Micro Mart, Issue 1198

Micro Mart Issue 1198 CoverThis week’s issue of Micro Mart features another cover piece of mine: The Printer Ink Wars. Yes, that’s what I called it. Oh, wait, it gets better.

In offices and homes around the world, a war is being fought. There are no explosions, and you won’t hear gunfire, but it’s a pitched battle for control of one of the most precious liquids known to man. The fight isn’t over oil or water but something even more valuable. It’s a conflict for control of the printer ink market.

I know, right? The piece takes an in-depth look at the ink and toner industry, both from the perspective of a printer manufacturer and from that of a compatible cartridge maker. To make sure the piece is as detailed and fair as possible, I sought comment from both sides of the fence. Interestingly, while numerous compatible cartridge makers were interested in talking to me – including the European Toner and Ink Remanufacturers’ Association (ETIRA,) the UK Cartridge Recyclers Association (UKCRA,) Amor Office Supplies, Green Cartridges and Cartridge World – the only printer maker that would talk to me on the subject was HP.

Thankfully, HP’s ink man, Mark Hurren, proved more than capable of fighting his corner. “I wish it had never been called ink,” he told me. “That makes it compared to everyday writing implements, which is unfair because it’s a much more technological product than that.”

The piece covers the growth of refills, the flood of dirt-cheap and intellectual property-infringing clone cartridges from Asia, and the patent issues surrounding recycled cartridges. It also contains some fairly inflammatory comment from Vincent van Dijk, general secretary of ETIRA – including the accusation that not all is as it seems with printer makers’ so-called ‘recycling’ programmes.

Micro Mart Issue 1198 will be on sale until the end of Wednesday next week, so if you want to find out more I suggest you take a trip to the newsagents sharpish.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 110

Linux User & Developer, Issue 110This month’s Linux User magazine features my usual group test article – this time on CD ripping packages – along with the last part of my series on becoming a contributor to an open-source project and a review of penetration testing toolkit BackBox Linux 2.01.

The group test required a methodical approach, addressing the most common needs from an audio CD ripping package: the codecs supported; the ability to deal with scratched discs; downloading of CDDB information and cover art; and handling of discs encumbered with digital restrictions management (DRM) technology.

It also provided me with an excuse to listen to some of my favourite music, of course.

Interestingly, the group test result convinced me to switch from my usual CD ripping tool to an alternative thanks to its surprising performance. It’s not often that I’ll make a move from a tool I’m used to as the result of testing like this, but it’s always welcome when it does happen.

The final part of my three-part series looking at contributing to the LibreOffice project finishes off with an investigation of how a contributor can make the leap from mentoree to mentor – a key part of any open source community. It’s something which is all too often overlooked, but as soon as you start to take your first steps on the path you begin to know more than those who start after you. As a result, you have valuable knowledge to share with the community – even though you might consider yourself a mere neophyte.

Finally, there’s the review of BackBox Linux, a distribution aimed at security and penetration testing. As with BackTrack, it’s an Ubuntu derivative but it includes a surprisingly robust suite of utilities – including documentation tools and general-purpose packages like audio utilities and even a scanner driver – which makes it a serious contender despite the immaturity of the project.

Further details on this issue are available over on the Linux User & Developer website.

Micro Mart, Issue 1195

Micro Mart, Issue 1195My first piece for Dennis Publishing’s weekly IT mag Micro Mart, and it’s a cover feature. Not that I’m boasting or anything. Okay, perhaps I’m boasting a bit.

As you can probably see from the cover it’s a look at AMD’s disappointing launch of its consumer-grade Bulldozer-core processors, the AMD FX Series. Completed to the tightest possible schedule – I received an email requesting a 3,500-word feature on Thursday, with a deadline of the following Monday – it forms an overview of the history of Bulldozer, its launch in the server market, its consumer launch and the complaints that have been raised over its performance.

It also includes comment from an AMD engineer in the company’s Austin facility on what is being done to address the architecture’s problems – not an easy thing to get on such short notice, and massive thanks to AMD’s AndrĂ© Heidekrueger and Bite PR’s Sami Makinen for organising that so quickly.

It’s a nice piece, if I do say so myself, and hopefully won’t be the last to grace Micro Mart’s cover. Fingers crossed for longer deadlines next time, though…

Bit-Tech, Raspberry Pi Feature

Raspberry Pi LogoFollowing an interview with Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton last week, the first of two confirmed features: a look at the project, which has created a 700MHz ARM-based credit-card size computer costing just $35, from a modder’s perspective.

Will it take off? Where are the mounting holes? Is it possible to overclock the Broadcom system-on-chip at the heart of the system? What software does it run? Can it play games? Does it support 1080p video playback? Will I ever stop asking these stupid questions?

All this and more answered over on Dennis Publishing’s computing enthusiast site, Bit-Tech.

The second feature to come out of the interview, a more Linux-focused Q&A-style transcription, is scheduled to appear in Imagine Publishing’s Linux User & Developer Magazine, Issue 111.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 108

Continuing my work for Imagine Publishing, this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine has as its cover story a feature I wrote on the top ten Linux distributions of 2011.

Echoing a similar feature created for Issue 100, this latest run-down was a pleasure to write: as before, its creation involved the downloading, installation and configuration of ten Linux distributions within a virtual machine environment (VirtualBox, if you’re curious) so that screenshots of each can be taken.

Rather than using stock screenshots, each image is specific to the feature and includes the same applications – a media player, a calculator and the application menu – for easy comparison between different distributions’ visual styles.

Doing that takes a fair amount of effort, of course, but the result is worth it.

The feature also collects comments and opinions from distributions’ developers and community members, along with a rapid-fire ‘quick facts’ boxout for each.

Also in this latest issue is the first of a three-part series looking into becoming a bug fixer for an open source software project, using the real-world example of the LibreOffice productivity suite and including input from community members Michael Meeks, André Schnabel and Markus Mohrhard.

More information is available on the Linux User & Developer website.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 103

This month’s Linux User & Developer may come as a shock to some: the group test, a regular mainstay of the magazine, is nowhere to be found. Thankfully, it’s been replaced with something just as good – and highly visible there in the right-hand corner of the cover: a head-to-head shoot-out between GNOME3 (and the GNOME Shell) and Unity.

With the launch of GNOME3 and Canonical’s insistence on using its own Unity desktop for Ubuntu, passions are high in the Linux community. Taking both releases and running them head-to-head, I compared their features and functionality in order to ascertain exactly which comes out ahead.

To capitalise on the interest surrounding the topic, editor Russell Barnes made the decision to publish the piece on the website as well as in the magazine; a good choice, it turns out, with the article grabbing significant traffic and sitting at the top of the ‘most read’ stats for a considerable time.

As well as the head-to-head, this issue includes a two-page review of cloud-centric Linux distribution Peppermint Two, again installed and configured on my VirtualBox testbed virtual machine.

More information is available over on the Linux User & Developer website.

Arduino Duemilanove - Side View

Arduino Projects: Getting Started

Arduino Duemilanove - Side ViewA break from the usual ‘sample’ style of post to showcase an article I’m really rather proud of: an introduction to Arduino circuit-building and programming, written for bit-tech and Custom PC Magazine.

Anyone who has ever hacked around in their PC will have been hit with an urge to take their tinkering to the next level and create a custom-built device, but few actually try – believing such things to be far too complicated. At least, until the Arduino appeared on the scene.

Originally developed in Italy in 2005 as a tool for students building interactive design projects, the Arduino is a microcontroller-based prototyping board – but one that pretty much removes the barriers to entry that previous electronic prototyping systems had.

The idea behind the Arduino is simple: to create a system that allows electronic circuits to be created, modified, and tested in minutes – complete with a programmable chip in the centre to take control of everything.

The full article can be read over on bit-tech.net.

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