Category Archives: computers

Where did the netbooks go?

My 2014 inexpensive laptop buying advice….

Q: Dell, Acer, Asus — all used to make 7″ and 10″ netbooks. We have a great Dell netbook called the Dell Inspiron Mini 1010 from several years ago with Windows 7. It has a 10″ screen and no CD/DVD drive, but otherwise is a very functional laptop with a full-sized keyboard. Perfectly great for email and facebook and Netflix and youtube and such. Why don’t they make such things any more in 2014?

A: It seems like they do, it’s just that they call them inexpensive Ultrabooks now. For example, the Dell Inspiron 11 (Haswell/Intel Celeron 2955U based) looks great for $300.

Q: But what about a “chromebook” like the new Acer C270?

A: It’s a tradeoff. A Chromebook is much simpler, but if you are ever going to want to have the option to run actual Office apps or Steam or Minecraft or Portal, etc, etc. for video games (for example), then one has to go Ultrabook route.

Finally: One of my most important qualifications is a laptop must be dead-simple to install more RAM. Some laptops make this difficult, but with others one can do this in 3 minutes.

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Filed under computers, shopping

In the news…. some related links

The following are some related links. Computers are simultaneously making amazing things possible and helping make some people very rich, but also making it more difficult to make a living for many (see the income inequality video).
It’s touching everything for good or bad. Media, education, news, jobs, food, financial markets, politics. Some win (and we all hear about those people) and most lose (and news tries to not depress or mobilize us too much about that). “The limitation of the personal view” Jerry Mander calls it.

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- The Rise of the Blockbuster (blockbusters are actually on the increase. the “long tail” is still there, but aren’t the real winners %-wise)

http://wgbhnews.org/post/rise-blockbuster

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- Misconceptions about wealth Inequality in America

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- “Q: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?”
“A: I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”

https://twitter.com/SciencePorn/status/391419960817614848/photo/1

(original at: http://as.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/15yaap/if_someone_from_the_1950s_suddenly_appeared_today/?sort=top)

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- University megastar professors

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2012/08/07/the-coming-age-of-the-teaching-megastar/

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- Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?
Smart machines probably won’t kill us all—but they’ll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think.

http://ehaugsjaa.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/2040-our-robot-paradise/

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- BAY WATCHED: How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country.
BY NATHAN HELLER
OCTOBER 14, 2013

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/14/131014fa_fact_heller?currentPage=all

Naval Ravikant “… the cost to build and launch a product went from five million … to one million … to five hundred thousand … and it’s now to fifty thousand.”

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- The Nacho Dorito
“I visited Steven A. Witherly, a food scientist who wrote an insider’s guide, “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” and we raided his lab to taste and experiment our way through the psychobiology of what makes Nacho Cheese Doritos so alluring.”

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/10/01/dining/nacho-graphic.html?_r=0

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- TOO COMPLICATED TO FAIL

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22too+complicated+to+fail%22

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Filed under computers, contrarian, person: Jerry Mander, tech, thinking

The personal vs the aggregate in computers (and hence, programming)

http://threads2.scripting.com/2013/june/theHumanWave

This resonates with me as well.

See also:
Battle for the planet of the APIs

http://adactio.com/journal/6291/

“The official line from Twitter is that RSS is “infrequently used today.” That’s the same justification that Google has given for shutting down Google Reader. It reminds of the joke about the shopkeeper responding to a request for something with “Oh, we don’t stock that—there’s no call for it. It’s funny though, you’re the fifth person to ask today.””

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Filed under computers, programming

2040: Our robot… paradise?

“…I chose Lake Michigan because its size, in fluid ounces, is roughly the same as the computing power of the human brain measured in calculations per second.”
(see cool animation in the link below…)

LINK
Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?
Smart machines probably won’t kill us all—but they’ll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think.

“What are the signs of a computer-driven economy?
1) First and most obviously, if automation were displacing labor, we’d expect to see a steady decline in the share of the population that’s employed.
2) Second, we’d expect to see fewer job openings than in the past.
3) Third, as more people compete for fewer jobs, we’d expect to see middle-class incomes flatten in a race to the bottom.
4) Fourth, with consumption stagnant, we’d expect to see corporations stockpile more cash and, fearing weaker sales, invest less in new products and new factories.
5) Fifth, as a result of all this, we’d expect to see labor’s share of national income decline and capital’s share rise.
These trends are the five horsemen of the robotic apocalypse, and guess what? We’re already seeing them…”

Exciting times. Hard to say whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Probably it will all work out and best to focus on 2013!

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SEE ALSO:
How Technology Is Destroying Jobs, MIT Technology Review
By David Rotman on June 12, 2013

http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/

“Then, beginning in 2000, the lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee call it the “great decoupling.””

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Filed under computers, future, predictions, work

The problem with twitter (and facebook (and wordpress))

The problem with twitter is that it isn’t more like facebook.
And the problem with facebook is that it isn’t more like twitter.
And the problem with wordpress is that it isn’t more like facebook and twitter.

By which I mean:

Facebook is annoying because:
- images are big now and everyone has figured out that the clever way to advertise their website is to put a clever saying in an image which is now huge and I have to scroll like mad now to read anything. I mean, I am guilty of sharing these sometimes, but will resist now I think. I usually hide article previews too.
- It’s not open

Twitter is annoying because:
- It’s a river (vs folders like is an option in RSS reader) so you can’t easily do things like group feeds, click to read one person (or one cluster) when you want to, etc. I know you can click (TWICE!) to read more from a person, but come on!
- It’s suggesting celebs to subscribe to. Uh, no.
- I pretty much totally hate URL compressor things since I can’t tell if I am interested cause the website name is hidden
- I am sorry but I am not conversing with you there
- hashtags are ugly and painful and useless unless it is a niche.
- It’s not open

WordPress is annoying because:
- It’s slow
- It doesn’t do nice/automatic previews of articles when you paste them in
- It’s slow
- All my friends aren’t there
- I can’t easily protect posts by friendship

The future:
- Might bring some open way of doing things like all of the above but in an open “internet standards” sort of way.
- simpler but also maybe more modular/programmable
— examples of tiny evidence of hope:
—– RSS
—– Dave Winer’s littleoutliner.com (see http://scripting.com/) is a sign (I hope) of things to come.
—– https://ifttt.com/
—– flickr.com API and APIs in general
—– bootstrap, and responsive design / HTML5
—– some google tools (books, forms) seem hopeful, but I won’t count on them now that I see that Google just close things down (ala Google Reader)

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Filed under computers, freedom, future, tech, thinking

The Hole-in-the-Wall Project: A Critique

There has been much interest in Sugata Mitra’s TED talks about The Hole-in-the-Wall Project where kids in remote areas learn a bunch of stuff when computers are dropped on them with no instruction but some video or CAI (“Computer Aided Instruction”) multimedia lessons and tools are provided.

But read below and click thru to this researchers (Payal Arora) publications page and you can read her peer-reviewed criticisms from 2012. LINK

My comments:
The results of these experiments are not terribly surprising. In addition to the objections raised by Payal Arora (that the experiment actually failed completely in many locations; that there is only anecdotal evidence of it working, not real empirical statistics; that it ultimately is still tutoring, mentoring, etc.) I would add the following:

1 – Using/learning computers is easy. Toddlers use tablets with ease. My kids figure out complex video games without even reading the instructions. A well-known Computer Science professor (Joseph Weizenbaum) questions the use of an undergraduate degree in CS in a well regarded book. LINK This idea of “Digital Natives” I don’t buy. I’ve seen too many people of all ages adapt easily. A great blog post (among many) from James Hague LINK in which he argues eloquently (as elsewhere) that for most creative uses of computers, the issues are not technical. We effectively have “infinite computing power” (and bandwidth).

2 – Novelty Effect in action. It’s not the whole answer, but probably some.

3 – Also in play is what I would also call “screen seduction”. People are generally more enamored of doing things that are multimedia — moving images and sound — rather than not. This is not news.

And just general curiosity. If some strange installment appeared in my town/village, I would be curious too!

4 – In various TED talks I actually found Sugata Mitra to be vastly *underestimating* the abilities of kids — being amazed at what “10 year olds” could do on the computer with using google, wikipedia, etc, etc. Come on! (See point 1)

5 – I am sure any gains in learning (if any) are very short-term. Not a meaningful result.

6 – Reliance on volunteer tutors (“SOLEs” acronym in Hole-in-the-wall) via internet/Skype? This is not practical nor sustainable. And it seems to devalue direct experience (vs the “expert” exposure via global telecommunications) though I can’t say whether this perception has empirical backing.

7 – I can’t find the quote now, but somewhere I read an interesting quote from a partner at an architecture firm who was looking for excellent new hires and had no interest in the computer experience they had because he recognized (correctly I would imagine) that teaching someone to use complex CAD and 3D modeling software was not difficult in comparison to the artistic and creative and technical knowledge and experience needed in an architect. Draftsperson, maybe.

The same goes with companies looking for long-term hires in software. Yes, in the short term it is very useful to have someone who is up-to-speed on your programming language of choice, but longer-term there are more important issues.

I guess much of this boils down to the “tyranny of technique” (Jaques Ellul) as well as the concern that the computer is now “deskilling” us mentally now in the Information Age, just as the physical was deskilled in the Industrial Revolution. More on this in the book “Abstracting Craft” LINK.

8 – Has Sugata Mitra heard of Sudbury Valley School? It invariably comes up in the comments section in related videos. He probably wouldn’t like it because there aren’t teachers and curriculum — structures he clearly supports.

9 – The takeaway/the things this project makes me think about are:
- Globalization vs local (internet vs place) and effect on work, school, family, friends, happiness, the environment
- “Limitations of the personal view” (Jerry Mander) — the idea that even if a technology might be personally beneficially, it might be having larger negative impacts on your life via it’s influence in the business, political, military, media worlds.

As usual, education is a window into issues affecting all aspects of society.

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Filed under community, computers, contrarian, globalization, local, screen-time, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Tablets vs netbooks vs ultrabooks

I don’t know what they heck this person is talking about in the article below. Our 10″ Dell netbook has been GREAT as a web/netflix/flash games computer. Keyboard is great for typing… nearly 100%, Windows 7, etc. If it had a higher res screen (1366×768 instead of 1024×600) it would be perfect. Like hmmm…. a 11″ Macbook Air! I call that a netbook too. Except 3x the price. (~$1000 vs ~$333) As he wrote, the manufacturers weren’t making much on netbooks. Which to me says they were a good deal!

Just trying to get eyeballs on the website I guess is the reason for the article. Not based in reality. Mine at least!

Apple Killed the Netbook (And we’re all better off for the demise of the $400 future of computing.)

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