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.