Category Archives: computers

Chromebooks: Solid laptops for the budget niche

hp-chromebookOur next stop on the road to Black Friday is a curious one, since it’s as niche a product as there is. One wouldn’t think a laptop would be a specialized device - they are pretty much the definition of ubiquitous - but Google’s latest Chromebooks fit the description.

Chromebooks have taken their share of heat from reviewers and even from competitors such as Microsoft, some of which is deserved. As relatively inexpensive laptops powered by Google’s Chrome operating system, it’s perhaps fair to say there’s more they don’t do than what they do do. You wouldn’t want to do video editing or intensive CAD processing on them and they’re not really suitable for proper gaming either.

But they are pretty good for basic document work, email and other web uses - better than tablets, in many ways - and the real selling point is price. Most Chromebooks simply can’t be beat in that department. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in computers, Google


All technology should take a lesson from cars

tron-carIf someone were to say that we’re living inside a giant computer, many people would probably think they were talking about The Matrix. While we may yet end up inside a big virtual world, the reality is we’re actually already living in a computer - or, more correctly, the computer is all around us.

The computer, or computing machine, has gone through a dramatic evolution over the past 30 years. At first, it shrank from room-filling mainframes into desktops, then it got even smaller to fit into the palms of our hands. The next epoch - the one just beginning - is seeing that computing power flow into everything, from the walls around us to the clothes we wear and even into our own bodies. With wireless networks now connecting anything and everything, the era of ubiquitous computing is upon us.

There are still a few steps to go, and the effects will be huge. I looked at some of these issues in a recent feature for The Globe and Mail. Check it out. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on March 25, 2013 in computers


Surface Pro: a solution without a problem?

surfaceIn my previous post, I mused on how Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet/laptop hybrid would be dead on arrival thanks to its $900 price tag. On further consideration, I’m convinced it will be DOA even at a lower price. As neither a tablet nor a laptop, it’s a device without a clear use case, which means it’s a solution in search of a problem. In other words, it’s a bad, bad idea.

Consider how tablets are used. The majority of buyers use them to surf the web while on the couch, browse photos, read e-books and email, watch movies and play games. Some power users also try to get actual business productivity out of them. In some cases, tablets do such tasks better than anything else - I’ve written before about how apps such as SignMyPad, which lets you sign documents with your finger, are invaluable - but in many other situations, they’re terrible. I would rather bash my head against a wall than use a tablet for spreadsheets, for example.

That’s not to say they’re not handy for business uses. Many professionals - from doctors to pilots - use them as portable displays, which come in handy for everything from patient charts to flight manuals. There are also many specialized tablet apps that do in fact make use of the touch screen in creative ways. Lighting Designer, as just one example, helps cinematographers set up shots with their fingers. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 3, 2012 in computers, microsoft


Why do we still use QWERTY keyboards?

The Dvorak keyboard: the better way doesn’t always win out.

A while ago, I wrote a post on how current video game consoles were essentially broken technology. Up until a few short years ago, they were quite the opposite. Like cars, they were the perfect gadgets because all you had to do was insert a disc (or key, as it were) and off you went.

But over the past few years, manufacturers have heaped all sorts of new functionality into the machines without maintaining that elegance in the process. Now, it’s hard to go through the same simple act of playing a game without multiple logins and download updates. Today’s game consoles, while able to do so much more than their predecessors, have effectively stepped backward in the grand scheme of technological evolution, unlike cars, which have added functionality but stayed relatively simple.

Technology is supposed to make tasks easier. When it doesn’t, it’s anti-engineering, a term I recently picked up while finally reading Guns, Germs and Steel, the Pulitzer-prize winning book by Jared Diamond that seeks to explain why some countries are richer and more advanced than others.

Diamond doesn’t talk about video game consoles in his book, which was first published in 1997, but he does relate an amazing anecdote that most people have probably never considered (unless of course they’ve read Guns, Germs and Steel): the standard keyboard that we all type on may just be the worst designed piece of technology ever. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on September 5, 2012 in computers, video games


A world without passwords? Yes, please

Here’s a quick question: how many passwords do you have? Probably a lot. A study five years ago by Microsoft found the average internet user had about 6.5, maintained 25 accounts that require them and typed in about eight per day. With the rise of social media since then, those numbers have probably all gone up.

At the same time, unless you’ve got Rain Man-like skills with numbers, your passwords probably aren’t all that secure. If, like me, you use the same password for a bunch of different accounts, you’re probably setting yourself up to get hacked (I’m just too forgetful to even try to remember multiple passwords).

Fortunately, the military is on it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - the same people who brought us the internet - has a program called Active Authentication that seeks to give computers the ability to identify their users. The idea is to eliminate passwords entirely, to the point where the computer does its recognition work in the background. All the user has to do is sit down and get to work.

This can be accomplished by outfitting computers with an array of biometric tools and sensors, according to program director Richard Guidorizzi. A computer could identify its user, for example, by scanning a combination of his or her fingerprint, their pattern of mouse usage and even writing style. By incorporating such biometrics, the computer could effectively build a “cognitive fingerprint” of users that would be much more effective - and natural - than remembering a whole slew of complicated passwords.

Here Guidorizzi explaining the idea:

It sounds wacky, but that’s DARPA’s specialty. It wasn’t so long ago that the agency was experimenting with a certain voice-recognition tool, which is now popping up all over the place.


Posted by on June 25, 2012 in computers, DARPA


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