My First Computer

My First Computer Today

I got my first computer on my 11th birthday, and I still have it today. It is a Dell Dimension 5150C with a 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. It originally had a 160GB hard drive and ran Windows XP, although it has since been upgraded to 500GB and now runs Ubuntu. Back in 2006, I thought it was the best computer ever built.

I had just arrived home from school and my friends were hanging out in my bedroom. It was a 90 minute bus journey home back then, so if my friends were coming to my house, they’d probably get there before me. Anyway, I went up to my bedroom and saw a computer on my desk. This was such a surprise that I had to go downstairs to confirm with my mum if the computer was actually mine.

I was not allowed to turn my computer on straight away, because all my friends were here. They would all want a go too, and one of them would break it. I enjoyed this birthday party. It was one of the best I’d had. I got a pet hamster from my brother, and I had a home made SpongeBob SquarePants birthday cake (my favourite cartoon back then). Still, part of me wanted everyone to piss off so I could try out my new computer.

When everyone left, I turned my computer on to try it out. I had played with computers at my school, so I already knew a few things. I could maximise and minimise windows. I quickly figured out how to change the desktop wallpaper. The two problems I had with the computer at the time were the lack of Microsoft Office and it crashing when I tried to play a DVD.

A few days after I got my computer, my mum got a internet connection installed. I didn’t realise this at the time, but having a computer is basically useless if you don’t have Internet access. Sure, I could play Pinball, and I figured out the trick to getting DVDs to work, but I didn’t have access to YouTube or the wealth of SpongeBob content available online.

After a few months of having this computer, it started having problems. Every time I opened the Internet browser, it would crash. I was using Internet Explorer 6 at the time, because I didn’t know about Mozilla Firefox. From then on, I accessed the Internet by opening Windows Explorer and typing an Internet URL in the address bar. I don’t know why, but that worked.

After lessthan two years of having my computer, it had more problems. The anti-virus software that came preinstalled on the computer somehow disabled internet connectivity. It was asking for some password, and the password reset question was “What was the make of your first car?” I didn’t know how to fix the problem back then, so I had to live without internet access until we had the money for a new computer.

A few months after I got a new laptop, one of the people I subscribe to on YouTube posted a video about how to fix different computer problems that can cause a blue screen of death. One of the tricks he mentioned included a way to disable all the third party startup applications. I tried that trick on my old Dell and it worked.

As I said, I still have this computer today. It is currently being used as a server for some of my movies and TV shows. With only 1GB of RAM and the outdated CPU, I don’t think it could easily be used as someone’s primary computer. However, when I want to watch South Park on my Mac without being tethered to an external hard drive, the old Dell is a great machine for fulfilling its purpose.

Saturday 14th September 2013 - 2 comments

Broken Education

My school recently visited a university to learn about the student life. We were told about how student loans would work, as well as how we would apply. We were then taken on a tour around the campus, and we were taken to a show flat in the halls of residence.

When I was at the university, they mentioned that a lot of the good universities won’t give a student a place if they don’t have good A-Level grades. This got me thinking. I don’t think I’m an idiot, but I don’t think I did too well on my AS exams. I probably did alright overall, but at the same time, I’m not expecting anything higher than a B and two C’s when I get my results.

When I chose the AS courses I wanted to take, I didn’t have time to put much thought into my choices. I ended up choosing math mechanics, physics, and music. I didn’t know what would be taught in the different classes, and as it turns out, I didn’t make the best choices.

In London, I spent several years in special education, and then I went to an international school, where students were taught International Baccalaureate courses. I found the IB too demanding, as I was expected to learn a foreign language. I ended up leaving London and taking A-Level courses. Because of my educational background, I never had the chance to get any GCSEs, and that caused a bit of confusion.

I find it very hard to learn a subject if it is boring, and if it is taught at a fast pace. I also have a lot of trouble understanding something I am told if it is abstract, or if it doesn’t have any real life examples I can appreciate. To some extent, if something can’t excite a child, it can’t excite me. A lot of my AS classes have those problems, and they are probably the main cause of my low grades.

University costs a lot of money. The courses cost £9,000/year, and that’s not including textbooks and supplies for the course you take. When someone goes to university, they have to get a loan from the government, and after their course, they have to pay off that loan over the next 30 years.

I think the system for student applications needs to improve. A personal statement can’t be any longer than 4,000 characters, and I read somewhere that UCAS doesn’t even read all the applications they receive. It seems like most universities are looking for great students, but they can’t really be bothered to read anything more than approximately how well you did on a few tests.

Student ambassadors told us that attending university was meant to be a fun and overall positive experience. This reminds me of when I was at the international school. My class were introduced to Theory of Knowledge, a subject that all IB Diploma students are required to take. The teacher said TOK was a fun subject, where the class would have interesting debates. Two weeks later, they had us writing essays.

School teaches every child in the country the same subjects for free, and after 12 years, you can choose a few subjects you want to carry on with. Don’t get me wrong – The way the world is run, everyone needs to be educated. However, at the international school, I had to sit through over a year of history and geography lessons. I want to have a career in software development, and for that, I don’t think I absolutely have to know all the political details of World Wars I and II.

I understand that not every school in the country can have teachers for every subject of interest, when only one or two students might want to take some of those subjects. To solve that problem, I think each school in an area should focus on a key interest, and let most of the other subjects be optional. I think it can be done, and I know it would make school a lot more enjoyable.

Anyway, I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll be going to university. I don’t like the way things are done, but without a degree, I’m going to have a hard time getting the job I want. Steve Jobs never graduated from university, and he lived a successful life, but he was different. He was a little bit crazy. I think his rebellious nature was the main cause of his success.

Perhaps I’ll pursue my interest in music in the future, and do anything computer related as a hobby. If I wrote a great piece of software, I would want to release it for free anyway. Perhaps I’ll work on improving the education system. I could think of some good ideas. Then again, I’ll probably have to get a university degree for that.

Saturday 15th June 2013 - 3 comments

Marriage Equality

Same Sex Marriage

 

Image by Mike Licht; NotionsCapital.com

I am surprised to be writing a blog post about the issue of same sex marriage. I’m surprised this debate even exists, especially today. This blog post probably won’t change anything. Even if my website was as famous as YouTube or Facebook, I don’t think anyone against same sex marriage would take this blog post seriously. However, if nothing else, I will be able to share my thoughts.

I don’t understand the homosexual mind. Although I don’t care about what others do behind closed doors, I can see why so many religions are against it. However, some people simply prefer a different way of doing things. Nobody has to like homosexuality or even have homosexual friends. Homosexuality doesn’t affect anyone in a negative way, and people against it need to do nothing but ignore it.

One argument against homosexuality is that it isn’t natural. However, hundreds of animals have been known to engage in homosexual activity. The only thing stopping people from engaging in homosexual activity is the discrimination against it. Besides, I don’t think it is correct to judge the morality of something based on whether it is natural.

Another argument against homosexuality is that every child deserves a mother and a father. Like the last argument, this one is also invalid. Many children are raised by single parents, or by an orphanage. This has nothing to do with homosexual marriage. Besides, if I was an orphan during early childhood, I think I would be quite happy with two fathers.

I’m sure there are plenty more arguments against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. However, the truth is that if same-sex marriage is legalised, nothing bad will happen. Nothing at all. If I am wrong, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday 17th April 2013 - Leave a comment

New School

I couple of months ago, I left London and started attending a new school up north. I am overall quite happy with my new school. However, it isn’t all perfect, and I have been wanting to write about my experiences at the new school for a while.

Enrolment Day

My first experience at the school with other students was on the enrolment day. I didn’t have a good impression of the school on that day, as all the other students seemed to know each other. That wasn’t a big problem. However, when I tried to say something to the other students, they ignored me. I enrolled for the courses I wanted to take and then I got the hell out.

First Induction Day

My second experience at the school with other students was the first induction day. That day was a lot better for me. I sat in an assembly hall full of other students, next to a student who said hello to me and introduced herself. I found that to be a very nice change from being ignored. When the assembly finished, the students were sent to their forms for class activities.

My mathematics form shared a room with the physics form for the class activities. In the beginning, the students were given pieces of paper with questions to ask the other students. The purpose of that activity was for the students to remember each other’s names. It was a bit pointless, as I forgot most of the names quite quickly.

Later on, the students in the room were split into groups to attempt to build the tallest freestanding tower out of paper and a length of sticky tape. Each tower had to be able to support an egg on the top, and the height of each tower was measured by how high it could hold the egg. That activity was also pretty pointless, but I enjoyed it and I got to know some of the other students.

Second Induction Day

On the second induction day, I had to go to a university. I didn’t know I had to go straight to the university, and I assumed all the students would be going together. I was given a map to find the university walking from the school, but like a genius, I left the map at home. However, when I went into the school, there was a teacher in there who was quite happy to take me to the university.

When I got there, I went into a lecture hall and there was a teacher in front of a PowerPoint presentation talking about when we would have to apply to go to university. I found it quite boring, and I was also quite hot, which didn’t help. When that assembly finished, the students were sent to different rooms, according to what their main subject was.

My main subject is mathematics, and I got to know some of the other math students at my school. In that time, the students went through their math summer homework. I didn’t bring in my summer homework that day, as I had no idea what the day was about. However, I could still help with solving some of the questions in the summer homework, and there were other math related activities.

Daily School Life

As I said, I am overall quite happy at my school. I understand most of what is said in class and ask my teachers about what I don’t understand. However, there is one problem I am having and it doesn’t seem like it will go away any time soon. I am finding it hard to make friends at the school, and I like having friends now more than I did at my previous school.

A lot of the students seem to ignore me. I don’t know why that is. My best guess is that the other students already have friends and don’t need any more. However, I don’t see that as a reason to ignore someone else, and I am still trying to figure out the real reason why other students ignore me.

Thankfully, I have made a couple of friends. In my physics class, someone noticed that I don’t have that many friends. She isn’t a crazy computer geek like I am, but in any case, having one friend is infinitely better than having none. My other friend at the school is another student with autism. He read one of my blog posts about autism and was interested to get to know me. I don’t know which of my posts he read, so rather than guessing, I’m just going to link them both below:

How My Mind Works Living With Autism

Tuesday 20th November 2012 - 1 comment

How My Mind Works

I recently wrote a blog post called Living With Autism. It was mostly about the schools I attended in the past. It has recieved a lot of positive comments, so I must be doing something right. However, the original purpose of that blog post was to give people an idea of what autism is. It can redefine autism for peeople who already know about it, and it can give people with autism a better way of looking at it. However, for people who haven’t heard of it, I think I could do better.

Autism affects the aspects of the human mind that involve communication. For most people, autism affects general social skills. However, it can also affect language, and some people with autism never learn to speak. Although most people know this, a lot of people don’t know what to make of that definition. This post is there to clarify this definition, and to clear up what is and isn’t true.

To begin, autism isn’t always a disability and therefore shouldn’t always be treated like one. This mistake is made a lot, particularly by schools. At my previous school, I had someone sitting next to me in some of my classes telling me what to write in my lesson notes. One of my in class assistants insisted on reading to me what was written on the whiteboard. I didn’t need that and to be honest, it drove me mad.

The next thing I want to make clear is that people with autism generally think a lot more than other people realise. No matter what everyone thinks, this is nearly always true. This means that if someone makes fun of me for what they think I don’t understand, I’m going to know. A lot of people would get offended by that stuff, but I just laugh at those people and ignore them.

Something else I want to make clear is that I am more interested in getting to know people than you think. I haven’t always been interested in having a social life, but I am now, and that is the same for many other people with autism. When I am at school, I don’t talk to other people because I find it hard to start a conversation. However, if you talk to me, I will talk to you. As I get to know you, I will come out of my metaphorical shell and seem like a normal person by the mainstream definition.

One more thing I want to make clear about myself is that I am happy to be asked about my differences. That isn’t true for everyone, but people who don’t like to be asked about autism likely look at it as a negative thing. My previous post about autism, linked in the first paragraph, should be able to help those people by giving them a different point of view, as well as knowledge of the life of someone else with autism. If someone with autism looks at it with my point of view, they will see it as a good thing in some aspects, and they should therefore be quite happy to talk about it.

So, how do you tell who has autism? Well, obviously, it is easier said than done. However, there are common aspects of autism that can make it easier for you to take a guess. The most obvious way to tell is if someone isn’t talking to other people. However, that way of making a guess on who has autism shouldn’t be used exclusively. That person could be depressed, or simply, just choosing not to talk to anyone.

Another very common aspect of autism is an avoidance of eye contact with other people. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why people with autism don’t seem to be interested in talking to others. If that same person isn’t talking to other people, that person probably has autism. However, if they are talking to others, they could just be trying to ignore you.

The most reliable aspect of autism, for guessing who has it, is a sensitivity to loud noises. Not all people with autism have this problem, and a lot of people have this problem only some of the time. In my case, I am usually able to drown it out. However, I am less able to ignore it if I am sick, stressed out, or if I have to listen to it a lot. As far as I know, not many other people have this problem.

To sum it up, autism isn’t like many other mental conditions. I think of my mind as more like a computer in certain aspects. I programmed my mind to understand English and to talk to other people. I am a bit different, but I don’t see myself as “disabled”. Because of that, if scientists found a “cure” for autism, I would stay away from it and die before trying it. On the inside, I am a lot more like a normal person by the mainstream definition, and people realise that as they get to know me.

Sunday 11th November 2012 - 8 comments

iMac G3 Retro Review

About a year ago, I got hold of an iMac G3 that was found in the street. Unfortunately, it is just the iMac, without the mouse and keyboard. However, I still have a computer from the line of computers that saved Apple in the late 1990’s.

As far as I can tell, the machine I have was originally purchased in 2000. It has an indigo back and a slot loading disc drive. It also has a 350MHz processor, 192MB RAM and a 10GB hard drive. It weighs a little bit less than 16kg, and there is a handle on the top of it, in case you want to take it to Starbucks.

When I got hold of the iMac G3, it was running Mac OS X Panther and still is, as I can’t be bothered to upgrade it. Because of that, there aren’t that many applications that will not run on that computer, and there are no modern Internet browsers available for it. It is not officially able to run Mac OS X Tiger, which makes this machine too old and complicated for regular use.

Although this computer is running very outdated software, it is excellent for the time. My favourite feature in older versions of OS X is the look and feel. There are some things I like about the look of OS X Mountain Lion, but I do miss the aqua blue scrollbars. As for the dock at the bottom of the screen, it is free of lag, even with magnification turned on, and the software works very well with the hardware.

The computer comes with Apple Works, an office suite that came with all Macs at the time before we saw iWork. Apple Works is easy to use. It is fairly simple, but it has all the features most people need in an office suite. The Apple Works suite is packaged into one application, and it is great for those who want Microsoft Office, but don’t want to fork out around £100 for it.

The iMac is able to boot into Mac OS 9.2 which may be a useful feature for some people. However, I didn’t find anything you could do in OS 9 that you can’t do in OS X. OS 9 looks like it was made in the 90’s, and that’s because it was. Apple’s transition to OS X was a smart move, as Macs today are much easier today than they were in the 90’s.

The iMac G3 is a great computer for anyone who isn’t a heavy Internet user. Right now, it is a machine for someone who doesn’t care about having the latest software or the fastest hardware. Although it isn’t good enough for the average user today, it would be fine for people who are new to computers.

Wednesday 7th November 2012 - 1 comment

Living With Autism

My name is Jack Durrant and I have high functioning autism. The mainstream definition of autism is “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people” –The National Autistic Society. However, this post is about my life, and the purpose of it is to give people a better idea of what autism really is.

When I first found out I had autism, I was essentially told the mainstream definition of it. I was about 7 or 8 and had very limited language back then, so my mum could only really tell me that I “find it hard to make friends”. Now, this is good as a basic definition of autism, as I do find it hard to talk to people I don’t know. However, as you can imagine, I wanted to find out more. I wanted to know why I found it hard to make friends, and I wanted to find out why I was getting beaten up at my school.

When I was 5, I started going to Robert Blair Primary School. The reason I started school a year later than everyone else is because my mum wanted to find a better school. Robert Blair was a terrible school. However, it was the only school with a language unit for students with communication difficulties.

I was bullied a lot at Robert Blair because I was different. To the other students, I was the freak. Not all the other students hated me, and a lot of the students were actually alright. However, there were enough bullies to make me forget about everyone else and to make me think I was a freak.

I was told, multiple times, that when another student messes with me, I should tell a teacher and they would sort it out. However, the teachers never helped me out and, as far as I can remember, the teachers never mentioned in an assembly that you shouldn’t bully someone else for being a bit different.

There are three memories I have from Robert Blair that I would like to share. If you want to know more, just ask in the comments. I have plenty more to share. My first memory is of being punched in the face in the lunch queue, right in front of a teacher. I didn’t see the student who punched me, but a teacher watched it happen and did absolutely nothing about it.

My second memory at Robert Blair is in the break time. I was hiding under a sort of climbing frame, hiding from other kids who potentially wanted to beat me up. Then, some kid walked up to me and said “Hello ugly”. Before I had time to say “I’m not ugly” and get a proper look at his face, he threw gravel in my face and ran off. I ran out, crying like a three year old.

My third memory was the work I was given. The school were treating me like I had a learning difficulty, and I eventually thought I did. I was in Year 4, and I was being asked to find words that rhyme with “cat”. This is work that is insultingly simple, even for nursery kids. When I asked my teacher for something else to do, she told me in a disrespectful manner to sit down and carry on finding words. The teachers at the school were too lazy to give me proper work and a lot of the time, they were very disrespectful to the students.

I made a few friends at Robert Blair, and most of them also had autism. However, they all left the school and went to Hillingdon Manor. I asked my mum about going there and she said that probably wouldn’t be possible, as it was in the outskirts of London. However, we took a look at the school and eventually, I started going there.

Robert Blair and the council’s education autorities didn’t want me to change schools because they didn’t want to get a bad reputation by admitting that they couldn’t meet my needs. They said I would never do very well in life and even said that I liked it at Robert Blair. However, my mum took me out of school to have an IQ test. My mum had to get all the evidence she could, to prove I needed to move on from Robert Blair until, eventually, they gave in.

When I went to Hillingdon Manor, there was a massive difference. The 90 minute bus ride it took to get to school every day was a bit of a pain. However, I fit in a lot better at that school, as everyone else was as weird as I was! Hillingdon Manor is an autistic school. They focus less on educating students according to the national curriculum and more on helping them out with their autism, and at the time, that was more important for me.

I loved going to Hillingdon Manor at first. However, eventually, it was time for me to leave. Hillingdon Manor is a great school, but for me, it wasn’t perfect any more. In the math lessons, I was being taught insultingly simple stuff that I already knew from learning it the year before. I was starting to become Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. If you haven’t watched the Big Bang Theory, end your misery now. Click the link and watch some videos.

When I left Hillingdon Manor, I went to the International Community School. This school is an International Baccalaureate school. The IB is recognised as a better education system, as it gives students a wider education. However, it didn’t work for me. The IB requires students to learn a foreign language and a humanities subject to get a diploma. I also joined the IB course in the middle of it, when I was 14. To do the IB, you really need to start from the beginning. Besides, A Levels better meet my needs anyway.

Another problem with the International Community School is that the school was not made for students with autism. A lot of schools tend to hire people who don’t know a lot about special needs. I don’t know why that is, but at some point, I had an assistant sitting next to me in class telling me to hurry up, when I am very slow at handwriting. Eventually, I told her that I found it annoying, to which she said she found it annoying that I don’t look at her. She had no right to say that, as difficulty with eye contact is a very common aspect of autism.

Because of my autism, I get extra time in exams as a right. I read and write slower than other people and need that extra time. However, when I was at the International Community School, I was told I had extra time in an exam, but I saw the next class in that room waiting outside. They weren’t annoyed, but, as anyone who doesn’t work at that school would understand, I felt very awkward. My extra time should be in a room that doesn’t have another class in it, and I should not have to feel embarrassed to use it. When I told my school that, they understood me and started properly giving me extra time almost immediately. However, the initial mistake wasn’t very clever.

The International Community School said they couldn’t send one of their school buses to my house as it was in an area without that many students, which meant I had to take the London Underground to school. I couldn’t handle that very well, as the trains were packed. The Tube in London isn’t as bad as the Tube in Tokyo, but it is still overcrowded and I eventually started taking the bus, which isn’t much better.

When I was at the International Community School, I changed loads. I went from being a confused, very emotional child in a completely new place to being the computer freak. The students at the International Community School thought I was a bit different, as I didn’t talk as much as the other students did, but I wasn’t the freak I was at Robert Blair.

Now, let’s go back to what this blog post is meant to be about – my definition of autism. It took me years to figure out what autism meant and before I had it all figured out, I looked at it in a slightly negative way, being told it was a disability. However, I know now that I am not disabled. I don’t feel disabled and I look normal like everyone else.

Some people with autism let themselves become disabled, and some don’t get the help they need and end up thinking they are disabled. However, I look at in the same way I look at homosexuality. People think it is a bit weird at first and people like Adolf Hitler don’t think they should be allowed to live. However, when it is explained properly, a good person will understand and accept that some people are a bit different.

Commenting is encouraged.

Wednesday 3rd October 2012 - 13 comments

MacBook Pro Review

My main computer is a 2009 MacBook Pro, which I received and unboxed on December 23rd 2009. Right now, it might be a little late to do a review on my MacBook, a computer that is now nearly three years old. However, I want to give new Mac users a basic idea of what OS X is like, and how a Mac can last quite a long time for most users.

My MacBook Pro came with a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB of RAM which has now been upgraded to 8 GB, and a 250 GB Hard Drive which has been upgraded to a 512 GB SSD. In other words, my Mac was a step up from the base model of the MacBook Pro. I got the step up model because a friend knew someone who worked for Apple and could get a good discount in it.

MacBook Pro

My MacBook Pro has the same design as the MacBook Pro’s you can buy today. This design is over three years old, yet it still looks good. The outer shell of the MacBook Pro is made from aluminium. That means there is almost no flex, if any. Because of the aluminium unibody, the computer also feels like a high quality machine.

My MacBook Pro originally shipped with OS X Snow Leopard, but it has had two operating system upgrades and is now running OS X Mountain Lion. One of the main reasons I bother upgrading my Mac to the next OS is because it is cheaper. The OS X Lion upgrade was around £20 and the OS X Mountain Lion upgrade was £14. In comparison, most Windows upgrades cost over £100. I hear that upgrading to Windows 8 will be cheaper, but I also hear it will still cost more than OS X upgrades.

OS X is a great desktop operating system. It has great window management, with Mission Control as a way to see all your open windows grouped by applications, all your fullscreen apps and if you want, your dashboard. Another feature I love in OS X is the App Store, which like the iPhone, allows you to use iTunes credit to purchase software instead of sharing your credit or debit card details.

Besides great features, OS X is also a lot more stable than Microsoft Windows. Saying that, most operating systems I have tried are more stable than Windows, including Ubuntu. However, most people don’t know about Ubuntu and while I think Ubuntu 12.04 is mostly ready for the average user, it doesn’t have Mission Control and the developers of Ubuntu only control the software, which means that some of the drivers for internal hardware might not work correctly.

OS X is a great operating system and if you want to find out more about it, you will have to go into an Apple store or check the Apple website. However, like all operating systems, there are some things I don’t like about OS X. Firstly, it has more applications you have to pay for than other operating systems. This is not Apple’s fault, but at the same time, Apple could provide the iWork applications out of the box, as the days of paying for office software have mostly ended due to Google Drive.

Another problem I have with OS X is how Apple add their software to their iOS devices, but completely ignore Android. Android is an iOS competitor, but Windows is also a competitor with OS X, yet Apple still make iTunes for Windows. I would like to see iTunes for Android which would allow me to purchase iTunes music and sync my phone with iTunes, and an iCloud app which would allow me to use more of iCloud than just the email part of it.

While OS X has it’s problems, it has had Boot Camp since Apple switched to Intel processors in their Macs. That means if I wanted to go back to Windows for a bit, and I didn’t mind buying it, I could have a dual boot setup. However, I think the problems with OS X are less of a pain to deal with than the problems with Microsoft Windows.

Tuesday 7th August 2012 - Leave a comment

OS X Mountain Lion Review

 

I recently upgraded my MacBook Pro to OS X Mountain Lion and I am going to go through the upgrade procedure and some of the new features, including some small changes that I actually like.

Before I start on OS X Mountain Lion, I want to make it clear that Apple released Safari 6 to OS X Lion. Certain features have been left out, but if you are planning to upgrade to Mountain Lion just to get full width tabs in Safari, and to be able to Google stuff from the URL bar, check Apple Software Update first.

Upgrading my Mac to OS X Mountain Lion went fairly smoothly. I was not able to download the upgrade straight away because Apple’s servers were too busy earlier on. This is not surprising as many Mac users have been wanting to get their hands on Mountain Lion for months.

The download of OS X Mountain Lion was quite large. It is approximately a 4GB download, which is almost double the size of an ISO image of the Windows 8 Release Preview. The download size of an Ubuntu ISO image is approximately 700MB, less than 1/5 of the OS X download. Large file sizes aside, I did not have much trouble upgrading my Mac to OS X Mountain Lion.

The image above is a screenshot of my desktop. As you can see, I have changed the wallpaper from the default wallpaper to a picture of the Milky Way Galaxy. I don’t remember seeing this wallpaper in OS X Lion, and there are a lot of other wallpapers that were just added in OS X Mountain Lion.

Apple made some very small changes to OS X. One change I like is the dock, with a new background. It is more minimal, but it still has the cool 3D look and the slight reflection of the desktop. Another small change in Mountain Lion is with the scroll bars. When you hover over them, they get wider, making it more obvious that you can scroll the old fashioned way if you wish. There are other small changes, including rubber band scrolling in grid stacks on the dock.

Apple have also renamed a couple of the applications in OS X. Address Book is now called Contacts and iCal is now called Calendar. Those changes are very small and I’m sure they could be made in any version of OS X in a user account with administrator privileges. However, it makes me wonder when System Preferences will become Settings and when iTunes is split into Music, Videos and Books.

As for bigger changes, Apple have added social network integration to several applications in OS X, with the ability to share website links on Twitter for now. Apple say Facebook will be added in a future software update. However, I do not see why it couldn’t be included now, as a lot of my friends don’t use Twitter. I would also like Google+ integration to be added in the future.

OS X Mountain Lion comes with a few improvements to iCloud, which is one of the main reasons I upgraded. In iWork, I am now able to save presentations, documents and spreadsheets to iCloud. This means that when I go to school, I can take a lot of my notes on my iPad. I will probably be able to leave my MacBook at home more, and I will be able to annoy everyone else in class with the clicky sound you get in the iOS keyboard.

Apple added a few iOS applications to OS X. OS X now has Reminders, Notes and Game Center. I do not know if I will be using Reminders and Notes on my Mac, but they are now there if I do decide to use them. As for Game Center, I am not much of a gamer and I never used Game Center on my iPod Touch or my iPad. However, there are people who use Game Center on their iOS devices and they will start using it on their Macs.

With the release of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple also released Safari 6. It has a few features that you can only get on OS X Mountain Lion, such as share sheets, iCloud tabs and a pinch gesture that allows you to preview all your open tabs. Pretty much everyone I know has switched to Google Chrome, but Apple are still trying to compete in their own way. Safari doesn’t have a screen for web apps like what is found in Google Chrome, but perhaps Apple will give OS 10.9 iOS-like web-app support, allowing users to add websites to the dock and launchpad as applications.

One of the biggest new features in OS X Mountain Lion is Notification Center. I am able to see notifications for supported apps with a quick swipe on the trackpad. As of writing this post, the applications on my Mac that support notification center include Calendar, FaceTime, Game Center, Google Chrome, MagicPrefs, Mail, Messages, Reminders, Safari and Twitter. I have figured out how to show the birthdays of my Facebook friends in the notification center by syncing calendars between Facebook and my Gmail account.

The upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion costs around $20 in the USA and around £14 in the UK. Apple will let you upgrade from the latest version of OS X Snow Leopard, 10.6.8, or from any version of OS X Lion. More information about upgrading can be found here, including whether or not your Mac can be upgraded. You can install the upgrade with an Internet connection and the first season of South Park. The download from the App Store will take a while, so make sure you have a good DVD or something to kill a bit of time.

Thursday 26th July 2012 - Leave a comment

Custom ROMs on Smartphones

I recently decided to start hacking my smartphone. I am not talking about the illegal type of hacking that everyone knows about, where someone steals people’s bank details and all their money. I am talking about simply making changes to my smartphone that will allow me to install different operating systems, or ROMs as they are generally referred to as on smartphones.

Installing, or flashing a custom ROM basically means installing an unofficial version of Andriod, such as MIUI or CyanogenMod. The good thing about flashing a custom ROM to my phone is that I can get features on my phone that are not included in the official ROM on my phone.

Flashing custom ROMs on a smartphone will generally void the warranty. This means that if you are unsure about taking risks that could potentially brick your phone if you make a mistake, it is probably not a good idea to take those risks. However, if you have a bit of experience, or if you are experimenting with an old phone you don’t care about, go ahead! You probably won’t screw up your phone anyway.

I use the MIUI ROM on my Desire S. MIUI is developed in China, in Chinese and English. It is then translated to many other languages by developers around the world. MIUI looks very different from any other Android ROM and in my opinion, it is the best looking ROM available. This ROM is very user friendly and when you start to get bored of the look and feel, you can install a fresh new theme quite easily.

If you want practically unlimited customisability with some great features added, and if do not care too much about looks, CyanogenMod is an excellent ROM to try out. It is not as pretty looking or as user friendly as MIUI, but the look and feel of it is a bit more like stock Android. This is a good thing because it will probably look right with a third party launcher that you might install. It is hard to explain it, but MIUI simply just isn’t made for third party launchers.

You may like the idea of installing a custom ROM on your Android phone. However, the steps involved in preparing your Android for custom ROMs are too complicated to fit in this blog post. It involves unlocking the ROM storage in your phone and in many cases, rooting your stock ROM to install a new recovery partition. Those steps also vary depending on which phone you use.

If you want to find out more about hacking your phone, check out the XDA Forums. This link will open as a new page in your Internet browser. When you go to that website, simply type the phone you use in the search bar and there will be loads of threads about that phone, nearly always including how to root it and install custom ROMs. If there are too many posts, just use Google.

Friday 6th July 2012 - Leave a comment