Fighting Workreation - separate computers for work and play?
By Adam TURNER
Do you need to step away from your day-to-day computing workhorse to strike a work/life balance?
As someone who works from home, generally sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table with my MacBook, I really struggle to strike a balance between work and the rest of my life. You know what I do after hours to relax? I sit on the couch or at the kitchen table with my MacBook. My job is to tinker with technology and then talk about it, but that's also my hobby.
Even though sometimes I know in my mind that I'm just reading the paper on my MacBook or catching up on Dilbert, to everyone else it looks like I'm still working. To be honest, I am. Even when I'm using my MacBook for so-called recreational purposes I'm still keeping tabs on my work inbox, Twitter and Google News. Inversely, even when I'm supposedly working I'm checking Facebook and my private email, plus reading the paper. To be honest, there is no line between work and play for me. I never go to work, but I never have a day off. I was going to invent a word for it, but it seems there already is one; Workreation. It sounds like the dream scenario but, in the long run, I'm convinced permanent Workreation is not good for you.
I've long suspected that one strategy to fight permanent Workreation is to have separate computers for work and play. I was discussing my Workreation issues with a friend this week, who also struggles with work/life balance, and he said he'd read something suggesting the idea of separate computers. I was thrilled to hear that it wasn't just my crazy idea.
I've got half a dozen old desktop PCs lying around the house, but for me a recreational computer would have to be portable. Sometimes my iPhone can meet that need, and I've started to put a few good games on it for when I need to chillax. Other times computer-based recreational activies require something bigger.
If Apple sold a netbook/tablet I'd probably snap one up in a heartbeat. As it is I've considered getting a netbook and dual-booting Hackintosh with Windows 7, but I keep telling myself a) I can't afford it b) I don't need it and c) I'd end up using my MacBook anyway. It might be time to reconsider.
I thought something like Asus' T91 swivel-screen netbook might do the trick but, after an initial play, I'm not sure. I can see Asus has put a lot of work into a large, touchscreen-friendly interface, but Internet Explorer 7 is still a painfully clunky user experience - especially in portrait mode. The T91 is crying out for Windows 7 and a browser skin designed specifically for portrait touchscreen use, so you can use the T91 like an eBook. Perhaps Firefox might be more flexible. I'm looking for the kind of thing a Star Trek ensign would hand to the captain, listing the week's duty roster.
Asus' T91 shows a lot of potential and, maybe with some tweaking, I can turn it onto the machine of my dreams (at least until we get an Apple tablet which will naturally drip with usability). I definitely need to do something to separate work from play.
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Foxtel Downloads - killer feature or meh?
By Adam TURNER
Will Foxtel's new download service help it gain or retain customers?
A few years ago Foxtel Download might have blown my mind, but these days it just looks like a poor man's iTunes or an honest man's BitTorrent. You can take a look at a video demo at the Foxtel Downloads site.
I thought the whole point of paying $70+ per month for Foxtel was that you'd never be short of something to watch on the idiot box. Considering your Foxtel Download access is restricted to the same channels as your Foxtel subscription, if you can't find anything worth watching on pay TV then you probably won't find much on Foxtel Download either. It's a download service, rather than Video on Demand, so you can't start watching movies straight away as you can with the iTunes store or a TiVo. You start watching them before they finish downloading, but I'm not sure exactly how long you have to wait.
Considering you need to plan your Foxtel Download watching in advance, wouldn't it be easier to program your Foxtel iQ personal video recorder to record something worth watching? Every Foxtel subscriber on a value package is set to get an iQ. By using the iQ you'd be saving on bandwidth for starters, considering Foxtel Download seems to chew through about 1.4GB for an hours worth of video - judging by the screen shots in the video demo. The downloads are not unmetered with any ISP, not even Telstra's Bigpond.
I'd say it's reasonable to assume that families with high monthly download limits are already sourcing video content from the iTunes store, Hulu (with the help of a VPN) and BitTorrent. Such families are unlikely to embrace Foxtel's download service unless it can match the range, quality and ease of use of these services. Like me, these people probably spend $50 to $100 on internet access each month in lieu of getting pay TV.
Meanwhile families who have resisted the lure of online video probably just aren't interested or aren't that tech-savvy. They're unlikely to want to spend more on their internet bill each month, especially if they're already spending a lot on pay TV. Quoted in The Australian, Foxtel head honcho Kim Williams had the nerve to call on ISPs to up their download limits so people could use Foxtel's download service. If he's looking for an ISP to criticise, he need look no further than the pathetic plans from Telstra's Bigpond (Telstra owns half of Foxtel, at least for now).
It's hard to see who would be interested in the Foxtel Download service considering Foxtel subscribers already have more channels than they know what to do with. It's not going to win new customers amongst the digerati who already download all their entertainment, nor will it win fans amongst the Mums n' Dads who don't want to embrace the internet.
I think the people who should be most excited about Foxtel Download are those with family or friends who subscribe to Foxtel but won't use the download service. You can use Foxtel Download on two PCs and it requires your account number and billing details to sign up. I don't see what's stopping tech-savvy twenty-somethings who have flown the nest taking advantage of Mum and Dad's Foxtel subscription to score some free content. Somehow I don't think that's what Kim Williams had in mind when he coined the phrase Foxtel Next Generation.
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Dealing with interference in the lounge room
By Adam TURNER
Electromagnetic interference is the natural enemy of the coach potato.
It's been a year since I moved house and I'm still wrestling with interference affecting my home entertainment system, wireless networking and cordless phones. It's the untold downside of building an integrated lounge room where PC and AV equipment supposedly live in harmony.
Regular readers of my various blogs may have followed my trials and tribulations and even now, 12 months after moving house, I'm still ironing out a few problems. This week I thought I'd put my experience to good use and write a quick TV reception troubleshooting guide for The Age. Yesterday it was one of the most popular stories on the Digital Life site right and I've already had emails from readers with follow up questions. It seems I'm not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to interference issues.
In my case, I've discovered that almost all of my interference problems can be attributed to local interference or poor wiring rather than a poor signal. Throwing a little shielded cabling and F connectors at the problem has worked wonders, as have efforts to get my AV equipment further away from my PC and networking gear. I've also noticed that refraining from using the power points next to the aerial socket has improved things.
If you're having digital TV reception issues, it's worth spending a little time and money on the steps I've outlined before you call in a professional. You'll also find DTV Forum Australia an invaluable resource for troubleshooting advice.
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Sony Blu-ray player offers DLNA over wifi - but only for photos
By Adam TURNER
Why must Sony insist on crippling its products?
I've come to the conclusion that DLNA is the secret sauce of the digital lounge room, making it easy to share content between a wide range of devices. At least it would be easy, if Sony didn't nobble it.
Sony's upcoming BDP S560 Blu-ray player has built-in wifi, which is great news for those of us who can't run Ethernet to our lounge rooms. Actually, it's not really that great because you can do stuff-all with the wifi access. Yesss, I know about BD-Live and the ability to download extra content for Blu-ray movies - but I can't say it's really impressed me so far.
What's more impressive about the recent Sony HDTVs and Blu-ray players is that they include DLNA. DLNA lets you stream audio, video and photos between devices, but Sony restricts it to photos on the Blu-ray players. Sony originally limited DLNA playback on its HDTVS to photo and music, but the new models finally support video.
Considering there are cheaper players out there that offer so many more features, it's hard to justify recommending Sony's Blu-ray players to your average man on the street.
Why must Sony insist on crippling features like DLNA its products? Of course the answer is obvious. Just like Apple, Sony tends to shy away from features that conflict with its business model. If you're a Mac-lover there's not much you can do about Apple's behaviour, but you don't need to put up with it from Sony when there are so many alternatives around.
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Apple's iTunes Home Sharing - great, but where's my remote control?
By Adam TURNER
The ability to pull songs off other computers sounds handy but, in typical Apple style, it's only half a solution.
The new Home Sharing feature in iTunes 9 means you can access the songs on other computers on your local network running iTunes. You can copy them across the network into your iTunes library, even if the songs were purchased using a different account (as long as you're authorised for that account). Even this Apple cynic has to admit the Home Sharing feature in iTunes 9 is very good, and I've written more about it today on my Sydney Morning Herald blog Gadgets on the Go. I've also laid the boots in over the lack of Blu-ray playback in iTunes 9.
The reason why I'm so interested in Home Sharing is because the Lady of the House has ripped a few of our CDs to her netbook which I haven't ripped to my MacBook. I could stream them from her iTunes by enabling sharing in the preferences, but of course that requires her computer to be in the house and powered up with iTunes running. Now I can just copy them across once using Home Sharing and be done with it.
Another option is to keep a shared iTunes library on a network drive, but when the flaky iTunes 8 broke this feature on my MacBook I thought it best not to inflict it on other members of the household who want streaming music that "just works". iTunes 8 was a dog that also had some AirTunes bugs, but these seem to be fixed with iTunes 9.
What's really frustrating is that I can remotely control iTunes on another computer using my iPhone, but I can't remotely control iTunes using iTunes on another computer. What I mean is; I can use the remote app on the iPhone to play music from the good lady's netbook to the lounge room speakers via AirTunes. I can't control her netbook the same way from my MacBook. Why isn't this feature built into iTunes? Why can't I use my iTunes to control her iTunes and get it to stream to speakers around the house? Maybe it'll be in iTunes 10. Maybe not.
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