A Practical Server

A QNAP TS-251D A Network Attached Storage Server, suitable for most families. It can hold 2 x 4 TB hard drives. (Photo: QNAP)

Many families do not recognize their need for a server. In this weblog post, this need will be explained.

In almost every residence there is always a need for more storage space, physical as well as digital. A server can increase the effective use of the digital storage space. Some users need/ take more space than others. With a server, users do not need to get allocated the same set amount of space. Instead, the space can be pooled allowing greedier users to use more space than their more restrained counterparts.

People have many ongoing commitments, so it can be easy to forget something that is dependent on human brain power. Perhaps the best example is backup of data. Backup can be automated in several ways. It can involve the act of plugging in an external drive into a laptop, with software activated to upload new/ modified materials to that drive when that occurs. This will work fine until the user forgets to plug it in, or it can’t be found because someone else is using it.

Another approach is to store data on a cloud = someone else’s server, located externally somewhere in the world. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many others are willing to provide cloud storage. Unfortunately, these services can be expensive, and one will always be uncertain as to how far the cloud service provider will allow others (unauthorized) access to documents. This can be especially important with respect to both personal and commercial documents. Sometimes people working at the cloud make a mistake that destroys all/ some of the stored content. This has recently happened at Adobe, where some users discovered that their entire content had been permanently deleted in error.

A server can be set up to automatically backup content found on other devices, mirroring changes made locally. As soon as a change is made to a document or folder, this change is implemented immediately on the server.

Even families need to collaborate. A server encourages people to work together by allowing users to access common documents, that are held on a server. Software is available that allows group editing of documents, without have to resort to commercial products, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365.

An important benefit of using a server, is that it incorporates software options that allow for remote access, this is, beyond the local area network (LAN), so that users can access files everywhere.

Further considerations

The successful use of a server is dependent on having a useful data/ document management system.

Some documents are very private, and should not be shared. Others may be slightly less private and can be shared with specific individuals. Then there are those that can be freely shared with friends and family. Sometimes there are even public documents that one could potentially share with everyone in the world.

Every user should have their own password protected (and potentially encrypted) area where they can store personal documents.

Common areas are often better organized by file type. There can be text files (including e-books), images (including photographs, reproductions of drawings, paintings and other artworks), videos (including feature films, television episodes and documentaries), audio (including music), and games.

As an example, music tastes can be very personal. Not everyone in our household appreciates Finnish rock/ Suomirock music. Yet, there is no damage done putting Leningrad Cowboys, Nightwish and Sonata Arctica in a common area. Those not wanting to listen to it, can simply ignore it.

A server can also work as a media center / home theater facility. This server is connected to the internet. In addition, it includes a user interface that allows users to navigate through what amounts to a digital media library, search for, and play back media files.

Some other capabilities include: Play, catalog, and store local hard drive, flash drive and memory card music. It should also be able to display digital pictures, including CD album art. With some caveats, it should also be able to stream video and audio files, including those from Netflix, Youtube and Spotify over the LAN. Similar caveats apply to games. It is usually unable to play content found on CDs, DVDs or Blu-ray disks.

Most of the time, individual users will rely on their own personal devises to browse the Internet, check email accounts and access assorted social networking sites. However, these could be made accessible using a server, functioning as a media player. Participating in video conferences can be enabled by connecting a webcam and microphone.

Most families would be adequately served with an off-the-shelf Network Attached Storage (NAS) server, such as a QNAP TS-251D with 2 x 4 TB of storage capacity (eg Toshiba N300), plus 2 x 4 TB external disks (eg Toshiba Canvio Advance) to be located outside the house, and provide “insurance” in case of fire or other event that physically or otherwise destroys the NAS. Setting up and running this device is relatively easy, using a web-based interface.

Cheaper servers can be made using Raspberry Pi based equipment. However, these require a skill set not every family has.

Typically a NAS uses Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive/ Independent Disks (RAID). This is fine for storage up to, say, 10 TB. Beyond this capacity, another approach is more appropriate.

OpenZFS (ZFS) is a file system that provides is an advanced open-source storage platform. It includes protection against data corruption, support for high storage capacities, efficient data compression, content snapshots and copy-on-write clones, continuous integrity checking and automatic repair, and remote device content replication.

Most ZFS system implementations are complex, and require trained personnel. However, a TrueNAS Mini is suitable for families, with a (relatively) easy-to-use FreeNAS/ TrueNAS web interface accessed from any computer or mobile device in the LAN. Note: 2020-10 is a transition period for TrueNAS. The FreeNAS software on these machines is in the process of being replaced with a TrueNAS CORE release. Once this is updated, machines will be able to run TrueNAS.

The ZFS system has been covered previously in more detail. At Cliff Cottage, the rack based Mothership NAS has a storage capacity of about 100 TB, where 1 Terrabyte = 1 trillion (short scale) bytes = 10¹² bytes. Currently 4 of 12 bays are used, with 8 TB disks = 32 TB. For most people, with the exception of some extremists – such as this writer, this is far beyond what is needed.


Media Player

This television set made by Tandberg in Oslo, using the Radionett brand, is a Grand TV kabinett, from 1961. The CRT screen is bowed, as was typrical for the time. The varnished wooden cabinet is mounted on removable legs with white plastic wheels. It features stereo speakers, one on each side. Brass is used decoratively on the feet and around the screen. There are white plastic buttons under the screen, and black knobs on the side, to control the machine. “This is the TV model in greatest demand, with a 23″ large picture tubes, and two large concert speakers”, according to a Tandberg ad from 1961. This machine is in the collection of the Stiklestad National Cultural Center, in Verdal, a neighbouring municipality to Inderøy.

In 2020, a media player is a redundant piece of equipment – if one has a appropriate network attached storage (NAS) server, the topic of next week’s post. Yet, it is its own separate topic because of three different, but related, challenges.

First, people do not understand humankind’s physical capabilities and limitations when it comes to normal seeing and hearing. Normal is the operative term here. Visual impairment will be discussed in its own weblog post: 2020-11-24. Hearing impairment will be the topic one week later: 2020-12-01.

Second, this limited understanding results in the purchase of peripherals, such as speakers and screens, that don’t match user needs. On top of this they will purchase media players or a NAS that are neither suitable nor likeable, from hardware/ software/ operational perspectives.

Third, people tend to make evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, purchasing decisions. They replace components, rather than rethinking the components they need. For example, they may be used to having a television set with an attached recorder for watching video and the accompanying audio content. At the same time, they will have a separate stereo system for reproducing music. Unfortunately, such thinking belongs back in the twentieth century, not the current century that is already more than 20% over.

When we (along with the rest of our local community) updated to broadband, effectively at the beginning of 2019, a number of cable television options were available as a package for about NOK 1 500 a month, with an internet speed of 500 Mbits/s. We declined to have this, and opted for a 50 Mbit/s speed, without cable television, for NOK 600 a month.

A main purpose of a media player is to take content either from an online-source or from a file stored somewhere, including personal handheld devices aka mobile phones, and to send the video content to some form of display/ projector, and the audio content to some form of loudspeaker/ headset. Handheld devices, can be used to control the media player. In essence, they are the 21st century’s remote control.

If people use a particular processor or operating system on their laptop or desktop machine, they will often want to use the same one on their media player. This is understandable, for it keeps them in their comfort zone.

Unfortunately, there are still hardware issues with respect to Intel processors, and – to a lesser degree – those of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). This design flaw has been known since the beginning of 2018. People are encouraged to use ARM or AMD, rather than Intel processors where these are available. Apple, has recently abandoned Intel and gone over to ARM.

An aside: In 1990 ARM stood for Advanced RISC Machines, a company that started life in 1983 as Acorn RISC Machine, referring to the processor in the Acorn Archimedes computer, used by many schools. From 1998 ARM is simply Arm, not an abbreviation for anything.

Yet, for example, Windows users will often complain about the bloatware on Windows 10, but not do anything about it, either on their personal computer, or a media player. More specifically, they will seldom explore open-source software, including operating systems, as an alternative to the commercial products on offer.

At Cliff Cottage on 2019-04-11, an Asus PN 40 computer was ordered to replace an Asus Tinkerboard, similar to a Raspberry Pi (RPi), as a media player. It is equipped with an Intel Celeron processor, effectively demonstrating that I don’t follow my own advice. The hardware on the PN 40 is more than adequate for its role as a media player. It includes: a Western Digital Green 3D Nand M.2 2280 triple-level cell (TLC) solid-state drive (SSD) providing 240 GB; and, 2 x 4 = 8 GB matched Corsair Vengeance SO DD4 2400 MHz, CL16, 1.2 V DC, non-buffered, non-EEC RAM cards.

The device is low-powered and fanless, but capable of playing videos and music stored on Mothership, the family Network Attached Storage (NAS) server. It is equipped with a LibreELEC = Libre Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, operating system, described as “just enough Linux for Kodi“, an open-source media player, which is also installed.

If the purchase of a media player had been delayed to now (2020-10) it would have been an Asus PN 50, a similar, low power (read: minimal watts), yet a machine with adequate processing throughput. It would be equipped with an AMD Ryzen 3 processor. At the time of purchase, these were not available in Norway. Cliff Cottage now has an Asus PN 50 with a Ryzen 7 4700U processor, but it is being used for other tasks.

An even cheaper, but perfectly adequate, media player can be constructed from a RPi 4 B with anywhere from 1 to 8 GB of RAM. Because of its tendency to overheat, cooling must be used. One approach is to place the RPi in a Flirc case.

Vision

The human eye is not impressive. For eyes to write home about, examine assorted species of mantis shrimp.

Boomers probably experienced cathode-ray tube black and white televisions in the 1950s with PAL providing 625 lines, and NTSC providing 525 lines, essentially 480i (interlaced). This was then upgraded to colour television in the 1960s.

In the 1990s, flat-screen televisions emerged and now dominate. High definition (HD) = 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, became a standard with the high definition multimedia interface (HDMI), defined in 2002. A decade later, in 2012, ultra high definition (UHD) = 3840 x 2160, four times the pixel count of HD (hence, 4K) was defined, and in 2020, is now dominant.

Early flat-screen televisions used plasma technology, then came liquid crystal displays (LCD) that needed backlighting. LCD usually refers to the use of cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) for backlighting. LED screens are LCDs that use light emitting diodes (LED) for backlighting. This technology is actively used today. Organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology uses diodes to generate colour and light, like plasma screens, but they are smaller and thinner than LED-lit panels, and are capable of producing the best black levels available (highest contrast ratios). OLED screens are considerably more expensive than other screens.

A television in 2020 has 4K resolution. HD is out of date, while 8K is not only too expensive, it lacks content. A video refresh rate of 60 Hz is acceptable, 120 Hz is better, while gamers maintain that 144 Hz is best. Yes, this is a real consideration, if one is to avoid having multiple screens in a household. High dynamic range (HDR) refers to a colour standard that provides a more extensive range of colours, greater contrast levels and increased brightness, compared with the colour rendition on standard HD and 4K sets. Some users feel HDR offers more realistic colours. Others disagree, describing them as artificial. Most regard them as an improvement. OLED TVs typically provide better colour rendition than standard LCD sets, but are considerably more expensive. QLED TVs, where Q = Quantum, referring to photo-emissive particles, are a more affordable middle ground. Many reviews state that it is better to have four or more HDMI ports, with one or more in HDMI 2.1 format.

Currently, at Cliff Cottage there is a Samsung 40″ LED HD screen, made in 2010 but purchased used at half the new price (NOK 2 500 vs NOK 5 000) in 2012. We have never used more than two HDMI inputs. One is attached to the media player, the second has an HDMI cable permanently attached, that can be plugged into a laptop. When this screen ceases to function, it is uncertain if it will be replaced with another screen/ monitor. A 4K 55″ television now costs about NOK 5 000. A 4K 65″ is about NOK 7 000.

Projectors vs Screens

One main question is if the quality difference between a screen and a projector outweighs their respective ecological impacts. A large television/ screen/ monitor consumes many kilos of electronic components, that have to be recycled when the novelty/ economic/ physical lifetime of the product is over. My estimate is that a projector weighs < 10% of a television, although I have not undertaken any research to substantiate this claim.

Thus, we will be examining 4K projectors carefully, over the next few years. When our family was living in Molde in 2002-3, we regularly used a projector, borrowed with permission on weekends from the school where we worked. At that time, bulbs were expensive, used a lot of power and had to be replaced regularly. Today, most projectors are either LCD-based, or Digital Light Projection (DLP) based with a laser, LED, or LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) light source.

If the projector route is taken, a Philips PicoPix Max provides a minimalist solution. It is a wireless native HD projector, running under the Android OS, with a control touchpad on top. Its built-in battery lasts for three hours of projection. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB-C connectivity. Its LED projection source should last for 30 000 hours, and project up to a 120″ (3 meter) image. A more expensive alternative is the Aaxatech 4K1 mini-projector, that costs US$ 1 000. It offers 3840 x 2160 (4K) resolution, 1 500 lumens and 30 000 hours of illumination. Another choice is an Xgimi H2 that uses DLP with four channels of LEDs to beam content. Providing 1350 ANSI Lumens of brightness, requires an effective cooling system. This increased light reduces the wash-out of colours and allows daylight viewing. With its own camera, it is able to adjust focus automatically. It also provides auto keystoning. In terms of sound it provides 16 W through two speakers for treble and mid-range, and a diaphragm for the bass. One major problem with many manufacturers is their repeated attempts at vendor lock-in.

Personal comments: 1) For many years, I had hoped that the Gigabyte Brix Projector would evolve into something useful. Currently, it offers a machine with 75 ANSI lumens, which is inadequate for all but the darkest of localities. 2) The use of a projector like the Xgimi H2 will probably mean that the Asus PN 40 can be repurposed, as the projector is its own media player.

Sound

The human audible frequency range stretches from about 20 Hz to 20 000 Hz (20 kHz). The (Harry) Nyquist (1889 – 1976) – (Claude Elwood) Shannon (1916 – 2001) sampling theorem states that sampling must exceed twice the maximum frequency. This means that the rate has to be 40 kHz or more.

In practice, two sampling rates are used. The first, 44.1 kHz used on compact disks (CD) was inherited from pulse code modulation (PCM) adaptors used to transfer data from recording studio tape to CDs, with a sampling depth of 16 bits/ sample. This capability was developed by Philips and Sony, starting in the 1970s. The second, the digital audio tape (DAT) format of 1987, uses a sampling rate of 48 kHz, which is the standard for professional audio.

The HDMI TV standard (2003) allows both 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz standards, although DVD-Video and Blu-ray Discs use only 48 kHz. Most PC sound cards contain a digital-to-analog converter capable of operating native at either 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz. The average human has no need to exceed these capabilities.

Sound reproduction

There are two major ways of getting sound into the ears of listeners: loudspeakers and headsets. The main advantage of loudspeakers is that they distributes sound to multiple people throughout a venue/ house/ room. This is precisely its main disadvantage. There are numerous types and quantities of loudspeaker systems available. Flat-screen displays often come with built-in speakers that are too thin to give a dynamic range people want. Thus, it is common to augment/ replace these speakers with soundbars, mounted either above or, more typically, below the display, to improve acoustics. They are easy to set up, and are usually less expensive than other stereo sound systems. Some soundbars have left, center, and right speakers plus detachable rear-left and rear-right speakers, and a sub-woofer, to provide surround sound. Premium soundbars come equipped with equalizers, which allow the sound to be tuned to compensate for the shortcomings of room dynamics. Despite these augmentations, some people are critical of their small size and/ or position, and opt to use speakers placed throughout the space.

The main advantage of headsets (earphones/ earbuds) is that sound can be individually adapted for each listener. At the same time, people who are not interested in listening to something can avoid it. Perhaps the greatest disadvantage is that every person must have their own headset. Headsets can be wired or wireless. The main advantage of wireless systems is that they allow a person greater mobility. The main disadvantage is their cost.

Appendix: HD vs 4K Displays

Guidelines from the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers recommend viewing at a distance where the screen fills up about 30° of the field of vision. Unfortunately, this recommendation does not take screen resolution into account. If one sits too close to a screen, the individual pixels become visible, detracting from the viewing experience. This is also dependent on the size of the pixels. With HD (1920 x 1080), a given size screen requires a person to sit further back, because it is the pixel size that has to be optimized. With UHD/ 4K (3840 x 2160), it is the field of vision that has to be optimized. .

Type/ limiting factor40″45″55″65″
HD/ pixel size1.561.742.142.50
4K/ field of vision0.710.800.981.25
Optimal viewing distance in meters proposed by Rtings

People are creatures of habit. If they are used to one particular viewing position, they will try to keep that constant, preferring to change the size of the screen, rather than moving closer. This means that consumers are often willing to spend more money to buy a larger screen that optimizes their field of vision, when pixel size issues are resolved.

Other considerations include refresh rates which should be 60 Hz for most activities, although gamers prefer 144 Hz. There is no need for anything beyond this. Note: HDMI 2.0 is needed for 4K video at 60 Hz with 24 bit/px colour depth.

RBW Electric Roadster: A Tidbit

A RBW Electric Roadster, based on a MGB body shell from the 1960s, but with a modern electric drivetrain, Photo: RBW Electric Classic Cars

When enthusiasts comment on sports cars they commonly show their prejudices in their first sentence. This enthusiast is no exception. I cannot hide my delight that the age of the ICE (internal combustion engine) sports car is ending. Long live the electric sports car!

What seems to be happening is that people are taking their favourite 1960s vehicle bodies and fitting them with an electric power-train. Sometimes these bodies are real, with steel parts that have had sixty years to rust. At other times these bodies are constructed in fibreglass, original if available or a replica if not. Presumably there are also carbon-fibre replicas. Many of the drivetrains come from Teslas, or other electric vehicles, that have been totally damaged in an incident.

RBW Electric Classic Cars takes a different approach. Recently, they have produced a prototype of a sports car based on a MGB.

The body shell is new, produced under licence to the original specifications, by British Motor Heritage, of Witney, in the Cotswold. It is powered with a patented drivetrain system, incorporating three years of development by RBW, Continental Engineering Services (CES), and Zytek Automotive, a 100% owned subsidiary of Continental Engineering Services. This drivetrain is derived from Formula E technology. All three companies are based in Lichfield. While the electric motor is placed at the rear of the car, a lithium-ion battery pack is located in the abandoned engine room, giving a balanced weight distribution.

The front and rear suspension consist of independent coilovers. The brakes, feature discs and callipers, but also integrate regenerative braking technology.

While the interior features a 7″ dashboard display with wi-fi-enabled navigation, the system seems underwhelming, at least to a computer scientist.

Top Speed80 mph = ca < 130 km/h
0-60 mph = ca 0-100 km/h9 s
Range160 miles = ca 260 km
BatteriesSix Hyperdrive Lithium-ion battery packs
Power Output70 kW
DC Charging3.0 kW
Recharge Hours8 hours
Electrical and related characteristics of the RBW Electric Roadster.

Thirty examples of the RBW Electric Roadster will be produced, starting in early 2021. Prices will start from £90 000, plus taxes, with an initial £5 000 deposit.

Laptop & Desktop Devices

The author’s laptop, an Asus VivoBook with a Ryzen 3 processor, and running Linux Mint 20. This weblog post is being edited in WordPress.

When one acquires a laptop or desktop device, the machine should be considered as part of a system, and not a independent machine. For example, if one is part of the Apple tribe with (or seriously contemplating) the acquisition of an iPhone, it may be appropriate to purchase other Apple products. There is considerably greater leeway with Android devices, so that people can purchase larger machines that have Microsoft Windows, Google Chrome operating system (OS) or a Linux OS. Yet, even here families might want to opt for one of these operating systems, including a specific distro = distribution = brand or variation of Linux (if that is chosen) so that competence is directed to that specific OS, rather than being dispersed over a multitude of types.

Because Apple is a “gated city”, its prices are higher than equivalent machines running Windows, Chrome OS or Linux. Windows machines require “more and larger” than machines running Linux. This means that people on low-income, using older and/ or less powerful machines, should probably use a Linux distro.

It is of the most importance that the chosen OS and device meet the real needs of the user. Three useful categories are: casual, administrative and power users. Casual users use machines mostly to access the internet, and to perform a minimum of other tasks. Administrative users need to input and access data. Power users are usually interacting with large quantities of graphics – games, videos or similar content. Of course, a user may have more than one machine, for different purposes.

The first decision for casual users involves determining if one wants a machine with, or without a keyboard. Tablets are devices without keyboards. These are more portable than a laptop, but less portable than a handheld device, aka [also known as] a cell phone. They use a touch screen for input. These screens vary in size from 7″ to 13″, and it is important to visualize their size, to determine their suitability. If one cannot physically try them out, a full scale two-dimensional template will offer at least some insight into the machine size. For many people, a tablet is an adequate solution. However, they are less suitable for people with issues with their hands and/ or wrists.

People wanting a keyboard can choose between three different device styles: a laptop with its clamshell design has a relatively small display, but usually larger than that found on a tablet, along with a keyboard. Screen size is a matter of taste. For laptops, some prefer 15.6″, others something in the range 13″ – 14″. Displays below this size, can be difficult to use. A desktop machine uses a separate keyboard and mouse for input, and has a large screen, typically 24 – 27″. In addition, there are all-in-one machines, which puts the computing components inside a relatively large screen. These are typically 24 – 32″.

Laptops have a keyboard fitted by the manufacturer. Quality varies but can be as good as average. Once again, this means that they can be unsuitable for people who have issues with their hands and/ or wrists. However, they may be a compromise solution for people who are mobile and need a computer in the many locations they visit, including different rooms in the same building where they live or work. Another reason for selecting a laptop is a lack of space for a desktop display and keyboard on a table or desk.

Most laptops let the user plug in an external display, a USB or Bluetooth keyboard, a mouse, headphones, Ethernet adapter and external drives for storage.

Desktops may be preferred, if one has the space and there is not the need for portability. They are generally faster than laptops because they: are more durable; use faster and hotter processors; do not limit display size or keyboard characteristics; are easier to expand, update and repair; allow more memory, larger drives and faster graphics cards; potentially more ergonomic, and thus healthier.

All-in-one computers are re-packaged laptops (in terms of technology), with a focus on ergonomics, with their bigger displays. They are also less cluttered than desktop PCs, especially with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Thus, they conserve space and are more portable. They are more difficult to repair and expand.

A very small computer is often referred to as a mini-PC. These can be placed directly on a desk or its equivalent or be attached to the back of a display using a VESA mount. These are typically low-power, fanless machines with low noise levels, and many of the same characteristics as a laptop.

Component characteristics:
a. Processors, both brand and type. AMD is often preferred over Intel for performance and security reasons. A Ryzen 3 machine can be good enough. To compare processors, look at each chip’s score on the PassMark benchmark. Chips with better scores generally run faster. A score of around 2 500 is the minimum, with anything over 5 000 more than acceptable. Processor power has been an issue since 2005, when Intel decided that its primary goal was to increase performance per watt, rather than maximizing raw performance.
b. Storage capacity varies considerably. Some machines only have 64 gigabytes = GB = 10⁹ or 1 billion bytes. This can be inadequate if one wants to store feature-film length videos, modern games or other graphic works. A size between 120 and 250 GB is sufficient, for many users. Yet, even 500 GB is affordable. At Cliff Cottage, Samsung EVO 860 units of 500 GB each, are preferred. If more space than that is needed, one should consider alternative arrangements using a NAS or other form of mass storage.
c. RAM: Many users find 4 GB of random access memory too little. 8 GB is usually sufficient, except for people involved in graphic intensive activities, such as gaming or video editing. They may want to increase this to 16 GB, or even more. Memory is relatively inexpensive. Previously, it was easy to upgrade memory to a larger size, by purchasing new memory modules, and installing them. This is becoming increasingly difficult, as many manufacturers solder memory modules in place, preventing their replacement.
d. Display: If possible it should be 16: 10 aspect ratio WUXGA = Widescreen Ultra Extended Graphics Array (1920 x 1200 pixels) for administrative tasks. This allows two pages to be displayed. The 16: 9 aspect ratio, is less versatile, but frequently used. FHD or HD 1080 refers to 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Fall Back Solution

A Mini-PC can work as a fall back solution in case of computer failure. If these are set up in advance, they can be operational in minutes, as long as the data needed is on external drives or online. An older laptop can also be used. If you have the economic means to do so, it is often less stressful to replace a laptop at regular intervals, for example – every three years, rather than waiting until a machine falls apart. The replaced machine is then kept in reserve, while the previous reserve machine can be given away to others who are less fortunate.



Handheld Devices

A Fairphone 3+ comes in a box with the phone, mini screwdriver, quick-start guide and two year warranty. If a USB-charger, USB-C cable or modular earphones are wanted, these can each be purchased separately.

Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning [when written in 1988]. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives. Mark Weiser

Mark Weiser (1952 – 1999) invented the term ubiquitous computing in 1988. Its principles are:

  • The purpose of a computer is to help you do something else.
  • The best computer is a quiet, invisible servant.
  • The more you can do by intuition the smarter you are; the computer should extend your unconscious.
  • Technology should create calm.

Conventionally, computing is always interested in maximizing throughput. Thus a 2020 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X processor can perform 2 356 230 MIPS = millions of instructions per second, at 4.35 GHz. For Weiser this was an uninteresting value. He was more concerned about instructions per joule = watt-second, that emphasized low-power portable computing.

Not everything in Weiser’s life focused on calmness. He was also the drummer for Severe Tire Damage, with its motto “Don’t Back Up!”. It was the first band in the world to perform live on the Internet, 1993-06-24.

Many people attribute the iPhone, and smartphones more generally, to Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), but like the Lisa and Macintosh computers and other personal computers before it, the iPhone and the smartphone had their origins at Xerox PARC = Palo Alto Research Center, where Weiser worked.

Sometimes, handheld devices are referred to as mobile devices. Yet, this alternative term perpetuates a misconception, for it is not the device that is mobile, but its user.

There are many contenders claiming to be the first handheld digital device. Some may want to include cameras, but most of these used film, excluding them from contention. The first commercial electronic single-lens reflex camera, the Nikon QV-1000C, released in 1988. Because of its quirks ( as seen from today’s perspective), others want to refer to the Fujifilm FUJIX DS-1P, as the first fully digital camera, because of its capability to save data to a semiconductor memory card. It also came out in 1988.

Another contender is the PDA = Personal Digital Assistant, where the first one, a Psion Organiser, was released in 1984, had limited features. Its successor, the Organiser II was launched in 1986, combined an electronic diary and searchable address database.

An earlier contender is the handheld game console, which Mattel started to make in 1976, when it sold Auto Race. Yet, before this was a pocket-sized electronic calculator. The first one was the Busicom LE-120A “HANDY”, from 1971. Personal note: Our family’s first hand-held device was a Casio FX-82 electronic calculator, bought in the early 1980s. We owned several versions of these over the years, but – like the slide rule they replaced – they are only kept out of historic interest. Currently, an FX82ES Plus is available in Norway for NOK 215.

Starting in 1950 New York City physicians could pay $12 per month to carry a 200-gram pager that would receive phone messages within 40 kilometres of a single transmitter tower. The system was manufactured by Reevesound but operated by Telanswerphone. This probably makes the pager the first hand-held (or belt attached) device.

Today, there is no need for anyone to own a separate game console, calculator or camera, while both pagers and PDAs are obsolete. A smartphone is capable of doing almost everything any dedicated handheld device can do.

Apps

The apps people choose to have on their devices will vary considerably. My most extensive use of a hand-held device is learning French and Swedish with Duolingo on a daily basis. This can take from 10 minutes to half an hour a day, or 2.5 hours a week. Photographs are taken on a daily basis. The amount of time spent on cell-based telephone conversations will also vary. Mine take up only a couple of hours a week, using mobile networks. However, in addition there are app based calls (most often outside Norway) that use a Wi-Fi connection. Reading (newspapers, weblogs, etc.) can occupy a much larger portion of my time, but divided between a hand-held device and a laptop. Then there is a need to listen to podcasts or watch videos.

A personal note

Since January 2019, we at Cliff Cottage have used a Xiaomi Pocophone F1, as our primary handheld devices. It is probably unnecessary to mention specifications, but it uses a Snapdragon 845 (10 nm) processor with an Adreno 630 to handle graphics. It has 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of memory. It features a 6.18″ IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with 1080 x 2246 pixels. There are dual 12 MP rear cameras, and a single 5 MP front camera. It has a 4 000 mAh battery, that is adequate for our needs. In terms of software it runs MIUI 11 based on Android 10. In contrast to most users, who replace their phones after two years, we hope to keep these phones for at least four years (until the end of 2022).

The Confessional

In a perfect world, I would contentedly use a Fairphone. The Fairphone would also work, it would feature state of the art components and not need to have its parts replaced. Bas van Abel, Tessa Wernink and Miquel Ballester started Fairphone as a social enterprise company in Amsterdam in 2013. In 2017, van Abel admitted that it was impossible to produce a 100% fair phone, but said the phones were fairer. The Fairphone 3 has been on the market since September 2019. It was updated to a 3+ in September 2020, where a major change was in the cameras. This is because improving the camera, is one of the most important reasons people change their handheld devices. The 3+ is made with 40% post-consumer recycled plastics, while the 3 managed 9%. It has a modular, repairable design, is constructed out of responsibly-sourced, conflict-free, and recycled materials (where possible). It is essentially a budget phone, sold for a €/ $/ £ 200 premium.

The Fairphone 3+ has the following specifications: a Snapdragon 632 (14 nm) processor with an Adreno 506 to handle graphics. It has 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of memory. It features a 5.65″ IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with 1080 x 1920 pixels. There is a 48 MP rear camera, and a 16 MP front camera. It has a 3 000 mAh battery. In terms of software can run on an /e/ Foundation open-source version of Android 10.

Repairability is the essence of a Fairphone. Unfortunately, some users have expressed the opinion that it needs this ability more than most other phones. It is constructed out of seven modules. The rear of the phone can be removed without tools. This done, the battery can be lifted out and replaced. A Phillips #00 screwdriver can be used to remove the display. Other modules are held in place using only press fit sockets. The motherboard, containing the system on a chip, RAM and storage, can also be easily removed (though the motherboard’s individual components would not be easily replaced).

At this time in the history of the world, we are trying to promote more local products, if they are suitable. This means hand-held devices should be made in Europe as a first priority. In terms of Asian countries, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are my priority countries. This means that our next such device may not be a Xiaomi or other Chinese model. It is probably the camera technology that will determine the model purchased, and will determine if it is a Fairphone, or something else. There can be many changes before then.

Hipster

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen in Portlandia. To really understand the hipster mentality, people owe it to themselves to binge-watch the first season (six episodes) of Portlandia. Stop there, there is no need to watch all 77 episodes. There is also no reason to dress in dullist clothing. Long live colour. Photo: https://nylon.com/articles/portlandia-season-4

My fascination with hip, beat and hipster culture begins with a warning in the early 1960s, not to have anything to do with the social misfits living in a large, black house at the north-east corner of Ash Street and Fourth Avenue in New Westminster, about 160 meters from the house where I grew up. On the odd occasion I did meet with these residents they were friendly and kind, even if they were dressed mainly in black, the men wore beards and the women had long straight hair. I am less certain about the other components that comprised the beat uniform: turtle neck sweaters, berets and dark glasses.

This was followed by reading a book borrowed from New Westminster Public Library, about beatniks and especially the tribe living in San Francisco. In particular it mentioned two beat landmarks, the City Lights Bookstore and its neighbour across Jack Kerouac Alley, the Vesuvio Cafe. These places were visited earlier today, although we stopped to eat ice cream at the nearby Baked Bear.

In the early 2010s, I found myself enjoying the first season of Portlandia. At the same time I was accused by inmate pupils, in particular, of being a hipster or metrosexual. Personally, I thought I was at least forty years too old for these labels. Yet, I can understand what they were getting at. I dress outside of the mainstream, wearing non-standard coloured chinos and brightly coloured shirts, often pink. Knitting at the prison probably didn’t help. This identity was not universal. New inmates/ staff at the prison also mistook me for an inmate or the prison chaplain, rather than a teacher.

Wikipedia lists some hipster accoutrements, provided here along with some personal comments: a beard (yes, I have worn one for most of the past fifty years), veganism (yes, most days now and during periods in the past before children), certain aspects of post-Christian New Age philosophy (not quite certain what this refers to, but I have read and discussed books written by Alan Watts), urban beekeeping (yes, if this includes showing films and discussing high-tech beehives, and at one point when we first moved to Norway we owned two (2) beehives, but no bees!), specialty coffee (yes, that is why we have a fredag fikka or Friday coffee), taxidermy (not in the usual sense of the word, but our house houses many stuffed animals from armadillos to raccoons), fedoras (yes, if Stetson is an acceptable substitute), and printing and bookbinding (yes, we even had our own family publishing house, Fjellheim Institutt). As for the ubiquitous single-speed bicycle, walking or a Mazda 5 will have to substitute, even as I dream of replacing the latter with an appropriate electric vehicle, possibly a Stavanger, Norway built podbike.

MoveHub and www.iheartradio.ca locate many of the most hipster-centric cities in the Pacific Northwest. In USA these include (with their rank): Vancouver, Washington (1); Boise, Idaho (4); Tacoma, Washington (6); Spokane, Washington (7); Portland, Oregon (12); and, Seattle, Washington (20). In British Columbia, Canada the top ranked hipster cities are: Victoria (1); Kelowna (2); and, Vancouver (4). The closest place to Norway in the Top 20 world rankings is Helsinki, Finland (9).

The reason for this post is to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to attend the year’s first Fredag Fikka, 2020-10-30 from 10:00 to 14:00 at Cliff Cottage, Ginnunga Gap. This marks the end of the construction season. The theme is living hip, and people are encouraged to present arts, crafts and other creative works. Coffee and cinnamon buns will be served.

Note: This post was written on 2020-02-27 and 28 in San Francisco, California.