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December, 2009

Microsoft’s advertising misfires

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising” – Mark Twain

Microsoft wouldn’t be where it is today without the ability to capture the imagination of its customers with advertising. But when Microsoft’s ad machine misfires it does so dramatically, as the following selection of clips from the last decade will show.

Despite its po-faced image – something that Apple’s I’m a Mac adverts sought to perpetuate – Microsoft hasn’t always taken itself so seriously. Delve back into the mists and you’ll find this gem from Steve Ballmer – a perfect example of a large thing being made even larger by the right kind of advertising. Over to you, 1986 Steve.

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Technologies of Christmas past

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

The grandest Christmas traditions have been with us for centuries, and many will doubtless stick around for centuries more. Trees, gifts and alcoholic exuberance come to mind.

But we techie types have some more modern rituals too. Online Christmas shopping, for example. Loading up your Sky+ Box or Windows Media Center with films you’ll never watch. And, of course, hiding away in the study while you get to grips with this year’s must-have PC game.

For many of us, these customs are as much a part of the Yuletide season as wassailing and mulled wine; yet the technology that makes them possible has only come into being within the past few decades. And as 2010 comes knocking, I find myself looking back over Christmases of the past and marvelling at the huge advances we’ve made within my lifetime to get here. (more…)

Stupid tech in Christmas films

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

The MatrixChristmas TV may be cheesier than the average Fondue addict thanks to dozens of old repeats and schmaltzy family films, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had amid the predictable seasonal schedules.

Take the hundreds of movies that are churned out by dozens of channels over the festive period: while some just aren’t worth bothering with – with guff like Santa Clause: The Movie or White Christmas the worst offenders – others are worth a watch simply for their off-the-wall technology.

We’ve scoured the listings and hunted down our favourite examples so, if you’ve got a spare moment between the Queen’s Speech and Top of the Pops, you can take a peek at some of the oddest tech ever commited to celluloid.

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The laptop you can only repair if it’s not broken

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Call centre I very rarely object to a sexy French voice on my phone. I also feel well-disposed towards people undertaking repairs for me – even if in this case, it wasn’t strictly speaking for me. A friend had left me with their HP nc6400 laptop, and looking over the machine I could see why – various wells and orifices in the underside were filled with something approximating dried-up hot-dog mixed with coffee, and the COA sticker looked as if someone had been playing a lighter flame over it.

Even with these issues, the machine would start up, display the BIOS and then report the hard disk was unwell: or rather, it would start provided I put a battery in it that had been charged in another nc-series laptop. The mains power input didn’t seem very well, either.

So I used the neat service on HP’s website to confirm that this machine was still in warranty and even though the product serial number sticker was gone off the bottom of the machine I recovered the unit serial number from the BIOS screens, and lo and behold: the warranty was still in place.

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Time for a truce with the music industry

Monday, December 21st, 2009

CDsThe record labels aren’t an easy bunch to love. If they’re not trying (and, brilliantly, failing) to fill the Christmas charts with an endless stream of mass-produced pap, they’re pursuing alleged file-sharers with an almost unhealthy zeal.

“The [music] industry has been extremely slow to listen to the demands of its customers, and has had something of an abusive relationship with them, seeking to punish them before thinking of how to serve them better,” Lord Lucas told the House of Lords recently, when debating whether to cut-off file-sharers or not. He’s not wrong.

Yet, there is a small part of me that’s tinged with sympathy for the music overlords. Perhaps I’m being overwhelmed with Christmas good spirit (although that sounds ridiculously out of character), but I can’t help thinking BPI chief Geoff Taylor had a point when he commented recently that: “There are now more than 35 legal digital music services in the UK, offering music fans a great choice of ways to get music legally. It’s disappointing that levels of illegal P2P use remain high despite this.”

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Is the Government trying to hide the broadband tax?

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

BillsWe hear a lot about so-called “stealth taxes”, but it really does seem the Government is awfully keen to keep the broadband tax hidden from view.

The Government’s Consultation Paper on the 50p per month Landline Levy (to give its proper name) states:

“We expect that the duty will be passed down the supply chain by the line owners and subsequently by retailers to customers. There will be no requirement on owners or retailers to show the duty separately on their billing to end users.”

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Is Windows 7 killing your hard disks?

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Windows 7 error message telling me my hard disk is dying I might simply be unlucky, or it could be that Windows 7 is a hard-disk killer. In the past two months, three different laptops running Windows 7 have totally died on me, while one had a minor collapse and refused to boot for an hour.

First of all, I should make it clear that these machines don’t have an easy life. My laptop travels with me wherever I go, and they have a fair bit of punishment on a daily basis: slung into a laptop bag and down a hill on a bike; into London on the train; and then a 25-minute walk bumping up and down before I get into the office. And then all the way back at the end of the working day.

Nevertheless, for the past six years two ThinkPads have survived without incident for three years apiece. Until I installed Windows 7 RC on the latest one, and the hard disk died. It’s currently sitting in my desk-side drawer whilst I consider what to do with it.

The Dennis IT department sprang to the rescue, offering me a spare workaday laptop from their collection. The first one lasted for less than a month before its hard disk whimpered its way into obsolescence.

Once more, our trusty IT team gazed into their cupboard and fished out a replacement – the exact same model. This one kept going for less than a week.

I initially blamed the two successive failures on the ageing 1.8in hard disks they used, but my confidence has been shaken again today. On Friday, I set up a new system: a desktop PC at work, a netbook to take on my travels. Both of them running Windows 7 and synchronising vital data via the cloud.

The desktop is still working fine, but the netbook wouldn’t boot for my journey into work, with Windows 7’s startup repair system eventually declaring it irreparable. Then, bizarrely, when I plugged it in at work the netbook started to work again (and it still is).

So, the question: am I alone in this? Or is my growing paranoia about Windows 7 and hard disks entirely unfair, and more due to my maltreatment of laptops than my choice of OS? Perhaps, as Steve Cassidy keeps on telling me, it’s time to drop the mechanical hard disk entirely and move to SSDs.

Everything that’s wrong with Windows Server 2008

Monday, December 14th, 2009

windows server 2008 r2 feature components Trundle over to the Microsoft Download Center and download the Windows Server 2008 R2 Feature Components Poster.

Now I have the rather lovely Epson 4880 A2 printer. And I really don’t think it’s big enough for this monster.

And if you ever wanted a clearer demonstration of what’s broken with the Microsoft server model for businesses, one glance at this will tell you all you need to know.

Just ask yourself this question – who actually understands this stuff? All of it?

Thunderbird 3 playing dirty tricks?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Thunderbird logoIt’s fair to say I wasn’t over-impressed with Thunderbird 3 after I installed it for the first time yesterday. The email client may think it’s being particularly clever by simply demanding your email address and password, and then ferreting off to find the server settings itself, but when it fails to connect to the SMTP server you’re still left knee-deep in configuration menus. Only more annoyed than you would have been before.

However, that’s far from the worst of its sins. When I went to email a colleague a file on my desktop, I right clicked on the icon and clicked Send To Mail Recipient as usual, only to find that Thunderbird had elbowed Outlook out of the way and installed itself as my default mail client. Without once asking permission to do so (at least, not in any plainly visible way that I can recall).

Come on, Mozilla. We expect these kind of tricks from commercial software vendors, not an open-source foundation. Don’t lower yourselves to their level.

What does it take to kill a hard drive?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

snow smaller 1

Let me divert your mind to the physics of snow.

Let’s avoid the usual stuff about the individuality of snowflakes, and pass straight on to what happens when you encounter the accursed things in their billions – possibly trillions. In my case, this was last week, as a front passed over the Alps bringing rain at, or just above, freezing then moving on to snow, and a lot of it – half a metre in five hours, finishing at dusk.

After dark, the snow petered out and the skies cleared, allowing temperatures to drop to -10 or below. This combination of circumstances lead to an almost complete shutdown of the whole of Eastern Switzerland. All the passes were closed – even the big ones (Gotthard & San Bernadino) that take trucks through to Italy – but unfortunately for me, I had to drive into the middle of the whole thing with ten PCs and two servers in the back of the car.
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