December 21, 2009

NORAD and Santa Claus

A great story on how NORAD, the top-secret military installation got involved first with Santa Claus (you can blame Sears for that) and then with tracking the big guy while he does his job on Christmas morning.

Personally, we love the idea of the Santa Cam network.

August 24, 2009

How We're Killing the Newspaper

It's a growing trend: move more information online and remove it from the location it's been traditionally published. We've been seeing this more and more lately. It started with catalogs, which seemed like the best fit for the internet. You could look at the items and shop anytime. However, then came something more near and dear to many people's hearts, the television listings. We all know they're available online, and that's great when you're working and want to plan out your evening and see what's going to be on. However, when you're in your living room in front of the TV, and you want to see what's on now, don't you really want to grab the television section of your Sunday newspaper and just look it up? For those people that don't have Guide-enabled TVs, and don't have Tivo or any other on-screen directory listing, the Sunday TV section was the mainstay of their television experience, the trusted friend that shared couch space but never grabbed for the chips nor balked at the channel selection. But no more. It's been axed long ago, in just about every major newspaper and many smaller ones. Readers were urged to "check their local listings online", never mind that there's still a large contingent of (mainly older) folks that wouldn't know how to navigate to if they had to.

Now another blow has been delivered to these same folks: the removal of the movie theater's listings from the newspaper. In a recent story that shows the progression of this, it's detailed that papers are pulling the movie listings mainly because of one thing: they never had any control over it in the first place. Rather than the community service most folks assumed it to be (after all, movie listings had always existed in the paper) it was instead something very different: it was a paid advertisement put there by either the theaters or the movie studio in general. That being the case, the financial environment lately has necessitated lots of cost-cutting measures, and this was one of them. Apparently the movie theaters and studios think that they're already reaching most of their potential audience members via the internet.

But are they? According to recent statistics, internet usage has indeed grown to encompass the majority of the country, sitting at 74.7% as of this year. While this may initially seem to back up the action to move more data online and remove it from newspapers, consider this: that leaves 25% who don't use the internet. Or, to put it another way, a full quarter of our population. We all know who they are; they're our grandparents, maybe even our parents. They're aunt Sophie who's the nicest person you'll ever meet but never got into computers. They're the guy down the street who stubbornly refuses most technology. They're also the guy who spent years in the technology field during his career, and now shuns all high-tech gadgetry as a way to get back at the career he spent so long toiling at, a kind of middle finger as he collects his pension. These are the people who are being left out, now robbed of their ability to flip open the newspaper to see what movies are playing.

This move also pushes us more and more into the mobile internet territory. While the newspaper used to deliver all this data to us everyday, and it was totally portable and able to be accessed from just about everywhere (i.e., you could buy a newspaper in just about every town, big or small, in the country) now that data is being pushed online with certain expectations. The expectation is that you'll be able to access it, not only from your computer and your easy-chair, but from wherever you are, via your internet-enabled phone. That's right, this is the final piece of the puzzle, the cell phone. As cell phones become more like smartphones, and everybody has one with a data plan, it's expected that we'll all be able to get to this data that's been ripped from the newspaper and plunked online. It's expected that you can get your movie listings, sports scores, weather, and television listings anywhere, at any time, from your phone. While this might certainly leave out the same non-participants we listed before, that list certainly grows shorter when you're dealing with a cell phone. After all, grandma might not have any interest in computers or the internet, but she does have a cell phone in that purse of hers, and certainly someone could show her how to retrieve basic internet from it, even if it's not from a web browser but instead by something like Google SMS, which will return internet data to you in a text message. See, there's many sneaky ways to get the data you need, and not all of them involve a browser. But more and more lately, none involve a newspaper.

And when you put all that together, along with the decline in advertiser dollars in newspapers across the country, and the overall decline in their subscription base, you've got the perfect storm for the decline of the American newspaper, set out to pasture by the arrival of the internet and your cell phone.

August 21, 2009

MI6 Boss's Identity Revealed on Facebook

For those using social networks, especially twitter, URL shorteners have become a way of life and a staple of their tool set. They allow long URLs to be pasted into status and messages using a minimum of characters. While there are many services to choose from, there's inherit risks involved, so be careful what you click on. It is interesting that there is money to be made in this space, due to all the demand, and that's a bit more than some of the other services can say. Twitter has yet to make any real money, although they say they're working on it.

Meanwhile, who knew social networking had a dangerous side to it? Sure, there's always the risk that you'll say something that offends, or that the high schoolers out there will post - ahem - inappropriate photos, but that was largely the extent of it. However, consider the case of the head of MI6 (that's 007's boss for all your James Bond fans out there) who's wife ousted his identity on Facebook. Wow, all those spy movies were right; you really can't trust anyone!

August 20, 2009

Guerilla Drive Ins

Summertime; just the mention of the word brings images to the mind and an almost uncontrollable smile to the face. One of the great traditions of past summers is the drive in, which has all but vanished from the landscape these days. Sure, there's still some around, but nowhere near the amount there used to be. That's why some enthusiastic people, eager to relive this experience, have set up their own. This may in fact be the beginning of the open-source drive-in. We wonder if there's also an open-source popcorn movement.

Meanwhile, what says summertime more succinctly than going to that drive-in on your new motorcycle? Even if you did get it at Best Buy, that is.

August 19, 2009

Unlimited Coffee Time

Ever feel like you're overstaying your welcome when you grab a coffee at Starbucks and then stay there for hours while you whittle away the afternoon? Ever had (or feared) the barista coming up to you and escorting you out because some unseen timer expired and you exceeded your limit? Well, fear no more. Starbucks is proclaiming you can stay as long as you want. We're still not sure how the while "free" wifi works though. According to the story, "Customers (with Starbucks cash cards) get two hours for nothing". Is this just one of their re-loadable cards, and who's checking?

While you're sipping your coffee enjoying your unlimited wifi (or two hours, whichever it really is), check out one of Esquire magazine's best albums, one that every man should own, Van Halen's Fair Warning. But hey, don't feel excluded -- this is also for the ladies out there, since Diamond Dave always was a ladies man. Queue it up and enjoy it, but be ready for the opening track, 'cause it's rough and fantastic.

August 18, 2009

iPhone Artwork and Breakfast

So who says you can't create artwork using anything but Photoshop? Bah, we say -- check out this New Yorker cover created by the iPhone. Well okay, it was created on an iPhone by a real human, but it's still very good. Come to think of it, maybe the iPhone just kicked in some artificial intelligence and did this all by itself? Now that would be a story.

We've now recommended something for you to read, and to complete your breakfast we suggest you go to McDonalds for an egg mcmuffin. Specifically the one in Chicago, where they'll let you know in no uncertain terms when it's ready.

August 17, 2009

The Smartphone Soccer Mom has No Privacy

It's been a while since we've talked about Smartphones, but meanwhile they've kept chuggin' along in sales. So much so that they're the single hottest category in cell phones right now, due to their growth. While normal cell phone subscribers seems to have just about peaked, with seemingly every citizen of every country carrying one, the hottest market is the upsell to smartphones. Heck, now there's reports that soccer moms are one of the largest groups now flocking to smartphones, using the devices to keep track of their broods and their business. Technology's great when it lets you actually achieve your goals. Take that Microsoft, with your endless security patches and driver updates; I'll get my info from my phone, thank you kindly.

While these moms, and everyone else, are busy using their smartphones, they're not just checking calendars and schedules. They're twittering, facebooking, and using all the usual social networking their data plans can handle. There's reports now that twitter may have to adapt to survive, or be sacrificed completely to pave the way for what comes next. This seems doubtful, but it very well may adapt, and even become more mobile-central. There's also reports that past fan-favorite Myspace may be making an offer for, which would combine two powerhouses in the online music / social networking world.

Meanwhile, all this data being funneled through your cell phone means a bottle-neck of one thing: your privacy. With all that data coming through one pipe and one provider (whatever cell company you use) some are saying that this could be the end of privacy.

July 22, 2009

Fun and a Little Weird - Amazon and Zappos

It's just been announced that Amazon and Zappos have joined forces. It will no doubt be considered a buyout, but it's an all-stock deal that enables Amazon to help Zappos expand it's brand. As the economy continues it's belt-tightening, expect to see more deals like this. The recent renewed talks between Microsoft and Yahoo (yeah, that tired old story again) just underscore this, and show that to survive, many of the top companies must buddy up and marshal their defenses. In truth, this latest rumor doesn't have Microsoft buying Yahoo as previous rumors this past winter, just an arrangement for a search deal. And wouldn't that make Bing just that much sweeter?

July 10, 2009

Animation on the Edge

So Spider-Man has had a rough time of it lately. Last year his beloved Aunt May almost died, and he made a very controversial deal with the devil to keep her alive. What really happened is he mucked with the time continuum, such that she never died, but other people didn't either. Harry Osborn, most notably. Also, his marriage to Mary Jane never existed. Wow. Brand New Day indeed. Anyway, lately he's gotten into trouble for some borderline risque pictures in a collection found in a school library. Whoops, that little deal you made didn't erase that, now did it?

And far far away on the sexy scale, we find evidence of George Lucas having a bit o' fun with his characters in a Disney world. However, we do not want to see Mini in Leia's slave girl outfit. No, no no.

July 09, 2009

Windows 7 Deals

Calling all deal hunters: you've only got a few days to score a great deal on the next version of Windows, so-far going by the catchy moniker Windows 7. Apparently there's half-price deals to be had at Amazon and Best Buy, but you've gotta shell out the money for 'em by July 11. Still not a big deal, and a great chance to save some money and not give it to Bill Gates. He won't miss it, trust us. There's also a chance you could get it for free if you're enterprising enough. Get to work people, we need to get out of this mess Vista got us into. By all accounts, it looks as though Windows 7 just may be up to the challenge.

Also, when you finally get that shiny new OS, here's some helpful-hints for why you should always think twice before you send that nasty email (use Google's mail goggles if you must), and how to digitize your life and get rid of clutter.

July 08, 2009

The Google OS

Google's plans have always been ambitious, but they've recently stepped up their game in a big way. No longer content to have your email, documents, calendar, credit card info, and all the rest of your personal info and computing attention, now they're setting their sites on the final frontier: the entire operating system. In what can only be explained as supreme power-play, and a credible threat to Microsoft, Google apparently wants to control it all. The new operating system will be built around their Chrome web browser; apps will be hosted by Google, and will be centrally served from Google's servers, working in the browser. Fixes, updates, and such will all be handled directly at the source (Google's own servers, in the same way that updates to Gmail, documents, and all the rest of Google's properties happen). The advantages to this are enormous, but it remains to be seen if this setup will be robust enough for real work.
At it's heart, this will likely be a resurrection of the networked thin-client which was so heavily hyped in the mid 1990s.

It didn't work then.

But this is Google. And it's going to be one heck of a ride.

Two Gone, One Out of Beta

Things on the internet change all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. If you were a fervent user of Geocities or Yahoo 360, chances are you're in the latter category, as those sites have been dropped. Killed. Left behind, like 10-mile stragglers during the latter stages of a marathon.

Geocities is perhaps the one to lament during this; it was the one site that truly hearkened back to the origins of the user-generated web. It was one of the first sites where anyone could set up shop, grab some online real estate, and start writing to their heart's content. Although not specifically credited with it, it was probably the originator of the blogging c0ncept, as that's what most of the sites actually were. The Heartland/Hills neighborhood (all the pages in Geocities were subdivided into neighborhoods, which gave Geocities citizens a way to relate to this new online paradigm, and also organize it's content) was where The Revision Bar started out, and we'll always have a fondness for it, even though it's now been digitally razed. Heck, we can't even go and pay homage to the parking lot where it used to be, as it's all just digital bits, and they've been returned from whence they came.

Yahoo 360 comes as less of a surprise, although it too was a nice service that's being discontinued. To be fair though, all the functions are all just being moved over to Yahoo Profiles.

But here's some actual good news: Google's Apps, including Gmail, are now officially out of beta. At last. It's only been, what, years?

June 30, 2009

Firefox 3.5

Today is Firefox 3.5 day, when the beast is finally unleashed to the world. According to the specs, it's faster and has a host of new improvements; the trouble is, how has it kept up with it's competition? And no, we're not talking about Internet Explorer...

June 22, 2009

Welcome Summer

It seems like only yesterday, or last week, or many many snow-covered weeks ago that we were counting down the days until Spring. And now, like a thief in the night comes it's hotter cousin, Summer. That's right, as of yesterday at 1:45 AM it officially became Summer, and that's very cool. The only downside? The fact that yesterday was also the longest day of the year, and after this the days will progressively get shorter. That's right campers; while we're all busy playing and basking in the sunshine thinking we've got all the time in the world we're actually losing party time in small increments each day. Wow. Kind of makes you enjoy it while it's here, doesn't it?
Now don't get all depressed on us, we're just showing off our knowledge of the way the seasons work -- there's lots of time to play in the sun. As a matter of fact, since summer's only a day or so old, we're all just getting started. And speaking of getting started, check out how some people over at Stonehenge ushered in the summer solstice. The pictures pretty much tell the story, and it's pretty incredible.

June 21, 2009

Happy Fathers Day

Fathers Day is here! That day when children everywhere give their dads one of the following, seemingly interchangeable and revolving, biennial gifts:
  • Cologne
  • A tie, the gaudier the better. Gaudy with Disney characters is a plus.
  • Hand-made ashtrays they made in school, regardless of whether dad smokes (actually, those are kind of cool)
Part of getting the right gift for your dad involves actually knowing him (yes, that means paying attention -- put down the game system). Is he a gear-head? An exercise fan? Sports fan? Geek? Try out this checklist to validate that last possibility.

And be nice to dad today. If you were a seahorse, you would owe him big time.

June 20, 2009

The DeLorean Gets its Own Movie

Great Scott! A biopic about the inventor of the DeLorean? Well, there's three of them in the works, so we'll have to wait and see how this shakes out. Our guess? It comes down to two or maybe just the one, with a pooling of the different scripts and talent involved. But what a movie this guy's life will be: hotshot designer for GM, youngest-ever division head, hobnobbing with celebrities, inventor of the GTO and the Firebird, and later, owner/CEO of his own company which brought to life the DMC-12, otherwise known as the DeLorean. Oh yeah, there's a little cocaine smuggling thrown in there somewhere. This should be great once it finally gets made. We're picturing a darker, grittier version of Tucker, with a cameo by Johnny Carson, one of the highest profile DeLorean owners.

In other news, but no less dramatic, Pixar proves it's the coolest movie-making company by granting a dying kids last wish, to see their new movie, Up. They put together a DVD and trucked it over to the kid's house, since she was unable to even get to a theater. This speaks volumes about the good people at Pixar.

And then, on the other side, there's Microsoft, who apparently won't even let owners of their upcoming Windows 7 Starter Edition change the wallpaper on their netbook. You'll apparently be stuck with whatever they give you as the default. That alone should make peole want to upgrade to a costlier version. But hey, apparently Microsoft is sticking it to the people buying the cheap version. How novel.

June 19, 2009

Eulogy for AvantGo

We've written about PDAs before. You remember those schedule thingies that we all had back in the 90's? They had those cool monochromatic screens, and the calendar, and the list of all your friends addresses? You remember... before our phones usurped all those abilities and took over as the chosen one? But, we digress. There have been many nails put into the PDA's coffin, but another one, perhaps the final one, came recently. One of the most used, and beloved, piece of PDA software is being (gasp) discontinued. Killed off. Banished, sorta like Yoda at the end of Episode 3 even though he totally almost kicked the emporor's wrinkled behind. The difference though, is that for this piece of software, it's final. No coming back. The software is AvantGo, and if you ever had a PDA you no doubt had this on it at one time or another, or at least knew about it. It was that good. Its reason for living was to enable you to semi-automatically copy information from the 'net to your PDA and take it with you. Every day people would wake up, download scads of the latest information (from online newspapers mainly, but who knows what all else they grabbed) and then read it on their PDA on the way to work. It was simple, effective, and just plain good. It served a use that was extremely important -- it enabled people to take their favorite sites with them, and read that information where they chose, at a time they chose, and not have to be bound to their PC in order to do so. It was liberating.

But in the last few years, something happened. The phones started doing all this, and they were doing it in real-time. From the lowliest Virgin Mobile T9 puke-white clamshell to the almighty iPhone, it seems that net access with a cell phone is all too easy these days. Sure, there's a price to be paid, but most people seem to ante up at one time or another in any number of various ways. There's the $5 monthly plan from Verizon on their lowest phones, there's the $30 smartphone/Blackberry bundles that just about every carrier has these days ("oh, we didn't tell you? That's on top of your monthly voice plan") and then there's the cream of the crop, the iPhone plan, which near as we can tell involves some kind of revolving credit line and a Swiss account. Different methods, different price points and devices. There's even free services from Google which use text messaging to deliver results from the net. For free, no less. Have they no shame?

In the end, it seems that AvantGo's demise may well be the last vestige of the old PDA age, and herald the bellwether of the true smartphone age, as more and more people rely on their phones for data services and connecting to the internet. It's been forecast for years, but now it's finally coming true.

So farewell AvantGo. We knew you well, we used the hell out you, and we loved you. You did us proud.

May 06, 2009

Kindle DX time

So, the world was let in on a (not so) secret today: the new Kindle DX. Long-rumored in gadget site message boards and stories, it was still nice to actually get everything confirmed and see the thing. While bigger than the previous Kindle devices, it remains to be seen how this one will fit within the tech-buying public's perception. Is this just the newest model, or is this really geared toward magazine, newspaper, and PDF viewers? It's certainly bigger, so maybe Kindle and Kindle 2 owners are still happy with their comparatively svelte devices.

Twitter stories continue to roll in also. While previously there's been a firing for someone who called in sick and then used a social network (Facebook, in this case), now it seems that employers might not want to get annoyed if their workers use these networks even while they're at work. And yep, that includes Twitter too. Anyway, employers might not have that much to worry about, since quitting Twitter seems to be the new "in-thing".

April 30, 2009

Tech makes waves

While most of the world's been turned upside down with one thing after another, be it bird flu or swine flu, technology continues to make it's own waves, and not everyone' s happy about it. A Radio Shack employee allegedly started pummeling a customer. A Hollywood exec warns that the old Hollywood is dead.

Meanwhile, Twitter's rise continues. Sarah Palin's begun her Twitter journey, LSU football coach says he''ll Twitter when he should be coaching, and some Giants players get the smackdown for Twittering when they should have been playing. Ah, there's a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate Twittering, just like the fine line between appropriate use of Facebook photos and those that aren't. Just ask this guy, who's now single again. You've been warned. It's anarchy out there!

April 18, 2009

Help the last Titanic survivor

If you thought your life was pretty depressing, consider the case of the last remaining Titanic survivor, selling her memorabilia to pay bills.

[a moment of silence]

Kinda gets to you, doesn't it? Hopefully someone will help this woman out. Any Revision Bar readers in England, please lend a hand! The auction takes place today.

April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle's got talent

Fridays should be fun days, even though work gets in the way and mucks things up. Since we're well past 5 pm now, let's kick off the weekend right. First of all, we have for your amusement, and perhaps nutrition, the bacon bracelet. It's not only a fashion accessory, it's also breakfast. Just slap it on your wrist, head out the door, and gnaw on it whenever you're hungry. Be careful not to spook the lightsabre-wielding police officer, who's suddenly come to the realization that his purpose in life is that of the Jedi, and thus changed his religion accordingly. If this doesn't scare you, and the bacon bracelet (gee, it even sounds cool!) needs to be cooked, try this homemade stove, made out of nothing but two cardboard boxes and some solar power. I'll bet the cop's lightsabre could really power that thing. Or chop it into bits; whichever comes first.

If your kid's got a cell phone, be careful of those text message fees. One dad was so surprised at his daughter's bill he took a hammer to the phone and smashed it. But he's still on the hook for $4,756.25, unless the folks at Verizon take pity on him.

Lastly, this isn't totally silly, in fact it's downright cool. Check out the newest web sensation, Susan Boyle, that spunky contestant from Britain's Got Talent, who totally shut Simon Cowell up and won over a crowd of dubious onlookers at the audition. Nice job Susan, and apparently she's been doing it for years now. Who knew?

April 06, 2009

All things Twittered

As Twitter continues it's drive to dominance it's stress points begin to show and odd things begin to pop up, mainly as a result of it's near-stratospheric popularity.

There has recently been a suicide attempt, which popped up on Demi Moore's Twitter page, of all places. While Moore and husband Ashton Kutcher were justifiably concerned, some other fast-acting Twitterers saved the day and called 911. The high-visibility of Moore's page no doubt gave the issue higher visibility than it otherwise would have. One can't help but wonder if posting something like this to Twitter is the modern-day equivalent of jumping from the highest central point in the town, or doing some other nasty thing in the town square, just so you'll be noticed. Has Twitter become one of the highest-profile places on the internet, and thus the best place to be seen?

Speaking of unusual uses of Twitter, there's a volcano that posts it's own tweets. Yep, Mount Redoubt in Alaska is set up so any unusual activities sets off an automatic tweet. Interested parties can subscribe to the posts (just like any other Twitter account) and be instantly notified that something very bad may be happening to the volcano. A pretty neat idea, actually. How much longer until we get our cars to tweet ("I'm low on air pressure", "I need more horsepower")?

Stephen Colbert's gotten into the fun, Twittering away while on his show (he called it "Twatting" when speaking to the Today show's Meredith Vieira), at the same time as interviewing Twitter's founder, Biz Stone. During the interview, Colbert compared Twitter to the old internet crash and burn sensation, Ouch. Let's hope Twitter does better than that. There was a rumored sale of Twitter to Google, but although there were some talks, Twitter's at the moment saying no dice.

Finally, amidst all the Twitter fun and success stories, there's also signs of it's own shortcomings. The site has always been prone to failures, since the infrastructure wasn't truly built to withstand the amount of users it has today; it's growth has just been too fast for the service to keep up. And with site outages comes grumbling, and some say there's a bit of a Twitter backlash going on. Some blame Shaquile O'Neal, one of the highest-profile Twitters around. Others just make mocking videos, which are sarcastic and tongue in cheek, but have more than a shred of truth.

April 01, 2009

April Fools 2009, Google-style

Did you see it? Yes, today is April Fool's, and Google attempted to pull the wool over everyone's eyes (see CNET's story on it here). The problem is they overreached. Really, an email system that automatically reads and responds for you? Artificial intelligence built into the world's search engine? A bit far-reaching, especially since we can't even control all the hacking that's prevalent in our current computing environment.
What's even more interesting is that Google also had some info today about what Gmail will bring in terms of advancements in the next five years. One has to wonder if that was just another April Fools.

Tracking airline flights with ease

Tracking flights used to be a chore, if it could be done at all. There were routes to learn, possibly hooking into the shortwave radio to get updates and hear chatter from the tower. Mostly it was a matter of faith. Saying goodbye to someone at the gate, then waiting to hear by phone that they were at their destination. The 'net has changed all that. Today it's possible to find all kinds of flight information -- heck, you can micro-manage the entire flight from your easy chair if you want. For starters, there's everyone's favorite search engine, Google. Simply put in the airline and flight number and get back all kinds of results, most helpful is the one at top which shows the status of the flight. This is also a great tool for people rushing to the airport, as they can see if their flight's been delayed right from their cell phone. Normally this results page also prominently links to flightstats, one of the leading flight information sites where you can get more details.
Now, if you want to get all geeked-out about it, check out this list of the best flight tracking sites out there. Sure, flightstat is included, but wait--there's more. There's sites out there that let you watch a representative picture of the plane as it flys its route, some even show you the ups and downs of altitude, and even bring Google Earth into play. And oh yes, one in particular lets you listen to the live air traffic control (ATC) audio feed. Very cool indeed.

March 30, 2009

Throw away your console and stream games instead

Just when we thought the console wars were pretty packed already, with Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all vying for space in your living room, someone new blew into the room and is about to make things very interesting. The company's called OnLive (gee, that sounds vaguely familiar, like someone's else's online service) and has created a service that lets you stream games direct to your computer or TV. Sure, similar things have been tried before, but this one's been in the works for seven years, and uses a compression mechanism that abolishes lag time, something that always was the sore spot with other streaming offerings.
Their service supposedly works no matter how powerful (or not) your system is. There's minimum requirements of course, but the company says you don't have to be running the latest or greatest gaming machine. Any old PC will do. So far the company has 16 games ready, including such top-notch titles as Burnout Paradise and Fear 2: Project Origin.

With consoles going for about $249 these days, and high barriers of entry for game publishers to actually develop, market and get their boxed games into stores, this method looks to alleviate many of those problems. The games are all hosted on OnLive's servers, which means there's no boxed software. The games are streamed, which makes it easier to get them into user's hands, since distribution is taken care of. It's also cheaper for the game publisher, who hasn't had to worry about packaging or shipping. These savings may get passed onto the consumer.
Another plus: as soon as a game is released and put on their servers, it's available for play. No pre-registration or long midnight lines at the EB store. Just good streaming goodness.

We'll see how this plays out during the year. There should be some activity this summer and it should be fully available this winter.

March 28, 2009

Twitter just doesn't know

Poor Twitter. The (current) darling of the Internet. Everyone, it seems, is either using or getting a Twitter account. Regular folks, media moguls, celebrities, even people in Congress listening to President Obama when they should be paying attention. Yeah, everyone's using Twitter; so how come they're not making any money? Because Evan Williams isn't sure how to do that yet. Here's an idea: when you're drafting the idea behind a business, you really should think about how it's going to turn a profit. What the business model? These are questions that probably should have been answered by now.

And it turns out that all that Twitters is not gold, either. It's been reported--unsurprisingly enough--that some of the celebrity twitterers, are in fact one or two things: 1) ghost writers for the real person, or 2) outright imposters, using a celebrity's name for notoriety and followers. Twitter's been quite good at revoking these accounts, but it worth noting that you need to be careful who you're following. They may not be the real deal.

March 27, 2009

Facebook's still thinking about it

So many people on Facebook, so many people don't like Facebook. Irony, no?
With so many people using the popular social networking site, it's no surprise there's lots of different opinions about it. What is a bit surprising (and I'm sure it's very surprising to the Facebook folks in charge) is just how unified they are on one point: the site redesign. It seems it's almost universally hated. Groups have sprung up, on Facebook itself naturally, to proclaim their hate for the new design and send a message to bring back the old one. Such a coordinated and unanimous effort is just a little shocking in today's complex web world. Well, it seems that all is not lost, and the naysayers are getting their due: Facebook has announced some subtle changes to the redesign based on user feedback, and said that there may be more to come; it's still a work in progress.

March 25, 2009

Excuse me, but it's called ScyFy now

Aah, science fiction, sci-fi as it's called. There used to be a television network by that name. Oh wait, we better make that ScyFy, because some bone-headed lawyer or TV marketer or strategizer thought it would be a better differentiator for the brand. Now it won't be worth the electrons it's manipulated on. Bah.

Now, for some true Science Fiction: During a rash of UFO sightings years ago. the British Defence Ministry took such an interest they briefed their Ministers of Defence. Showed them pictures, video, interviews with eyewitnesses. And then kept it to themselves, lest they create a commotion amongst the townspeople. How long did they keep this secret? Oh, about 20 years. Now the information is being made public, since they're sure the aliens must be gone by now.

And, if you see Race to Witch Mountain, make sure you look for Whitley Strieber at the UFO convention. It's a small cameo, but nice to see.

March 23, 2009

No love for Saab

There's no love these days for any business really, be it the big corporation or the hometown newspaper. However, automobile manufacturers have it particularly rough, and have for quite a long time. Arguably, this whole economic mess we're in, or at least its foreshadow, started with the Detroit automakers, hanging on from bankruptcy asking the US government for a bailout. They were first, Wall Street was next, then corporate America. It seems though that this phenomenon isn't unique to the United States. Even that quirky scandenavian automaker, and perennial favorite of folks who like their innovation done a different way, Saab, is having it's own problems. And it's home country of Sweden, which has come to use Saab as an icon of business and pride for the country, refuses to help.
Live or die by the consumer, Saab.

However, some products (and companies) are having an easier time. The Flip video camera, which is low-cost and easy to use, has been bought by Cisco, who's looking to aggressively get into the consumer electronics space. This amounts to a big payday for the parent company, Pure Digital Technologies, and shows that even in a recession, well-thought out ideas can yield success. Hopefully this will also hold true for Palm, when it finally releases it's Pre device later this year. It needs it to do well to survive.

March 21, 2009

Gmail just wants to help

It's late. You've been working all day and then surfing all night. You've spent time updating your blog, hanging on the social networks, Googling some stuff. Maybe a purchase on Amazon. So now it's around 2 AM and you're dog tired. And a friend sends you an email that hits you the wrong way, and provokes the "up yours" response, which quickly comes flying out of your fingertips onto your keyboard, appearing in an instant onto the screen and then you hit send.

Sound familiar? Well, for a while Google's had this thing called Mail Goggles, available in Gmail's Labs section. Someone over at Google figured out that if you had to figure out math questions, the type you can hardly answer when you're wide awake and sobre, you'd be less able to send those ill-advised emails. And hey, if you can do the math, then more power to you -- send that email and be damned. So we'll call that offering #1, which gets a thumbs up from David Pogue after some hands-on experience. Fair enough. Now Google is offering an "undo" option if you still sent that email and want it back. You have to enable it via Labs, but then it gives you a 5 second failsafe to stop the email.

Hmmm...5 seconds. Is that really enough? Heck, it sometimes takes that long to figure out you've made a mistake (then you think about what you want to do...check some web sites...check more emails... bounce ideas off your social network friends, grab a snack, then decide what to do -- it's an involved process).
There really should be an option here to increase the time, but for now, you'll have to act fast if you want to use this.

March 20, 2009

Spring at Last (2009 edition)

It's Spring!

OK, campers, you long-suffering shivering creatures of the night, huddled underneath your blankets for warmth. The wait is over. Although our handy spring countdown timer doesn't say it (it's set to record the first FULL day; that's something we'll have to fix) it is now officially spring! The blessed event happened in the northern hemisphere (so your mileage may vary if you're reading this from Shanghai) as of 7:44 AM EST today.

This week has been busy with Spring preparing to bloom and all, so here's some tips to get you back on track. First, since it is spring, start by doing some spring cleaning. No, not in your house (we trust you do clean that from time to time -- however that milk is probably past its prime) but on your PC. Actually, your PC can help get rid of the physical clutter in your house, so consider that a two-for-one. While you're offloading all your junk onto your PC, consider the use of a USB drive to handle most of it, just make sure it's properly encrypted and has all the apps you need on it. is a good resource once you're ready. Finally, your operating system may need to be upgraded, but if you've been hanging onto XP because of the Vista horror stories. you may want to look closely at Windows 7.

In the rumors-come-true department, AT&T mentioned that it IS going to offer a no-contract iPhone. That's the good news. The bad? It costs at least $599. Now we know what the cost of a subsidy really is from the handset makers. Still want it? Nah, we didn't think so.

March 16, 2009

Twitter, the newest web addiction

Is Twitter the new "it" phenom on the web? Apparently lots of folks seem to think so. Just ask Lance Armstrong, Cali Lewis, Kevin Rose, Evan Williams, Dave McClure, or Dave Morin. They're hot shots on the service and it's growing rapidly. Everyone seems to be tweeting, and for every Twitter poster, there's tons of followers. A new service called WeFollow has appeared to help you manage it all, and it looks like a welcome addition. Right now there's plenty of tweets about SXSW, the huge technology event, where apparently smartphones are outclassing laptops this year. Well, it's about time, even if the lines are become blurred, and manufacturers are jumping between the two.

March 11, 2009

The shift from print to digital

As most of the world's businesses deal with economic troubles, so do the various media outlets designed to cover them. What may be thought of mainly as a reporting outlet for the days events, is in fact, a business itself, prone to the same struggles as those it is reporting on. Many of today's newspapers find themselves in the unenviable position of having to shut their doors or go online-only. Time has put together a list of the 10 high-profile newspapers likely to do just that, and there's a good-karma follow-up on how to save your newspapers. Both are good reading.

From newspapers, then on to magazines. PC Magazine has already gone online-only, having made the switch in January. Yes, there were throngs of hate mail, sobbing, why-me, why-now, complaints. But in the end it still doesn't change the economics of the situation: it costs money to operate printing presses and produce a physical magazine, and then ship it all over the world. With that as the background, at least we still get the content, even if it is on our monitor only, and not laying flat on our coffee table. At least we still get John Dvorak's column. In his most recent posting, he talks about how one of the latest Linux distros, Ubuntu 8.10, blew him away, and should replace Windows as his, and your, operating system. That just might be worth checking out.

Finally, if you thought that everything that could be virtual already was, then check this out: Topps baseball cards. Enough said.

March 10, 2009

Making that PC work for you

Getting a new PC ready for actual work isn't easy. Yeah, it's got a nice new OS and maybe some bundled apps, but we both know most of it is actually crap. There's trials, demos and stuff you don't need. And then you go to actually use it, and you virtually reach for something -- an app on the desktop, a shortcut, or a command/macro. And it's not there. And that's when it hits you: this PC needs to be customized to allow you to get anything done. Use this checklist to streamline things.

Meanwhile, in development-land, there may be even more reason to look forward to the next version of Windows. Not only does it replace Vista with a better version (at last!), including being less power-hungry, but there's also going to be lots of things you can turn off, thereby customizing your environment even more. So far, Windows 7 is looking better and better.

March 09, 2009

Social Networking Heats Up

Twitter begins adding more features, including adding beefed-up search capabilities. So now you can follow your tweets (how odd does that sound?) much easier and from one place, in addition to finding new content. This should position them pretty well against Facebook, who's also been adding new features and redesigning their layout. Game on, gentlemen.

While you're getting all your social networking accounts set up and polished, what will you do for an avatar? For those that don't want to share their real picture, but need something in the little left hand box, you should try iconize me. See, it's kind of like you, but not...really you. And isn't that what we all want on the net?

March 03, 2009

Productivity and the Digital World

Productivity is hard enough in any job, in any life, any time. But it gets harder when you're expected to be always-on, to churn out new content as many bloggers are. Some of us experience the same stresses with multiple social networking sites: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, all vying for your attention and little pieces of your life. Gina Trapani knows about these stresses and also what it's like to have to backpedal on some of your own advice, like not answering email even though she has a chapter in her book about managing email. Hmmm...guess it can happen to everyone.

While you're thinking productively, think about how much paper you use, both at work and at home. Paper seems to fly into our possesion from a myriad of sources, and all of it wants your attention. There was once the dream of the paperless office; sadly that hasn't really come to pass. However, one writer has advice on a paperless home, and the good news? It's (almost) possible.

Other digital strategies for maintaining order? How about digitizing it all? You know, all those receipts, interesting articles from magazines (heck, even the whole magazine), your taxes, bills, etc. It's all there and available to be stashed in digital form. Get scanning.

And, not even the best planning in the world can save you sometimes. We're sure George Lucas is a pretty organized guy and has a pretty top-notch organization. However, bad things can happen, and mistakes can still be made. Really -- would you pay 195 dollars for a statue of Goofy as Jar Jar Binks? Let's say it together: NO.

March 02, 2009

YouTube's out, iPhone envy in the house of Bill

Obama may be the most tech-savvy President in our nation's history. He's embraced strategies such as text messaging, twittering, and an interactive web site throughout his campaign. Now, as President, he's continuing with it all, and even adding videos to the mix. Thus, it's a big deal when he dumps YouTube, the perennial favorite, for a more homegrown approach due to privacy concerns. This new strategy should give them more control, which is what the administration wants. How YouTube reacts will be interesting.

Other interesting tidbits: Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill, admits to having iPhone envy from time to time. You think she could stash one away in her purse, and the boss would be none the wiser?

The rumors are solidifying now, and so there will be a Ghostbusters 3. Details are still trickling out, but we'll see if Bill Murray is up to the task. Can he still be the charming, wise-cracking grey-jumpsuited scientist with the nuclear fusion pack on his back? And just where has Eagon been all these years?

Finally, check out the new Dutch commemorative coin. What a great design, totally different.

February 27, 2009

Nick Fury's 9-Movie Deal

Looks like plenty's happening lately in the entertainment world cast-wise. There's been quite a flap over Marvel threatening to not extend the costumed hand to Samual L. Jackson to reprise the Nick Fury role he pioneered at the end of the Iron Man movie. Looks like that's all over now, with Jackson signing a massive 9-movie deal. That's like one for each one of the original Avengers with plenty left over. Good news for Jackson, us, and Marvel -- who made a good move with this.

Late Night TV is just changing all over the place, and when Conan O'Brien takes over the coveted Tonight Show he'll bring back an old friend -- Andy Richter. Seems Richter has had enough of doing the TV-pilot routine. The question is: is O'Brien better without him? And is he so set in his ways from being a solo performer these years that this won't work?

For something different, the Today Show did a piece on the "Jedi Workout". At first this sounded interesting, but the way they're doing it doesn't look like much of a workout. Maybe in the right hands, a true Jedi would emerge...

And, in tech news, Google shuts down more apps (Google Shared Stuff), and Microsoft says it's going to make it's desktop version of Windows and it's Mobile Phone versions share a common codebase. This probably will result in much better phone UIs, since this platform has been largely stagnant for years. Innovate, people!

February 25, 2009

Kindle 2, Journalist start-up, and Philip Jose Farmer

Yesterday we mentioned the Kindle 2 and the reactions it's receiving. Apparently it's also received a tersely-worded op-ed piece in the New York Times. Still, there may be a point in all this; will the Kindle2 eat into audiobook sales? Some say that Amazon's 'whispernet' is really going to be the big deal in all of this. E-books could be poised for takeoff between this and the Kindle 2.

If all this e-book and Kindle talk is getting to you, and you want to get in on the fun but don't have $359 to spend, check out these online book sites. No Kindle required.

Let's stay in the realm of books of fiction for just a while longer: science fiction fans everywhere will no doubt be saddened to learn that Philip Jose Farmer, a pioneer in the genre, has died. It was peaceful. It was in his sleep. And yet, the world has lost a great writer and source of entertaining stories.

Finally, magazines and newspapers certainly haven't been immune to the economy. Some have been laying off workers or even shutting down. And, just like we mentioned yesterday, that's where things can get creative. Some journalists from Arizona are doing just that after losing their jobs -- and starting their own web-only publications. The upside? They get to green light the stories that ordinarily wouldn't be. Nice.

February 24, 2009

Adios Circuit City

There's an old saying that tough times foster innovation. That's the thought that comes to mind when reading about Virgin's new strategy for creating new social networks, tying them into existing ones such as Facebook, and offering these services in rather unique ways on it's planes. Pretty neat stuff -- using the service to find out a friend of a friend on Facebook is on the same flight as you, and you buy them a drink? Pretty awesome. Six degrees of separation become one in no time flat.

The Amazon Kindle 2 is out now, and early adopters are being notified that the unit is in the mail, which means lots of people will have their hands on one soon. CNET got a unit to do a quick review on, and it came out looking pretty good. In the next week or two, we should get some hands-on time with one and give you our impressions.

If your iPod Touch is lonely and aspires to be a recording studio, you might be interested in the Alesis ProTrack, although it's going to pretty much double your investment. Really -- a $200 add-on? For a $200 device? That's a little excessive.

And finally, the death watch for Circuit City continues as they try to unload all their merchandise. The problem is, they're not offering very good liquidation prices; it's almost as if they're not really trying -- and that's the whole reason the company is going under. For years, when you walked into a Circuit City it was as if the salespeople didn't want to be there, couldn't care less about truly helping you, and sometimes didn't know the product information well enough. Adios Circuit City, you'll not be missed.

February 19, 2009

The Wolfman -- what a toy

There's a new Wolfman movie in the works, and of all things it's the TOY that gives us our first glimpse at it. Benicio Del Toro will play the afflicted beast, which won't hit theaters until November (what? Not October? It's a perfect Halloween tie-in. Honsestly, can you say blown opportunity?) but the first look was seen at New York's Toy Fair. Sounds like a good movie and it will be great to see the Wolfman again -- hairy and scary.

In other entertainment news making headlines today, Joss Whedon's new series Dollhouse premiered recently, and predictably got lackluster ratings. This just proves that the show will go on to critical acclaim right after being canceled. Then again, Whedon's been pioneering the iTunes distribution channel lately, so it could continue on from there. Go Joss!

February 18, 2009

Nintendo DSi coming

Lest you think all we think about here are smartphones (but hey, that's been a very active space lately) some information is coming in regarding some other attractive products. Namely, the newest version of the Nintendo DS, the DSi. It seems the US is finally going to get the love that's been had overseas since at least early last year. What remains to be seen is how many people will upgrade from a DS Lite. Personally, the 2 cameras and SD slot are a pretty big draw, but we're unsure if it justifies the $179 price tag. On paper the screens are listed as being enlarged, but a quick guess is that they're only marginally so. You're still not getting a PSP-sized screen, so don't get too excited.

From the truly bizarre department, check out the e-cigarette. You know, for when you want to look like a dork while being completely environmentally friendly.

February 17, 2009

The $99 iPhone

The tech world is ablaze with rumors of a $99 iPhone, supposedly stripped of some of its features and sold in the future at Walmart. While parts of this don't exactly thrill (Walmart), the rest sounds pretty good. Currently the iPhone costs $199, which isn't bad at all. In fact it's a downright bargain for all the functionality you're getting. However, the $30+ monthly data plan is where AT&T gets you, and it's been the one reason why lots of people have opted not to get the iPhone, even though they would clearly like to. Enter this rumor, then, with it's $99 iPhone. The lower price is great, but the kicker is that supposedly it also carries with it a lower data plan -- $15 per month. You lose GPS and some on-board memory (the new, cheaper iPhone would max out at 8GB) but pay less for the phone and less for the monthly data plan. Now that's a real winning scenario, and one which lots of people would probably latch on to. It would allow Apple to dominate the high-end and low-end smartphone markets.

However, as always, every idea has it's detractors.

In other news, the Digital TV transition may have been postponed, but many channels are opting to switch now anyway. Here's your guide to figuring out what's going on. You know, just in case your favorite channel suddenly isn't there [shudder].

February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's DayHappy V-Day!

Here's hoping you've prepared well for Valentine's Day, because there's nothing worse than a big letdown on a day like this--
or the aftermath that comes with it if you're the one who dropped the ball. Speaking of disappointments, here's a unique twist on Valentine's Day, with no mention of life partners, wives, or husbands. Check out the list of gadgets that broke our hearts.

And you thought we didn't care.

February 12, 2009

Smartphone Data Plans

Apparently the smartphone data plans are still making waves with customers. Verizon's insistence that any new smartphone purchased must have a $30 data plan added on top of the voice plan makes plenty of people angry, and longing for the days when they could just say no and turn the data features off. Plenty of folks are planning on pursuing this with Verizon, their Congressman, Obama, etc. (see all the unhappy people in this thread) but in the end will it help? Verizon recently lowered their data rates before instituting this. In fact, the two things were done together; lower the rates and then make them mandatory for the higher-end phones. So this can be looked at as a bad thing/good thing rolled up into one. And yet, we're still paying much less than our Canadian friends.

Interestingly enough, Charles Cooper from CNET is advocating that cell carriers drop the required data plan altogether, as a way to entice people to buy those higher-priced phones. Now that seems like a good idea.

February 10, 2009

Powers and Kindle 2

Lots of viewers were disappointed with last season's Heroes, which was only exacerbated by the season itself being cut short by the writer's strike. This season seems to be going better, but still complaints seem to be forming and getting passed around the 'net. If you'd like a different take on this whole hero thing, keep your eyes out for Powers, which should debut later this year. The creators certainly have the chops to pull this off; one of them cut his teeth writing The Avengers and Spider-Man for Marvel comics. The initial concept and story art look good.

Last week we discussed e-Readers and the general decline of the publishing industry. One bright spot in all this has been the Kindle, Amazon's eReader that makes eReading fun and quite simple (further proof that a narrow focus and good execution trump all in one solutions every time). Yesterday they announced the successor, the Kindle 2. Not much in the way of upgrades, but a step in the right direction.

The Live Blog during the event was actually quite humorous. Very little buildup, just a quick announcement, a quick demo and some words from Stephen King, then bam! All done, thanks for coming, drive home safe now, y'hear?

February 06, 2009

Sony's missed chance, E-books rising

Now that the smartphone market is really heating up, people are starting to wonder what the next big thing will be (hint: Palm Pre), but also looking back at what could have been. Could the ill-fated Sony PSP have been the iPhone and beaten it to the punch by simply adding a cellular radio and marketing it as a phone? Considering that it couldn't even beat the Nintendo DS, it seems unlikely.

Moving away from smartphones, books, magazines and newspapers are facing hardships like most other businesses. There seems to be a movement underway to create a new hybrid which is a cross between a real magazine a web page, using Adobe's AIR program. Sounds like a neat approach, but I'm not sure I'm wild about yet another standard and another browser plug-in that I must install.

While searching around for e-books and related information, plenty of info related to digital magazines and comic books appeared. There's always Zinio, which is a great e-magazine service -- sometimes the subscriptions are quite a bit less expensieve than the normal print editions, and you can keep the (digital) issues forever with no clutter. Nice.
There's also some tips on how to find free comic books, which includes references to the sites WOWIO and the Golden Age Comics site. There's also the Collins Compendium of Free online comic books, with links to all the major comics companies. All have comics that are no longer in the public domain and have been scanned in for people to enjoy. On the WOWIO site they also have some new comics that the publishers or creators have allowed to be posted and donwloaded for free, in an effort to get people interested. It just may work. There's issues there that caught my eye, that I never would have seen otherwise.

February 05, 2009

2008 Smartphone Explosion

The smartphone onslaught continues. Supposedly, in 2008 the smartphone market exploded. OK, that might be understandable given the advent of the iPhone and the various new Blackberry's (Bold, Storm, etc.). It's also true that these devices have been increasingly picked up by average consumers who aren't really corporate power users but needed a phone that did just a little bit more. And that's what the cellular providers wanted. You see, with the average phone, you can't really do much with your calendar, there's no to-do list, and you can't add many extra applications. Whatever functions the phone has, that's what you're stuck with. However, smartphones give you much more freedom to add new things and do more -- but they come at a price. Not only is the device pricier, but increasingly there's mandatory data usage packages tacked on to your monthly voice fees. In some cases this can double your bill. Which, especially in this economy, is music to the provider's ears. So yes, 2008 probably did see the explosion of smartphones. It remains to be seen whether any of these people will get sick of paying the higher fees and drop down to a normal phone. After all, you could have a normal cell phone but keep something else on you like an iPod Touch for all other functions, including wireless web browsing, to-do lists, calendar, and even tons of third-party applications. A data package for 1 year from a cell provider is $360 ($30/month), while the iPod Touch is roughly $250, and it's a one-time cost. We'll see if this catches on and becomes an attractive option.

Some smartphone-related Palm news to pass on: looks like one of the founders of the company, Donna Dubinsky, is leaving. She's been there more as a figurehead and member of the board of directors for the past few years, asd is simply making room for someone else to join the board.
In other news, the Palm Pre just might be available in March (from Sprint). Some sources are disputing this, saying it will more like June/July, so we'll see. Palm's got a lot of buzz going right now with this thing, and the sooner they can deliver it to customers, the better.

February 04, 2009

Yahoo Axes Briefcase

As the economy tumbles and experiences difficulties, so do longtime internet companies. Lots of net companies, including CNET, Ziff Davis, Microsoft and others have trimmed their operations, either through people or services reduction. Now Yahoo is doing the same thing, by shuttting down it's Briefcase feature. To be fair, Briefcase was something I used years ago, but in the years that followed it's paltry 30MB was eclipsed by other offerings offering 500 MB, 1 GB, or more. Storage is cheap these days, and cloud storage is at an all-time high, both in offerings and demand. It's a great way to store something and know you'll be able to access it wherever you are, on any device. All of which makes it all the more painful and bittersweet that Yahoo should discontinue this service at this particular time. One would think that now would be the time to beef it up, make it easier and more palatable to use and attract new users. After all, their main competitor Google is reportedly going to roll out it's own service any day now, called Gdrive, which is essentially cloud storage (and lots of it). Yahoo should have re-thought this, and made the necessary updates. They certainly had enough time.

I recently went in to my account and was surprised to find data there from long ago. Now that data will have to be saved and put somewhere else. Maybe Gdrive, when it's available.

February 03, 2009

The revolution will be digital, and it will be bloody

PC Magazine recently announced that it will cease producing it's print magazine and instead focus soley on its various web properties and the digital version of its magazine (read the original announcement). Since the majority of their subscribers are die-hard techies who have subscribed for years, and spend most of the time glued to their computers, can you guess how they handled the news? They revolted, quite vocally and with much anger. The comments, oddly enough, seemed to indicate that they wanted an excuse to get away from the computer. Go figure.

Windows Mobile is having its own share of problems recently. while it's market share in the smartphone arena had been steadily growing, due to Palm's decline and stagnation over the last few years, now it's got real competition. Not only has it stood by and watched the iPhone captivate the world, but then came Google's Android in the form of the G1, and we've only just begun to see the impact that these devices will have, and there's more coming, making for even Windows Mobile headaches. Hey, when you were the only active player in town, you looked pretty good, but now these young upstarts are trying to take over the joint. And now the kicker? Palm's back, in the form of the brand new WebOS and Palm Pre. Well now we've got ourselves a real horserace. So much so that some are wondering if Windows Mobile is doomed, and whether it's time to drop it for good.