Built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me if I planned to do her any harm…

No, there’s nothing to worry about in that lyric. Nothing at all…

I’m all over the place in both the print and online worlds right now — and I’m even working on Christmas Eve. Bah, and humbug, and all that jazz…

Firstly, online. CNET.com.au has not one, but two of my reviews live today, just in time for the Christmas rush:

Sony VAIO VGN-NR17G: “Then again, Sony’s been rather specialising in stylish notebooks purely for the sake of style lately, and the NR17G certainly isn’t an ugly creature…”

Netcomm NP200AV Homeplug: “Netcomm’s chunky purple NP200AV Homeplugs offer those stricken with wireless data woes a way out — at a price…”

Now, while you can surf those in the comfort of your own home — remember, Alex’s reviews make ideal Christmas family time entertainment (anything’s better than the Queen’s Christmas message) — you’ll have to duck out to a Newsagency right now if you want some well-wrapped Alex wordage under your Christmas tree.

First up, Australian Macworld. This month’s opinion column is all about the perils of early adopters of operating systems. No prizes for guessing which operating system gains my ire here…

Next up, Australian Netguide. Aside from my usual run of reviews — which I’ll add in later for the pedantic types, but which for the sake of brevity I’ll just say are there for now — there’s also a comparative review of portable storage options. You can never have too much portable storage. Trust me on that one.

And finally, Home Entertainment Magazine. 2007 being 2007, I couldn’t escape the year without a GPS writeup of some sort, and this one’s a doozy; a collation of reviews alongside everything you ever wanted to know about GPS — and possibly things you didn’t. For the record, I didn’t write the bit about Lindsay Lohan, and don’t wish to hear from her lawyers…

All three of these fine — nay, indispensable — publications are on sale now.

And that, I think, will wrap up my writing adventures for 2007. Now, back to moving my office (without moving offices). Confused? How do you think I feel?

That boy’s got a face for radio…

I’ve been told that I’m rather too fond of the sound of my own voice, and that’s probably fair enough. It’s just that normally my “voice” is on the page (be it printed, or web), notwithstanding my single appearance on BRAN.

As an early Christmas gift (I’m such a nice guy), those who are hanging out for my non-melodious voice can check out the Macworld Australia Podcast. Episode four is now available on iTunes, and within it you’ll find myself, Dan Warne and the world’s hairiest editor, Matthew Powell pontificating on all things Apple — from Macworld Expo to dodgy ISPs to the role of Ultraportables and whether or not it’s possible to play Sonic The Hedgehog on a rock.

So, head ye now to the iTunes store and search out “Macworld Australia Weekend Edition”. You know it makes sense.

On the day I was born, the nurses all gathered ’round, and they gazed in wide wonder, at the joy they had found…

I feel I should point out that I’m not actually bad to the bone. Possibly slightly mischievous, or a bit cheeky at worst. But “Cheeky to the Bone” just doesn’t cut it in rock lyrics.

In any case, what I most definitely am is published, yet again — and depending on how the family health situation goes, for possibly the last time this calendar year.

First off the marks is CNET.com.au, with a a review of mine live today. I’ve lost track of how many reviews I’ve written for CNET since it launched; some parts of me simply don’t want to know.

Nokia E51: “Nokia’s E51 combines business functionality with a well appreciated serving of style, making it a highly desirable phone…”

And in the role of “plucky young newcomer” is the Macworld Expo site for Australian Macworld Magazine. The main magazine site isn’t live yet — but the expo site is, and they’ve got a blog of mine live to prove it:

Getting your tech taste buds tickled: “I’ll almost certainly draw some heavy criticism for what I’m about to say here, but I’d argue it’s true: Apple’s not a company that’s particularly drawn to innovation for innovation’s sake…”

Can journos be bought?

As a journalist, I realise that I rank somewhere up there amongst politicians, used car salesmen and bank managers in terms of the public’s love and trust. Blaming “The Meeja” is a popular pastime in today’s culture, and while I occupy a small sub-niche of the kind of “Meeja” that’s usually vilified, there’s still certainly no shortage of accusations of bias, being bought out by companies, or simply being on the take. You’ve only got to look at, for example, the controversy surrounding the departure of Jeff Gerstmann from Gamespot to see a ton of “Oh, but journos are always bought and paid for” style rhetoric, no matter what the reality might be.

Of course, it doesn’t help if that other bastion of public trust, PR, sticks their oars in and tries to directly subvert the role of the IT media. I’m mildly steaming at the moment over a particular issue, and sadly not too surprised that it isn’t a lone one. Here’s a couple of recent examples — and by recent, I mean they’ve happened in the last two weeks — all of which do absolutely nothing to advance the cause of IT Media professionalism (or perceived professionalism) whatsoever, and undeniably do plenty of harm. I’ve not named names here for a very simple reason. Some of the information has come my way secondhand, and I could be mistaken somewhere that could cost me money. Or in other words, I’m a sole business operator and parent of three children, and I don’t quite feel like getting sued by a churlish company or three. Anyway, in the past couple of weeks, companies that I know of have…

  1. Launched an ad campaign featuring quotes from an “experienced” IT journalist, extolling the virtues of their company. Closer inspection revealed that said journalist isn’t in fact an Australian-based (or Australian published) journalist at all. There’s no indication that this is a foreign ad, or admission as such; there’s no real way to check the journalist’s bona fides at all. But the fact that the “journalist” identifies himself as such directly promotes the idea that IT journos can be bought outright.
  2. At a recent product launch, a company stated that the “best” three reviews of a given product would “win” that product. Frankly, a big red flashing sign saying “FREE BRIBES! C’MON! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!! ALL THE COOL KIDS ARE TAKING THE BRIBES!!” might have been more palatable. It would have at least saved time.

Now, to clarify; yes, I have been offered, and taken the odd free product in my time. It’s a perk of the job — as I was told upon entering Journalism, nobody ever got rich doing IT journalism for somebody else, and I reckon that’s still true — but never as the result of a review — or at least not to the best of my knowledge. There’s a world of difference between, say, a door prize given randomly, and a direct attempt to influence the reviews of a product, and I think it’s sad that this wasn’t realised upfront by those organising the event.

Even the post-review process isn’t immune to this kind of meddling, although it has to be said that it’s more often than not vendors, rather than PR, who seem to pipe up here. I have had numerous vendors threaten legal action, or to pull advertising accounts as the result of what I’ve written, and for the most part, my publishers have stood up to them, well aware that the paying public is, at the end of the day, more valuable than a single advertiser. Lose the public trust — as seems to have happened as a result of the Gamespot case cited above — and you lose your market wholesale. That’s what I particularly dislike about both the “false” IT journo approach, and the offer of a free product before anyone’s even had a chance to evaluate it — even if you did write an honest review and were offered the product afterwards, the mud of being perceived as taking a bribe still sticks pretty solidly.

If nothing else, I suspect this particular release of bile — and for what it’s worth, I’m well aware that Dan Warne blogged in a similar style some months ago on the perks of IT Journalism, right here — might reveal who in the PR community actually tracks this blog. I know some of you do — but which ones are willing to stand up and be counted?

A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite..

PC User January 2008

Wow. It’s been a busy, busy year, and the whole business of sending out Christmas cards just snuck up on me. So if you didn’t get one yet — there’s still time, Australia Post willing — or don’t get one at all, don’t fret. The lurv is still there. It’s just that I’ve been insanely busy.

A good case in point is the January 2008 issue of Australian PC User magazine (“Australia’s Top Selling Technology Magazine“). I’m all over this puppy like the proverbial monkey on a cupcake. The top 100 products features a number of gadgets, gizmos and applications that I’ve reviewed for PCU over the course of the year, but it’s not all reheats and awards ceremonies. There’s also a swag of new, Alex-penned reviews within, including a roundup of keyboards and mice, as well as reviews of Telstra Pre-Paid Wireless Broadband, Epson’s EMP-DM1 projector and Logitech’s MX Air Mouse. 2007 being 2007, I couldn’t escape without another GPS review of course — in the case of this issue of PCU, it’s the very nice Navman S30. Phew. No wonder I’ve been too busy to get onto the Christmas card run. Soon, though… very soon…

(hey, whatever happened to the road trip story?)
(shuddup, you fool!)

A short pause between drinks…

Dang. I broke my own mildly funny story. When I first started in tech journalism, just shy of ten years ago, I was working at Australian Personal Computer Magazine, less formally known as APC. The first thing I ever wrote for publication was a review of the rather fine MechCommander. When I left, almost literally as I was walking out the door on September 10th 2001, I submitted my last piece — a review of MechCommander 2.

Yeah, it’s not side-splitting, is it? A nice bookend to a particular phase of my career, however. Anyway, I sorta ruined that today; after a six year gap, I’m back in print — well, in pixel, but I digress — at apcmag.com:

Why GPS navigators are big, bad and dumb: “I’ve reviewed a lot of GPS systems over the past twelve months. Possibly too many; I’m apparently muttering “in 500 metres, turn left” in a robotic monotone in my sleep…”

I didn’t steal 16 tonnes of ham and bacon..

No, really. It wasn’t me. Somebody did, but not me. I couldn’t lift that much at once, and it would take ages to eat my way through that much processed piggy. Did they think to question Nibbler?

I did write the following two reviews, live at CNET.com.au, however. That’s one that I will confess to. Can you stop beating me with that phone book now, please Mr Police-type-person?

Belkin N1 Vision Wireless Router:
“…they seem to understand that the average consumer doesn’t necessarily want a box of blinkenlights…”

Mio Digiwalker C320: “We installed both in a car, threw in three young children (to provide the necessary distractions from GPS instructions) and drove them all from Sydney to Adelaide, and then back again. Don’t ever say we don’t suffer in the name of getting a review just right…”

“Look, if you don’t get that camera off me, I’m going to kick you right in the *BOING*”

That’s a pretty much direct quote, uttered by yours truly, from a Christmas video shot some fifteen years ago that I’ve just unearthed and backed up from its rather grubby VHS original. Family history, and all that. A few key observations, one for each year that has since elapsed:

  1. I was a moderately unattractive eighteen year old. Things have only gotten worse since.
  2. I had really, really bad skin.
  3. My long-suffering father* can grow a particularly fine beard when he has a mind to.
  4. For some reason, we felt the need to film most of (but not all) the Queen’s Christmas speech. And bits of Carry On Jack. And Pingu. Never let it be said that our TV diet wasn’t varied…
  5. There’s a lot of profanity. And I mean a *lot*. If I ever do release it for general consumption, I’m going to have to do an awful lot of comedy BOINGing to cover it up. Some sections may sound rather like two elephants making love on a trampoline, such is the level of bad language. It should be noted that I’m not responsible for all of it.** There’s mention in the footage of sending it out to relatives, and I think the mammoth (at the time — it was 1992) task of altering it from R18+ to PG rated eluded us. It’s a minor miracle it’s survived this long, all things considered.
  6. I’m also rather fond of a rather insulting hand gesture, used repeatedly. Not sure how I’m going to edit that out.
  7. I still can’t quite work out why so much time was spent, in late December, outside. With me wearing only a T-Shirt. A Red Dwarf T-Shirt that only fell apart a year or two ago, but was kept far too long for sentimental reasons.
  8. Cats don’t like being filmed (or wearing party hats) , especially young Chudleigh and Iska***. Exe and Exemoor had fewer problems and thus appear far more frequently.
  9. I can’t quite recall why, but all throughout the entire thing we refer to my father, quite formally, as “father”. Not sure if that was by request, or to annoy him. Given my general teenage surliness, probably the latter.
  10. Pilotwings. SNES. In video. Must buy a PAL copy.
  11. My sister was rather a dab hand at Super Mario World back in the day.
  12. I had this wonderful idea to record myself finishing SNES games and then flogging them as complete solutions, years before YouTube. If I’d followed through with that idea, I might be a billionaire today. Then again, the end of the footage is mostly Anna and I playing the aforementioned SMW, rather badly, and it’s not the most thrilling thing, leaving aside our rapidly mutating Aussie/Cockney accent mixes, which are sort of fascinating.
  13. I can recognise discipline my father’s belatedly trying to use on me, that I now belatedly try to use on James. It still doesn’t work, but we Kidman males are nothing if not ridiculously stubborn.
  14. The background music includes far too much Whitney Houston (“I will always love you” was the UK Christmas #1 that year) and, oddly, Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”. Coincidentally, I picked up the Boss’ greatest hits for ten bucks yesterday. Perhaps that’s fate at work.
  15. God, I had terrible skin.

Relatives who want a copy need only ask, naturally. Once I edit out the profanity. Shouldn’t take another fifteen years. I think.

* Well, he is in this video, anyway. Some of it is self-inflicted, though.
** Just most of the swearing. Or, as I put it, in succinct terms, walking outside in the zero degree weather in only a t-shirt, “boing!
boing! boing! It’s boinging cold! boing this…”.
*** I’m sure one relative or another will come along and correct my spelling if it’s wrong.