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As seen on Captivate... Sept. 29

Monday, September 29, 2008 by Amber

Hello! Here are the links to tech stories you may have seen today on the Captivate Network:

Finding Spies on Facebook
The U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, has declared it is using Facebook to find new devotees as part of an ‘open recruitment campaign.’

Google takes a stand
Flexing political muscle, Google has taken an official corporate position against Prop. 8, a ballot measure to amend the Calif. constitution to ban gay marriage.

Collider still warming up
CERN physicists will have to wait 3 weeks for the damaged section of the LCH to be warmed up to room temp so they can get inside to see what went wrong.

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TiVo on your computer

by Amber

Interesting news broke this morning on our favorite DVR:

"TiVo Inc. and Nero AG of Germany were set to announce Monday that they will be launching a package that turns a Windows PC into a TV recorder, just like a TiVo set-top box," according to AP.

The $199 software package, which includes a remote, allows users to record shows on their PC using the ubiquitous TiVo interface, which in itself is worth the retail cost. The software will be available Oct. 15. The program will also let users transfer the recorded shows onto a normal TiVo for viewing on the living-room big screen.

Cheers -- I love hearing TiVo news! This and the company's other recent re-deal with DirecTV have made quite a splash.

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In other news... Sept. 26

Friday, September 26, 2008 by Amber

Happy Friday, my fellow geeks. Let's get to this week's headlines...

Market share of Blu-ray DVDs has unexpectedly shrunk this week to 8% as consumers look more toward high-def TV content options. When asked about the numbers, HD-DVD proponents laughed so hard coffee came out their noses.

The Nintendo DS game Brain Training has been shown to increase math scores of players. Children rejoiced at the knowledge of being allowed more video-game time until they realized that this game is boring.

Computer co. Dell announced that it has created the first laptop with a built-in privacy screen that whites out content viewed at anything greater than a 15-degree angle. Take that, nosy airplane-seat neighbor!

In the battle between Facebook and MySpace, Facebook is gaining ground fast, but MySpace still owns upwards of 70% of the market share. I'm such a hardcore hypocrite now, but you'll never make me switch from Facebook.

Almost 100,000 gamers voted in an XBox Live presidential poll, and 55,000 gamers registered to vote using the Microsoft service. The results? "43% voted for the Obama-Biden ticket vs. 31% for McCain-Palin. The rest were undecided or voted for obscure candidates." Very cool -- now we just have to get them to get out and actually vote.

Catch you on the flip side!

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Google's Android phone announced

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 by Amber

Stand back, this one is going to be big.

Google's made a big splash on the scene with the announcement of its Android-powered T-Mobile G1 (formerly known at the HTC Dream), which will cost $179 -- a fraction of the venerable iPhone -- and hit shelves Oct. 22. On first glance, it doesn't look that ground-breaking -- but, it "a touch-screen interface, a QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, a music player, and support for third-party applications."

Meanwhile, shares in Apple are falling, and some analysts are worried the perennial growth-leader in gadgets and laptops might be hitting a significant bump in the road.

Who will win the phone wars? And, more importantly for me, when will someone release one for Verizon so I don't have to switch cell carriers??

More in full coverage of the T-Mobile G1:

How does the gPhone stack up against its venerable 3G Apple competitor?

What does Google's Android-powered OS look like in action?

Does the G1 already have shortcomings?

Podcasters break down the T-Mobile offering.

What's the genesis of the gPhone?

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New dwarf planet named Haumea

Monday, September 22, 2008 by Amber

"The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the name of a new dwarf planet to join the existing four in the solar system," say our friends at Space.com.

The name of our new jellybean-shaped planet is Haumea, after a Hawaiian goddess of fertility and childbirth. It has the same diameter of Pluto but is thinner and longer, and is composed entirely of rock with an crunchy, icy crust. The new dwarf planet has two moons, Hi'iaka and Namaka (named for the children of the mythological Haumea), and it spins on its own axis once every 4 hours -- that is what gives it its oblong shape.

Welcome to the neighborhood! It joins other sub-planetary objects Ceres, Pluto, Eris and Makemake. The cosmic line-up stands thus: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea.

It's really interesting how, once astronomers broaden the scope of what they are looking for in our galaxy, how many things are out there to discover.

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In other news... Sept. 19

Friday, September 19, 2008 by Amber

Let's take a peek around the web for this week's top stories, shall we?

I joked about it a few times, but joke no more: Google's gPhone is real. The phone, called Dream from vendor HTS, will debut in Oct., according to reports, and will feature Google's mobile OS Android. Set to cost around $200, much less than the iPhone iterations, this one definitely has Steve Jobs shaking in his arrogant boots.

Oh Bill Gates, how you disappoint me. Jerry Seinfeld? Really? He hit his peak in the early 90s, recently made a bad kids-only-like-it cartoon, and you hire him to help give Microsoft a new image? I'm not surprised the public berated it and you've been forced to drop the not-funny Seinfeld ad campaign after only 2 commercials. Sheesh. Way to get my back after all those compliments. Alas, there is a light -- perhaps the second phase of the $300 M ad campaign, poking fun at Apple and embracing the 'I'm a PC' image, will be better received.

Yikes -- scientists have been forced to shut down the Large Hadron Collider after only a day of use after a massive cooling mechanism failed. Whoever designed that part is SO fired. Thankfully, engineers have got the 17-ton component fixed and the LHC is back online.

Google made some big headlines this week -- in addition to the gPhone thing -- with a controversial UK decision to allow ads from religious groups opposing abortions, a new deal Google signed with GE to develop and promote sustainable energy solutions, and an announcement the company is moving ahead with an advertising deal with Yahoo despite worries form the government.

New games in stores this week include Stars Wars: The Force Unleashed. Finally, Lucas comes out with something awesome that totally lives up to expectations. This will be the hot one, so I hope you have your copy reserved. I will be chilling on the couch 'navigating' it this weekend -- or rocking out to Rock Band 2, which looks very cool and lets you use downloaded songs in tour playlists. It also allows you to form a band online and battle against other online bands. Very cool.

Have a great weekend, everyone -- catch you on the flip side!

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Potter turns 10

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 by Amber

This year marks the 10th birthday of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone! Can you imagine?

I make no effort to hide I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, so please indulge me in recommending to you, my loyal readers, one of my favorite websites for this week’s feature: Checkmated.com , a big ol’ geeky treat for all you fans yearning for more.

What is fan fiction? Fanfic (as it’s called) is a legal literary tribute to a specific book or series of books in the form of an original story written using its characters in original settings. In other words, people take the characters of a particular story and write their own stories with them. They can be written in the future or the past, from another character’s perspective or using original fictional characters (OFCs), and they can be really, really f***ing good.

Why should you care? Because with the cancellation of TV series like Firefly and the ending of book series like Harry Potter or Twilight, fanfics can fill a reader’s desire for more and help encourage budding writers to experiment creatively while adhering to the safety of predetermined writing rules.

Checkmated.com is the *bar-none* the best Harry Potter fanfic site there is. It’s writers are top notch due to the site’s governing body – a group of editors mysteriously called ‘The Council’ – its editorial crew known as ‘Prefects’ (yes, I am one), and its strict standards for quality. Its stories are most often written as serials, with new chapters being added every few days as they pass through the editorial process. Trust me, this only adds to your enjoyment.

And, when I say stories, I by no means mean short little things meant to take up one lunch hour – some of these works can be up to 40 chapters and have very loyal online followings. Some great stories that I suggest for your perusal (and eventual addiction) include the following:

‘The Second Prophesy’ – How the gang’s children are fairing at Hogwarts 20 years later.

‘From a Muggle’s Point of View’ – A story showing how the magical world must all look from an outsider’s perspective.

‘A Very Thin Line’ – A story about how James Potter and Lily Evans met.

‘The Diggory Papers’ – The story of the “Goblet of Fire’ told from Cedric Diggory’s perspective

As I always say, it’s OK to be geeky – you’re among friends. Go forth and enjoy, and don’t forget to leave a review!


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Review: Lure of the Zune

Monday, September 15, 2008 by Amber

With Microsoft's Zune 3.0 debuting on shelves tomorrow, I took some time to check out the 4G model for those interested in either making the switch from their iPod or getting into the MP3 space all together.

Here are my thoughts:

Who ever is doing Microsoft’s new branding deserves a raise. The packaging of the Zune was smart and sleek, and it looks like Redmond is trying to make the Zune’s associated color that gorgeous chocolate brown, with pops of pinks and oranges – as opposed to Apple’s white-branded iPod.

Software Install:
The 2.5 version of the Zune software took a while to load the first time – I clocked an upwards of 30 minutes before I rebooted. On second try, the software installed in less than 3 minutes, much more in line with Microsoft’s ‘up and running in minutes’ claim. 3.0 is due out tomorrow, and all signs point toward a much easier install and workability.

The Zune 4G looks like great fun. Its tiny frame – 3.5”x1.5” – fits easily in your palm, and, with a width of .25”-.50”, it’s small enough to fit into your back pocket. The interface is simple to navigate, and the screen is huge for such a tiny gadget. Sound quality is exactly what you would expect – not breaking any barriers but the earbuds work perfectly fine.

Bottom line:
Try it – and not only as an alternative to the iPod. Microsoft is a leader in the field for a reason, and this little Zune is proof why.

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Review: Facebook's new face

Friday, September 12, 2008 by Amber

A few weeks back I admitted my fondness for social network Facebook, noting the ease and fun it offers in keeping up with your friends. I was an early adopter of its GUI makeover, and with the word that Facebook users will be switched over this week (if they haven't been already) being met with such animosity, I feel it is time to weigh in.

The new Facebook design is cleaner, prettier and easier to use than the previous iteration. Everything on one main page used to be so cluttered and crowded, and it left curious browsers to scroll down endlessly through unhatched eggs, superhero powers, flair pins and other apps. It took me a few minutes of fiddling to get my settings just right with the updated tabbed version of browsing, but overall I'm pleased with the effect and happy to have the options.

Just in overall design, the homepage is sleek but somewhat familiar -- the developers kept everything pretty much in the same place as before, so users looking for their notifications can still glance to the right menu, and updates are listed down the left. The main profile page is open and very well managed. The user picture is a standard size, with a new text box available to give curious wanderers, like old classmates and would-be-friends, an intro to who you are.

Overall, the 'new' Facebook gets a thumbs up from me. It was an adjustment, as change always is, but I'm happier with the new than I was with the old.

To my Facebook friends who have joined the various user groups sprouting up in protest of the new design, I lovingly say this: Get over it. Facebook isn't doing this to upset you, and it isn't doing this to make itself worse. Trust the developers to do what they think is best, and if it doesn't end up working, I will happily accept your emails of 'I told you so's.

PS -- Did you know 'I told you so' has a brother? His name is 'Shut the hell up.' :)

[In full disclosure, I did not make that up. I got it from Bella in Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn, who in turn got it from a Simpsons episode. Doesn't mean it's not hilarious and true.]


Hadron Collider goes operational

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 by Amber

Happy 'Big Bang' Day! You are obviously reading this, so we will all assume that the universe has not changed, Earth was not sucked into a massive black hole (unless we are a part of some twisted LOST episode) and the most brilliant humans are the planet are gathering data on how our universe began.

Confused yet? In what is probably the biggest (literally and figuratively) sci-tech news of the past century, the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility in Geneva (known to most normal humans because of it's reference in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, which is, coincidentally, being made into a movie as you read this) became fully operational today.

What is the LHC? It's a huge underground circular tube -- the biggest machine ever built, with a 17-mile diameter -- that speeds up protons around and around and collides them more 30 million times a second, which smashes them up and releases the particles hidden inside the proton at nearly the speed of light. This gives scientists an absolutely unreal an, until now, unheard of amount of information on particle physics, which relates back to the Big Bang and how our universe works. According to Scientific American, 'You could think of it as the biggest, most powerful microscope in the history of science.'

Much beyond that, things get a little too complicated for me to wrap my head around. But, yay! I'm really looking forward to the news coming out of CERN from the analysis of the LHC particles.

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Get your geek on at UrbanDictionary.com

Monday, September 8, 2008 by Amber

Geek lingo got you down? Want to learn the phrases all the cool kids are using? Want to be the cool kid, for once?

Check out UrbanDictionary.com, this week’s featured site, for a quick tutorial on the flirtationships (when you regularly flirt with an acquaintance or friend but do no more) and textpectations (anticipation one feels when waiting for a response to a text message) filling your Facebook walls these days more than your Fakebook friends (adding people to your friends list who aren't really your friends at all).

Seriously, who doesn’t want to try bus surfing (the competition-based act of attempting to ride a bus by standing in the aisle like a surfer, the goal being to stand for as long as possible without touching anything for support) on the commute home?

Who hasn’t complained about the fexpensive (effing expensive) duds you need to grown man (a verb meaning to dress formally)?

You can even sign up for a free ‘word of the day’ in your inbox. Check it out before you get internuetered (losing your connection to the internet)!


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In other news...

Friday, September 5, 2008 by Amber

Hello, my geek-alicious readers! It's been a big week for tech news, so let's do a roundup, shall we?

TiVo and DirecTV have kissed and made up, which is great news for everyone who has been made to suffer with the DirecTV DVR. It's not quite as awful as Comcast's proprietary P.O.S., but it was pretty bad, with it's tiny little menu screen and TV Guide-ish schedule.

TiVo -- a shining beacon for what every DVR should strive to attain -- has a fabulous UI and best in class service. I don't know how it knows when Lost extends a little past 11 p.m., but I've never had my TiVo miss that minute, where as I spent quite a few night contemplating throwing my HD-DVR from DirecTV out the window when it failed to catch Jack's closing revelations. Anyways, welcome back TiVO -- we've missed you so much!

Also, Dell has finally debuted its teensy little laptop, the Inspiron Mini 9. At only 2.3 lbs, the computer can fit inside a purse for easy writing on the go. It's a great idea for aspiring writers who get little plot bunnies and need to get them into writing before the ideas hop right out of their head. I wouldn't use it as a primary computer or writing too -- the tiny keyboard will make you scrunch up uncomfortably while typing. Memory, though, shouldn't be a problem -- the laptop uses flash drives, which helped trim it down to its diminutive size during RnD. The best part is the price tag: The laptop hits the ceiling at $450 for a fully functional version running a Windows OS with more memory and a bigger hard drive than the $350 Linux version.

Also, a fresh deal from Dell starting today -- buy an normal Dell laptop and get a Mini for $99 -- that's almost too goo to pass up! Visit www.dell.com for details...

Remember Microhoo -- the blogosphere's name for Microsoft's proposed buyout of Yahoo? Haven't heard much about it lately, right? Well, no news is apparently bad news for Yahoo, whose stocks have taken a huge hit since the just before the unsolicited Microsoft offer. It's been reported that Yahoo stocks have hit a 52-week low of below $17 a share. What was the Microsoft offer back in January that Yahoo's CEO say undervalued the company to the point of being almost insulting? Oh yeah, $31 a share. Hmmm someone isn't looking too good right now, are they, Yang? Yah-hOOO-ooo-OOO!

And, last but not least, the online book world has been buzzing all week about the online leak of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer's unpublished companion novel Midnight Sun, which tell the Twilight tale from the perspective of Edward, the vampire boyfriend. No really, I swear this is a big deal. According the Meyer's site, she distributed a very limited number of copies of her unfinished manuscript to outside people for comments, one was leaked, and now she has completely stopped writing the book in disgust. I read it, and it was impressive for an unedited copy -- a feeling I have for all of her books, actually, though those have supposedly been edited by someone somewhere along the publishing process, but I'll be stuffed if I can tell you where.

Anyway, the implications are big surrounding this leak. She decided to keep her fans honest and posted a copy of Midnight Sun on her site (which I read the first night it was released), but also posted a note saying how betrayed she felt. I'm trying to feel badly for her, I really am -- that's a horrible breach of trust and it's extremely embarrassing for a writer to show what she believes is substandard work without her consent (I would know) -- but there is a small part of me that thinks she is being a bit of a whiner. Sorry. If you are interested in the obsession that is the Twilight series, this partial manuscript of Midnight Sun is not to be missed.

Until next week, my fellow geeks!

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Surname origins explained

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 by Amber

Every family has a story of where is came from. My favorite is that of my great-grandmother who, through a complicated kidnapping scheme that turned out to be a ruse to help her escape a evil stepmother, came to the U.S. on a boat from Germany.

But, how many members of my long-lost family were left in the small German town near the Austrian border? Where did other members of my family originate?

A new site helps answer these questions. No, it's not another gene pool site offering to trace you history by swabbing your cheek -- though that would be *awesome* were it not for the prohibitive cost.

Public Profiler has collected data on over 8M surnames and compiled them into a large database with a map readout. Just type in your surname and you'll be shown country of origin, a list of the most common first names associated with it, and a readout of country density and the most dense global regions for that surname. It's pretty fantastic.

I looked into my married name and laughed out loud as it listed the exact region of the world where we and my husband's huge family live (New Hampshire) as one of the most globally dense spots. Same with my maiden name, which showed a high density in Pennsylvania, exactly the place where my dad's family all came from ... and, oddly, Argentina. Germany and Argentina, really? Just that weird fact alone was worth checking this site out.

Let me know if you learn any surprises about your surname!

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Google takes on Microsoft's IE

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 by Amber

And the browser wars rage on...

Google has cheekily announced (via a leaked comic book ad) that it's new 'Chrome' web browser is poised to take on Microsoft's ubiquitous IE.

'Chrome' is open-source, free and available to most OSes, including Apple and Linux.

What does this mean to you? Not too much just yet. Microsoft currently has 75% market share in web browsers, despite Mozilla's attempts to propel users toward Firefox. Google's new attempt to overthrow Redmond has a better chance of success than Firefox, but is, as yet, unproven.

Google's other attempts to challenge Microsoft with products to replace the Office suite have so far been pretty feeble -- sorry -- but I wouldn't cut Sergi out of the hunt all together. Chrome will have to prove much better, easier and safer than IE, and I'm not convinced that it can.

The real question is not whether Google can finally eclipse Microsoft, but whether Google would be better off sticking to what it knows. Both companies employ the best and brightest minds in the sci-tech field, so it'll be an interesting race to watch. Go, Team Redmond!

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