Category: Technology (page 1 of 18)

Lego Love

I love Lego. When I was a kid it was my way to escape. I had loads of sets but I loved to make my own builds and stories. One recurring theme was space, building moon bases and fantastic rockets to take me there. Oh to go back to those times.

Another love was space, especially the Apollo missions, so when Lego announced a set would be launched to commemorate the moon landings I had to buy it. The Lego Apollo Saturn V is expensive at £110 but is a metre tall and contains 1969 parts. This would take a fair bit of time to build.

So I set aside a weekend and got to work. Of course, I did a time-lapse that didn’t quite come out as hoped but that was a side project to the main event.

Some of the build was intricate but overall it was fantastic to put together. The instructions were clear and the parts came in 12 bags so was fairly easy to sort and work through. Overall it’s a superb kit and the final rocket looks great. It was also nice to get a small stand for the rocket to give you a choice of how you want to display it. If you are into Lego or space in any way treat yourself to this set, I loved it.

Who goes first?

A few weeks ago the New York Times asked the question Which Tech Giant Would You Drop? Did you take the test? If you haven’t then give it a go, it only takes a minute. For me it was pretty straightforward. I would drop in the following order:

Facebook
Microsoft
Alphabet
Amazon
Apple

Since then both Microsoft and Google have had major events, Amazon have released new Echo devices and WWDC is only around the corner. I’ve also been thinking more about what I’d lose if each service was shutdown. These tech giants own so many products. Take a look at what would go if each one shutdown.

Facebook

Microsoft

Amazon

Alphabet

Apple

Instead of choosing between five companies you are choosing between dozens of products. Does it change your drop order? For me it does.

Facebook would still go first. I’ve been a bit harsh and missed out a couple of important products like Facebook Messenger, but Facebook would go despite my love of Instagram. Either people would flock to Flickr (ok, that won’t happen) or Google Photo’s would evolve to take Instagram’s place. Oculus isn’t doing anything that HTC’s Vive couldn’t and you’ve got Signal to take over from WhatsApp.

Originally I had Microsoft in fourth and Alphabet in third but it’s now a choice between Microsoft and Amazon. When putting the graphics together I was going to swap Amazon into fourth but one thing stopped me – AWS. How many app’s and services would disappear because AWS is no longer around? Azure competes really well but when I look at the Microsoft services I can swap them out for alternatives. PSN for Xbox, AWS for Azure, macOS for Windows and who needs LinkedIn or Bing? So Microsoft stays in fourth and Amazon moves to third despite the lure of Prime.

That leaves Alphabet and Apple. For me it breaks down to Apple for the hardware and O/S I use all the time, and Alphabet for the services I use all the time. For years I’ve preferred Apple’s hardware for it’s design and reliability but there’s no doubt that the shine has lessened in recent years.

I use Google services every day. Google Search is still my goto, Google Doc’s drive’s the podcast and has never let us down in six years of usage and YouTube really has no equivalent. However services are only as good as the hardware they run from and for me Apple still wins out in that front. Just. The speed of the iPhone is hard to beat and while the rest of my hardware is getting long in the tooth it’s reliable and I trust when I upgrade devices over the next couple of years I’ll get a great hardware boost.

Whats also helped has been Google (and others) making sure that they are available on all platforms, not just their own, so that all users can benefit and also so they can get access to as many eyes as they can. Compared to a few years ago it’s really a great time for users with the best choice of hardware and services.

So, who would you drop first? More importantly who would you keep until last?

Digital Detox

It’s the end of the year and so the perfect….ah fuck it.

So Long Evernote

I’ve been an Evernote user for many many years and despite looking at alternatives nothing struck me as good in comparison. That’s despite the product starting to get worse, not better, in recent times. The chat/commenting service was of no interest, the related searches were of no use and I found the overall tool getting slower with time.

I stuck by Evernote as I was a premium user and I had so much invested in the platform. I was used to how it worked and a lot of my content over the last few years was almost trapped within it. Exporting from Evernote was poor and basically in a proprietary Evernote format.

This year though a couple of things changed. Firstly Evernote tweaked there prices so I’d be paying more going forward. Secondly, Apple Notes improved and also offered a way to import Evernote content as did Microsofts Onenote. There also seemed to be a lot of grumbles in the many podcasts I listen to about what Evernote had become and how viable was it’s future.

So a few weeks ago I migrated a chunk of content from Evernote to Onenote and Apple Notes and gave each platform a try. Both sync services worked well and I’ve had no issues with searching. In fact both have been speedy in comparison to Evernote, all with much the same accuracy. One Evernote feature I did miss was saving a webpage into Evernote. This was a one click action that saved a great representation of the page forever in Evernote. Neither rival service offers this so I rely on Safari’s ‘Export as PDF’ on both Mac and iOS to save out a PDF which I can then store in Onenote and Notes.

After trying the two tools I’ve plumped for Apple Notes. The Onenote front end is pretty clunky and I preferred the simplicity in Apple Notes. So I’ve moved all my notes and stored content to Apple Notes and it’s fully synched across all my devices. I’ve also deleted everything from Evernote and shutdown the account. So long Evernote.

So I save a little bit of cash and I’ve got a slightly faster but simpler notes service and one which I’ve got more confidence in over the next few years. Next on the list is photo services. Flickr has been my goto online photo service for years but like Evernote, I’ve no confidence in it going forward. So I’ll be looking at 500px, Google, Apple and Adobe’s services and maybe Smugmug. I’ve got a day emotional tie with Flickr and so much content there…this will be a difficult one.

Blu-ray Ripping

I still buy Blu-rays as it’s the best quality you can get today, especially compared with streaming services that always over compress. I also like to own my media and not rely on Netflix or Amazon keeping a film available on their service. One thing that still irritates though are the forced adverts, crappy menu’s and general slowness when booting up a Blu-ray film. Ripping a Blu-ray is fairly straightforward now but a little more awkward on Mac’s as Apple has never shipped a Mac with a Blu-ray drive. So a few weeks ago I picked up a CD/DVD/Blu-ray drive that works over USB so I can rip my disks.

There are a number of different guides online on how to rip Blu-rays on the Mac but the one I recommend is from Jason Snell – How I rip DVDs and Blu-rays. The software I use is:

Snell’s guide shows how to setup Handbrake to use MakeMKV to read Blu-ray’s but I prefer a two step process. I firstly extract the Blu-ray to the Mac’s hard drive via MakeMKV and then within Handbrake I convert to a more suitable format for storing longterm on the NAS.

Currently I store as MKV’s and use the H.264 video codec. You can see the other settings I choose in Handbrake below. I’ve found keeping framerate constant delivers better results, Quality I set to RF 18, Tune to film, Profile to high and Level to 4.1. I also set the Preset to veryslow which means the conversion process takes longer but you get slightly smaller file sizes.

HandBrake video

HandBrake audio

Handbrake picture

For audio I select Auto Passthru rather than encoding as something different and in the Picture settings I turn off any cropping settings and set Anamorphic to none. Handbrake will take some time to encode a film so I generally run a couple of encodes overnight as a batch or while I’m at work and it’s generally the only time my iMac fans kick in as Handbrake will use all the CPU available.

Plex

What I’m left with is a great quality MKV that I watch via Plex. Inspired by a recent tweet my Marvel movies have never looked better. Over the next few weeks I’ll look at H.265 to see if it offers a better long term storage format but for now if you want to watch your Blu-ray without the hassle of piracy warnings, menu’s and forced trailers I’d recommend MakeMKV, Handbrake and Plex.

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