23 stories from TechGeek you must read before the end of the year

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23 Stories Must Read

2013 has been a big year in terms of news stories – such as the Edward Snowden revelations. However, it has been a big year for TechGeek as well. We covered a major event for the first time (PAX Australia), got referenced on Wikipedia, and won the Best Independent Media award at the local IT Journalism Awards.

But of course, there are stories that get missed here and there (especially when many of you are new to the site). So we’ve taken the opportunity to make this list – and to self-indulge – of the 23 stories we published during the year that you must read.


Surface Pro 2 Review: Most Productive Tablet Ever?

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Norman Ma reviews the Surface Pro 2, the latest tablet from Microsoft:

The question of whether you should buy the Surface Pro 2 isn’t a question of specs, of performance, or even battery life. The Surface Pro 2 ticks all of those boxes; especially in performance.  Ultimately, it’s a philosophical question – one that revolves around what you believe the future of computing should be.


High School IT – It’s time to start from scratch

Image: Kelly Smith/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Kelly Smith/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Computer Science student and TechGeek contributor Matthew Rossi argues for change in what high school students are taught in IT and computing classes, in order to promote more students towards computer science degrees instead of consulting.

One fundamental question remains in the movement to arrest the decrease in students studying Computing at high school and university: what should we be teaching about IT to high school students? … Perhaps a change is needed at the high school level to attract more students to Computer Science?


Don’t get Microshafted: nobody is innocent in Microsoft’s new anti-Google campaign

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Chris Southcott breaks down Microsoft’s latest anti-Google campaign. However, don’t be fooled by Microsoft’s marketing tricks – when it comes to ad targeting, they too also read your emails, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Neither party is innocent when it comes to using your email for targeted ads… But the message is this: if you don’t want an anonymous robot near your 100% free email account, pay money. Because nothing is stopping Microsoft from copying Google if Outlook.com gets popular. And the fact that they already display personalised ads in Outlook shows that it isn’t that far-fetched.


Welcome to Night Vale: What is Normal?

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Erin Hill explains what makes Welcome to Night Vale – the number one podcast on iTunes, beating the venerable This American Life and the Australian comedy duo Hamish and Andy – unique, and the massive fanbase attached with the show.

What makes the show unique is its presentation of what is ordinary. Many of the things that Cecil reports on goes against our idea of normal, but is presented in a manner that makes it seem mundane.


Free! Iwatobi Swim Club – Is it just one massive female fanservice?

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Jess Renkin writes about why she watches Free! Iwatobi Swim Club – the infamous swimming anime that got really popular on Tumblr. And no, she isn’t watching the show because of the “hot attractive guys wearing bathers”:

The reason I keep watching it is because of its real theme – swimming… They are also a colourful array of characters, if not the anime cliche ones. However, instead of overpowering one of them, they all seem to have personality flaws that contradict with the other personalities.


Xbox One has caused a schism in the Xbox community

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Terence Huynh writes on his rethink on Microsoft’s then-controversial games policy, and how it has managed to split the Xbox fanbase. (Another piece you should read Chris Southcott’s thoughts about the reversal)

I wanted to know why Microsoft would go for those policies. It wasn’t purely for digital rights reasons. It wasn’t Microsoft being an arsehole to its fans and giving a big middle finger to them. It was because Microsoft had a vision for the future of gaming (just like it had a vision of the future of PCs with Windows 8) – and it was digital.


D-Link Router backdoor vulnerability discovered

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We’ve reported on several security stories this year – including on the ABC and WhatsApp – but this story by Stewart Wilson takes the cake. It would allow anyone access to your router settings if a user had a certain string as their user-agent. The vulnerability has since been fixed.

Of course, you do need to be connected to the particular router whether by Ethernet or Wireless to access the page – unless the router’s configuration page is publicly accessible. A quick web search can uncover hundreds of publicly accessible D-Link router configuration pages. TechGeek has independently verified the vulnerability on one of the affected models.


Samsung Galaxy S4 Review: All hardware, but not much substance

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Terence Huynh gets his hands on the latest flagship from Samsung. While the hardware is pretty decent, the Galaxy S4 falls short on the “overall experience” –  the user interface is still horrible and Samsung’s additions to Android are useless.

What gets lost in Samsung’s marketing is how people use the phone – the experience.  Air Gestures and Smart Scroll are just gimmicks that claim to be easy to use, but will be never used again because it’s either too embarrassing or just annoying to perform because you need to get it exactly right.


Review: Samsung Series 5 Chromebook (2013)

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Chris Southcott gets his hands on the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook – and while there is so much potential that Chrome OS can do, the Series 5 leaves him underwhelmed. Also, be warned. This article has an unhealthy level of Kanye West.

A laptop that does perform to the standard of a 4 year old MacBook. And when that comes, I’ll be jumping on the Chrome OS bandwagon and never looking back. A stateless OS is the future. Windows and OS X show Apple and Microsoft’s desires for this. But neither have fully realised it. Google has.


Batman Arkham Origins Review: The game Gotham deserves

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Ashton Bernard reviews the latest game in the Batman Arkham franchise, and he really likes the game:

For WB Games Montreal, it would have not been easy to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Especially when fans heard that Rocksteady were not developing the game, and that the voice actors of the two most iconic characters in the franchise (the Joker and Batman) weren’t returning. But they have done it – Arkham Origins, I feel, is of the same calibre and is worthy to sit alongside Asylum and City.


Nokia Lumia 925 Review: is it just style over substance?

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Terence Huynh reviews the Lumia 925 – it’s “new interpretation” of the Lumia 920:

The Lumia 925 is a great reinterpretation of the Lumia 920 – it’s thinner, lighter and has a better camera. It looks absolutely beautiful with the metal frame, and can finally fit in your pocket without making it obvious… It is essentially a facelift – more style than substance. However, you can live without the wireless charging, and 16GB is enough if you’re files are in the cloud.


Why is vinyl becoming popular?

Image: Steve Snodgrass (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Image: Steve Snodgrass (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Out of all physical media, vinyl records are bucking the trend. While overall sales have decreased due to digital sales, vinyl sales have actually increased and are at their highest levels in 15 years. Lucas Kiss explains why many are opting to buy vinyl.

Digital recordings take snapshots of the analogue signal at a certain rate (44,100 times a second for CDs) and measures each snapshot with certain accuracy dependent on how many bits its format is… The bad thing about this, it causes digital recordings to lose some information in the process. In contrast, vinyl records contain tiny grooves implemented into them that capture the entire waveform of the original recording. This prevents any information from being lost during the recording process.


Tweetbot outs pirates by naming and shaming themselves

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Tweetbot is one of the most popular Twitter clients out there, but it is an expensive app (especially the Mac app) to purchase. Stewart Wilson writes on what Tapbots, the developers, have done to those who have pirated their app:

The funny thing is, the user can simply delete the text from the compose field and replace it with their own text, however, some people are silly enough to post that out (and probably not noticing). A quick search on Twitter shows that a surprisingly large number of users are posting out this message.


Competing with free: Navman partners with Nokia to bring their GPS into the cloud

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Chris Southcott writes about the interesting tie up between Navman and Nokia, on how both plan to ensure that their maps stay up-to-date, and how will they compete with the free alternatives offered by Google and Apple.

When you (directly) pay nothing for these services, what’s the incentive for these companies to improve their software? In the end, Google is selling to ad companies, while Apple is treating Maps like another hobby, a bullet point on the iPhone’s feature list, a change which puts form over function.


“Phantom” Strikes Back: tech site Smarthouse caught plagiarising again

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This story was more targeted towards the IT journalism community, but it is still a good read. Terence Huynh reveals more instances of plagiarism on Smarthouse’s website under the byline of David Richards.

My personal favourite has to be a story titled Foxtel To Benefit From Premier League Ban, where Richards manages to pilfer text from not only TechRadar, but also from The Australian. He even leaves in the alt-tag of the “Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days” image. Last time I checked, Smarthouse doesn’t paywall its content.


Will a machine ever pass the Turing Test?

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Artificial intelligence has made leaps and bounds, but no machine has ever passed the Turing Test – though one has come close. Lucas Kiss explains what is the Turing Test, and why is it so hard to overcome.

Turing suggested that if machines are able to behave just as thinking beings do, there is no further question as to whether they can think, for, they are able to model the functions of the human brain. To reiterate his point, Turing devised his famous thought experiment, the Turing Test.


What I envy about Sydney – Google Transit

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There is one tiny thing that Terence Huynh envies about Sydney, and that is Google Transit support. So, what is preventing Melbourne doing the same thing? Three words: Public Transport Victoria.

Public transport information needs to be publicly available because its information that needs to be everywhere, regardless of platform. Sydney has done it right – give its data away in a variety of formats and let others distribute that on the numerous mobile platforms out there. It’s a shame that Melbourne doesn’t do this. They say they’re working on it, but they’ve been saying that for a long time.


Why Sony was right in rejecting Dan Loeb’s proposal

Image: Steve.M~ (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Image: Steve.M~ (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Back in 2013, Dan Loeb – an investor in Sony – proposed that the Japanese electronics company spin-off its entertainment business and focus on consumer electronics, which the company rejected. Contributor Jeremy Liu writes why Sony was right in rejecting the proposal:

With hardware becoming harder to differentiate and specs becoming less important, it is the software and the content that will prove the differentiator in future. A divestiture of Sony Entertainment would construct walls between the company’s entertainment and electronics division which is the opposite of what Sony needs. By ensuring walls between entertainment and electronics are minimised or eliminated, Sony ensures the scope for integration is wide open.


Where can I get student discounts on tech and software?

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Terence Huynh provides you a list of some handy student discounts on tech – including laptops, important software like Microsoft Office, and development software for those doing an IT degree.

Many places offer discounts for students – whether it is through deals with student associations, student programs or by their own accord. For tech and software, there aren’t a lot of places that offer such a discount. However, for those that do, they are either heavily discounted or for free. So we’ve decided to collate the best tech and software student discounts and put them in this handy little guide.


What better way to test Twitter’s new video service than with a 12-second HP Veer hands-on?

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It’s no secret that Chris Southcott is a massive WebOS fanboy. In January, he recently got himself a HP Veer. And when that arrived at his doorstep, Vine launched. So, why not use it to publicly show off his brand new device?

And let me just say this: I actually like Vine and the HP Veer. Even though it’s a dying, if not dead, platform, webOS still shows innovation, and that innovation hasn’t died… And the HP Veer is proof that, if they had had just a few more months with HP’s resources, that they could’ve perfected the platform and the hardware. It’s just wasted potential now.


The Mystery of Al Jazeera Oceania

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How did a bunch of journalists and media professionals fall for a hoax Twitter account, when even the most basic Google search could have told them otherwise? Terence Huynh tries to find out who perpetrated the hoax.

While the Twitter accounts were already active before then – a Google search reveals replies to journalist tweets – the big ‘announcement’ of Aljazeera Oceania were in the same week as the Daily Mail announced (more like confirmed rumours) that they were launching an Australian edition. The journalists who retweeted it were probably excited to see more media diversity in the Australian press.


Breaking: Apple acquires BlackBerry

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It wouldn’t be a good list if we didn’t mention our April Fools stories. This one is one of our favourites. Some of our other April Fools stories this year included a webOS app, Turnbull blasting the biased coverage over at News Limited, and introducing our first US correspondent (I’ll leave you to guess who that was).

Rather than dissolving either role, both Thorsten Heins and Tim Cook will become joint-CEOs. Although there will be major changes. First of all, BlackBerry 10 will be replaced with an upcoming version of iOS compatible with both platforms. Mike Lazaridis will taking charge of the iOS design team…


Thoughts on the Future

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The title pretty much says it all. Terence Huynh writes about the future of TechGeek:

Earlier this year at the Lizzies IT Journalism Awards, TechGeek was the proud recipient of the Best Independent Media Award. At the time, a fellow (and proper) tech journalist and friend, Harrison Polites, asked a simple question: “What is the future of TechGeek?”

(Or something along those lines – my memory is pretty terrible after the nerve-racking experience of making a speech in front of the industry)

I’d never really thought about it before: where do I see TechGeek in five years? What about the next ten?