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Orwell that ends well

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The online privacy debate has been shattered by revelations that the US is spying on everything people say, email and browse. This must be a conundrum for supporters of Wikileaks, who assert that everything anyone says or does should be open for all to see and hear, but these same people _ including founder Julian Assange _ get very angry as soon as people start looking into them. 

I've covered privacy before and it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. It is worth mentioning that no country can be 100% open. At all levels there is always some information that needs to be kept away from others, even if it is just a surprise party. When it comes to national interests, it is other countries that are the usual focus. It could be an issue of trade negotiations, undercover drug agents or something to do with national security but despite what some groups would have you believe, having been on both sides, there can literally be lives at stake.

The basic rule of thumb for working on the internet is to assume that everything you do is potentially being looked at by someone. For the majority this is typically Google or Yahoo or someone else tracking your browsing habits so that they can send you targeted advertising. One unintended side effect of the latest spying revelations is that, according to Amazon's Movers and Shakers page, there has been a 9,538% rise in sales of George Orwell's novel 1984.

As of writing, the latest big announcements from Apple have been less than exciting. No big new devices with mostly catch-up as far as changes to the iPhone are concerned. There is the introduction of a radio service but that has been part of just about everyone else's devices _ apart from Apple's. Radio-streaming services have been part of Android devices for quite a while now and there have been a large number of apps that have been doing it for other devices for a long time as well.

Western Digital has a new entrant in the how-thin-can-we-go-with-a-hard-drive stakes. WD has a 1TB 7mm thick unit, the WD10SPCXX. It has all the usual functions, a 6GB/s SATA interface but at the slower 5,400rpm disk speed. Acer, Intel and Asus have already expressed interest.

I'm sick of hearing about "green" products and how we can "save the planet" by using less electricity. It has become the biggest bandwagon since the invention of fire and Microsoft has decided to become part of the process. The result is the The Impact Of Internet Browsers On Computer Energy Consumption, commissioned by Microsoft and produced by the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems. It not surprisingly finds that the average power draw for using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser is less than that of their competitors Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. The premise here is that using IE will use less overall power and that by doing so you can call yourself "green", improve your carbon footprint and save the planet. Oh, I almost forgot, Microsoft's browser stats will also improve. Since no-one has ever been able to prove the underlying premise unless you want to save a few cents on your yearly power bill, I wouldn't rush out and switch browsers just yet.

Good news for those who use mobiles to surf the web and are sick of seeing poorly designed sites. Google will start deranking (yes I made up that word) these sites in search results. Google has released a list of errors they will be looking for and advice on how to fix them. Web developers take note.

In obliquely related news, the latest version of the Qantas Windows Phone App is broken and won't let people check-in and generate boarding passes online. The interesting twist to this story is that Windows Mobile is not at fault _ it was Qantas itself that messed up the back end interface. Users are retaliating by giving the app one star in reviews. Qantas forgot the golden rule: test, test and test again before release.

In other Australian-related news, the 4G 700MHz band is currently hosting wireless microphones in Australia and the powers that be are trying to get rid of them. Coincidentally, wireless mic sales using anything in the 694 to 800MHz band have dropped sharply.

It has been a while since a CPU announcement caught my attention but AMD has revealed what it calls the world's first 5GHz CPU, the FX-9590. It is aimed at hard-core gamers and is an eight-core CPU. Now for the real facts. The 5GHz claim is for the CPUs in what AMD calls "Max Turbo" mode, and AMD is playing coy on what the actual base speed of the new cores are. The real speed test will, of course, be made be with a liquid helium cooled implementation which hit a whopping 8.429GHz back in 2011 with an earlier version of the FX CPU.

James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com

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