Fireworks and Computers: How Modern Programming Revolutionized Pyrotechnics

Throughout their long history, fireworks have served a variety of purposes. The first “fireworks” could be found in China around the year 200 B.C., where bamboo reeds would be tossed into a fire; the air pockets inside the reed would expand and eventually explode. These controlled blasts were likely used to ward off evil spirits. Between 600 and 900 A.D., an alchemist combined saltpeter with sulfur and charcoal, creating the first recipe for gunpowder. The bamboo reeds would be stuffed with this mixture and set alight, creating larger—and more dangerous—explosions. Soon, China used their invention to create weaponry. In the 13th century, it is believed Marco Polo brought fireworks to Europe. The spectacle became quite popular during the renaissance, and fireworks have remained popular ever since. They have been used to celebrate USA’s Independence Day from the very first anniversary on July 4th, 1777, and since Italian pyrotechnicians figured out how to add colors in the 1830s, fireworks displays have stayed much the same to this day.

The technology for running these displays, however, has changed dramatically. It was not until the 1980s that pyrotechnicians created computer programs to choreograph, simulate, and run shows automatically. Before this, calculations had to be done painstakingly by hand, and timing shows to music involved a lot of guess work. Now, computers could do these calculations in minutes rather than hours, and pyrotechnics designers could spend less time worrying about logistics and more time on the creative process. Computers such as the Atari 800XL and the IBM Personal Computer ran some of the first automated fireworks shows, sending signals through a firing box to light the electric matches (known as squibs) with precise timing.

Today, pyrotechnics design has gone even further, with 3D programs that render extremely accurate simulations of a show and communicate with firing devices. Some of these programs are even capable of pulling real 3D models from Google Maps to simulate displays in specific locations. Designers can watch their shows before a single firework is lit. Although fireworks in their construction have remained largely the same over the centuries, the days of guesswork are over, thanks to computers.

If you are planning to set off your own fireworks this year, stay safe and practice common sense. Happy Fourth!

References:

Technology; Fireworks by Computer

Atari Sets Off Fireworks!

https://tedium.co/2019/07/04/fireworks-technology-simulation-history/

EPC Continues to Provide Affordable, Certified Workstations Around the Globe. Check them out now at EPCUSA.Com

E-Waste Disposal is About More Than Just Cleaning

If there’s a pile of e-waste building up in the back of your building, it’s certainly time to call an ITAD company. Haphazard e-waste storage is ugly at best, and dangerous at worst. Old, broken electronics can leech hazardous materials into your work environment; but there are other potential dangers with not disposing your electronics that are less obvious.

About 87% of companies who recycle their e-waste do so to clear up clutter. While this is a good reason, it is not the only reason you should be creating an ITAD plan. Every asset not properly disposed of poses a security risk to your company. If sensitive company info gets into the wrong hands, it can lead to major security breaches and lawsuits.

When choosing an ITAD provider, it is important to make sure they securely dispose of your data prior to resale or recycling. The best way to ensure your data is safe is to make sure your ITAD company adheres to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) guidelines for proper data disposal. Certifications to look for include NAID, e-Stewards, and Blancco Gold.

Clutter is a pain, but it’s not just mess you need to worry about. Make sure your company data is secure and safe in the hands of your ITAD provider.

EPC offers e-Stewards, NAID, and Blancco Gold-certified data disposal. Call today at (636)443-1999 or visit https://www.epcusa.com/about-us/contact-us/ to get more info.

What We Can Learn About the Environment From COVID-19

Mere months ago, the biggest threat to the health and wellbeing of our planet present in the public sphere was climate change. Now, as COVID-19 presents the more immediate danger, climate change has been overall set aside in the media. However, as we continue to observe social distancing guidelines, travel has reduced significantly, and more people than ever are working from home, scientists have noticed a positive change in the environment. While some of these alternative social practices are unsustainable in the long run, they still can be a learning opportunity and teach us how we can progress toward a healthier planet in the years to come.

Change is possible. With a global decrease in energy consumption, there is a noticeable difference in our carbon emissions and pollution levels. In China, scientists observed a 25% decrease in CO2 levels over a four-week period. That is a significant for the largest country in the world. Italy showed a similar decrease in pollution during lockdown. This data shows that widespread action is not only possible but can be effective in reducing the negative impact of energy consumption on our environment, and with scientists claiming we have only a decade to save the planet, that news is encouraging.

What’s less encouraging is the threat of emissions rapidly rising after the COVID-19 crisis subsides to meet industrial demands, similar to the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession. Although the drop in pollution is nice, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to create a lasting positive impact. Still, it’s reassuring to know that our actions matter, and that people and businesses can rise to combat a threat to humanity—it’s a lesson we shouldn’t forget.

A Brief History of Video Games

There is, perhaps, no time like the present to understand the importance video games have in our modern society. With most people stuck inside, our collective playtime has increased drastically over the past few months. Consoles are sold out everywhere, and it seems like you can’t log on to any social media platform without someone discussing the price of turnips—whatever that means.

Just kidding, we know all about the stalk market.

Video games serve as a portal to a world outside our own. But where did they come from? And how do they relate to the development of computer programming?

Many mistakenly cite Atari’s Pong as the first video game, but this simply isn’t true. While Pong was the first successful arcade game, the first interactive electronic game was patented in 1947 by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and was known as the cathode-ray tube amusement device. According to the patent, the “player” would physically attach images of targets such as airplanes to the face of the tube onto preprogrammed coordinates. Using a set of knobs, the player would have a limited amount of time to manipulate a beam of light to fire at the targets. If the beam successfully “hits” the target, a crudely simulated explosion would occur. While Goldsmith’s device was never commercially produced, and it’s likely no prototype was ever built, the patent is the earliest known concept of an electronic device designed for interactive entertainment.

Goldsmith’s original design, US Patent 2455992

The first playable games were created primarily to demonstrate a computer’s programming capabilities. Early games such as OXO (an electronic version of tic-tac-toe) and Tennis for Two, both developed in the 1950s, helped garner public interest in the advancement of computer technology, though neither were ever released publicly. The first game designed specifically for the computer was a PvP—player-versus-player—game known as Spacewar!. Computer programming students at MIT, eager to test their department’s brand-new $120,000 PDP-1 computer, designed a game inspired by science fiction novels where opposing players would attempt to blow up each other’s spacecrafts while fighting against unpredictable elements such as gravitational effects and a randomized “hyperspace” function. The spectacle was a huge success, but like OXO and Tennis for Two, it was never released to the public. It was, however, introduced to college campuses across the country, including the University of Utah, where it inspired student Nolan Bushnell to create a single-player, coin-operated version called Computer Space. While this game flopped, Bushnell’s career did the opposite—he went on to found Atari, which released Pong to the public in 1972.

Home video game systems followed soon after with Magnavox’s unsuccessful Odyssey console, which had extremely limited graphics capabilities and required players to tape images to their television screens (not unlike Thomas Goldsmith’s original 1947 concept!). Atari soon released an at-home version of Pong which proved extremely profitable, though Magnavox eventually filed a lawsuit for patent infringement which settled out of court. Soon, both the Fairchild Channel F (1976) and the Atari VCS (1977) offered removable game systems, allowing for multiple games to be played on the same device. Just as success began to wane, however, and the industry wondered if home gaming was destined for obsolescence, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, which single-handedly revitalized the home console industry, and video games have thrived ever since. The evidence is likely on your shelf—or in your hand.

File:Wikipedia NES PAL.jpg
We have the NES to thank for the success of today’s consoles.

Video games began as merely a tool to demonstrate the capabilities of computer programming and hardware. However, they have evolved into an industry of their own, not only exhibiting but inspiring new technological advancements in the field. As you spend this time on your couch picking fruit or fighting zombies, be thankful for those early programmers who paved the way; what they did with their free time is now filling yours.

EPC’s mobile repair department offers repair services on gaming consoles. Contact us for more info.

Introducing Curbside Pickup

In order to protect our customers and employees, EPC has made the decision to close our retail showroom doors to the public until further notice. However, as of April 1st, we are offering online shopping with curbside pickup. This will allow us to provide our community with necessary equipment at this time.

Here’s how you can use curbside pickup at EPC

  • Buy online or over the phone: Go to epcdeals.com/curbside and select ‘Curbside Pickup’ or call 636-443-1999 for in person customer support
  • Look for an email before you drive to the store: We’ll let you know when your order is ready, then you can drive to the store and pull up to the main entrance curb.
  • Call us at 636-410-0484 when you arrive at the store and a sales associate will deliver your order to your vehicle’s backseat or trunk.

TERMS & CONDITIONS:

  • Most items available for store pick up are available within one hour of placing your order. After placing your order, we will send you a confirmation email, followed by a second email when your order is ready for pick up.
  • Orders containing items which are NOT marked CURBSIDE may be cancelled.
  • All pick-up times are estimates. While we strive to meet all pick-up times as quoted, EPC does not make any guarantee that your order will be available at any specific time. EPC will not have any liability for any order delays.
  • Please have your order number with you when picking up from our St. Charles, MO. location.
  • Orders placed after 4PM, Monday thru Friday, or 1 PM on Saturdays will be processed the next business day.

Our hours are the same,  8-5 Mon-Fri, 9-2 Sat.

If you have any questions, please call at (636)443-1999.

How to Make Your Electronics Last—Even When Companies Don’t Want Them To

Buying a brand-new device is an exciting prospect. The latest iPhone or Samsung, the newest generation of a beloved gaming console, or the sleek, speedy laptop you’ve been eyeing can be a worthwhile purchase for your professional or personal life; and with so many options and new innovations, you’re sure to find something to fit your needs.

However, the same innovations that make buying new tech so exciting can become irritating when your device becomes obsolete in a matter of months. The high-quality camera on your phone, with features considered revolutionary last year, is now overshadowed by Apple’s newest product. Your gaming laptop no longer meets the system requirements for new releases. And that console? The next generation is already in production.

Worse still, sometimes companies intentionally create this frustration using a business practice known as “planned obsolescence.” Planned obsolescence is when a company intentionally designs a product to be replaced at a certain point after release. Not only does this make you spend more, it also contributes to e-waste as old devices get tossed.

You can help combat the effects of this on the environment and your wallet by keeping your electronics working for longer. Here are some tips on how to do that:

If you want to buy new, keep an eye on the market.
We’ve all been there. You’ve finally got some money to spend, and you want to treat yourself. After going through your mental list of Things You’ve Always Wanted But Could Never Justify Buying, you decide on the latest iPhone, and your shiny new toy arrives in the mail. Then, just two weeks later, Apple announces the next model and its rapidly approaching release date. Suddenly, that shiny toy doesn’t seem so shiny. If only you had waited just a few more months.

When buying a new device, it’s important to do some research. While it’s not always possible to know just when new devices are coming out, rumors and leaks often circulate in the year prior to release. If there’s talk about a new model in the works, it may be best to wait.

Buy what you need.
This may sound obvious, but it’s important to know what you need, and which device is right for you. If you’re looking for a gaming laptop, don’t buy a non-gaming laptop that barely meets the typical system requirements for the games you want to play. This could put stress on the hardware, making your system more likely to require repair or replacement sooner. A phone that lags performing your everyday work tasks will inevitably end up being replaced and tossed quickly. Make sure you are familiar with the technical specifications you require in a device.

Repair when you can.

Some companies, as part of this “planned obsolescence,” purposefully manufacture their devices with brittle parts designed to break quickly. While these designs aren’t always intentional, companies have little incentive to fix them. Fortunately, while some repairs are difficult or even impossible, many can be done. Have your device evaluated by a repair shop. These consultations typically come at little to no cost, and a specialist can help get your beloved device up and running again.

Know when to give up.

Sometimes, it just isn’t worth it.

While it’s good to make your device last as long as you can, eventually it will reach the end of its life. Sometimes, repairs on old devices are more expensive than replacements, or they require so many new parts that you may as well replace the whole product. Other times, your devices are no longer compatible with the software or operating systems required. For example, many older computers are not compatible with Windows 10, meaning those devices don’t get important security updates that protect your device. While repair and maintenance are good things, they aren’t always the right answer.

Remember, you don’t have to buy a new device the minute something goes wrong. Taking steps to maintain and extend the life of your devices can save you money and help the planet. Before you buy that new iPhone, take a second to think, first.

You Can’t Afford a Data Breach

In June of 2005, a multinational financial services corporation announced that in early May of that year, UPS had picked up a box of computer tapes containing the sensitive information of 3.9 million customers to be shipped to a credit reporting agency. The box never reached the destination. In 2006, the US Department of Veteran Affairs lost a laptop containing information about 26.5 million veterans. The department ultimately agreed to a $20 million settlement, avoiding the potential $26 billion payout.

Through the years, hundreds of companies have experienced data breaches, placing millions of customers and employees at risk of fraud and identity theft. Causes of data breaches include hacking, insider leaks, poor security, accidental uploads, and—as in the aforementioned cases—lost or stolen media. Organizations that fall victim to data breaches can be liable for millions of dollars in damages, and most don’t have taxpayer money to bail them out.

Cases like these highlight a major threat to any organization’s security: storage devices. Assets such as laptops, hard drives, phones, and USB drives with sensitive data pose a great risk in the wrong hands. According to recent research by Blancco, “A third of the world’s largest enterprises use inadequate data sanitization to prevent data breaches at end-of-life,” and four percent use no data sanitization method at all. Assets which have not been properly sanitized are dangerous in the wrong hands.

Deleting files and formatting drives aren’t enough. In order to protect your data, you need certified data sanitization and destruction. Finding an ITAD vendor to keep your company safe shouldn’t be a challenge. EPC offers certified data sanitization and destruction according to NIST standards. Give us a call at (636)443-1999 for more information.

Continuing Our Western Expansion

In September of last year, EPC, Inc. moved its Allentown, PA operations to the neighboring town of Bethlehem to improve capacity after rapid expansion. Now, we are continuing that expansion—this time, on the other side of the country.

The new, 94,000 square-foot facility in North Las Vegas is over double the size of our original Las Vegas location, which opened in 2006 and boasts 45,000 square feet and forty-six employees. Now, we expect to increase our Las Vegas workforce by twenty percent over the next year.

Most ITAD operations will be performed at the new facility including receiving, asset tracking, data destruction, equipment testing and processing, recyclables collection and triage, order fulfillment imaging and shipping.  The facility will also be the regional home base for our mobile shredding trucks and data destruction team.

EPC, Inc. operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of CSI Leasing, headquartered in St. Louis, MO, and currently operates eight locations in the USA and provides services across the globe.

Is it Time to Upgrade Your Windows 7 Computer? (Yes.)

It has been a decade since Windows 7 was released to the public, just two years after Microsoft launched the ill-fated Windows Vista, an operating system that struggled to live up to the tech leader’s predecessors. Vista was slow, insecure, and often incompatible with consumers’ existing PCs, requiring the purchase of new systems—an expense few were willing to pay. Many users chose to stick with Windows XP—released in 2001—rather than deal with the unpredictable hassle of what could, in the public’s opinion, barely be considered an upgrade. After this flop, Microsoft scrambled to restore their reputation and develop a new OS, one which would finally live up to the hype the brand name evoked.

Prior to its launch on October 22nd, 2009, Windows 7 broke the record for highest-grossing preorders on Amazon, a record previously held by the last Harry Potter novel. Upon its release, Windows 7 received high praise from critics for its new and updated features, many of which were improvements upon Vista’s poorly executed ideas. Its speed, enhanced taskbar, and sleek, touchscreen-friendly interface gave users

It’s no wonder people are unwilling to part with the OS. Its successor, Windows 8, received so much criticism from the public upon its 2012 release that Microsoft developed Windows 8.1 within the year. This updated version addressed complaints and improved mechanics many desktop users found clunky, but hardcore Windows 7 users remained unconvinced. Even after the release of Windows 10 in 2015, it took nearly three years for its worldwide market share to surpass that of 7’s, and Windows 7 still holds nearly twenty-eight percent of the worldwide market share today.

A close up of a map

Description automatically generated
Table 1. Desktop Windows Version Market Share Worldwide from Mar 2018 to Oct 2019 via StatCounter

But if you’re one of those stubborn Windows 7 fans, you’ll want to reconsider your stance, and soon: Microsoft is officially ending support for the OS on January 14th, 2020.

What does this mean?

Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 in 2015. This meant that no new features would be developed for the operating system. However, the January 2020 date refers to extended support; after January 14th, Windows 7 will no longer receive security updates, and customers who continue to use it will do so at their own risk.

“My computer works just fine,” you say. “I don’t like change. If I don’t have to upgrade, why should I?”

It’s true, you don’t have to upgrade. Come January, you will still technically be able to download, install, and use Windows 7 on your PC (although EPC cannot install Windows 7 on any machine, and newer machines may not be able to run the OS). However, there are many reasons you shouldn’t.

Your PC is already insecure.

Even as Microsoft continues to release security updates, major flaws already threaten your Windows 7 computer. In March, Google announced that two zero-day vulnerabilities affecting Google Chrome and Windows could potentially be exploited together, and that only Windows 7 seemed to be affected. Issues such as these will continue to arise with third-party programs, and developers will no longer prioritize fixing problems exclusive to an old OS.

Your programs will stop working.

Security flaws aren’t the only problem that will go unresolved as time goes on. Third-party programs will stop taking Windows 7 compatibility into account when developing updates and new versions. This means that while a program you use may continue to work, any newer versions or updates run the risk of failing.

Businesses can continue receiving support for their Windows 7 machines, but it will come at a cost.

If your company depends on a program that only runs on Windows 7, you can extend your support for up to three years—for a price. Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates will be available to businesses and other organizations through “qualified Cloud Solution Provider partners.” Prices are not publicly advertised, but companies will pay an increasing amount each year per device, leading to extremely high prices for some companies; the most cost-effective option for companies is an upgrade.

And if you’re a home user looking to extend your support, well…you can’t. Upgrading is the only option.

“So what do I do now?”

If you’ve finally been convinced to upgrade, you have a few options:

Upgrade your current machine to Windows 10

This is almost certainly the best option for Windows 7 users. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s most up-to-date and secure OS and continues to receive regular security updates. Windows 10 is designed to make the upgrade easier by automatically transferring your files (though we still recommend backing up your files beforehand). Windows 10’s interface is friendly to both touchscreen and non-touchscreen users, meaning both types will find their PC habits relatively unchanged. For information on upgrading to Windows 10, read Microsoft’s official FAQ here.

Purchase a new PC.

Some older PCs may run slowly or not work at all with Windows 10. If you are currently running Windows 7 on older hardware, upgrading to Windows 10 may require a few additional steps, including the purchase of a new PC. Luckily, consumers have options, and a new computer doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. You could buy new from Microsoft or another major retailer such as Dell or HP; or you could buy a refurbished PC at reduced cost. EPC offers used, refurbished devices from all major brands, and every purchased PC comes with Windows 10 Pro.

Switch to Mac or Linux

If you can’t stand the thought of switching to Windows 10, it may be time to try something new. Apple’s macOS and Linux are the two most popular alternatives to Windows, with pros and cons for both. It’s important to research each OS’s features, cost, and the transition process from Windows before making a decision. Keep in mind that Apple hardware is typically much more expensive when buying new, but EPC offers refurbished Mac products in-store or online at a discount.

With so many options to choose from, the only bad choice is doing nothing. You may be reluctant to spend the money or give up the familiar for an upgrade, but the risk to your home or business of keeping Windows 7 is too great to ignore.

Okay, I’ve made the switch. My computer is secure now, right?

Maybe not. While upgrading your operating system is an important step, you also need to keep your software up to date. Using older versions of programs such as Microsoft Office can also pose a security risk. Microsoft Office 365 is the most up-to-date Office product available from Microsoft. Check to make sure each of your programs is running its most current version.

Your transition to a new system doesn’t have to be painful. For more information on how EPC can help you make the switch, visit our store at 3941 Harry S Truman Blvd, St. Charles, Missouri 63301 or call us at (636)443-1999.

References

Desktop Windows Version Market Share Worldwide. (2019, November 11). Retrieved from StatsCounter: https://gs.statcounter.com/windows-version-market-share/desktop/worldwide

Foley, M. J. (2019, October 1). Microsoft to make Windows 7 Extended Security Updates available to all business users. Retrieved from ZDNet: https://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-to-make-windows-7-extended-security-updates-available-to-all-business-users/

Hoffman, C. (2019, October 9). How Windows 7’s “Extended Security Updates” Will Work. Retrieved from How-To Geek: https://www.howtogeek.com/443573/how-windows-7s-extended-security-updates-will-work/

Johnson, B. (2009, October 21). Windows 7 set to break retail records. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/oct/21/windows-7-launch

Lecigne, C. (2019, March 7). Disclosing vulnerabilities to protect users across platforms. Retrieved from Google Security Blog: https://security.googleblog.com/2019/03/disclosing-vulnerabilities-to-protect.html

McIntyre, D. A. (2009, May 14). The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade. Retrieved from Time: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1898610_1898625_1898627,00.html

Warren, T. (2013, June 26). Windows 8.1: A First Look at What Microsoft is Changing. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2013/6/26/4465888/windows-8-1-preview-video