Brian's Take on Tech

Bringing you info about technology, and how it impacts your life for better and worse.   -Brian K, Community Partnerships Supervisor


Speeding up your computer

Image: Entering Hyperspace by Flickr user Eole

I was reading this article on MakeUseOf last week about registry cleaners not speeding up your computer significantly. This surprised me as articles I'd read previously, perhaps even on MakeUseOf, suggested that cleaning up your computer's registry could significantly speed up your system. The more recent article is convincing that, especially with newer versions of Windows, there are other things you can do to improve your system's speed more significantly and with less risk of causing harm.

One thing the article doesn't make clear for all readers is what it means by speed. I'm aware that readers of this post may have different skill and experience levels in computer use. Some of you have stopped reading or soldiered on hoping I'd make sense of this "registry" thing, while others have already clicked through to the MakeUseOf article, saw nothing they didn't already know, and moved on.

So, let me get the newer users up to speed--your computer may be slow to start up when you turn it on and to run programs on stored on your computer like Word or Solitaire. That can be different than your computer being slow to pull up a website or download your email to Outlook because in order to access anything online, your computer communicates with other computers called servers to request and retrieve the information brought back to your screen. There are programs on your computer slowing this down as well (security programs like anti-virus software that scans all of the information coming in to your machine make the process take nanoseconds longer than running your computer without security software, which you wouldn't want to do).

The MakeUseOf tips about speeding up your computer are good ones, and two of them are free. Defragmenting your hard drive will help reunite parts of files stored in different places to improve their loading time. You can access the Microsoft disk defragmenter in the Start menu--Accessories folder--System tools folder.

The third tip about bad registry edits and not downloading bad software is more of a practice than anything, but they give advice on removing software, too.

The tip that will cost you is upgrading your RAM. You can first try to free up your RAM with the suggestions in this Techradar article. If things still seem slow after that, you'll want to consider a few things. Is your computer still under warranty? To install new RAM, you'll need to crack it open, which could void a warranty. The warranty supplier should be able to provide you with a way to get the upgrade done. Are you comfortable opening your computer and plugging things into its guts? You may not be, in which case you'll want someone else to do it--check the computer repair section of the yellow pages. You may find deals at places like Milwaukee PC or Best Buy--cheap or free installation if you buy your new RAM there--check the electronics shops section of the yellow pages and ask if they have any such deals.

If you're suffering from computer slowness, there's plenty more information you can find online to improve your system. MakeUseOf, Lifehacker, and Mashable frequently provide articles on ways to improve your computer's functioning and would be worthwhile to add to your RSS reader. What's RSS? That's a post for another time.

Image credit: Entering Hyperspace by Eole used under CC license

Friday Fun: Six Lazy Degrees

Image: "a little more than 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" by matt_leclair

On the off-chance you haven't heard, Google has made the party game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon even easier. If you're unfamiliar with the game, it was created in 1994 by college students at Pennsylvania's Albright College who saw plenty of Kevin Bacon on the television one day while snowed in--both this history and news of Google's game recently aired in this NPR story. The game involves naming an actor or actress and trying to find the fewest number of connections between that person and Kevin Bacon. If they were in a movie with Kevin Bacon, they receive a Bacon number of 1--you can't do better than that. However, if they never performed in a movie with Kevin Bacon, but did act alongside someone who was in a movie with Kevin Bacon, their Bacon number would be 2. And so on.

This isn't a game you buy. This is something you think up and do while slightly bored in a college dorm or on a car trip, but now the game has increased car trip potential. Google's made the game simpler by making it easy to determine someone's Bacon number--just type in Bacon number before a performer's name, and you'll get the number. Give someone on your car trip a smart phone (except the driver, come on now), and you can check your work.

Example: Harpo Marx, my favorite Marx Brother. I know he made relatively few films and wouldn't have acted in anything with Kevin Bacon, so he's a two or more. Marx Brothers films featured many of the same performers, so there wouldn't be too many different connections going out from him. I can't link any actors or actresses between the two, so I'll have to guess. Is Harpo a 3 or 4? Maybe he's a 3--going to Google.

Google tells me Harpo's a 2, but I don't know. Footage of Harpo was in Slapstick Too, which was narrated by Eli Wallach, who appeared in Mystic River with Kevin Bacon. I'm going to have to ask the judges for clarification on that one, since Harpo appeared only in previously recorded film and Wallach was doing the voice over in 1998--Harpo died 34 years before Wallach's narration.

Well, Harpo aside, Google's Bacon Number Easter egg is still fun to play with. What's your favorite actor or actress' number?

Image credit: "a little more than six degrees of Kevin Bacon" by Flickr user matt_leclair, accessed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/64917994@N00/318120445, used here under Creative Commons license.

SmartGlass???

So you’re sitting around watching Buffy and you KNOW that actor on screen was in something else you saw. You know it. No big deal, right? You just reach for your “fill-in-your-tech-gadget here” and cruise over to IMDB to bring up their filmography. "Wait a second, what is her name? She played a musical instrument...Starts with an A I think???"

What if your gadget was all ready to go with the names of all the actors in the scene just waiting for you to begin your search? How about this, from a live demo given at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo): You're watching Game of Thrones, but you just picked up the show halfway through the season. In this case your device can provide you with a timeline, map and storyline all tied to what is going on in the show you are watching right now. Cool, right?

This is what Microsoft is hoping to bring you this fall with the introduction of SmartGlass. The idea behind SmartGlass is that it provides the user with another screen of extended and, more importantly, integrated content. This could mean many things. It may be that your phone functions as a remote control. If you're a gamer, it may be that your playbook for Madden 2013 comes up on your device (very handy if you are playing your buddy head to head). Only time will tell how SmartGlass may be utilized. 

So this probably sounds like I am just a shill for the boys in Redmond--not true my friends. There are a couple of important reasons I am sharing this with you. First, it was announced that Microsoft will make SmartGlass available not only on Microsoft devices but will also license it for Android and Apple OS devices. This is a big change from Microsoft's previous business paths – think of the ill-fated Zune player. More important is the announcement that Microsoft is releasing the SmartGlass features in a SDK (Software Developers Kit). In other words, they are going to let any Joe Schmoe build applications around this technology. This is a huge about-face for a company that has a reputation of not playing well with others. For consumers, this likely means more potential applications, with more variety and usefulness than if the code was kept under lock and key.

Only time will tell how SmartGlass works out but it certainly raises the bar for how your devices will work together in the future to create an information bubble that travels with the user and morphs to their needs on the fly.

Cloud Computing 101

Recently Google announced that they would jump into the cloud computing and storage market with a product called Google Drive. I was reading about the service and thinking about the proliferation of products on or coming to market and the fact that many people have no clue what they are or what they do. So I present to you Cloud Computing 101, coming to you from the cloud.

I wanted to make sure I didn’t give out any bad information so I figured I needed to do some research. One of the first things I came across was the National Institute of Standards and Technology definition of Cloud Computing. Their definition is so approachable, I thought it would be fun to use a portion of it here to help me explain to you what cloud computing really is. In the interest of making this understandable to mere humans, I will try to give you the Cliff Notes version after each section. Keep in mind that as I too am a mere human, this may be a dubious task; so while I am hopeful that my interpretation is sound, I wouldn’t recommend using it in any term papers.

http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-145/SP800-145.pdf

What they say: Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.

What it means : Cloud computing refers to the ability to share data and computing power across a whole bunch of your stuff (ie. home computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, tablet computer, Xbox, smart phone, etc.)

Here are the essential characteristics as listed in the NIST definition.

What they say: On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.

What it means : You can sign up when you want, for as much as you want, without having to talk to people.

What they say: Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick  client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).

What it means : You can access your data over the internet with a whole bunch of different devices.

What they say: Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.

What it means : Your data and / or processing power is stored on the same server with a bunch of other people’s stuff and can be accessed or utilized as you need it, where you need it.

What they say: Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

What it means : You can use more or less based on your need.

What they say: Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resources use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

What it means : You can monitor how much you have used and how much you have available.

What it comes down to is this: when we look at cloud computing we are really talking about two distinct things. There is cloud storage and there is cloud computing. Cloud storage lets you take advantage of other people’s servers to store your data. Those servers can be accessed by most any device that can get on the information superhighway. Your data is private and secure, though it should be noted that web servers, like any computer, can be hacked, so make backups and consider what you place on the cloud ahead of time. One of the more well known examples of cloud storage is the photo sharing site Flickr; though many of the new products allow the storage of any type of data in any format (music, video, pictures, documents, etc).

Cloud computing is a bit more complicated. In the case of cloud computing you are using the processing power and software on web based servers to do your work. Think Google Documents where your entire work space is hosted on the web. One of the principles behind cloud computing is that consumers can purchase lower powered (cheaper!) electronic devices and still be able to perform the same types of tasks they need their desktops for today.

Another example of how cloud computing is used is in Amazon’s Silk web browser on the Amazon Fire. Silk uses the Fire’s processing power for the bare minimum of work. To do this it sends your web browsing requests to Amazon’s servers, which do the heavy lifting and simply stream the content you need at that moment to the device. It can even anticipate what you will ask for next and have that ready to go when you ask for it. That is an oversimplification,  but I hope it illustrates the point. If you would like to know more about how Silk works check this out.

 http://www.pcworld.com/article/240893/amazon_silk_pros_and_cons.html

Welcome to Brians' Take on Tech

Nope, the title of this blog doesn’t illustrate my inability to grasp the English language. There are indeed two of us and each week our goal is to bring you not one, but two, count  ‘em two blog posts about technology and how it impacts your life for both better and worse.

So you’re saying to yourself,  “Oh good, another tech blog.” The answer we give you is, “Yup”. Even though there are plenty of blogs out there; some of which we will share with you in the coming weeks, we hope to give you something different. First be warned, while we are both librarians, this is not a library blog. In all likelihood we will speak very little about books, even ebooks. We will make almost no mention of library cards or fines. Instead we want to focus our attention on information technology and introduce you to some tools to help make it more manageable, except on Friday. Friday is a fun day. For Friday posts you can expect something fun and stupid to help you start off your weekend on the right foot.

Here’s the deal:  if we manage to stick to our self imposed schedule, Monday posts will be all about what’s new and shiny. This will be when we talk about what’s coming down the pipe or just arrived and why you should care. As I said earlier, Friday is the day to expect the unexpected. Think Angry Birds, Polar Bowling or Cracked.com; think useless time wasters (but time wasters that will leave you smiling at your screen), after all librarians are information navigators and we will navigate you to place to waste time and forget about the work week. 

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