Digital Life: From a donkey to a cheetah: how the Net just got faster
My donkey mutated into a cheetah in just 30 minutes last week. Before you go calling the ISPCA to complain about cruel animal experiments, we're talking broadband upgrades here.
Some of us old folk can remember the cruelly slow days of dial-up internet, when carrier pigeons were faster than modems at fetching web pages.
Fast-forward 10 years and plenty of us rely on mobile broadband -- quicker, yes, cheap too but as unreliable as an old donkey.
It'll get you by for email and light web browsing, but forget about video streaming, phone calls or big downloads.
Meanwhile, fixed-broadband speeds have surged in many areas to 8Mb per second -- approximately 140 times quicker than dial-up and more than enough for most needs.
But if you crave the nippiest broadband in the country, there's nothing to touch UPC's 100Mb service -- four times faster than any rival. UPC reckons the blazingly fast speed is available to about 30pc of the population, concentrated obviously in urban areas.
My mobile broadband dongle barely got me a measly 1Mb as the UPC installers arrived last week. But when they left 30 minutes later, after plugging me into UPC's network, my internet connection suddenly registered a giddy 106Mb - from a donkey to a cheetah.
The big question is what can you do with 100Mb? Who needs that much bandwidth? It's not just for unshaven nerds downloading endless smut, is it?
Of course not, because screamingly fast internet is the future and we're beginning to see the demand for it already.
New research shows streaming video site Netflix is the biggest source of internet traffic in the US. In Ireland, we're a good way behind but online video is quickly becoming a daily habit for us.
"People are moving from snacking on video clips to longer viewing of movies," explained Mark Coan, sales and marketing director at UPC.
A full high-definition version of the movie Black Swan took just 15 minutes to download from iTunes on the UPC connection -- quicker than going to the local video store.
The new album from Lady Gaga was sucked down in about 20 seconds. A new video game arrived on my Xbox in about 20 minutes.
Upload speeds are dramatically faster too at 7Mb -- making sending files a breeze.
Nonetheless, compared with vanilla 8Mb broadband, a 100Mb connection makes no difference in day-to-day operations such as email or web browsing.
In fact, for many people the massive step up is probably overkill.
But if you're a really heavy downloader or if several people in the same house like to go online at once, then the extra speed comes into its own.
UPC charges €57 a month for 100Mb in a bundle with its phone service, plus a €20 installation fee.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Just when the hilarious Lego series seemed to have run out of creativity with the tired Star Wars: Clone Wars tie-in, another instalment pops up just weeks later to restore the faith.
Even more surprisingly, it's a spin-off of the Pirates franchise, whose films have become a byword for bloated storytelling. What this plastic-brick version of the four flicks does so well is strip the series back to its core: the comic lunacy of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow.
Anchored in the familiar Lego formula -- brick-bashing, puzzle-solving, stud-collecting -- the plot spans the narrative arc of all four movies and makes equally little sense.
But who cares when the limping swagger of Captain Jack litters the gameplay with sight gags, evocative grunts and swashbuckling style.
Jack's compass also adds a new layer to the exploration of the sprawling levels, constantly teasing the player with lure of hidden treasure.
Graphically impressive and stuffed to bursting point with content that encourages replay, Pirates nonetheless never strays far from the Lego template.
But it's wrapped in such impish humour and clever design, adults and kids will have a hard time resisting.
No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise
A high-def remake of an overlooked Wii title, No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise continues the story of sword-wielding maniac Travis Touchdown on a quest to become the No 1 hitman.
Like a manga cartoon crossed with a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, it revels in its puerile humour, snappy one-liners and its ultra-violent hack'n'slash gameplay.
Purely based upon sheer style alone, it's hard to put down -- and efficient use of the optional PlayStation Move controls makes it all the more involving.
MX vs ATV Alive
Two wheels or four, that's your choice in this off-road racer.
Hop aboard either a motocross bike or quad and fling yourself around twisting dirt tracks in competitions against 11 other riders.
But in aiming for semi-realism, MX vs ATV Alive lacks the pulling power of similar racers such as Pure or Motorstorm, where insane jumps, crazy tricks and bone-crunching collisions are a constant threat and thrill.
Short on content, Alive lacks even a career mode to keep the player coming back for more.
Bits and Bytes
Conference Call of Duty
Rumours that the next Call of Duty -- the world's biggest videogame franchise -- was going to start charging for multiplayer mode have proved unfounded. But game giant Activision did reveal a tentative subscription plan for keen CoD players to accompany the next game's release in November.
Call of Duty Elite will give subscribers access to extra map packs and many other goodies for a fee believed to be under a fiver a month. But Activision did point out that the hugely popular multiplayer action would remain free.
Putting the squeeze on
Few people can be unaware of the danger to your wallet of using your smartphone abroad. Many have been stung with 'bill shock' when returning home to find those handful of emails or couple of web pages you downloaded have cost a fortune.
A new app for iPhone and iPad called Onavo helps you shrink your costs by squeezing any data you download at home and abroad. The app routes all your internet traffic through its servers and compresses it as it goes. In theory, you could seriously slash your data charges.
It works too but obviously you need to be comfortable with an internet firm theoretically having access to all your data. Onavo plans to charge for use of the app in the future but it's free to test for now.
Net yourself some free MB
Vodafone prepay customers will get free internet access on their phones this summer, so long as they top up at least once. From now until September 1, when you buy €20 credit, Vodafone prepay customers will get 250MB of free internet.