Category Archives: Operating System

Information about Windows, Macintosh, Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora…)

Maximizing your Windows 10 Battery Life

Maximize your Windows 10 Battery Life and Reduce your Device Performance, featuring X1 Carbon 2nd Gen.

Recently I was preparing for a trip to a music festival while taking classes over the summer. I know that I needed to keep up with my courses but I also knew that I wasn’t going to be able to charge my computers battery very often, so I decided to write a short article on how you can maximize your computer’s battery life beyond normal power-saving methods.

After this guide you’ll be saving battery like nobody’s business and your laptop will be significantly less usable then before! Before we get started it’s important that you’re aware of my computers specs; depending on your computer’s specifications and application usage, results may vary.

The make of my computer is Lenovo and the model is the X1 Carbon 2nd Gen.

OS: Windows 10 Pro

Version: 1607 build 14383.1198

Processor: Intel Core i5-4300U at 1.90 Ghz – Turboboost to 2.49 Ghz

Ram: 8.00 GB (7.68 Usable) DDR3 at 1600 MHz

Hard Drive: 256GB M.2 SSD eDrive Opal capable

Wireless: Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 (2×2, 802.11ac) with Bluetooth® 4.0

Integrated Lithium Polymer 8-cell (45Wh) RapidCharge battery

Also note that the only application that I was using was Microsoft Edge – to save battery over using Google Chrome.

First head over to Device Manager (Note: you’ll require internet for this step). This can be accessed from the Windows Power User menu by pressing the Windows Key + X at the same time. From the Device Manager menu go through every device and make sure that the drivers for each device are up to date. This should ensure that all of your devices are using the best possible drivers that are more efficient for your system’s battery; out of date drivers can adversely affect your systems performance as well.

While in Device Manager we’re also going to make a few more changes. Depending on your how you use your machine, you may want to adjust these settings to your needs. Click on the “Network adapters” drop down menu and double click on the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC (this may be named differently depending on your device’s wireless card). Click over to the Advanced tab and change the “Preferred Band” to 5.2 GHz, “Roaming Aggressiveness” to a lower setting (lower is better unless in a congested wireless area). Now click over to the “Power Management” tab and make sure that the “Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power” is checked. Click the “OK” button and move on to the “Intel Ethernet Connection I218-LM (also may be different on your device) and double click on this as well. Make sure that “Enable PME” is set to enabled, “Energy Efficient Ethernet” is set to on and “System Idle Power Saver” is set to enabled. After that, navigate over to the “Power Management” tab and make sure again that the “Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power” is checked again.

After going through your drivers, head over to the Power & Sleep settings for your laptop. This can be accessed by pressing the Windows key, navigating to Settings -> System (Display notifications, apps, power) -> Power & Sleep. I’d recommend setting your Screen to turn off after at maximum of 5 minutes and setting your computer to Sleep after a maximum of 15 minutes. Then, navigate to the bottom of that page and click on Additional power settings. This will bring your to your computer’s Power Options.

You may want to switch over to the Power saver plan, which should automatically drop your computer down to a more efficient battery saving mode, but we want to push that even further. Click on “Change plan settings” to make some changes.

Consider changing “Adjust plan brightness” to the minimum usable brightness, as it’s one of the biggest aspects of battery saving. I however made sure that the computer’s brightness was always at minimum possible level was a must to keep my laptop alive.. Primarily I used the computer in the early morning or late at night so that I could keep the screen at the minimum brightness while still being able to use the laptop.

After changing your brightness to the minimum, click on “Change advanced power settings”. Here’s where you can adjust the fine controls for different hardware and software’s battery usage. Make sure that the top drop down menu says “Power saver [Active]” and move on the the main table of items. I would recommend changing this to your own personal preferences but there are a few major aspects I would recommend adjusting in this panel.

In “Desktop background settings” -> “Slide show” I would recommend setting this to paused while on battery power.

In “Wireless Adapter Settings” -> “Power Saving Mode” switch this over to Maximum Power Saving on battery power as well.

In “Sleep” -> “Sleep after” make sure these are set to the values you set earlier, around 5 and 15 respectively to On battery and Plugged in. Also in “Allow hybrid sleep” is set to off for both options, this is because hybrid sleep is more taxing on the battery. In “Hibernate after” set these to slightly higher values than your “Sleep after” values. This will allow your PC to conserve more battery than typical sleep. Also set “Allow wake timers” to disabled on battery power. We don’t want anything taking your laptop away from it’s beauty sleep.

In “Intel CPPC Energy Efficiency Settings” -> “Enable Energy Efficient Optimization” and make this enabled for both options. Also in “Energy Efficiency Aggressiveness” and set both options to 100%.

In “USB settings” -> “USB selective suspend setting” set both of these options to enabled.

In “Intel Graphics Settings” -> “Intel Graphics Power Plan” set both of these options to maximum battery life.

In “PCI Express” -> “Link State Power Management” set both of these options to Maximum power savings.

In “Processor power management” -> “Minimum processor state” set both options to 5%. This is the minimum percentage that your processor will run at. I wouldn’t recommend setting this to below 5% for minimum operation. Also in “System cooling policy” change both options to Passive cooling, which will slow your CPU before slowing your fans. Also in “Maximum processor state” set this to below 100%. I personally set my computer to a maximum of 50%, but depending on your use case, this will vary.

In “Display” most of these setting we’ve already touched earlier, but in “Enable adaptive brightness” and disable this setting. We don’t want the system to decide it wants a brighter screen and eat up valuable battery resources.

In “Battery” I would recommend just making sure that hibernation comes on in your “Critical battery action” settings and that your critical battery level is set to around 7%.

A couple additional changes that I made is to upscale the resolution on the computer so that it’s not having to display content in native 2K on the X1’s screen. This depends on the machine that you are using however, and your preference of how you want your machine’s screen to look.

Now there are a few things left to be changed, if I haven’t missed anything in Windows 10. For these you’ll want to shut down your computer and enter its BIOS settings. On the X1 Carbon that I was using, this is done by hitting Enter repeatedly after hitting the power button.

BIOS settings user interfaces tend to vary dramatically across computers and manufacturers, but for the X1 Carbon that I was working with it looked something like this

Image result for x1 carbon gen 2 bios(aside from the fact that this isn’t a Gen 2, it’s a very similar interface.)

In the BIOS I was working with, it doesn’t recognize mouse or trackpad input, so you’ll likely have to navigate with arrow keys, enter and escape; bear with me.

Navigate over to the “Config” tab and down arrow down to the “> USB option”. Make sure that the “USB UEFI BIOS Support” is enabled, “Always on USB” is disabled, and “USB 3.0 Mode” is set to auto. Now hit escape and down arrow down to the “> Power” option. Hit enter and I would recommend switching all of the settings over to battery optimized settings. For this X1 specifically, make sure that “Intel SpeedStep technology” is set to Enabled, “Mode for AC” is set to battery optimized, “Mode for Battery” is set to battery optimized. Also, make sure to switch the settings under “Adaptive Thermal Management”, “Scheme for AC” is set to balanced and “Scheme for Battery” is set to balanced. Now under “CPU Power Management”, make sure this is set to enabled, and make sure that “Intel Rapid Start Technology” is set to disabled. After modifying all these settings, hit escape again.

Depending on your personal use, you can head over to the “> Virtualization” settings and disable the Intel Virtualization and VT-d features, although this may adversely affect performance and prevent operating system virtualization entirely, so use at your discretion.

Thanks for bearing with me until now. Now you should have a remarkably effective battery-saving laptop that performs significantly worse than it did before. This worked out great for me working on course assignments while on a camping trip. I hope this works out well for you as well!

Setting Roam Aggression on Windows Computers

What is Wireless Roaming?

Access Points

To understand what roaming is, you first have to know what device makes the software function necessary.

If you are only used to household internet setups, the idea of roaming might be a little strange to think about. In your house you have your router, which you connect to, and that’s all you need to do. You may have the option of choosing between 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, however that’s as complicated as it can get.

Now imagine that your house is very large, let’s say the size of UMass Amherst. Now, from your router in your living room, the DuBois Library, it might be a little difficult to connect to from all the way up in your bedroom on Orchard Hill. Obviously in this situation, the one router will never suffice, and so a new component is needed.

An Access Point (AP for short) provides essentially the same function as a router, except that multiple APs used in conjunction project a Wi-Fi network further than a single router ever could. All APs are tied back to a central hub, which you can think of as a very large, powerful modem, which provides the internet signal via cable from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) out to the APs, and then in turn to your device.

On to Roaming

So now that you have your network set up with your central hub in DuBois (your living room), and have an AP in your bedroom (Orchard Hill), what happens if you want to go between the two? The network is the same, but how is your computer supposed to know that the AP in Orchard Hill is not the strongest signal when you’re in DuBois. This is where roaming comes in. Based on what ‘aggressiveness’ your WiFi card is set to roam at, your computer will test the connection to determine which AP has the strongest signal based on your location, and then connect to it. The network is set up such that it can tell the computer that all the APs are on the same network, and allow your computer to transfer your connection without making you input your credentials every time you move.

What is Roam Aggressiveness?

The ‘aggressiveness’ with which your computer roams determines how frequently and how likely it is for your computer to switch APs. If you have it set very high, your computer could be jumping between APs frequently. This can be a problem as it can cause your connection to be interrupted frequently as your computer authenticates to another AP. Having the aggressiveness set very low, or disabling it, can cause your computer to ‘stick’ to one AP, making it difficult to move around and maintain a connection. The low roaming aggression is the more frequent problem people run into on large networks like eduroam at UMass. If you are experiencing issues like this, you may want to change the aggressiveness to suit your liking. Here’s how:

How to Change Roam Aggressiveness on Your Device:

First, navigate to the Control Panel which can be found in your Start menu. Then click on Network and Internet.

From there, click on Network and Sharing Center. 

Then, you want to select Wi-Fi next to Connections. Note: You may not have eduroam listed next to Wi-Fi if you are not connected or connected to a different network.

Now, select Properties and agree to continue when prompted for Administrator permissions.

After selecting Configure for your wireless card (your card will differ with your device from the one shown in the image above).

Finally, navigate to Advanced, and then under Property select Roaming Sensitivity Level. From there you can change the Value based on what issue you are trying to address.

And that’s all there is to it! Now that you know how to navigate to the Roaming settings, you can experiment a little to find what works best for you. Depending on your model of computer, you may have more than just High, Middle, Low values.

Changing roaming aggressiveness can be helpful for stationary devices, like desktops, too. Perhaps someone near you has violated UMass’ wireless airspace policy and set up and hotspot network or a wireless printer. Their setup may interfere with the AP closest to you, and normally, it could cause packet loss, or latency (ping) spiking. You may not even be able to connect for a brief time. Changing roaming settings can help your computer move to the next best AP while the interference is occurring, resulting in a more continuous experience for you.

Scout’s Honor: Will the Rise of Sabermetrics and Data Replace the Role of Baseball Scouts?

As popularized by the book-turned-movie Moneyball, a large portion of baseball relies on sabermetrics, a newer analysis of statistics to gauge players and teams. Where in the past RBIs and batting average were heavily relied on as be-all indicators, newer statistics have emerged as more accurate in measuring ability, since the game has changed so much in the 100+ years since its inception. With all these new statistics and measurements, software has been developed over the past 30 years to calculate and simulate different scenarios. If you are curious, Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) is a yearly video game series in which you manage a baseball team, simulating games and poring over stats just like loads of front-offices do. Alongside the software, there are devices in most ballparks measuring every pitch (called PITCHF/x), and even players on the field, just collecting all the data possible for use.

An example of a spread chart from PITCHF/x

With all the tools available now to measure just about every fine detail about a player, some teams are cutting back on their scouting team. Scouts have been essential for baseball teams since the beginning of the sport, looking at prospects, or talent on other teams, measuring them and seeing if they are of any interest to the team. The Astros just cut eight scouts from their team, so scouts around the league are becoming weary about the future. Some teams still heavily rely on scouts and find them indispensable, with teams like the Brewers using them for players in the lower minor leagues, where there are not enough stats to fully screen players. There is also some information that can’t just be measured through just data and film.

Scouts with their radar guns ready

In a similar vein, all this technology also frees up the scouts and allows them to just watch the game for qualitative factors. Whenever a scout is recording the reading off a radar gun, or writing down the time for a sprint, they aren’t looking at the game. This issue is the same for sports reporters, because whenever you’re writing something down, you’re not paying attention to play as it happens. With the advancements of PITCHF/x and the like, scouts don’t need to spend time doing the busy work of recording numbers, where devices can do them automatically. This frees the scouts from tedious tasks, and watch the players as they play and how they interact in detail. They can see how other players react to a play not directed at them, see their energy while playing, and just their general dispositions. Used properly, modern baseball technology might free up and help scouts, maybe not replace them entirely.

The Scroll Lock Key, A Brief History

Long ago in the year 1981, IBM released their original PC keyboard. It came with a set of 83 keys which have since become industry standard. However, the keyboard has evolved much over the 36 years since its creation. Most have changed key placements and adding, combining or removing keys due to evolving technological needs

But there is a key that has managed to hang on through history, despite most people not knowing what it even does. Today, we explpore the Scroll Lock  key.

 

Image result for scroll lock

 

The Original Purpose

Back when the Scroll Lock key was first invented, mice and graphical operating systems were still not mainstream like they are today. Today when when typing documents, we can use our mouse to point and click to move the typing cursor. Back then, the arrow keys were used to move your typing cursor, or to scroll the page. Toggling the Scroll Lock key would disable scrolling with the arrow keys, and allow you to move your typing cursor through the page.

But mice are widespread now, so why is the key still there?

 

Uses
There are two very popular uses for the Scroll Lock key today:

Microsoft Excel
In Excel, the arrow keys navigate cells by default. However, when the Scroll Lock key is toggled, the arrow keys will now scroll the entire spreadsheet either vertically or horizontally. This allows for more advanced users to have both hands on the keyboard at all times, decreasing the time it takes to use the spreadsheet.

“Free” Key
Another popular use for the Scroll Lock key is as a “Free” key. What this means is that people will remap the key to perform other functions and macros. For example, if I wanted to create a New Incognito Window in Google Chrome, I could hit CTRL+SHFT+N or I could remap the whole shortcut to the Scroll Lock and have it be done in one press.

The Scroll Lock key is a vestige of an older time that has remained a standard since the dawn of the keyboard, and managed to carve out relevance, staying useful long after its original purpose expired. In a world of constantly evolving technology, where many feel the need to update their skill-sets to fit new fads and trends, we can all learn a lot from the Scroll Lock key, finding new and exciting ways to apply our talents.

5 Microsoft OneNote Features that Make You a Productivity Machine

You may or may not know that all UMass students get access to Microsoft Office 365 for free! Sign up is super simple and can be found here: https://www.umass.edu/it/software/microsoft-office-365-education

Microsoft OneNote is a versatile note taking software that has transformed the way I participate in class and take notes. Maybe it can do the same for you!

Here are some of its features:

  1. Sync Notes on All Devices – Notes you take in class on your computer can appear on your phone and iPad almost instantly, and the other way around!  There is no need to worry about your laptop dying half way through class if you can pull your tablet out and continue right where you left off! To make it better, you don’t even need the app.  OneNote has a web browser version as well!  Now you can access and add to your notes on ANY device by logging in with your UMass account.  Study sessions can happen anywhere at any time.
  2. Complete worksheets and Syllabi Digitally – I present to you now my favorite feature of Microsoft OneNote: Insert File PrintOut.  Any assignments posted on Moodle can be inserted directly into your OneNote notebook, next to your notes, and completed right on your computer. Then you can print out the completed sheet.  Or how about putting the class syllabus and assignment schedule right in the front of your digital notes.  No more clogging up your downloads folder with ClassSyllabus(8).pdf!
  3. Hand Write Notes – Many laptops are touch and stylus enabled!  Digital notes are often criticized because studies show that hand writing information is a superior way to commit information to memory.  If you have a Microsoft Surface, An HP Spectre, A Lenovo ThinkPad or YogaBook, or a bunch of other models, you might be able to hand write notes directly into OneNote!
  4. Create To-Do Lists Right Next to Today’s Class Notes – Among the one million other ways OneNote lets you format your info is a to-do list.  After taking your class notes, make a home work to-do list right where you leave off.
  5. Share your notes with others – Finally, sharing your notes, to-do lists, work sheets, or even entire notebooks is super easy.  You can email specific pages, invite other OneNote Users to collaborate on the same page, and take screenshots and share them quickly, with no hassle!

 

I was always a traditional pen and paper student until I found Microsoft OneNote. Now all of my notes are taken either by typing or handwriting with my laptop’s stylus, and I can access them quickly on my phone, iPad, or any web browser.

Anti-Virus on Linux

Do I even need one?

Linux has many benefits that make many people want to use it as their main operating system. One of these benefits is strong security. This security mostly stems from the fact that programs are typically run as a user instead of as root (admin) so the damage a malicious program could do is somewhat limited. It also stems from Linux‘s very nature; it‘s an open source operating system to which many people contribute their time to improve and packages are not rushed by a central corporate authority before they are truly finished. Linux is not often targeted with malicious programs and the average user will likely never encounter a malicious program during their Linux use. Nevertheless, having an anti-virus that can scan both your Linux OS and a Windows installation, among other things, can be very useful.

What else?

While you yourself may not encounter malicious programs that will affect your Linux machine, you could encounter ones that could affect others’ machines. To that end, some anti-virus programs support scanning Windows based machines (as well as others on the same network), scanning E-mail attachments before you forward/send them to others, and any other files that you plan on sharing otherwise.

Okay, so what do I use?

There are many anti-virus programs available through whatever package manager you may be using. Some popular ones include:

  • ClamAV
  • AVG Antivirus
  • Avast! Linux Home Edition
  • Comodo Antivirus for Linux
  • BitDefender Antivirus

Installing these programs is very straight forward. Just go to your package manger or download and install them. Alternatively, you can refer to their respective websites and use terminal.

It should be noted that some anti-virus programs on Linux do not have a GUI (Graphical User Interface) so they must be accessed through terminal commands. When choosing an anti-virus program, make sure you‘re choosing one that has a a user interface that you‘re comfortable with.

You should now be well on your way to improving the security of both your system and those of the people around you. Farewell and browse safely!

What is S.M.A.R.T?

Have you ever thought your computer might be dying but you don’t know what? Symptoms that people might be familiar with may include slowing down, increased startup time, programs freezing, constant disk usage, and audible clicking. While these symptoms may happen to a lot of people, they don’t necessarily mean the hard drive is circling the drain. With a practically unlimited number of other things that could make the computer slow down and become unusable, how are you supposed to find out exactly what the problem is? Fortunately, the most common part to fail in a computer, the hard drive (or data drive), has a built-in testing technology that even users can use to diagnose their machines without handing over big bucks to a computer repair store or having to buy an entire new computer if their computer is out of warranty.

Enter SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology). SMART is a monitoring suite that checks computer drives for a list of parameters that would indicate drive failure. SMART collects and stores data about the drive including errors, failures, times to spin up, reallocated sectors, and read/write abilities. While many of these attributes may be confusing in definition and even more confusing in their recorded numerical values, SMART software can predict a drive failure and even notify the user of the computer that the software has detected a failing drive. The user can then look at the results to verify, or in unsure, bring to a computer repair store for a verification and drive replacement.

So how does one get access to SMART? Many computers include built in diagnostic suites that can be accessed via a boot option when the computer first turns on. Others manufacturers require that you download an application without your operating system that can run a diagnostic test. These diagnostic suites will usually check the SMART status, and if the drive is in fact failing, the diagnostic suite will report a drive is failing or has failed. However, most of these manufacturer diagnostics will simply only say passed or failed, if you want access to the specific SMART data you will have to use a Windows program such as CrystalDiskInfo, a Linux program such as GSmartControl, or SMART Utility for Mac OS.

These SMART monitoring programs are intelligent enough to detect when a drive is failing, to give you ample time to back up your data. Remember, computer parts can always be replaced, lost data is lost forever. However, it should be noted that SMART doesn’t always detect when a drive fails. If a drive suffers a catastrophic failure like a physical drop or water damage while on SMART cannot predict these and the manufacturer is not at fault. Therefore, while SMART is best to be used as a tool to assess whether a drive is healthy or not, it is used most strongly in tandem with a good reliable backup system and not as a standalone protection against data failure.

Multiple Desktops in Windows 10

The concept of using multiple desktops isn’t new. Apple incorporated this feature back in 2007 starting with OS X 10.5 Leopard in the form of Spaces, allowing users to have up to 16 desktops at once. Since then, PC users have wondered if/when Microsoft would follow suit. Now, almost a decade later, they finally have.

Having more than one desktop allows you to separate your open windows into different groups and only focus on one group at a time. This makes it much easier to juggle working on multiple projects at once, giving each one a dedicated desktop. It’s also useful for keeping any distractions out of sight as you try to get your work done, while letting you easily shift into break mode at any time.

If you own a Windows computer and didn’t know about multiple desktops, you’re not alone! Microsoft didn’t include the feature natively until Windows 10, and even then they did it quietly with virtually no advertising for it at all. Here’s a quick guide on how to get started.

To access the desktops interface, simply hold the Windows Key and then press Tab. This will bring you to a page which lists the windows you currently have open. It will look something like this:

Here, you can see that I’ve got a few different tasks open. I’m trying to work on my art in MS Paint, but I keep getting distracted by YouTube videos and Moodle assignments. To make things a little easier, I can create a second desktop and divide these tasks up to focus on one at a time.

To create a new desktop, click the New desktop button in the bottom right corner of this screen. You will see the list of open desktops shown at the bottom:

Now you can see I have a clean slate on Desktop 2 to do whatever I want. You can select which desktop to enter by clicking on it. Once you are in a desktop, you can open up new pages there and it will only be open in that desktop. You can also move pages that are already open from one desktop to another. Let’s move my MS Paint window over to Desktop 2.

On the desktops interface, hovering over a desktop will bring up the list of open windows on that desktop. So, since I want to move a page from Desktop 1 to Desktop 2, I hover over Desktop 1 so I can see the MS Paint window. To move pages around, simply click and drag them to the desired desktop.

I dragged my MS Paint window over from Desktop 1 to Desktop 2. Now, when I open up Desktop 2, the only page I see is my beautiful artwork.

Finally, I can work on my art in peace without distractions! And if I decide I need a break and want to watch some YouTube videos, all I have to do is press Windows+Tab and select Desktop 1 where YouTube is already open.

If you’re still looking for a reason to upgrade to Windows 10, this could be the one. The feature really is super useful once you get the hang of it and figure out how to best use it for your needs. My only complaint is that we don’t have the ability to rename desktops, but this is minor and I’m sure it will be added in a future update.

 

An Introduction to Discord: the Latest and Greatest in VoIP for Gamers

PC Gaming continues to grow annually as one of the primary platforms for gamers to enjoy their favorite titles. E-Sports (think MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL-level skills, commentary and viewership, but for video games) also continue to grow, creating a generation of hyper-competitive gamers all vying to rise above the rest. Throughout of the history of PC gaming, players have used a variety of voice communication programs to allow them to communicate with their teammates. Skype, Mumble, Ventrilo, and Teamspeak are just a few of the clients that are still used today, but in late 2015, a new challenger appeared: Discord!

You heard them. It’s time to ditch Skype and Teamspeak!

Discord was created to serve as VoIP platform that can host many users at a time for voice, text, image and file sharing. It’s the perfect solution for users that were looking for a voice chat program that is easy to use, resource-light, and capable of just about anything. 

Here’s what Discord looks like once you’re logged in. In the center of the screen, users can use discord like they would any typical messenger program to send files, links, texts, images, videos, and other files. Slightly to the left, you can connect to channels to communicate with others over chat.

Traveling even further to our left is a list of discord servers you can join. These are specific groups of channels that you usually have to be invited to and are usually filled with members of various online communities. It’s a great way to chat with people who share similar interests! Many subreddits and YouTube communities have dedicated discord servers.

Discord’s popularity is exploding, with over 45 million users as of May 2017. It’s ability to provide services in an easy (and free!) to use platform that others have failed to match in the past makes it a strong contender for the best VoIP program to date. It even boasts fairly robust security features, such as having to confirm a login via email every time you try to log in to discord from a new IP address.

To get started, head on over to https://discord.gg to sign up. Discord is also available as a client application on desktop machines, as well as for mobile devices like iOS and Android.

 

My Top 5 Google Chrome Extensions

A Google Chrome extensions are like apps for your phone, except they’re for your browser. Extensions add functionality for specific things. In this article I will go over the top five extensions that I find myself using the most.

Imagus.
https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/YAt89Udgoyfg6qfIhVO-qvqGXSTVr10NcOJHfKuFs8TPLxklZkVMjiVURjFqCzjuZcYDTGX2uKA=w640-h400-e365
Many websites such as Reddit and Twitter make it very hard to see pictures with out clicking on them, this is where Imagus comes in. Imagus is an extension that makes it easier to see pictures that are too small or maybe cropped due to the layout of the website. When you move your cursor over an image Imagus opens it up to full size next to the cursor, which makes it much easier to see. Not only that Imagus lets you keep the image open without keeping your cursor on the image by simply hitting enter. To make it disappear simply hit enter again. Check it out here https://goo.gl/dm1Q4d.

Magic Actions for Youtube.
https://www.mycinema.pro/i/preview_magic_actions.jpg
Magic Actions adds a lot of much-needed features to the already great site, which is Youtube. Magic Action adds the ability to full screen a window within a tab, something that I constantly find myself doing. It also allows Youtube to be turned to dark mode as well allowing users to take quick screenshots of Youtube videos. Check it out here https://goo.gl/jPHA7f.

Grammarly.
https://www.theedublogger.com/files/2015/02/grammarly-1lzblh1.png
Writing can be hard especially when many websites don’t have a built-in grammar and spell checker. This is where Grammarly comes in. Grammarly brings a spell checker to every text box on the internet. Not only that Grammarly can also catch less obvious errors such as a lack of a comma or a misplaced modifier. Check it out here https://goo.gl/kUSVvZ.

Tab for a Cause.
https://tabforacause-west.s3.amazonaws.com/static-1/img/product-images/sample_page1.0dcb41c8c4a9.jpg
Almost everyone wants to help those in need, but often it can be financially difficult to give money to charity. Tab for a Cause makes it easy to help out. Simply enable the extension and tab for a cause will become the screen that appears every time a new tab opens. On the new screen there is a small ad which is used to generate ad revenue for charity. Every time you open a new tab ad money is generated. If you are like me and constantly open tabs you will be raising a lot of money for charity by simply browsing the web. Check it out here https://goo.gl/sSqhWQ.

goo.gl URL Shortener.
https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/as3S-y6muxSh8gYagkFwjcfFIhA9pmdwmxKHNIvmxmAZWbqL4fSuFwRv-ArHgNUPETMGc2LC-A=w640-h400-e365
Almost every day I copy and paste a URL whether it be to send to someone, put in a document or saving it for later. The problem with standard URLs is they are often long and not very pretty to look at. goo.gl URL Shortner makes it easy to use googles URL shortening website with one click to the icon at the top of Google Chrome. A shortened URL looks like https://goo.gl/B8J7I5 and can be done to any web page. In fact I’ve been using it for every link so far. So check it out here https://goo.gl/DUrXQ.

Welcome Class of 2021!

We at IT User Services would like to extend a warm welcome to all new and returning students!

As you learn and re-learn your way around campus your first month back, many of you will become acquainted with the technology and resources available to UMass students.

We at IT are here to enable your success by making technology the last thing on your mind while you make a home here at UMass, and begin or resume your studies. If you need us (or rather, when), we will be there to answer your questions, remove your malware, and fix your computer. The Help Center, the campus mothership for tech support, is located in room A109 of the Lederle Graduate Research Center (the cream-colored low-rise located across the street from the Northeast Residential Area). The Help Center is open from 8:30AM to 4:45PM Monday through Friday. We have extended service hours at the Technical Support desk in the Learning Commons. Our consultants are available for assistance there as late as midnight, depending on Library hours.

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Tips for Gaming Better on a Budget Laptop

Whether you came to college with an old laptop, or want to buy a new one without breaking the bank, making our basic computers faster is something we’ve all thought about at some point. This article will show you some software tips and tricks to improve your gaming experience without losing your shirt, and at the end I’ll mention some budget hardware changes you can make to your laptop. First off, we’re going to talk about in-game settings.

 

In-Game Settings:

All games have built in settings to alter the individual user experience from controls to graphics to audio. We’ll be talking about graphics settings in this section, primarily the hardware intensive ones that don’t compromise the look of the game as much as others. This can also depend on the game and your individual GPU, so it can be helpful to research specific settings from other users in similar positions.

V-Sync:

V-Sync, or Vertical Synchronization, allows a game to synchronize the framerate with that of your monitor. Enabling this setting will increase the smoothness of the game. However, for lower end computers, you may be happy to just run the game at a stable FPS that is less than your monitor’s refresh rate. (Note – most monitors have a 60Hz or 60 FPS refresh rate). For that reason, you may want to disable it to allow for more stable low FPS performance.

Anti-Aliasing:

Anti-Aliasing, or AA for short, is a rendering option which reduces the jaggedness of lines in-game. Unfortunately the additional smoothness heavily impacts hardware usage, and disabling this while keeping other things like texture quality or draw distance higher can make big performance improvements without hurting a game’s appearance too much. Additionally, there are many different kinds of AA options that games might have settings for. MSAA (Multisampling AA), and the even more intensive, TXAA (Temporal AA), are both better smoothing processes that have an even bigger impact on performance. Therefore turning these off on lower-end machines is almost always a must. FXAA (Fast Approximate AA) uses the least processing power, and can therefore be a nice setting to leave on if your computer can handle it.

Anisotropic Filtering (AF):

This setting adds depth of field to a game, by making things further away from your character blurrier. Making things blurrier might seem like it would make things faster, however it actually puts a greater strain on your system as it needs to make additional calculations to initiate the affect. Shutting this off can yield improvements in performance, and some players even prefer it, as it allows them to see distant objects more clearly.

Other Settings:

While the aforementioned are the heaviest hitters in terms of performance, changing some other settings can help increase stability and performance too (beyond just simple texture quality and draw distance tweaks). Shadows and reflections are often unnoticed compared to other effects, so while you may not need to turn them off, turning them down can definitely make an impact. Motion blur should be turned off completely, as it can make quick movements result in heavy lag spikes.

Individual Tweaks:

The guide above is a good starting point for graphics settings; because there are so many different models, there are any equally large number of combinations of settings. From this point, you can start to increase settings slowly to find the sweet spot between performance and quality.

Software:

Before we talk about some more advanced tips, it’s good practice to close applications that you are not using to increase free CPU, Memory, and Disk space. This alone will help immensely in allowing games to run better on your system.

Task Manager Basics:

Assuming you’ve tried to game on a slower computer, you’ll know how annoying it is when the game is running fine and suddenly everything slows down to slideshow speed and you fall off a cliff. Chances are that this kind of lag spike is caused by other “tasks” running in the background, and preventing the game you are running from using the power it needs to keep going. Or perhaps your computer has been on for awhile, so when you start the game, it runs slower than its maximum speed. Even though you hit the “X” button on a window, what’s called the “process tree” may not have been completely terminated. (Think of this like cutting down a weed but leaving the roots.) This can result in more resources being taken up by idle programs that you aren’t using right now. It’s at this point that Task Manager becomes your best friend. To open Task Manager, simply press CTRL + SHIFT + ESC at the same time or press CTRL + ALT + DEL at the same time and select Task Manager from the menu. When it first appears, you’ll notice that only the programs you have open will appear; click the “More Details” Button at the bottom of the window to expand Task Manager. Now you’ll see a series of tabs, the first one being “Processes” – which gives you an excellent overview of everything your CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network are crunching on. Clicking on any of these will bring the process using the highest amount of each resource to the top of the column. Now you can see what’s really using your computer’s processing power. It is important to realize that many of these processes are part of your operating system, and therefore cannot be terminated without causing system instability. However things like Google Chrome and other applications can be closed by right-clicking and hitting “End Task”. If you’re ever unsure of whether you can end a process or not safely, a quick google of the process in question will most likely point you in the right direction.

Startup Processes:

Here is where you can really make a difference to your computer’s overall performance, not just for gaming. From Task Manager, if you select the “Startup” tab, you will see a list of all programs and services that can start when your computer is turned on. Task Manager will give an impact rating of how much each task slows down your computers boot time. The gaming app Steam, for example, can noticeably slow down a computer on startup. A good rule of thumb is to allow virus protection to start with Windows, however everything else is up to individual preference. Shutting down these processes on startup can prevent unnecessary tasks from ever being opened, and allow for more hardware resource availability for gaming.

Power Usage:

You probably know that unlike desktops, laptops contain a battery. What you may not know is that you can alter your battery’s behavior to increase performance, as long as you don’t mind it draining a little faster. On the taskbar, which is by default located at the bottom of your screen, you will notice a collection of small icons next to the date and time on the right, one of which looks like a battery. Left-clicking will bring up the menu shown below, however right-clicking will bring up a menu with an option “Power Options” on it.

 

 

 

 

Clicking this will bring up a settings window which allows you to change and customize your power plan for your needs. By default it is set to “Balanced”, but changing to “High Performance” can increase your computer’s gaming potential significantly. Be warned that battery duration will decrease on the High Performance setting, although it is possible to change the battery’s behavior separately for when your computer is using the battery or plugged in.

Hardware:

Unlike desktops, for laptops there are not many upgrade paths. However one option exists for almost every computer that can have a massive effect on performance if you’re willing to spend a little extra.

Hard Disk (HDD) to Solid State (SSD) Drive Upgrade:

Chances are that if you have a budget computer, it probably came with a traditional spinning hard drive. For manufacturers, this makes sense as they are cheaper than solid states, and work perfectly well for light use. Games can be very demanding on laptop HDDs to recall and store data very quickly, sometimes causing them to fall behind. Additionally, laptops have motion sensors built into them which restrict read/write capabilities when the computer is in motion to prevent damage to the spinning disk inside the HDD. An upgrade to a SSD not only eliminates this restriction, but also has a much faster read/write time due to the lack of any moving parts. Although SSDs can get quite expensive depending on the size you want, companies such as Crucial or Kingston offer a comparatively cheap solution to Samsung or Intel while still giving you the core benefits of a SSD. Although there are a plethora of tutorials online demonstrating how to install a new drive into your laptop, make sure you’re comfortable with all the dangers before attempting, or simply take your laptop into a repair store to have them do it for you. It’s worth mentioning that when you install a new drive, you will need to reinstall Windows, and all your applications from your old drive.

Memory Upgrade (RAM):

Some laptops have an extra memory slot, or just ship with a lower capacity than what they are capable of holding. Most budget laptops will ship with 4GB of memory, which is often not enough to support both the system, and a game.

Upgrading or increasing memory can give your computer more headroom to process and store data without lagging up your entire system. Unlike with SSD upgrades, memory is very specific and it is very easy to buy a new stick that fits in your computer, but does not function with its other components. It is therefore critical to do your research before buying any more memory for your computer; that includes finding out your model’s maximum capacity, speed, and generation. The online technology store, Newegg, has a service here that can help you find compatible memory types for your machine.

Disclaimer: 

While these tips and tricks can help your computer to run games faster, there is a limit to what hardware is capable of. Budget laptops are great for the price point, and these user tricks will help squeeze out all their potential, but some games will simply not run on your machine. Make sure to check a game’s minimum and recommended specs before purchasing/downloading. If your computer falls short of minimum requirements, it might be time to find a different game or upgrade your setup.

PCIe Solid State Drives: What They Are and Why You Should Care

Consumer computers are largely moving away from hard disk drives, mostly because solid state drives have gotten so cheap. Upgrading to a solid state drive is one of the best things that you can do for your computer. Unlike a RAM or CPU upgrade, you will notice a dramatic difference in day-to-day usage coming from a hard drive. The only real benefit of using a traditional hard drive over a solid state drive would be capacity per dollar. If you want anything over 1TB, you’re basically going to have to settle for a hard drive.

Solid-State Drive with SATA bus (compare the gold connectors to the below image)

While SSD prices have come down, SSD technology has also improved dramatically. The latest trend for solid state drives is a move away from SATA to PCIe. Serial ATA, or SATA, is the bus interface that normally connects drives to computers. The latest version of this, SATA 3, has a bandwidth limit of 750 Megabyes per second. This used to be plenty for hard drives and even early SSDs; however modern SSD’s are easily able to saturate that bus. This is why many SSDs have started to move to PCIe. Depending on the implementation, PCIe can do up to 32 Gigabytes per second. (That’s nearly 43 times as fast!) This means that SSDs have plenty of room to grow in the future. There are a couple different technologies and terms related to PCIe SSDs that you may want to make yourself familiar with:

M.2

M.2 is a new interface for connecting SSDs to motherboards. This connector is much smaller than the SATA connector was, and allows SSDs to be much smaller and physically attach to the board instead of connecting via a cable. The confusing thing about M.2 is that it can operate drives over either SATA or PCIe. Most of the newer drivers and motherboards only support the PCIe version. M.2 drives have a few standard lengths, ranging from 16 to 110 millimeters. There are also a few different connector type styles that have varying pins on them. M.2 connectors also support other PCIe devices such as wireless cards.

NVMe

NVM Express is a Host Controller Interface that allows the CPU to talk to the SSD. This standard is meant to replace the current AHCI, which was created in the 1980s. This standard is too slow for managing solid state drives, so NVMe was designed specifically for that purpose. It means that CPUs can communicate with the drive with much lower latency. NVMe is largely the reason that current PCIe SSDs can reach speeds over 3 Gigabytes per second.

Solid State is soon to become a universal standard as older machines are phased out and consumer expectations rise. Don’t get left in the dust.

How to Fund Your Project or Organization with Online Crowdfunding!

Image: Edison Awards, 2016

Most of us remember being in high school, and having people try to sell us candy bars at outrageous prices in order to fund their mission trips, charity organizations, abroad experiences, and other such things. I always remember being impressed at the commitment of people, and confused as to how they managed to raise enough money selling candy bars! Of course, in many of these cases, parents and family members were providing much of the funding.

In this new era of interconnection through social media, it is easier than ever to raise money from your social circle using the internet. This kind of fundraising is called crowdfunding, and most of us know it best through Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform which allows people to generate funds for various projects. These projects range from the mundane such as this (for anyone who doesn’t feel like clicking on the link, that is a man trying to raise $15 to make a french toast pancake waffle) to the brilliant (the Pebble smartwatch) , to the truly disappointing and scandalous (the Yogventures video game).

One cool aspect of Kickstarter is that only successful kick starters are able to keep the money. For instance, if your project requires $100, you must actually raise $100 dollars in order to be granted the money. If it is not successful, the money is returned to the donors. This leads people to be more likely to fund projects, as they know that if the project is not fully funded, the creators will not abscond with their cash. In addition, many Kickstarters include rewards to people based on how much they donate. For example, a video game development project might give a cool exclusive skin to people who donate $5, a signed copy for people who donate $30, and a studio tour for people who donate over $1,000.

Now you may be asking, “this is cool and all, but how does apply to me? I have no intention of creating a video game or developing some huge project.”

Crowdfunding does not need to be limited to projects and startups. For instance, if you are a member of an Registered Student Organization here at UMass, you may (ok you almost definitely do) find yourself thinking that you do not have enough money! Maybe you have a trip to go on, or an event you want to host, or equipment you need to buy. Crowdfunding is a great way to raise some funds! The UMass Minute Fund is a website which allows student groups on campus to crowdsource money. For RSOs, the Minute Fund is a better platform to raise money than places such as Kickstarter, because it does not take any cut of the money raised (as Kickstarter and other for profit companies do). This really works too! Here is a trip that I went on, funded by the Minute Fund. Here is the HackUMass Minute Fund (which was also fully funded).

In short, when your organization is running out of cash, your social circle might be able to sponsor you. Create these pages, share them on Facebook, Twitter, etc, and watch the money for your organization roll in!

How to merge Windows Mail and Calendar with iCloud


 

 

 

 

If you using a Windows PC and an iPhone, you might want to merge the calendar and Mail with iCloud instead of registering a new Microsoft account. The services in Apple become compatible with Windows 10 recently. It is very easy to set it up and easy to use.

STEP 1:

Click the Start button or search Settings in Cotana

STEP 2:

Go to Setting and Click Accounts

STEP 3:

Click Add an account

STEP 4:

Select iCloud

STEP 5:

Enter your iCloud email and password. Note: The password is not regular password of Your Apple ID. You need to generate a new password through two-factor authentication in Apple ID website. How to do that?

  • Go to Appleid.apple.com, and Sign in with your regular email and password
  • Verify your identity with two factor authentication
  • Click ‘Generate Passwords’
  • You are all set to use the new password to Log in Windows 10 Account Service

 

 

How to Import your Academic Moodle Calendar into your Personal Google Calendar

How to Export your Moodle Calendar for calendar subscription
1. Navigate to https://moodle.umass.edu/ and log in with NetID and password
2. Click under your name in the upper right hand corner and click on Dashboard
3. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Go to calendar… in the bottom right hand corner
4. Switch the drop down menu to specify whether you want a specific class or all of your classes bundled under one calendar this is important later at step 6
5. Click on the Export calendar button in the middle of the page
6. Some settings will show up in regards to exporting your Umass Moodle Calendar
a. I would recommend under the Export* menu choosing All events if you decided earlier to bundle your classes in one export, otherwise if you’re exporting classes individually I would recommend selecting Events related to courses for this option
b.I would recommend under the for* menu to choose Custom range because it guarantees all the events to be added
7. Click on Get calendar URL and *triple click* on the generated Calendar URL (as it may overlap with the Monthly view column)
8. You can now import this calendar into any calendar client that allows for import by URL

Note: This export may have to be updated in the future because it won’t add new events retroactively.


How to Import this Moodle Calendar into Google Calendar
1. Navigate to https://www.google.com/calendar and log in with your credentials
2. On the left hand side on Other calendars click the down facing carrot symbol and click on Add by URL
3. Paste the copied URL, this step may take 20 or so seconds to load the new calendar
a. This step will fail if the generated calendar URL was not copied it its entirety.
4. You can rename this calendar by clicking on the down facing carrot symbol to the right of it and clicking on Calendar settings, then changing the field Calendar Name:
Happy Google Calendaring!

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.

img-vault-tour-1-jpg

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_O54le4__I

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):

aga
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):
razercore
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:
gs30shadow

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.