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December, 2008

How to get the most from social news sites

Monday, December 29th, 2008

We all have our favourite news sites, but it can be difficult to know where else to look for good quality information and opinion. Thankfully, with the internet being a pretty sociable place there are millions of people in the same situation as you – and social news sites are helping to bring them all together.

A hybrid mashup of social networking and user review sites, some (e.g. Digg, Reddit) are purely user-driven while others (Slashdot, Fark) rely on moderators to pick and choose the best articles. This post looks at how a few of the biggest sites work, along with some tips on how to get the most from them.

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How to get the most from your video camera

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Flip Video UltraSo you’ve just unwrapped that sexy new HD camcorder the other half bought you for Christmas. You’ve annoyed everyone by recording them getting drunk and embarrassing themselves over the festive dinner. So what next?

You could go out and spend loads of money on a decent editing suite, but you don’t have to – there are plenty of ways of editing, playing back and sharing your video that you don’t have to spend any money on at all.

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Three Steps to Punchier Christmas Photos

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Canon Ixus 80New digital camera? Good stuff. But hold your horses: you should learn how to use three simple software tools, which you can apply to almost all your photos and which is almost guaranteed to improve them. None of them takes more than a few seconds and they can enhance the look of the dreariest shot immensely. Those steps are known as levels, saturation and sharpening.
So load up the photo-editing software that you’ve no doubt got lurking on your hard disk somewhere. If you haven’t got any, download a nice free copy of the GIMP, which despite the name is a free photo-editing package, not something your ISP should be blocking. We’re going to use GIMP 2.6 for the shots here. Most other photo editors – including Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS4 – are more or less identical as far as the way these basic tools work.

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How to get the most from your new iPhone

Friday, December 26th, 2008

You’ve ripped off the wrapping, pried open that little black box, plugged in your SIM card and charged and registered your brand new iPhone. You spend an hour gleefully reading the BBC News site and checking your inbox for emails that don’t appear; you take a few photos and giggle as you zoom in and out by pinching. And then… err… then what?

Tweak the settings

SettingsFirst things first. The iPhone’s battery isn’t its strongest point, so the priority is to get rid of any unnecessary drains. Go to Settings and change the Fetch New Data settings to a wider interval – or off completely – if you don’t need constant email updates, lower the auto-lock timer, and consider disabling Bluetooth and the GPS location services until you actually need to use them.

If you don’t generally need your phone for communication at night you should seriously consider switching on Airplane Mode, as it disconnects you from all networks – thus saving on power – but keeps the clock, alarm and all other basic functions running as normal.

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How to get the most from your new laptop

Friday, December 26th, 2008

If Santa’s dropped off a pristine new laptop or netbook on his rounds this year, then you’ll want to make sure you get the very best from it. With many manufacturers choosing to add value to their portables by cramming them with useless crapware and enough attention-seeking free trials to paralyse the average supercomputer, it pays to give your new arrival a bit of a TLC. We’ve thought of a few straightforward steps to make your laptop run smoothly from day one.

Firstly, don’t be shy of removing all that crapware. Much as we all love to have our sparkly new laptops pre-filled with junk, it is worth going over the list of installed programs with a fine toothcomb to weed out the useless from the useful. Do you really need that Microsoft Office 60-day trial, or that 30-day demo of Norton AntiVirus? No, you don’t. And don’t forget to look through each icon in the system tray and ask yourself whether it’s ever going to come in useful. Trim the pointless items from your startup folder, or better still uninstall them completely, and your laptop will start faster than ever.

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Why I don’t write about Architecture

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Because I might come up with something like… this – I’m not quite sure what the etiquette is when one noted columnist calls another a “hack” but I am reasonably sure that neither I, nor Tim, nor Barry, ever said that avoiding death by powerpoint ever required a wholesale shift to the Macintosh!

A fascinating study in how the art of precis, together with Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” style division between domains of expertise, can lead to utterly the wrong end of the stick being firmly waved in the air…

(and yes it is xmas eve and yes I am already bored witless…)

Entertainment industry? Heads in sand? Still? Surely not.

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Want to know the most illegally downloaded TV show of 2008? It was Lost with 5.73-million downloads per episode, which across its four seasons makes for an astonishing number. Heroes and Prison Break complete a blockbuster top three, but it’s the show at number 6 on the pirate list that is most surprising.

Stargate

Stargate Atlantis is rubbish. This is a fact. This one single photo should tell you just how rubbish it is, but if it doesn’t, well, let me tell you: It’s rubbish. Really.

But the real eye-opener is not that people like it, it’s that in 2008 more people downloaded each episode from torrent sites worldwide than watched it on TV in America. While the big shows mentioned above still roped in vastly more TV viewers than downloaders, Stargate Atlantis tipped over the edge.

Why this show? (more…)

Ten mini-projects for the Christmas break

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Dell PCChristmas is a welcome break from the workaday grind; but if you’re anything like me you know there’ll come a point – normally around 3pm on Boxing Day – when you’ve eaten all you can, the TV is a desert of inanity and a long boring afternoon stretches out before you.

Why not take the opportunity to do a little computer housekeeping? There are plenty of small jobs you can do in an hour or two to make your PC faster, safer and just plain nicer to use. Here’s my top ten mini-projects for the holidays.

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Don’t miss any Christmas TV with our expert guide

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

iPlayerThe Christmas TV schedules may be overflowing with goodies, but with hundreds of channels to keep an eye on and mum taking the remote control hostage for the Coronation Street special, how do you ensure you don’t miss any of your festive favourites?  Time to employ some high-tech tactics.

Here are five ways to ensure you’re not stuck watching re-runs of The Vicar of Dibley this Christmas.

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Samsung’s 360-degree turnaround

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Samsung\'s super-light X360I spent the end of last week poking around the Samsung X360, and found that it fell short in several areas. One of these was the optical drive: whereas rivals from Sony and Lenovo manage to cram optical drives into the svelte dimensions, the Samsung doesn’t bother.

I found myself thinking that, well, maybe this isn’t actually a bad thing – in our day-to-day lives, who uses their optical drive on a regular basis any more?

My laptop is used on the train or on the sofa, for example, and I’m normally playing a game or working. The game doesn’t use a disc, and neither does Microsoft Word. Listening to music doesn’t need a CD anymore, as I have my mp3 player, and the vast majority of applications that I have on my laptop don’t require the CD in the drive to boot.

Of course, Samsung has included a USB DVD drive if you need to use a CD, but the excellent battery life means that this, surely, can be left at home more often than not – it’ll usually be wheeled out for an occasional product install, for instance.

I suppose that the optical drive could now be considered virtually redundant for the majority of users most of the time. It also appears that the Macbook Air may have actually done something right. What do you think?

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