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The 2006 Holiday Shopping Guide

Have a penguinista in your life? Need the perfect holiday gift? Look no further! Here’s a parcel of presents that’ll please even the pickiest geek. Best of all, none will put your eye out.

It was the night before Hanukwanzachristmas, when all through the halls, not a creature was stirring, because all had gone to the mall. The stores were brimming with the usual fare, and last-minute shoppers spent money with nary a care.

But the geeks were restless and yes, even sad. They didn’t want Elmo, a scooter, or some such fad. “Give us RAM, dual cores, and an iPod,” they said. “Or we’d be quite happy with Bill Gates’s head.” Why old Saint Nick couldn’t believe his ears, as geeks are quite friendly the rest of the year. Lucky for Santa, he read Linux Mag, and he stuffed gadgets and gizmos into his bag.

On Hanukwanzachristmas morning, the geeks are back to work, tinkering and tampering with all their new perks. Ah, LEDs, kernels, game consoles, and megabytes. It’s a great Hanukwanzachristmas, and to all a good-night.

Enjoy Turkey, Ham, and Roast Beast

If life is full of tough choices, then Christmas overflows with quagmires. Turkey or ham? Live or artificial? To nog or not to nog?

And then there’s the perennial question, Linux, Mac, or Windows? Indeed, the impending new year offers a bumper crop of system software, including Ubuntu 6.10, (already out) Windows Vista (may be out by the time you read this, but don’t rush — wait for the first service pack), and Mac OS X “Leopard” (Yes, Mr. Jobs. Of course, we can postpone Christmas. What’s that? Don’t announce the date? Not even Santa can know? Oh, yes. Very hush hush.)

Linux is bulletproof, you can splurge on nog with all of the cash you save, and the little penguin is just so cute. Then again, Mac OS X is loaded with sugary eye candy, oodles of applications, and offers the best software and hardware integration on the market. But then there’s Windows Vista, the must-have for The Ghost of Christmas Future. Decisions, decisions.

Luckily, thanks to Parallels by Parallels, Inc. (http://www.parallels.com), you don’t have to choose between all of the operating systems — run them all on the same Intel Mac. In fact, with Parallels Desktop for Mac ($89), you can run any Linux distribution, Windows, BSD, OS/2, Solaris, eComStation, or MS-DOS in a fully-functional virtual computer at the same time as Mac OS X. No muss, no fuss, no rebooting, or complex setup required. Parallels virtual machines work exactly like a real PC, so you’ll be able to use your peripherals and connect to the Internet without any complicated configuration.

Grab a 15-inch MacBook Pro (http://www.apple.com), starting at $1,999, and you can even take all of the operating systems with you — to visit your in-laws. Lucky you.

Console or Cluster Node?

If you’re one of the fortunate consumers to land a Sony Playstation 3 (Figure ABC) this Christmas, consider yourself very, very lucky. Not only is your new super-console in short supply due to manufacturing hiccups, but the machine can also run Linux.

FIGURE ONE: The Sony Playstation 3



Powered by the new Cell Processor, the Playstation 3 looks to be a gamer’s delight. The machine crunches numbers at 2.18 teraflops, roughly 35 times more powerful than the Playstation 2. Controls are wireless, connecting via Bluetooth. The $499 base system supports up to 1000-Base-T Ethernet, while the $599 premium system also supports 802.11 Wi-Fi. You can connect the PS3 to any old television, but the system really shines on a high-definition display.

And then there are the games… Fatal Intertia is a futuristic racer (see Figure Two. Devil May Care 4 brings the daring Dante to the PS3 (Figure Three). And Vision Gran Turismo looks to recapture the coveted driving game cup. Better yet, original Playstation and Playstation 2 games work as-is.

FIGURE TWO: Fatal Intertia



FIGURE Three: Devil May Cry 4



When you tire of demons, explosions, hoops, and carnage, (say, in 2008), pop in a CD from Terra Soft (http://www.terrasoft.com) and install Yellow Dog Linux 5.0 for the Playstation 3 (YDL5). According to Terra Soft’s Web site, YDL5 will be available in mid-November to YDL.net subscribers. By early December, YDL5 CDs will be on sale from the company. Finally, in late December, YDL5 will be released for free on public mirrors.

The Localhost of the Party

The talented elves over at CafePress (http://www.cafepress.com) can turn any slogan you can think of into a t-shirt, but if you’re strapped for snarky sayings, the site has plenty of previously printed duds for you to choose from.

Why, there’s no place like a geek’s stocking for “There’s no place like 127.0.0.1.” Or choose a ninja Tux for your penguinista pal. Or just splurge on yourself and make a personal statement, such as “PuNK” or “ClAsSY.”

This Christmas, give the gift of cool. It lasts forever. As long as you wash it from time to time.

Domo Arigato, Metalhead

Santa may have an army of helpers, but all that elven capital costs big bucks. There’s payroll, facilities upkeep, not to mention the rising costs of dental, medical, and vision benefits. To cut costs, Santa’s considering going high-tech. Mr. Elf, meet Mr. KHR-2HC.

Made in Japan, the Kondo KHR-2HV is the upgrade to the KHR-1, with better software and more bells and whistles. Due to its ease of assembly and configuration, the KHR-2HV is considered a great robot for beginners and educators alike, and can easily be assembled and configured by anyone. Like its predecessor, the KHR-2HV can be programmed through an easy-to-use GUI programming software, and can be controlled via remote control or PC. KHR-2HV can even do cartwheels and backflips.

At $1,190, the KHR-2HC isn’t cheap, but then again, he doesn’t complain about overtime.

Make Mine Mobile

Buying a desktop for dear old Dad is like buying him a pair of bright red socks that blink and chirp “Ho Ho Ho! ” You tried to be thoughtful, but you weren’t thinking. Fashion-forward fathers are mobile and need a computer to keep in step. This Christmas, untether dad with a Linux laptop from R Cubed Technologies.

The R Cubed XW1560 sports a 15.4” WSXGA (1680×1050) color shine screen, ATI X1600 Mobile Graphics with 256MB of VRAM and Intel Core Duo technology. R Cubed has customized the Linux installation on the XW1560 so that you don’t lose any of the basic functions of the laptop.

Starting at $999, R Cubed allows you to choose from the following pre-installed distributions: Fedora Core; openSuse, Ubuntu, SLED, and Red Hat, as well as Windows. The company can even configure your machine to boot any of up to three different operating systems.

R Cubed systems also include third-party applications, such as VMWare Server, Google Earth, Remote Support and R Cubed Technologies Kernel and System Updates.

Don’t be square! Get cubed! Daddio will thank you.

Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World

Twenty years ago, the Walkman made quite a splash. With the new portable player, new wavers everywhere could do the safety dance anywhere they wanted to. Next, came the CD, offering better sound quality, albeit packaged in crappy plastic packaging. Nowadays, physical media is simply passe. It’s all about high-density disks, flash memory, and ubiquitous access. One day, a single device will stream audio, high-definition video, data, and voice to any media player in your house.

In the mean time, enjoy the cutting-edge of digital music delivery with Slim Devices’s Squeezebox and its new, high-end sibling, the Transporter. Hook one of the devices up to your stereo and use the network audio player to listen to your digital music collection, regardless of whether it was originally downloaded on your PC or purchased on CD.

It’s easy to fall in love with the Squeezebox, especially since it’s only $299. This sleek little player has a cult following among geeks, thanks to Slim Devices’s open source software projects. The creativity of the Squeezebox community is astonishing, with many enhancements available for download.

For audiophiles, Transporter is designed not merely to rival traditional high-end sources, but to surpass them in both subjective and quantifiable performance. Transporter’s sound quality surpasses that of even the most sophisticated high-end compact disc players.

For Transporter, Slim Devices selected the AK4396 DAC, the newest and most advanced professional-grade converter from AKM. The chip’s performance is remarkable, especially at the high frequencies that create the sense of imaging and realism. Hailed as a “miracle DAC chip”, the AK4396’s low out-of-band noise allows the use of low-order output filters with higher cutoffs, resulting in preservation of phase and reduced distortion within the audible band.

Transporter’s gold plated circuit board is arranged to keep digital and analog sections separate, and to minimize jitter through careful management of clock signals. Power is supplied to the DAC and analog stages by three separate super-regulator circuits. The balanced amplifiers use precision polyphenylene film capacitors. Individual op-amp packages ensure low noise and immeasurable crosstalk between channels. The Transporter costs $1,999.

In addition, both the Squeezebox and Transporter offer a broad range of options not available on any CD player, including Pandora’s award-winning personalized music service, Rhapsody’s two-million track collection of online music, and thousands of Internet radio stations.

Fred Bould, an award-winning industrial designer whose works are part of the permanent exhibit at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, has made both devices look as good as they sound.

You Can Take It With You

Thanks to Linux, you can now carry an entire technical workstation — or enterprise server — in your backpack or briefcase. But even the best Linux laptops weigh in at four or five pounds, at a minimum. What if your Linux box weighed a mere two ounces? Now, how much would you pay?

BlackDog (http://www.projectblackdog.com) is a fully self-contained computer with a built-in biometric reader and a host of other powerful features. Unlike any other computing device, BlackDog is completely powered off of the USB port of your host computer. No external power adapter is required! To access and use your BlackDog, you merely plug it in to your computer’s USB port and BlackDog takes over! When you’re done, simply unplug BlackDog and everything on the host is returned to its original state.

BlackDog is smaller than most digital cameras, yet crams in a 400 Mhz PowerPC Processor, 64MB RAM, up to 512 MB of flash memory, and a Debian-based kernel. The BlackDog software development kit runs on both Linux and Microsoft Windows systems.

The BlackDog costs $199 with 256 MB of flash memory. There is also a $239 version with 512 MB of flash memory. Install Firefox, Thunderbird, and SSH, and you have instance Linux — just add a PC.

Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World

Twenty years ago, the Walkman made quite a splash. With the new portable player, new wavers everywhere could do the safety dance anywhere they wanted to. Next came the CD, offering better sound quality, albeit packaged in crappy plastic packaging. Nowadays, physical media is simply passe. It’s all about high-density disks, flash memory, and ubiquitous access. One day, a single device will stream audio, high-definition video, data, and voice to any media player in your house.

In the mean time, enjoy the cutting-edge of digital music delivery with Slim Devices’ Squeezebox and its new, high- end sibling, the Transporter. Hook one of the devices up to your stereo and use the network audio player to listen to your digital music collection, regardless of whether it was origi- nally downloaded on your PC or purchased on CD.

It’s easy to fall in love with the Squeezebox, especially since it’s only $299. This sleek little player has a cult following among geeks, thanks to Slim Devices’s open source software projects. The creativity of the Squeezebox community is astonishing, with many enhancements available for download.

For audiophiles, Transporter is designed not merely to rival traditional high-end sources, but to surpass them in both subjective and quantifiable performance. Transporter’s sound quality surpasses that of even the most sophisticated high-end compact disc players. For Transporter, Slim Devices selected the AK4396 DAC, the newest and most advanced professional-grade converter from AKM.

The chip’s performance is remarkable, especially at the high frequencies that create the sense of imaging and real- ism. Hailed as a “miracle DAC chip”, the AK4396’s low out- of-band noise allows the use of low-order output filters with higher cutoffs, resulting in preservation of phase and reduced distortion within the audible band.

Transporter’s gold plated circuit board is arranged to keep digital and analog sections separate, and to minimize jitter through careful management of clock signals. Power is sup- plied to the DAC and analog stages by three separate super- regulator circuits.

The balanced amplifiers use precision polyphenylene film capacitors. Individual op-amp packages ensure low noise and immeasurable crosstalk between channels. The Transporter costs $1,999.

In addition, both the Squeezebox and Transporter offer a broad range of options not available on any CD player, including Pandora’s award-winning personalized music serv- ice, Rhapsody’s two-million track collection of online music, and thousands of Internet radio stations.

Fred Bould, an award-winning industrial designer whose works are part of the permanent exhibit at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, has made both devices look as good as they sound.

This One’s for the Ladies

Fellas, the ladies like bling. Or in this case, bleep, beep, bling!

Impress your mate with genuine green circuitboard earrings ($9.95 from Acorn Studios, http://www.acornstudios.ca/products/gifts/circuitboard-earrings/), or light up her face (literally) with an LED necklace ($49.50 from http://www.firejewel.com/, http://. The LED, available in seven colors, is embedded within a genuine Swarovski crystal, casting a blue glow with soft rays that are enhanced by reflected and refracted ambient light. Battery included.

And if you want to light up your bedroom, try one of Janet Hansen’s “enlighted” bras (http://www.enlighted.com). Choose from burning flames, dancing spirals (the “hypnobra”), color shifts, blinking hearts, and even a scrolling message brassiere (prices vary, with the latter made-to-order at $500 or above).

The bras don’t run Linux, but who cares!

Goes to 11 (Terabytes)

If you happen to have, say, 8,800 CDs and need a place to rip and store them, UK-based Pinnacle Audio has the perfect device for you.

The Athenaeum (http://www.pinnacleaudio.co.uk/products/athenaeum/athenaeum.html) is an embedded Linux-based device specifically designed to house enormous collections of music — with no degradation of sound quality. The machine’s 24-bit 96 kHz digital-to-analog converter stores music using lossless compression on up to four hot-swappable drives of up to 750 GB each.

So how do you browse 8,800 CDs? With a handy-dandy, AJAX-powered graphical user interface served via the Web. Control the device from your PC or PDA or use the Nokia 770 Linux-based Internet tablet that comes with each Athenaeum.

Storing music could not be easier. Simply insert the CD into the slot on the front of the Athenaeum, and the server does the rest. If you already have a collection of music on a PC, simply browse to the Athenaeum network share and drag-and-drop your files into the upload folder. The Athenaeum checks the integrity of the files, makes a best guess at the name of the artist and the title of the album (from tag information, folder structure and filename) and then incorporate them into the database ready for listening.

The Athenaeum is iPod and iTunes compatible. Using a PC the music from the Athenaeum can be made available to any mobile device, including an iPod. The music can also be included as an iTunes folder.

The Athenaeum is available now, but you must inquire with the company about pricing. Then again, if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.

Enter the Dragon

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) have radically altered how viewers watch television. With a DVR, you can watch TV when you want to, not according to those nosy Nielsens.

Several DVR makes and models exist, but none are open — and that’s where the Dragon comes in. Based on commodity hardware and MythTV, and optimized for media recording and playback, the Dragon runs Linux, is an open system, and can record HDTV signals. Even better, the Dragon is a full-fledged personal computer, capable of processing spreadsheets, answering email, and surfing the Web as easily as it records this week’s episode of “Lost.”

Dragon is a stylish, high-powered, and quiet system. Whether you’re a MythTV or KnoppMyth guru or novice, the Dragon installation process will likely be the easiest installation you’ve had to date.You can build your own Dragon — the specifications are freely-available — but you may not want to spend days to research, buy, test, and tweak your own MythTV- and Linux-compatible HDTV system. Instead, order one from StormLogic, LLC ($1,157, http://mythic.tv/product_info.php?products_id=44).

All Dragon owners recieve supoprt for thirty (30) days, yet contract extensions are available for up to one (1) year.

The Best Things in Life Really Are Free

Ah, family, friends, and food that someone else has labored to prepare— truly, the best things in life are free. Now, you can add a world-class desktop Linux to the list of gratis goodies. The fine folks at Canonical released Ubuntu 6.10 (http://www. ubuntu.com/download) at the end of October — perfect timing if you’re thinking of spending your Christmas bonus on a new Linux laptop, desktop, or server. Ubuntu 6.10 offers a cleaner, sharper design, together with new and enhanced desktop applications and advances in security. Ubuntu 6.10 also boots faster and includes a sleigh full of leading-edge, free software technologies.

The desktop version of Ubuntu introduces a host of new features, an improved interface, and a wide variety of new applications and desktop tools, making Ubuntu 6.10 flexible and user-friendly. Enhancements include Tomboy, an easy-to- use and efficient note-taking tool; the F-Spot photo management tool; GNOME 2.16, which in addition to new features such as enhanced power management, makes the GNOME desktop more secure, faster and more stable; and Upstart, a replacement start-up manager offering a cleaner design, eye-catching effects and a substantially faster boot time. Ubuntu 6.10 also includes the latest versions of Firefoxand Evolution.

Ubuntu 6.10 is freely available and will be maintained for 18 months, with free security updates for all users. For deployments that require additional service guar- antees, full telephone and online support on commercial terms is available global- ly from the professional support team at Canonical and service partners.

New versions of Kubuntu and Edubuntu are also being released. Kubuntu is a derivative of Ubuntu which includes the KDE desktop environment. Kubuntu 6.10 includes KDE 3.5.5, which brings speed improvements, updates to the instant mes- senger, and improved translations. Edubuntu is a derivative of Ubuntu focused on the education market.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

If your data center (nee garage) grew quickly in the last year or so, chances are that you’ve got CPU towers and rackmount servers stacked up higher than Grandma’s new, blue, holiday hairdo. Just in time for New Year’s Day, now’s the time to swear off silicon spread and consolidate, consoli- date, consolidate.

You can reclaim wasted space, add throughput, and save money with an IBM BladeCenter (http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/bladecenter/ ). With 14 server bays in a standard BladeCenter chassis (see image), you can pack up to 84 dual- processor servers into an industry-standard rack. And because the BladeCenter is modular, you can integrate Intel x86, IBM POWER, and AMD Opteron processors — and many different operating systems, including Linux — in the same configuration to build the exact system you need.

Features of the IBM BladeCenter include hot-swappable fans and power supplies; up to four hot-swap and redundant switch modules supporting Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel; self-diagnosing hardware that can predict failures; simpler and reduced cabling; and monitoring software to help you keep track of the BladeCenter’s overall health.

High density (although not as dense as fruitcake) and high-performance processors let you cram as much comput- ing power as possible into your datacenter. Why it’s just like gathering the whole family around a couple of card tables for Christmas dinner.

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