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August, 2009

My one-line, no-frills backup solution

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I’ve heard it said that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who appreciate the value of backups, and those who will.

It’s a maxim that’s been particularly on my mind lately, after I spent last month testing 21 external hard disks – almost all of which came with some sort of backup software – and then, this week, looked at two standalone backup applications as well. Right now, if there’s anyone who’s apprised of his backup options, it’s me.

But do you know which backup package I’ve chosen for my own use? None. (more…)

Stop stealing my credit, Skype!

Friday, August 28th, 2009

SkypeIn in actionThere are some poor, misguided fools out there who still criticise Skype for its call quality. They put their fingers to their lips and wobble them about as they’re talking, feigning the in-and-out nature of early voice over IP calls. Hilarious as such antics always are, it’s far from the truth.

If you make a call using Skype (or any other VoIP service for that matter) you’re far more likely to be impressed with the sound quality. Even using the built-in microphone of an average laptop and a set of crummy headphones, the quality is higher than a landline. (more…)

The wonderful world of d3o orange goo

Thursday, August 27th, 2009


On a recent edition of Dragons’ Den, Jason Roberts, founder and CEO of a company called Tech21, managed to convince Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis to part with £150,000 (in return for a 40% stake in his business) for what is effectively a range of laptop bags, MP3 player and mobile phone cases.

Doesn’t sound that exciting, does it? But there is something rather special that lies at the heart of his apparently mundane products – a fabric called called d3o. This is an impact-absorbing material, that’s becoming increasingly popular in the world of protective clothing – it’s been used by the military, the US downhill ski team, and motorcycle clothing manufacturers to provide impact protection in the event of a crash.


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Porn collection put people off upgrading to Firefox 3

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Laptop pornMozilla’s Security team has disclosed a very interesting piece of research which suggests people refused to upgrade to the latest version of Firefox because they were afraid the browser would expose their, ahem, private collection of websites.

In May, the company decided to have one last attempt at persuading the people on Firefox 2 to move up to Firefox 3, by hitting users of the old version with a pop-up that prompted them to upgrade. Those who declined were invited to fill out a questionnaire, asking them to reveal why they didn’t want the latest software.

The number one reason for not upgrading was the new location bar, and the fact that it delved into people’s bookmark collections to suggest sites as they typed. No fewer than 25% of Firefox 3 refuseniks cited this as the reason they wouldn’t upgrade. In fact, almost all of the people who provided feedback had tried Firefox 3, didn’t like what they saw, and headed back to Firefox 2.


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Can Lexmark change the way we buy printers?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Lexmark Platinum Pro905Lexmark’s inkjet printers have had a pretty rough ride from PC Pro in recent reviews and Greg Caster, senior development manager for inkjet R&D, admitted to me yesterday that its 2008 range was simply a step behind its competitors. To change that, Lexmark is finally moving to individual inks for its next all-wireless range of inkjet all-in-ones, and introducing a fantastic touchscreen interface that I’ll come to later.

But the real news for me – and for anyone who ever has trouble choosing a printer – is the way Lexmark’s eight-product line has been assembled.

Currently, buying a printer is a confusing experience, with too many competing manufacturers, each with too many printer ranges that contain too many similar models and accept too many different cartridge types. Even within a single manufacturer’s product range, the variation in quality and speed can be staggering.


Hands on: Sony’s superb Reader Touch

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

“I want my books to be made of paper, to have a spine, and a cover. I like the feel of them in my hand”

This was the first comment I heard this morning when I returned to the office after visiting the British Library to play with Sony’s new Reader Touch. As an eBook advocate, I’ve been hearing this refrain ever since the original Sony PRS 505 dropped on my desk last year. People who like to read adore paperbacks. They’re cheap, perfect at what they do and are pleasingly tactile. We like how they feel, the way they smell; we like to run our hands over them in a book shop.

eBook readers have failed to convince because books don’t need upgrading. It’s brilliant that an eBook reader can hold 350 books, but the majority of people don’t carry around 350 books. The majority of people won’t read 350 books in their lifetime. If eBook readers are going to break out of their niche and really scar the public psyche they need to start offering useful features their paper brethren don’t. And with the curtain raised, let me usher the Sony Reader Touch to centre stage.


Why you could lose your broadband connection for doing absolutely nothing wrong

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Ethernet cableHow nice to have friends in high places. Having failed to convince Digital Britain author Lord Carter to cut off the connections of alleged illegal file sharers, the creative industry has somehow managed to convince Lord Mandelson and the new Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, that it’s a good idea after all.

Hence today’s announcement that the Government will now urge Ofcom to suspend people’s broadband connections as a “last resort”. But on what evidence will ISPs be forced to clip your connection?

Rights holders will be required to identify the IP addresses of people they claim to have caught file sharing, and pass those details to the relevant ISP (as they do currently). But here comes the clincher. “The standard of evidence required from rights holders should, as a minimum, establish an infringement on the balance of probabilities,” the Government’s own consultation on legislation for illegal P2P file sharing states. So no innocent until proven guilty – a high likelihood that you’re in the wrong is all that the rights holders need to press the ISPs to cut off your broadband.


Will Channel 4’s 3D experiment work?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

3D is coming to Channel 4It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for all these years, the 3D spectacular to really kick-start the technology in homes across the UK. It’s eye-popping, it’s nail-biting, it’s heart-stopping, it’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

It’s… sorry about this… it’s… um… footage from 1953 of the Queen’s coronation year. In 3D.

Not exactly what I had in mind, but the news that Channel 4 is going to run a week of primetime 3D content this Autumn is just one more step along 3D’s road to the mainstream. The line-up also includes a Derren Brown special and a selection of 3D movies, and it’ll all be possible with your existing TV set – all you’ll need is a pair of special specs from Sainsbury’s.

Now, this worries me a bit. (more…)

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How to clean up CCleaner

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

CCleanerNo, ‘Piriform’ isn’t the name of a rare virus. Piriform is the team behind CCleaner (renamed from ‘CrapCleaner’ so that american schools could use it…) – just about the nicest, tightest, cleanest and most frequently recommended system tidyer-upper.

It’s so well regarded that some of the less well-written printer drivers suggest that you run it to clear up their mess when in the midst of a version upgrade. It’s also the proud holder of PC Pro’s Software of the Year 2008 award.

I am blogging this because Piriform commits a couple of very minor sins in the setup of the utility. One is that it tries to sneak the Yahoo toolbar in on you, unless you know to always untick the check-box; the other is that it’s king of the ultra-tiny version update. Only Winamp is worse, in my experience – hardly a week goes by without a new release, during which a moment’s inattention will land you back with the toolbar.

This may seem obsessive but I can’t be the only person who has seen people browsing on netbooks with upwards of six toolbars in Internet Explorer, and left with a browser window able to show about ten lines of text.

Anyway, Piriform has released a major update to CCleaner. It’s now on 2.22 and there’s support for cleaning out the Google Chrome cache and the Sun Java cache; just these two tricks alone are worth the clicks to get it.

The bizarrest email I’ve ever received

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Strange email of the dayI was having quite a bad day, if I’m honest, but then this dropped into my inbox:

Hiya – This is a slightly odd question, but I’m hoping you may be able to help me…

Can you tell me whether a full computer hardrive weighs more than an empty one ? And if it does what does the extra weight comprise of?

Again, I know it’s a strange question, but I would be v grateful if you could shed some light!

Names and email addresses removed to protect the innocent, needless to say.

But it does raise the important question of whether spreadsheets are, metaphorically speaking, heavier than word-processing documents. Are TIFFs heavier than JPEGs? Is Windows heavier than Linux?

Answers on a postcard. And if anyone’s received a stranger email than that, I’d love to hear about it.

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