Technology: Still amazed by it

While at work today I attended an "All Hands IT Meeting".  During the meeting a picture came up on the overhead in a PowerPoint slide that looked kind of like San Francisco.  The picture looked like you were standing on Jefferson or Beach Street and looking West up towards Ghirardelli Square.  Kind of bored and not being one to let things go, I quickly logged onto my iphone and brought up the Google Mobile app:  I took a picture of the PowerPoint slide and let the Google Mobile app do its thing.  Now understand I snapped the pic very quickly and was quite a distance from the wall that the PowerPoint was being projected onto.  There were also people in the way, so again this wasn’t the best of situations.

Once the Google App finished, it came up with a link:  The shot I was looking for was in the “Images for traffic at night” link at the top of the results page:   I clicked on that picture and found out that it was a picture of “Harrogate town centre”.  Realizing that it wasn’t a picture of San Francisco, I selected the text and copied and pasted it into the Google search engine.  I learned that this picture was actually in Harrogate, North Yorkshire England (if I had been more observant, I would have noticed the cars headlight trails were on the “wrong side” of the street.  Duh).  I then saved that Google link into another app called “Read it Later”:  When I got home at night, I did some reading about the area and learned something about Harrogate England.

This sequence of events utterly amazes me that things like this are possible.  I work around technology all day and stuff like this keeps me energized with the type of work I do.

Your future cell phone will be your computer.

We are at the beginnings of another watershed moment in personal computing folks.  Motorola displayed the “Atrix” phone running the Android operating system at CES 2011 a couple of weeks ago:  This “phone” is actually more than just a phone.  With the docking station plugged into your monitor, it can become a desktop PC or TV.  With a laptop shell that the phone plugs into, it becomes a sort of netbook.  The key is this phone will have a dual core 1Ghz processor.  Soon there will be quad core processors coming out for small form factor devices:

This is huge!  Why?  Think about it.  You will only need one device (and some accessories) to do all of your computing.  You go to work and plug this device into its docking station and through the Citrix interface connect to VDI backend.  Basically VDI is a server running in your companies or third party datacenter that has multiple desktop sessions running on it.  You then connect to your desktop that is running on the backend server via the Citrix interface over the network and do what you normally do like opening up Word documents, fill out Excel spreadsheets, check your email, etc.  All of the heavy lifting is done on the backend servers with your phone just displaying the graphics.  You undock your phone and go out to lunch all the while staying connected just as you would with any full featured smartphone that is available today or over a 3G/4G network stay connected to your work desktop session if need be or running locally stored apps and games as you do now.  Later that day you need to take a plane flight to a customers site.  You grab the laptop accessory and plug in your phone and finish your presentation in route.  Later when you get home, you plug your phone into the docking cradle at home and watch Netflix on your large screen HD TV and check your email.  If you think about it, this will also reduce the impact on the planet as theoretically you won’t need multiple PC’s and laptops anymore.

Now will you be able to play a very graphic intense game or do heavy photo or video editing on these types of devices?  Certainly not (for the the foreseeable future anyways).  These devices will appeal to road warriors looking to trim down their necessary equipment to take on a trip and people that need simple machines to check their email, browse the web, etc.  This is what cloud computing is all about (well mostly).  It means a simple device that gets you connected to the wireless network be it 3G/4G or WIFI and then you are off and running.

Sounds like science fiction huh?  Years from now this device will be remembered as THE device that changed computing….again.

The little computer that could

Cassandra’s computer has been starting to show its age.  It is about 6+ years old.  It has started locking up recently, so time to get something new. 

Since there was no money budgeted for this project, it would have to be done fairly cheap.  I set the original target at $300.  We already have a working monitor, so we didn’t need to buy that.  I also had confidence that the current hard drive (IDE Western Digital 160GB) wasn’t the cause of the system issues, so I could probably save some money and use that.

Cassandra uses the computer for surfing the web, email, and chat, and we have a few educational games for the kids on the system.  The system isn’t taxed very much with her normal usage.  I tried to load Vista on her old machine and it would run, but not very well.  I didn’t expect it to with it being such an old system.

After a lot of research, I came across a few articles about the Intel atom processor.  This dinky little chip is

VERY small as you can see with the picture at left (I believe this is the 230 single core chip). 

I purchased the Intel 945GC Mini ITX motherboard for about $80.  The motherboard comes with the CPU already attached.  It is using the Intel 330 atom processor which is a dual core 1.6GHz processor with hyper threading and is 64bit capable.  I also purchased a single stick of 667Mhz  DDR2 2GB Kingston memory for $20.  I had a couple of old ATX cases around the house, but this motherboard uses the ITX form factor cases.  I purchased the Rosewill, RS-MI-01 BK for $55.  The case comes with a 250 Watt power supply which is more than adequate for this size of a system.  I also already had a DVD ROM from the old system to use with the system, so I didn’t need one even though I could have just used my system’s USB DVD to build up the system and then removed it. 

It took me about 30 minutes to put the motherboard/case/hard drive combo together.  For testing, I first loaded Ubuntu 8.10 64bit.  The system was very responsive with full Compiz desktop effects.  Since I had a copy of Vista 64bit to use, I installed that next.  Again the system is very responsive with full Aero glass effects.  Some forums state that Apple OSX runs on this setup as well.

All in all, I am absolutely amazed how much grunt this little computer has.  It is light on the power requirements using 55W when fully cranking along and 8W idle.  It does all of the things Cassandra needs and does them very well.  The case is small and unobtrusive too being only 8.7”x5.1”x13”.  It is fairly quiet as well.  This setup would make a great home server.

I am quite pleased with the results of this project.  I only spent about $170 total for the project and came in way under budget.  Cassandra is pleased with the system’s responsiveness even though after building it up and asking her what she thought, she said, “It is just a computer”.  Yin and Yang we truly are.

I named the computer “pea-brain”, but that isn’t quite fair as it actually is more of a “mighty mouse”.