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OSMC = Debian + Kodi for Vero 4K

I've gotten fed up with the nonsense that is Chromecast (slow, limited), Apple TV (slow, limited), and Fire TV Stick (slow, limited). I ran across the Vero 4K, which was announced in February, 2017. Besides good reviews about good hardware, the responsive and active half-way decent, half-asshat forum (using Discourse), the system uses OSMC (open source media center) which is an Embedded Linux (Debian) system that uses Kodi as the default UI. In addition, the main developers contribute upstream. This is something I can support, and it looks like a viable way toward a more functional set-top-box/iptv/pvr/media-center.

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Thoughts on Amazon Echo Show

The new Amazon Echo Show looks great. Watching the video, it is striking that the interface appears so clean. This is obvious when using voice, since buttons don't really count. Also, the fact that this is not just a piece of hardware and natural language interface, these are applications being shown. In terms of video/voice calls, there is quite a bit of competition, including Facebook, Whatsapp (Facebook again), Viber, Line, Telegram, etc. Oh, and don't forget about Nucleus who seemed to have the idea before Amazon (who is an investor). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQqxCeHhmeU The fact that the Echo dominates the smart speaker market should be a cause for concern by the likes of the slower-moving Google (who bought Nest years ago), not to mention molassas-like Apple has HomeKit, though that requires that OEMs actually buy Apple chips and integrate them into their devices. Amazon's open approach to connected devices is a repetition of Android vs. IOS. Sure, there are a lot of iphones and even ipads, but the notion that this same rather small minority share will be able to co-opt the vast other connected devices, not really thought out very well. The interaction with other Echo Show devices and other smart devices shows off what is at stake here: Echo as a platform for the home.

Missing from Amazon Echo Show, Release 1.0

My first few thoughts about using this new device in the home are what is missing. - There is no video output, but definitely connecting to a monitor or a TV screen makes a lot of sense (that is, it could perform the function of a FireStick). - There is no keyboard input (but it is a touchscreen, of course), perhaps bluetooth mice/keyboards will work? Not a real deal-breaker - Generic browser user included? We did not see anything resembling such. I get it. This is not meant to become a computer. Rather as its' own unique platform, it will be the heart of the connected home. Which leads to the following significant motivation.

The Future Home will require Echo-integrated Devices and Services

Apparently there are an ever increasing number of devices available to Echo. Certain smart hubs can act as extenders, such as the Almond+ which happens to be our Wifi for the first floor. This is an insight for anyone making buying decisions regarding any kind of home device. Even moreso, those software services which Echo can interact with will have an additional layer of functionality based on that fact alone. This means, for example, that my music cannot be stored only in Google Music (where it reposes for free) but I will need to also ship over the 11,000 songs into Amazon Music (for $25/year), and only then will that become available on the Echo platform. That said, there will be ways of doing some DIY integration, such as using Alexa to interact with Foscam cameras via IFTTT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUwNGSzFvQo

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No More Underpowered Devices

I've reached the end of my patience for underpowered devices. I've entertained quite a few thin clients, including: - Various Netbooks - Chromebook - Apple TV - Chromecast - Fire Stick - Intel Compute Stick - NEC MobilePro 770, 780, 790 (more on this below)

Return on Investment

The return on investment (ROI) of any device can be considered on the dimension of time (how long one uses it) and performance (how much one can do with the device). There are several approaches to this: buy something new and keep for a long time, turnover new devices quickly (lease approach), or buy something used but with a lot of life left, and turnover as needed (once the next generation appears at the same price/performance point). Underpowered devices make no sense for any of these approaches. Underpowered (or poor quality on other dimensions) only makes sense on a short-term, immediate purchase price consideration.

Underpowered Wastes Time

Underpowered generally means slow, but it also means feeble. This is where the Chromebook has a significant disadvantage. It is fine as an appliance of some kind, but ultimately falls short. Chromebooks do have a fast boot time, but then there is the time spent using the device. If one spends little time on the device, then little time is wasted. But that just means the use case has not been thought out very well.

Underperforming Set Top Boxes

The same goes for AppleTV, Chromecast, and the Fire Stick (and maybe the Fire TV, but I have not tried that). Boot times are ponderously slow. Responsiveness to the remote is horrible (and for the older AppleTVs, the use of the infrared port is maddening). These are all shit devices. Those who think Apple will make its AppleTV product better are dreaming.

The Failure of Voice Commands

Voice commands are still gimmicky and frankly ridiculous. There is such a high failure rate that it becomes painful and frustrating to use, nearly every time. > I think the approach of general AI/natural language processing is simply wrong. See Coming of the 'Bots and Rise of the Chat 'Bots.

The Underpowered Apple Devices

Being an Apple product user on a budget, I've been subjected to my choices being generally underpowered. From the MacBook Air (restricted to 4gb of RAM back in 2011), to the iPhone 5 (restricted to 16gb of storage, at the low end). Even the so-called entry level Mac Mini still has an HDD (or a fusion drive option for a hefty price increase) and starts at 4gb of RAM and only goes to 16gb. The 2gb ipod shuffle has not been updated since September 2010. Really? This kind of storage limitation is insulting. As one writer put it back in 2015, Apple just doesn't care about Ipods anymore. Close, but really they don't care about you. That is you as in y'all as Tim Cook might say. They don't give a shit about much except for that profit margin. A better ipod shuffle? Won't move the needle, so F*ckoff consumer. Even in the area of watches, the competition is putting forward offerings that while less expensive, have as good or better functionality and use cases.

Fully Powered, Fully Functional

By fully powered and fully functional, for computers, we mean decent video, decent processors, lots of RAM and SSD drives, and the ability to be expanded in the future (that is, if one wants 16gb of RAM now, the device will support 32gb, if one wants to add another internal SSD, a controller is available, etc.).

Future Laptops and Desktops

For a fully-powered laptop, the future Lenovo x270 may be the model that fills all the needs. For the desktop it is the Intel NUC that has grown up to be a significant platform, that is still quite affordable and extremely frugal when it comes to power consumption. But looking to the past, we do see a need for special devices that can fit into a certain niche. However, for things like smart TVs, home audio and video, and general purpose devices, I say no more underpowered devices.

NEC MobilePro 770, 780, 790

The NEC MobilePro series is a slightly different factor. For one thing, it ran Windows CE -- aka WinCE -- and did not have internal storage (though CF cards could be connected). It operating pretty much as a writing (and sometimes reading) device, with a 92% keyboard size and the ability to quickly take notes. I loved this device and had several units over several years. It was invaluable in my graduate studies for classroom notetaking. It was small, light, instant on and instant off, and the battery lasted a long time. It also had a modem, and could connect rudimentarily over wifi for a little email, if a special cf card modem were attached. The browser was super slow and frankly it was so underpowered one couldn't try to do things beyond its capabilities. However, what it did, it did better than anything else (and I still have not seen anything to beat it in terms of a speedy typing input device).

Kindle and other Ebook Readers

There are special devices for special use cases, such as the NEC MobilePro. Another great example is the Kindle. It is good for reading books (and searching for/buying books). The browser doesn't really work well at all. However, what it does (store hundreds to thousands of books, provide an easy-to-read interface that is not tiring on the eyes, has a battery that lasts weeks, and is fairly light and easy to carry), it does well.

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Future of the Desktop

> 05-Nov-2016 - Note: I've reached the conclusion that I will entertain no more underpowered devices as they are ultimately so limited their return on investment vastly underperforms overpowered devices. This means Intel Compute Sticks are no longer acceptabe acceptable. The Intel NUC is now what I consider to be the future of the desktop. I've seen the future of the desktop, and it fits in your pocket. Sure, we've all seen this, it's called a mobile phone or mobile device. But really, the desktop, by its nature and definition, sits on a desk top. But that really means that a decent-sized monitor, a keyboard and mouse sit there. As we've seen with all-in-ones, the computer can basically live inside the monitor casing. The one advantage is that there are no unsightly cables, or large form factor to get in the way, much less dust and a greater power footprint. With much smaller systems, usually size is counteracted by cost, though netbooks were a nice happy medium (and could be connected to a larger display). How about something even smaller, and yes while power and capacity are still fairly low, the cost issue is beginning to vanish, since we are now dealing with almost off-the-shelf processors (Atom, CoreM).

Intel Compute Stick

My Intel compute stick was purchased at a local retailer. They have good prices, but in Thailand computers are generally a little more expensive, and this one did not contradict. Everything would be a little cheaper in the US, but still this seems reasonable, and without the need to order and import via ebay. The cost for a 2gb ram/32gb ssd, Atom processor, and Windows 10 Home edition included, was 5,700 THB. While the ram is not upgradeable and an Atom is a bit slow, the experience was fairly good. Sure Windows is a bit odd, but for this price being able to test out

AOC LED IPS Monitor

Add on a 22" AOC led ips monitor for 4,200 THB, and a wireless logitech keyboard/mouse for another 1,290 THB. Total is under 12,000 THB / $ 350 USD and is available inside Thailand today (as of 01 July 2016). Ridiculously reasonable for a great monitor, adequate keyboard and mouse, and a supremely small but functional computer. This being the future of the desktop. All-in-ones are simply not worth the prices when best of breed components are available for significant savings.

Prices and Sourcing

Apparently as of 14 July 2016 Lazada has even better prices on the Intel Compute Stick 1A32WFC. For the newer model with the same specs, try STK1AW32SC. Goodspeed Computer in Icon Square still has the best price on an AOC 22 inch LED IPS. Keyboards/mice can be found most places, including Lazada, if needed. Make sure the devices are compatible and/or tested with the system that is purchased (for fewer headaches).

Future of the Intel Compute Stick

A roadmap of the Intel Compute Stick is interesting. Roadmap of the Intel Compute Stick Thumbnail From what I can tell there are some nice chips coming later in 2016. Unclear on pricing, which will make a big difference, but everything with 4gb is targeting a desktop, though headless servers are also an interesting idea.

Windows Versions (and Linux)

Some of the older Compute Sticks come with Windows 8.1 and either with or without an upgrade to Windows 10. Others come with Windows 10 installed. Check to ensure as the very same model numbers can have different OS versions. Oh, and yes Linux can be installed on these. (There is a crappier spec version of the Intel Compute Stick which has Linux pre-installed, but who wants 1gb ram, 16gb sdd? Ok, for $50 USD you could have a dedicated machine on the home lan, true enough.)

See Also