Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Daily Archives / Sunday, January 20, 2013

  • Jan 20 / 2013
  • 0

World Moves To Reduce Use and Release of Mercury

“Governments have agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020.”

see Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations – UNEP.

This has repercussions for some technology I use:

  • mercurial thermometers, but that’s OK because I prefer the alcohol versions for readability with my old eyes,
  • button cells on many motherboards, which are used for their long lifespan,
  • flourescent lamps, which use a discharge through mercury vapour to generate primary ultraviolet light later converted by phosphors to the visible range,
  • my dental fillings … ,
  • thermostats and tilt-switches have long used mercury because it is liquid at temperatures above -40C, and
  • mercury fulminate for muzzle-loading firearms.

I was planning to use fluorescent lamps in my greenhouse but my present inventory may well last my lifetime…

Mercury fulminate is the traditional detonator used in percussion caps because it is cheap and reliable but it can be replaced. It was replaced in centre-fire ammunition by lead styphnate (also toxic …) and other compounds. Compared to industrial uses like wastes from coal-burning (24% of pollution) and gold mining (37% of pollution – mercury dissolves particles of gold in placer/hydraulic mining and then is boiled away by millions of miners) percussion caps are a tiny source. Perhaps the banners will ignore one of my tools of the trade of shooting/hunting. A recent draft document and a report on the mercury economy do not mention the product…

  • Jan 20 / 2013
  • 3

VIA’s Small Cheap ARMed Motherboards

My next motherboard may well be from VIA if they keep making small and cheap motherboards. This one looks like it will fit any old ATX case you have laying around or you could just glue it in somewhere and hook up a 12V PSU and be on the air. It doesn’t get much easier than this. It runs Android/Linux 4.0 out of the box.

“Earlier this year, VIA released a tiny $49 ARM-powered motherboard it called the Android PC System (APC) in an effort to ride the wave the Raspberry Pi Foundation accidentally started with its $35 Linux computer for budding young developers. Today, it’s announcing a pair of follow-ups: the APC Rock is a $79 bare motherboard, and the APC Paper is a $99 version that is identical, except it loses the VGA port and comes in a recycled cardboard case designed to look like a small hardcover book. The Rock is available now, and the Paper has a March pre-order date. The original APC will continue to be sold with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) for $49.

see VIA’s tiny Android-powered ARM motherboard gets a pair of upgrades | Ars Technica.

Do they have the raw power of my present Beast? Nope. Nor do they have the storage but they would make a nice thin client, access to gazillions of Android apps, and a cool and quiet form factor I could use anywhere like out in the workshop or in the kitchen. No doubt I could set things up to run applications on Beast or access a web application on Beast from anywhere on the LAN for only a little more than the cost of a keyboard, monitor and mouse. Heck, I could probably get this to run on my lawn mower… Best of all, there are no hefty fees involved for paying off M$ or Intel or a wireless ISP.

  • Jan 20 / 2013
  • 8

Recent Large Shifts in the Market for Technology

Probably the biggest event in the software wars was the evident dominance of Android/Linux v iOS in smart thingies. While Apple came to dominate this space with slick gadgets and promotion, Android/Linux had inevitable advantages:

  • It wasn’t from Apple so consumers got a break on the hardware being able to buy what they want in very wide price-ranges from ~$0 for subsidized prices to ~$600 for those for whom price was no matter. Apple sold to a much more narrow market. Their buyers were early adopters and had no need of a newer gadget once the old one was bought…
  • You can’t beat the price of the software and the availability of huge numbers of applications inspired by the name of Google made tiny gadgets replace significant numbers of personal computers. The slump in the Wintel PC market is the crater from nuclear tests of Android/Linux devices. The world will not put the Nuclear Age back in the bottle. Ditto the Android/Linux world.
  • You can’t beat the usefulness of the software. The FLOSS basis and the fact that the OEMs and Google were not interested in selling software licences made Android/Linux work for everyone with no one holding a monopoly and being able to mess with competition. This is great for consumers, OEMs, retailers and Google whether or not they are cognizant of the principles of Free Software.

Here is the result:

“Desktop” GNU/Linux is really moving along according to Canonical who expect 5% share of “PC”s shipped in 2013. They are having huge growth and good relations with many OEMs and retailers. It does pay to have salesmen when the opposition has a lock on OEMs, retailers and consumers… How far Canonical can ride this wave is unknown but Ubuntu GNU/Linux has a lot of the same advantages as Android/Linux if you replace smart thingies with x86 thingies and Apple with M$.

One of the interesting trends to watch is whether or not the success of Canonical’s brand will spread to other distros. I really would prefer Debian GNU/Linux rather than Ubuntu GNU/Linux on any future PC that I buy. Android/Linux is cool but native code is better in performance and I like to get maximum performance from investments. Still, I think OEMs who use Ubuntu GNU/Linux may well want to offer choice as long as the cost stays low. Ubuntu and Debian are so similar there should not be much difference in cost and Debian has better defaults for most. Canonical is not the only player in GNU/Linux with OEMs. Linpus is doing quite well in China…

Similarly, OEMs are building factories in Brazil to get past a stiff tariff barrier. GNU/Linux is selling well in Brazil.

The strange release of “8″ has prompted many game developers to produce for the GNU/Linux platform. Performance with the latest video drivers seems worthwhile to gamers. M$’s hold on global IT was shaken by Vista and “8″ seems to be an even bigger fracture because M$ is adding restrictions even as consumers are wanting lower prices and fewer restrictions. GNU/Linux can step right in and replace most IT within a few years if this shift generates positive feedback. That’s what happened with Android/Linux and there’s no reason to believe GNU/Linux will not enjoy the warmth.

Virtualization has taken over the world of servers and even a fair share of clients. The movement to cloud services is closely connected with everything. One can use tiny thin clients if some hulking server on the web is doing the work. No one wants to be mobile with a hair-drying PC. No one needs heat and noise in the work-place. No one needs a huge box when a small one or even embedded clients will do quite well. To watch young people browsing, navigating, communicating and scheduling their hectic lives using a pocket-PC is just amazing to me, an old man who gets out of breath just on a small grade.

The last big shift I see counting is the youth, the future of IT. A decade ago when Wintel PCs were the main choice available, folks thought 5 year old children could think of hunting and pecking on a keyboard and clicking on “large” icons. Today with smart thingies appearing everywhere like table-cloths, children as young as 3 can do more faster. The teenagers are simply scary. Small cheap portable computers are soon to be implanted in their brains to increase the bandwidth… A young person today sees no limits in IT. They can have an idea, post it and see a million hits in 24h. There’s no dependence on M$, Intel, Wintel, “big/hot/noisy” or anything at all that doesn’t work for them. Today, ~15% of all users of personal computers don’t even need/want/have a Wintel PC. Instead they have some smart thingy, either running Android/Linux or iOS and this wedge into the heart of Wintel is sharp and moving quickly. Every year, the world creates ~100 million teenagers who have no need of Wintel and at least 10million who may never use Wintel again. It’s a brave new world, moving too fast for old dogs like me and M$. I am retired. I can just hire a teenager if I need one. M$ cannot buy all the consumers it will need to remain relevant.