February 25, 2008

Hawk Troubles and Finding Cheap Deals

Well, back in September I went to the Digital Life show in NYC and saw a lot of cool things. One thing that I vowed to keep tracks on was the Novint Falcon, which promised more accessories as time went by and interoperability with different types of games, such as first person shooters. I wasn't sure if they would make good on that promise, since I often go to these shows and hear about "our upcoming plans for this product" and then they fall off the face of the planet, never to be heard from again. Well, not this time.
Also while I was at the show, I was literally buzzed by a remote controlled dragonfly. Well, now that this toy is avaailable to the real world (and yes -- I got one for Christmas and it rocks) it's having a little trouble with hawks.

OK, so now people are thinking that maybe the Foleo wasn't such a dumb idea... geez, who had this story first? Oh right-- it was me, just a couple of days ago.
[read here for a dissenting opinion of the Foleo]

Now that the Academy Awards are over, you'll either be ramping up your DVD watching to see some of those award-winning movies, or you're bored because you've already seen them. If you're one of the latter, you can watch old CBS shows online for free, or organize your music collection. Apparently I'm good at giving people suggestions on how to spend their free time.

I know I've talked about this before, but the information just keeps rolling in, and I'm sure it will until next February. Here's all your questions answered about the upcoming switch to digital TV.

From the FYI department, there's a new blog over at CNET, and it's worth checking everyday. It's called The Cheapskate, and I've already found great deals there, repeatedly. I check it every morning along with Woot.

February 18, 2008

Toshiba: It's Over for HD DVD

Some important questions to ask today:

What will happen now that HD DVD seems to have admitted defeat? Yep, it's true. Toshiba, the primary advocate left of HD DVD, has thrown in the towel and declared it over. Surprisingly, even Toshiba investors cheered this action, maybe because it means less fracturing of the marketplace and Toshiba can now focus more squarely on other projects.

Is the Playstation 3 finally coming of age? The move by many retailers to embrace Blu Ray, while declaring HD DVD the loser, may be what this console really needs.

Ever wonder what happens to all those shirts and caps made up ahead of time for the team that didn't win the Super Bowl? Apparently they end up in other countries.

Is it time to get a new television set, in light of the imminent switch to digital? Or will you simply grab a converter box? Coupons for the converter boxes will start being mailed next week. In reading the story, I just realized most households won't need this at all. Only households "which are not connected to cable or satellite will need a converter box when full-power broadcast stations begin transmitting digital-only signals in February 2009". And thus die my plans for getting that new big screen.

Is Al Pacino going to play the villain in the next James Bond film, Quantum of Solace? Note to Barbara Broccoli and the rest of the Bond production family: please say yes. Although I have to say that I wasn't very happy with his performance in Oceans 13, I believe that may have been a problem with the script he was given, not the actor himself. With the good work that was done on Casino Royale, I have faith in the forthcoming script and think that Pacino would do a great job with it. Oh, and I'll go on record right now stating that I'll bet this rumor isn't true, but merely an item from someone's wish list, much like the rumors that swirl about Sean Connery playing a cameo in every Bond movie since Goldeneye. We'll see if I"m right as more details emerge about the movie.

By the way, that new Knight Rider movie last night totally sucked. Just so you know.

February 15, 2008

Death Knell for HD DVD, Foleo's Revenge

Technology marches forward: there's a new "camera pill" that you can ingest and it will take pictures of your insides to help doctors diagnose any possible conditions. The best part? It's reusable.

Speaking of technology, Best Buy will start advising customers to buy Blu Ray. WalMart has announced it will only sell Blu Ray from now on. So long HD. Take your place next to Betamax over there on the bookshelf. Is this the PS3's doing, the same way DVD adoption was sped up by people buying the original PS2, which doubled as a DVD player? I remember Sony taking some heat by putting a Blu Ray in the PS3 -- maybe they knew what they were doing all along. Maybe.

And, in a technology sense of the future kind, director JJ Abrams gets serious about his Star Trek movie, even hiring a Nasa expert as a consultant.

Clothing might change in the future too. Scientists are working on clothing that actually produces energy. It uses the vibrations that occur when you walk to power up portable electronic devices. Think of your own body movement powering your pacemaker. Or better yet, an iPod. Ok, I guess the pacemaker would be better, but maybe not quite as fun. I mean really, can your pacemaker download and play podcasts? What? It can? I think that's an undocumented feature.

If you've got a cellular phone (hello --- this is 2008 calling, get on the bandwagon) you might want to pay attention to this: the analog network that many older phones use is going away next Monday. That's February 18 for those without smartphones and thus no calendars. According to the major carriers, this change won't affect many users, since they've weaned almost everyone over to the newer digital-only phones anyway. Hurray for equipment upgrades, whether you really wanted it or not. But, if your phone suddenly won't work next Monday, you've been warned.

And speaking of cell phones, remember Palm's Foleo? That weird combination of cell phone processing power and laptop size that didn't really seem to be needed, that never really fit in, that was killed off before it ever made it to any retail stores? Palm may have learned their lesson, but now Windows Mobile phone users get their shot. The Redfly, from a company named Celio, is making it's debut. It's designed to do the exact same thing for Windows Mobile phones as the Foleo was for Palm 's phones. Somewhere I'm sure you can hear Palm executives laughing and filling out condolence cards. Those that don't pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it.

Nintendo's got some buzz going these days too, but it seems to be about their star player's hair. Seriously, no one wants to bash the Wii anymore, so now they're turning their sites on Nintendo's people? And, while we're on the subject of hair, take a look at this page, supposedly with tips for making thin hair look thicker. Note the weird use of quotations, and the fact that it conveys no real information. No comment as to how I found that page or what I was doing there in the first place.

One last thing: Be careful what you put on Flickr; some photos have been illegally sold.
That's right, those pictures of you and Grandma at the family reunion could end up on some website somewhere, maybe even the heading of, "stock footage".
Hey, that's my Grandma!

February 14, 2008

Gadgets instead of Dates

As promised the new Indiana Jones trailer hit the world today. I caught it on Good Morning America, where it was promptly played at 8:16 AM (as promised yesterday and noted here). The trailer looked good and has lots of great stuff. In one scene Indy says, "this isn't going to be as easy as it used to be". And in another he's looking at an army container which has the words "Roswell, New Mexico" stamped on it. Since the movie takes place in the 1950's, this falls in line perfectly with the whole alien crash landing at Roswell timeline. I love it. Also as promised, the trailer is now online for those that couldn't catch it this morning. Check it out and read other's reactions too.

And, since this is Valentine's Day, here's a little something for those of you without a date -- get a gadget instead.

February 13, 2008

Bond Press Release plus the New Indiana Jones Movie Trailer

In entertainment news, there's plenty going on, aside from the whole
Microsft/Yahoo shenanigans (or should we call them Yahoolilgans?).
The Writer's strike has been settled, although details so far haven't been disclosed. Hopefully this means the writers will finally get a share of Internet-related profits, as their creations get disseminated worldwide, not just on the networks where they originally aired. It remains to be seen which shows come back fairly soon, which ones wait until the new fall season, and which
ones don't make the cut at all, and never come back.

There's also big news in the movie world, where tomorrow marks the first trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which will be available both on television spots and on the Internet. Watch Good Morning America tomorrow between 8 and 9 AM Eastern time to get your first look. I'm sure it will be online directly after that.

Today must also be a banner day for George Lucas, who in addition to taking part in the Indy announcement also had some Star Wars news to share: there will be a new movie, albeit an animated one based on the Clone Wars. Hey, we'll take whatever movies you throw at us George. We've been buying tickets to Star Wars since 1977, and it's not going to stop now. The date for the new movie is August 15, so there's quite a while to wait--but the expectation helps to build it up. Pass the popcorn.

OK, so we've talked about two of my favorite film franchises, Indiana Jones and Star Wars. I just wish we had some James Bond news to round this all out.

Hmm...as a matter of fact, we have a video of the press
for Quantum of Solace, the next Bond movie. Aaah, that feels better.

And don't forget about the new Knight Rider movie, presumably the pilot for the new series, debuting this Sunday.

Blackberry Outage, Ballmer's Outrage and Yahoo

A Blackberry outage causes the world to seemingly end; Woot offers up advice for the next outage.
My favorite quotes from these stories:
"Everyone's in crisis because they're all picking away at their BlackBerrys and nothing's happening," Garth Turner, a member of the Canadian Parliament, said during a caucus meeting. "It's almost like cutting the phone cables or a total collapse in telegraph lines a century ago. It just isolates people in a way that's quite phenomenal."

"I don't know what happened, I don't care what happened. They need to save their excuses for someone who cares."

Seriously, I use email a lot. I have 2 personal accounts, plus 1 for this site, and a corporate account. Email is indeed a lifeline. However, my mobile device doesn't have to be the only device I get it on; I do have a laptop (remember those, Blackberry users? Real computers?) and it's perfectly fine, almost preferable, to use that to get email. The outage lasted 3 hours. While I know this isn't the greatest thing, I'm not sure I see what all the fuss is about. That one quote from the Yahoo story still stands out:
"I don't know what happened, I don't care what happened. They need to save their excuses for someone who cares."

My response: Get a life. Be patient. It was only 3 hours. You had other means to get your email.

[Story Sidebar: While we're talking about Blackberries, here's a testimonial from someone who tried to give it up. ]

Other mobile phone news: at a worldwide phone conference in Barcelona, the first Google Android prototype phones debut. This should be interesting, as it's a new addition to the world of smartphones, the first for Google, but a direct competitor to Windows Mobile, Palm, and Blackberry.

Meanwhille, Microsoft just won't give up on it's quest to acquire Yahoo, and they've apparently got some Yahoo investors on their side? I guess the bottom line, and stock price, really are worth more to some investors than any loyalty to the company. One thing I don't understand, and I guess a business degree would help me out immeasurably in this case, is how can Microsoft's Ballmer be preparing to engage in a proxy fight and nominate directors to Yahoo's board? Apparently Ballmer's got until March 13 to do just that. Yahoo's story seems to clear this up a bit:

Microsoft, which called its bid "full and fair," could switch from wooing Yahoo's leaders to declaring war on them by making allies of shareholders in order to oust board members at annual elections mid-year.

Yahoo's 10 board members are up for re-election. The deadline for board member candidate nominations is in March.

So it seems that during the re-election of Yahoo's board members, Microsoft would woo potential members to seeing things their way, which means accepting a future buyout offer. This could include nomination of new people to Yahoo's board...people who have been hand picked by Ballmer himself. Outside of business we call this stacking the deck, so that the odds are all in your favor. I'd really hate to see Microsoft gain Yahoo this way.

One thing that is an interesting sticking point is that certain investors in Yahoo are also major investors in Microsoft. This presents a slight conflict of sorts, as they may or may not want Yahoo to sell, but if they do they certainly don't want Microsoft paying too much for it, so they're on both sides of the fence.

Allegedly, if Microsoft raises its bid to $35 or $36 per share, key people involved have said Yahoo will have no real choice but to sell.

"Yahoo! management has already exhausted the patience of its largest, longest-suffering shareholders," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Jordan Rohan.

The last line from the story in the NY Post summed it up pretty well:
If Microsoft raises its bid, even if it is only by $1 or $2, "The board may have to tell Yang that his emotions are getting the better of him and take the negotiations out of his hands."

I think we may be about to witness some nasty, yet historical negotiations.

February 11, 2008

Hillary, Technology and the Towel Monkey

As the Presidential campaign heats up, Hillary spars with Obama, pundits start scrutinizing everything from the speeches to the candidates web sites. Meanwhile, Microsoft thought it smelled blood and started poaching on a near-defenseless Yahoo. On Friday it seemed as if we'd soon have a Micro-Hoo, however things changed over the weekend and became official today: no deal. Yahoo says it will try and turn itself around, which seems like the better deal than selling out to Microsoft. So instead, Bill Gates and company turned their sites on smartphone visionary Danger, the makers of the Hip Hop and Sidekick. Apparently Danger actually welcomed the buyout, which seems strange in itself. Microsoft's apparently on a buying spree, which means it's looking to foster innovation yet again with deep pockets. There's no telling where this could end. Not at Yahoo's headquarters though.

Microsoft's foray into Dangerous territory could augment their smartphone business, but would put them even more squarely into a firefight with Google, as it launches it's Android platform in the second half of this year. Smartphones aside, it would just be nice if their first service pack for Vista didn't suck so much.

Amidst all this talk of takeovers and politics, there's something new on the horizon: the Real ID, a way of positively authenticating US citizens via a database of information. Apparently, the best way to authenticate yourself is to get a US Passport -- prepare for lengthy delays and a run on the Passport agency. However, without one you could face even longer waits at the airport -- and don't even think about going into a Federal building. Meanwhile, there's rumors out there that Apple's planning a late February event, which almost always means a new product announcement.

And, life's not all gloom, politics and technology takeovers. There's a new phone out there just for Batman fans (I've waited years for this), you can learn how to fold a towel monkey and really scare your house guests (or the occasional shower burglar/nosy next door neighbor).

February 04, 2008

Enter the Smartphone

So, I finally gave in. To be fair, I've used a PDA for about 10 years now, starting with the 256K Sharp Wizard (with the magnificent keyboard), then going through the Palm III and all manner of subsequent PDAs as they were rolled out, both Palm and Windows OS. However, the last few years, having a cell phone and a PDA meant leaving one behind, and the phone always won. To add insult to injury, Palm in it's latest incarnations changed it's handwriting system (that nasty lawsuit with the makers of Jot) and made my scrawly characters illegible by Palm's system. And Windows Mobile only liked me a little better, so that was no help. I longed for the days of a full-featured PDA with the keyboard like the Sharp Wizard, that would also double as my cell phone. The trouble is: now that I had made up my mind, how best to do it? I was only half-way through a contract with Verizon, and that meant no cheap carrier-subsidized upgrade. So, I did what millions do: I eventually headed to Ebay.

The Palm Treos initially caught my eye. Being a long-time Palm user this seemed like the best fit. However, the Palm's ancient OS (developed back in 1996 and only tweaked marginally in the ten years that followed) and the large, brick-like size of the Treos didn't seem like the best way to go if I was truly trying to make a change for the better. My Windows Mobile PDA had it's quirks, such as it's inefficient use of memory and the need to have regular soft resets, but aside from that it was a prettty good unit (I think it says something about the state of things that I was willing to accept these shortcomings). I decided that this functionality, plus the newer OS of Windows Mobile, would do the trick.

Enter the Motorola Q. Quite slim, based on the Razor design, with a nice keyboard and all the trimmings. In fairness, the keyboard isn't as nice as it could be (I've also tried out a Blackberry 7250 and its was much nicer -- more on that some other time) and the number of key taps to enter data is sometimes maddening. For instance, I should be able to simply put the cursor on a time field- let's say ten am- click and start typing -- but on Windows Mobile I cannot. But it is a big step forward from the stylish yet data-challenged Razor I previously had. For one thing, the device is designed to swap data with a PC, no hacking required. The mini-SD card is easily accessible, not under the battery (who ever thought that was a good idea anyway?), and the screen is absolutly gorgeous. Pictures and videos look quite nice and believe it or not I think the Q is faster than my old standalone Windows PDA. So, it seems like it will serve me well for the year as I ride out the rest of my contract.

What will I do next? I'm already eyeing up a Blackberry. The Curve looks quite nice (if it comes to Verizon) and I'm sure there will be other models announced and available by next year. I can already tell you that the speed and ease of use of the Blackberry platform trounces anything Windows Mobile has. So for now, I'll bide my time and enjoy my entrance into the world of Smartphones. It was time to bid adieu to the cell phone -- PDA shuffle and get everything in one device. After all, smartphones are the new PDAs... and I'm enjoying mine so far.