Monday, September 16, 2013

Gigastrand OS: Want a Better PC?

Want a better PC? Get better software!

We are in the process of creating several videos that you will see over the next few weeks. Some are promotional, some are for a specific purpose, but all are about the Gigastrand OS.

We are back in part-time development of the Gigastrand OS and will be starting an Indegogo project to raise the money to complete the development.

We will post the videos here as they are completed. So, stay tuned.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

PC or PoC: XBMC Media Center

This little PC is one of the cooler computers I've seen recently that doesn't run Linux. It isn't even mine!

My brother actually designed and built this system himself. It is an XBMC media Center running Windows 7. It is a mini ITX system with a large hard drive and a Blu-ray burner. The USB cable you see on top is a way for him to connect additional storage to be unit. It is controlled not with a keyboard and mouse but a wireless Xbox controller.

This system is connected to his 50 inch rear projection television and plays movies games and is his primary entertainment source as he does not have cable or satellite TV.

In XBMC, he has set up what is called pseudo-TV. This is where he has taken and digitized all of the TV episodes he has on Blu-ray and DVD and setup channels that play through just like channels on television. So at 8 o'clock on the BAB COM channel episode X of Babylon 5 airs. Starting at nine episode Y of Babylon 5 starts. So on and so forth. If you change channels to the Star Trek channel and happen to jump into the middle of an episode it will begin playing from the middle of the episode. I'm not completely sure how it works but I'm guessing it has something to do with time indexes on the video syncing up with the clock on the system.

The other neat thing he has played around with is Valve' s Steam engine. If you are unfamiliar with it this is a gaming engine designed to run across multiple platforms. It is currently supported in Ubuntu and it is one of the things that we want to get working in the Gigastrand OS.

In a way, this system is the prototype for a game box that we want to build using the Gigastrand OS. We can see with this type of system can do running Windows so it gives us a target to shoot for when designing and building a similar box with the Gigastrand OS.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Casual Fridays: Bitcoin

My experience with Bitcoin has been bittersweet. It is a fantastic idea and an idea that will someday replace currency in one form or another.

For those unfamiliar with Bitcoin it  is also called cryptocurrency. That is, rather than physical money that you can carry around, Bitcoin is made up of a cryptographic string of data that can be traded on exchanges much like stocks are traded and exchanged on the stock exchange.

Bitcoin was something that Gigastrand was wanting to get in on. After unsuccessfully searching for a domestic exchange that would fill our needs, we finally settled on Japanese exchange, MT. Gox.

Mt. Gox is the largest and oldest Bitcoin exchange. It has the most applications and is the most PayPal like of all the exchanges. It was fairly easy to get started with them however, there was a long drawn out verification process that took some time to get through. Once we made it through the verification process, we were in business.

It was fairly easy to set up a small store that took Bitcoin. We simply programmed buttons like you do in PayPal and cut and paste the code onto a webpage. The buttons themselves could translate from US dollars to Bitcoin or vice versa depending on which button you select. We chose to start with US dollars and have it translated into Bitcoin. The reason for that was simple: US dollars are a relatively fixed value currency. Whereas Bitcoin goes up and down in value like a share of stock in the stock market. If you try to fix your value with Bitcoin, the value of the item you purchase will change with the value of the Bitcoin.

One of the issues we had with MT. Gox was trying to get US dollars into our account. Mt. Gox, for all intents and purposes, is a Japanese bank. It required us to do an international transfer which cost us $20. Then, the money set in limbo for 4 months while we waited for the transaction to complete. They finally got in touch with us, but failed to transfer the money into our account until just about a week ago from this post.

A single Bitcoin is currently valued above $100 in US currency. As people buy and sell the value goes up and down depending on how much supply or demand there is for the Bitcoin. When Bitcoin was 1st introduced, its value was only a few dollars. With the banking crises in Europe, the value has gone way up past $250 at one point as people in those countries have bought up Bitcoin rather than their own unstable native currency. As those crises subside, Bitcoin has stabilized. However, it still fluctuates between $70 and $150 with the average being about $120.

Bitcoin has another technique called mining. Yes, you heard right, you can actually mine Bitcoin. The problem with this is that as each new Bitcoin is mined the next one is even harder to process. As a result, it requires very single-minded devices with a lot of processing power just to create the next Bitcoin. These devices cost several thousand dollars apiece. It is not something you can do on your personal computer.

There is an Android app that monitors and tracks the value of Bitcoin and I use it on my phone. I can see the value as it goes up and down and, if I wanted to, make buy or sell decisions based on that information.

For now, Gigastrand is currently not accepting Bitcoin for purchases made on our website. Part of this decision is based on the fact that our new online store does not have the capability of accepting Bitcoin. However, Gigastrand is not ruling Bitcoin completely out just yet.

As for the average person, Bitcoin is still a bit too geeky to use. However, for those willing to do a little research and a lot of learning, Bitcoin can be a fun and even money making opportunity.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PC or PoC: SysteMax Laptop

This is one of my newer acquisitions, a Tiger Direct Systemax laptop which in reality is a MSI MS-1719. It had Windows XP Home edition on it but was originally purchased by the first owner about the time Vista came out. It has a 17" screen connected to an Nvidia Geforce 8600 graphics card in it which is the same graphics card that is in my DVR at home.

It has a dual-core Pentium (also the same as my DVR) but the specs fall down where it has only 1Gb of memory and a 110 Gb hard drive. 

If this was a puppy, it would be a rescue. The laptop was apparently more than this person could handle as it has clearly been abused. Many things on the right-hand side are broken, covers are missing, and the screen case is cracked. I have repaired much of the damage but it also smells like the cross between an ashtray and a harem. The wireless card is currently not working in Linux and the PC is - well - still pretty dirty. Stuff has been spilled on it and before I got it, the user complained the keyboard didn't work all the time. I cleaned it up and it seems to work ok.

Normally, I would clean a system up like this and consider selling it. Not going to happen with this one. It has been thoroughly abused and I am even having an odd quirk with the screen after my repairs. It may be a capable laptop, but it is not - and probably never will be - in any shape to sell.

I will add more memory, maybe a bigger hard drive if I decide to turn it into a gaming/media laptop. I will have to work on the wireless issue but that should be fairly easy as it is an Intel Pro Wireless 4965. 

For now, I will work on cleaning it up and fixing the quirks. Then we will work on the upgrades.