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Ultimate geek guilty pleasure: DnD!

Friday, February 27, 2009 by Amber

Instead of your normal list of headlines today, I'm going to tell you all about something I have suddenly found very near and dear to my heart: Dungeons and Dragons.

Seriously, is there anything more geeky than that??

Tease if you will -- and you won't be the first, trust me -- but playing DnD this past weekend was probably some of the most fun I've had in a really long time.

It's your classic video-game format of embarking on an adventure (called a campaign) with your hand-built, hand-customized and, for some, hand-painted character. Only, you are your character. You answer in his or her voice, and act exactly how he/she would in the given situation. You make all the decisions to move your character around and talk to villagers, question shady characters and, of course, kick the crap out of monsters!

I spend the weekend at Total Confusion (or, TotalCon), the largest gamers' conference in New England, and represented Byte-Sized with some serious butt-kicking action.

My character -- the official DnD character of the Byte-Sized blog -- is named Gyndra (pictured). She is a Drow Rogue, which means that she is a dark elf with a white shock of hair who can see in complete darkness (the Drow part) and she deals a ton of damage to monsters by sneaking up on them and throwing shurikens (Chinese stars) at them (the Rogue part). I've made up a complete back story for her, and she's already at a level 3 out of 30!

There are a ton of character options in the newest version of the Dungeons and Dragons game, Living Forgotten Realms, and, if you've stayed with me this far, I urge you to get a group of your buds, grab the coolest set of 20-sided dice you can find and head to your local comic-book store. The game-play books (including the essential, can't play-without-it Player's Handbook) are simple to understand. As long as you have an experienced Dungeon Master (DM or GM) to guide you, I can guarantee the best time you've ever had gaming. Yes, you read that right -- more than playing Halo 3 online with your besties. Srsly.

OK, I can't get into more about DnD without throwing some insider terms you all might not be familiar with, so I'll end my part of the discussion there for now. If you play DnD, though, *please* email me your character details! I'd love to post them up for everyone to check out!

Thanks, you guys, and have a great weekend!

Coming next week: An announcement on our Byte-Sized Spring Cleaning Giveaway!

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Microsoft backtracks on severance and other annoying stories

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 by Amber

Good afternoon, all! Why is the first week back from vacation so incredibly busy? Thankfully, we've got some fabulous headlines to chew on today... Go grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and peruse with me ...

Microsoft has (wrongly) backtracked on its (correct) decision to ask recently laid-off workers to repay between $4,000-5,000 each in wrongly calculated severance. I don't care where you fall on this issue -- it could be Apple or Enron, I don't care, but that money *wasn't* those employees' money to keep. It was a mistake, and they should have to pay it back. And, not quite as popular part of the story, it was only 25 people who were paid more, while 22 people were paid less.
So, let's calculate this: A company (that had to lay people off as part of a new reorganization of the company to slim down and make the most of its money) overpaid 25 worker by $4,000 at the least -- that's $100,000. Wasted. Bye. No hope to get it back because those poor laid-off people can't do the good, moral, *right* thing and give back money that wasn't theirs. Ridiculous...

In another follow-up form Monday, Google has officially cleared up any and all conspiracy rumors -- and, surprisingly, thousands of LOST fans' theories that the grid relates to the island -- that the anomaly found by a aeronautical researcher in a map of the ocean floor of the coast of the Canary islands was the missing city of Atlantis. But, much like the crystal skulls, it was a great story while it lasted.

Speaking of Google -- No, you weren't the only person whose Gmail crashed Monday night. The outage was unfortunate and Google apologizes.

Just a reminder -- Apple's Steve Wozniak will be strapping on his dancing shoes on March 9th for the new season of Dancing With The Stars. Who wants to bet the shoes will be white, in honor of the ubiquitous earbuds? :) Nah... just kidding...

Hey, MXC fans (you know who you are): Want to see a funny Japanese physics trick? Apparently you can use the momentum generated when sliding down a water slide to propel yourself across a pool solely on your butt. Too funny...

OK, that's all for me today! Stay tuned for a super awesome announcement that may or may not have to do with our Byte-Sized Spring Cleaning Giveaway!!


Google Earth helps uncover Atlantis?

Monday, February 23, 2009 by Amber

It was a long week off without my normal tech updates -- but here we are on the other side, ready for the tech stories I may have missed! Without further ado...

Water cooler talk today will center around the moral issue presented to Microsoft: According to a letter, recently laid-off employees from the Redmond wonderland were overpaid in their severence packages and are being asked to give the extra money back. I've alreay debated this and, though others disagree with me, I can tell you categorically I would give the money back. And, all you ex-employees out there: If you ever want to work for Microsoft again (and with the way they hire, you know it's a strong possibility once the economy turns around), *pay them back*... Aside from the fact that it's not nor was it ever your money. If a bank gave you too much, you'd have to pay them back...

OOH, I love a good conspiracy! Researchers are saying Google Earth's new program to map the oceans has found the lost city of Atlantis! I am so not kidding. According to this report, a British aeronautical engineer playing round with Google's map off the coast of Africa's Canary Islands found a strange street-like grid on the ocean floor about the size of Wales. Of course, Atlantis was supposed to be round with mulitple rings seperated by ring-like rivers (think, bullseye), but whatever. Google is denying the report, saying that it was an error in data-gathering, and the grid is actually the path of a boat. That's a weird error -- I want proof!

Users of XBox Live beware -- beat the wrong person in a particularly nasty round of online Halo and it may be your last. A new report says for-hire hackers are offering to boot users off XBox live with a denial of service attack.
OK, time to learn a little about hacker/computer security lingo: Your computer (and XBox) sends little messages out called pings when looking for a response from another computer. It does this all the time without you knowing and vice versa. The system, though, can only handle so many of these requests at a time before being overloaded, which is why web sites crash because of so many visitors. In a DoS attack, the attacker sends so many pings and requests to your computer (or XBox) that it also crashes.

In interesting-gadget news, Yamaha has created a digital grand piano it says has exactly the same sound quality and feel as it's analog parents. This new piano "a lot smaller (four feet long) and lighter (480 pounds) than the nine-foot, 1,500-pound, $100,000 grand piano it's meant to replace. And it's a lot cheaper to make, retailing for $19,000 when it hits the market this summer," says our friends at PopSci. Very cool :)

Check back here Wednesday for more geeky stories and awesome news bytes...

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Byte-Sized takes a mid-winter break!

Monday, February 16, 2009 by Amber

Good morning, everyone! We at Byte-Sized are off all this week for a mid-winter vacation of sorts.

But, we'll see you back here on Monday with a new batch of headlines! Until then, write in the comments if you got an awesome Valentine's Day gift from your geeky sweetie!

Also, stay tuned here for an upcoming review of Griffin Technologies' iKaraoke device (featured here in our Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide) -- and I may have some exciting announcements coming soon about the Byte-Sized Spring Cleaning Giveaway!

See you all soon!
-- amber

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Valentine's Day Gift Guide -- Part 3

Friday, February 13, 2009 by Amber

Good morning, and a happy almost-Valentine's Day to you!

Tah-dah -- here is Part 3 of the Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide!

Funnily enough, this story is just as much about great Valentine's Day gifts (at least 2 from the way expensive list) as it is the biggest Swarovski disasters... very obviously written by a man (no offense). Um, writers of this list: Girls like sparkly things -- time to understand that and, by doing so, perhaps you'll also gain understanding into why your last 3 girlfriends left you. Snap!

OK, so you can't afford a new iPod, iPhone, Zune, laptop, Flip, etc. for you sweetie in these harsh economic times -- who could blame you? Instead, why not decorate one of her gadgets with a super-sweet removable cover from GelaSkins! They are removable and scratch-resistant with a UV screen. Ohhh, I like these so much...

Serenade your sweetie by hooking up this iKaraoke microphone to any iPod. It fades out background vocals, letting you totally rock out in the silence and unjudging nature of your own home. With no preset Guitar Hero playlist, the night -- and all the kisses and romantic stories about you to her co-workers on Monday -- are all yours! **Stayed tuned for a review of this awesome gadget in the coming weeks thanks to our new friends at Griffin Technologies!**

In case you missed it -- here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide!

We're off all next week here at Byte-Sized, so have a great week!

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Valentine's Day Gift Guide -- Part 2

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 by Amber

Morning, everyone! The blogosphere is on fire with news about Amazon.com's Kindle 2, and we've got your round-up of the best stories.

But first is Part 2 of our Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide!

Making your sweetie a mix tape has never been easier! Break out the old cassettes (you know you still have them hidden in a drawer in your home office), boot up that new laptop you got for Christmas and get going with this audio converter for tapes!

Or, if you've already done the conversion to digital and keep all your tunes on the PC, how about a super-cute, retro way to make a mix tape for your sweetie? Download the playlist onto this Fred Flare tape-flavored USB device (pictured above) and just wait for the appreciative smooches.

As far as songs ... may I make a few suggestions? Skip the ultra-sappy tunes and rock her (or him) out with something form this generation. My fave, and I'm not embarrassed to admit it, is Love Story by Taylor Swift. Shakespeare hasn't sounded this good since Leo and Claire.

With all the creativity out there in the world of cake-making, maybe you should can the plans to cook a meal from home and instead wow her with with of these creations: An Apple-inspired Apple pie, a chic Tivo treat, a pink iPod, Super Mario Bros. level cake. And, of course, do not forget my absolute favorite: The Mario-cart/Galaxy-inspired cake that I have a picture of on my desk.

If you're not in the money enough to afford one of these, do what I've done a few times -- call up your supermarket and ask them what they can do. I made my husband a three-tiered white cake with the Zelda tri-force on it, and for his 30th birthday rocked the house with a Voltron cake. No pics of those, though, sorry!

Ladies, looking to do something fab for your guys? Check out this list from our friends at Digital Trends of their 'top 10 gadgets for guys'! Not a single one is affordable -- well, except for this one, which I want so badly I'm willing to rearrange the budget!

OK, on to the headlines...

The Kindle 2 is on fire around the web, with commentary ranging from 'best product ever' to 'not work it's price tag.' Here's a story defending it's $359 tag (eek, that'll take me a bit to save up for), and this link has a ton of great information on the e-reader, including a comparison with Sony's e-reader. I could talk about the Kindle and it's new baby brother all day... Hit up our friends at BlogKindle for all the latest updates, or our parents at USAToday for
at-a-glance impressions.

Think you're in love? Check out this story to understand what that really means in terms of cutting-edge science.

I've found the only person in the blogosphere that enjoyed the Seinfeld-Gates Microsoft commercials -- CNet columnist Don Reisinger. And, he makes a good argument for them. Microsoft should maybe hire him for PR -- he's pretty convincing.

Bless DigitalTrends and its hilarious lists. Here is one that will have you laughing at your desk -- the top 10 weirdest Japanese gadgets. It's amazing some of the awesome, completely useless things we've come up with, as humans, to amuse ourselves...

Speaking of which, stay tuned -- I may have an exciting announcement coming soon about a new Byte-Sized Spring Cleaning Giveaway that's in the works!

Check back here Friday for part 3 of the Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide -- in case you missed it, here's Part 1.

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Valentine's Day Gift Guide -- Part 1

Monday, February 9, 2009 by Amber

Happy 'new Kindle' week! Rumors have it that Amazon.com will debut the next-gen e-reader some time this week -- early estimates point to today in NYC! I couldn't be more excited to see what Amazon.com has in store for us if they'd sent me a free one to try... (hint, hint, Amazon. Srsly. Those wonderful little toys are expensive.)

*****UPDATE: Yay! It was announced that the Kindle will be available on Feb. 24 for $359 -- cool new features include it reading booking aloud (though I'm confused as to whether that means the download will include the audio recording at a higher cost or whether it will be a weird computer voice). Stephen King also announced that he will be writing a book for exclusive release on the new Kindle! ... And now back to your regularly scheduled programming... *****

Before anything on that drops, I've got a special treat for you all -- my Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide has ballooned out of control, so I'm going to offer it up in unequal thirds today, Wednesday and Friday in addition to a smattering of daily headlines.

So, without further ado... Let's start with what will tickle the fancy of your geeky lady friends:

Valentine's Day is all about the pink. Red is a closer second, and violet is third. So, here are a rundown of some sweetly colored gifts for your favorite girly geek:
-Creative has knocked off the Flip in this version of its pink pocket camcorder Vado. Cute -- but can I customize the face?
-Meanwhile, our besties over at The Flip have some great faceplate designs to perk up your videos of Valentine's Day (and night).
-Want to show your mp3-loving chica some love? How about red earbuds shaped like hearts or lips (pictured above)? Gotta check these out, though I'm not sure comfort was taken into account in the super-cute design...
-Taking pictures gets a little more fun with this affordable, metallic pink Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS. It also comes in other girl-friendly colors like blue, gold and a gorgeous purpley brown -- my personal fave.

And, in the day's headlines:

58-year-old Apple-co-founder Steve Wozniak is joining the cast on the 8th season of Dancing with the Stars. He joins Lil'Kim, Jewel and her cowboy husband, Olympic gold gymnast Shawn Johnson and Belinda Carslisle, who is 50. Wow. Anyways, shaping up to be a good season. I may tune in -- as long as Samantha Harris can keep the enthusiasm and poor interviewing skills to a minimum (though, in her defense, look at the material).

Our friends at the San Francisco Chronicle have a wrap-up of the TED conference, where elusive gazillionaire Bill Gates sat down for an interview. What's weird is that I've never heard of this show -- what's weirder is that I have no idea why -- it looks totally awesome!

Wow... light day aside from the breakthrough Kindle news. Check back here for any updates, and have a great day!

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Computer Tan -- fact or fiction?

Friday, February 6, 2009 by Amber

I have a serious case of the 'I-stayed-up-too-late-too-many-nights-in-a-row' Friday! These stories should keep you perked up and awake until the caffeine kicks in...

Would you believe it if I told you that your computer monitor can give you a tan? 30,000 people in one day did after a cancer charity set up a scam web site called ComputerTan (running through Feb. 9) to prove how ridiculous people can be about wanting sun exposure. By the way -- it's not true, that whole computer-monitor-tan thing. It's just an awareness campaign on the dangers of UV rays. Please don't send me angry e-mails.

Turning your nose up at the cold coffee dregs wallowing in your mug? Why not put them to good use with this ingenious, green printer that uses coffee as the replacement toner for its refillable ink cartridge! It requires a bit of elbow grease with the dregs, but the result is a sepia-printed document worthy of a tip of your green beret, at least! Good work, Mr. Korean designer who came up with hit. Side question: Why is it always the last sip that dribbles down my chin and stains my shirt 10 minutes into my work day -- but only when I'm wearing a white shirt?

Oh, Forbes and their fantastic lists. The newest one to strike my fancy is a list of the top 25 Web Celebs -- it features personal favorites Perez Hilton and PostSecret.com, plus some others that you may have heard about but not much beyond that. Take a look for some fun surfin' tips!

It was made official this week. Digital delay moves to June. Siiigh. You can lead a horse to water... But, the delay in officiating the change doesn't mean TV stations can't follow through with their plans to drop analog signals on Feb. 17. Look for some serious fallout on that front.

There is seriously a species of butterfly so intent on propagating its young that it releases a hormone that tricks ants into thinking its larvae are baby ants. When it becomes a caterpillar, the hormone scream 'Feed, I'm a queen ant!' Talk about deceptive marketing. Nature is so effing cool sometimes.

OK, that's all for me today. have a great weekend, and meet me back here Monday morning for your top headlines! Also, don't forget that Wednesday is the first annual Byte-Sized Valentine's Day Gift Guide! I'm compiling the list now, and there are some serious goodies...

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UK toys rock and Google Earth sinks

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 by Amber

I'm all pumped up for another LOST episode tonight! Only a few more hours until Sawyer and the Islanders are back and we (presumably) learn that Eloise Hawking (scariest lady *ever*) is Daniel's mom and who he named his lab rat after. How does Desmond key in? And, could this elusively comatose Theresa really be my beloved Boone's old nanny? Theresa goes up the stairs, Theresa goes down the stairs..... Can anyone say, 'Season 5 Hurley-sees-dead-people cameo'? I think so! Hahaha!

So, to tide you over until 9 pm ET, here are some headlines to sink your teeth into...

Our friends at Crave UK stopped by the London Toy Fair (they managed to make it out in all that snow, really?) and got some great pics of upcoming toys about to cross the pond. Their write-ups are cheeky and snappy, so be sure to read the captions!

Google Earth is taking its mapping to a whole new level -- try, 40,000 leagues under the sea! With Al Gore in attendance, Google announced that its program will begin mapping the terrain at the bottom of all the Earth's oceans, letting viewers explore it in full 3-D and taking the project another step closer to mapping the entire planet. Factoid: 70% of the Earth's surface is water.

Uber-geek Mark Zuckerberg is shopping his 150M-strong Facebook database of users to pollsters looking to capitalize on its market research benefits. This is going to bother a lot of people -- but I say, if they make the incentives good enough (meaning, if they include any at all, other than a stupid app to add to my growing list), then I'll be all for them!

In other Google news, the company is launching its second-annual 'Doodle for Google' contest for your kiddies to design Google logos from the prompt: 'What I wish for the world.' Be sure to bring this up at the next PTA meeting -- school only have until March 14 to register and can only submit 6 per school by the March 31 deadline. Last year's winner (left) got a $15,000 college scholarship and $25,000 tech grant for her school. This year's winner, announced in May, will get the same and have the logo pasted on Google's homepage on May 21. So cool.

MySpace has purged 90,000 sex offenders from its site. Seriously. Not only has it took them forever to do it since last year's agreement with law enforcement officials, but now the site is touting it like it deserves a cookie. Good boy, MySpace, you made the Web safer for kids. Here, go fetch me someone who can tell me why you didn't start off this way!

OK, I'm out 'til Friday! If you have any discussion topics on LOST or something interesting theories post-tonight's episode, leave them in the comments and I'll post them on Friday!

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Google blacklists Internet -- and other tasty tidbits

Monday, February 2, 2009 by Amber

Let's talk tech this Monday morning. Here are the top headlines that made my eyebrows perk up:

Google's search team made a funny error Saturday by blacklisting every single site on the Internet as 'potentially harmful.' Oh, Google, you do so amuse me. Blacklisting, btw, means that a particular site is considered to be threatening to your computer due to reports of bugs, worms and other creepy crawlies meant to make your machine not work. Blacklists are also a way you can prevent spam from clogging your inbox -- by blacklisting it, you are preventing your computer from accepting mail from a particular source. Anyways...

All you iPhone and BlackBerry holdouts may now have a smartphone just for you: Rumors have it that Dell is looking to announce two new smartphones -- one touchscreen, the other with a slide-out keyboard -- on the Windows Mobile 6 and Google Android platforms. I like Dell a lot, and I can't wait to see what colors it comes in. I'm such a girl.

Microsoft is planning to roll out new Zune models in time for Holiday 2009. These ones will hopefully be without zero-day loop coding errors. But, do they honestly have more to offer than the market-darling iPods? Gosh I hope so -- otherwise, Microsoft's effort is going to prove futile. Sigh.

Cool news if you live in Calif.'s beautiful Bay area -- San Fransisco's BART (re: subway system) will offer full Wi-Fi services on all 104 miles of its tracks to all commuters by 2011 for around $30 a month.

Here is a great factoid for you all: When you see commercials for Apple and all of it's lovely toys, you must think that, by golly, everyone must now have a Mac in their house. Well, according to this report on the market share of operating systems, Apple has 10% market share, compared to Microsoft's 88%. The other 2% is taken up by a bunch of little players, like Linux and Microsoft's beta of Windows 7. it is worth noting that Apple is growing and Microsoft is shrinking... but the gap is still pretty big between the two.

'A 35-year-old computer programmer pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that he planted a computer virus designed to destroy all the data on 4,000 Fannie Mae computer servers.' Yikes, poor guy. I hope he didn't do it -- because that's a serious virus with some serious implications.

In the same vein, if your company was subject by a data breach, how much can you expect it to cost your bottom line? According to this study, you should consider yourself and your company lucky if you can come out on the other side for less than $6 M. On, average, this is the figure the loss of company data will take on a business, including public embarrassment, extra security features and PR cleanup.

In an article titled worthy of a NYTimes bestseller, MIT's The Dark Side of Pet Cloning offers insight into replica pets and what the researchers don't tell you about the procedures and failures. Def. an interesting read -- can you imagine spending $150,000 to clone a pet? I love my kitties very much, but part of their wonderment is that they are one of a kind. Once, again, I turn to Pixar for my words of wisdom: 'When everyone's special, no one will be.'

I think that's quite enough for today -- check back here Wednesday and Friday for more of the day's top technology stories and snippets, and tune in next week for the first annual Byte-Sized Valentine Gift Guide for all your super-sweet geeks! :)

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