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Oh oh oh, Amadeus…

by Shane Perris on Saturday, 27 November, 2010

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So, the information is out in the public domain. I’ve dusted the cobwebs off TechWhimsy because I have been selected to be a “social reviewer” as part of the Australian telco Telstra’s Social Review program. This time, the phone under review is an HTC Mozart Windows 7 Phone.

Please take a couple of minutes to read my full disclaimer. The tl;dr version is, although I get a free phone out of the deal, I’m still going to talk trash wherever it’s warranted.

Reviews, impressions, rants, bouquets  – all of these will be coming soon.

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Blowing off the cobwebs

by Shane Perris on Thursday, 25 November, 2010

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There’s a lot of dust on this dank and mildewy piece of web real estate.

The cobwebs are coming off for a reason that will be a lot of fun for me.

Something wicked this way comes…

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Migration in progress

by Shane Perris on Thursday, 6 May, 2010

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If things go flaky in the next few days, I’m in the process of moving TechWhimsy from GoDaddy to Media Temple. So if you find things missing or comments disabled, don’t panic. In theory this should be somewhat painless.

Things should be fine but you never know…

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4 Reasons why Windows Vista is better than XP

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 30 January, 2008

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Windows Vista has attracted a lot of heat since its launch in January 2007. It’s been called out for nagging users with the User Account Control (UAC), being a resource hog, being slow, having an unfamiliar interface, incompatible with legacy hardware, incompatible with legacy software – you name it, Vista has been bagged for it.

However, in my experience it really has not been that bad. There have been high profile cases of people declaring that they were going to downgrade back to XP (Chris Pirillo is one popular example) but is it really the case that people have been this much of a hard time?

Google Trends reveals that, for many people, Vista works.

vista_trends

(Blue is “vista sucks”, red is “vista works”)

vista_xp_trends

(Blue is “vista works”, orange is “vista sucks” and red is “downgrade to xp”).

What is interesting to me is that downgrading to XP appears to have got the most attention online. Personally, I think downgrading to XP is a definite backward step and here’s why I think Vista is better than XP:

1. Great collection of bundled software: Vista (especially the Home Premium version that the majority of people will come in to contact with) comes with a wide range of applications that are designed specifically to play nice with the operating system and are handy for the general consumer. Windows Media Centre. Windows Movie Maker 6. Windows DVD Maker. Photo Gallery. Instant search. Windows Sidebar.

I know that a lot of these are also available in XP or have 3rd party equivalents but don’t underestimate the power of bundled apps. After all, isn’t one of the key selling points of Apple’s OSX the powerful consumer-level apps that come standard with the computer?

2. It makes better use of hardware resources: I accept that Vista has a heftier hardware requirement than XP. However, XP needed more resources than Windows 2000, which in turn needed more than Windows ME and Windows 98. A decent level of graphics grunt is required and 2 gigabytes of RAM is something of a sweet spot. The extra hardware resources are worth it as Vista puts them to good use. The shiny Aero interface of Vista utilises the Graphics Processing Unit of the computer that would otherwise sit there doing not much of anything outside of gaming. Aero makes looking at the computer screen just that little bit easier on the eyes. Vista also makes good use of spare RAM capacity. It might look like it has a big memory footprint but what it is doing is storing more things in the quick access memory that it thinks might be needed, giving the user faster response times and jumping back to the hard drive less (it’s quicker to fetch from RAM than from disk).

3. Vista is more secure: it’s very hard to argue with this one. Vista is not perfect but UAC makes it a lot harder for the general user’s system to be compromised. The regular pop ups can get annoying at times and Vista runs the risk of inducing “pop up fatigue” where users just click “OK” automatically. However, once you have the system configured just the way you like it, the pop ups happen much less than you think. Other operating systems employ similar security measures, for example OSX and Linux. While I don’t have experience with OSX I do know that in Linux I’ve had to use the command “sudo” to temporarily elevate user privileges many times, almost to the stage where it becomes habit to add sudo to the start of every command line action.

4. Vista has an improved user interface and other system tweaks: There are lots of little tweaks and improvements that make life easier in Vista. For example, when renaming files, Vista automatically highlights only the filename and not the file extension. Hit the TAB key when you’re finished and it jumps to the next file in the list and highlights the name, ready for renaming. Little touches like this go a long way. There are many more little Vista tips (for a great selection, visit The Supersite For Windows Vista page).

Caveats

I accept that Vista isn’t perfect. Despite being more secure than XP out of the box, it still does have security problems. Some of the user interface changes can be confusing if you’re used to doing things in a certain way. Old hardware may never have Vista-ready drivers (especially if the hardware is obsolete or the manufacturer has gone out of business). There are some lingering concerns about the impact of the inbuilt Digital Rights Management, but that’s not a wall I’ve bumped up against yet.

Conclusion

I enjoy using Vista. I hate having to use XP on my work computer. Although I’m a fan of Vista, I don’t recommend it unconditionally. If you have XP installed on your current computer and it works just fine, I wouldn’t suggest upgrading. However, if you’re buying a new computer, I see no reason to stick with XP. Vista will work just fine.

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What ever happened to the Mars500?

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 16 January, 2008

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Mars - the fake destination for the Mars500 In June of 2007, the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a call for all interested suckers candidates for the Mars500 research project. The experiment was to be run by the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (site complete with broken graphic links and delightful translations) with support from the ESA.

It was going to be awesome. The concept of fake celebrities a la Fake Steve Jobs and Bill Clinton was to be taken one step further with a fake trip to Mars! The ESA press release proudly stated that the Mars500 experiment was going to send a crew of 6 on a simulated 500 day trip to Mars including:

  • a simulated launch;
  • an outward journey of up to 250 days;
  • arriving at Mars;
  • tooling about on the surface for a while; and
  • the long trip home (can’t you just see it… “Are we there yet?” “NO!”)

The simulation itself was to be in a locked-down facility in Moscow and was intended to be as real as possible (eg all communications were to be run on a 20 minute delay to simulate the distance between Earth and the crew). The 6 lab rats candidates would have the amazing opportunity to live in a series of tubes which combined provided about 200 m2 of space.

Since that initial irresistible offer to spend 18 months in a Russian lock up (“Who are you to resist, huh?”), there has been no word. Zero. Zip. Nada. Bupkes. All quiet on the Eastern bloc.

To my mind, this was an amazing opportunity for the Russian space program to continue to drum up business for its $20 million a pop week in space program targeted at the overly wealthy, under-worked idle rich with too much time on their hands. Instead, there has been complete silence. There hasn’t even been enough buzz for “mars500” to even appear as a measurable Google Trend.

Were there no takers? Was the program a complete disaster? Did they all fake the psych test and then proceed to kill each other in an ever increasingly bizarre series of cage matches until there was only one?

Maybe there are some things man was never meant to know.

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Coming soon

by Shane Perris on Monday, 31 December, 2007

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Just ironing out the kinks.

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