Bonus Bit: Surviving the Steam Summer Sale

Ahh yes, the steam summer sale, the glorious and magical two weeks of wallet crushing sales and bundles, whether you are new or a grizzled veteran, there is always something to be found at a price you thought was impossible.  But wait, it’s dangerous out there, take a read through this before you head out into the tsunami of sales tags to make sure you get the most out of your summer sale action.  

 

Quick Details on the Summer Sale

What: Large discounts on hundreds of video games from the largest PC gaming platform
Who: Anyone who owns a computer
When: June 22nd 1pm est until July 5th 1pm est
Where: store.steampowered.com

Changes and Updates to the Summer Sale Format

Veterans of Summer Sales will remember daily deals and flash sales, which are missing from this years sale, instead Steam will curate a list of games already on sale that they think you should take a look at.  This unfortunately limits what Valve can do with the sale, instead of like previous years with games for users to play, like the monster clicker game or being split into colored teams, they have decided to release limited summer sale stickers.  What are stickers you ask?  Stickers act in a similar way to Trading Cards, but instead of dropping from time spent in game, they drop based on certain activities that Valve want to encourage (check steam each day during the sale, etc) and if you fill up your sticker book, you may get a special surprise.  Trading cards are also back this year, and seem to be dropping in the same manner as previous sales, based on how much money (currently each $10 increase gets you a card) you have spent during the sale, with a special badge that can be crafted if you collect all the cards.  

 

Tips for New Commers 

Your first Summer Sales is almost always the most memorable sale, seeing hundreds of games that you want for 60%~95% off embeds a nostalgic feeling that is hard to shake.  Many veterans will complain that the sales aren’t like they used to be, but in reality it is more likely that they’ve picked up the games that they want, and as such it seems to loose a bit of luster to them.  But to the newbie it is all brand new and very easy to get lost in the fray.  To keep you from getting burnt out from the first week of sales I suggest you check out the r/steam and r/pcmasterrace (disclaimer: PCMR is a reddit group by and for pc gaming, there are no political allegiances, mac heathens and console peasants are welcomed) subreddits and the Summer Sale megathreads to keep up the special sales and answer any questions that you have.  

Even though it is a bit outdated I suggest keeping this flow chart in mind as planning your purchases can help keep you from breaking the bank.  Another tidbit is that Steam has a refund option, as long as you have owned the game for less than 14 days and have less than 2 hours of playtime you can refund it, but be careful, Steam refunds whole purchases and not single games, so if you buy 5 games on sale and want to refund 1, you will have to refund the other 4 as well.  Once you get down to playing with your new games, don’t forget to include other people, discord/teamspeak/mumble are great ways of voice chatting with your friends if the steam VOIP service doesn’t interest you and can provide structure if you are playing squad MMO’s.

Remember to stay safe out there, it’s a big sale but with a bit of planning and some self control you and your wallet should stay intact.

 

Content Providers and Net Neutrality: A Double-Edged Sword

Source: http://www.thetelecomblog.com/2016/06/15/fccs-net-neutrality-upheld-in-appeals-court-decision/

Source: http://www.thetelecomblog.com/2016/06/15/fccs-net-neutrality-upheld-in-appeals-court-decision/

Net neutrality is the principle that data should be treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs) and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Those in favor of net neutrality argue that ISPs should not be able to block access to a website run by their competitor or offer “fast lanes” to deliver data more efficiently for a hefty fee. Imagine if Verizon could stop customers from researching about switching to Comcast, or block access to negative press about their business practices. For ISPs, network inequality is a pretty sweet deal. Broadband providers can charge premiums for customers to access existing network-structures, and control the content viewed by subscribers.

Essentially, a lack of network neutrality actively promotes discrimination against competitors and encourages ISPs to deliberately limit high-speed data access. This form of throttling speeds when there are negligible costs of production after initial development is known as “artificial scarcity.” Supply is intentionally restricted which makes the item, internet access, more valuable.

Without net neutrality, internet providers have free-reign over deciding which content reaches their subscribers. In 2014, this issue came to a head when Comcast and other broadband suppliers intentionally restricted the data transmission for Netflix services. To appease customers with a paid subscription who could no longer watch the streaming service, Netflix agreed to pay the broadband companies tens of millions of dollars a year. Evidently, a lack of net neutrality creates a conflict of interest between wireless service providers and content firms like Google, Facebook, and Netflix. These content providers want consumers to have unfettered access to their services. Tolls for network access create barriers for internet-based services which rely on  ad-revenue and network traffic.

Despite the threat network neutrality poses to content-centric services many tech companies have been hesitant to vehemently oppose restricting data access. Facebook is investing in creating their own ecosystem. With Facebook as a central hub where you can connect with friends, view businesses, listen to music and play games, the company has little incentive to petition for the free and universal flow of information and Web traffic. From a corporate perspective, every web-interaction would ideally be done through Facebook. In a similar vein, Google has been moving closer and closer to becoming an internet provider themselves. Company initiatives like Google Fiber, Project Fi and Project Loon are the stepping-stone to Google dominating both the web-traffic and web-access businesses. This creates a double-edged sword where unrestricted internet access both helps and harms content-providers. While tech companies do not want restricted access to their sites, they would love to restrict consumer-access to that of their rivals. The burden of protecting a free internet and the unrestricted flow of information therefore lies on consumers.

Password Managers and You

Today we’re going to deal with an issue that I’m sure many of us run into on a daily basis: managing passwords. Given that you probably use a bajillion different services, each of which has its own password requirement, and given that UMass makes you change your password once a year, you probably have trouble keeping them all straight. Luckily for you, there is a tool you can use to keep your passwords tracked!

 

For these tools, you can use one super strong password to keep all your other passwords safe, easily searchable, and all in one place. They can often be used to automatically fill in login info on the web.

 

There are many password managers out there. You can find reviews of them simply by googling “password manager.” The ones I am going to mention here are the default chrome password manager, and Lastpass.

 

The first and easiest one, Google Smart Lock is so ubiquitous that you’ve probably been using it all along! Any time your google chrome asks you to “save” a password, it gets stored in Google Smart Lock. If you want to see your passwords, or manually add new ones, simply go to “passwords.google.com” and log in with your (non UMass) Google account. Voila! You can see all of the passwords that you have saved while using Chrome.

Image result for google smart lock

What about if you aren’t a Chrome user? Or maybe you don’t like the idea of Google storing your data… What can you do?

You can use a manager like LastPass. This browser extension/mobile app can also keep your passwords safe and encrypted. You can even set up 2 factor authentication (so that you would have to have 2 devices on you to be able to see your saved passwords). You can find more information here: https://www.lastpass.com/how-it-works but it works in essentially the same way as Google Last Pass. You can save passwords, add new passwords, automatically fill out forms, etc.

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So get one of these managers, and never worry about forgetting your many many passwords again!

The New Face of the FCC

With any incoming president interest swirls around cabinet nominees and appointees, many set precedent for the departments, perhaps none more so than Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.  An advocate for deregulation of the FCC and free market ideals, Pai has an unique opportunity to shape our world into something vastly new and different.

Born in 1973, Pai graduated from Havard with a BA in Social Studies in 1994 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1997.  After which he clerked for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and then working for the Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division where he specialized in mergers and acquisitions.  After which he served as an associate general counsel for Verizon where he dealt with competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives.  From there he served on several subcommittees, until 2007 when he was appointed to work for the general counsel ultimately serving as Deputy General Counsel.  In 2011 he was nominated and unanimously confirmed for the republican party position on the FCC and served until 2016.  

Pai’s controversial stances on net neutrality stem from his view that they are an overly conservative reading of the laws of the responsibilities held by the FCC, claiming that regulations may lead the FCC to regulating political speech.  He advocates for the marketplace of ideas, stating to the Washington Examiner  “I think it’s dangerous, frankly, that we don’t see more often people espousing the First Amendment view that we should have a robust marketplace of ideas where everybody should be willing and able to participate.“  While it will take time for his tenure to have an effect on regulations, he will definitely speed up the pace of work, from a 2012 speech at Carnegie Mellon “we need to start taking our other statutory and internal deadlines more seriously” and “The FCC should be as nimble as the industry we oversee”.  From corporate mergers to changing how radio spectrum is portioned out, changes will be coming.  In the speech Pai shared his view of a different FCC, where the free market is utilized to bring about change and regulations are used to increase competition.  The next 4 years will be written by free market ideals and a furious pace of work, leading to an impact that will hopefully provide better choice and coverage for consumers. 

Pai’s presence as FCC Chairman will leave a lasting change on the history of the committee, some changes will be a step in the right directions, others maybe missteps, but all of them will have the possibility of changing how you interact with the rest of the world.  

Today in “Absurd Tech Stories”: Burger King vs Google

“OK, Google: What is the Whopper burger?”

The internet is all over a story today involving burger giant Burger King and tech giant Google, in which Burger King released a new ad that takes advantage of Google Home, the in home personal assistant created by Google. This device mirrors other in home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.

Google Home.

The short commercial, titled “BURGER KING® | Connected Whopper®” (shown below), features a Burger King employee using the phrase “OK, Google” to purposefully trigger in home devices or mobile phones with Google Voice capability to conduct a Google search for the Whopper. On the surface, this comes across as a pretty clever marketing ploy by BK, taking advantage of current tech trends to make the commercial more relate-able

However, in true internet fashion, those that wanted to have a little fun caught wind of this ad pretty quickly turned this innocent commercial into something a little more ridiculous.

Asking Google Home the question “OK, Google: What is the Whopper burger?” gives the user a description based on the current Wikipedia article. This rule applies to anything that is searched for in this fashion. Users who wanted to mess around with the first line of the Wikipedia article started to edit the line, making it say things like that the Whopper’s main ingredient was cyanide, and that the Whopper was “cancer-causing”, which would then read out when someone tried to run the voice command.

Within three hours, Google had modified their voice detection to not interact at all with the Burger King commercial. Users could still normally ask the device the same phrase, but it seemed that Google didn’t take too kindly to the small disturbance that this commercial was causing and shut it down as fast as it started.

Stories of internet trolls taking advantage of AI programs are becoming more and more prevalent in recent years. In March of 2016, Twitter users were able to modify TAY.AI, Microsoft’s Twitter chatter bot, to make remarkably inflammatory and inappropriate comments.

 

The commercial can be viewed here:

App Review: Glitché

Fun fact: You can type the “é” character on Mac OS by holding down the “e” key until the following menu pops up:

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 3.39.58 PM

From there, simply select the second option with your mouse and you’ll be right as rain. I’m only telling you this because the application I’ll be discussing today is called Glitché, not “Glitche”.

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Glitché is an app that provides users with “a full range of tools and options to turn images into masterpieces of digital art.” That description is from the app’s official website; a website which also proudly displays the following quote:

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Either this quote is outdated or Mr. Knight is putting more emphasis on the word “compared” than I’m giving him credit for. While yes, one could argue that contextually a 0.99¢ application would comparatively seem like a free download to someone purchasing a nearly $400 post-production suite, I might be more inclined to ask how you define the word “free”.

You see, Glitché is actually 0.99¢…unless you want the other features. Do you want Hi-Res Exports? That’ll be $2.99. Do you want to be able to edit videos? Another $2.99, please. Do you want camera filters? $2.99 it is!

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So Glitché is actually more like $9.96, but that doesn’t sound as good as 0.99¢, does it? You might argue that I’m making a big deal out of this, but I’m just trying to put this all in perspective for you. From here on out I want you to understand that the program I’m critiquing charges $10 for the full experience, which is fairly expensive for a phone application.

Another issue I have with this quote and the description given by the website is that Glitché isn’t trying to compete with Adobe Photoshop. Glitché isn’t a replacement for your post-production suite nor is it your one-stop-shop for turning images into masterpieces of digital art; rather, Glitché strives to give you a wide selection of tools to achieve a very specific look. This aesthetic can best be described as a mixture of To Adrian Rodriguez, With Love and a modern take on cyberpunk. Essentially the app warps and distorts a given image to make it look visually corrupted, glitched, or of VHS quality. It’s a bit hard to describe, so here’s a few examples of some of the more interesting filters.

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Unedited photo for reference

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The “GLITCH” filter. Holding down your finger on the screen causes the flickering and tearing to increase. Tapping once stops the flickering.

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The “CHNNLS” filter. Dragging your finger across the screen sends a wave of rainbow colors across it. The color of the distortion can be changed.

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The “SCREEN” filter works like the “CHNNLS” filter, only it distorts the entire image.

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The “GRID” filter turns your image into a 3D abstract object akin to something one might see in an EDM music video.

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The “LCD” filter lets you move the colors with your thumb while the outline of your image remains fixed.

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The “VHS” filter applies VHS scan lines and warps more aggressively if you press your thumb down on the image.

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The “DATAMOSH” filter. The direction of the distortion depends on the green dot you press in the center reticle. The reticle disappears once the image is saved.

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The “EDGES” filter can be adjusted using both the slider below your image and with your thumb.

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The “FISHEYE” filter creates a 3D fisheye overlay you can move around on your image with your thumb.

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The “TAPE” filter works in a similar fashion to the “VHS” filter, only moving your thumb across it creates a more subtle distortion.

Listing off some of the individual filters admittedly isn’t doing the app justice. While you are able to use a singular filter, the app also allows you to combine and overlay multiple filters to achieve different effects. Here’s something I made using a combination of five filters:

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You can also edit video in a similar fashion (after paying the required $2.99).

The interface itself is simplistic and easy to navigate, though the application lacks certain features one might expect. You can’t save and load projects, you can’t favorite filters, and you can’t perform any complex video editing outside of applying a filter. The app has crashed on me a few times in the past, though this is a rare occurrence. The app is regularly updated with new features and filters.

So, 0.99¢ gets you 33 filters and limits you to Lo-Res exports and GIF exports. $9.96 gets you 33 filters, the ability to export in Hi-Res, the ability to export to GIF, the ability to edit videos, and the ability to record video in the actual application while using said filters.

I keep bringing this back to the cost of the app because that’s really the only place where opinions may vary. The app does what it sets out to do, but the price for the full package leaves a lot to be desired. There are definitely people out there who would gladly pay $10 for this aesthetic, and there are plenty more who would shake their head at it. If any of the filters or images I’ve shown you seem worth $10, then I think you’ll enjoy Glitché. However, if you think this app is a bit too simplistic and overpriced for what it is, I recommend you spend your money elsewhere. It really all boils down to the cost, as the app itself works fine for what it is. In my opinion, the app would be a great deal at $3 or even $5; however, $10 is a bit much to ask for in return for a few nifty filters.

 

Browsing the Web Anonymously with a VPN

You may have heard someone say that they use a VPN to protect themselves on the internet. What is a VPN? What does it do? How can you use it to protect yourself?

VPN stands for virtual private network. They are essentially simulations of connections (hence the ‘virtual’ part) to a certain private networks (networks that one can’t normally connect to from outside or over the internet). They allow users to connect to a local private (e.g. corporate) network remotely from, say, their home, or a coffee shop. A VPN allows its users to interact with the local network as if they were normally connected to it. For example, say a developer at a tech startup wanted to work on her project at her local Starbucks instead of commuting into the office, but to protect their intellectual property the startup doesn’t allow anyone to look at their code without being connected to their local onsite network (sometimes referred to as an intranet). However, the developers at the startup aren’t big fans of the cubicle life, and like to roam around and do their work at the library with a book, or at home with their dogs. Fortunately, the startup has a VPN set up so that the developers can log into the intranet and look at their projects remotely. The computer appears as if it actually is physically located in the office and has almost all of the access that it would have if it was literally in the office.

But how does the VPN make sure that only the right people have access to the network? This is where the magic of the VPN is. When you log into your VPN client with your username and password and the server authenticates you, your computer creates a point-to-point encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN server — think of it as a really long tube that runs between your computer and the server in the office that nobody in between can look inside of. That means if you’re sitting at Starbucks and your company uses Comcast as its internet service provider, nobody in your Starbucks can peek into your Wi-Fi signal (this is referred to as a man-in-the-middle attack), and Comcast can’t snoop into what’s in the data that your company is sending to you before it delivers it to you.

Computer Privacy Hood

Just like nobody can see what’s going on here between the computer display and the man’s eyes, nobody over the internet can see what’s going on between the endpoints of a VPN point-to-point encrypted tunnel.

Having a reliable, trustworthy connection to a server over the internet can be a very valuable tool. In a world of big data, hacking, online banking, password leaks, and government surveillance, being able to communicate with anyone securely is very important.

In addition to providing secure connections to remote servers, VPNs provide another incredibly useful ability as a sort of side effect — a VPN can act as a sort of ‘online mask,’ so that you can browse around a website without the website knowing exactly who you are. Generally speaking, your identity to the World Wide Web is your IP address, which can be used to determine your location down to the city/town. When you access a website, you send your IP address to the website’s server (so that the website knows who to send information back to), and your internet service provider (e.g. Comcast) knows that you are communicating with this website (if your connection is unencrypted, Comcast can also see the content of your communications with the website). When you access this website through a VPN server, your request first goes through the encrypted tunnel to the VPN server, and the VPN server then bounces the request along to the website itself (over an unencrypted connection). When the website responds to the VPN server, the server bounces the response back to you over your encrypted tunnel. The website believes that they are just communicating with the VPN server, without any clue that their response is being passed on to anyone else. Comcast may be able to read the communications between the website and the VPN server, but they have no way of knowing that the communication is connected to you.

VPN Server Setup

This diagram shows the path that information travels through between your computer and the internet when you are connected to a VPN server. The encryption between your computer and the VPN server prevents anyone from snooping in on the communications between you and the server.

There are other ways to hide your identity on the internet. You can use a proxy, which appears similar to a VPN on the surface. You can connect to a website through a proxy to hide your IP address from the website, so the proxy also acts like a man-in-the-middle like a VPN does. The difference is that your computer’s connection to the proxy is not encrypted, so from a large enough scope, your communication with the website could be traced back to you. If an internet service provider such as Comcast happened to service both the connection from you to the proxy server, AND from the proxy server to the website, they could piece together that it was you who connected to the website over the proxy, and since the communications aren’t encrypted, they could also see exactly what you were communicating about with the website over the proxy. Proxies also don’t mask your IP address over the entire computer — you have to configure each application individually to send all of it’s internet-based protocols through a proxy server. VPNs are OS-wide, meaning that it protects your entire computer no matter what internet-based protocol is being sent out.

Proxy Server Setup

The layout of a connection to a proxy server. Only individual applications can connect to a proxy server, not the entire computer. Communications are also not encrypted and open to being intercepted.

Thanks to the ability to provide anonymity over the internet, some companies have emerged that make a business out of providing access to their VPN servers. Their business model is that, for a fee, you can connect to their VPN servers to use as an ‘online mask’ however you like, and whatever you do won’t be traced back to you. The catch is whether a particular company is trustworthy or not — some VPN service providers log your activity and give it to authority or sell it to the highest bidder, essentially nullifying the anonymity that a VPN provides. You should always be skeptical and selective when choosing a VPN service provider; and remember, you get what you pay for. There are many free VPN service providers out there that allow you to use their servers for free up to a certain bandwidth; as a general rule of thumb, whether it be regarding free VPN service providers or free social networks, as long as someone is making a profit, if you’re not paying for the product, YOU are the product!

In conclusion, there are many ways to protect yourself over the internet, and selecting the best tool for your needs is the way to go. If you’re abroad and you want to watch a show on Netflix but it’s not available in the country you’re in, you can use a proxy to connect to a US server and stream it over your proxy connection, since encryption isn’t mandatory for this case. If you’re at Dunkin’ Donuts and you’re working on a top-secret project for your startup and you don’t want any tech-savvy thieves stealing your code over your free Wi-Fi connection, you can use a VPN to encrypt your connection between you and your company server. If you want to check your bank account online, but the bank doesn’t have good online business practices and don’t encrypt their web communications by default, you may want to use a VPN when logging into your bank’s website to make sure that nobody successfully fishes for your username and password. And if you’re working on an absolutely, positively, unconditionally classified, top-secret, sensitive, need-to-know-basis document, but you really, really, really want to get a frappuchino, perhaps you should consider getting yourself one of those sweatshirts with the oversized privacy hoods that you can wrap around your computer display, as seen above.

The red iPhone 7, and Why There Should Be More Product Red Products

I recently purchased an iPhone 7 with the Product Red branding. It took a little convincing, but my wallet and I eventually came to an agreement about this. It had been a while since I last upgraded my phone, and the iPhone is the industry standard. And it’s red!

Product Red is an initiative that started 11 years ago, with a goal of engaging companies that sells consumer goods to raise funds to fight AIDS in Africa. Product Red products have a distinctive red branding, and a share of the proceeds go towards the Global Fund.

When Apple announced that they were to ship out iPhones with the Product Red casing, the overall sentiment was that the phone looked good. Real good. Almost makes you wanna trade in your Android good. And if you were already an iPhone owner and was looking to switch to a newer phone, it’s hard to look away and consider otherwise.

Apple has a very rich history with the Product Red initiative, having had branded various iPods with Product Red beginning in 2006. The new iPhone, however, is the biggest slab of red Apple has released so far, and really, it brings up the question: why aren’t there more Product Red phones elsewhere on the market? The only other phone that was ever shipped with Product Red branding was the Motorola RAZR (remember those things?), a decade ago.

Sure, Product Red has its fair share of criticisms. It is, in the end, a marketing ploy, and Apple smartly released this phone a few months before the announcement and release of the next iPhone to drive sales and push out soon to be obsolete hardware from their supply chains. But try and think of the last major product that pledge to donate a portion of the proceeds to any charity of any kind. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between.

Understand that, in today’s world, where the internet should be considered (and is, in some places) a utility, and where our phones and laptops are the main proponents of the internet, it only makes sense that we should demand more products that gives back, even if it’s just a little bit, even if it’s just a marketing ploy. Considering the already questionable ethics of how these devices are produced to begin with, it’s the least that we, as conscientious consumers, can do.

NES Mini

Nintendo recently released the NES Classic, but good luck finding it.

The NES classic is a small, $60, HDMI compatible replica of Nintendo’s iconic first console, the NES, which hit the US market in 1985.  The classic comes with 30 games preinstalled, with the potential for more to be added later.  It includes all of the classics many of us can still remember playing as kids, albeit on our parent’s childhood Consoles.  Now you can play Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, the Legend of Zelda, Kirby’s Adventure, and more, all in a cute little NES with two controllers (which are compatible with the Wii U) that can fit in the palm of your hand!  Or you could, If it wasn’t completely sold out.

Nostalgia took its toll and Nintendo proved that their games are timeless.  Some stores sold out within 10 minutes of officially selling them, and all preorder lists for stores like Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Gamestop, an even Amazon are long and without a date or shipment size for when they will get their hands on more.

Such a clamor has been made about the new consoles that a site with the sole purpose of tracking mass shipments of them has gotten a nice bump in traffic http://www.nowinstock.net/videogaming/consoles/nesclassicmini/

Some that are ultra desperate to get their hands on the gadget have been shelling out as much as 5 times the original cost(sometimes as much as $300-500) on ebay and craigslist to own the otherwise sold out NES classic.

What’s The Deal With External Graphics Docks?

What is an External Graphics Dock?

Not everyone who likes to play video games has the time, money, or know-how to build their own gaming PC. These people will more often than not opt to get a gaming laptop instead, which with their high cost and TDP/wattage-limited graphics solutions prove unsatisfactory for high intensity gaming. If not a gaming laptop, then they do what they can with their thin & light notebook with integrated graphics that, while great for portability, can not run games very well at all. Using an external graphics dock you can get the best of both worlds! There is minimal assembly required, and you can have your thin and light laptop to bring to class or to work, then when you get home plug into your external graphics dock and have all the gaming horsepower and display outputs you need.

Sounds Great! How Do These External Graphics Docs Work, Then?

egpu
The most basic eGPU dock

The basic concept of an external graphics dock is this: take a regular desktop Graphics Card, plug it into a PCIe slot in a dock, get power to the dock and the Graphics card, then plug that dock into your laptop. After installing the right drivers and performing two or three restarts, hark! High frame rates at high settings are coming your way. The internal GPU is completely bypassed and data is sent from the laptop to the GPU to an external display, and in some cases back to the laptop to power its own internal display. The graphics card will have to be purchased separately, and to see a sizable difference in performance over a dedicated laptop GPU you will be looking at around $200 for that card on top of the cost of the dock. Each commercially available dock has their own benefits and drawbacks, but all of them share some basic properties. They can all accept any single or dual-slot GPU from AMD or Nvidia (cooler size permitting), and have at least two 6+2-pin power connectors to power the graphics card. Along with the GPU support, docks usually also add at least four USB ports to connect peripherals similar to the laptop docks of olde.

So What Are The Performance Numbers Really Like?

In general, performance loss over using that same GPU in a real desktop is 10-15%. This can be due to a reduced bandwidth over the connection to the laptop, or due to bottlenecking from less powerful laptop CPUs. However, even over a dedicated laptop GPU the increase in performance when using an external one is roughly double. Here’s a few benchmarks of recent AAA titles, courtesy of TechSpot. Listed from bottom to top, each graph has performance of the internal GPU, the Graphics Amplifier with a desktop GPU, and that same GPU in a regular desktop PC.

aga bench 1aga bench 3 aga bench 2

 

Let’s Take A Look At What is Available Today:

Alienware Graphics Amplifier (MSRP $199):

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Pros – Relatively inexpensive, High bandwidth interface, Good airflow, PSU is user upgradeable
Cons – Only works for Alienware machines (R2 & up), Uses proprietary cable, Requires shutdown to connect / disconnect

Razer Core (MSRP $499):
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Pros – Universal Thunderbolt 3 interface, Adds ethernet jack, Sturdy aluminum construction, Small size
Cons – High cost, Compatibility list with non-Razer computers is short

MSI GS30 Shadow:
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Pros: User upgradeable PSU, Includes support for internal 3.5″ drive, Has integrated speakers
Cons: Only works for one machine, Huge footprint, Dock cannot be purchased separately

Final Thoughts

After seeing all the facts, does using an eGPU sound like the solution for you? If none of the options available sound perfect right now, don’t fret. As the popularity of eGPUs grows, more companies will inevitably put their hats into the ring and make their own solutions. Prices, form factors, and supported laptops will continue changing and improving as time goes on.

Intel, ARM, and the Future of the Mac

For years, there have been rumors that Apple wants to move away from Intel and x86 processors to something that they design in house. This desire comes from a combination of Intel’s slowing pace and the rapid improvement of Apple’s own A-series chips that the company uses in the iPhone and iPad. Moving to a new CPU architecture is not without it’s challenges, and it would not be the first one that Apple has undertaken. The last major change was from PowerPC to Intel in 2005. That transition was made due to the lack of innovation from IBM. Intel’s future roadmap had much more powerful chips than what IBM was offering. IBM was slowly moving their product line to be more server oriented. They were already having issues meeting the power demands that Apple was trying to achieve.

Much of that same situation is happening now with Intel and ARM processors. For the last several generations, Intel’s improvements have been aimed at power efficiency increases. Many PC owners haven’t had a reason to upgrade their Sandy Bridge CPUs to the latest generation. Intel’s latest generation chips, Kaby Lake, is based on the same architecture as two generations ago. Kaby Lake is the second “iterative” step for the same process architecture. This is mostly due to Intel’s problems with being able to produce 10nm chips(their current chips are based on a 14nm process). Intel has not delivered the increased power that many Mac users have been craving, especially for their pro desktops.

On the other hand, Apple has been one of the leading innovators in ARM processor design. ARM holdings designs and produces the basic architecture design. It then licenses these designs to companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm to manufacture their own systems on a chip (SOC). While these chips are not x86, they are much more power efficient and require less transistors. ARM chips are getting to the point where they are almost as powerful as some Intel chips. For example, the iPad Pro benchmarks higher than the 12” Macbook for both single core and multi-core tests. It would totally be possible to produce a high power ARM processor that would replace the Intel chips that Apple uses. With the slow progress that Intel has had, its not a matter of if, but rather when.

Rumors are saying that Apple has already ported macOS from x86 to ARM internally. This rumor has also stated that the new version of macOS meant for ARM chips has many similarities to iOS. While the pros and cons of this are up for debate, its easy to predict from past macOS updates that this is where the platform is going. A switch to ARM would mean that app developers would have to do some work to update their apps, as x86 applications will not natively run on ARM chips. But Apple has made similar transitions from PowerPC to Intel. In that case, the pros and cons were very similar to what they are now, and overall the market was very happy with the switch. Would you be happy with a switch to ARM chips if that meant a faster and lighter machine for you?

JLab Audio Epic2

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After the purchase of my iPhone 7 and the tragic loss of my ability to use my Audiotechnicas’s m50xs, I decided that it was time to go wireless. The use of the 3.5 mm headphone jack to lightning was not something that I wanted to use; it would be too easy to lose and just looks silly. I wanted to get good all around earbuds that I could use while studying, biking and walking around campus, working out at the Rec and going on runs. Some of the potential candidates were the Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless,  JLab’s Audio Epic2, Bose SoundSport Wireless and Apple Airpods.

Powerbeats3 currently going for $149.99 on Amazon and $199.99 from Apple. The Powerbeats have a cable that connects the two  I also didn’t want to get such a lengthy cable, but they’re very good for exercise and have a long battery life of 12 hours. They also have a remote and microphone support to take calls.

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JLab’s Audio Epic2 had a more modest price tag at $99.99. They have a cable that connects the two wrap-around inear earbuds and also boast a 12 hour battery life. I’ve enjoyed using the Epic2’s over the last several weeks since my purchase. The wireless earbuds come with seven different size and form factor plastic in-ear pieces so they fit comfortably and the wires wrap around the ear for a light and well secured fit.

My one complaint with the ear pieces is that they insulate from outside noise almost too well so they have to be pushed out whenever you want to have a conversation with anyone or purchase a coffee on your commute to classes.

The JLab Audio Epic2s also perform admirably as wireless fitness earbuds. They’re loud and rarely need to be turned up to the max even in a noisy gym setting. They also feel light and well secured and don’t shift with movement which makes them an ideal running or exercise choice for music on the go. They’re also protected against damage from sweat or splashes so you don’t have to worry about short circuiting them; which was a concern by some of the reviews I read on Amazon.

All in all I would say that these are a solid purchase for wireless earbuds. They come at a low price in comparison to their competition, and although they don’t look as flashy as Powerbeats, they perform just as well with the same battery life. I would strongly recommend these to anyone who is looking to go wireless or made the decision of purchasing an iPhone 7.

Technology is Taking Our Jobs

Today April 13, 2017, Elon Musk sent out a tweet stating that his Tesla company plans on releasing their plans for a Semi-Truck line in September. Tesla is the same company that produces electric automated cars. The fact that Tesla is making semi-trucks in itself not important news, it is more about the repercussions that come because of it.  When I first saw the tweet it made me think of the semi-trucks from the Logan film that was recently in theaters. They were automated without anyone driving, basically this would be what Elon Musk and company are striving to achieve, that took movie took place in 2029 and it could be a reality by then as well. The problem that not just the U.S but the rest of the World will face is another industry that is taken over by machines and a loss of millions of jobs. According to Alltrucking.com the U.S has 3.5 Million Truckers, and actually are looking for more. This touches on a larger issue in our society today, more industries are becoming mechanized. With more industries no longer using the same number of humans to create labor, this creates a labor crisis, it’s why Donald Trump was elected he promised to bring jobs to America, but didn’t realize the real problem is not jobs leaving for other countries but our increasing technological advancements. This isn’t just a Trump issue but a problem has been with every leader in the world. How do we create jobs via the government or to get other businesses create jobs and industries that can’t be taken over by computer systems?

If it is not possible for us to make the jobs required, then we must come up with subsidies and an allowance for those people that cannot acquire a job. The Trucking industry maybe the next industry to go, but it won’t be the last and might not even have the most impact. The Oil industry is also an industry that won’t last and it supplies 8.5 million jobs and it will depend on what the governments of the world replace it with if the economy will be able to handle the massive hit.

Why Making the Jump to Linux May be for you

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Do you feel that Windows no longer respects your privacy? Or do you feel that Macs are too expensive? Linux might be just right for you then! Linux is an open source operating system. Although it has been around for some time now, it is slowly gaining more popularity. While Linux is often seen as the geeky computer nerd operating system, it can be perfect for average users too. Linux is all about allowing user customization and giving fine system control to the user.

Linux is Completely Free!

One of the greatest things about Linux is that it is completely free. Unlike Windows or macOS, you don’t need to pay anything in order to use it. As the latest version of Windows or macOS slowly becomes old, you will eventually need to upgrade them. Sometimes this means purchasing new licensing, which can be a unneeded financial hit. If you have the hardware, you can simply find a distribution you like, and install it. Whether this is for one machine, or 1000 machines, Linux will never bother you for a license key.

A Tweaker’s Dream

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Linux is the dream operating system for someone that enjoys playing around with settings to fine tune their machine. Linux offers multiple desktop environments which completely change how desktop behavior is handled. Each of these have hundreds, or possibly thousands of settings so that a user can make their experience exactly how they envision it. This is contrary to Windows and macOS, which consists one one desktop with fairly limited customization options. Almost everything in Linux has a right click menu which allows for further customization. For the extremely motivated tweakers, there are also configuration files which allow you to modify almost anything on your system. A personal favorite tweak is a use of universal keyboard shortcuts. As an avid user of terminal, I’m able to launch terminal from anywhere with a single touch of a button.

Gaining a Better Knowledge of Computers

Image result for linux terminalLinux features a terminal similar to macOS. Mastering the terminal allows you to tell a computer what you really want it to do. With terminal, you no longer have to rely on menus and clicking. Linux is an excellent choice to learn terminal commands because you will easily learn how to use it whether you need to fix something, or just due to the ease of access.

By using Linux, every user becomes aware of file permissions, and how they work. Users also become adept at using commands like top and ps aux to understand how processes work. Linux users also often learn to use commands like rsync to create backups. Finally, many users that delve a little deeper into Linux also learn about computer architecture, such as how operating systems work, and how storage devices are mounted.

Linux Has Some Amazing Software

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While Linux has a reputation for being incompatible with certain software, it also offers an enormous repository of software for its users. Many major programs such as web browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox are also available for Linux. Additionally, many programs have Linux alternatives that work just as well, or even better. Better yet, software on Linux is completely free too. You can get incredibly good productive software like LibreOffice for creating documents, and Okular for viewing pdf files.

Linux is Efficient

Linux fits on small systems and large systems. It works on slow computers and fast ones too. Linux is engineered by efficiency-obsessed engineers that want to get every ounce of computing power out of their machines. Most flavors of Linux are designed to be lighter weight than their Windows or macOS counterparts. Linux also offers excellent utilization of computer hardware, as the operating system is built to efficiently handle resource management.

The storage architecture of Linux is built in a way where any dependency for a program never needs to be installed twice. All programs have access to any dependency that is already installed. However, in Windows, every program that you install needs to have all of its dependencies packaged with it. This often leads to programs having the same exact software packaged together and thus taking up more space on the harddrive.

Hardware Just Works

Perhaps you have an older laptop, or maybe new cutting edge PC. A common problem for these types of hardware is a lack of drivers. Older computers often have hardware that is no longer supported by new operating systems, and new hardware occasionally plagued by buggy driver support. On popular distributions such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint, driver support for almost all hardware is provided. This is because the Linux kernel (or core) is designed to have these drivers, whereas Windows often requires them as a separate install. Additionally, Linux drivers are much more generic than Windows, which allows Linux to reach a broader spectrum of hardware, even if the driver was not designed for older or newer hardware in mind. Finally, Linux’s amazing hardware support is a product of its users. If you ever decided to dig around in the Linux kernel, you would find an enormous amount of very specific hardware drivers simply due to various Linux users over time. Unlike Linux, Windows does not have a way for an average user to create a driver for their hardware. Linux’s software and distribution model empowers users to create their own drivers if hardware is not supported.

 

Overall, Linux is a finely tuned operating system that deserves a look. With its many features, it is able to offer an experience tailor made to any user. You can reclaim control of your computer, and make it exactly the way you want!

 

A Basic Guide to Digital Audio Recording

The Digital Domain

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Since the dawn of time, humans have been attempting to record music.  For the vast majority of human history, this has been really really difficult.  Early cracks at getting music out of the hands of the musician involved mechanically triggered pianos whose instructions for what to play were imprinted onto long scrolls of paper.  These player pianos were difficult to manufacture (this was prior to the industrial revolution) and not really viable for casual music listening.  There was also the all-important phonograph, which recorded sound itself mechanically onto the surface of a wax cylinder.

If it sounds like the aforementioned techniques were difficult to use and manipulate, it was!  Hardly anyone owned a phonograph since they were expensive, recordings were hard to come by, and they really didn’t sound all that great.  Without microphones or any kind of amplification, bits of dust and debris which ended up on these phonograph records could completely obscure the original recording behind a wall of noise.

Humanity had a short stint with recording sound as electromagnetic impulses on magnetic tape.  This proved to be one of the best ways to reproduce sound (and do some other cool and important things too).  Tape was easy to manufacture, came in all different shapes and sizes, and offered a whole universe of flexibility for how sound could be recorded onto it.  Since tape recorded an electrical signal, carefully crafted microphones could be used to capture sounds with impeccable detail and loudspeakers could be used to play back the recorded sound at considerable volumes.  Also at play were some techniques engineers developed to reduce the amount of noise recorded onto tape, allowing the music to be front and center atop a thin floor of noise humming away in the background.  Finally, tape offered the ability to record multiple different sounds side-by-side and play them back at the same time.  These side-by-side sounds came to be known as ‘tracks’ and allowed for stereophonic sound reproduction.

Tape was not without its problems though.  Cheap tape would distort and sound poor.  Additionally, tape would deteriorate over time and fall apart, leaving many original recordings completely unlistenable.  Shining bright on the horizon in the late 1970s was digital recording.  This new format allowed for low-noise, low cost, and long-lasting recordings.  The first pop music record to be recorded digitally was Ry Cooder’s, Bop till you Drop in 1979.  Digital had a crisp and clean sound that was rivaled only by the best of tape recording.  Digital also allowed for near-zero degradation of sound quality once something was recorded.

Fast-forward to today.  After 38 years of Moore’s law, digital recording has become cheap and simple.  Small audio recorders are available at low cost with hours and hours of storage for recording.  Also available are more hefty audio interfaces which offer studio-quality sound recording and reproduction to any home recording enthusiast.

 

Basic Components: What you Need

Depending on what you are trying to record, your needs may vary from the standard recording setup.  For most users interested in laying down some tracks, you will need the following.

Audio Interface (and Preamplifier): this component is arguably the most important as it connects everything together.  The audio interface contains both analog-to-digital converters and a digital-to-analog convert; these allow it to both turn sound into the language of your computer for recording, and turn the language of your computer back into sound for playback.  These magical little boxes come in many shapes and sizes; I will discus these in a later section, just be patient.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Software: this software will allow your computer to communicate with the audio interface.  Depending on what operating system you have running on your computer, there may be hundreds of DAW software packages available.  DAWs vary greatly in complexity, usability, and special features; all will allow you the basic feature of recording digital audio from an audio interface.

Microphone: perhaps the most obvious element of a recording setup, the microphone is one of the most exciting choices you can make when setting up a recording rig.  Microphones, like interfaces and DAWs, come in all shapes a sizes.  Depending on what sound you are looking for, some microphones may be more useful than others.  We will delve into this momentarily.

Monitors (and Amplifier): once you have set everything up, you will need a way to hear what you are recording.  Monitors allow you to do this.  In theory, you can use any speaker or headphone as a monitor.  However, some speakers and headphones offer more faithful reproduction of sound without excessive bass and can be better for hearing the detail in your sound.

 

Audio Interface: the Art of Conversion

Two channel USB audio interface.

Two channel USB audio interface.

The audio interface can be one of the most intimidating elements of recording.  The interface contains the circuitry to amplify the signal from a microphone or instrument, convert that signal into digital information, and then convert that information back to an analog sound signal for listening on headphones or monitors.

Interfaces come in many shapes and sizes but all do similar work.  These days, most interfaces offer multiple channels of recording at one time and can record in uncompressed CD-audio quality or better.

Once you step into the realm of digital audio recording, you may be surprised to find a lack of mp3 files.  Turns out, mp3 is a very special kind of digital audio format and cannot be recorded to directly; mp3 can only be created from existing audio files in non-compressed formats.

You may be asking yourself, what does it mean for audio to be compressed?  As an electrical engineer, it may be hard for me to explain this in a way that humans can understand, but I will try my best.  Audio takes up a lot of space.  Your average iPhone or Android device maybe has 32 GB of space but most people can keep thousands of songs on their device.  This is done using compression.  Compression is the computer’s way of listening to a piece of music, and removing all the bits and pieces that most people wont notice.  Soft and infrequent noises, like the sound of a guitarist’s fingers scraping a string, are removed while louder sounds, like the sound of the guitar, are left in.  This is done using the Fourier Transform and a bunch of complicated mathematical algorithms that I don’t expect anyone reading this to care about.

When audio is uncompressed, a few things are true: it takes up a lot of space, it is easy to manipulate with digital effects, and it often sounds very, very good.  Examples of uncompressed audio formats are: .wav on Windows, .aif and .aiff on Macintosh, and .flac for all the free people of the Internet.  Uncompressed audio comes in many different forms but all have two numbers which describe their sound quality: ‘word length’ or ‘bit depth’ and ‘sample rate.’

The information for digital audio is contained in a bunch of numbers which indicate the loudness or volume of the sound at a specific time.  The sample rate tells you how many times per second the loudness value is captured.  This number needs to be at least two times higher than the highest audible frequency, otherwise the computer will perceive high frequencies as being lower than they actually are.  This is because of the Shannon Nyquist Theorem which I, again, don’t expect most of you to want to read about.  Most audio is captured at 44.1 kHz, making the highest frequency it can capture 22.05 kHz, which is comfortably above the limits of human hearing.

The word length tells you how many numbers can be used to represent different volumes of loudness.  The number of different values for loudness can be up to 2^word length.  CDs represent audio with a word length of 16 bits, allowing for 65536 different values for loudness.  Most audio interfaces are capable of recording audio with a 24-bit word length, allowing for exquisite detail.  There are some newer systems which allow for recording with a 32-bit word length but these are, for the majority part, not available at low-cost to consumers.

I would like to add a quick word about USB.  There is a stigma, in the business, against USB audio interfaces.  Many interfaces employ connectors with higher bandwidth, like FireWire and Thunderbolt, and charge a premium for it.  It may seem logical, faster connection, better quality audio.  Hear this now: no audio interface will ever be sold which has a connector that is too slow for the quality audio it can record.  This is to say, USB can handle 24-bit audio with a 96 kHz sample rate, no problem.  If you notice latency in your system, it is from the digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters as well as the speed of your computer; latency in your recording setup has nothing to do with what connector your interface uses.  It may seem like I am beating a dead horse here, but many people think this and it’s completely false.

One last thing before we move on to the DAW, I mentioned earlier that frequencies above half the recording sample rate will be perceived, by your computer, as lower frequencies.  These lower frequencies can show up in your recording and can cause distortion.  This phenomena has a name and it’s called aliasing.  Aliasing doesn’t just happen with audible frequencies, it can happen with super-sonic sound too.  For this reason, it is often advantageous to record at higher sample rates to avoid having these higher frequencies perceived within the audible range.  Most audio interfaces allow for recording 24-bit audio with a 96 kHz sample rate.  Unless you’re worried about taking up too much space, this format sounds excellent and offers the most flexibility and sonic detail.

 

Digital Audio Workstation: all Out on the Table

Apple's pro DAW software: Logic Pro X

Apple’s pro DAW software: Logic Pro X

The digital audio workstation, or DAW for short, is perhaps the most flexible element of your home-studio.  There are many many many DAW software packages out there, ranging in price and features.  For those of you looking to just get into audio recording, Audacity is a great DAW to start with.  This software is free and simple.  It offers many built-in effects and can handle the full recording capability of any audio interface which is to say, if you record something well on this simple and free software, it will sound mighty good.

Here’s the catch with many free or lower-level DAWs like Audacity or Apple’s Garage Band: they do not allow for non-destructive editing of your audio.  This is a fancy way of saying that once you make a change to your recorded audio, you might not be able to un-make it.  Higher-end DAWs like Logic Pro and Pro Tools will allow you to make all the changes you want without permanently altering your audio.  This allows you to play around a lot more with your sound after its recorded.  More expensive DAWs also tend to come with a better-sounding set of built-in effects.  This is most noticeable with more subtle effects like reverb.

There are so many DAWs out there that it is hard to pick out a best one.  Personally, I like Logic Pro, but that’s just preference; many of the effects I use are compatible with different DAWs so I suppose I’m mostly just used to the user-interface.  My recommendation is to shop around until something catches your eye.

 

The Microphone: the Perfect Listener

Studio condenser and ribbon microphones.

Studio condenser and ribbon microphones.

The microphone, for many people, is the most fun part of recording!  They come in many shapes and sizes and color your sound more than any other component in your setup.  Two different microphones can occupy polar opposites in the sonic spectrum.

There are two common types of microphones out there: condenser and dynamic microphones.  I can get carried away with physics sometimes so I will try not to write too much about this particular topic.

Condenser microphones are a more recent invention and offer the best sound quality of any microphone.  They employ a charged parallel plate capacitor to measure vibrations in the air.  This a fancy way of saying that the element in the microphone which ‘hears’ the sound is extremely light and can move freely even when motivated by extremely quiet sounds.

Because of the nature of their design, condenser microphones require a small amplifier circuit built-into the microphone.  Most new condenser microphones use a transistor-based circuit in their internal amplifier but older condenser mics employed internal vacuum-tube amplifiers; these tube microphones are among some of the clearest and most detailed sounding microphones ever made.

Dynamic microphones, like condenser microphones, also come in two varieties, both emerging from different eras.  The ribbon microphone is the earlier of the two and observes sound with a thin metal ribbon suspended in a magnetic field.  These ribbon microphones are fragile but offer a warm yet detailed quality-of-sound.

The more common vibrating-coil dynamic microphone is the most durable and is used most often for live performance.  The prevalence of the vibrating-coil microphone means that the vibrating-coil is often dropped from the name (sometimes the dynamic is also dropped from the name too); when you use the term dynamic mic, most people will assume you are referring to the vibrating-coil microphone.

With the wonders of globalization, all microphones can be purchase at similar costs.  Though there is usually a small premium to purchase condenser microphones over dynamic mics, costs can remain comfortably around $100-150 for studio-quality recording mics.  This means you can use many brushes to paint your sonic picture.  Often times, dynamic microphones are used for louder instruments like snare and bass drums, guitar amplifiers, and louder vocalists.  Condenser microphones are more often used for detailed sounds like stringed instruments, cymbals, and breathier vocals.

Monitors: can You Hear It?

Studio monitors at Electrical Audio Studios, Chicago

Studio monitors at Electrical Audio Studios, Chicago

When recording, it is important to be able to hear the sound that your system is hearing.  Most people don’t think about it, but there are many kinds of monitors out there: the screen on our phones and computers which allow us to see what the computer is doing, to the viewfinder on a camera which allows us to see what the camera sees.  Sound monitors are just as important.

Good monitors will reproduce sound as neutrally as possible and will only distort at very very high volumes.  These two characteristics are important for monitoring as you record, and hearing things carefully as you mix.  Mix?

Once you have recorded your sound, you may want to change it in your DAW.  Unfortunately, the computer can’t always guess what you want your effects to sound like, so you’ll need to make changes to settings and listen.  This could be as simple as changing the volume of one recorded track or it could be as complicated as correcting an offset in phase of two recorded tracks.  The art of changing the sound of your recorded tracks is called mixing.

If you are using speakers as monitors, make sure they don’t have ridiculously loud bass, like most speakers do.  Mixing should be done without the extra bass; otherwise, someone playing back your track on ‘normal’ speakers will be underwhelmed by a thinner sound.  Sonically neutral speakers make it very easy to hear what you finished product will sound like on any system.

It’s a bit harder to do this with headphones as their proximity to your ears makes the bass more intense.  I personally like mixing on headphones because the closeness to my ear allows me to hear detail better.  If you are to mix with headphones, your headphones must have open-back speakers in them.  This means that there is no plastic shell around the back of the headphone.  With no set volume of air behind the speaker, open-back headphones can effortlessly reproduce detail, even at lower volumes.

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Monitors aren’t just necessary for mixing, they also help to hear what you’re recording as you record it.  Remember when I was talking about the number of different loudnesses you can have for 16-bit and 24-bit audio?  Well, when you make a sound louder than the loudest volume you can record, you get digital distortion.  Digital distortion does not sound like Jimi Hendrix, it does not sound like Metallica, it sounds abrasive and harsh.  Digital distortion, unless you are creating some post-modern masterpiece, should be avoided at all costs.  Monitors, as well as the volume meters in your DAW, allow you to avoid this.  A good rule of thumb is: if it sounds like it’s distorting, it’s distorting.  Sometimes you won’t hear the distortion in your monitors, this is where the little loudness bars on your DAW software come in; those bad boys should never hit the top.

 

A Quick Word about Formats before we Finish

These days, most music ends up as an mp3.  Convenience is important so mp3 does have its place.  Most higher-end DAWs will allow you to make mp3 files upon export.  My advise to any of your learning sound-engineers out there is to just play around with formatting. However, a basic outline of some common formats may be useful…

24-bit, 96 kHz: This is best format most systems can record to.  Because of large files sizes, audio in this format rarely leaves the DAW.  Audio of this quality is best for editing, mixing, and converting to analog formats like tape or vinyl.

16-bit, 44.1 kHz: This is the format used for CDs.  This format maintains about half of the information that you can record on most systems, but it is optimized for playback by CD players and other similar devices.  Its file-size also allows for about 80 minutes of audio to fit on a typical CD.  Herein lies the balance between excellent sound quality, and file-size.

mp3, 256 kb/s: Looks a bit different, right?  The quality of mp3 is measured in kb/s.  The higher this number, the less compressed the file is and the more space it will occupy.  iTunes uses mp3 at 256 kb/s, Spotify probably uses something closer to 128 kb/s to better support streaming.  You can go as high as 320 kb/s with mp3.  Either way, mp3 compression is always lossy so you will never get an mp3 to sound quite as good as an uncompressed audio file.

 

In Conclusion

Recording audio is one of the most fun hobbies one can adopt.  Like all new things, recording can be difficult when you first start out but will become more and more fulfilling over time.  One can create their own orchestras at home now; a feat which would have been near impossible 20 years ago.  The world has many amazing sounds and it is up to people messing around with microphone in bedrooms and closets to create more.

IOT: Connecting all our stuff to the network of networks

What is the IOT?

The Internet of Things (IOT for short) is the common term for devices that have become integrated with “smart” or internet connectable technologies that use the global infrastructure of the Internet to bring both accessibility and highly improved product experiences to millions of users of common electronics. In this article I’ll be discussing some implications that IOT has on the landscape of the Internet, as well as some IOT devices that have become commonplace in many homes across the nation.

Some things to note about IOT

Many IOT devices offer very promising integrations with online services that make their usefulness indispensable, however, this usefulness can come at the cost of security so it’s always good to understand the implications of adding an IOT device to a network. A most notable event that underscores the importance of securing these connected devices was the Mirai Botnet attack carried out on DynDNS on Friday Oct 21 2016, relevant article here.

Some of the Things:

Amazon Echo

A smarthome hub created by Amazon with the ability to integrate with various devices and services to command and control your smart home and allow for easier access to informational resources. The Alexa service provides an easy to use interface for interacting with various services via speech, a query to Alexa can perform web searches, interact with online services, as well as control some of the devices in this article. More information can be found here.

Google Home

Google’s equivalent to Amazon’s Echo, recently released as of November 2016, the Google Home is able to integrate with about the same amount of services as the Echo, as well as integrates more directly with the Google smart home ecosystem. The ability to stream directly to a Google Chromecast device connected to the same network as the Home is one of it’s notable features.

 

Nest Product Line: Cam, Thermostat, Protect

These smart products aim to keep your home automated yet safe, the Cam is a webcam that is accessible via the internet, has the ability to perform speakerphone functions. the Thermostat is a remotely controllable thermostat that adjusts based on user presence in the home. The Protect is a smoke-detector with internet connectivity that can perform remote alertive actions as well as speaks based on the location of the source of the smoke.

Smart Lighting Products: Phillips Hue, GE Link, LIFX

Smart lighting affords users the ability to customize lighting based on their location data, as well as by time of day. Being able to remotely turn on and off lighting also affords users some peace of mind in being able to determine whether they forgot to turn of the lights before leaving the house. These products typically connect to a Zigbee based hub, which can be used with all Zigbee compatible devices.

Smart Appliances: Coffeemaker, Dishwasher, Clothes Washer and Dryer

Various smart appliances allow for remotely starting, stopping, and manually controlling settings individualized settings.

 

Smart plugs: TP-Link Smart Plug

The smart plug allows for remotely turning on and off a device that is connected to the socket. This type of smart device allows extending remote capabilities to anything that uses a standard power socket.

Smart wearables: Apple Watch, Android Wear, Tizen and Pebble

These devices allow for data to be gathered from our person, heart rate/fitness information, location based information, and remote notifications are some of the data that can be gathered on these devices for display to the user.

Be sure to secure your things, as the data they collect and create become increasingly more critical the more integrated into our lives they become.

 

 

Hard Drives: How Do They Work?

What’s a HDD?

A Hard Disk Drive (HDD for short) is a type of storage commonly used as the primary storage system both laptop and desktop computers. It functions like any other type of digital storage device by writing bits of data and then recalling them later. It stands to mention that an HDD is what’s referred to as “non-volatile”, which simply means that it can save data without a source of power. This feature, coupled with their large storage capacity and their relatively low cost are the reasons why HDDs are used so frequently in home computers. While HDDs have come a long way from when they were first invented, the basic way that they operate has stayed the same.

How does a HDD physically store info?

Inside the casing there are a series of disk-like objects referred to as “platters”.

The CPU and motherboard use software to tell what’s called the “Read/Write Head” where to move on the platter and where it then provides an electrical charge to a “sector” on the platter. Each sector is an isolated part of the disk containing thousands of subdivisions all capable of accepting a magnetic charge. Newer HDDs have a sector size of 4096 bytes or 32768 bits; Each bit’s magnetic charge translates to a binary 1 or 0 of data. Repeat this stage and eventually you have a string of bits which when read back can give the CPU instructions, whether it be updating your operating system, or opening your saved document in Microsoft Word.

As HDDs have been developed, one key factor that has changed is the orientation of the sectors on the platter. Hard Drives were first designed for “Longitudinal Recording” – meaning the longer side of the platter is oriented horizontally – and since then have utilized a different method called “Perpendicular Recording” where the sectors are stacked on end. This change was made as hard drive manufacturers were hitting a limit on how small they could make each sector due to the “Superparamagnetic Effect.” Essentially, the superparamagnetic effect means that hard drive sectors smaller than a certain size will flip magnetic charge randomly based on temperature. This phenomenon would result in inaccurate data storage, especially given the heat that an operating hard drive emits.

One downside to Perpendicular Recording is increased sensitivity to magnetic fields and read error, creating a necessity for more accurate Read/Write arms.

How software affects how info is stored on disk:

Now that we’ve discussed the physical operation of a Hard Drive, we can look at the differences in how operating systems such as Windows, MacOS, or Linux utilize the drive. However, beforehand, it’s important we mention a common data storage issue that occurs to some degree in all of the operating systems mentioned above.

Disk Fragmentation

Disk Fragmentation occurs after a period of data being stored and updated on a disk. For example, unless an update is stored directly after a base program, there’s a good chance that something else has been stored on the disk. Therefore the update for the program will have to be placed in a different sector farther away from the core program files. Due to the physical time it takes the read/write arm to move around, fragmentation can eventually slow down your system significantly, as the arm will need to reference more and more separate parts on your disk. Most operating systems will come with a built in program designed to “Defragment” the disk, which simply rearranges the data so that all the files for one program are in once place. The process takes longer based on how fragmented the disk has become. Now we can discuss different storage protocols and how they affect fragmentation.

Windows:

Windows uses a base computer language called MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) and a file management system called NTFS, or New Technology File System, which has been the standard for the company since 1993. When given a write instruction, an NT file system will place the information as close as possible to the beginning of the disk/platter. While this methodology is functional, it only leaves a small buffer zone in between different files, eventually causing fragmentation to occur. Due to the small size of this buffer zone, Windows tends to be the most susceptible to fragmentation.

Mac OSX:

OSX and Linux are both Unix based operating systems. However their file system are different; Mac uses the HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus) protocol, which replaced the hold HFS method. HFS+ differs in that it can handle a larger amount of data at a given time, being 32bit and not 16bit. Mac OSX doesn’t need a dedicated tool for defragmentation like Windows does OSX avoids the issue by not using space on the HDD that has recently been freed up – by deleting a file for example – and instead searches the disk for larger free sectors to store new data. Doing so increases the space older files will have closer to them for updates. HFS+ also has a built in tool called HFC, or Hot File adaptive Clustering, which relocates frequently accessed data to specials sectors on the disk called a “Hot Zone” in order to speed up performance. This process, however, can only take place if the drive is less than 90% full, otherwise issues in reallocation occur.  These processes coupled together make fragmentation a non-issue for Mac users.

Linux:

Linus is an open-source operating system which means that there are many different versions of it, called distributions, for different applications. The most common distributions, such as Ubuntu, use the ext4 file system. Linux has the best solution to fragmentation as it spreads out files all over the disk, giving them all plenty of room to increase in size without interfering with each other. In the event that a file needs more space, the operating system will automatically try to move files around it give it more room. Especially given the capacity of most modern hard drives, this methodology is not wasteful, and results in no fragmentation in Linux until the disk is above roughly 85% capacity.

What’s an SSD? How is it Different to a HDD?

In recent years, a new technology has become available on the consumer market which replaces HDDs and the problems they come with. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are another kind of non-volatile memory that simply store a positive charge or no charge in a tiny capacitor. As a result, SSDs are much faster than HDDs as there are no moving parts, and therefore no time to move the read/write arm around. Additionally, no moving parts increases reliability immensely. Solid state drives do have a few downsides, however. Unlike with hard drives, it is difficult to tell when a solid state is failing. Hard drives will slow down over time, or in extreme cases make audible clicking signifying the arm is hitting the platter (in which case your data is most likely gone) while solid states will simply fail without any noticeable warning. Therefore, we must rely on software such as “Samsung Magician” which ships with Samsung’s solid states. The tool works by writing and reading back a piece of data to the drive and checking how fast it is able to do this. If the time it takes to write that data falls below a certain threshold, the software will warn the user that their solid state drive is beginning to fail.

Do Solid States Fragment Too?

While the process of having data pile on top of itself, and needing to put files for one program in different place is still present, it doesn’t matter with solid states as there is no delay caused by the read/write arm of a hard drive moving back and forth between the different sectors. Fragmentation does not decrease performance the way it does with hard drives, but it does affect the life of the drive. Solid states that have scattered data can have a reduced lifespan. The way that solid states work cause the extra write cycles caused by defragmenting to decrease the overall lifespan of the drive, and is therefore avoided for the most part given its small impact. That being said a file system can still reach a point on a solid state where defragmentation is necessary. It would be logical for a  hard drive to be defragmented automatically every day or week, while a solid state might require only a few defragmentations, if any, throughout its lifetime.

The little smart watch that could: A pebble love story

If you’ve ever wondered what the geekiest gadget is to own you may get a few different responses. Maybe its a drone, maybe its a ringtone that is an anime intro song, but for a lot of tech nerds it was the Pebble watch.

Why do gadget heads love it so much? Well, Back in 2012 Pebble did a kickstarter campaign to fund the would-be watch company. It ended up being the most funded kickstarter ever. And geeks love a good kickstarter story. It’s the nerd version of David vs. Goliath.

But we also loved the technology behind it. Pebble watches were always water resistant. The battery life was about a week. The display is a e-paper display, and tech savvy people love discussing how much they love e-paper displays. Looking at the first generation apple watch, pebble had more battery life (7x more, actually), it had swimming support, and it did it all years before anyone else did.

By far, pebble watches have the most battery life compared to other popular watches

Pebble’s starting price is half of the next best watch AND has more battery life and swimming support.

Pebble and the Apple Watch 2 are the only watches on this list with swimming support. Remember that this is the basic pebble time watch. The pebble time 2 + heart rate has even more athletic support

Pebble was the under dog that never stopped impressing.

It’s app store had 1000 applications. That’s a ton for the little smart watch that could. You could attach the time piece to your bike and it would track your speed. The pebble watch 2 with heart rate could track your sleep schedule and calories (full disclosure, I bought one of these yesterday and am currently waiting for it to come via snail mail). It vibrates when you get a text or email; and unlike the latest and greatest Fitbit Charge 2, you can respond to text messages from the watch! All while maintaining incredible battery life.

Back in 2016, pebble was bought out by fitbit. A worthy adversary. And for a company that was primarily funded via kickstarter, it was an entrepreneurs’ dream. This means that pebble is selling off all of their inventory, so get yourself a pebble watch before they go away forever. Then you too can have the geekiest gadget around.

Good bye Pebble. You were dearly loved.

Getting Started with Android Studio

Android is a great platform for a beginner developer to make his or her first smartphone app on. Android apps are written in Java, and the graphics are generally written in XML. Android apps are developed in many well-known IDEs (integrated development environments – programs that typically package together a code editor, compiler, debugger, interpreter, build system, version control system, and deployment system, as well as other tools) such as Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, and Android Studio. In this article we will cover the basics of Android Studio.

Android Studio logo

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Apple Expands Reach on USB-C: What’s Next for Future Devices?

The USB Type C port on the new 2015 Macbook

The USB Type C port on the new 2015 Macbook

In 2015, we saw Apple relaunch what was the complete overhaul of their former flagship laptop line before making the switch to the Pro/Air series. The new Macbook, which included many new features that were relatively brand new to the laptop world, hit the shelves with its new Intel Atom processor, butterfly keyboard, and beautiful Retina display. This product was praised for its innovation in many areas, but what took the technological world by storm wasn’t any of those features, the display, or even debuting in 3 different finishes. Yes, the big discussion were its ports, or lack thereof.

This Macbook featured a single port, a USB type C port, opposite of the 3.5mm headphone jack on the other side of the computer. This notebook, the smallest and thinnest among its family in the Macbook line, left any other port besides these two off of the case and into the world of adapters. While many were left scratching their heads, Apple was not only selling many of these devices but also was praised for product innovation and debuting the next new type of USB to its devices.

Fast forward to Fall of 2016. Apple’s newest line of Macbook Pro’s are just announced, featured, and released. Amidst the new keyboard previously seen by the lower level Macbook and even the Touch ID touch bar sitting atop the keyboard, again the question brought up is this: What about it’s ports?

The new Macbook Pro w/ USB-C ports

The new Macbook Pro w/ USB-C ports

Now that Apple has brought the USB type C port to its higher end of Laptops (all of the Macbook Pro line), what can we expect from future devices? Will Apple learn from the likes of Google and Motorola and integrate the newest port to its iPhone and iPad (and iPod?) lines?

What’s next in line for an overhaul among Apple’s core devices is in fact the Macbook Air. Praised as the perfect everyday computer, it really isn’t needed for heavy usage and professional applications, but it is perfect for the average user and student for its longevity on the battery side of things and ease of use and efficiency fit into a small form factor. Featured already are its Magsafe 2 charging port, two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone jack.

We have already seen Magsafe 2, which was the hyped-up successor to the original charging port of the older Macbook Pros/Airs in the Magsafe 1 port, is now phased out on two of three Macbook lines. What is due up next is removing this port on the Air. This would be paving the way for the Air to upgrade to the next level of innovation and include a Type-C port for charging, fitting right in with its brothers in the line-up. While introducing this next port for charging, it is also lightning fast for data, so remove the other USB ports and you got yourself a Macbook Air, with multiple Type C ports and a headphone jack, along with the improvements in display and keyboard that should come with it.

But what does this mean? Is the adapter life going to consume us for the rest of time? That answer we do not know yet, but it is worth thinking about. For Apple and many companies that should follow suit, this is a huge market to breach in customers purchasing different dongles and adapters to hang like winding branches off their laptops. For the likes of HDMI, Thunderbolt, Ethernet, and many other ports very much still necessary in this day and age, will companies phase them out and stick to adapters forever, or will Apple learn from the adapter game and start to integrate these ports back into their devices, using these next models as sort of a “testing phase”?

For now, we’ll see where this brings us for the product releases in the spring and fall of 2017, but something to know is this: USB Type C among Apple devices is here to stay, and there’s no getting around it. Maybe we will see this dominate every device from the iPhone, iPad, Macbooks, and even maybe into desktop computers.

Amazon’s Echo and Alexa: A User’s Experience

Introduction:

Over the holiday break a new acquisition in technology took place in the Afonso household, we purchased an Amazon Echo Dot. At $50, the price seemed reasonable enough that it was worth a shot to try and get on the cutting edge of smart home technologies. Unfortunately, due to a lack of smart devices in our home, we were unable to use Alexa’s greatly touted integrations with things like the Nest Products or Zigbee based lighting products. However Alexa can be used for much more that controlling a smart home, I’ll speak to some Alexa Skills (the Echo’s version of Applications) that we tried and our experiences with them.

Built-In Functionality:

Out-of-the-box, the Echo can be easily configured for integration with a wide array of streaming media services. Built-in are Pandora, Spotify (restricted to premium accounts), iHeartRadio, and Tunein Radio. This makes a the Echo a perfect candidate for the smart radio, as it has a small speaker built-in (low fidelity mono speaker so another speaker is recommended) as well as Bluetooth connectivity to connect to larger and better audio equipment. Built-in news, weather, and sports integration which at setup time needs to be configured using the Amazon Alexa app (available for both iPhone and Android) There is also built-in smart device detection which I was unable to experiment with that detects smart devices and performs a pairing procedure that allows you to perform actions with keywords like (“Turn on, Turn off”) additional smart home skills are needed to perform in-depth control of other smart-devices.

The Skills:

These can be turned on for use with your device by stating “Alexa, enable *insert skill name here*”.

To use any skill, state “Alexa, open *insert skill name here*”.

To use a skill and pass it information, state “Alexa, ask *insert skill name here* to *insert parameter name here*”

Anymote Smart Remote:

After configuring the skill using the Anymote App for iPhone (instructions are openly available), I was able to control my Roku Smart TV device using my voice. Simply stating “Alexa, open Anymote” followed by the remote input you’d like to perform such as “Volume up”, “Home Button”, “Up Button” will interact with the device you’ve configured it with. Overall, a very useful skill for those looking to remote control any of their network connected devices.

Jeopardy J6:

This is a shortened version of the classic game show that allows the user to answer questions from a recent airing of the show. Alexa will provide responses with whether the question you provided to the corresponding answer was correct. The performance of this app was superb, and really allows for an interactive experience with Echo.

Twenty Questions:

This is another classic game that allows you to think of any object (limited to a category set) and within 20 Questions, Alexa will aim to guess what you’re thinking of. The interactivity with this app is also superb, and the shock when Alexa get’s those obscure guesses correct is pretty amazing.

Ooma Telo:

This skill is perfectly utilitarian – it allows the user to place a call via the Echo, with a caveat, the call must be completed using an existing phone line and cannot proceed via the Echo. Essentially, once you ask Ooma to place a call it will initiate a three-way call between it’s VOIP service and the phone you choose, thus it’s limited to initiating calls.

Drive Time:

This skill is the perfect companion for a commuter, since Alexa has no built-in time estimation for destinations, Drive Time allows you to ask for driving times to favorited locations that the user must configure. There is no search function, and locations must be stated before-hand in the skills settings in order to use them.

Experience Summary:

Alexa can do some really remarkable things, and at this point due to it being released about 2 years ago (2014), the Skills that have been developed allow functionality to be extended to a variety of platforms and devices. The Echo Dot does beg for a better speaker, but at the $50 price point, it’s expected, and also provides incentive for buying the Dot’s larger brother, just the standard Echo. The overall versatility of the connections on the device (3.5mm output, Bluetooth Connectivity, Wireless Connectivity, and Zigbee via Wi-Fi hub) make it perfect for controlling audio and other devices.

Wearable Technology

2016 has given us a lot of exciting new technologies to experiment with and be excited for. As time goes by technology is becoming more and more integrated into our every day lives and it does not seem like we will be stopping anytime soon. Here are some highlights from the past year and some amazing things we can expect to get our hands on in the years to come.

Contact Lenses

That’s right, we’re adding electronic capabilities to the little circles in your eyes. We’ve seen Google Glass, but this goes to a whole other level. Developers are already working on making lenses that can measure your blood sugar, improve your vision and even display images directly on your eye! Imagine watching a movie that only you can see, because it’s inside your face!

Kokoon

Kokoon started out as a Kickstarter that raised over 2 million dollars to fund its sleep sensing headphones. It is the first of its kind, able to help you sleep and monitor when you have fallen asleep to adjust your audio in real time. It’s the insomnia’s dream! You can find more information on the Kokoon here: http://kokoon.io/

Nuzzle

Nuzzle is a pet collar with built in GPS tracking to keep your pet safe in case it gets lost. But it does more than that. Using the collar’s companion app, you can monitor your dogs activity and view wellness statistics. Check it out: http://hellonuzzle.com/

Hearables

Your ears are the perfect place to measure all sorts of important stuff about your body such as your temperature and heart rate. Many companies are working on earbuds that can sit in your ear and keep statistics on these things in real time. This type of technology could save lives, as it could possibly alert you about a heart attack before your heart even knows it.

Tattoos

Thought it couldn’t get crazier than electronic contacts? Think again. Companies like Chaotic Moon and New Deal Design are working on temporary tattoos than can use the electric currents on the surface of your skin to power them up and do all kinds of weird things including open doors. Whether or not these will be as painful as normal tattoos is still a mystery, but we hope not!

VR

Virtual Reality headsets have been around for a while now, but they represent the ultimate form or wearable technology. These headsets are not mainstream yet and are definitely not perfected, but we can expect to be getting access to them within the next couple of years.

Other impressive types of wearable tech have been greatly improved on this year such as smart watches and athletic clothing. We’re even seeing research done on Smart Houses, which can be controlled completely with your Smart Phone, and holographic image displays that don’t require a screen. The future of wearable technology is more exciting than ever, so get your hands on whatever you can and dress to impress!

Gaming on a MacBook Pro

Despite what the average internet person will tell you, MacBooks are good at what they do. That’s something important to remember in a time where fanboying is such a prevalent issue in the tech consumer base. People seem eager to take sides; binary criticism removing the reality that machines can have both good and bad qualities. MacBooks are good at what they do, and they also have their disadvantages.

One of the things MacBooks aren’t good at (mostly due to their architecture) is playing games. If you’re looking for high-performance gameplay, Windows machines are objectively better for gaming. Despite this, there are plenty of games and workarounds that’ll still enable you to have fun with friends or in your dorm room after a long stressful day even on a MacBook.

Note: I’ll only be listing the methods and games I’ve personally found to work well. There are likely tons of games and methods that work great, but I haven’t tried yet.  While I’m aware you can always install Windows via Boot Camp, I’ll only be touching on methods and games that don’t require altering the OS or running a virtual machine. Below is a screenshot of my machine’s specs for reference.

Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 10.37.22 AM

Actually Getting Games  

Do you like games? Do you like sales? Do you often fantasize about purchasing AAA games for prices ranging from Big Mac to Five Guys? Steam is the way to go. You can get Steam here, and I highly recommend you do. Steam is great because of its frequent sales, interface, and ability to carry over your purchases between machines easily. A good amount of Steam titles are supported on Mac OS, so if you’ve been previously using a Windows machine and have a huge library, you won’t have to repurchase all of your games if you switch to a new OS. You can also purchase some games off of the App Store, though the selection there is far smaller in comparison.

Configuration 

If you’re planning on playing an FPS on your MacBook, you’re likely going to want a mouse. A mouse is far more accurate and comfortable than a trackpad when it comes to interacting with most game interfaces. However, after plugging in your mouse you might find that it feels…weird. It accelerates and slows itself down sporadically and probably feels like it’s fighting you. No need to worry! This is a simple fix.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 2.58.31 PM

First, launch Terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write .GlobalPreferences com.apple.mouse.scaling -1    

This will disable Mac OS’s built in scaling and allow you and your mouse to have healthy bonding time without it suddenly deciding to perform an interpretive dance in the style of the plastic bag from American Beauty.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.02.36 PM

Another bonus piece of advice would be to go to System Preferences > Keyboard > and check the option to use the function keys without having to press the fn key. If you’re playing games that require usage of the function keys, you’ll find it easier to only have to hit one key vs having to take your hand off the mouse to hit two.

 

Finally, I recommend you keep your system plugged in and on a desk. Just like with most laptops, demanding processes like games can drain the battery faster than Usain Bolt can run across campus and make your laptop hotter than that fire mixtape you made in highschool.

Solo game recommendations

So, you’ve set up your mouse and keyboard, installed steam, and you’ve got some free time to play some games. What now? Well, not every game that is listed as “compatible” with Mac OS actually works well with Mac OS. Some games lag and crash, while others might run at a high frame-rate with no problems. Here are a few games I’ve found work well with my system. (Reminder: Performance may vary)

1.h a c k m u d

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.10.31 PM

“h a c k m u d” is a game that is set in a cyberpunk future where you’re a master hacker. This isn’t Watch_Dogs though. You’re not “hacking” by pressing a single button; rather, every single bit of code is typed by you. If you don’t know how to code, the game does an alright job at teaching you the basics of its own language (which is like a simplified mix of HTML and Java). The first hour of the game is spent locked in a server where you’ll have to solve some interesting logic puzzles. Once you escape the server, the game suddenly becomes a fully functional hacking MMO entirely populated by actual players. The game runs well on Mac OS, as it’s almost entirely text-based.

2.Pillars of Eternity

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.14.22 PM

Do you like classic CRPGs? If the answer is yes, you’ll probably love Pillars. It’s a CRPG that fixes a lot of the problems the genre faced during its golden age, while not losing any of its complexity and depth. The game runs well, though do expect a loud and hot system after just a few minutes.

3.SUPERHOT

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.11.59 PM

Do you often dream of being a bad-ass ninja in the matrix? SUPERHOT is a game where the central gimmick is that time only moves when you move. More accurately, time moves at a fraction of a second when you aren’t moving your character. This allows for moments where you can dodge bullets like Neo and cut them in half mid-flight with a katana. The game runs great, though your system will quickly get super hot (pun intended).

4.Enter the Gungeon

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.12.48 PM

Enter the Gungeon is a cute little rogue-like bullet hell where your goal is to reach the end of a giant procedurally generated labyrinth while surviving an endless onslaught of adorable little sentient bullets that want to murder you. The game is addictive and runs well, though one common issue I found was that the game will crash on startup unless you disable the steam overlay. It’s a shame though that you can’t enjoy the co-op feature…

…or can you?

MacBook Party 

Who wants to play alone all the time? This is college, and like a Neil Breen movie, it’s best enjoyed with friends by your side. Here’s a tutorial on how to set up your MacBook for some local gaming fun-time.

First things first, you’re going to want some friends. If you don’t have any friends installed into your life already, I find running “heystrangerwannaplaysomegameswithme.exe” usually helps.

Next, you’re going to want to get one of these. This is an adapter for Xbox 360 controllers, which you should also get a few of here. Plug in the USB adapter into your MacBook. Now, Mac OS and the adapter will stubbornly refuse to work with each other (symbolic of the fanboying thing I mentioned at the beginning of this post), so you’re going to have to teach them the value of teamwork by installing this driver software.

Once you’re all set, you should be able to wirelessly connect the controllers to the adapter and play some video games. One optional adjustment to this process would be to connect your MacBook via HDMI to a larger display so everyone can see the screen without having to huddle around your laptop.

Enter the Gungeon has a great two-player co-op mode. I’d also recommend Nidhogg and Skullgirls for some casual competitive matches between friends.

And there you have it! Despite what some very vocal individuals on the internet might tell you, it is possible to enjoy some light gaming on a Macbook. This is the part where I’d normally make some grand statement about how the haters were wrong when they said it couldn’t be done; but alas, that would merely be fueling a war I believe to be pointless in the grand scheme of things. Are we not all gamers? Are we not all stressed with mountains of work and assignments? Are we not all procrastinating when we should be working on said assignments? While our systems may be different, our goals are very much the same. And with that, I hope you find my advice helpful on your quest for good video games.

Best,

Parker

Basic Wi-Fi Troubleshooting on macOS

From time to time, you may find yourself in a situation where Wi-Fi isn’t working for you on your computer whilst on campus. This is a quick and basic guide to helping you getting back online.

Disconnect & Reconnect

This is the easiest method to execute. While holding the Option key, click on the Wi-Fi icon in the Apple Bar. You’ll see something like this:

menu

Click on “Disconnect from eduroam”, and the Wi-Fi icon will dim immediately. Seconds later it will reconnect, provided you are on campus where your computer is picking up eduroam. This will solve the majority of issues that are related to connectivity.

Deleting the Eduroam Profile

This will be a multi-step, but simple process. Begin by opening System Preferences, and click on Profiles button.

profile

In the Profiles menu, select the Eduroam profile, and hit the delete key on your keyboard.

profile_menu

The system will prompt you if you are sure you want to remove. Confirm the removal.profile_pop

Once the profile is removed, consult this article to set up Eduroam on your laptop. This method will solve a vast majority of authentication related issues, particularly after a password reset.

Rearranging the Order of Preferred Networks

There will be times that your computer, for one reason or another, is configured to connect to the UMASS network over the Eduroam network. Whereas the Eduroam network is secured, and does not require a log in each time you connect, the UMASS network is not secure, and will prompt for log in information, preventing usual network access.

To change this, first open System Preferences, and then click on Network.

network

Once in the Network menu, hit Advanced.

advanced

In the Advanced menu, under the Wi-Fi submenu, make sure that UMASS is underneath eduroam. This tells the computer to attempt to connect to eduroam before attempting to connect with UMASS.beforeafter

Hit OK, and close the menu. The computer may prompt you if you wanted to apply the settings – hit Apply.

Gathering information for UMass IT

If any of the methods above did not work, and our consultants are not able to resolve your issue over email, we may ask you for certain technical info, such as BSSID, IP address, and MAC address. Most of the info we ask can be easily retrieved when you click on the Wi-Fi icon while holding the Option key.

wifi_info

Hope this information was helpful!