Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Google Drive for Desktop.

Google have given their popular Backup and Sync Software an overhaul and it's much more than just a facelift.

Once installed I found the transfer from Backup and Sync to the new app pretty stress free. The odd 'login' bug, (after I'd already logged in), but otherwise the installation process is fairly painless, it even uninstalls backup and sync when you're finished. However, it doesn't remove the contents of your OLD Google Drive folder, and the way the new program works is significantly different. We'll come back to this later. 

The old Backup and Sync created a duplicate folder on your device, simply called Google Drive. Everything you synchronised with Drive was available no matter what you were doing, if you were connected to the internet or not. What was Sync'd was available. Of course if those files were Google Sheets, or Docs, you'd need an internet connection to open them in Chrome (or Safari). 

Your other docs, such as PDFs Word, powerpoint and Excel files would all open because a copy actually existed on your machine. 

This type of backup is now known as 'Mirroring'. The space drive uses on your computer is the same size as your Google Drive. If you have 1Gb of PDF's on Drive, you will need 1Gb of space on your computer to Mirror them. 

The other choice you have is to 'stream' your Drive. This takes up significantly less space on your computer as all you will see on your computer are shortcuts to your files; which, for clarity, are stored on your Drive online. 

There is a third way to do things though. You will likely have some files that are significantly more important than others, in this case you can stream your drive, but choose to mirror, some of the more important files or folders. On your computer you can select an important folder, right click it and choose Offline Access> Available offline. This will create a backup on your machine. 

What is odd though is that if you stop the software, the 'drive' (much like a Network storage device) will eject and your folders and files will not be visible. They're still on your machine, but you just can't access them. I've tested this, and when this happens, you can go offline, start the software and your 'mirrored' files all reappear again. This is where the software differs significantly from Backup and Sync. If Backup and Sync wasn't running, your files and folders were all still available. To be honest, I think I preferred it that way. 

To be clear though, if you are working somewhere new and you don't have internet access, if the software is running, you WILL have access to your mirrored files. But NOT your Streamed files. This has always been the case of course with Google Sheets and Slides, if you created a presentation in Slides, you'd better hope where you're working has internet access as you could not present if you did not. Downloading a powerpoint copy before you leave is good backup prep, if you're on a Mac, make sure you have powerpoint, or Keynote installed. 

Back to the software, what if the drive ejects (the software crashes) and I cannot restart the program? I guess the files will be relatively easy to locate somewhere in the systems folders in finder. But that's not as simple as having an offline copy in my Google Drive Folder, like I used to have with Backup and Sync. 

This new program doesn't fill me with confidence, in all honesty, there was nothing wrong with Backup and Sync, it only really needed the visual overhaul. In backup and Sync, you could choose to only sync specific files and folder via the preferences. It worked the same way this does, apart from the Storage 'Drive' effect that can be ejected. The new terminology makes sense, whether it's necessary or better or if it's just keeping people working at Google in a job, I am not sure. However my gut is telling me I will need to think about additional backup options; but that may just be a new technology anxiety thing. 

I just don't understand why the Folder needed to change to an ejectable 'Drive'. It makes no sense and is of no benefit that I can see. 

So back to the old Google Drive folder that was left behind after the upgrade. This is my last backup of my old drive and it's significant in size. Technically I should just delete it, as everything is safe on Drive and available as a stream to me, apart from my personal and accounting files, which I chose to mirror. 

But selecting my old stuff and just deleting it all? Maybe I'll shift it to an old encrypted pen drive for now until I've more faith in Drive for Desktop. 

What do you think about the new Drive for Desktop Software, have you used it, do you prefer it?

Monday, 19 July 2021

Dolby Atmos - Spatial Audio and Lossless.

After treating myself to a new MacBook M1 Air earlier this month (For Minecraft Education sessions) I got a trial of Apple News, Apple Arcade and also Apple Music; 6 months in fact, so til the end of November. I know how these things work though and yes, they want me to make it part of my life so I feel like it's a huge loss in November and as a Music lover, I'm keen to explore the service and being a tech-head, I'm especially keen to play with the new Dolby Atmos music or Spatial Audio as Apple are calling it. 

There's only a limited amount of content available in Atmos at the moment, but unless you've had a bucket on your head for the past 100 years, some of the albums you'll likely be familiar with. Like Sgt Pepper for example. To listen to the difference I used my Beats Studio headphones and some V-Moda crossfades, both great headphones although they're getting on a bit now. 

Sgt Pepper was a tremendously produced album to start off with, so it's a good base to show off incredible 'spatial audio' and it is an odd experience. My initial reactions were quite positive, but having come to my conclusions about Atmos, going back to it know, I'm not sure if I wasn't just being blindsided by the effect. Initially I felt I could hear the voices better, they sounded clearer, warmer and better defined. The instruments would burst into life from everywhere and they did feel like there was space around them, each instrument or noise could be pulled out individually. I went back and listened to my 320kbps version and it didn't sound as alive, slightly more flat, but still impressive. I continued with this to-ing and fro-ing from track to track and it was fascinating, and my observations were the same from track to track. Better separation, warmer voices and more detail. The only negative seemed to be an increase in hiss. 

I then turned my attention to the Week'nd and Blinding lights. Again, this is another brilliantly produced track, and the single sounded great, the separation outstanding. Similar observations, but with clearer sounds due to the progress made by recording technology over the past 40 years.

Billy Eilish is another to have had the Atmos treatment and Bad guy sounded great, the vocals feeling far too close for comfort. 

Also the new Ed Sheeran single, also the first thing of his I've liked; Bad Habits. Same observations. 

Then I compared them to their Lossless equivalent and this is where I really got woken from my Atmos daydream. The difference between Lossless and Atmos was night and day. Detail that was missing from the Atmos version was back, perhaps the 'spatial' effect wasn't as clear and details weren't as obvious, but what was gained was more clarity, natural noises that were masked out were apparent, the overall feeling was one of completeness, music sounded more together and how (my perhaps old fashioned head thinks) it should be. 

I then went back and re-listened to everything in Lossless and it all sounded better, everything sounded better. 

In Playback settings in Music you can choose to force Atmos on, force it off or set it to automatic. I've played with it so many times now, auto won't seem to trigger for me (I have to force it on or off). I also can't blast it in Atmos to my surround sound using Airplay as I'd need a new Apple TV... oh and Amp. But the good news is, I don't want to, I've come to the conclusion that although many songs sound interesting, good perhaps, for many, the difference is not great.

Switching to Lossless shows Atmos up for what it is and how it works, it's an over processed gimmick and it would appear I'm not alone, I went looking for other opinions and found a thread on reddit with many coming to the same conclusion I had, although many had the opposite view, but a lot liked it because when you turned your head relative to your iOS device, the music stayed in front (I can only imagine how that sounds, although I guess it's the same as head tracking on the PSVR where the music comes from the screen) but almost definitely a gimmick. 

Spatial Audio Dolby Atmos

Second opinion; just had my eldest listen to a number of tracks and she reached a conclusion without my input much quicker. (I did play Lossless next to Atmos back to back), she concluded it's over processed and sounds more distant. She suggested it might work best with live recordings if you wanted to to feel like you were an audience member. I concur, she might be right. She is hooked to Lossless though and is currently reciting In the Heights at the top of her voice, (it's still hot, the window is open and I hope the neighbours are enjoying it). 

So to conclude, Atmos is a gimmick, but Lossless is tremendous and ironically, come November that might feel like a loss. 

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Current Minecraft Worlds - Evaluation and issues.

I've been spending a lot of time looking at some of the worlds available in Minecraft Education Edition. There's a buzz around a number of them and I've downloaded them to play them through so I'll know before students, what to expect. I want to keep notes, but I also thought these notes might be useful for others. 

Adventures in English - Cambridge Assesment

Very simple play through, but quite long. Play starts outside a Library which is supposed to be closed, this world is unique in as much as the characters not only have dialogue boxes, but they actually talk. There are a number of logical challenges in the game, mostly simple spelling but young players might get stuck near the beginning as letters that need to be found in the library are scattered around, but the last one is hidden in a chest, this took me a long time to find. Perhaps a class might find it quicker and once the location is known other will find it too. Of course, this needs to be downloaded as individual games to every players device, not a shared world. It's under Lessons>>Languages>>Additional, so pupils can easily get it onto their machines after they've logged in. The second stumbling block for me was a room where nine letters can be found to complete a sentence. The first three are easy enough to find, but the mine is pretty dark and to find the other 6 you need to mine through into adjacent rooms, which aren't that obvious. There are different coloured blocks to indicate where to mine, but it took me a while to find them. The last section involves taking a purple torch from a Dragon's mouth. I found this (on a 2017 iMac) to be quite buggy, and although I eventually made it to the end of the adventure, I did wonder if it would work. In a nutshell, it's worth a go, the challenges are fun and will definitely get students engaged, although I wonder if some of the words might be a tad difficult to guess? Would love to hear if anyone runs this lesson in their class and what you and your students thought of it. The world is a staggering build and fantastic to behold, you'll get some 'wow's' from your pupils as the creation is fantastic. 

The Second world I played is the Careers Craft Wales one, with Caerfnafon Castle, Tenby, the Senedd and the Coal Exchange.

Tenby Careers Craft Wales
This is also staggeringly impressive. I'm pretty sure this one isn't available through 'Lessons' so you will have to get the link to your students via classrooms or email. There's a bug in the Coal exchange where you cannot reset a bad trade. Players are told to exchange coal for the most amount of Gold, but if they get it wrong first time, there's no way to go back and try again (at least not an easy way I found), I would suggest moving on. There is also the Myers Briggs personality test in Tenby which is Fantastic (I used to be INTP, now I'm apparently ISTP)! Definitely the most novel was to bring personality type testing into the classroom. However when you get your result, if you end up on the top level (there are dozens of outcomes) you cannot get back to the carts, there are 2 border blocks in the way, (I found if you jump up onto the RH block, you can get though, but this gap should be on the path). Other than that it is pretty sensational. Talking to the various characters at the Castle event certainly gets one thinking about the various employment opportunities young children could consider when they're older. 

Hope this is useful, if you have done these lessons in your classroom, I would love to know what you think. Also if this type of feedback is useful please let me know and I will post here in future. 



Friday, 21 May 2021

I'm amazed by tech #1

I often reflect back on my childhood and how the devices and technology we're using now, would literally blow my mind. When I was around 14 got my first 'PC'. Although it wasn't a PC, it was an Amstrad CPC 464. Without getting hung up on the staggering difference in storage size, processor speed and operating systems from this and more modern PCs, it used normal cassette tapes to load programs. Albeit from it's in built tape recorder; a cutting edge innovation of it's time. Two curly cords connected the Monitor to the 'Computer' which was built into the keyboard, which again, was staggeringly innovative for the mid eighties. I remember I had a cartridge which plugged into the back of the keyboard with vents in to keep it cool, this had a lead going to a device that reminded me of a berol note writer pen, without a nib. Inside was a small sensor which knew which part of the screen it was looking at. Completely inaccurate, this 'light pen' managed to write on the screen in a program not dissimilar to paint, to draw lines, spots, or fill shapes with colour. There was only one program to use with this one pen. Software was hard to get your hands on, if WH Smiths didn't sell it, you had little hope of finding anything else. There were a couple of versions of light pens though, I had the DK'Tronic unit (linked here). Images I created with it though were pretty useless as home printers weren't a thing. I couldn't email it to anyone, I couldn't save it to the computer as it had zero storage space, I could only really save it to a tape, but then I'd have to know which tape, and what the counter read when I'd finished saving it, so if I were to save other data to the tape in future, I didn't accidentally record over my picture. So I would rewind the tape to the start and reset the counter to 000 with the reset button. I'd also wind the tape with a pencil to the start of the magnetic strip to be certain no data would be lost on the run in from the tape which wouldn't record (because I was a computer expert and thought about these things). I would hit record and play (both buttons needed to be pushed for an export), and instruct the program to save the image. The program would automatically start the recorder, because of how high tech it was and I would then hear the data being written to the tape. Then when the save was complete, I would note the tape counter and write in the sleeve ...

'Badly drawn boat : 0000-0043'

Nowadays the pocket computer I have, (or 'smartphone' as we prefer to call them) has a lightweight built-in 'light pen'. It charges in around 40 seconds (inside the device) and lasts for about an hour. It connects without wires, and lets me operate my handheld, pocket sized, device by tapping on the screen. Or I can  select text by pressing the button and dragging over sentences or paragraphs. In addition, it can also remotely trigger the in built camera.... sorry cameras, plural, three on the back and one facing forward. Software isn't loaded by tape on our devices, every program is already stored on the device, and will load in a matter of seconds. If a program isn't on the device, I can get it from thin air; or games, or spreadsheet programs, word processing, we literally have everything in the palm of our hands, the choice of hundreds of programs. Plus my smart device can also play my favourite trilogy of the time then, and perhaps still now; Star Wars. Even though there is no VHS cassette, disc, or film stored on it. 

I'd be completely astounded if I could talk to myself aged 14,  if we did chat, I think the current me would likely give my past self a bi-dimensional panic attack, but once I was over that, if I mentioned that these devices could watch A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, on one battery charge in incredible clarity (and stereo!), even if I were sat in the middle of nowhere, I would be utterly astounded. And it is astounding when you think about it. What we grew up with, and what we have the capability to do now, the difference is night and day. 

We really do have incredible technology at our fingertips, it's crazy really to think if anyone spent a good deal of time explaining this to their 14 year old self, that the old self could imagine how anyone wouldn't be ecstatic all of the time. Yet instead, sometimes our devices feel like such burdens and they're really not, it's just how we choose to use them. 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Simple laptop buying advice.

If you're not on a budget, buy a Mac and don't worry about the specs. 

Mac computers are the user friendly alternatives to PC's. They're quicker to learn, more intuitive, and less prone to failure. People may disagree, but I've been using them for over 10 years and they're my go-to solution for everything. 

If you are on a budget, let's keep this simple, if you've found a website that sells laptops, it's likely got some filters on it, here's what I'd set my filters to, if I was looking for the best value for money I could find. For each category, the filter I'd set is in bold. In order of importance. 

Select the Laptop/Windows option. 

Windows PC's do everything a Chromebook can, and more. Chromebooks used to be significantly cheaper, now that seems less like that's the case. Be on the lookout for Windows S though, it only allows apps to be installed from Microsoft marketplace. 

Number one priority

Buy a machine with an SSD (solid state drive not HDD, [hard disk drive]), 128Gb machines should be your minimum for everyday use. Bigger hard disk drives (eg 1Tb+) in cheaper machines are likely to have a speed rating (eg 5400 or 7200rpm), these are normal HDD drives, not SSD drives and I'd urge anyone to avoid them nowadays. The speed benefits of an SSD are primarily what separates the budget machines apart. Some machines have both, which is ok. 


8Gb should be your starting point. Try and avoid 4Gb if you can, but deselect this option to bring the costs down, 4Gb is ok for home learning.


i3, i5, i7 etc, these are the processors to buy if you can stretch to a machine with one in. Or Ryzen chips (3 or 5 are good starting points). Celeron and Athlon are the lower end, so machines with these in should be much cheaper, if you're looking at machines with Celeron or Athlon processors, look for the speed rating, the higher the number the better. 

Screen and size. 

This is down to personal preference, 15" Laptops look great, but can be a handful, and quite heavy. Go for Full HD and get the highest resolution screen you can, if you want the best screen technology OLED offers outstanding clarity and depth, but LCD is much more common. 


The big names are Asus, Acer, Dell, Microsoft and Lenovo. I'd personally avoid Huawei at the moment (although they make great machines) because of the uncertainty with American business and UK data infrastructure. 


Look at the reviews, especially the negative ones. If a machine has a high number of reviews but a low score, I'd avoid it. If a machine only has a couple of reviews and the negative ones are a variety of reasons - for example, couldn't connect to wifi, couldn't transfer files over bluetooth, it's possible those might have been one off's that they'd have encountered due to a lack of knowledge, check other sites for reviews by putting the model number and 'reviews' into google.

I hope this is useful, let me know if there's something I've missed or that's confusing. 


Saturday, 23 January 2021

You should love the S21 ultra; but you probably shouldn't buy it.

Ok, so I admit, the features the Samsung S21 Ultra has are great. Let's look at them

The handset has a beautiful AMOLED screen. For those of you who haven't upgraded to the latest iPhone you may not know that OLED screens look amazing. Individual pixels can be turned off completely, this means it's much better for battery life than an LED screen. Blacks looks blacker and you also get the 'always on' feature that allows you to see your clock and notifications even when your phone is off. Very cool. 

Edge to edge display. This too is a great feature, a lovey design I like it a lot.

A wide angle lens, a telephoto lens and a normal lens on the camera. Superb for snapping creatively. 

Support for the S-Pen. having a pen on a smartphone can make workflow much much easier. Taking portions of screenshots, and annotating them is also really useful. 

A big battery, anything north of 4500mah in an android phone is going to give you genuine all day functionality. 

A fingerprint sensor under the screen in the front. Really useful, great for unlocking your phone easily. 

128Gb of storage on board. Great, but there's no expandable storage which is a bit of a drawback. 

For me, these are the useful features it has  that I value and appreciate in a phone, but Samsung make a phone for less than half the price, with all of these features (including the S-Pen). That phone is the handset I currently use, and it's the Note 10 Lite. On sale for £529 from Samsung and even less from other places, if you're a student registered with Unidays that drops to below £450*. That's £620 *(or more) less than the Ultra! If we were allowed on holiday, that saving could be an extra passenger! 

Ok, they are not the same handset, but the differences aren't as big as you might think. Of all of the features above, there are compromises, but in my mind, genuinely, they're really not important, and the Note 10 still scores some points over the S21 Ultra. (Starting with the lovely pearlescent back). 

Firstly, the big (perhaps only) compromise with the S21 Ultra. The S-Pen - there's a slot in the Note 10 lite... but none on the S21, so if it want to use one (and you really should) then you'd have to purchase a special case for it if you own the £1000 plus handset, but in the Note 10 Lite, it slots neatly in the bottom. 

On paper, the Note10 Camera options also appear better, all of the Wide/Zoom/Normal cameras are 12mp, where as some of the camera's on the S21 Ultra are only 10mp. I know the MP don't matter that much, and the S21 has 2 dedicated Zoom camera's which reach far further than the Note 10 Lite, but the options on the cheap choice are enough to keep the average user happy. I'm not arguing that the S21 Ultra camera isn't loads better, it is, but the Note 10 camera isn't shabby either. 

The Note 10 lite also has expandable storage, where as (previously mentioned) the Ultra does not. 

The S21 Ultra battery is 5000mah and it's only 4500mah in the Note 10 Lite; I can live with that. They're both big. 

The edge to edge display is 89% on the Ultra vs 86% on the Note 10. It does look like the bezels are a bit thinner on the S21, but it's barely noticeable from the front. 

So why is the S21 Ultra well over
£1100 when the Note 10 is only £529. Well, if you use your phone for gaming, you're going to notice a big difference. The RAM is twice as much, but 6Gb of RAM is still likely more than enough, 6Gb is enough, 12Gb is exceptional. Will you notice? Only if you game. 

The processor is twice as fast, measured in nm, the lower the number the better. It's 5 vs 10, again, unless you're a power user or gamer, you're unlikely to notice. 

The main camera on the S21 Ultra is 108mp, so it can zoom in far closer without losing detail and the lenses on the S21 are much higher quality. But you can still take lovely pics with the Note 10 Lite. 

The fingerprint sensor although it functions in the same way, is ultrasonic as opposed to optical. (No, I don't care either). 

I could go on, but the fact remains, if you want a phone with the key features that you will likely appreciate, (large display, choice of zoom settings, AMOLED screen, s-pen, big battery, etc) then you can get all of these, with the reassurance of the Samsung brand, in a much, much cheaper package. No, they're not the same phone at all, the components in the S21 are far newer, much higher spec and the handset will be quicker and much more responsive, (I haven't mentioned the display hz, or the higher resolution screen and the water proof-ness of the S21) but these things aren't important to most folk. If they are for you, perhaps they're deal breakers. 

I don't have a £4000 gaming PC, for the same reason as I don't have a top of the range phone. I don't need it. I research and I shop frugally, and for most people like me, the Note 10 Lite, with most of the 'cool' features are mid range bargains in the same way the Acer Swifts are generally great mid range laptops. 

Google Drive for Desktop.