The Raspberry Pi

You may have heard of the Raspberry Pi, a series of mini computers the size of a credit card. They are built on a single circuit board, and provide the same basic functionality of a normal sized computer at a fraction of the size and cost! Speaking of cost, this is one of the defining features of the Raspberry Pi – the latest model (the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B) only costs $35 US. Computer parts have become cheap nowadays but you would be hard pressed to build a working computer with the functionality of the Raspberry Pi for $35 US! The staggeringly low cost comes out of the philosophy behind the Raspberry Pi’s inception, which was to advance the cause of education (for both adults and children) in particular relating to computing. And the fact that the Raspberry Pi is made by a charity foundation!

The Raspberry Pi can do pretty much everything a computer can do. It can browse the web, output high definition video and audio, word processing and spreadsheet creation, programming, and even playing games. It features many of the standard outputs such as USB, HDMI, ethernet, 3.5mm audio and composite video jack, Micro SD, CSI (camera interface), and DSI (display interface). These mean you can theoretically interact with any device which can connect through these inputs, including TVs and monitors, audio devices, cameras, video players… the list goes on.

The Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, which was released in February 2015 to replace the previous Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+, features all of its predecessor’s specifications and improves on processing power and RAM. The Raspberry Pi 2 Model B is equipped with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU. With this CPU, the latest Raspberry Pi can run the entire range of ARM GNU/Linux distributions as well as Microsoft Windows 10. Microsoft has worked closely with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to bring Windows 10 to the Raspberry Pi, and the latest Microsoft operating system will be free of charge to makers.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the Raspberry Pi is its versatility. It has been used in countless applications by amateurs and professionals alike, from music to robotics, programming and art. Because the Pi is open-source, it is free for everyone from kids to artists to develop and modify for their own needs. Musicians for example have developed synthesizers on the Raspberry Pi, which they use to create and play electronic music. Going back to the Pi’s educational roots, there is a school project (currently in the trial phase) which challenges students to create a weather station using the Raspberry Pi which is able to record, interpret and analyse weather.

How to Use Windows Task Manager: Part 1

Windows Task Manager is a great tool you can use to perform a variety of troubleshooting and maintenance tasks on your computer. It might look a little overwhelming at first, but once you understand the basics you will be surprised to discover how easy and powerful it can be. Closing unresponsive programs, checking the usage of your system resources, looking at your background processes to see if you can find that pesky ad-ware…. all this is available by pressing three little buttons at the same time: Ctrl, Alt and Delete!

Let’s look at how to access Task Manager first. As mentioned above, the easiest and most common way is by pressing the Ctrl, Alt and Delete keys on your keyboard at the same time. This brings up the following screen (might have slightly different options depending on which version and setup of Windows you are using):

 

Select the lowermost option “Start Task Manager” and you’ll get your Windows desktop back with Task Manager open as your active window. Another easy way to access Task Manager is to right click your mouse on the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen, and select “Start Task Manager” from the drop-down menu.

Now let’s see what we can do. If you haven’t used Task Manager much, it will default to the list of software or applications that are currently running. These are active applications that you have manually run by double clicking a desktop shortcut or clicking on a Start Menu or Taskbar shortcut. An important thing to note here is that these are completely separate from background processes (which we will cover next). If you close or exit an application it will not appear on this list. This list also shows you the status of running applications. If an application is running smoothly it will display “Running” under the “Status” column to the right of the application (“Task”) column. If it’s crashed and unresponsive, it will display “Not responding” instead. You can use the “End Task” button to the bottom right to end an application if it is not responsive, “Switch To” to make an application active (ie. to the front of your view), or “New Task” to run an application manually.

If you click on the “Processes” tab to the right of “Applications”, you will see the list of background processes that are running in Windows. These include those processes tied to running applications, processes that run silently in the background tied to hidden applications, and system processes which Windows needs to run. Now most background processes are either harmless or necessary, but occasionally you will have a virus and need to close the associated process. In this case you should look for weird process names – such as those that appear to be randomly generated – and process names obviously tied to ad-ware such as “My Shopping Net”.

We will cover more things you can do with Windows Task Manager in Part 2!

 

How to Use Windows Task Manager: Part 2

Last week we looked at using the Applications and Processes tabs to perform basic troubleshooting in Windows. With the Applications tab you can see your running programs and close them manually if you need to, and same for the Processes tab. Today we will look a bit closer at the information available in the Processes tab, and then move on to the rest of the functions of Task Manager.

In your list of running processes there are two important pieces of information you can glean from here: CPU usage and memory usage. CPU usage is displayed as a percentage of your CPU’s processing capacity, and is a good indicator of how much of your computer’s processing power a particular process is consuming. If it’s consuming 99% you won’t be able to do much at all on your computer! Memory usage is displayed in Kilobytes, and reflects how much of your computer’s memory or RAM (random access memory) a process is using. If you look at the bottom you will a figure for CPU Usage and Physical Memory, and these show you the total amount of CPU and memory all of your processes combined are currently using.

Next we have the Services tab. This tab gives you a list of the services you have installed, and tells you whether they are currently running or stopped. It also provides you with a brief description as well as access to the Services management window, which gives advanced users more detail as to how your Windows services are configured and options to change their configuration. Most users will not need to look at this tab often.

The Performance tab gives you a more detailed breakdown of your system’s resources, in particular your CPU and RAM usage. Here you can see a graphical representation of resource usage, which can be a lot easier to understand than a list of random processes. There is also some advanced information here such as a breakdown of RAM usage into Total, Cached, Available and Free, as well as Kernel Memory and Threads and Handles statistics. Don’t worry about these if you’re a basic user, you will probably never have any use for them! You can also access the Resource Monitor, which gives you even more information of resource usage. The Resource Monitor allows you to look at CPU, RAM, disk, and networking resource usage, what processes are using how much, and more.

The Networking tab displays a graph of data transfer for all the network connections available to your computer. Generally this will only be one, sometimes two for some configurations. Finally, the Users tab provides a list of all currently logged in users, as well as the option of Logoff.

Introducing the Microsoft HoloLens

The hottest new thing on the tech scene right now is the Microsoft HoloLens. Microsoft clearly wants you to have both eyes on the future, and what a cool future it is. If you’re a fan of sci-fi movies, chances are you’ve seen those awesome scenes where people are interacting with holographic 3D projections in front of them, grabbing portions of it and moving it somewhere else with a gesture of their hands. This future is here today, or at least in the very near future, perhaps 5 to 10 years from now. Microsoft technical demos have featured this level of unbelievable futuristic interactivity, with users able to grab a video with their hand and move it somewhere else, or play Minecraft on a table in front of them.

Augmented reality applications have been around for a few years now, and up until the HoloLens (and perhaps Google Glasses) they have been quite limited. Little smartphone apps that virtually add objects onto whatever the smartphone camera sees is pretty much the extent of the possibilities of augmented reality thus far. The HoloLens has definitely changed the game entirely, and taken AR to the next level. The HoloLens actually generates 3D holographic objects and projects them into your actual surroundings, and allows you to interact with them. For example, one of the recent tech demos featured a world globe sitting in the middle of the room, and the user was able to walk around and rotate it. The globe was incorporated into the user’s actual surroundings, so to the user it appeared as if there was a real, physical object in the middle of the room. As he walked around it, his view of the object would change accordingly, just as if he was walking around an actual globe. There was also a dog hanging around and interacting with the user, as well as a video playing on the wall which the user could take with him as he walked. The user could interact with 3D objects with hand gestures, as well as through voice recognition.

The HoloLens itself is lightweight and easily customisable to fit many different head shapes and sizes. The headband goes around your head, and the tightness can be adjusted with a little knob on the back of the HoloLens. The headband and the actual glasses or visor can also be adjusted independently of each other, meaning you’re not restricted to the factory fit. A plus point for all you glasses-wearing tech nerds out there: the visor does not actually rest on your nose like glasses do. People wearing glasses have reported no discomfort while wearing the HoloLens.

Microsoft is definitely onto something here. We’ll be closely following this futuristic piece of technology as it is developed, and hopefully we’ll have some exciting new features released very soon!

Ad-block Plus Wins Again in Court

Pop-up ads in today’s internet age are as ubiquitous as sweaty armpits on a summer’s day. Most people spend a good portion of their day browsing the internet, whether it be for work purposes, study or purely for recreation (sometimes while at work!). Pop-up ads are notorious for popping up when least expected during pretty much any browsing activity on the internet. This includes some phenomenally popular and widespread online time killers such as Google, YouTube and Facebook. Click on the wrong thing on your screen, even by accident, and you may have an ad pop up in your face flashing pretty colours and evil subliminal messages of marketing tripe at you. Click on the wrong button which is supposed to close the pop-up and you end up with yet another pop-up! This pop-up hell is affectionately referred to as the Infinite Cycle of Pop-ups, and is unfortunately a very common trap to fall into for the average (and even the seasoned) internet user.

Enter the good guys: your friendly neighbourhood army of pop-up blockers! Generally coming in the form of browser extensions or add-ins, ad blockers can help the frustrated user manage the complex maze of pop-up internet mayhem. They perform this noble deed by preventing ads from popping up before they even happen. They don’t need much user intervention and just happily sit in the background protecting you from annoying ads (much like antivirus software).

AdBlock Plus is one of the more well established and widely used pop-up blockers out today, and you will be happy to discover that they have managed to win another court case brought against them trying to shut them down. Two broadcasters based in Germany, RTL and ProSiebenSat.1, brought legal proceedings against Eyeo – the company behind AdBlock Plus – arguing that AdBlock Plus was anti-competitive and worked against their ability to offer free content. This is the fourth time Eyeo have had to defend themselves in court against similar proceedings brought against them. The Munich court ruled in favour of Eyeo, saying that AdBlock Plus was not widespread enough in terms of usage to represent a dominant position in the market and to justify an antitrust case. Eyeo states that the AdBlock Plus browser plug-in for the PC has been downloaded roughly 400 million times, and that there is also an Android app which performs a similar function and has been downloaded around 220,000 times.

There are of course plenty of alternatives to AdBlock Plus out there in the market, however the fact that Eyeo have been able to successfully defend themselves against antitrust cases thus far is encouraging for the ever changing internet landscape. Hopefully the Munich decision will help establish a global precedent which will lead to favourable outcomes for users and consumers!