Technology news and commentary by the staff

Archive for March, 2008

Speed up Vista using Firefox 3 Beta

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If like me, you spend a sizable amount of your computer time on a web browser, you can forget about RAM or processor upgrades, it’s software where the hole was all this time.

First let me tell you that I’m an avid fan of trying new web browsers, or at least new versions of today’s traditional browsers like Firefox, Opera, IE and Safari, that includes betas and release candidates. But because I had grown so comfortable with my Firefox extensions and overall set up, I was ultimately drawn away from using experimental builds on a daily basis. It’s not until lately that I have seen a large number of Firefox add-ons ported to the Beta version (currently Beta 4) and so I thought it was time for another spin.

Seriously, the browser is speedy. I had previously experienced the improvements in Beta 1, I got a few random crashes then, but no more. I can tell you that on my desktop machine that is currently running Windows Vista on an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, I’m feeling a difference in speed that is way more palpable than when I upgraded from a dual core Athlon CPU, I had less RAM and was running on an older platform. I also have most of my extensions installed, so the comparison is more or less apples to apples. With a load of tabs divided in two windows, and many other programs running at the same time, the mere change in browser suddenly is making for a much smoother working experience.
In fact, I’m currently writing this on Firefox 3 Beta 4 Portable which let’s me run a standalone copy of the browser without sacrificing my older Firefox 2 install, so in case I want to roll back, it’s a non-issue.

I have also tried Internet Explorer 8 in Vista and it does offer similar speed improvements. Likewise, Safari 3.1 on OS X also welcomed me with better performance, but neither of those can replace Firefox for me. Opera lovers must also forgive me but I have not downloaded the latest Opera version yet, although just this past weekend I saw fellow editor Erik Orejuela running a gazillion tabs on it, probably more than Firefox 2 can handle without crashing (he switched after the 2.0.11 fiasco).

My recommendation, give Firefox 3 beta a try now and see how it works for you. Many of the most popular extensions are now usable on the beta (BTW, there is a newly revamped add-ons site). Somehow it seems all browser developers felt the need for speed on this iteration, so you can choose your browser flavor if FF is not your thing.

Written by Julio Franco

March 31st, 2008 at 4:55 am

TechSpot at the Apple Store in NYC’s Fifth Ave.

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Earlier this month I visited New York City and my hotel happened to be a mere block away from the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. Despite of my love-hate relationship with the brand (I own a Mac Mini, iPod, iPhone and MacBook Pro, but I can’t say I love them all), I had to pay the store a visit… it’s exterior looks are a thing of beauty.

I had been to a few Apple’s stores in the past in Chicago, California, and in Florida, and most of them look about the same on the interior, but this one along with the other one in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, just make for a serious statement of the company and what they want to achieve with their products. Seriously, for once I felt Apple was making computer enthusiasts a favor by portraying a cool image of technology in general, one that contrasts with the bland beige box.

Here are a few shots I took, some of them showing TechSpot’s homepage on a MacBook Air.

apple store fifth ave new york apple store 5th ave 2333163125_8936d01965_b.jpg

Written by Julio Franco

March 30th, 2008 at 3:21 am

Craiglist listing gone really bad

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When I read this I couldn’t believe myself, apparently it’s not the first time happening either. I have never used Craiglist but this kind of story makes it easy to believe how powerful of a network it has created in some areas (in case you have never been to the 1997-looking site, it’s all about local classified postings).

Most folks recall the story about the Tacoma, Wash., house that was trashed after a woman posted an ad on Craigslist telling people to “please help yourself to anything on the property.”

Well, some mischief maker in Jacksonville, Ore., apparently decided to re-enact the Tacoma house-trashing scheme. According to this Associated Press story, Robert Salisbury came home to nearly 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch. Not only that, when he told the trespassers to give him back his belongings, he was rebuffed.

The Craigslist post advertised all of Salisbury’s stuff–even his horse–as free for the taking. The woman who showed up to take his horse finally started to feel uneasy about the whole deal when she realized that the horse looked perfectly healthy, and well, seemed to actually belong to someone. She left a note on the door and then decided to call Salisbury to make sure that the ad was legit.

Full story here.

Written by Julio Franco

March 26th, 2008 at 2:08 am

Vista crashing in the most simple of tasks

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So let me rant for a bit. After defending Windows Vista, not because I like Microsoft but because based on my experiences I have had relatively few problems with the OS, last night I saw it giving me a deja vu of the early Win95 days!

A solid install of Vista now running SP1 was put to the test… burning a data DVD with 1GB worth of files. The result? A 15 minute wait, followed by a hard crash (that is, I had to manually shut down my system to restart). I can forgive all the driver incompatibilities you want, but DVD burning? Good thing, Nero finally works well with Vista.

Written by Julio Franco

March 20th, 2008 at 10:29 pm

Crazy, crazy funding for a web startup

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Just like a bad habit or a reality TV-like guilty pleasure, over the past few weeks I have grown accustomed to check out startup-related blog TC once a day just to see what’s popping around the web. It’s been exciting times for a while on the web now, the late nineties bubble is well forgotten, and a massive wave of very useful and profitable services based on the Internet are here with even more on the way.

That’s not to say there aren’t crappy ideas and lots of copycats popping up as well, all of which are usually covered by TC, but that’s just part of the nature of a fast growing industry. There seems to be a lot of excitement from investors as well, so demand for more potentially viable businesses is quite latent despite of recession concerns in the US. But something that quite shocked me this last week, and that’s what I wanted to share today, was the announcement of a $15M funding for blog widget ShareThis.

Now, I won’t call it undeserving because it’s a very cool widget that works quite well with many blogging platforms, and I may even implement it here at some point, but for a widget that has a very limited scope and has yet to come up with a way to make any money, that’s a huge figure that will rarely become justified.

Revisiting some of my thoughts from last year, I don’t want to scream it’s an Internet bubble all over again. For starters, the web today is already a hard proven medium that is competing hand in hand with television and newspapers. Also, for an Internet-based business like TechSpot, a second dot com bubble on top of an imminent US recession would just be terrible, terrible news.

But once again I wanted to raise a red flag regarding stuff like this that in my opinion poisons somewhat the realistic scenario of where the web stands today and where it will belong a few years from now. If for a moment I thought investors should know better, I will think again.

Edit: I just realized that the post title “Crazy, crazy funding for a web startup” could imply saying that $15M is too much money for ANY web startup, which is by far not the case, not does that reflect my thinking. What I meant was, too much money for THIS specific startup.

Written by Julio Franco

March 16th, 2008 at 1:27 am

Say hello to TechSpot Mobile

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Now you can catch up with the latest technology news from your cell phone using our new gorgeous looking mobile portal.

Although we already offered RSS feeds that are mobile friendly, and depending on your device Opera Mini could let you render the full fledged frontpage, this is even better. We used the tools from startup company MoFuse to build an optimized mobile site that is much friendlier, faster and easier on the eyes. The result is that you can now get our full news coverage (not just headlines and an excerpt, but the full text) from the latest 15 topics covered.

If you are using an iPhone, you get an optimized version, here’s how that looks:


You can access the new TechSpot Mobile using the following address:

Written by Julio Franco

March 9th, 2008 at 1:31 am

Posted in blog,techspot,the web

Improved tabbed story navigation in TechSpot news

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With the upcoming TechSpot redesign proving more challenging and time consuming than anticipated, I have been optimizing a few things here and there on the current site despite of the fact it’s now officially EOL soon.

But because I’m planning on a few giveaways and we will have people browsing and landing on news story pages a lot, I thought I would improve that on the current layout which had become rather cluttered with too many headlines, so a tabbed box was the solution, here’s how it looks:


Next in my development to do list: TechSpot Mobile!

Written by Julio Franco

March 7th, 2008 at 8:33 am

Posted in blog,techspot

Nine Inch Nails follows Radiohead with free album web release

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Nine Inch Nails has just released the first volume of their new album “Ghosts” on BitTorrent sites as a free download. The band encourages its fans to share the album with friends, post it on websites and play it on podcasts

“Ghosts” is released under a non-commercial Creative Commons license and can be shared freely, something their fans weren’t allowed to do when the band was held back by a record label. In the release notes the band writes: “Now that we’re no longer constrained by a record label, we’ve decided to personally upload Ghosts I, the first of the four volumes, to various torrent sites, because we believe BitTorrent is a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them.” (Via Neowin).

Written by Julio Franco

March 4th, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Posted in blog

Turn a small home UPS into a giant UPS (video)

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Having a UPS is fairly common these days. However, one gripe I’ve always had and that you might too is the limited capacity you get on them. Even nicer $200+ ones might only give you a few minutes on a powerful PC, and for large capacity you could easily spend $1000 or more. Neither option was good for me. So I decided to make a better one myself.

To start with, I purchased 3 “Ultra” brand UPSs about a year ago. They are completely silent, small, and functional. Cheap, yes, but functional. However, with my machine on one of them, it only lasts around 3 minutes before powering off. This might be enough to shut it down, but if the power is out for only 15 minutes I’d rather just ride it through. Inside the UPS were 2 small sealed lead acid batteries, like you find in most UPS units, 12V each, in series. They are the same type of battery you find in cars, trucks and boats – just smaller. Using that logic, I took some common hardware and rebuilt this UPS. I did a small bit of research to determine the proper wire size given the load. The UPS used is an Ultra 1000VA. (warning, a small bit of profanity is in the video)

The tools involved were simple. I had 20 feet of 10 Gauge wire, two ring terminals and several Male/Female disconnects. I needed wire strippers and wire crimpers for that. The UPS itself only required a screwdriver to take apart. I used a nice Dremel to bore a hole in the plastic, though realistically you could do that with a knife. For the batteries, I purchased battery boxes. It was a simple matter to remove the stock batteries, run and terminate the wire, then put the new batteries in place.

There are downsides to doing it with these batteries. Space, of course, and safety. These are standard lead-acid deep cycle batteries, meaning that they can and do release gas when discharging. For that reason, I have these batteries situated outside. To do this safely indoors, you need a well-ventilated room OR you need to use sealed batteries.

I am going to do this with the other two UPS units, too. Next time, however, several things will change. I am going to use sealed batteries, slightly more expensive but completely safe to use indoors. I will also use shorter cable lengths. I will remove the buzzer inside that makes that awful beep, and I will install a slow 80MM or perhaps 120MM fan inside, quiet but enough to bring some air over the unit in case sustained operation heats it up too much.

All in all, I spent about $300, including the tools, to make a UPS with an ~80AH capacity.

Written by Julio Franco

March 2nd, 2008 at 2:06 am