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Cybernaut

A list of lists

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The holiday season is peaceful for a reason. The people who make the news go on vacations, leaving reporters - with deadlines and pages to fill - no choice but to look to the past and the future for stories.

'Tis the season for best-of and worst-of lists, for rating news stories and products, for picking our personal favourites, and for looking ahead, making our bold predictions for 2004.

That's not to say it's all fluff or filler - making lists can be a valuable exercise because they can refresh and reorganize our thoughts. What kind of year was 2003? You'd never know unless you sat down and made a list.

The Internet world, relentlessly naval gazing at the best of times, is one of the most prolific source of holiday lists out there. Here are a few good lists to check out.

The Chich Geek - Gadgets that made the grade

Ian Johnson writes for the Globe and Mail's Tech section, and gets to test and review hundreds of new hardware and software gadgets and gizmos every year. His list of the top toys includes:

1. The Mini-ITX motherboard from VIA technologies. This motherboard is about the size of a CD case, and includes sound, video and networking capabilities. They run fairly cool, and are helping to drive the recent trend for smaller desktop PCs, and for converting items like football helmets and plastic toys into fully functioning computers. Next year things could get even smaller with VIA planning to release a Nano-ITX motherboard.

2. External USB and Firewire hard drives. These external hard drive devices are growing in popularity as people see the need for extra storage, and want to be able to access it quickly for their peripheral laptops, PDAs, MP3 players, and other devices. The external drives also provide an affordable way to back up files.

3. The Guitar Port. Developed by Line 6, you can plug your guitar directly into your computer and play your choice of 10 of the top guitar amplifiers ever made.

4. Sandisk Picture Viewer. This Sandisk device lets you view your digital photographs on your television without the use of a computer, DVD writer, or any other linking devices. This product brings the slide projector into the 21 st century.

5. Logitech QuickCam Orbit. This Web cam is small, and has a built in motor that can swivel the camera left and right, up and down.

6. Cymouse game controller. According to Johnson, this is "the ultimate in geekware." Basically it's an infrared, head-mounted mouse controller that can be programmed to assume different keyboard commands for specific head motions. You'll look silly, but rule in online games.

7. Gyration Ultra GT Full-Size Keyboard Suite. This keyboard and mouse combo is made for the growing number of people that connect their computers to their televisions for digital pictures, and music and video applications.

8. Skullcandy Link. This is a set of headphones with two plugs, allowing you to listen for your cell phone at the same time you're listening to a music player. You can switch back and forth between the two lines, and even talk on a cell phone with music playing in the background.

9. PowerMate. Manufactured by Griffin Technology, this is a cool desktop gizmo that pulses blue light in time to the music, and can function as a volume dial, a jog/shuttle dial for surfing music selections, a Web site scroller and an audio/video editing job/shuttle.

PC World - What's in Store for 2004 and Beyond

Daniel Tynan and Sean Captain of PC World compiled this list of things to look for this year, and what they might mean in the grand scheme of things.

1. Displays - IDC predicts that LCD flat panel screen will effectively replace tube-driven displays next year, as the price continues to drop. The next generation of flat screens will run cooler, consume less power, appear brighter, and display more realistic 3D content. Graphics processors will continue to improve as 3D rendering capability continues to improve.

2. PCs - Expect 64-bit processors to become more common with Intel, AMD and Apple all getting into the market. 64-bit software is still almost non-existent, but that should change next year as well. Conventional 32-bit chips will continue to break performance barriers as well - rumour has it that Intel will launch the Tejas line of processors later this year with speeds of five to seven gigaherz. Faster memory chips are also expected to make an appearance. The faster chips will benefit from faster shuttle speeds between devices, courtesy of PCI Express, a new system that could more than double the speed of graphics, memory, and other system functions.

3. Hard Drives - Storage drives have been getting bigger, cheaper and faster every year, and next year is no exception. Data transfer rates are set to speed up by another 50 per cent in 2004. Two new-ish technologies - perpendicular recording and heat-assisted magnetic recording - are also expected to have an impact. Perpendicular recording is increasing capacity to 175 gigabytes a platter next year, and up to 700GB in the next few years. Heat assisted recording is not yet ready for the market, but experts are predicting up to 50 terabytes of storage per square inch.

Repent, all ye uploaders

Attention Canadian file swappers. The party is over. Cease and desist all uploading of copyrighted music and video files through peer to peer services, or be prepared to face a little music of your own. It may already be too late.

Last week the Canadian Recording Industry Association announced that it will probably go after the worst offenders in the country - people who willingly share their files with others through peer-to-peer networks - in civil proceedings.