Geek central

Things that make you go “woohoo, I want it”. And no, that’s not a euphemism. It’s all about toys, gadgets, games and software

If you’re online, you need protection

While it certainly has its good points, there is no denying the fact that the internet is becoming more of a security minefield every day.

Many years ago, when I bought my first computer and discovered the joys of the web via my trusty 14.4 kbit/s dialup modem (yes kiddies, there was a time before wi-fi, broadband, Twitter, and even Facebook), there were still a good number of people who didn’t use security software.

Back then, having your computer hacked was a more personal event, without the much more automated and efficient processes available to today’s online vandals. And even though I knew a lot of people who were living on the edge and surfing without protection, few were actually targeted.

This isn’t the case now: if you are online, you are a target. The Symantec Security Threat Report says web attacks rose 30 per cent in 2012.

Symantec’s latest range of security software is comprehensive enough to have something to suit most households and are compatible with the new features of Windows 8.1.

1-year subscription for one PC: RRP $60

antivirusIf you simply want to protect one computer from the standard online threats and be kept up-to-date on the latest nasties, this is the set-and- forget software for you.

You’ll get the usual layers of protection from Symantec to neutralise the net nasties, including social media scams.

It installs fast and just gets on with things with very little effort required from the user.

It seemed to chug along in the background without having much impact on system speed and offers really good blocking of malicious websites and antiphishing and malware cleanup options.

There’s a reason this is Symantec’s best-seller.


1-year subscription for up to three PCs: RRP $70

internetsecurityNorton Internet Security (NIS) provides a more comprehensive protection for your home PCs and laptops, ready to do battle against viruses, spam, ID theft and social media issues, offering a robust system scan and firewall and – as a little bonus – a process to get rid of the junk that slows your computer down when you start it up.

Installation on my older computer was a breeze, with the setup going smoothly and quickly. I did have to uninstall an existing piece of security software because Norton doesn’t play nicely with others but (as always) the software itself alerted me to the problem before it was installed and then proceeded to walk me through the entire process with online instructions popping up on my screen at each step.

NIS did a good job of alerting me to potential malicious websites and the online Identity Safe password manager worked seamlessly: if you have a lot of passwords to remember, Identity Safe will become your best friend.

Symantec says that based on recent testing, compared with last year’s releases, Norton products have improved boot time by 15 per cent, install speed by 10 per cent and memory usage during scan by 100MBs, resulting in the fastest and lightest performance yet. (Source: PassMark, August 2013)

Personally, I found NIS does seem to slow the system a little more than Norton 360 or Antivirus but I suppose it is doing a lot of work in the background. However, it is certainly a long way from the system-throttling, resource-hungry Norton software of years gone by.

1-year subscription for up to five devices: RRP $90

360Do you have a tablet? Or a smartphone? Do you want the mac- daddy of the best pimped out protection Symantec has for your home use? Then this is the one for you.

Norton 360 is a great all-in-one, user-friendly and simple system to protect all your toys: you get all the caped crusader goodness of antivirus, anti-spam and anti ID theft in a simplified setup that just ticks away in the background and requires little interaction or input from the user.

This is perfect if you aren’t particularly tech-savvy, but even if you are, you’ll appreciate how minimally invasive this little bit of kit is.

If you are the type of person who likes to tinker, you’ll probably prefer NIS. However, if you’re happy to let what is a pretty damn efficient piece of software just get on with the job at hand, you’ll get good value for your $90 investment with this one.

With protection for five devices (a mix of PCs, tablets and smartphones), this should suit most households and the 25GB of online backup for your files is an added bonus, along with the ability to help you find missing phones and tablet computers.


Facebook’s big announcement

Are we all excited about Facebook’s new messaging and email system?

Yes, sure … I’m prepared to trust my emails with a company that’s already shown total contempt for the privacy of its users. What could possibly go wrong …


Digital guitar


Google lines up ‘next big thing’

So, are we all excited and abuzz over yesterday’s Google operating system announcement? 

Okay, so it will be a year before the OS is running on computers and it will be set up for netbooks to start with but even so, it’s big news. 

I like that it’s going to be based on Google’s Chrome, a web browser with a very nice interface. I’ve been a Firefox fan for a long time now and initially downloaded Chrome the day it was released so I could play around with it long enough to write a reasonably coherent review of it for the paper. However, I ended up hooked and am still using it. 

But don’t think I’ve abandoned Firefox, that’s what I use at work. 

Anyway, the Microsoft gurus might be feeling a wee tad twitchy but the best thing about all of this is that is good for us, the end-users. The more good, workable, user-friendly products competing in any category the better for us, because it means the companies making those products have to keep trying for better features, better reliability, better everything to keep us on board. 

I’m also looking forward to Windows 7, but I might be a geek. 

PS: Hope the nasty IE  8 security hole didn’t get you.


Google phone confirmed for NZ

According to the NZ Herald (shhh, don’t tell my bosses I’m reading the competition!), we’re getting the sexy wee Google-powered smartphone some time during the next few months.

It look very flash but let’s hope it’s going to be more affordable to run than the much anticipated iPhone.

While I can appreciate how pretty and shiny these things look I’m a bit boring when it comes to phones. (I just want a phone to be a phone, I don’t want to listen to music or surf the net, I have an iPod and a computer for that.

Ooh, and on the subject of my iPod, the well-insured bloke I’m married to has just inherited my beloved Nano because I went out and bought myself a new iPod Touch. Taking inspiration from the past advertising campaign of a certain fast food company: I’m loving it.


Singstar ABBA

For PlayStation 3, rated G, RRP $69.95 (game only) or $119.95 (with microphones)

The whole Singstar thing is one of those concepts you either love or hate: an in-home karaoke game where you get rated on how good (or bad) you are.

The game can be played solo or you can have fun with your family and friends. Or torment them, if that’s your preference.

Swedish pop sensation ABBA might not have recorded a new album since 1981 but the band’s music is still out there and still popular with young and old. I went to the ABBA Mania tribute show in Australia last month and was surprised to see fans ranging in age from toddlers to grey-haired old buggers boogy-ing in the aisles.

In light of that, it should come as no surprise that this has been released. And even less of a surprise that it’s proved incredibly popular with Singstar fans.

With more than 20 of the band’s best songs, this one will keep the ABBA fans occupied for hours.


Singstar Singalong with Disney

GAME REVIEW: Singstar Singalong with Disney
For PlayStation 2, rated G, RRP $59.95 (game) or $109.95 (with microphones)

I’m sure that, like me, my adult readers will know an embarrassingly large number of the songs on this disk. And they’ll also know all the words.

And, even worse, they’ll find themselves humming, singing, whistling and mumbling these songs as they get stuck in their heads for days after using the game.

Like Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo from Cinderella. There, you’re stuck with it now too, aren’t you?

Lots of fun for kids of all ages.


Singstar SingStore volume 3

GAME REVIEW: Singstar SingStore volume 3
For PlayStation 3, rated PGR, RRP $69.95 (game) or $119.95 (with microphones)

Packed  with online features, including access to the SingStore, which has a whole bunch of extra songs available for a fee, this one will let you add some real variety to your SingStar parties.

It has 30 tracks included on the disk, but I have to say it’s a somewhat weird variety: from Aerosmith to Feargal Sharkey and Kate Bush. And Barry Manilow. I didn’t see that one coming.

If you’ve got the PlayStation Eye digital camera, you can also capture footage of yourself doing your thing, and upload it to the net to share with the world via My SingStar Online. Now there’s a scary thought.

If nothing else, you’ll have some fun poking the borax at the first person to try their hand at Leo Sayer’s You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.


Buzz Junior Ace Racers

GAME REVIEW: Buzz Junior Ace Racers
For PlayStation 2, Rated G, RRP $34.95 (game) $69.95 (with buzzers)

The latest addition to the Buzz! Junior stable of games, Ace Racers is a fast and furious bundle of action aimed at the younger gamers but suitable for the whole family.

It’s played using the Buzz! controllers, so getting around the game is nice and easy.

You get to select a racer icon to represent you and choose from 16 crazy vehicles as you race across land, sea and air, and also compete in bonus mini- games.

It’s interactive, cute and lots of fun. Just perfect if you’re looking for something for the special little person in your life


Looking good

As expected, the trip to Sydney was informative and more than a little interesting.

Symantec has listened to its users and — building on the improvements offered up in the 2008 software — is aiming for “zero-impact”. This doesn’t mean the software won’t use any system resources because, well, the only way ANY software could do that would be if you left it in the box and never installed it.

No, your new Norton software will tick away quietly in the background, only bursting into life to perform scans etc when it recognises that your system is idle. Thereby having zero impact on your computer use.

There’s also some other big changes coming, like pulse updates (that will have your system protected with the latest info from Symantec every 5 to 15 minutes), what looks to be sturdy integration of all forms of protection (from virus to phishing and everything in between) and a tidy looking interface.



Jillian "George" Allison-Aitken

I live in the deep south of New Zealand, where smelly dairy cows are taking over from sheep in the livestock stakes. My hometown is the small but perfectly formed city of Invercargill, which is also the hometown of the original boy racer, Burt Munro. Find out more about me here.


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