Friday, January 30, 2009

No more phone books, please!


In the digital age, it’s hard to believe that companies are still printing phone books.
But this week, a couple more new phone books thumped on my front porch. I can’t remember the last time I flipped through one looking for a business listing or person.
With online directories and search engines like Google and Yahoo, paper phone books are unnecessary. They take up space, clutter kitchen drawers and pollute the environment. It’s simply easier to use the Internet to look up businesses, government agencies and people. I’d much rather type in keywords than try to guess where a listing might be in a phone book.
Online directories often come with customer reviews, integrated maps and links to detailed Web pages for more info. Plus, you’re much more likely to get up-to-date information online than through a printed phone book.
In addition to mainstream directories like AT&T’s Yellowpages.com, there are Web 2.0-style directories like Yelp, where people write reviews and rate restaurants, stores and more.
But back to those pesky phone books. I’ve got five current ones from three or four publishers sitting in a kitchen cabinet. I recycle the old ones with the newspapers. But now I’m tempted to pitch the new ones too.
One organization working to eliminate the unsolicited delivery of Yellow and White pages phone books is YellowPagesGoesGreen.org. It seeks to get directory publishers to stop the practice on their own or face legislation to mandate the stoppage. The organization would like the equivalent of the National Do-Not-Call Registry, which helped to decrease the number of unwanted telephone solicitations. The group wants phone books to go only to those households that request them. Sounds reasonable to me.
More than 500 million phone directories are printed every year, according to YellowPagesGoesGreen.org. The Web site offers these statistics:

To produce 500 million phone books:

19 million trees are harvested
1.6 billion pounds of paper are consumed
7.2 million barrels of oil are used to produce the books (not including gas used for their delivery to your doorstep)
3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are squandered
268,000 cubic yards of landfill are taken up

Another Web site, Eco Yellow Pages, reports that several states are considering legislative measures to make unsolicited delivery of phone books illegal. However, the Yellow Pages industry has a “powerful lobbying effort and a strong economic incentive to stop these efforts (97% of the estimated $14 billion in U.S. yellow pages revenue comes from printed directories),” Eco Yellow Pages says.
Both YellowPagesGoesGreen.org and Eco Yellow Pages offer consumers ways to opt-out of receiving phone books.

(Top photo: Current phone books in my house. Bottom photo: Art from YellowPagesGoesGreen.org)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CES puts the screws to Macworld


Less than three weeks after the close of the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, CES organizers are trying to put the smackdown on the wounded Macworld tradeshow.
The Consumer Electronics Association, producers of the annual CES tradeshow in Las Vegas, announced Thursday that a new pavilion devoted to Apple products planned for its 2010 show had sold out and was being quadrupled in size.
The CES, the world’s largest conference devoted to personal technology, and Macworld, IDG’s tradeshow dedicated to Apple products, have competed for years for media attention in January. The shows run back to back or simultaneously in the first half of the month.
But now that Apple has pulled out of future Macworld conferences, CES sees an opportunity to bury Macworld.
Apple said the Jan. 5-8 Macworld would be its last. Instead of sending charismatic Apple co-founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs to do the high-profile keynote this year, it sent its senior vice president of product marketing to give the speech.
CES announced last week that it would have a special exhibition area at the 2010 CES called the iLounge Pavilion. The pavilion, co-sponsored by CEA and iLounge.com, will feature companies that provide accessories, software and services for Apple’s iPod, iPhone and Macintosh computer products.
“We have received an incredible response from companies interested in exhibiting in the iLounge Pavilion at the 2010 International CES,” Karen Chupka, CEA’s senior vice president of events and conferences, said in a press release. “In fact, the original space allocated for the pavilion sold out in less than one week – a CES show record - and we’ve quadrupled the space to accommodate the overwhelming demand.”
The iLounge Pavilion, originally floored with 4,000 net square feet of exhibit space, has increased to 18,000 net square feet. The pavilion will be housed in the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall 2. Exhibiting companies include Griffin Technology, Mobis Technology, Pro Clip USA, Scosche, Incase Designs, Incipio Technologies, iSkin and GelaSkins.
The big question is whether Apple will exhibit at CES 2010 and or send an executive to give a keynote. Both have been rumored.
CES 2010 is set for Jan. 7-10 in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, IDG says it’s going forward without Apple and has scheduled Macworld 2010 for Jan. 4-8 in San Francisco.
(Top photo: CES 2009 at the Las Vegas Convention Center by CEA. Bottom image: Screenshot of Macworld Expo Web site.)

That other Super Bowl Sunday football game




We’re just a few days away from Sunday’s big football bowl game.
No, not Super Bowl XLIII pitting the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Arizona Cardinals. I’m talking about Lingerie Bowl VI featuring the Miami Caliente vs. the Tampa Breeze.
The game featuring models wearing frilly undergarments has become alternative programming to the Super Bowl halftime show.
I don’t think anyone expects a real game. It’ll be more like a pickup football game among waitresses at Hooters.
The event is significant because the backers are trying to turn their once-a-year gimmick into a professional sport. As fringe sports go, this one’s way out there.
The Lingerie Football League is scheduled to kick off on Sept. 4 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill., located northwest of Chicago. The inaugural LFL season will include a 20-week schedule running from Sept. 4 through Jan. 22 with 10 teams. They are the Seattle Mist, Los Angeles Temptation, San Diego Seduction, Phoenix Scorch, Dallas Desire, New England Euphoria, Chicago Bliss, Tampa Breeze, Atlanta Steam and Miami Caliente.
Here’s how LFL officials describe their sport: “Lingerie Football League will feature fast-paced 7-on-7 full-contact tackle football featuring some of the country’s most athletic and beautiful women.”
Unfortunately the LFL is destined to go nowhere. I like sports and pretty women as much as the next guy, but this sports league is ill-conceived.
First of all, it’s not really a sport. Any sport, even a fringe sport, needs to showcase the best of the best. Other fringe sports, even competitive eating and pro video gaming, do that. But the ladies of the LFL are probably not the best female athletes they could find. If the league chose the best athletes, they’d probably end up with a bunch of ugly brutes.
If I was putting together a women’s football league based on skill, I’d find the best smash-nose rugby players. Most of them would be heavier and more muscular than LFL players and not afraid to break a fingernail. I’m not saying there aren’t attractive female rugby players, but to get the best female football players, you’d need to let in some beasts.
The staff at Tech-Media-Tainment has done extensive research into the LFL roster. In other words, I’ve looked at a lot of photos online. And it’s my scientific opinion that the women of the LFL are uniformly smoking hot. I’d be curious to see what their day jobs were. Probably a lot of models, actresses and pharmaceutical sales reps.
Men going to see an LFL game know they’re just there to ogle pretty ladies. But herein lies the next problem. The players are wearing bras and panties, but they’re also loaded up with helmets, face masks, shoulder pads, knee pads and elbow pads. So, in effect, they’re covering up the main attraction.
Let’s review: LFL organizers are expecting men to pay to see a non-sport sport, played by beautiful woman who are all covered up. Maybe we should go back to the days of Jell-O wrestling and foxy boxing. At least those weren’t labeled sports.

People’s exhibit A: Top two photos from Lingerie Football League.
People’s exhibit B: Photos from Flickr of the Brock University women’s rugby team from the 2005-06 season. (Great ball players, I’m sure, but not fashion-model pretty.)

I rest my case.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Proposed postal change bad news for Netflix

The U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday that it wants to cut back deliveries to five days a week. That would mean one less delivery day for Netflix subscribers to receive DVDs in the mail.
Netflix prides itself on fast delivery of DVDs in metropolitan areas and this could harm its reputation.
The postmaster general asked Congress to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail six days a week. The postal service is facing massive deficits because of dwindling mail volume, according to an Associated Press story.
It’s a good thing that Netflix is promoting its digital delivery of movies over the Internet as an alternative at no extra charge for subscribers.
Rain, snow or heat can’t stop postal workers from making their appointed rounds, but budget cuts can.

Dead pool Web site has the nerve to lay odds on assassination for President Barack Obama

While one major celebrity dead pool (Stiffs.com) is like a vigil, waiting for the old and the infirm to die, another is more ghoulish (TheDeadPool.com), giving bigger scores to people who can accurately predict the deaths of young public figures.
At TheDeadPool.com, there’s less of an emphasis on senior citizens with cancer and more on young celebs in the fast lane who might die of drug overdoses, high-speed car wrecks or murder.
In the Web site’s dead pool game, scoring is based on 100 minus age, with a minimum of 1 point.
An article at TheDeadPool.com lists “The 100 Most Likely People To Die In 2009.” The author, Mack Rawden, rightfully calls his article a “bulletin of blasphemy.”
At No. 10, he lists our newly minted 44th president, Barack Obama. He puts the chances of seeing his obituary this year at 25%. “Cause: Foul play,” he writes. “Barack Obama has, as a sitting President Of The United States, a nineteen percent chance of dying in office. Four former Presidents have died of natural causes and four have perished by sniper. I wish I could say Barack’s odds of survival were roughly the same as his white predecessors, but there are a lot of stupid, hateful douche bags out there.”
Here’s to hoping he’s dead wrong on that one.
He mentions several celebrities likely to die of overdoses this year: Tom Sizemore (percentage odds of dying this year: 65%), Amy Winehouse (60%), Pete Doherty (50%), Artie Lange (40%), Joaquin Phoenix (10%) and Andy Dick (5%).

Updike’s death blindsides dead pool players

The Stiffs.com dead pool received 753 entries for 2009 and not one of them predicted that 76-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike would meet his maker this year.
Players of the Web’s most prominent dead pool contest tend to go for the easy targets – celebrities and public figures known to be in ill health, based on news reports. You don’t see many young celebs who live reckless or dangerous lifestyles on the list, except for troubled singer Amy Winehouse who ranks No. 52.

The top 10 on this year’s dead pool list, with their number of entries, are:

  1. Ted Kennedy (353)

  2. Patrick Swayze (332)

  3. Claude Levi-Strauss (231)

  4. Fidel Castro (225)

  5. Chemical Ali (222)

  6. Billy Graham (197)

  7. Ariel Sharon (167)

  8. Eunice Kennedy Shriver (158)

  9. Robert Novak (158)

  10. Zsa Zsa Gabor (152)

Stiffs.com is known for its snarky one-liners about the deceased. Here’s how the site sums up some of this year’s deaths: Patrick McGoohan (“Number Deep 6”), Ricardo Montalban (“Boss...? Boss...?”) and John Updike (“Rabbit make space”).

(Photo by Reuters. See link above.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Netflix to test weekend shipping of DVDs

While Netflix crows about its progress in digital delivery of movies over the Internet, the company continues to invest in its core business of delivering DVDs by mail.
During a call with analysts to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter earnings on Monday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke about efforts to speed delivery of DVDs and high-definition Blu-ray Discs to customers.
“While our streaming success is exciting … we continue to invest in improving our DVD-by-mail experience. There’s a lot of top- and bottom-line growth left in online DVD rental,” Hastings said.
Netflix now has nearly 60 distribution centers across the U.S. and can provide next-day delivery to over 97% of its subscribers.
And this quarter, Netflix is going to be testing weekend shipping in certain parts of the country to improve service, Hastings says. Netflix currently does not process shipments on Saturday, which has slowed the turnaround of discs for subscribers around weekends.
As for the transition to high-definition video discs, Netflix now has about 700,000 subscribers renting Blu-ray Discs. That’s up from about 500,000 the previous quarter.
Netflix on Monday reported better-than-expected results for the fourth quarter. It ended the quarter with 9.4 million subscribers for its DVDs-by-mail and streaming video service, up 26% from a year ago. (See story in IBD.)
Netflix expects to end 2009 with 10.6 million to 11.3 million subscribers.
(Photo from Lolcats.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rock Hall needs an overhaul

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been fraught with controversy from the start.
But as each year passes and the list of prominent artists snubbed by the hall grows, it’s becoming painfully clear that the organization needs an overhaul.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation announced the 2009 inductees on Jan. 14. Of the five performer inductees, two are rock-solid choices: Jeff Beck and Metallica.
But the selection of rap group Run-D.M.C. is another pick made by the foundation for commercial reasons and to broaden the scope of the hall. It’s not just rock and roll now, it’s hip hop, funk, country, and pop music.
The other performer inductees – Bobby Womack and Little Anthony & the Imperials – are old-school picks from the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile, performers that were more popular or more influential continue to be overlooked.
FutureRockHall.com keeps a list of performers who get passed over for induction. Here are a few and their first year of eligibility: Boston (2001), Def Leppard (2004), Genesis (1993), Heart (2001), INXS (2005), Journey (2000), KISS (1999), Rush (1998), The Cars (2003), The Cure (2003), The Damned (2001) and Yes (1994).
I lost respect for the hall when it inducted Madonna last year. She’s a talented performer, known for dance and pop music, but definitely not rock and roll.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominating process has been widely criticized. The main criticism is that it’s controlled by a few people who are not even musicians, including Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner. Their personal biases have kept certain bands off the ballot, while accommodating friends and clients.
The hall needs to expand the voting process to include input from more musicians, especially those it has already voted into the hall of fame.
MTV.com wrote a good piece about the nominating process. The Wikipedia entry on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also covers the issue.
FutureRockHall.com has lots of fiery debates about the process and who should get in.
Reviewing the hundreds of performers and bands in its database, I noticed that one of my favorites – Concrete Blonde – was not listed. They’re eligible for consideration in 2011 and I hope they get their due. I’ve e-mailed FutureRockHall and hopefully they’ll correct the omission.

Photo: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Derek Jensen (Tysto).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mike Myers deserves to sweep Razzie Awards


Hollywood churns out a lot of bad movies, so singling out the worst of the worst is no easy task.
Such is the job of the voters of the Golden Raspberry Awards, better known as the Razzies. The Razzies are a counterpoint to Hollywood’s self-congratulatory awards season. They put a spotlight on the worst movies the studios put out each year.
The nominees for Worst Picture from last year are: “Disaster Movie,” “Meet the Spartans,” “The Happening,” “The Hottie and the Nottie,” “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale,” and “The Love Guru.”
The “winner” of the Worst Picture Razzie should be a high-profile release that consumers had an expectation of quality based on the principals involved and the promotion campaigns.
Low-budget pop-culture parodies “Disaster Movie” and “Meet the Spartans” were schlock and everyone knew it. “The Hottie and the Nottie” was a vehicle for no-talent socialite Paris Hilton. “In the Name of the King” was directed by Uwe Boll, a modern-day Ed Wood, who has never made a good movie but inexplicably continues to get work.
That leaves two legitimate contenders, “The Happening” and “The Love Guru,” which suckered in theatergoers based on the talent behind and in front of the camera.
“The Happening” was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who previously did the terrific films “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.” But he started to believe his own press clippings, turned into an egomaniac and has been on a career slide in recent years.
“The Love Guru” was the pet project of self-important comic actor Mike Myers. The studio couldn’t even string together enough funny bits to make a decent trailer. The movie was a train wreck, getting just 14% positive reviews on RottenTomatoes.com.
Myers is one of those people who thinks he’s funnier than he really is and that’s annoying. His schtick is old and he needs to take a break and reinvent himself.
Hopefully he’ll come back humbler from this disaster. He can start by showing up at the Razzies ceremony, to be held Feb. 21 (the day before the Oscars), and accepting his “award” or “awards” and apologizing to his fans. Halle Berry did this to great effect in 2004. Accepting the Razzie for Worst Actress for the movie “Catwoman,” she called the film a “piece of shit, god-awful movie,” which was met with laughter and applause.
Other good sports, who have accepted their awards at the ceremony, include director Paul Verhoeven for “Showgirls” in 1995 and actor Tom Green for “Freddy Got Fingered” in 2001, according to Wikipedia.
If I voted for this year’s Razzies, I’d pick “The Love Guru” for Worst Picture, Mike Myers in “The Love Guru” for Worst Actor, Paris Hilton in “The Hottie and the Nottie” for Worst Actress, Verne Troyer in “The Love Guru” for Worst Supporting Actor, and Paris Hilton in “Repo: The Genetic Opera” for Worst Supporting Actress.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Low ratings ahead for 2009 Oscar telecast

The Oscar nominations are out and I’m like Bill Murray when he used to do his Oscar picks on “Saturday Night Live.”
Murray would have a board with the nominee names on magnets. He’d quickly toss most of them off, saying, “Didn’t see it … didn’t see it … didn’t see it.”
When I was younger I used to see most of the Best Picture nominees before the awards telecast. Now I’m lucky to see one or two beforehand and usually those are available on DVD. When you have young kids at home, it’s hard to get out and see movies targeted to adults.
I mostly use awards season now to fill up my Netflix queue with quality films to watch later, when they’re out on video disc.
I’m probably not alone. Perhaps that is why the Oscar awards show ratings have been declining. Fewer people are seeing the nominated films in the theater. And they’re not interested in the telecast because they haven’t seen many of the films yet, unless they’re out on DVD.
Based on that assumption, this year's Oscar telecast should be a low-rated affair. All of the Best Picture nominees are currently in theaters and only one would classify as a mainstream hit.
I’ve seen none of the five films up for Best Picture this year. I saw “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E,” but they didn’t get nods for the top prize.
I have little interest in seeing “Frost/Nixon” (stage adaptations usually aren’t very cinematic), “Milk” (I don’t like Sean Penn and I’m tired of bio pics) and “The Reader” (got the weakest reviews of the five – only 60% favorable reviews on RottenTomatoes.com. Another effective lobbying campaign by the Weinstein brothers).
I do want to see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the only hit film of the bunch. It’s based on a story by my cousin F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Way to represent, Scott!) I also like the work of director David Fincher.
The final nominee, “Slumdog Millionaire,” is a must-see. I’m a fan of director Danny Boyle.
Even if I haven't seen many of the nominated films, I'll still watch the Oscar telecast Sun. Feb. 22 on ABC. It's the Super Bowl for film buffs.
(Above photo from Oscar.com)

Millions of Americans too lazy to bother with digital TV transition


President Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing to delay the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasts from Feb. 17 to June 12 because too many Americans aren’t ready for the switch.
Consumers have had three years to get ready. How much time do they need?
President George W. Bush signed the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act into law on Feb. 8, 2006. It set Feb. 17, 2009, as the last day for analog TV broadcasts.
The transition stumbled recently when the Commerce Department ran out of funding for coupons to help people buy converter boxes for their old analog TVs. Fixing the funding issue is a better idea than delaying the switch by four months.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been distributing coupons to consumers since Jan. 1, 2008. Households have been able to request two $40 coupons to buy set-top converter boxes. The boxes typically cost $50 to $60, so a consumer’s out-of-pocket expense per box is $10 to $20 after using the coupon. You can only use one coupon per box. The boxes are available at Best Buy, RadioShack, Target, Wal-Mart and elsewhere.
Most households get cable or satellite TV, so they don’t need the special converter boxes. Only homes that rely on antennas, such as “rabbit ears,” to get programming over the air on analog sets need converter boxes.
The Feb. 17 cutoff date for analog broadcasts has been widely publicized for over a year. It would be hard to miss the frequent public service spots on TV and the media coverage of the issue.
The NTIA, which supports sticking to the original deadline, says awareness of the digital TV transition is at nearly 97% now. The other 3% presumably think Ronald Reagan is still president.
Politicians should not bow to the lazy and stupid by moving the analog cutoff date. The federal tax filing deadline is well known, but you don’t see a move to delay it because of a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys.
With the digital TV transition, lawmakers are worried about upsetting voters whose screens might go blank next month. When they can’t watch “American Idol,” they’re going to be royally ticked.
Republicans in the House and Senate have raised concerns that a delay would confuse consumers, create added costs for TV stations that would have to continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals, and burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for spectrum that will be freed up by the switch.
To date, only 53% of coupons distributed have been redeemed. The NTIA has mailed 46.5 million coupons. Of those, 14 million expired and were unused. More than 11.7 million coupons are still active.
On Jan. 4, the full $1.34 billion available for coupons became fully obligated. About 1.2 million households are now on a waiting list for coupons, the NTIA says.
The Nielsen Company reported Jan. 22 that more than 6.5 million U.S. households – or 5.7% of all homes – are not ready for the upcoming transition to all-digital broadcasting. Still, that’s an improvement of more than 1.3 million homes since Nielsen reported readiness status at the end of December.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Apple’s Tim Cook looking more like Steve Jobs’ successor

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts to review Apple’s holiday sales quarter on Wednesday, the first question Apple executives had to field was about the impact of CEO Steve Jobs’ medical leave.
Ben Reitzes, an analyst with Barclays Capital, asked if Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook would be the likely replacement for Jobs should the Apple co-founder not return from his six-month medical leave.
Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer, replied first and stuck to the company’s talking points.
“Steve is the CEO of Apple and plans to remain involved in major strategic decisions and Tim will be responsible for our day-to-day operations,” he said. Brief and a non-answer.
Then Cook chimed in. He gave a lengthy, passionate response.
His main point was that Apple has such a strong focus and corporate culture and talented employees that the company will do “extremely well” with or without Jobs going forward.
But listening to Cook speak one couldn’t help but feel that this man is the right person to carry on Jobs’ vision and legacy. Maybe he was signaling to employees that very message.
Given the nature of the audio teleconference, it was hard to tell if Cook’s remarks were scripted, but they sounded spontaneous.
As he spoke about Apple’s corporate culture, he talked about what makes Apple unique. His list of the company’s fundamental beliefs sounded like the Nicene Creed from the Christian faith. He repeated the phase “We believe” five times.
Here’s what he said:

“Ben, let me add something to that and back up just a bit.
There is an extraordinary breadth and depth and tenure among the Apple executive team. These executives lead over 35,000 employees that I would call all wicked smart. And that’s in all areas of the company from engineering to marketing to operations and sales and all the rest. And the values of our company are extremely well entrenched.
We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We’re constantly focusing on innovating.
We believe in the simple, not the complex.
We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.
We believe in saying ‘no’ to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.
We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company. And we have a self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.
And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well. And I would just reiterate a point Peter made in his opening comments that I strongly believe that Apple is doing the best work in its history.”

Amen.
(Photo of Tim Cook from Apple.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chicago Tribune now almost indistinguishable from Chicago Sun-Times


The slow decline of newspapers gave way last year to the rapid decline of newspapers.
Sad news for ink-stained wretches like myself.
Perhaps nowhere has the decline been more apparent than at my hometown Chicago Tribune. Once self-titled the “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” the paper seems to be fading fast.
Ever since real estate magnate Sam Zell’s ill-timed, debt-laden takeover deal, the Tribune has been in a downward spiral. Zell bought the parent Tribune Company in April 2007 right before the newspaper advertising market tanked and financial markets took a tumble. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2008.
The Chicago Tribune’s editorial department has seen major job cuts and the company is now looking to outsource its foreign coverage.
Last September, the Tribune launched a major redesign that shrank the size of the broadsheet newspaper along with its news hole and emphasized graphics and photos.
On Monday, the Tribune debuted a tabloid version of the paper for newsstand sales. For now, the home delivery version of the paper remains a broadsheet.
The premiere edition of the tabloid Trib used the same cover photo as cross-town rival Sun-Times. The main difference between the cover design of the two was the Trib’s decision to sell the lower fifth of the front page as an ad. The big color mattress sale ad was ugly and added to the overall cheap feel for the new paper. But hey the newspaper needs the money, so I can’t blame them.
It’s likely the Tribune will eventually switch completely to a tabloid format to save money.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This generation's Woodstock: The inauguration of President Barack Obama

The excitement is building for this generation’s Woodstock – the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
A weekend of events in Washington, D.C., culminates tomorrow (Tuesday Jan. 20, 2009) with the swearing in of Obama as our nation’s 44th president. The festivities have included a concert Sunday with performances by Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, John Mellencamp and U2.
The inauguration and related festivities are expected to draw about 2 million visitors over the long holiday weekend. The inauguration has been a magnet for young people who believe this could be a defining moment of their generation.
Certainly the media is in a frenzy.
After Obama’s victory in the presidential race, the editor of The Rock Island Argus contacted me and a bunch of ex-staffers from the Argus and its sister newspaper in Western Illinois, the Moline Daily Dispatch. I worked for the Argus and Dispatch in the Quad-Cities from January 1987 until March 1992.
I replied with my thoughts the day after the Nov. 4, 2008, election. They seem just as fresh today. Here’s what I said:

More than anything this election was about hope. People are hoping for a change in the direction of the country, the economy and the political discourse. Whether that hope leads to actual change for the better, no one can know right now.
The hope with President Barack Obama is that he will be a unifying figure in Washington, D.C. And with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, he won’t have to work that hard at rallying the support of Capitol Hill.
President Obama also holds the promise of healing old racial wounds and showing the world that the U.S. embraces its diversity.
As a reporter, I’ve always appreciated that Obama would answer the questions that are asked of him. Many politicians deflect, answer the question they wish they were asked and stick to their stale talking points. Obama seems like an honest, straight-forward, intelligent guy. He’s also charming and quite funny. Oh, man, sounds like I’ve got a man-crush on Obama.
But I’m not without my concerns about his presidency. I worry that he may be too na├»ve on foreign affairs and lacks a proper understanding of business and economics.
But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and am rooting for him to succeed. He certainly has his work cut out for him.
We can only hope that Obama joins the proud ranks of Illinois presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.
My former editor, Roger Ruthhart, included some of my comments in a Dispatch-Argus story, which ran Nov. 7, 2008. Here’s a link to that story. Also quoted are some talented writers I had the pleasure of working with back then, including the Washington Post’s Amy Argetsinger and the Orlando Sentinel’s Jerry Fallstrom.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Viagra, luxury watch and weight loss pitches still flooding e-mail inboxes

Unwanted commercial e-mail, or spam, declined significantly after a major spam-hosting service was shut down in early November last year.
Unfortunately, spam volumes have gradually crept back in the last two months, according to Symantec, a maker of Internet security software.
On Nov. 11, multiple network providers shut down access to McColo.com hosted systems, based on abuse complaints. Silicon Valley-based McColo Corp. rented out servers to clients, including spammers. Spam traffic dropped 65% a day after McColo was shut down.
But now spam volumes are back to 80% of their pre-McColo shutdown levels, Symantec says in its January report called “The State of Spam.”
Spam typically accounts for about 80% of e-mail traffic.
Like many Internet users, I’ve got multiple personal e-mail accounts.
My account with Yahoo Mail is for correspondence with family and friends and some business uses. I use my account with Google’s Gmail for commercial e-mails and newsletters. I’ve also got a couple more I use when some outfit wants an e-mail address, but I don’t want to give them a good one.
In my experience, Yahoo does the best job filtering out spam e-mail. I just don’t get that many spam messages in my bulk e-mail folder.
My Gmail account is a different story. I started getting spam right away, even before I started using that e-mail address for anything. Google does a good job directing these messages to a spam folder, but I still see them.
The junk e-mail to my Gmail account falls into three main categories: sexual (Viagra or penis-enlargement sales pitches), luxury watches for cheap, and weight loss cures (endorsed by Oprah Winfrey!).
The high-school boy in me does get a kick out of the subject lines for the penis-enlargement scams. Here are a few:

“Every locker room will envy you”
“So massive it scared her”
“You'll call it Peter the Great”

I also receive pitches to get university degrees based on my “life experience.” Sounds great. “No examination, no books, no study.” Even better. “No one is turned down.” This explains those occasional news stories where a reporter gets a college degree for their dog.
“The more degrees you have the better your chances and prospects in life. That is the way life is. It is a competitive world,” one e-mail states.
Time to buy my MBA.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Monster truck show just got too exciting for me

Earlier today I filled out an online survey from Feld Motorsports, operator of the Monster Jam monster truck shows. Now I wish I could change some of my responses.
I received the e-mail survey because I had been to a Monster Jam show last year with my young son, who likes monster trucks.
The e-mail survey request, which I got Friday night, said Monster Jam wanted my opinions because “we are hoping to create an even more exciting customer experience at our shows.”
Attendees at the Monster Jam show Friday night in Tacoma, Wash., witnessed a horrific accident that killed a 6-year-old boy and injured another spectator. Debris from a monster truck flew into the grandstands and hit the boy and a man, according to the Associated Press. I didn't read the story until this afternoon.
I had been thinking of taking my son, now 5 ½, to the Monster Jam show next month in Rosemont, Ill. In the survey, I even said I was very likely to attend another Monster Jam show soon. I’d answer the survey differently now.
The Disney on Ice show looks to be more our speed now.
(Photo from Feb. 16, 2008, Monster Jam show at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.)

Marriage in trouble? Try a new electronic gadget. (No, not that kind)

Consumer electronics executives often refer to certain products as “marriage savers.”
At press conferences and in product demos, these executives, usually men, will talk about how a simple-to-use device will settle conflicts between spouses. Members of the press, usually men, nod knowingly or chuckle.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, a Toshiba executive made the claim about a new TV that uses Dolby Volume. This technology provides a consistent volume when watching TV or movies on DVD. It automatically turns up the volume on quiet dialogue and turns down the volume for loud commercials. With Dolby Volume, viewers won’t have to constantly adjust the volume while switching channels or watching a movie.
“This really works and I think it’s going to save my marriage,” said Scott Ramirez, vice president of marketing for the TV group at Toshiba America Consumer Products.
At CES 2008, General Motors Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said his company’s OnStar service is a marriage saver, because – as everyone knows – men won’t stop the car to ask for directions. “We’re not just saving lives, we’re saving marriages,” he said.
With OnStar, users can ask for directions or call for emergency service or roadside assistance. The in-dash system also notifies authorities automatically after a crash.
The “marriage saver” description has been used for GPS navigation devices, universal remote controls, PC backup drives, cordless TV headsets, Netflix family-member queues, and digital video recorders like TiVo.
A study released last September seemed to show that DVRs save relationships. The study, by NDS, said 79% of 1,000 DVR owners reported that DVR technology has improved their relationship. U.K.-based NDS is a leading provider of set-top box software for cable and satellite TV services. Media giant News Corp. owns more than 70% of NDS, according to Hoovers.
If only all marriage conflicts were as easy to solve.
(Photo above shows the TV Listener infrared cordless television headset system from Unisar. The manufacturer calls the device … wait for it … “The Marriage Saver.”)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Barack Obama: Pop culture icon





He’s young, handsome, charismatic, and the media love him.
He’s not an American Idol, a basketball phenom or a movie star. But he’s everywhere in the news and pop culture these days.
He’s President-elect Barack Obama, who’ll be sworn in on Tuesday Jan. 20 as the nation’s 44th president.
Companies of all stripes are rushing to cash in on Obama’s superstar popularity.
Topps, the sports trading card company, has come out with a set of President Obama collector trading cards. The box is inscribed “Inaugural Edition,” implying that there could be follow-on sets. Each pack ($1.99 suggested retail) contains six cards and one sticker. The complete set is 90 cards and 18 stickers. Privately held Topps is based in New York City.
Obama graces the cover of the latest issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” comic book from Marvel Comics. In the comic, Spider-Man foils a plot to replace Obama with an impostor at the inauguration. The real Obama thanks Spidey with a fist-bump, of course. Marvel Comics is a unit of publicly traded Marvel Entertainment of New York City.
Obama also appears as a butt-kicking fighter in a downloadable update to “Mercenaries 2: World In Flames” for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 video game consoles.
Obama is a playable character who can fire grenade launchers, blow up buildings, and hijack tanks. Hail to the Chief, indeed. “Mercenaries 2” was developed by Pandemic Studios and published by Electronic Arts.
This week, a Hillside, Ill., man is auctioning on eBay a luxury Chrysler sedan Obama drove before winning the White House. Starting bid: $100,000. Obama leased the steel blue 2005 Chrysler 300C Hemi in 2004 and swapped it for a Ford Escape hybrid in 2007, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. That’s something you’d expect for a car previously owned by Elvis.
Time Out Chicago magazine reports that Obama’s name has been used to sell everything from “thong underwear to a line of snacks called Obama’s Salty Nuts (a tongue-in-cheek reference to Jesse Jackson’s hot-mike threat of castration).”
The cover of the latest issue of Time Out Chicago features a Chicago Bulls jersey with Obama’s name and the number 44. The magazine is now auctioning off the custom-made jersey on eBay and donating the proceeds to charity.
Newspapers and magazines have gotten a boost in sales, thanks to Obama commemorative editions.
Expect to see a lot more memorabilia in the news on inauguration day. Stores in Washington, D.C., are packed with T-shirts, buttons, tote bags, posters and other items for the estimated 2 million visitors in town for the event. How about “Hot 4 Obama” hot sauce or an Obama bobblehead? Those are available too, according to Bloomberg.
Most of this stuff, including the so-called collectables, won’t be worth much years from now. So forget about those Obama collector plates or commemorative coins as investments. Experts say anything produced as a collectable really isn’t because so many copies were made. The really valuable items are the most scarce – memorabilia from Obama’s senate campaign or items autographed by him, experts say.
As for me, I think I’ll just pick up some “Yes Pecan!” ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s. The ice cream company is owned by conglomerate Unilever.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sparrow upstages senior Microsoft executives

To get a glimpse of the future, you need to see how young people are using technology.
Last week, a demonstration during a Microsoft presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show provided such an opportunity.
A 12-year-old girl named Sparrow Buerer showed how to create a video game using a new application called Kodu. Microsoft designed the software to teach programming to kids.
The tweener stole the show from high-profile Microsoft execs Steve Ballmer and Robbie Bach by using a game controller to build a game scenario at blazing speeds.
The keynote crowd, amused by her superfast programming skills, burst out laughing in amazement. Her quick clicks on the controller played out on a big screen as she zipped through menus and made selections too fast for the crowd to follow what she was doing.
Sparrow created a new mini-game on the fly and played it against Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division. The simple game involved gathering shiny rocks and taking them to a little house. In gamer lingo, she “pwnd” Bach, beating him easily.
The crowd gave her an enthusiastic round of applause for her efforts.
“Now that’s a generation-defining experience,” Bach said afterward.
Check out the video for yourself.
Kodu will be released this spring on the Xbox Live Community Games channel and will help people of all ages program their own games.
Kodu is built around a game-friendly programming language that is simple and icon-based. Players can choose from 20 different game characters, including the Pac Man-like Kodu main character, and use an interactive terrain editor to create a game world. The game features nearly 200 visual building blocks and an image-based creator menu. Kodu can be used and played on either a PC or an Xbox 360.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Apple news alert!: Alaskan seafood delivered to your home


PR Newswire, a major press release distribution service, blew it big time today on one of the most important tech news stories of the year.
About 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, trading in Apple’s stock was halted pending a news announcement. These types of alerts are always big news – a huge acquisition, a change in leadership, a scandal, etc.
Journalists around the world held their breath, waiting for an electronic news release to pop up on their screen. Most assumed it had something to do with Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who has been in poor health.
Then, at 4:38 p.m. Eastern, the news we’d all been waiting for popped into my Outlook inbox. The e-mail from PR Newswire had the subject line “Apple Media Advisory.”
OK, this is it, I said to myself.
I clicked on the e-mail to see the news the world had been waiting for.
What the heck?
“Holland America Line Serves Up Authentic Alaska Cruise Souvenir,” the headline read.
Did Apple buy a cruise line? I read on.
“Guests who cruise in Alaska can relive the culinary experience of the Great Land with Fresh Ketch, an Alaskan seafood feast delivered at home for friends and family to enjoy. The innovative ‘home excursion’ brings a taste of Alaska home through a partnership with seafood specialists, Alaska Fresh Ketch.”
Huh? Is this the special diet that Jobs had talked about to counter his hormone imbalance and severe weight loss?
“Fresh Ketch serves up the ultimate in Alaskan souvenirs – wild Alaskan king salmon, halibut, smoked salmon and king crab,” the press release said.
Sounds delicious. But what has this got to do with Apple?
Absolutely nothing.
At 5:02 p.m. Eastern, PR Newswire sent out the correct news release with a note.
“Please disregard the Holland America release you received earlier. PR Newswire sent the release in error and regrets any inconvenience this may have caused,” it said.
Attached was the actual Apple news.
Jobs announced that he is taking a medical leave of absence until the end of June. He said his health issues are “more complex” than he originally thought. He said he would still remain involved as CEO on major strategic decisions, but that Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook would be responsible for Apple’s day-to-day operations.
Meh.
Now about that salmon …
(Photo credits: AP for Steve Jobs at Macworld 2007, KingSalmonGuides.com for Alaska salmon photo.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“30 Rock” story line about porn video game ripped from the headlines


Last year on the critically acclaimed NBC comedy “30 Rock,” lunatic comic actor Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan, hit upon the idea to combine his two passions: video games and pornography.
The show parodied the movie “Amadeus,” portraying Jordan as a tortured artistic genius, while a jealous coworker played the Salieri role. Ultimately his porn video game was a huge success. On the show, that is.
The idea of a porn video game is nothing new. Others have attempted it, but they’ve pulled their punches when they realized the hurdles of getting distribution. They ultimately opted for a Mature rating, the video game industry’s equivalent of an R movie rating. The rating of Adults Only is the kiss of death for getting distribution for video games through traditional channels.
But now a startup company, D-Dub Software, is attempting to defy the odds. It’s produced a story-based adult video game, called “BoneTown,” where characters do drugs and engage in explicit sex.
The Albuquerque, N.M, company launched the game in October and has been slowly rolling it out. D-Dub promoted “BoneTown” at the Adult Entertainment Expo Jan. 8-11 in Las Vegas.
Andrew Hall, a.k.a. “Hod,” the chief executive of D-Dub, said the PC game has been in development for four years. But creating the game was easy compared with the difficulties of financing and distribution, he told me.
Venture capital firms were put off by the subject matter, so Hall used family connections to get funding.
D-Dub also couldn’t distribute the game in traditional video game outlets because they sell to kids. So it’s been selling the game in adult video stores. It also has been reaching out to the target market of men in their 20s and 30s through men’s magazines like Maxim and Playboy.
So far, “BoneTown” has been getting most of its sales in Europe, where people are less uptight about sex than in the U.S.
The main point of the game is to get players to laugh, Hall says. In an industry full of violent video games, humor is a rare commodity, he says.
Speaking of laughs, Hall was familiar with the “30 Rock” story line.
“It just points out that many people have seen the lack of this category of video games,” he said. “We made this game because it’s a game we wanted to play. We wished there was a video game like this out there.”

Porn video game on “30 Rock”

Tracy Jordan hatched his idea for the porn video game in season two, episode 13. The episode, called “The Uncanny Valley,” first aired on April 24, 2008, according to TelevisionWithoutPity.com.
Frank, a writer on Tracy’s show, says that the game is doomed to fail, just as past attempts have.
“History’s greatest perverts have tried: Walt Disney, Larry Flynt, the Japanese,” says Frank, played by Judah Friedlander.
But Tracy says he was born to invent a game where “characters get weird with each other for golden points. I’m like Mozart. You’re like that guy that was always jealous of Mozart.”
In season three, episode one, we find out that the video game was a huge success. The episode, “Do Over,” aired on Oct. 30, 2008. Again, thank you, TelevisionWithoutPity.com.
Tracy says the game, called “Dong Slayer,” sold 61 million copies at $60 each. He calls his video game “the most profitable thing since the war on terror.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Look, it’s Gov. Sarah Palin at the porn show


The fact that the Consumer Electronics Show runs at the same time as the Adult Entertainment Expo is always fodder for jokes among CES attendees.
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said company co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates gave him some advice for his first CES keynote speech.
“Bill said, ‘Make sure, Steve, you’re at CES, not that ‘other’ convention in Las Vegas,” he said in his Jan. 7 speech. Chuckle chuckle.
Yes, it is bizarre to see all the scantily clad, surgically enhanced women walking around the Sands Convention Center during CES.
I stopped by the 2009 Adult Entertainment Expo to ask some executives if the recession was hurting the porn industry. Short answer: not really. Sure, DVD sales are down, but business is shifting to the Internet.
Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild chief executive Joe Francis recently called for a $5 billion federal bailout of the adult entertainment industry. But they were really seeking publicity rather than federal funds.
Walking through the AEE exhibit area, I spotted the actress who got her 15 minutes of fame portraying Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a porn movie called “Who's Nailin Paylin?”. The misspelled name apparently protects the producers, Hustler, from lawsuits. (TheSuperficial.com ran a clean clip from the movie. And let’s just say that Oscar won’t be calling.)
The actress (Lisa Ann) was dressed as the 2008 Republican candidate for vice president and was signing autographs and taking photos with fans.
I’ll bet she’s hoping Palin stays in the public eye. Sequel money, baby, sequel money.

Snip, snip, snip and an X-rated flick becomes a G-rated children’s movie

Major adult video studio Digital Playground has sold 500,000 copies of its X-rated adventure flick “Pirates,” which was released in 2005.
The sequel, “Pirate’s II: Stagnetti’s Revenge,” released last fall, is shaping up to be a record-breaking title for the Van Nuys, Calif., company, says Digital Playground Chief Executive Samantha Lewis.
Digital Playground describes “Pirates II” as the most expensive adult movie ever. It features lavish costumes and sets and over 600 special effects. It stars leading adult film actress Jesse Jane.
Like its predecessor, “Pirates II” has been edited for an R-rated version to be made available at Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and elsewhere, Lewis says.
In an interview at the 2009 Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, Lewis told me that the movies stand on their own without the hardcore sex scenes.
“We shot the movie and added the sex in,” she said.
In fact, Digital Playground even made a G-rated version of “Pirates” for the Japanese market, Lewis says.
Can you imagine loving some innocent movie as a kid, only to find out later that scenes actually climaxed in a whole different way?
Maybe there's an unedited version of “The Wizard of Oz” that I haven't seen yet.

CES attendance worse than first thought


Organizers of the Consumer Electronics Show, the nation’s largest tech trade show, late Sunday slashed their estimate for attendance at the 2009 show.
The Consumer Electronics Association, which produces the event, said it estimated attendance at more than 110,000 for the four-day show, which ended Sunday. Before the show, they were targeting 130,000.
The final tally will be determined by an independent audit and will be released in about 90 days.
The CEA notes that its post-show estimate last year was 130,000, but the verified audit determined the actual count was 141,150.
If 110,000 holds, it would mark a 22% drop from last year’s show. The actual attendance could go up to 120,000 or so, but few are expecting the original target of 130,000.
Organizers say they would like to keep future attendance at the 2009 level because it makes the show more manageable and productive for attendees.
That level would be a challenge if CES planners can snag Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs for a high-profile keynote speech and get the company to exhibit too. That’s the rumor anyway.
Apple announced Dec. 16 that it was pulling out of Macworld after the 2009 show, held Jan. 5-9 in San Francisco. Jobs opted not to deliver the keynote at last week’s conference. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, gave the speech instead.
For now, Macworld has vowed to continue without Apple’s participation. Conference organizer IDG has already set a date for the next show: Jan. 4-8, 2010. Wishful thinking perhaps.

Cisco Systems, Dell and Microsoft strike out at the Consumer Electronics Show


Big companies pitching products at the Consumer Electronics Show this year didn’t hit any home runs. Some got solid base hits, while a few struck out.

The good

Sony did a fine job conveying its vision for HDTV and introducing products capitalizing on major cultural trends.
Sony is the furthest along in developing organic light-emitting diode (OLED) televisions. OLED TV is seen as a possible successor to LCD TV, the dominant type of flat-panel high-definition TV sold today. Sony has one small OLED TV on the market now and a pipeline of larger screen sizes in the works.
Sony also introduced cameras and camcorders targeted to users of photo and video sharing sites, like Yahoo’s Flickr and Google’s YouTube. Its new products included the Wi-Fi Cybershot digital camera and pocket-sized Webbie HD camcorder.

Panasonic’s message was clear: It wants to rally industry support for its 3-D television format. Panasonic is the only company proposing a full HD 1080p standard. Rival formats compromise on resolution or color, Panasonic says.
Based on demonstrations of its technology at CES, Panasonic deserves to be the frontrunner.

The bad

Cisco Systems seemed to be at the wrong show.
Most of its CES press conference was a sales pitch to media and entertainment company executives about how to profit on the Web with their content.
Cisco rolled out its Eos software platform, which allows media and entertainment companies to create, manage and grow online communities around their content. Eos lets content owners deliver immersive consumer experiences, while increasing revenue opportunities and reducing operational costs. Warner Music Group has signed on to deploy Eos-powered Web sites for some of its artists.
Journalists grumbled about the presentation and the small room used for the press conference.

Dell was a big tease.
At a press event at the Palms hotel, the No. 2 PC maker in the world unveiled its Adamo luxury computer brand. And that’s about it.
At the end of the media briefing, executives cued runway model Hollis Wakeema, who was sitting to the side of the stage. She pranced on stage and pulled a sleek-looking laptop out of a carrying case. With music playing, she posed “Project Runway”-style with the super thin notebook PC for photographers. Then a minute later, she and the laptop were gone.
Dell wouldn’t give any information about the product, including hardware specs and pricing.
Executives would only say that it is a high-performance notebook with precision craftsmanship and amazing industrial design. It’s expected to launch in the first half of the year.
So basically all Dell announced was a brand name.

Another year, another dull Microsoft keynote about Windows.
Only this time, tech icon and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wasn’t giving the opening night speech at CES. This year, that task went to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Ballmer didn’t draw the same size crowd as Gates used to and he seemed to be going through the motions. He lacked that Ballmer passion and wit (especially when it comes to needling rivals) that many of us are used to.
He spoke about Windows 7 (the follow-on to the oft-maligned Windows Vista), as well as Windows Live and Windows Mobile.
The only news was the beta release of Windows 7, which was expected, and several corporate partnerships. The rest was Microsoft rhetoric about connecting the three main devices people use daily – PC, TV and mobile phone.
If you’re not going to dazzle an audience like CES with new products, at least entertain them. The Microsoft keynote this year featured no funny videos or celebrity appearances, which have been a staple in previous years.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

OLED TVs, 3-D television, next-gen netbooks among cool gadgets at 2009 CES




The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was packed with cool gadgets.
Sony continued its leadership in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs.
It already has an 11-inch model on the market, the XEL-1 for $2,500. At this year’s CES, Sony showed 21- and 27-inch OLED TV prototypes in its exhibit area at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
OLED TVs are beautiful and “green.” They are paper thin and energy efficient. The current production model is just 3 millimeters thick and the prototypes are even thinner. OLED televisions can display fast-moving, vibrant video without the need for a bulky backlight.
Plus, OLED TVs beat all when it comes to picture quality. They display rich color and deep contrast. Sony’s current model offers a contrast ratio of 1 million-to-1. It can completely turn off pixels when reproducing black, resulting in greater dark-scene detail.
LG Electronics showed off a 15-inch OLED TV prototype at its booth. Samsung also is working on OLED televisions.
Panasonic earned the biggest wow with its 3-D home theater demonstration.
Panasonic showed 3-D sports and movie clips in full high-definition 1080p resolution on a 103-inch plasma TV. Its 3-D video shot at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing was stunning.
Panasonic is pushing to make its technology the industry standard. It claims to have the only full HD 1080p system. Other systems, such that demonstrated by rival Sony, make compromises in color or resolution, says Joseph Taylor, chief operating officer of Panasonic Corporation of North America.
PC makers such as Asus, Dell and Sony trotted out a lot of netbooks at this year’s CES.
Many featured larger screens and full-size keyboards – things lacking from first-generation models. The added functions also bumped up the price of the small, low-cost, wireless computers.
For example, Taiwan’s Asus showed a netbook with a TV tuner, GPS navigation and a swivel display that turns the touch-screen unit into a tablet computer. The device, which has an 8.9-inch screen, sells for $499.
At the opposite end of the notebook PC spectrum is Lenovo’s ThinkPad W700DS. It’s a dual-screen portable workstation starting at about $3,700. It features a 17-inch main screen and a 10.6-inch secondary screen that pops out of the side of the main display.
The 11-pound notebook is designed for engineers and professional photographers who want to work on graphics or photos outside of the office. It includes a digital pad and stylus for making edits to images.
The secondary screen works as an extension of the main display. You can drag and drop application windows from one screen to the other. The smaller screen can be used to display graphics tool menus, e-mail or instant messaging applications.
Another recurring theme at this year’s show was accessing the Internet from living room TVs.
Netgear announced a neat product called the Internet TV Player, which lets couch potatoes access via remote control videos from YouTube and other Web sites. The player also can get live Internet TV and premium on-demand video.
It can stream content from popular sites such as BBC.com, CNN.com, ESPN.com, NBC.com, TMZ.com, YouTube, Yahoo Videos and MetaCafe. It also supports paid movies on demand such as Sonic Solutions’ CinemaNow. Plus, it can access downloaded videos from sites such as BitTorrent.
The compact set-top box should be available this summer for $199, says Vivek Pathela, vice president and general manager of Netgear’s home and consumer products.
Watching a demo of the product, I wondered how long it would be before the quantity and quality of Internet video becomes good enough to be an alternative to cable or satellite.
I can envision dumping cable TV for over-the-air HD broadcasts and Internet streaming or downloadable video at some point.
My monthly cable bill from Comcast is $89.08, including taxes and fees. (I get the standard digital programming package plus a set-top digital video recorder, but no premium channels.)
I already pay for broadband Internet and get Netflix, including streaming video via the Netflix Player by Roku. That Roku box soon will offer new movie releases to rent from Amazon.com’s video-on-demand service.
Given the current economy and need to save money, Comcast might get the boot.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Economic woes hurt attendance at 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas


Organizers of the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas put their best face forward when asked about the impact of the lousy economy on the trade show. They said the show was doing great, despite the recession.
But a look at foot traffic on the show floor during the first two days of the four-day show, which ends Sunday, indicated otherwise. Attendance was down noticeably from recent years.
The show still seemed reasonably well attended, but it was a far cry from the wall-to-wall people packing the exhibit floors in recent years.
Before the show, the Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors CES, estimated attendance of 130,000, down 8% from the previous year. (The peak year was 2006, when 152,203 people attended.) But I’d say the show was down double-digits from last year.
It was definitely easier to navigate the show floor this year. I could pass the slow-moving gawkers when rushing to get to appointments. In years past, I’d often get stuck in a river of people packing the hallways. (This was my 10th consecutive year covering the show for Investor’s Business Daily.)
It looked as if some planned exhibitors were no-shows. Organizers turned the empty exhibit spaces at the Las Vegas Convention Center into rest areas for attendees by adding tables and chairs. One long hallway between exhibits in the Central Hall was widened and park benches were added.
In the high-flying days of the show, there was never a place to sit down and have lunch or rest your feet. Not this year though. The North and Central halls of the LVCC had large areas in back with tables and chairs where exhibits had been in previous years. In the North Hall there was even a large open area with green carpeting and nothing else.
CES is still healthy, despite the economy. The number of companies represented at the show might have been stable, but those companies probably sent fewer people this year.
It wasn’t like the last two years of Comdex, where it was obvious the once mighty info-tech trade show was dying. (Comdex never returned after its 2003 show.)
The CEA likely will release preliminary attendance figures on Monday, the day after the show closes.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Looking for the successor to FuckedCompany


During the dot-com bust of 2000, FuckedCompany.com – a Web site devoted to tracking tech company layoffs and closures – achieved considerable notoriety. It was the place to turn to for the inside scoop on tech firm downsizings and failures.
Mainstream media referred to the Web site as F***edCompany so as not to offend their sensitive audiences. FuckedCompany had an abrasive style and sponsored a “dot-com dead pool” where readers tried to predict which companies would fail.
FuckedCompany shut down a few years ago when traffic to the site dried up during the tech resurgence, company founder Philip “Pud” Kaplan said in a recent blog post.
Now with the U.S. mired in its worst economy in decades, other sites are stepping up to cover the struggles of tech firms during this recession.
FuckedStartups is similar to FuckedCompany in the way it chronicles failed and troubled tech companies, relying heavily on rumors and tips via e-mail, instant messages and contacts in the field.
Screwdd is another Web site seeking to be the heir to FuckedCompany. It’s largely a news aggregator, posting summaries and links to other news sites.
Another site, Timely Demise, tracks closures in the retail sector. A Twitter site called themediaisdying focuses on layoffs, failures and changes in the media industry.
TechCrunch tags its business failure stories deadpool so they can found in one place. And LayoffBlog.com doesn't limit itself to tech, covering corporate layoffs more broadly.
With all the job losses and business failures, there are lots of opportunities for scoops among this new crop of Web sites.
Rumor sites lately have been abuzz about pending big layoffs at Microsoft. Fudzilla says 15,000 workers could be let go when Microsoft announces the cuts on Jan. 15. That would be almost 17% of the company's work force. The company’s MSN online division likely will be the hardest hit, Fudzilla reports.
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