Monday 30 January 2012

Busman's Holiday

I decided to take a week away from the busy life in the office and have one of our regular holiday's away in the East of England.  Sitting here in a log cabin, no traffic about, it's starting to snow and we watched the snow drops landing on our head while we sat in the hot tub.

It's times like this that most people are quite grateful to get away from technology, and a few raised eyebrows always appear when people walk into our cabin to see that I have my laptop on my desk.  As much as most people want to get away from technology, I'm happier knowing that it's about. But why?

It's strange, but this made me think of various forms of technology that we rely on every day.  Our first thoughts would be to our mobile phones. Most people would be happy to switch these off or leave them behind. But technology goes further.  We all have televisions provided with countless channels.  We all have dishwashers and microwaves supplied in the cabins. Underfloor heating, and temperature controlled bath/shower taps.  If we wanted to escape technology, where would we draw the line ?

Maybe we'd try and live life away from any electrical devices. But even the clothing we wear, and forms of transport we use are advancements in technology. Without these, we'd be walking around with sheepskins around us.

Maybe this is what people really want.  To go back to a time before technology kicked in. Before language developed and before early man even developed the first spear to catch a fish for dinner. But then, with the mental capacity still unleashed in our heads, it makes you wonder just how far we could develop if this amazing brain power was unleashed.

So I guess that's why I feel comfortable.  While others around me are happy to switch off, absorb the surroundings and enjoy the fresh air, I'm happier knowing that I can let my brain compute, without the interruptions of day to day work scattering my thought patterns.

I'm grateful we're not going backwards. I really don't understand what "UGG" means to a caveman.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Take One Tablet (And Call Me in the Morning)

They sounded like a pointless idea, at best. Oversized mobile phones, that didn’t work as phones. Like carrying round a touchscreen monitor without a keyboard, printer or any meaningful peripherals. I confess to being one of the doubters.

But they stuck around and users raved about them. Not just the usual tech-zealots but the technophobes as well. And then the imitations started arriving, the sincerest form of flattery. So by the time my laptop started showing signs of wear and tear, my choice wasn’t as clear-cut. Was there actually going to be a case for buying a tablet?

Tablets have been around in one form or another since 2002 (not counting Moses) but since 2010 there has been one clear leader in the field. I’m no Apple minion – I find myself highly indifferent about the iPhone – but the iPad genuinely shook the market up. There’s been a proliferation of tablets from multiple manufacturers with more on the horizon and sales of PCs have noticeably dropped. Still, it’s not as simple as tablets replacing PCs wholesale. By way of balance:

Although mobile by definition, laptops still require a fair amount of supporting paraphernalia, a bag at least, a mains lead if you’re planning on working for more than a couple of hours. But the tablets are pretty self-contained and most will last you a day of pretty solid use on one charge. And there is something deeply cool about sitting in your favourite armchair reading essentially anything you want. The style is undeniable. Gaming, especially multiplayer, is ace.

Printing is a very hit and miss affair. If you have an AirPrint printer then it’s a cinch, but they remain few and far between. If not, then you are likely to have to turn your PC on and use it as a channel to print through. That has always struck me as deeply counter-intuitive. Apps are available that take a good shot at printing directly via Wi-Fi but results vary. You are also limited to the apps that Apple provides via its app store. ‘Limited’ is a highly subjective word as there are well over 140,000 apps for the iPad alone. However, don’t expect there to be exact equivalents of your favourite programs. Apps have to make it through Apple’s quite stringent approval process and you may find gaps that aren’t met according to your needs.

Personally, I ended up landing in the middle. The laptop survived, but I took the pressure off it by purchasing an iPad. The tablet serves for most of the day-to-day browsing, reading, mailing; the laptop for programming, heavy printing and programs unique to Windows. As is often the way with in the tech-world there is no simple answer. You’ll have to make up your mind based on your own needs. But make no mistake, tablets are here for a while yet…

Saturday 14 January 2012

Do you have too much Authority?

When Windows Vista was launch, I was amazed at the amount of people that were asking the question "How do I disable to UAC ?" (User Account Control). What was this mysterious new development on Windows and WHY had Microsoft included it?

Interestingly, it's own own personal habits that made Microsoft bring in the UAC.  The annoying little window that keeps popping up every time you try and install some software, asking if you're REALLY sure that it's OK to do so.

So lets look into what it's really there for and why it was introduced, and it might be time to ask ourselves if we have all given ourselves too much power.

When you first install Windows, or purchase a pre-installed copy, one of the first questions we are asked is the name of the Administrator.  Being rather smug, we put our own name in and a password and feel rather proud as we subsequently add other members names, dedicating our partner's account to have the rather odd looking frog icon.  After which, we sign into our Administrators account and from that point forward we start installing the software we want.

Now while that's rather handy, we've already caused ourselves a problem.  Have you ever noticed software installed on your system that you swear you didn't install yourself?  Have you ever experienced your Web Browser starting at a different home page, and regardless how many times you try and change it, it keeps coming back?

Viruses and Trojan software exploits the fact that you've signed in as Administrator, and with your "access all areas" account, it merrily will install software without you knowing anything about it.

My father experienced this issue, when he received "a call on behalf of Microsoft" in which the caller told him he needed to turn on his computer because he was experiencing problems and they would be able to remotely access his machine and fix it for him.  Yeah, that's right. out of the billions of computers with Microsoft software, they took the time to call my 80+ year old father to fix it for him. How sweet.

It wasn't Microsoft (of course) and after charging him for the service, he also found his computer was doing rather odd things after.  Namely Trojans and software designed for them to log in again whenever they wanted.

So, I changed the way his system worked.  We set up a new user account and restricted it to USER only.  If he wanted to install or remove software, he would have to type in the administrators password. EACH TIME.  Annoying? Yes. Safer? DEFINITELY. Has he had problems since? NO.  Will a Virus install itself without his intervention? UNLIKELY.

It's time to switch back on the UAC.  The annoying pop up window that was put in place because Microsoft realised everybody was running their machines in Administrator level.

It's time to reduce the amount of automatic access we have on our own machines and start being more aware about what's happening behind the scenes.  And gradually the control of the computer will return back to us.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

I've got the power!

Some of the biggest questions I get asked are things like "Why is my computer running so slow?" or "What kind of computer do I need to do this job?" And in most instances, the answer is "Buy the most powerful computer that your budget will allow!"  Why is this?

It's quite easy to get a little distracted by a salesman in a computer shop, showing you all the wonderful bits of software and storage space that you might get if you buy a certain PC or Laptop, but of all the components you want to seriously consider, I would recommend that you find a machine that has the fastest CPU, the most RAM and the best Graphics that money will afford.  If this means sacrificing a bit of software here and there, or getting one with slightly less hard drive space, then it's worth doing.

Software can be purchased or downloaded for free over the course of time.. and I hate buying a computer that comes preloaded with software that I will never use.  The first thing I do with a computer is wipe it clean and install Windows on it fresh.

Secondly, as much as a large hard drive might be appealing, the core components are the items that you should invest your money in.  Get a fast processor, get plenty of memory, get a good graphics card.  Hard drives can be supplemented later with new drives, or external USB drives.  You can currently buy a 1TB external drive for less that £80 in the UK, which means that if you can invest your original money into good quality components and worry about storage when you start filling it up.

Make sure that your power supply is up to the task to. I was surprised a year or two ago to find that the sole reason a server was running slow, was because the power supply was failing or not powerful enough. A quick swap of the power supply instantly kicked it's performance back where it should be.  Think how many USB devices you need to connect and how much power they'll demand.  Each device might use between 5 - 12v so add that up when you connect more and more items.

Power is everything to a computer, the more it gets the happier it behaves.  If you need a computer that performs well, then you should expect it to need power in some way shape of form.

As with any article, if you have any questions or comments, please do so on the facebook page.  Thank you!