, he frequently picked up copies of Linux from the Public Library, installing different flavors of Linux for free on his system(s).  As I was curious about these different systems, I learned more about it and once I went to college, grabbed an old Gateway 2000 computer and put Red Hat 6.1 on it, followed by various other iterations of Linux.  Over the past decade, it’s been my desktop operating system of choice, always getting better and better.

But few people know how good Linux has gotten.  It’s an excellent operating system, as it has been for years.  Sure, it still doesn’t run Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, or a multitude of Windows- or Mac-only video games, but it does do one thing remarkably well:

Web-browsing.

And if you want to make a device that is constantly connected to the internet, and don’t want to pay high development costs or licensing fees to Microsoft or Apple, which operating system makes the most sense for you to use?

Linux.

As we all move further toward cloud-based computing, and companies like Google keep focusing on Linux as their technology of choice (as it’s behind Android OS and Chrome OS, which will power netbooks and tablets beginning this year), further adoption of Linux will take place in populations that never thought they’d ever use it.  Part of this is because the Linux kernel has always had a remarkable “efficiency” to it that Windows has never been able to re-create.  You always needed newer hardware to run the most modern Windows systems, while you could run a modern Linux system on practically nothing.  Mobile phones, especially, use relatively slow processors when compared to the quad-core monstrosities powering many desktops today.  Heck, it was just revealed that an early version of Windows 8 will be the first one to run on an ARM processor, the technology powering practically every mobile phone sold today.  Up until now, Windows hasn’t even been capable of running on anything like that, unless it’s the feature-poor Windows CE.  Windows will ultimately make it to tablets, but not before Android and iOS have a massive foot-hold on the market, as they already do on phones.

It’s just fascinating to consider how far Linux has come and what ended up actually pushing it “over the top.”  We all thought Dell offering Linux on laptops would do it, or the multitude of governments, schools and companies across the world that switched from Windows (or Unix) to Linux would do it.

It was the telephone all along.