Archive for the ‘List’ Category

What Makes a Fast Computer?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I’m sure you’ve all looked at computers or laptops, at some point, and wondered just what made one faster than the other. What are all those numbers? Why is the salesperson spewing gobbledygook at me?

For the past number of years, CPU (the processor) has been touted as the way to measure the power of a machine. The Intel really pushed this for its Pentium IV, which rated at speed of 3 GHz and beyond.
So, what is the processor? Simply put, it does the math needed to calculate where things go, what a program is supposed to do, and what should come out of a program’s operations. It is the part of the computer that Does the Stuff.
Here’s the kicker: Most of the time, the CPU isn’t actually doing anything. Unless you’re playing a new video game, or rendering fractals, or participating in protein-folding experiments, or otherwise doing things involving large amounts of operations, your CPU isn’t all that important. It just needs some overhead for when things do need to be processed, such as when you move windows around or open a new program. I’ve found that 1.6 GHz is perfectly fine for daily use, and doesn’t usually max out.

What do the other things do, then?

RAM is the computer’s short-term memory, which can be likened to a desk it uses to spread out its papers and work on things. When you open a file, the computer will put that file in RAM so that you can change bits of that file without having to wait for the hard-drive.
Your computer doesn’t actually use much RAM. If you have a lot of programs in the background (such as email, instant messengers, and various option panels), it can load up almost 1 GB of RAM. Windows XP and Windows 7 need about 1GB to function well, and 2GB is about all you’ll really need, if you open a lot of images or programs or internet tabs.

In case you’re wondering, DDR3 is faster than DDR2, and uses less power (a plus for laptops), but isn’t strictly necessary for you.

Hard-Disk Drives (HDDs) hold your data. HDDs today hold anywhere from 160GB to 2000GB (2TB). The biggest users of disk space are movies, some of which are so big they won’t even fit on two DVDs. Music takes less, but even a small library of music can take up 5GB of room. If you have a tremendous music collection, or have a handful of TV shows or movies, you’ll need a large hard-drive. If you don’t keep many videos and only have a small collection of music, you’ll be perfectly fine with 160GB. I’d recommend an external hard-drive for those sharable movies, music, and pictures.

The main bottle-neck on your system, though, is probably your hard-drive. The newer hard-drives can handle 80 MB of data every second, which means it takes over ten seconds to fill up 1GB of RAM with data from the hard-drive. If you’ve got an older computer, it could take ten times that length of time, and you’ll be waiting a few minutes for your computer to come out of Hibernation mode.
Worse yet, because disks have to spin around to find bits of data, trying to find two things at once ruins the speed of the disk. Considering that the computer writes little bits of data every few seconds, you almost never get the full speed of the drive.

So how do I speed this up?

The answer is Solid-State Drives (SSDs). These drives hold a lot less for their price, but they’ll give you a fantastic experience. They are:

  • Up to four times faster
  • A lot quicker at finding data
  • Shake-proof
  • More power-efficient
  • Lighter (for you laptop owners out there)
  • A few other things you won’t find interesting

An SSD will completely take away those little starts and stops you get with HDDs, because it doesn’t have to move an arm across a spinning disk to find data. Because there are no magnets or spinning plates of metal in an SSD, it’s not as heavy and uses less power. It’s got chips, instead, which can get data from different places a lot easier, and is limited by the speed of electrons instead of the speed of a metal arm.

SSDs are only just reaching maturity. The new Intel SSDs are 80GB for $250, but that’s the top quality. Kingston has an easy kit for only a little more than a hundred dollars. It doesn’t have the sheer speed, but it still beats any hard-disk.

Expect the pricing to come down over the next year. Let the old stock quietly file out of the retailer’s shelves, and the other brands pick up the newest technologies, and we’ll see some wide-spread use in the next little while.

8 Ways to Increase Productivity

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m going to try something like a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, because it seems useless to go full-production when I have literally no readership at all. (If you read this, and you want a post every day, by all means say so and I’ll oblige.)

Everyone has those times where they just feel foggy and can’t get any work done. Here are some ideas to help:

  1. Speed-Reading: If you’re anything like most web professionals, you probably subscribe to and/or visit about a million blogs a day. Each of those blogs can have hundreds or thousands of words, and the comments are altogether often longer than the articles they talk about. To cut down the time, try some speed-reading techniques. By reading at 1000 WPM, you can cut down the time it takes to read fifty blogs to about an hour. At first, such intense concentration might drain you, but within a couple days you should find it much easier. Using the middle mouse button to auto-scroll can help, too, because it forces you to keep up, and makes it easier to learn.
  2. Focus: Often, the hardest part of getting anything done is starting. The problem with starting, though, is that it’s not something that’s only done once; you have to re-start every time your attention is pulled away. If you’re used to something like a Twitter client on the side, you can learn to ignore it while you work, but other things, such as constant email notifications, can seriously disrupt your workflow. You need to be able to spend a solid several minutes on things without being interrupted. If necessary, set your twitter/email/etc. to check for new updates every ten or twenty minutes, instead of every five.
  3. Use what you’ve Learned: No matter how much you read, you’re not going to have a very good idea of how things work. The best idea is to use what you’ve learned, either by teaching about the topic or by implementing the techniques you’ve been studying. You’ll quickly realize where the gaps in your knowledge are, and you can fill those in. Afterwards, you’ll end up knowing more about the topic than you would have.
  4. Don’t get Lazy: When you’ve finished speed-reading through your blogs and your emails and your social media, and you’ve written blogs posts and build some new functionality into your projects, and it’s only four hours into the morning, don’t allow yourself to peter off into an afternoon haze. Keep a list of things that need working on, and go through that one-by-one. If you really can’t work anymore, keep a list of things that you’ve been meaning to do, but which are more-or-less mundane: sprucing up old code, reading some pages you had bookmarked for a few months, doing some cleaning, or learning more about those other topic which interest you, but which you’ve never delved into.
  5. Manage Burn-out: Often times, you burn out in one area, as if you were exercising physically. Doing arm curls all day is going to hurt, and isn’t going to get you anywhere. Try engaging your other skills-areas: draw, position things, sort things, create logical arguments, or practice some math. All of these have important applications in the real world, and will help you develop skills in all those areas. Meanwhile, your mind will get an even work-out, and you’ll feel much more limber.
  6. Rest: yes, sometimes it’s necessary to just let go for a while. If you’re tired, you should sleep, so that you’ll be rested up in the morning. No matter how long you stay up, your body needs to sleep for half the time it’s been awake (on average), so you don’t actually gain anything by working when you’re tired. If you find your attention waning, try going for a walk; you can let your mind wander, with nothing else to do, and clear your head. If you get into a position where you aren’t doing anything, which is only really possible away from the computer and internet, you’ll find yourself realizing you know what you want to get done. You’ll have the inspiration to continue work on that project, if you set yourself to it.
  7. Early to Bed and Early to Rise… While it’s not necessarily true that getting up early in the morning is more refreshing, setting some schedules can help greatly. A cluttered schedule leads to a cluttered mind, and you can get so lost that you’ll forget meetings and not know what to do next. Schedules are good, as is change. If you need to, change a few things around so they work better. Witnessing the change between day and night can also change your mood, so experiment with working in the early morning or the late evening.
  8. Reset: This one sounds strange, and you’ll have to figure out how to do this on your own, but sometimes your life is so muddled you need to re-set things so everything fits. Spend a few days keeping awake until it’s impossible to keep your eyes open, and you might realize that your body is pushing you to sleep at a specific time in the day. Try going on a diet, and see how different foods make you feel. Try making a day very physical to see if that refreshes you. By trying everything, you’re bound to find something that helps. Everyone has different needs, and it’s up to you to find out what they are. If you fulfill those needs, you may find your productivity increasing by a tremendous amount!

Hopefully, this list helps you feel better and more energetic about your day. You often don’t need to do anything strenuous, but set some goals and make a commitment, and you’ll find some things get easier.

7 Different Facets of the Web

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

In the entirety of the web, you find many broad job descriptions that bring everything together. Here are a few:

  1. Design: A fine and experienced attention to color and position marks the designer apart from mere mortals. Design brings beauty and order to a project that would otherwise be over-run by disorder. An expression or emotion can be embedded by a designer’s touch. Many different media are available, from print to web to clothing. Works well with: Typography, Graphics
  2. Typography: The form of a letter-face can speak with nuanced emotion when in the hands of an experienced typographer. Words are the tools that make us human, and the form they take sets the tone and humanity of the message. Anywhere the written word exists, there you’ll find typography. Works well with: Design, Graphics
  3. Development: The modern world is help up by the logical structure of application development. This vast array of tools places entire lifetimes of information directly into our hands. Developers are an extremely diverse group, calling on a multitude of different languages to run entirely different systems. On the web alone, programmers use PHP, Ruby, ASP, SQL, X/HTML, CSS, Python, ECMAScript, and more. Works best with: Accessibility
  4. Graphics: Throughout the history of humankind, we have used color and shading to portray our deepest fears and most wanton desires. The graphic artist weaves palettes of colour and light into pleasing gradations or fun, vibrant dances of hue. Personality, mood, and business can all be wrapped up into a single logo. Works best with: Typography, Design
  5. Accessibility: The weak and the non-standard are often harshly ignored by the mainstream, but Accessibility gurus lend a strong hand to those who’s needs are different than most’s. Information is made available to the blind, the feeble, and the small-screened, through best-practices, standards, and common sense. The humble accessibility expert expands the world to all, and improves the user interface to enhance the user experience. Works best with: Social Media
  6. SEO: Often accused of dark deeds, the Search Engine Optimization expert cunningly sculpts Page Rank to improve the findability of websites. SEO is a science, and the experts are always attempting to deconstruct the black box. Works best with: Social Media
  7. Social Media: People have an innate need to be included in a community. By creating a community around a brand, social media experts gain followers with genuine loyalty to that brand. If the company takes suggestions from the community, a very powerful bond will form. Works best with: SEO