Beam Me Up Scotty...
By David HAGUE
I find one of the hardest parts of being creative, is getting the ideas down on paper; I have spoken of this before many times. And while I am an unashamed fan of gathering my thoughts using Microsoft Word’s (or any other WP [package for that matter as this principle is the same) Outlining feature sometimes – no often – the thoughts tend to tumble out at a huge range of knots and cannot be broken down into logical headings at the time.
Using a voice recorder is one way, and for this purpose, I, and many of my peers have settled on the beautiful Zoom H2 as the little beast to go for. Whack a 512MB SD card in there, and you have voluminous amounts of space to record to. Battery life can be a little whacky, and you have to be careful what settings you use for maximum recording time, but anyone worth their salt will carry a spare set of batteries and a second SD card just in case.
However, I find reviewing via audio is difficult, and therefore use mine for 99% recording interviews – any important thought that comes while driving etc is taken care of by the Audio Note Taker on my Motorola RAZR 9 (as against going into battle with scantily clad bits o’ crumpet at a railway station for example. Not my choice I assure you ...)
Like many, in the past I have dabbled in voice recognition / translation – as far back as 1994 as I recall. Early programs from Creative Labs explored the process of computer control, and then Dragon came on the scene with their Naturally Speaking application.
And like many, I gave up in frustration, usually 2 hours into the training process each time a new version came out.
Last week I received a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) 9 for Vista (10 is imminent I understand) complete with a natty wireless Plantronics headset, and bugger me, the first attempt at training, taking oh, 10 minutes, just worked! 100% straight out of the box. The application then went away, studied my Word and Outlook folders to decipher my writing style (clever move that!) and came back ready to be fine tuned.
That’s tonight’s job.
So far, I am impressed. I have had mental images of walking around a room dictating and commanding – “Computer – open AusCam database” a la Cap’n Kirk – for ages. Maybe, just maybe it’s about to come true. At last.
I’ll keep you posted.
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A (global) roaming we will go … for a price
By Ian GRAYSON
Years ago I gave up making anything but the most urgent of calls using my mobile phone when outside Australia – a policy I won’t be changing any time soon.
New light was shone on the issue recently with the release of an Australian Government-sponsored report. The report’s bottom line was that international travelers are being ripped off whenever they use their handsets while overseas. Well knock me over with a SIM card – did we really need a report to tell us that?
The research, compiled by business heavyweight KPMG Australia, put roaming charges in various countries under the microscope and compared them with the rates charged to locals using the same network.
After crunching the numbers, the eagle-eyed researchers found roaming charges are excessive, profit margins are huge and there is virtually no incentive for carriers to change the situation.
Not surprisingly, the carriers don’t see it that way. First to voice dissent was Vodafone which issued a statement saying the research was based on out-of-date figures. Others have also joined the chorus.
While recently released roaming bundles may have gone some way to helping people avoid the nose-bleed inducing bills when they get home, they certainly don’t fix the problem. Just try heading to Europe, the US, or just about anywhere else and you’ll soon come to the same conclusion.
Of course there is no justifiable reason as to why it should be so prohibitively expensive to use a foreign mobile network to call home. Apart from slightly more complex billing procedures (which are all automated anyway) the calls are handled in exactly the same way as those made by the locals. Connecting you to incoming calls is a little more complex, but still costs the carriers very little to achieve.
All it would take is for one global carrier to put up their corporate hand and admit rates should come down. If they followed this with some realistic charging plans for regular travelers, the lines of people waiting to sign up would stretch for blocks.
Come on carriers, let’s go. Who’s going to be the first to offer decent roaming plans? You’ll have my business in a second.
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Apple's iTunes HD movie swindle
By Adam TURNER
Apple is finally selling movies from the Australian iTunes Store, but only Apple TV owners can download them in high definition.
The Apple Australia press release regarding the new movie download service gloats that "high definition versions are priced at just one dollar more". It's not until you dip into the iTunes Store that you discover the small print on the movie download page; "This movie is available in HD on Apple TV". So in other words, Apple is limiting its best content to its crappiest product.
The Apple TV - which lets you stream content from iTunes to your television - is one of the most deliberately hobbled devices Apple has ever sold. It has the potential for greatness, but it does so little that many people wouldn't bother - they'd sink the extra money into a proper Mac instead. By limiting HD movies to the Apple TV, Apple is spitting in the face of loyal users who have shelled out good money for an Apple HD Cinema Display for their Mac. It's also spitting in the face of those who have converted a Mac Mini into a media centre.
I've been holding out for a Blu-ray-compatible Mac Mini before taking the plunge into a Mac-centric lounge room. This latest announcement just confirms people's suspicions that the Mac Mini is on death row (it's well overdue for a hardware refresh). Why don't they just kill off the Mac Mini, or combine it with the Apple TV to make some kind of hybrid media centre?
Restricting HD content to Apple TVs seems like a desperate attempt to boost Apple TV sales. With Foxtel offering HD movies on demand, and TiVo talking about a similar service for next year, Apple is in danger of missing the boat if it doesn't grab a decent slice of the movie download market now. Screwing loyal users out of HD content is not the way to go about it.
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Beefy update smoothes Office 2008 edges
By Stephen WITHERS
Microsoft has fixed a diverse collection of bugs - sorry, issues - in the latest update for Office 2008. But Office 2004 users don't miss out completely.
The 160M update to version 12.1.2 plugs a critical security bug in Excel, speeds up calculations, tidies up some loose ends for particular locales, and opens workbooks containing sheets with characters such as the slash in their names, among other issues.
Word gets a once-over, with faster launch times and fixes for the display of tables, headers and footers, and form fields.
If you spend as much time using Entourage as I do, you'll be pleased to see improvements such as improved syncing with iCal and Address Book, and better display of certain message elements - have you ever seen an HTML message with a seemingly blank body?
And if you use SSL connections to mail servers, you'll be glad to know that Entourage now provides an appropriate warning if there's a mismatch in the server's certificate.
As you might expect, the update includes the latest time zone information and junk email filter, and if you correspond with people in Japan you may be pleased to see that latest Japanese postal code dictionary is provided.
Microsoft also says that new AppleScripts dropped into the appropriate folders should appear in the Script menus without having to restart the applications.
If you're still on Office 2004, the update is a lot smaller at less than 15M, but it only includes security patches for Excel and PowerPoint, a fix for a Word bug that rears its head when you open a document containing a numbered list, and the new Japanese postal code dictionary.
The easiest way to get the update for your copy of Office is to run the Microsoft AutoUpdate utility.
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Updating My Mobile Kit
By Anthony CARUANA
There are some weeks when this column practically writes itself. Perhaps something interesting has happened to me during the week or a new gadget has come through my test lab. However, this week has been quiet so I've been thinking about my mobile kit and whether what I'm carrying is the best fit for my purposes.
My everyday kit has reduced over time to my iPhone nd a MacBook Pro. However, even that is proving to be overkill. The iPhone covers me for email and the MacBook Pro covers documents in meetings. However, as I have an iMac in the office, I don't do any serious grunt work with the MacBook Pro. So, the time has come to downsize to a smaller notebook.
I've played around with many different portable computers and came close to using an Asus Eee PC. The 901, woith the 9" display comes pretty close to ticking most of the boxes for a portable system but the small keyboard, while fine for the odd email and some in-meeting notetaking is too small for serious work. There are times when i need to punch out 1000 words in quick time and a larger keyboard, as well as being better ergonomically, is less likely to lead to lots of typos and consequent rework.
The next possibility is an ultra-portable like the Tosjiba Portege R500 I've got on loan for netwrok testing as part of my gig at APC Magazine as the Home Networking Editor. It's a very nice machine that ticks most of the boxes for a mobile computer. The biggest hassle is, and i know this will sound like the rant of an Apple fan, but Vista seems to have too many hassles joining and leaving wireless LANs. In the course if a day i might use three or four differnt networks. For some reason Vista gets its knickers in a twist and doesn't renew its IP address correctly. This forces me to visit the command line or restart the computer.
Finally, there are a couple of Apple options. The Macbook is a great computer but I really don't need an optical drive (I very rarely use the one on my MacBook Pro) and I reckon the ethernet port on the Pro has been plugged in maybe twice (and that's only been for testing). Given I need something light I'm going to go to a MacBook Air. Its small, has enough grunt for running office apps and grabbing email and OS X works nicely with different networks.
So, what this means is that mobile kit used to include a mobile phone, iPod, MacBook Pro and, until a couple of years ago, a PDA. Now, it's down to an ultralight notebook and the iPhone.
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