News Briefs Archive 2008




Sun Powered Shades

Sadly very few solar powered gadgets are actually green. Hardly any of them will ever recover the energy expended in their manufacture during their working lives, let alone the couple of weeks most of them last, until the novelty has worn off, but that’s another story. No, we’re here to tell you all about a pair of sunglasses fitted with solar panels that can be used to charge an MP3 player or mobile phone. Solar cells are notoriously inefficient and your face would probably burn off long before a useful charge was achieved. I may be wrong, the designers, Hyun-Joong Kim and Kwang-Seok Jeong have used organic dye type cells, which they claim to be both cheap and efficient, but given the relatively small surface areas of the cells, and the need to face directly into the Sun to get the best charge, it all seems a bit dubious.



Hybrid DVD/Blu-Ray Disc Trialled

In an effort to help speed the up-take of HD video Pony Canyon in Japan is set to release what is believed to be the first commercial hybrid DVD and Blu-Ray disc. And before you say it has been done before, with DVD/Blu-Ray ‘flippers’ (i.e. DVD on one side and Blu-Ray on the other, this one is different. This disc uses a technology developed by JVC a couple of years ago, it’s s single-sided multi-layer construction, with the Blu-Ray layer on the top, and one or two DVD layers underneath. The clever bit is a semi-reflective layer separating the Blu-Ray and DVD layers, this reflects blue laser light, but the red laser, used to read DVD passes through to the layers beneath. 



Asus Smellbook Now Available

You’ve got to admire Asus for pushing back the frontiers of laptop design. From the genuinely revolutionary Eee PC, which launched the whole Netbook craze, to the slightly odd bamboo-cased laptop there’s seems to be no end to its creativity, at least that was until we heard about the F6Ve series notebooks. This is a range of ‘fragranced’ laptops, that’s right, they smell, you can choose from a pink coloured ‘Floral Blossom model costing around £649, or a glossy ‘Musky Black machine, which starts at £799. Basic specs are a 13.3-inch screen Intel Centrino Core 2 processor, wi-fi, choice of 120, 160, 250 or 320Gb drives, up to 4Gb RAM, web cam and Vista pre-installed. Incidentally, someone at Asus has obviously been doing some research into smells and national characteristics and in the US you can get models entitled Aqua Ocean and Morning Dew – make of that what you will. According to the blurb the how long the smell lasts depends on how much the machine is used, which could be years, so choose your smell carefully, you could be stuck with it for a long time…



Rogue Robots Ruffle the Rozzers

Engadget reports from Denmark that one of those clever robot vacuum cleaners managed to set off a house alarm. Devices like the Roomba scuttle about the house, sucking up crumbs and fluff, but it seems one forgetful owner forgot to switch their's off when they went out. Heat or movement triggered the house alarm’s passive IR sensor and bells start ringing at the local cop-shop, who duly despatch a couple of uniforms to see what was occurring. Clearly this isn’t going to go down well with the boys in blue and my guess it won’t be long before they, or their owners will be issued with Asbos, or tags…



Microsoft Softwear Launch…

No, it’s not a spelling mistake, Microsoft has either run out of money or has finally gone mad and announced its own range of clothing range called, you guessed it, ‘Softwear’. Launched next week in the US, an apparently well-known celebrity rapper called Common will, MS hopes, give the range the necessary street credibility. The designs are supposed to tap into the retro/nostalgia market for the early days of computing. They’ll feature the DOS and Microsoft logos and apparently there will even be a mug shot of Uncle Bill, as well as various other colourful and funky patterns. Mmmm cant’ wait. It will be interesting to whether or not they require on-line activation to stop them being pirated…



Amazon UK Starts Selling MP3s

With hardly any pre-publicity Amazon UK has just opened its UK music store and it’s off to a flying start. Amazon MP3 has complete albums for sale starting at a very competitive £3.00 a pop, single tracks start at 59 pee, undercutting rivals like iTunes by a not inconsiderable 20 pence. The online library kicks off with three million tracks and albums, with thousands more being added every day. More good news, they are DRM-free, so you can copy them to any of your computers or portable music devices. Now that’s exactly how it should be, and with prices that low it might even wean naughty downloaders off pirate tracks, so good luck Amazon!



40-Hour Laptop in Pipeline

Remember the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project? As you may recall the idea was to develop a laptop, costing less than $100, which would be given away to children in undeveloped countries. One unexpected spin-offs was the creation of a consumer market for compact low-cost mini laptops, or ‘netbooks’ typified by the Asus Eee PC and Acer Aspire One.


One of the brains behind OLPC was Mary Lou Jepsen (pictured right) who is the former head of display technologies at Intel, and she was responsible for the OLPC’s super low power, sunlight readable display. Now she has a new startup company, called Pixel Qi, with plans to start shipping a highly efficient screen, similar to the one in the OLPC, but for more conventional laptops. The backlight in an LCD screen is the biggest drain on a laptop battery and Jepsen predicts that the new screen could increase battery life by between five and ten times. That means that the new display, coupled with the latest low-power CPUs and long lasting Li Ion batteries, we could be talking about running times between 20 and 40 hours per charge. Now all you need are a couple of matches, to prop your eyelids open…




Beer Powered USB Drive…

Well, not exactly, and we’re not even sure the golden brown liquid in this rather eye-catching flash drive is actually beer, but we can tell you that it is available in capacities from 128Mb to 8Gb (sorry, no half pint or litre versions yet – now that would be useful…).


It is being produced by a company called CNK Promotions, and it’s the sort of thing that companies give away at exhibitions but CNK will happily pack their custom drives with the liquid of your choosing but be warned, the minimum order on this particular item (1Gb version) is 250 and at $20 a pop, not including the setup fee, you need to be pretty generous, or drunk, to give them away.



Balls to Security

In my other life, as a reviewer and tester of security and surveillance devices I get to play around with a lot of highly innovative and occasionally downright wacky gadgets but this one has them all beat. It’s called the GroundBot and it’s pretty much what it looks like, a motorised ball, that wanders around, with two side-mounted cameras. It comes from a company called Rotundus and it can be controlled manually, beaming back 3D images to the operator, or programmed to follow preset routes, It’s waterproof, rugged and capable of moving through mud and snow, so it’s perfect for keeping watch on outdoor locations. So if you’re out and about, getting into places you should be and you think that you are being watched, don't look up, look down…



Suits You Sir!

I’ve just started work on my 2009 Christmas Wish List and at the top is one of these. It’s a new Combat Uniform, developed by the South Korean Agency for Defense Development and scheduled to go into production next year. The suit contains a personal heating and cooling system, and it affords protection from laser and missile attack and detection of mines and chemical weapons, which could be handy down my way. It comes with plenty of accessories, including what looks like a Johnny 7 OMA (remember those…). It’s actually a multi-function machine gun, missile launcher with laser guided target assessment system, firing high explosive projectiles. The suit also comes with a multi-function helmet with built-in virtual display, video camera and voice recognition. The snazzy backpack contains a personal command and control system, friend or foe identification system and GPS. I’ll have mine in large please, double-breasted with extra projectiles…



World’s Fastest Computer (This Week…)

Well, they do tend to come and go, but this one, which is called XT Jaguar and comes from Cray, which has a long history in this area, and is reckoned to be 50 percent faster than the rival Roadrunner mega machine from IBM. So here’s the spec; it’s based on 45,000 quad core AMD Opteron processors and it has a whopping 360 terabytes of RAM and 10 petabytes of storage. If you really want to know how fast it goes, then it has been clocked at just over 1.6 quadrillion operations per second (1.6 petaflops, in case you wondered). It’s probably not Vista compatible, it’s destined for more challenging tasks, including crunching numbers in climate modelling and virtual prototyping



AVG Update Kills Windows

Users of AVG 7.5 and 8.0 should be on the alert for a false positive Trojan virus warning after downloading an update on November 11th. It concerns the legitimate Windows system file user32.dll, which AVG wrongly identifies as infected and advises that it should be deleted. Don’t do it!


If you do Windows will not load after a reboot. Apparently it only affects the Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish language versions of Windows XP and AVG has published a rescue plan. It involves running the XP Recovery console, which means you need an installation disc. Of course not all PCs come with one, in which case AVG has come up with a downloadable utility that should fix the problem. AVG has issued a profuse apology but it’s a serious black mark against a program that millions of users have come to trust.



Light Work for Cyclists

Speaking in my capacity as a motorist and a regular (though not particularly energetic) cyclist, and survivor of more than my fair share of near-misses at the hands of stupid car drivers, I was pleased to see this recently patented device on the Core 77 Website. Basically it’s for all of us patient two-wheelers, who don’t run red lights (well, not very often, anyway…) who have to wait at ‘on-demand’ traffic lights for a car to turn up in order to trigger the buried sensor. This gadget fools the inductive sensor into thinking there’s half a ton of tin waiting for the lights to change, rather than just little old you on your bike. It works by creating a brief but strong magnetic field, triggered by a button on the handlebars. As you can see this is just a prototype but if the designers can come up with something a little more convenient, and hopefully not too expensive, it could prevent a lot of nasty accidents.



White Space gets Go-Ahead

You may recall that back in March we ran a story about messrs Microsoft, Google, HP, Intel and others campaigning to use the so-called ‘white space’ or gaps between broadcast television channels for high-speed broadband. Well, the White Space Coalition, as it’s known has just received the thumbs-up from the US Federal Communications Committee (FCC). The new spectrum will be unlicensed and it promises much greater range than current Wi-Fi systems, opening up the possibility of taking broadband to remote areas not served by existing cable or phone systems. The FCC says that the technology will be closely regulated and strictly policed; to avoid interference with TV broadcasts but coalition members have worked hard to prove that the system works and their efforts have been rewarded. Whether or not it will come to the UK remains to be seen but the white space is certainly available, and there are still plenty of places on the waiting list for broadband, and for some isolated communities, it could be a very long wait indeed.



Wooden you know it

I have lost count of the number of wood-cased PCs I’ve seen over the years, one or two even made it into production, so it’s not exactly a new idea, but the spin Asus have put on its new Bamboo Series notebook is quite novel. It says it ‘redefines green computing’, exactly what that means is a bit of a mystery, but Asus is trumping its green credentials, claiming that the machine’s Super Hybrid Engine technology extends battery life by between 35 and 70% -- compared with similar notebooks. The bamboo capping and panels have a tensile strength that rivals some metals and it grows really quickly, so it’s easily sustainable material. Oh yes, the notebook spec, it has a 12.1 inch screen and uses a Intel Core 2 dual processor running at 2.53GHz, there’s 4Gb of RAM, a 32Gb hard drive, it runs on Vista Home Premium, and the cost of going green is a formidable £1349…




Windows 7 Pre Beta Released to Developers

Microsoft has been busy showing journalists some interesting bits of Windows 7, which you can expect to see on a new PC near you sometime in 2010 or 11, probably... Anyway, the OS – still very much in its early stages of development -- is now being made available to developers to tinker with. Most of the new features have been heavily trailed so there’s no big surprises but the Touch screen stuff does look very impressive. It’s all very Minority Report, with lots of finger wiggling and hand movements, making things whizz around the screen, and pictures twist, tumble, enlarge and reduce, the only thing it doesn’t do is clean off the sticky finger marks afterwards…


Some other things we can be fairly sure about is that it will be very good at handling multimedia content, and a clever idea called Play To lets you send music and video from your W7 PC directly to suitably equipped and networked audio system and TV, rather than having to mess around copying or transferring files. There’s a lot of talk about ‘Mesh’ and ‘Cloud’ computing, which basically means trusting all of your data to remote servers and using on-line applications, rather than installing software on your computer. It means you can access your work anywhere but I I’ll need a lot of convincing before I trust my important data to the ether.... Two features that I would liked to have seen don’t appear to have made the cut, and they are Instant On and support for mobile broadband, but it’s still early days, so who knows.



New Service Pack for Vista

Ahead of what I hope will be some interesting news about Windows 7, later this week, Microsoft insider Mike Nash has been talking about Vista Service Pack 2, which is now in beta form. No you are not seeing things, it is only six months since the roll out of Service Pack 1, so clearly there’s still a few things that need updating. It’s okay, none of them, as far as we know, is security related. They include version 4 of Windows Search, which will feature improved relevancy on searches. There’s a new Bluetooth Feature pack with support for the latest specification, the ability to record data on Blue-Ray discs will be included in Vista SP2 and there are improvements for Wi-Fi connectivity (Windows Connect Now) and some tweaks to file timestamps in the exFAT file system that allows file synchronisation across time zones. There may be more but you’ll have to remain on tenterhooks until the final line up and release data has been announced, probably in the next few weeks – we’ll keep you posted



Fit For Purpose?

What’s all this then? At first glance it looks like it might be some sort of wireless gadget but believe it or not it is a complete PC, and no, that’s not a giant key. It’s called Fit-PC Slim and the whole thing measures just 10 x 11 x 3cm, which isn’t much larger than a pack of 20 cigarettes. Inside the box they have managed to squeeze an AMD Geode CPU running at 500MHz, there’s 512Mb RAM, a 60GB hard drive, Wi-FI and audio adaptors plus all the usual inputs and outputs. It comes pre-loaded with Linux or XP; there’s no fan, so it’s completely silent and all it needs to run is a simple 12-volt power supply. Amazing stuff, though you might now be asking why, and I have to say that I have no easy answers, but for someone out there it’s just what they’ve been waiting for!



Fruity PC Comeback

Those of you who have been around computers for a few years may well remember the Fruit Wars of the early 1980s, indeed one of the very first home computers I wrote about was the Tangerine, back in the late 1970’s. In fact it was little more than a very large printed circuit board, smothered in logic chips, and you had to add your own keyboard and light bulbs, but it was a start… Anyway, soon afterwards we had more useable machines from the likes of Apple, and Apricot, not to mention quite a few lemons, though to be fair I don’t remember anyone actually using that name. But the rest, as they say is history, with only one fruity PC maker managing to survive.


Anyway, this preamble is by way of reintroducing the Apricot brand, last owned by Mitsubishi though by the late 1990s it had all but disappeared. Now it’s back, and one of its first products is a new mini-notebook, called the Picobook. To be honest it doesn’t look a lot different to the current crop, and bears a striking resemblance to the Acer One. It’s powered by a Via C7-M processor, there’s 8.9 inch screen (1024 x 600), 60Gb of HDD storage, 1Gb RAM, Windows or SuSe Linux S, built in webcam, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and optional WiMax and up to 4 hour running time. The single USB is a bit of a letdown and I couldn’t see any mention of an SD slot, so no points there, but the price is a going to be around £280, so it’s looking quite competitive.



Microsoft Quest for Speed?

Microsoft has been sending out surveys to selected Windows users. There’s nothing unusual in that. It does it all the time, but this one is seeking opinions on a feature dubbed the ‘Instant On Experience’. You may recall that this is something several mini laptop makers have been dabbling with. Asus are one of the first with a system called Splashtop. The idea is that if all you want to do is collect you emails, or surf the net, why should you have to wait ages for Windows (or Linux) to load? Instead, at startup you can opt to run a super-small Linux based operating system, which only takes a second or two to load and gives you more or less immediate access to the web. Microsoft is clearly taking an interest in the feature, possibly for the upcoming Windows 7 (rumoured now to be called ‘Stratus), which is due to make its public appearance next year. The survey also asks respondents what other applications they would like to see fire up in a just a few seconds, now they’re asking, how about Windows…?



Beware of Russian iPhony

Visitors to Russia should be on the alert for cheap iPhones, according to an item on The scam is simple; someone comes up to you in the street, apparently in distress because they don’t have enough money for a train or plane ticket. You look like a helpful sort of person and they offer to sell you their iPhone for a bargain price, so they can get home. It looks just like the real deal, and the seller offers to show you it is working, he (or she) switches it on and the Apple logo appears on the screen, but it quickly disappears; the battery is dead they explain, but it will be okay when you charge it up. Having parted with your money you hook said iPhone up to a charger, only to find that it’s a clever fake. What you have bought is a very convincing iPhone case, with a simple backlit screen with the Apple logo illuminated a small battery powered light bulb. Oh yes, and you get a small chunk of metal, to give it the right weight.



HAL-5 Robot Suit now Available

I have spoken before on the dangers of robots taking over and enslaving mankind, and it could happen people… But hopefully not just yet, and while we’re waiting here’s another nifty application for robotics, called HAL-5. Basically it’s a robotic exoskeleton that you wear. Sensors inside pick up signals from the wearer’s muscles and these are translated into movement by powerful motors and servos. Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai of Tsukuba University dreamt up the original idea, and it’s meant to help severely disabled people get around, which is clearly a good thing. No doubt the military is keeping an eye on developments but I think that with a battery running time of up to 5 hours, a top speed of a couple of mph and a recommendation not to use it outdoors, its role on the modern battlefield is still a bit limited… Nevertheless I am alarmed to see that this final version is being manufactured a company called Cyberdyne, and you may recall that Cyberdyne Systems was responsible for the robotic mayhem in the Terminator movies so don’t let your guard down!



90 Percent Charge in 10 minutes

That’s what Toshiba reckons its latest Super Charge Ion Battery (SCIB) is capable of, and the icing on the cake is that it should be able to withstand between 5000 and 6000 charge/discharge cycles, or up to ten times the number of charge cycles for a standard Lithium Ion battery pack. There’s even more good news, they won’t explode when crushed, which is probably not something most people need to worry about, but it could happen. However, there’s no word on what SCIB’s do when they are short-circuited, which is one of the possible reasons for the recent spate of well-publicised laptop battery fires. So what’s the catch? Well, Toshiba hasn’t announced a launch date yet, which usually means there are some manufacturing or cost difficulties, or both, still to be ironed out, but the idea of being able to get a dead laptop battery up and running in just a few minutes is going to appeal to a lot of power-users, so we probably won’t have to wait too long for it.



Mobile Broadband’s Big Spend

Nowadays it seems you can’t buy a laptop without a built-in Wi-Fi adaptor, and it has happened really quickly, in the space of 2 or 3 years. If the GSM Association gets its way, in another couple of years, most new laptops will have a Mobile Broadband adaptor as well. It has already started to happen - recently delivered laptops purchased with Dell coupons included built-in adapters - though currently most Mobile Broadband adaptors are in the form of plug-in USB ‘dongles’. They’re basically compact 3G (or 2.5G) mobile phones that hook your laptop up to the mobile phone network and provide fast data transfer rates, as good as and in some cases better than wired broadband The only trouble is coverage is still a bit patchy, and there are several different standards around the world, but they’re working on that and multi-mode adaptors are not a problem to build. The plan is to pull everything together under a single banner, or rather a little label that will be stuck on laptops with built-in adaptors. There’s a lot riding on it too; Mobile Broadband will be touted as an alternative to Wi-FI and WiMax and with around $1 billion to spend, and the backing of the likes of Microsoft, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, 3 Group, Asus, ECS, Ericsson, Gemalto, Orange, Qualcomm, Telefonica Europe, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, T-Mobile, and Vodafone, its hard to see how they can fail…



Lights, Camera, PC!

Here’s another in our occasional series on weird things to plug into your PC’s USB ports. It’s called Hollywood Web Gear and it comes from the ever-inventive I Want One of Thosepurveyors of wacky gadgets. As you can probably see it comprises a USB spotlight, shaped like a proper studio light, complete with ‘barn doors’ and a serios looking movie camera, both on the end of flexy stalks. Don’t worry, there are no blockbuster budgets involved, the light sells for a very reasonable £4.99 and the camera will set you back just £9.99, so now there’s no excuse not to look good when you’re doing a spot of video conferencing…



Wave Hello to Air Mouse

I predict fun and games learning to drive the Gyration Air Mouse but it looks like it could be worth it. Unlike an ordinary rolling ball or optical mouse this one doesn’t need a flat surface to work. Just wave it around and motion sensors inside the case tracks your movements. This information is translated by ‘intuitive’ software, which works out where on the PC screen you want the mouse pointer to go. It also responds to a range of simple ‘gestures’ that are basically shortcuts for frequently used functions, like highlighting or magnifying text. It communicates wirelessly with a small dongle that plugs into a vacant USB socket on the PC, and for good measure, it also works as normal mouse on flat surfaces, so lie back in your easy chair, wave at your laptop and it will do as it is told, probably… In the shops soon, expect it to cost upwards of £60.



Clever Camera Card

Ho-hum, another 2Gb SD card, but hang on a minute, this one is different. The Eye-Fi Explore is a Wi-FI memory card. So what, you might be asking, SD Wi-Fi cards are nothing new, the one in my PDA must be at least 3 years old, but there is more. This is a fully self-contained wireless device, so it can be used in any SD compatible camera, and used to beam images across a network to a PC, printer or uploaded to the Internet. In other words the camera doesn’t need to be a special wireless-capable model. All you have to do is pop the card into your PC to activate and configure it then put it into the camera and while it is on it automatically sends image to any wi-fi device in range (around 3 – 5 metres). There’s an added bonus, it uses a system called Geotagging to label or identify where the picture was taken. This works by the card sensing wireless signals from known access points. The Eye-FI Explore and a re-badged version selling under the Lexar brand should be appearing in your local digicam store anytime now and the price is likely to be in the region of £60 to £70. 



Kodak OLEDing the Way Again

Kodak, once the leading light in the photography biz were famously caught by surprise by the speed at which digital photography took. Despite launching some useful digicams, it has never really come close to regaining its former status. Now, however, they’re leading the way once again, this time with the world’s first consumer photo frame using OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diode technology.


OLEDs, in case you didn’t know, are super thin, and unlike LCDs, do not rely on a backlight. They also offer superior contrast ratios and although not a factor in this application, can be made to be flexible. The display used in this frame is 7.6 inches (measured diagonally); it’s a widescreen format with 800 x 480 pixel resolution and it boasts a contrast ratio of 30,000:1. The viewing angle – another OLED advantage – is 180 degrees. In addition to a multi-format memory card reader there’s a built-in wireless adaptor so you can upload images and videos from a PC, and download them to printers, picture sharing and online processors. The 2Gb of on-board memory can store up to 10,000 photos and it will be available from November. Here comes the crunch, it’s not going to be cheap and the US retail price is expected to be $999 or a touch over £500. Form an orderly queue now.



Power in your Pocket

How about this for green energy? A pocket-sized device developed by a US company called M2E (Motion 2 Energy) promises to generated enough electricity to charge cellphones, media players and such, just by rattling around in your pocket or handbag. The gizmo is full of coils and magnets that convert movement into electricity, which is stored in a rechargeable battery, ready to be let loose when you need it. Apparently it generates between three and seven times as much power as rival ‘kinetic’ energy systems. The company has also developed ‘D’ cell type batteries that self charge as they are moved around, a bit like those torches that light up when you shake them. Apparently it all works and the charger unit, which is about the size of a fat cellphone, will go into production next year. Plans are also afoot to incorporate the technology into military hardware, cellphones, hearing aids, watches and here’s my favourite, dog collars. The mind boggles…



DivX Goes Mobile

If you thought the highly compressed DivX multimedia format was only for PCs and DVD players then you might be interested to know that it has now made its way onto mobile phones and one of the first outings is on the new shiny, slidy LG Secret. Video on titchy screens tends to be a bit jerky and blurry and quite frankly a pain to watch for more than 30 seconds but on this very neat and well-featured 3G phone it is truly immaculate. The picture is clean and crisp with vibrant coilours and fluid movement. The Secret has a neat iPhone-like trick and when you turn it on its side the image automatically rotates, so you get the full benefit of the phones’ 640 x 480 widescreen display. Getting video onto the Secret is pretty straightforward too. DivX files can be uploaded by a USB cable from a PC or copied to a Micro SD card, (conversion software is included with the phone) or there’s the DIY method as the Secret has a built-in encoder, and you can shoot DivX videos on the phone’s camera. Secret has another handy trick and you can connect it to a TV or monitor and use it as highly portable digital video player. Audio quality is good too and although the speaker aperture is about the thickness of a thumbnail, the sound it produces is suprisingly loud, and clear.



Chrome Plated Easter Egg

It didn’t take long for the hidden ‘Easter Egg’ in the new Google Chrome browser to be discovered. In case you haven’t heard, Easter Eggs are hidden features in a program, usually of a whimsical nature, put there by bored programmers. The one in Chrome is fairly good and quite amusing to watch but I won’t spoil it for you by giving the game away. To see if for yourself you will have to download and install Chrome then in the Omnibox (the name for the combined address and search box – one of Chrome’s best features – type ‘about:internets’ and see what happens. While we’re at it there are a couple of other things you can try. Typing ‘about:memory’ displays Chrome’s memory usage, ‘about:histograms’ shows a number of performance statistics and ‘about:crash’ does just that, and instantly shuts down the open browser window.



Elonex One T+ £99 PC, First Impressions

You may recall me mentioning the Elonex One PC back in February, a pocket PC that would sell for the astonishingly low price of £99. Well, at that time no samples were available but I was intrigued enough to send off my £10 deposit, on the promise that it would be delivered in July. Needless to say it never arrived and not only did the delivery date slip, in the meantime Elonex produced an upgraded design, called One t+ (almost certainly a rebadged CNM Minibook), which they offered to those who placed orders, at no extra cost. – the One T+ now costs £120 online. (The original One, with its quirky ‘upside down’ design always looked a bit suspect…) To cut a long story short, involving several unanswered emails and even more delayed delivery dates, mine has just been delivered.


First impressions? Well, it’s a bit smaller than I had imagined, but the 800 x 480, 7-inch screen is bright and sharp and the keyboard is not too bad at all, it’s certainly okay for emailing and browsing. The embedded Linux Linos OS is fairly slow to boot, mine takes over a minute before it’s useable (the Eee PC is up and running in around 30 seconds) once its going it is very easy to use, though it is quite sluggish and it doesn't like to have more than a couple of programs running at the ame time, though plugging in a USB mouse seemed to liven it up.


The tabbed desktop display is well thought out and Wireless connectivity is quick and simple. The bundled software includes cut down versions of Bon Echo browser and Sylpheed email client, it has the Pidgin IM, AbiWord word processor and a small suite of Open Source office applications, photo viewer, MP3 player and a fair selection of tools and customisation options. Nevertheless it falls some way short of what’s available for the Eee PC, though to be fair it’s very early days and if it takes off third-party software should become available. I haven’t had much luck poking around inside Linux but given time I am sure it can be cracked.


Good points include 3 USB sockets an SD memory card reader, a LAN socket and around 4 hours running time on the battery. Points are deducted for the low speaker volume, lack of any security features – not even a logon password. There are no external display options and here’s a weird one, there’s a spelling mistake in one of the dialogue boxes (‘Bettery Level’). I couldn’t update the Flash Player so it is incapable of playing YouTube videos and it wouldn’t have anything to do with my mobile broadband dongle. There’s many more niggles but I’m getting a bit picky now, just remember the price…  It's not a competitor for the Eee but it does look like it will be a handy little thing to have when you need to travel light and for the money, so overall, not too bad but plenty of room for improvement.

Update -- a web site with software and hacks for this machine has just appeared at:



Digital Thumb Drive

Before anyone writes in, yes, I know this rather bizarre USB ‘Thumb’ drive has been around for a while, but I thought it deserved another outing as I’ve been looking into the weird and wacky world of USB drives, and there’s plenty of them about.


One of my favourites is the humping dog, which does what dirty dogs do, to your PC or laptop, when you download or upload data to the drive. Trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg, I’ve found Barbie dolls with drives in the most unbecoming places, drives shaped like cakes and cameras, bottles and bones (check out what Vavolo has on offer), and objects one doesn’t discuss in polite company.


But the absolute weirdest one so far, and I’m still boggling at how it could possible be used, is the Galaxie 300, built into a 7.5kg (around 16 pounds) bowling ball.




USB 3.0 in the Pipeline

Now contain yourself! News that Intel has released the final draft specification for USB 3.0 has been sending ripples of excitement throughout the PC industry. You too will have to come to terms with a whole load of new jargon if you want to stay ahead of the game. Provisionally dubbed ‘SuperSpeed USB’ the big selling point is that data transfer speeds are up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0, which means a whopping 5 Gigabits per second. That’s really fast, quick enough to whizz a DVD from one place to another in just a few seconds and it’s going to make things like data transfer from things like MP3 players, cameras and storage devices virtually instantaneous.  Plugs and sockets look superficially similar, and it should be backwards compatible but USB 3.0 sockets have an extra 5 contacts, set behind the front five contacts and these are the ones that carry the SuperSpeed data. USB 3.0 has been on the cards for a while but it has been held up by the plans of a couple of big players (Nvidia and AMD) to develop a rival USB format – where have we heard that one before? Anyway, they’re all friends again now and everything is in place for the new technology, which is expected to start appearing on PCs and devices next year.



Your Face Sucks…

Whilst some of us are still quite impressed by the fact that you can have your face printed on a tee-shirt or mug, over on the other side of the pond you can have your visage plastered on one or both sides of a well known sugary comestible, called M&Ms. That’s right, just choose your colour, upload your image and an optional message, use the simple editing tool to line everything up and they’ll do the rest. We’re fairly sure they use non-toxic inks, so they should be safe to eat. Prices start at £12.99, or a little over £7.00 a bag, we’re not sure if they post to the UK, or how much it costs but if you are sufficiently interested to find out, pop along to and all will be revealed.



Airline Broadband is GoGo, but no Skype

Following a series of unannounced trials American Airlines has just launched its new in-flight broadband system, called GoGo. Initially it will be available on its fleet of fifteen 767-200s, most of which are on the transatlantic run. You’ll be able to stay in touch with the web for around £7.00. One thing you won’t be able to do, though, is use any VOIP telephone services, though, so for a little while longer we should be spared fellow passengers announcing ‘I’m 30,000 feet over the Atlantic’. The AA system is satellite-based, through a Reuters service and it’s one of a number of sky-high broadband systems we can expect to see in the near future, and with potential revenues estimated to be $1 billion by 2012, you can bet they won’t be far behind.



Split the Difference

This week’s prize for the most plug-ugly laptop ever devised goes to Electronic Keyboards Inc. for the snazzily named Ergonomic Dual Screen Split Keyboard Notebook Computer. You should be able to work out what’s going on from the photograph but in case you have to avert your eyes in horror, just slide the keyboard apart to reveal a second screen, which doubles up as a giant touchpad.


Two screens means you can have two apps running, copy and paste from one screen to the other, it’s actually quite a good idea and the possibilities are endless, but it’s not going to win any beauty contests.


Now don’t get too excited, you can’t have one yet. Production should start some time this year and the projected selling price is around £1000. Electronic Keyboards is also keen to find partners and the patents for this amazing device are up for sale, so get in quick, before someone else snaps it up…



Airline Broadband is GoGo, but no Skype

Following a series of unannounced trials American Airlines has just launched its new in-flight broadband system, called GoGo. Initially it will be available on its fleet of fifteen 767-200s, most of which are on the transatlantic run. You’ll be able to stay in touch with the web for around £7.00. One thing you won’t be able to do, though, is use any VOIP telephone services, though, so for a little while longer we should be spared fellow passengers announcing ‘I’m 30,000 feet over the Atlantic’. The AA system is satellite-based, through a Reuters service and it’s one of a number of sky-high broadband systems we can expect to see in the near future, and with potential revenues estimated to be $1 billion by 2012, you can bet they won’t be far behind.



Split the Difference

This week’s prize for the most plug-ugly laptop ever devised goes to Electronic Keyboards Inc. for the snazzily named Ergonomic Dual Screen Split Keyboard Notebook Computer. You should be able to work out what’s going on from the photograph but in case you have to avert your eyes in horror, just slide the keyboard apart to reveal a second screen, which doubles up as a giant touchpad.


Two screens means you can have two apps running, copy and paste from one screen to the other, it’s actually quite a good idea and the possibilities are endless, but it’s not going to win any beauty contests.


Now don’t get too excited, you can’t have one yet. Production should start some time this year and the projected selling price is around £1000. Electronic Keyboards is also keen to find partners and the patents for this amazing device are up for sale, so get in quick, before someone else snaps it up…



CNN SPAM Carries Trojan and Malicious Links

I don’t know about you but I’m getting seriously ticked off by the hundreds of messages every day purporting to come from CNN. They’re being effectively dealt with by my Spam Filter and easy enough to get rid of with a simple  Outlook Express Rule but the problem is much larger than first thought and according to one security analyst at the last count they were being sent at the rate of more than 11 million an hour from more than 1000 hacked websites. 


Anyone daft enough to click on the message is directed to a fake CNN website where users are encouraged to download a phoney update for their Flash player. This contains a Trojan that ‘phones home’ to install more malware. If the user tries to cancel the download the browser goes into an endless loop and the only way out is to shut it down. Security experts are reporting that it has morphed several times since the deluge began, a couple of weeks ago, and this could be a prelude to a much more damaging attack.



Pull the other Lego

I’ve ‘bricked’ a few computers in my time but Luke Anderson has gone one better, and built one out of bricks, Lego bricks to be precise, 1238 of them. Of course the important bits inside the case are not made out of Lego, that would be silly, but the case – and I think you will agree that it is an arresting sight – cost him a grand total of £85, which isn’t that much dearer than a fancy case, and there’s the added bonus that it is almost infinitely customisable and when you have finished with it, in stead of it ending up in landfill, you can use the bricks to make a house, or a fort, or my favourite, monster trucks with wings… Should you wish to emulate Luke’s heroic effort you’ll find everything you need to know his blog



Site for Sore (and Cold) Eyes…

I am still not sure if this is a wind up or not but apparently – in Japan at least – when you get tired, after a long day in front of the computer screen, you can ‘heal fatigue’ and ‘relax and comfort your body overall’ by warming up your eyes…


That, in a nutshell, is the thinking behind the USB Eye Warmer from the Rare Mono Shop, Just plug it in, strap it on and twiddle the heater control, according to your preferences. They’re available now, for just $28, so if you are suffering from chilly eye syndrome, and you have a spare USB port (you may have to unplug the fridge, fan, reading light and remote missile launcher), this is what you have been waiting for.



Eee PC Does it…

As you may know I’m a huge fan of the Asus Eee PC 700 and dashed out and bought one, with my own money I hasten to add, the moment they went on sale, late last year. This titchy laptop has become my constant travelling companion, it does everything I need when I’m out and about and the price, at around £200, set a new benchmark for pocket notebooks and spawned a rash of clones and copies.


So now we have the Eee PC 1000, which follows hard on the heels of the first Eee PC upgrade (Eee PC 900) launched just a few weeks ago. The key feature of the 1000 is a 10-inch screen, (the 900’s screen is 8.9 inches) and like the 900 it has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor. For me, however, the biggest improvement is new power management system, which dramatically extends battery life from a paltry 2-3 hours on the 700 – if you were very lucky – to almost 8 hours. Solid-state drive capacity has also been beefed up, from a ‘cosy’ 4Gb to a much more generous 12, 20 or 40Gb on these two models. Like its predecessor the standard operating system is Linux Xandros but Windows XP is now offered as a factory-installed alternative (you had to install it yourself on the 700). Otherwise it’s petty much business as usual with on-board Wi-Fi, a built-in web cam, 3 USB ports, LAN socket and super sleek looks.


So what’s good, and what’s bad? The screen is a huge improvement with resolution up to 1024 x 600 and this makes all the difference when viewing stills, videos and web pages. Boot up time is much faster and Bluetooth connectivity is now built in. There have been some useful additions to the bundled (Linux) software, including Picasa, a DVD player (using an external drive), extra games and so on. Installing the KDE Desktop is still worth doing if you want to stick with Linux.


Minus points? Well, you can expect to pay the thick end of £380 for the 40Gb version running Linux, which is a world away from the cheeky, cheap ‘n cheerful 700 and dipping into the mainstream laptop market. The bigger keyboard means you can do some serious typing but it is thin, a bit flexy and lacks proper feel. Otherwise it’s all good news. Would I swap? Possibly, probably, but I’ve got used to my little 700 and it’s many funny little ways. Its larger cousins are definitely faster and more refined but in the end, after half a lifetime spent lugging computers around the world, for me size still matters.




Cool Sculpture

From a distance it looks like a piece of cool modern art, which maybe it is, but you’re unlikely to see one of these in a gallery or on public display, in fact it'll probably never see the light of day as it’s designed to live out its life inside a PC case, keeping CPU chips cool. The Thermaltake V1 is designed to replace the boring old fan on many popular CPUs, including Intel Core 2, Pentium and Celeron processors, AMD Athlon 64 FX and X2 series processors. Heat from the chip is removed by four heatpipes and dissipated by the cooling fins, a super quiet fan set between the fins keeps the air moving. There’s more information that you need on the Thermaltake website, which may also be able to tell you where you can get your hands on one, if you want to be cool, and seen to be cool…



Dell Releases NVIDIA Patch

Owners of some quirky Dell Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, Vostro and XPS models should be relieved to learn that a patch has been announced that fixes most of the problems associated with a rogue NVIDIA graphics adaptor chip. These include lines on the screen, multiple images and random characters and they can appear when the graphics processor unit (GPU) overheats. The BIOS patch optimises the fan’s temperature regulation of the GPU. The problem, which is caused by a packaging fault on the chip should solve the problem for most users but if the chip fails then NVIDIA has set aside up to $200 million to cover warranty claims. There’s a list of affected models, and link to the download on the Dell2Direct website.



Century Old Idea for Memory Cards

Don’t ask us how they know, but SanDisk claims that its new 128Mb Write Once, Read Many times (WORM) SD memory card will store data for up to 100 years. If true - -and they’re on pretty safe ground from warranty claims -- that’s a definite improvement on current technology. Data on rewritable cards and drives can start to deteriorate in as little as 5 years, though most manufacturers reckon they’re good for between 10 to 25 years.


Potential applications for the new WORM card includes storing evidential data used in police investigations, medical data, company records and so on. WORM cards can also be used for archiving photographs and home videos, in fact anything that you would like still to be around in 100 years time, though the big question with all these things is, will there be anything that can read SD cards in just 10 years, let alone in 2108…



Watch and Pen Gadgets – I Want, I Want….

If you’re a gadget fan and have nothing better to do for a few minutes head over to the Chinavision website, where you’ll find some of the coolest-looking, and cheapest electronic gizmos on the planet.


Actually this is a wholesale website, offering some of the best (and worst) of what China’s electronics industries have to offer, and if you want the best prices you have to buy in bulk (and don’t forget the import duty) but it looks like they’ll sell one-offs if you’re willing to take a punt.


Two items caught my eye immediately. The Mobile Phone Wristwatch is now on my wish-list, and it at just $174 or around £80 it’s a snip. It’s a tri-band model with touch screen display, built in still and video camera, Bluetooth, Micro SD card reader, MP3 player, the list goes on and on and my life won’t be complete until I have one. The other widget I didn’t know I wanted until a few minutes ago is a Secret Agent Pen Camcorder, and even (as I suspect), it’s a pile of crap, at just £65 or thereabouts it’s a real bargain.



Hacked Off USB Memory

It started off as a bit of a joke but now it’s a commercial product. A bright spark at came up with a simple mod that turns a flash drive into what looks like a USB cable that’s just been torn apart. Clearly designed for that special someone, the sort of person who enjoys humorous, witty and ironic artefacts, and probably already has a dog’s back end sticking out of their lawn and fake bullet holds on their car. Anyway, a company called Fred & Friends is now making them and it’s called ‘Hacked’ the ‘OH! *#%’ flash drive. It’s available with a 2Gb capacity and that’s just about all that’s known about it at the moment, so if you want one head over to and pester them, not me…



Microsoft Reinvents the Mouse

It’s not often that Microsoft comes up with an interesting looking peripheral, and it has been responsible for its fair share of horrors in the past but that might all be about to change with the Arc Mouse. The curved, crescent shape doesn’t look very promising but by all accounts it is very comfortable to use. The best bit is that it folds up, reducing its size by around a half, making it idea for notebook users and those with limited desktop space. Arc Mouse will be available in red or black and it goes on sale in the US in a couple of months for around £30. That’s a bit steep when you can get a perfectly decent standard mouse for a tenner but if it turns out to be as comfortable and easy to use as some early testers claim then it could well be featuring on many Christmas pressy lists.



Flash in the Can

Hard on the heels of Hitachi’s 5 terabyte hard drive (see below) comes more data storage news, this time the promise of cheaper and more reliable and longer lasting solid state drives (SSDs).  Later this year Samsung are about to start production on 64 and 128Gb SSDs, with 256Gb drives in the pipeline later in the year. The Flash memory modules are mounted inside a metal case that’s the same size and can directly replace standard SATA II type hard drives in laptops, and since there are no moving parts they are not only faster than HDDS but they also out-perform and consume less power than rival first generation SSDs.



Hitachi Hard Drive with Half a Brain…

I am so old that I can remember when PC’s boasted having one kilobyte (1kb) of storage and I can still recall placing a special order, and waiting weeks for 1Mb hard disc drive, which I was convinced that I could never fill in my lifetime… So it is with a world-weary shrug that I learn than Hitachi is planning to market a 5 terabyte hard drive, probably within the next 18 months.


What makes this particularly interesting, not to say a bit spooky, is that Hitachi’s Dr Yoshihiro Shiroishi reckons that just two of them will be need to match the storage capacity of the human brain, which he estimates around 10Gb. Frankly I find that hard to believe; a lifetime of memories in a mere 10Tb, when a 2–hour movie swallows up 5 gigabytes? There must be some pretty impressive compression involved… Comparing digital storage system with the analogue workings of the old grey-matter is a bit misleading, but back to that Hitachi drive. It uses something called CPP-GMR or Current Perpendicular to Plane Giant Magnetoresistance, since you ask to squeeze in up to 1Tb of data into every square inch of recording surface. So, just in case Shiroishi-san is right, and someone comes up with a way of connecting brains to hard drives it’s comforting to know you’ll only need a couple of these new drives to backup all of your memories.



Sunny Side Up

A student-led research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed what is claimed to be the world’s most efficient solar dish. The prototype, which measures just over 3 metres wide, generates enough heat to melt solid steel, by concentrating the sun’s power by a factor of 1000. The prototype, which is made from a simple lattice of aluminium tubes, supporting an array of mirrors, generates steam, produced by focussing the sun’s energy on a coiled tube carrying water.


This stam can be used to power a generator or for heating or cooling buildings. The design is such that it can be easily replicated using cheap, readily available materials, making it ideal for both small and large scale installations, and it’s particularly appropriate for poorer countries where more exotic solar technologies can be prohibitively expensive.





Working on the Lap of Luxury

Now this really is my kind of gadget…. This is the Boom arm workstation and as you can clearly see it is the ideal gift for the gentleman, or lady, who likes to do their laptopping in bed. It’s also a boon, or should that be a boom for those who are bedridden but not by choice, and it could prove handy for wheelchair users as well. The manufacturers even see it being used by exercise nuts, whilst on a treadmill but that’s probably going a bit too far. Fully adjustable and reasonably portable, it’ll set you back around £150. UK availability has yet to be announced but if you just can’t wait you can always see if they’ll send you one at: EasyChair WorkStation Products



Kitt Car for 30-Somethings…

Oh dear oh dear… Men, or should I say big kids of a certain age may remember the US TV series Knight Rider where David Hasselhoff drove around nabbing bad guys and generally saving the world in a computerised talking car called Kitt.


I bet you can see this one coming because GPS SatNav makers Mio have developed one that uses the voice the voice of a chap called William Daniels – the voice of the original Kitt -- to tell you where you are, and where you are going. If you think that you can live with a GPS with swishy red lights and which says ‘ hello Michael, where do you want to go today?’ or you really are called Michael then your prayers have just been answered.



$75 Laptop in the Pipeline?

We have spoken before about the laudable One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, which aims to supply laptops costing $100 to children in poor countries and which indirectly spawned the recent influx of cheap mini laptops, like the Asus Eee PC, Elonex one et al. Well. OLPC has now unveiled a mock-up of a future model, which could sell for as little as $75.


There’s no need to get too excited, the $100 target for the OLPC XO1 still hasn’t been achieved (it’s closer to $200…), but like its predecessor the XO-2, has some interesting features. These include dual touch and haptic (pressure) sensitive screens, both daylight (and indoor) viewable. One screen can be used as a configurable keyboard or for pen input. Alternatively the machine can be turned on its side, help open like a book and used to display text and documents. Power consumption – important when the user may not have ready access to a reliable mains supply, could be less than 1 watt, which compares with the 35 to 50 watts consumed by many current laptops.



New Firefox Quick Off The Mark

Barely a day has elapsed since the new Firefox 3 browser, was released  -- it happened at 6pm UK time on the 17th of June – and at the time of writing it was rapidly approaching 8 million downloads at the rate over 6000 per minute. This is according to the surprisingly inelegant (but fun to watch) download counter on the Mozilla website, which also indicates that more than 270,000 of those downloads were in the UK though it’s probably a lot more by now. If you are a Firefox fan you’ll find the download at, where it is available in over 45 language versions. Nevertheless, you might want to wait a day or two, to allow the traffic levels to subside and just in case there’s any last minute glitches that may have been missed during the extensive Beta testing program. With almost 8 million users putting it through its paces any serious problems should show up fairly quickly.



The Killer Robots are Coming…

Last week I alerted you to the fact that a machine has been created that can replicate itself by manufacturing the parts needed to build a copy. My concern was that the killer robots that we all know will eventually take over the Earth and either enslave or destroy mankind could use this technology.


It could happen and we really should be afraid. From San Francisco comes news of the latest round of RoboGames (a bit like our own Robot Wars but a lot more violent!). As you’ll see from the video on the site these machines are really vicious, which is okay as most of them are radio controlled and only do what they are told but the really scary thing is that there are now autonomous robots that fight on their own heaven help us if they ever lean how to reproduce. Heed my warning people, before it’s too late!



iPod and iPhone on the Big Screen

Here’s an interesting little gadget for iPod and iPhone owners, it’s a mini LED/LCoS projector called the QuingBar MP101. Just pop in your pod (or phone) into the docking slot on the top and it’ll throw up a 640 x 480pixel image, up to 50cm across, on any handy white surface or wall. Okay, so the picture is going to be a bit grainy, and with only 15 lumens on tap, not very bright, but it has to be better than going boss-eyed trying to watch a movie on the handset’s titchy screen. It has a built in speaker and it’ll also charge you iPod or iPhone while it’s in place. No price or UK availability yet – it’s only lust been launched at a European trade show, but I’m guessing £150-ish and in the shops in a month or two.



Prototype Cloning Machine Demonstrated

Here’s another item from the ‘it was bound to happen sooner or later ‘files. Researchers at the University of Bath have just demonstrated a prototype of a machine that can replicate itself. Sci-Fi fans will be all too aware of the dangers and what this means to future generations; the Rise of the Machine surely can’t be far behind,…


For the moment at least, there doesn’t seem to be too much to fear from the RepRap (Replicating Rapid–Prototyper). Basically it is a three dimensional printer that creates objects by building up layers of molten plastic. This isn’t exactly new, and devices of this sort have been around for at least 25 years but what makes this one different I that it is capable of producing almost all of the parts needed to construct a replica of itself, which in turn can produce a replica of itself, and so on. Has technology gone a step too far, how long with it be before the robots take over, consider this a warning!



Window XP Reprieved until 2010

Microsoft has announced that Windows XP, which was expected to reach the end of its life later this month, has been given a reprieve and will continue until 2010. However, before XP fans start celebrating it’s worth reading the small print. It turns out that MS is basically extending the deadline for manufacturer’s to sell licences for XP, mainly for use on low cost and ultra-compact laptops like the eee PC and OLPC (one laptop per child project). There’s also provision for XP to continue on low-cost desktops or ‘nettops’, which are essentially simple web-surfing machines. On the plus side this means XP will be supported for a while longer, probably well beyond 2010, but the chances are the next over the counter or mail order PC you buy will have Vista pre-installed, but there’s nothing to stop you wiping the disc and installing XP, if that’s what you really want.




XP SP3, Some Problems Emerge

Whilst the roll out of Windows XP Service Pack 3 has gone reasonably smoothly some problems have been reported. One of the first to emerge is a persistent reboot that affects some HP machines using AMD processors. Both HP and Microsoft are aware of the problems but neither has announced a patch yet, however, several fixes have been developed including this one on Jespers’s Blog. A second, potentially more serious problem concerns a conflict with several Norton products, which can results in a PC’s Registry being filled with corrupt entries. Symantec are blaming Microsoft, and Microsoft say it’s a Symantec issue. Symantec are reported to be working on a tool to remove the erroneous keys, in the meantime, if you are using Norton products, and haven’t installed XP SP3 yet you would be well advised to hold off until it is sorted out.  




Ultimate Disk Reader

We’ve all seen those nifty little multi card readers that plug into your PC’s USB port, well, here’s the granddaddy of them all. Not only does it read all of the usual SD, MMC, XD, CF cards, Memory Stick, USB pen drives, you can stuff a whole 2.5 or 3.5 inch SATA hard drive into a slot on the top and read and write data. The SATA HDD Multi Function Dock works with PCs and Macs and costs around £40. We’re not aware of any UK distributors just yet but knowing the speed at which these things take off it shouldn’t be too long, so keep your eyes on Amazon and the usual gadget sites.




First there was the USB turntable, then the PC cassette deck, now we have, you guessed it, USB VCR. Anyone who has a collection of old VHS tapes will know that time is running out and if you want to save those precious home movies and recordings you had better get your skates on because VCRs are disappearing fast, and in five years there may not be anything to play those tapes on. The USB VCR Converter from comes with everything you need to replay your tapes, download them to the PC and convert them to the file format of your choice (iPod, PSP, DVD etc.). It goes on sale next month for just under £150.00. For those of you that still have a working VCR don’t forget the Boot Camp articles, which show you how to make DVDs from VCR tapes.



Flippin Good Camcorder?

Here’s a quick heads-up on the next craze, probably… It’s called Flip Video, from Pure Digital and on the other side of the pond they’ve sold a million of them in the past few weeks. It’s a tiny pocket camcorder, around the size of a cellphone, so far so ordinary, but it has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First it’s cheap, prices in the US start at around $99 or roughly £50. It has a built-in USB connector, so there’s no faffing around with cables, when you want to watch and download your videos to your Windows or Mac PC. Flip Video stores around an hour’s worth of video at quite reasonable quality, and you can upload directly to You Tube or edit the movie. Power comes from a couple of AA batteries and it has a built-in 1.5-inch display screen. To be frank it’s not that different to the £15 CVS disposable camcorders we looked at last year, though with a few extra bells and whistles, and it is a lot cuter. The bad news? Well, it goes on sale in the UK in June and true to form, dollars will be magically converted into pounds and it will be selling for £99.



Sharper Fuel Cells

Sharp, in collaboration with MIT have announced an improved fuel cell technology that’s claimed to have the highest power density to date. Fuel cells have been around for yonks and basically convert chemical energy into electrical energy. It’s a sort of reverse electrolysis process (where water can be turned into hydrogen and oxygen by passing a current through it), using exotic materials that act as catalysts. In this case methanol is the fuel source. It’s a lot safer, cheaper and easier to transport than Hydrogen, which has been a popular choice with fuel cell developers in the past.


Sharp’s Direct to Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) prototypes are small enough to be used inside most gadgets, from mobile phones and GPS receivers to personal stereos and cameras and they say they’ll last around as long as lithium ion rechargeable batteries (3 – 5 years). When the power runs out instead of recharging the battery you just fill them up with a few drops of methanol, and in addition to electricity the chemical by products a small amount of carbon dioxide and water. We can only hope they’re figured out some way of soaking that up otherwise just don’t keep your phone in your trouser pocket…



Dell Goes Green

Like car manufacturers PC maker’s boastings used to be all about price and performance but the times they are a-changing and market leader Dell is now talking up the future energy efficiency of its products. Dell is aiming for a 25 percent reduction in power consumption on its desktop and laptop machines by 2010 – compared with today’s models – and leading the way will be a new range of ultra small machines, previewed recently at a Los Angeles environmental conference. According to CNET News the tiny PC uses a new mini ITX form factor motherboard, codenamed Eklo, which results in a system unit box that is around 80 percent smaller than current desktops and uses 70 percent less energy.



Intel Six-Pack

It’s called Dunnington and it’s Intel’s latest Six-Core (count-em…) microprocessor chip. Now why on earth anyone would want a six-core chip remains to be seen, dial-core chips have hardly set the computing world alight. It’s all very well having multiple cores, but without the fancy software to take advantage of the extra power you might as well not bother. Nevertheless, there’s clearly a market for such devices way above the heads of us mere mortals, at the top end of the market, in graphics processing in particular and Dunnington will there to help at the back end of this year, and with around 1.9 billion transistors buzzing away inside, it’s bound to do whatever it does really quickly!



Canon Prints on the Move

It might look like something you would use to keep your sandwiches and a cold drink in, but what you are looking at here is the new Canon Selphy CP770 ‘home photo lab’ dye sublimation colour printer. The integrated carry-pack makes it easy to transport and it also provides storage space for paper and consumables, and an optional battery pack. Features include a bright, angled 2.5-inch LCD, it has a memory card reader for direct printing, there’s auto image correction with face brightness compensation, auto red eye correction, infrared data link and big, easy to use controls. Prints take around 52 seconds and Canon reckons they should last upwards of 100 years, we shall see…



XP Service Pack 3 Goes Live

Like busses you wait ages for a Windows Service Pack, then two come along at once. Hard on the heels of Vista SP1, which mostly went without a hitch, we can now look forward to XP Service Pack 3, the last for the operating system, which is now heading towards retirement, probably next year.


If you were around when MS unleashed SP2 you are forgiven for a brief shudder of trepidation, but I think this one should go quite smoothly. Unlike XP SP2, which re-wrote a lot of the operating system’s code, this one focuses on rolling up all previous security updates since the release of SP2, and a reported 1074 fixes and upgrades. Most of them are anonymous behind the scenes things that you’ll be happier not knowing about (because they are mostly deathly dull…), but there are a few interesting bits and bobs. One of them is a new Product Activation module, which allows users to install XP without having to enter an activation key, better network integration with Server 2008 and there’s a promise of improved performance with Microsoft Office.  XP SP3 will be on your auto update list in the next few days or weeks but if you just can’t wait you can jump the queue and download it from Microsoft Update. Be warned, it’s a bit of a whopper at 428Mb, you need to have installed SP1 or SP2 before you can install SP3, and this is for the 32-bit version of XP only.



Google Bubbling Under

Google has mapped the Earth and the skies, now, according to CNET News it is turning it attention to the briny deep. Provisionally dubbed Google Ocean, it’s a work in progress, now being developed by a team of eminent oceanographers. The idea is to create a 3D map of the sea floor and if the early indications and speculation proves correct users will be able to ‘dive’ below the surface of the seas and using images based on a mixture of sonar maps and satellite data and navigate their way through the watery environment, visiting shipwrecks and coral reefs.




Watching the Weather

Billed as the world’s first ‘Weather Watch’ this widget from Oregon Scientifictells you what the weather is going to be over the next 24 hours, oh yes, and it also tells the time. Quite how it performs this semi miraculous task wasn’t’ fully explained in the advance publicity blurb but it’s a fair guess that it measures barometric pressure, and by plotting a trend, can give an indication of what direction the weather is heading. In other words it is probably just a wrist barometer, though it’s just possible it picks up some form of weather data transmissions, though with a retail price of under £40 that seems a bit unlikely. Either way, in addition to the time and date it also has alarm and stopwatch functions, and just in case it fails to warn you that it’s about to rain, it’s waterproof too. For the record Oregon, this is by no means the first ‘Weather Watch’, the name has been used at least half a dozen times to our knowledge, and wrist barometers (if that’s what it is) are also far from new and there have been hundreds of them, some dating back more than 50 years



Smarty, or should that be Qwerty Pants…

It’s what every well dressed computer user has been waiting for, a pair of jeans with a built in Qwerty keyboard. It's just the job for having a quick google when you’re away from your desktop PC.


We can blame designer Erik De Nijs for the classically styled 'Geek’ jeans, which, you may be interested to know, also incorporates a small pair of speakers  that have been sewn into pockets just above the knee, and there’s also a handy mouse but we can only guess where the joystick is kept…



New Eee PC from May

As you may know I’m a huge fan of the tiny Linux-based Asus Eee PC and went out and bought one -- with my own money I hasten to add – the minute they were available, last year. It’s been a very happy partnership and this cute little PC has been all over the place with me on numerous press and family jaunts, and it has never let me down. The Wi-Fi always latches on first time, it has all of the applications I need, 3 USB ports, an SD card slot and an MS compatible office suite. A few tweaks here and there, install the KDE desktop and you have a near perfect travelling companion. But now the Eee 900 hoves into view. It’s basically Eee Mk2, with a bigger screen (8.9 inches instead of 7), more system memory, more storage (up to 20Gb) and optional Windows XP operating systems (you could install XP on the Mk 1, but it was a bit sluggish). The price has also increased too, it’s expected to be £330 when it launches in May, which isn’t so good, and rather takes the shine off this cheeky, cheap and cheerful family of PCs. It looks good but I think my trusty Mk 1 still has a bit of life left in it so I see no reason to rush out and get one just yet.



Watch Out Windows

Radio, phone, GPS, MP3 player, TV, camera… been there done that, but just when you thought there wasn’t anything else that could be shoehorned into a wristwatch, think again. A company called Epoq has managed to fit a copy of Windows Mobile onto one, which you drive using a 1.4-inch OLED touch screen, and just for good measure the EGP-98B has built in 1.3MP camera, wi-fi, Bluetooth and a 4-band GSM phone. Now, it might all be a wind-up (pun intended) because details and availability are all very sketchy, and good images are also hard to find. Nevertheless Epoq has a track record in this area and have been cramming lots of technology into small places for some time, so it might be for real, but if it is we seriously fear for the user’s eyesight, and sanity…



Assault on Batteries

This kindly looking old gentleman could be your next best friend, if you are thinking about buying an electric car, laptop, or indeed anything powered by lithium ion batteries. His name is Peter Roth and he’s the lead researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. His team is part of a government funded research project called FreedomCAR and it is focusing on Lithium Ion batteries, which have a bit of a reputation for popping and bursting into flames. So far it’s only been a bit of a nuisance for laptop owners, with a handful of fried machines and no serious injuries or damage, but imagine what could happen when you get hundreds of them packed tightly together in an electric car. The Sandia team has been finding out just how much abuse they can take, by driving nails into them, heating them, overcharging and generally doing everything they can to make them fail, and they often do, with worryingly explosive results, so keep up the good work Peter, we’re counting on you!



World’s Smallest and Lightest Camcorder – This Week

It’s just like the old days and I vividly recall when camcorder manufacturers vied with each other for the title of world’s smallest and lightest. Well, Panasonic is up to its old tricks with the HDC-SD9, and it’s the titchiest HD cam to date, and part of the reason it’s so teeny is because it records video data on SD memory cards, rather than a hard disc, or old-school magnetic tape. Some vital statistics for you now, it weighs a tad over 115g, there’s a triple CCD image sensor up front, and maximum resolution is a pin sharp, full HD1920 x 1080P.



Upgrade Backdoor Left in Vista SP1

The roll out of Vista Service Pack 1 seems to be going fairly smoothly – touch wood – at least according to my Inbox, which at this stage of the XP Service Pack 2 deployment was bursting at the seams with news of failed installations and application conflicts.


One unexpected aspect of Vista SP1 is that Microsoft hasn’t removed the hidden upgrade backdoor, which we reported on back in February last year. Basically it means that you can clean install Vista on a PC using the cheaper upgrade edition – a trick familiar to users of XP and 98 – rather than having to buy the full retail version. It’s tempting to believe that Microsoft forgot about the loophole, which it could have easily removed with SP1, but it seems that it has been left in for the convenience of corporate users and technicians. The procedure, which was outlined by Windows Secrets still works, but be warned, Microsoft do not officially approve and consider it a breach of the End User Licence Agreement, so don’t expect any help from them if it goes wrong.



Hack a Laptop Challenge, Winners and Losers

In a three-day contest, held at a major security conference in Vancouver recently, teams of hackers were challenged to break their way into three laptops, running Mac OS X, Windows Vista and Ubuntu Linux operating systems, reports CNet News.


Now I know what you are thinking but you’d be wrong… On the first day all three machines repulsed attacks on the operating systems and via a network connection. The Mac Air laptop was the first to fall, however, two minutes into the start of the second day’s session. This was after the judges relaxed the rules to allow the hackers to attack browser and email vulnerabilities. The security loophole turned out to be an undisclosed flaw in the Safari browser, which allowed the team to gain control of the machine and access files. Apple have been informed and the hackers pledged to secrecy


The next to go was Vista, but it held out until the third day, after the judges once again changed the rules, this time by allowing hackers to target any popular piece of software. This time they managed to find a previously unknown loophole in Adobe Flash. By the end of the contest the only survivor was a Sony Vaio laptop running Ubuntu



Mac Owners Told ‘Don’t Panic’

Security specialists Sophos are doing a fine impression of Dad’s Army’s Corporal Jones with its latest advice to Apple Mac users, which is ‘Don’t Panic’.  This follows the discovery of a Trojan horse web popup that targets OS X users, called Troj/MacSwp-B or ‘Imunizator’. Windows PC owners will be familiar with the trick it plays, it purports to be a security program checking for problems, which needless to say it finds, it then tries to frighten Mac users into paying out for bogus software. This is the latest in a number of attempts to fleece Mac users, and by all accounts it won’t be the last as fraudsters are finding Vista a tougher nut to crack, and Windows users are becoming more cautious. Like most of these things they’re easy to spot and whoever wrote has a problem with spelling, and provided you just ignore it and don’t click on anything no harm will be done.



3D Camera with 12,616 Lenses

No, it’s not a get rich quick scheme by a company manufacturing lens cleaning tissues, but an idea for future camera technology from the brainy folk at Stanford University. A team led by Professor Abbas El Gamal are working on a camera with a multi-aperture image sensor. This is basically an image sensor with super-small pixels – several times smaller than the pixels on a regular camera. They are clustered together on the sensor chip in groups of 256 pixels, and each group has its own micro lens. It is like having a lot of cameras on a single chip; in effect the 3-megapixel chip the researchers are working on is equivalent to 12,616 separate cameras.


So far so good, but the really clever bit is that by selectively defocusing images captured by the cameras, the data can be processed to produce detailed 3D image maps of whatever it happens to be pointing at. The researchers are only just starting to figure out what it will be good for, but early potential applications include facial recognition, biological imaging, 3D printing and creating 3D objects, people and buildings for virtual worlds.



Don’t Watch This Space

Microsoft, Google. HP, Philips, Samsung and Intel are amongst the big names behind the White Space Coalition, which is looking at ways to provide high-speed wireless Internet access using the gaps between TV channels. The gaps, which are designed to stop channels clashing with one another, are essentially wasted space, but until recently it was thought that any attempt to use them would result in interference and broadcasters are naturally against the idea. Now, however, trials are underway in the US, including a device developed by Microsoft, overseen by the all-powerful Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that suggest that it may be possible to use this extremely valuable resource. Speeds of up to 100Mb/s may eventually be possible and if everything goes according to plan services in the US could begin as early as 2009.



A Really Bright Idea…

Californian company Luxim has developed a new ‘LIFI’ plasma light bulb. It’s not much bigger than a Tic-Tac, according to a report on CNET News, yet it gives off the same amount of light as a streetlamp. The bulb is driven by a RF generator, which creates a high frequency field around it that vaporises a mixture of gasses that changes to a plasma. The result is an intense light, available in a spectrum of colours. The bulbs are long lasting – up to five times longer than conventional lamps -- and they’re energy efficient too. Applications include street and stage lighting, video projectors, endoscopy and numerous industrial processes.  



Virus Attack on Security Firm

Anti virus software company Trend Micro has been attacked by a virus infestation that tries to steal user’s passwords, according to a report on CNET News. The website was hacked a few days ago and the virus quickly spread to thousands of pages on linked sites. The attack was quickly detected and the site shut down for disinfection. Trend has produced a video demonstration of what a compromised website looks like for those that may be concerned, and it’s quite easy to spot because as soon as you visit the site you are re-directed to a site promising adult content, with a link, which if you click on it, will attempt to load the virus or crash your browser.



Sunny Side Up, Again…

One day I will check my archives but I suspect that I have been writing about the imminent arrival of low cost, flexible photovoltaic solar cells for at least the past 20 years. The idea seems simple enough. Instead of making solar cells out of expensive and fragile silicon and glass – and in the process using more energy than they’ll ever generate in their useful lives – develop a chemical cocktail that turns light into electricity and coat or print it onto other materials.


Well, here’s another one, and I’m no longer holding my breath, but as usual it all sounds very promising. Konarka, the company behind the technology has come up with a flexible ‘Power Plastic’ film using inkjet printing techniques. Eventually it may become so cheap that solar cells could be embedded into hundred of different products and even incorporated into fabrics. At the moment they’re concentrating on developing cells for handheld gadgets and military applications but they’re hoping to scale up production soon. The new cells are typically only 5 percent efficient, compared with the 16 – 20 percent of silicon cells, but as they say, they’re working on it.



IE8 Beta Now Available for Download

If you’ve just got used to Internet Explorer 7 you probably won’t want to know that the beta version of IE8 has now been publicly unleashed. One of the key features of Microsoft’s latest browser is crash recovery and if it throws a wobbly when it is restarted there’s an option to ‘restore last session. Other highlights include a new Favourites Bar, which is a bit like the old Links bar but as well as web page shortcuts it can also hold RSS links and a new facility WebSlices. This displays a thumbnail view of specially configured web pages. It depends on web developers creating the mini preview pages, and so far not many do, so don’t hold your breath on this one.


Activities is a new set of right-click menu options when you highlight or click on an item, they include Translate, Map, Blog, Define, Send with Hotmail, with more becoming available or defined by the user. Don’t forget this is Beta software, and it is at quite an early stage so you install it at your own risk, so don’t complain to Microsoft if something nasty happens. You have been warned!



Beemers on the Web

BMW look set to become the first vehicle manufacturer to offer in-car web access as an optional extra. It is using a system called ConnectedDrive, which relies on a GPRS cellphone connection to provide the driver and passengers with an Internet connection from a dashboard display and custom browser. Initially there will be restrictions, the driver and front seat passenger display will only work when the car is stationary, the back seat passengers can surf to their heart’s content, and you’ll need to move to Germany to use it, when it is launched later this year but if all goes well and it doesn’t cause too many problems it should reach these shores soon afterwards. The operating costs haven’t been worked out yet but reports suggest it’ll be based on a flat annual fee of between 100 and 200 euros.



Vista Price Changes on the Way?

Microsoft raised a few eyebrows late last week with an announcement that it is planning significant price cuts for some versions of the Vista operating system. So far we only have details of the US changes, which apply to the upgrade versions of Ultimate (down from $299 to $219) and Home Premium (drops from $159 down to $129), but according to a CNET News report the company also has plans to reduce prices in other ‘developed’ markets – which presumably means Europe and Japan. There will also be changes too for emerging markets, where the distinction between full and upgrade versions will be eliminated. Microsoft is not known for radical price cuts and there’s no shortage of theories, from poor sales figures to competition from Open Source operating systems and Apple Macs but there is no doubt that sales of Vista have been significantly lower than XP during the comparable six months post launch period and a number of major PC and laptop manufacturers continue to offer buyers of Vista hardware a free ‘downgrade’ option to XP. 




Watching the Old Time Spooks, Watching You…

Following on from last weeks excitement, when the Americans managed to blow up one of their dud spy satellites, you might like to know that the shadowy organisation behind these aerial snoopers has come out of the closet, just a little way…


The NRO or National Reconnaissance Office has its own web site and is publishing some of its satellite imagery. Now don’t get too excited, they’re mostly from a declassified system called Corona, which operated from 1960 to 1972, and the bulk of the images date from the mid 1960’s so unless you were around back then you are unlikely to be featured. There’s some really interesting stuff, though, including shots of Soviet airfields, Chinese nuclear test sites and for some reason, Roman ruins in Jordan. Some of it is rather grainy and by current standards it’s pretty low tech but it shows what could be done back in the day, before Google got in on the act.



Tosh’s Dinky Dongle

Actually it’s a mobile phone with some clever extras. The G450 is officially known as a Four-In-One Mobile Device, the four elements being the aforesaid mobile phone, a high-speed mobile modem, MP3 player, and USB Pen Drive, which it most closely resembles in terms of size and shape.


Just pop in a SIM card and you have a small but still quite useable mobile phone. The tiny OLED display is limited to just phone numbers and a line of text but what more do you need? Plug it into the USB socket on your laptop and you have a mobile modem connecting through 3G/HSDPA networks giving broadband like connection speeds. You can also use the built-in memory (a rather paltry 160Mb) for storing files, or MP3 tracks, which you can listen to through a set of earphones. Playback pauses automatically when you get an incoming call. Suffice it to say it is really small (36 x 98 x 16mm) and light (just 57g), available in black, red or white and you want one, though like me you’ll have to wait a few weeks for Tosh to sort out a price and a deal with a mobile phone company.



Is This The One?  £99 Laptop Launches next Week

It had to happen sooner or later. We’re already accustomed to laptops costing less than £300, and if you don’t mind downsizing there’s the excellent Asus Eee PC for £200 or thereabouts but now Elonex have beaten everyone with a laptop selling for just £99. It’s called The One and it’ll be on sale from next week. It’s aimed at school students, which also explains why it is being launched at the 2008 Education Show on February 28th.


Like the Eee PC and OLPC X0 it runs on Linux, and has a compact 7-inch screen but don’t let that put you off. It can do almost anything a full blown Windows or Mac PC can do, including surf the web, send and receive emails using its built-in wi-fi adaptor, it can play and share multimedia files and it comes with a full office suite of programs. There’s a useful 1Gb of on-board storage, expandable to up to 8Gb with Flash memory, and a BlueTooth version will also be available. Early reports suggest the keyboard is a bit spongy and it’s not going to break any speed records but hey, this machine costs less than £100 or a very decent night out. This cute little laptop could turn out to be really big!



Shirt Power for iPods

A week or so ago you may recall many newspapers carried a story about an odd looking contraption that you strapped to your legs, which generated power as you walk, enough to power up to 10 mobile phones one report said. Well, here’s something a tad more elegant.  Researchers at the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology have come up with an idea that generates power from nano fibres, that can be incorporated into everyday items of clothing, like shirts and trousers. Pairs of fibres are coated with zinc oxide nanowires and as they rub against each other they generate tiny currents using a piezoelectric effect. If enough fibres can be combined and connected together useful amounts of electricity could be generated. Professor Zhong Lin Wang, who is in charge of the project suggests the fibres could even be incorporated into tents and other structures to capture energy from wind or sound vibration – sounds like a must have accessory for rock concerts…



Eye Lights…

Here’s something to make your eyes twinkle, or water…. Researchers at the University of Washington developed contact lenses with embedded light emitting diodes LEDs and driver circuits just a few nanometers thick. The idea is eventually it could be formed into a ‘heads up’ display for a computer or GPS, night vision system or even an aid for the visually impaired. At the moment the prototypes can do nothing very useful, just a few blobs of light that flash on and off. A means of getting power to the chips in the lens also needs to be figured out, the idea of a couple of wires going onto your eyeball doesn’t bear thinking about, but it should be do-able, using electromagnetic induction or solar power; we’ll just have to wait and see where this one is headed…  



Countdown to Vista Service Pack 1

Prepare for some fun and games in March when Microsoft releases the long awaited Service Pack 1. It’s all going to be a bit of a palaver with the main download (assuming that you have broadband) preceded by three ‘helper’ updates, two of which will determine which parts of SP1 your PC needs. The third one is only for users of Vista Ultimate and Enterprise editions. If you have a slow Internet connection, or no connection, or a lot of machines to update then you’ll be able to get SP1 on DVD, or download an image copy of the DVD image file.


Microsoft claims it has learned lessons from XP Service Pack 2 and this one will go much more smoothly. Unlike SP2 there’s very little for most users to get excited about, there’s nothing to see and most of the updates are concerned with behind the scenes stuff, like improved compatibility for peripherals, it plugs some security loopholes and fixes a lot of faults. MS also say there may be some minor performance gains for some users but this remains to be seen. The SP1 update will probably take at least an hour (depending on your PC’s performance and broadband speed) and if it fouls things up it can be removed.



Sony Sees the Big Picture

The image sensors in most digital cameras are typically just a few millimetres in size, which is one of the reasons some old film camera hands (i.e. me) get confused when comparing digital and 35mm SLR camera lenses. Well, now Sony may have solved the problem – I think – with news of a new image sensor the size of a 35mm film frame. It is due to go into production this year, it packs in an impressive 24.8 megapixels and it is capable of capturing up to 6.3 images per second. It’s early days though, so there’s no model numbers or prices but it will almost certainly appear first on high-end cameras and eventually filter down to more consumer oriented models.




Cheap Rocket Jetpacks At Last…

Ever since James Bond strapped on that Bell Textron rocket belt in the opening segment of Thunderball I have wanted one. I was convinced back then (1965) that we’d all have one by now and I recall thinking it would be fun to take one on my annual holiday on the Moon…


The reality back then was jetpacks had a flight time of around 30 seconds, and were more or less guaranteed to kill anyone, other than a certified test pilot – in all senses of the word -- stone dead on its first outing.


This spring I’ll be a little closer to realising that dream when Thunderbolt Aerosystems plan to market a Hydrogen Peroxide fuelled Thunderpack called TP-R2G, and it’ll be a snip at only £45,000, or thereabouts.  A dual-fuel version (petrol and methanol) will be available later in the year for just £5,000 more.


So what’s the catch? Well, I’m sorry to say that the endurance hasn’t improved much over the years, the Hydrogen Peroxide only model can still only stay aloft for 45 seconds, but this rises to a more promising 75 seconds on the dual fuel model. However, I’m pinning my hopes on a claim made in a press release on the company’s website that says within a year it foresees a model with a flight time of 35 minutes. That one has my name on it, where do I sign… 



Mile High Wi-Fi Still Pie in the Sky?

It’s been almost 7 years since major airlines in Europe and the USA first mentioned in-flight Internet access but if you’ve flown recently you will know that apart from a tiny handful of carriers it just hasn’t happened. It proved to be a lot more difficult and expensive than everyone expected. Part of it is to do with the rigorous certification and safety testing required for any piece of airborne electronics, before it’s allowed aloft. There have also been problems, developing systems that will be useable in all types of narrow and wide-bodied aircraft but the other, more fundamental difficulty is the lack of standardisation in the various systems being trialled.


Domestic US carriers dominate the word’s aircraft market and carry tremendous weight with plane makers and regulatory authorities and they prefer cheaper and lighter ground-based relays, but that’s obviously not much use on intercontinental flights, over water, which have to rely on more expensive and technically more complex satellite links. Things could be on the move once again, following renewed interest in a satellite system called Row 44. This provides up to 30Mb/sec capacity per aircraft, which translates to around 100kb/s per user. There’s no doubt there’s a huge demand amongst travellers but the only questions now are how much longer will be have to wait, and how much will it cost?



End of the Line for Analogue?

Dixons Stores Group, who also own Currys and PC World has given notice that it intends to stop selling analogue TVs and DVD recorders with analogue-only tuners. Dixons sold almost 2 million tellies last year so it has a huge influence on the market which currently runs at around 70 percent digital, 30 percent analogue and they have a habit of leading the way. Previous proclamations, about ending sales of VHS VCRs and audio cassette recorders, effectively killed off the formats in the UK. DSG says it will be ramping up the digital TV switchover message in the coming months with campaigns and leaflets in store. Get ‘em while you can! Mark my words, last generation analogue TVs, in mint condition in their original boxes will become sought after collector items on ebay in ten years.



Speak Good Foreign…

Now here’s an interesting idea, and at last a social networking website that makes sense. It’s called VoxSwap and it’s aimed at anyone who has ever struggled to learn a foreign language, or just wants to brush up their skills. The absolute best way to pick up a language quickly is to move to or visit the country for a few weeks. Obviously that’s not an option for most of us but the next best thing is to chat to native speakers, and that’s the basic idea. VoxSwap brings together people who want to learn to speak each other’s language; it’s as simple as that, no CDs or DVDs to buy, just a one on one (or more) conversation with people like you.



High Speed Hector

Hats off to HECToR, now officially the fastest super computer in the UK. Hector or to its close friends, High End Computing Terrascale Resource is has been built for the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computing Facility and is capable of processing 63 trillion calculations or teraflops each second, rising to 250 teraflops later next year. Even at it’s current modest top speed it has the equivalent processing power of more than twelve thousand desktop PCs, which may go some way to explaining the £130 million price tag. A number of big computing jobs have been lined up for Hector, including forecasting climate change, developing new medicines and tracking disease outbreaks, it probably plays a mean game of Solitaire as well…



Shocking Sounds

Already being dubbed the iProd, you can only wonder at the mind of the genius who thought this one up. Taser, famous for its range of electric shock stun guns has decided to combine one of its latest models with a 1Gb MP3 player, but the icing on the cake has to be the leopard skin cover. According to Taser’s marketing people this combination of gadgets makes sense because the MP3 player means you’re more likely to carry it around with you , so it will be there when you need it… Sadly UK buyers will be spared this particular treat as stun guns are illegal over here, which is a shame because we won’t be able to speculate on the sort of music users will want to listen to (AC/DC…), or express concern about the possibility of the headphones being cross-circuited with the high-voltage circuitry…



Pinnacle of Achievement

News from the CES show currently running in Las Vegas – Pinnacle Systems has come up with a new widget called the ‘Video Transfer’, which as the name suggests, transfers video from a camcorder, camera, TV, PVR or any video device in fact onto any USB storage device, and this includes iPods, Sony PSP, USB flash or hard drives etc. So what, I hear you say, but here’s the interesting bit, no PCs are involved. Video Transfer is a stand-alone widget; it captures and compresses video in the industry standard H64 format (aka MPEG4 part 10 and used on iPods and PSPs), so there’s no need for any further conversion. The device is small; it measures 122 x 69 x 23mm, and when it goes on sale in the UK in he next few weeks it is expected to sell for just under £100.


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