Friday, November 27, 2009
Set #1 from the early 1970s was a 20 inch Zenith Chromacolor (The Quality Goes In Before The Name Goes On.) It probably still featured handwiring and some tubes in the chassis. The set was hand delivered and set up by the local Zenith dealer. It featured a rotary dial tuner that could get 12 or so VHF channels and was connected by coax cable to an "over the air" antenna.
Set #2 from 1982 was a handsome 26 inch RCA (In Living Color) Colortrak wooden console TV. This time it took two guys from the Local RCA dealer to deliver it and one stayed behind to set it up. It had a remote control and was connected by coax to analog Cable TV that featured at that time about 30 channels.
Set #3 from 1999 (still running VCR and DVD in our rec room) is a 32 inch RCA Home Theater Premiere. This big heavy monster was again delivered by two guys and not much setup was needed. Eventually this set was connected by coax to a digital cable box and tuned into hundreds of standard definition channels. This was one of the Thomson Electronics RCA models and performed pretty well (still does.)
Set #4 from 2009 is a 37 inch Samsung series 5 LCD HDTV. It's not a feature laden set but it does have pretty nice TV performance. Nobody did anything to deliver or set it up. I carried it home in the back of my Jeep and set it up myself, connecting it by HDMI cable to an HDTV cable box. In addition to the other standard definition, it gets an additional 35-40 high definition channels.
From vacuum tubes to solid state, CRT to LCD, standard def to high def, antenna to cable, analog to digital, 12 channels to hundreds - it's been a long and interesting ride. Zenith and RCA are Asian brands today - part of television history. And so am I, probably.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
But I must admit that 3 week old Edward Vincent McLean has me wrapped around his tiny perfect fingers already.
We had planned for Maria to go down to Ottawa and help Sarah out the first week that Dave returned to work. However her sister was not well in Kingston so she had to go down there for a few days instead.
Grandpa had to pinch hit until Grandma could get back there on Wednesday. Not entirely confident in my attempts to do so, I advised Sarah upfront. "This is not what you'll get with your mother...but I'll try."
I soon discovered that I still had the old baby magic though. I can get the most unburpable child to burp - just ask my favorite green Greg Norman sweater. Also I can walk and rock him to sleep just as effectively as I did with his mother back in November 1977.
The sights, sounds and smells of a three week old are irresistible too. Well some smells are at least. For more scatological needs I can still hand him back to Mom and Dad and never run the risk of getting shat upon - which Sarah did to me more than once (she was paid back for her crimes today.)
Grandma's coming home tonight as she has to go to the optometrist and do her volunteer work tomorrow. So I'm going back to Teddyville. It's my turn. I'm hooked.
The concept of designing and building faster and more powerful processing capability, followed by a more complex and resource hungry software stack has been replaced by a sort of inverse Olympic model - lower (power consumption), slower (processor speeds) weaker (performance scores). The new standard seems to be "good enough" rather than "bleeding edge" in the majority of cases.
This is the thought that went into the Intel Atom processor and its associated chipset. The combination of a mini-processor and capable but undistinguished supporting hardware is driving the latest "netbook"' sales boom.
Let's face it - the fact is that the majority of stuff most people use a computer for has not demanded increasingly powerful processing. Once you get to the point where you can surf the Internet, play music and videos without glitches, and do your normal office tasks, things are "good enough." That point probably occurred around 2002 with the advent of the Pentium 4 processor and Windows XP. Everything that happened since then has been important to gamers, graphics designers, video editors - but not the general computer user.
Couple with that the fact that the hardware designers were running into serious limitations with processor speed, power consumption and just keeping the darn thing cool and it was obvious that something had to be done. The multicore processor has been the the solution for the power users; the simpler "old is new again" Atom technology has spurred on the development of a new generation of cool tiny Internet appliances. It's as if Intel has been given the chance to go back and re-invent the Pentium processor knowing what they know now about miniaturization and nanotechnology.
The software makers have had to adjust to the new landscape too. Microsoft has the hardest challenge I think. The bloated Vista operating system is just not going to perform well in the netbook environment, and as a result Microsoft is stuck offering and extending support on an eight year old O/S until they get their Windows 7 out of the shop. The initial reviews are pretty good, but they are probably 6-9 months away from a saleable new product.
Well then, how about Linux? No problem. The combination of efficient design, low resource demand, no need for CPU sucking security apps makes it perfect for the netbook. I'm typing this post now on an 8.9 inch Acer Aspire One running Linux with only 512 MB of RAM. It's a pleasure - fast boot from its solid state hard drive, all the software I need, excellent wireless support. It doesn't look like Windows XP but it works.
I'm using Abiword - a smooth, full featured bloat free word processor. (Yes you can get it free for Windows if you want.)
The only problem Linux on the netbook has is - how do you get the average user to try it?
Saturday, February 7, 2009
The solution is some sort of wireless laptop - specifically a netbook. These lightweight Internet appliances are perfect for travel activity - either moving around the house, researching restaurants in a hotel room on a motor trip, or even emailing on a cruise ship.
Sarah's a demon touch typist, and I was concerned that the typical 7 or 9 inch netbook keyboard would be frustrating for her. We found the solution I think. It's a Dell Inspiron Mini 12 - larger 12 inch screen and an almost full size keyboard. It weighs a bit more than a kilo and is as thin as a Macbook Air. She ordered it from Dell and it should arrive next week.
These netbooks have state of the art wireless hardware but otherwise are solid 2003 technology. The Mini 12 has an Intel Atom Z530 processor and a Poulsbro chipset - low power, slow 1.6 GHz single core processor, maxed out memory at 1 GB. The original models ran Vista Home Basic and it was painful to watch. The second generation Mini 12s offer a step back to Windows XP or a step forward to Ubuntu Linux.
If you choose XP it costs more to buy the netbook, and you can only get Microsoft Works installed on your machine. You have to buy and install Microsoft Office or download and install Open Office. Of course Ubuntu comes with all the software you need right out of the box. Ubuntu is also a great choice for a netbook because it'll boot faster and use less resources - no need for CPU sucking security applications. The final advantage is that Sarah will have the opportunity to learn and use Linux - one never knows if and when such a skill will come in handy at the office.
Of course Grandpa the geek is all ready to provide whatever IT assistance is needed.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Well, my grandson Teddy is 2 1/2 weeks old now so maybe some grandfatherly comments are in order:
(1) I am really proud of my daughter and son-in-law. Sarah coped with hours of labor and natural childbirth with great courage, and has been up to the challenges of two difficult weeks as Teddy adjusts to life in the real world. Dave will be a natural dad - he's jumped right into all the tasks of parenthood with enthusiasm, support and good humor.
(2) Maria has been a great help to them - in the right way. She cooked and cleaned house for a week so that the new parents could bond with the baby and concentrate on his needs.
(3) Teddy appears to be an even tempered little guy that is dealing well with the ups and downs of early childhood. He cries when he needs you, but otherwise he's pretty laid back and calm.
(4) I haven't forgotten how to hold and burp a baby although it's been awhile.
(5) It's amazing how fast kids grow and develop. You see a change even in a couple of days at this age. I'm looking forward to the first smile in a couple of months though.
(6) I really don't feel any older being a grandpa. It's a stage of life that feels right to me now, just as being a dad felt right when Sarah was born.