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


Trend Micro caused more than a few headaches for users when it made a faulty update available at the weekend.

The anti-virus update was available on the company’s site for 90 minutes.

The problem arose because a bug in the file update created a loop that used almost 100 percent of the CPU processing power.


Bits, bobs and gaming

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

I’m not a technological wizard but I am a fan of gadgets and geeky stuff, so right now it feels like geek heaven with WinHec this week and E3 next month.

Microsoft’s WinHec bunfight this week took a look back at what the Windows has achieved during the past two decades and where it’s heading in the future.

WinHec is the company’s annual hardware engineering conference and there have been positive reports online about what was on show. You’ll find a comprehensive rundown at the Microsoft blog.

While everyone’s on the edge of their seats wondering if the next version of Windows (codenamed Longhorn) is ever going to happen, the big news from the conference was the official launch of 64-bit Windows. A 64-bit Linux system has been out for more than a year and 64-bit processors have been available quite a while some time, the lack of a mainstream operating system to go with it has slowed down a lot of software developers.

Beta versions of Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003 64-bit are available and the company says XP Professional will be an OEM product, meaning you can’t buy a boxed retail upgrade or full retail version

ITJungle has more info on the release.

For laptop users, the WinHec announcement of a new hybrid hard drive that uses flash memory to lower power consumption should be good news. It’s also supposed to reduce the number of hard drive failures.

Of course, Longhorn was also previewed — to mixed reactions.

PC Mag thought it was okay and promises a more in-depth look at the system during the next few weeks. However, vnunetwork wasn’t impressed with the once-again watered-down security features.

Not surprisingly, MacDailyNews is also somewhat unflattering with its comments.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo — better known as E3 — is a trade-only show that isn’t open to the public. Journalists and industry professionals will be exchanging pleasantries and playing with gadgets in Los Angeles from May 18 to 20.

More than 1000 computer and video games and related products will make their debut at the 11th annual expo, which is the premiere product launching pad for the worldwide interactive entertainment industry. Overall, more than 5000 products will be on show.

Microsoft has shunned E3 for the debut of the next generation Xbox. Instead, it will feature on MTV next month.

The new beastie is expected to be in the shops by Christmas. If you’re wondering what it looks like, it might be something like this. More Xbox rumours can be found at Gamespot.


Telecom offers up prizes

Telecom has slashed residential calling rates to 55 countries this weekend and one customer will have the chance to win a $5000 travel voucher.

Okay, so it’s not as good as grabbing $8.5 million in Lotto but $5000 is not to be sneezed at.


Playing safe

The word on the net is that updates in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 will focus on improved security. No surprise there.

It also looks likely to ship separately from the new Longhorn operating system.


Steady as she goes

IBM has announced plans for a new mouse adaptor aimed at aiding computer users with hand tremors.

It will license the Assistive Mouse Adapter to British manufacturing firm Montrose Secam.

The device uses similar “steady cam” technology found in camcorders.


Photoshop & Premiere Elements

SOFTWARE REVIEW: Photoshop Elements 3.0 and Premiere Elements
Publisher: Adobe, Price: About $189 each or $279 for a boxed set (excluding GST)

Everyone’s heard of Adobe’s popular Photoshop, accepted as the industry standard for working with photos.

Photoshop Elements (for Windows and Mac) is a pared down version with an equally pared down price that is perfect for the home user. Sure, it doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as the full version of Photoshop but it has everything you are likely to need — and then some.

It’s easier to use and more powerful than earlier versions and offers users convenient ways to manage photos with simple search options and intuitive tagging.

The Photo Browser, based on Photoshop Album, lets you catalogue both online and offline images. Finding photos quickly is a breeze when categorising your images using keyword tags, collections and catalogues. Being able to search through photos using a timeline is also a huge bonus.

Of course, Photoshop Elements comes with all the usual features youd expect — the filters, fixes and editing options. However, the new features in this version a pretty special. Smart Fix analyses a photo and with one-click, applies enhancements to automatically improve photo quality. Improved red eye removal means a simple click near the eye makes red-eye disappear and the powerful Healing Brush fixes blemishes and imperfections with one step.

Premiere Elements is Adobe’s home video editing software. This is once again a pared down version of another program — Adobe Premiere Pro.

Transferring and editing is kept simple and as you delete or trim scenes, gaps in the timeline are automatically closed. The how-to guides make life even easier.

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a budding George Lucas, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to add hundreds of special effects, transitions and enhancements — from spinning graphics to scene fades.

Burning your video footage to DVD is also a piece of cake with menus and scene indices that are automatically created and linked to you edited work.


A rocket machine

Earlier this week I had the chance to play with the Ultra Computer’s latest Pentium 4 3.6GHz machine and was impressed.

Before I go any further, I’d like to offer a message for my husband, who may be reading this if he’s having a quiet day at work: don’t worry, I’m not planning to upgrade my little beastie just yet but if I was in the market for a new computer it’s a pretty safe bet this would be it.

Auckland-based Ultra has a well-earned reputation for building quality machines and from personal experience I can vouch for the high standards of both the products and service — my current Pentium 4 3GHz is my second Ultra PC.

The 3.6GHz has a nice sleek black case (contrasting nicely with my rather white, lumpy self). However, it’s inside the case that the magic happens.

The Pentium 4 560 3.6GHz processor is based on Intel’s Prescott architecture, which allows 1MB of full speed L2 cache (twice that of Northwood) and, as expected, supports Hyper-Threading technology. There is a long, technical explanation of what that means at Intel’s site but the simple explanation is it can do lots of things at once without getting confused or slowing down.

Online reviews indicate this chip’s strength lies in running multimedia applications and, to quote Sam from reality TV show Living the Dream, after having a play around with it I found it smoother than a gravy sandwich.

There’s a fairly comprehensive review of the 3.6GHz at Bjorn 3D.

For hard-core gamers, the PCI Express FX5750 128MB graphics card might not be at the top of your wish list but it’s certainly well beyond adequate for most computer users. For gaming tests it seems to score comfortably in the mid-range when tested against other graphics cards and I was quite happy with its performance. Legion Hardware has an interesting comparison of seven different graphics cards.

Add to this a SATA 160GB 7200 hard disk drive and you’ve got a system that should keep you happy for a long time.

This package comes complete with a Sony dual DVD-RW DVD writer and a 17-inch Philips LCD monitor. If you’re still using a CRT monitor, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Thank you to the nice people at H & J Smith Ltd for lending me the little rocket machine.


Microsoft wireless desktop (review)

Optical Desktop Elite has an estimated retail price of $299 (and batteries are included) 

If you’re sick of getting tangled up with cords and wires, Microsoft’s new Wireless Optical Desktop Executive Edition could be the answer you’re looking for. 

I got a new kitten just before Christmas and, like most kittens, Neville has a fascination for attacking anything at (her) eye level — ankles, spiders, copies of The Southland Times spread on the floor for leisurely Saturday morning reading and, of course, cords. 

This wireless desktop has put an end to the days of my computer mouse suddenly scudding across my desk at a great rate of knots and disappearing. 

I’ve had a wireless optical mouse for a while and have found the freedom to mouse anywhere on my desk, great. The only drawback has been the battery-life issue: wireless mice chew through batteries at an astounding rate. 

Because my computer gets a lot of use, the batteries were fizzling out every couple of weeks, at best. However, this latest beastie seems to run on the smell of an oily rag. 

I’ve been using the same set of batteries for almost two months and, according to the nifty little battery level panel I can call up onscreen, there’s still a lot of juice left in those suckers. 

According to Microsoft, you can get up to six months of use out of a set of batteries with this desktop. 

The keyboard and mouse will work within 1.8m of the receiver, even if your computer is out of sight, and the Microsoft Smart Receiver tells you if any other wireless devices are interfering with your desktop.
It even tells you when the batteries are getting low. 

The ergonomically designed mouse lets you switch between open windows by pushing down on the scroll wheel and has five programmable buttons, incredibly smooth scrolling and tilt wheel technology, which allows side-to-side scrolling. 

The keyboard has a cushioned palm rest and at the top you’ll find one-touch hotkeys for popular destinations such as my documents, mail and Messenger, system keys for the calculator, log off and sleep modes, a media centre in the middle set out like a standard CD player and a favourites section, where you can set your own favourite websites for one-key access. Enhanced function keys offer shortcuts for undo, redo and other common tasks and it’s simply a matter of hitting the F Lock key to switch between the normal F keys and the enhanced versions. 

The keyboard also has a built in scroll-wheel mouse on the left, again with tilt wheel technology. 

And best of all, it looks cool. 

To use the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Elite, IntelliType Pro keyboard software with the Hot Keys, and IntelliPoint mouse software with the scroll wheel, you need: 

  • Windows 2000 Professional (Pentium 133MHz or higher, 128MB of RAM) or Windows XP (Pentium 233MHz or higher, 128MB of RAM)
  • 60MB of available hard-disk space
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Spare PS/2 keyboard port or USB port
  • For a Mac machine,  you’ll need: Mac OS 10.1 to 10.2.X (excluding Mac OS 10.0), 30MB available hard-disk space, CD-ROM drive and a USB port.


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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