July 31, 2008
iPhone 3g Data Plans
Following on from CW's 'Are we being heard?' post it appears Telstra are at least
listening watching Optus and may rejig some of it's iPhone Plans and with '3' launching iPhone Support the iPhone plan comparison spreadsheet which will hopefully get an update should ease some iPhone plan pain choices.
TXTing can hurt ya
Further to Charle's article on the dangers of using TXT abbreviations in professional communications, THE RAW FEED spotted this MSNBC article: Oblivious texters hurt as they walk, even skate.
July 30, 2008
Thx, but no thanks
On the one hand, the brevity of text language could be seen as just one more step in the evolution of English, and even, possibly, a form of resource-management. Why waste four letters, or even a couple of words, when you can get the point across with two letters? On the other hand, it could cost you that new job.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the casual communications style of today's school-leaves and graduates could be turning off recruiters. They're not amused by emoticons, "thanx" emails and "hiya" communications, viewing them as evidence of immaturity and questionable judgment. Even whipping off a quick response from your mobile phone or Blackberry is considered by some as suggesting an "on-the-fly mentality".
According to Wendi Friedman Tush, president of Lexicomm Group - a boutique communications firm in New York - that "From my Blackberry" tag suggests convenience, rather than any deep reflection. Candidates "should sit down at their computer in a thoughtful way and do it, not while they're on their way somewhere".
July 29, 2008
eBay buyers looking for protection
It looks like the seventh largest eBay Australia store has gone bust and the owner has done a runner to China. Ashes Moses from The Age reports "Over 450 eBay users who bought items from the seller - often at a price seemingly below cost - have left the company negative feedback on the website in the last 30 days."
"Those who paid for items using PayPal, which is owned by eBay, will be entitled to refunds through a new fund set up specifically to deal with this incident, PayPal managing director Andrew Pipolo said."
When added in contrast with the recent eBay, PayPal & ACCC issues the July 3rd statement from eBay will need to reassure the Australian eBay community that they are in fact:-
"eBay’s goal has always been to provide members with a safer experience. Under the current circumstances, we will continue to look for ways to do that while still offering a variety of payment choices."
July 28, 2008
Contributing to those WILFing moments
A past colleague with an American sense of humour calls it "Futzing Around". The Poms call it WILFing (What Was I Looking For) moments. The Reuters article is a little narrow in the definition of the phrase, but it just happened to me. I reckon, I'm pretty cluey on being productive with Windows machines but once in a while, there's a flurry of hard disk activity, molassing of the input devices and then, yes, the "what was I actually trying to do" moment.
It went like this. I was setting up a free collaborative workspace with a new client, using Microsoft Office Live. This is a free facility where you can establish partitioned workspaces, put documents and files, then assign sharing permissions to other people - they don't have to be in your organisation. I went there in my heavily customised favourite Firefox web browser.
Didn't work, lah. I easily fired up Firefox with my alternate clean profile, without hassle. I soon got in. Some FF extension had been in the way. I sent an invitation to the client, things looked good.
But I really wanted this to happen in Internet Explorer 7 and for even smoother flow, allow Office 2007 to seamlessly Open and Save files to Office.Live.
But it didn't work still. Ok, try running IE7 the normal way, manually disable all the Add-Ons, even those I trusted. In the meantime, just to prove that IE7 itself would not be a problem, fired up my handy dandy virtual machine - yes, got in fine. Except that once alive, the Virtual Machine advised me to carry out Windows Updates. Subsequently followed by hard disk fervernt hard disk activity.
In the meantime, IE7 on the host was in and I started to download the Office Live extensions.Well one setup.exe led to a wlogin.msi and then there was the olconnector.msi. By that time the Virtual Machine had finished hard disk activity and could be put to sleep again.
Now, what was I trying to do, remind me.....
July 27, 2008
We had the car windows up and the heater on last night, driving in Melbourne. It's nice to be able to put the words "rain" and "Melbourne" in the same sentence. The car windows got wet but I'm not sure that there was enough vigour in the rain to actually clean up the film of dust and gunk.
We've come a long way since the days of The Brain - and I guess our advice to keeping our PC secure would change.
On the other hand, some classic concepts of malware requiring a vector still applies, as my alert about the Mal/Autoinf-A and the W32/SillyFDC-H explains.
So many technologies are now in the soup that rabid IT specialists drink (full and partial virtualization, denying root/admin access, Host Based Intrusion Prevention System) as opposed to the classic anti-virus scanner. Trouble is, the general PC using public isn't aware of the state of the game.
July 25, 2008
MSY fails Google's malware test
May we suggest that you don't visit the site of the popular hardware supplier MSY without checking it first with the Google malware tool? It looks like somebody has added some poisonous links to their site, and it's taking them quite a while to wake up to the tampering:
What is the current listing status for www.msy.com.au/?
Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer.
Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 1 time(s) over the past 90 days.
What happened when Google visited this site?
Of the 77 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 33 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 07/23/2008, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 07/16/2008.
Malicious software includes 1 scripting exploit(s). Successful infection resulted in an average of 2 new processes on the target machine.
Malicious software is hosted on 8 domain(s), including gitporg.com, butdrv.com, bnsdrv.com.
2 domain(s) appear to be functioning as intermediaries for distributing malware to visitors of this site, including butdrv.com, gitporg.com.
We suspect this will have led to quite a spike in the number of infected PCs in Melbourne. We do hope GTO_Pontiac hasn't got caught by this one. He's constantly looking at MSY to do the numbers for his monthly update to our Workhorse PC specs in the Forum.
The network as computer
What a week it's been in the Bleeding Edge concept delivery department. It's our job to package the predictions and products that technology comes up with, and dispatch them so that they arrive in time for serious adoption, and don't have to sit around taking up space. We subscribe, of course, to the Just In Time Concept Delivery Organisation standards, so we have to be careful not to under-estimate take-up, to avoid the embarrassment of running out of supplies.
Generally we get it pretty right, although in some cases, such as the e-book, we have been known to be as much as five years premature with our delivery schedule. On other occasions we can be a touch pessimistic with our shipments. We knew, for instance, that the 3G iPhone was going to be an immediate hit, but we failed to realise just how big the demand would be. What with Apple announcing it had sold one million of the things in just three days, and most stores around the world selling out, we obviously failed to account adequately for the power of the company's hype machine.
At roughly the same time, however, we were reminded of our most serious over-calculation. Would you believe we were 23 years out in our estimation of the arrival of a concept that Sun Microsystems, then a relatively small workstation manufacturer, served up to us under the slogan "The Network is the Computer".
We're probably being a little too harsh on ourselves. We didn't really believe, back in 1985, that the network was going to be the computer, because at the time, the network had only just arrived in Australia.
It was in June that year that a bearded engineer called Robert Elz plugged the network – the thing we now call the internet - into a computer at Melbourne University, and — somewhat typical of the early internet — was immediately forced to pull the plug out again when he discovered that it was wired up the wrong way.
We're not even sure that Sun understood their own slogan, when someone from their marketing team scrawled it on a whiteboard. Later they even changed it to "The Computer is the Network" which indicates the fluidity of the notion.
But a few years later, after the World Wide Web arrived on the scene, and information developed a certain ubiquity, we started to believe that yes, certainly, the computer was the network. Except that we didn't really operate like that.
We'd got so used to operating systems that in practice we operated on the presumption that the computer was the operating system, and to a large extent, so was the network.
We don't know precisely when our thinking changed, but it has finally struck us that something has shifted. Our daily routine is now formulated on the basis that the computer really is the network, and vice versa, and the operating system is largely — although not completely — irrelevant.
As it happens, the network as computer is much more reliable if you're using Linux, rather than Windows. Linux isn't just more stable. As IBM e-business architect Chris Walden points out in a series of articles to help developers move from Windows to Linux it's been designed from the ground up to run on a network, unlike Windows, which was built with printing in mind, and with the Australian-developed Samba file-sharing protocol, it works with a Windows network much more seamlessly than Windows works with either Linux or Macs.
Even more significantly, from our point of view, unlike with Windows — even the now venerable Windows XP — you don't have issues like constant re-booting and software clashes. We were reminded of this the other day, when Ananda Sim, one of our colleagues on the free Bleeding Edge blog, declared "Many people think of a computer like a wooden desk. It shouldn't change, shouldn't move. The computer isn't like that though. It changes as a result of your usage."
He's right in the case of Windows, but it's certainly not true of Linux. Linux protects the kernel from misbehaving applications and drivers, and because it's not so easy for programs to be installed and made executable in Linux, the system is infinitely more secure. It's those constant changes wrought by new device drivers and applications and malware that has driven us relentlessly towards the network computer, and hence Linux.
We're using an Ubuntu desktop, the Knoppmyth-based Australian Dragon media centre and an Asus Eee PC running Xandros and the incredibly condensed and powerful Puppy Linux developed in Perth by Barry Kauler, which Windows users considering Linux could profitably explore, given that it boots off a USB key, with the entire operating system and all its applications running in 256MB of RAM.
Not that we're necessarily using Linux programs. Increasingly, we complete our daily routine with Web-based applications, some of which we'll explore next week.
While we don't expect Microsoft to go broke any time soon, we in the department have decided that it's time to re-issue the network as computer concept for immediate, widespread adoption.
Chatting on the grassy Knol
Looks like Ananda started playing on Google's grassy Knol around the same time as I did. I posted this as a comment on his post [below], but we seem to be having the occasional problem with comments, so I'lll post it here too. It's supposedly designed to make it easier to locate and grade information according to authors, who apparently have been shy about contributing their knowledge to the world. It certainly seems to have inspired authors from the world of medicine. Knol has quickly become a compelling site if you want to learn about Atrial Septal Defect, and Occult Gastrointestinal Bleeding, and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, which, somehow, I don't.
I suppose the rating system might become an indicator of quality, although something tells me that we will quickly see the equivalent of search optimisation techniques that make it roughly as fair and substance-free as, say, the Tour de France. So far I'm impressed by the way you can import, say, a Word document.
There's an instructive piece on using Knol.
And while I'm not sure I really wanted to have barbecue defined in the way it's defined here, I notice there are links there already to, for instance, the Taxonomy of Sauces, which could completely alter your attitude to tossing a shrimp on the barbie.
Looks like this could become a bigger hit than the iPhone. At least in those circles that are dying for a good chat about atrial septal defect.
July 24, 2008
Forum reading might just have got better
For inveterate web forum posters and readers, the navigation INTO and OUT of articles can be very much the, you know, Mr. Miyagi Wax On, Wax Off thing. Especially when a thread reaches 150 posts. Here's a Firefox Extension that might help - it's called Interclue. Now, I'm still short of the 200 though.
How much do you Knol?
Yes, I know, I am prone to lapses in spelling, typos and such. But I do like to write from time to time, so why not write authoritatively? I've contributed to the odd Wikipedia article anonymously but here's a Google slant - Google Knol (this link BTW points to the Wikipedia article). So what's the difference between the Google Knol and Wikipedia? Monetizing is one thing - you're allowed to create articles for your own business or promote lawful products or services. A rating and comments system are two others. Amit gives us the skinny on these differences and more. I'm certainly there, having a look.
Our great Australian retail rip-off
So we went to Allan's Music in Bourke Street to buy what is for a singer or musician or, for that matter, a journalist, a fabulous piece of gear - a Zoom H4 digital recorder, our's having been ripped off by a friendly local burglar. When we bought it, early last year, we paid around $430. Since then the Australian dollar has appreciated against the US dollar, so we expected it would be cheaper. Nope. Now it was $549.
We checked it out on eBay, and discovered several US stores were selling it for $US298.99, which worked out at around $318 in real money. And for that, they included free UPS freight, a 4GB memory card, a mini-tripod and a set of headphones. In Bourke Street, our $549 bought us ... the recorder.
So we thought about it for possibly a millisecond: we're sure the problem is the pricing imposed by the local distributor (have they not heard of eBay, we wonder?), and we know the local price includes GST, and we feel that we should shop locally, if possible. On the other hand, should we spend an extra $230 and get a good deal less for our money? Or should we buy it from eBay?
July 22, 2008
Apple: house guest from Hell
We've had it up to here with Apple. First they try to get us to install their Web browser Safari on to our Windows PC as part of a so-called upgrade to iTunes, then today, while we were looking through our Control Panel, we happened to come across something called MobileMe.
We knew about MobileMe. It's a service iPhone owners can use to sync their phone with their Macs and Windows desktop PCs. The thing is, we don't have an iPhone, so we have no use for MobileMe. So what's it doing in our Control Panel?
It turns out that when we did the latest update to iTunes, which we use to manage our iPod Touch, Apple decided unilaterally to install a free ad for themselves. In our Control Panel! Without so much as a by your leave. We regard it as an unpardonable abuse of our hospitality. We might have accepted it if we were using iTunes on a Mac, but iTunes is a very minor part of our Windows system, and Apple has no business installing its crap wherever it pleases without our knowledge or permission.
We've been getting pretty irritated with iTunes as it happens. It's become increasingly unstable, forcing us to reboot periodically whenever we use it. We've had it with QuickTime too. So we're about to give iTunes the push.
Are we being heard?
Is it possible someone at the ACCC reads Bleeding Edge? In last week's column - which we have been very tardy about posting [below] - we pointed out the fact that the consumer and competition authority has overlooked the pathetic free data allowances and savage excess data charges of local mobile carriers. Yesterday they announced they would investigate whether our telcos are misleading customers.
While this is a good start, it doesn't seem to us to go far enough. Chairman Graeme Samuel is urging customers to read the fine print. He should be asking Telstra, for instance, why it is the world's least friendly iPhone carrier, offering only 5MB of free data, which is about a third of what a four-hour Texas Hold 'Em session chewed up, according to a report in the Whirlpool iPhone forum. He should be asking why the telcos' plans are so difficult to interpret, and why overseas operators tell customers plainly how many free minutes they get, but local operators are allowed to put a dollar value on voice minutes. As we pointed out, variable flag fall, 30-second call rates and metering intervals make it impossible even for skilled cryptographers to translate dollars into minutes.
We've been pushing Melbourne PC User Group to establish an Australian digital consumers advocacy group, and we are getting a good response. Someone has to protect the consumer. As we've pointed out previously, the ACA really isn't doing a good enough job, although it is quoted in the article by Asher Moses.
ACCC must act to protect iPhone ducks
We have a crisis on our hands at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Consumers, what with the declaration of an early start to the equivalent of duck hunting season on the mobile phone customer, following the launch of possibly the most dangerous decoy ever developed — the Apple iPhone.
Already flocks of consumer "ducks" have unwittingly been lured on to the apparently placid waters of the killing zones by the madly attractive iPhone. The inevitable slaughter will shortly begin.
Imagine the grief in homes around the country, as the first monthly accounts from the telcos lob, with confirmation of the fatal wounds suffered by a significant proportion of consumers. For many, it will be a slow and painful demise.
We at the society are determined to warn of the deadly capabilities of the iPhone, and to advocate that authorities like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission act to protect consumers from unreasonably high mobile data charges, and cynical marketing by carriers.
The iPhone marketing tsunami does not reveal the menacing nature of the iPhone. On the Apple Web site, for instance, it's described as "the iPhone you've been waiting for". That slogan, and the words "phone, iPod and Internet in one fast 3G device", fail to betray the lethal potential.
Functionality like regular Web browsing and email, consulting of Google maps and downloading of video and music, which the promotional material pushes, was designed for markets that don't charge the way Australian mobile networks do.
The ACCC has ignored the fact that Australian networks have paltry free mobile data limits and punitively high charges for excess data, and comprehensively underestimate the average size of Web pages. Vodafone, for instance, has claimed 100MB of data allows users to view 4000 web pages. In fact, the average size of a web page is around 500 KB, and the home page of The Age, for instance, about 784KB — which could cost anything from around 25c to $2 if, for instance, you were paying Telstra's excess or casual data rates. They also allow telcos to put a dollar value on voice minutes, despite the fact that variable flag fall, 30-second call rates and metering intervals make it impossible even for skilled cryptographers to translate those dollars into minutes.
Overseas research suggests iPhone users conduct 50 times more Google searches than other phone users. About 60 per cent of US iPhone owners browse the web daily, and 75 per cent do daily email. German iPhone owners consume 30 times more data, no doubt using the special version of Facebook for iPhone users, Skype for iPhone and a special iPhone chat client.
Unfortunately, media coverage – with the rare exception of last week's LiveWire cover story - has mostly followed the Apple marketing line, rather than focusing on the potentially catastrophic plans for which users have been signing up.
And unlike Canada, where a public petition last week forced Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. to slash its iPhone data charges from $60 per month for 400MB to $30 for a more realistic 5GB, there has been no outcry, despite the fact that Optus and Vodafone's $60 offerings are very similar to those of the Canadian telco.
Vodafone's $69 plan includes just 250MB of data. Optus is the cheapest and therefore safest iPhone carrier. It offers seven iPhone "cap plans" ranging from $19 per month (with a seriously inadequate 100MB of data) to $179 (1GB of data and $1500 voice). Their $70 cap plan provides 700MB of data traffic.
Telstra's plans are difficult to decipher, but predictably far less generous than the competition, and possibly the worst iPhone rates in the world. Telstra quotes "$59 upfront on a $89 package", but that actually translates to a monthly payment of $89: a $60 voice plan with $10 of data, plus a $29 data pack, providing a total of 107MB, after which users will be paying $1 for each additional megabyte.
In the US, customers get unlimited data for $60, plus 450 weekday voice minutes and 200 text messages. In the UK, 02 is even more generous, offering 1200 day-time voice minutes, unlimited data, 500 text messages, and a free 8GB iPhone on an 18-month contract for the equivalent of $60.
Even with the maximum bundles, iPhone users would be wise to carefully monitor usage. And although Telstra has indicated their Big Pond customers at least will have free use of Telstra wi-fi hot spots, novices will almost certainly have problems determining whether they're on a free connection.
Experienced mobile phone users have become painfully aware of the dangers of mobile data, with regular horror stories of excess charges in forums like Whirlpool, which has a new, dedicated iPhone discussion area.
The iPhone hype unfortunately means that thousands of Australians who have been encouraged to buy movies and TV shows and surf the Web with abandon, are, as the saying goes, in more trouble than a Werribee duck.
July 20, 2008
Archival CDs and DVDs
There have been past discussions about the archival quality of CDs and DVDs. The summary as I last remember it is that the ultimate archival quality CDs are like the ones from Delkin and the DVDs were not nearly as trustworthy. However, we're finding in digital photography, we're shooting heaps of stuff and the CD capacity limit is real small. Of course there are other media and backup methods, but I was intrigued to see Kodak archival DVD-R at the local Safeway. Not cheap at AUD 11 per piece in a hard plastic case. I then re-visit Delkin and they are claiming Blu-Ray discs (BD-R) at 200 year lifespan, CD-R and DVD-R at 300 year lifespan. Amazing how some accelerated testing and extrapolation curves can produce eh? Now, if only we could find a computer, in 300 years that reads current CD-R. And the relevant RAW and JPEG editors.
- The Ad Terras Per Aspera blog has a blog entry on archival quality media.
- Digitak Content Producer has a part 2 particle on archival DVDs.
July 15, 2008
Expecting your computer "not to change"
You hear a lot about PCs running Microsoft Windows. In a recent episode of Criminal Minds, the writers even take a swipe at Windows by working in a plotline where a nasty guy fakes PC incompetence to engage the sympathy and interest of the resident FBI girl geek. Well, when you (Windows) are a tall poppy, everybody's out there with shears.
We often see newbies and even experienced computer users collapse in shock when their machine goes "funny". I was on a support call to a good friend and client about how her mouse in Word and Excel decided to action things via single click rather than double click. Puzzled, I asked her to check in Windows Control Panel's Mouse settings. No. Not that and she wasn't in
Como Pomo Control Panel when the mouse started behaving oddly. I suspect some hardware issue and asked her to switch mice. Failing which, she might carry out a System Restore if she had a Restore Point handy. Another even closer friend was telling me, after a routine AVG anti-virus scan, AVG hated his MBR (Master Boot Record) and decided to trash the hard disk. I told him for next time, instead of succumbing to a whole hard disk image restore, try saving his MBR and have a boot disk handy with an MBR utility that could put that small but critical sector of data back.
Thing is, though, many people think of a computer like a wooden desk. It shouldn't change, shouldn't move. The computer isn't like that though. It changes as a result of your useage. If you really want the computer not to change, then you might think of employing one of several strategies to "forget everything" when you reboot. Everything would go "pfft!" - Of course, you would want to save your documents before that happened.
Be careful where you point that iPhone
Interesting article this. Quick hide the iPhone will ya....
Figuring out what makes things modern
We watched the new Get Smart Movie the other day. And the past few weeks, I've been raving over Sergio Mendes's "Enchanto". There are elements in both that update our nostalgic, rose coloured memories of how it was. Some of it is better technology, modern techniques and the advantage of having a reference to make over. Some of it, is however, the evolution of the English language and what is currently within social mores and propriety. The use of less refined words has been with us since ancient history, unlike Latin, language does evolve. I am reminded of Alex Papdimoulis having to explain to his mum as to the title of his blog currently called "The Daily WTF".
Over at the forum, aussieboykie spots an article about the evolution of the English Language .
July 14, 2008
The iPhone: slowly getting there
Simon Tsang's iPod review is a pretty good effort - far more penetrating than the stand-first indicates. We seem to be in a consensus of two on the fact that while the interface is brilliant, it's by no means perfect, and in many areas lacking the features being offered by many of its competitors.
Simon may be wrong in suggesting however that it can't send MMS messages. It can't do that natively, but this app seems to allow iPhone MMS. We're still looking for an app that will allow it to do cut and paste.
Fondling some Glass
Over the weekend, I passed by Harvey Norman, Chadstone (in the Officeworks block, not in Chadstone Shopping Centre). They had a whole display case of Olympus Digital Zuiko DSLR lenses. I think nearly every one in the Olympus Four Thirds range was there. Those frustrated Zuiko-holics, instead of watching some flash simulation of how the lenses would look like , could actually see them. And, salespeople willing, hold them. Apparently these lenses are not owned by the individual store and will travel around.
July 11, 2008
Why drivers kill cyclists
This is cute. Transport for London is trying to make London a world class cycling city. Unlike Victoria's Minister for Motorists, Tim Pallas, who would like more of us to ride bicycles, but doesn't want to inconvenience drivers sufficiently to stop them killing cyclists, it's actually doing something positive.
Here's a clever awareness test it ran to encourage drivers to become more conscious of cyclists. Could we possibly buy it, and run it in Melbourne? It might, you know, save the lives of tax payers.
Wanted: An MP with guts
If you've read our rant on Telstra and the iPhone below, you might have looked at the ruinediPhone.com site, and wondered why the Canadians seem to be having better luck getting their telcos to listen and start ending the rip-offs that have been draining money from mobile phone users, and holding this country back.
One reason might be that we don't have any MPs like Davd McGuinty. He's got a bill in the Canadian Parliament aimed at legislating to end misleading practices by telcos. The situation in this country is much worse, but we don't seem to have any politicians railing against Telstra, which leads the pack in exploiting customers.
May we ask why not?
Telstra's iPhone victims - on camera
Is this video [opens with a brief commercial] of iPhone zealots captured queuing outside a Telstra store in Bourke Street this morning a parade of world-class dimwits? Or are they unfortunate victims of Telstra's shabby marketing tactics ... which in our opinion amount to deliberate concealment.
We found it impossible yesterday - a day before the launch - to get the details of Telstra's iPhone data charges. The staff at the four Telstra shops we rang simply didn't know, and the Telstra PR whom we asked to return our call, predictably didn't bother.
Nevertheless, that didn't stop all those people lining up overnight to buy an iPhone on what is, in terms of data charges, arguably the world's least iPhone friendly network. They've spent a cold night, being jeered at by drunks (who obviously know a lot more than these people do), in order to sign up for deals that are likely to get them stuck with savage bills for excess data charges, if they dare to use the iPhone as the promotional hype says it is designed to be used. $89 a month gets them bugger-all. A total of 107MB of data for God's sake, that will allow them to look at a few web pages every day, providing they don't get much email. Each additional MB will cost them $1. For $70, the people who queued at Optus get more than six times that data allowance.
We think they should ask The Age to obscure their faces, because they're clearly identified as people with a particularly low IQ.
Or perhaps they took the advice of Telstra's David Moffatt, and in asking the question "What do they most need their phone to do?" came up with a different answer to everyone else. They don't want to use the iPhone on the Internet. They want to use it as a phone. A highly fashionable, not particularly brilliant phone. Honestly, it makes us shake our head in wonder at the Australian consumer. Most of them are beyond help, aren't they?
We're thinking of having some bumper stickers made up: "I'm so dumb, I bought my iPhone from Telstra."
What's fascinating is that in Canada, the customers of Rogers Wireless Communications were so irate, they ran a public petition which forced the company to cut iPhone charges from 400MB for $60 per month, to 5GB for $30 per month. So much for the Anzac spirit. At least the Kiwis complain about being ripped off by their corporations.
July 10, 2008
Got a problem? Don't call us!
Just bought a new HP Pavilion notebook? Does the screen appear to have a life of its own? Well, don't worry. Hewlett Packard says it's not a problem. Are they learning this approach to customer service from Apple, perhaps?
Beating the price tag
Here at the Bleeding Edge Institute for the Combat of Consumer Delusions, one of the chief problems we encounter is the arbitrary authority of the price tag. Far too many people seem to imagine that simply because the so-called invisible hand of the market has decreed that a certain item sell for the price on the sticker, that's what they should pay.
The institute's mission is to instruct the consumer in doing precisely the opposite, not only because of the substantial savings, but also because coming up with ways to avoid paying the sticker price is a lot more fun.
Take for instance one of our colleagues, who wanted a colour laser printer for his business. The particular model he was looking at was a Hewlett Packard LaserJet 2600n, which had an RRP of $699, and a street price of about $469. He found a new one in a specials bin in an OfficeWorks store. OfficeWorks seems to have a lot of customers who buy a new product, decide once they get it home and open the box that it's not what they really want and return it. You can often find those products, with their original warranties, in the specials bin.
In this particular case, although the printer was marked down to $249, it came with a $200 cash-back offer from Hewlett Packard. After he redeemed that, he had a brand new $469 printer for a total of $49.
Hewlett Packard has regular promotions with cashback deals, $150 pre-paid Visa card or hardware bonuses including an iPAQ rx5765 Travel Companion or external hard drive. You can keep track of them here.
The same colleague alerted us to a special offer at Harris Technology. They've obviously done a deal with Hewlett Packard to sell off excess stocks of the ProLiant ML110 G4 tower PC, which has recently been updated to the G5 with a faster processor.
Harris Technology is selling a model with a Pentium D925 CPU, 1GB of RAM, gigabit Ethernet and two 160GB hard drives with inbuilt RAID, for $899. They're particularly attractive for a small business looking for Microsoft Small Business Server, because the price includes SBS 2003 R2 Standard, which costs around $1099. The ProLiant reputation for reliability and one-year on-site warranty persuaded us to buy one as the platform for the Asterisk box we're about to install for the Bleeding Edge spouse's psychology practice.
There are similar deals for home computer users. If you were considering trying out Microsoft Vista, Centrecom Computers will sell you a brand new Lenovo Intel dual-core E2140 PC with 2GB of RAM and 160gb hard drive, with Vista Home Premium pre-installed, for $499. A copy of Vista Home Premium costs
$405, which means the computer is pretty much free. Even an upgrade from Windows XP is about $190. [NOTE: According to a reader, when he rang Centrecom, they tole him they didn't have that offer, and tried to talk him into a more expensive deal.]
Both Lenovo and HP also move a lot of stock through the Grays Online auction site, which is also worth keeping an eye on when you're considering a purchase.
Software/hardware bundles are also often a cheap path to expensive software. If you were interested in Adobe Acrobat, for instance, you could do worse than buying a Canon DR2510C document scanner, which we've seen for around $1150. It ships with Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Standard, the highly useful electronic document filing package PaperPort SE, ScanSoft OmniPage SE and a business card management application called Biz Card Reader 5 SSE for managing business cards. The latest version of Adobe Acrobat Standard (recently updated to Version 9) costs $425. That route gives you the software and a fast and powerful document scanner which can quickly convert receipts and invoices and other tax records into highly-compressed PDF files.
The DR2510C has duplex capabilities, which means it can scan two-sided documents in a single pass, and dedicated buttons for one-touch operations like scanning directly to email or to a folder. And the fact that you're also getting PaperPort, which is a great tool for managing the content of those folders, lessens the sticker shock.
Another colleague needed a copy of the optical disc-burning program Nero 8, at $135. For $49 he could get Nero 8, and a new Pioneer DVD drive. The bundled version doesn't have all the features of the retail version, but most of us don't want them all.
We recommend Nero users check out the Nero Lite installation from updatepack.nl, which uses Jordan Russell’s Inno setup software to trim Nero's demands on your hard disk space by about 90 per cent.
There is a potential trap with OEM bundles. Nero, for instance, offers upgrade packages which we've found in the past costs more than the retail package.
After you've checked the bundles, also consider buying through eBay. We've had several favourable reports from readers who've saved money buying from Hong Kong-based merchants on the online auction site, after practising due diligence on the vendors
July 08, 2008
More than a slide show
Doing tech support for the spouse's psychology practice often involves the sort of job I don't imagine too many support people have to do. For instance, because her practice supports clients with education sessions and skills development, I frequently find myself having to put together a PowerPoint presentation at the last minute for someone whose professional skills don't include doing slide shows.
Last night, for instance, I found myself at 6pm having to turn a single slide crammed with the content of at least seven or eight slides, into a viewable, and hopefully engaging slide show. I had an hour to complete the job, then get the presentation onto a laptop and set it up for viewing at a venue that was about 15 minutes away. I finished it with plenty of time to spare, but - for reasons that I'm not entirely sure of - it refused to be saved. What do you do when that happens? Well, you take a deep breath, swallow hard, then start all over again. I doubt I've ever drawn text boxes, adjusted fonts and colours and backgrounds quite that quickly before.
Had I had enough time, however, I would have liked to have done the show in the beta version of a Web-based presentation application called 280Slides, from 280North. I'll be doing a column on it shortly.
It's one of the things that has had Bleeding Edge musing increasingly about the growing irrelevance of operating systems and commercial applications. Anyone tried it?
July 06, 2008
The Web's a lot about learning. Some of it is formal, as official education goes online. Others are simply learning from the human experience and interaction. Cybernet's got me looking at HowCast - I think it's hilarious.
Do you watch ABC Q & A?
TV program Q & A gained my attention quite quickly last week as this summary shows how the show kicked off.
"A discussion began which drew a comparison between the social benefits that nurses offer to that of lawyers and IT professionals and what their respective wages are. Many audience members concluded that nurses deserve more for their hard work. IT professionals emailed in to defend their higher salaries by arguing that they create the technology used by much of the equipment in hospitals."
You can catch last weeks episode online here and watch it live each Thursday at 9:30PM on ABC1.
July 05, 2008
Watch this spot (in the sky)
Winter in Melbourne has been rainy and cold. The past two days have been more cheerful though. Whilst out driving around (at AUD 1.60 per litre of petrol), we spotted something in the sky. Skywriter fellow was trying to do a Banj something, but the wind at that level was dissolving the BA before he could carry past the J. Did you see it? What was he intending to spell? How on earth does one point a plane and make letters? Anyway, it lifted our spirits a bit.
July 03, 2008
When the music never starts
So we went looking to buy and download Mary of course, plus look at some of her other stuff, and ended up at Amazon.com's MP3 download site. We dutifully installed Amazon's MP3 downloader, clicked on the track ... and were informed that because we'd foolishly chosen to live in Australia, rather than the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave etc, we couldn't download the music.
And the recording industry wonders why so many of its customers get their music from Russia. Where you can download an entire album for not more than the cost of a single track.
The shrinking personal computer
It's been one of those introspective periods at Bleeding Edge … a period in which we have been wondering just where the concept of a personal computer might be taking us. This column was founded on the personal computer, and it's been our business, over the past couple of decades, to try to keep track of the things.
In the old days, we knew what a personal computer was. It was a large box that sat on or under your desk. It had a big screen. It emitted a background hum. Periodically it crashed, and occasionally ate your data, as often as not due to the engineering genius of Microsoft.
Over the years we've accommodated the changing role of the personal computer – the way it moved from being something that one used for office activities to something that handled our email, hooked us up to the internet, became the instrument for our banking and an increasing proportion of our shopping, insinuated itself into our lounge room, firstly by becoming our music library, then our TV receiver and recorder, and more recently even served as our personal telephone exchange. Over that time the operating system has evolved, although it continues periodically to crash, and occasionally eat your data, thanks to the engineering genius of Microsoft.
We embraced the fact that the PC and its screen has been constantly shrinking in size and price. Notebook computers allowed people the utility of a computer while travelling, and as they became cheaper, increasingly and in our view - given what is still a significant price premium, the power deficit, the difficulty of upgrading components and considerable ergonomic problems, illogically - replaced the desktop.
Then, in December last year, we started to get a bit rattled. It began with the launch of the ASUS Eee PC 701. This was a radically different type of PC. It had a tiny (seven-inch) screen and a cut-down keyboard. It didn't even have a hard drive. On the other hand, it cost $500, and because it shipped with Linux and a substantial suite of open-source software, it promised to defeat Microsoft's increasingly burdensome tax on computer users, and the consequences of its engineering genius.
The missing hard drive and the fact that it had only 4GB of solid state storage didn't detract from its appeal. The configuration meant it was quick to fire up and it had three USB ports to add more flash memory and/or an external hard drive.
For Bleeding Edge, it posed a fundamental question: could something this big and this cheap satisfy our concept of what constitutes a personal computer? It did have some shortcomings. You had to scroll sideways to read the average Web page for instance, and touch typists in particular had to adjust to the keyboard.
But in many ways, it was possibly more "personal" than many computers. Its sheer affordability, and the fact that it weighed less than 1kg, included a built-in Web camera, came with both wired and wireless networking and was pre-configured for Skype and loaded with Open Office, Firefox etc, meant that this was a PC that could much more conveniently be a cheap and constant companion.
Now ASUS is about to release the latest iteration of the Eee PC, the 901, and we're tempted to declare it the perfect personal computer. We ignored the release of an interim model, the 900, because we knew it was going to be quickly replaced by something with better specifications, including Intel's new Atom CPU, and an 8.9-inch display with 1024x600 resolution, which allows users to view an A4 page without that crab-like scroll. The webcam has been upgraded to a 1.3-megapixel model, battery life will be around 4 hours and possibly slightly more, and it ships with Bluetooth and pre-N wireless, and can accept an HSDPA card for mobile wireless.
Where it gets particularly interesting is the fact that customers can choose between a Windows XP model, and the Linux version. Each costs $649, but where the XP version has only 12GB of SSD, the Linux model has 20GB.
Most retailers will stock the Windows model, which means the uninitiated will probably settle for that. Our advice is to seek out the Linux version. It will be available at some of the larger specialist dealers, including Computers and Parts Land, Centrecom, Landmark, CNet, NextStep, Landmark and Scorpion Technology, and at places like MLN, Geek Central and Computercom.
If you decide to run Windows XP rather than Linux, you can install it yourself (you've probably got a spare licence for the one on your existing desktop), using the program nlite. It allows you to strip out Windows components like Outlook Express, Internet Explorer etc. ASUS has clearly anticipated this, because the 901 ships with a DVD including a set of Windows XP drivers.
There's a tutorial on the XP installation process. Readers with earlier versions of the Eee PC can find out how to upgrade the BIOS here.
Those links to sites like eeeuser.com, and the development (available through its wiki at tinyurl.com/3s32dr) of tools like eeeXubuntu, which provides a fast route to running Ubuntu on the Eee PC and the Ubuntu Script Pack, indicate the depth of support for the ASUS product, which gives the company an edge in maintaining market share as other manufacturers release similar models.
It will be worth considering the MSI Wind, for instance, and a particularly interesting, though more expensive tablet PC version from Gigabyte called the M912. ASUS too has different versions entering the market, with a slightly larger PC1000H model already appearing overseas. We suspect a lot of people may be re-evaluating their definition of the personal computer in future.
ASUS LCD pixel policy a dud?
At Melb PC's monthly meeting at Melbourne Uni tonight, Barry Martin spoke about a client who'd bought a 24-inch ASUS LCD screen, only to discover a dead pixel right in the middle of the screen. It was a black pixel, which in a Word document looked exactly like a full stop ... hence extremely irritating.
So, given he'd identified the problem within days of purchase, you'd expect the user could have had the screen exchanged under ASUS' dead pixel policy. Alas, no. ASUS' warranty only covers bright pixels. If you've got a black one, you're out of luck. So we've struck ASUS off our list of LCD suppliers, just as we've stopped recommending their DVD drives (no support for what appear to be defects that are by no means isolated).
While we still like the Eee PC, we're rapidly getting disillusioned with ASUS. Given their reputation for producing high-quality motherboards, this sort of treatment of customers is, to say the least, disappointing.
July 01, 2008
Telstra joins the iPhone craze
We'd love to have been in on the negotiations - both Apple and Telstra tend to see negotiations as a zero sum game, and what with both offering music downloads, both offering video downloads etc., it was scarcely a match made in heaven - but the Aussie Gorilla has at last done a deal with the Cupertino Killer , and you'll be able to get an iPhone on the NextG network come the official launch in 10 days time.
We see it as one of those watershed moments for Telstra, because once its iPhone customers realise that if they use their glamourous new device the way the advertising suggests it should be used, they'll be up for thousands of dollars a month, the screams will be deafening. Telstra is making a token gesture towards practical utility: plans include free Wi-Fi access at Telstra hotspots, so during the mandatory 24-month contract, there will be times iPhone users will be able to use the features they've paid for.
The NextG iPhone plans start at $30 a month, with the 8GB model costing $279 and the 16GB version $399. If you want the hardware "free", you'll have to sign on for the $80 per month plan (that gets you the 8GB iPhone) or $100 (at which point you get to choose). And how much data will you get for that? We're still waiting to see the fine print on that, but we somehow doubt that it will fall within the definition of "unlimited".
So are you going to buy one ... or perhaps move to Hong Kong? There are a couple of things - aside from the data charges - that hold us back: the interface is great, but into the second generation, you still can't cut and paste. And using the onboard keyboard will almost certainly drive you crazy. We still have problems with the iTouch after months of trying to adjust for parallax error or whatever it is that makes it devilishly tricky to get the character you actually want.
The real loser in this deal seems to be HTC, which has just launced its Touch Diamond model on Telstra ... for $999. So the screaming will probably be starting early in Taiwan, where HTC has its HQ.We won't bother asking if you're likely to buy a Touch Diamond, given the price differential.