|A guide to buying technology for artists and creatives!|
How many times have you become
frustrated by the ever-growing complexity that technology brings to your
workflow as an artist? I have been using technology as far back as I can
remember, maybe even longer and there are still times when I think it would be so
much simpler to just use a regular paper notepad instead of this device that
always needs an update.
This week, I am hoping to give
you a little respite from some of the frustrations which as an artist you might
encounter from using technology in your process of creating art. Whether you
are using a computer to keep your paperwork up to date or creating digital
images, as an artist you can’t really avoid using digital tools, they are as essential
as a paintbrush for most creatives. The problem is that technology often gets
in the way of our creative flow.
So, in order to keep your
flow, flowing, I will also be sharing some tips and tricks to keep both your
wallet and your sanity secure!
From Windows updates to
understanding cables and getting the most out of your existing phone camera,
this week, there is so much to cover. We will also be looking into the classic
SD Card scam, and I will be giving you some useful pointers to make sure you
buy the right tech at the right time to make sure you can squeeze the most
value out of it. If it’s technology, I have you covered!
I make no apologies for the
depth and detail included in this feature, everything is becoming exponentially
more and more expensive and when you are a small business owner, which many
artists are, it’s unwise to spend money needlessly or on the wrong things when
it comes to buying new technologies to support your creative practice, the
world is expensive enough.
|Fractured Peace – one of my latest abstracts and seems relevant when we talk about technology!|
Technology is undoubtedly expensive
in regular times, even more so when you are using it in a professional capacity.
When it comes to using technology to create digital art, depending on your
creative process you could be talking about costs that begin to look more like
telephone numbers particularly when it comes to buying technology that often
needs some level of ongoing subscription to support it.
Even if you are only using
digital tools to support the creative process rather than to perform the
creative process, there is also a global chip shortage and a post-pandemic
slump in manufacturing output that is adding to the expense that we are seeing
in technology today. That’s aside from the rising costs associated with all
manner of subscriptions that seem to have become a way of life in the 21st
Century. We have transitioned from owning technology to essentially renting it
but without the usual benefits that traditional rental models would bring.
If we believe the marketing
hype we would immediately think that technology is an enabler that makes life
easier. Technology is certainly an enabler, but it doesn’t always make your
life easier. It’s not just you, we professionals, even the ones who write the
code to make things happen get just as frustrated with it as anyone else.
Technology, no matter how
great it is, has to have inbuilt frustration, it’s the law. Technology also has
its own mind and there’s nothing you nor the greatest computer programmer in
the history of ever can do about that because no matter how dumb that dumb
terminal makes you think it is, it is actively thinking of new ways to provide
new versions of stress for you to endure.
As a primarily digital artist
these days, I rely on technology for almost every aspect of my workflow. Beyond
that, those who know me will know how heavily I am involved in the retro computer
scene and in high-end enterprise IT and cyber security. In my spare time, I
relax in front of anything from a vintage Commodore 64 home computer from the
eighties to a modern-day PS5, so it’s not unusual to see me in person and think
that I followed a different evolutionary path and developed mobile devices in
place of hands.
I literally use and rely on
technology from morning to night and my frustrations with it can last just as
long. I eat, sleep, and dream technology but occasionally that dream becomes a
nightmare as I am greeted with either a message that translates to computer
says no, or I sit and scream at a screen that is technically known as the
screen of digital death.
Technology is just like a
toddler, you have to give it attention and feed it with expensive food and it
will still throw a tantrum while you are walking around the grocery store.
I don’t think I know of any
artists today who never have to use at least some form of digital technology in
the business of creating art. Even artists who have never created a work of ‘digital
art’ won’t have been able to avoid using technology somewhere in their workflow.
From using social media to making a sale, writing up your artist bio or
accessing your online sales platform or website, every road will lead back to
some level of digital touchpoint.
Technology is a critical
component in the process of artists who probably thought that they would forever
be able to get away with only a brush, some pigment and a canvas. For hybrid
traditional/digital artists like me, there’s absolutely no way to avoid it. Having
used technology since the late seventies, a time when computers came in kit
form, there hasn’t been a day since at least 1980 when my fingers haven’t
touched a computer even when I have been creating non-digital work.
Because we humans as a species
have such a dependency on technology, it also means that there’s very little
you can do to change the inherent frustration lovingly/sadistically delivered
by almost every device. If you want a life where you never have to update your
computer you will need to go back in time to the eighties and get your hands on
a Commodore 64 or any of the 8-bit home computers of the time in a pre-internet
era where the useful life of a computer was often measured in multiple years.
Whilst the technology back
then had nowhere near the level of capability that it has today, computers
tended to only be upgraded when newer models were released, and then only if
you could afford it. There would always be a legacy of users hanging out from
the last generation to ensure the systems continued to be supported and there
was almost no yearly upgrade cycle with any technology. The expectation today that
tech is re-released annually with only minor iterations and advances is a
relatively new thing.
In the eighties and well into
the early millennium, manufacturers took time between generations of computers
to develop newer models whilst building excitement in the market for the next
new thing. Imagine if all of the new features found in today’s annual upgrades
were stacked and then released every two or even three years with modern
technology, the small iterations we see between models of anything that has an
annual upgrade today would seem so much bigger and it would probably sway those
who usually sit on the fence to buy into the upgrade.
I think we can all agree that
technology is tedious and that’s coming from an all-out technology geek, but it
is also essential. Despite levels of frustration higher than a hippy at
Woodstock, you can take steps to reduce the number of hours you will need to
spend with your head in your hands as yet another update needs installing.
|PCB by Mark Taylor – This almost industrial work is a nod back to the early days of home computing, when technology was easier, simpler, and could do less…|
If you use a Windows device as
part of your workflow you will know just how many updates need to be applied
each month. These updates are essential to making sure that your device is
protected from cyber risk and the many bad players who prey on the unpatched
masses of the population who think updates are for wimps or because they simply
don’t have the time. If you think the time it takes to apply an update is too
much, think about the time it takes to fix the problem from not applying the
update and the lost creative time that you will never get back.
You need to think about updates
in a similar way you would think about life support. If you turn it off there
is a good chance that your device will die a slow painful death taking your
digital life with it in the process. You might notice that your devices begin
to run slower, it might start to generate more errors and in some cases, it might
display a blue screen suggesting that your device ran into problems and needs
to send a report to its master and then restart.
Technology then slips into a
never-ending loop. From the first update it becomes a perpetual cycle of
shutdowns, restarts, and more updates and it still won’t ever be quite the same
as it was when you first took it out of its box.
In the good old days, most of
the speed issues experienced by computers could be easily solved by
defragmenting your hard drive but with modern devices which use solid-state
drives, the process is a little different and is called optimisation. Modern
solid-state drives work very differently from the mechanical drives of the past
and they need a completely different life support care plan.
However, optimisation alone
isn’t some golden panacea to speeding up your device and solving every error,
it is just one more thing of many that will contribute to a range of other
things that work together to keep everything ticking along, or at least until
they don’t. All you can do with technology is try to stay in sync with the
updates because you will never find yourself in the position of being a step
Even keeping everything up to
date doesn’t give you any guarantee that the update will fix every glitch. The
applications you use may contain bugs and will themselves need updating
frequently too, and more often than not, updating an operating system will mean
that you then have to update all of your apps. Life is one long process of
updates and restarts and mastering the art of patience.
We also need to add new
features into the mix, apps and operating systems rarely stand still. Even if
you only want the latest features to make life a little easier, keeping
everything on the latest version will usually give you the best experience. I
say usually because day one releases are rarely perfect and may need another
update or three to get anywhere close to working as expected.
Updates are rarely without
issue but sometimes it’s not a technology thing at all that prevents something from working, it’s the human that sits between the chair and the keyboard and the
problem usually stems from something technically known as being impatient.
Sometimes updates fail. If you
are using a Windows-based device you will want to be aware of something called
the update connectivity measurement. This essentially means that your
device will need to be connected online for much longer than you think in order
to guarantee a successful or at least, an almost problem-free update. I say
almost problem-free with a caveat that assumes the update actually fixes a
problem in the first place.
Even though a computer goes
through a restart process, the process isn’t usually over, the computer only
makes you think it is. The entire update will often require somewhere in the
region of two hours to download and begin the initial update process but this
will be dependent on your internet speed, two hours is really a minimum even
with really fast internet. Apparently, it’s not the size that matters.
It will then take at least a
further six hours or so to successfully apply the updates and add any new
features. During the entire eight hours or so that the process is running, your
device should remain connected online and powered on. Most of the time you can
continue to use it during this time but always make sure that you are regularly
saving any work as the device could randomly restart at any time.
|Retro Peripheral by Mark Taylor – from the Tank Mouse to the floppy disc, this work just pops. Each element has been created as its own artwork and then juxtaposed with an industrial twist.|
There will also be updates
that rely on you to have previously installed all updates before them. If you
take a manual approach to update your devices then you will risk missing out
on important updates and more vitally, critical security updates that help to
prevent bad threat actors from taking over your PC and ruining your day.
It’s not just operating
systems that have a reliance on the internet, antivirus tools have an
insatiable appetite for being forever connected too. Bear in mind that having
an up to date antivirus tool on your PC is only a small part of the bigger
picture that helps to keep your computer alive. Antivirus packages are
absolutely essential even if you only use a computer occasionally but once
again, they need to be used in conjunction with lots of other good practice too
and they have to always be kept up to date.
Antivirus programmes are
completely reliant on having access to the internet for real-time updates with
some antivirus packages checking almost by the second to ensure they have the
latest threats identified in their dictionaries along with a fix for them. Most
of the time these updates will be seamless and will run in the background, but
be wary because even a small operating system update could upset the
equilibrium of an antivirus package and turn off any protection that you
thought you had, without you lifting a finger.
Just as you would check the
tyres or fuel level on your car before you embark on a long journey, it is
worth checking at least periodically that everything is running as it should
be. Take a few seconds to open up your Windows update settings to make sure
that everything that should be updated has been downloaded and installed correctly, and
also open up your antivirus application to make sure it is actively working and
up to date.
This is a must-do following
any update of the operating system because updates can play havoc with your
antivirus package. You can never guarantee that the computer will always notify
you when something is amiss and you certainly can’t guarantee that your
computer will automatically turn the antivirus back on. Remember, in-built frustration
is the law.
|Please Stand By – By Mark Taylor. I wanted to create something both familiar and almost uncomfortable, with added glitches!|
Automatic updates are great,
but they don’t really work like you think they do. They are automatic, they’re
just not always automatic immediately. A great example of this can be seen on
Apple devices whenever you have auto-updates from the App Store turned on. You
might find a new update is available and despite you having auto updates
enabled, the update might not actually have been downloaded and installed on
your device until days or sometimes even a week or two later after it has been
There’s nothing inherently wrong
when this happens although some updates are going to be more critical when it
comes to security and you might want them a little sooner. Manufacturers who send out updates like to
control deployments in stages so that millions of people don’t suddenly
overwhelm their servers all at the same time trying to download the latest
version of the operating system or the update that promises seventy additional
emojis, because new emojis are really what it’s all about.
Everyone connecting to the
upgrade servers at the same time would be extremely problematic for the
manufacturer’s hardware to deal with, so if you want the latest and greatest
sooner than the auto-update delivers it, you will need to manually request it.
You can still manually request updates even if you leave the automatic download
settings in place.
Delaying updates isn’t always
a bad idea if you can hold out for a day or two. The first iteration of an
update can sometimes break more things than it fixes and a new update then gets
pushed out sometimes even within a few hours of the original update going live.
In other words, initial updates can be bug-ridden examples of bad coding that
only dummies like me make sure are downloaded within seconds of them going
With non-critical updates, it
is usually worth hanging back for a day or two if you can because more often
than not, updates will need to have glitches resolved fairly quickly and if
this is the case, holding back a day or two will limit the chances of you being
unable to do what you need to do because some bug stops the thing you need to
do from working.
As for all of those additional
emojis and half-useful extra features that you get excited about when any new
update comes along, chances are that you will completely forget about them
within a few days and then you will rarely if ever use them. Features such as emojis and other quality of
life improvements to the software are usually added a few days or weeks and
sometimes months after the primary version of an update has been released. This
is so that the initial version can be quickly fixed if it contains any bugs.
When the initial update goes live, it’s very rare that it will be the finished
product as developers will still be working on iterations of that version often
for many more weeks.
The other reason that these
fun elements are added later on is to keep you engaged with the upgrade process.
Minor iterations of an update will appear between major updates and these are
more likely to contain the fun, quality of life features that you might have
been expecting from the initial release.
If a minor update contains a
benefit that you are more likely to use, you are more likely to download it.
Everyone using the exact same version of software makes life considerably
easier for the developer and adding these additional features in between major
releases encourages people to remain on board with the upgrade process. In the
eyes of the developer, they want everyone on the same version of the same thing
because it makes their life so much easier with fewer support calls and it
makes for a more consistent experience for everyone.
|Pixel Art by Mark Taylor – The irony of this work is that almost 300 floppy discs would be needed to store the original file of this work!|
If everyone were to use the
exact same version of a software release, it would make the experience better
for everyone, but the world doesn’t quite work like that so we have differences
to contend with even from devices using the same platform.
Android is a good example of
multiple versions of what seems to be the same thing. When you purchase an
Android mobile cell phone it might tell you that it is up to date, in truth its
probably not. The issue is that the advice it gives you is predicated on
whether or not the manufacturer of your device is up to date.
The Android operating system
is constantly updated but it then has to be seeded to the hundreds of
manufacturers who create Android devices who then have to run their own testing
before allowing owners of their devices the opportunity to download and install
In some cases, especially if
you are using a carrier-branded device, you could have two of the exact same
devices with only one of them being able to receive an update. With
carrier-branded devices, the carrier will also need to carry out testing and if
a feature is made available that is incompatible with either their network or
their business plan, the update is less likely to appear or will appear much
later than release.
To add to that, any updates
that do make it onto carrier-branded devices might also have to have further
work carried out if, for example, the carrier is using their own proprietary
user interface. This can also add to the time delay in getting updates out.
It’s quite possible that you
might not get the update at all in some scenarios, or it might take weeks or
even months until you see that an update has been made available. What this
means is that some devices are more likely to reach their useful and usable end
of life prematurely despite other devices carrying the exact same specification
and model number having a little more life left in them. Life expectancy can be
more to do with the cellular carrier than the manufacturer in some cases.
My advice, regardless of
whether you decide on the Apple/Android or another eco-system entirely is to
always go for the most recent and most well-supported device you can afford
from a major brand and be a little more cautious about purchasing carrier-branded devices. Before signing up for a cellular plan with a carrier-branded
device, ask questions about the frequency of updates and make comparisons with the
devices that originate directly from the manufacturer.
There’s usually very little
that’s different between the manufacturer’s original device and the carrier-branded device that is based on the same model, other than maybe having the carrier
branding etched into the casing, and maybe a slightly different user interface,
although the carrier branded device could cost a little less. Checking out the
onward differences such as update roadmaps could save you considerably more
cash and pain in the long term.
|1984 by Mark Taylor – I wanted to create a sense that technology is always watching, it sees us but isn’t like us, nor does it understand us.|
I cannot for the life of me
tie a clove hitch knot but all of my cables can. Throw two cables up in the air
and they will magically tie themselves together and multiply into four. The
same thing happens when you place a cable behind the TV, no matter how much
cable management you use cables can be a huge frustration and especially when
you are a digital artist. They can seriously get in the way of your creative
Cables really matter when it
comes to digital art and video editing but they can also be a source of
frustration and just when you think you have got to grips with them, standards
change and new capabilities are added to both the cables and the devices they
plug into. I know, most people will find it really difficult to find any level
of excitement from a cable, but some cables really are game-changers.
The problem is that many
cables look exactly the same and their descriptions often suggest they serve
the same purpose, but not all cables are anywhere near equal and understanding
cable technology could save you a lot of money down the line.
It feels like only yesterday
when we needed to change the HDMI cables that plugged into our shiny new 4K
TVs. They needed to be faster than those used in standard high definition TVs,
they had to be able to carry much more data more efficiently and more
expediently. Whilst every HDMI cable will look identical other than maybe being
a little cosmetically different, they’re nowhere close to always being the
If you are in the market for a
new TV or monitor for your creative workflow, knowing the latest cable standards could save you a considerable amount of money in the
future. Whereas not too long ago we might have been influenced into making a screen
purchase by the number of HDMI ports on the device, today we also need to
consider how fast those ports will work.
There’s a risk that by saving
a little money on buying last year’s model of TV or monitor you might find that the device
you are buying might not be compatible with the latest HDMI standard which is
now HDMI 2.1.
With previous iterations of
the HDMI standard we didn’t see the sudden technology leaps of anywhere near
the scale that has since been introduced with this new standard, and whilst it
might not be all that important for your workflow today, it will be very soon.
4K TVs might seem like a
recent upgrade but visual technology is quickly heading towards 8K resolutions
as the standard. Right now, none of the streaming services provide content in
8K resolutions but this was also the case when 4K started to appear on the
It will only be a matter of
time before we see the likes of Netflix hiking up their prices once again and
offering us a super-duper-premium-plus-deluxe-plus option to take advantage of
the three shows filmed in 8K. It will then take approximately five minutes for
8K to become as mainstream as 4K is today and a further 2.6 minutes for Netflix
to then cancel the show.
Whilst buying an 8K monitor or
TV is still overkill for today’s needs, by ensuring your new display has HDMI
2.1 capability you will be able to take advantage of the many other features that
the cable and the standard will bring. If your new device doesn’t have at least
one HDMI 2.1 port, you could find yourself changing last year’s screen model
sooner than you might have originally planned means that the small saving you
made on last year’s model will now need to be spent and then some on yet another
upgrade. I’m all for saving money when it comes to technology, but making the
right choices at the right time is the only way to continue saving.
Before we go on to the
benefits of HDMI 2.1 it’s worth noting that if you are considering upgrading
your display, not all displays labelled as being HDMI 2.1 compatible will offer
all of the benefits that the standard can bring. In terms of the benefits, the
primary benefit that comes from the new standard is around resolution and
refresh rates. In theory, HDMI 2.1 can handle resolutions up to 10K at 120Hz,
incredibly detailed, blisteringly fast, but nowhere even close to becoming
mainstream maybe for a decade or so and it may be a while longer before they
are affordable outside of specialist commercial use.
What HDMI 2.1 will bring you
out of the box today is 4K resolutions at 120 frames per second or 8K at 60
frames per second which is brilliant news for digital artists and gamers. If
you aren’t sitting in either of those camps, life just started costing a lot
less because you will most likely find that slightly older technology will be
good enough for a while longer unless you absolutely must have that not yet very
content-filled experience that 8K currently brings.
The new standard also allows
VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) which means that the display will seamlessly
transition between display resolutions depending on what’s happening on the
screen. This allows a much more detailed output by changing from a slightly
lower resolution to full resolution on the fly, and of course, HDR will be able
to be displayed at the same time. In simple terms, it just looks great and
keeps everything flowing at the best resolution and speed available and you are
less likely to experience shearing on the screen.
The numbers above might seem
over the top for creating digital art, but if your process includes creating
output for screens such as video game art, concept art, or high-end
illustration and animation, HDMI 2.1 is now the absolute minimum that will
become the defacto standard within the next couple of years and within eighteen
months it will almost certainly become your default choice when buying a new
HDMI 2.1 also upgrades the
audio experience meaning that you can move away from systems such as Dolby
Digital and utilise systems such as Dolby Atmos. If your HDMI 2.1 device also
happens to have eARC capability, then you will find an enhanced audio return
channel for connecting things like soundbars and home theatre systems. The
downside, of course, you will need a compatible audio system too.
No matter what manufacturers
say on their marketing hype, for the average HDMI 2 cable there is very little
discernible difference between different makes of cable, and in most cases, no
difference at all for most users, even between discount and premium brands. You
might experience a little noise with some cables if they’re not well-shielded but
it’s not always the discount cables that have the problem. If you are using a
certified cable you are less likely to see any difference between brands.
Cables always come preloaded
with marketing hype but to officially meet the HDMI 2 standard, they have to
actually meet the HDMI 2 standard which unlike HDMI 2.1, is much more common on
today’s screens. There can be a huge difference in price between HDMI 2 cables
but it’s just not worth paying over the odds for the exact same thing that
already meets the exact same standard and does the exact same thing. Unless you
really are only spending relative pennies on a cable, they’re all much of a
muchness at this level.
HDMI 2.1 on the other hand is
a very different story. The speeds are much higher than previous HDMI
standards. HDMI 2 maxed out at 18Gbps, the new HDMI 2.1 or 48G cables max out
at 48Gbps. In simple terms, the new standard is exponentially faster and can do
more things at the same time. A certified HDMI 2.1 cable will be able to get
the most out of the HDMI 2.1 port, and there are already some differences in
quality emerging between manufacturers. The new cables can still be used with
HDMI 2 but they won’t really make that much difference to the older standards
output, they won’t, for example, turn an HDMI 2 output into HDMI 2.1.
|That Eighties Thing by Mark Taylor – Depicting standard definition in high definition – what a decade the 80s was for innovation and invention!|
If you want to save money on
your next display purchase, save it on the right things. That means looking for
devices which offer full HDMI 2.1 capability rather than saving a hundred bucks
buying last years model which may only have the standard HDMI 2 or limited HDMI
2.1 capability. In two years time you will probably need to upgrade again if
you go with an older model now with the intention of using it in your
When it comes to cables it
doesn’t matter all that much which HDMI 2 cable you go for, this is an area
where you can save plenty of money. With HDMI 2.1, make sure that it is fully
HDMI 2.1 compliant and check out reviews from reputable sources before you make
the purchase because there is very little money to be saved here and a good
quality HDMI 2.1 cable is still relatively expensive, compared to its older
variant. It will take maybe three to four years before we begin seeing quality
lower-cost options in the HDMI 2.1 arena.
When it comes to network cables,
the quality of the cable can make a huge difference not just to your pocket,
but to your internet speeds too. You might have heard the terms, Cat 6, Cat 7,
or even Cat 8, and they can all be useful if they’re used in the right places.
Previously we had Cat5 and Cat 5e, but these are now fairly limited in their
use and the cost difference between Cat5 and 6 is negligible.
These are the cables that
usually provide you with wired access between your device and your internet
router, they’re also the cables that are hidden in walls to provide network
ports in an office.
With network cables, they’re
not all close to being equal. Cat 6 cables will provide you with 1Gbps speeds
over a distance of up to 100 metres. In practice, I would never use it for that
kind of distance, mostly I would recommend a total run length of a maximum of 60
metres to ensure your speeds are more consistent and less if your cable needs
to go around corners as crazy as that sounds!
Cat 7 cables offer greater
speeds to your device from your router, but both Cat 6 and Cat 7 can be
affected by noise, hence there are specific rules that mean these cables have
to have a certain number of pairs (wires inside), and they must be shielded to
prevent signal loss from noise.
Cat 7 provides 10Gbps of speed
across a similar distance to Cat 6, although again, I would recommend using
fibre optics if the total length of the run is greater than 60-metres. It’s
also surprising just how long a cable needs to be, even in smaller homes.
Cat 8 is the fastest, allowing
blisteringly fast speeds of up to either 25Gbps or 40Gbps, but these cables can
only be used for distances less than 30-metres before the signal degrades to
almost being unusable.
There is often very little
difference in price between all of the categories of cable, and depending on
what you want to use the cable for there would be far greater benefits in using
Cat 7 as a standard or ideally, if you only need the cable to cover a short
distance, Cat 8 because that will save you money in the future. For most
smaller networks where distance is less of an issue, Cat 8 will become the
I recently upgraded my home
and studio network to utilise Cat 8, each run was short enough to allow this
and I also began using a short Cat 8 lead to connect my devices to Cat 8
enabled network sockets on the wall and suddenly, I was getting almost the
entirety of my gigabit internet connection available on my MacBook Pro and my
PS5 despite having more than 30 other devices connected on the same network.
Everything from printers to game consoles and a power-hungry Mac Pro which
looks more like a cheese grater than a computer. With the previous Cat 7
cabling, I wasn’t getting anywhere close to this speed.
Quality does matter with
network cables and especially when you begin to look towards Cat 8. Some cables
will be able to be used both internally and externally and having a weather
proof cable means that they’re less likely to be affected by changes in
temperatures, some of these cables will be more robust if you do plan to use
them outside. If you pay a premium you can even have armoured cabling
protecting you from the other issues you typically get from using external
Whilst many people will be
relying on Wi-Fi for connectivity, the benefits of hardwired connectivity will only
become more evident in the coming years as devices become hungrier and hungrier
for faster bandwidth. New Wi-Fi protocols such as Wi-Fi 6 promise faster
speeds, but you have to take into account that faster speeds rely on signals
travelling over much shorter distances than they would have done with earlier
iterations of Wi-Fi technologies which were slower but had a wider range.
|Ordered by Mark Taylor – the chaos of Wi-Fi signals maybe?|
It’s worth thinking about just
how your internet works too. Slow Wi-Fi often gets confused with slow internet
and upgrading your internet service provider’s speed is never a guarantee that
your Wi-Fi will be better, it could even turn out to be worse.
The same factors that slow
Wi-Fi down will still be there even with a faster broadband line. Wi-Fi and the
internet often get conflated as being one and the same thing but the
differences are like chalk and cheese. Wi-Fi is not the internet, which most
of you will already know, but you would be surprised at just how many people
swap their internet packages for faster ones only to find no difference in
speed at all when they connect wirelessly.
It’s also worth remembering
that your internet speeds or more specifically, the speed you load web pages is
often dictated by the website you are trying to reach, not by the size of your
pipe! Slow speeds don’t always mean that there is an issue with your internet
package or your Wi-Fi. Slow speeds can be caused by many, many things, and
figuring out exactly what’s slowing everything down can be like trying to find
a specific needle in a haystack of needles.
You can have a 1Gigabit
internet connection but if the website is only serving content at 20Mbps, in
very over-simple terms, that’s the very best speed you will see from the
website although your internal speeds between your router and device will be
faster although this will make only minimal difference to the experience, so minimal you might not even notice.
If you regularly check
broadband speed websites, remember that these are served from the exact same
internet as the rest of the content you see so they will be affected by the
exact same problems. This means that speed tests are often an estimate at that particular
second rather than being a definitive and exact speed.
Real network bandwidth monitoring is carried out using other technologies and some complex maths. For most home users, there is an expectation that it will all just work. If you do utilise one of the many speed test services you need to make sure that it is one that is less inclined to give you erroneous results. Netflix’s speed checker is one of the best with minimal overhead. You can find it here.
When you run a speed check, make sure you carry out tests over multiple days and at multiple times. This will provide you with more consistent results than a one-off test could bring.
So far we have covered a great
deal of the many things that can frustrate your creative flow. Slow internet,
error-prone updates, getting the best display experience from your screen, and
for the most part, these are things that you can easily put right. What you
might be able to do less about are scams and as a professional creative, you
could be more susceptible to scams than most.
This is probably one of the
most underrated, yet vital aspects of digital art and photography, and the
following section is detailed because it is the one area that I am asked to
advise on all of the time. It is also an area that affects artists who rely on
having SD Cards on hand to operate their business.
When I began to utilise this
new fangled flash memory the world used things like Compact Flash cards which
were huge, yet stored only a minuscule amount of the data compared to what can be
stored on a much smaller SD-Card of today.
Compact Flash cards were also
very, very, expensive, unlike today when you can buy almost a hundred SD Cards
for the price that would have been charged for an older and exponentially
slower CF card when they first came out. In short, SD Cards today are a bargain
at whatever price you pay and you really shouldn’t scrimp on quality for the
sake of saving pennies when it comes to trusting something the size of a
postage stamp with hours of your work.
SD Cards are truly amazing
little things, and with the most recent versions having gigabyte capacities on
something smaller than a stamp, it’s almost like witchcraft, I mean what a time
to be alive! However, and just because the world is the way it is, even memory
cards can take front and centre place in scams designed to take your money and
leave you without any way at all to access possibly hundreds of hours of work.
At one time, the biggest
middle-class problem you would have had with these things would be that too
many modern cameras didn’t include dual memory card slots meaning you would have
to swap out full cards on the fly. It’s a huge problem for some people who rely
on capturing millisecond-by-millisecond photos of events, but it’s really not a
problem for those who can wait for a few seconds.
The problem today is that
there are now way bigger problems to contend with when it comes to memory cards
and you need to be switched on to the pitfalls of buying cheap because it could
cost you more than money in the long run.
Photographers and digital
artists often spend the GDP of a small country on SD Cards, despite their
relatively low cost and coupled with the sheer number of them that most
professionals will use, it’s easy to see why this is an area that is looked at
when you are looking to save a few pennies.
SD Cards are an area of technology
that can bring unexpected problems in the form of fakes. Even buying from
reputable retailers is not always a guarantee that what you will get is what
you originally paid for. If you are anything like me then you might scour sites
such as Amazon for SD Card bargains but even those might not actually be
originals. It’s not at all that Amazon knowingly sell fake SD Cards, it’s that
they are a huge company that also allows third-party sellers to offer goods on
their platform and this is usually where the problems begin.
I’m not singling Amazon out,
eBay, even Etsy, and a multitude of other services that allow third parties the
ability to sell anything can be unwittingly making scammers’ lives easier by
giving them a platform on which they can sell their wares. If you are thinking
of buying pre-used SD Cards, there are about a million and one reasons why you
should avoid doing that, but also in terms of the images that might have been
previously stored on them which could hypothetically at least, be recoverable
by law enforcement.
In the worst case, it could
mean that you might suddenly have some explaining to do if illegal images are
found on your SD Card and proving your innocence might be difficult when buying
through services such as Facebook’s Marketplace where the transactions are
usually completed with cash.
It’s also a problem for those
selling used SD Cards, even if the seller believes they have wiped them. Unless
that wipe process involved some complex, almost military-grade and multiple
write and wipe procedures to make sure any previous data had been fully
overwritten, it is often possible to recover deleted files which might include
personal information. It’s often cited that as many as two-thirds of pre-used
SD Cards hold recoverable data, how true that is I have no idea, but I would
suspect from experience that this is highly likely just on the basis of how
many traditional hard drives I have been able to recover over the years.
|80s Music Technology by Mark Taylor – today, all of our music can be stored on a piece of plastic smaller than a postage stamp. What a time to be alive! (or at least it was in the 80s!)|
A five buck memory card is no
less likely to be a fake than a hundred buck memory card. This is because
smaller low-value scams are the new big thing and these low-value scams are on
the rise in other areas too. Unwitting buyers are less likely to return or make
much of a fuss about low-value items, instead, they will put the sale down to
experience and move on.
It makes more sense for
scammers too, many of those who would once utilise stolen data sets to carry
out high-value crimes are turning to smaller scams in higher volumes and
they’re making more from them. A five buck scam carried out by someone who
lives in a region where five bucks is the average weekly wage, is a substantial
haul for the scammer who now faces less scrutiny from unwanted attention. This
is true of other scams too which are for the most part, happening online and
especially through social media.
What you might see with fake
memory cards is that they often look almost identical or even the same as the original
manufacturer’s cards, in some cases, the cards might have even been produced in
the same production facilities. This makes it almost impossible at first glance
to determine whether or not you have a fake in your hands. To find out, you are
going to have to do something that I rarely advise anyone to do, and that is to
put it into a device to confirm either way, but you really should only ever do
this as a last resort.
If you have any suspicion that
the device might be a fake, you shouldn’t put it into your device at all. In
some cases, it could be filled with viruses or ransomware, or even a small piece
of code that allows a backdoor into your system. Hence, buying memory cards,
USB memory sticks or any media that can accommodate the storage of code, you
need to ensure that you make the purchase from a reputable dealer and you should
in all cases, even with cards you trust, scan the card with your anti-virus
program before using it. Most AV applications will give you the option of
scanning removable media, always make sure that setting is enabled.
It looks good and even the
packaging looks great, but that’s still only the surface detail. What you need
to find out is how well the card works in comparison to the specification of
card you purchased. Counterfeit and fake memory cards can be made to look and
perform just like the originals, even when you insert them into a device and
whilst they do a great job of acting just like the original card on the
surface, there are a heap of unknowns going on below.
The mere fact that these cards
are designed to hold data also means that scammers can include their own data
which may or may not open up back doors. It is more likely that some scammers
will place small snippets of code on the card before you purchase them and
there’s simply no easy way to find out if you have a card that has been tampered
Looking for obvious signs of
tampering around the packaging is one way that could help you to identify a
card that has previously been used, although there will be cases where
legitimate cards are sold even without packaging or in very simple original
manufacturer packaging that is usually reserved for trade sales.
Online adverts might even make
a thing about how the cards use OEM or even renewable packaging or that the
packaging will vary depending on the location of sale. They might even suggest
that the packaging is usually only used in certain stores or territories. The
problem is that this in itself is part of the scam and it is designed to make
you question everything a little less.
|80s Pop Music Culture by Mark Taylor – forget Warhol, this is where pop culture is today.|
Often, they will advertise
memory cards with high speeds and high volumes of storage, and for very little
money in comparison to buying from elsewhere. When the card arrives you might
also see the same specification written on both the card and the packaging, but
this is where the similarity to the original card ends.
Small scripts are added to
much smaller and much slower memory cards that make them appear to be what it
says on the tin. What you end up with is usually a card that is much slower
than the original, or has a massive difference in storage capacity. You are
more likely to see the latter on higher capacity cards so if you purchase one
of the ultra-expensive 1Tb cards for less than a competitors 128Gb card
thinking that you have found a bargain, what you could end up with is a
smaller, and much older, 32Gb card or even smaller that has been hacked to
display fake memory allocation results.
The real issue with this is
not just that you have a much smaller card, the script used makes your device
think that the card has a greater capacity than it really has and so the device
will continue writing to it not realising that the script also deletes
previously contained data at the same time as it writes the new data, so that
the computer never displays a message informing you that the card is full
simply because the card can never be filled.
The only time you will find
out about this is if you either expose the usually hidden script file, or you
realise that the work you had on the card from a year ago is no longer there.
Scripts are notoriously difficult to spot, and you really do need to know what
you are looking for.
Many official cards contain
all manner of other legitimate files from the manufacturer to create encrypted
spaces for example, and it’s likely that any bad script has either been hidden
within the legitimate files or it has been renamed. Often, the script is
essentially telling the computer to only ever store the most recent files up to
the official capacity of the card and to delete anything older. It’s an easy
hack that even those without masses of technical know-how could probably pull
off after watching an online tutorial.
Blisteringly fast says the
marketing hype, and the card even comes with sterling recommendations from
professional photographers, but not all memory cards are anywhere close to
being able to achieve the speeds that legitimate modern cards can achieve.
When I create digital art I
rely on having fast equipment, deadlines for commercial commissions can be
punishingly brutal and every second counts. If I need to backup a digital
artwork or more frequently, many instances of the same work, I simply don’t
have the time to wait around for the SD Card to take longer than it needs to
take. In some cases, this can be significantly longer, by tens of minutes and
even hours which is time that I can’t always continue to use the device to do
The scammers advertise higher
speeds and they will replace the original stickers or printed information on
blank SD Cards with stickers showing the wrong specification. Often, scammers
will purchase thousands of reject cards from manufacturers without labels and
then they will create new labels that exactly match the original. In some
cases, they omit to put any specification data on the label at all, and this is
a super-easy scam if they’re then selling onwards and using OM packaging which
tends to be very plain.
You might have purchased a
card that suggested real world speeds of 95MB read and 90MB write speeds, what
you could end up with are cards that have 95Kb read and 90Kb write speeds.
Whilst that difference might sound extreme, you are certainly never going to
achieve anything like the speeds you were sold with a counterfeit or fake card.
When this happens, the only thing you can do is to carry out real-world read
and write tests on the card to find out if yours is fake but my advice, if you
have a bad card, treat it as a fake and return it to the seller, it’s just not
worth your time or the risk it brings in finding out.
We’ve all heard that some of
the supermarket home brands are the exact same product as premium brands made
in the same facility, it’s the same with medications too. Whilst home brand
medications are easy to identify as being a premium product (by the special
codes on the packaging that contain the ingredient and medical information),
the same is not true of memory cards, it’s not always obvious by looking at a
card what it is.
You should also be mindful
that premium doesn’t always mean premium. Some of the more reputable home brand
cards are developed to an even higher specification than an original
manufacturer might make available so it’s worth checking out reviews from reputable
sources and looking closely at any real-world speeds advertised with the cards.
There’s real money (and risk)
in faked and forged art, but there’s just as much money in fake and forged SD
Cards, they’re low value and sold in high volumes but they don’t quite have the
journalistic grab that a good art heist will have. Even home printing today
makes it possible to recreate an almost perfect replica of the original label,
and because the label is placed on a relatively low-value product, it’s also
less likely to be spotted. Couple this with the fact that some manufacturers
produce different cards for different brands, and it becomes easier to think
about how faster, larger capacity cards might be switched at source or early on
in the supply chain, or slower cards are dressed up as faster cards.
The same thing happens with
electrical equipment and particularly high-end networking equipment. I have
known major organisations save money on buying premium network switches only to
find that the switches have been mass-produced fakes that bypass the original
manufacturer’s high-end security features which prevent legitimate devices from
booting if certain conditions aren’t met.
In my other life, I have even
found dubious practices that place backdoors into electrical devices so that
they are able to listen to the traffic passing through them and report it back
to a man in the middle which is usually a hacker waiting in the wings or at
worst, a rogue state. Counterfeit devices are ripe for hackers to attack and
compromise systems and yet the savings generally realised by buying fakes
aren’t always that significant, it’s just the same with the lowly SD Card.
The problem you might have
beyond unrealised expectations and a loss of time, money, business, and data,
is that the supply chains for these things are murkier than a mud infested
river. I tend to split my purchases into business critical and non-business critical,
with anything needed to be purchased for business-critical jobs going through a
supply chain security test. This is something that in my other life I am able
to pass on to a whole team of people to support me, in my life one point
zero which focuses on creating art and design, the onus of carrying out due
diligence is solely on me.
Checking the provenance of any
supplier is something that you can easily do without a team of people, making
sure that third-party sellers have a long history with the platforms that they
offer their goods on and also looking through reviews, although steering away from
reviews that exist on the same platform.
You can also contact the
company before making a purchase to find out if their contact details are
correct, and if there is any suspicion that the seller might be a bad player
it’s simply a case of finding another seller. If I purchase on a B2B (Business
to Business) basis, I always carry out checks on high-value purchases and ask
for verifiable references, and if I am purchasing from a third-party reseller
of high-value items, I generally check with the manufacturer that the seller is
listed as a channel partner. These are low effort high yield things that anyone
can do with a few minutes to spare.
This might seem over the top
just to purchase a memory card, so I tend to pay a little more for lower value
items to ensure they come from a reputable seller who I know and trust rather
than saving a few pennies and then having the headache of backed-up work not
For higher value items and
where the savings can be much more significant, twenty minutes of phone calls
and an email usually get me the information I need to have full or no
confidence in the supplier. In my other life, I would be making visits to
production facilities and distributors and would have a legal team conducting a
credit check. Now that might be overkill for an SD Card.
Having become somewhat of an
inadvertent expert on figuring out if a Warhol is real or fake and being asked
frequently to provide some insight when the odd gallery is about to make a
significant purchase, my eye for dodgy details has become more refined over the
years. I do the exact same thing with high-end electronics too.
For the most part, fake and
forged SD Card packaging falls into two camps. It’s either very good and could easily
pass as the original or it’s really, really bad, in which case the contents of
the packaging are almost definitely going to be fake too. Packaging is
generally the first line of defence in spotting ropey SD Cards, but beyond this, you are going to have to inspect the SD Card for signs of tampering.
The front label of the SD Card
will either be a sticker or more recently, it will be printed directly on the
card itself. If the sticker has been misplaced it would be a red flag that
something isn’t quite right. The labels are almost always placed on in the
cards with uniformity as the labelling process is often automated and the work
carried by robots who don’t usually place stickers in the wrong place!
Check for spelling errors,
slight differences in the branding, and colour. Reds are usually much darker
than the official branding or they’re very washed out, colouring is notoriously
difficult to replicate with accuracy without the official colour profiles that
any brand would have.
Any physical stickers should
be quite difficult to peel off, and there should be a serial number printed on
most cards from reputable brands if the cards are relatively recent as in being
produced certainly within the last four to five years. If the serial number is
the same on multiple cards it’s a fake. You also need to take notice of the
plastic too, good quality memory cards are almost always very stiff and very
difficult to bend, a fake can often be bent easily without too much force.
Equally, SD Cards come with
storage limits that are predicated on existing technology being available, so
if a card is offering you a capacity that doesn’t fit with the norms usually
supplied by the manufacturer, it too is likely to be a fake. I have seen older
cards which had capacities measured in megabytes being sold in place of cards
that hold gigabytes. A 128Mb card is not even close to offering the capacity of
a 128Gb card and the size prefix can easily be overlooked.
Surprisingly, fakes and
forgeries are big business and because of the low value of the originals,
they’re rampant on online market places. The major brands such as SanDisk and
Kingston have security features visibly present on their cards ranging from
watermarks to colorshift technologies, and the major manufacturers will almost
always have sections on their websites that go into detail about how to spot
fakes. It is the same with big technology companies who often have entire teams
of people actively working in this area to spot and shut down bad players.
There are lots of steps you can
take before you insert the card into your device to determine if it is the real
deal or not, but generally, when a hundred buck high-speed card is being sold
for significantly less than a competitor’s lower-priced, lower specification
option, it’s a case of buyer beware. That’s not to say that some fakes are any
cheaper than the originals, if you see the same price displayed on every card
you see online the automatic assumption is that this must be an official card
so you do have to tread this path with some care.
If you do find that you have
inadvertently purchased a fake, get in touch with the manufacturer. There’s not
much they are responsible for if you didn’t purchase the card directly from
them so any replacement will almost always be sent to you on a good faith
basis, but if you can provide them with purchase details they will usually do
their best to shut the bad players down.
Most of the good manufacturers
will send you an official replacement, they see it as a good business practice to
keep artists and photographers coming back to their brand, I’ve even had
replacements of older, official cards sent to me when they have produced the
odd error even many years after purchase and that’s partly why it’s worth
paying just that little bit more.
It’s worth being mindful that
it’s not always the seller’s fault. If they’re not intentionally scamming you,
chances are that they have had stock swapped out on route or they have also
been scammed. This happens with all manner of electronics, and there are some
quite complex scamming operations taking place that involve everything from
redirecting transport to having an inside source to make the switch. If you do
contact the seller, make sure you back it up in writing that the goods are
either fake or have been previously used, you might need that evidence later
|Floppy Disc by Mark Taylor – I still use floppies today! I have never used a punchcard though! Why the clothes pegs? They’re great for holding PCBs while you solder them and better than bulldog clips, every geek needs pegs!|
I get it, technology has
always been expensive and it is becoming even more expensive post-pandemic (I’m
still not convinced it’s over despite what Borris tells us…) and because of the
global chip shortage. Tech is in demand and there’s only a finite supply of the
good stuff in the world’s supply chains at the moment. That situation looks like
it will become slightly better towards the end of 2023 and that’s exactly when
you might even find an over-abundance of chips with prices that are starting to
drop back down closer to pre-pandemic levels. That’s assuming that the chip
manufacturers can actually resolve the current issues.
To add some context to that
and to give an indication of just how bad things are at the moment, the order I
placed three months ago for a brand new dye-sublimation printer has now been
updated with a new delivery date and it should be with me sometime in early
2023. The long wait times for technology and the limited supply are also
currently driving an upsurge in demand for pre-used technology, meaning that
even prices for older equipment are currently going through the roof. This is
having a massive impact on businesses as well as consumers but it is especially
difficult for small businesses right now.
In normal times, whatever
normal now is, pre-used technology with plenty of remaining life could be found
at considerably cheaper prices than it can be found today. The limited
supply and high demand have suddenly driven up prices and bargains are becoming more
difficult but not as yet, completely impossible to find.
If you are in the market for
pre-used or pre-loved technology, there are a few things that are worth
thinking about before you make any kind of purchase. Firstly, it’s worth
bearing in mind that pre-owned technology that still has plenty of life
remaining is unlikely to be the bargain that it would have been had it not been
for the global chip shortage.
More and more home users and
businesses are having to turn to the used market just to get their hands on
essential technologies that they need to either carry out their business or to work
from home. The difference in price over previous years is reflected by the
current demand and in some cases, some technology is now being sold for very
close to the original retail price and sometimes even more where brand new
technology is currently impossible to get hold of.
There is less demand for older
technology which might still just be within the window where it can continue to
receive updates and patches from the manufacturer. Windows 10 for example won’t
stop receiving support from Microsoft until 2025, but what happens then?
At some point in the
life-cycle of technology, the original manufacturer stops supporting older
devices. It makes sense because they will want you to invest in the latest and
greatest technology and much like mobile phones, they would love it if all of
their users were using the exact same platform with the exact same version of
whatever software is installed. They ideally want everyone to jump ship to the
latest model the second its released and in a perfect world, they would also
want everyone to apply every update on release too.
Technology doesn’t happen that
way though and manufacturers set expectations much earlier than they once did
to inform users about the dates when support can be expected to come to an end.
This gives consumers and businesses time to plan for upgrades and it also gives
users an early warning about just how much life is left in a product and this
is really important for those looking towards the pre-used market.
You also have a choice when it
comes to buying older technologies that you won’t necessarily get when buying
new. You can either go for pre-used or refurbished or reconditioned. Pre-used
devices generally come with an element of risk in that they will rarely be sold
with any guarantee. Refurbished and reconditioned devices are usually sold
either by the original manufacturer or retailer or a channel partner of the
manufacturer, although there are also quite a few independent suppliers who
have their own refurbishment programs in place.
These refurbished devices
generally come complete with some level of warranty, with the major
manufacturers often giving a warranty that is equal to the one supplied when
buying a new product. The devices are often graded too, meaning that you can
pick up a device that shows very little in the way of wear and tear and save a
little cash in the process.
If you are buying a pre-used
device say from a private seller who wouldn’t usually be expected to supply any
kind of warranty with it, there are some risks in doing that. Unlike buying a
second-hand vehicle, you won’t receive any kind of service record with it.
Technology can be tetchy at the best of times but with the second hand market
there’s not really any way to find out if the device has displayed some
intermittent fault previously that could turn out to be something more drastic
a little way down the line.
On the upside, you can usually
find a bargain on the second-hand market as buyers tend to want to offload old
technology whenever they buy a new replacement and they usually want to offload
it quickly. The other significant risk about buying from any of these markets
is just how much longer will the device continue to receive support from the
manufacturer with device and firmware updates and more importantly, any
critical security updates that if not applied could leave you vulnerable to
bad players who are constantly looking out for weaknesses to exploit.
By 2025, what you can expect
to see is a pre-used market flooded with relatively new-looking laptops
alongside a slew of older ones and desktop PCs for the simple reason that
Windows 11 is only compatible with devices containing a Windows 11 compatible TPM
chip unless you use Microsoft’s update which bypasses the need for it. That could, however, result in a severe loss of overall performance.
Any device that doesn’t have the option of upgrading to Windows 11 will
be to all intents and purposes, at the literal end of its life with the only
remaining options being something like adding a Linux/Unix distribution but
that will have an impact on its usefulness as an artists tool for creating
digital art with traditional image editing tools. To go down this route you
will also need to master Linux which to be fair, you probably should be getting
to grips with anyway, it’s the future.
Another factor that you might
want to consider is the age of the device which is not always apparent from
just looking at it. Manufacturers only tend to make slight cosmetic differences
to the external bodies of the devices between generations, but it is what sits
under the hood that really matters. The microprocessor for example might be
listed as being an Intel i5, a processor still very much in use and advertised today,
but the microprocessor in the device could very well be a first-generation i5
that was introduced in 2009 meaning that the modern-sounding laptop in the
advert could already be well past its best at 13-years old.
In 2022, we are now on the 12th
generation of i5 processors from Intel so a lower cost but much more recent i3
Processor would be way faster and more capable. Another case of buyer beware.
Desktop computers, laptops and
tablets can be a minefield if you plan to purchase a pre-used device to create
digital art. Applications such as Photoshop CC just won’t run at all on older
devices or at least if they do, they will run like a legless dog.
As the life-cycle of computers
has evolved so have the minimum specifications for serious applications such as
Photoshop and the other Creative Cloud applications. Even applications which
are now predominantly cloud-based still need to use local resources on the
device and will have minimum entry requirements to operate without issue.
The hard disk and storage
capacities of older devices can also be a bone of contention when running
modern applications. As devices have become smaller, the need for storage has
become greater and for the most part, casual storage is taken care of using
cloud-based technologies so the relatively small storage capacities usually
included with modern base model devices are less of an issue if you are using
the device in a casual manner and aren’t reliant on having access to large
applications. Great for the office and school, but not so great for a digital
artist who needs to be at the pinnacle of the latest technology and who will
consume storage like it’s going out of fashion.
For casual users who don’t
have to rely on technology to create digital art, this isn’t too much of an
issue. For professional users, things get complicated quite quickly. If you are
installing a package such as Creative Cloud, the package relies on local
storage being available to install the application on and as and when
additional updates are released, the need to have larger capacity local storage
becomes an ever-growing issue. Applications rarely become smaller in size and
especially as they are updated.
Another issue with any device
that has limited local storage is that the device can perform sluggishly as it
reads and writes data constantly. As most modern devices are
non-user-serviceable it can also be problematic even to attempt to install an
upgraded storage medium. My Surface Book for example would need to have the
entire touch screen removed to get anywhere close to the on-board storage
device, or anything else that makes it work. A desktop PC in a traditional case
would have more options to keep up with any future demands placed on it.
Modern laptops are just not
designed to be upgraded, they’re designed to be thrown away and that’s
something that’s not only environmentally problematic, when you are talking about
a $2,000 device it’s not unlike a subscription if you really think about it.
Having said that, if you are a busy user you could expect a laptop to serve you
well for 5-years or so on the outside if the operating system support is still
in place. Still, throughout this time the software availability at least for the
latest versions will begin to diminish over time.
I still have a 2014 MacBook Pro
that continues to run the latest OS from Apple, for now at least, with none of
the keyboard issues that my recent MacBook Pro initially had. The downside is
that for anything other than general browsing, it has become massively more
limiting over the past year and the way overpriced Mac Pro is now taking the
heavy load of Creative Cloud while I am at my desk.
|Eighties Innovation by Mark Taylor – the 80s had it all, from pocket TVs to low-cost computers. Then tech grew up and became both bigger and smaller at the same time.|
If you are buying a pre-owned
device you should check the power supply and cables. Inevitably, with any
device that is designed to be portable, users will carry them around often in
bags containing everything else you need on your travels.
When the cables are
repeatedly plugged in and pulled out they tend to become worn over time and the
cost of replacing the power supply can wipe out any savings you made. Power
supplies are often bespoke to a specific manufacturer and in many cases, they
are specific to a particular device. Generic power supplies are available for
many laptops but they might not be suitable for all.
It’s also worth checking that
any USB or display ports haven’t become loose too, for the simple reason that a
laptop is notoriously difficult to repair and it usually means taking it to a
specialist. One area you might not immediately think about is the battery,
again, unlike laptops of yesteryear, most modern batteries are built into the
device and are not user-replaceable.
As time goes by the capacity
of the battery will diminish and suddenly you might find that the laptop needs
to remain plugged into an electrical socket just to power on or you will need
to replace the battery if it is replaceable. Built-in batteries usually require
an approved service centre installation, so again, you will need to be mindful
of any potential additional costs.
If you are in the market for a
new device, it’s exactly the same as it is with displays and monitors. Older
devices from last years range might not have more modern USB C ports which are
faster and can carry more power, or their screen displays might be of a much
lower quality and resolution than the more recent models in the range. Small,
no-so-obvious details can make a huge difference to digital artists.
This is an area though where
retailers can make last year’s models look like huge bargains as they will often
discount them heavily just before a newer model with an upgraded processor,
more memory and storage and an all-around better device is released. You do need
to be cautious with retailers, discounts are rarely what they seem especially
towards the end of a products first year’s sales run. Recommended retail prices
rarely reflect the prices that devices ever sell for yet the discounts applied
will always be based on the manufacturers RRP.
I scoured various websites
when writing this article just to see how much of a saving could be made and in
almost every case with the exception of Apple devices, I was able to find that
the device was often at its most expensive since release and had never been
offered at the manufacturers recommended retail price, often it had been
heavily discounted and it would have been cheaper to purchase the device
sometimes 6-months earlier.
I also found refurbished
devices selling for more than you could purchase a brand new and more recent
model in some cases once discounts had been applied to the newer devices or if
you shopped around for the best price.
As with most technology
purchases, more often than not it can be a false economy saving a little upfront because you will generally need to upgrade much earlier than you would,
had you have spent a little more from the outset on a newer model. You really
do have to do your homework when it comes to buying any form of technology.
Retailers are masters at
presenting bargain technology buys, but technology is too expensive for them to
have it sitting around for too long, they have to keep it moving to make way
for new stock or hit sales targets. That doesn’t usually mean that they will be
overly generous with discounts, resellers who supply the retailers and the
manufacturers just don’t have huge profit margins in technology, they make
money on the upsell, the software, the subscriptions and the services that you
usually buy alongside any new device, and it is usually these extras that almost
subsidise the true cost of the technologies available.
I know that most channel
partners who supply the retailers are making almost next to nothing on the
devices and some manufacturers have been known to sell the technology at a loss
to the channel partner in order to grab a larger market share which they can
trade from. In short, if there’s already next to no profit, there will be next
to no real discount and retailers will be even less inclined to take the hit.
Technology is notoriously susceptible to paper-based values.
Generally, new models of
electronic devices tend to be released in the early spring or in the fall. In some
cases you can pick up a discounted device just before the new model arrives,
but bear in mind that the device by that point will have already been running
the clock down on any future support and discounts aren’t always representative
of the best price the device has ever been sold for.
Buying current generation
technology just prior to the release of newer generation technology means that
you could end up with a device that will need to be replaced a year earlier
than if you were to wait until the newer model is released and you spent the
same as the previous generations full price. Whilst most devices will continue
to be supported with newer versions of the operating systems and updates, that
support usually ends at least a year before the newer device.
We rarely utilise all of the
features that our current technology provides, yet we are always keen to buy
into a new model so we can have even more new features that in all likelihood, we
might not use either.
One of the main reasons people
upgrade their phones is to take advantage of the one big technological leap that
we have come to expect every year which is with the camera. Yet there are ways
that you can make your existing phone camera get a little closer to the output
of the new models camera if you understand how the settings for your current camera
The differences between last
year’s model and this years are usually that the newer model might run a little
bit faster which you’re unlikely to notice if you are only upgrading from last
year’s model, the battery life might be improved but it will never be quite like
that old Nokia you once owned that only needed charging once a year, and the
number of pixels the camera can take photographs at might be a pixel or two
As most people who take
professional photographs will be using a professional camera, paying out a
thousand bucks to gain an extra megapixel which you won’t necessarily need if
you are never printing the image out, is probably more than it would cost to
purchase a reasonably solid entry-level semi-professional camera with much more
advanced features and better overall results. Sure, it’s less convenient to
carry around a camera as well as a phone, but the results will mostly always be
Technically, the leaps made
between this years technology and last years aren’t the kind of leaps that we
would see between generations of technology a decade or so ago. Mostly we will
get subtle upgrades here and there, a minor facelift or a millimetre shaved off
the size, but the general user environment and experience will often be the
same as the phone you are using today. The cost of an upgrade could in some
cases be a thousand bucks plus and that seems like a lot of money that could be
put to better use, especially when it’s almost always possible to get similar
results from the device you already own.
One way we can upgrade our
phones, or more specifically our phone cameras, is to take a dive into the
settings. If we take an iPhone using the latest version of iOS, I was able to
produce better results from an iPhone 12 than I could get natively from an
iPhone 13 by following this settings recipe which can be used on any Apple device
running iOS 15 or iPadOS 15.
Firstly, open up your photos
app and select anything that you think could do with a touch of added pizazz.
Don’t worry, the photos app on Apple devices allows you to create
non-destructive edits so if you don’t like the changes you can revert back to
the original at any time.
Once you have the photo, click
on the edit tab in the upper right-hand corner. Now we are going to manually
change the settings rather than click the awful magic wand.
Raise the exposure to 100
Raise the brilliance to 100
Everything should now look
like a car crash and you should have a very bright image with hardly any
detail, and that’s just fine!
Next, lower the highlights to
Decrease shadows to -31
Decrease contrast to -33
Reduce brightness to -15
At this point your photo
should look truly awful, don’t panic, this is an expected outcome and you’re
doing just fine.
Adjust the black point setting
Set the vibrance to 9
Increase warmth to 11
Set the tint level to 46
Now we need to go back to the
start and set both the exposure and brilliance settings back to zero.
At this point, you should be
amazed that your iPhone has produced an image worthy of a gallery exhibition,
or at least it should show so much more detail in your work in progress shots.
There will be a few photo subjects and colour combinations that will look a
little less refined, but you can tweak the settings such as tint and warmth and
see if that works slightly better.
That particular combination is
just one of many you can find online, people literally spend their spare time
changing settings to see what happens and then they will publish the results,
and there will be settings hacks or recipes for most devices that will let you
push a little more from them.
|Roller Disco by Mark Taylor – I absolutely loved creating this. I spent a lot of time on the stitching and leather detail, and probably more time than anyone should on creating rust!|
I did think about leaving this
tip on the sidelines and tell you about it another day, but this is maybe the
best time-saver that hardly anyone uses, although it won’t save you any money,
it will save you a lot of time!
If you frequently find
yourself having to cut and paste on your PC, you are probably using the
keyboard shortcuts, CTRL and C to copy, CTRL and X to cut, and CTRL and V to
paste. It’s useful when you’re typing because your hands can remain in touch
with the keyboard and you don’t have to fiddle around with the trackpad or the
mouse. I have to say at this point though, if this is how you copy and paste you
are doing it wrong.
Some Windows PCs will need you
to go into the settings and physically turn on your clipboard history, but
generally and especially on Windows 11, if you press the Windows key together
with V, you should be given the opportunity to turn on the clipboard history without
first going into the settings.
And that simple key
combination is the shortcut you have been yearning for, probably forever. The
combination of the Windows key and V will bring up a history of the last 25 items
you have placed into the clipboard allowing you to choose exactly what you want
to copy and paste. If you regularly need to paste the same text into a
document, you can also pin it to the top so that it’s always the first item on
the list. This is really useful if you find that you are constantly having to
retype your email address or contact details.
Having spoken to pretty much every
one of my handful of really close friends, none of them knew about clipboard
history, and that’s not surprising. Most of us will only ever use around 20% of
the features available to us from any gadget. It’s the same with Microsoft Word
too, there are hundreds of cool things
we can do with it, yet we mostly fire the application up, type what we need to
type and then get on with our lives.
And the same thing happens
when we use our mobile phones but we constantly upgrade them because the new
version will allow us to do something else. Most of us will use our phones to
perform the exact same functions every day.
If you are only using your
smartphone for messages, taking the occasional photograph, or browsing social
media, a faster processor doesn’t mean that you will be able to consume the
content you are looking at any quicker, it means that applications will open a
fraction sooner, or you could have two applications running at the same time so
you can save a few more seconds switching between apps. If you are not using
those features today, it’s unlikely that you will use them tomorrow on a newer
If you use your phone to play
games, the processor might make more of a difference, but if you are paying a
thousand bucks to play Candy Crush a teeny tiny bit faster, that thousand bucks
would be better spent on a new generation games console or a Nintendo Switch if
you want portability.
There is more of a reason to
upgrade when you use technology to work with digital imaging, graphic design,
or video editing, slight increases in processor speed will make a huge
difference to your workflow. But, if your professional digital demands only
stretch to completing paperwork or editing spreadsheets, chances are you are
not pushing any recent technology anywhere even close to its limits.
|Do Not Feed The Seagulls by Mark Taylor – If you’re off to the seaside this summer, do not feed the seagulls! Yes, I still create landscapes and I love fish and chips!|
As I said at the beginning of
this epic tome, technology can be frustrating and modern technology not only
has in-built frustration, it now comes bundled with what is essentially, a
fixed date that you can expect it to stop working. My 40-year-old Commodore 64
8-bit home computer is still going strong and has never had any kind of update
so I do wonder just how advanced we humans have become in some respects.
But you can avoid a lot of
this frustration either by giving things time to update or spending a little
more money now to save a lot more later. We haven’t even touched on the various
eco-systems that we become tied into, but as a professional creative, making
the right technology choices can make a huge difference to your creative
output. Not only can you save time, but buying at the right time can
potentially save you big money on your bottom line. As a small business, every
penny counts in such an uncertain economy as the one we are facing today.
|Obsolescence by Mark Taylor – A retro collectors dream artwork filled with nostalgia and obsolete technology, because it all ends up being obsolete one day and all we have left are the memories!|
Hopefully you will be able to
get a little bit more from your current devices and hopefully I will have
busted a few technology myths for you too. Tech is a confusing world made even
more confusing by those who absolutely want to retain their God-like geek image
and not share tech’s inner secrets with you.
Tech is perhaps the biggest
money pit there ever was but that doesn’t mean that you absolutely always have
to throw money into it, although there will be plenty who sell it who will
disagree with me.
There are entire ecosystems
that spring up around new models of anything. Be it mobile phones and the case
industry, review websites that aren’t as bothered by you owning the new tech as
they are by keeping you coming back and contributing to ad-revenue, everyone
will tell you that you need to upgrade when you probably don’t. We buy into it
because we all have that inner fear of missing out. Personally, as much as I
love technology I would much rather spend my money on art.
Understanding the basics that
the geeks who sell it don’t want you to know will make sure that you can focus
on your creative process and with luck, you might even have a little extra cash
to sink into that other money pit we call art supplies, and yes, I will be
sharing the secrets of the art supply money pit soon too because if there was
ever a bigger money pit than technology, it exists in the world of art supplies
and don’t even get me started on the Mega-Gallery, that can wait for another
I am an artist and blogger and
live in Staffordshire, England. My days are filled with creating all sorts of art,
dog walking and Teams Meetings, while still being stuck somewhere in the
eighties with no intention of joining the nineties.
You can purchase my art
through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com You
can also purchase my work, including my limited editions, directly.
All of the proceeds from my
Pixels and FAA sales contribute to continuing this website and ensuring you get
wholly independent tips and advice without any hidden agenda and without any
need to sign up to anything!
You can also view my portfolio
website at https://beechhousemedia.com
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can give me a follow right here, https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia
You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia