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Europe stands up in high tech

Once upon a time Europe was a collection of small countries and cultures, with two dozen independent currencies and as many languages, regulatory bodies and plug configurations.

Once upon a time Europe was a collection of small countries and cultures, with two dozen independent currencies and as many languages, regulatory bodies and plug configurations.

As a result nobody really paid much attention to Europe in the global sense, though economic powers like Germany, the U.K. and France had always demanded a certain amount of respect on the international stage.

Now, more or less united under the European Union, Europe is a force to be reckoned with. The Euro, a single currency for the EU, competes directly with the U.S. dollar, Yen, Yuan, and is doing remarkably well. The EU also represents a combined population of about 460 million — dwarfing the U.S. population — with a unified approach on matters such as trade, agriculture, industrial regulation, and some matters of international law.

It also makes the European Union, whose residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, the world’s largest economy in terms of combined Gross Domestic Product.

With all this going for it, Europe has become one of the world’s leading high tech consumers, and is starting to flex its muscles in that department. When it comes to issues like Microsoft’s antitrust issues, digital rights management, Internet regulation, and corporate management, The 25-nation EU’s position on various issues now carries more weight than any independent country of Europe ever had, and in some cases more weight than the U.S.

One recent example of the EU flexing its muscles was over Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released Vista operating system, with the EU voicing concerns that some bundled elements of the program (namely the built-in security system) will run afoul of antitrust laws. Microsoft has been fined heavily in the past ($357 million) by the EU for bundling programs like Windows XP with programs like Windows Media Player, effectively cutting other players out of the marketplace.

Given the EU’s rising dominance, it was a bit of a blow earlier in the month when Sony announced plans to delay the release of the PS3 in Europe until March of 2007, instead focusing its downsized November launch on the U.S. and Japan. With construction delays, there just weren’t enough consoles to go around.

Of course European gamers were outraged by this development — individual European countries had always waited longer than much of the rest of the world for new consoles and games in the past, which was something people accepted given the range of languages and complex systems of tariffs, taxes and laws.

Now that they’re united under the EU, the world’s leading economic power, gamers are demanding a little more respect.

Microsoft is so far the only company to buck the trend of saving Europe until last, releasing the Xbox 360 almost simultaneously in Europe, Japan and the U.S. The Nintendo Wii will also release in Europe close enough (three weeks later) to other markets to get away with it.

By leaving Europe out of the 2006 launch, some industry experts believe Sony might even have tipped the console war in favour of Microsoft and Nintendo as pissed off Europeans — huge supporters of the PS2 by the way — jump ship to companies that show them respect.

Aside from feelings being hurt, most Europeans celebrate Christmas as well. Parents playing Santa Claus are going to walk into electronics stores and find out that they only have two choices.


Quieter computers, gadgets

There’s only a certain amount of noise most people can take, and our lives are noisier than ever — a byproduct of the fact that we’re busier than ever, that there are more people than ever, and that we’re filling up our homes with noise-making devices. Going beyond simple annoyance and distraction, too much exposure to noise can even make you physically sick.

The good news is that there are ways to cool and quiet most computer systems down, if you have a little technical savvy.

Most computers come bundled with fans for CPU and motherboard, but next generation computers also have fans for video cards, memory and other operations. A simple off-the-shelf PC can have as many as four fans running at any given time.

There are many different ways to make your system quiet. The first, and most expensive, is to liquid cool your system. A whole range of products and options are discussed and compared at .

The second way to get quieter is to change the fans in your system from time to time — most of the fans bundled with your system are not top of the line to begin with in terms of noise and performance. You can buy new fans that are quieter, while continuing to provide the same or improved performance. Check out the selection at .

Another thing you can do is take a close look at your computer — how is the air moving in and out? Are the vents big enough? Are your vents dusty?

If you know what you’re doing you might want to try running your system for a little while with the box open to see what the sound difference might be — if it’s louder boxed up, the vent system might be poorly designed. You might need to clean the vents occasionally, as well as remove dust from the fan blades and motor.

Last of all, look at where you’re putting your system. Putting your computer on a hard surface will amplify the noise. Putting your computer in a closed space will make it run hotter, in turn forcing fans to work harder. Putting it against walls can also amplify fan noise and heat.

All kinds of soundproofing materials are available that can quiet down your vent system, ranging from a simple foam or rubber mat you can slip underneath to the same high tech foam used in recording studios for the area behind your system.

It might seem obvious, but you should also keep your computer room cool, keep your box out of the sun, and shut down when not in use to ease wear and tear on fans and let your system cool down.