Posts tagged ‘technology’


The Singer of desktop PCs

24.02.2019

I never planned to spend quite this much on computers in the first two months of the year.
   The laptop was in dire need of an upgrade, so I had budgeted for it. After getting it, I was impressed, but thought that the desktop PC, which dates from 2012 and upgraded with a Crucial 525 Gbyte SSD just over two years ago, was holding its own. The processor might have been slow, but then, I’m a middle-aged man with reflexes slower than that of a 20-year-old, so I hardly noticed. I thought, best-case scenario, I’d look at an upgrade at the end of 2019.
   Last Wednesday, the PC wouldn’t start properly. I was incredibly lucky as I had backed up all pertinent directories the night before, and only lost a bunch of frequently used scans (which can be re-created) and some text files where I wrote down some drafts. In the grand scheme, this was the least amount of data I had ever lost, and I’m very old-school: I still download emails with a client and burn mailbox archives on to DVD.
   The original diagnosis was a faulty SSD, where the operating system lived. The computer kept booting on to the secondary hard drive, which I used prior to the SSD. The hard drive was cloned in 2016 and became a storage drive, but I never deleted the old OS from it. The plan: get a new SSD and clone it again.
   I took the computer to Atech, where I was a regular visitor anyway. I had even discussed the possibility of buying a PC from them. The boss, Kidd Liang, began cloning the hard drive on to a fresh Samsung SSD, which he believed would be more reliable than the Crucial. But after attempting the process twice, he said there were too many bad sectors on the hard drive for the cloning to be successful. Based on the noise, he deduced something else would bite the dust: either the power supply or the graphics’ card. Nevertheless, he plugged the SSD into the PC—and it was at this point the power supply failed.
   I’ve seen multiple faults like this before—I had one machine in the 2000s die with a motherboard failure, then a CPU one, within 24 hours. Kidd said I was incredibly lucky as someone who had done a major back-up, because I then faced the very real prospect of needing a new desktop PC. I was able to continue working on Wednesday night thanks to my laptop, and when it was plugged in to my big monitor, I finally noticed the speed difference of a modern machine versus my old one. And I liked it.
   Therefore, it was with some excitement I collected my desktop PC from Atech on Saturday morning. I didn’t want to go overboard but at the same time needed to do some future-proofing. Kidd calls it the ‘vintage gaming series’, as he reused my old Cooler Master case and DVD-ROM drive, along with the top fan, but everything else was replaced. It’s like one of those Singer Porsches: old on the outside, new on the inside. My existing Windows licence worked on the new machine. Inside was the Samsung along with a new 2 Tbyte hard drive; the 1 Tbyte I had was also installed, even if it has bad sectors. It’ll be the back-up of the back-up.
   Going with a six-core Ryzen 5 2600 isn’t as impressive as the laptop’s i7-8750H, but once the programs are running I don’t notice much difference (middle age again). There’s an Aorus X470 motherboard, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and instead of going with Geforce, I decided to see how a Sapphire Nitro Plus Radeon RX 580 with 8 Gbyte on the video would be like.
   While everything is more stable and faster, I don’t get a sense of a major leap, probably because of the 2016 SSD upgrade. Nevertheless, it’s given me a fresh start for 2019, with some old software (e.g. Gammadyne Mailer) not having made it on to the new machine. More time-consuming was getting the fonts right: Windows 10 now selects a user directory for some of your fonts and these do not appear in the registry (the trick is to change the permissions of the fonts’ folder, and make sure the fonts are installed for all users). And, once again, the reliability index has gone from 10 to 1 because Windows seems to be allergic to either software or usage. There’s still the odd program that needs to be installed, but as the weekend draws to a close, we’re almost there. The coming week’s going to be a busy one and it’s nice facing it with new tech.
   I have to give Atech public praise, too. When I bought this computer’s predecessor at PB, you could still do a deal with the local manager, and you had the sense you weren’t just a number. Drew and Mark really looked after me. PB has deservedly grown because of its keen pricing and marketing, but as it has done so, you now get the feeling that it’s no longer the friendly, small retailer that it once was, with all of the promo coordinated in Auckland. Kidd at Atech on Cuba Street brings me back to that one-on-one feel: you could talk to the boss and do a deal. Matt, who usually served me at Atech since the Wakefield Street days, did the same. You aren’t just a number here, and it was a pleasure to be able to chat through my exact requirements and have a rig built to my specifications and (meagre, post-laptop-buying) budget.

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Posted in interests, marketing, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


More reminders that Google lies

21.02.2019


Nest/Creative Commons

We’ve been here countless times before since last decade. Funny how many of these “errors” Google has, and funny how they only admit to these “errors” after they get busted. How many more “errors” are there?

The link that Grady features is here.
   Just how many times do I need to remind people that this is “business as usual” for Google?
   If I lied to you this often, and spied on you through different gadgets, wouldn’t you stop trusting me? So why trust Google?

Hat tip to Vincent Wright.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


The Asus FX504 is far better than reviewers think

22.01.2019





Top: The new laptop, just unboxed. Centre: Publicity shots at strange angles. Above: The specs, as told by Windows.

When I think about it, I’ve gone through quite a lot of laptops over the years. The first this century (as there was an Apple II-compatible that I used for some months in the 1980s, though I think we called them portable computers back then) was a Dell, ordered online, costing over NZ$3,000 in 2001. That laptop, which is still alive (at least when plugged into the mains), ran Windows Me and I was surprised to see just how small a screen I was prepared to put up with. This was back in the day when I was the only person at the airport lounge with a device; now the opposite is true as I don’t always wish to be glued to a screen.
   There was a HP–Compaq in 2004 that was used by one of my team, and I later inherited it, running it into the ground with a motherboard failure by 2009. I took delivery of an Asus after that (that unit’s still with us, too, now running Ubuntu and plugged into the television), and was impressed by Windows Vista. In my opinion, it didn’t deserve the bad rap that it got. A Lenovo G570 bought off a charity was next, a friend having installed a 250 Gbyte SSD within, so it wasn’t as clunky as you might have expected.
   The laptops I disliked were the Compaq and the Lenovo, since they weren’t bought for me at the outset, and never really suited my requirements. Today I took delivery of an Asus FX504GD from Just Laptops, with a 240 Gbyte SSD within coupled to a 1 Tbyte conventional hard drive for data. It’s running an Intel Core i7-8750H with six cores, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX1050 with 4 Gbyte, and a full HD IPS display. It wasn’t my first choice but Just Laptops discovered a fault while testing that laptop, and recommended this one. I could have had a refund if I chose. The service, I should note, was excellent, especially since I was buying the computer sight unseen, and Des at Just Laptops made sure I was posted about every single stage of the transaction, from the work he had to do and when the laptop got to the courier.
   Of course the review is positive so far, since it’s only hours out of the box. I haven’t trialled it without the laptop being plugged in to the mains, so I can’t give a report on the supposedly poor battery life. But I have definitely noticed more positives than reviewers have let on, though admittedly the FX504s many of them tested weren’t as highly specced. It seems there are some real budget models overseas.
   For a start, the SSD gives decent speeds. I’ve had no issues with the viewing angles on the display; in fact, the type renders beautifully, and while it’s not a match for 4K, it’s still respectable in 2019. In fact, the GTX1050 does a very good job and ClearType works even better here than on my desktop machine (though this could well be down to the smaller 15·6-inch screen). I haven’t even changed the Microsoft default font, Segoe UI, because it actually looks pleasant here. The plastic chassis is fine, since I’ve put up with that on the majority of my laptops. One negative, and this is where I concur with reviewers, is the fan noise, which can be loud when the computer is under a heavier load. I don’t play games but it handles the layout, font editing and photo-editing work that I do, and the fast processor makes life so much more tolerable when I’m on the go away from the office. I’ve found that buying machines destined for gamers helps considerably with the type of work I do.
   The lit keyboard is reasonably good to type on, though generally I dislike chiclet keys. (I had once hoped that the chiclet trend would vanish by the time I had to replace the first Asus; it still hasn’t happened.) The lights turned out to be quite handy in less than ideal conditions in my lounge as opposed to my office. Even though I have long owned a gaming keyboard (a Cooler Master Quickfire TK) where I can turn on the lights, I’ve never seen the need to. I bought that because I make fewer errors with mechanical keyboards; and yes, typing on the FX504 isn’t as much of a joy. Still, it isn’t as bad as typing on many other laptops.
   Finally, I get a decent numeric keypad on a laptop, and the key layout is superior to that on the Quickfire. My other gripe is that I can’t tell when num lock is on.
   The unit feels robust (hence Asus’s TUF moniker, apparently standing for The Ultimate Force, which sounds like a science film narrated by Prof Stephen Hawking—points for those who know the origin of this joke). For someone like me who will use this laptop on the go, it’s good to know that it will stand up to a few knocks, even if I do look after it in a nice case. It doesn’t have the red lines on the case (which might appeal to younger gamers, but not to a middle-aged man).
   Annoyingly, though you can’t have everything, there is no optical drive, something which had once been a non-negotiable. But when I saw the specs and the deal Des was willing to do, that seemed secondary. I could always pick up a separate DVD drive which my partner and I could share, since she found herself sans drive in 2017 when she bought her Asus. If I have to be honest with myself, I only needed that drive a couple of times a year.
   Asus also put every port on the left apart from a Kensington lock on the right: not necessarily the decision I would have made if I were designing, since it would make sense to me to have some things plugged in to the right as well. Once I add, say, a Vodafone USB stick when I’m somewhere without readily available internet, having all the USB ports on a single side could get old really quickly.
   It didn’t take long to install the software that I had licences for, and, importantly, the fonts now match my desktop computer’s. The exercise that did take long tonight was taking everything off the Lenovo, since it didn’t come with installation discs (neither did this Asus, incidentally, which could be problematic five or six years down the line as I had to reinstall the OS on the previous one). I make so many changes to my computers that undoing them, and returning the font menu to stock, don’t bring me much joy. It’s the customizing that’s fun, not taking off the alloys and leather seats.
   Come February there’ll be two laptops for sale as the old Asus and Lenovo will head on to Trade Me. The latter is still acceptable as a workhorse thanks to its SSD, though you may need to be a masochist to buy the former. I feel I’ve future-proofed for a few years now, with a laptop that should suit my working needs.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | 2 Comments »


The newer the Instagram, the clunkier the video

07.12.2018

It’s been nearly one week with the new Meizu M6 Note.
   It’s the “international” model, which means it’s not Chinese-spec, and there was no way to turn it into a Chinese one.
   One observation is that the international one is far buggier than the Chinese one. Either that, or Android 7 is far buggier than Android 5.
   For instance, if I leave my old phone as a USB media device, it would stay on that mode. The new one will always change by itself to ‘charge only’, meaning each time I plug it into USB, I now have to waste time doing an extra step.
   Secondly, there’s no drive assistant on the new phone, which may have been a Chinese-only feature. I guess they don’t know we have cars outside China.
   I’ve mentioned the app shortcomings in an earlier post.
   But here’s one that I doubt is related to the Chineseness of my phone: Instagram simply performs better on the old phone than on the new.
   A Meizu M2 Note on an old Flyme (on top of Android 5) running a version of Instagram that dates back seven or eight months uploads smoother videos than a Meizu M6 Note on the latest Flyme (atop Android 7) running the latest Instagram.
   The issue then is: is it the phone, the OS, or the app that’s to blame?
   My first clue was my attempts at uploading a haka performed at my primary school. It took nine attempts before Instagram made one publicly visible, a bug going back some time.
   When it did upload, I noticed it was clunky as it advanced.
   I uploaded it again today on the old phone and there were no issues. It worked first time.

New phone

Old phone

   Now, the two are on different aspect ratios so you might think you’re not comparing apples with apples. How about these two videos? Again, Android 7 required repeated attempts before Instagram would make the video public. Things worked fine with the older phone.

New phone

Old phone

   Anyone know why it’s far, far worse as the technology gets newer? Like servers, which are much harder to manage now, or banks, where cheques take five to seven times longer to clear than in the 1970s, technology seems to be going backwards at the moment.

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Posted in China, internet, technology | No Comments »


Meizu’s made it harder to switch OSes and root the M6 Note—at least I managed the latter

01.12.2018


Above: If phones were sentient beings, it probably is a bit mean to have the old phone take a photo of its successor.

After a drop to the ground (and by that I mean the hard floor at the local Pak ’n’ Save) produced lines on the screen of my old Meizu M2 Note, I decided to upgrade to the M6 Note. The familiarity of the Flyme interface was one big reason, though it’s only now, after 12 hours of fiddling, that I’m only slightly happy with how it all went.
   The experience was quite unlike the previous purchase, which went incredibly smoothly. The trouble seems to stem from Meizu offering a New Zealand-specific version of the M6 Note, model M721L.
   Why didn’t I buy it from a Chinese vendor like last time (when there were no New Zealand retailers)? It seems that all the Ebay vendors were selling global editions of the phone, too, so for the sake of a few dollars, I wanted the support of a local vendor. If there wasn’t much difference between a global phone and a Kiwi one, should it matter? After all, this phone is on Flyme 6·1·4·1G (G for global), and according to one page on the Meizu forums, all I needed to do was download a Chinese Flyme OS patch and it should upgrade and change accordingly.
   Problem no. 1: it doesn’t work. It might have worked for one user, but every patch I tried (and they take nearly two hours to download from Meizu’s website) ended with a ‘Firmware corrupt’ (if you were lucky to even get an error message) despite the ZIP files all verifying correctly.
   Resigned with the fact I could not turn the M6 Note into a Chinese one, I had to root it to remove the Google bollocks.
   Problem no. 2: Meizu has taken away the easy access to rooting the phone. This method does not work, either, at least not this model. After about six hours, I stumbled on the solution: you can follow the above method but switch your phone to Easy Mode first.
   Once rooted, I began removing anything Google, for reasons followers of this blog know well.
   After downloading the familiar apps, I did encounter some issues. First, the Chinese app store and the global one have different software. Weibo is an international version, for instance. The default music and video apps are much crappier for export, missing the Chinese content (which sometimes included international TV series), and going straight to the local directories.
   We do live in an age where the Chinese versions of software can be better than the western ones. Indeed, it was during my experimenting with my previous Meizu phone that I discovered that Chinese designers were creating more visually pleasing and user-friendly apps than their occidental counterparts, at least among the programs I needed.
   While there’s obviously a jump up in terms of speed (I bought the 64 Gbyte version) images seem to render duller on the screen.
   Then there were the usual problems of photo and music directories from the transferred SD card not appearing in order, which isn’t uncommon.
   While I’ve yet to give the phone the acid test (daily use, taking photos and videos), I haven’t really been wowed by the experience of setting up. It was far easier in 2016, with better results. It’s going to be a useful phone, and I thank Charlotte at PB Technologies Wellington for her advice, but if I had the time, I would have waited till a friend went to China and asked them to bring a Google-free one back.

PS., December 4: Solution to getting the Chinese version of Weibo: since my old phone wasn’t completely dead (and will remain in service as long as the screen holds up), I went to its App Store, which is Chinese, got the URL for Weibo there (through sharing it), visited it on a browser on my new phone, and installed from there.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Posted in culture, humour, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Life inside Google—an ex-Googler airs the dirty laundry

19.10.2018

In amongst all the political fallout of the National Party this week—what I’m dubbing (and hashtagging) ‘caught in the Rossfire’—was a series (well, over 100) Tweets from Morgan Knutson, a designer who once worked for Google. Unlike most Googlers, especially the cult-like ones who refuse to help when you point out a fault with Google, Knutson decided he would be candid and talk about his experience. And it isn’t pretty. Start here:

Or, if you prefer, head to the Twitter page itself, or this Threader thread.
   As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve long suspected things to be pretty unhealthy within Google, and it turns out that it’s even worse than I expected.
   A few take-outs: (a) some of the people who work there have no technical or design experience (explains a lot); (b) there’s a load of internal politics; (c) the culture is horrible but money buys a lot of silence.
   Knutson claims to have received a lot of positive feedback, some in private messaging. His Tweets on the aftermath:

   This, I thought, summed it up better than I could, even though I’ve had a lot more space to do it:

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, USA | No Comments »


Twitter stutters and other Big Tech misadventures

07.10.2018

I think the signs of a departure from Twitter are all there. Certainly on a cellphone there’s little point to it any more. As of last week, this began happening.

   That last sentence refers only to the fact that Twitter is the only website on the planet where the keyboard is incompatible. (Thanks to Andrew McPherson for troubleshooting this with me.) Other sites are buggy, too: earlier today I couldn’t delete something from Instagram (being owned by Facebook means all the usual Facebook databasing problems are creeping in), and one video required four upload attempts before it would be visible to others:

I couldn’t reply on the Facebook website to a direct message (clicking in the usual typing field does nothing, and typing does nothing) except in image form, so I sent my friend this:

   Earlier this year, many friends began experiencing trouble with their Facebook comments: the cursor would jump back to the beginning of text fields, pushing the first few characters they typed to the end. Others are complaining of bugs more and more often—reminds me of where I was four or five years ago. And we all now know about Facebook bots, four years after I warned of an ‘epidemic’.
   It’s as I always expected: those of us who use these sites more heavily encounter the bugs sooner. Vox was the same: I left a year before Six Apart closed it down, and the bugs I encountered could never be fixed. I’m actually going through a similar battle with Amazon presently, blog post to come.
   Now, since Mastodon and others work perfectly fine, and there’s no end of trouble to Big Tech, it’s inevitable that we jump ship, isn’t it?

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | No Comments »


De-Googling is more mainstream now

30.09.2018


No, this isn’t my idea: Reed Allman used a version of this in his Medium post about de-Googling.

Looks like I’m not the only one writing about de-Googling, even if this piece in Medium is many years after I wrote about my efforts in 2009–10. (Here’s an even earlier one.)
   It does mean that others are becoming warier of Google’s privacy intrusions, if it’s now a mainstream issue. Reed Allman’s piece is very good, and it was interesting to see that it took him 36 days and upward of US$1,500 to get free of Google’s clutches. I’m sure it can be done for less with some judicious use of certain services. It’s far better having it all in one place (unlike my documenting nearly a decade ago), and his guide is bang up to date.
   I will recommend Zoho ahead of others as a Gmail alternative, only because of personal experience and Zoho’s excellent customer service. I haven’t used Zoho’s office programs but I assume they are the equal of Google Docs et al.
   He does conclude that he didn’t feel others were convinced about following suit, which is sometimes how I feel when these warnings fall on deaf ears. (And you’ve already heard me go on about other Big Tech players elsewhere.)

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Social media mean less and less

16.09.2018


Above: I must report and block dozens of Instagram accounts a day, not unlike getting over the 200-a-day mark on Facebook in 2014.

For the last few days, I made my Twitter private. It was the only time in 11 years of being on the service where I felt I needed that level of privacy; I only made things public again when I realized that I couldn’t actually contact people who weren’t already following me.
   However, it was relatively blissful. Accounts with automated following scripts were blocked as I had to approve them manually. I had far fewer notifications. And I only heard directly back from people I liked.
   It actually reminded me of the “old days”. It’s why Mastodon appeals: since there were only a million people on there at the end of last year, it felt like Twitter of old (even if it has already descended far enough for actor Wil Wheaton to get abused, compelling him to leave).
   The quieter few days also got me thinking: I had far more business success prior to social media. I was blogging at Beyond Branding, and that was a pretty good outlet. I emailed friends and corresponded like pen pals. Those weren’t fleeting friendships where the other party could just “like” what you said. If I really think about it, social media have done very little in terms of my business.
   I’m not saying that social media don’t have a purpose—a viral Tweet that might get quoted in the press could be useful, I suppose—but I really didn’t need them to be happy in my work and my everyday life.
   Since giving up updating my Facebook wall in 2017, I haven’t missed telling everyone about what I’m up to, because I figured that the people who needed to know would know. Twitter remained a useful outlet because there are some people on there whose interactions I truly value, but as you can surmise from what I said above, the number of notifications didn’t matter to me. I don’t need the same dopamine hit that others do when someone likes or re-Tweets something of theirs.
   Interestingly, during this time, I logged into Whatsapp, an app I load once every three months or so since I have a few friends on it. I saw a video sent to me by Stefan Engeseth:

   When I look at my Instagram stats, they’re back to around 2015 levels, and with these current trends, my usage will drop even further as we head into 2019.
   And I really don’t mind. The video shows just why social media aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and why they aren’t ultimately healthy for us.
   I can add the following, that many of you who read this blog know: Facebook is full of bots, with false claims about their audience, and engages in actual distribution of questionable invasive software, charges I’ve levelled at the company for many years, long before the world even heard of Christopher Wylie. Twitter is also full of bots but actually disapproves of services that help them identify them; they have double standards when it comes to what you can and can’t say; and, perhaps most sadly, those people who have viewpoints that are contrary to the mainstream or the majority are shat on by disorganized gangs of Tweeters. That’s not liberty. Instagram is also full of bots—like when I was on Facebook, when I reported dozens to hundreds of bots a day—and there seems to be no end to them; it also lies when it talks about how its advertising works. Given all of these problems, why would I provide these services with my precious time?
   I engage with these social media in more and more limited fashion and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m completely away from these big tech names in due course.
   It’s not as though young people are active on them, so the idea that they are services where you can get the next generation of customers is bogus. If you say you’re on Facebook, you might be considered an old-timer now. I asked a Year 11 student here on work experience what he used. Facebook wasn’t one of them. He said most of his friends Snapchatted, while he was in to Reddit. He didn’t like Facebook because it wasn’t real, and we have a generation who can spot the BS and the conceit behind it.
   It does make the need for services such as Duck Duck Go even greater, for us to get unbiased information not filtered by Google’s love of big corporations, in its quest to rid the web of its once meritorious nature. Google is all about being evil.
   As we near the 2020s, a decade which we hope will be more caring and just than the ones before, it’s my hope that we can restore merit to the system and that we find more ethical alternatives to the big names. I can’t see as great a need to show off fake lives on social media when it’s much more gratifying, for me at least, to return to what I did at the beginning of the century and let the work speak for itself.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, New Zealand, Sweden, technology, USA | 1 Comment »