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What great engineering looks like ...

Monday, June 29, 2009 by Amber

When NASA gets things right, it gets them *very* right.

In 1990, the space agency launched the solar probe Ulysses from the space shuttle Discovery. Ulysses was supposed to last 5 years, sending back valuable data on our favorite star plus reporting on the solar storms shooting nuclear energy bursts our way.

*19 YEARS LATER* the probe has gone 5.8 billion mile and is running, even after reports that it is freezing and about to shut itself down. (Funny, right, that a sun probe would freeze? OK, back on topic...)

Alas, Ulysses isn't invincible and is beginning to show some wear and tear in the antennae, so NASA is officially shutting off the probe's transmitter. In fact, depending on when you're reading this, it may have already happened: Tuesday, June 30, NASA pulls the plug.

News of the shutdown comes on the heels (relatively speaking) of Spirit and Opportunity, two Mars rovers launched in 2004, blowing my little scientific mind: The rovers were supposed to last 90 sols (or Martian days) -- and they are still running to this day!

Amid the ever-expanding expectations of the little rovers that could, there is some bad news out of NASA on Spirit: On May 6, the rover roved into loose sand in the Mars region known as Troy and got stuck up to the hub of its wheels. So far, all efforts to bust it out of the dune have failed.

Could this be the end of a long and incredibly impressive run? If the public outpouring of affection for the robot has been any indication, NASA would have a PR nightmare on their hands if they didn't at least try to free Spirit ...

Space.com's image of Free SpiritWait a second, what's that you say? Free Spirit??

In an event that probably transpired something like that, NASA decided to launch the 'Free Spirit' website to publicize its efforts to free the stuck rover. As of today, those efforts include creating a 'sandbox' (stop laughing, you programming geeks) on Earth to simulate actual conditions in the Martian sand.

As for Opportunity, all reports indicate the rover is still going strong and checking stuff out on the Martian surface.

Engineers, take note: *This* is how you build your rockets and rovers of the future -- where they outlast even the best of every one's expectations while still delivering important data back to Earth.

Well done, NASA. And thanks.

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Mourning the Passing of My Generation's 'King'

Friday, June 26, 2009 by Amber

I won't force my opinion on you -- because there are a lot of them this morning -- but today is a sad day on many levels.

As most of you are already doing, I took the the web to find some solace -- and found thousands of spontaneous Jackson tributes popping up all over. Here are a round-up of some of my favorites -- feel free to share your own in the comments:

Celebrities from Celine Dion to Ne-Yo are weighing in on the King's passing. I know, most aren't saying anything really new, but it puts real words to the grief so many are feeling, and, in a way, it made me feel better.

Looking for a source of constant updates on everything from the will to where his children are? USAToday's Lifeline Live blog is the best source ...

YouTube's spotlight today is on Michael Jackson videos. Spend a few minutes and relive some of your favorite moments ...

AOL is featuring a web radio station playing nothing but Michael Jackson songs. Tune in and reminisce.

Here is a full gallery of Michael pics that span all his eras and looks.

For those of you on Facebook, you can friend Captivate Network -- I'd love to see what you're status updates are for the day. Mine is: "Amber will be holding a tribute concert in my car all weekend, starring me and the king of pop." What's yours?? Post in the comments!

Also, share your opinion with us in our Captivate Poll today.

Here's hoping Monday will be a brighter day.


Steve Jobs Shocker ... not really

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 by Amber

It's been confirmed that Steve Jobs had a liver transplant while out on sabbatical from Apple. I am all for keeping personal business personal, but he is the CEO of a major corporation. I'm not sure that qualifies at personal information when million (billions?) of stockholders are waiting on bated breath for news that Jobs is back on the job.

Do you all have any thoughts on this? Should Steve Jobs have disclosed he was in liver failure to his stockholders? How do you think that would have effected the market and launch of the new iPhone? Send me your e-mail and I'll post up responses on Friday -- or vote now in the Captivate.com viewer poll!

In other news ...

So, a friend of mine wrote a comic. And it got HUGE. Check out the story here.

The weirdest invention of the day goes to HP: Engineers have built a printer that doesn't need to hook up to a computer. Yeah. It's meant for printing movie tickets and directions and stuff directly off the internet using a touchscreen. Thoughts?

OK, so I have an idea: Let's drill a big hole into a volatile volcano and use the geothermal energy to heat our country for years! Oh, darn. Iceland already came up with that.

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Hi Google, I'm Bing ... and other foolishness

Friday, June 19, 2009 by Amber

What would you do if a huge company branded its biggest product with what happened to be your last name? It could either be the best thing to happen to your social life since the invention of alcohol -- or, it could be horrifyingly embarrassing and a real downer. This interview pits two of the biggest brands against each other is a battle of the miserables, and turns into one of the funniest stories I've read in while: Mr. Bing interviews Mr. Google -- both real people. Check it out.

In the real battle between the two search engines, recent reports have Bing growing everyday. Google's execs are running scared, extracting all the juice they can from on-staff experts on how to improve their algorithms to *match* those of Bing. *Match*!!

Wow, Microsoft really has a HUGE upset on their hands now! In less than a month, they've been able to grab 12% market share from the absolute tipsiest top leader in the online search market. Round of applause! I mean, it is still in third place after Google and Yahoo!, but wow. As always, I *urge* you to check it out -- it's fantastic, and I really don't miss Google at all. Bing has a great GUI that I actually look forward to seeing first thing in the morning.

In other news ...

Online shoppers: Before you buy *anything* else at your favorite site, check out this list of online coupon codes for various retailers! There are 89 pages of deals on free shipping, sales, special promos ... bookmark this site and relish in your good planning!

Ever wonder why the Kindle is so expensive? WIRED has an interview with Jeff Bezos, who explains the hefty price tag with the patience and alacrity of a grandpa explaining why the sky is blue.

Would it be OK to call all those who tweet twits? I like it. So, all you twits out there, check out this story about a new service that will give you a psychological profile based off your Twitter updates/habits. Just what we all needed!


Mayan Armageddon? I doubt it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 by Amber

According to the Mayan calendar, the end of the world will occur on Dec. 21, 2012. Totally scary, right? Well, that's not exactly true, and I'd like to talk to you about it for a few minutes.

You see, as a former student of ancient Mayan culture (yeah, who knew, right?), I can tell you that this isn't necessarily true: The Mayan calendar does end on Dec. 12, 2012 -- but there is not reason given, it just ends. Nope -- no dire instructions or warnings about another planet smashing into Earth, or a god smiting the people for their sins.

It's safe to assume that perhaps the Mayans simply ran out of scrolls or pottery to scrawl the calendar on, or they figured it's so far in the future no one will even remember it then.

Well, as the year swiftly approaches, people are getting scared. As if there was seriously anything you could do if the world is really set to end. Whatcha gunna do? Fly up into space on a rocket? OK, so then what? ... Or maybe burrow yourself so far underground that you pop into Middle Earth? OK, so then what?

People -- please calm down. Take a deep breath and listen to reason for a moment.

This site, designed by Sony Pictures, is a *viral marketing site* for an upcoming movie. See, on the right side of the screen? That's Oliver Platt -- an actor who is presumably playing the chief of staff. Good casting, actually, but that's beside the point.

This article from respected online science website and Captivate partner LiveScience cites sources who call out the site as 'reprehensible' and 'disgusting' -- can't anyone take a joke anymore? A follow-up to the blog post on Livescience brings more of the science (Thankfully) to light on the subject.

Here, a NASA scientist debunks the rumors of the End of the World in a way that not only everyone can understand, but will leave even the most stout nut jobs questioning their staunch beliefs in Armageddon.

Please, forward liberally and often -- and stop attacking viral marketing sites aimed to be FUN in place of actually educating yourself on a hot-button topic.


Up to date on the Web's top stories

Monday, June 15, 2009 by Amber

We've got lots of great headlines coming your way ...

In today's 'Hahaha' news, Microsoft has stopped paying for it's employees' iPhone, BlackBerrys, Palm Pres and any other smartphone not based off the Windows Mobile Platform. I think it's a smart move -- actually, I'd do you one farther: get rid of the people who insist on using them! Or, better still, make one that's awesome so your employees don't have to look elsewhere.

Who's going to ComiCon?? After this piece of unreal news, you'll all want to be there! Peter Jackson -- yes, the slimmed-down director of my favorite trilogy ever and the upcoming prequel -- will make his legendary debut at the San Diego fest this year! Pack up them bags and start hitchin' now, my friends!

Looking to burn some time waiting for the next meeting? Check out this like of the top 10 Facebook apps -- then maybe you can check them out first-hand... UPDATE: Not the list I thought it was.

Oh, this is such cool news. The Obama admin made a great decision: They brought on board a white-hat hacker to advise the Department of Homeland Security. Jeff Moss -- formerly Dark Tangent. Welcome aboard, my friend!

What's a white-hat? It's a hacker who has decided to use his knowledge for good rather than evil. Conversely, a black-hat is a bad guy through and through, while a grey-hat will tell a company of its security holes, but for a fee. And possibly more.

Onwards and upwards -- who wants to create their own Ben and Jerry's flavor? Yay! It's not a contest anymore, but it's a ton of fun to make up your own flavors and name them!!

And, finally, in 'OMG would they just go away!' news, Heidi and Spencer Pratt were totally grilled, fried and sauteed by Al Roker on the Today show this morning -- and the video is SO getting around! Watch them squirm, rephrase themselves and absolutely remind us all why they are so stupid.

We've got some great new review coming up this week for Chrome bike-series backpacks, a spy pen with a built-in video camera and a must-have book for all you travelling geeks! Stay tuned!

Review: Aliph's Jawbone Prime

Monday, June 8, 2009 by Amber

Aliph's Jawbone Prime
Aliph’s Jawbone Prime
Retail: $129.99

In the past, I have gently teased Bluetooth headsets and the folks that wear them proudly like a badge of honor: ‘I’ve finally made it in the professional world and have been deemed worthy of a device that makes me look like I’m talking to no one.’ Not to mention the soccer moms at the grocery store who may be talking to the cashier or to their best friend via a hidden headset – who knows?

And don’t even get me started on the sound quality of talking to someone on one of them. I’ve never had to physically concentrate on a conversation harder than when my husband calls me on his “safe-for-driving” headset.

Either way, it was going to take a pretty awesome device to change my mind about the Bluetooth headset. Aliph’s Jawbone Prime may just be the product I was looking for.

Aliph's Jawbone PrimeLet’s Talk First Impressions: The Jawbone arrived in a sleek hard plastic case that really did give me the impression that I was in for a treat. I tried the different options to wear the device and found my fit with ease: the smallest “new” bud with no loop. It felt secure, seamless and tight.

The included USB-style charger was a complete no-brainer to hook up to my computer, and the unit clipped in and began its charge immediately – no GUI fuss from the computer or special programs to install.

Making It Work: The Jawbone was simple to set up. Once given the initial charge, it was a breeze to – with the help of the instructions – to hook it up to my cell phone (an ancient Motorola Razr). It chimed pleasantly in my ear to let me know a call was coming in and, at least for the first 12 hours, was easy to click on and off.

After that, not so much. Maybe I was being over-exuberant in my testing, but after the first day the clicky button hidden along the length of the Jawbone started to lose some of its click. It didn’t stop working, but the satisfying pop of the button became more of a pressure thing than simply touching your hand the the device – as it was when I first got my hands on it.

Placing the unit in and securing it into position was simple and comfortable, and I never got the impression it was going to fall out. Well designed from that standpoint.

Can You Hear Me?: Sound quality was top notch, as expected; people didn’t know I wasn’t using a normal cell phone. The delay was negligible from a listener perspective, and the caller’s voice was loud, clear and without static, even when standing in the middle of a summer gale.

The Honeymoon is Over: Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not sure it’s a cool thing to go from silent to speaking to unseen entities in normal, everyday life. Case in point:

I took the Jawbone with me – totally excited and feeling an aura of cool by having the little device peeking out from under my hair – to the mall this past weekend. I was browsing when an incoming call chimed in my ear. I pressed the button with some difficulty (because it started to stick – more on that later) and answered. The conversation doesn’t matter – but the looks I got from the other patrons when a silent person suddenly began babbling right next to them were … uncomfortable. And, I was in Hot Topic – not really the old fogies’ home filled with techno-newbies.

And, I’ll be honest with you – IRL, it fell out a lot. Or, because it wasn’t quite tight enough in my ear socket, I had to keep turning it up.

Driving and Chatting: My recommendation for the Jawbone comes solely under the purview of hands-free driving. It was liberating to not have my cell phone pressed against my ear. I had free range of movement and could chat like the person was in the car next to me.

Well, theoretically. I’ll chock this observation of the Jawbone up to my own stupidity and lack of use with other Bluetooth devices: Yes, it was totally liberating – but I also found it SO much more distracting to talk this way! Especially driving, I felt my attention split in a way I’ve never felt with my cell charging next to me on vibrate. Again, probably just me, but unless I made the call myself, I’d rather not use the Bluetooth at all.

Recommendation: If you want a Bluetooth, get this one. It’s got awesome sound quality form the NoiseAssassin technology, it’s comfortable to wear and comes with tons of different options to help you find the right fit. Overall, I don’t think I as a person care for Bluetooth headsets, but that’s an entirely different review!

So, IMHO: Yes – it’s worth the money, if this is your thing.


Learn How We Learned to Laugh

Friday, June 5, 2009 by Amber

It's been along week of great news from E3 -- look back at some old posts for a recap -- here are today's headlines:

Steve Jobs is heading back to the office soon. Feel better, big guy!

Holy. Crap. This is SO the monitor you should get if you won $1M and wanted to totally pimp your home office. Whoa. No more dual-monitor/control-room/evil-lair set-up for you ...

Want to waste a few minutes at work but are tired of the super-happy, best-of-the-best travel sites? Try TitanicAwards.com -- the site's people gather up some of the biggest names in travel writing and ask them not to name the best but to name the worst: Worst Airline, Worst Street Food, Worst Travel Host, etc. I read the whole front page top to bottom -- some of those entries make your own travel awfulness sound totally tame! Also, do you get the site's name? Titanic? ...

More praise for BING -- I'm telling you guys: Make the home-page switch, if only for the daily photos alone!!

I've got you covered with the Wall-E-related stories: Scientists are saying that prolonged space trips can make astronauts shorter, fatter and balder. Oh gee, really? Something tells me this knowledge wasn't made up by the folks at Pixar -- why are scientists confirming what the animators already knew? I hate 'Duh' studies.

How about just a story on laughs? Evolutionists are tracking the origins of laughter back to pre-humans. And, it's got a cute pic to go with it!

Plus -- I've got some treats lined up for you guys in the coming weeks: We've got some cool new products in the office to test out, so stay tuned!

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Huge video game news/previews from E3

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 by Amber

It's been a week of HUGE news coming out of the E3 conference in LA, so let's get you a run-down of all the news!

There is a god, and his name is Miyamoto: In the biggest news of the day, gaming genius and Nintendo visionary Shigeru Miyamoto has announced the development of a new Zelda game. Can you even stand it? A moment of revered awe is totally appropriate.

Tony Hawk is hawking a skateboard-shaped controller for the XBox game RIDE. Anyone interested in shredding carpet?

The new Star Wars game, 'Old Republic,' is stuffed full of meaningful dialogue, NPCs and tons of Jedi-on-Jedi action. And by that, we mean action sequences and light-sabers. And by that, we mean Bring It On!

Fan of the LEGO games? Good news -- everyone's favorite boy-wizard is hitting the blocks from Sorcerer's Stone through Goblet of Fire. Def. one to check out.

Nintendo debuted a new Wii Fit to help get us all trim. Look for it to not be on a single self as soon as it's released. If you see it, buy it!

No more Xbox controllers??

Altair has competition in the 'ultra hot bad-boy hero' category: Fresh from Ubisoft Montreal is the next chapter in the Assassin's Creed story -- this one takes place on the maze-like streets of Venice in the 15th century.

Whoa. 'Mass Effect 2'?? I have no words except: Welcome back, Commander Shepherd -- you've been missed! This game was totally awesome in its scope. I had to actually take pages of written notes on the different planetary systems ... I'm so excited!

And, in all, who was the winner of E3? Our friends over at CNet have the titillating answer...

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E3 Roundup!

Monday, June 1, 2009 by Amber

News is coming out of E3 fast and furious, and we've got a roundup of the best stories and top shockers:

Sony is incessantly teasing the public with peeks at it's PSP Go -- a portable version of the (somewhat disastrous) gaming system. Hopefully this can pull Sony out of its gaming rut!

Our friends over at Game Hunters break down the top 5 gaming companies who've made tsunami-esque announcements in previous years, including a preview of what we can expect.

In similar yet unrelated video games news, the Guinness Book of World Records is set to announce at E3 that Call of Duty 4 is officially the most played online video game in history. Cool beans for all you 20-30-ish guys who've stayed up countless hours to shoot up your buddies. Well done!

... Also making headlines in the digital world is Microsoft's new BING search tool. Publicly available on Wednesday, the engine offers a stunning picture as its homepage, fantastic search results as its destination and plenty of interesting little bits along the way. Next time you go to type 'Google' into the URL, try out www.Bing.com -- oh, and Microsoft is going to bombard you with some advertising in the coming weeks to cement that it's search engine is the best. Truth be told ... it kinda is.

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