Building a computer with your hands has become a 40-something tells a millennial as a story. Unless that millennial is a hardcore gamer and has really taken to the craft, the chances are good that they just purchased a their computers pre-built. I’ve recently had the opportunity to work on several computers in the last few weeks and it’s rekindled an interest in me that I had long forgotten about. An interest in getting my hands onto something and understanding something that is a complete and utter mystery to almost everyone who has put these things at the center of their lives.
Take for instance the featured image on this post. That isn’t me or the actual machine I fixed, but it’s representative of the machine I worked on. They found an old gaming system in the basement that had a bad CPU cooling fan, so I replaced that. It had an old operating system (Windows 7) and I’m upgrading that as I write this to Windows 10. It took me all of about 2 hours with about another hour more before I’m done. Three hours of work and this old dusty thing that would have probably been thrown away is now a perfect machine for a young kid in school that will cost these people about $200 all in. it’s a skill that pays massive dividends because this same rig, if purchased brand new even to these 5 year old specs, would easily be over $2k.
I get it. It’s easier to get new stuff in a society that is for the most part stuck in a “throw away” mentality. There are some things though that can easily be fixed and renewed with a little time and effort that renews their usefulness. Here are are few examples in case none come to mind:
Old laptop that can’t run Windows 10 anymore, but is still working perfectly fine, can run Chrome OS without a problem. More details on that here. It’s not for the novice btw.
Upgrade that old desktop with some new memory and a solid state hard drive.
Upgrade to a solid state hard drive in your laptop.
Replace the battery in your laptop
It’s amazing how a few simple upgrades can breath life into a new machine and it doesn’t take a ton of skill to do it. Yeah, it took me a while to figure out how to remove the old CPU fan on the desktop; at least until I remembered that a desktop case has two sides. Take a chance, watch some YouTube videos and give it a try. You might surprise yourself in what you can accomplish and the level of satisfaction you get every time you use it afterwards is awesome.
We had some free tickets to a local hockey game on the 24th, last weekend. They were pretty damn good seats and we were only two rows from the ice behind the goal. The picture is of the visiting team warming up ahead of the game starting. We ended up moving up a few rows as I swear they were aiming pucks directly at our heads.
If you’re wondering if this was a death by chocolate cake, it most certainly was. A special request by me for the chocolateiest cake ever. It had fudge icing, chocolate points around the outside, chocolate cake and a fudge middle between the layers. It took me and the daughter 4 days to completely eat the whole thing even after we had the party this past Sunday.
Total Geek (or Nerd) (or Dork)
This is what you end up with when you procrastinate and pile up your computer work into a single day. My work laptop (black) with the top mouse is to the left, personal laptop (silver) is on the right, the keyboard and second mouse is for the monitor on the top of the shelf. The computer hooked to the monitor is on the floor in front of my desk. I’m sure at this point I’m slowly dying from computer induced radiation.
Watching a webinar recently on the Internet of Things (IoT), I had the idea to think through the idea of completely disconnecting off the grid and stopping your online electronic trail. I’ll admit that this is an extreme measure that most people would not attempt as it seems impossible. Many of life’s conveniences require a connected presence that in 2016, the majority of people wouldn’t even entertain to try. What follows is what my own mind has determined is required to truly get off the grid. This is in order of the systems and devices I interact with on a daily and/or weekly basis. I’ve rated each with a personal difficulty level, 1 being low and 10 being almost impossible.
Each morning and evening (and when I leave during the day) I turn on/off my alarm system. This is a connected device through the cellular network back to the monitoring station. There is also a monitor outside the utility room that detects heat and smoke, also real time monitored. At any given time, the alarm system is listening to the devices configured within it.
In order to be off the grid, I would need to remove this system from my home completely and essentially go without an alarm system. I have yet to see an alarm system, that is marginally adequate, that works without real time 24/7 monitoring. A bad actor could potentially trigger a fire alarm while I’m not home and impersonate a first responder to remove jewelry, money, etc. from my home. Far fetched, but I’m more of a “it can happen” then a “it could happen” kind of guy.
Difficulty = 3
I drive to and from work every day. To save myself from having to carry money, I have installed an EZPass system that scans a transponder in my car and remotely charges my account. The data collected from this device: on-ramp date/time, off-ramp date/time, real time traffic polling. With that data, you can determine my average speed from on/off and potentially send a ticket for speeding. The real time traffic polling also can collect any information stored on the transponder, if any. I don’t know what is stored, but the number of the device tracks back to my name/address/etc. as well as any credit cards or payment methods in my account.
I would need to start paying my tolls in cash again to remove the electronic trail, but they can still see how fast I was going from on/off, harder to tie it back to my vehicle directly though unless they’re taking pictures of car license plates in the cash lines in addition to the EZPass lines. I could pay cash, not a huge change, just less convenient.
Difficulty = 4
Let’s face it, most people don’t work for physical cash. In order to make a living, you’ll need to get paid by a company that has access to all your vital information such as SSN, Name, Address, etc. There are also multiple mechanisms taking your money from you each time you get paid that require additional people to have and know your information from Healthcare, government, local authorities, etc.
To properly get off the grid, you would need to essentially stop getting paid via electronic means by any company that didn’t pay in physical cash. Quickly thinking about it, most jobs that pay physical cash are typically illegal or undesirable to support living modestly. My company would laugh at me if I wanted to be paid in cash, and even if I asked for a physical check (to cash to physical money), I would have to pay an additional fee to them for this service. Bottom line, off the grid means making means with physical cash, nothing electronic. Getting paid in cash for most jobs is illegal by the way.
Difficulty = 8
It’s a fact of life, if you want to watch anything other than local channels, you need network television. That involves a connected device with an internal address that is tied to your house. Each device is unique as its essentially an embedded computer. I’ve never, in the last 15 years having cable, seen this unit get updated or tell me that it’s been updated. A cable network is static to an extent as well and the IP address given can linger for days, weeks, or months depending on how often it gets reset. In my case, its been at least a year since a forced reset not counting power outages.
I would need to remove not only the cable, but the cable Internet as well to be truly off the grid. My online presence would go away essentially as any ability to go online would put me back on the grid. I personally would find this such a drastic change and shock that I could probably never do this for real.
Difficulty = 9
There are computers in everything. Cars, phones, houses, cameras, etc. Not thinking too hard, almost everything that requires electrical current has a computer in it. Even a toaster has a computer in it to properly regulate the heat and when to pop the bread up. Take anything apart made in the last 5 years and chances are there is some silicon content inside.
Getting away from computers is nearly impossible unless you move into the woods, build a cabin, and live off the land the rest of your life. Even then, if you’re out in the open, you can still most likely be photographed by overhead satellites. So, you’ll need to live underground with no visible trace that you’re living underground to be truly away from computers. I’m really starting to worry about where we are going as a species when the motto is “because we can” instead of “we can, but we won’t”. Does a toaster really need a computer? Does a light bulb really need to be connected to the Internet? Do we need a refrigerator telling us we need milk? Sometimes I miss the days where we just looked in the refrigerator and saw the milk low and said to ourselves “We need milk.”
Difficulty = 10
Brick and Mortar
Going off the grid would certainly require that you start shopping at actual stores rather than online. Everything you need will need to come from a store. I imagine that doing this isn’t that hard of a transition as this is what we did when the Internet did not exist. You can get everything at a store that you get online for the most part with “ship to store” services.
The problem lies with the fact that you’ll need to start carrying lots of cash instead of using a credit card. Each time you swipe the card, its a tracking opportunity for whomever is watching that sort of thing. Some ship to store services are online only as well, making those items off limits to someone shopping in person and paying cash.
Difficulty = 7
Your laptop/computer is almost certainly connected to the Internet. Your mobile smartphone is connected to the Internet. All the modules (WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS) all talk to the network which is connected to the Internet. You just can’t easily get away from the Internet and if you do, its to a remote location that generally has few people around. The online connected type of life has been one of the most pervasive and aggressive changes we as humans have ever faced in our existence. It’s a human experiment being run by people who have no idea what they’re doing that affect everyone that is connected.
You could live offline, it’s possible. Before the AOL and CompuServe days, people did it all the time. Watch an old move like Bullit or French Connection and you’ll see how people did it back then. The trouble with this is that everything is now so dependent on being connected that its impossible to get anything done without a lot of effort if you are, in fact, disconnected. Read any of the other topics here and you’ll see they all have one thing in common: they’re connected in some way to the Internet.
Difficulty = 8
Probably the most pervasive item on the list that would also be the most difficult to disconnect from. If you want health services, your information WILL be used somewhere during the process. Whether it’s your SSN, or full name, address, etc. You could potentially live without healthcare by going a homeopathic route or just flat out refusing medical care. We’re not the healthiest nation in the world making going without healthcare a tough sell for almost anyone. The potential for healthcare against your will (e.g. – you’re passed out) is also a real possibility, but you won’t ever have to give your name/address/etc if you don’t want to.
Here’s the rub, this is one of the most targeted industries behind banks by bad actors. You need healthcare to live longer than people did 100 years ago, the reasons why are plentiful and not the purpose of this experiment. We just can’t get by without healthcare due to the fact it’s almost forced on us to get it either through work, personally, or privately. It would be a tremendous disadvantage to do so.
Difficulty = 9
After taking a few days to put this together, I’m left with questions related to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. How long before someone decides to implant a mobile phone into our hand like in the Total Recall reboot? How long before we replace missing limbs and organs with mechanical devices like in the RoboCop reboot? Do we really need all this technology to make our lives easier? Or are we just lazy?
It’s been a bit since I last posted something geeky, and this is a good subject to geek out on I think. In the last few months, I’ve installed Windows 10 in my laptop (production release) and on my HTC One M8 (pre-production release) and I’m starting to see the strategy come together. Microsoft has united everything from a small budget phone to a 102″ smart television with a common code core. What this means is that the core operating system, what makes things work, is unified on every device bring with it an experience unified across multiple platforms.
Comparing my laptop with my mobile, I can see that there is a striking similarity in function and appearance. There are things I change on my laptop that carry over to my mobile device and vice versa. This is a fundamental shift in how operating systems should work and a slap in the face to Apple and Google as its a 180 from their current strategies. Apple has a different OS for the Apple iPhone that doesn’t work on the desktop, which run OSX with some animal name attached. Google was similar until the latest release of Android, but that really never ran on desktops as Chrome OS was used on those.
Microsoft is all-in with a singular strategy to unite the 1.5 billion desktop OS users with the 3-5 million mobile users currently using Windows Phone. The idea of the universal application is what is driving all of this to what I hope will be a successful strategy. The universal application, in a sense, will run on every device running the core Windows 10 operating system transparent to the hardware. Example: Facebook application, written once as a universal application, will be the same functional experience on a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, server. The only difference between them is the screen size and underlying hardware (some will be faster, some will be slower, etc.) The bottom line is that what you do one device, won’t need to be done again on any other device.
I personally like the idea of something that is so seamless. I admit, I’m sort of a fanboy for Microsoft as their products work well for me. I don’t push them like a minister of a cult and shun non-believers. Rather, I encourage everyone who listens to just try out alternative products for more than 5 mins at the store. Make your own decision as to what works well and what doesn’t. In my own world, Android and Apple don’t work for me as well as Windows does, plain and simple. I have an Outlook account, OneDrive, Office365, etc. I’m invested in Microsoft products to the point where it would be hard for me to migrate to anything else. It was my choice based on research despite my opinions for competing products. My one peeve with people is that they don’t recognize other products out there. Not everyone will find an Apple iPhone or latest and greatest Android the answer to their needs. There are other choices and that is what I stress.
Only time will tell if Microsoft has made a good bet to unify things across all devices or will fail miserably and join the ranks of Amiga, Commodore, RIM/Blackberry, etc. The future is going to be awesome never the less and I can’t wait!
I often find myself day dreaming about the future of computers and how this massive human experiment is going to play out over the next few decades. I was well into my passion for technology when the Internet, as we know it today, became commercially available in 1992 and restriction-less (within open standard guidelines) in 1995. There was a lot in those days that didn’t make sense and we were all sort of going on instinct as we explored the “shiny” that the Internet offered. For those of you not of a technology or geeky mind, the term “shiny” is a universal term for anything that is new or interesting that we’ve never seen or used before. I’ve had dozens of “shiny” things in my life that continue to evolve.
What does the future bring?
The future is limitless, really! We are only hindered by the limits of our imaginations and the possibilities of current tech. There are hundreds of examples in the last 40 years where we thought of something, saw there wasn’t technology to make it reality and literally invented something to make it happen. The UNIX operating system is a perfect example that most people can understand. A programming language was developed in parallel to allow the operating system to not only function, but run other applications written in “C”. Having gone through several iterations, including C++ and C#, UNIX is a universally accepted operating system around the world. Linux was born from UNIX and for years attempted to mirror itself to Microsoft Windows, but never garnered the popularity it needed to be anything other than a hard core only type of system. Of course this is my opinion and my facts could be slightly biased.
A good place to see the imagination of the future is in movies. The best example that I could think of recently is the reboot of Star Trek. The one with Chris Pine, not William Shatner. The thought that went into designing the fully functional (yes, functional) sets was absolutely amazing and the proof is in the authenticity the film if you’re paying attention to that. The computers used, the way they interacted with the controls and the oddity of some of the tools all contributed to this authenticity. My day dreams will reflect on what people 40 years ago were thinking when they were holding the first prototype of the IBM 8086. I imagine they were all scratching their heads thinking “What the hell can we use this thing for?”.
Near future possibilities
We’re on the verge of a major leap in technology in regards to how we interact with it. No longer is the keyboard and mouse going to be the go to accessories. Instead, we’re going to be using our hands, gestures, facial expressions and our voices to interact with technology. The fear I have is that we’re becoming so reliant on technology to do everyday tasks that we’re losing our ability to get things done without the aid of technology. Example – A cashier punching in $200 instead of $20, seeing the mistake and going “deer in the headlights” trying to figure out how to give you change. It’s an old persons example though…… What is this “cash” you speak of?
I expect the future of computers to continue a little longer in the physical form though. A physical keyboard and mouse is my preferred method of interaction as I have an insane requirement to be in control of my interactions with technology. “Automatic” things being done based on behavior is the precipice of artificial intelligence; a terribly frightening thing that we as humans should be more concerned about. Certain things should not be done “because we can” no matter how “shiny” they appear to be. Anyone seen Terminator lately? How about The Matrix? Anyone read any stories related to the “grey goo”? Yeah, scary stuff indeed.