The smell of a free ride

You can get a key-chain wi-fi sniffer for US$30 from ( This is a little radio transmission detector that you can carry in your pocket and it will signal when you’re in useful range of a “”hot spot,”” a place that provides wireless access to the Internet.

At that point, presumably,

you would whip out your wireless-enabled computer or PDA (personal digital assistant) and collect e-mail, browse the Web and do a little shopping.

Is this kosher? Meaning: What is the ethical standing of using someone else’s wireless Internet connection for your own purposes without paying for it? This is definitely worth a shrug. Since some public businesses are already providing free wireless access to the Internet, and the number of such is increasing rapidly, the issue would seem to be something for scholastics and other fanciers of obscure arguments. Want to find a free wi-fi connection without a keychain gadget? Pull up to a Starbucks.


Meanwhile, in the land of mass and massive storage: The new Verbatim “”double layer DVDs”” are out and about. You can record 8.5 gigabytes on one of these. Though they are not in widespread use yet, Sony, Philips, Dell and HP already have read/write drives that can handle such disks, and we can expect to see them become popular by fall. Currently popular DVDs can store 4.7 gigabytes.

Down the road are double-sided, double-layer DVDs that will, of course, hold around 17 gigabytes. And beyond that, composite material disks that can hold 45 gigabytes are now in the research stage. Remember: With every advance in the storage medium you’ll need to buy a new drive to use the new disks. (They’re currently around $190.) Sigh.


CyberLink’s PowerDVD Copy can compress the data from one of the new high-capacity DVDs so you can fit the information from an 8.5 GB (gigabyte) DVD onto a 4.7 GB DVD. The same software can also be used to copy one regular DVD to another.

You do not have to copy a whole disk with this software; you can pick and choose what you want. Power DVD Copy is $40 and is compatible with a wide range of different DVD recording and playback formats. Check it out at


One of the primary attractions of the new Hewlett Packard Media Center M1000 personal computer appears to be a secondary removable hard drive. It’s 160 gigabytes, which is a lot, and if you fill it up, you can just pull it out and plug in a new one. (If you ever fill up 160 gigabytes, you probably should lie down and rest for a while.)

Interestingly, removable hard drives for personal computers have been around for a dozen years or so and have enjoyed moderate but no great success in the marketplace. The other major attraction of the Media Center computer is a TV tuner. Once again (gosh, it’s awful to have been around long enough to see stuff coming around the bend again), ATI and Happauge both make TV tuner cards for PCs and have had them for a decade.


The iBoot is a device that lets you boot or reboot a computer and other devices from a remote location. One computer has to be on and working to receive instructions over the Internet, but anything else networked to that computer can be switched on and off. The device automatically detects what’s on and what isn’t.

This covers a major flaw in remote computing links. Software that can control one computer from another computer thousands of miles away can be very useful, but what if the computer you want to control isn’t on or is locked up? Aye, there’s the rub, as some bard or other once observed.

This kind of problem actually happens with surprising frequency. Have you ever needed to reboot your own computer? Is this a rhetorical question? Easy to handle when you’re sitting right there, but impossible from a distance.

The iBoot is $275 from Dataprobe (


Pulse Data just came out with a pocket-size PDA for the blind. The BrailleNote PK weighs less than a pound and has a built-in Bluetooth receiver for wi-fi and connection to other wireless devices like some cell phones. E-mail and Web site information is spoken aloud by a media player.

All this is not cheap: The New Zealand maker is asking $5,000 apiece for the compact Braille PDAs. You can find more info at its Web site:


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a whole lot of fun and only $30 from Electronic Arts. The graphics are great, the game play is great, and there’s just one problem: Can your PC handle it?

The problem has become increasingly common for new games coming out for the PC, and it’s the need for power. Games take more memory, hard-drive space and high-end graphics than just about anything you can run on a PC. For this game, you will need at least 256 MB of RAM, nearly a gigabyte of free hard-drive space, a processor that runs 600 mhz or faster, and an ATI Radeon or NVidia GeForce 2 graphics card. That is not your father’s PC. Game info at

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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