An icon of the tech publishing industry — PC Magazine — has thrown in the (paper) towel and is discontinuing its printed edition. The computer and digital tech mag will continue publishing, but online only.

Amid a flurry of paper-pub closings and moves by others to all-digital formats, PC Magazine will cease printing a monthly edition with its January, 2009, issue.

Some 600,000 readers currently subscribe to PC Magazine’s print edition. They’ll be offered subscriptions to a new digital edition. The current digital edition — which observers expect will be beefed up considerably in the absence of a print edition — has a mere 15,000 subscribers, who pay (US)$15 per year.

The move to all-digital publishing will save publisher Ziff-Davis a bundle in printing and distribution costs. And they need to make some financial hay. The company filed for bankruptcy protection this past July.

PC Magazine started publishing monthly in 1982, at the dawn of the personal computer (PC) era, and rode the crests and troughs of the PC revolution wave. The magazine published twice monthly from the mid 1980s through the late 1990s. Then, as computers became commoditized and the PC boom subsided, it becan to shrink. PC Magazine fell back to a monthly publication schedule erlier this year, as Ziff-Davis’s fiscal troubles became acute.

Smart phones aren’t just for business anymore.

That’s the one-line, bottom-line synopsis of a very detailed new report by J.D. Power and associates, on Canadian smart phone use.

The J.D. Power 2008 Canadian Wireless Customer Satisfaction Study, released today, probed the customer satisfaction perceptions of wireless phone users with respect to their service, equipment and retail experiences.

“Customer satisfaction with contract postpaid service and prepaid service is measured in five factors: call quality; billing; service plan options; cost of service; and customer service. Mobile phone satisfaction is measured based on customer ratings of five factors: features; physical design; durability; battery; and operation,” the official Study press release noted.

Some highlights:

  • Twenty-five per cent of wireless users in Canada currently own a smartphone and more than two-thirds of those users indicate they will purchase another smartphone device as their next mobile phone.
  • Smartphone users also report being somewhat more satisfied with their device compared with traditional mobile phone users.
  • Smartphone users spend nearly twice as much, on average, for their monthly wireless service compared with traditional mobile phone users.
  • Apple, which launched the iPhone in Canada just this past summer, ranks highest in customer satisfaction among mobile phone brands.
  • Twenty-four per cent of wireless users in Canada report having a data package, a majority of wireless users do not intend to subscribe to a data package in the near future. Key reasons cited for customer reluctance include not having a need for Internet access (57 per cent) and the service is too expensive (31 per cent).

The 2008 Canadian Wireless Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from nearly 15,000 Canadian mobile phone users in October, 2008.

An Omaha, NB, woman says she is caught in an ID theft nightmare which has not only caused her embarrassment but raised fears for her safety.

At the root of the whole affair is a fake MySpace page, which victim Shanae Starks says was set up in her name by someone else to hurt her.

Whomever the perpetrator of the fake page is, Starke says it must be someone who knows her — or has stalked her. The fake page mentions where she works and what kind of car she drives. And they somehow got personal photos of her.

But the shadowy MySpace poster(s) went further, making some disparaging comments on the page about street gangs. And that’s when Starks started fearing for her safety.

After several requests from Starks, MySpace removed the offending page. But a new fake Starks page was posted before the day was out.

Local police said fake Web pages aren’t illegal, though they may be highly unethical. To find out who’s behind the attack on Starks, authorities would have to obtain subpoenas compelling MySpace and the perpetrator’s ISP to reveal the page owner’s real location and identity. If the perpetrator was not a Nebraska resident, it would take take even more official effort.

But nothing is being done to track down the person behind the fake MySpace pages. Police say that, even if they were able to find the perpetrator, the most serious charge they could lay would be disturbing the peace, a mere misdemeanor, the most severe penalty for which is a small fine.

All of which leaves Shanae Starks in a special sort of digital purgatory, perhaps indefinitely.

The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is a pocket-size camera with specifications that include: waterproof to 3m (10ft), shockproof to 1.5m (5ft), functional to –10 C, a 10.1 megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom lens, digital image stabilization and some neat new features.

stylus1050SW_B_bk

There are a number of things I love about the 1050 SW. Olympus has gone back to a metal casing giving it a very solid feel (some previous models in the SW series used some plastic to reduce weight). They added a sliding cover to protect the lens and flash, and to function as a power switch. The 1050 SW also includes an innovative “Tap Control” feature that, when enabled, allows you to control user-selectable camera functions by tapping on the top, sides, and back. By default, tapping on the back puts the camera into playback mode, and then tapping on the left or right sides changes to the previous or next image respectively. Tapping twice on the top exits the mode, tapping on the left gives access to the flash setting, and tapping on the right is for shadow adjustment. However, the user can select which functions they wish to access by tap. Combined with the sliding lens cover, the tap control feature makes the camera much easier to use while wearing gloves, and that’s great in cold weather.

I tested the camera around the house and during my daughter’s skating lesson, and it produced good quality images with the accurate colours we have come to expect from Olympus. I found the 3x optical zoom a bit limiting in the arena, but it’s not really fair to expect more from a pocket camera with an internal lens, and a 10 megapixel image leaves a lot of room for cropping. The image stabilization was a great help when I turned off the flash.

At one point during testing I removed the 1050 SW from my jacket pocket and found the lens cover open. However, the camera had apparently switched itself off to save power. Since most people would probably keep the camera in a small case to protect it from being scratched, I don’t think it will be much of a problem. I also found that the battery could be accidentally inserted backwards, which is a bit unusual for digital cameras. However, it just resulted in no power to the camera, didn’t appear to do any damage, and reversing the battery had the camera working again in seconds.

Overall, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is an attractive, functional, and well built pocket camera that, in the tradition of the SW series, really can be taken almost anywhere. The low temperature rating combined with glove-friendly features also make it a good gift option this holiday season.

From: The Associated Press —

Honda Motor Corp., best known for its popular small and mid-size cars, recently showed that’s it’s not an industrial a one-trick pony, showing the media a prototype robotic walker designed to help workers avoid fatigue or assist people with lower body mobility challenges.

As reported by The Associated Press at CNN.com, “The experimental device, unveiled Friday, is designed to support body weight, reduce stress on the knees and help people get up steps and stay in crouching positions.”

The walker combines sensors, gears and motors with a central computer to make sure the device goes exactly where you want to go, but with a lot less effort than doing it yourself.

It’s the latest development to emerge from Honda’s ongoing robotics research since Asimo, the humanoid robot, wowed trade show audiences with reasonably lifelike independent walking and maneuvering abilities back in 2000.

Meanwhile, there’s been no word when the robot walker, or one of its descendants, may appear on the market as an actual product.

There was a time, in the 1990s, when gadget fans and business people on the go waited with bated breath for each new product and innovation from Palm Inc.

Palm may have pioneered the smart phone concept but it had difficulty competing with new comers, notably upstart Research in Motion, whose BlackBerry brand has become the ‘Xerox’ of the mobile digital market.

And don’t forget even-newer upstart, Apple, whose iPhone has cast a long (albeit narrow) shadow across the mobile landscape in recent years.

Palm’s last significant product was the Treo phone, which is now several years old. The company recently launched a new generation of phones, dubbed Centro, which is not selling as well as Palm probably would have liked.

Now, Palm has announced it’s laying off as many as ten per cent of its staff, due to falling sales.

Is Palm on the way out?

Not at all, say company spokespeople. In fact, Palm says it’s starting a major restructuring project and plans are still on to release a new Palm mobile operating system based on open source Linux technology this coming year.

We’ll be watching the Palm situation as it unfolds — whether in renaissance or ruin…

Surprise!

The best family Blu-ray DVD player on the shelves this season may also be one of the top-rated console gaming systems.

According to a recent Money.CNN.com review, the Sony PlayStation 3 80 GB model (selling for about (US)$400), “…offers an excellent picture (1080p output via an HDMI port) and top sound quality (7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio). … Along with the Pioneer [Elite BDP-05FD], it was the fastest we tested at loading movies.”

In these tight-pursed times, when families are looking at pooling their holiday gift dollars for one or two big gifts everyone can enjoy, a two-in-one value like the PlayStation 3 may be just the ticket!

The Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last week denied a complaint by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) against Bell Canada, a primary provider of top level Internet access to independent Internet service providers (ISPs).

The ISPs, Bell’s downstream bulk-access customers, charged that Bell, which also provides Internet access directly to the public through its Sympatico and Bell Mobility services, was unfairly hampering its independent competition by throttling down higher-level Internet access, causing performance issues for ISPs and their customers.

Bell claimed it was simply trying to preserver service for all users by reducing data transfer speeds for certain Internet applications — primarily peer-to-peer (file sharing) applications which are commonly used to transfer music and movies around the Net. Peer-to-peer activities allegedly account for a huge proportion of the overall Internet Data load and, themselves, can hog bandwitdth causing performance issues for other users.

As Internet Law watcher Michael Geist reports, in the Toronto Star, “While the CRTC’s decision to permit Bell’s throttling practices is disappointment to the association and advocates of net neutrality, the decision is not a total loss since the commission made a clear commitment to addressing the issue of net neutrality and network management in a formal proceeding in July 2009.”

“The CRTC decision is therefore not the final word on net neutrality in Canada, but rather the first word on it. Moreover, should the commission come to the conclusion that downgrading some applications is consistent with current Canadian law, there is the likelihood of growing calls from within Parliament to change the law (New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, the author of a private member’s bill on net neutrality, was quick to condemn the CRTC decision).”

From: The WIRED Blog Network —

The U.S. military has reportedly banned the use of all types of external, portable digital storage devices on its secure and unclassified networks.

As WIRED’s Noah Schactman reports, “The Defense Department’s geeks are spooked by a rapidly spreading worm crawling across their networks. So they’ve suspended the use of so-called thumb drives, CDs, flash media cards, and all other removable data storage devices from their nets, to try to keep the worm from multiplying any further.”

“In some organizations, the ban would be only a minor inconvenience. But the military relies heavily on such drives to store information. Bandwidth is often scarce out in the field. Networks are often considered unreliable. Takeaway storage is used constantly as a substitute.”

According to a recently-leaked internal U.S. Army e-mail, portable removable storage drive devices will be banned until they have been scanned and declared free of bugs. Government-approved devices will be allowed back onto ‘mission critical’ but unclassified systems. Personal devices are permanently banned from all U.S. military systems.

It’s worth noting that many corporations and institutions have already banned the use of personal removable storage devices within their walls to guard against virus infections and to protect against the loss of personal information or proprietary data.

Almost three quarters of Canadian households now own at least one cell phone, according to a new Harris/Decima survey commissioned by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).

The survey revealed that a full 72 per cent of Canadian homes have access to at least one wireless phone and 69 per cent of households have two or more.

“Essentially, more Canadians are using wireless phones, usage of wireless phones is deeper within each household and Canadians continue to consider them viable alternatives to their traditional home phone,” said Paul Musca, Senior Consultant at Harris/Decima. “In 2008, we found that 6 per cent of Canadian households report being cell-only. And given that in 2006 approximately 5 per cent of Canadian households had a cell phone exclusively, the value observed in 2008 represents a 20 per cent increase in just two years.”

Apart from voice calls, the study found that text messaging and picture-taking top the list of the most common activities performed on mobile phones. The use of text messaging has grown enormously from 25 per cent of wireless users in 2006 to 44 per cent in 2008; picture-taking has gone from 15 per cent to 38 per cent; and the use of multimedia messaging has increased from 3 per cent to 13 per cent.

“Canadians continue to be some of the most enthusiastic mobile phone users in the world, averaging more than 400 minutes of talk time each month,” said Bernard Lord, CWTA President and CEO. “And text messaging volumes continue to soar with growth rates in excess of 100 per cent per year. In the first six months of this year, Canadians sent close to 9 billion text messages, with a current daily count of more than 54 million.”

The complete 2008 Wireless Attitudes Study is available on the CWTA Web site.

Having your laptop stolen can ruin your whole week. Hopefully, by now, you’re backing it up regularly and you know that there’s software available that can dramatically improve the odds of getting your computer back. But perhaps the creepiest aspect of having your laptop stolen is that someone might be going through the information you have on it: Email, contact lists, web browsing history, passwords, financial information, family photos and, if you use the computer for work, potentially sensitive business information.

Just imagine a drug addict (they steal computers and sell them to buy — you guessed it — more drugs), a competitor (they’d like to know what you’re up to) or a nosy, unethical employee where you work (70 per cent of thefts are committed by insiders) sitting there looking at everything on your notebook, including some things that even have been deleted.

And then there are overzealous governments, criminals, and other prying eyes who might enjoy rifling through your notebook hard drive or even copying every bit on the hard drive for a detailed forensic analysis when you’re not around.

If none of that would bother you, no need to read further. But, for the rest of you…

There are a lot of different encryption products available to protect data on your laptop. But, sadly, many of them dive quickly into technical details and scare most people off. So, while I’d be happy to answer your technical or security questions , I’m going to avoid all that and just tell you what you need: Full disk encryption software or FDE, for short.

Once installed, FDE software protects your entire hard drive and is very simple to use: You turn on your computer, type in your passphrase, and then the computer boots as usual. Some people confuse their computer’s BIOS password with FDE. but the two are quite different. BIOS passwords can be easily bypassed but, if you forget your FDE passphrase, the same mechanism that stops an intruder from getting your data will apply to you. If you’re using a corporate FDE solution, your company will almost always have a system that allows them to recover your passphrase or decrypt your hard drive. If you’re using a stand-alone solution, make sure you understand the recovery options availible. For example, many products will allow you to create a recovery disk to keep somewhere safe in case you forget your passphrase.

There are several good products on the market, including SecureDoc from WinMagic, Check Point Full Disk Encryption (formerly Pointsec), McAfee Endpoint Encryption (formerly SafeBoot), DriveCrypt, from SecurStar, and TrueCrypt.

The WinMagic, Check Point, and McAfee products cater primarily to corporate and government clients. These products emphasize enterprise management of encrypted drives and are generally too complex and expensive for individual users.

DriveCrypt is available as an online purchase from Germany, and TrueCrypt is a free, relatively easy-to-use open source product with a huge following. Both offer some interesting features, including the ability to hide one operating system inside another. While there are some catches, the feature is intended for situations where one may be (or feel) compelled to disclose their FDE passphrase. Without going into technical details, it basically gives the user two passphrases. One provides access to their “real” system, while the other provides access to a decoy.

While each of the products has its strong points, TrueCrypt is hard to beat for individual users. I’ve tested it on several laptops with great success. Corporations, of course, should compare the commercial products so that they can retain control of their encrypted information and assist users should they forget their passphrase. When purchasing a new notebook, both individuals and businesses should also consider a “self encrypting hard drive” if offered by the manufacturer. (More on hard drives with built-in cryptography in another article.)

No matter which product you choose, there are three very important things to remember:

  • Pre-boot authentication is a MUST. In other words, if you can turn on your computer and it boots into Windows (or whatever operating system you are running), your data is not protected.
  • You must choose a complex (i.e. difficult-to-guess) passphrase and it must not be written on your computer, in your laptop case, or anywhere else someone is likely to find it. The best passphrases are created by creating a phrase that is easy for you to remember and difficult for others to guess. For example “elephantseatbreakfastB4readingtheTLP” would be very difficult to someone to break. Chances are you’ll only be typing it once or twice a day, so make it long!
  • Take the time to understand the recovery capability your product provides. If it offers to create a recovery disk, do so and store it safely. Never store it with your computer!

Protecting your data in the event that your laptop is stolen is easy and, in the case of TrueCrypt, it’s also free. Speaking of free, I also should mention that some of the easiest ways of preventing laptop theft are free: Don’t leave it unattended in hotels, airports or meeting rooms — even for a few minutes — and make sure it is not visible if you leave it in your car.

From: The Telegraph.co.uk —

Xbox users are flooding the Xbox support forums with reports of DVD drive failures and outright system freeze-ups on their game consoles, following installation of the latest Microsoft (MS) Xbox Live software update.

As The Telegraph’s Claudine Beaumont reports, “Microsoft said it was aware of the issues and was working hard to resolve them. ‘This has been a revolutionary time for Xbox 360,’ said a spokesperson for the company. ‘We pushed out the [software update] to over 14 million Xbox Live members worldwide. As a result of an unprecedented level of member activity, a small percentage of Xbox Live users may have experienced temporary service issues or delays.’”

“The Xbox 360 console has been beset by technical problems in recent years. Many users have experienced the so-called “red ring of death”, a fault that causes their console to freeze during use, prompting Microsoft to offer repairs and replacement consoles to those affected.”