What are the Long-Term Effects of Electronics?

controllerAs more and more generations learn to use computers, phones, and GPSs from a young age, the population is beginning to see an array of negative medical results. With electronics around every corner and the ability to access them at virtually any time of the day, more and more are seeing the onset of technology-educed pain and disorders. No more are older folks catching their first glimpse of carpal tunnel after retirement, and the same goes for hunched backs and vision issues. Now it’s happing as young as one’s teens and early 20s.

However, as trends continue to progress, those ages may actually decrease. Schools now regularly include computers and tablets into their lessons, and items are coming with kid-friendly apps and accessories. Because kids are introduced to more electronics younger and younger, the side effects will only continue to increase.

The Effects

From minor aches and pains to diagnoses that require serious treatment, new and existing issues are steep a strict increase. And of course, the treatment depends on the cause. For instance, those who spend multiple hours typing or fidgeting with controllers each day are wearing wrist braces, doing arm stretches, or seeing chiropractors or physical therapists to try and reverse these effects. However, depending on the sheer number of hours spent in a static location, the typers may experience carpal tunnel, arthritis, shoulder and back pain, or even numbness throughout the arms.

Another growing condition is that of “Gameboy back,” caused from excessive hunching. Often seen in teenage boys who play video games on a regular basis, this condition can affect one’s posture, cause pain, and even bring tension within the muscles. Items like specialized chairs or being aware of how one sits can greatly reduce the chance of “Gameboy back” taking root by creating an ergonomic environment.

Other electronic-related injuries include headaches, neck pains, and eyesight issues, which occur from reading too-small text on bright screens. Regular phone or tablet readers have reported cases of obstructed eyesight, to damaged retinas, caused from reading excessively in the dark.

From aches and pains to more serious conditions, electronic devices are causing medical issues in their most frequent users. To avoid falling victim, be sure to take the proper precautions before logging in for long periods at a time. Or, if you’re already experiencing technology-induced conditions, talk to your doctor to find an effective treatment regimen.

Are we too dependent on technology?

pyramidIn a day and age where almost everything runs on electricity – lights, entertainment, cooking, communication – it can be hard to fathom a life without it. From smartphones to Saturday night movies set to dim lights and the scent of microwaved popcorn, power is a part of our everyday lives; we’ve grown accustomed to such amenities, but what happens when those capabilities aren’t available? Whether due to Mother Nature, dead batteries, no signal, or some other unforeseen circumstance, sometimes power just isn’t as readily available as we’d like.

Without our normal everyday access, certain tasks become seemingly impossible – at least at first, like checking the weather or looking up which Grease actor won the most Tonys in 1972. One is left to memory (or, *gasp*, an encyclopedia) and the other requires a technology that was invented more than a century ago: the radio. However, no matter how cave-like life without technology may sound, some days it’s just a necessity.

How Would We Fare?

Should worse come to worst, though, how would we stand up against life without technology in today’s world? Zombie apocalypse, natural disaster, electricity overload – whatever the cause, could the human race make it? How many of us actually know how to build a campfire, build a shelter, and live off the land without looking up instructions online?

It may sound like a long shot, and in all likelihood, when the power goes out, it’s usually only for minutes at a time (sometimes even hours or days), but the possibility is always there that it could be much worse.

A Growing Trend

Ever since inventions such as televisions and computers started making their way into middle class homes, their use has been a part of everyday activity. And, as the technologies grew, so has the amount of use they get each day. Now, it’s normal for users to be on a phone and/or computer the majority of the day. With so much time logged on, however, it’s left few hours for us to contemplate life without such amenities. The more time we spend plugged in, the harder it is to imagine life unplugged.

No matter your stance on electronics and the future, it’s always a good idea to accept the possibility that things can and often do go wrong. Phones won’t get service, TVs will break, and internet connections can be interrupted. While it may not happen often, having a backup plan is a great way to stay prepared, no matter what happens.

Can you “train” your batteries?

dead batteryAs a lover of technology, it’s likely you’re constantly carrying around one or more chargers. A charger for your phone, one for your tablet, your computer, and any other tech-y items that may require an extra dose of juice. Extend any trip for more than a day, and the necessary charging items and accessories grow tremendously.

But what if there were a way to extend the battery life? Sure there’s phone cases that double as an extra battery, or even solar panels that work to add power, but what about the batteries themselves?

The Fix

For whatever reason, over time, rechargeable batteries lose their holding power. By implementing a charging routine, however, you can work to “retrain” those batteries. No more once-a-day charging, sudden loss of juice, or running in the red. By fully charging a device and then allowing it to deplete itself naturally (use it until it dies), the battery can “reset” itself. While this isn’t necessary every time a charge takes place, waiting until it’s on its last legs can increase power later on.

Why Batteries Die

While it may sound dramatic – electronics power off, batteries die – the loss of electronic fuel can actually be a learned habit. The more batteries become accustomed to receiving more power, the more they will rely on it. Think of your eating habits – if you’re used to having a snack mid-afternoon, your stomach may growl or begin churning in preparation. If you don’t have a snack, however, the stomach remains patient.

Much like digestive systems, batteries follow a pattern. The best way to get the most out of each pattern is to starve them until they can no longer function. (Though you certainly shouldn’t eat this way.) During this power-extending pattern, the battery doesn’t expect added help and electronics can hold power in a more efficient manner.

Fool Proof?

In some cases, batteries may just need replacing. While this “training” method is a great cure for many instances, it’s no substitution for damaged or aged models. When in question, check out chat rooms with those who’ve dealt with the same models, or contact the manufacturer for more details.

To lengthen any electronics’ battery life, try this training method to reintroduce a pattern of full vs. empty. It’s a great (free) way to make your smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, or any other mobile device more efficient. No cords or tag-along chargers needed.

A society drowning in cords, and how to manage them

power cordsFirst, we got our own cell phones.

They were friendlier than the previous in-car versions, offering the same talking abilities without location restriction. But they also required a charging cord to be carried around, forever nesting in our suitcases and/or purses. Then computers became mobile, and they needed a cord too, lest we be stranded without a way to play Oregon Trail. Then MP3 players became a thing (which needed headphones, another cord), and then tablets, and before we knew it, we were carrying around cords upon cords. A tangled mess of single colored adapters that must stay with us a majority of the time.

For a while we thought our Apple products would feed from a single-shaped device, but even they changed, forcing us to either upgrade all around, or continue with the business of multiple cords.

The same can tangled-ness can be said for our homes; electronics of all kinds require a constant source of power, leaving us with the wake of their lines. TVs, stereos, lamps, and more have us bowing to their needs with their ugly plug in needs.

So where did we go wrong? Now even cars are becoming electric, requiring even a larger cord to be toted while traveling. While some efforts are being made toward wireless charging and hot pad stations, the majority of “wireless” devices still require a standard outlet, and a power cord.

Managing the chaos

Until all our electronics re-juice ET style, all we can hope for is a more controllable mess. Crafty types can bind together toilet paper rolls (with optional paint) for a storage grid – though this isn’t ideal for travel. While messier folks just tote around a knot of coated wire, pulling out what’s needed as items die.

For an in-between, look to cord keepers or rubber stick-ons that “grab” the cords and make them stay put. Best for in-home cords, such as desktops, phones, or power strips, models can be affixed to the wall for semi-permanent keeping. For traveling, stick to wrapping features, such as circular items that hold both ends down during movement. Both items come in various sizes, adaptable for all types of cords.

Whether choosing to organize gadgets with more gadgets or living with the ever-growing mess, it’s safe to say the age of the cord is upon us. Our only option seems to be grinning and bearing the technological whirlwind we’ve created.

The Emerging Trends of CES 2012

CES 2012 has ended – drawing to a close rather too quickly for those of us either in attendance or glued to the Web watching endless coverage of it. The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show was a triumph in terms of visitor numbers, with a record attendance. But many reported it being a trifle dull in terms of what was on display.

Craig Lloyd gave us great recaps of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 of CES 2012. There were some definite trends emerging, ones that will likely shape the technology landscape for the next 12 months and beyond.

Big(ger) Screen TVs

The majority of people have now upgraded from their old CRT television to a new, big, flat-screen TV. Or at least the majority of those I come into contact with. This means the TV manufacturers are having to find new ways of generating sales. The big trend of CES 2011 was 3D, and while that’s still being bet on in a big way, it’s now standard on most new TVs being sold.

This year saw the emergence of OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) technology, as seen on LG’s impressive new 55-inch television. But the 55-inch OLED is a little on the small side, with screen sizes stretching up to 84-inches. Smart TVs are also gaining a foothold, although it’s going to need one platform to rule them all before people really get interested. Google TV perhaps?

Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks are essentially the PC equivalent of the MacBook Air. They’re powerful laptops made thinner and lighter. Manufacturers including Acer, Dell, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba are all betting big on Ultrabooks, but the high cost of the product is somewhat prohibitive for mainstream consumers at this point in time. And those with cash to burn will likely go with the Apple product instead.

Tablets

Tablets are emerging as the next big thing in personal computing. The touchscreen is a natural user interface, and the ultimate portability of tablets means they’re biting into the laptop market strongly. Unfortunately only the Apple iPad has managed to live up to the hype so far.

However, the sheer number of tablets at CES 2012 suggests Apple may soon have something to worry about. We’ve already seen the Amazon Kindle Fire provide the template for an affordable Android tablet, and many more are likely to follow in its footsteps. Including the $100 OLPC XO-3 tablet.

Windows

Microsoft may have only been a small part of CES 2012, but Windows was everywhere.

Windows Phone has already been written off by many, as it’s assumed to be too far behind iOS and Android to ever catch up and make its mark. But Microsoft has managed to get several handset manufacturers on board, including Nokia. The Windows Phone platform is now considered a dark horse.

Windows 8 is on its way, probably by the end of this year. At CES 2012 it was present on several of the tablets and laptops being developed by Microsoft’s partners. Windows 8 is an incredible gamble due to its new Metro UI, but it could just pay off. And in a big way.

Celebrity Endorsements

By far the least edifying sight at CES 2012 was the number of celebrities on display. Most of whom were present to endorse a company or product.

Justin Timberlake was there as co-owner of MySpace, Will Smith popped by the Sony press conference, Will.i.am gave an embarrassing performance as Intel’s Director of Creative Innovation, Justin Bieber sold out to show off a Vietnamese dancing robot, and a whole host of Z-list celebs put their name to headphones.

Dr. Dre has a lot to answer for.

Conclusions

As if you couldn’t already tell from the above, CES 2012 was a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly. And Justin Bieber. I suspect next year will be more of the same, with more visitors pouring in to see less and less genuinely-exciting products. And Justin Bieber. I cannot wait.

Image Credits: LGEPR, Ceo1017, and HighTechDad

Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Build a Gaming PC Edition

This year I decided to use my holiday wish-list to build an entire desktop PC. I mean, as long as a majority of the parts needed to build a high performance machine are gifted to me over the holidays, in the end all of them can be combined for the common goal of playing Skyrim for 100+ hours with the maximum refresh rate and graphics settings.

So from one PC gamer to another, here are a few essential and non-essential recommendations to build a high-end gaming machine. Let the PC gaming rig wish-list begin.

CPU / Motherboard

The year 2011 showed the world some great processors (most notably Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture and AMD’s Bulldozer), and it should not be difficult to pick out one for the list that satisfies all your gaming needs (as well as your Secret Santa’s budget).

1. Intel Core i7-2600K or Intel i5-2500K CPU ($220-$320)

This is where it all begins

According to this article by Tom’s Hardware, Intel has the best CPUs around for $200-$300. In the article, the quad-core i5-2500K is recommended for its lower cost and 3.3 GHz clock frequency with the Sandy Bridge architecture, but the i7-2600K gets a step ahead with its 3.4 GHz processing speed and by having hyper-threading technology (essentially making it 8 cores instead of 4) as well as an integrated memory controller that quickens the access rate of the DDR3 RAM.

In the end, the only noticeable difference here is price ($220 for the i5, $320 for the i7), so don’t immediately jump on the Core i7 train if you don’t think the family will fork out the extra $100.

2. EVGA Z68 Motherboard ($299)

Once the CPU is picked out, be sure to then find an appropriate motherboard suitable for the architecture. This EVGA board was chosen not only because it has the right socket for the Core i5 and i7 (the LGA 1155), but mostly because it has six PCI-Express 2.0 slots. That’s right, six. That means that technically you could put six video graphics cards in parallel and run them simultaneously. Furthermore, it allows for DDR3 Memory with speeds up to 2133 MHz (which is fast, by the way) and plenty of SATA/RAID connectivity.

Sounds like a bit overkill for the wish-list? Then I guess the ASUS P8Z68 would work as well. That one is under $300 and comes with just two PCI-Express 3.0 slots for graphics cards.

Graphics Card / Memory

Speaking of graphic video cards, there are lots of beautiful options to choose from this 2011 season and each one has its share of pros and cons (see: Tom’s Hardware for more research). But most notably, here are two options from both ends of the arena.

3. GeForce GTX580 or Radeon HD 6950 ($269-$499)

Two graphics card options; two different prices. The GeForce GTX580 is from EVGA and comes with 1.5GB of video memory and a 772 MHz clock, while the Radeon HD 6950 is from HIS and comes with 2GB of memory and an 840MHz core clock. Both allow for DirectX 11, 2560 x 1600 screen resolution, and at least three DVI/HDMI ports for output.

So why the price difference? Well the GTX 580 is SLI capable, meaning that it can be run in parallel with a similar device (like a second or third GTX580) and share the graphics processing power. How crazy is that? The only issue there is that if one wanted to run two at a time, that means that at least $1000 would have to be spent to achieve this goal. So maybe save one of them for next year.

4. G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB DDR3 Memory 2100MHz ($50-60)

Nowadays, memory comes in sticks of two and runs with DDR3 from 1300 MHz to 2100 MHz. These G.Skill Ripjaws (really, they are called that) are at 8 GHz and can run up to 2133 MHz. And they’re not $300, which is a pretty nice change from the other items on our wish-list.

Since the motherboards I’ve recommended in this article come equipped with four DDR3 dual channel slots, up to 16GB of memory is possible.

Power Supply / Drives

Now that the brains of the gaming PC have been chosen and added to the wish-list, the next step is to pick the other internal organs that complete the base computing components.

5. Corsair 750W Power Supply ($90)

This is the component that will give your future Frankenstein PC life, so don’t be stingy on the wattage or the price when adding this one to the list. This 750W beauty by Corsair linked above is an acceptable option for giving juice to the overpowered components, but if you’re feeling the need to go overboard the 950W option goes for just $150. That’s almost a thousand watts of gaming power!

6. Hard Disk Drive ($119-$249)

Right now, hard drives are not that cheap. So for the sake of the wish-list as a whole, a 500 GB drive at 7200 RPM is a good starter at a slightly reasonable price of $119. Western Digital still seem to be the king of the hill in terms of reliability and operating speeds, so any one of their Caviar Black, Blue, or Green products would be sufficient for one’s wish-list.

7. LG DVD/Blu Ray Drive ($65)

This is no-brainer for computer components: If you buy a PC game, most likely you will have to insert a disk of some sort to install/play it (unless one has jumped onto the digital download bandwagon). So when building your new PC, it wouldn’t hurt to add the Blu Ray reader/burner drive option to the holiday list just in case that whole digital streaming revolution doesn’t pan out.

Peripherals / Externals

Now that the internals have been selected, it is time to add the external inputs to the list as well. These recommendations are a bit fuzzier than the others, mainly because the price of these components will depend on how much your Secret Santa feels like spending on you (case in point, an optical mouse can be as cheap as $7 and a keyboard as inexpensive as $5).

This looks 'shopped. I can tell by the pixels

8. A Good LCD Monitor or Two ($190 each)

For a couple hundred bucks each, one can get their monitoring set up quite nicely. The LCD monitor shown in the picture above is a standard 23″ monitor with a 1920 x 1080 screen resolution and DVI/HDMI ports. Just don’t stare too long at it, you may hurt your eyes.

9. Gaming Keyboard ($9-$199), 10. Optical Mouse ($12-$69), 11. Audio Speakers ($20-$49)

In reality, these are going to be based on your personal preferences. Once again, for the sake of the list I would recommend going cheap on these so that money can be spent on the more crucial components, but if you’re curious as to what might be “cool” and “extreme” for your PC, here are some options.

For a keyboard, the $110 AZIO Levetron Mech4 seems to be right up the alley of gamers with its mechanical keys, modular design, and anti-ghost technology. For a mouse, try out the $69 Corsair Vengence M60, designed with a special “sniper” button and FPS gaming in mind. And finally, for a simple audio speaker bundle try out the $45 Creative Inspire T3130 speakers with 2.1 watts of acoustic harmony.

12. Computer Case ($40-$300)

Keep your computer from running around naked. Buy a tower for it.

Finally, let’s pick a computer case to drop all these gifts into. Again, this choice is entirely based on preference. Pick a case that suits your personal likes and dislikes (preferably medium to large to fit all these beastly components) and add it to your wish-list. The Antec Nine Hundred mid-size case for $99 is not a bad choice in terms of space and affordability.

Grand Total

So now, here’s the brilliance of this combinational theory. Since your family and friends will be buying your components individually, they can expect to spend around $100 to $400 for just one gift. But once all the computer gifts come together, you end up with a single PC gaming work horse at a total cost of about (let’s see here…carry the one, subtract the two, divide by the sales tax): $1500 to $2400. So just think, the bigger your family is, the more they can spread this cost over all your gifts!

One other thing to note is the factor of un-gifted gifts. It is a known fact that during the holidays, we don’t always get what we want. But the beauty of the theory is that even though you may get only 7 out of the 12 computer component items I mentioned, those 7 are still bundled to a common goal and value, so you still feel like you accomplished something with your wish-list. Let’s see Aunt Edna’s knitted socks gift do that.

So PC gamers, if you’re in the market for a serious new platform this holiday season, be sure to put my theory to work. What could possibly go wrong?*

*Actual results may vary, things might actually go wrong.

Sparkfun’s Free Day: A Giveaway Meets a Server Stress Test

Two hours – that is all it took for $150,000 to be given away on the internet.  Now for most of us, it seems very foolish to let $150,000 just be burned off like the fuse on a stick of dynamite.  But for the electronics prototyping distributor Sparkfun, it was a calculated, well-planned charity.

This massive event is known as Sparkfun Free Day, a day unto which the distributor from Boulder, CO decides to give away rewards to its customers in order to show appreciation and support.  For each person that logged in or created an account, they got the opportunity to spend up to $100 of in-store credit on anything in Sparkfun’s store by answering technical trivia while they were shopping.  Furthermore, they donated up to $30,000 to local charities while the event was happening.

In 2010, the number of participants completely disabled Sparkfun’s servers and had the goal of $100,000 in freebies get consumed in just 1 hour and 44 minutes.  This year, the results were no less different.

From its opening at 10am CST on January 13th, some of my colleagues and I attempted to get in to get our share of free Bluetooth modules, calipers, and accelerometers.  This is how far we made it: the option to take the quiz or take a loyalty benefit (based on how many years you have been a Sparkfun customer).

But unfortunately for us, any attempts to get further than this caused a boatload of problems.  Like this:

And this:

And most often, this:

So what happened to our browser refreshed attempts to gain freebies?  Well, you can thank the sheer number of participants for these images.  What Sparkfun basically did to themselves for two hours is an unintentional DoS; a Denial of Service on their own servers.  So not only did Free Day benefit their consumer base, it also tested their servers to the utter limits.  Now that’s what I call a very expensive (but quite clever) test.  

Here is a full recap of the stats from Free Day 2011, and it is pretty interesting to see the results.  Regardless of how everyone fared during those tumultuous two hours, one has to give Sparkfun a ton of credit.  And like all contests, there’s always the hope of next year.