Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Is Free Software Just Too Expensive?

Everybody loves FREE! Computer vendors and software companies first started routinely charging for software licenses in the late 1970s.  In the early years of home computing, many of us learned from each other through meetings, books, magazines and sharing free software by mailing floppy disks to one another. The hidden cost then was a steep learning curve (free software ordinarily lacks user manuals or support services), and that anticipated updates might never be forthcoming. The Free Software Foundation (1985) and the Open Source Initiative (1998) continue to advocate free software availability to this day. Free software became widely available in the mid-1990s as internet access became commonplace. Continue reading

AI Yai Yai !

Amazon’s surprise bestselling tech product for the 2016 holiday season was the Amazon Echo; sales are 8 times more than the 2015 holiday season. A voice controlled wireless speaker that can stream music from Amazon and other music services, Echo features Alexa, Amazon’s own version of the jinni in the bottle. Alexa is rapidly morphing into a multi-featured “digital assistant”, one of many such intelligent or smart artifices offered today.

Continue reading

Another Nice Mesh You’ve Gotten Me Into!

Does it seem that wireless gadgets are everywhere? Over the past 16 years, wireless speeds increased a thousand fold and over 47 million global hotspots are now available. There are more than 8 billion wireless devices currently in use; two billion of these are smart phones.

Today smart TVs, connected thermostats and security systems are commonplace. Manufacturers are increasingly adding intelligence and connectivity to products not commonly considered “high-tech,” such as Wi-Fi connected coffee makers, door locks, slow cookers and refrigerators. The Wi-Fi Alliance predicts that the total number of connected devices will exceed 38 billion by 2020.

Continue reading

Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On!

While you may be just beginning to start your holiday shopping, retailers began plotting their holiday marketing schemes last St. Patrick’s Day. Surely you remember stumbling over those huge Christmas displays while shopping for Halloween candy! Retail sales prognosticators predict a 3.5% increase in sales this year. Internet sales estimates are much higher, ranging between 11% to 24% increases this year.

Continue reading

Drive Hard, Drive Fast

Once categorized as esoteric and obscenely unaffordable, the substantial benefits of solid state drives are increasingly coveted. SSDs are among the fastest selling items in consumer electronics today.

Early prototypes were developed by 1975 and a few consumer products briefly appeared in1982. Flash memory, now used in all modern SSDs, first appeared in 1995 in military and industrial settings. It was not until 2005 that the first mass market SSD arrived. Samsung released a 32 GB SSD for “only” $699, igniting a market explosion that continues to this day.

It’s easy to see the major advantages of an SSD over the more commonplace hard disk drive (HDD).

Continue reading

Our Homegrown Computer Club

This column started in response to a request from the editor of the SaddleBag Notes addressed to the computer club. The first column appeared in September of 2009 when Windows 7 was just a twinkle in Bill Gates’ eye and the Android phone was celebrating its first birthday. While our usual topic focuses on computers and other electronic devices, we sometimes talk about the SaddleBrooke Computer Club. Continue reading

Smooth Operators

The free upgrade to Windows 10 officially concluded on July 29, 2016. With more than 350,000,000 computers now running Windows 10, this has been Microsoft’s best ever operating system launch. We are now told to expect feature upgrades (new versions) roughly twice annually from this point forward – a pattern established by Apple and Android.

I am awed by the uncanny ability of Microsoft to give away billions of dollars of Windows 10 software while thoroughly annoying millions of users. The company is faced by class action suits in the USA and Israel for aggressive marketing maneuvers – including “accidentally” installing Windows 10 even when the owners had refused daily for months.

Continue reading

Too Hot to Handle

As we summer desert dwellers struggle to survive record high temperatures and monsoon storms, please take a little time to consider the seasonal hazards your electronic servants face. Power surges and outages challenge the growing numbers of electronic minions in your household on a daily basis. Your expensive and important appliances should have surge protectors in place; more sensitive or critical devices are best protected by uninterruptable power sources, a.k.a.battery backup systems. These protective devices do not last forever; replacing every few years or after a single severe power surge is routinely advised. If you will be away from home for a prolonged interval, simply unplugging unused devices is safest of all.

Continue reading

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Spurred by the free conversion from earlier editions and prodded by constant and progressive nagging, PC users have made Windows 10 the most rapidly adopted version of Windows in history, doubling in installations since last November.

If you were among the millions who were “inadvertently” upgraded to Windows 10 even after repeatedly refusing the offer… Continue reading

Do Computer Screens Damage Your Eyes?

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), sometimes termed Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged exposure to digital screens for computers, televisions, tablets, e-readers and cell phones. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. Continue reading