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Blogosphere meet-and-greet

Friday, January 30, 2009 by Amber

Sorry for flaking out on Wednesday -- to make up for it, I have an especially humorous treat in store for you all today...

We've talked about various blogs on this site ad nauseum -- how they inspire us, make us aware of hot deals on things we never knew we wanted, and are the perfect vehicle for passive aggressive behavior befitting a petulant, unhappy adult.

But what about *for fun*? Blogs can also be absolutely hilarious, personally revealing and incredibly interesting, offering a peak into people's minds that would otherwise cost us $20 and a latte from the Barnes and Nobles Starbucks (woot woot!).

Well, you're in luck! I've gone out and found some of my favorite blogs (some old, some new, all aging gracefully) -- so please take a few moments out of your busy day and have a look! Have a favorite blog you'd like to share with the class? Email me at bytesized@captivate.com and I may feature it in a future column.

Stuff White People Like -- Chris Rock is a super-funny comedian who loves playing off racial stereotypes. In the same vein is Stuff White People Like, a blog coming from the opposite perspective that lists off, well, things that white people like. But these aren't your typical middle America, soccer mom (or hockey mom -- whatever your flavor) stereotypes. They are seriously funny things that I bet you like too, and the insights on the whys and hows behind the list items made me LOLAW. Some of my faves: #1 Coffee, #111 Pea Coats, #60 Prius, #38 Arrest Development... I could literally list 12 more things without trying. You have to check this out for a good, long laugh at yourself.

Things I've bought that I love -- Mindy's blog qualifies as one of my 'old' favorites -- the site hasn't been updated in about a year, but the archived content will keep you entertained on even the most dragging afternoon siestas. Mindy Ephron (or, Mindy Kaling, who is a writer for and plays my favorite character on The Office, Kelly Kapoor) loves to shop, and she takes great pleasure in filling you all in on 'The things I've bought that I love.' Seriously, you guys. One afternoon on this and you will feel like you have found a long-lost girlfriend.

Diner Glossary -- "OK, I need some Bloodhounds in the Hay, paint 'em yellow and add a flower! Twist It, choke It and put a hat on it, then marry some frogs sticks with a lighthouse on a rail!" This diner-translator site really isn't blog per se, but what a hilarious time-waster! If you've ever wanted to talk 'diner' like you were a mint-green-wearing waitress on roller skates, please enjoy yourself. I only wish I could speak like this all the time!

Working Girl -- The ladies over at the Working Girl (not dirty, so it's safe to view at work) let us follow them in their daily lives working in New York and Chicago as they point out interesting office politics, workplace situations that we've all been in and social conundrums everyone can relate to. If you have a few minutes, let these ladies show what real women are like the workplace -- but, like, funnier.

The Green-eyed Momster -- This last one is probably my favorite of the bunch -- The Green-eyed Momster is sweet and informative for anyone trying to lessen their footprint on this world -- but trying to raise a 5-year-old daughter to feel the same way. Insightful, funny and often inspirational, this woman can transcribe a conversation with a toddler better than I've ever seen while retaining the child-like charm and amusement of someone really trying to make the world better. Highly recommend it.

OK, that's all for me today. Have fun visiting some of my favorite sites, and I'll meet you back here Monday with some fresh headlines for you to feast on!

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Congress drags US feet through D-TV

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 by Amber

Why delay the inevitable? Oh yeah. To waste more taxpayer money amidst the biggest financial crisis the country has seen in 70 years and possible ever.


Yesterday, the Senate approved a 4-month delay in the changeover to digital TV, moving the date to June 12 and the plan to the House for a Congressional OK later today.


Digital TV. Sigh. Just do it, already.

Monday, January 26, 2009 by Amber

Morning, faithful readers. If I could make you all a pair of alapaca mittens for frigid days like today's up in Boston, I totally would. As a replacement, wrap your hands around a scalding cup of black coffee and sip away your shivers...

I'm not believing it, but venture capitalists have reportedly valued Twitter -- the 140-character miniblog -- at $250 M. That's a lot of money. I've never tried it, so I won't give you my opinion. If you have, please inform me: Do you think that's fair or ridiculous?

Still looking to get your tech fingers on Microsoft's new OS that it debuted at CES? According to the company's blog, the Windows 7 beta will be available for download until Feb. 10.

Best Buy will expand it's electronic recycling program nationwide on Feb. 15. For $10, you can bring in a small gadget and turn it in, but be aware of this hitch: Anything with a screen, Best Buy will charge you $10 to recycle. Of course, you get a $10 Best Buy giftcard at the same time, so the cost -- as long as you frequently shop at Best Buy -- is a wash. Well, I should say (being a former employee and well aware of that store's insane mark-ups), it's a wash for the consumer. But, they are trying.

So, June 12 is likely the new date for the digital TV conversion. Sigh. Unless someone decides that isn't enough time, in which case it'll keep getting pushed out and the hillbillies of the world who are resisting what I used to be able to call 'the inevitable changeover' keep getting extra chances.

... Let's take a break from our headlines to talk about this a little. As I've already posted on this ad nauseum, why waste more words when previous ones will do? Here is a re-broadcast of one of my previous post on the matter. I hope this helps clear up any confusion and the debacle...

My dear grandma has had the same TV for at least the past 25 years -- as long ago as I can remember -- and it is so blurry that it hurts my eyes to look at it. She tapes her soaps everyday on a VCR, and scoffs at the idea of a new TV and a Tivo. She rarely uses her cell phone, which she has only for emergencies, and doesn't know how to change the ringtone (which I used to my great amusement a few years back by uploading 'SexyBack' by JT onto it).

She, I suppose, is the target audience for the federal govt's $1.5B campaign letting folks know their TVs won't work as of Feb. 2009 unless they upgrade to a new TV (gasp) or buy a fancy new converter box for good ol' bunny ears due to the switch from analog to digital TV signals.

Leave it to the gov't to waste billions of dollars overcomplicating a simple idea. I mean, perhaps it's that I don't fully understand the technical concept that, much like the switch from black-and-white to color programming nearly 50 years ago, older TVs that use an antenna to pull down and translate TV signals will no longer function when that over-air method of transmitting the signals is turned off and replaced by a wired digital signal that more efficiently transmits the same information using 1s and 0s to streamline the industry and improve picture clarity and viewer experience.

No... no, I think I understand the concept fine. It's the idea that $1.5 B needs to be spent to inform the public of the switch. Now, granted, some of that money is going into a discount program in the form of gov't issued coupons to help these analog folks buy a special converter to plug into the ol' TV boxes so they can still tune into Nick at Nite.

But that still seems like a lot of money, doesn't it, to simply tell people, 'Hey, before you get your bunny ears in a twist, better upgrade the TV, k?' So, in the interest of saving the gov't a bit of money, let's all do the feds a favor and inform everyone we know with analog TVs older than dust of the Feb. 2009 switch -- it's your duty as a geek to help out the technologically impaired.

I'll take the first step and ring up my grams... 'I'm bringing sexy back... you other boys don't know how to act... '

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I'm LOST with time travel.

Friday, January 23, 2009 by Amber

My head still hurts from all the workplace discussions of LOST yesterday -- like when the physicists on the Nova specials start talking about string theory, my brain just can't understand some of the more intricate details. For all you LOST fanatics, read down for some cool articles that may help explains things a bit from minds who do understand... First, though, let's get to the headlines!

Wow, this explains so much. New Obama officials assigned to work in the White House encountered serious flaws with the technological capabilities of the nation's most important office. According to the Washington Post: 'Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.' Wow. Just, wow. That's how our country was run for the last 8 years? Well, let's not be partisan, that's how it's been run forever? I'm really scared.

I know -- I'm disappointed that HD-DVD lost the battle, too -- now what are we all supposed to do with those HD-DVDs? Well, instead of listing them on Amazon for 85 cents, get some use out of them! Our Friends at CNet say Frys.com is selling the XBox 360 HD-DVD player for $50 (plus $8 s/h) -- plus, it also comes with a remote and copies of Battlestar Galactica season one, Heroes season one and King Kong. That's a great deal -- head over before they sell out!

OK, I'm calling it research for work ,but I just spent an hour playing on this hot just-launched site called Plinky.com. It offers awesome prompt questions for you to answer either on a blog or on your own Plinky homepage. You can link to a Facebook or Twitter account to share you answers to the prompts. Totally fun. Follow my answers at www.plinky.com/people/amplante or make a profile of your own!

OK, and now for your LOST fix, here are some time travel articles:

Washington Post writers look into other TV shows that featured time travel and why LOST is still superior.
About.com has a round-up of some cool stories.
PopSci offers up stories on time travel made (relatively) simple and why we haven't heard form future travellers.
And, as always, my favorite HowStuffWorks.com has these wicked informative time travel articles.

So, educate yourselves with these and we will chat again on Monday!

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Watch out for the 'Downadup' worm!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 by Amber

Hi Everyone! I'm going to make it short and sweet today ... I'm still having a post-inaugural rush of news to cover for the network. Here's some cool stories:

Heads up, geeks: There is a new worm sludging through the 'Net called 'Downadup.' It infected 9 million PCs last month, and is invading another1 million this week. Make sure you are patched lest you become another droning bot.

Yikes, this isn't good news. A study shows that kids are spending up to 6 hours a day in front of a screen -- be is a TV, computer or video game. Parents, time to get those kiddos up and moving! And gadgets can help, I swear! Try a tiny new Zune (sigh, or iPod Nano) or the Wii Fit. Hell, an old Richard Simmons' Swaetin' to the Oldies DVD can be a fun diversion.

Oh wow. This Scrabble keyboard is insanely cool.

Going on a trip soon but worried about your gadgets? Our friends at Digital Trends have some great in-transit and mid-vacation tips on keeping your electronics safe.

And, for all of our friends north of the border, I've been informed of a very cool Web show that brings your news and updates on all things electronic and geeky with a special nod to Canada. It's called rgbFilter, and it has a group on Facebook. Check it out and tell me your thoughts!

Talk to you all on Friday!

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Fruity trouble, Microsoft charges (again) and more invisibility cloaks

Monday, January 19, 2009 by Amber

Morning everyone! Thanks for tuning in to your tri-weekly dose of Byte-Sized!

(After a discussion between editors, we have determined that tri-weekly denotes 3 times a week, not once every three weeks -- just wanted you all to know that there was rhetoric.)

Before we get to it -- let me make a bold preface: I've been awake since 3:45 a.m. scraping 2+ feet of snow off my hybrid after waking up to a 2.5-year-old who walked up 2 flights of stairs at 2 a.m. to stand right next to my sleeping face and announce to the room that he pooped, which, upon inspection, he did not.

Thus, I'm a bit tired and in a mood not even hot coffee can fix. Please take this into consideration when reading more...

Are they ever going to let this go? Gah... Microsoft has been brought up on anti-trust charges by the EU for bundling its IE browser with its operating system. Could someone please call the EU and explain to them what year it is and what the current state of technology is? With companies giving away browsers for free online, like Firefox and Chrome, people certainly have a choice whether to adopt IE. Give it an effing rest and let the top be the top. Seriously.

A couple months back, we talked here about invisibility cloaks getting closer to reality -- well, they're even closer. No wait, don't whip our your HP spellbooks looking for a deathly hallow -- 'Researchers at Duke University, who developed a material that can "cloak" an item from detection by microwaves, report that they have expanded the number of wavelengths they can block.' See? pretty cool technology from some incredibly brilliant minds. Seriously.

Trouble on the fruity front: Reports are suggesting that Apple shareholders may bring up lawsuits over loss money in the wake of CEO Steve Jobs announcing his leave of absence. Apparently, people are kinda pissed that he went public a week before assuring them that he was fine, nary a problem save for a hormone imbalance, just to u-turn. Why can't people just tell the truth anymore? Seriously.

And, now there are reports that Jobs is considering a liver transplant as part of his treatment for pancreatic cancer, which the CEO suffered in 2004. Says Jobs to reporters questioning him on the rumor: "Why don't you guys leave me alone -- why is this important?"

Hey Steve, when your high-profile company is on the tongues of every world citizen ages 5 through 100, plus you've been lying to your shareholders (see above) about an illness that will affect their stock prices and nest eggs, it's important. Welcome to celebrity -- or do you not want your big paycheck or sucessful business anymore? I am pulling for you, bud, but please -- don't be dumb.

I humbly apologize for my ranting today. But, apparently Congress has proposed giving *more* money to the digital TV crossover fund! Excuse me? This has to be the biggest... I mean, what a waste... Such a debacle... I have not other words for this.

OK, more coffe. And maybe some chocolate. yeah, that'll help make this snowy holiday that I'm working on a bit more comfortable. See you all on Wednesday!

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There was a country, had a prez and Obama was his name-o

Friday, January 16, 2009 by Amber

Brrrr ... spend your spare time with me and a big glass of hot coffee on this freezing day. If it's not freezing for you, I suppose you can read along anyways...

Facebook has officially killed that really funny Whopper story I told you about Monday. The site cites privacy issues over how the application informed your friends that you dumped them because they weren't worth their weight in beef, or something similarly clever. This story links the decision to pressure by Microsoft -- will the anger over them never cease?

In what I think is the biggest non-news story of the week -- and by that, I mean that it didn't take much observation and deduction skills to cut through the PR bull$%&# when it was announced he was skipping Macworld in Jan. -- Steve Jobs has announced he is taking a leave of absence from Apple until June. Steve, I know we don't get along as far as Microsoft vs. Apple, but I wish you the very best and a most speedy recovery. But, you're not coming back, are you?

Want to watch the inauguration? Worried you'll get bored and turn it off before Obama gets to the good stuff? Well, have no fear, Forbes has created 'Obama Bingo' -- complete with four printable cards -- to play at the office while every gathers around the flatscreen. The game is based on what the new president will say during his inaugural address, and you mark off the phrases as they are spoken.

It's been said before -- but you know times are bad when Google axes some jobs. It's not company-wide and is only affecting recruiters and certain engineering offices, but jobs are jobs. In addition to axing workers, Google is also dropping some apps. Click here to read more.

OK, all, have a safe and warm weekend, and I'll catch you on the flip side, where we'll have some cool inauguration coverage and more!

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Purge your friend list for a Whopper

Wednesday, January 14, 2009 by Amber

We've got a boatload of stories for you today -- and no, none of them contain New Kids on the Block. So, let's get started!

You'd better not unfriend me for a Whopper... some McDonald's Chicken Selects, perhaps; a salty batch of Wendy's fries with a Spicy Chicken sandwich, getting closer... but a soupy, sloppy whopper? For all you Facebookers with bloated friends lists, you can download a new application that prompts you to unfriend 10 people in exchange for a coupon for Burger King's new Angry Whopper. Seriously. Ugh, why am I now totally craving fast food?! Damn it...

A 13-year-old girl sent 14,528 text messages last month, according to her monthly statement. Her dad, thinking this wasn't actually possible, did some quick math and found this equates to "484 text messages a day, or one every two minutes of every waking hour." Seriously, you didn't notice your daughter texting that much? Something is very wrong at this home ... I don't think I send 1 a week, but then again I only have a number pad on my pink Razr and texts aren't my thing. Well, except for the one night I texted until roughly 3 a.m. with a friend while simultaneously reading Breaking Dawn. That was fun, but at what point do you just call them?

Not just for kids? According to our friends at Digital Trends, Lego and gadget company Digital Blue have teamed up to produce electronic gear made in the image of Lego's iconic bricks.

This 'net series is totally rad, or so I'm told. Called "The Rad Show," it was filmed before a live studio audience and highlights some of the best of 2008 -- including The Wrestler, Left 4 Dead and LOST. Give them a look and tell me what you think!

New Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz is a hot-$%&# kind of lady -- and I like her! Here is a great story and quote about her reaction to being named CEO and her plans for the company: According to today's Captivate screen (made by yours truly from an AP story), "An hour after Yahoo announced her hiring Tues., new CEO Carol Bartz vowed to make sure Yahoo gets some ‘friggin’ breathing room’ so it can ‘kick some butt.’" Go, girlfriend!

See you all on Friday!

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Roundup of Byte-Sized CES coverage

Monday, January 12, 2009 by Amber

Good morning, everyone! Amber here. We had a whirlwind weekend at CES -- here are all the hours and stories logged by Peter Szabo, our Byte-Sized reporter extraordinaire:

The Top 6 List at CES
CES photo album 2
Looking back at the show
Gadgets: The best of the rest
Headphones aren't just white earbuds
Live TV on the go
CES photo album 1
BlackBerry mania
Laptop envy
Camera heaven at CES
Can't be at CES? Here's a taste.
3-D Glasses at CES -- sports and the geeks who love them.
Free download of Windows 7 beta!
From the floor of CES!
Key notes on last night's Ballmer keynote!
CES coverage - Part 2
CES coverage - Part 1
CES coverage begins today!

Take a few minutes -- or an hour, whatever -- to peruse these fabulous stories! And, please share your own by emailing us at bytesized@captivate.com or leaving a comment!

Thanks, and have a great day! We're abck with your headlines on Wednesday...


Top 6 list

by Amber

Since friends kept asking “what was your favorite thing from CES?”, I figured I’d share my favorites. This is by no means a comprehensive “best of show” list. These are simply one man’s favorite items, the ones that stood out most to me as unique in crowded fields:

(Prices are MSRP, I’ve seen each much cheaper online.)

1. Sony Vaio TT200 laptop - $1999
2. Canon PowerShot SD880IS - $249.99 (available for low-mid $200s)
3. Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth earpiece - $149.95 (available for half that online)
4. Koss PortaPro headphones - $49.99
5. Altec Lansing Expressionist BASS computer speakers - $129.95
6. BlackBerry 8900 (and magically make it work on VZW)

And 4 runner’s up, just for fun:
1. iLane Bluetooth e-mail & txt reader / dictation composer - $599
2. SanDisk 16 GB microSD – price not yet set (probably around $50)
3. SanDisk 240 GB SSD for laptop - $499
4. Toshiba Tecra R10 laptop - $1549

Check out all our CES posts by clicking here.

--Peter Szabo

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CES photo album 2

by Amber

For more than just pictures from CES, click here.

Looking back

by Amber

Thoughts that stuck with me back home after I drove past a billboard promoting Disney’s “free park pass on your birthday” as I tried to get over the disappointment because my birthday already passed this year. Hey Mickey, next year, can you please start promoting that in December? …

-CES is huge. Humongous. Enormous. Big. 2,700 exhibitors and 135,000 attendees from 140 countries. They say “International CES”, but it really is. Saw a lot of foreign colleagues all week in Vegas.

-I really hope these foreign colleagues have been other places in the US. As my boss pointed out, we’d hate to think Vegas is what they think of when they think “USA”.

-I kept trying to find a clever way to work in the fact that the porn convention was going on across town, but never did. Oh well. At least now you know.

-Hard drive capacity keeps increasing, but man, we’re generating a lot of content. Just at the show, there were cameras & camcorders- both professional & consumer level- everywhere. What’s happening to all these pictures & videos? I took 300+ pictures and only posted 100. I’m sure the same thing is happening with others.

-I love my BlackBerry 8830 (World Edition) and Verizon Wireless’ coverage. Running around non-stop for 4 days, it allowed me to stay in contact with the office back in LA, as well as friends & family around the world. I really don’t think I could live without it.

-Walking around the show, there were tons of iPod speaker docks & speaker systems. But very few of them with good sound.

-Cell phone advances were strikingly missing from the show. There were TVs, laptops, Blu-ray players, 3-D movies, TVs, and so on, but very little in the way of new cell phones. Palm had their big announcement, but overall, cell phones had very little presence.

-Do yourself a favor, if you’re heading to Vegas this year, make a point to have at least one meal at Company American Bistro inside the Luxor. Tapas style small portions so you get to sample a variety of things, all of which are amazing. Best meal I’ve had in a long time.

-The world is made up of companies that you’ve never heard of. 2,700 vendors at the show, and I swear I’ve heard of, maybe, a few hundred. Who are all these other companies? What do they do?

-We need more recycling. The vast amounts of paper alone that was generated, and discarded, for this show is a great microcosm of our recycling problem in general.

-You really get to see what humanity is like at shows like this. Just the act of transporting 135,000 people to and from the convention center every day means you inevitably have to stand in a line or two. But I heard very few complaints, most people held doors for you and said thank you if you did the same for them. We’re not so rude so bad after all.

-There are so many great tech toys at CES, I’m sure you want to buy some (all?) of them. Check out PriceGrabber.com- it’s a shopping portal that finds the best prices, and tends to be lower because of the contracts they have with their merchants. It’s worth a look.

-After being home a few hours and searching a bit to see how much some of my favorite items cost, I’m amazed at the deals available. With the economy down, people are fighting for your dollar more than anytime in recent memory.

-There was a bar next to my departing gate at the Vegas airport playing an old Phil Collins CD from start to finish. No satellite radio, no mix of music- just Phil Collins from beginning to end. Amazing.

-People who have Captivate in their buildings have an amazing affection for it. We were stopped no less than a half dozen times by people who recognized the name Captivate Network on our name badges. Each one had their own unique story they wanted to share about why they love us. Very cool.

-Seeing these products is great, but actually using them is better. You get only an initial taste at CES, a first opinion heavily driven by looks. I can’t wait to test them out in the coming months and really see which ones are the best!

--Peter Szabo

The best of the rest

by Amber

Now, sadly, we’re getting to the part of the show where there are simply too many products and too little time. So far, I’ve tried to highlight some of the best things I’ve seen, and give you details on them. I wish there was enough time to do the same for a lot of these other products, but unless I want to be writing into next month, there just isn’t. Check out the 2 photo albums, there are over 50 pictures with captions for each. It’s a great way to get a quick feel for the show. We may revisit some of these products in the future, but for now, let’s roll into the first annual “bye-sized rest of CES”…

-Pioneer was among many companies featuring BD Live- which stands for Blu-ray Disc live. It allows you to tap into the internet for some great content and features. The best example I heard was how a movie’s director can host a Blu-ray viewing party. The director can pause the movie for everyone (cause you’re all watching at the same time, and are connected to the internet) and explain a scene before it plays. Or pause the movie to take questions from the audience. Takes interactivity to a whole other level. It turns a 2 hour movie into a 4 ½ hour interactive experience.

-If you’re old school about getting your TV signal from an over the air antenna, Audiovox has a new line of sleek, stylish HD antennas. They match the flat appeal of the latest TVs. (No more rabbit ears.) They also showed off camcorder batteries that charge in minutes, not hours.

-Panasonic is proposing a Blu-ray 3-D standard and hopes to have full HD 3-D Blu-ray authoring in place by 2010. As long as that means more sports will be available in 3-D, too, bring it on! They are also adding “Tough Display” to their Viera HDTV’s to help protect the screens from accidental bumps, soccer balls or kids running into them.

-A big buzzword throughout the show that we’ve barely touched on was “convergence”- basically connecting everything gadget to the internet. Which is great, because it’s always annoying when you have to watch that episode you missed of your favorite TV show on your 13” laptop, when you’re used to watching on your 42” HDTV. Hulu, YouTube etc coming soon to your TV.

-Who has the #1 market share worldwide for flat panel TVs? Samsung. But they are quickly moving to become a bigger player with cameras & camcorders. They have a tiny new HD camcorder with a 64 GB hard drive (which is huge).

-Many of the TV manufacturers had what they called an “HD Shooting Gallery” set up. It allowed you to see live versions of their HD camcorders. What blew me away was that usually the HD image on the TV looked better than the real life version of what the camera was shooting. Fruit, for example, looked boring to the naked eye, but on the HDTV, it was vibrant, with richer color.

-iGo is helping reduce the clutter as you travel. Check out their lineup of chargers, some of which allow you to charge 2 devices at once with only 1 cord.

-The BlackBerry 8900 (a new version of the Bold for T-Mobile) is even nicer than the Bold you see continually advertised on TV for AT&T. It’s a bit smaller, and even sleeker looking. Sure wish T-Mobile had better coverage in the US cause I’d grab this one in a heartbeat!

-Ego has a Bluetooth hands free system for your car which, they claim, allows you to talk in a convertible (with the top up) at 80mph and the caller you’re speaking with won’t know you’re in the car. I don’t know about that, but I was happy to hear they use the same technology that’s in the Microsoft’s Sync system in my Ford Edge. They also have a clever marketing campaign for it, seen here.

-Panasonic, according to them, is the largest consumer electronics company in the world. Interestingly, they weren’t even showing off their ToughBook laptop line. They had a giant booth, mostly with just TVs. (I say “just TVs”, but they were gorgeous TVs.) Did you know the company was started when their founder, 23 at the time, became frustrated there was only 1 power socket in each room so he created the first multi-plug (known today as a surge protector)? Amazing how these giant companies start from such small places.

-Casio demoed a new high speed anti-shake technology available in their Exilim line of compact cameras. The FS-10 camera will take 30 shots in 1 second, automatically detect which one has the most people smiling in it, and delete the other 29. It looked nice on their demo stage, but I sure wish we could have tried it ourselves.

-Roland has an electronic drum kit for $799 that allows you to learn the drums in your home, without the loud racket that would make your neighbors hate you. Paired with their $99 “Drum Tutor” software that runs on any PC, you get a clean, easy to learn interface that will be very familiar to any Rock Band fans. I'm now one step closer to learning the drums! Nice!

-Kodak unveiled their new HD pocket video camera, very nice. They also were showing off a new phone, in partnership with T-Mobile, that takes amazing pictures. My father has one, so I’m already very familiar with it. It’s no “camera phone” with grainy images. This is a full fledged camera that happens to be inside a phone. Kodak also has an updated line of wifi frames. One feature is that you can put one at your parent’s house 2,000 miles away, and whenever you update your photos on Kodak Gallery, they automatically see the new ones on their frame too. No need to e-mail and hope they can download them and transfer them onto the frame. Great for the not so tech inclined. For anyone that doesn’t have wifi at home, check out the T-Mobile Cameo- same idea, but the pictures are sent over T-Mobile’s network instead of wifi.

-SanDisk- the company you probably know best from the media cards for your digital camera- is increasing their capacity by staggering amounts. First, they unveiled a new microSD card with 16GB capacity. These are the tiny memory cards for your cell phone /BB, and as of a year ago, only had 4GB capacity. You’ll see more from this in a new marketing campaign called “Wake Up Your Phone”- as in, do more with your phone because you now can! And in SSD (solid state, meaning no moving parts) hard drive advances, they’re upto 240GB. That essentially brings SSD on par with traditional laptop hard drives. You can even swap them out yourself in your existing laptop if you want. Prices for their SSD drives range from $149-499 and give you benefit of increased durability (you don’t risk a crash if you drop your laptop) along with longer battery life because there are no moving parts.

-I already mentioned Netgear’s new products, but to finish the story- their USB 3B broadband router comes with a cigarette lighter power cord so you can use it in the car. It’s available now and costs $129. Hot spot in the car, anyone?

-If you don’t want to run wires all over your house to get audio from one source to come out on speakers in another room, check out the i2i system. It allows each receiver to steam audio from 3 sources. Goes for $119.95 and each receiver will last 5-7 hours on a charge. Great if you want to listen to your iTunes library on your main stereo in the living room.

-Roots, which I had previously known only as a Canadian clothing company, has a great line of Blackberry & iPhone covers called “Tuff Skin”. They are rated to protect from a drop onto concrete from 4 feet high. Too bad they are only sold in Canada. But to our friends up north, grab them at Best Buy or Future Shop.

-Which company’s headset was Neil Armstrong wearing when he became the first man to walk on the moon? Plantronics. If it was good enough to bring us the “One small step for man…” audio, it’s good enough for me! I’ve had a few Plantronics products, and they’re always fantastic. Great call quality on both ends. So I was excited to see their new Discovery 925 Bluetooth headset. Not only is it tiny, but it comes with a dual use case. Dual use because it both protects the headest, and also serves as a battery backup. If you charge the headset in the case, you’ll get 5 hours talk time on the headset, but then another 5 from the case itself. A neat backup feature allowing you to be away from the charger longer. It’s available now in a rainbow of colors, and retails for $150. However, in some quick searching, I’ve already seen it for half that- $75 on Amazon.

-Plantronics’ sister company, Altec Lansing, debuted their new Expressionist line of computer speakers. My favorite is the Expressionist BASS- a $129 version that eliminates the subwoofer, but still gives you deep bass. Great sound from speakers that don’t take up a lot of space. For $199 you can step up to the Expressionist ULTRA, but get ready for the neighbors to complain. These things crank!

-Do you watch a lot of TV shows on your laptop? If you’re frustrated from having to search individual websites (like Hulu, NBC, CBS, ABC, MTV, etc) to find your content, do yourself a favor …download the ZViewer from Zee Vee. It takes video from those sources (and more) and organizes them into the easiest navigation setup for web video I’ve come across. And, if you want to get all that great web content on your actual TV screen, grab their ZvBox. It’s a simple looking box that does that fancy job of converting your computer’s video output to HD TV input- oh and uses coax cable from the box to your TV, so you can set it up next to your computer in one room, and run long coax to your TV in the living room without any picture quality loss.

-Brother’s MFC6490CW all in one allows you to print ledger (11x17) size pictures & documents. If you’re always squinting at your Excel spreadsheet printouts, you won’t be if you print them out that size. The picture to the right does a great job showing the difference between a 4x6, 8.5x11 and 11x17 print. Bigger is better.

-Polaroid is back. Months after announcing they were discontinuing film for their old instant cameras, they have a new digital camera that can instantly print 2x3” prints. It looks like a regular digital camera (albeit a large & chunky one), and can print upto 10 of the small prints with each paper tray. There is no ink, and unlike their old instant film, they are instantly visible. No more shaking or waiting for the image to appear. They print onto sticker paper, so you can post them anywhere. Price is $199, and refills of paper cost $4.99.

-From the “why hasn’t anyone thought of this sooner?” category- Dish Network now allows you to get a satellite dish with your favorite NFL team’s logo on it. No longer does your rooftop dish have to be a plain gray eyesore, now it can be a vibrant tribute to your team. It’s a little odd, only because the NFL Sunday Ticket (where you get to watch all the NFL games) is exclusive only to DirecTV (Dish’s rival).

--Peter Szabo

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Headphones aren't just white earbuds

by Amber

Did you know that headphones were invented almost by accident? Back in 1958, John C Koss Sr was selling phonographs, and needed something portable to play the sound through when he was demoing the turntables so he didn’t have to lug speakers around too. He found a way to hook up the sound to run through what was essentially a pilot’s headset. The first time used them in a demo, the person he was showing them to said forget the phonograph, I want the headphones! In the 51 years since, the company known simply as Koss has continued to innovate and Mr Koss was happily showing off his latest masterpieces in headphone technology at the Koss booth at CES.

I was told that his favorite headphones are currently the Koss Porta Pro. Interesting, I thought, because they look very plain. They are a slightly nicer version of what you used to get with a Walkman. They are small and round over your ears with a metal headband to hold them in place. Very non-technical looking. I’m used to fancy earbuds these days or claims of a headphone blocking out an airplane’s loud engine. But, the story continued, these are what Mr Koss uses as a gift whenever he needs a present. Hmm, ok.

Skeptically I walked over and put them on. Wow. This instantly shot to near the top of my list of imbalanced perception vs reality - right next to cheesy crust pizza, man, what a disappointment that was. But this was the reverse- they were nothing like what I had thought- in a good way!.Clear, deep bass, loud mids and highs- just great sound. Coming from these plain looking headphones? I was amazed. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, right? I’ll have to remember that. They fold up nicely for portability, too. So I was now ready for a steep price tag. I walked over to inquire, and was again shocked when the answer came back- $49.99. All this for $50 bucks? Nice. Mental note- must grab a pair of these immediately. Anyone with white iPod ear buds, make sure you check these out, it’ll improve your listening experience many times over.

But, if you prefer your headphones in the ear bud variety, the Koss CC_01 Custom Fit Earbuds are for you. They look like regular earbuds, but after you slide them in your ear, your turn the dial at the back and they expand to fit your ear canal perfectly. No more sliding around, or hoping 1 of the 3 tip sizes fit your ear. These mold perfectly to your exact ear, sealing in the sound and also, as an added treat, sealing the outside world’s ambient noise out. They go for $149.

They even have another earbud that separates bass & treble. On the Koss KDE250, the bass comes from a small unit that stays outside your ear, while the part that slides into your ear provides mids & trebles. Another nice feature of this one is the hook that sits over your ear is adjustable by turning the knob on the side. A great touch for making sure it fits you right. Price for these is $249. I wasn’t as impressed with the sound on these as I was with the others- interesting only because it shows that price isn’t everything. But test them out, I can guarantee you all 3 offer greatly improved sound to whatever came with your iPod/MP3 player.

If you like the headphones that fully surround your ear, but wished you didn’t have to carry around an MP3 player to hook into the headphones, Koss has solved your problem. The Tugo MP3 Stereophone puts the MP3 player into the casing of your headphones. You’ll get 8-15 hours of battery life (that’s quite a wide range) and some amazing sound quality. Price is $199, and comes with 512MB of built in memory. Sadly, there is no shuffle mode, so make sure you arrange songs in the order you want to listen to them. There is a forward & back button, though, so you can skip songs.

Oh, and a nice touch in all of these headphones is they have a cloth cord. Wraps around your MP3 players a lot easier than the rubber cords.

For more CES posts, just click here.

--Peter Szabo

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Live TV on the go

Sunday, January 11, 2009 by Amber

If you’ve heard of Verizon Wireless’ VCast or AT&T Mobile TV, you’ve heard of FloTV. Both companies re-brand it as their own, but the company behind it all is MediaFLO, giving you TV on your cell phone. The best part is, it actually comes over the air as a TV signal, which saves you from having to use your cell phone’s data plan, and also saves you a ton of battery life. Your cell phone picks up the signal, plays it on your FLO enabled phone, and you get live TV from channels you already love at home like ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox, Comedy Central, CNBC, MTV, etc. Their “primetime” is 11a-2p, so you can catch some of your favorite moments you might have missed last night on your lunchbreak. It’s not a re-broadcast of those channels’ existing programming, they each have a “mobile” version, with special content that is sometimes an exact mirror of their traditional feed, other times re-broadcasts of popular shows.

MediaFLO was showing off their existing TV on cell phones product at their booth, but had a new application of their technology to unveil at CES. In partnership with Audiovox, you can now watch those same TV channels in the car. You see, the same chip that’s installed in your cell phone to capture the signal, can be installed in your car as well. Just add a bigger screen, and suddenly you don’t just have to watch DVDs in the back seat anymore. Passengers can watch the live game on ESPN in the backseat, while even the driver can enjoy the audio. Interestingly, I learned that you can even watch live TV on your front dash (say on your GPS screen), as long as the car is in park.

Check out some of the pictures here, it looks amazing. I’m lucky enough to have been down to MediaFLO’s master control room at their headquarters in San Diego a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, it’s amazing. Rivals any TV or network center I’ve ever seen. They have real time monitoring of each channel, maximizing the signal many times per second. They’re in 65 markets right now, and will expand to 179 by the end of the year. They will be a big beneficiary of the digital TV changeover happening next month, because they will be able to tap into more of the airwaves in more cities.

The car solution is slated to cost around $500.

For all the gamers, Audiovox also announced a partnership with Sony to put Playstation 2 into a flip down center TV console for the car. It shrinks the PS2 unit from the big box in your living room, to essentially a portable DVD player sized unit that mounts on your car’s ceiling.

--Peter Szabo

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CES photo album 1

Saturday, January 10, 2009 by Amber

Just click on the slideshow to start it. It moves pretty quick, so use the buttons at the bottom to pause and move at your own speed.

BlackBerry mania

by Amber

I resisted getting a BlackBerry for years. Which is odd only because if you ask any of my friends I’m always the first the have the latest gadgets. But for some reason, the BlackBerry was too much of a trade off. The always on, instantly reachable, tether to the office seemed too much. As things at work got busier, meetings outside the office increased, and I suddenly started feeling like I was missing e-mails. Driving all the way back to the office to “check e-mail” started to get more cumbersome. Slowly I began to think a BlackBerry might be worth it. Knowing if I had e-mails, and specifically needing to get back to clients quickly became more of a priority, so I caved. Off to Verizon Wireless I went.

Looking back on that now, I’m amazed. Amazed because I really think you would have to pry the BlackBerry from my fingers. (Seriously, ask anyone who knows me.) I’m right up there with our new President- the BlackBerry is an integral tool I use constantly throughout the day and can’t live without. Once I figured out that getting an e-mail doesn’t mean you have to respond to it right away (ok, I’m still working on that one), I felt more in control of my “always on” world. I started with BB for e-mail, but soon realized it was more than that. It’s a great mobile internet device, and I probably read more news on that now than I do through a traditional browser.

Recently, though, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by all the iPhone hype. I don’t mean that as any knock on Apple, they have an amazing product with both the iPhone and the iPod Touch (which I have and love), but why can’t those of us in the BlackBerry world have similar toys? The iPhone App store is a wonderful collection, I just want versions I can use on my BlackBerry. I felt myself thinking things like, “I have a 3G connection too, why can’t I stream radio?” Certain websites (ESPN, NY Times, LA Times, Boston.com) have done a nice job adding shortcuts to the BlackBerry home screen, which take you directly to their BB optimized site. Nice, but that’s a glorified shortcut. Points for effort, and I love having them, but still not an App Store. That’s about to change.

5 minutes after walking into the BlackBerry booth, it was obvious that the times, they were a changin’. A variety of app style content providers were on hand to show off ways to extend your BlackBerry and make it much more of the multi-faceted communications device I was craving. I have to hand it to these guys, everyone in the BlackBerry booth was eager to show off their product, and jumped right in to help you get it set up properly on your device. This wasn’t a conceptual display where they talk about what you can do, this was about doing it yourself right now!

First I wandered over to Nobex. A friendly rep said he could provide me access to 2700 radio stations in a matter of seconds. No way I said. (I also live in constant fear that any cool new BB app won’t work for me- either because of the strict restrictions Verizon Wireless places on their network, or the fact that my World Edition 8830 doesn’t seem to support all BB features. More on that in a second.) That fear jumped to the forefront of my head as I heard the concept- 300 streamable stations, 2400 stations with access to “now playing” style information. After a quick download of their “Radio Companion”, he popped on K-Rock, a popular rock station from LA. Live on the convention center floor, we were listening to live radio, for no additional cost. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Unfortunately, the vast majority of stations only provide access to text lists of recently played songs, which is a major bummer. But what you do get, is still pretty cool. Say, for example you’re listening to Kiss in LA, and you hear a song you like. You can pop over to Nobex, and in one click, have an e-mail sent to you with title, artist, lyrics, along with direct links to buy the song on iTunes or Amazon. A neat feature for anyone that doesn’t necessarily know all the titles of songs, or who sings them. More streamable stations are “in the works”. Let’s hope they arrive soon, because this is great! If you have Bluetooth streaming in your car, you can even play the stations over your car audio system. Can’t wait to try this with Sync in my Ford Edge! Oh, and that “friendly rep”, turns out he was President/CEO Gadi Mazor. I love a company whose founder loves his product and talks about it with such deep passion and obvious excitement. They’ve had 250,000 new users since their launch last April. NobexRC.com to download

(In further testing, the Radio Companion app seems to be a buggy. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, because Gadi made it look so easy. But when I scroll through stations, my cursor isn’t highlighting selections. It just scrolls, and I don’t know what I’m about to select. Quite odd.)

Flycast is a similar program- a radio tuner for the BlackBerry. Unfortunately it’s only available for the Curve, Storm, or Bold- so I was out of luck. I do have Flycast on my iPod touch, and it’s fantastic. Not only can you listen live, but it somehow allows you to skip backwards during live radio broadcasts, a cool feature. So if the version for BB works nearly as well, you’ll love it. I heard how the company was founded by a guy named Sam, who years ago was frustrated he couldn’t watch SportsCenter on his cell phone. So he started rigging equipment to try and make it happen. After some not so successful attempts, his vision morphed into Flycast and became audio based. Love the entrepreneurial spirit! Flycast.fm to download

Moving past radio tuners, we got to Viigo- a lifestyle application, that best I can describe, seems like a whole new interface for your BB. It’s a great example of how much can be done on such a small screen. It’s a free mobile companion for breaking news, blogs, finance, sports, RSS and more. Once you download, you customize what you want by adding “channels”- basically whatever interests you. Then you have a unique application finding content you want. The interface is fantastic. Very fast- much faster than to navigate than anything I’ve seen before on the BB. It seems to preload a lot of info, making it easier to jump forward and backwards, but eating up a bit of memory. A great example of convergence on your mobile phone. getviigo.com/bb to download

Sling for BB is the long awaited BB version of the popular Sling Media Player. If you’ve never heard of Slingbox, it’s a magical box you easily pair with your home TV/DVR/cable box to watch your home TV anywhere in the world with an internet connection. It’s fantastic- once you buy the unit, there is no monthly fee, because it just uses your existing home high speed internet connection. It’s been a treat for me for years- saving me from missing Patriots playoff games while skiing in Switzerland last year. But I’ve always needed a laptop to watch it. I had heard about the Windows Mobile version a while back, and was jealous I couldn’t get it on the BB. The Sling Player for BB is out now as a free public beta for GSM phones (AT&T & T-Mobile). A CDMA (Verizon Wireless & Sprint) version is in the works. So I was immediately bummed that I would have to wait longer, but excited for my AT&T / T-Mobile brothers & sisters. The demo looked clean and clear, a bit choopy at times- because of network overload in the convention center I was told. But the prospect of watching my home TV (including all shows I’ve DVR-ed) from anywhere on my BB still excites me. mobile.slingmedia.com to download

Poynt brings local search to the BlackBerry. Movies, restaurants and the like are all a click away and easily searchable. It was launched last June and they had 5,000 downloads from June – September. Since then, they have jumped by an additional 35,000 users. They won a Best in Show award at BlackBerry Challenge, and feature great ways to find things to do close by. For example, if you are in a new neighborhood, you can search for movie theatres around you, then buy tickets right from your BB. Note, unfortunately, Verizon Wireless locks down their GPS so you won’t get full functionality from VZW, but it’s still a great new app. m.mypoynt.com to download

If you’re a fan of the Wall Street Journal, but don’t like paying for their on-line content, download the WSJ Reader. Available since August, it opens up all of WSJ’s paid subscriber content for free to BB users. wsjmobilereader.com to download

Now we come to one of the coolest technologies I saw at the whole show. The ability to unlock your front door using your BlackBerry. Oh, and not just that, the ability to see who is standing in your doorway. Schlage has developed system called Schlage LiNK- a new wifi enabled locking mechanism that allows you remotely unlock your door from your BB. The starter kit is $299 and comes with a lock, light and bridge device (which wirelessly connects to your lock to your existing home router). If you’ve ever had to deal with repair men, house guests, housekeepers or delivery men, you know what a pain it is to remember to leave a key. Now you don’t have to worry about it. When they get to your house, you can remotely unlock the door. If you’re worried about security, you can even log into a webcam that’s been installed above your doorway to see who is standing there waiting to be let in.

The lock is actually even more sophisticated than that, you can assign codes lasting only for 1 day for people that need one time access or give you a rundown of what codes were used at what time that day- hello parents of teenagers. Now you can see what time your kids got home from school every day. Or set it to send you txt message updates to be notified when someone used a particular code. You can also do time based lock code so a certain code will only work from 3-6pm. Neat stuff. If you’re now thinking, wow that’s a lot of stuff to control from a BB, they have a web based application you can use as well. You can do the same things I just described from your computer at work, a friends house, any internet enabled computer. They will soon be unveiling a thermostat component so you can control the heat in your house while away from home. link.schlage.com for more info

If you love Brickbreaker on your BB, you’ll probably like some of the offerings from EA- Electronic Arts- the huge computer game maker. They are up to 40+ games for BB now, and demoed a great version of Trivial Pursuit. Unfortunately it was on the new Storm so I can’t get it, but it looked great. Games that are available for mine included Tetris, Monopoly and Yahtzee. Prices are around $10 / game. Eamobile.com to download

The AP has a fantastic app called “AP Mobile News”- pulling together a great looking app to help you sort through a wide variety of news. Right up there with Viigo for maximizing the small screen space, it allows you to browse Top News, Local, Sports, Showbiz, US News, Wacky, Tech, Politics, Finance, Business, etc across the top of the screen. Then it gives you the headlines for each underneath. Scroll through, then click to read the full story. Looks much better than repurposed text with only a few graphics that other news sites do. apnews.com to download

Ticketmaster is launching a new BB app in April- basically the same look and feel of the full size Ticketmaster.com, but on your BB. If you’ve ever purchased tickets through their main site, you’ll recognize the same menus, selection buttons, seating charts, etc. All the same as the main site. You’ll never have to rush home to be in front of your computer when your favorite band’s concert goes on sale at 10am again! Look for it in April.

With more and more states passing laws that ban txting or sending e-mails while driving, it’s amazing a device like iLane hasn’t come out sooner. It reads your txts & e-mail to you over a Bluetooth earpiece. The audio sounds like the computer voice you’ve heard for years, but text was easily understandable. It will even alert you when a new message arrives, ask you if you want to hear it, then if you do, read it to you. When it’s finished reading the message, it asks if you want to respond. If you do, it will accept your dictation and send your reply. Pretty amazing. It’s all contained in a small box that can easily fit under your car seat. It’s small enough, though, that if you want, you can take it with you to the office and use it for dictation outside the car. The price is a big downer, unfortunately- $599, with a $7.99 monthly fee + a one-time activation fee of $39.99. That gets you what you see here- translating box, cigarette power cord and Bluetooth earpiece. If you’re lucky, though, it will pair with your car’s existing Bluetooth system. Manufacturers it currently definitely works with include BMW, Acura & Mercedes (you see who the target is for this, if not from the price then from those car companies), with more coming as soon as they can certify them. I love this device. iLane.com for more info

Finally we come to NIM, a service that you probably already know by another name, depending on your carrier. For Verizon, it’s called VZNavigator. I thought it was simply turn by turn GPS directions, but it actually takes things much farther. I ended up realizing it’s bringing an element of social networking to your BB. Say I’m meeting 5 friends for dinner. If I look up the restaurant’s address on my VZNavigator, I can then send it to my other 4 friends, who will have it instantly come up on their VZNavigator and all of us will be guided to the restaurant from our respective locations.

You can search for restaurants, movies even the cheapest gas around you, and the system will guide you there once you select the destination. If you call 411, the service can shoot the info to your phone, and again, start routing you automatically. You can speak directions over Bluetooth in your car (usually, some old Bluetooth systems won’t support it). You can even originate the planning of a trip on VZNavigator.com, and then push the results to your phone, rather than tinkering on the smaller device. The map data & POI (points of interest) are updated every 3 months, which is a nice touch if you’ve ever had a car based GPS system that requires you to pay $200 for a DVD update after a year or so. It also ties in with your BB’s address book so you can navigate to any address you already have. Service is $9.99 / mo- not bad for $120 / year if you consider some of these features would require you to buy a stand alone GPS system costing several hundred dollars or more. VZNavigator.com for more info

A quick note that some of these apps zap a fair bit of memory, so be careful as you go. The ones that pre-load content have options to set a limit on how much memory it can use. But I quickly found myself much lower on memory than I was before. Not a big deal if you have a more recent BB with plenty of free space, but just something to keep an eye on.

With these few (compared to the iPhone App Store) offerings, I have already moved from the realm of “gee, I wish there were more apps” to “I can’t play with them all”- which is a good thing!
--Peter Szabo

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Laptop envy

by Amber

I’ve been a sucker for laptops for a while. The smaller, lighter, faster and, let’s face it, sexier looking, they get- the more I want one. Every month there’s a new superlite/ ultraportable that I’m coveting. So I was excited to check out the latest & greatest here at CES.

Sony has 3 new additions to their Vaio line of laptops. 2 are extensions of current models, 1 is new. First, my favorite.

TT 200 – to my eye, this notebook fell right into the sweetspot of tiny & light, yet without a cramped keyboard and microscopic screen. At 2.8 lbs, my shoulder immediately wanted to swap it with the larger notebook weighing it down now. 11.1” screen, comes in a slew of colors, including this handsome gold number pictured here. (Again, like the Canon camera, not shiny gold, nice muted, gold.) It’s made of carbon fiber, which is 400x stronger than plastic used in other notebooks, and looks great. Amazingly, despite the incredibly thin styling, Sony fit in an optical DVD and/or Blu-ray drive / recorder. Battery life was offered up at 6 hours, but a fellow attendee mentioned he routinely got 8 hours from the last version of this laptop. That’s impressive. He laughed when I asked him what he was doing for those 8 hours, and he promised it wasn’t just in standby mode. Price starts at $1999, so it’s definitely on the higher end, but wow, quite the stunner. And with the drive built in, if you can afford it, this is the machine I would choose.

Z600 – Also made of carbon fiber, this laptop is also quite lovely. At 3.5 lbs it’s slightly heavier than the TT200. Also has a built in DVD/Blu-ray drive.

Lifestyle PC – the Vaio P500 – this one got the oohs and aahs – it’s tiny. Absolutely tiny. You can see in the pictures, with the hand next to it, just how small it is. I was wondering if folded up this laptop might fit into the back pocket of some jeans. I think it might. It has built in WWAN (mobile broadband), GPS (so you can get directions even without an internet connection) and only weights 1.4 lbs. The keyboard is a bit cramped, but then you’re probably not using this machine to type out your long awaited novel. No touchpad on this one, only a pointing device. It can boot in 20 seconds to some non-Windows apps, and gets 4 hours of battery life. Great to carry around, but this to me seems like an additional device, rather than a replacement like the TT200.

Next I moved over to Toshiba to investigate their offerings. At first I wandered over into their business section, and quickly realized I was in their no frills, black plastic box, nondescript laptop section. Is it mandatory that every manufacturer have a line like this? The no fun line? Just so the IT department can order them in bulk and rest safely knowing that no one will be tempted to have any fun with this thing. I quickly regained my bearings and found the Protégé & Tecra lines.

Tecra R10 – Looks generic enough, nice silver finish, and I thought it was like every other notebook in the place. Then I picked it up- nope, not like every other notebook. It felt noticeably lighter. 14.1” screen (which is my favorite size) but still only 4.4 lbs. Also has an accelerometer which parks the heads on the hard drive if it senses a fall. That’s a great idea. 4 hours of battery life. Price starts at $1549. Solid package. I like this one almost as much as the Sony TT200. Hmmm, decisions.

Tecra under water – Most people live in mortal fear of spilling an ounce of liquid on their laptops. I know I’d expect smoke, fizzling and massive problems if my coffee ever tipped over onto mine. Well wasn’t I surprised when I turned the corner and saw water being continuously spilled onto a similar looking Tecra. I had to take a picture & video just to prove it. There the computer sat, running fine the entire time, with water just pouring down the keyboard. Impressive. The Toshiba reps were quick to point out that you can’t actually immerse the laptop in the water, it’s just if something spills onto the keyboard. So you’re out of luck if you drop kick the thing into the pool, and sadly the world will have to wait for underwater computing. I think the spill protection is plenty. It’s part of Toshiba’s Easy Guard 4, in case you were wondering.

Toshiba also had the beautiful Protégé R600- 2.4 lbs, 6 hours of battery, 12.1”, 128 GB SSD (solid state, the kind that doesn’t move and gets better battery life) and a transreflective screen that adjusts to direct sunlight. Very nice.

After that was HP’s turn. Interestingly, HP has a number of models that are similar in size to the Sony’s & Toshiba’s, but lack the built in DVD drive. HP has stepped up the design department with sleek looks everywhere. One of their brand new laptops that they just unveiled at the show really caught my eye, though, the HP Touchsmart tx2. They call it a convertible because you can use it as a regular laptop, or flip the screen and use it as a tablet. I loved being able to move programs on the screen with my fingernail. Plus the ability to draw right on the screen is pretty cool.

And finally, after HP I slid over to Asus, makers of the Eee PC, the one that kicked off the Netbook movement. They had a few nice entries as well, pictured here. Their Bamboo line really stands out- the name says it all. Their S101 Eee PC looked to be one of the thinnest models around. But I don’t want this to become endless specs. We’ll report back once we have some demo time with them.

All of this is to say I’m a “know it when I see it” type of guy when it comes to laptop and these definitely caught my attention. I’ll be excited to test them out and see if they can prove they’re more than just a pretty face!

--Peter Szabo

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Camera heaven at CES

Friday, January 9, 2009 by Amber

If there was a heaven for cameras, when the time came, St Peter would be ushering my Canon PowerShot SD800IS through the Pearly Gates with no questions asked. What a workhorse.

Maybe 3 years old at this point, it’s been dropped on concrete at least twice, and as luck would have it, just snapped it’s 10,000th picture at CES. (I know because the counter reset. After picture IMG_9999 it went back to IMG_0001. I now inadvertently know what Ford Truck owners feel like in the commercials as their trusty steeds roll over 1,000,000 miles and they're back to mile 1.)

As if knowing the end was nearing after passing such a milestone, it’s case cracked open on it’s top seam in the middle of the convention center. Not from any drop or fumble, simply from taking it out of my pocket. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m fairly convinced my camera wanted to pass on at CES, where it knew it was loved.

Luckily, I’m not one to dwell on tech toys lost, especially when this one’s had such a good life and delivered so many beautiful pictures. So it was off to the Canon booth to discover what new iterations of the PowerShot the geniuses of the pocket cam had come up with recently.

Upon showing the Canon rep my now fading friend and asking what the new version of it was, he quickly snapped into defense mode. “How long ago did you buy it? Maybe it’s under warranty.” I smiled and said it’s been many years, the warranty long since expired, I’m not here to complain, just want help selecting my 4th Canon PowerShot in 7 years. (Yes, Canons are the only digital cameras I’ve ever had. I can’t recommend them enough.)

Luckily, the new Canons didn’t disappoint. They have an amazing array. Canon point & shoots tend to be a bit larger than the tiniest point & shoots- not big, mind you, just not micro sized like some from Sony or Casio. I’ll happily take the extra smidge of size for the image quality that rarely disappoints.

Very quickly we had it narrowed down to the SD790IS and the SD880IS. I don’t want to get into technical names and model numbers, but I was struck how 3 years later, the updated versions of my camera still had model numbers in the same ballpark. My 800 vs the new 790 and 880. Why one is higher and one is lower, I have no idea.

In the context of full disclosure, before I'm accused of being on the take from Canon, I will ask why their model numbering system doesn’t go in order of, say, least to most features (worst to best, in other words). As a lifelong techie, I’m very used to the credo of the super gadgetron 300 being great, the 400 being better and the 500 being unbelievable. Simple, a higher number means better. Why would Canon abandon this tried and true formula? Their SD1100 is actually not as good as the SD880. Bizarre, no?

Back to the cameras… My girlfriend’s mom just got the 790 and loves it. There’s a great scroll wheel on the back to easily navigate your pictures. You point, shoot and are done. But for me, I loved the look & feel of the 880. The gold version – sounds cheesy, it’s not – stands out. I was told Canon is now up to a “Digic 4” image processor, which is great, mostly because I’m a huge fan of Digics 1-3. (Kidding, I had no idea, I’m not that much of a geek.)

What they have added in version 4 is something called “Face Detect”. When the camera sees a face in a picture, that takes priority over everything else. Even with your subject standing in front of a bright background, the camera recognizes the face, and makes sure that what comes out looks perfect. It works. I wanted to take a picture and show you, but my dying camera doesn’t have that technology. Soon it will be recycled and welcomed into that camera heaven in the sky after my new 880 arrives. So long old friend.

Canon, to be sure, isn’t a one trick pony. Their Digital SLR cameras produce some stunning images, like these 2. How amazing are these? (A picture of a picture! I know, how ultra-geek of me!) I asked why my Digital Rebel never takes pictures 1% as good as these (seriously, I asked), Canon’s expert politely told me about lenses, and how important they are. He talked about the right glass, and using manual settings. Oh, and then he mentioned that those pictures were taken by professional photographers. Yea, sums it up nicely. I mean, I can get good pictures, but seldom do I get gorgeous, and never are they as visually arresting as these. Such rich color, such deep texture. Taking amazing pictures is on my “wish I could do” list- right next to play the drums, carry a tune and draw anything resembling what it’s supposed to be.

Moving on, they also had their photo printers on display. The Selphy ES30 (pictured here) caught my boss’ attention as something she has to get for her daughter. Cute and square, while spitting out beautiful 4x6 prints.

Next to it was the Pixma iP100, a short and compact rectangle, with a marvelous 8x10 printout sitting on top of it. This couldn’t have been printed with this small, at home, printer, could it? Yup, sure was. I’d never be able to tell the difference between this and something professionally printed at my local photo shop. It also features something called “hybrid ink”- basically a complete separation of inks for photos and inks for everyday black & white printing. The color ink is self contained with all the colors including its own black, then there’s a separate black ink cartridge, only used only for printing black text. But, in a pinch, if you run out of black for text, you can manually override and allow it to use the other black. Very cool way to maximize ink.

What a day! Can it get any better? I’ll find out as I check out the latest in ultra-portable laptops (not Netbooks, I’m talking fully functioning, full power laptops with DVD drives under 3 lbs), laptops that you can put under the faucet without damage, how you can unlock your front door using your BlackBerry, if the iPhone app store’s competition has anything to worry about, live TV in the backseat of your car, oh, and I think I saw a TV or two kicking around here somewhere…

[Amber's Note: Peter, bring me back one of those laptops!!!!]

--Peter Szabo

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