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Wednesday, 14th August 2013
Technological Dreams
By Kevin Walton

Been thinking about how computer technology has progressed over the last 25 years, about ones' dreams and how our dreams and expectations shift and change over time with progress (and thinking about how old I am!)

When I was in high-school, my DREAM computer that I always wanted was a 100Mhz CPU, 16Mb RAM, a 2Mb VRAM SVGA Graphics Card, 1GB HDD, CD-ROM drive and a 15" CRT Monitor. Oh, and we mustn't forget the 5¼" Floppy Disk Drive and the stunning new 3½" Floppy Disk Drive too! Oooooo, aaaahhhhh! Oh, and a 14.4K modem. In 1994, (the year after I left high-school), my mother bought this dream computer and it cost her $8000.

Then, in 1995, I saved up every cent I could and gradually over several months bought components to build my very own PC. It was a Pentium II, 166Mhz, 32Mb RAM, a 4Mb Video Card with a Rainbow Runner Video Capture card, 3Gb HDD (to which I later added a 10GB HDD), Creative Labs SoundBlaster AWE 32, a CD-Writer, Flatbed Scanner and a 17" CRT Monitor. Boy was I proud of this thing! I can't remember exactly how much it cost me, but it was somewhere in the vicinity of about $4000 overall.

Then in late 1997, I invested in my first laptop PC. It was a Pentium 133Mhz, I think 32Mb RAM, CD-ROM drive (can't actually remember too many details to be honest - it never got the use it deserved) - $7000!! Yep, laptops used to be WAY expensive!

The new millennium saw me venture into 3D Animation and my old Pentium II was no longer cutting it. Time to spend around $5000 on a brand new Dual-CPU 1Ghz Pentium III (for all you kiddies out there, back in the good old days before Dual Core CPU's, the way to get dual cores was to buy a computer with TWO separate CPU's). 2GB RAM, 32Mb GeForce 2 Video Card, 100GB HDD, Creative Lab SoundBlaster Live Platinum, Single-Layered DVD Writer and a massive 19" CRT Monitor (that thing was HEAVY!). I also re-purposed my old 17" Monitor as a second monitor, making this my first dual-monitor computer! (And the crowd goes wild!)
At 1Ghz, we're now running at 10 times the speed of my original "dream" computer and 2 times over seeing as I have dual-CPU's now. I also now have 100 times my original "dream" HDD space.

By this time, USB Flash Drives have hit the market. I believe I ended up with a 256Mb Flash Drive. Can't remember how much it cost me, but it was ridiculous.

2004 - Been freelancing as a 3D Animator for a few years by this point and becoming more and more stressed about the demands that are being placed on me with deadlines and the speed of my computer and how long it takes to render animation clips is just too darned long. Concerned about new technology that is already out on the market and what my competitors are all now using. Making good money though, so perhaps time to look at investing in a new computer again. Need to keep up with the industry. Pentium 4's are everywhere now, but what are these Pentium XEON's I keep hearing about? SGI Computers are huge in the 3D Animation industry and they all use Pentium XEON CPU's, but I'd be looking at around $50,000 for a good one. Research time... Ah, for $20,000 I can custom build my own PC that will kick the pants off SGI's top offering! Woohoo!
So for a cool $20K I get a Dual-CPU 3.2Ghz Pentium XEON, 4GB ECC-RAM, a 256Mb Quadro FX3000 Graphics Card ($3000), Creative Labs SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum, two 20" Phillips LCD Monitors (at $2300 each!), a Dual-Layered DVD Writer, and at this time the largest HDD capacity on the market is 200GB... so I get 5 of them! So now I have, across 5 HDD's, a full 1TB of HDD space.

Also now walking about with a 1GB USB Flash Drive in my pocket.

So now, we're running at 32 times (x2) my original "dream" speed and sporting 1000 times my original "dream" HDD space. My original "dream" HDD space is now sitting in my pocket hanging from my keychain.

2005 - At $500 a piece, I pick up two brand new DSE 19" LCD Monitors to use on the old Pentium III which I'm still using as my personal non-work PC. Out go the old CRT Monitors.

2006 - Wife and I begin our wedding videography business. This will see the start of some ever-increasing demands on the capabilities of our computer systems for years to come.

2007 - The Pentium III which has now become my wife's computer, finally dies. Wife needs a computer, so off we go to rip the guts out of it and upgrade what is needed to keep it going. Keep the case and sound card but replace the motherboard, CPU, RAM, Video Card and HDD's. So for around $2000 the old Pentium III has now become a 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo with 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 512Mb Video Card and 2 x 250GB HDD's.

2008 - $1600 gets me a new laptop that outpaces my $20K Pentium XEON! 2.2Ghz Core 2 Duo, 3GB RAM, 1GB Dedicated Video RAM, 250GB HDD, Dual-Layer DVD Writer. Under Windows 7, system info gives both the Pentium XEON and the laptop a Windows Performance Rating of 4.6, but when it comes to editing HD Video, the laptop is sweet as, while the XEON simply can't do it. Tried sinking another $200 into a new 512Mb ATI Raedeon Sapphire HD graphics card for the XEON, but still didn't improve it's HD Video editing capabilities at all (great for games though).

2010 - $400 brought the addition of a Dual-Layer Blu-Ray writer to the XEON. Therefore, how able to start offering our wedding clients the option of purchasing a high-definition Blu-Ray copy of their wedding video, which means we'll now have to start doing all of our editing in HD.

2011 - At 100 times the capacity of my original "dream" computer, the XEON's storage space is no longer cutting it. I pull out two of the 200GB HDD's and replace them both with new 1.5TB HDD's, giving me a total of 3.6TB (3600 times my original "dream" HDD space).

Now I'm also carrying around 32 times my original "dream" HDD space on my keychain.

2012 - One after the other, a couple of months apart, both of the 20" Phillips Monitors die. Helen never uses dual-monitors, so I re-purpose her second monitor to the XEON, so now both PC's are single monitor. Not really fussed as all my work is being done on the laptop now anyway. 3D Animation is a thing of my past, so XEON now being used as nothing more than media storage to be served over the network to our PS3's and TV (all of which (yes, even the TV) now vastly dwarf the specifications of my original "dream" computer).

By this time, I now have a LG P500 Optimus One mobile phone. This phone has a 600Mhz CPU, 512Mb RAM, 128Mb Internal Storage and a 16GB MicroSD Card. It runs Android 2.3, has 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth and A-GPS. So now, in my pocket, I have a full fledged PC running at 6 times the speed of my original "dream" computer with 16 times my original "dream" storage space, which is also able to replace my home phone line, can connect to the internet at speeds that I can't even calculate how much faster they are than the original 14.4K modem I wanted, and is able to track my location via satellite anywhere in the world.

2013 - Laptop still running good (although starting to lock up occasionally), but both the laptop and XEON take around 24+ hours to transcode a 5 hour wedding video to DVD. In fact, anything that requires processing time is just slow. The emergence of HD Video has changed everything and the demands on PC's processing capabilities have increased greatly. The XEON, generally, overall is becoming very sluggish. Is it possible that a computer can actually slow down with age?
Time to bite the bullet, go the whole hog and buy a whole new PC. $2600 brings in the era of the new 3.4Ghz Quad-Core (with hyper-threading) i7 CPU (so essentially 8 CPU's), 16GB RAM, 2GB Video Card, 250GB Solid State Hard Drive, 3TB HDD, 2 x 23" Dell Widescreen Full-HD LED Monitors and a new Dual-Layered Blu-Ray Writer at half the price I paid for the first one. Now able to transcode HD Video at 1½ x real-time (so a 6 hour video now only takes approx' 4 hours to transcode).

Finally, last week - the XEON dies! 9 years old, $20K to purchase it, at 33% depreciation per annum it is now only worth a mere $475 anyway. So I guess we got our money's worth out it. Laptop still going good, new i7 PC is brilliant but is living at my mothers house where I have set up an office space to work away from distraction. Is amazing how reliant we have become on the XEON to provide our daily media entertainment needs. So, off we go to replace it. Again, like the Pentium III, we gutted the existing case, kept what we could and just upgraded what we needed to. As it's only real primary purpose is to server as a media server, we went with bottom-off-the-line components for most of it. $925 got us a new power supply, 3.4Ghz Dual-Core i3 CPU (+ motherboard), 8GB RAM and a brand new 4TB HDD only just released on the market! Kept the case, the 2 x 1.5TB HDD's (so now have 7TB HDD space in total), the Blu-Ray Writer and the SoundBlaster Audigy 2 Platinum. No video card as am now just using the motherboard's built-in video ports and just using it with the single 19" DSE Monitor.

So now, I have two computers, both running at 34 times the speed of my original "dream" computer, multiplied by the number of cores of each CPU. One computer has 3250 times my original "dream" storage space, while the other now has 7000 times the space! The two computers have 512 times and 1024 times (respectively) my original "dream" RAM, and 2000 times my original "dream" Video RAM.

Meanwhile, I am now walking around with 64 times my original "dream" storage space in my pocket on my keychain.

Really makes you wonder what the future will hold and what the reaction would be of a much younger me if I was able to travel back in time and reveal all of this to my younger self.

So ask yourself now, what is your "DREAM" thing? If you're into computers, cool, think about what your dream computer would be today. Maybe you're into something else, like TV's, cars, phones, whatever. Whatever it is, write down your absolute dream specifications as you would realistically want to have them today. Put it away somewhere safe and then come back to it in about 25 years time and see where you're at. :-)

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Wednesday, 20th February 2013
Do you want to be a 'better person' or a 'happy person'? Are the two mutually exclusive?
By Kevin Walton

I found myself sitting and thinking today about how we are raising our kids and the values we are trying to teach them; to be kind to one another, to share, to be considerate of other people and put other people's needs ahead of their own.

But then lately, particularly all over facebook and blogs, etc, I've been seeing all sorts of "empowering" posters and quotes from the rich and famous, etc, which advocate values such as, "Don't care about what other people think; you do what is right for you!", "Those who get what they want in life are those who reach out and take it", etc. Another example - I was always told growing up that "All good things come to those who wait". Then I saw a advertisement several years ago which said, "All good things come to those who get in first!" And I found myself thinking, "Heck yeah! Too b***y right!". It seems like people have had enough of being considerate of others, and feel it is time for others to be considerate of them for a change. And in a way I find myself thinking, "Well, yeah, fair enough".

So I find myself thinking, "Why am I in the position that I'm in in my life? Why do I always find myself and my family to be struggling financially all the time? Why is it that $48k per year is the highest salary that I have ever earned in a job in my life when I hear of other people in the same industry earning up to $120k? Why is it that when I hold down a job for 3+ years, I never see a pay rise?!" And ultimately, the biggest question I find I have to ask myself is, "Do I want to be a 'better person', or do I want to be a 'happy person'?" Are the two mutually exclusive, or is it possible for the two to go hand in hand? Does being considerate of other people and putting their needs first mean being a doormat for other people and missing out on life's opportunities and successes that you, yourself, rightfully deserve?

And what should we really be teaching our children? Should we be teaching them to play nicely with each other and share and let others go first, etc? Or is this kind of upbringing setting them up to become weak and pathetic push-overs who will amount to nothing. Should we instead be teaching them to stuff sharing! Screw putting others first! YOU get in first, take what you want and to hell with other people. That life's rewards to go the fastest, strongest and to those who get in first and take them? That they should climb to the top by stepping up over the bodies of the weak and useless?

I know the latter sounds really bad and quite cruel, and as a Christian I find myself really quite conflicted by the whole situation. I know in my heart what I believe is right, but when we really look and think about what the world is really teaching people these days, we hear the stories about schools that teach kids that participation is all that matters and that there are no winners and losers; everyone gets an award just for participating - You know that your immediate reaction to that is, "PFFT! Yeah, right!" And you know that when they get thrown into the 'real world', that it is going to totally chew them up and spit them out, because in the real world there ARE winners and losers. Which are we raising our kids to become?

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Thursday, 27th October 2011
Game Review: L.A. NOIRE by Rockstar Games
By Kevin Walton
Rating
9 / 10

"Los Angeles, 1947. Amid the post-war boom of Hollywood's Golden Age, Cole Phelps is an LAPD detective thrown headfirst into a city drowning in its own success. Corruption is rampant, the drug trade is exploding, and murder rates are at an all-time high. In his fight to climb the ranks and do what's right, Phelps must unravel the truth behind a string of arson attacks, racketeering conspiracies and brutal murders, battling the L.A. underworld and even members of his own department to uncover a secret that could shake the city to its rotten core". (http://www.rockstargames.com/lanoire/information/)

It's been a long time since I had anything much to say on this blog, but yesterday I finally found myself with the financial resources and the time to head on down to EB Games and purchase myself a copy of Rockstar Games' latest title, L.A. Noire.

I've long been a huge fan of Rockstar Games' work, especially their "Grand Theft Auto" series. Seeing that L.A. Noire was very similar style gameplay as the GTA series, I had to check it out and I have been absolutely amazed by it!

I found the first chapter of gameplay to be quite difficult to comprehend simply because I was so stunned by the incredible animation and facial detail of the in-game characters that I just kept zoning out on what was being said in the narration and so I lost the plot of what was going on; I was utterly awe-struck!

Once I got over the initial shock of just how incredible the visuals of the game were though, I then began to get sucked in by the storyline as well, along with the challence of finding evidence and interogating suspects. It is a highly addictive game and before I knew it, it was 3:30am before I realised I needed to pull myself away and get some sleep!

Rockstar Games have done such an incredible job of recreating a 1947 version of Los Angeles. The people, the clothes, the cars, the buildings and the overall colour treatment are spot on; it all creates a true feeling of being in that era. I also really love the whole "Gumshoe Detective" style of presentation and narration of the game which also contributes very well to the time, mood and atmosphere of the game.

The one thing that I have found to be missing from the game though (which the GTA games have) is the opportunity to free-drive and explore the city and take on side-missions in between chapters; once you solve a case, it takes you straight onto the next case. Sure, you can free-drive and explore all you want during a case, but if you're anything like me, in the back of your mind you feel the nagging need to complete the case you're on and not leave things unfinished.

Overall though, I absolutely love this game and it is worth every cent I spent on it.

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Tuesday, 10th May 2011
Product Review: The KFC Double Down Burger
By Kevin Walton
Rating
5 / 10

The KFC Double Down Burger

I came, I saw, I conquered and...... Meh.

Today saw the NZ release of KFC’s infamous “Double Down” burger; a burger consisting of bacon, sauce and cheese wedged between two slabs of deep fried chicken. No bread bun; the chicken is the bun. It has been deemed one of the fattiest foods on the planet.

“With 1939 kilojoules, the 212g KFC Double Down original recipe has 32.3g of fat, which nutritionist Susie Burrell says will take about two hours of walking to burn off.” - http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10715663

With so much press coverage and controversy around this burger, it stands to reason that I had to go down on my lunch break today to see what all the fuss is about.

Talk about absolute madness. The queue for this thing at KFC Manukau today extended out the door and into the car park. On top of that there was the 20+ car queue at the drive through! It took me about 10 minutes just to get in the door and another 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue to be served.

So after the several month wait for the burger to be released in NZ followed by such a long wait in the queue to get one, was it worth it? Meh, not really. It’s a very novel idea and it was alright, but for me personally, I found the cracked-pepper cheese that they’ve use to be a bit over-powering and, without a bread bun, my fingers got a little burnt and covered in hot fatty oil. I still far prefer the BBQ Bacon & Cheese burger and will not be changing any time soon.

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Tuesday, 26th April 2011
Movie Review: Sucker Punch (2011)
By Kevin Walton
Rating
10 / 10

On the 29th of July 2010 I posted a preview of the movie “Sucker Punch” because I’d seen the preview on YouTube and thought it looked like the most awesome special effects movie ever. I finally got to see the movie on the big screen a few days ago and I am very pleased to say that it did not disappoint.

Everything I predicted about the movie, it’s storyline and the interweaving between reality and Baby Doll’s fantasy world all proved to be spot on, although, without giving too much away for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the ending didn’t quite pan out as one might expect; however, that too, I guess, is part of the charm of this movie.

From start to finish, the artistry of this movie is fantastic. Major kudos to Larry Fong for his amazing cinematography, to Michael Wilkinson for his absolutely beautiful costume design and to the entire art department directed by Patrick Banister, Todd Cherniawsky, Stefen Dechant and Grant Van Der Slagt. My only regret is that they didn’t shoot it in digital 3D as that would have been absolutely incredible to see.

This movie is, by far, one of the best I have seen in a long time and has placed itself very high on my list of favourite movies of all time. I will definitely be adding it to my Blu-Ray collection as soon as it’s released.

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Tuesday, 1st March 2011
The 2011 Christchurch Earthquake Disaster and the Proposal for a New Earthquake Levy for NZ Rate-Payers
By Kevin Walton

Photo: David Wethey (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/christchurch-earthquake-photos/news/image.cfm?c_id=1503036&gal_cid=1503036&gallery_id=117023#7396428)

It's been a while since I blogged about anything, mostly because I haven't really had much to blog about. However, now NZ has been hit with the biggest natural disaster it's had in 80 years.

On 3 February 1931, NZ was hit with a massive earthquake in Napier and Hastings, which saw the deaths of 256 people (161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings, two in Wairoa) (According to http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/kids/nzdisasters/napier.asp).

Now, 80 years later, on Tuesday, 22nd February 2011, Christchurch was also hit by a massive 6.4 earthquake. One week on, the clean-up and rescue / recovery process is still on. 152 people have been reported dead so far and this number is still climbing as more bodies continue to be found amongst the rubble in the clean-up process.

NZ has pulled together and is working together in the clean-up process. On top of this, in the midst of great, global financial crisis, with the world in recession, many individuals, groups, churches and organisations across the country, and even overseas, are doing everything they can to pull as much money together as possible to help with the efforts.

Then I read today's NZ Herald. The total recovery cost for Christchurch is now forecast to be $10-15 Billion, on top of the $5 Billion from an earlier earthquake in September 2010. The government will fork out $120 Million in wage subsidies over the next 6 weeks alone. Economic growth within the whole Canterbury area has been pulled to a grinding halt with many businesses in Christchurch left non-operational and unable to generate revenue as a result of the disaster. Then, of course, there is the cost of actually rebuilding Christchurch. Much of this will be covered by insurance companies, and that too will have a huge impact on the economy as insurance premiums will begin to soar. As such, we'll need to watch and see what happens to ACC levy's as the hundreds / thousands of injured in Christchurch are treated and covered by ACC.

Of course, this is all going to have a huge economic impact on the whole country, and our Prime Minister, Mr John Key, says that this will be reflected in the May budget. One of the things that John Key is reluctantly considering, is to impose an addition earthquake levy on all NZ rate-payers to help cover the costs of the disaster.

"Without an earthquake levy - which Key does not favour on grounds it would slow the economy - there will only be peanuts in the Budget for extra spending on that agenda." (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10709412).

Now, I see and fully understand that something's go to give here, but I find myself wondering if increasing taxes and levy's, etc, is the way to go. With so many people across the country already giving as much as they can towards this cause, is it possible that Christchurch is already receiving as much financial assistance as we can possibly afford out of our own pockets as it is? In fact, is it possible that Christchurch could already be receiving more money from the kindness and generosity of NZ rate-payers donating whatever they can, than they would otherwise get from the government imposing a new earthquake levy?

I guess my biggest question is, if John Key did, in fact, go ahead and establish a new earthquake levy that was compulsory for all NZ rate-payers to pay in order to cover the tremendous cost of the Christchurch earthquake, would that kill the kind and generous, giving nature of NZer's who are already giving so much? And if so, would it actually result in a back-slide in the over-all financial assistance that is being given to Christchurch in their darkest hour?

Please feel free to post your comments, and also please vote on the related topics in the voting section of this website.

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