Operating System

Bored? Kill some time on the internet!

You’re sitting in the airport waiting for your flight, and that flight is hours delayed! Beyond that, you’ve watched all your Netflix shows, and fiddled with all the apps on your phone, and now you’re bored! What do you do in this situation?

Luckily, the internet offers almost endless websites with which to kill time! Some of them are educational, some of them are silly, with many others falling somewhere in between.

The first place many people will go when they’re bored and on the internet is, of course, reddit. Reddit is a forum of sorts which markets itself as “the front page of the internet.” It is fairly simple to understand. The site is subdivided into different boards called “subreddits,” usually denoted by “/r/[subreddit name]” after There is a vast quantity of subreddits, one for almost any area of interest.

There is a subreddit for pictures, for news, for gaming, and pretty much anything else! There is one for any TV show you might watch (for instance this one on Game of Thrones), or for TV in general. There are also some rather silly or interesting ones kicking around, such as this one dedicated to flat earth enthusiasts, or this one dedicated to jokingly treating life as though it is a game (check it out, it’s pretty funny), or this one called “shower thoughts.”

Even UMass has a subreddit (though admittedly it’s not terribly active)!

What makes this especially cool, is that it means there is a community for almost anything you might be interested in. For instance, if you saw the new Harry Potter movie and have tons of theories you want to discuss, you might want to go to the Harry Potter subreddit, and you will find that you can have interesting conversations with tons of strangers who are into it! If you are really into history, you can have your questions answered by historians.

Finally, one thing that often drives new users away from the website is its appearance. Reddit was launched in 2005 and has not functionally changed much since then. Thus, it can be a bit of an eyesore when one first gets to it. Have no fear though, once you get used to the site’s quirks, it becomes much more manageable.

Reddit uses an up vote/downvote system to allow users to help sort which content is seen first by other users. Once you register for an account, you can use the arrows on the left side of posts to vote yourself!

At the top of the page, there is always a way to sort the board you are looking at, usually “new,” “top,” “best.” These methods allow you to sort which content you are looking at.

Finally, one thing that is almost essential to browsing reddit is the Reddit Enhancement Suite. This is a chrome extension which makes some of the more annoying features of the website less annoying. We have a whole blog post which goes over using RES!

Operating System



If you’ve been in the market recently for a new router, gateway, or access point, you may have noticed the terms “SU-MIMO” or “MU-MIMO” being tossed around as a hot new feature. But what exactly do these terms means? And how important are these to making my wireless better?

To understand how these new wireless technologies work, it’s important to first understand how wireless traditionally works. Wireless, whether it be in a home, dorm, or office is a shared medium, many different wireless devices are all “talking”, sending and receiving packets of data, to a single piece of wireless antenna hardware at a time. Traditionally, access points could only send or receive packets to one device at a time. The wireless hardware can send and receive packets so fast however, that many times you may not even notice a slowdown when loading your favorite website or watching a Netflix stream, even when it’s shared among others in a household.

However, when you start to add more users on a single wireless antenna, and/or add latency specific network packets such as a skype call, or loading an online multiplayer games, in which packets are very dependent to be sent and received with urgency, or otherwise the user might encounter “lag”. This sort of lag occurs when packets aren’t being able to be sent or received from the devices fast enough, as the hardware can only send or receive to one device at a time, and has to switch around from device to device sending or receiving their packets, while others are put on a shared waitlist.

In come SU-MIMO and MU-MIMO, a way to help alleviate lag on an overcrowded network. The MIMO part stands for Multi-Input, Multi-Output, with the SU and MU standing for Single-User and Multi-User respectively. These wireless standards work to alleviate the traditional wireless bottleneck, the ability to only send or receive packets from one device at a time. With SU-MIMO, a single device can now both send AND receive packets at a time, with MU-MIMO being able to send and receive data from multiple devices at a time, effectively working to cut down on the waitlist to send data to devices requesting data on a network.

MU-MIMO is the future of wireless technology: it costs very little as a standard to implement, and has a noticeable impact on a clogged network without having to modify anything else. Devices now must wait a lot shorter of a time to get and send their packets, and overall creates a more efficient wireless network. You will have to make sure your next home or enterprise’s installation include support for MU-MIMO wireless equipment, but it should also be noted that it won’t solve all your problems. Wireless is and always will be a shared medium, they can be dependent on others factors such as wavelength congestion, interference, and pure overcrowded-ness if your equipment was not rated for the workload.

Operating System

USB C- The New Standard

We all know the frustration of trying to insert a USB plug into our computers or phones, flipping it over and trying again, only to find we were actually right the first time. The problem is that both sides of a USB plug look the same has plagued us all. Apple had fixed this problem with their proprietary Lightning connector which was omnidirectional (i.e. it could be inserted on either side). But this connector could only be found on Apple devices. The cell phone industry in particular was in need of a new solution.

Think back to the first cell phone you had. For many, this was in the early 2000’s (or even earlier), and think about what kind of charger you used. Most phones came with a charger that plugged into the wall, and they were largely incompatible with other phone brands. As cell phones became more popular, manufacturers decided to settle on one standard plug type that could be used by any phone. Enter the Micro USB Type B:


This plug should look familiar if you have an Android phone, but it has also become almost ubiquitous as the connector for most portable devices including cameras, tablets, and smart watches. A notable exception to this standard is Apple who has used proprietary connectors since the introduction of the iPhone.

However, since 2007 when the micro-USB was introduced, the needs of the industry have changed. Data speeds have gone faster, devices require more power, and the need to connect more types of devices calls for a new type of universal plug for all. This is the motivation behind the development of the USB-C connector.


The USB-C is omnidirectional like Apple’s Lightning connector so there won’t be any more trouble with which way the plug is facing. They support the USB 3.1 data standard, which can transfer up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps). Possibly most interesting, USB-C is capable of carrying 100 Watts of power, meaning that in addition to becoming the primary data connector type, it could also replace most power cords in the near future.

Also of note is Apple’s adoption of the USB-C connector. They have redesigned their newest version of the Thunderbolt connector to be USB-C compliant, meaning that one can use a USB-C cable, but get Thunderbolt 3 speeds of 40 Gbps. It is worth emphasizing that although the connector on Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 is the same as USB-C, the data transfer specification and therefore transfer speed is not the same. However, Apple’s adoption of the new plug type in conjunction with the rest of the industry means that USB-C is is a truly universal connector.

With its higher data speeds, power support, and ease of use, USB-C is getting ready to be the port trend all ports. Indeed, the USB Implementers’ Forum (the organization responsible for USB specifications) has declared that they intend USB-C to be “future-proof”. As technology demands increase over the next few years, we will see if this new connector can live up to its promises.

Operating System

Digital Audio Compression: a Cautionary Tale

Enter: Audio

Form the beginning, people all around the world have shared a deep love of music.  From early communication through drumming, to exceedingly complex arrangements for big bands, music has been an essential part of human communication.  So it makes sense that people would push to find a way to record music as performed by the musician.

The advent of Tin-Pan Alley in New York initially produced only sheet music – the recording of music on paper, readable only by trained musicians – but it was the invention of Thomas Edison’s phonograph which altered the history of music the most. With the phonograph, sound could be recorded from the air.  Early phonograph systems employed a light diaphragm, often in the shape of a horn, suspended on springs and attached to a needle which would carve into a rotating cylinder of wax.   These records were made without any electric power and have a distinct sound which often wavers in tone character and pitch.

Thomas Edison with early Phonograph
Thomas Edison with early Phonograph

In the 1920s, the RCA company developed the first electrical audio recording system which employed microphones and a magnetic medium on which to record electrical impulses.  The microphone could vibrate more easily than the phonograph horn and could therefore reproduce sound in a more natural and consistent manner.

After a brief push to standardize the format for recorded music, Edison’s wax cylinder gave way to the disk-shaped Gramophone record, which eventually gave way to the two formats we are now familiar with: the 33 rpm vinyl record, for full-length albums, and the 45 rpm vinyl record, for single songs.  Now obsolete, these formats allowed for exceedingly accurate reproduction of recorded sound for half a century.


Audio goes Digital

In the mid-twentieth century, Claude Shannon determined that information could be encoded into discrete values, transmitted, and decoded to reconstruct the original information.  The human voice could be transmitted, not as an analog electrical representation of a sound-wave, but as a series of numbers representing the magnitude and polarity of the sound-wave at given times (samples).  This method of encoding information into discrete values allowed for the more efficient use of limited resources for transmitting and storing information.

Claude Shannon: Father of Information Theory
Claude Shannon: Father of Information Theory

For music, this meant that sound could be broken down into only the magnitude and polarity of the sound-wave, at a given time, and represented as a binary number.  With music now a series of 1s and 0s, and with far less information encoded into these 1s and 0s than with the analog formats, music could be stored on small, plastic disks called Compact Disks.  These compact disks, or CDs, contained an unadulterated digital representation of the original analog sound-wave.  The CD, though sometimes thin and clinical-sounding, offered some of the most detailed reproduction of sound in history.

Analog-Digital frequency examples


Digital Streaming and the Push for Compression

In the 1990s, online music sharing services birthed a new format for recorded music: the mp3.  The mp3, though a digital representation of an analog sound-wave like a CD, made feasible downloading music over the internet.  It did so using a simple principle: use a fourier transform to view the sound-wave as a series of sine waves of different frequencies and remove all the frequencies with low magnitudes.

Napster, an early music sharing service
Napster, an early music sharing service

While this technique allowed for digital audio files to be much smaller, it had the nasty effect of sometimes removing some important sonic character.  Though insignificant sounds in a piece of music could be a small amount of background hiss, it could also be the timbre of a musical instrument.  For this reason, mp3 files would often lack the fullness and detail of the CD or analog formats.


The world of Recorded Music, Post mp3

Though internet speeds have vastly improved since the early days of music streaming, compression has not gone away.  The unfortunate nature of the problem is that one powerful computer can run a compression algorithm on a digital audio file in less than a second and then stream it to a user; streaming lossless digital audio, like the digital audio from a CD, requires the rebuilding of physical infrastructure to handle the extra data.  From a profit-generating stance, compression is cheap and effective; most people don’t notice if audio is compressed, especially if they are listening to music on computer speakers or poorly constructed headphones.

However, there are some out there who do notice.  Though services like iTunes and Spotify do not offer the purchasing of music in non-compressed formats, music in these formats can sometimes be purchased from lesser known services.  CDs are also still in production and can be purchased for most new albums through services like Amazon.  Some may also be surprised to learn of the prevalence of the analog formats as well; for most new releases, a new copy can be purchased on a vinyl record.  Since most music is recorded directly to a digital format, vinyl records are made from digital masters.  However, these masters are often of the highest quality as there is no need to conserve space on the analog formats; digital audio sampled at 44.1 kHz and 96 kHz both consume the same amount of space on the surface of a vinyl record.


So what is the answer for those looking to move beyond the realm of compressed music?  Well, we could all write in to Spotify and iTunes and let them know that we will only purchase digital audio sampled at 96 kHz with a 24-bit word-length…but there may be a simpler way.  CDs and vinyl records are still made and they sound great!  If you have an older computer you may be able to listen to a CD without having to purchase any extra equipment.  For faithful reproduction of the CD’s contents, I would recommend a media player like VLC.  Additionally, if you have grandparents with an attic, you may even have the necessary equipment to play back a vinyl record.  If not, the market for the analog formats seems to be getting miraculously larger as time goes on so there is more and more variety every day for phono equipment.  There’s also always live music and no sound reproduction medium, no matter how accurate, can truly capture the spirit of an energetic performance.

So however you decide to listen to your music, be educated and do not settle for convenience over quality when you do not have to!

Apps Software Web

Can you work off a 32GB storage laptop? The beginner’s guide to switching to the cloud.

Screenshot 2016-11-28 at 11.11.59 PM

Over the past 5 years the term ‘cloud’ has been moving around left and right. If you are asking what the cloud is then I’ll assure you it is not an actual cloud in the sky, but a term used to say that your data is kept for you in a far-off place. This was to make it easy for consumers to conceptualize where their data is, without too much of a misunderstanding.

Understanding the cloud conceptually:

What cloud really is is remote computing and storage, usually provided by corporate servers. A way to understand this best is by simple example: Let’s say you have a photo gallery on your computer and you want to place it in “the cloud”. I tell you I have a cloud service so that you can always have your files available without having them on your computer. You agree, and send the files to me via the internet. I tell you “you are now backed up in the cloud!” since your files are on my computer at this point. You then delete all the files on your device, but it’s okay since there is a copy on my computer. But now you want to view that old photo of yourself at that last weeks Thanksgiving get-together, but it is no longer on your computer. You simply ask me (the cloud) for that file back, and I send you the photo back for you to view.. and when you are done with it you can delete it again, or make changes to it and send me back the changes. Simple as that. I being the cloud, am essentially a remote flash drive or external hard drive to send you data when you need it.

Now obviously this is not exactly how the cloud works, but it is close. Let’s instead change it so my computer is now facebook or Google’s computers in a datacenter far-off from you, and that data is encrypted for security and provided with highspeed enterprise internet to send you your files as quickly as possible. Now we are using the cloud in the way it really works in the real world! Cloud services make it easy to view your files when “they are not there” in your computer. Such as Google Drive; when you install Google Drive you can view what files are available as if they are on your computer. This is Google’s servers telling you what file’s are on them. If you were to open a file, Google’s data center will send your computer that file to be stored as RAM rather than storage; when you click ‘Save’ you simply re-upload that file back to Google’s servers.

WEB APPS! More than just storage:

Most people think of only being able to store their files in the cloud, but there is much more available to them. As we already discussed cloud storage is a way to send data back and forth between computers. This means we can do more than just store your files, but we can also do tasks to those files and send you back the results in web-based applications!

Google Docs is a great example of this. When you open your Google Drive file in Docs, a website displays your file that is stored on Google’s servers. You can make changes to it on your browser and in real-time Google is making changes to that file on their end.


How to adapt to the future:

Cloud computing is starting to become the next big thing. We’re starting to see that we no longer need our computers to have high-end processors and large storage drives as long as we have a good internet connection. This means our computer’s can now be minimal in that they can be thinner, sleeker, and most importantly much cheaper.

Google has expressed this ideology of having a minimalist-type computer with their line of Chromebooks. Anyone trying to get into the web-app lifestyle would love the idea of the device. They’re cheap at ~$250, have fast storage for quick boot times, and have great network cards to maintain a solid internet connection. They only have 32gb of storage, but that’s okay since the entire operating system is based off the chrome browser. How can you manage just using the chrome browser? Again, web apps!

Here is a list of common programs and tasks you can replace with web-apps:

Storage: Box (recommended if you are a UMass affiliate), Google Drive, iCloud, or Mega

Gaming: Gaming Streaming Services! Such as OnLive, PS Now, or you can stream remotely if you have a high-end system.

Photoshop: Pixlr! A great website where you can have most of the features of Photoshop available to you for free all online!

Video-Editing: Use WeVideo, a website to upload videos and edit them all online.

Programming: There are several cloud based programming IDEs available, such as Cloud9 or CodeAnywhere!

Office: Google Docs has everything you need! From word, to powerpoint, to even excel. You and other collaborators can update your documents all in the Google Cloud, and even download them to your computer as a word document, pdf, or image file.

Music: You can use Spotify as a web-app, Google Play Music, or Amazon Prime Music as online subscription-based streaming services!

Movies/Shows: Most of us don’t even save movies anymore. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video let you stream thousands of movies and shows instantly.

Other: If you are in desperate need of say a Windows PC or Mac and you have a desktop at home, then you can stream your computer’s session to your device. Services like TeamViewer, RDP, and Chrome Remote Desktop make this incredibly easy.


As you can see most services can be provided by Google, and is my recommendation to use for being in the Cloud. A simple subscription to Google Play services can get you all the apps you would need to perform most to all computer-related tasks today. Chrome extensions and apps are also limitless as you can download thousands of them online.


My advice is to try to future-proof yourself and use the cloud for all purposes. It’s a great way to keep your data safe and backed up. It’s also a way to spend less on potentially unnecessary computing power. With the world turning to web-based applications, a simple chromebook for $200 could last you years and could save you thousands compared to buying the latest Apple or PC hardware.

Operating System

Netflix On the Go for the First Time Ever

Netflix: everyone’s favorite source for TV shows and movies–old classics, new favorites, even new versions of old classics. It’s incredibly convenient to have an entire library of videos to watch–at least until you find yourself watching Friends at 2 am the night before an exam. The only inconvenient thing about Netflix? It’s only available as a streaming service.

Until now.

On November 30th, 2016, Netflix announced that it would, for the first time, make select movies and TV shows available for download. This feature has been a long time coming, and people have been calling for it for a long time. Some competitors have had it already. Amazon Prime, for example, has allowed Prime members to download Prime videos to Amazon devices for at least two years.

Netflix is, as far as I can tell, being pretty generous about the download feature. It’s going to be available for members of both the lower-priced subscription and the higher-priced subscription–they aren’t using it to bait users into paying for the more expensive subscription. Also, Netflix is including movies and shows that aren’t Netflix originals–crowd-pleasers such as Parks and Rec or Sixteen Candles.

Of course, everything has a limitation. Netflix’s is the actual quality of the picture. The shows and movies currently available for download have two options: a lower-quality, faster-download option, and a higher-quality, slower-download option. The catch is that the higher quality isn’t as good as the highest quality stream. The other limitation is, of course, the actual movies and shows that are available for download. The selection is currently still very limited; items such as Friends and Bob’s Burgers aren’t available. Netflix did state that more shows are forthcoming.

The conclusion? Netflix has made a step in the right direction, but they’ve still left room for improvement.

Operating System

AMD’s Ryzen from Intel’s Shadow

The AMD Ryzen is AMD’s newest processor in the making, scheduled for a Q1 release in 2017.

The goal with their newest chip was to match the performance of Intel’s current flagship i7, the Core i7-6900K, and develop a chip that has 40% more instructions per clock than their own previous CPU. Here’s the line up to compare.

As you can see, the turbo boost and max are currently unknown as of now, as well as the price. The TDP however is 95 watts. Even the base frequency in this picture isn’t set in stone, so it may change before the official release.

AMD debuted their new 8-core chip using Blender’s open source application, which showed that it matched and actually slightly surpassed the performance of it’s Intel counterpart. The builds of the computers housed. However, this is only one benchmark test, and an open source benchmark that would allow for recompilation for greater performance on the AMD chip. To quell doubts, AMD later showed more advanced test such as running Hardbrake encode to transcode video and the ZBrushCore benchmark that supported AMD’s original claim. Surprisingly during these benchmark tests, the boost mode on the Ryzen processor was turned off but it still performed faster than the Intel i7.

Lets talk about overclocking the processor. The Ryzen supports overclocking in increments of 25 mhz, which is smaller than the traditional 100 mhz increment on most processors. This means that the processor can be tuned to much more specific clock speeds. In addition to more smaller increments, the new Ryzen processor comes with Extended Frequency Range (XFR), which allows the processor to sense how efficiently it’s being cooled and further overclock itself. This allows for the processor to surpass regular boost clock speed maxes. Another interesting piece of software that runs on the new processor is it uses Neural Net Prediction which helps the processor predict future pathways an application will utilize based off of learning from past application usage.

All in all, AMD’s Ryzen processor may very much hold the future of AMD in how it does on the market. The engineering team at AMD has finally come up with a truly competitive processor to help gain back the market they’ve been losing to Intel over the last decade. AMD has surpassed even their own expectations in terms of manufacturing but it’s up to the consumers after release to truly determine how well the chip will hold up against Intel. It’s also important to note that the Intel card being tested here is an Intel Broadwell Gen 5, a “tick” in Intel’s CPU fabrication. This chip is a generation behind the current Kaby Lake and will soon be two generations behind with the release of the Sky Lake “tock” chips. Although the current price is unknown, I will definitely be considering switching to AMD because of this new card.