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Ew, um... is that your laptop?

Thursday, August 28, 2008 by Amber

Sometimes news is so awesome that you couldn't possibly make it up. Today's story is making my mouth and my eyes water, but more from laughing than the smell...

Computer company Asus, which is actually the 6th best-selling brand globally, has decided that overpowering cologne at the office isn't quite enough to kill off all of your scent receptors, so it's come out with a line of scented laptops. Oh, no, I'm quite serious.

Coming in 4 scents -- 'Musky Black,' 'Floral Blossom,' 'Aqua Ocean' and 'Morning Dew' -- the flashy-colored laptops are the newest varieties to Asus' range of other funky laptops, including models covered in snakeskin or gold leather -- for those days the standard silver plastic just isn't good enough.

Good news for us all -- once the scent of the computer wears off, it's gone, as the company has no plans to sell replacement scents, like the little packs on grocery-store shelves.





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Starbucks' lucky Clover debuts

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 by Amber

My entry this week isn't about a hot new site or a cool new gadget -- it has nothing to do with tech at all, actually. But, it is something that every sci-tech junkie needs to get their fix on: Coffee.

Starbucks has *finally* debuted the highly anticipated Clover in some Seattle shops, with promises that other cafes around the U.S. will be getting the $11,000 coffee makers soon.

What is the Clover? Well, as the story goes, Starbucks' CEO was walking around downtown Seattle when he noticed a line tailing out of a small cafe. Curious, he joined the queue and, 45 minutes later, purchased a cup of whatever the drink was that had people abuzz with excitement and longing that they would wait an hour for it. The dark brown java was so rapturously good that he immediately went back to Starbucks' HQ and bought the small company responsible for the machine... that machine was the Clover, a hybrid vacuum/French Press coffee maker.

Now, for those aficionados like myself who can appreciate a wondrous cup of java after the see-through brown liquid they are forced to suffer through at work (thanks, Keurig), a French Press used to be the Holy Grail of coffee -- thick, dark and smooth with not hint of bitterness, even from Starbucks' most offending varieties. All you needed was the low-tech carafe, plunger, coarsely ground beans and a few spare minutes to rapturously sip your drink while it was piping hot.

The Clover supposedly takes even this most satisfying of experiences up a notch, combining the smooth flavor with speed and efficiency, allowing users to choose their roast variety, water temperature and steeping time for a fully customisable coffee experience. From a business perspective, Starbucks is banking of the Clover to revive sales and bring them back to the top of the luxury coffee world.

I've always been a big fan of Starbucks -- in the name of full disclosure, I was a barista in a former life, so I probably have a greater appreciation for the company than most. I have already scoped out a local shop reportedly poised to receive the Clover, and I will there to try to elusive brew as soon as it's available.

Now there is absolutely no excuse for stopping at Ghetto D's, as my sister calls it (she was a barista too, after my own heart), for an overly sweet and noxiously flavored 'coffee treat' on your way into work. I say, wait 'til your lunch break and hit up your Starbucks of choice for a Clover. Got a recipe that you love? Please share it with me!







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Taking chances on Amazon's Kindle

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 by Amber

Amazon.com Kindle, courtesy of Amazon.comMake no doubt about it -- Amazon.com's Kindle is one of the hottest gadgets on the market these days, and I want one. Sales have reportedly been decent and the reviews are good, which is great news for a device looking to completely redesign and retool the way we feel about books.

I'm a big fan of hard covers and the smell of freshly printed pages, and I adore having a library of titles on shelves around my home for visitors to peruse, much in the same way a hunter displays various animal parts on his walls -- except in a much more tasteful way, of course.

But, the environmental voice in my head that's always-present cadence reminds me of my carbon footprint is very excited about the prospect of taking all these future books that I will no doubt be reading like a fish to water and using them, as Amazon intended with the name of it's proprietary gadget, as kindling instead of lugging them home from my local Barnes and Noble.

Of course, there is always room for hypocrisy -- the Kindle (winging its way to me as a not-so-surprising Christmas present) can replace the toss-aside chick-lit books that I fancy occasionally but have no desire to fess up to -- you know, like the old Grishams that end up gathering dust under the bed because who can feel good about throwing away a book? But, alas, there are just some books that you need to display like shining trophies of achievement -- the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Twilight saga and, king of them all, my Harry Potter collection, of course, which currently resides in prominent display in my living room.

But, the idea that the Kindle could one day even replace text books makes me feel good about signing on to the soon-to-be 2nd-gen gadget while many others wait for the technology and marketplace to flesh out completely. I challenge you to make the same commitment to something -- if not a gadget like this, than to something slightly controversial that catches your eye.

One person might not break the branch, but if enough people go out on that same limb, it will break.















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Tech jewelry trends cool, part 2

Monday, August 25, 2008 by Amber

By contributor Ashley DiFranza

Hey everyone, Ashley again, back for part two of my series on tech jewelry -- now it’s all about what’s cute and practical!

The most common serviceable pieces of jewelry are the USB drives made into bracelets and necklaces. I don’t know about you, but anything to help me from misplacing my USB every 10 seconds is something I’m interested in! Stylists are starting to get a bit funkier with their creations and they seem to target every audience.

You can go for a more bohemian style with a USB bracelet wound from what looks like thick string for urban jungle-feel. The USB is camouflaged by the plant-like markings on the outer case, so you can hide your techy side outside the office.

A more futuristic angle is this plastic-banded bracelet with a twist. The band curls in to a criss-crossing shape -- I swear, you’d barely know the drive was there. In many bright and hip colors like neon green, bright blue and fuchsia, this bracelet is perfect.

A bit more hidden than the bracelets, the USB drives in the necklaces are just a stylish accessory, like in this mature piece. A squared pendant crafted from beautiful and soft metals hides a 1GB USB drive. And with any number of designs for the pendant, it can fit anyone’s style.

There is another set of beautiful USB necklaces out there that are a bit simpler: A delicate silver chain holds at its end a small heart, half silver and half crystal. Together this heart looks like a simple but elegant locket, however when the crystal cover is removed, it reveals a small 1GB USB drive. I don’t know about you, but I’d *love* to have something like that on hand. Not only is it cute, but it actually works -- that’s the way to my heart!

Although the USB drive jewelry is most common, it doesn’t mean that it is the only functional tech-jewelry out there.

This bracelet alerts you when your phone’s ringing without actually having to hear it ring. This ‘Bluetooth Bracelet Wristband Call Alert for Mobile Phone’ has a small motor that detects when your phone is ringing even when it’s on silent or vibrate. When you’re receiving a call, the metal bracelet will vibrate strong and fast until you react and pick up your phone or disable it. It’s the perfect way for both women and men to stay in contact even when they don’t want to have their phones on.

But, as I said before, function isn’t everything. If it was, why would we wear jewelry at all? There are some pieces that we found that are just plain adorable and I assure you will bring up a laugh or two at your next party!

Take the ‘Caffeine Molecule Necklace’: This piece has absolute no function whatsoever – other than being awesome!

Lately, the craze over cell phones has hit a new level; with all the charms, covers and other accessories it seems like they’re getting more fashion accessories than you. So why not give yourself a little cell phone flair? These ‘Cell Phone Earrings’ are the perfect thing for those of us who constantly have our phones glued to our ears -- now they can hang from them, too.

There’s no need to be ashamed of the techie that’s in all of us, so why not show the world with some of this interesting and attractive jewelry? And you never know: maybe you’ll be the one in your group to start the next USB-inspired trend in accessories!






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Calorie King Reigns on ‘Net

Friday, August 22, 2008 by Amber

How appropriate that my site this week is CalorieKing.com – its database of food and the calories they contain can be pretty eye-opening and helps to explain the widening of America’s collective bum. As I munch on my freeze-dried Lean Cuisine, let’s take a gander at some of the site’s culinary revelations:

- That bag of McDonald’s French fries calling your name at lunch? Think twice, as a small typically costs about 300 calories, not counting all the salt.
- A glass of red wine, even after a long day at work, still counts as 125 calories no matter how tough your boss was.
- This one makes me a little ill – a slice of my fave Carrot Cake cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory will set you back 1010 calories.

Ugh, my low-cal lunch isn’t looking so bad, after all.

Happy feasting until next time! Thank you to Captivate’s own Jacqui Pini over at her Indulge blog for the tip!

http://www.calorieking.com/






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Cancer-research breakthroughs

Thursday, August 21, 2008 by Amber

When science and technology converge to aid a larger goal, everyone benefits. Fresh news today out of the minds of MIT: While cancer rates aren't necessarily dropping, new methods are coming to light, so to speak, to help ID and cure people of the rampant disease.

First up is further proof that cancer stinks, literally: Skin cancer has a distinct (if not apparent to the human nose) smell that may be able to be identified using a scent detector being passed over the skin, rather than a slightly invasive biopsy, and possibly before the tumor can be visually detected.

Second, researchers are in early trials with a technological, neon stain for cancerous tissue that helps surgeons cut out all the bad bits while leaving the good bits (like healthy tissue and nerves) alone. This will ensure that all cancerous cells are removed while minimizing the damage (and often pain) associated with these surgeries.

Virtual pats on the back for these brilliant researchers. Leave it to the minds at MIT and anything can be solved.






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Splitting your attention

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 by Amber

By contributor Ashley DiFranza

Ever find yourself staring at a movie screen and not enjoying a second of it because you’re thinking about all the unfinished work you’ve got to do? Listentoamovie.com is the perfect combination of watching a movie and being able to work on something else freely.

Just choose your favorite movie or TV show and let it play in the background as you type up that report or check for bugs! An extra upside to this site is that it doesn’t tempt you to look at the screen thus keeping you from actually doing work, because there is no screen to watch! And you can pause, rewind and fast forward as you wish with an automated control screen that pops up while listening to the movie.

But there’s more! Let’s say you’re deep into Superman Returns on your computer as you write out some data for the office, when suddenly your boss walks into your cube to speak with you. Just press the automated ‘STEALTH’ button on the control panel for the site and it instantly turns into an unmarked spread sheet! Now your boss will be proud of your extra initiative and won’t ever suspect that your mind is really wrapped up in Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s action-packed adventures.

www.listentoamovie.com





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Connecting a Lonely Planet

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 by Amber

World travelers unite! Nokia and Lonely Planet have teamed up to offer guides to more than 100 tourist destinations around the globe -- for download directly to your mobile phone!

This is great news for all you seat-of-your pants travelers who make the rest of us jealous when you hop over the pond to London or Rome for a long weekend. The maps are available for download directly onto Nokia phones for a fee of $11.75, according to AP.

Many will argue that this is more subtle than painting a tourist bulls-eye on your back with a guidebook and fold-out map and I agree -- but I'd never traverse Europe again without Rick Steves -- seriously, the guy knows how to write a guidebook!





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Team Switzerland

Monday, August 18, 2008 by Amber

Blogs can be a great source of entertainment for those looking for opinionated writing on lots of little topics. But, this same reason for loving them is often their downfall when looking for hard news: Blogs are, by nature, web logs (hence the name) and not held to the same standards as other news sites. But, if you know where to look, blogs can get you bleeding-edge info that even some news sources don't have yet.

My most recent example of a blog beating the news: Author Stephenie Meyer's blog reported late Friday that the coveted Thanksgiving weekend opening for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was bumped to Summer '09, has been filled with the first film adaptation of her 'lion loves the lamb' vampire novels known to millions of women as the Twilight Saga. Edward and Bella will open 3 weeks earlier than the scheduled Dec. 12 date -- and you read it here first.

Other blogs known for scooping the media:

PerezHilton.com, my favorite source for celeb gossip. Perez is weeks ahead of other sources on his scoops and always has the most on-topic info. It must be fun to draw on celeb faces.

Science Fair, a USAToday blog, has great newsy info on the latest science news. It's a bit verbose for me, but contributor Angela Gunn has a great voice and explanations. Plus, I love their Coffee Breaks.

Crave, a CNet.com blog, is a cool gadget site with the latest news on the most wanted tech tools, plus a free MP3 each day.

Lime.com, a environmental site made up of almost entirely contributor-based blogs. My favorite writers are Su Avasthi, who always has interesting things to add to national water-cooler discussions, and Belinda Miller tells fun stories in her Green-Eyed Momster blog about how she makes her family more environmentally friendly.

Any Captivate Network blog: beauty secrets in Indulge, staying up with the environment in Green Among Gray, the best books and reviews in Book Break, wine tips in The Quaffer and movie reviews in People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo. Always good reads for some great info, and always very trusted sources.

Not all blogs are reliable, so choose your sources wisely, and always double-check with other sources before you call everyone in your Rolodex to tell them Google's gPhone is due for Christmas. Note: This is not true, I'm kidding. Some sources that are user-contributed and best taken with a grain of salt: Wikipedia.com, IMDB.com and anything posted on a message board.

Happy reading, and please, my dear readers, be assured that Byte-Sized is a very reliable and trusted source of the latest geek news -- I've always said, the real story is always so much better than the fabricated one.

PS -- What's with the headline of this blog? If you don't know, you don't know. Go out and get the Twilight saga before it hits theatres 3 weeks early -- you'll thank me for it, trust me.

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Cake-walk for gamers at IGN

Friday, August 15, 2008 by Amber

My site of the week is cake-walk for all you gamers: IGN.com – a ‘come one, come all’ hub that offers gaming news, reviews and, best of all, cheats.

Seriously, you can only play the same scene sequence so many times before you want to throw the controller through your flat screen LCD – take a breath and log on to get hints and walkthroughs, then tackle the Ferris wheel pick-up from Call of Duty 4 again. For the 15th time in 10 minutes. It’s ok, you’re among friends.

Best of all, if first-person shooters aren’t your thing, they have a full treasure search for the new Indiana Jones Legos game – and if you want to break free of the gaming genre altogether, they have sweet features on poppy TV shows, movies, trade shows, etc., for you to feast on. Enjoy!

http://www.ign.com/





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Scientific progress goes 'boink'

Thursday, August 14, 2008 by Amber

OK, sci-tech geeks, we are in a lot of trouble. According to a new study that came out yesterday, Americans know a lot less about science that was previously thought -- in most cases, not enough to even make an informed decision based on scientific facts.

According to USA Today: "Only 26% believe that they themselves have a good understanding of science. And 44% couldn't identify a single scientist, living or dead, whom they'd consider a role model for the nation's young people."

I can think of three right off the top of my head -- Stephen Hawking, Gregor Mendel and, uh, Albert Einstein -- and if you give me another minute, I'll have another 5 more. What does this say about our culture, that people are so woefully misinformed and choose to live in Ostrich Town rather than crack a science book?

"American adults surveyed take a dim view of the USA's status as a world science leader. 70% believe the USA is not now the world leader in science achievement. 35% believe the USA will be the world science leader in the next 20 years. 79% agree that science is not receiving the attention it deserves in schools."

Want to know how you stack up? The National Science Foundation created this mostly true-false quiz to test your knowledge of general topics (answers below):

1. The center of the Earth is very hot.
2. All radioactivity is man-made.
3. It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl.
4. Lasers work by focusing sound waves.
5. Electrons are smaller than atoms.
6. Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria.
7. The universe began with a huge explosion.
8. The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future.
9. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.
10. Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?
11. How long does it take for the Earth to go around the sun?

(1. True, 2. False, 3. True, 4. False, 5. True, 6. False, 7. True, 8. True, 9. True, 10. Earth around Sun, 11. One year)

I got all 11 right, plus the extra points I awarded myself for knowing that the Earth actually takes 365.25 days to go around the sun, hence the existence of the leap year. How'd you do?







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Tech accessories trend cool, part 1

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 by Amber

From purses made from newspaper to show your ‘tree-hugger’ side to sneakers with skulls on them to show your ‘edge,’ there seems to be a way for everyone to express themselves through style. Well, what about us tech-geeks who just can’t get enough of computer chips and USBs?

Hey, I’m Ashley DiFranza on special assignment today for Amber, reporting on the current trend of geek-chic tech jewelry. It has really blown up -- from clever earrings to bracelets wound from cables, there is a lot more out there then you’d think.

Just like the bead to a bracelet, your clicky keyboard keys are the most commonly used product in tech jewelry, spelling out funny things or even just representing the frequently used DELETE and SHIFT. This site features a great selection to deck out the hippest of your keyboard clan, including rings with keys in place of jewels, bracelets made from computer keys strung between beads -- even a little robot-man crafted from the key and spare chain (my favorite one and absolutely adorable!) – and necklaces that spell out names or hobbies.

Keys not really your thing? This bracelet wound from computer cables has a mix of color and textures and it really adds a personality; and these , code earnings are amusing and a good way to remember to close your tags. Earrings made from microchips look so fashionable with their many colors and crossed wires, and they can even come with a matching necklace.

For all you guys outs there looking to accessorize, cufflinks made from microchips are a popular piece of jewelry for the everyday computer geek . In many different versions, this trendy idea can come in many different styles, colors and shapes. Also, this phone card bracelet, made completely of tech pieces, with the phone card itself and a wire band, is very stylish and very chic.

With all this new technological jewelry, all you tech-geeks -- even those of you currently in hiding -- have a way to show everyone who they are with just a simple accessory. Now that’s what I call technological progress!

Stay tuned for part 2 of my look into tech jewelry!

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Targeting ads to interests? Good idea.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 by Amber

It has recently come to the attention of the U.S. Senate that some web firms, namely search giant Google, are tracking users web-surfing activities to more precisely target advertising.

The problem? They aren't telling users they are doing it. The problem? Well, honestly, I'm not sure.

According to the Washington Post, '[Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.)] said he and his colleagues plan to introduce legislation next year, a sort of online-privacy Bill of Rights, that would require that consumers must opt in to the tracking of their online behavior and the collection and sharing of their personal data. '

I hate Internet ads as much as the next person, with their overt and intrusive flashing or screen-distorting promotions -- and I am already a member of Netflix, so stop it with the popups! -- but I do appreciate cleverness because, as Husband pointed out to me last night, I can appreciate good entertainment.

But what does this have to do with firms tracking our online behavior? Sigh. OK, I'm going to stop tip-toeing around my point and introduce a radical idea: I don't care if companies track my online behavior, and I don't see the harm in allowing them to use my surfing habits to target my ads. As long as my browser isn't weighted down with crumbling cookies that slow my jumps between pages, there isn't a situation I can think of where I would rather see an ad for low mortgages or weight-loss medication in the place of something I might actually care about, like a new movie or gadget.

And, as long as the info they are keeping relates back only to the sites we visited and has no damaging, ID-stealing info, I don't think you should care either. Companies will always try to get the leg up with their advertising reach -- I say, let them fight for it however they need to. Internet ads suck, but the idea that companies are actually trying to make them better by focusing on my interests? That's a good idea, one I can appreciate.

There, I said it.







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Tiny snakes, rainy days and hacking subways

Monday, August 11, 2008 by Amber

Hey, fellow geeks -- here's a round-up of the day's top scitech stories. Go brew some 'liquid awake' and take a peek ...

Residents of Barbados have taken to the blogosphere is protest of the 'discovery' and 'naming' of a tiny snake known to locals for years ... Rain, rain go away: The warming of the Earth could mean more precipitation ... Those genealogy website are amassing databases that make finding your ancestors easier ... The penguins speak: Obama is the Linux choice for president ... A federal judge has halted a speech set for Defcon on how to hack Boston subway smart cards.






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Mindy’s blog has sugar and spice

Friday, August 8, 2008 by Amber

My featured website this week is a little treasure for all my girls out there who love a bit of sass with their sweet – ‘Things I Bought That I Love,’ a blog by Mindy Kaling, who writes for and stars as Kelly on the sumptuously uncomfortable Americanized Brit-hit comedy ‘The Office.’

Her expertly casual prose prances through her latest indulgent and often not-so-expensive purchases, from technicolor flats to fold-over yoga pants, Christmas decorations to Valentine’s lingerie. She updates fairly regularly -- though she seems to have taken a recent break to presumably write for The Office -- and aside from making me want to hop, skip and jump to the store to buy up all her suggestions, she makes me laugh, which is something every good writer can appreciate.

As she would say – come on, you guys, check it out!

http://thingsiboughtthatilove.com/






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Black Hat hits DefCon level

Thursday, August 7, 2008 by Amber

The hackers are coming! If you live in the Vegas area, lock up your wireless networks and don't use an ATM on the strip! You have been warned.

Hackers take over Vegas this weekend for the annual gathering of web white hats known as Black Hat -- not to be confused with its alter ego, the black-hat gathering called DefCon.

Wait, don't know the lingo? White hats are hackers who do good things, like inform companies when they have security holes or help Angelina Jolie bust up corporate bad guys who launch bogus viruses to sink oil tankers --(Hackers anyone? How could you call yourself an geek and not have seen that movie? Where do you think my penchant for jewel-colored hair comes from?) -- black hats are the malicious ones who do criminal things, and grey hats are the ones in the middle, who will hack into a company but demand money to reveal how they did it. The fact that the good guys name their conference after the bad guys is merely a play on words... or is it?

These days, Black Hat has gained an edge normally reserved for DefCon -- it will institute a 'Wall of Sheep' this weekend that lists all of the unprotected wireless networks at the conference, because who would be stupid enough to attend a hackers conference without any computer security, right? The sessions sound brilliant, with names like 'Bad Sushi' and 'Satan is on my Friends List,' and a featured event, for me, at least, is the mock 'Hacker's Court.'

In a previous life as a computer security editor, I had the ultimate treat a few years back of being invited to and attending Black Hat. It was technical geek heaven. I lazily ate crab cakes from Jimmy Buffet's while reporting boring news on web standards and interviewing some very cool people -- like Shawn Moyer -- while internally bursting with an almost-fangirl excitement when Kevin Mitnick introduced himself to me and actually knew *my* name. Apparently, though, those were the days when this off-center conference was still a bit tame.

These conferences are informative, fun and a great social gathering of the smartest minds in the world of computer security -- regardless of what they choose to do with the information after they leave Las Vegas. If you have the pleasure of attending, send me some pics and please enjoy yourself -- just promise me you won't use an ATM.





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Prancing pooches at Doggiespace.com

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 by Amber

Does man's best friend need some comrades-in-paws? Are Mackenzie, Hershey, Tucker and Angel clamoring for some online face-time with their buds? Do they yearn for a feeling of inclusion while mummy clicks away on her keyboard late into the night? Well don't you let them worry their furry little heads another minute.

According to the AP, you can sign them up (assuming, of course, they can't do it themselves) for a new social network aimed at your precious pooches called -- wait for it -- Doggyspace.com.

Says AP: "A crossbreed between MySpace and YouTube, Doggyspace allows dog owners from all over the world to come together, create profiles, and share photos and videos of their pups. ... It can also help people form friendships based on a love of dogs, or connect people interested in finding a play date for their dog."

Seriously, I'm not making this up. "Since launching in mid-July, Doggyspace has logged more than 700 registered, active user profiles — 73 percent of them created by females, said Levi Thornton, founder of the site. He projects that Doggyspace will have more than two million accounts by the end of the year."

Ah, just when my faith in social networking started to sway to the positive. I am fully aware that full grown adults like role-playing games -- D&D is the newest trend in my circle of friends, and who doesn't love a good Renaissance fair? -- but, forgive me for asking, don't ya think this may be taking it a wee bit far?

Taking a step back, I can see how, if your dog was your life, this site could be a good thing -- a positive outlet for your social needs that is targeted to a very specific demographic -- but I don't know how much more I can take. I already have to bite my tongue about my mom's adiction to ravelry.com, the social network for knitters (and all the rage at my monthly knitting group) -- I might have to stop calling if my parents' little white fluffball of a bichon frise got his own webpage.






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Batman's voice gets technical

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 by Amber

Sorry I'm a bit late this morning.

Here is a fun tidbit for all you Batman geeks out there: Apparently, Christina Bale's Caped Crusader has taken a lot of flak lately about the dark, raspy, throaty voice he affected when donning the mask. Well, turns out that the Dark Knight's voice was digitally enhanced by the director in post-production specifically to sound more eerie. So, don't blame Bale... but do you really want blame Christopher Nolan, who has taken the ailing, cartoonish series under his wing and made it something infinitely better and darker?

PS -- Nolan, if you don't cast Reese Witherspoon as Harley Quinn in the next installment, I won't come to your defense anymore.





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Flipping out over the Flip Mino

Monday, August 4, 2008 by Amber

With not one but two compact camcorders gathering dust in a closet and my kids getting bigger by the minute, something needed to motivate me or all these precious moments would be lost to the dustbins of memory.

Enter the fabulous Flip Mino (pronounced minnow), a tiny white camcorder that offers users the portability of a digital camera with the basic ease-of-use of a remote control. It’s a sleek, sexy little camcorder with a not-quite-flush lens on the front, an iPod-esque circular control panel on the back and a wrist strap for portability. Made for direct uploading of videos to online social networks and video-sharing sites like YouTube, it’s smaller than my pink Razr at 3.3 oz., but its small stature belies an exciting feeling of liberation.

Its point-and-shoot usability is so easy and intuitive that a 2-year-old could – and did, in my case – record his own clips. Previous models battled with charge issues, but the Mino has an internal rechargeable lithium battery that powered up automatically when connected to my computer’s USB and retained that charge through an entire weekend of testing and video reviews without worry.


Picture quality is better than you would expect from such a small device. The anti-glare LCD on the back is small at only 1.5 inches, but it’s bright and clear, and the touch buttons help you navigate with minimal effort. HD it is not, but for the money and the portability, you couldn’t ask for better than the slightly grainy look of the video when viewed in a large online format, typical of standard camcorders anyway. Take care to use the Mino in good lighting, as dark looks black once transferred to the computer.

Uploading to a social networking site – in my case, Facebook and YouTube – was just a few clicks, and having the videos online was not only convenient for editing and DVD-burning purposes, but it gave my mother hours of online cooing at my little munchkins. It’s important to remember that the Mino is not a long-range camcorder. It has an internal 2GB memory, a run-time of 60 minutes and a slight zoom capability better ignored for the sake of just walking closer to your target. So, not necessarily something to take to a parade or a wedding, but perfect for those looking to capture and share memories at half the cost of an average larger unit.

Alas, it would be wrong of me not to voice a few concerns. The unit has a retractable USB that plugs directly into your computer, which leads to the frankly dangerous picture of the Flip hanging off the front of the upright tower, just waiting for my leg to crack it sideways and break it off. But the download process was simple and the install was quick after a few minutes of floundering for the install app.

The Flip comes in 3 varieties, including the multi-colored Ultra, which differs form the Mino in its click-button interface, slightly boxier appearance and camera-ish raised front lens. Fellow Captivate editor Dee Murray is currently testing the Ultra and will report on it in a later post.

With the holiday season fast approaching (oh, don’t whine, you know it is), I predict this will be a top gadget of the year, and if you are going to take the plunge, get the Mino. Selling for around $170 at BestBuy.com, Amazon.com and TheFlip.com, it’s a fabulous camcording solution for both the gadget-oriented and tech-challenged.

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Dish Network is first to blast 1080p

Friday, August 1, 2008 by Amber

Is there anything more beautiful than HDTV? The crisp colors and sharp picture clarity are so stunning that it actually makes me angry when shows are broadcast in normal digital formats. Even better than HDTV is my HDTV TiVo, but I digress...

Satellite company Dish Network, which has made some headlines lately after the FTC fined some of its telemarketing firms $95,000 for soliciting business off the FCC's do-not-call list, announced that is has successfully launched its EchoStar11 satellite and can now offer its customers the first 1080p HD signal.

What does that mean? Well, there are different HD display formats, and which one you see depends both on what your TV is capable of showing you and what signal you are being sent by your service provider. All HD signals are digital, and these digital signals come in various standards: 420p, 720p and 1080i are the most common. These standards refer to the resolution of the picture -- 720 has a better picture quality than 420 because it shows more pixels and has more lines of resolution. 1080 is, obviously, the highest resolution you can get right now.

The 'p' and 'i' following the number refer to 'progressive' and 'interlaced.' Interlaced is when the signal is scanned alternatively by your box -- with one image being replaced by the alternate image, but with both overlapping in the process -- and it is this feed that is most commonly used by channels looking to adopt HDTV, like CBS and NBC. The problems with it are that it takes up a huge amount of bandwidth to alternatively scan the signal and that the picture quality, while a very high resolution of HD, looks muddled and choppy when there is excessive movement. Anyone who has watched an HD broadcast of a football game knows what I'm talking about.

But the 'progressive' signal is different -- it reads the lines of pixels in sequential order (1,2,3,4...) and replaces them every 60th of a second so there is no interlacing of images at all. With a progressive signal, you are getting the clearest picture quality without the occasional muddling found with the interlaced method.

So, in all, the higher the resolution and whether the signal is read with an 'i' or a 'p' makes a big difference. 720p is a common HD signal, and most HDTV sets are also capable of 1080i. Sony makes a beautiful TV -- the Bravia, one of which sits in my living room -- that is set up to read the 1080p signal, most commonly seen in HD-DVD (may it rest in peace), Blu-Ray players and video game systems.

The tricky thing to remember is that if your TV doesn't have the capability of seeing something in the 1080i format, you won't be able to see it. And, if your TV is capable of seeing 1080p but the signal isn't being broadcast in that format, you won't be able to see it.

Anyway -- back to Dish Network. The company has had some hard times as customers have been switching to Comcast or opting for its big bad competitor DirectTV -- of which I am a customer. But, with this new satellite blasting down the 1080p signal to its loyalites, it has moved to the forefront of the market in terms of technology -- something any HDTV follower will view as a huge step up.






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