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10 Easy Ways to Make Your Mac or PC Run Faster

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Nobody likes using a sluggish computer. Instead of banging your head against your monitor, here are 10 easy ways to speed up your Mac or PC.

1. RESTART YOUR COMPUTER.

Before you roll your eyes, consider there's a reason why this is the first thing your colleagues in the I.T. department tell you to do when you're having trouble. Certain applications experience “memory leaking”, the effects of which, after a while, add up to consume valuable resources (and thus, diminish performance). Rebooting gives your machine a fresh start and clears up any memory leakage-issues.

2. CLEAN UP YOUR HARD DRIVE.

Fresh off a reboot but still having problems? One of the best ways to make your Mac or PC run faster is to delete old files. While this process is easier said than done, there are a number of tools you can employ—that don't involve you manually clicking through thousands of files. Magican for Mac or CCleaner for PC are both programs that can help expedite what would otherwise be a pretty painful process.

One area you may not have considered tidying: your system’s language settings. Most computers come pre-installed with various alternative languages that you probably don't use, and yes, these too take up valuable hard drive space. Programs like Monolingual will go through and delete unnecessary language settings for you.

Daily hard drive maintenance and clean up will go a long way towards improving your computer’s speed and functionality.

3. UPDATE YOUR SOFTWARE.

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Those reminder pop-ups can be annoying, but they serve an important purpose: updating your software and operating system will help everything work better. If you have a Mac, make sure you have the latest version of Mac OS X (Version 10.11 “El Capitan”) from the Mac App Store. If you're on a PC, download the latest version of Windows (Windows 10). The new versions of each operating system were designed to make older computers run more efficiently, so take advantage of the upgrade.

4. MANAGE START UP …

If booting up takes up most of your morning, then it might be a good idea to cut down on the number of apps you have loading at login. In all likelihood, there are at least a few unnecessary programs that you had no idea were running. (Even if you aren't actively using them, they can still eat up memory and other important resources.)

For Mac users, go to “System Preferences,” then “Users & Groups,” and click on your username. Under the “Login Items” tab, you can check only the applications that you absolutely need when you start up.

If you're on a PC, from the “Start” menu, type in “msconfig” in the search bar. Click the “Startup” tab and you'll see the list of all the programs that boot up every time you start your system. Use this list to select only the items you absolutely need.

5. … AND BACKGROUND APPS IN GENERAL.

Too much multitasking can hinder your system’s performance, and lead to you not accomplishing any tasks at all. Curious as to which programs are causing the most problems? If you're on a Mac, open your "Utilities" folder under "Applications." Find the "Activity Monitor" for a detailed list of programs currently running. Click the "Memory" tab to find out which apps are taking up most of your RAM. If those apps aren't necessary for whatever it is you're currently working on, close 'em. 

If you're on a PC, go to the “Start” menu and search for your “Task Manager.” This is where you'll find a list of all the programs open on your machine. The “Processes” tab will help you figure out which unnecessary programs are taking up the most RAM. Then kill accordingly!

6. UNINSTALL BLOATWARE.

Once you've figured out what programs you want at startup, think more broadly about the programs you actually use. Our computers come pre-loaded with items that end up sitting on our hard drives, taking up valuable space. Unfortunately, many people don’t bother trying to uninstall them because they think they need these apps to in order for their machines to run properly.

There are tools out there that can help you decide what is necessary and what you can uninstall to make your machine work better, such as decrap.org for PC and AppCleaner for Mac. If you're willing to take more drastic measures, try reinstalling Windows or Mac OS X. Important note: This process will wipe your data, but will give you a fresh start—without bloatware. Please, please, please back up all of your data, documents, pictures, and videos before you reinstall.

7. CHECK FOR SPYWARE AND VIRUSES.

Prevention is key, but the popup overload associated with third party software can be almost as annoying as the malware it's trying to prevent. Windows 8 and 10 come pre-installed with antivirus software, and now this program, Microsoft Security Essentials is compatible for Windows 7 and Vista users.

Mac OS X already has antivirus software installed, but you should still enable “Stealth Mode” in “System Preferences” to prevent spyware. Go to “Security & Privacy” and click “Firewall Options.” At the bottom of the window, you’ll find “Stealth Mode”—make sure the option is checked.

It’s a good idea to scan for viruses and spyware once a week to keep your system running smoothly. Visit websites on the most up-to-date version of the browser you’re using, which nowadays can usually automatically detect if a website is malicious. Be smarter about clicking links in your email inbox. Never click a link or attachment in an email unless you can see the web address and avoid URL shortened links from unfamiliar senders.

8. KEEP YOUR SYSTEM COOL.

A computer will start to slow down if it’s overworked and overheated. To prevent this from happening, elevate your laptop on a stand or cooling pad to keep air circulating. (Avoid resting it on pillows or cushions, which obstruct air flow.) You can also install software, such as SMC Fan Control for Mac and SpeedFan for Windows—these will increase the speed of your CPU's fan to make it work faster.

In addition, you should also physically clean your system every other week. Dust, dirt, and other gunk can clog air vents and lead to performance issues. Turn off your machine and use canned compressed air or a vacuum to remove anything obstructing your fans. It’s also a good idea to clean your keyboard, mouse, trackpad, and monitor with baby wipes and cotton swabs on a weekly basis. Just remember not to get your computer wet.

9. MANAGE YOUR TABS.

The more tabs you have open in a browser, the slower everything gets. Using a tab manager browser extension, like OneTab and TabMan, can help you organize and consolidate your open tab—and greatly improve your productivity and speed. While you're at it, don't forget to clear your cache.

10. UPGRADE YOUR RAM.

If all else fails, take heart: you may not have to shell out hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for a new machine. First, try upgrading your computer's RAM (or Random Access Memory) to increase its speed. Depending on your usage patterns, it might be better to get more RAM, or it might be better to get faster RAM. So look around to see what’s best for you.

Upgrading RAM is generally easier for PC users than Mac users. If you're on a PC, you may be able to do it yourself. But if you're on a Mac, use a site like EveryMac.com and New Egg to figure out what kind of RAM you need and how much more you'll need for an upgrade. The folks at the Apple Genius Bar will be able to take it from there.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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