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.