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June, 2009

Bouncing messages off the moon

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Radio nerds celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landings this week by bouncing radio waves off the moon. It’s a five second round-trip, even for a radio wave, so the conversations were rather stilted. But what an interesting tribute it was.

Will other technological milestones be celebrated in similar ways, I wonder?

Will the 40th anniversary of the internet’s creation be honoured by people bouncing emails off of Tim Berners-Lee’s laptop? Will we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the GSM network by routing SMS messages through Friedhelm Hillebrand’s mobile?

No, probably not.

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Posted in: Random

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Firefox 3.5 arrives – but without Google Gears

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Firefox 3.5 – the browser that’s suffered more delays than an NHS IT project – has finally arrived. You can download a copy from the Get Firefox site.

As Matthew Sparkes noted in his preview of Firefox 3.5, not much has changed on the surface, with the exception of a rather clumsily implemented Private Browsing mode.

However, one issue I’ve noticed after installing the browser this afternoon is that my Google Gears Add-on has been disabled, because it isn’t compatible with this latest build. That’s a significant issue for anyone who uses Firefox to access services such as GMail and Google Reader offline.

Google Gears in Firefox 3.5

Why hasn’t Google got its Gears Add-on ready for the launch of 3.5? Is this the first sign that cracks are beginning to appear in the once harmonious Google/Mozilla relationship, now that Google has its own browser to worry about?

Will Nvidia PhysX ever be worthwhile?

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

PhysX Nvidia has talked up its PhysX system incessantly since it bought Ageia Technologies, creator of the engine, in February 2008, but it’s struggled to make a significant impact on the PC gaming landscape. So, despite the impressive tech demos and endless optimism, is PhysX looking more like a white elephant with every passing GPU and game release?

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Is it right to censor Wikipedia to save a life?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

David Rhode is a double Pulitzer-winning journalist with the New York Times who just escaped seven months as a captive of the Taliban – yet you won’t have heard about it.

It’s extremely newsworthy, but coverage of the kidnapping would have made Rhode a more valuable hostage. The higher profile the captive, the more attention the captors and their demands get – and the lower the chance of a happy ending.

In situations like this, news organisations often agree to hold off on reporting certain events. They lose a story in the short term, but a reporter gets a better chance at coming home.

In any case, for better or worse, everyone gets their story eventually.

This mutual cooperation used to be relatively straightforward to organise – journalists, especially war correspondents, are a pretty cliquey bunch – but it is one of the long list of things that have received a thorough shaking-up in the internet revolution.

Wikipedia, in particular, was a major problem.

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Posted in: Rant

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Would anyone miss the Break and SysRq keys?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Pause keyIf there’s one PC peripheral that’s seen about as much change as the Queen’s hairdo over the past 20 years, it’s the keyboard. Sure there have been attempts to jazz it up with ergonomic layouts, wireless transmitters and models with flashy shortcut buttons, but by and large, if someone plugged a 1989 model keyboard into your PC you’d barely notice the difference.

The deathly pace of keyboard evolution is actually a barrier to progress, according to HP vice president Phil McKinley, who I met last week. “The keyboard is still a hugely intimidating factor for users,” he told me, referring especially to users in developing countries who haven’t grown up with computers. “It still has a System Request and Break key on the keyboard. When was the last time you touched the Break key?” he asked.

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Bargain of the day: Windows Vista Home Basic for £137.01

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Microsoft Windows Vista Basic is a bargain at £137While Barry Collins was researching his free upgrades to Windows 7 news story, he stumbled across possibly the most ridiculous offer I’ve ever seen: you, my lucky, lucky friends, can download Windows Vista Home Basic from the Microsoft UK store for £137.01. Excluding VAT.

Now before everyone rushes off to bag this bargain, I should point out that you can also buy Home Premium for £166.37! Obviously excluding VAT again, Microsoft has to make a living you know.

A quick trawl online reveals the going rate for the full version of Vista Home Premium is around £130 inc VAT – and you can buy it for less than £90 inc VAT if you’re willing to opt for the more restricted OEM version, which is tied to the motherboard you first install it on (so if you build a new PC, you’ll have to buy a new copy of Windows).

So, taking away VAT, Microsoft is charging a premium of over £50 if you buy direct from its store. It would be amazing to discover just how many sales it’s made for these two excellent picks, but sadly I don’t think I’m going to get much joy out of Microsoft on that one. My guess? A princely zero.

Could Bing be the search engine that kills Google?

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Microsoft Bing\'s search in actionOnce upon a time, when Google could declare “We’re not evil” without hundreds of thousands of shareholders to worry about, search engines were just search engines. Now, it appears, they’re not. Microsoft is calling Bing a decision engine, Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine, and Yahoo is… well, let’s not go there.

You could argue Microsoft’s position is born out of desperation. On whatever metric you chose to use, MSN Search (or Windows Live, I lost track of its names in the end) fell behind Google. Number of users, amount of money it made, brand awareness, effectiveness of the raw search – Google kept on winning. (more…)

No upgrades to Windows 7? Microsoft is doing us a favour

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Microsoft\'s Windows 7 upgrade offer... except it isn\'tMicrosoft’s pricing and upgrading plans for Windows 7 in Europe are bordering on a farce. You can’t upgrade from a previous version of Windows, but you can elsewhere in the world. You can buy the upgrade product but you will get full retail box instead.

And it won’t come with Internet Explorer 8, in a strangely “the sky is falling down” reaction to the antitrust spat with the EU. Microsoft hopes that this is enough, the EU doesn’t appear to be convinced.

But this could be a marvellous thing indeed. By forcing you to wipe the machine and start afresh, it is possible to ensure that all that accumulated crap is wiped from the machine. A clean OS is a happy OS. (more…)

The new Search Engine Optimization – SEO 2.0

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Recently I decided to brush up on my knowledge of search engine optimisation (SEO) to see what the current view of best practice is. I was amazed at how things have changed…

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How Habitat annoyed the Tweeting masses

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Yes, it makes extremely comfortable and effortlessly trendy furniture, but it doesn’t get social media.

Habitat is in the middle of a disapproval-a-thon on Twitter right now, after the company, or someone acting on its behalf, added Iranian election hashtags to tweets about its “totally desirable Spring collection”.

Well, the idea was to attract attention, so it worked. In a way.

(more…)

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Posted in: Rant

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