Saturday, February 19, 2011

eBooks and eReaders

The NEW greatest product of the last few years has been eReaders and tablets.  We had digital pictures, movies, and music for years, but we have only had proper eBooks (not pdf's) for a couple years.  No one thought to put a book in a computer. We built huge libraries and databases to catalog those books, and  NO ONE said "Hey, we should stop buying these big things and just get a digital copy." I do not like to read text books (most people don't), and an eReader will put all those books in one place. Plus, I can get them instantly.  Here is another reason eBooks are better than normal books, if you read books that have citations (which must text books do), all the citation links work on the eReader, so you can read what the author read.  Kindle software also allows you to change font size and background color, so you can adjust settings to your level of comfort.  The other type of eBook I am familiar with is a .pdf ., which is not really an eBook, but they are the de facto standard for many publications.  On an eReader, the pdfs are a little harder to work with, as there is no way to change the look and feel of the pdf.  Currently, I have 4 Amazon Kindle books and 3 .pdf style books (I'm just starting down this road). They all work very well and I intend to purchase more.  The original reason I wanted a an eReader is that, as a Master's student, one ends up buying lots of books, many of which you may choose not to sell back because they contain information that is important to keep. Or you can't sell back because the book store does not want that book.  eBooks are cheaper than the real thing (10-50% cheaper),  and, to top it all off, they are better for the environment since there are no production and distribution costs.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tymponometers...tymp what?

Okay, one more gadget related to hearing screenings: the tympanometer. Like the otoscope, this device does not test what a client can hear or not hear, but helps evaluate the health of the middle ear. A tympanometer increases and decreases the pressure in the ear canal and charts the response of the eardrum (tympanic membrane) to the changes in pressure. Ideally, the eardrum should flex, indicating that is responds correctly when it comes into contact with sound waves. This produces a chart, known as a Type A tympanogram, that looks like this:

When the eardrum does not work properly, you will get charts that look like the following:
The first atypical graph is called a Type B tympanogram. This type indicates little or no flexibility of the eardrum, which could be attributed to fluid/infection located behind the eardrum, or even a hole in the eardrum. The second atypical graph is a Type C tympanogram. This type has a peak, indicating flexibility of the eardrum, but the peak is shifted to the left (in the negative numbers), indicating an abnormal amount of negative pressure in the ear canal. This can be attributed to congestion of the sinuses, often due to colds or allergies. (All the picture graphs were taken from Wikipedia)

Tympanometers come in a few different varieties. I, personally, have used two different kinds. The first kind I used is a little more complicated and, although portable, is more of a hassle to move around, as it must be plugged into an outlet. A picture, taken from, is shown below.This shows a person holding the probe, which is the part you stick into the ear canal. You can also see that it prints out a paper copy of the graph (described and shown above).
The second variety that I have used before is much smaller and is shaped more like a gun (It looks a lot like an otoscope) which sits on a charger when not in use. It is much easier to stick in the ear, and gives you a picture of the graph on a small screen. If you wanted to print it out, the charger has a printer built into it. A picture, from, is shown below.
This concludes my segment on gadgets used in hearing screenings--next I will be discussing some very interesting technologies used as alternatives to oral communication. 

Just got a tablet: First Thoughts

Kindle running on a ViewSonic G-Tablet
I just purchased an Android tablet! I have not played with it too much yet, maybe a couple hours.  I purchased a ViewSonic G-tablet,which came with a dual core processor and Android 2.2 (aka 'Froyo').  The interface that came with the device was lacking. ViewSonic must have thought "Hey let's take a proven mobile platform and cripple it with our own software interface." I reloaded another version of Android onto the tablet, which was very easy. It came with great instructions and took less than 20 minutes start to finish, including downloading the software.  I put VEGan-TAB on the tablet, but there are several other versions floating around the internet.  My primary reason for buying this thing is that I am trying to purchase EBooks every chance I get. I intend to write a proper post about EBooks and E readers soon. The tablet runs the same Android version as my phone, so it was easy to learn the device controls. The development group that made VEGan-TAB is hard at work making an Android 2.3 (aka 'Gingerbread') version for the tablet.  Having never picked up an Android tablet, (I did handle an iPad once) it felt a little heavy.  But, it has twice the power of an iPad for 100 bucks less.  Unlike the iPad, it came with both a Standard USB port and a micro SD card port.  Give me a week and I'll have a full review of the device. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Beloved Gameboy Color

When I was in junior high, the cool thing to have was a Gameboy Color. I got one for Christmas, but of course, I had to share it with my little sister (who doesn't like to share).  A while later, my parents were forced to buy another Gameboy Color for my sister, so that war would not break out in the back seat of the car.  She then proceeded to take all the best games. This pair of Gameboys traveled the world as it journeyed from New Albany, IN, USA to Germany, Austria, Canada, Florida, Bahamas, and countless other car trips.  I played this thing so much that my grades suffered in school (that's a lot of video games because you don't get a lot of homework in junior high). Tell me, audience, did you ever carry a battery charger on vacation when you were young, just so you could play Gameboy?  As with my Gameboy original, I never got a lot of games, so got really good at the ones I had. I played a lot of Pokemon on my color even though they were not color games (Red and Blue). I had all the Pokemon characters in all three versions, by sharing them back and forth between two Gameboys. These Gameboys could display all sorts of colors, but a dirty little secret was it could only display 56 colors at any one time. So, you may think that a game is really pretty, but each  individual screen was not very colorful.  One thing I remember thinking was that my Gameboy had a "butt." The plastic container had a slight rise where the batteries were held.  If anyone has stories about their Gameboy, please comment about it. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Distributed Computing

Last post, I talked about my graphics card purchase. This post, I want to talk about other helpful uses a gadget like this may be able to do. Let's say I play 2 hours of video games a week, but I have a $350 piece of equipment. That sounds like a waste of money, doesn't it? Well, I have a solution to keep my purchase from going to waste. It's called distributed computing. People buy computers with powerful processors and graphics cards and then only use that resource a few hours a day or week. Distributed computing allows for your expensive hardware to do some good for mankind. How it works is a research institution develops an application that can use my fancy graphics card to do very large math problems. The application downloads a math problem to my computer. The graphics card crunches the numbers and then sends back the results to the university. When enough people run the application, you can "build" a distributed super computer.
The point of all this number crunching is to use consumer hardware to better mankind through computer intense research. My Radeon 6970 never sits idle, so my investment is always providing a service to someone. Currently, my graphics card is crunching numbers that "rewind" the formation of our galaxy (the Milky Way). There are many other projects going on right now as well, and you can choose what kind of research your computer partakes in. Another widely participated distributed computing project is Folding@home. The project is run by Stanford University. They use your computer power to "fold" proteins into new forms in an attempt to discover how genetic diseases can be treated. Here are two project applications that are currently using the distributed computing model for research: Boinc and Folding@home. If anyone is looking into purchasing a graphics card, but is having a hard time coming to terms with the cost of manufacture and purchase, when the item is used so little should look into these projects. And, of course, I believe that the Radeon 6970 is a nice piece of hardware for both gaming and number crunching.

IBM's Jeopardy Computer or Old Technology on a Faster Machine?

Alright, so here's the deal. Jeopardy lets this smart computer play against humans in a three episode ordeal. Sounds awesome, right? Maybe some new breakthroughs in technology, or better yet more enhanced AI technology. The problem with this scenario is that the computer is fed text messages with the questions on them. Whoop-di-do, can we say pre-built databases of information. Basically this thing searches like Google through it's stored memory and regurgitates the answer. Now the only possible advancement I see in IBM's creation is that they spent years in putting together all sorts of different American English phrases into this machines memory so it can process the question correctly to find the answer, so I'll give them a half point for trying. Still, no big changes in technology, only time consuming nerds who need to get a life for once and kick-back their feet instead of wasting IBM's money in research that Google is already coming up with...oh wait, already applied in some of their web-searching servers. Good job IBM! Your balls aren't any bigger than anyone else's yet. So they say it's faster than who knows how many smart computers but that still is a who cares feature. So what if the computer can generate and push the button faster than humans. It may just be a crazy thing called electrical energy faster than human reflexes. So we're 2.5 of 3 for failure so far. Now here's the best part. Many people thought it was voice recognition until that one leaked all over the Internet and the news. Why didn't IBM use voice recognition? Now that would be an improvement. Right now scientists (nerds with money who can say they're scientists) are researching and already advancing with breakthroughs of social robots. Whoa, now that's pretty cool. Instead of talking with your friends and family you can talk to a robot that is programmed to understand human body language and expressions (such as facial expressions and hand movements) and will react to the human accordingly with such or similar expressions and body language. Now put those robots with voice recognition and IBM's human speech pattern recognition and you would have yourself an ideal piece of technology. Go soak your brain on that one Steve Jobs. Maybe you can put that into an iPhone. Adding the Internet's resources of the ever growing society of information this thing would be the first, almost flawless AI. Then we'll have to program it on how to learn through conversation and experience, and then BLAMMO, Star Trek here we come (or Star Wars, whatever your fancy). So all in all I give IBM's success a .5 out of 4.

Graphics card review

This post may be particular interesting to readers that have a more technical background. I recently purchased a new graphics card for my desktop computer. Now, I know that graphics cards are far from gadgets (in my mind it must be mobile), but many people find them interesting (including myself), so I will give a general review of my new purchase. A graphics card, or chip, is what you plug a monitor into on a desktop. Laptops also have graphics chips, but they are not user replaceable, meaning the manufactures decides what chip you are going to use and you stick with that chip for the life of laptop. Desktop graphics cards are replaceable. You can choose from a wide range of speeds and features, and in some cases, you can even have more than one. Graphics cards are like computer processors. They go up in value the faster they get. Their primary purpose is to allow for very computing intense video games. I purchased a Radeon 6970, which cost me $350 after it was all said and done. That may sound like a lot, and it is, but I bought top-of-the-line equipment because I have a non standard computer setup. I knew that I would be spending quite a bit on the graphics card when I chose that setup design. So far, I love it! It plays all my computer games quite well (on the highest setting in most cases). I just wish I had more time to play them. I have had trouble with other brands of cards in the past, hopefully this purchase will work out better. Next post, I will talk about other more helpful uses of these very expensive gadgets.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Look into Otoscopes

So, other than the audiometer, what other gadgets do Speech Language Pathologists use to screen hearing? Let's start with a more familiar gadget: the otoscope. This is the device that, when you go to the doctor, is used to look inside your ears. It is a fairly simple gadget consisting of a magnifying lens and a light. It uses a disposable tip that fits into the ear canal easily when the ear is pulled up to straighten the ear canal (which rests at an angled position). Using the otoscope, you can see the ear canal up to the tympanic me
mbrane (eardrum) and can usually tell pretty easily if there are problems such as infection or wax buildup. An otoscope alone will not give you any information about what the client can actually hear, or what they are not hearing, but provides further insight into what may be going on inside the client's ears.

I. personally, do not have a lot of experience with otoscopes, but it is one of the gadgets often available for Speech Pathologists to use.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Has anyone ever wondered what set top boxes do?

In most households and apartments today, whether they be on cable or broadcast, you most likely have a set top box.  Everyone knows we switched to DTV for broadcast television a few years back. Why did we switch, and what does the box do?  During the summer of '09, you had to start using a converter box to get signal over the air if you had an older TV.  Those boxes cost money. Who is paying for this stuff?
Up until the summer of '09, we were using a broadcasting system as it was developed in the 40's and 50's. Back then, there were plans for many more stations in both VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency). Each station got 6 MHz of bandwidth to broadcast programing.  Back then, the regulators picked prime bandwidth for broadcasting so you could have more people served per station.  Fast forward to modern times. Things did not work out as well as they had hoped. There were far fewer broadcast stations than they had planned, and therefore, there was a lot of wasted air waves.  Other companies wanted to use the wasted bandwidth for other purposes.  So they came up with a plan. They were going to move all of the tv broadcasts to digital, rearrange the tv stations so they were closer together on the EM spectrum, and then use the cleared up space for other technologies, which would pay for the transition.
Old televisions, of course, would not be able to pick up a digital signal, and it did not know where the stations were because they changed location in the EM spectrum.  They fixed the problem by making a box that had a  digital tuner for the new TV broadcast, that would piggy back on the analogue tuner inside a tv.  Also, if you think this DTV conversion is only a USA thing, then I've got news for you.  Below is a map of the world with an overlay of DTV transition. As you can see, most of the world is still switching to the new standard. I borrowed this image from wiki commons.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to pick a great laptop

Most everybody I know owns one. There are people who swear by one brand or another. Today, we are going to talk about laptops. I will try to think of the average consumer when I consider laptop features. This means we are not talking about 2000 dollar gaming laptops or Macbook pros.  These laptops clearly have better specs than your average laptop, but are out of the price range for most people.  In the last five years, I personlly purcahsed two laptops and a netbook.  My first laptop broke after only 2.5 years. 

The first thing to consider is the screen size.  Laptops start at about 12 inches and run up to 17 inches.  The most common sizes are 14 and 15 inch notebooks.  If you are looking for a new laptop, I would start with these sizes first.  Few people have reason to buy a laptop smaller than 14 or larger than 15. You may, however, find you want somthing very portable or very powerful; that is your choice. 

Next, let's look at what you will be using it for. Are you going to carry it with you a lot? If you do, I would look at laptops under 6 pounds and below 1.5 inches thick.  How about photo editing?  Maybe you should look for a computer with a separate graphics card.   For most people, a 5 to 7 hundred dollar laptop should last several years. Now comes personal taste. I like to have a nice screen on my laptop, and I will pay more for it, or inversely, buy a slower computer to get a better screen. What is the purpose of buying a laptop that you can't read very well on? What about processing power? The number of processors determines the number of tasks you can complete at one time. They do have 4 core processors for laptops, but I see very few reasons to have one. A 2 core processor will work for 90% of the laptop users. Other people think brand is very important. I once bought an Acer, and, as I said earlier, it died after a couple years. HPs have had some problems in the past, but are usally recalled if something goes wrong with the model.  Dells are okay, but are less adavnced than the other brands. If you buy a Dell, you get last year's hardware at this year's price. Right now, I have a Samsung Q series notebook, which I would recommend to everybody willing to listen.   One last point is looking at warranties. For the most part, I do not think they're worth the money.  I know someone, however, who bought a warranty and used the warranty 5 times before they gave her a brand new laptop. . 

Overall, buying a laptop is a personal preference. Make sure you know how you will use it so that you can look for the combination that suits you best.