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. Portableapps.com 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.