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Darien Graham-Smith

How Google Glass ruined my lunch hour

Monday, July 21st, 2014

TimGlass

Lunch with Tim Danton is normally a jolly affair, but today he has decided to wear his Google Glass headset. Things get off to a bad start before we’ve even left the building, as I explain that I need to go via a cashpoint. “OK Glass!” barks Tim abruptly. “Directions to a cashpoint.” There is an awkward pause: I don’t know whether he’s waiting for me to speak, or has been distracted by some terribly important message that I can’t see. His face falls slightly. “It’s giving me directions to an attachment,” he explains, apologetically.

(more…)

Smartphone battery packs: can a USB power pack beat the festival battery blues?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

20140629_152204Until recently, there wasn’t much point taking your smartphone to a summer festival. With tens of thousands of people converging in the middle of the countryside, it was impossible to get a signal, and your battery was likely to expire on the first day anyway.

But things are changing. Coverage has improved markedly in recent years, and event organisers are starting to embrace mobile technology with official festival apps and onsite charging facilities – a more popular attraction than many of the bands, judging by the size of the queues. (more…)

I went to Glastonbury and the only thing that got high was my smartphone

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

20140629_154932

I hadn’t previously heard of such a thing as a “selfie stick”, but that’s essentially what the XS Me-Shot Deluxe is: an extensible pole onto which you can mount a smartphone to take photos of your beautiful self (with the aid of the included Bluetooth controller).

Cleverly, it’s also being marketed as a summer festival accessory: angle it upwards rather than outwards and you can use it to take photos of the stage, or whatever you’re looking at, over the heads of your festival-going companions.

The Bluetooth controller is quite natty, including a recessed keyboard (needed for entering a PIN so you can pair it with the phone) and various media-player controls as well as a shutter release. The key part of it, though – the pole – is not, as technology goes, a particularly sophisticated bit of kit, as you can see from the picture above.

Does it work?

The extra height certainly does help you get a good perspective across crowded scenes. Here’s a picture I took at Glastonbury using the Me-Shot Deluxe:

20140629_215231

However, although shooting in this way can give you a clearer view of your subject, you’ll notice that it doesn’t get you any closer. It also puts you several feet away from your phone’s display, so you can’t easily check your results between shots, nor adjust the shooting settings should you need to.

I have doubts too as to the device’s suitability to the rough and tumble of a festival. The phone is held in place by a single screw-clamp; I didn’t like to do this up too tightly, for fear of cracking the plastic casing of my Galaxy S4. So instead I found myself constantly worrying that I had left it too loose, and that it may take only an unexpected collision with an enthusiastic Kasabian fan to cause my phone to fall off and be instantly trampled underfoot.

Without a doubt, shooting over people’s heads at a festival can pay off if you persevere (click for a larger image):

Knight

But even though the Me-Shot Deluxe does come with a cute little Bluetooth controller, I’d have to say that standing on tiptoes and holding your phone up by hand is rather less stressful in a bustling crowd – and also rather cheaper.

Adobe Voice: a simple, free iPad app for making explainer videos

Friday, May 9th, 2014

photo

With no fanfare at all, Adobe has released a curious little iPad app called Voice – a very simple presentational tool for putting together “explainer videos”. You might not be familiar with that term (I wasn’t), but the style is instantly recognisable: we’re talking about those jaunty little shorts in which a disembodied voice, dripping with warmth and earnestness, talks the listener through the basics of a project or proposition, normally over a bed of plinky-plonky ukulele music.

The software itself works similarly to PowerPoint; your video comprises a series of pages, onto each of which you place a graphic, or some text, or a combination of the two. Then, you hold down the record button to lay down a voiceover for each page using the iPad’s built-in microphone – and you’re done. As workflows go, it doesn’t get much simpler than this.

(more…)

Office for iPad: key information

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Word for iPadMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella, in his first appearance since taking over the top job, has confirmed that the company will shortly release a native version of its Office suite for the iPad, as well as updating Office for Mac. Some have called the decision a gamble for Microsoft, while others have seen it as a positive step. Here’s what you need to know. (more…)

Windows XP end of life: key information

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Windows Updates will be ending soon

Windows XP support will end on 8 April. After that date, Microsoft won’t provide any more updates. Yet many millions of people are still using the veteran OS: recent figures suggest that it’s still running on around 30% of PCs worldwide, many of them in businesses.

Understandably, there’s a lot of doubt and concern over what’s going to happen next. If you’re still running XP, here are the straightforward answers to the key questions.

(more…)

Windows 8.1 Update 1: hands-on preview

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

W81

A pre-release build of the latest update to Windows 8 has leaked online, giving us the opportunity to try it out ahead of its anticipated release in March or April.

This isn’t the “Threshold” update that’s been in the news lately: that’s not expected to arrive until next year. Threshold will reportedly bring major changes to the OS, including the return of the Start menu; it will probably be dubbed Windows 9, and could well be a paid-for upgrade.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 is expected to be a free download for all users, but it still represents a significant step forward for Windows. The leaked code is dated 14 January 2014, so there’s still time for a few more changes to be made before release, but what’s here is enough to give us a good idea of what the update will bring.

(more…)

Free alternatives to LogMeIn (updated)

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

LMI-Gone

This post was updated on 28/1 with additional content.

I’ve been using the free LogMeIn remote access service for several years now. I’ve never felt the need to pay for the commercial service, as mostly what I use it for is connecting to my home PC while I’m at work – or vice versa – and copying whatever files I need into Dropbox.

Now it’s been announced that the free service is being discontinued on 28 January – next week, in other words, meaning us free users don’t get a sunset period so much as an abrupt flicking off of the lights. As of next Wednesday, the service starts at $49 a year for two computers. As LogMeIn points out, this gets you not only basic remote access, but also “premium features like remote printing, file transfer and cloud data access, plus desktop and mobile apps to improve your experience.”

I don’t need any of that, however: for what I need, I’d be fine with one of the numerous lightweight VNC variants, or Windows’ built-in Remote Desktop Connection tool… if only they’d work through the Dennis Publishing firewall. Since they don’t, I’m left looking for a properly free alternative to LogMeIn that I can switch to next week. Here’s what I’ve found.

(more…)

Posted in: Software

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2014 in tech: our readers’ predictions

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Mugs

We’ve just taken delivery of a new batch of PC Pro mugs – aren’t they beautiful? – and to celebrate, we’ve been asking our followers on Twitter and Facebook to share their tech predictions for 2014, with ceramic prizes for our favourite ideas. Here are the winners:

“Cheaper and cheaper smartphones … Nicole to declare them “very hot” in the podcast.” @harryandrews
The judges say: “Based on the arrival of the Motorola Moto G and the Nexus 5 in recent months, it does indeed look like handset prices are going to be squeezed in the coming year. So far the effect seems to have been limited to Android, but it creates pressure on Apple and Nokia to follow suit. And it’s fair to say that Mr Andrews has got the measure of our news editor’s priorities.”
“Google jokingly names its new robot devision ‘Skynet.’ Google Skynet becomes self-aware 2.14am Eastern time, August 29th 2014.” — @dario006
‏The judges say: “Dario (no relation) suggested several Terminator-themed scenarios, but this one struck closest to home. Google ended 2013 owning a suspiciously large portfolio of robotics laboratories, including at least one with a military background – and the vast data banks it’s collected across its many services could indeed form something like a neural network. Worrying stuff.”
“There will be a boom in the use of MOOCs to supplement the learning process of students, allowing them to learn wherever, whenever.” — @RichyJT
The judges say: “As Richy suggests, we expect Massive Open Online Courses primarily to supplement, rather than replace, conventional learning methods. But let’s not underestimate their value to students who lack traditional school facilities, such as those in third-world countries. Online learning presents incredible opportunities for those who would otherwise have no way to reach their potential.”
“Healthcare is going to get personal. Expect more wearable devices and integration with patient records, supporting preventative care.” — @iam_lost 53s
The judges say: “This one might be optimistic: companies such as Intel have been talking about building healthcare functions into wearable devices for years, with very little visible effect so far. But with ‘smartwatches’ finally starting to appear on the market – albeit in rudimentary forms – it would be nice to think that 2014 could be the year personal healthcare technology finally takes off.”
If you’re one of the prize-winning tweeters, send us your contact details and we’ll pop a limited-edition PC Pro mug in the post for you. And if you didn’t win a mug, don’t despair: you can get one by simply taking out a new subscription to PC Pro.
Honourable mentions:
“Apple shares will drop and they’ll produce a new version of exactly the same product.” ‏— @dario006
“Hover boards – surely we’ve waited long enough now?”— @stewchambers
“Apple to sue Samsung for having an A in their name. Samsung’s defence: it’s lower case.” — @Relwots
“HTC to launch a new smartphone with a screen so large it will require a handbag.” — @Softfun
“A senior manager will use the term “cloud” and know what it means.” — @benb3342

“Cheaper and cheaper smartphones … Nicole to declare them ‘very hot’ in the podcast.” — @harryandrews

The judges say: “Based on the arrival of the Motorola Moto G and the Nexus 5 in recent months, it does indeed look like handset prices are going to be squeezed in the coming year. So far the effect seems to have been limited to Android, but it creates pressure on Apple and Nokia to follow suit. And it’s fair to say that Mr Andrews has got the measure of our news editor’s priorities.

“Google jokingly names its new robot devision ‘Skynet.’ Google Skynet becomes self-aware 2.14am Eastern time, August 29th 2014.” — @dario006

‏The judges say: “Dario (no relation) suggested several Terminator-themed scenarios, but this one struck closest to home. Google ended 2013 owning a suspiciously large portfolio of robotics laboratories, including at least one with a military background – and the vast data banks it’s collected across its many services could indeed form something like a neural network. Worrying stuff.

“There will be a boom in the use of MOOCs to supplement the learning process of students, allowing them to learn wherever, whenever.” — @RichyJT

The judges say: “As Richy suggests, we expect Massive Open Online Courses primarily to supplement, rather than replace, conventional learning methods. But let’s not underestimate their value to students who lack traditional school facilities, such as those in third-world countries. Online learning presents incredible opportunities for those who would otherwise have no way to reach their potential.

“Healthcare is going to get personal. Expect more wearable devices and integration with patient records, supporting preventative care.” — @iam_lost 53s

The judges say: “This one might be optimistic: companies such as Intel have been talking about building healthcare functions into wearable devices for years, with very little visible effect so far. But with ‘smartwatches’ finally starting to appear on the market – albeit in rudimentary forms – it would be nice to think that 2014 could be the year personal healthcare technology finally takes off.

Apple will buy a major cloud provider to shore up its cloud offering. Someone will also buy Dropbox – Google or Microsoft.” — @fortyrunner

The judges say: “A sharp observation: cloud storage is a huge and growing business, and right now iCloud simply isn’t the equal of Google Drive or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Dropbox, meanwhile, continues to outpace them all, something the ‘big three’ surely aren’t happy with. We can certainly picture a major player seeking to corner the market by assimilating Dropbox.

If you’re one of the prize-winning tweeters, send us your contact details and we’ll pop a limited-edition PC Pro mug in the post for you. And if you didn’t win a mug, don’t despair: you can get one by simply taking out a new subscription to PC Pro.

Honourable mentions:

  • “Apple shares will drop and they’ll produce a new version of exactly the same product.” ‏— @dario006
  • “Hover boards – surely we’ve waited long enough now?” — @stewchambers
  • “2014 to finally be the year of the desktop for Linux, XP users flood to open source.” — Danny Balman (via Facebook)
  • “Apple to sue Samsung for having an A in their name. Samsung’s defence: it’s lower case.” — @Relwots
  • “HTC to launch a new smartphone with a screen so large it will require a handbag.” — @Softfun
  • “I predict there will be a security scare re a hacked password server. Sorry, I meant certainty!” —  @AdamGashead
  • “It’ll be more cost effective to store data in a cloud-based service than to store it on site.” — @benb3342
  • “Blackberry will die… (runs to make sure this hasn’t happened yet… no…. hits send…)” — @ataccounting
  • “A senior manager will use the term “cloud” and know what it means.” — @benb3342

Posted in: Random

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How to remove SkyDrive from the Windows 8.1 Explorer

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

When it comes to lightweight laptops and compact tablets, space is often at a premium. For this reason, Microsoft has chosen to downplay local storage in favour of SkyDrive, and your libraries are no longer shown by default in the navigation pane in Explorer windows.

However, the libraries are still there, and can be easily restored to their former place: all you need to do is right-click in the pane and tick Show Libraries to restore the familiar dropdowns.
If you want to get rid of the SkyDrive dropdown, things are trickier. One way is to turn off the feature entirely by going to the PC Settings app, selecting the SkyDrive pane and disabling the “Save documents to SkyDrive by default” setting.
Annoyingly, there’s no officially supported way of hiding the dropdown from Explorer while keeping the service working, but it’s possible via a Registry hack. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try this unless you’re comfortable making technical tweaks, and you should back up your Registry first, in case you make any mistakes.
If you’re willing to take the plunge, open regedit.exe (from the search interface or a command window) and navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{8E74D236-7F35-4720-B138-1FED0B85EA75}\ShellFolder. In order to edit the contents of this Registry location, you’ll need to take ownership of it – right-click on the ShellFolder icon, then select Permissions | Advanced | Change, enter your own username and click OK three times to close all the open requesters. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to edit a DWORD value called Attributes. By default, its value should be set to f08004d; to hide SkyDrive, simply modify this to f09004d and restart your PC. The dropdown will no longer show up from your Explorer windows, but you still will be able to access SkyDrive via your user profile folder in C:\Users.SkyDrive1

SkyDrive1

On lightweight laptops and compact tablets, space is often at a premium. For this reason, Microsoft has chosen to downplay local storage in Windows 8.1, in favour of SkyDrive. Your libraries are no longer shown by default in the navigation pane in Explorer windows.

The libraries are still there, however, and can be easily restored to their former place: all you need to do is right-click in the pane and tick Show Libraries to restore the familiar dropdowns.

If you want to get rid of the SkyDrive dropdown, things are trickier. One approach is to go to the PC Settings app, select the SkyDrive pane and disable the “Save documents to SkyDrive by default” setting. This turns the feature off entirely, however, which may not be what you want to do.

(more…)

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