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

Flying visit … don’t expect a postcard

I’m off to Sydney tomorrow for a slightly last-minute, flying visit.

Symantec is running a workshop for reviewers on Wednesday, giving us a sneak preview of what’s coming up in the 2009 releases of their software.

It’s going to be a bit chaotic getting there and back (one of the few negatives about living in Southland … we’re a little bit isolated so it takes all day to get to places like Sydney) but if the improvements made in the last round of upgrades are anything to go by, I’m expecting some exciting and interesting developments for the 2009 software.

I’ll keep you posted.


Vodafone releases dear wee iPhone

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

The much-anticipated iPhone is set to finally make its official New Zealand debut tomorrow but the cost of owning one of the little beasties has probably rained on more than a few parades, or perhaps (in honour of its manufacturer) even upset a few apple carts.

There’s no doubting the iPhone 3G is an awesome wee machine and I’m sure there will be plenty of Kiwis queuing up to buy one.

However, with the news that the running costs for the $199 8GB model on a two-year plan will come in at a whopping $250 a month, I’m sure a few eager buyers have decided they aren’t so eager after all.

If you want to cut back on the monthly bill, you can opt to pay a bit more for your 8GB iPhone, or pay nearly a grand for one that isn’t locked into a plan. The 16GB model is, naturally, a bit costlier.
I feel the pain of those who were hoping to be fondling the touchscreens of their new toys tomorrow but, on a personal level, I’m not particularly disappointed. I like shiny gadgets as much as the next person but I’m not totally in love with the idea of owning an iPhone.

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly a fan of the whole iPod deal. In fact, my Nano is keeping me company as I write this column.

And apart from annoyance at being stuck with Quick Time on my computer with the installation of iTunes, and the persistence of the iTunes updater in trying to sneak in Safari (Apple’s browser) when it updates, I’m pretty happy with the whole iPod-iTunes experience.

However, I don’t necessarily want my music to be tied to my phone. A phone is a phone and that’s all I want it to be. Hey, I don’t expect my fridge to make coffee or my television to whip up an omelet now, do I?

It’s beginning to feel like we’re all speeding towards a time where everyone and everything will multi-task as a matter of course — and, much like the Borg, resistance is futile — but we’re not there yet so fight the good fight with your non-multi-tasking phones and MP3 players.

Viva la revolution.

If, on the other hand, you want to tell Vodafone you think the iPhone prices are a bit much, there was a petition online where you could add your name.


Fired up

Good news web-junkies, there’s a new version of Mozilla’s spectacularly user-friendly Firefox available. 

Updates to the hugely popular free web browser, which perfected tabbed browsing long before Internet Explorer 7 hit our screens, include one-click bookmarking, a download manager, improved security and privacy, the ability to zoom in on any part of a web page and faster loading sites. 

Mozilla decided to have a crack at setting a record for the number of downloads and demand was so high the server actually crashed, so if you’re among the three people left in the world who haven’t yet downloaded it, do it now.


Net threat

There seem to be a lot of phishing e-mails hitting my inbox again so it’s probably a good time to remind everyone to take care.

Ignore any e-mails you might get asking you to go to a bank site and enter your login details. Banks don’t operate like this. However, scammers do.

They want your online banking details so they can steal all your money and spend it on whatever it is online scammers like to spend money on.


Speed…what speed?

Do we love Xtra? Hmmm, maybe not. If you’re feeling frustrated by lack of broadband speed, you’re not the only one.


Xbox brain workout

If you’re feeling a tad fuzzy, like your brain is in a bit of a funk, you can now give your grey matter a workout via your gaming console.

Gameloft’s Brain Challenge, on Xbox LIVE Arcade, is a brain training program that is supposed to help players develop stress-management skills.

It will cost you 800 Microsoft points to grab the game, so I suppose it is cheaper (and slightly more legal) than a Taser. But is it as much fun?

While we’re on the subject of Xbox, did you know your 360 console lets you physically limit the amount of play time your offspring gets on the machine? You can use the Xbox 360 Family Timer feature to set a time limit. It shuts the console off once it has been reached but warns junior first, so he or she can save their game.


Going on Safari

Apple has released the latest version of its browser (Safari 3.1), which is jam-packed with new features and a bunch of security updates and fixes.

Apple says page load times in Safari 3.1 are 1.9 times faster than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 and 1.7 times faster than Mozilla’s Firefox 2.

However, along with all the new goodies and super speediness there are a few wee vulnerabilities, mainly involving cross-site scripting flaws.


Microsoft rattles cages with plans to kill XP

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

I realise this will probably prompt an e-mail or two from readers telling me the thousands of ways they feel Apple and/or Linux are superior to Windows, but I don’t care: I adore Windows XP.

There, I said it. Do your worst gentle readers, but you won’t change my mind. It’s an incredibly stable, user-friendly operating system that plays nicely with all my other software and ticks away in the background, quietly doing everything it should. What more could I ask for?

There’s just one little problem with XP: Microsoft wants to kill it. The operating system, launched back in 2001, is being pulled from shop shelves in June and Microsoft plans to phase out support for it in the future.

This is, of course, aimed at pushing the not-so-popular Vista, launched amid much excitement from Microsoft and not quite so much excitement from reviewers around the world in January last year.

I had a play with Vista when it first appeared and found it was pretty good but not great. As expected with any new software, there were a few issues with stability and compatibility.

These problem are usually sorted in a timely fashion but in the case of Vista, things seem to have come to a standstill.

Another problem is just how well Vista performs speed-wise because the hardware required to run it is still fairly grunty and outside the range of a lot of home users.

Sure it has some nice interfaces and does pretty things with graphics, but most computer users simply want it to work. Reliably. And fast. Without crashing. And with their other software.

Unfortunately, Vista doesn’t quite manage this. On the other hand, XP does.

Both my desktop machines are running XP Professional and my laptop chugs along quite nicely with XP Home Edition. I don’t want to change to Vista and I don’t think I should have to.

XP fans are rallying in support of their beloved operating system, with technology journalist Galen Gruman managing to collect more than 100,000 virtual signatures in an online petition since January. Lots of staunch XP fans have also taken the opportunity to leave comments when signing the petition, including many who say if the move goes ahead they will quit Windows in favour of Apple or even tech-freebie poster child Linux.

I guess a few will follow through with their threats but I doubt the numbers will be high: most of us will stick with what we know. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that Microsoft is managing to rattle the cages and ignore the wants of its most important commodity: its customers.


ISPecially need help

If (like me) you’re not feeling the love from your ISP lately and if (also like me) you’ve made the decision to have a change, ISP Find could be just what you need. 

You tell the clever wee site just what you’re looking for in an internet connection and it will find you your perfect match. You can compare price, speed and much more.



Meet your new friend

From Wowwee. RRP: $209

This  little critter is all fun, all the time. 

He’s a four-legged robot who scuttles around your house entertaining the cat, waving at anything that takes his fancy, dancing to his own tune and freaking out the occasional overly sensitive soul who claims he looks like a spider and shrieks every time he comes near. 

Now that’s entertainment. 

You can get Roboquad to do all that and more via his remote control, which has four different levels of use, including 72 preprogrammed functions. 

You can change his awareness, activity or aggression at each level of control to give a huge range of reactions and behaviours. It’s like the little beastie has his own personality. 

The full-on aggressive mode is stacks of fun, with him shaping up to anyone who gets in his way by roaring, attacking or a combination of the two. The cat wasn’t so fond of that part. 

If you select the autonomy button, he’ll even take it upon himself to wander around checking out his environment. 

His smart scan function means he reacts if anything changes, and that reaction varies according to aggression and activity levels you’ve selected for him. 

He’ll even go into escape mode, heading for the largest open space he can spot as fast as his four little legs will carry him. 

Make sure you have a good stock of batteries (four C-size and three AAA) because you’ll be spending plenty of time bonding with your new toy.



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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