Tag Archive for Google

Custom PC, Issue 167

Custom PC Issue 167This month’s Custom PC features a look at the effect of compiler optimisation on applications plus reviews of Google’s AIY Voice Kit for the Raspberry Pi family and Jimmy Wilhelmsson’s Generation 64.

The tutorial, to begin, stemmed from investigations I was carrying out into Google’s Guetzli perceptual JPEG encoder. Having cut my teeth in computing back when every byte – never mind kilobyte – really counted, I have a soft-spot for compression both lossy and lossless. Over the years I’ve toyed with a range of compression algorithms, from LZMA and Robert Jung’s ARJ through to the clever if short-lived Fractal Image Format (FIF). Like most, though, I eventually settled on two popular formats for my image compression needs: JPEG where lossy compression is acceptable and PNG where it isn’t.

Guetzli aims to cut the file size of JPEG files by around a third for no apparent loss in perceived image quality. That was enough to pique my interest, but it comes at a cost: a runtime of minutes per megapixel to recompress each image. As an open-source project, Guetzli is provided in source-code form – so I began to play with the optimisation options available in the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) to see if I couldn’t speed things up.

As readers of my column will discover, I could indeed speed things up – cutting the time taken to compress the small sample image provided with Guetzli from 14.3 seconds using Google’s precompiled binary version down to just 9.56 seconds. Although not an exhaustive guide to compiler optimisation in general nor even GCC-specific options – a topic which would take a book, rather than a couple of magazine pages, to cover adequately – hopefully the write-up of my experiments will help shine a light on the gains that can be made, the potential pitfalls of excessive optimisation, and the benefits of open-source distribution.

The Google AIY Voice Kit, meanwhile, is something quite special: an add-on for the Raspberry Pi family of microcomputers which, in essence, turns them into a somewhat cut-down version of the company’s Google Home voice-activated assistant platform. Initially distributed with The MagPi Magazine as a cover-mounted giveaway, the kit should soon be available for purchase by the general public – and it’s definitely worth seeking one out.

The kit itself centres around a Hardware Attached on Top (HAT) add-on board, which includes servo and motor control, connectivity for an arcade-style button, and links to a break-out board with a pair of MEMS microphones. Combined with some simple software and a link to Google’s cloud computing platform, the AIY Kit can be made to respond to your natural-language queries or even control external hardware via voice recognition – with some major caveats regarding how often you can use it before you need to start handing over cash for the voice recognition platform.

Finally, Generation 64. Originally written in Swedish by Jimmy Wilhelmsson and with design by Kenneth Grönwall, Generation 64 investigates the influence the Commodore 64 had on the Swedish computing scene – complete with an introduction by the founder of Digital Illusions, also known as DICE, and MOS 6502 creator Chuck Peddle. Translated into English and re-released by Bitmap BooksGeneration 64 is an absolutely fantastic read which I would have otherwise missed had it remained untranslated.

Full details on all of these, plus a bunch more stuff written by people who aren’t me, can be found in Custom PC Issue 167 at your nearest supermarket, newsagent, or digitally via Zinio and rival distribution platforms.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 136

Linux User & Developer Issue 136This month’s Linux User & Developer is a little light on my content, with a planned interview with Mark Doran of the UEFI Forum being bumped to the next issue. It does, however, still include my regular four-page news spread.

The news section this month includes a look at the Intel Edison, the second product from the company to feature its embedded Quark processor. Based on an SD card form factor, the Edison is designed as the drop-in replacement for the Galileo. At the time, I hadn’t had the pleasure of playing with a Quark – which packs up to four Pentium architecture processing cores, offering full x86 compatibility – although I’ve since acquired a Galileo, and let’s just say Intel has a bit of work ahead of it if it wants to supplant ARM and dedicated microcontrollers in the market.

Additional topics covered include the merging of CentOS into Red Hat, with no changes expected as a result of the move; Firefox OS being drafted into future Panasonic Smart TVs following a muted reception of the open-source HTML-powered operating system on smartphones; a look at the US government’s programme to use open source software and open hardware for future generations of unmanned aerial vehicles; Google’s foundation of the Open Automotive Alliance, a transparent attempt to find new markets for Android; a new Steam OS release with support Intel and AMD graphics, in place of the original Nvidia-exclusive launch; Belkin’s release of a new open-source router, an update for the popular but long-outdated Linksys WRT54G; and a defacement attack on the openSUSE forums, blamed on the proprietary vBulletin software.

As always, a calendar for the month’s biggest events is also included for reference.

Linux User & Developer Issue 136 is available at all good newsagents and supermarkets now, or digitally via services including Zinio. More information is also available on the official website.

Talk Radio Europe – Google’s New Privacy Policy

I was asked to talk to Mark Curry – of Blue Peter fame – on his ‘Curry for Breakfast’ morning show for Talk Radio Europe, in order to provide an informed opinion on precisely what Google’s recently changed privacy policy means for its many users and whether those who value their privacy should be concerned at the increased amount of data sharing the new policy permits.

Despite being referred to as a writer for ComputerWorld a couple of times – for the record I’ve never written for ComputerWorld, although the publication has used extracts of my articles from other sites and publications in its stories – it went pretty well.

My section of the show is reproduced here, in MP3 format: Talk Radio Europe – Mark Curry, ‘Curry for Breakfast’ 20120302.