News Briefs Archive 2009




Invisibility One Step Closer?

Only a very small step mind you, as Japanese professor Yutaka Tamaru of Mie University unveils his newest creation, a transparent goldfish. Apparently the hapless creature was developed to make it easier for Japanese school students to study, so they wouldn’t have to cut them open, which has a certain irony considering some Japanese culinary practices… The skin and scales have no pigment so the heart, brain, eyes and other organs can clearly be seen. Since there’s no need for this animal to go under the knife it’s whole life cycle can be closely monitored and the good news for this specimen is that it is expected to live for around 20 years. Incidentally, this isn’t the first see-through animal developed in Japan and transparent frogs are apparently going to go on sale in the next few months.



Fashionable Frequencies

You are normally fairly safe from the world of high fashion on this web site but we just couldn’t resist bringing you news of a new fabric, called Intimacy, developed by Studio Roosegaarde’s V2 Lab. Intimacy is used in a range of garments, made from something called Smart Foil, which becomes transparent when fed with a small current. Various ways of using the fabric have been touted, including sensing the wearer’s emotions to control the degree of transparency, or remotely, via a wireless interface, with the wearer able to vary the transparency by moving closer or further away from a transmitter. Scary stuff but we can see a good opportunity for joke shops with Smart Foil trousers and Y-Fronts…



Free to React…

I am indebted to Gizmodo for alerting me to the free downloadable cutaway Nuclear Reactor wall charts on the BibliOdyssey website. As you may or may not know we’re keen on radioactivity (anythingradioactive in fact…), but these will be of interest to anyone who has ever wondered what goes on inside a nuclear power plant, or fancies having a crack at making their own back garden reactor... These beautifully detailed wall charts were produced back in the 1970s for educational purposes and cover a range of US, Canadian and Chinese designs. The Canadian designs (Candu) have always been a favourite of mine as they were one of the few designed to produce just power, rather than weapon’s grade plutonium, but that’s another story. Anyway, the wall charts are available in a range of sizes, up to and including the original 5017 x 3054 pixels, so you can produce your own colourful nuclear powered wall charts.



Motorised Microchip Mouse Mangler

You know the old saying about what will happen if you invent a  better mousetrap (and the gist of it is that the world will beat a path to your door)? Well, someone claims to have done it. The optimistically named ‘Better Mousetrap’ is about the size of a shoebox and it’s festooned with chunky looking switches, a dial, sensors and winking lights, and yes, it does appear to do a reasonably good job of eradicating any rodent daft enough to get close to it. Somehow we doubt that it’s any cheaper than existing models, but it looks like a lot more fun, though obviously not if you are a mouse. Just don’t watch the accompanying video if you are squeamish. (Actually, it’s okay; no mice were harmed in the making of the film…).



Handy Mouse Does it All

‘It does what it says on the tin’ is one of the most over-used phrases, but here’s a widget that really does, it’s called the Track Ball Mouse Numerical Keypad Hub, and that’s really all you need to know. As you can see from the photo it’s a trackball attached to a numeric keypad, with a built-in USB hub. From what we can make out it’s not actually a mouse, it’s meant to say put and you make the cursor move and do things by spinning the red track ball. If so we reckon they’re missing a trick and a Track Ball Mouse Numeric Keypad that worked like a conventional mouse would be really handy, provided it wasn’t too big of course, but even as it stands it has to be a very useful accessory for laptop and notebook users. The only other thin you can’t tell from the name is the price, which according to our favourite currency converter comes out at a gnat's over £36.00.



Quite Costly Cable

Let’s suppose that you have finished your Christmas shopping and you have a few bob left over. Unlikely I agree, but stay with me, now let’s assume that you’ve also just bought a high-end HDTV and you’re now wondering how to hook it up to an HD source, like a Blu-Ray Player, HD Sat box or whatever. Well, we all know that the best method is a good quality HDMI cable, but there are cables, and there are cables. If you want the combined bee’s-knees and dog’s bollocks of HDMI cables then look no further than the Wireworld Platinum Starlight HDMI cable, and you can tell it must be really, really good from the price, which works out at a smidge over £600 a metre. Part of the excuse for that mind-boggling price is the solid silver conductors, moulded carbon fibre connectors and the ability to handle up to 21Gb of data per second, comfortably exceeding the HDMI v1.4 spec of 10.2Gb/s. Where the rest of the cost has gone remains unclear, but if you’re the sort of person for whom only the most stupidly expensive will do, you’ve just found it.



Power From Space Gets the Go-Ahead

California legislators have given the green light to an ambitious project to beam energy directly from orbiting space vehicles. In fact the idea has been around for several decades. Solar panels orbiting the Earth collect light reflected from vast Mylar mirrors. The spacecraft converts the captured energy into electricity then into microwaves. These travel through the atmosphere and are collected on large ground-based energy farms – basically a large array of microwave antennas. The RF radiation is converted back to electricity and piped into the grid. Plans are on the drawing board for a system with a capacity of 200 megawatts, which could be up and running by 2016. The ground station is planned for Fresno County in California. Apparently the cost will be comparable with conventional renewable power generating systems. Some reports suggest that there could be a heating effect on the atmosphere but according to the boffins it won’t be significant in terms of global warming and anyone on the ground or in an aircraft, straying into the beam won’t be cooked, probably…



Here We Go Again, Again… Windows 8 On The Map

No sooner has Windows 7 left the Microsoft nest and news of its successor Windows 8, is starting to circulate on the rumour mill. Win 8 is now in the early stages of development and pencilled in for release some time in 2012, coinciding nicely with the London Olympics, and the end of the world (if those Mayan priests are to be believed…). Work on the new OS is progressing apace and industry reports of recently advertised job vacancies at Microsoft have given the tea-leaf readers some clues as to what we might expect. Windows 7 is almost certainly the last 32-bit operating system from Microsoft and it’ll be 64-bit from now on but 128-bit compatibility is being widely touted as one of the headline features (full implementation is expected in Windows 9). We can also look forward to something called Distributed File System Replication or DFSR, which is a fancy way of keeping folders synchronised across multiple servers. More news when we have it.




The Healing Power of Cellphones

No, they’re still on at least one of the suspect lists when it comes to the alleged hazards of electromagnetic radiation but news has just reached us, via Engadget, that Japanese cellphone manufacturer NTT DoMoCo has licensed car maker Nissan’s Scratch Shield paint technology. The idea is the transparent layer has the ability to heal itself when scratched. Nothing too deep mind you, but light scratches should disappear over the course of a few days or weeks. As an added bonus the paint is actually a lot tougher than regular coatings, so for those of us who take good care of our electronic wizwangs, if it’s as good as they reckon there may no need to buy a protective case.



Pervy PC

Warning, only read this if you are over 18, of an adult disposition and very broad minded! We can thank Gizmodo for news of the latest gadget, designed by a former NASA engineer, we’re told, to attach to your computer, and you… It’s called Real Touch (do not go there if you are easily offended!) and all we can decently tell you at this point is that the device, which costs $200 has an orifice at one end, it is crammed with motors and rubber belts and a heating element and it comes apart for cleaning. The idea is you plug it into your PC and the motors move the belts back and forth in time to what is on the screen. The rest we’ll leave up to your imagination.



Pain Free Mouse

Injury avoidance is one of those annoying terms that you are bound to be hearing a lot more of in the future. It’s not about looking both ways when you cross a road, or even not walking under ladders – all good advice – but a new generation of computer peripherals, designed to stop you getting achy wrists and so on, and one of the first out the traps is a new mouse from Smartfish, called the ErgoMotion. The idea is it wobbles about on its ‘motion base’, adapting to the most comfortable angles for your wrist and arm movement, helping to prevent RSI (repetitive Strain Injury). The price will be around £30 and for that you get a high-end optical laser tracking mouse with wireless connection, it’s an ambidextrous design and compatible with all recent versions of Windows and Mac OS.



Computerised Kitties and we’re Next!

Don’t say I haven’t been warning you!  Yet more proof, if it were needed, that the Terminator scenario will come true (super intelligent cyborgs taking over the Earth). IBM and the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory have succeeded in building a computer that replicates the scale and complexity of a cat’s brain. What makes this even scarier is that they’re admitting that this is one step closer to building a computer that matches the human brain. We all know what happens next. The computer brain designs an even more powerful version of itself, it develops a warped consciousness then sets out to take revenge on what it considers to be its pathetically weak creators by building an army of super killer robots to enslave or wipe out the human race. For pity’s sake, stop now!



Google Chrome OS Alpha Release This Week?

The word on the web is that this week Google will unveil its much-anticipated Chrome operating system. This is the first major milestone but don’t get too excited, it will be an Alpha release, which is not really for public consumption, Nevertheless, the bones of it should be in place and it means manufacturers can get to work on designing suitable hardware. Already Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo, Texas and Toshiba are on board with the Linux based OS, and as soon as it’s up and running peripheral manufacturers can wade in and start sorting out their drivers in readiness for the Beta release, which should be in the second quarter of next year. If everything goes according to plan, and as far as we are aware it still is, the public launch is still on track for the second half of 2010.



Toothcam Observes Your Ablutions

If you are getting paranoid about the number of surveillance cameras watching your every move, this one could tip you over the edge. The folks at Omejo Technology in Hong Kong have managed to squeeze a covert video camera and digital video recorder capable or recording for up to 2 hours into an Oral B electric toothbrush. You have to question their motives and ask why anyone would want such a thing? It invokes some serious mind-boggling, not to mention a degree of disquiet, considering what we all get up to in our bathrooms. Scary stuff, verging on the perverted but you can’t help but be impressed by the technology involved in this distasteful gadget. The camera is one of the smallest around but it has a full 640 x 480 resolution, recordings are date-stamped and it will playback the industry standard AVI files on any PC. Apparently it will also clean your teeth…



Mighty Mouse for OpenOffice

We’ve frequently extolled the virtues of, the excellent free open source alternative to Microsoft Office. Well, now it has got even easier to use (possibly…) with the launch of its own dedicated mouse, imaginatively called the OpenOfficeMouse. It has been developed by a company called Warmouse, in collaboration with and it features no less than 18 programmable buttons, 512kb of flash memory, 63 application profiles, adjustable resolution from 400 to 1600 dpi and much, much more. Unlike the software, though, it’s definitely not free, in fact it’s quite pricey and will be selling shortly for the thick end of £45, but just imagine all the fun you’ll have with it…



Beatles on a Stick

Beatles fans pay attention and put December 7th in your diaries. That’s the launch date for a limited edition of 30,000 Beatles compilation albums on a USB memory stick.

Whimsically shaped like an apple the 16Gb drive contains 14 digitally remastered CDs, 13 mini documentary videos, photos and liner notes. Pre orders are now being taken at the official Beatles online store but hold on to your hats, the price of the stick and apple holder will be a hefty £200.



Windows 7 and iPhone Sync Squabble

It’s barely a week old and already Windows 7 and iPhone are having problems talking to each other. According to Engadget the problem lies with the Intel P55 Express chipset. Windows has no problem recognising the iPhone but when an attempt is made to sync the two devices an ‘0xE800006’ error message appears. It seems to be worst on 64bit Win 7 but the 32-bit version is also affected. There are a number of DIY workarounds so it’s not too serious, and Microsoft, Intel and Apple now know all about it and are on the case so a permanent fix should be in the pipeline so but for those affected the various workarounds include deleting a file called ‘iPodDevices.xml, which you will find in the iTunes folder in: C:\Users <username>\AppData\Local\Apple Computer\. You can also try disabling the Bonjour service or, if you are an advanced user, opening the PC’s BIOS and enable the C-State idle operational mode.




Mega Mouse, for Rich Kids Only

When was the last time you bought a mouse? Possibly never, but if you’ve ever been in the position of needing one, I’m guessing you didn’t spend more than £10 - £15. Intelligent Design from Holland clearly think that’s nowhere near enough and have come up with what is possibly the most expensive mouse ever (excluding one-off bling and artistic creations…).and it’ll cost you the thick end of £800. That’s probably more than you spent on your last PC and laptop, combined, so it has to be really special, doesn’t it?  Well, it does have Bluetooth, the scroll wheel is made of neodymium and the body is hand crafted from grade 1 titanium. Whether that adds up to superior or more accurate mousing seems remains to be seen, but if you’re rich enough to afford one it doesn’t matter because you almost certainly have someone to work the computer for you…



AVG 9 Download now Ready

Fans of AVG -- and I count myself amongst them and have been using it since day one -- may be interested to know that version 9 is now available for download. AVG 9 Free follows hard on the heels of the paid-for version, released a few weeks ago. It doesn’t look or feel too different to its predecessors. There have been a few tweaks here and there but overall it should offer the same sort of protection it has always done. Needless to say there might be a few hitches, so it may be prudent to wait a couple of weeks to make sure there are no unforeseen issues. Over the years AVG has become quite resource-hungry, so you might want to try something a little lighter if you’re thinking of running it on a netbook or any PC with less than 1Gb of RAM.



A Word, or is that a Banana in Your Ear?

Are you worried that people aren’t paying enough attention to your ears? Well your worries are over; feast your eyes on the Solid Alliance Crazy Earphone range. No, you are not imagining it; from left to right that’s half a banana, sushi, cat’s paw and a bolt, brilliant. There’s no word on quality yet, we’ll have to wait until we get hold of some to find out the acoustic properties of half a miniature banana, but we can report that according to Engadget they will cost around £18.00 and are due to go on sale in December



Another Quantum Leap?

We’ve mentioned Quantum Computing once or twice before but for those of you that missed it; this is a new technology that promises smaller, faster chips. The only trouble is if anyone tries to explain it to you your brain will explode.


However, the real problem so far has been how to make these so far largely theoretical chips, but now it looks as though some boffins at Ohio State University has cracked at least some of the problems. They’ve come up with a working quantum device called a resonant interband tunnelling diode or RITD to its friends. This basically allows large currents to be controlled by very low voltages and thus consume very little power. It may not sound much, but it’s a start, however, the big breakthrough is that it can be made using conventional semiconductor fabricating techniques. To be precise is process called chemical vapour deposition, which opens the way for all sorts of other quantum devices, and widgets like RITDs may even come in handy for making existing chip-based devices run faster and cooler.



Ten Layer Blu-ray in Development

Back in the days of VHS I vividly recall the excitement caused by the announcement of ‘deep layer’ audio recording, whereby a high-quality stereo soundtrack was recorded beneath the video tracks, deep in the tape’s magnetic layer. A few years later the boffins came up with ways of doubling and trebling the capacity of CDs and DVDs by adding extra layers, there was even speculation that up to four layers per side though I don’t think it ever went beyond the prototype stage, but now TDK has them all beat and is reported to be working on 10-layer discs, capable of storing up to 320Gb of data. Whether or not it comes to fruition remains to be seen but apparently the technology is fairly straightforward, using existing blue/violet lasers and manufacturing techniques; so stand by to junk all those bulky box sets…



The Price of FAM

FAM or Free All Music is a new, soon to be launched service that lets you legally download high-quality MP3 for free. So what’s the catch? Needless to say there is one, and in order to get your freebie tunes you’ll have nominate an advertising ‘sponsor’, who effectively pays for the service, and watch their ad, which, which should last for between 15 and 18 seconds, after which the download begins. The track is encoded at 256kbps and there are no restrictions, so all in all it sounds like a good deal. The service is due to start beta testing in the next few weeks and you can sign up for pre-registration now, it says it’s for US Residents only but it didn’t seem to mind our UK email address, so well just have to wait and see.





Boot Windows in Under Ten Seconds!

How long does your Windows PC take to boot? Two to three minutes is about average, under two minutes and you are doing really well, one minute or less and it’s either only a couple of days old or you’ve been doing some serious tweaking. So how about a Windows PC that boots in less than ten seconds?  Well, Bios makers Phoenix Technologies reckon they can do just that. It’s called Instant Boot Bios and is based on a set of standards called UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) and some fancy pre-boot footwork in Windows 7, which apparently involves carrying out around 2 million instructions. Apparently with a bit more work it may be possible to boot a PC in a second or less, which sounds great but the question that has to be asked, is when it all goes wrong – as it inevitably will -- how on earth will you be able to get to the BIOS menu?



Solar Nanotubes Make Light Work?

I have been reporting on developments in photovoltaic cells for as long as I can remember and there’s always some new technology or fabrication method that’s going to improve upon the woeful efficiency of today’s silicon based solar cells. I’m  still waiting and outside the labs most commercial cells still only manage a fairly miserable 20 – 30 percent efficiency, which basically means that during their lifetime very few solar cells ever recover the enormous amount of energy put into their manufacture, let alone live long enough to generate ‘free’ electricity. I have no doubt that one day the problem will be licked and this might just be the development to do it. It’s a rolled up graphene layer nanotube and it’s the brainchild of a team of researchers at Cornell University. The first problem, though, is that it’s tiny, no larger than a DNA molecule, which means you’ll need an awful lot of them to do anything useful. The good news is that it’s very efficient and when exposed to light the tubular structure creates more electrons, and the cylindrical structure makes it easier for them to flow. I know, we’ve been here before so don’t hold your breath, but one day, it will happen, and maybe, just maybe this is where it started…



Home Base Problem Solver

No, it has nothing to do with DIY superstores with similar sounding names, it’s a clever new router interface thingy from Belkin that lets you easily connect and share all sorts of things on your home network, like a printers hard disc drives for automatic backup. Okay, so it’s not a new idea, but as anyone who has ever tried to set up a network printer or storage will know, it can be a swine of a job. This gizmo should make it virtually effortless, all you do is plug it into your router and connect whatever you want to it using the four USB sockets on the back. It’s just gone on sale in the US for $130 and it should be available here anytime soon but no word yet on the UK price.


Windows 7 All Day Upgrade

There’s much to commend Windows 7 and our experiences with clean installs of the pre Beta, Beta and RTM releases have been mostly very positive, however, the one thing we haven’t tried yet is a Vista to Win7 upgrade. If the reports now circulating the web are anything to go by, it’s not something we’ll be trying anytime soon. According to ars technica, reporting test results carried out by Microsoft, in a worst case scenario it could take more than 20 hours. The circumstances are not that unusual, either, it concerns a mid-range PC, with 40 applications and a drive containing 650Gb of data. The tests covered a wide range of configurations and upgrade times varies from 100 minutes, on a high end PC with 20 applications and 70Gb of data to a 345 minutes on a heavily used (125Gb of data and 40 applications) low-end PC. Clean installations on most PCs typically took between 30 and 40 minutes, which chimes with our experiences, so the moral of this story is don’t upgrade unless you absolutely have to, and have plenty of time to spare.



Windows on the Wall

Let me say straight away that so far I haven’t been overly impressed with the performance of so-called pico’ projectors I’ve seen to date. These tiny pocket size projectors produce a small dim image, not much larger then a big monitor screen that you can just about see in a very dark room. That’s fair enough, someone somewhere will find that useful. However, my gripe is with the way they’re often portrayed in publicity shots, showing vast bright displays in what appears to be well lit environments. Maybe one day that will happen, who knows, but as a display device they leave a lot to be desired, so I’m not too hopeful that the Guangzhou Darling DP200 is going to break the mould, and with a light output of just 9 lumens it’s not going to trouble the mainstream projector market, but it does have one other thing going for it. Built ino the case is a Windows CE PC so you have all that you need, in one handy box, to do a quick presentation on the nearest wall. Plug in a keyboard and mouse and you can do a spot of word processing, though good luck seeing the keys in the dark…



Potter, Prophet and Polymers

The story that some editions of US Showbiz magazine will come with a slimline video screen showing up to 40 minutes of video hit the headlines a couple of weeks a go, though most reports failed to spelt out the massive cost of this publicity stunt. There were plenty of references to the ‘Daily Prophet’ newspaper in the Harry Potter movies, which, prophetically’ featured moving pictures on its pages. Maybe it’s not so far fetched after all, the cost of thin flexible screens could be on the way down if a group of Japanese scientists at the Riken Centre have their way. The development in question is a new cheaper and more reliable way to make OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens, using a technique known as Electrospray Polymer Films. Apparently it’s a big improvement on the current spin coating film technique, resulting in higher pixel density and intensity, which, according to said scientists, quoted on ‘devices could be manufactured as inexpensively as printing newspapers’. Sounds promising but we’ll still file that one under believe-it-when-we-see-it…




Quicker WEP Crack

I don’t want to make you any more paranoid about PC security than you already are (and yes, they are out to get you), but a report in Engadget suggests that a pair of Japanese students can hack WPA encryption, used on most Wi-Fi enabled devices, in around a minute. They have come up with a fancy new algorithm that, for the moment at least they’re keeping to themselves. It beats the previous record by some 10 – 15 minutes, making it a potential threat to Wi-Fi users. Details of the crack are due to be announced next month at a conference in Hiroshima, so it’s not in the wild yet, and even if it does escape, most users can protect their files by switching their WEP to AES (Advanced Encryption System) mode, or using the (so far) still secure WPA 2 system.



Scary Bear

Don't say I didn't warn you. The machines are going to take over… The Bear or Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot, which is allegedly designed to ‘locate, lift and rescue people in harm’s way’ is clearly just a malevolent microchip away from becoming a Terminator or rogue android that will replicate and enslave or exterminate humanity. Bear, developed by Vecna Robotics is now being funded by the US Army’s Telemedecine and Advanced Research Centre, which is all well and good, but don’t these people watch TV or the movies? Giving it a cuddly face doesn’t fool anyone, say hello to your new master.




Electric Piano Teacher

File this one under a bit creepy. Concert Hands is a new system for teaching the piano by ‘gently’ stimulating the player’s fingers through the splendidly Heath Robinson looking contraption the little girl is wearing. How gentle those stimulating pulses are isn’t clear, but the idea sounds reasonable and the finger you are supposed to use to press a key gets a mild pulse (shock?). The theory is that constant repetition helps build muscle memory, and she seems happy enough, however, a cynic with a twisted mind – not us you understand – might ask whether there’s a special punishment mode or a knob to twiddle to make pupils learn even faster, but let’s not go there, and if you want more info, try the manufacturer’s website.



Windows 7 in the Pound Shop…

Well, not exactly, but in a real turn up for the books, there are real bargains to be had when Microsoft’s launches its new super whizzy operating system in October. For the first time in living memory the new Windows will actually cost less here than in the US. And we’re not talking about a pound or two either. The full non upgrade version of Win 7 will set you back around  £65 here in the UK but our American cousins will have to shell out getting on for £121, or almost twice as much. According to the Engadget report the Pro and Ultimate versions will also be a good bit cheaper this side of the pond. Don’t expect it to last though; if past performance is anything to go by prices may well be heading north early in the New Year so don’t be surprised if it’s in short supply as the chancers buy up early stocks to flog on ebay US...



Tongue Tingle Vision Aid

Can you see with your tongue?  It’s not as daft as it sounds, Thanks to Engadget for a report of a company called BrainPort, which has come up with an ingenious device that takes images from a head-mounted camera and translates them into tiny electrical impulses fed to a small plate, place on the user’s tongue. The idea is the tongue, which is covered in nerve endings, picks up the patterns of impulses, which the brain can translate into crude images. It is claimed that it’s even possible to read printed text. There’s clear potential for the visually impaired and a commercial version is expected to go into production next year.



Watch This Space

It’s not exactly a new idea and over the past few years watch phones have come and gone with alarming rapidity but two of the mobile phone world’s heavy hitters are about to re-launch the concept, so beloved of science fiction and not forgetting Dick Tracey who started it all. Within the next few weeks both LG and Samsung will be selling wristphones in the UK. Samsung are kicking off with the S9110, it has a 1.76-inch touch screen, built-in MP3 player, speaker, Bluetooth and at under 12mm thick, it’s one of, if not the slimmest offering to date.  LG’s wristphone is the GD910 and it has a slightly smaller 1.4-inch screen, but it’s also very well equipped with voice recognition, MP3, Bluetooth and a text to speech feature. No word on whether they tell the time or not, but I think we can take that as read…Prices are expected to in the £350 to £400 bracket. Whether or not they catch on remains to be seen but I’m still a bit concerned about the odd looks you’ll be getting talking to your watch, not to mention letting everyone in earshot hear your phone calls, unless you pop in an earphone or Bluetooth headset, which sort of defeats the object…



Motorola Man’s Phone

The thing with iPhones, for all their cleverness and shiny looks is that, well, someone had to say it, they’re a bit girly… What us blokes need is a real man’s phone, at least that’s what the guys at Motorola reckon, and lo and behold, they’ve come up with the hunky, chunky r75651S.


It’s a no-nonsense multi-modal mobile communications device, designed for mission-critical operatives who need a phone that’s rugged and durable. It’s designed to work in high-noise, hazardous, chemical or gaseous environments. It’s military spec, resistant to high and low temperatures, dust, shock, vibration, radiation, salt, fog and blowing rain, it says here. It’s a rough and tough, it ‘ll watch your back in a tight situation, buy you a drink down the pub and kick sand in the face of smartphones, just don’t get it angry!



Apple Keyboard Hacked

It’s okay Apple fans; this probably won’t be coming to a keyboard near you, probably... According to Engadget, a hacker at the recent Black Hat 2009 conference demonstrated a way of infecting the firmware on Apple keyboards with a Trojan or keylogger. It can even be done remotely and once through the door there’s no way of getting rid of it. Fortunately the hacker concerned, one ‘K Chen’ (a pseudonym apparently) is collaborating with Apple to develop a fix but it hasn’t been their week. At the same conference details of a new iPhone SMS vulnerability were released by security expert Charlie Miller, naturally Apple were told and a patch has now been issued,



Three-Pin Broadband

We’ve spoken before about experiments using the power grid to carry broadband (BPL or broadband over Power Lines) and there have been numerous trials, both here and abroad but things have been a bit quiet lately. Now it looks like it could be one step closer following an announcement from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE or eye-triple-e to its mates…).  The catchily-named P1901 Working Group has come up with the first draft specification for a system standard, which you will be pleased to know is based upon Wavelet Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithm technology. It’s a wide-ranging spec that covers the whole business of squirting broadband down power lines and distributing said data over local area networks (LANs) and Smart Grids. Speeds of over 100Mb/s are said to be possible so it’s got enormous potential, especially in areas not well served by conventional copper cable and wireless. You can almost hear the electricity companies are rubbing their hands together. No word yet on when it will be coming to a wall socket near you but mark my words, if ti pans out this could be big!



Shocking Developments

Taser, Taster, Taser..’. Now that’s something you never want to hear shouted at you because it means you are about to be zapped with several thousand volts. Until now you have been able to take some comfort in the fact that current Taser guns can only fire one shot at a time, so if there’s a few of you, you stand a chance of legging it, but not for much longer. Taser International has just announced the launch of the Taser X3, which can fire up to three sets of darts, connected to the gun by thin wires, delivering  – we are assured – the non-lethal and instantantly incapacitating charge. My advice now for villains, concerned about running afoul of taser-equipped Bill, is to cover yourself head to toe in thick aluminium-foil, and wear wellington boots, or refrain from commiting crimes with fewer than three accomplices and hope you get lucky…




China Blue takes on Blu-ray

Just when you thought the format wars were over and it was safe to buy a Blu-ray player it looks like the losing HD-DVD format may be staging a stealthy comeback Although Blu-ray won the battle in Europe, the US and Japan, on the other side of the World, in China, it is trailing behind the recently launched China Blue HD (CBHD) format. CBHD is very closely related to HD-DVD thanks to some clever licensing agreements between the DVD Forum and China’s Optical Memory National Engineering Research Centre (OMNERC) based in Tsinghua University. The principle differences concern compression and CBHS has more powerful copy protection, as piracy is a big concern in China. Already Warner Home Entertainment has announced support for the format in China with titles such as the Harry Potter Series, The Golden Compass and Blood Diamond likely to be the first into the shops. There’s speculation other major studios could follow suit



Nothing New Under The Sun, part IV

Here are some drawings of a portable music player that stores music, as digital data on solid-state memory. So what I hear you ask? The point is these drawings were made in 1979, by British Inventor Kane Kramer; that’s 19 years before the first commercial digital audio player (DAP) and 21 years before the first iPod. (Contrary to popular belief Apple did not invent the modern DAP, that honour goes to the SIS MPMan, launched in 1998). But back to Kane Kramer’s player, which he called IXI, and bears a striking resemblance to today’s MP3 players, right down to the layout of the screen and buttons and the concept of downloading tracks and software over a telephone line. Although it was patented it never made it into production. Back then digital memory was eye-wateringly expensive and the prototype could only hold 3.5 minutes worth of music. Kramer allowed the patents to lapse, but he did help out Apple, as a consultant and expert witness in 2007 when the company had a run-in with over alleged patent infringements. 



Phone Home in Style…

Forget those naff iPhones and Blackberrys; this is the one to have, especially if you’re a Brit abroad. The London Calling mobile phone is like having a little bit of Blighty in your pocket. Shaped like the classic red K6 telephone box, it’s a well-specified and unlocked tri-band model (so it’ll work pretty well anywhere, on any SIM card), featuring a choice of iconic British wallpaper images and some patriotic ringtones (God Save the Queen, Rule Britannia etc), to bring a tear to your eye every time someone calls. There’s also a built-in camera, TFT screen and all the messaging capabilities you’re likely to need on your travels. The price, in case you are wondering, it’s available soon and it’ll cost a not too scary 85 squids to you John



One Giant Leap for Webkind

Yes, I was there and I vividly remember Neil Armstrong’s first Small Step, and since today’s the day it all began, 40 years ago, when the Apollo 11 spacecraft blasted off from Cape Kennedy, what better way to re-live the whole experience than pop along to the We Choose The Moon website. It goes live ‘today’ at precisely 9.32 (13.32 GMT). The site will recreate the Apollo 11 mission in real time, minute by minute, using archived video, photos and recordings. There’s plenty of interactive elements too, including access to over 2000 declassified mission documents11 mission-critical animations, 109 hours of video and if you are disposed towards Twitter, you can be on the receiving end of around 700 mission specific ‘tweets’.



Bing’s The Thing…

We’ve become accustomed to ‘googling’ for information and Google has certainly become the first place to look for a general web search, but needless to say this dominance of the search engine market has upset a few people, including of course Microsoft, who would dearly like to get a bigger piece of the action.  To that end it has come up with Bing (, a search ‘Experience’ engine rather than a plain old search engine, though we still haven’t figured out what that means yet… Nevertheless, it does look very clean, it’s quick too finding pretty well everything we asked for, without too much clutter and irrelevant hits and without the ads (though they’re to come when the beta test comes to an end). It has some useful features too. These include playable video thumbnails in video searches, image searches are also very well presented with handy info popping up when you mouse-over the thumbwheel, and it’s a good place to go for maps of the UK, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since Microsoft bought out MultiMap a couple of years ago. We have to say that taking on the might of Google is a huge challenge but if anyone has the clout and resources it’s Microsoft and with a reported £60 million launch budget, they’re clearly not messing around, though we’re still not quit sure about ‘binging’ when we want to find something on the web…



Google To Challenge Windows and Mac

Rumours that Google are working on a desktop operating system, to rival Windows and the Mac OS have been floating around the web for a while and they’ve generally been dismissed but now it’s official. Google Chrome OS is due to hit the streets some time in the second half of 2010. Whether or not the good folk at Microsoft and Apple will be quaking in their boots remains to be seen but on past experience Google certainly has the clout to make it happen and the Android OS for smart phones is already starting to have an impact.


Chrome OS is designed to run on standard x86 PC hardware, as well as ARM chips and the ever popular Intel Atom used in the majority of netbooks. It’s going to be based on a Linux kernel and according to Sundar Picha, the Google Engineering director who broke the news on his blog, key user-inspired features will include near-instant startup and email download – no waiting for the whole OS to boot -- no slowdown in performance, simplified configuration, freedom from constant updates, Google’s current crop of web-based applications will be heavily featured and needless to say, it will be free. There’s bound to be the odd catch and hiccup along the way but at this early stage it sounds very promising indeed; more news when we have it.



Windows 7 Goes Gold

We’re fast approaching one of the final milestones in the run up to the consumer launch of Windows 7 this autumn. But in advance of that, on July 10th, the so-called ‘Gold’ RTM or Release To Manufacture version of the operating system will be confirmed, swiftly followed by distribution to manufacturers and developers on July 13th. This head start should help avoid some of the problems following the launch of Vista when far too many hardware devices didn’t have the necessary drivers in place. Barring any unforeseen last minute glitches or bugs this is the version of the software that will go on sale on October 22nd. Good news too on pricing, it looks like it will be a fair bit cheaper than Vista.



Morro Beta Test Underway

Rumours that Microsoft were getting into the anti-virus business have been floating around for some time and it was finally confirmed late last year when Microsoft released details of a security suite with the codename Morro. It’s a comprehensive package, designed to protect PCs against all current nasties, including viruses, malware, spyware, rootkits and Trojans and the intention was for it to be free, and available in the second half of 2009. Well, everything appears to be more or less on track, and the name is now Microsoft Security Essentials. The first beta release is now available for download, but don’t get too excited. This is a strictly limited trial, available to just the first 75,000 volunteers, and then only to Windows users living in the United States, Israel (English only), People's Republic of China (Simplified Chinese only) and Brazil (Brazilian Portuguese only). You’ll also need to go through the Genuine Advantage validation hoops, and there’s no telling what info will be sent back to the mothership, but first reports are quite positive. If you want to get in on the act early keep an eye on the download page as the beta is often made more widely available a week or two after the initial release.




Sound of the Void

I am still not sure if this is for real but in case you were wondering what on earth this is, it’s a record player, called ‘Void’, from a Korean designer called Rhea Jong. The idea is the record is supported on a saucer that in turn is levitated by a magnetic field – so far so good. Now this is where it gets a bit suspicious, the little red ball contains a stylus and amplifier and speaker and by some unexplained means, rolls around the record groove, picking up the sound and playing it back through its speaker. One thing I can say with some certainty, if it does work it will sound dreadful, but who cares, it looks brilliant!



Memory for the Next Millennium

The big problem that few people ever bother to think about is how long will documents, photos, videos and so, stored as digital data, last? The short answer is no one knows. It depends how it is stored, and the bad news is that none of the storage mediums we current use are good for more than around 50 years, some a lot less, but even that’s just an educated guess because they haven’t been around long enough for anyone to find out. That’s only part of the problem, though; even if a storage device can guarantee data integrity indefinitely, can the same be said of the equipment needed to retrieve the data? Which brings us DRS Memory, a memory system that Tech-On reports was developed by researchers at Keio and Kyoto Universities, in collaboration with Sharp. DRS stands for Digital Rosetta Stone and it’s claimed that it can store large volumes of data for more than 1000 years. It’s a solid-state device, using stacked semiconductor wafers; with the data it contains recorded using direct electron beam writing technology. A stack of four 15-inch wafers can apparently store up to 2.5Tb of data, the data can be read off the stack using wireless systems. Of course at this stage it’s all conjecture and whether or not anyone will be around in 3009, with a working wireless laptop to see if they were right is another matter…



XP Gets Another Reprieve

It’s the operating system that just refuses to die. According to Engadget Microsoft has given the venerable old XP another extension that will see it carrying on until 2011. Before you get too excited, though, this applies only to the XP downgrade option, available on PCs sold with Windows 7 pre-installed. Now pay attention, it’s all rather complicated. Apparently this move follows complaints from business users, worried about Windows 7 licensing issues. Basically companies buying new Win 7 PCs before April 23rd next year will still have the option to downgrade to XP, to help them with the transition, but after April 23rd the only downgrade will be to Vista, which obviously isn’t much help to XP users wanting to make the change. Confused? You will be…



Soft Cell Netbook

There’s no denying netbooks have become hugely popular and they are an essential travelling companion, but like all laptops, large and small, they have one big drawback. Somehow they always run out of power at the most inconvenient moment. That won’t be a problem with this new one from Norhtec? The Geko Edubook looks like just another 8.9-inch cheapie, and the starting price is competitive, the baseline model will be a touch under £170, but the big bonus feature is that it doesn’t use a proprietary rechargeable battery pack. Instead it uses a set of 8 standard AA cells. It will run for up to 4 hours on NiMh rechargeables, and if you get caught short all you have to do is pop into the nearest shop and drop in some Duracells and it’s good to go for another 6 hours, thanks to the very low power consumption (there’s no fan and it uses an LED backlight). It even has it’s own built-in charger so there’s no need to lug a mains adaptor around with you either. The rest of the spec is fairly routine. It has a 1Ghz processor, it comes with 256, 512 or 1Gb of RAM and there’s a choice of standard hard drive or SD flash storage. Needless to say it supports Windows XP or stick with the pre-installed Ubuntu Linux operating system. They’re taking orders now for US delivery, unfortunately there’s no word on the European release just yet.



Just Checking to see if you are using Linux…

Here’s one for those of you that find those dog-in-the-lawn garden ornaments amusing. It’s a USB drive, in the shape of a penguin. It comes from Active Media Products and here’s the good bit, 5 percent of the retail price goes to the World Wildlife Fund, so not only are you protecting your data (your info is safe for 10 years), in a funny, indirect sort of way you are also helping to protect the cute little guys. The drives themselves are available in 2, 4, 8 and 16Gb capacities, you can also get a Panda version, and to add to their green credentials, no mercury or lead is used in their production. Oh yes, and you do get a head, it’s the removable protective cap.



Data Storage in a Spin

If you think your hard drives are a bit sluggish then you may be interested in a development by French physicists called Spin Transport Electronics or ‘Spintronics’, If speed is what you need then this technology promises transfer rates up to 100,000 times faster than current magnetic storage devices. Spintronics harnesses the natural ‘spin’ of electrons when they encounter magnetic fields. As they rotate they generate a secondary electrical signal that can be used to record data. However, the real breakthrough is the use of lasers to read and write data to the spinning electrons, by altering the spin speed and direction. Needless to say it’ll be a while before this turns into a commercially viable technology, but we’ll keep you posted.



TV from the Stars to Your Car

'Are we there yet, are we there yet'? It’s what every holidaymaking parent with a couple of kids in the back seat dreads to hear. Well, for several years you’ve been able keep them quiet with seat-back DVDs and before that, if you were super-rich or geeky, portable VHS and Video 8 tape players but now, if you live in the US, you can shut them up with in-car satellite TV.  AT&T has just launched of its CruiseCast car TV service. The price of peace doesn’t come cheap; the receiver hardware and displays are going to cost in the region of £1000 and a subscription to the 22 live TV and 20 radio channels will set you back around £25.00 a month. There’s no word on a European launch, if ever, but there is a DIY solution, you could put one of the kids (the one with the steady hands) on the car roof with a Sky dish and ask them to keep it aimed in a south-easterly direction…



BMOW 1980s Flashback

Here’s someone with way too much time on their hands… Engadget reports that game developer Steve Chamberlain has gone to the extraordinary effort of building a CPU (central processor unit – the main chip in a PC) from scratch, using nothing more that 50 or so standard off-the-shelf logic chips, and rather a lot of wires. That also explains the name, it’s been dubbed BMOW or Big Mess Of Wires, and I have no trouble whatsoever believing his claim that it took a year to build. For those that are interested it’s equivalent to CPU chips from the 1980s, used in the likes of the Commodore 64 and Apple II. It is an 8-bit design, runs at around 2MHz has 512Kb of memory and will run programs written in languages like BASIC, now that takes me back…



Transformers, Mouses in Disguise…

There must be a movie out soon… Here’s one of the latest tie-ins to the hugely successful Transformers franchise, it’s a computer mouse that converts into a scary looking monster robot thingy, called a Trypricon. Anyway, in its mousy form it does all the usual stuff, plugs into a USB port, has a resolution of 800dpi and needless to say it’s compatible with Windows and Mac PCs. It also looks really uncomfortable to use and comes with a safety warning that it has sharp bits and is not suitable for the under 16s, spoilsports…



Don’t STAIR, It’s only a Battery…

STAIR or St Andrew Air is the catchy name given by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to a new type of battery, now being developed by the University of St Andrews. The battery, which uses oxygen in the air as one of the reagents is claimed to last up to ten times longer than conventional chemical-based batteries, and they should be cheaper to make as well, though production is still some way off. The clever bit is a porous carbon element, which reacts with oxygen. Otherwise details are a bit sketchy and I don’t recall from my long-off chemistry lessons that carbon was particularly reactive, so there’s probably more to it than that but it sounds promising, so keep watching this space.



Latest Fastest

Say hello to Fujitsu’s SPARC64 VIIIfx or 'Venus' CPU chip, which, depending how you measure these things, is probably now the world’s faster computer chip. However, in the absence of a test sample, or any means to test it, we’ll just have to take that on trust. What is known is that the prototype has been clocked at 128 billion computations per second (128 gigaflops), which is apparently 2.5 times faster than its nearest rival from Intel and about a zillion times faster than the PC you are looking at now. Production is still some years away, as is the software that can make use of the phenomenal speed but the way these things work you can be pretty sure it’ll be outdated in a couple of weeks with the next world’s fastest CPU and before you know it, inside some cheesy gadget on the shelves at your local pound shop.



Pyramid Scheme

Doubtless you’ve heard that pyramids have all sorts of strange and mystical powers. Apparently razor blades stay sharper and food stays fresher longer when put under one, so what happens when you put a PC inside one? Well, there’s only one way to find out and for around $335 Etsy will sell you one, made by Vertex, finished in black, blue or red finish. There’s room inside, and mounting hardware for all of the usual bits and bobs, though judging by some of the pictures we’ve seen of the insides it all looks a bit Heath Robinson. It could be the best investment you’ve ever made if the pyramid works its legendary magic on your PC maybe it will never crash or go wrong, or maybe it’ll generate so much good karma in your workspace you just won’t care…



Make Mine a Martin

Now I know I said my last Christmas present list revision would be the last but I’ve had to change it again because now what I want for Xmas is a Martin Jetpack. Okay, I know it’s not quite the compact rocket (or jet) powered strap-on flying gizmo I had hoped for, and it looks and sounds more like a monster leaf-blower, but the range (30 miles) and endurance (30 minutes) make it a near-practical form of transport, for a Londoner like me at any rate. The twin ducted fans can drive it up to ceiling of 8000 feet, it’ll zoom along at 60mph, it runs on regular unleaded and if the motor conks out there’s a ballistic parachute to get you safely back on the deck. The bad news? Well, it will have to be a late Christmas pressie because they’re not due to go on sale until January 2010, and prospective buyers need to stump up a deposit of $10,000, and that’s without knowing the final cost, which Martin say will be about as much as luxury car. So start saving now, and maybe if a few of you club together we can rustle up that deposit.



Mini Mouse but no Donald…

Billed as the world’s smallest wireless mouse, the Tec Lingo measures just 27x 60 x 19mm, which as you can see is only slightly larger than the AA cell which powers it. Incidentally, battery life is claimed to be up to 15 hours, which in the scheme of things isn’t that great but it’ll do for occasional use, on the move. It comes with a teeny USB receiver module and range is claimed to in the order of 10 metres, which suggests you had better take some binocularly along with you, so you can see the screen, if you are going to use it at such extreme distances, though it might come in handy for projected presentations, I suppose. Anyway, we’re still waiting on price and availability info. By the way, this is not the world’s smallest mouse, that honour currently goes to the Z-Nano, and you could almost fit one inside the Lingo’s battery compartment, but, it’s not wireless, so it doesn’t count…



Yet Another Disc Format?

How much data can you cram onto a CD/DVD-sized optical disc? Well, we know CDs manage around 800Mb, DVDs can ramp that up to around 20Gb using both sides and multiple layers, and a two-sided Blu Ray disc manages around 50Gb, but that’s small beer, compared with the new General Electric Holographic Versatile Disc (ugh!) or HVD.


Instead of the reflective pits used on conventional optical discs this uses a ‘microholographic’ process to store data, raising the bar to an impressive 500Gb per disc, enough to store more than 100 DVD movies. Don’t get too excited, it’s still in the lab and some way from being a commercial product but things can move very quickly in this business, once the numbers start to add up for the bean-counters, so keep your eye on this one. Who knows, one day soon you’ll have to replace your record and video collection all over again, but the good news is that this time it won’t take up anything like as much space…



Windows 7 Release Candidate Release Date Set

It’s official, well sort of… The web has been alive with rumours for several days that the Release Candidate for Windows 7 was imminent, but now, according to an email from a Microsoft developer the final polished version, before it goes on sale, will be available to testers and TechNet subscribers from April 30th, and to the general public from May 5th. Thanks to feedback from millions of beta testers there have been a numerous tweaks and changes. There’s too many to mention but they include a some new keyboard shortcuts, Taskbar scaling, drag to ‘Open With’ on the Taskbar, installed programs will no longer be allowed to pin themselves to the Taskbar, the Jump List length has been fixed to 10 items. There improved flexibility for using and position desktop gadgets and much more besides, so it seems that someone has been taking notice of what you say.



iPhone Goes Global

And by that we mean that the new vTuner app for the iPhone and iPod Touch can stream over 7000 radio stations to your shiny little black box from around the world. You can choose from 50 genres, 120 countries and 50 languages, and if you have any time left after wading through that little lot, you can create your own favourites listing. You can also see what’s coming with over 500 programme schedules or pop along to a station’s website for more info, without leaving vTuner. There are more details if you want them on the vTuner site, and for a small consideration you’ll find it selling in the iTunes store.



This Week’s ‘World’s Smallest Camcorder’

Over the past 30 or so years I’ve written ‘World Smallest Camcorder’ so many times that it’s set in Word AutoComplete. Here’s the latest, it’s from Shenzen AEE Wireless Technology and it’s called, rather confusingly, the ‘Mini DV’. In fact it has nothing to do with the camcorder tape format of the same name, it records in AVI format on Micro SD cards.


Whether or not it is the ‘World’s Smallest’ is open to debate but it is teensy, measuring just 55 x 20 x 118mm and it tips the scales at just 50g. Up front there’s a fixed focus lens and behind that a 2 megapixel image sensor, image resolution is 640 x 480 at 30fps. Power comes form a rechargeable Li-Ion battery that lasts for up to 2 hours. There’s no monitor screen, just a few simple controls and you download your recordings to a PC using a USB 2.0 cable. It comes with a clip for attaching to your clothes, no price yet but according to all-knowing Engadget, which I thank for alerting me to its presence, online retailers are pitching it at between $85 and $159.  



Is Your Keyboard Bugged?

No, not that sort of bug, we’re talking about the type that gives you nasty infections. If your keyboard is anything like mine it’s probably crawling with gems, but that doesn’t matter, they’re my germs and we’ve got used to each other. One place where germs are unacceptable is in hospitals, where doctors can carry all sorts of nasties around with them, tap in your details on a keyboard, and then the next person to use it picks them up on their fingers, you get the picture. So thanks to Engadget for alerting us to the Esterline Medical Medigenic Keyboard and Mouse. It’s flat and designed to be sanitized with its wipe clean surface, and you don’t have to disconnect it to do so, a single key disables it so key presses won’t have any effect, and it flashes when it’s time for a wipe over. The keys are backlit so it can be used in low-light environments and according to the makers the flat design doesn’t slow down text and data entry and it’s as easy to use as a normal keyboard.



New iBoiler?

Here’s a novel use for one those toy steam engines that many of us had as kids. This one is connected to a small DC generator, connected to a regulator them coupled to a USB charger, shown here, and in this YouTube video, charging up an iPod. It’s probably not very green, or eco-friendly, and it certainly isn’t quiet, but it looks like a fun way to generate power. I used to have an old Mamod engine; I’ve still got a scar that came from messing around with the boiler. Great fun but I guess they’ve been banned by Health and Safety… Kids these days, they don’t know what they’re missing…



Pavement P.U.M.A 

Okay, forget all my previous Christmas present lists, the new one has only one item on it, a Segway/GM P.U.M.A. That stands for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility and basically it’s a sit-down Segway, for two people. Like the Segway it scoots around on two wheels, balanced by lots of chips and motion sensors; the small wheels front and back are only for use when the machine is parked. It looks like a real hoot to drive; there are videos on the Segway site and You Tube that are well worth watching. It’s electric, obviously, so it’s very green and apparently it will be capable of going 20km between charges. Sadly it is still in prototype form and there’s no word from Segway or GM when or even if it will go into production but if it does, the queue starts behind me.



First Skype Certified Videophone Unveiled

Asus, of cute little netbook fame, are at it again, this time with the world’s first Skype Certified standalone videophone. As you probable know Skype, the free PC to PC phone VOIP service has a built-in videophone facility, but it can be a bit of a pig to set up, so why not remove the PC from the equation and make it a simple one-box product, and here it is. It has a 7-inch display, there’s an integrated webcam and because it’s dedicated to the task, picture and sound quality should be as good as it can get. It works on both cabled and wireless links to your router and it has it’s own rechargeable battery, so you can walk around with it. The price, when it reaches the shops in the next few weeks will be around £220.



Goodbye and Thanks Encarta

I was genuinely sorry to learn that Microsoft Encarta is to be discontinued at the end of 2009. For those who weren’t around at the time, or not into computers, Encarta was the first successful multimedia encyclopaedia. It was launched back in 1993 and the CD-ROM contained more than 60,000 articles. It was based on Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopaedia, which Microsoft bought the rights to. Don’t forget, this was long before the web, which didn’t really take off until the mid-1990’s, and almost 10 years before on-line encyclopaedias like Wikipedia, which effectively killed Encarta. In those days if you wanted to find something out or check a fact you either went to a library or, if you were lucky enough to own a high-end PC with a CD-ROM drive, you looked it up on Encarta. Rivals like the CD-ROM versions of Encyclopaedia Britannica may have been more authoritative but that was eye-wateringly expensive. What made Encarta so good was the use of multimedia, small video clips and animations, sound and even a sprinkling of games, and the graphics and search facilities were really well thought out. Searching for information might be a whole lot easier nowadays, and Encarta’s style might look rather old fashioned now, but back then it was a genuine marvel and I, for one, will miss it…



Watch Out, there’s a Spy About!

No, it’s not another MP3 watch, this one is a whole lot more interesting, or worrying, depending on your point of view. You can’t see it in the photo by between the jewelled markers for 1 and 2 o’clock there’s a tiny hole, and behind that hole is a tiny video camera. It’s fully self-contained (the USB cable is for downloading to a PC) and it has 8Gb of on-board memory, which gives it an 80-minute recording capacity, with sound. Okay, a resolution of just 352 x 288 it’s not going to make it onto the big screen, but it’s good enough to make sneaky recordings and get up to all sorts of shenanigans. It’s on sale in Japan now, for around £80, as far as we can make out, whether or not it will make it to these shores we can’t say, but in future, be careful what you do and say if you see anyone pointing a rather cheap-looking black watch in your direction…



IE8 and MacBook Hacked in Record Time

Seemingly about ten minutes after Microsoft launched the final release candidate for Internet Explorer 8, billed as the most secure IE yet, a German hacker going under the name Nils found a loophole and managed to break in. This was all above board, by the way, and his efforts earned him a $5000 prize plus a Sony laptop at the annual CanSecWest Security conference held each year in Vancouver Canada. Now, before you Mac fans start gloating, another conference attendee managed to set a new record, by hacking into a MacBook in under 10 seconds, smashing last years record. Fortunately for everyone involved the details of these exploits are passed on to manufacturers and security firms so they can be plugged as quickly as possible.



Flepping Colourful

I hope you haven’t bought an e-book recently because if you have you should avert your eyes now because like as not the following news item from Engadget could be annoying. It concerns the imminent arrival of the Fujitsu FLEPia, it’s been doing the rounds at shows and exhibitions in prototype form for a more than a year but now it has been made flesh, and as you can see from the picture, what makes it special is the 8-inch XGA colour touch screen. It’s an e-ink display, of course, which means power consumption is minimal, the makers reckon it’s good for up to 40 hours continuous operation, it also comes with built in Bluetooth, wi-fi and it has an SD card reader. It’s also reported to come with Windows CE but this really won’t be much fun as e-ink displays are painfully slow and a complete page re-draw takes well over a second. The other piece of bad news is that there’s no date for a UK launch, and the price, when it goes on sale in Japan next month is likely to be the thick end of £800.



Wristy Venture

Hold the press, thanks to a report on Cnet I’m updating my Christmas pressie list, the top spot has now been taken over by the Zypad WR1100 wrist computer from Parvus. It’s a cleverly packaged Linux system with a 3.5-inch touch screen, 256Mb of RAM, 128Mb  of flash memory, on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, compass, fingerprint recognition and an accelerometer that puts it in standby mode when it senses the user’s arm is down by their side. The tough but light nylon-magnesium and fibreglass-reinforced casing is designed for the rigours of the great outdoors, the screen is readable in direct sunlight, there’s a built in microphone and speaker and I want one…



Talk of New Shuffle

I quite like iPods though I’ve never quite understood the near fanatical following. Rival mp3 players, even cheapo no-name models often do the job just as well, maybe not as smoothly, but they cost a whole lot less and you’re not tied to iTunes. Nevertheless, I can appreciate good design when I see it, and the new iPod shuffle looks like another winner. Less is most definitely more. The control wheel has disappeared and in its place there’s a voice synth, called VoiceOver, that tells you which track is playing. It’ll also speak your playlists and help you to navigate around your tunes. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that the capacity has been doubled to a respectable 4Gb. It will be available soon in black or sliver, the US price is likely to be around $80 and there will be versions in Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.



Vista Service Pack 2 Try Out Available

If you don’t mind taking a teensy-weensy risk Vista Service Pack 2 Release Candidate is now available for download from Microsoft. You could be one of the first kids on the block to give it a whirl. This is more or less the finished version that will be unleashed onto the general public in a few weeks time, provided no last minute bugs are found. That’s where you, as an unpaid guinea pig come in. Just in case something does go wrong Microsoft won’t be there to help, it’s a try it at your own risk type deal, but you will get the benefit of several bug fixes an uprated Search facility and improved support for Bluetooth and Blu-Ray. The only other points to watch out for are that you must have Service Pack 1 installed, and you’ll have to uninstall the Release Candidate pack before you can install the public release of SP2 when it comes out.



All Keyed Up

There’s nothing particularly new about having a USB drive on your key ring, but LaCie has taken the idea one stage further and come up with a series key-shaped storage devices. They’re amusingly called, from left to right, ‘itsaKey’, ‘iamaKey’ and ‘PassKey’ and as you can see they’re all designed to plug into a USB port, however, they’re more than just memory sticks, they’re actually MicroSD card readers; the PassKey model also supports the MicroSDHC format, and the iamaKey and itsaKey also come with either 4Gb or 8Gb of memory built in, write speeds are in the order of 10 and 20Mb/sec.



Sounding Off

Here’s an interesting idea spotted recently on Engadget. It’s a remote control, and yes, it’s a bit big but the clever bit is the built in speaker, which connects wirelessly to the audio output on your TV or Hi-Fi. The idea, if you haven’t worked it out by now, it to turn up the volume, but only in your immediate vicinity. It could be a boon for the hard of hearing, or when watching a TV program you just cannot miss when in company, or something that’s annoying the hell out of others nearby. Sadly there’s no news on a European launch or any idea of how much it will cost but if past experience is anything to go by we probably won’t have to wait too long.




Goodbye Wall Wart?

That’s what our American friends call plug-in mobile phone and just about everything else chargers. Well, you may have heard last week that the bigwigs of the mobile phone industry have finally got together and decided on a single standard for phone charger sockets. It really is a significant development and a genuinely eco-friendly move that will reduce the wall wart blight, just think how many millions of these things, with their stupidly proprietary plugs, go into landfill, not to mention the wasted energy and recourses that went into their production. Now for the bad news, the new standard will be micro-USB. That’s not to be confused with mini-USB, which has been around for yonks and is pretty much a standard on MP3 players, no, they had to do it and come up with a new standard that hardly anyone has heard about or uses. Their excuse is that it’s more rugged and can stand up to ten times more pluggings and unpluggings then it’s mini cousin. I have to say that in more years than I care to remember I haven’t experienced one failure, and I’ve used a lot of gadgets, a lot of times… Oh well, it will give the adaptor manufacturers something to do.



Run for the Hills, it’s Frankenprocessor

I am indebted to Slashgear for alerting us to this scary PC case mod. Depending on your point of view it’s the work of a disturbed mind, or a genius, we tend towards the latter. The man (we think) behind this behemoth is one D. Mattocks and before you ask, we neither know nor care about the computer’s specs they are irrelevant in this case (pun intended). It has been cobbled together from polished wood, plumbing parts (there’s what looks suspiciously like a three quarter inch gate valve and some 22mm copper tubing in the middle, and how sad is that, the fact that I know about these things...?). There’s a brass vent salvaged from a church, vintage pressure gauges, copper pipes from an old ship and it stands nearly eight feet tall.


One of the dials actually works, showing the CPU temperature and everything is backlit, using cold cathode tubes. Our only concern is that he couldn’t find some way of covering up the CD and floppy disc draws, between the two dials near the base. Jules Verne would be proud; pop over to Slashgear for more pics of this frightening, beautiful monstrosity.



Beating the Odds with iPhone

If you’re visiting Vegas and you have a Apple iPhone or iTouch do not on any account download a little application called Card Counter. If you do just make sure no one sees you using it at the tables. Card Counter teaches you the art of card counting, which in theory at least, can give you a serious edge in Blackjack. It’s obviously got the casinos worried and the iPhone and gadgets like it are banned and using one for nefarious purposes is a felony under Nevada laws. TMSoft, who devised the program say it’s just a tutorial, even though it apparently has a ‘stealth’ mode, and it can teach you everything you need to know about card counting in a few hours. Maybe so, but be careful, gambling establishments know all the tricks. They don’t like cheats and according to my understanding and the evidence from numerous movies and TV programs, they have ways of making you regret it…



Cyber Bugs Take Flight (or Fright)

If you’re not keen on creepy-crawlies look away now. Even if big scary-looking bugs do not bother you this story, from Technology Review could give you the shivers. Apparently researchers at the University of California, funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects) have strapped a small package of microchips to a flying beetle. The rig, connected to electrodes implanted in the beetle’s nervous system, lets scientists control the unfortunate creature. This far they’re able to command it to take off, turn and hover. It sounds like the plot of a bad sci-fi movie, maybe it is, but the mind boggles over what would happen if military types ever managed to strap on a camera or use it control a swarm of these things. Pass the fly swatter…



Skype me up Scotty

There may still be 10 months to go but I’ve already started compiling my Christmas wish list and one of the first contenders is this Voip/Skype phone, based on a classic Star Trek communicator. It’s coming from an outfit called Dream Cheeky, which seems to have cornered the market in wacky USB gadgets. Details, such as the price are a bit sketchy but it’s apparently going to be available in April, which gives those concerned plenty of time to start saving, and you know who you are…



D Spy With My Little Eye

Thanks to good folk at Akihabara News for alerting us to the latest threat to your personal security. It’s called the AME-105 and as you can see it looks like a common or garden ID badge. Look closer, though, the D’s in ID and Card have black dots in them, they’re a microphone and camera. If my near non-existent Japanese is serving me correctly the camera is a 1.3 megapixel device and the media recorder built into the card captures video (and audio) at a resolution of 352 x 288 pixels at 15 frames per second in .avi format. It has a USB interface, and as far as I can make out the 4Gb version can record for up to 60 minutes. It’s on sale now in Japan for around £130, so the next time you’re in the sort of gathering or situation that entails the wearing of an ID badge, check the ‘Ds’ and be careful what you say



The Really Big Picture!

If you were in the crowd at President Obama’s recent Inauguration there’s a fair chance you can see yourself in an amazing photograph taken using a gadget called the GigaPan (you can see faces in the crowd almost a mile away…). The 1474Mb image was made up from 220 images taken using a Canon G10 digital camera. The GigaPan builds up the image by tracking back and forth, taking overlapping photos that are combined into one bi picture on a computer. Well, now you can have a crack at something similar yourself, using a common or garden compact digital camera, using a low-cost version of the GigaPan, called the GigaPan Epic. It comes with the necessary ‘Stitcher’ software, the US price is $379, we’re not sure when it will be available here but if you ask nicely they might be able to sort one out for you, but be patient, they’re in big demand!



Tough Enough

Following on from our recent item about a new rugged compact PC (below) you might like to know that Panasonic, who has been making butch laptops for years, has come up with upgrades for its Toughbook 19 and 30 range. Popular with military types they’ve never been noted for speed or performance but their particular talent is being able to withstand the sort of physical punishment that would destroy the average wimpy home laptop. The new models share the same beefy chassis and construction as their predecessors and they now boast longer battery lives, optional solid state drives, brighter screens and if you want to go commando, there’s a special ‘concealed mode’ which turns off the screen and all lights with a single key press. You’ll need a military budget to buy one as well, prices are in the £2000 - £3000 range.



Battle Ready PC

If you’ve been looking for a compact and rugged PC to fit inside your Humvee or armoured personnel carrier then you’ll be pleased to know your search may be over. It’s called the Stinger and it’s a small form factor PC from Colmek. As you can see, it looks the part. The tough case is able to withstand shock (up to 15g), high altitude, vibration and extremes of temperature and humidity. Inside the box is a low-power 1.4GHz Intel Atom CPU with 2Gb of RAM and 128Gb of solid-state memory. It’s capable of running Windows, Linux and VxWorks operating systems (the latter used in such diverse applications as airliners and Mars landers).  It’s fitted with some fancy input and output connections but don’t let that worry you, all of the usual interfaces can be accommodated, including VGA, LAN, USB, SATA, serial, keyboard and mouse, all you need to do is keep it fed with 9 to 32 volts DC and you’re ready for battle.



GDrive Coming Soon?

Rumours of the fabled GDrive have been circulating for at least the last three years but just recently there seems to be a marked increase in chatter, with several normally reliable pundits predicting an announcement this year, so let’s add to the buzz.


But what it is it? We’ll, if you haven’t already worked it out, the GDrive is a multi-gigabyte online storage facility provided by Google. It’s not a new idea and several companies already offer such a service, but for a fee, and that’s the key difference. Everyone expects GDrive capacity to be free, and there would be plenty of it, possibly enough to match the kind of hard drive capacities we’re used to on desktop PCs. If that happens something magical and a bit scary could occur. It could mean the end of Windows; PCs would no longer need a large hard dive to store the operating system, applications and data since it could all be stored online. What’s more, if Google went head with another oft-rumoured project and developed its own operating system, a PC could be reduced to a nothing more than a cheap, dumb terminal. This is the so-called ‘Cloud’ computer concept, where everything is online, and it could happen, though I have to say it would be a cold day in hell, and take a seismic change in web security and service stability before I trusted all my precious data and personal details to the Internet…



Dodgy Drive Warning

Anyone planning to upgrade their PC, or buy a new one, would do well to find out the make and model of the hard drive involved. According to Engadget the failure rate of 1 terabyte Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 drives is causing some concern. The drives are manufactured in Thailand and the problem concerns the firmware, which kills the drive stone dead, making it impossible to boot or read/write data. To make matters worse, it’s not possible to update the firmware once the drive has failed. Seagate say the drives affected were manufactured in December last year and its support site has details how to identify the drives affected, and update the firmware.



Safe As Houses

What if you absolutely have to protect your data against flood, fire, earthquake and alien attack? There’s plenty of options, including remote and off-site storage, but what if you’re not a rich business user and don’t trust others to look after your valuable files? How about this, it’s called the ioSafe Solo.You can’t tell much from the outside but basically it’s an external hard drive with a USB 2.0 interface, available in a range of capacities from 500Gb to 1.5Tb. The actual drive is unremarkable – probably an off the shelf Seagate model but you can take it as read that inside it’s very well cushioned against shock. The housing is also designed to withstand immersion in 10 feet of fresh or salt water for up to 3 days and endure temperatures of over 800 degrees C for up to 30 minutes. It also looks like it can take a beating too, and all this for around £150 for the entry-level model, rising to £300 for the top of the range version.



Windows 7 Beta Now Available for Download

There can’t be many people -- in the geek community at least – who haven’t already tried out Windows 7. A Beta version of the program leaked out of Microsoft in late December and millions of copies escaped into the wild, but now the official release is available and it’s all yours for the cost of a 2.5Gb download and a blank DVD, from the Microsoft Technet site. It’s pretty much what we’ll get when the operating system is released, probably later this year, but do remember it’s beta software, so there are no comebacks if it melts your computers. To be fair that’s very unlikely to happen, and it is very stable, but you shouldn’t install it on a ‘mission critical’ machine or any computer containing data you don’t want to lose. Don’t expect too many surprises, it’s a souped up Vista, but without some of the irritants, and there’s been a few very useful tweaks, which we’ll be looking at in the coming weeks and months. Give it a try, it's rather good.



Terabyte SDs Available by March?

The SD Association, the body responsible for setting and policing the standards for now ubiquitous SD memory cards has announced that a new generation of SDXC (eXtended capacity) should be available by the end of March. The first cards will probably have a 1 terabyte capacity though the format allows a theoretical maximum of up to 2Tb, with read/write speeds of up to 300Mb/sec. That’s seriously big, and seriously fast and to put it into perspective a 2Tb card could store in the region 17,000 high quality still images or around 100 HD movies. SDCX cards use the established exFAT filing system, however, it will be a while before we know which devices can exploit the extra capacity, and no one is talking prices. However, if they go the same way as previous generations of memory cards and devices, this time next year they’ll be giving them away in packets of cornflakes…



Power Does Matter

How many of those plug in mains chargers have you got? Probably loads, and it’s amazing how they manage to grow legs and go walkabout when you’re not looking. So wouldn’t be great if you didn’t need them any more? Well, that’s the claim by the makers of Powermat, a ‘wire free’ charger that can charge up to four devices simultaneously, simply by placing them on a specially designed mat.


It sounds too good to be true but when you look into it the technology is fairly straightforward. It’s all down to magnetic induction, which is the basis of the electrical transformer. Basically when you place two coils of wire close to one another an alternating current flowing in the primary coil induces a current in secondary coil. But exactly how does the power get from the mat into your MP3 player or mobile phone? That’s all down to a little gizmo, called a ‘puck’, which you plug into the device to be charged. The primary coil is in the mat and the secondary coil is in the puck, along with some circuitry to regulate and monitor the charge. If they could persuade a few manufacturers to build a ‘puck’ coil into their devices, now that really would be something…


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