Tag Archives: computer

MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?

One or two people recently have been talking to me about buying either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro.

Both I think are pretty awesome devices, I have an 11″ MacBook Air and think it’s great. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it including using Final Cut and Premiere Pro for video editing. Okay, it’s certainly not my first choice of editing devices, the rendering times are not that fast, but for a quick on-the-move video creation it can do the business (and if it can do that then it can do most things).

The Air is nearly half the weight of the Pro and its power charger is also lighter which makes it a very portable package. The Pro with its extra weight and thickness can pack a far more powerful processor, memory and allows for a larger range of hard drives. Pro options also allow for a proper dedicated graphics processing card which would make it a far more games (or video editing) friendly machine. The Pro is quite a bit more expensive.

So for me it boils down to this. Is this laptop going to be solely used as a laptop in that you do have an alternative desktop machine to use at home (or work), or is this laptop also going to be used as a desktop substitute?

If just as a laptop then I’d go Air and take advantage of its lightness and portability. If it was also going to be used as my main desktop machine too, then I’d go Pro.

What I do find interesting is that when the Air first came out it was seen as a premium product, something a bit different and priced well above the basic MacBook range of laptops. Now its their ‘budget model’. Amazing how things change.

YouTube video about it.

Technology Firsts

Two of my Technology Firsts.

My first computer technology experience involved buying a Sinclair ZX81 computer, and in a way it was my first technology disappointment. It was a small, light ‘home computer’ that came with 1k of memory (though I did get its 16k expansion pack) and fed its monochrome output to a television. It was, in its own way a fun device to use and could even play a far better game of chess than I ever could. (You try today to get someone to write a fully working chess game using less than 16k of ram!) However what let it down was an awful membrane keyboard, but what really killed it for me was an unreliable program loading and data saving system. The device had no internal storage system so you had to use a domestic cassette deck connecting its headphone and microphone sockets into the side of the ZX81. This was so temperamental and unreliable – getting the cassette player playback and record levels correct, sorting out cassette start and stop routines – it made using the ZX81 a real pain.

I could see that computers were the way to go, so later replaced this with a Commodore VIC-20. What I liked about the Commodore (compared to the then available Sinclair Spectrum) was that the Commodore had a really nice typewriter style keyboard and its own dedicated cassette tape drive for data storage.

Another technology first was my first mobile phone – a Sony CM-R111. This was a wonderful device. It could only do one thing – make phone calls – but I really loved it to bits. A small device which almost fitted in the palm of your hand (at the time when so many were large chunky ‘bricks’) and with a rather novel flip-down microphone. This was at the time when the mobile system was an analogue one, so no text messaging or fancy data systems, just simple phone calls!

YouTube video.

Mac or Windows – its upgrade time.

It’s almost decision time, but will it be Mac or will it be windows?

My original move to using a Mac was relatively indirect. I, like many people, had started my video editing with Windows MovieMaker. However soon upgraded to a basic budget priced editing package which did me for nearly a year. I could see it had a potential greater than what I was using it for, but there was very little support and virtually no tutorials around for it.

So time for something new. I hunted around on the web to find sites with good general video editing tutorials. Came across the IzzyVideo site where there was some excellent Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Express examples. FCP 7 was both a bit of an overkill for my uses plus too expensive, however the education price of Express was within my budget. Next, what did Express run on; OS X. This coincided with a need for replacement hardware anyway, but as I couldn’t afford a new Mac I ended up with a second-hand MacBook. So began my Apple adventure. I’ve ended up with a 3GS iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, and with an external monitor and keyboard attached, the MacBook used as a desktop machine.

However the MacBook is now seriously showing its age. One reason for using it as a desktop machine is that its battery is screwed. It has trouble running some programs and others won’t install because of its outdated graphics, its processor is constantly being hammered to death (cooling fan often freaking out!) and it’s got it’s fill of RAM but needs more.

Add to that my 3GS, as good as it is, is also showing its age. It’s battery still gives OK life however there are cracks creeping up its back cover, the On/Off button is missing, many new iOS features and more and more Apps coming out will not run on it… You get the idea.

So it’s decision time. Stay with Apple or move on? Apple does make some excellent products, but they are very overpriced (even after education discount). Are they worth the price premium?

The thing is Apple appears to be losing its innovative edge; at one time it was the undisputed leader in design an innovation, but now seems to be playing catch-up.
Going back a few years, the first iPod revolutionised the portable music scene (and helped to pull the company back from a very poor financial situation), the first iPhone showed what a difference a good interface can make, the iPad opened up the world of the tablet. The MacBook Air showed how to make a really nice portable laptop, iMacs had their own unique design.

However so many recent product releases have just been incremental rather than trend-setting. Android now more than competes with its smoothness of system operation. Many other screens give a better viewing experience that a Retina display. In numbers, Google’s Play store competes with Apple’s App store and is catching up in quality and range of Apps, Google’s Now voice search more than competes with Siri. A year or so ago Apple would never have released something like its Maps App in such a poor state of dysfunction.

My phone contract renewal time coincided with the Apple autumn announcement season, so I had been waiting with the proverbial bated breath to see what was coming up, and as a result I’m now the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

There were two ‘final things’ that made me not stay iPhone. First, I had hoped the iPhone 5 would have been something exciting and new, not just a slightly stretched screen and updated processor. Second, iCloud. Over the last year I’ve moved from just being an internet user to that of using the cloud for more and more for my data storage and services, and iCloud just does not do it for me. Google was born in the cloud and inherently seems to do this sort of thing so much better than Apple.

This leaves me thinking about what may happen early next year when I look towards a computer upgrade.

The new iMacs look very tempting, but at a price. However I find myself using Adobe’s CS6 photo products more and more, so for video moving across to CS6 or even Avid’s Media Composer (both Adobe and Avid are cross-platform and both have competitive education prices) would give me the option to stay Mac, but not the absolute need which staying with FCP X would require.

For less than an iMac I can get a similarly specified non-Apple machine, either Adobe or Avid software, and have money to spare for extras like external back-ups. So, as much as I like Macs it’s far from certain that I’ll stay Mac for my computing.

(One final thing, I’ve been surprised at how quickly Macs age. I have a 10 year old Windows laptop which is still in regular productive use. Ten years ago means G3 powered iBooks. I wonder how many of them are still as useful?)

Windows 8, RT and Tablets

What’s going to happen when Microsoft brings out both Windows 8 and the Surface tablet (running Windows RT) together.

I can see quite a few problems with people assuming that their nice new Surface will be able to run their existing Windows programs. After all, it came out at the same time as Windows 8, it has the look of 8, the feel of 8, and it’s even called Windows (be it Windows RT). So why can’t it run my programs!

This version of the Surface is powered by an ARM processor, targeting the battery / low power consumption devices of the portable market. It makes it no different to that of the iPad; the iPad runs apps downloaded from the App Store while the Apple desktops and laptops run OSX and the programs related to that. This Surface runs applications downloaded from Microsoft’s own marketplace while Windows 8 runs programs for desktop computers.

However Microsoft seems very lax in highlighting the differences between the ARM powered Surface tablet and Windows 8 for the Intel powered machines. I’ve read a few reports and surveys indicating the Microsoft support staff don’t seem to know the differences either.

I guess there is the added complication that in a few month’s time there should be the Surface Pro model which will be Intel powered and run full Windows 8.

I’ve never known people to be confused over the differences between the iPhone / iPad and the MacBooks and iMacs, Apple have kept them quite distinct (even if they are starting to give a common look and feel to their operating systems), but the way Microsoft has handled the release of their new systems has not been well thought out.

Coming in confusing their potential customers with almost identical but operationally very different systems as a way of trying to break into an established tablet market is not really the best way to do things.

But then this is Microsoft, not known for doing things the easy way!

Windows 8 future potential

 Windows 8, how’s it going to go.

Very shortly Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8 will be out; what’s going to happen?
I assume on the computer side of things, as new machines arrive with Windows 8 pre-installed the operating system will naturally spread through the user world. Microsoft has already ended its mainstream support for both XP and Vista, and XP’s extended support will end in the not too distant future, so corporations still hanging on to XP are going to have to upgrade soon.
Microsoft has already announced that its service pack support for 7 will end next year, so again, more reasons for looking towards 8.

What about the phones and tablets, will it break into the Android / Apple duopoly.
One thing that could give it an advantage is that it’s relatively free from the legal arguments going on between the Android and Apple communities. This could make it very tempting for the business world that does *not* like getting involved in other people’s legal wrangles. At the moment they don’t have much choice, Blackberry seems in terminal decline which really just leaves them looking towards the two arguing ‘big boys’.

So if Microsoft can come along and provide a user system with some quality phones and tablets (devices announced by Nokia, HTC and Samsung seem to be getting some good press) that will seamlessly integrate in with their desktop machines and without these Apple / Android uncertainties, then I could see business being quite tempted. Combine this business use with those individuals who want to give it a try and this should provide a more than big enough user base to get developers interested.

So I would not be too surprised if in a couple of years time it had sorted itself out to be something like 40% Android, 40% Apple and 20% Windows 8, and (unless they can do something quite amazing really quickly) RIM / Blackberry seriously struggling.

One thing to remember; before the iPhone came along, in places like the USA those earlier Windows Mobile based phones had about 40% of the market, so if they’ve done it before then there’s a fair chance they can do it again.

7 Inch Tablets.

I can’t make up my mind about these new 7 inch tablets.

I like the larger screen sized phones – easier to see web pages, maps are nicer to use, more room for a virtual keyboard etc . I also like my iPad – a ‘full size screen’ device which can do much of what a lap-top can do but a lot lighter, more portable and longer battery life.
So what about those that fall between the two, the new 7 inch devices which are becoming more and more common. Too large to fit in my pocket or in a pouch on my belt so they’ve lost that portability factor. A lot smaller than an iPad so they’ve lost a lot of functionality that comes with a physically larger screen. The worst of both worlds.
Or is it a case that thought they’re not pocket size they are small enough to fit into almost any sort of bag or carrier without taking up any significant amount of space, yet big enough to provide a really useful size of screen. Also powerful enough with dual and quad core processors to do whatever’s demanded from them.

There’s one thing that must be in favour for at least for some of these devices and that’s their price. The Nexus 7 or the 7 inch Galaxy Tab2 may be smaller than the iPad but they still have a similar level of functionality, however they come in at around half the cost. This for parents thinking of providing their children with a tablet type device for school must make it much more tempting. Also for those uncertain about the whole tablet thing a price at the £160 to £180 range is far less of a risk than the £400 or £500 for an iPad. We’ve also got the much rumoured iPad mini which should be appearing soon.

If I was to be upgrading my phone now I could be tempted with a Galaxy Note 2 with its 5.5 inch screen, a device still small enough (just) for me to carry around on a belt holder. As for these 7 inch tablets, at the moment I’m not too sure.

A case of wait and see.

Internet use and data security

As we use the internet, how seriously do we take our data security?

I’ve been using the internet now for over 20 years. My first real experience involved a friend taking me off to some Unix computers to look at a collection of amazing planet / space images he’d found from (I think) NASA. This was not using a web browser (this was just as the web was starting to get noticed, my first web browsing experience was about 3 months later) but through Gopher space. However even prior to this I’d been playing around with computers for some time.

So over all these 20+ years of computer usage I’ve been infected three times by viruses, the last one about six years ago. However yesterday was the first time I’ve actually had one of my services (Twitter) hacked into. This did get me thinking a bit about control, and about how much I now have (or don’t have) over my information when actually using the computer in front of me. Even now, I’m not writing this on a word processor on my machine, but using Evernote, which automatically saves this to a server somewhere out on the internet! I’m currently using Macs, often hyped for their resilience against viruses, I also keep my software up to date with the latest patches and fixes, yet this did not stop my Twitter from being despoiled.

With the expectation now of ‘total access’ to all of your services from anywhere, school, work, home, on the train (even my local buses are now advertising wi-fi access) we’re passing across to others so much control without knowing what’s going on with our data. We all tick those boxes saying we have read the Terms and Conditions, but how many do read them, or when you do, make any sense of them. Even if your data is (supposedly) stored on a server in the EU or in the United States, what route did it take to get there. While you were tapping away on the keyboard, did the wonders of the internet direct it from your ISP through to some other country before it made its way back to your preferred data centre? If your data is intercepted en-route, who do you turn to for help!

I really do find it useful to have access to my information and to be able to do my social networking from anywhere and everywhere, but there is a price to pay for this. I just hope it’s worth it!

Closed Currys, not surprised.

Just walked passed a Currys Digital store here in central Glasgow to find it totally closed.

Saddened in that it is one less high street store open, but not surprised to see it happen. One thing that has characterised my visits to any (what was) Dixons / Currys / PC World was that I would leave feeling more irritated and annoyed than I did when I went in, my ‘customer experience’ in any of these Dixons Retail group stores was always negative.

I remember a while ago going into one store and while looking at one or two laptops was approached by a sales girl who asked what sort of laptop I was after. I said I was after something that had to be dual-core processor and the video output to be digital. She said ‘back in a minute’ and when she returned selected a lap-top saying this one would be suitable for me, pointing to the (analogue) VGA output saying that this was digital. I questioned her about it but the assistant repeated that this was suitable, told me the output really was digital, and was keen to complete the sale. Fail!

Another instance was of looking at printers and being approached by a sales assistant. I said I was looking for one of the cheaper postscript compatible machines. She said she didn’t know if they had any but would go and ask. (I have no problems with staff not knowing – they can’t know everything – so long as they are honest about it.) When she returned she said that they didn’t sell that make. The trouble is that postscript is not a make but a printer language common across most high and mid-range printers with some low-end machines postscript compatible too. I don’t know who she asked, but the end result was incorrect information from the staff and a disappointed customer. (Needless to say, there were postscript compatible printers there.)

As for the number of times I’ve overheard staff tell customers that ‘this camera’ is better than ‘that camera’ because it ‘has more megapixels’ is too many to list here. Or being told this is better ‘because it’s digital’. Then when you ask why does that make it better, the response just to repeat ‘because it’s digital’. Or of course, going into one of their stores and then waiting 20 minutes to be served, only to be eventually approached by a member of staff saying that the store is now closing. This has been a depressingly common experience; it’s apparent that as soon as it gets anywhere near closing time the staff all start heading towards the back of the store, reluctant to serve customers. I assume in case it delays their exit out at the end of the day.

Then there is the integration of (or lack of) the running of their web site compared to that of the store. Senior management has not yet latched onto the fact that consumers now expect seamless integration between the two. To find the web saying there is stock and on going to the store finding none, or price differences between the two is unacceptable. Customers expect to find ‘exclusives’ consistent between the channels. Their stores need to compliment, not compete with their internet presence.

I prefer buying in a shop, to be able to see and handle the actual product at time of purchase. To be able to walk out with the item, not having any postal delays and trying not to miss the delivery van. However finding staff who don’t know their products, who only seem interested in customers if they can get the customer to buy something that will fulfil their daily sales target just sends me off to places like Amazon. It’s not that I want to go to Amazon, but am being driven there because of the quality of service from their high street stores.

iPad thoughts.

Just a few iPad thoughts.

When the original iPad first came out I was not too impressed with it. No flash support, no USB, a screen with a ratio 4:3 rather than 16:9… and so on. Then after a while I thought about it and wondered if I wasn’t expecting too much from the device (it’s only a tablet after all) and swung around in favour of it.

This was to change again after I spent time playing with them in my local Apple Store. I found the square edges made holding it for any length of time uncomfortable, missed having a ‘real’ keyboard, it was over priced. My iPhone did most things I wanted a portable device to do, and I have a small net book if I want portable computing.

Then the iPad 2 came out and that gave me second thoughts. It was lighter and the relatively sharp square edges has been rounded off. An improved graphics processor and dual core main processor were there and they had not bumped up the price for the new model. They had also added rear and front facing cameras. (I am a great believer in that if you want to take a decent picture then use a proper camera, however a basic camera is still better than no camera, and using the iPad version of iMovie you can do okay video editing on the device.)

Now, I tend to be someone who will be happy enough to spend time thinking about things, nothing like a good bit of procrastination when you’re not quite sure of something. Maybe this or maybe that, but on the other hand….why not pour yourself another cup of tea. However once the decision has actually been made then I like to carry out that decision immediately. No hesitation, no delay, but *right now*.

So there I was in a local coffee shop with a friend and it was going to be a busy day so I had not brought my lap top with me. However he got out his (original model) iPad and was immediately being ‘computer productive’. That was it, that was the final action that made me go from ‘I’d like one but…’ to ‘It’s genuinely useful, I want one’. Five minutes later we were heading up towards the local Apple Store, and ten minutes later I was the proud owner of a base model iPad 2.

I like it. Where before I thought it too big compared to a phone, too small compared to a ‘proper’ computer, now I see it as nicely filling that gap. A screen big enough to be genuinely useful size, (great BBC iPlayer device) but not so large as to dent its portability. It can be carried around in almost any sort of case or ruck sack and has a decent battery life (so no need to be constantly carrying its charger). It can do about 80% of what I’d want from a full computer, but then on that odd occasion when I *really need* that bit of extra use I can always take my lap top with me. In numeric terms its screen resolution may now be bettered by other devices, but it is still a very nice screen to use. Its virtual keyboard I found unexpectedly pleasant (either one or two handed) and have made less errors using this virtual one than I usually do when using a physical one.

I do miss not having a USB port for for file and data back-up, and I wish a USB port was there for battery charging. The other thing I find a bit irritating is that the screen is too reflective, so I must look out for a screen protector for it to cut this down a bit.

So overall I’ll give it a definite Thumbs Up. A device I see not competing against, but complimenting one’s other computing devices.

Projects and EeePC

Getting stopped far more in the corridors of work now by the students all wanting help with their projects. There is a problem with some who have come in from a culture where they are used to having everything done for them, and therefore expect you (i.e. me) who is only a ‘mere technician’ (servant) to basically do everything for them such that all they need to do is to press a couple of buttons and get all their results. As far as I’m concerned, they can just FUCK OFF. It’s their project, they are required to research and develop it. I’ll do my bit to help, to talk about and to show alternative ways of doing things, to make suggestions and say how, if it was my project, I might go about doing it. But if they expect me to run around and do their work for them just because they are too up their own arses to get the work done, tough.

It’s nearly the end of November. In the city centre on Saturday and the place mobbed. Managed to get into my usual Starbucks for a coffee. While there some school kids came in and ended up sharing my table. I was using my EeePC 901, and that immediately got conversation going, especially as I was on YouTube. An unusually nice crowd of guys, so often the school kids that go in there are so immature and silly that it gets really annoying, it’s nice to meet a bit more of a switched-on group. Turned out that some of the people I follow on YouTube they follow too, so had a thoroughly nice 45 minutes of chat and running around on YouTube.

Sorted out the microphone problem I was having with my EeePC by downloading a slightly older (and simpler – no fancy 3-D pseudo-Dolby effects) set of drivers.