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2013 Tech Goals

When you work in a technical field like I do, it’s easy to lose sight of why you got into it in the first place, because you love technology! It’s been a while since I explored technology purely for my amusement and enjoyment. I’m going to try to change that this year, here’s a few of my Technology Goals for 2013.

  • Learn to Code.
  • Do some hardware hacking.
    • Build at least one project using an Arduino starter kit.
    • Pick up a Raspberry Pi to play with.
  • Personal Computer projects.
    • Build a home NAS using PC hardware that I have lying around.
    • Build a Media Center PC with some more hardware that I have lying around.
    • Get rid of the rest of the crap hardware that I have lying around.

My day job doesn’t give me much room to play around with tech as much as I’d like. If I can accomplish a few of the above goals in my personal time, maybe I’ll find a new spark of geek creativity to follow for a while.

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My Cynical Take on Facebook’s IPO and the State of Social Media

Česky: Logo Facebooku English: Facebook logo E...

Facebook launched it’s Initial Public Offering today, making it’s stock available for purchase on the open stock market. According to a CBS News article, the IPO could raise as much as $18.4 billion and puts the value of the company at $104 billion making it the 36th largets company in the world and 23rd in the U.S.

First, let me be clear that I am in no way a finance or economics expert. The extent of my participation in the stock market is the paltry percentage of my paycheck that I put into my 401k. But I do have a decent understanding of technology, technology companies and technology users.

The numbers above are impressive, 23rd in the U.S. is pretty big! But in sales, Facebook only ranks 909th. Doesn’t quite add up, does it? Most of Facebook’s income is from advertising that’s targeted directly at you based on the information that you willingly give them. Users are willing to put up with the ads so that they don’t have to pay for the service, like broadcast television. In order to make good on income promises to it’s new stockholders, they’re going to have to grow their income at a pretty fair clip and I see a few options for them to accomplish that task.

The first option is to increase ad revenue. They could do that by making ads more frequent, more targeted or more obnoxious, all of which would be more annoying. The other option is to institute paid subscription services where you’d have to pay to use the site at all or pay for premium features. Neither option is very attractive to users and either could result in a backlash of users leaving the service. But they wouldn’t do that, would they? I would!

Although many people have come to rely on Facebook as a way to communicate and keep up with their friends and families, it’s not the only option. Plenty of free competitors exist, services like Google+ and Twitter may not have all of the features or polish of Facebook, but they’re free. Google+ has struggled to find it’s user base, but users would show up in droves if Facebook starts charging for service! Compared to Facebook, I love Google+ but don’t use it often in favor of Facebook and Twitter.

Looking beyond Google+, Twitter and even Tumblr and Pinterest, there’s some pretty cool stuff in the works that could offer some alternatives. Projects like Diaspora may give us social networking that’s not controlled by any company or single entity but rather takes advantage of the Internet’s decentralized nature. Best of all, Diaspora is built with privacy as a high priority, how refreshing.

As I said, I’m not an economist or even a business expert but I think I’m a pretty smart guy and I believe that Mark Zuckerberg is too. He either has a great plan to take Facebook up a few notches or he’s planning on cashing out and running in the near future. My cynical nature tells me that it’s the latter. I believe that he realizes Facebook is at or close to it’s peak. It’s a great time to build a fortune based on an IPO and then “Take the money and run”.

Killer Static

It’s relatively easy to upgrade your computer by installing more memory, a new video card or even a new network card, but if these components can also be easily damaged and you may not even know it. You can obviously damage components by installing them improperly or by physically damaging them, but a more common cause of damage is called Electro Static Discharge or ESD.

We naturally build up static electrical charges on our bodies in many ways. Walking across a rug, folding laundry or even having dry air blow past us can impart a charge on your skin. Discharging the static charge can sometimes cause a spark and you may even feel a small pinching zap. This discharge can also damage the sensitive chips inside of a computer.

To produce a visible spark, a charge has to be between 4 and 30 kilovolts depending on the atmospheric conditions. That’s 4,000-30,000 volts. It only takes 10 (that’s ten) volts to damage an integrated circuit like those found on a stick of RAM. So you can damage a component and not even know it. RAM is particularly sensitive to ESD damage.

Physical damage is usually obvious, a broken pin, cracked board or something similar is easy to spot. There’s generally no external indication that a component has suffered damage from ESD. To make matters worse, failures caused by ESD aren’t always obvious. A bad stick of RAM may work fine until you run enough programs to hit the damaged chips.

ESD damage can’t be fixed apart from replacing the damaged components, but it can be prevented by following a few basic procedures.

  • Store components in the static preventing packaging that they come in. Those shiny gray or pink bags are made specifically to keep ESD away from the component.
  • Use an anti-static strap if you have one. They’re cheap and readily available. Here’s one on Amazon: Anti-Static Wrist Band
  • If you don’t have an anti-static strap, ground yourself by grasping the metal case of your computer. This can help to discharge any built up static on your body. The charge will harmlessly discharge into the case and not damage any components.
  • Work on a static free surface such as a rubber mat and avoid carpet if you can.
  • If you can’t work on a static free surface, avoid shuffling your feet or wiggling in your chair.

If you think that you may have popped the RAM that you just installed in your computer, download something like the Ultimate Boot CD and use it to run MemTest. This will quickly tell you if you have a bad stick.

ESD can be fun when you shuffle your feet on the rug and zap your little brother on the back of the ear, but it’s not so much fun when you pop that new 4GB RAM stick!

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