NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2006
Tech News
By Sue Crane, Editor, Big Bear Computer Club, California
Scrane5@charter.net (click to email author)

Cosmeo is bringing Discovery’s online encyclopedia into homes via it’s Web site. The site resembles the screen of a handheld game device and features video clips and interactive games. Content providers, including Scholastic Corp. and the Public Broadcasting Service, are customized to meet the curriculum standards of different states. The service is available for $9.95/month.

Microsoft announced that it has delayed the mainstream launch of Vista until next year. Steve Sinofsky, the head of the Office unit, has been tapped to lead Windows development. Following its push back of Windows Vista, Microsoft confims the Office 2007 release will move to next year as well. It’s been reported on a number of blog sites that Microsoft will release Windows Vista with 8 different versions, but no pricing information is available yet . . .

Microsoft is also building in a tool, Windows Performance Rating, that will rate a PC based on how well it is running and on how much it can take advantage of Vista’s capabilities to help average consumers easily understand their Windows Vista PC’s overall performance. As for systems slowing down over time, that’s another issue that Microsoft is trying to tackle. Meanwhile, Vista is being designed to shut the door on spyware. It will introduce important changes at the heart of the operating system, as well as to Internet Explorer, and include Windows Defender, an anti-spyware tool.

An error in McAfee’s virus definition file released mid-March caused consumer and enterprise antivirus products to flag Microsoft Excel, AdobeUpdateManager and other applications on users PCs as a virus called W95/CTX”. Files were deleted or quarantined, depending on the user’s settings.

When Microsoft first talked about Windows Live in November, most of the “Live” products were MSN services that had been rebranded. Since then Microsoft has added more than a dozen new products under the Windows Live umbrella. MSN executive David Cole explains, “Microsoft’s goal is to continuously update and launch products”. Over the next 3-6 months, Microsoft expects to ship more Windows Live technology into the marketplace than during their entire 10-year OS history. Microsoft’s new ad-serving engine, AdCenter, is at the heart of Windows Live. AdCenter draws on user demographic information to help drive more targeted marketing. Microsoft has even talked about using advertising as a way to pay for traditional desktop software. Meanwhile, the list of Windows Live services continues expanding to include all the basic portal services.

Take a look at the Ice Weasels, Space Cookies and Cheesy Poofs, high school teams competing for top merit in the 15th annual robotics contest sponsored by FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). With about $10,000 worth of donated hardware and software, high school students are given 6 weeks to assemble a functioning robot that can move around a court and shoot Nerf basketballs for points. Part of the challenge is for teens to find and work with mentors who are experts in technology and science. Once registered, the teams are given 3 boxes of hardware and software and a programming language called Easy C that allows them to write a program for the robot’s onboard computer. Also included is Autodesk’s 3D Max Studio animation software so they can create a 30-second animation. The game itself is roughly 2 minutes long, with robots that are 2 feet wide by 4 feet high. For the first 10 seconds, the robots must make as many baskets as possible; the robot with the most points from the first 10 seconds then gets to play offense. Winning bots will go on to compete at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome at the international finals.

Neurofeedback, a form of conditioning that rewards people for producing specific brain waves, taps youths’ fascination with animation and electronics to sweeten frightening medical treatments. While this form of treatment has been around for decades, incorporating video games marks a new frontier that taps young people’s fascination with animation and electronics to sweeten often frightening, lengthy and tedious medical treatments. Video games are being used, for instance, to help sick children manage pain and anxiety during hospital stays. A young leukemia patient inspired “Ben’s Game,” which let him fight the cancer cells invading his body.

A private island called Brigadoon in Linden Lab’s “Second Life” virtual world is open only to people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism. West Virginia’s public schools are battling obesity by making “Dance Dance Revolution”--a step-to-the-beat video game--part of their curriculum, while Nintendo has made a splash with its new “Brain Age” mind-exercising game. CyberLearning’s Smart BrainGames system targets symptoms arising from brain injuries, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities. Priced at $584, the system is built on NASA technology that used video games and neurofeedback to train pilots. Traditional treatments, such as prescribing the stimulant Ritalin, behavioral therapy and education, are often covered by health insurance, while neurofeedback usually is not. Despite such hurdles, some medical practitioners are advocating the new approach.

Kyle MacDonald is on the verge of successfully completing a project that sounds absurd: Trading--with the help of a blog--a single red paper clip for a house. Since embarking on his house hunt last year, MacDonald has traded with people from across Canada and the United States and is now sitting on a year’s free rent for an apartment in Phoenix. MacDonald is confident he’s going to succeed, and hopes it can happen by the July 12 anniversary of the project’s launch. And his goal is getting tantalizingly close. The project has allowed him to initiate a Net cult following that’s hoping he’ll succeed, too. Popular blogs such as boingboing have been tracking his progress.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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