Repurposing Gaming Keyboards and Desktops for Multimedia Work

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

After nearly ten years, I decided to upgrade my desktop computer. It was being overwhelmed by the multimedia tasks that I’ve been throwing at it. After reviewing the available options, I ended up getting a gaming PC. I’m not a gamer and never have been, but the features that I need happen to be in gaming machines. I got the HP OMEN Obelisk Desktop1 with an Intel Core i7-9700 processor and 16 GB system memory.2 (See the details below.) For serious gamers, this is a modest system.

I completed the purchase online and drove to the store, which is about four miles away. While waiting for the order to be filled, I browsed the keyboard section. I decided it was time to get a new one with backlit keys. The search led me to gaming keyboards, and the best for my needs was the HyperX Alloy FPS Pro mechanical gaming keyboard. It was compact and felt substantial. It didn’t have a numeric keypad. I never use a keypad, so I welcomed the smaller size.

HyperX Alloy FPS Pro mechanical gaming keyboard with backlit keys. All of the photos in this article can be enlarged by left-clicking the photo.

I do a lot of photo and video editing as well as webpage layouts, so I prefer a darker work environment. Thus, a backlit keyboard had been on my wish list for a long time. This was my first backlit keyboard, and I was completely impressed. Via the function key and the up and down arrow keys, I can adjust the intensity of the back lighting or turn it off completely. The lowest level works for me. (See the photos below.)

The keys are very visible in both dark and light conditions.

The visibility of the keys is a godsend. I no longer need to rely on tiny desk lamps to see the keyboard. The tactile feedback on the keys is natural and comfortable. Its small size makes it an easy fit for the nook under the center monitor.

The HyperX Alloy FPS is pictured next to my old keyboard. It’s about three inches narrower, which is a huge plus for my cramped desk space.

On the old keyboard, I tried stickers to make the keys stand out in low light, but they eventually peeled off of the heavily used keys. In the photo above and below, remnants of stickers are still visible on some of the keys.

The difference between the old and new keyboard when the light is low or poor. Click the image for a better view of the difference.

The Omen Obelisk is a beautiful machine. (See the photos below.) The entire side that’s opposite the motherboard is glass, and it lifts off with a simple press of a button, allowing quick access to card slots, RAM sticks, and drive bays.3

HP Omen Obelisk Desktop. Model 875-0034 SKU: 6349466. Processor: Intel® Core i7-9700F (3 GHz base frequency, up to 4.7 GHz with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology, 12 MB cache, 8 cores). Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (6 GB GDDR 6). Internal hard drive 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA; M.2 SSD 256 GB PCIe® NVMe.  Dimensions: 6.5 x 14.06 x 17.05 inches. Shadow Black Front Bezel/Dark Chrome Logo.

I switched in a hard drive from the old computer in a few minutes with no tools.  It was a second hard drive in the old and serves the same function in the new. In comparison to the Omen, my old computer is a tin can. The build and engineering is solid and precise. It has plenty of fast USB ports and allows me to hook up my three-monitors (see the ports in the photos below).

Ports: 1 RJ-45, 1 USB 3.1 Type-C™ Gen 2, 2 USB 3.1 Type A, 1 headphone/microphone combo, 4 USB 3.1 Gen 1. Ports on the graphics card, L-R: DVI, HDMI, Display Port.

The interior lights up when the computer is on, and the effect through the glass panel, especially in a dark room, is beautiful. (See the photo below.) (Update 7/7/19: The interior color can be easily changed via the Omen app. I now have it at a light blue.)

This is the side view, through the glass panel, of the HP Omen Obelisk when it’s running. This photo was taken with a Fujifilm XT2 with Fujinon 23mm F/1.4 lens. The other photos were taken with a Nikon D810 with a Tamron 35mm F/1.8 and 85mm F/1.8 lens.

The capstone is its performance. With programs on the SSD (solid state drive), it’s fast and silent for the tasks I run, primarily related to Lightroom (photo editor) and Camtasia (video editor). (Update 7/10/19: Both LR and Camtasia run noticeably faster. Rendering is much faster. The Omen Command Center app displays live memory, CPU, and GPU percentage utilization as well as download and upload speed.) Programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Soundbooth are lightning fast.

Youtube videos run faster with minimal hiccupping. (Update 7/10/19: Uploading and downloading videos much faster.) Videos from news sources also run smoothly. Power on to program access is quick, a big contrast to the old computer.
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1 Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with HP, Omen, or any of the products mentioned in this article. This purchase was made at Best Buy, and, again, I’m not associated with this store. I paid full advertised retail for these products.
2 See Keyan’s excellent review, “Good Choice for Gamers and Power Users” (June 2019), in the Best Buy Ratings & Reviews section for this computer.
3 This computer doesn’t come with a CD/DVD drive, and there are no 5.25″ bays for one. If you need one, you’ll need to buy an external USB drive.

Memories of Computers Past

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

When Jim wrote about 5-1/4″ disks, it triggered a cascade of memories from my half-century of computer experiences. Today, it’s all miniature flash memories.

Seriously, I remember 8″ floppy disks. I had a bunch of them, now long gone to the landfill. I worked in the computer industry before ANY floppy disks existed. Oh, we had removable disks and were careful not to drop them on our toes.

8-inch, ​5 1⁄4-inch, and ​3 1⁄2-inch floppy disks. Wikipedia photo and caption by George Chernilevsky, 6 June 2009.

It gets worse. I remember working with punched cards — myself! I even edited the binary cards returned to you after a compilation to save time. Woe betide the person who dropped their cards if they were not sequenced. If they were, then you had access to a card sorting machine. Old movies showed them as though THEY were the computer. Ha ha ha.  Continue reading

Remember Floppy Disks?

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The message on this tanktop is a reminder of how far we’ve come in a very “short” period of time. I got it as a gift this past Father’s Day and catch myself smiling whenever I wear it.

My first personal computer, in the early-1980s, was a Kaypro 2 that came with two single-sided, double-density 5.25″ floppy drives. For all practical purposes, we needed two drives back then: one for the program and the other for our files. Wikipedia photo by Autopilot, 19 Mar. 2015.

Continue reading

A Palm-sized Desktop Computer for $35 – Raspberry Pi 4

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Officially released today, 24 June 2019, is the Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity (nonprofit) that works to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world. They do this so that more people are able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.

The foundation provides low-cost, high-performance computers that people use to learn, solve problems and have fun. They provide outreach and education to help more people access computing and digital making. They develop free resources to help people learn about computing and how to make things with computers, and train educators who can guide other people to learn.

For more on this palm-sized computer, click here.

Continue reading

A Plea to Simplify the Definition for ‘Online Course’

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Three years ago, in 2016, four students (one was possibly an instructor) had a discussion on Reddit about an online course offering with a “lecture required” component. The original poster was byu:

Posted byu/[deleted]
[Subject:] Online Classes – Class Component: “Lecture Required”?
Signed up for a couple online classes and under the Class Details section is says Class Components: Lecture Required. The class is definitely listed as an online class, room says online and meeting day/times TBA, so what does this mean? Video lectures? Just making sure I don’t have to physically show up for anything.

TurtleWaffle: It could be a blended class. I had a class like this and we had 5 Saturday class sessions during the semester as well as the online stuff

Rhynocerous: In my expirience it means you have to physically show up at some point possibly for exams.

corner0ffice1: It sounds like a class with both an online lecture and online lab. You always enroll for the lab component, and then tack on the lecture, so SIS is just telling you that you need to enroll in both components. It does not always mean that you have to show up for anything in person. It SHOULD say if you have any on-campus obligations in the course description, but you can also ask the instructor to confirm.

If we took a moment to actually listen to our students, we’d learn that conversations like this pervade the higher ed landscape. In nearly all colleges, “online” is a confusing course label that can mean any number of things that fail to meet student expectations. byu’s “Just making sure I don’t have to physically show up for anything” captures students’ primary concern in selecting an online class.

Implicit in their expectations for an online class is the idea of not being required to “show up” in a specific place at a specific time. For them, online is virtual, a convenience that allows them to engage learning from anywhere at any time. Thus, synchronous meetings are also not part of their online expectations. “Online” ought to be reserved for courses that are completely online and completely asynchronous. Sync requirements are a real problem for students who choose online courses for their anywhere/anytime advantage. Many online administrators and faculty don’t realize that sync requirements are a carryover of F2F into the virtual environment. Requiring students to meet at a specific time is tantamount to requiring them to meet at a specific place.1 Continue reading

Discussion of Ken Robinson’s ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution!’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

In our current discussion on “The Zen in Online Learning” (17 June 2019), Harry Keller says, “Life is about joy. Find your joy, and immerse yourself in it” (19 June 2019). His comment reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks “Bring on the Learning Revolution!” (Feb 2010).

The transcript is available here. This video runs 21 minutes, but Robinson’s wit and wisdom make it seem much shorter. His message is similar to Harry’s, which is to change our model for education to develop and celebrate each student’s talents, interests, and dreams. Please make the time to watch this video. It was released in 2010, but its message is relevant today.

Also make the time to comment in the forum attached to this article. (If you’ve never posted a comment in ETC, it will be held for approval. I’ll be standing by to speed up the process. Once approved, future comments will be automatically published.)  There’s a wide-ranging discussion on the TED site, so in our discussion, I’d suggest focusing on the takeaway for higher ed. What are your thoughts on Robinson’s call for an “organic” revolution? How does this apply to higher ed?

If you’d like to submit a longer comment as a stand-alone piece, email it to me at jamess@hawaii.edu. If this is your first submission, then please append a brief (1-to-3 line) professional bio and snapshot.

Related Videos:
Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? Feb 2006 (20 min).
Sir Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley, Apr 2013 (19 min).

The Zen in Online Learning

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

When the center monitor in my three-monitor setup failed to turn on this morning, I didn’t panic. It happened before, and reinserting the HDMI connector into the graphics card usually did the trick. So I turned the computer off, crawled under the desk, unplugged the connector, and plugged it back in.

I turned the computer on, but the monitor remained dark. No problem, I thought. Try the same maneuver again. I did, but it still didn’t work. I was beginning to panic a little. I turned it off and checked the back of the monitor to see if the power and HDMI connectors were tight. I unplugged and plugged them back in.

The three-monitor setup for my desktop computer.

I turned the computer on again, but the monitor was still dead. Panic was setting in. I tried the remote control to see if the settings were correct. (This monitor is also a TV set.) Nothing came up on the screen, not even the menu.  Continue reading