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July, 2010

Richard Stallman: GNU do you think you are?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

About 10 years ago, when I was just a junior reporter in my first stint at PC Pro, I interviewed Richard Stallman, the self-styled “software freedom activist” and GNU Project founder.

To say the interview didn’t go smoothly would be like saying there’s a small spot of bother between Israel and Palestine. About 10 minutes into the interview I asked him a question about Linux. Big mistake.

“There’s no such thing as Linux,” Stallman shot back, before forcefully explaining that referring to it as anything other than GNU/Linux was a grave personal insult because it failed to recognise his work on the GNU project.

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Core i7-980X PC versus eight-core Xeon workstation

Friday, July 30th, 2010

smallptoutput462

Having been writing about photo-realistic 3D graphics rendering for issue 192 of the magazine, I’ve been getting myself back up to speed with the state of 3D graphics and looking into the absolute best techniques for achieving realistic lighting. And along the way I’ve got a new insight into the sheer speed of the latest CPUs.

Turns out the best 3D rendering algorithm is a hugely intensive method known as path tracing, which is sort of like ray tracing’s dad. The theory behind the method actually pre-dates ray tracing, but it’s only now that PCs are getting fast enough for experimental dabbling at home.

The good part is that, while it needs a heck of a lot of computing power to do, path tracing is actually a fairly simple technique to implement.

But where to get a path-tracing application to play with?

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Android App of the Week: Handcent SMS

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Handcent SMSIf you’re a keen texter, then you’ll be well aware of the limitations of Android’s default messaging application: it’s basic, ugly and offers few options for those who like to tinker. This week’s Android App of the Week, Handcent SMS, is the perfect remedy for those who want more control over their messages.

For starters, Handcent does away with the default status-bar notification, replacing it with a neat popup that displays the message, its sender and a quick reply box along with some basic options. It’s a far neater way of dealing with a text than having to navigate into the app itself.

Handcent also includes a smart widget that, predictably, improves upon the awkward Rolodex-style tool included by HTC. It takes up half a screen when placed on my Hero’s desktop – rather than the whole screen used by the  HTC widget – and displays your last 20 texts along with a picture of the sender. Tap this and you can reply to or delete the particular message, or compose a new one.

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Why you might need to reboot your router to see a website

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

WWWJust at holiday season begins, it looks very much as if various service providers and backbone connection suppliers have been very busy.

Lots of services have had their public IP addresses updated; I am getting calls from clients whose internal systems don’t genuinely use a domain name to get to a service. It’s not uncommon for all manner of software products (including router firmware) to let you type in www.pcpro.co.uk, and then look it up at that moment and convert it to 212.100.242.151 – which is what they then store for future connection attempts.

When we decide to change that underlying server address – which isn’t a bad thing to do, it’s a supported and allegedly seamless choice for a connectivity person to make – these various bits of software and hardware that use “one-shot lookup” simply fail to re-connect the PCs behind them.

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BigCommerce 6: a preview of e-commerce to come

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

bigcommerce2BigCommerce is a feature-packed hosted e-commerce service based on the InterSpire shopping cart. I’ve been using it since January for our MakingYourOwnCandles.co.uk online shop and the experience has been excellent, bar one short period when Royal Mail integration broke.

The biggest bugbear has been the lack of built-in support for bulk emailing customers, which has meant that I’ve been forced to export my customer database from BigCommerce and import it into MailChimp each time I want to send a mailout.

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Why we can’t ditch 3D glasses just yet

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

This is the first in a series of blogs based on a seminar given at the BBC by Buzz Hays, chief instructor for the Sony 3D Technology Center in Culver City, California. The series starts with an answer to the most common complaint about 3D.

Buzz Hays

The question always comes up and rarely gets answered properly, so to hear such a measured dismantling of glasses-less 3D was illuminating. But then, Buzz Hays has been pioneering and improving the art of creating 3D for five years, so when he says we’ll be sticking with the glasses for a while yet, you tend to listen.

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Just how big was Dell’s cookie jar?

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

COOKIES

The money sloshing around some companies is rather hard to imagine. I can wrap my poverty-stricken mind around £1 million in lottery winnings easy enough, but once you get into the billions I  have no idea what that means.

So the US Security and Exchange Commission’s 61-page document detailing the exclusivity deal between Dell and Intel made for mind-blowing reading (I suggest you start at page 10, that’s when it gets good). At one point, 76% of Dell’s quarterly operating income came from Intel, via lump sum payments and a rebate system designed to keep the PC maker from offering AMD chips in its computers.

That’s a head-turning, “that can’t be right” sort of statistic. That’s $723 million in one quarter alone. One quarter. Three months. That’s more than $8 million a day, just to keep Dell “monogamous.” I’d stay loyal for that much, that’s for sure.

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WordPress.com: from dream to nightmare

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Wordpress comI’m regularly asked about the best way to go about building a modern website and recently I’ve been recommending those looking for the simplest/cheapest route to check out WordPress by signing up to WordPress.com. WordPress.com has been running the latest 3.0 release (see my WordPress 3.0 review) for some time now complete with new default theme and custom menu handling, which makes it far better suited to creating traditional page-based websites as well as post-based blogs.

The beauty of WordPress.com is that it makes exploring what WordPress has to offer so painless. Essentially all you need is an email address and, within a couple of minutes, you can be creating your first posts and pages, changing your theme, monitoring your stats and so on. If you like what you see, you can either stick with WordPress.com’s default free hosting package, upgrade to get your own domain name ($15 a year), redirect an existing domain ($10 a year) or, most powerfully, switch to an independent WordPress host where you’ll be able to extend the framework’s capabilities via third-party plug-ins.

blog wordpresscom dns

Generally the response has been amazingly enthusiastic – “the difference is night and day” – especially from those owners of existing sites who had previously been paying a fortune to traditional web designers whenever they’d needed to update existing pages.

Recently, however, for one correspondent the dream descended into a nightmare…

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The word Ofcom won’t use about ISPs: liars

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Ed RichardsThe first rule of every media legal training session I’ve ever attended is: never call companies liars. Yet what other word could you use to describe an entire industry that has systematically misled the public for years?

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards would certainly never use the L word when referring to ISPs. He’s far too cautious for that. Yet, even he admitted for the first time yesterday that ISPs have been selling consumers broadband speeds that they couldn’t possibly achieve.

“Speeds should only be advertised if they’re achievable by some customers,” Richards proclaimed, referring to the invidious practice of selling broadband based on theoretical maximums rather than actual throughput. “Clearly ‘up to’ claims are not as clear as they should be.”

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iPhone App of the Week: Dragon Dictation

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

photoSpeech recognition software may have long since lost its “next big thing” reputation on the PC, but could it finally have found a vocation as the alternative to awkward software keyboards on smartphones?

Nuance’s Dragon Dictation on the iPhone certainly suggests so. This highly impressive app transcribes spoken messages that can be quickly exported to SMS, email, Facebook or Twitter updates at the touch of the button.

As with the voice search built into the Google iPhone app, the hard work takes place on the company’s servers, not the iPhone itself.  Voice messages are recorded and sent to Nuance’s servers, and the transcript arrives back on your handset a few seconds later – provided you’ve got a data connection. Not only does utilising vastly more powerful server hardware allow Dragon to improve the accuracy of transcriptions,   it keeps the app nice and lightweight at only 4.4MB.

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