A little over a week ago, Adam bought himself a shiny new aluminum MacBook, and when I went with him to BestBuy to pick it up, I bought myself an MSI Wind 100U. At $350, it was almost $1000 less than Adam paid for the MacBook. =)
I hacked it, installing OSX on it, and for $11 (damn, RAM is cheap these days!), bought another gig of RAM, which maxes it out at 2GB.
I even found a method of installing that let me use my standard Leopard installer disc. When I upgraded my Mac Pro, I bought the “family” 5-license version of Leopard, so yes, I am using a legal copy of OSX – although installing on this hardware is technically in violation of the OSX licensing agreement, I don’t feel too bad seeing as I paid Apple for the OS.
For such a cheap machine, it’s not bad.
It’s got the Intel Atom processor, designed for low power consumption, but it still decently fast. It will run XCode, including compiling iPhone apps and running the iPhone emulator. Eclipse and MAMP run fine. The Flex SDK runs fine, too.
Battery life probably isn’t great – I haven’t tested it, but should be 2-3 hours.
It does have a slight edge on the MacBook in a couple respects – it has 3 USB ports over the MacBook’s 2, and has a built-in SD card reader, something lacking on the MacBook.
I had a couple Apple logo stickers which I stuck on the back of the MSI (one was too transparent and the MSI logo was still visible, so I put a second sticker on top of the first). It’s a bit off, the logo is larger than it should be, and the sticker has some air bubbles under it, but it’s close enough to be amusing and cause the occasional double-take.
How it stacks up to the MacBook:
|CPU||2.0GHz Core2Duo||1.6GHz Atom||MacBook|
|RAM||2GB (4GB max)||1GB (2GB max)||MacBook|
|Video||NVIDIA GeForce 9400M||Intel GMA 950||MacBook|
|Screen||13″ 1280×800||10″ 1024×600||MacBook|
|USB||2 ports||3 ports||MSI|
Yes, the MacBook thoroughly trounces the MSI in almost every way, but for the price, the MSI puts up a respectable showing.
Analog Man in the Digital Age
The Engineer’s Dilemma
Being a Somewhat Rambling Musing on the Information Age
We live in an interesting time. We have come out of the Industrial Age and into the Information Age. More and more the world is connected digitally, but paradoxically, people feel more lost than ever.
Partly, this is caused by a disconnect between the analog and digital world, and a loss of tangibility and analog character.
Let’s take the example of a letter. In the old days (not so long ago) a letter would be written by hand, pen to paper. Then came the typewriter, and here is where the engineer’s dilemma comes in to play. The typewriter, when it comes to the task of conveying text, is vastly superior to handwriting. It is far more legible and consistent than handwriting. From an engineer’s perspective, it is a better solution to the problem of how to record text. It’s pretty black and white, there are a number of advantages to type over handwriting, from an engineering perspective.
But there is a sterility, a loss of analog character, that takes place when transitioning from handwriting to type. The essence of the message is intact, but the flavor of it, the subtle changes in handwriting, the ability for non-linear writing, the insertion of non-textual doodles, the feel of the line quality from pen or quill as ink grows lower, all that is lost.
Take that to the next stage, and the typewritten letter becomes an email. In that transition, the look is more or less the same, black type on a white surface. From an engineering perspective, the gains are substantial. By making the information digital, it can be transmitted nearly instantaneously anywhere in the world, copied to other locations for redundant backups, and indexed and searched easily. But here, there is also a loss of analog character. The transition from paper to screen has come at a cost of tangibility.
This is more substantial than it might seem, because we are analog animals, and all of our senses are important to us. For example, a letter might have a scent, applied either accidentally or intentionally by the sender, which not only relays sensation to the recipient, but also helps form stronger memories. In an email the physical form is gone, which to means not only a loss of tactile sensation (the thickness of the paper, the flipping from page to page) but also a loss of potential context.
Emails are usually always read in the same place: while sitting at one’s computer. A letter is received at the same place, the mailbox, but might be opened and read in any number of places. This loss of context removes potential context that could form more meaningful memories, such as reading a letter from your lover while sitting at a kitchen table, the sunlight glinting in and the smell of fresh-baked muffins in the air, or reading the same letter while on a noisy crowded subway on the way to work. Memories are more solidly formed when they are associated with all senses at once, and can be triggered in the future by stimulus to any of those senses. In the subway example, years later you might be on a train, and the swaying motion might suddenly bring back the memory of reading that letter, and bring a wistful smile to your face. By homogenizing the letter-reading experience, each email is much less likely to have unique environmental context, or indeed much content beyond purely visual.
Digital content is generally higher-quality than analog content at this point (from the view of production value and perceived “professional” quality), it is slicker and better produced. In a few clicks, a person can create a pleasing slide show of high-quality images. But it is the analog character, the “fiddly bits” that makes people yearn for an old photo album, with photos stuck in slightly crooked, and handwritten notes on the backs. “Scapbooking” is a hyper-extension of this analog character, and the abundance of textures and visuals, the crunchy analog feel, has made this hobby incredibly popular.
So this is the engineer’s dilemma: how to preserve the analog feel in a digital world?
Arthur C. Clarke once famously said “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – and this is one place that engineers can look. Engineers are technology-minded, so will most often look forward for solutions.
An example of this is the digital picture frame. It takes the intangible digital photos on your computer and places them in a tangible item. Displayed on the digital frame, the picture can be used in an analog way, it can be picked up, brought closer for examination, and carried around. As technology improves, it could become more and more analog, to the point where the frame could be the size of a polaroid, and a special pen could be used to write on the photo and on the back of the photo, and calling up a particular image would call up the handwritten notes as well. It will essentially become a magic polaroid, almost exactly like the analog ones, but able to be changed at will, perhaps responding to spoken command or even your mood.
Another example is the Nabaztag, which acts as an analog bridge from your computer – it is a rabbit-shaped gadget that can flash different colors or wiggle its ears to indicate things like incoming emails, or the weather forecast. Silly and frivolous, yes, but by branching a tendril into the analog world, it allows the computer to interact with people more on their own plane, and in so doing, become potentially more relate-able, more lovable.
The loss of analog character and tangibility makes it harder to make an emotional connection to digital content than similar analog content. Although a child can form a connection to an animated teddy bear on a computer screen, that connection comes much easier if it is an analog teddy bear that they can touch. In the movie A.I., one character is a robotic teddy bear, designed to play with children. He bridges the digital/analog gap, like Nabaztag. He is a tangible conduit to digital data, a computer in the shape of a teddy bear, able to interact by engaging multiple senses.
DRM issues aside, one objection people have to digital books is the experience. The screen is capable of displaying text very similar to printed text, but the tactile experience is a flat, cold device, with buttons and menus and plugs and wires. But it is not inconceivable that in the not-too-distant future, you could pick up a book and say “I would like to read Homer’s Odyssey” and the cover would change to Homer’s Odyssey, and all the pages would magically fill with the text. Perhaps a bookmark would even unfurl, showing where you left off last time.
But that is the not-too-distant future. One thing that can be done relatively easily, and right now, is personalization. Allowing data to be displayed in the manner a user wants allows a digital experience to have a more analog feel, without electronic rabbits or nanotechnology. This is clearly evident in cellphones, where users can change the ring sound, background, menu, and other things to make the device more unique. This customization imbues the device with some analog character. Recently Google added an option to customize the look of your Gmail account, which gives the interface a more analog feel.
It’s a situation that arises again and again, as newer technologies try to supplant older ones.
Current computer operating systems represent the ongoing struggle to provide analog metaphors for digital content. “File Folders”, icons that look like pages, tabbed and windowed documents… all symbolic representations to give things a more analog feel.
It’s an interesting problem, from an engineering perspective. And not just in an academic sense. This problem, in fact, is what I currently do for a living, as I try to convert print catalog production systems from sheafs of paper and handwritten notes in a folder into a database with a (hopefully) user-friendly front-end.
It’s very difficult to supplant an analog system with a digital one, even if the digital system will speed production and reduce costs. Even though the system being used is now the web-based application that I am working on, some users still pass around folders with catalog section names written on them, even though the folders are now empty, and only symbolic. They persist because we are analog creatures, and tactile, physical things are more meaningful to us then digital representations on a screen.
It’s my dilemma.
Good news day for mad scientists!
First fluorescent cats, now something I’ve been waiting on for years: computers built out of brain neurons. I remember thinking about that in junior high, and science is finally beginning to catch up with imagination…
Genetically engineered animals!
I think it was William Gibson who said “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”.
VMware Fusion 2.0 just came out. I’d been using the previous version, and 2.0 had been out as a beta, but I wanted to wait until it was more stable.
What is it? It is VM (Virtual Machine) software. Normally to run Windows on my Mac, I’d need to dual boot, and on startup choose if I wanted to run Windows or Mac. With VM software, I can run Mac OS, and then run a virtual machine within that which has Windows on it.
It’s a similar *idea* to emulation, where you have one emulated computer running virtually inside another, but with emulation, the hardware is different, so the physical machine is emulating the virtual machine. With VM software, the hardware is the same, so the virtual machine just takes a portion of the CPU and memory, and has access to the other devices as well. Some items you have to choose, like the DVD drive can only be used by the real machine or the virtual machine, not both at once, so you have to toggle which OS has the drive.
The end result is that I can have Mac OS X and Windows running at the same time on the same machine. You can also run apps in a mode where you can have Mac and Windows apps running on the same screen, with the windows intermixed, but I prefer to have each OS have it’s own desktop, and flip between them using Spaces, the virtual desktop app on OS X.
So what’s new with version 2.0 of Fusion?
2.0 adds DirectX 9 support, which means now many 3D games can run in a virtual machine (previously, I had been forced to dual-boot to play games). I tested it out by playing Galactic Civilizations II and Sam & Max, they worked great. I noticed a couple minor graphic glitches on GCII, but nothing that got in the way of gameplay. Sam & Max may have had slight animation/speech sync issues, but the animation/speech synching was always pretty loose in that game anyway, so I’m not sure. Didn’t affect gameplay.
I actually hadn’t been playing many PC games because dual-booting was kind of annoying… now that I can play some of them in a virtual machine, I’ll probably play more of them.
A new version of Delicious Library is out!
If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a program from the Mac for organizing your books, dvds, and such.
The new version adds more categories, including gadgets, toys, and tools.
Another thing they added is an option to export to a webpage. It’s not the best export, it’s a little buggy and has some design issues, but it’s decent enough.
You can check out my library here!
I’m setting up my old Windows XP machine for my dad, going to send it off to him tomorrow or Saturday.
Any suggestions for useful software to put on there?
So far I’ve got:
I’m thinking some kind of music software, like iTunes or WinAMP… for some reason I’m drawing a blank on other software.
Snooj was able to get my missed mail off the buffer, looks like all of it. Yay!
Now I just have to read through 2 weeks worth of email. =)
If you tried to email me at my tev (at) tev (dot) net account in the past two weeks, I didn’t get it – there was some kind of glitch at Points South that resulted in my mail bouncing instead of getting through.
Should be fixed now though, Alex started looking at it yesterday and figured it out today around noon. I tried a couple tests and they got through ok.
Since mail was bouncing, I think that two weeks of mail is gone forever. Snooj mentioned they might have the last day or two in a buffer, but I’m not counting on that, since it was bouncing in a weird way.
Which sucks… I was wondering why I never got an email notice when my E*Trade stock purchase went through, or when I tried that RealAge thing…
I’ve been toying with the idea of handling my mail through google, which would make sense since I use the gmail interface to check my mail anyway… I think I just have to get my mxrecords to point to gmail or something. Maybe I’ll look into it this weekend.
– – –
On the plus side, my E*Trade stock purchase cleared today, might take another day or two to transfer it into my bank account, but then I can pay off my discover card and car, and I’ll be debt free! Yay!
Adam decided his Mac Mini was just gathering dust in his room, so I bought it from him.
I’m gonna hook it to my projector and use it with my wireless keyboard and mouse.
Dunno if I’ll use it much either, but it can’t hurt to have a lil computer in the living room.
Now I can check IMDB and Wikipedia without leaving the couch…