Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Skype wants to bring you Lady Gaga

Posted by Alan at 12:55 PM on January 15, 2013

skype

While the web swoons over the new Facebook “graph search”, Microsoft web communications service Skype is aiming towards a more musical crowd. Honestly, it may be a similar audience, but the announcements today still seem far apart. While Mark Zuckerburg occupied the stage earlier, Microsoft was letting everyone know that the pop star would be available for a group video call very soon.

“Now’s your chance to see Lady Gaga live, uncut and offstage. Watch as our lucky sweepstakes winners talk upcoming music, costumes and backstage moments — all live, and face-to-face, with Lady Gaga”, stated Skype’s Leanne Johnson in a blog post earlier today.

The event will take place on Thursday, January 17th at 2pm PST. You can submit a question in hopes that she may actually answer it. Microsoft has set up a special web site at Skypeball.com/skypewithgaga for the occasion.

What Did Windows 8 Look Like When it was Young?

Posted by Alan at 9:05 AM on November 20, 2012

Windows 8 is here to stay regardless of if you like it or not. Microsoft is now looking to get the operating system boosted to worldwide appeal and doing so through a variety of advertising means. But, regardless of all of that, the company also “released” some early screenshots from the development days to show how far the operating system has come.

The image was published by Long Zheng, who was a member of the Chevron Windows Phone unlock team, and was sent to him by an unnamed Microsoft insider. The screenshot in question came from a UX Week 2012 presentation by Microsoft’s Jensen Harris.

The interface is not vastly different from the new Metro Start screen that we all love or hate. The basic format is already there in this image, but it lacks the now familiar Microsoft apps like Mail, People, Store and the rest.

While this image doesn’t really mean a whole lot, it is a nice insight into the early mock-ups and ideas that Microsoft started with when building Windows 8.

The jury is still out regarding if the OS will be a success or if it will it fail miserably.

Windows 8 Mini-Review

Posted by Andrew at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2012

Microsoft Windows 8If you are thinking about upgrading to Windows 8 from Windows 7, my suggestion would be to stop thinking about it and save your money for something else. Cheap as the upgrade is, the user interface is terrible.

It’s like Microsoft have taken the new user interface (previously known as Metro) and smashed into the traditional desktop interface, with the interface layers competing for the user’s attention. Some components have gone completely – the Start button – and other components are hidden in unintuitive places: how do I shutdown the PC? Charms slide in from the right – even the name gives no clear idea as to what charms do. The new front page pops up in the bottom left. The desktop appears sometimes. Apps are windowed or full-screen but you can’t get from one to the other. It’s truly awful.

Before anyone accuses me of being an old dog resistant to new tricks, I have bought every single previous version of Ms DOS and (consumer) Windows as it came out, (with the exception of Windows ME). Not this time, though. I’m sticking with Windows 7.

I like the Windows Phone 7 / 8 user interface and it’s great on a phone or tablet but on a desktop or a laptop with a mouse, it’s a disaster. Here’s my prediction….Windows 8 will be to Windows 7 what Vista was to XP. That’s how bad it is.

Sorry, Microsoft, but you’ve got this really badly wrong.

How To Succeed With a Mobile App

Posted by Andrew at 2:36 PM on November 8, 2012

Smashing Magazine LogoGetting into mobile app development often seems like a path paved with gold, but the reality is very different with many apps failing to succeed. Good apps do not simply “get lucky” but rather their developers work hard at  planning a successful app. Smashing Magazine’s article “How To Succeed With a Mobile App” shows the elements needed to plan for app success.

Smashing Magazine identifies six areas to consider for a great app.

1) The Idea. Find a vaccuum or empty niche for your app.

2) Money. Plan the business model for your app.

3) Define. Write down what your app will do in one sentence and stick to it.

4) Design. If the user has to think how to use the app, you’ve failed.

5) Coding. Native, high-quality, robust code is essential.

6) Marketing. Make friends, build buzz, launch big, love your fans.

But don’t simply read the above and move on. Check out the original article by Jeremy Olson at Smashing Magazine as it has plenty of further information for would-be app coders.

 

Pogoplug Mobile Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:50 AM on October 25, 2012

Pogoplug LogoThe cloud is definitely where it’s at right now, but what if you don’t like the idea the idea of Google, Dropbox et al looking after your data? Then you might be interested in a Pogoplug, which allows you to create your own cloud storage that’s only limited by the size of the hard disk. A Pogoplug is a hardware gadget that connects USB storage devices to your local LAN and then makes the space available across the Internet, effectively creating a personal cloud. The data is stored in your control and if more storage is needed, plug-in a bigger hard drive.

On review here is the Pogoplug Mobile, the 3rd generation of Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines. It offers a single USB port plus an SD card slot along with the network port and power socket. Newer Pogoplugs come with USB3 ports, but as the maximum speed of the Pogoplug cloud is always going to be the speed of the Internet connection, the faster transfer speeds of USB3 are unlikely to be a significant benefit. For testing, I used a 64 GB memory stick, rather than a hard drive, which means that the unit will run silently with minimal power consumption.

Pogoplug Packaging

The Pogoplug website has downloads for Windows, Macs and Linux, and the relevant app stores have versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry and legendary WebOS. I was able to try the Windows, Linux, Android and WebOS versions. The Windows version connects to the Pogoplug and presents it as a drive letter, allowing most Windows applications to use the Pogoplug transparently. The Pogoplug software has additional backup functionality as well, which may be useful for some people. The Linux version is command line only but anyone familiar with Linux will have no trouble getting the Pogoplug mounted into the filesystem.

The Android app is simple and straightforward with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve. Broadly you can browse files in a directory fashion or you can view music, photos and movies in a tag or meta-data based fashion, As expected, there are viewers and players for the media, though movies get handed over to the default app rather than playing within the Pogoplug app. The music player is basic and has one really irritating flaw; it doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the track number from the mp3 files and consequently orders tracks alphabetically when playing albums. This really needs to be fixed.

Back viewPerformance-wise, the Pogoplug is always going to be limited by the upload (rather than download) speed of the broadband connection when outside of the home. This usually meant a little bit of buffering before playing music but once the playback got underway, there was rarely any stuttering. There were occasional times when folders refused to refresh but my suspicion is that any problems were down to the local data connection on my phone rather than a problem with the Pogoplug. YMMV. Inside my home, the performance was excellent.

In common with other social and cloud apps, the Pogoplug app has automatic uploading of pictures and video from the devices camera. It’s also possible to set the folder where the uploaded images are to go. Frankly, this is brilliant as my wife is hopeless at remembering to copy photos off her smartphone so by setting up the Pogoplug app on her phone, any photos she takes get automatically transferred. On occasion, a photo would sometimes fail to completely upload; again I suspect the loss of 3G connectivity than any fundamental problem, but the error checking could be improved. It’s also possible to upload any image from within the photo Gallery app.

As with most cloud solutions, you can also share with friends and family, using either the app or the web interface. It’s straightforward – select the folder you want to share, select who you want to share with and an email is sent to them with the relevant link. It’s an easy way to share photos of Junior with grandma and grandpa.

Any downsides? Only two that i can see….first, there’s no direct integration with any other apps that I could find. Quickoffice and other office apps typically allow access straight into Google Drive or Dropbox but none seemed to work with a Pogoplug. Effectively I had to download a Word doc to the phone, do my edits in QuickOffice and then upload the doc back to the Pogoplug. Not slick.

The second is that when I was at home and on the same subnet as the Pogoplug, Internet access to Pogoplug’s servers was still needed, presumably to check authorisation privileges. Normally, it’s not going to be an issue, but it would be handy to have a way to bypass this when working locally and the connection to the Internet goes down.

Overall, the Pogoplug is a handy device that gives you control over your data rather than entrusting it to a megacorp. A few glitches spoil what is otherwise a neat little solution that potentially gives as much data storage space as you need, without paying per GB per annum. For the low cost of the Pogoplug unit (about $50 / £35), it’s a bargain.

Disclaimer – this was a personally purchased device.

Say Goodbye to the 90s

Posted by Andrew at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2012

Geeks older than 40 are likely to remember the 90s well. The Internet was a sleepy village, PCs were expensive, hard disks were small and software came on floppy disks. And I have lots of floppy disks, from packaged software and magazine cover disks to drivers and trial software. A rough estimate is that there are around 500 3.5″ floppy disks in both 720 kb and 1.44 Mb varieties stashed away.

Old Floppies

In my mind, I always hoped to get into retro computing, but the reality is that there’s always going to be something new which is more interesting than hacking CONFIG.SYS to squeeze the drivers into as little memory as possible. So it’s with resigned acceptance that I’m finally having a clear out of the disks to reclaim valuable storage space.

Of course, I can’t simply throw the floppies in the bin. I’ll have to copy the files to my NAS “just in case” which has thrown up a couple of interesting things.

First, I’m surprised at how well the disks have survived. Of all the hundreds of disks, only two disks proved unreadable, both of which were magazine coverdisks. Expectations of floppies shedding iron oxide like Italian cars of the same era have proved unfounded and on the whole, they have been quite reliable.

Secondly, and not entirely unexpectedly, there has been the massive increase in file sizes and numbers over the years. Here’s a quick comparison of the Windows install disks.

  • Windows 1 – 178 files 1.9 MB over six 320 kB floppies
  • Windows 3 – 282 files 47 MB over eight 720 kB 3.5″ floppies
  • Windows 95 – 1946 files 574 MB on one CD
  • Windows XP – 6655 files 542 MB on one CD
  • Windows 7 – 2.2 GB download

Finally, it’s the “blast from past”. What companies and software has survived the 20 years since then? Here are a few of the disk sets that I uncovered.

Ah well…all good things have to come to an end. I suppose I’ll have to clear out the data CDs next….

Microsoft Surface Video and Details

Posted by Alan at 12:36 PM on October 17, 2012

For the past couple of months the Surface tablet from Microsoft has not only been vaporware, but also the subject of a lot of hatred from hardware makers who seem a bit put-out by suddenly having a powerful new rival.  Yesterday the long-awaited pricing information was finally released, with tablets starting at $499.  We also saw the first TV ad revealed and the hardware specs for the much-anticipated tablet.

Despite the controversy that many media outlets seem to want to create about Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, all indications are pointing towards a major victory from Microsoft with both the software and hardware.  The operating system shot to number one on the most popular software list on Amazon and the entry-level 32 GB Surface tablet quickly sold out of pre-order, moving from “delivery by October 26th” to “delivery within 3 weeks”.

Today, the Redmond company released a new minute and a half video showing off the Surface tablet and all of it’s features, in both hardware and software.  This isn’t a TV ad, but simply a way of marketing the hardware by displaying what it can do.  The video so far has received very little attention, with only 324 views, but it will likely take off as it becomes better known.

The Rise of the Smartphone

Posted by Andrew at 4:59 PM on September 23, 2012

Today I was relaxing in a cafe, taking it easy on Sunday. As I looked around the other tables, everyone else was either looking at a smartphone or else had one resting on the table. They weren’t students or young professionals either; these were mums and dads, grandmas and grandpas.

Brewing coffeeHere’s the tally of what I saw:

Getting away from “my phone is better than your phone”, what might this highly unscientific observation say about the mobile communications market, at least in the UK?

First, it’s diverse. While Nokia and Windows Phone is nowhere to be seen, the three other operating systems seem to be pretty much holding their own.

Second, Apple has iPhones and RIM has Blackberries. Is the Samsung Galaxy now the de facto Android brand? The popularity of HTC seems to have fallen dramatically with the rise of Samsung.

Third, no-one was actually using their phones to make phone calls. In all the time I watched, there wasn’t a single call made or received but there was plenty of reading, swiping, tapping and pecking. It always seems that the PDA was lost in the convergence with the mobile phone, but the reality is that the PDA won the battle and “voice calling” is one feature among many.

Fourth and finally, smartphones are now ubiquitous and cross-generational. There wasn’t single ordinary phone to be seen and the range of the users suggests that age is no longer a discriminating factor.

As I said, entirely unscientific but still an interesting snapshot in the evolution of the smartphone.

Coffee brewing photograph courtesy of BigStockPhoto.

Microsoft Will Have Holiday Stores

Posted by JenThorpe at 1:33 AM on August 13, 2012

The Summer isn’t over yet. In some places, the new school year has yet to begin. My limited experience in retail was enough to show me that now is the time that retailers start rolling out their plans for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Microsoft is no exception to this rule of retail.

Microsoft is planning on putting up several “pop-up” Holiday Stores in cities across the United States, (and one in Canada). There will be about a dozen of them, in total.

These new stores are going to be temporary, (as will the jobs of the people who are hired to work in these stores, I presume). I guess this is a new way to hire some extra seasonal workers, and to easily let them go in January, or whenever the holiday shopping season is officially over. Or, to look at this in a more positive light, Microsoft will be one of the stores that is intending to hire workers for the holiday season. Not every company is going to do that.

The temporary Microsoft holiday stores will be located in Natick, MA, St. Louis, MO, Cleveland, OH, Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA, San Antonio, TX, Braintree, MA, Manhattan, NY, and there will also be one in Downtown Chicago, IL. Florida will get two holiday stores, one in Miami, and the other in North Miami. There will also be one store located in Vancouver, BC.

Interested in picking up some work as a Store Manager or Assistant Store Manager at one of the Microsoft Holiday Stores? You can start by clicking on a link on the Microsoft website that tells you more about the jobs, and notes which locations there are positions that are yet to be filled.

Magellan RoadMate Commercial Truck GPS Navigator 9270T-LM

Posted by tomwiles at 9:44 PM on July 5, 2012

The Magellan RoadMate 9270T-LM is a 7” inch touch screen GPS aimed at the commercial trucking industry. I’ve spent a lot of time with it in real world situations and at this point feel I can give the unit a fair review.

I’ve done a fair amount of experimenting with GPS units aimed at commercial drivers. I live with these things 24/7 and at this point I’ve got a pretty good idea of what a commercial GPS should do. In this review I’ll be using my current Garmin trucker GPS as a bit of a yardstick to compare the Magellan unit to.

The box includes the 9270T-LM GPS itself, along with a long, heavy-duty base unit with dual suction cups capable of securely attaching the unit to virtually any big truck dash, no matter how large or oddly shaped it is. It comes with an AC adapter, which must be assembled with the included prongs for North American AC power outlets. It also comes packed with a USB cable for connecting the unit to a computer for updates, a 12-volt power adapter to power it with a 12-volt vehicle power socket, as well as a very rudimentary user’s manual. The box says the unit can be updated with software for both Windows and Mac, however the website seems to suggest that their Mac update software is limited to certain GPS models.

The Magellan 9270T-LM comes with lifetime maps – that’s what the “LM” stands for. It also comes with lifetime traffic updates, which are accomplished via a passive FM radio system present in many areas of the country. It has a bright 7” inch touch screen that makes the unit easy to read and use. Overall vehicle dimensions can be readily customized, as well as specifying whether or not one is hauling hazardous materials for routing purposes.

The 9270T-LM’s navigation seems on par with the Garmin trucker GPS I’ve had for the better part of a year. It seems to follow truck routes and also is cautious about routing large truck’s around roads it isn’t sure about. One quirk I found with the integrated points of interest is that it does not seem to include the Blue Beacon chain of truck washes, which is a major omission unless I happened to run into some quirk in it’s integrated POI database. I am constantly having to look for truck washes at times on a daily basis so I can get my refrigerated trailer washed out prior to reloading it, so the more complete the integrated POI database is, obviously the better.

In use, the unit warns of an upcoming turn two miles before, then again, as you get closer. It also chimes at both turns and at freeway off ramps. It automatically (and quietly!!!) quickly recalculates if you happen to go past a turn or an exit.

One of the features I really like is the way inputting cities, streets and address numbers works. It is predictive (attempting to predict the names of cities and streets so you don’t have to type the entire words) with a large onscreen keyboard that takes up most of the screen, making the keys easy to hit. It also speaks each letter or number as you hit it, making it easy to tell if you’ve made a typing mistake as you spell the names out.

On the negative side, the unit is fairly inflexible in how it allows you to customize the main screen to your own individual tastes. My existing 5” inch Garmin trucker GPS allows a tremendous amount of flexibility in the multiple pieces of real-time data it allows the end user to simultaneously display. I like to have the current time of the time zone I’m in always displayed, along with the speed limit of the road I’m on, the speed my vehicle is actually traveling, along with how many total miles are remaining for the entire multi-stop trip.

The 9720T-LM has a pop-up display accessed by tapping on the screen that displays the remaining distance, the ETA, the actual vehicle speed, and the elevation. It also displays the direction of travel but I’ve found this digital compass feature to be completely unreliable. This transparent slide-up data display bar stays up for a few seconds and then slides back down with no way to force the information to remain on the screen. It is unfortunate because the large 7” inch touch screen ends up with a lot of wasted screen real estate. I discovered by playing around with it that it is possible to pick one of those pieces of data to display in the lower right corner of the main screen by default. After tapping and getting the slide-up display in position, tap and hold the piece of data you want to remain displaying in the lower right corner and it will stick once the data display slides back down off the screen. The most useful piece of data for me personally and one I find myself constantly monitoring is the current vehicle speed, especially when traveling down two lane roads and going through small towns, which can sometimes be notorious as speed traps.

The Magellan 9720T-LM is capable of multi-stop routes, making it possible to enter a multi-drop trip into the unit all at once, however it falls short in that it doesn’t offer the total miles for the multi-stop trip readily available on the main screen the way the Garmin does. The 9720T-LM only displays the mileage distance to the next programmed stop. This is an important omission for most irregular route commercial drivers, because it is often necessary to calculate the total mileage for a multi-drop trip.

One feature I’d like to see in any GPS is the ability to manually adjust the average prediction speeds myself to particular vehicles. My truck has a 63 MPH top speed, not 65, and not 70. If I could adjust the top speed for about 60 MPH for freeways, and even slower for secondary two-lane roads, the overall ETA predictions would be far more accurate for trucks in the real world.

The 9720T-LM does seem to have some speed limit data for certain freeways, but the data seems to be incomplete. This lack of speed limit data might be revised in future map updates. Going back to my Garmin, it has speed limits for the vast majority of roads, including secondary two-lane roads.

On the plus side, the 9720T-LM calculates routes very quickly compared to my Garmin. On the other hand, the unit can often be somewhat unresponsive to on-screen taps, with delays sometimes of up to a second in some cases before it responds. This delay factor can end up being frustrating if you’ve tapped twice or more thinking that you just didn’t tap hard enough, only to find yourself tapping on something you didn’t intend to and having to start over. To be fair, to an extent my Garmin suffers from the same issue. I don’t know if this is a slow processor problem or a problem that better programming practices could fix.

The 9720T-LM’s integrated speaker located on the back of the unit is loud enough for me to easily hear in my truck at freeway speeds.

Under the “One Touch” menu in the upper right corner of the display, it offers the ability to program in a total of twenty frequent destinations and even save multi-stop trips making it possible to eliminate having to re-enter the same trips over and over again for drivers that are constantly making exactly the same trips or constantly going to the same destinations.

If you are looking for a large 7” inch touch screen GPS for a commercial truck or even a large recreational vehicle (RV), the Magellan 9720T-LM is a nice choice. It offers good routing capabilities for large vehicles, along with a big, beautiful, easy-on-the-eyes display.