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ATPM 18.02
February 2012



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by Mark Tennent,

The Best and Worst Christmas Presents

This year, because we are all grown-ups and have got most of the toys we want already, we decided to have a white elephant Christmas. This meant that we had presents to put under the tree and open after Santa had passed our house. To be honest, we did wonder how he was going to get through the door of our wood-burning stove.

Our tree this year was a work of art. After considering £60 too high for something we would use for less than a week, we made our own by weaving ivy around a conical plant support from the garden. With rosemary branches poking out to look and smell like the real thing, it was remarkably effective, especially with a large pile of Christmas presents surrounding it.

The white elephant is a North American idea, adapted for our needs. We bought gifts that could be entertaining or consumable by us all. At “present time,” we took turns selecting a gift and unwrapping it. Once we had one or more opened, we could choose to steal from someone else rather than select a new parcel.

From the start, I was getting amazing presents—the benefit of having wealthy children. However, what does an iPad owner do with a Samsung Galaxy Tab? Could I really use another copy of the Steve Jobs biography, packs of green tea, or two pairs of stereo headphones? Meanwhile, my family opened radio-controlled helicopters, bottles of vintage port, and two huge radio-controlled tanks. After an amicable shuffling around, we all settled down with our new toys.

The tanks were not what had been ordered online. They were meant to be four cheap and cheerful toys we could race around the house “shooting” one another—get hit and an LED glowed on the tank. The four had been replaced by two top-of-the-range models, complete with real firing guns, two-speed gearboxes, and the like. By Boxing Day, our garden had become the Battle of the Bulge, complete with air support from the chopper.

Meanwhile, indoors, two Mac users were coming to grips with Android. We’ve wanted to have a good long session with a different tablet, and the Galaxy is the best of the also-rans. After a confused few hours, I was getting more used to Android but, like Windows, the main impression is that the operating system keeps you at arm’s length from the computer. User choice is offered for no apparent benefit, unlike the warm and comfortable feeling one gets within the walls of Apple’s iOS. Nevertheless, as a tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab does most things well but is hindered by its operating system, which is clunky in many areas.

Especially when you try to connect a Galaxy Tab with a Mac or copy anything to it. Even Samsung’s Web site is a little nebulous and recommends third-party software rather than its own. After hours of experimenting and looking online for solutions, the free app Cheetah Sync seems the best solution for Mac-to-Tab connectivity, albeit working across a wireless network only.

Forget the simplicity of keeping address books, calendars, applications, photographs, and e-books automatically in sync across Macs, iPhones, and iPads unless you sign up to Google’s walled garden, which can be even more restrictive than Apple’s. This rather defeats the argument that Android is an “open” system. In reality, it’s a case of choosing Apple’s or Google’s proprietary doorways. At least choosing an iPad gives the option of both.

• • •

Just before Christmas, Seagate gave us a nasty shock. It has reduced the warranty period on its drives (many to only one year), following in the footsteps of Western Digital. In our experience, Western Digital drives have given us the most problems, especially its MyBook series; and reducing the guarantee to only two years compounded our dislike. Our best drives have been Conners and a couple of old Maxtors that just refuse to die. Conner merged with Seagate in 1996 and Maxtor in 2006; Seagate bought Samsung’s HDD business recently. At the moment, there are only three HDD manufacturers in the world: Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital, with the latter having the greatest market share.

Seagate Barracudas have been our default choice for SATA drives. We have had a couple of failures within its three-year warranty period, but Seagate has replaced them by return of post. It is moving all new Barracuda drives, except the Barracuda XT, to one-year guarantees. Who in his right mind will trust data to a drive that the manufacturer expects to fail after one year?

What was the other worst Christmas present? Luckily, not something I selected in the white elephant but had a taste of on Boxing Day. The product exceeds the fermented shark meat known as hákarl, beloved by Icelanders, and goes further than Gamle Ole, the year-old stinking cheese the Danes daren’t have in the house. Even the putrid odour of the notorious durian has more attraction.

The product is called Baconnaise, a blend of bacon flavour and cheap mayonnaise that should be banned from European shores on the grounds of taste. Sales took off in the US after Oprah Winfrey endorsed it. Personally, I agree with Jon Stewart, another US pundit. On trying Baconnaise for the first time, he gagged and stated afterwards that it’s “for people who want to get heart disease but…are too lazy to actually make the bacon.”

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