December 28, 2006

Three Dimensional Maps

Not to be outdone by Google Earth, Microsoft have just released an update to their mapping technology called Microsoft Virtual Earth. Microsoft virtual earth takes 3D maps to the next level by letting users view 3D replicas of buildings and landmarks. Currently fifteen US cities have been given the 3D treatment, but Microsoft have stated that 100 cities worldwide will be available by mid 2007. According to Microsoft, the cost of developing 3D maps of each city cost around $195,000, approximately one tenth of the cost of producing these maps manually.

During a recent demonstration in San Francisco, Microsoft's general manager demonstrated how browsers could fly through San Francisco, as if they were playing a video game. As a comparison, Google Earth's 3D capabilities only provide limited 3D content in their photographic mode. Microsoft have also stated that additional detail can be added to their 3D maps, like traffic and weather information, and even property values.

With the navigation controls in Virtual Earth you can view cities and streets from different heights and angels. Latitude, longitude and altitude appear in the lower-left status bar of the browser. A scale bar in the lower right corner indicates the distance from your viewing point to the objects below you.

Microsoft also plans to add advertising functionality to Virtual Earth. With the ability to post 'virtual' billboards on the side of buildings and geographical targeting the opportunities for a new breed of advertisements are endless. Imagine viewing a 3D image of the MCG and having an ad for the AFL pop up - directing you to a website where you can buy tickets to the next football match.

To trial Microsoft Virtual Earth go to maps.live.com. You'll need to be running either Internet Explorer 6 or 7, and have at least 512Mb RAM and a 1GHz processor.

December 20, 2006

Rediscovering your music


With iPod and iTunes as the de-facto digital music standard consumers are building up increasingly large and rich digital music libraries. In the past you picked what you wanted to listen to by going to the shelf and flicking through your pile of CD's.

With the latest version of iTunes you can regain some of that 'old school' feel by using CoverFlow. If you haven't upgraded already head over to Apple and download version 7. It's probably the biggest change in iTunes since the ITMS (iTunes Music Store) was released. In my view the best new feature is CoverFlow.

Album Art is the digital version of the CD cover - and Apple purchased a company called CoverFlow and integrated it into iTunes. Album Art isn’t new to iTunes 7 but the way you can now use it to view your music is.

CoverFlow allows you to 'virtually' flip through your music collection using Album Art. As you'd expect from Apple it works beautifully and really makes your music collection come alive again. The faster you scroll the faster the covers flip by.

Don't worry if you haven't bought anything through the ITMS because iTunes will automatically download Album Art for your existing collection assuming it exists in Apple's catalogue (and it should, they have over 3.5 millions songs on file). Also, your Album Art is automatically copied to your iPod when you sync it so you can enjoy it on the go. If iTunes can’t find the Album Art for your track you can always scan it in from the original or try and source it from somewhere else. Once you’ve got the file you can simply drag it on the playing track in iTunes to import it.

As Apple expands its presence in the home with iTV (launching Q1 ’07) a visual browsing experience will be critical to its success. With CoverFlow and Album Art, Apple are trying and succeeding in making the digital music experience visual again.

December 13, 2006

Phish and Tips


MANY young Australians are technologically savvy but unaware about the dangers of the Internet, which include cyberstalking, identity Theft and phishing. Identity theft can occur when hackers gain access to your computer or when information is given blithely to strangers met online or a combination of both. Phishing is an attempt to acquire sensitive information like user names and passwords, typically carried out by using hoax emails or instant messaging.
But the first of the three, cyberstalking, poses perhaps the most immediate danger to kids.

Here, Internet stalkers follow a person's online activity to gather information, initiate contact or make threats.
The biggest dangers here comes from internet chat rooms and instant messaging, which is a hugely popular form of text based, real-time communication between two or more people.

There are many different IM protocols available but the most popular are AIM and MSN, with 53 million and 29 million active users respectively.
The phenomenon of Internet chat rooms and instant messenger software has grown dramatically in the past few years.

According to a newly released study by New Generations 89% of kids aged 7-14 with Internet access use it at least weekly while 40% use it daily. More than three quarters of the kids surveyed were aware that there are things on the Internet that aren’t safe for them. Roy Morgan also found that over 45 per cent of all 12 and 13-year-olds now use chat rooms to talk to friends and the heaviest users of chat rooms are girls aged 13, living in capital cities, with over 67 per cent of them chatting on the Internet regularly.

Chat rooms are easily accessible by any Internet user and as such are fast becoming hunting grounds for paedophiles and other predators.
In fact, NetAlert, Australia's government-funded internet safety advisory body, recently conducted a survey and found that almost 50 per cent of children surveyed had been approached by a stranger over the internet to meet in real life. Of those children who agreed to meet with a stranger, only 10 per cent asked permission from their parents first.
Another survey conducted by the same organisation found that a third of parents have concerns about key issues such as cyberbullying, their children being approached by strangers in chat rooms, and online security.
But what can you do as a parent?

While software is available to help kids stay safe online the best approach remains pro-active education about the risks of the Internet.
And it's still a good idea to make sure you have the maximum protection on your home computer, to try to prevent any issues from arising.

Internet Safety Tips for Families

Children need parents and carers to help teach them how to stay safe online. You may wish to think about the following to help your family:

1. Spend time online with your children and explore websites together. Take an interest in what they like to do online.

2. Help your children use the Internet as an effective research tool - learn about handy homework tips for children and also good searching ideas.

3. Be aware of you children communicating to people they don't know, particularly in chat rooms. Set house rules about what information your children can give out.

4. Put the Internet enabled computer in a public area of the home, such as the living room, rather than a child's bedroom.

5. Talk to your children about their Internet experiences - the good and the bad. Let them know it is OK to tell you if they come across something that worries them and that it does not mean that they are going to get into trouble.

6. Teach your children the ways to deal with disturbing material - they should not respond if someone says something inappropriate and they should immediately exit any site if they feel uncomfortable or worried by it.

7. Teach children that information on the Internet is not always reliable.

8. Encourage children to treat others in the same way that they would in real life by giving them an understanding of netiquette.

9. Know the best ways of avoiding spam and how to identify it when it when it first appears.
10. Set some appropriate guidelines for Internet use and discuss them with the children in your care.

DO YOU SPEAK CHAT?

If you've ever watched your kids use MSN you might have seen them typing in a language which doesn't make sense to you. This is a common example of a conversation:

"Hi, afaik ur crzy, but ily anyway, don't tel your parnts b/c i wuwh b/c ur phat, u c%d mmamp if u wnt, we c%d kotl then"

and the translation:

"Hi , as far as I know you are crazy, but I love you anyway, don't tell your parents because I wish you were here because you are pretty hot and tempting, u could meet me at my place if u want, we could kiss on the lips
then"

For a more extensive list of chat abbreviations and meanings go here.


Here are some other examples:


A/S/L - Age/Sex/Location
AISI - As I See It
F2F - Face-to-Face
HAK - Hugs And Kisses
HB - Hurry Back
IYKWIM - If You Know What I Mean
ROTFL or ROFL or ROTF - Rolling On The Floor Laughing
SWDYT - So What Do You Think?
YGBK - You Gotta Be Kidding

DEFINITIONS (Jargon buster?)
Cyberstalking: Following a persons online activity to gather information, initiate contact, make threats, or engage in other forms of verbal intimidation.
Identity Theft: Wrongfully impersonating someone, usually for financial gain either by exploiting the reputation of the subject person or stealing from them.
Phishing: An attempt to fradulently acquire sensitive information like usernames and password, typically carried out by using hoax email or instant messaging.


SOFTWARE TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS
While most computer users have some form of virus protection most only covers the basics and are difficult to configure. CA (formerly Computer Associates) and the makers of Vet have just released Internet Security (IS) 2007 ($99). Internet Security 2007 contains all the protection you’ll need on your home computer like anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and a personal firewall however it also comes with a feature called Parental controls.

Parental controls gives parents the ability to pre-configure Internet protection levels for their kids. Additionally, the customizable web filtering policy feature allows parents to create unique filtering rules to meet their specific protection requirements with specific URL keyword blocking as well.

If you are happy with your virus software and want specific protection for instant messaging try ChatAlert! ($59). ChatAlert! is the world's first real time chat protection software that analyses your kids Instant Messaging (IM) habits and instantly alerts you to the potential danger. ChatAlert works with all major chat programs including MSN, AOL and Yahoo! IM. It also works with online chat rooms.
When a suspicious message is detected ChatAlert can email or SMS you with the danger alert. You have the option of replying with A (Alert the child), B (Break the conversation) or C (Close down their computer). ChatAlert works by integrating the Internet connection with mobile networks to provide you with piece of mind while you are away from your kids.

For protection against other types of Internet threats try NetNanny ($89). NetNanny provides a broad set of safety tools that can help protect your kids from dangers on the Internet. NetNanny is easy to setup and offers the customisation options for up to 12 users. NetNanny can filter and block websites by URL or keywords, and can also filter content in emails, chats and newsgroups. As well as filtering NetNanny can restrict access to online activities including chat, games and other types of file sharing.

Another great feature of NetNanny is the ability to limit access to the Internet by the time of day and total amount of connection time. For instance, you could allow your child one hour of Internet access in the evening from seven. NetNanny can also email you detailed activity reports so you can monitor what your children have been doing online and potentially stop any dangers before they materialise.

SECURE YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM

Both Windows XP and Mac OS X have built in security functionality that can provided added security and piece of mind. In both operating systems you can set up an additional user account that only has restricted privileges.

In Windows XP go to Control Panels and select 'User Accounts'. Click 'Create a new account'. Enter the name 'Kids' (or whatever you want to call it) and then click 'Next'. On this screen select 'Limited'. Also, In Internet Explorer select 'Tools' --> 'Options' and click on the 'Content' tab. Here you can enable the Content Advisor. The Content Advisor enables you to specify web sites that are OK for your kids to visit. On the 'General' tab you can set a password so only you can change these settings. For more information about Content Advisor go here.

In Mac OS X a guest account is more sophisticated and powerful. To create a guest account in OS X go to the 'Apple Menu' and select 'System Preferences'. Select 'Accounts'. Click the '+' icon at the bottom of the user list to setup a new account. Once the account is setup you should see a 'Parental Controls' tab. From here you can limit access to most programs, and also specify websites your kids are allowed to view, and whom they can chat to in iChat. For more information about parental controls go here.

Mac Users Beware!


If you are living in Australia then you’ve no doubt seen some of the Telstra’s new marketing for their new high speed HSDPA network called Next G. Next G’s promise is this; Faster, Simpler, Everywhere you need it. Well, after my own experience trying to connect a PowerBook to the Next G network I only need one word to sum it up; Terrible.

A friend of mine who works on a PowerBook needed a wireless Internet connection. I called the local Telstra store where a helpful sales assistant assured me that the Telstra Next G card was compatible with her PowerBook. Slide the card (PCMCIA) in to the computer, load up the software and you should be online within minutes.

She brought the card home (after signing a 24 month contract), I checked the back of the box and confirmed the card was indeed Mac compatible. I followed his installation instructions (because I couldn’t find written instructions anywhere on the box) and then hit a brick wall. You see, the CD that ships with this card is compatible with Windows but also contained a folder called ‘Mac Software’. This consisted of nothing more then hardware drivers so the computer would recognise the card. No connection software, no instructions and no number to call.

Out of frustration I called the sales assistant back and asked for help. He couldn’t tell me what to do but gave me a 1300 number for assistance. After 15 minutes on hold I spoke to somebody who informed me that they didn’t know anything about Macs and I should call ‘Mac’ for support. They also suggested I email the card manufacturer for software and provided an email address. So I emailed inquiring about software and I received this response; ‘Telstra has it's own software so you should contact Telstra for the software.’ What? But Telstra told me they didn’t have software!

Luckily Telstra cancelled the contract and admitted the product wasn’t Mac compatible as it originally said. But how many others customers will Telstra rip off with the same product in the future? It’s hugely disappointing that our largest Telco still treats its customers like idiots and is so out of touch with it’s own products. If you need Mobile Internet and you are a Mac user, the only choice is Vodafone’s new Mobile Broadband card. Their Mac support is great and the product works every time.

December 5, 2006

Three Dimensional Maps

Not to be outdone by Google Earth, Microsoft have just released an update to their mapping technology called Microsoft Virtual Earth. Microsoft virtual earth takes 3D maps to the next level by letting users view 3D replicas of buildings and landmarks.

Currently fifteen US cities have been given the 3D treatment, but Microsoft have stated that 100 cities worldwide will be available by mid 2007. According to Microsoft, the cost of developing 3D maps of each city cost around $195,000, approximately one tenth of the cost of producing these maps manually.

During a recent demonstration in San Francisco, Microsoft's general manager demonstrated how browsers could fly through San Francisco, as if they were playing a video game. As a comparison, Google Earth's 3D capabilities only provide limited 3D content in their photographic mode. Microsoft has also stated that additional detail can be added to their 3D maps, like traffic and weather information, and even property values.

Microsoft also plans to add advertising functionality to Virtual Earth. With the ability to post 'virtual' billboards on the side of buildings and geographical targeting the opportunities for a new breed of advertisements are endless. Imagine viewing a 3D image of the MCG and having an ad for the AFL pop up - directing you to a website where you can buy tickets to the next football match.

With the navigation controls in Virtual Earth you can view cities and streets from different heights and angels. Latitude, longitude and altitude appear in the lower-left status bar of the browser. A scale bar in the lower right corner indicates the distance from your viewing point to the objects below you.

To trial Microsoft Virtual Earth go to maps.live.com. You'll need to be running either Internet Explorer 6 or 7, and have at least 512Mb RAM and a 1GHz processor.

November 22, 2006

Amazon.com bestsellers


It's late and I can't sleep. I just found a link to the Amazon bestsellers list, and it's truly an amazing testament to Apple's product line heading in to the business Christmas trading season.

For the 'Electronics' category Apple occupies no less than 5 of the first 10 positions.

Under 'MP3 Players' Apple occupies 9 of the first 10 positions (and 10 of the first 11!).

Under 'Notebooks' Apple occupies 5 of the first 10 positions.

Under 'Computers & PC Hardware --> Desktops' Apple occupies 4 of the top 10 positions (NB: They are the ONLY manufacturer to appear in the top 10, A Compaq Presario comes in at 11th spot and the rest of the positions are filled by books)

How crazy is that. Talk about a great line up of products.

There isn't another electronics manufacturer anywhere near this level. Oh and BTW, your old favorite, the Brown Zune. That's in position 27. What a piece of shit.

November 17, 2006

Will the Zune Flop?


Seriously, all of this Zune talk is driving me crazy!

There are articles everywhere from blogs to papers - I even saw my local news channel do a report on the Zune. Is it better than the iPod? Can Microsoft duplicate Apple's success? Only time will tell - let's see what you think?

So, without further ado...please vote (in the side bar-->)

WILL THE ZUNE FLOP?

November 2, 2006

A beginners guide to Linux

Linux is a free Unix-style operating system created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 with the assistance of developers around the world. Linux is a unique operating system as it is developed under the GNU General Public License. This means its source code is freely available to anyone to download, use and change. Contrast this to Mac OS X, Windows XP and other versions of Unix where users must pay a license fee and are unable to modify the system.

Linux was designed to provide personal computer users a free or very low-cost operating system comparable to traditional and usually more expensive Unix systems. Linux also has a reputation as a very efficient and fast-performing system and is used as a server operating system in many installations. Like other versions of Unix (including Mac OS X), Linux is also virtually void of viruses and spyware that plague all versions of Windows.

There are many distributions of Linux including Debian, Red Hat and Gentoo. A version of Linux gaining in popularity is called Ubuntu. Ubuntu’s tag line is ‘Linux for humans’. It aims to provide a complete and polished Linux desktop solution on a single CD that is easy to install, easy to use and free.

I downloaded and installed Ubuntu Linux on my Mac over the weekend and was very impressed. Installation was easier then Windows XP and Ubuntu ships with all the applications you need to get going, including the great open-source web browser Firefox and OpenOffice – a free, open version of Microsoft Office.

Linux is a great alternative operating system that will continue to see strong growth due to its increased security and free, open source availability.

October 18, 2006

Take Viiv!


Earlier this year Intel launched their Viiv (rhymes with “five”) technology platform to much fanfare. The Viiv technology platform is squarely aimed at getting a computer into your living room. A Viiv enabled PC combined with Windows XP Media Center Edition and one of the latest Pentium D, Pentium Extreme and Core Duo should replace everything you currently have under your TV including your DVD player, CD Player and HD Set Top Box. It can even replace your home computer if you are prepared to use the coffee table as your desk, and your plasma or LCD as your primary monitor.

Viiv however isn’t a specific piece of technology (like a processor or graphics card) as such but rather a brand and a platform – or a way of defining what your PC needs to ensure it is compliant as a multimedia enabled computer. Intel are marketing Viiv PC’s as the next step in personal entertainment, a coming together of all the units of technology available now, packaged together in one box. You’ll pay more for a PC with the Viiv brand however you can be confident that it will come complete with all the components you need to truly turn your living room in to multimedia central.

Consumer Electronics manufacturers while expert in designing aesthetically pleasing devices aren’t much good at creating at designing interfaces, but software designers like Microsoft and Apple are.

Using a poorly designed interface on your TV or DVD player is about as fun as having your wisdom teeth removed by an apprentice dentist. In my opinion, as your house fills up with lots of remote controls your actual use of each component diminishes. Ever tried to watch a slideshow that you burnt on to CD with your computer using your DVD player that has built in ‘Slideshow’ functionality?

That’s where Viiv PC’s and Microsoft XP Media Centre edition come into the picture. I’ve been testing various Viiv PC’s for the last month and have been truly impressed with their performance. The last time I was as impressed with a new technology platform was when I saw my first Pioneer DVR (Digital Video Recorder) about 3 years ago.

Most Viiv PC’s should come configured with a TV Tuner and network card. The TV Tuner lets you watch and record TV while the network card lets you access Internet content and programming information. A properly configured Viiv PC should let you replace Digital Set top box, DVD Player, DVR (or HD Recorder), MP3 player and VCR with one box and more importantly one remote control.

iTV
At a recent press conference Apple confirmed what most analysts had suspected for over a year – they are going to release a set top box that enables streaming of iTunes content (music, photos and movies) from any PC in the house to your TV. iTV, due to ship in Q1 2007 comes with all the necessary ports, including HDMI and component output to ‘free’ your content from the PC. Apple have indicated that initially iTV will not include a TV tuner however third party solutions like Elgato EyeTV already make hardware that could be easily integrated in to iTV and give it true TV functionality. iTV will be agressivly priced under $500 – a deep discount to the current offering from the likes of HP and NEC.


Maestro Ultima V
Processor 3.00Ghz Intel Pentium D Dual-Core 930
Memory 1Gb DDR2
Storage 250Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Dual HDTV Digital TV Tuner
Input Devices Microsoft IR Mouse and Keyboard
Network Gigabit LAN (optional Wireless LAN)
Form Factor Hi-Fi styled case
Price $2399

Pros: Great form factor, looks like a big amplifier but provides all the functionality of bigger and uglier Viiv PC’s. Built in Dual HDTV digital tuner for watching and recording different programs simultaneously.

Cons: Too much fan noise. System was unstable and crashed often requiring hard restart. Wireless not standard

NEC PowerMate DL H7204

Processor 3.2Ghz Intel Pentium D Dual-Core 930
Memory 1Gb DDR2
Storage 250Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Analogue TV Tuner
Input Devices Wired USB Keyboard and Mouse
Network 10/100 Lan, Wireless LAN
Form Factor Desktop Tower
Price $2849

Pros: Easy to setup, build in Wireless LAN makes downloading EPG content easy. Lots of room for additional expansion.

Cons: Belongs on a desk not in a living room. Ships with wired keyboard and mouse, TV tuner only supports analogue input.

HP Pavilion Media Centre m7595a
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 2Gb DDR2
Storage 200Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Analogue / Digital TV Tuner
Input Devices Wired USB Keyboard and Mouse, HP Media Centre IR Remote and reciever
Network 10/100 Lan, Wireless LAN
Form Factor Desktop Tower
Price $2900

Pros: Powerful and fast, very stable. HP designed Remote easier to use then standard Microsoft remote, great in the living room or in the study due to external and extendable IR receiver.

Cons: Too noisy, expensive

Technorati Profile

Future Me!

Have you ever wished you could send yourself an email at some point in the future? Maybe a reminder to call your mother next week or a message to yourself not to forget to bring something home from work? Perhaps you just want to write yourself an email as a reminder of what you were doing and who you were today - to be delivered in 5 years from now. Well, now you can with a website called Future Me.

Setup by Matt Sly and Jay Patrikios as an experiment, FutureMe has quickly grown into a popular address and now has a cult following. According to the site 316,341 letters have been written so far with thousands more every day. The site is funded by its two creators and relies on advertising revenue and donations.

Sending yourself an email to be delivered in the future is easy. From the FutureMe homepage simply enter your email address, the subject and body of the email and then choose when you'd like to receive your message. You can choose a date between tomorrow and 31 December 2036. Once you're ready to send your message click 'Send this to the future!' The next page presents you with two choices; you can either just send the message as an anonymous user without registering or you can choose to sign up.

If you choose to sign up you can make adjustments to your email if it hasn't already been sent. For instance, if you change your email address before the due date you'll need to fix your email otherwise you won't receive your message. Members also benefit by being able to change the status of their messages between public and private. A public message is posted on the website (anonymously of course) and can be viewed by anyone. Private messages get delivered only to you.

October 9, 2006

Freenigma

Freenigma is a service that allows you to send secure, encrypted web based email using popular webmail services like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail without the need for any specialised software. All you need is Firefox and a webmail email address.

Most common email is sent in plain text format. This means that if somebody intercepts your email they can easily read the message. Enter Freenigma – a service that allows you to encrypt your email messages so that only the person you intended to get the message can read it.

Freenigma is simple to use; go to www.freenigma.com and sign up for a free account. Once you are set up you’ll need to install the special extension for Firefox, restart and you’re ready to send encrypted emails.

Once installed you’ll notice a new toolbar appear when you have logged in to your webmail account. You’ll only be able to send encrypted emails to friends who have signed up to Freenigma. After you’ve finished writing your message press the ‘encrypt’ button and Freenigma encrypts your email and it is send to your friend. When they receive the email they click the ‘decrypt’ button, enter their password and the email appears, formatting and all.

Freenigma works on any computer that supports Firefox, including Mac OS X, Windows and GNU/Linux. It uses one of the most popular ‘open source’ cryptographic software packages called GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG). Freenigma’s development was partly funded by the German governmental agency for IT security so you can bet it’s secure.

If you do start using Freenigma remember you’ll need to use Firefox with the installed extension. Without Firefox your emails will remain encrypted and therefore unreadable – it’s probably not the best thing to use if you rely on reading your emails in Internet cafes in Siam Reap.

Watching TV on your Mac


Watching TV on your computer has been possible for many years but recently the landscape in Australia has changed with the introduction of Digital TV. Digital TV offers superb picture clarity and better sound. Along with the change to Digital manufacturers have been shrinking the size of the TV tuners to a point where today, you can get a Digital TV tuner the size of a small USB memory stick.

I’ve been testing Elgato’s Eye TV Hybrid ($279) – a tiny USB stick that at one end plugs in to any free USB port and the other end to an antenna. Once plugged in you load a piece of software called EyeTV 2 (Mac OS X). EyeTV 2 (www.elgato.com) is the engine that drives the EyeTV Hybrid stick and lets you rewind, fast-forward and pause digital TV. Additionally you can schedule a recording and EyeTV 2 will record the program to your hard drive for viewing later.

The EyeTV Hybrid is unique is a unique product in the market as it allows you to watch and record Analogue TV and Digital TV plus comes with a break-out cable for composite video and S-Video, enabling you to connect a set-top box for premium channels, digital cable or satellite.

Once you’ve recorded your program EyeTV 2 also lets you export clips or entire programs to other devices like your video enabled iPod. If you’d like to back up your content you can also export to an external storage device or burn to DVD.

In Europe EyeTV 2 comes bundled with a subscription to use an EPG (Electronic Program Guide). In Australia you’ll need to sign up to IceTV. IceTV are working on complete integration with EyeTV but at the moment you’ll have to settle for a Mac OS X widget that lets you few the TV guide and schedule recordings at the press of a button. The IceTV widget is easy to use but full integration with EyeTV 2 would be better. According to IceTV tight integration with EyeTV 2 is coming soon and should be available by December. Additionally IceTV are launching a package called PIMP that lets you schedule recordings remotely via your mobile phone.

I’m addicted to EyeTV, it’s a great piece of software that will be very familiar to any Mac user. It is reliable and stable. The convenience of being able to watch TV on my computer is great given amount of time I spend in front of my computer. Also, the DTT stick is so small that I can travel with it when I am away from home. An IceTV subscription rounds the package out nicely as scheduling recordings is only a couple of clicks away.

Singshot


Have you ever wanted to be a famous singer but are still looking for your big break? Well, it’s time to check out the latest web 2.0 site called Singshot. Started by the same group of founders responsible for Listen.com, Singshot is more fun then YouTube, and much more addictive.

Singshot is an website that lets you choose and record your own versions of thousands of songs and then share them with anyone. A Singshot account is free so join up now!

To record your own songs you’ll need either a Mac or PC with a broadband connection and a microphone (Most laptops have built in microphones, and most desktops have microphone input jacks). Singshot provides special web based software that manages the rest.

I set-up my own Singshot account and was recording my own tracks within in minutes. The flash based wizard runs through set-up and allows you to adjust sounds levels for your microphone. Once you’ve completed the wizard you are ready to begin recording. Simply press the ‘Record’ button and start singing.

Recording your own track is as simple as singing into your computer while following the karaoke screen prompts. After you’ve finished recording you’ll be prompted to save your recording or scrap it and try again.

Singshot has thousands of members whose profile you can browse and rate. I found a great singer called Jay from the UK who should probably have a recording contract. If you like a users performance you can even ‘rate’ it by clicking on the stars directly under the player. You can also leave feedback, and send favourite recordings to friends by clicking on the ‘Share Recording’ link in the right hand navigation. It’s only a matter of time before the next big artist is discovered using a service like Singshot.

18/10/06 - Angela from Singshot just let me know that Singshot is now free to use!

September 15, 2006

Did you mean 'Zone'?


So with all this reporting on Microsoft's new Zune player I thought I'd head over to microsoft.com to check out the specs and info on the new player. I couldn't find anything on the homepage about it (which is altogether strange considering it's importance to MSFT) so I typed 'Zune' into the search panel and this is what I got!

Microsoft's own search engine doesn't recognise the word Zune.

I wonder if Bill and Steve have actually seen the product yet?

August 30, 2006

Pushing email



Push email as the name suggests describes an email system where, whenever an email message arrives it is 'pushed' or sent to your email program. This is quite different conceptually from ‘pull’ email, where your email program (like Outlook) actively pulls email from your server (Bigpond) at either a repeating schedule or manually. ‘Push’ email has recently gained notoriety due to the success of RIM’s BlackBerry - a system designed in Canada that lets mobile users receive email instantly.

In a normal 'pull' scenario the email client, like Outlook connects to your mail server and says 'Do you have any mail for me?' If email is present the server replies and the email client 'pulls' the mail from the server. This is the most common form of email delivery as it relies on the user instructing the mail program to get the mail. This system was designed when permanent network connections didn't really exist. Remember the days of dialup when you weren't always connected to the Internet? Previously it made no sense for the email server to deliver mail to your program whenever it was received, as you might not have been connected to the network.

Now and in the future you are and always will be connected to the network - take the example of your mobile phone. Whenever your phone is switched on you are connected to the network, and the network knows this. That’s why you might receive lots of SMS’s when you turn your phone on in the morning. That’s also why you receive SMS’s instantly. ‘Push’ email is delivered in the same way as SMS. The network knows your phone is on and therefore you are connected and sends you emails whenever they are received without the need for you to ‘manually’ check.

‘Push’ email is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment, due mainly to the success of the BlackBerry – now companies like Microsoft, Nokia and Sony Ericsson offer their own ‘push’ email solution and this format will become standard across all mobile devices in the near future.

Get Smart!



For years now technology pundits have been talking convergence between PDA's (electronic diaries) and mobile phones. Traditionally PDA's have excelled in keeping track of appointments and contacts and mobile phones have been used for keeping in touch and actually talking to people. It didn't take a wise man to predict that these two products were the most likely candidates to converge and become one.

Not surprisingly that is exactly what has happened. Before I even begin talking about smart phones it is worth noting that about 90% of mobile phones on the market today are actually smart phones. They do a great job of storing contacts and an okay job of storing appointments. Most of these phones even ship with synchronisation software so that you can move the data from your computer on to your phone and back again. At first thought this may not be a useful feature, but if you do keep your phone in sync with your computer and you happen to lose or damage your phone it is a simple task to restore all the data.

Smart phones take this convergence to the next logical level and in some instances can actually become a replacement for your laptop or desktop computer as a whole - and certainly when you are away from your desk. Like computers and phones there are many different makes and models of smart phones on the market, each has it's own strength.

When deciding on a smart phone you'll need to consider things like form factor (size), operating system, brand and input method. Do you want a smart phone that fits in your pocket or are you happy carrying it in your bag. Are you happy inputting information with a stylus and a touch-screen or would you prefer a keyboard (full-size or half-size). What sort of networking do you need? Will GPRS be enough or would you like WiFi to connect? Most importantly you'll need to decide which operating your smart phone uses. A large majority use Windows Mobile - a stripped down version of Windows that is 100% compatible with Windows XP, but doesn't work well with other operating systems like Mac OS X or would you prefer to go Symbian - an operating system designed that is fast and open. If neither of those suit you can choose also choose between a BlackBerry or a Palm Treo.

Here are a variety of different smart phone options, each with their own advantages:

Nokia 9500 Communicator
Size: Large
Best Features: Large screen, easy wifi setup, compatible with MS Office, nice keyboard, can be used as a regular phone when flip closed
Worst Features: Too big, doesn’t sync with Mac OS X
Price: $1100

Nokia E61
Size: Medium
Best Feature: Bright clear display, intuitive interface, good speakerphone
Worst Feature: Joystick hard to operate, doesn’t sync with Mac OS X

Nokia N91
Size: Small
Best Feature: Large hard drive, 3G means fast internet access, good speakerphone, great camera
Worst Feature: Slow to access hard drive, slow interface, doesn’t sync with Mac OS X

O2 Atom
Size: Small
Best features: Built in Wifi, Voice dialing, 2MP camera
Worst Feature: ActiveSync 4.1 doesn't work correctly with third party firewall software, contacts could be better integrated with phone.
Price: $1029

K-Jam
Size: Large
Best Feature: Sound Quality, Built-in keyboard
Worst Feature: Size and weight
Price: $1029

Palm Treo 650
Size: Large
Best Feature: Fast, built-in keyboard
Worst Feature: Requires frequent restarts, ageing operating system, external aerial
Price:$799

BlackBerry 8700v
Size: Medium
Best Feature: Integrated email client, Fast, clean operating system. Very stable
Worst Feature: Not compatible with standards like vcard and vcal

Sony Ericsson M600
Size: Small
Best Feature: Compact Size, bright screen, simple user interface
Worst Feature: No Wifi, No camera, Not yet released
Price: TBA

August 16, 2006

Taking a shot at Leopard


I've just finishing having a play with Leopard - OS X (10.5) WWDC Beta.

My honest opinion (and anybody that knows me knows that I'm a BIG Apple fan, in fact I can't remember the last time I was disappointed by Apple) is that Leopard is really boring. I read John's post over at Daring Fireball, taking a shot at Leander Kahney for complaining about how boring the WWDC keynote was, but seriously, the WWDC release of 10.5 is not worth playing with for more then 2 minutes. There's nothing in it that I can honestly say to myself I'm excited about. I digged and digged and digged. I opened EVERY System Preference in the hope of finding something new, something to get excited about but alas.

Before Tiger (10.4) was released I got hold of a beta copy and installed it. I was really excited, and stopped anyone who would listen to tell them about Spotlight and Dashboard - two key features you could explain to the average user and get 'wow, that looks cool'. With Leopard I wouldn't dare bother. Only the nutter Mac enthusiast (and maybe some developers according to John) would raise an eyebrow at the new features. Core animation might be great but DO something with it!

Time machine - great idea and I'm sure lots of users will appreciate all the special effects. But seriously, how exciting is restoring a lost file. And is it worth the $150 that Leopard will cost when I can either subscribe to .Mac and get 'Backup' or buy another of the many great options out there.

Ok, so lets move on to the 'New' features in Mail. Notes, To-dos and 'Stationary'. Yawn, yawn and yawn. All nice to have but certainly not 'Killer'. Make Mail 3x quicker at accessing large mailboxes and you might get my attention. Add some more sophistication to its rule filtering and I might get excited. But stationary? Seriously, I think Outlook had stationary back in the late 1990's.

The last 'GUI' feature that Apple is raving about is 'Spaces'. Again, interesting but not a show stopper. How much excited can you get from moving screens from one virtual window to another. I know, great productivity improvement - Still, it gets a big 'Whatever!' from me. And to top it off there are about 5 apps already available that do it now. Of course Apple do it better but it's hardly 'innovation'

So, what about those 'Top Secret' features that Steve didn't preview. Well, all I can say is they better be exciting and worth shouting about. In fact I hope they are so good that the 10 or so you've previewed this month actually drop off the 'Leopard Features List' - In my opinion they should.

Zipping Files


The Zip file is a popular archive and data compression format that is gaining popularity as downloading files over the Internet becomes more mainstream. Developed in 1989 the Zip file was designed to allow easier access to archives or groups of files and could be accessed by graphical applications as opposed to the ‘PKZip’ protocol that required a command line application for use.

A Zip file is a simple archive in which each individual file gets compressed separately. Compressing files separately allows two things; each individual files can be retrieved without reading through other data and, it allows better compression by using different algorithms for different file types. The Zip format also supports a simple password system however this has known security holes.

There are many applications that can be used to create and open Zip files. The most popular is WinZip with over 160 million downloads but others like BOMArchiveHelper and PicoZip can also be used. Recent versions of Windows XP and Mac OS X have basic built-in Zip applications however using a dedicated Zipping program will give you more flexibility and control over your Zip archives.

Zip files make it easy to keep related files together and make transporting, e-mailing, downloading and storing data and software faster and more efficient. Zip files can be useful in many different ways – if you want to email a group of files you can ‘Zip’ them up and then send the individual Zip file. When the file arrives the recipient simply ‘unzips’ it and all of the files appear as they were with their original structure.

Other formats for archiving files do exist for different platforms, including ‘GZip’ for Unix and ‘Sit’ files for Macintosh. However the Zip format is the most popular and universally used amongst PC users.

August 4, 2006

Online Directories


The time has finally come to dump your phone books and replace them with one favourite in your browser. Sensis.com.au is all you'll need to find any directory related information in Australia. Finding directory information this way is much easier then any of the alternatives including a phone call to directory assistance. There are many parts to the Sensis web properties but sensis.com.au is the central domain and probably the best place to start. Also, becoming familiar with online directory searching is advisable as printed phone books will go the same way as dinosaurs in the near term.

To begin exploring Sensis and all of its properties click here and simply enter your search term. If you are looking for a business enter the business name and click 'Search'. You'll probably come up with lots of different results but if the company you are looking for has an entry in the White Pages you'll get a link to that listing at the top of the search results. Once you have your search results you also have the option of doing the same search on any of the four main Sensis websites (Yellow Pages, White Pages, City Search and Trading Post) by clicking on the different tabs at the top of the page.

If you do find a listing in either the White or Yellow Pages you can also get a map of the location by clicking on the 'Map' link. Clicking on this directs you to another Sensis website called Whereis. Whereis is another useful websites to add to your favourites as it can provide you with map and detailed routing information to get to anywhere from anywhere.

If you prefer a more 'advanced' search try going here. This gives you more options with searching and allows you to search particular Sensis properties and not others and exclude or include specific words in your search. Sensis.com.au also offers a web search. In my testing this performed specifically for local Australian websites. However, when looking for international websites Google always gave better, more relevant results and has far more powerful advanced searching options.

The new MacBook


Apple’s move to a completely Intel based portable family is now complete with the recent introduction of the MacBook. The MacBook replaces the familiar white iBook as Apple’s entry level laptop – however there isn’t much that’s entry level about MacBook except for the price ($1749).

The base model MacBook sports a 13.3” glossy wide screen display that is 70% brighter and has 30% more viewing area then the previous model. It also comes with a 1.83Ghz Intel Core Duo processor (5 times faster then the G4), 512Mb RAM, 60Gb Hard drive, CD burner (with DVD read capability), 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, Built-in Airport (802.11g), Built-in Bluetooth, Ethernet, Audio In and Audio Out (Optical), Built-in iSight and comes with Apple’s remote control for $1749. An extra $350 gets you a 2.0Ghz processor and a Superdrive (DVD burner). If white isn’t your colour you can spend an additional $650 and upgrade to Black casing, an 80Gb Hard drive and a 2.0Ghz processor.

The MacBook picks up where the iBook left off. Most importantly the MacBook falls in line with the rest of the Apple range by getting a 13” wide screen display. A wide display makes viewing today’s HD content better as the content is pre-formatted to the wide screen 16:9 format. The MacBook’s battery life remains at 5 hours when power saving is turned on and wireless networking is turned off. With wireless networking on and usage of the optical drive expect this to dip to between 3 and 4 hours.

Another major change on the MacBook is the newly redesigned keyboard. Don't worry, you won't need to re-learn the keyboard layout but the feel of the keyboard is slightly different. The keys are now inlaid meeting they can't come loose as only the top of the key is visible. The new keyboard feels great to use and is also now recessed so that the keys don't touch the display when the lid is closed.

Two other important features of the new MacBook are the completely latch-less display closing mechanism (fantastic as no moving parts means nothing can break) and new MagSafe power adaptor. The MagSafe power adapter magnetically binds the power cable to the computer meaning that any sudden movement of the cable or computer automatically releases the cable. This means less damage to both the power adapter and computer.

The MacBook differs from the MacBook Pro in two main areas; screen size and graphics capabilities. The MacBook's memory is shared between the main system and the graphics system. The MacBook Pro employs a dedicated graphics processor with it's own memory. The MacBook Pro also comes in two screen sizes, 15" and 17". Additionally the MacBook Pro range comes standard with a back lit keyboard - great for working in a dark room.

In my testing I found the MacBook was very comfortable to work on. Compared to the last model iBook it screams along and feels much faster then any G5 I have used. The new 13" glossy screen is bright and displays colours vividly and accurately. My only concern was the heat generated by the machine. Apple have said this is normal and has been present in the recent range of laptops.

The MacBook is a fantastic entry level laptop and the only laptop on the market that can run Mac OS X and Windows XP nativley. With Boot Camp (a free download from www.apple.com.au) you can nativley run all of those Windows applications that haven't been converted to Mac. Boot Camp opens the MacBook up to a whole new market of buyers and now competes directly with the Dells, Toshiba's and HP's of the world. Do a side-by-side feature comparison and you'll find the MacBook is more feature rich for about the same money. Plus, it's the only laptop that comes with Mac OS X and a standard suite of great applications including iPhoto, iWeb and Garageband.

July 27, 2006

The Operating System Landscape


The next twelve months presents some interesting choices for PC users. If you are in the market for a new PC you might consider waiting for the next release of Windows, called Vista before plonking down your hard earned money on a PC that will be out-of-date by the end of the year. If you are a Mac owner you might also want to wait until OS 10.5, codenamed Leopard is released. The question remains, how will these new operating systems stack up and is it worth holding off purchasing a new machine just in case.

Windows XP

In 2001 Microsoft introduced Windows XP and it was billed as the ‘must-have’ upgrade. The letters ‘XP’ stand for experience. XP was the successor to Windows 2000 and Windows ME/98. It was Microsoft’s first operating system to be based on the architecture of Windows NT – a secure and robust platform.

To date Microsoft has sold over 400 million copies of XP. Windows XP has been criticised for its lax security and continues to be the operating system of choice for virues and spyware authors.

Advantages
Fast
Stable
Compatible with many applications – including older applications that ran on Windows 95+
Integrates well with Microsoft Office and other Microsoft products
Plug-and-Play

Disadvantages
Susceptible to spyware and viruses
Hard to set-up
Performance degrades over time without frequent maintenance
Internet Explorer 6
Ineffective Search tools

Windows Vista
In 2007 Microsoft plan to release Vista. 6 years in the making the operating system looks and feels very similar to XP. Security has been beefed up – to the point (in Beta release 2) where it interferes with system usability. The user interface (called the GUI) is based on Aero – and looks and feels like Mac OS X. Search has been radically improved and Vista now ships with a reasonable calendar, address book and mail client. Internet Explorer 7 is also included with Vista and is very impressive. Until the final release in 6 months nobody can be 100% sure of what Vista will be like but early impressions suggest that it will be a ‘must-have’ upgrade for Windows users if for nothing else then enhanced security features.

Advantages
Much-improved GUI, larger icons display better on larger screens
Radically improved search tools
Good basic calendar, address book and email software
Improved security
Better use of internal and external memory
Internet Explorer 7

Disadvantages
Improved security can get in the way
May not run on some older machines
May not run some older software
Power Management functionality weak

Mac OS X – Tiger (10.4)
Mac OS X (pronounced ‘ten’) was released in March 2001 and has been improving steadily with each release. 10.4 marked the introduction of advanced search technology called Spotlight and Dashboard widgets. Along with ‘under-the-hood’ changes OS X is the best Mac operating system Apple has ever released.

Based on its BSD UNIX foundations Mac OS X is the most secure consumer-friendly operating system on the planet. In the same time that Windows users have been plagued by thousands of viruses Mac OS X remains virus and spyware free. It’s signature GUI has taken some time to improve but is now very functional. Mac OS X comes bundled with all the software you’ll ever need to use and is compatible with both the newer Intel based Mac’s and the older PowerPC variety. Mac OS X also runs on all Apple hardware with a G3 chip or better.

Advantages
Security
Stability
Ease-of-use
Search

Disadvantages
Slower on older hardware
Limited customisation options

Mac OS X – Leopard (10.5)

Not much is known about the upcoming Leopard. It will however run on both Intel and PowerPC hardware and will include some Windows compatibility layer as evidenced by the beta release of Boot Camp – software that lets your Mac run as a Windows PC. 10.5 will likely be released at the end of 2006 or January 2007. Steve Jobs will be previewing it at the Worldwide developers tradeshow in August.

Advantages
Capable of running Windows
Can run on both Intel and PowerPC chips

Disadvantages
Not yet released

Should I wait or buy now?

As with all technology as soon as you purchase your model will be obsolete. Luckily with computers you can upgrade them so they can run the latest operating system but beware - there are additional costs involved. If you are desperate for a new PC then you should make sure you buy one that meets the minimum Vista specs (A modern processor (at least 800MHz), 512 MB of system memory and a graphics processor that is DirectX 9 capable). If you do buy now then you’ll also need to pay extra to upgrade to Vista (about $300) so factor this in to the purchase decision. For Mac users all the latest Apple hardware is capable of running the latest OS however there will also be an additional upgrade charge for the Leopard when it is released (about $300).

The Best Broadband Content


Once you’ve signed up for Broadband you’ll have access to a much larger range of multimedia content on the Internet. With a Broadband connection you’ll be able to do things like watch streaming video, play multi player online games and download large files quickly.

With the increased number of Internet users making the switch to broadband more websites are adding multimedia content to enhance their appeal. In Australia there are many sites that take advantage of this by offering premium content not available to narrowband subscribers.

One good example of a broadband enhanced website is Telstra’s own Bigpond portal. Bigpond has many different categories of content and all of them are geared to broadband users. Take Bigpond Music for example. Here you’ll be able to trial and download the latest music releases. Downloading a track over regular dialup could take over ten minutes, with broadband it shouldn’t take more then three.

The newly released ‘Games Shop’ service from Bigpond also takes advantage of your broadband connection. At ‘Games Shop’ you can download full games to trial and if you decide you like them you can buy them outright. Games will be available before they are in store and Bigpond broadband subscribers are also eligible for a 20% discount.

If you are into sport, Bigpond Sports lets you view the latest sports content via streaming audio and video media – but if you don’t have broadband you won’t be able to access it as your connection will be too slow.

There are lots of other great websites that make use of Broadband. Even Google, the most popular search engine on the planet works better over broadband. Your results will be presented faster and you’ll be able to load more websites simultaneously with a faster Internet connection. Another favourite broadband website of mine is Apple Movie Trailers. Here you’ll be able to preview the latest movie trailers right from the comfort of your computer. Depending on your broadband connection you can even view the trailers in all their full screen glory.

Broadband is here to stay and over time more websites will require it to view content. With Broadband pricing decreasing now is the time to upgrade if you still use dialup. In most cases, switching to broadband will not only increase the satisfaction of your Internet experience but will also save you money.

Introduction to Broadband


Broadband Internet refers to two things – an Internet connection that is faster then narrowband or dialup, and one that is always available. A few years ago Broadband was a pipe dream for most Australians but the last 24 months has seen a reduction in the cost of Broadband to the point where, in most cases it is cheaper then having a dialup service. The term ‘Broadband’ refers to the speed of the network connection rather than the type of connection.

Broadband Speeds

Typically, broadband speed is anything faster then dialup or ‘narrowband’. When discussing network speeds the common unit is Kbps or Kilobits per second. However, thinking about Broadband in terms of ‘how much faster’ is more useful. Think of an average file – lets say a 3 mintue MP3 music track (3Mb). Over a dialup connection downloading this file might take 10 mins. Over a ‘basic’ broadband connection downloading this file might take 3 mins, and over a ‘fast’ broadband connection might take 60 seconds.

Broadband packages are priced according to two variables; download/upload speed and total downloads available. You’ll pay more for a plan that gives you high speeds and greater downloads.

A standard broadband connection is 256Kbps (or 5 times faster then dialup). A better plan might give you 512Kbps and a top plan might be 1500Kpbs.

Connection Types

After you’ve decided on your plan you’ll need to consider the type of connection. The main types available in Australia are:

ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)
ADSL runs over your existing telephone line and doesn’t interfere with your normal telephone line. It’s simple to setup and the most popular broadband connection in Australia.

CABLE
Cable broadband operates over the Foxtel cable. If you can get cable at your home then you can probably get cable. Cable connections are generally faster then ADSL for around the same monthly fee.

WIRELESS
Wireless broadband is relatively new in Australia but is growing in popularity. A wireless modem (either card or USB) communicates via radio signal to a receiver in your neighbourhood. Wireless internet is especially convenient if you are using a laptop as you’ll have access from anywhere you are. Additionally, if you not eligible for either ADSL or Cable, Wireless provides another solution.

Choosing a provider

Nearly all ISP’s that offered dialup Internet now give you a broadband option. The biggest provider of broadband in Australia is Telstra Bigpond. Bigpond offers the whole spectrum of broadband options, including ADSL, Cable, Satellite, Wireless and even ISDN. If you need a provider that offers all the options and gives you the ability to put all of your telecommunications needs on one bill you can’t go past Telstra. In the last 12 months their service levels have improved to the point where they are now rated as one of the most reliable providers in Australia.

It is important to understand the contract you are entering when signing up to Broadband. You’ll also need to understand how much flexibility you have if your requirements change. For example, can you increase your download limit and what are the costs associated with using more than your allowance. Also, does your ISP provide a backup dialup service if your Broadband service goes down.

Once you’ve decided on a provider signing up is simple. If you choose Telstra you’ll be able to walk into a Telstra store and pickup a modem and organize the self-installation. If you choose another provider the best way to sign up is through their website.

Future TV Trends


I've posted some of the research I did for my HS contribution on TV50.

TV Watch
If the thought of leaving the house without a TV or your Slingbox turned on is too much to bear then consider the TV Watch. At 30g this 1.5” TFT screen displays a crisp 280 x 220 colour digital picture. The TV Watch can receive both UHF and VHF frequencies so you can even tune into SBS. The TV watch can even tell the time.

A three hour charge will let you watch TV on the go for up to an hour. The watch comes with a Velcro band for easy on-off and like all TV’s works best in areas with strong reception. So far this watch is for sale in the US (NTSC only) but there are plans to bring the watch to Australia in the future.


Sony GlassTron

If your room isn’t big enough to accommodate the newest Pioneer 60” Plasma you might consider some new technology from Sony. The ‘Glasstron’ line of products puts 2 small LCD screens right in front of your eyes. Think about your favourite pair of glasses; now replace the lens with small LCD panels. Add a wireless connection to your Digital Settop Box and HD DVD system and you’ll be able to cruise around your house, or sit in the toilet and watch your favourite program.

Glasstron technology already exists. Sony’s PLM-A35 glass can simulate a 52” diagonal screen when viewed from a distance of about 2 meters. The Glasstron PLM-A35 has two 0.55” LCD’s each with a 180,000 pixels and a horizontal viewing angle of 30 degrees.

SlingBox
If your not home much and hate that you still pay for Foxtel a Slingbox might be in order. Slingmedia have designed a small router shaped device that plugs into your TV (or Cable/DVD/Video) on one side and your broadband connection on the other. Once you’ve configured your Slingbox all you need do when you are out of home and connected to the internet is tune into your slingbox via a web browser and watch your TV anywhere around the world.

Slingbox uses the power of video streaming to transfer whatever is showing at your house to you on your computer or handheld Windows Mobile device anywhere around the world. SlingBox even provide an interface to control your devices so you can flick channels and set your VCR to record the program even if you are out. If you’re a frequent traveller and you’d like to watch the game live, now you can with a Slingbox.

3D
3D TV has been a dream for over 50 years. The latest HD technologies are all about true-to-life pictures in 2D. Now 3D TV is becoming a reality. A company called Deep Light have designed a display that can deliver both 3D and 2D images without the need for special glasses.

Deep Light’s technology works by projecting two different images to the viewer’s eyes, each image a different perspective of a 3D scene. The rationale being that the viewer’s mind can perceive the scene in 3D exactly as it would in real life. In addition Deep Light’s 3D Display can actually project several different side-by-side perspectives of a scene to the viewing area. This quality allows motion parallax where a viewer can see a 3D scene from different angles by moving his/her head to the left or right.

The great benefit of Deep Light’s technology is that the display can also be switched to 2D for times when 3D isn’t required. Additionally, the technology is scalable so smaller screens can be joined together to form a larger unit.

July 19, 2006

MySpace


Meeting people and sharing your life has never been easier with the new crop of social networking website like MySpace. Based in New York, MySpace has become the leading social networking portal boasting over 86 million registered users. It is currently the fourth most popular English website. Musicians and bands were some of the first people to utilize social networking sites like MySpace. Many rock groups used it to establish a free online presence where they would list concert dates, communicate with their fans and even upload their music for free.

Getting online with MySpace is easy. You sign up and create a profile and then invite other friends to join your personal network. In this way your group of friends can grow very quickly as all of your friends friends also become your friends. If you already know people who are MySpace members you can search for and add them to your list of friends.

MySpace also lets you customise your area by adding music, photos and blogging space to communicate with other friends. Each members listing is unique and is infinitely customisable. MySpace also has a local Australian portal located here.

The majority of users of MySpace are 16-25 year-olds but there are also many registered users 40+ that use it to meet like-minded people and even to make new business associates.

Local social networking websites like FunkySexyCool are taking the MySpace social networking phenomenon to the next level by integrating the service with mobiles and other portable devices. FunkySexyCool also lets you upload recent photos taken on your mobile phone via MMS so that your online profile is always up-to-date. Additionally if friends try to contact you through the site and you aren't online you'll automatically receive an SMS with the message.

July 6, 2006

Tax Time Online


As one financial year ends and another begins it’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare your tax return. The web is a great resource that can save you both time and money.

The first site to check out is the Australian Tax Office. Online you’ll find a comprehensive guide to completing your tax including very handy calculators that you let you work out everything from Income Tax, to PAYG tax to Superannuation. Simply click on ‘For Individuals’ in the left hand navigation and select ‘Rates, Calculators and Tools’.

Businesses will also find the ATO website handy. If you do your BAS statements manually it might be time to consider submitting electronically. To start the process log on here. This is the ATO gateway to online services for businesses. It provides an easy way to access information and lets you transact with the government in a secure online environment. To access this portal you must first register for an ATO digital certificate. Again, this can be completed online at www.ato.gov.au/onlineservices. Click on the ‘Register for a digital certificate’ link from the left hand navigation and follow the instructions. Your computer will need to be at least a Pentium running at 200Mhz or faster with Windows 98SE and newer operating systems supported. Any Mac running OS X with at least 128Mb can access the site.

If you are comfortable doing your tax return on line you may want to look at www.etax.com.au. The basic Etax service costs $35 plus GST. For this you’ll get a review of your return by a qualified CPA, compliance review of your return, lodgement to the ATO and refund in 14 working days (after the lodgement).

One last site to visit is Taxpayer. Taxpayer is a not-for-profit website that aims to educate taxpayers via various sources including media, educational publications and seminars relating to tax and superannuation.

June 29, 2006

A Switch Moment!




It's nice to see progress in the flesh. It took a G5 iMac to convince my client that Windows XP sucked but now with the new Intel iMac they can finally dump the PC they 'had to have' and use Boot Camp whenever required. Before I took the PC off the desk I had to shoot 'the line-up'.

June 22, 2006

Skype In


Skype have just launched SkypeIn, their latest value-added service in Australia. The SkypeIn service takes Skype to the next level by giving you a local number attached to your Skype account. If people call your local SkypeIn number (a regular, local phone number) they can contact to you anywhere around the world via your computer and Skype account. For example, if you live in Melbourne but are overseas on business with your computer, friends in Melbourne can dial your local number and contact you on your computer for the price of a local call. If you aren't online they can leave a voicemail that you can access when you get online.

To get going you'll need to download Skype and signup for a free account - if you don't already have one when you first launch Skype you will be prompted to get one. Once you've set up Skype attaching a SkypeIn number is easy. Just log in to your account at www.skype.com and select 'Buy Now' under the SkypeIn button. You'll need to select the country you want your SkypeIn number to be in - if you travel a lot and have friends all over the world you can subscribe to at least 10 local numbers. After you have selected your country you'll need to select your state. Once you've selected your state Skype provides you with a list of numbers to choose from. If you'd prefer to pick your own just enter the combination in the box and Sykpe will automatically tell you if it is available. The last step is payment. A local SkypeIn number costs just $16 for three months and $50 for 12 months.

I tested SkypeIn with my sister who lives in Los Angeles. She applied for the SkypeIn service and was up and running in under 10 minutes. The quality of the calls has been excellent. At times of high bandwidth usage (like when she was downloading a file) voice quality suffered slightly but was still clear. When she didn't answer her computer I simply left her a voicemail (a free extra with a SkypeIn account). With SkypeIn you also have the option to forward calls to any number (using SkypeOut credits) when you are offline. Beware as forwarding calls costs per minute diverted.

The SkypeIn service is currently in beta testing which means that the service may not always be stable but Skype maintains it is improving quickly. Additionally, SkypeIn is not available from all countries yet but Skype have plans to extend the service to more countries quickly.

Buying Blank Media

Now that most computers come standard with a disc burner choosing the correct media to use for burning is important. The type of burner you chose when purchasing your computer will impact your choice of media. Lower end computers generally ship with CD-RW/DVD drives. These units are capable of writing to CD-R and CD-RW media but not DVD’s. CD-R’s can hold around 700Mb of data and are compatible with CD Players. Higher end computers now come with DVD-RW drives – these drives are capable of writing to DVD media and can hold a maximum of 4.7Gb. Some DVD-RW drives also come as DL (Double Layer) meaning you can write 4.7Gb of data to each side of the DVD. This effectively doubles your storage capacity.

Some media is ‘write’ once ‘read’ many (R) and others are ‘write’ many ‘read’ many (RW). RW media is always more expensive then R media – typically 40% more, so deciding on the purpose of the burn is important. If you want to keep re-writing data on to the same disk you’ll need to choose RW. If you just want to archive data you’ll only need R media. If you plan to use your burnt DVD’s in consumer players always use DVD-R’s not RW discs.

The brand of media and storage are also critical. Better brands are more expensive however the disks are more durable and last longer. Again, you’ll need to determine how critical the data is that you are burning. If your disks are stored in a case in a cool dark place they will last longer. Also, try to limit the amount you use the disk as frequently ejecting a disk from a drive can cause scratching to the disks surface and ultimately make it unusable.

When buying blank media you’ll also need to decide about buying in bulk. For example, if you purchase 50 blank DVD-R’s on a spindle you’ll pay around 0.70c per DVD. If you buy them in a 5 pack expect to pay $1.00 per DVD. Individually DVD-R’s can cost $2.50. DL media is more expensive at around $6.00 per disk.

June 2, 2006

Internet Explorer 7


It's been many years since IE 6 was released. During its heyday IE 6 commanded a 95% share of the browser market, largely at the determent of Netscape, partly due to its automatic installation with Windows. Since IE 6 Microsoft has stood still while other free browsers have started to erode market share, the two most popular being Firefox and Opera. As Microsoft prepares for the transition to Vista in early 2007 they have made available a public release of their new browser IE 7.

IE 7 is the first upgrade to come out of Microsoft in the last 5 years that is actually worthwhile. Feature for feature it is now on-par or better then Firefox. Not surprisingly, Microsoft have chosen to also focus on security in IE 7 and the results are impressive.

First IE 7 has a brand new look and feel. Unlike other Microsoft products the toolbars in IE 7 take up considerably less space then before, allowing you to view more of any particular webpage without scrolling. Also, for beginners there are less buttons to get confused over and a generally more streamlined look and feel.

Probably the biggest change is the addition of tabbed browsing. Other browsers have offered this feature for many years but IE 7 does it better then most, and enables it by default. Tabbed browsing allows you to open many webpages within a single window - making information easier to find and causing less stress on your computer. Additionally, when you have tabs open in IE 7 there is a single button that will display a thumbnail of all open windows in a single view. This is a handy feature if you need to know the pages you have open.

IE 7 introduces some smarts around printing as well. IE 7 will now automatically shrink text in order to fit a whole screen on one page. You can even customise margins, page layouts and add ot remove headers and footers.

Lastly security has become a major focus and IE 7 is the first browser to introduce security features that aim at keeping your personal data safe and saving you from online phishing scams.

To use IE 7 beta you'll need Windows XP and Service Pack 2. For now it is a free download here.

May 11, 2006

Thinkfree Office

Thinkfree Office is another Web 2.0 web-based application – targeted squarely at capturing market share (and revenue) from the leading productivity application, Microsoft Office. Thinkfree Office is like Microsoft in nearly every way except you use it through a web browser, and as such you’ll need a broadband internet connection.

ThinkFree office gives you up to 1GB of online file storage – plenty for most. It also lets you create Microsoft Office compatible Word, Excel and Powerpoint files. Like MS Office, you can even add images and graphs to your work. As ThinkFree is online you can also collaborate on work with colleagues through the internet, something that is difficult to do effectively using MS Office.

I tested the ThinkFree office for a week and was impressed. Apart from not being able to access any of my documents when the internet was offline ThinkFree performed well and as promised. ThinkFree Office feels very familiar. If you know how to use MS Office then ThinkFree Office will immediately be obvious to you.
There are two editing modes you can use, Quick and Power Edit. I found the Quick edit mode to be faster (on my Mac) giving you access to only commonly used functions, while the Power edit mode resembled more of a 'computer window' type interface. At times the Power edit mode lagged behind while I was typing however it is better if you prefer the feel of working in a regular computer window. Additionally, when editing in Power edit mode I couldn’t return back to the quick edit mode – the only solution was to download the file and continue editing it on my Mac.

In terms of price you can't do much better the ThinkFree - it is free. As a comparison, Microsoft Office 2003 costs $625. For both the education and the home market ThinkFree is a great alternative to MS Office, and the price doesn't get much better. If you do only basic amounts of word processing and an occasional spreadsheet ThinkOffice is great.

May 4, 2006

Google Calendar

Google have continued their march to world domination with the release of yet another ‘have-to-use’ product called Google Calendar. As the name suggests, Google Calendar is meant to replace your desktop calendar application, like Outlook or iCal (if you are on a Mac). As you’d expect from Google they have built in tight integration with other Google products like Gmail and Search.

Creating an appointment in Google Calendar is easy, simply click on the time in any of the calendars views and enter the text. If you’d like to add more detail to the appointment click on the ‘edit event details’ link. You can add a location to your appointment and also add a more detailed description. Under the Options section you’ll also be able to set a reminder. Unlike Outlook on your PC Google can’t sound an alarm when an appointment occurs – instead Google Calendar sends you a notification via email. If you live in the US you can also specify to be alerted via SMS.

Google Calendar also lets you share calendars between groups. If you manage a soccer team for example, you can set a group calendar that the whole team can access. This technology isn’t new, but Google Calendar takes it a step forward by allowing multiple people to manage and edit the calendar.

Google also makes importing your existing calendar easy. Click on the ‘Settings’ link and select the ‘Import Calendar’ tab. You can import either an Outlook CSV file or an iCal file.

Before committing to using an online calendar you should be aware of a few limitations. Firstly, you’ll need network access to use it (if you have a slow or unreliable connection an online calendar may not be the right solution) and secondly if you use a PDA like a Palm or Windows ME device syncing isn’t supported yet.

Google Calendar is not the only on-line calendar application around but it is certainly one of the best. Before you commit to it, check out other similar products like Spongecell (www.spongecell.com), Kiko and Trumba.

April 25, 2006

Second Life


Second life is 3-D virtual world built and owner entirely by its residents. It is one of a new generation of massively multiplayer online real-life games created by San Francisco based Linden labs. The idea behind Second Life is to give its residents or citizens the ability to built, develop and participate in the Second Life economy.

Started in 2003 the Second Life game now has over 100,000 citizens from all around the world. These citizens do all the things they do in real life in the game. From buying and selling land and buildings, to creating and developing objects that can range from cars to spaceships.

In Second Life your persona is represented by an Avatar – something you create and modify as you like. When I set up my Avatar (my name in Second Life is Gorog Senior) I chose to give it long black hair and I was given a ‘Second Life’ t-shirt by one of the residents I bumped into while exploring the world. Most often Avatars are human shaped but there are many Avatars in Second Life that have tails and look like rabbits as well – in a virtual world anything goes.

Like any real world there is a lot to do in Second Life. You can for example buy land (using the online currency called Lindens), build a block of flats and then resell the flats to those who need somewhere to live while online. When Second Life began there was a total of 64 acres of land, now in 2006 there are 20,000.

If you are good with creations you could start a factory that produces cars that you can then sell to others who need transport. There are literally thousands of items for sale – click here. There are categories ranging from Building Components to Scripts – the language of choice in Second Life. If you plan on buying and selling you’ll need to use Linden’s. You’ll get about 300 Linden’s for each US Dollar. As an example a 3-story luxury home will cost you about 6500 Linden, or about $20USD.

A basic account is free and includes access to everything. If you want to own land you’ll need a premium account these plans start at $9.95US per month.

April 19, 2006

YouTube


YouTube is a free online video streaming service that allows users to view and share videos that have been uploaded by other YouTube members. Think of it as a kind of online video library where anyone can upload any type of video. The best part about this service – like other social Web 2.0 properties is that it is free to use. It was founded in early 2005 by the same group of entrepreneurs that started PayPal – the wildly successful online payment system.

Before YouTube there was no easy way for individuals to share video on the Web. The problem of dealing with hundreds of multimedia formats and large files made sharing video clips difficult – even for tech-savvy individuals.

With YouTube you can upload and share your videos worldwide to anyone with Internet access. If you don’t have videos to upload you can always browse and play the thousands of videos available. You’ll find groups of people with similar interests to you (Sports for example) and be able to view and browse their videos. If you host a website YouTube also provide a set of API’s that let you display YouTube videos on your website.

Uploading a video on YouTube is as simple as signing up for a free account. As well as uploading videos, members can also save videos and create custom playlists. Movies for upload need to be in either AVI, .MOV, and .MPG file formats. Uploading can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours depending on the size and the speed of your connection. YouTube limit each video to 10 minutes in length or 100 Mb. If you want to upload more you’ll need to sign up to become a premium content provider. Once videos are on YouTube they stay there until you remove them. The other requirement for uploading videos is that you own the copywright to the video or have permission from the copywright owner to use the video. Posting commercial content or anything illegal will result in immediate suspension of your account, similar to other community based sites like eBay.

To date YouTube has served over 25 million videos – and is by all accounts the Internet’s premier video service. Google has just begun competing with YouTube through its Google Video service. Google also allow you to purchase commercial videos – something that YouTube doesn’t.

April 13, 2006

One with the lot


If you are in the market for a new wireless router and already have ADSL you should consider upgrading to an all-in-one ADSL Modem/Wireless Router. If you choose NetComm's NB9W MyNetGateway ($299) you'll also get VOIP capabilities thrown in. MyNetGateway is one of a new generation of networking products that does everything, and at best lets you get rid of your individual ADSL modem (the one you got for free from your ISP), VOIP Router and Wireless Access Point and frees up three slots in your powerboard.

The integrated device comprises an ADSL2+ enabled modem that allows the user to benefit from faster broadband services, such as iiNet's ADSL 2 service. A built-in router with a 4-port Ethernet switch allows for the easy connection of up to 4 wired devices while the built-in 802.11g wireless networking allows for fast 54Mbps wireless functionality. MyNetGateway also has VOIP functionality that has Quality of Service (QoS) supports. QoS functionality prioritises voice packets over data packets that ensures that VOIP call quality remains excellent even during periods of heavy Internet use.

The VOIP functionality is further enhanced with two phone ports allowing simultaneous connection of two phones - in reality you could have two separate phone lines connected to this unit - perfect for the home office where there might be different home and office lines. Like all good VOIP routers the NB9W allows for connection of a regular telephone service allowing you to make and receive PSTN phone calls as well. If your ISP ever goes down this also ensures continued telephony support.

In my testing the NB9W performed very well. I tested the unit with my iiNet ADSL account. Set up was easy on my Mac using the web-based portal. If you use a PC you might prefer to use the included CD and software that makes setup even easier. I also tested the VOIP capabilities and was very impressed. Phone calls (using my iiNetPhone account) were crystal clear and you could tell that the QoS technology was working because there was occasional slow down in my Internet connection when I was on the phone. iiNet's ADSL 2 service is great if you are in one of their ADSL 2 areas - at times I achieved over 300K download speeds.

On the downside, I found that wireless reception was not as good as my Apple Airport system and I found some of the DHCP settings hard to customize.

Overall the NB9W is a great choice if you want an integrated device that does all the networking you’ll ever need.