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Worst. Name. Ever.

Friday, January 29, 2010 by Amber

I'm not one to jump on a bandwagon, but in this case, do I really need to say more?

OK, moving on, here are the pebbles that made the biggest ripples this week:

--CNet.com is all over this Apple iPad story. Here's the editor's take. And here is a story answering your questions about the tablet. Is it for you? Find out here. Wait, is the iPad even a computer??

--But, you just got that awesome netbook for Christmas! Don't fret your geeky heads, here's why you're still better off than having an iPad.

--If Apple even thinks this silly tablet is going to kill my ereader, then we might have to throw down.

--Oh MAN I would love to do this ... PS- 'LOST' is next week!

--Here's a list of the 10 most anticipated games of 2010. Some of them are definitely on my list!

Catch you all back here Monday for the fourth week of our Hello Kitty giveaway series. Until then, I hope you have a blast reading all about the iPad -- yeah, still the worst name ever -- and have a great weekend!






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In news other than Apple ... let's goof off!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 by Amber

OK, so I'm not going to bother trying to keep up with the other second-by-second, blow-by-blow bloggers crashing the 'net this afternoon with news on Steve Jobs' big announcement. Though, if the my favorite little munchkin guy from 'Dancing with the Stars' showed up to the Apple press conference, I'd be totally into it!

Instead, first I'm going to announce the winner of this week's Hello Kitty 'Apple' flash drive! Big congrats to ...

Rachel L. of NYC!

If that's not you, please hop on over to http://www.mimoco.com/ and check out the rest of their assortment of 2-gig flash drives! Not a huge Hello Kitty fan? Try Princess Leia from Star Wars! LOVE it!

We kick off the fourth (of five) week of our Hello Kitty giveaway on Byte-Sized this Monday, so be sure to check it out!

So, back to the goofing off ... It's apparently 'celebrity doppelganger' week on Facebook, and in an effort to get me involved, a friend of mine sent over this website that matches you by percentage with whom you look like most! All you need is a clear picture of your face. In a hysterical craze, I sent this site all around the Captivate office, and, just to show you all how willing and open us Captivate editors/bloggers are to poking fun, here are our results:


Apparently, I'm the love child of Helena Christensen and Elvis Costello :) Hey, I'll take being compared to a mega-super model any day, though I swear I've been told Alicia Silverstone (circa Batgirl) and I are identical.

Captivate editor and Indulge author Jacqui looks so much like her matches, Beyonce and Maria Meneudos, it's scary! Isn't she a stunner? Check out Jacqui's beauty/fashion tips here!

Captivate editor and Weigh In author Kate Scanlan is perfectly matched here with Camilla Belle and Liv Tyler, though in real life, she's a walking replica of Tina Fey -- lucky! :) Check up on Kate's fitness tips here!

Captivate's editor and Green Among Gray blogger Kyle was matched to Marlon Brando and Matthew Perry -- though he really looks so much like Daniel Radcliffe that we sometimes call him 'Harry Potter.' Get your environmental tips from Kyle here!

Captivate's Canadian editor and I'd Rather Be Watching Movies author Justin is a pretty accurate mix here of heartthrob Johnny Depp and your favorite 'friend' Jennifer Aniston. Find out Justin's movie news and opinions here!

Captivate's director of content and music reviewer Dee Murray is a sassy mix of Cate Blanchett and Ashton Kutcher, right? Listen to Dee dish on music's biggest artists here!

So, you can see we had a lot of fun with this :) It's obviously not an exact science ... but for amusement purposes, it had us rolling on the floor laughing.

Feel free to send me some of your best celebrity matches and I may post them up! Otherwise, thank you for taking some time away from obsessing over Apple's iTablet or whatever with me!

See you back here Friday for the week's top headlines (... OK fine, I'll round up the Apple news, too)! L8rs!










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My rant on TiVo and its business practices, By Amber

Monday, January 25, 2010 by Amber

'Oh Monday -- What have I ever done to you?'

Well, here's a Monday treat: Enter now to win the third (of five) Hello Kitty USB flash drive! This one is bright red, and looks like Miss Kitty is wearing an apple costume -- pure and simple in design, it packs 2 gigabytes of storage into a drive smaller than a lighter and infinitely cuter!

Email me at ByteSized@Captivate.com if you haven't already entered your name to win! If you have, well, I always like getting fun emails, but it won't up your chances! Click HERE for the official rules, in case you're interested ...

And remember: If you want to bypass the whole giveaway, head straight over to http://www.mimoco.com/ to by your own before they're sold out! At $24,99 each, how can you resist, really?

Now, onto bigger things ... I'd like to talk to you all about TiVo.

We all know how much I love my TiVo. If I had to ditch my satellite TV and go back to bunny ears (or their now-digital equivalent), I'd still save enough money to keep this service running -- that's how much I love it. And, I don't mean DVRs in general -- the competitors made by DirecTV and Comcast are laughable in comparison. Terrible GUIs and databases, and brand recognition is embarrassing.

Anyway, so why am I ranting on TiVo? Well, the company recently announced they are pursuing a lawsuit against AT&T for patent infringement. Fine, they aren't paying you for taking a portion of your technology that, really, you never had 100% claim to (more on that in a sec). But, in response to TiVo's suit, now *Microsoft* has filed a counter suit on TiVo as a way to back up AT&T, one of their big-time sponsor companies.

So, Microsoft is suing Tivo because TiVo is suing AT&T. Got it?

Now, how this will all play out legally really doesn't matter to me. I just want to take a moment to recognize two separate camps in the battle: the TiVo engineers and the TiVo management.

Tivo engineers: You guys are awesome. Thank you so much for making an amazing product that I adore and that has changed the way I watch TV forever. You guys totally rock, and I'm so sorry that your management is being retarded and not giving your product enough exposure and, honestly, making your job go unnoticed. They are *actively trying* to put you all out of business. Totally sucks.

TiVo Management, meet me at Camera Three: Are you all completely out of your ever-loving minds? Your engineers and software guys gift-wrap for you the best, highest quality DVR on the market, and it's like you're in a sick competition to see how horrendously you can eff it up. First, you screw up deals with Comcast AND DirecTV separately, both of whom made absolute crap products to try to duplicate your DVR and failed. Then you miraculously get back in their good graces long enough to pick a fight with *Microsoft*, a company who could buy and sell you twice in its sleep? Seriously??!!

Look, guys, I'm sorry you have brand management issues with your product being verb-ified and losing its cache -- 'I have to TiVo the game,' in the same way 'I need a Kleenex,' and 'Let's FedEx that package' -- but please fire *every single person* giving you such terrible business advice and hire intelligent people to manage your business! Geez!!

For more on this story (but without any commentary from yours truly) DOW JONES has a wrap on it.

See you all back here Wednesday, when I announced this week's Hello Kitty Winner!!









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Hello Kitty winner announced

Friday, January 22, 2010 by Amber


I'm so tired of people saying TGIF -- like I'm an extra in 'The Office' remake or something -- so, I'm forgoing all of that today in favor of announcing our Hello Kitty Valentine's Day Giveaway winner:

David L., from NYC!

Thank you again for all of your entries -- it's been overwhelming and one of the best giveaways we've ever had the pleasure of hosting. The people at Mimico are fab, and so are their products! Head over there and browse the totally geeky assortment of little Mimbot characters! Even if it's a sweet treat for you (or wicked cool gifts for friends/wedding attendants/dinner party guests), it's totally worth carrying around your files in style.

So, onwards and upwards, the third week of the Hello Kitty giveaway will kick off Monday, with the winner being announced on Wednesday. Until then, I'll have some byte-sized headlines to chew on later today!










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Our second Hello Kitty Giveaway for Valentine's Day

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 by Amber

Just as promised, today we are featuring Week 2 of our Byte-Sized Valentine's Day giveaway -- and she's just as cute, if not cuter, than the Week 1 model:

This Hello Kitty could be yours! Enter NOW to win by emailing me at ByteSized@Captivate.com! (Last week's official rules still apply, btw.)

If you entered before for the Hello Kitty Mimbot and did not win, you are automatically entered into this week's giveaway (though I'd sure love to hear from you :) hehehe).

All of our Hello Kitty USB flash drives are courtesy of the folks at MIMOCO. If you want to bypass my giveaway, please head straight there and buy your own! The 2-gig flash drives cost around $25-30 each, and they are a perfect gift for your Valentine's Day love!

... So, let's say you've won the Hello Kitty gift, you've already bought a dozen of your Valentine's favorite flowers (because if you show up without then, be prepared to have a door shut in your face) -- but you are at a loss for what chocolates to buy! Well, check out Captivate.com on Feb. 1 for a feature on the best of the best gourmet chocolatiers in the world, and how to order some truly original treats that will have your sweeties melting in your hand!

See ya back here FRIDAY when I announce the winner of little Miss Kitty and her sweet, painted-on teddy. OH, I just got another idea for a Valentine's Day must-have ... :-D










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Weekly tech-headline roundup, esp. for you

Friday, January 15, 2010 by Amber

In between the giveaways there has to be some news, right? Here is a rundown of the latest in tech news this week:

-Biggest on the radar, as well it should be, is the relief effort in Haiti. Click here for a complete list of sites accepting donations, or if you are looking to contribute online of via your cell phone. Amazingly, people have really banded together to help, with more than $5M having already been donated to the Red Cross via texters on mobile phones. Wow.

-PLEASE look out for charity scams. They'll rob you blind by playing on your good will. Donater beware.

-And, not only are celebrities pitching in huge amounts of money in relief, but tech companies have stepped up with massive donations, too.

-I'm not the only on who wants to remind you that Valentine's Day is closing in: Check out this Valentine's Day gadget gift guide. I already have most of the gifts suggested for 'her,' so it's actually a pretty great list.

-Take a look through the technology crystal ball and see what will really take off in 2010. Or, so the forecasters think, anyways. Grain of salt.

-It's one of the largest problems in American culture today. No, it's not obesity or lack of physical activity -- it's small ears. What are those poor people with tiny exterior auditory canals to do with all the humongous sizes in ear buds? Alas, Cnet has your little ones covered.

-Looks like everyone had a Christmas video-game-wise. Best of the year, in my opinionated opinion? Assassin's Creed II. Buy it now, if you store even still has a copy. It's phenomenal -- loved it so much. Best game of the year. For more video game stuff, head over to Captivate's Gamer's Edge blog.

-Oh goodness. The Governator is tweeting.

-One of my favorite blogs on the 'net (aside from Perez Hilton) is USAToday.com's Science Fair. The writers just have some really great stories for those of us science intellectuals looking for a cool thing to talk about with our spouses/company. I highly recommend checking it out.

Readers, Monday is a holiday, but we'll have your back with some cool things to check out if you're looking to waste some time :) Otherwise, meet you back here on Wednesday with the next HELLO KITTY Valentine's Day Giveaway!





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Hello Kitty winner announced

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 by Amber

OK, note to self: Next time I want my blog to crash, all I have to do is mention Hello Kitty! Holy overloaded servers, Batman!

Needless to say, I got WAAAY more entries than I ever expected into this giveaway, and I'm feeling a bit guilty that I only have one of the sweet little 'Hello Kitty Balloon' Mimbots to hand out this week ... Either way, you never win if you don't enter! :) So, thanks a zillion times for everyone's record response!

Congrats to our super-lucky winner ... Kathy D.C. from Dallas!

For all of you who did not win (and there are, like, a thousand of you), your name will automatically be entered into next week's drawing of another 'Hello Kitty' Mimbot from the generous, awesome folks at Mimoco! I'm just going to take a moment to thank them for their participation and for making such cool products all the time. Really, really top notch.

Should you not want to wait for the next 4 weeks' drawings, please visit http://www.mimoco.com/ and order your own USB drive today -- at $24.99, they are srsly the perfect gift. Oh, and have I already mentioned how they only make so many of these? So order the one you want before it's gone!!

The next Hello Kitty Giveaway starts next week, so check back to put your name in the hat.

Now that I have your attention, let's talk headlines ...

-Apple insiders are quietly gunning the rumor mill by hinting the next-gen iPhone is going to debut in April.

--For fashion-savvy men, looks like skinny suits are SO last decade ...

--For my regular readers, you all know I'm not a Twitter fan. Regardless, if you're looking to go to the dark side, here are some tips to get started tweeting.

--Google is not happy with China -- and China isn't too happy with them either.

--If you have Verizon Fios and, for some whacked-out reason, aren't digging it, your cancellation fee is about to go up.

Quiet day in Captivate land, so log on to our main site and check out our Spotlight: International Business! I wrote a complete guide to fitting in and not making yourself look like an idiot when you're traveling abroad, so check it out! See ya Friday!











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Valentine's Day Giveaway

Monday, January 11, 2010 by Amber

Happy Monday, readers! I’ve got some big news today, but before I get to it, I’d like to give a big shout out of thanks to Peter Szabo, our Byte-Sized reporter who’s been on the floor covering the Consumer Electronics Show from Las Vegas. Such a great show, and so much fun stuff to discuss!

All the sites are buzzing today with wrap-ups and highlights – looks like 3-D has made a huge splash on the market, and everything from glasses to home theaters are being tossed around as the heir-apparent future! Oh, and e-readers rock, which we all (I hope) already knew.

Moving onwards and upwards from CES, I’d like to take a moment to remind all of you significant others out there that Valentine’s Day is a month away. I know, it’s like a cruel trick from the greeting card companies putting such a pressure-filled holiday so close to Christmas.

Rest assured, though, you forlorn loved ones, Byte-Sized has you covered!

Starting today and lasting one-a-week for the next 5 weeks, I’m going to give you the perfect gift for your sweetie: A Mimobot designer USB flash drive courtesy of the folks at Mimoco! But, it gets better: Each drive features the world’s most lovable, adorable, super-sweet mascot of cuteness Hello Kitty!

Fresh out of the design shops at Mimoco (my well-known personal fave – I own 2 myself), these Hello Kitty flash drives feature the iconic feline in 5 different settings. We’re giving away one of each. And, for the tech-heads, *2 gigs* of storage space to carry around everything from that novel she’s working on to a thousand love notes from you that you’d rather not leak on the ‘net.

This is how it’s going to work: Send me your name, number and address NOW to bytesized@captivate.com. If you don’t win one week, your name will automatically be entered into the next week’s drawing. The final winner will be picked on Feb. 10. Click here for the official giveaway rules.

If you’d like to bypass the chance aspect of the giveaway, head straight over to Mimoco’s site to browse there selection of amazing flash drives (some even come with a little hoodie to keep them warm!) or click here to go straight to the Hello Kitty section of the site.

This week’s design (featured above) is the Hello Kitty Balloon, retailing online for $24.95 – a perfect amount for every stage of relationship! Package it up with a box of designer chocolates** and you’re good to go!

**Hmmmm wonder where you could get an entire feature just on which awesome chocolate you should get for you’re sweetie this Valentine’s Day? Perhaps you should check out Captivate.com on Feb. 1….










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CES 2010 in pictures & recap

Sunday, January 10, 2010 by Amber



Recap of our posts from CES 2010:
Click here for Final Thoughts from CES
Click here for Driver Distraction - Do You Txt While Driving?
Click here for Free Home Phone Service
Click here for Noise Canceling Headphones for $99 & 2 tech companies you've never heard of
Click here for An Easier Way To Share Pictures
Click here for Computer Backups Made Easier
Click here LG, Netgear, Toshiba & Audiovox new product overviews
Click here for CES 2010 Preview

--Peter


Final thoughts from CES 2010

by Amber

I love that 3D is coming to TVs. I hate that I’m going to have to buy a new TV ($2,000+) to watch it. Didn’t we just get done upgrading to HD? Now we have to upgrade to 3D? I can’t wait to watch football in 3D, as well as other sports, but what about everything else? Commercials – will everyone have to quickly move to 3D commercials? Overall programming- a friend at a cocktail party over the weekend who works for a cable network shared that DirecTV is mandating a portion of their network shows come in 3D by 2011. Exactly how much, and what shows, is TBD, but is it really worth having all shows in 3D? It seems great for certain things (sports, some movies) where you will tolerate wearing the glasses. But other than that, I’m not sure.

I love the new wifi hotspot function in Palm’s Pre Plus and Pixi Plus coming to Verizon Wireless! Not only is it a great smartphone, but it creates a wifi hotspot for you to connect your laptop too as well! I hate carrying multiple devices, but I would love to connect my laptop to VZW’s network. I’m not sure that I’m ready to trade my BlackBerry or iPhone for a Pre, but this made me seriously start considering it.

In other connected news, this one not from CES but similar to the wifi hotspot on the go, when talking about the new Palm function, a friend of mine mentioned Tether – a BB app that lets you connect your BB to your laptop and use your BB’s data plan to connection to the internet. Brilliant! http://www.tether.com/ It costs $50 (was on sale for $20 last week, maybe they’ll have another sale), and if it works are advertised (and the slew of positive reviews would make that seem likely)- what a great way to extend your internet reach without paying extra! Again, I would love to connect my laptop to Verizon’s broadband internet- but I have that they tack on an extra fee to do so. I’m already paying for internet on the BB, now with Tether it would allow me to use what I’m already paying for!

--Peter

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Driving safety- do you txt & drive?

by Amber

A big emerging technology I was eager to see at CES was products that strive to make txting while driving safer. OK, safer isn’t the right word- txting while driving isn’t safe- products that strive to balance communicating while on the road with safety.

Taser (the company that produces the non-lethal shocking device used by law enforcement) is branching out into technology protection as well. I saw demos of 2 products that seem to be very well thought out, and could be a huge asset to parents.

The first is their Driver Protector. Aimed at parents of kids age 15-18, it strives to cut down on kids’ ability to use their phone while driving. (I couldn’t help thinking this should be mandatory for drivers beyond 18 as well! I personally can remember at least 2 or 3 near misses when the person who almost ran into me was starting down at a cell phone.)

Driver Protector works only with certain smartphones- BlackBerry, Android, etc- which the company figures most kids are begging their parents for anyway. It takes that device and, through a device that connects to a car’s circuitry, tells that phone when it can and can’t operate certain functions. For example, once the car is moving, the phone locks and only 3 options are available on the screen: favorites (to call certain pre-programmed numbers), voice dial and request exemption (to call mom or dad and tell them someone else is driving, at which point mom or dad can remotely unlock the phone).

Taser said they studied other solutions to driver distraction and found many of them to be either too strong or too weak. Either the phone was completely disabled, which frustrates users because they can’t do anything with the phone, or it was too easy to bypass the safeguards by overriding them. They sought to strike a balance where the phone is still usable for parts that can be made safe while driving.

Driver Protector will be released later in the spring, with final pricing TBD, but expect about $200-300 for the device that connects to your car to monitor whether it’s moving, and then $10-30 / month.

Taser’s other new product speaks to parents who have ever wanted to give their child a cell phone for the convenience of being able to reach them anytime, but didn’t want them to be able to use all it’s features at all times. Until now, it was pretty much an all or nothing proposition. Either you give them the phone, and take the risk they could start txting 5,000 times each month, not only running up your phone bill but probably not studying too hard for school while doing that, or you didn’t. Taser’s Mobile Protector seeks to give logical parental controls for your kid’s cell phone.

Again, only working with smartphones, it is aimed at the first time a child gets a cell phone, amazingly 8-12 years old, according to the company. (Why an 8 year old needs a BlackBerry is another story. If there was a way this product could work on a plain phone, I think it would be even more beneficial. Due to the technology that goes into it, sadly, it only works on smartphones.) So, 8 year olds toting BlackBerries aside, this is a very innovative product.

It has an app that is installed on both the parent’s & the kid’s smartphone which, essentially, first routes all communication to the parent’s phone. For example, the first time your child receives a txt from a certain number, it first routes to the parent’s phone. The parent can then decide if that txt is safe to be allowed through. Naturally, to do this every time the kid gets a txt is pretty cumbersome, so you can assign certain numbers “safe” status. In other words, all txts from Uncle Mike (who you trust) are allowed through automatically, but all txts from your child’s friend Rodney (who you never trusted anyway) are still routed to you.

There is a similar functionality to voice calls as well. Calls can be first routed to the parent’s phone, and again, safe ones are allowed through. Obviously for working parents this can become a bit cumbersome, but there is a desktop version of the parent’s monitoring app which can run on the parent’s work computer.

A few other great features of Mobile Protector… it automatically screens txts for a predetermined list of problematic words (based on categories like sexual content, drugs, etc) and alerts you if those words are used. Txts are monitored even from people you have put on the “safe” list and the txts go directly to the kid’s phone. Another feature is that each time a call is made or received, or txt made or received, Taser’s system takes a GPS snapshot of where the communication occurred. This can be helpful in locating a child, should that need arise. They’re quick to point out this isn’t a monitoring device- those GPS locations are only revealed with police involvement in a missing person’s case.

All in all, Mobile Protector seeks to allow parents to give their kids a phone they can use for they parts they want, rather than all or nothing. It all felt a little Big Brother-ish at first, but the company seems to have gone to some lengths to balance parental control with kid’s phone needs. With some of the scary stats the company cited (more than 1/3rd of teenagers admit to sending naked pictures of themselves using their phone, 40% of them have been bullied through the phone, 1 in 5 has been sexually solicited online, 20% regularly use their phone to engage in “sexting”) I’m guessing there will be a version of mobile protector for teens 13-18 as well very soon. And let’s also hope that LG’s “Give It A Ponder” campaign is around for a while!

Pricing hasn’t been announced for Mobile Protector either, but will likely be a monthly service cost of aprx $30 / month. With Mobile Protector and Driver Protector, maybe you’ll feel more comfortable with your child having a smartphone.


While we’re on the topic of driver safety and distraction while driving, let me tell you about the few minutes I spent learning about how much research goes into driver safety from Ford. Ford made a lot of headlines at CES unveiling upgrades to their Sync system, which allows drivers to connect more gadgets to the car to use while driving. The highlights were the ability to have the car read you incoming tweets from Twitter while driving and the ability to listen to Pandora & Stitcher internet radio in the car. Many of the articles announcing these new technologies pointed out driver safety concerns, basically theorizing that the more technology we have in the car, the less safe we are while driving.

I love technology, and I love cars, so I was particularly excited to speak with Ford about their new gadgets, and what steps they take to ensure driver safety. I spent a few minutes with Ed Cadagin from Ford’s Auto Safety Office, who has been working on driver distraction for 10 years. He told me about Ford’s ongoing commitment to driver safety in the wake of explosive wireless use in cars.

He pointed to 7 million miles of road driving data from a VTTI (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute) study that Ford relies heavily on to determine the causes of accidents, and design their technology appropriately. Interestingly, talking on your phone while driving is only slightly more distracting than driving alone- it’s the dialing or answering calls part that gets people in trouble. (Also, “personal grooming” was more than double as distracting a talking on the phone.)

Ford also has copious amounts of data from their Eyes on Road Research where average Ford employees drive in a simulator and are monitored while they execute typical driving tasks. This is a big foundation for their Sync system where voice commands allow typical tasks (like playing a certain song on your iPod or inputting a navigation destination) to cut down how long your eyes are off the road by 90% or more.

These 2 studies, as well as some Federal Government research has led Ford to institute a few basic guidelines for all their in-car technology. For example, a single glance off the road can only be 2 seconds maximum. Whether for inputting a navigation address or changing a radio station, 2 seconds max. This means Ford has locked out the majority of navigation function while the car is moving. You cannot enter a new address or point of interest, you must choose from a previous destination or use Sync to input it by voice command.

It’s worth pointing out that this is Ford’s own analysis and guidelines. Other car manufacturers do their own thing. Honda, for example, allows full use of it’s navigation system while driving. Ford says that’s their choice, they would rather err on the side of safety based on their findings. Now, I did ask if any thought had been given to allowing a passenger to input a destination while the car was moving, and Mr Cadagin said they had considered that, but ultimately decided against it. He said people could put a suitcase on the front seat to override it, then. I had to chuckle as I heard that, and countered that perhaps there should be some balance between how the majority of people would likely benefit from a feature like that, and if a few, let’s call them knuckleheads, choose to drive around with a suitcase in their front seat, well, then, that’s their prerogative.

Another guideline Mr Cadagin shared was that all visual displays in Ford vehicles had to be at 30 degrees or above on the dash. That was the point at which Ford determined people could see brake lights ahead of them in their peripheral vision. This guideline led Ford to redesign all of their dashboards (not a cheap undertaking, he pointed out) to be 30 degree compliant.

Along with the Twitter, Pandora, Stitcher announcements, Ford will also feature more technology additions to their cars. You will be able to search for directions on Mapquest, then send your route to your car (conveniently Microsoft is the company behind both Mapquest and Ford’s Sync technology), and for sports fans, once you provide an internet connection for your Ford, you can set the system to keep you updated on your favorite sports team scores as they play!

In any event, I was impressed to learn the amount of research that goes into designing in-car tech at Ford. While not as sexy as the technology itself, it’s nice to hear these devices aren’t just being crammed into cars as fast as they can be produced. Ford’s use of naturalistic, real world driving research will hopefully make their cars safer for the people excited to use their new tech features.

--Peter

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Free home phone service?

Saturday, January 9, 2010 by Amber

Home phones seem to be dwindling at a rapid pace, but what about those people who still want one? If you talk too much to justify a cell-phone only existence, or cell coverage simply isn’t great at your house, you might be interested in Ooma. They have a product (pictured below) you plug into your existing high speed internet connection at home which gives you unlimited home phone service for no monthly cost. It sounded too good to be true, so I checked it out.

You have to buy an Ooma Telo for $250- but after that, you have no monthly cost. (You are responsible for $12 / year in taxes, so set aside $1 month to make sure you save for that.) The Telo will work with your existing home phones, and allows you to call any phone in the US (cell or landline) and talk for unlimited minutes a month- all for free. It’s all through VOIP technology, which has come a long way in clarity- the demo I heard sounded amazing. Certainly better quality than a cell phone. You may have heard of Vonage, or many other companies doing the same thing with VOIP calling- but they charge you a monthly fee. Ooma eliminates that, and also adds a missing feature from many VOIP companies- 911 service. You can use Ooma to call 911 in an emergency, which eliminates a big knock on other VOIP services that don’t have that.

You can transfer your existing phone number if you would like, or get a new one when you sign up. Incoming, outgoing calls- all free every month with calls in the US. International calls are significantly cheaper, too.

Of course, like any tech company these days, the $0 / month version is their base package. For $10 / month you can add a second phone line, choose an out of market phone number if you want (so if you like in LA and your family lives in Boston, they can all dial a Boston number and call you as a local phone call), and have a telemarketer block put on your phone numbers.

They have some other great add ons- like an iPhone app that lets you answer your home phone calls on the go over wifi, or the ability to use your home phones to answer calls to your cell phone using Bluetooth. Those will appeal to the ultra geeks (they sounded really cool to me!)

Ooma is available at major retailers- Best Buy, Amazon, Costco, Walmart, etc. Could be a great way to save money.

--Peter

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Noise canceling headphones for $99 & 2 companies you've never heard of

by Amber



I have a few friends who would love noise cancelling headphones, but don’t need them enough to shell out $300+ for the Bose models you see advertised all over the place. There are a few cheaper models, some that work better than others, but walking through CES I found a company called Able Planet that makes a solid noise cancelling headphone, similar to the Bose version, for $99. Called their NC200 model, it sounded slightly less perfect that their $299 NC1000CH, but certainly very usable, especially at a price under $100.
(picture, $99 version on left, $299 version on right)

The company has their foundation in the medical industry with years of hearing aid technology, so these guys know their stuff. They use those 6 years of research to improve upon their noise cancelling technology, and apply them to headphones now rather than hearing aids. They’re available at Best Buy, BJs and other major retailers now.

I like to think I’m pretty up on tech trends and electronics companies. So I was a little surprised to walk by 2 booths at CES that featured a full lineup of GPS navigation units, digital camera, digital picture frames, netbooks and more- from companies I hadn’t even heard of! Cydle- a Korean company that has been around since 2006- and aigo- a Chinese company that has been around since 1993- are 2 companies that have been known in Asia but are now making a push into the US market.

One product that stood out was a cell phone from aigo that doubles as a Wii style controller. They were demoing a tennis game that you played on your TV using the cell phone as your controller. Pretty cool. It’s a GSM phone, so you buy it, insert a SIM card from AT&T or T-Mobile and you’re off and running.

--Peter

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An easier way to share pictures

by Amber

One of my little tech pet peeves involves digital cameras. Have you ever been out with a group of friends celebrating, say, a birthday, and everyone gets together for a group picture to be taken? I hate when some nice stranger volunteers to snap the picture, but then is bombarded by 8 digital cameras to take the exact same picture with. “Oh, can you take one with mine too?” “yea, and mine” “oh and here’s one more”. We’re talking about the exact same picture, captured digitally- I always thought the idea of using one camera and then e-mailing the picture to everyone was a pretty simple concept. Recently, though, I’ve found the person who’s camera is assigned “master camera” duty forgets to e-mail the picture, and 3 weeks later is still making excuses like “I keep meaning to send out that picture, but I’ve just been so busy.” So now no one has the important picture.

Sony has introduced TransferJet – a technology included in their new digital cameras which allow you to transfer pictures from one camera to another without wires. I immediately saw great possibilities for this. Use one Sony camera to take that master picture, and then instantly share it with everyone at the birthday party. Problem solved.

TransferJet, I later learned, is actually a consortium of electronics manufacturers who will all develop and use this technology. Even better! Canon, Kodak, Nikon, Panasonic, Samsung, Epson, Sharp, Toshiba, JVC, Kenwood, Pioneer and many more are on the list. This technology will also allow you to transfer files from your digital camera to your computer using a wireless TransferJet dock, to your printer, TV or digital picture frame- all without wires! I love simple improvements that make a great product even better.

Another great unveil at Sony’s booth was their new Bloggie – their new HD camera that captures HD video, 5MP pictures and costs only $169! A friend of mine had an earlier version of these cameras, and shot a great skiing video on a trip last year, so I can vouch for the quality of these. We’re not talking professional quality, but certainly good enough to carry around on a trip, snap some quick highlights and easily share memories with family & friends. The camera is tiny (about the size of a compact digital camera) and the battery will last about 90 minutes when shooting video.

For a cool add on, spring the extra $20 and get a 270 degree fish eye lens on their $189 version- pictured to the right. (They also throw in a 4GB memory stick for your extra $20, which makes it even more worth it.) I tried a demo model with the fish eye, and this thing is just plain cool! You hold it above your head and walk normally- the camera will capture everything around you as you go. The cool trick comes on playback- it doesn’t play a giant circle video file (as it does on the screen to the right), it actually converts your video to look normal, with a scroll bar underneath that lets you move your vantage point. For example, you start off watching what was happening in front of you, then you slide the bar under your video and look at what happened to your right, then slide to see what happened on your left. Great way to capture parts of your life when there is a lot going on!

--Peter

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Computer backups made easier

Friday, January 8, 2010 by Amber

One of the growing issues with producing more content (pictures, music, videos, etc) is not only where to store it, but how to back it up. I know I personally have a running paranoia in the back of my mind that keeps me constantly copying a backup set of pictures onto an external hard drive, and usually a USB key chain as well. These backups typically consist of various versions of files and multiple duplicates of the same thing. Every few weeks, I think, “gee, I should do a backup”. So I highlight a bunch of files, hit copy and paste them onto the external drive. It gives me piece of mind that a backup copy exists, but wastes a decent amount of hard drive space, and wouldn’t even be particularly efficient should my fears come true and I actually need to replace files from there.

I’ve seen various storage solutions over the past year or two- some popular ones recently like Mozy that allow you to backup all your files to a hard drive in the sky. Cloud backups are great, but require an upload over the internet- not typically the fastest thing ever. I’ve tried syncing software, where it supposedly keeps track of your files and only backs up modified files or new files. Somehow, it never seems to work exactly right.

Enter Clickfree. This Toronto based company has improved on this backup problem in a few ways. First, it takes typical external hard drives, and integrates the USB connection. I love my Western Digital Passport drive, but I have to always make sure I carry a USB cable in order to connect it. The Clickfree drives have a cable directly tied into the drive that easily slides out and connects to your USB port.

Second, it backs up your entire hard drive, as the company’s name would suggest- click free. You just plug the drive into your USB port, and voila, full backup. Even better, after the first backup (which will take longer as all of your files are copied) the drive will automatically backup only revised or new files. I love the simplicity of this. My mom always asks my “are my files backed up?” And over the phone, I walk her through a clunky copy & paste backup onto an external drive. I would have no problem handing her one of these drives.

Third, as a fun added bonus, once all your content is on the drive, Clickfree includes some nifty features of what you can do with your files. As it creates the backup files, it actually groups your files by content: music, movies, pictures, etc. From there, you can browse by type. If you pull up your pictures, for example, they can be automatically uploaded onto Facebook from the Clickfree interface. Just select the thumbnails you want to upload, click the Facebook icon, and up they go. Much easier than Facebook’s picture interface. All this is done with no software installed on your computer- it’s all contained within the drive.

Expert users can configure their backups (to only backup certain files, for example), which is a nice touch. There is actually a handy 30 second countdown clock when you connect the drive that gives you time to click to options. Novices can let the clock run down and stay in automatic mode, experts can configure to their heart’s content.

Another feature I thought was particularly impressive was iPod backup. As their knowledgeable rep pointed out, by now, some early adopters have multiple iPods, some of which may have been connected to old iTunes accounts. That hit very close to home for me as I have an old 60GB iPod which used to sync with an old desktop. In transferring that desktop to a newer laptop, iTunes didn’t transfer over properly so many Playlists were lost. They are still on the iPod, but not on any computer. It’s been an ongoing source of frustration as I am now onto my 2nd laptop that doesn’t have many of the playlists I cultivated and perfected over a few years. (If you’re asking why I don’t just copy my music back onto my computer, well, Apple has taken great lengths to make sure that isn’t easy.) With the Clickfree system, I can now pull off not only the songs from the iPod, but the Playlists as well. I can’t wait to try this. I was so excited I bought one on the spot! (Quick side note, the company was nice enough to sell me their 500GB Clickfree backup drive by writing my credit card on a piece of paper. They never actually ran it. Must be the Canadian in them. I don’t see many US companies doing that. You can’t sip a coffee in this country without laying down some cash!)

There is also a point to be made about piracy here- the fact that since you can now copy songs from any iPod, you could take all your friends songs very easily. The company points out they just created the solution and trust people to use it appropriately. Sounds good to me!

A few more nice touches- you can backup multiple computers onto one hard drive. Each will have its own icon, and the drive will sync files with that computer’s backup.

Anyway, this device impressed the heck out of me! There are 3 versions of this basic Clickfree backup drive- 250 GB for $119, 320 GB for $139 and 500 GB for $159. A little more than you’d pay for a drive without their software, but if it works like the demo, it’s well worth it.

If you have multiple computers on one home network (or work network) there is a network version of each of the drives above for slightly more money. The advantage there is that after connecting the drive once to each computer and doing a backup, it leaves behind a tiny tag which allows the drive to remain connected to only one computer yet backup all computers on the network. It’s a neat trick, and a very simple solution for multiple computers.

Now a few final cool ideas- If you want to look cool doing your backups, try their Ultra Portable Traveler. Roughly the size of a credit card, I can promise you’ll get some jealous stares. They somehow even fit a tiny USB connector into this thing. All the same features as the bigger hard drives described above, just on a tiny drive. Available in 16/32/64 GB sizes for $69/$129/$219, respectively.

If you have free space on your iPod touch or iPhone, Clickfree has a system that allows you to backup your hard drive there. This seemingly is for people who don’t hoard too many files, but if they don’t, would allow them to not only backup, but easily have their files with them. That connector with built in backup for iPod Touch / iPhone is $49.

Similarly, they have a Traveler for BlackBerry which allows for backup of your files onto your trusty BB. It’s actually a 16GB microSD memory card for $89, but then you have your files with you. The company points out this is for an professional that has a series of files they need with them at all times- spreadsheets, budgets, etc. If it’s on your BB, you don’t have to worry about carrying them.

Finally, there’s a backup version that puts your files on an SD card. 16GB for $90 and 32GB for $150. Those are on the pricey end, and more than standard SD cards without the backup program. But if you want to have easy backup on an SD card, it’s a nice solution.

All in all, a great suite of backup products!

--Peter

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LG at CES!

Thursday, January 7, 2010 by Amber


Wasting no time at Press Day, LG was nice enough to greet everyone with bright lights and a full array of TVs illuminating their press conference at 8am. Functioning like an extra shot of caffeine in case the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet so early in the morning, the bright lights made sure you knew CES was under way! LG got us up to speed on their plan for home domination, I mean their product line, by showcasing their TVs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, solar power technology and projectors.

I’ll start with the most entertaining part, which actually isn’t even a product but a recent advertising campaign. If you haven’t yet seen LG’s “Give It A Ponder” series of “PSA’s” (commercials), click here (http://www.giveitaponder.com/). James Lipton of Bravo’s “Inside The Actor’s Studio” fame does a fantastic job highlighting the perils of gossip txting, sexting and mean txting facing today’s teens and tweens. I was amused by the campaign when I first saw it, and was surprised to learn the amount of research that went into launching the campaign. LG commissioned a study of teens & tweens (the same people who use their popular Chocolate cell phone and other cell phones) and learned how prevalent nasty txt messages were in that age group. No shock there, but LG took saw an opportunity to spread a positive message in a humorous way.

The campaign shows teens at the moment where they might send a nasty text and urges them to think it over. Watch the videos- it immediately made me think that all advertising should be required to be this creative and amusing.

Now to the fancy and shiny new gadgets LG unveiled…. (quick note here: CES Press Day is all about announcements from the podium – a very hand’s off way to learn about new technology. So I’ll share a whole lot of what sound like great ideas and technology, but in no way am vouching for whether the products are as good as they sound. This was quickly proved by the incredibly awkward Skype test call demonstration on stage at LG’s unveiling.)

-the LG Expo smartphone has an optional PICO projector attachment(a tiny projector that allows you to project video onto the wall in front of you) – very cool idea made even better by being built into the phone! – the phone also has a 1Ghz processor which LG says will allow you to multitask much easier with your phone- no hiccupping or lags when changing apps or moving among music or video (most phones have less than half that speed of processor)
-a new Skype option for their TVs- you can now easily connect a webcam to your TV and use it to Skype your friends without using your computer
-TruMotion 480 Hz TVs- up from 240 Hz last year- making fast motion TV even smoother
-the LGX120 netbook- which runs Windows 7 yet has LG’s “smart on” operating system allowing you to boot in 7 seconds- sounds too good to be true!
-LG showed the latest model in their “Chocolate” cell phone line- it looked great, featured a 4” screen, but I had to chuckle when the gentleman introducing it touted it as “perfect for watching movies”- I don’t know about you, but when I think movies, a cell phone screen isn’t my ideal viewing experience
-they unveiled a new LED TV that is 6.9mm thick- this was a big theme last year, thin TVs, which I still don’t think are completely necessary (my plasma is 4” thick and I have never particularly worried that is too thick). But I will admit that these super thin TVs that keep popping up everywhere are awfully sexy!
-LG is expanding their Netcast TV to pull in more content- the aforementioned Skype, also Picasa, AccuWeather
-solving a common problem of people not wanting to run a standard network cable to their TV, LG now makes connecting their TVs to the internet a lot easier with their USB wifi adapters


Netgear

Netgear started with a simple premise – that all these wonderful tech gadgets people are unveiling need to connect to the internet and Netgear wants to be the company to make that happen. It’s a smart idea, and some of their gear seems not only ready connect your devices, but help you access your content in a variety of ways as well.

With their “Anytime, Anywhere, Any Media, Any Screen” philosophy, Netgear launched into a very energetic presentation. One item that caught my eye is their Stora network storage device. NAS (small cube like boxes that connect to your network for all your home computers to use for file backup) have been around for a little while, but now it’s capabilities have expanded. Netgear aims to let you “Access, Backup and Centralize” your important files. Not only can you backup your pictures onto your Stora, but you can then view them from any web browser on any device anywhere in the world. Pretty cool.

It basically gives you access to your files anytime & anywhere. You can both place files onto the Stora and retrieve files from it using any browser. It’s a great branch on the growing tree of cloud computing. Rather than uploading your pictures to a nameless storage location, you actually place them on your own device. You can then control access to friends, family and anyone else you want to be able to see.

The demo showed pictures from the Stora on a laptop, as well as an iPhone. I love the idea of being able to access all your pictures (and other content) at any time. Someone asks you at dinner if you have pictures of your latest vacation and you can just pull out your iPhone and show them.

Another feature Netgear is looking to provide, and a growing theme at CES, is the conversion of SD content into HD quality. With everyone moving to HDTVs in their home, and now theoretically connecting those TVs to the internet, a gap still exists in the quality the web video provides and what your TV can display. Web TV just doesn’t look good on a TV designed for HD. Think of how grainy many YouTube videos are on your smaller computer screen. Now imagine that magnified on your bid HDTV. Not an ideal viewing experience. Netgear demoed their SD upconversion to HD and it looked phenomenal. It uses a technology which they claim allows you to utilize more of your broadband’s speed to allow for smoother playback and better picture. In a side by side comparison, the picture was night and day better. While the SD picture continued to stall and re-buffer, the Netgear version played smoothly, clearly and with a better picture quality. Details were sketchy on when exactly this would be available, and how, but when it is, I’m looking forward to it.

Netgear also showcased improvements to their Range Max wireless routers which have expanded capability for streaming video. They claim it can handle more video over longer distances. The stat they used was the ability to stream video wirelessly throughout a 3,000 square foot house. I have a 900 square foot apartment and can’t seem to get good wireless connection in the back bedroom there, so if Netgear’s stats are accurate, I’m buying one of these immediately! (Competitor D-Link also unveiled upgrades to their wireless routers today, so the ability to stream more video faster over longer distances is quickly becoming another theme.)

Toshiba

If you’re curious what a CES press conference looks like, he above picture is a good example. Especially on the TV manufacturers end. It’s a big room, with eye catching TVs on stage and big screens to capture your attention. Lights, sound, glitz.

In a very stat heavy presentation, Toshiba pointed out that 2009 actually exceeded expectations in flat panel TV sales. LCD continues to dominate Plasma, with LED quickly gaining ground. To keep ahead of the curve and stay true to their “Leading Innovation” motto, they showcased the myriad of features in their new Cell TV series.

Aimed to be the Ferrari of HDTVs (notice I jumped right over Mercedes and BMW), Toshiba listed impressive stat after impressive stat for their Cell TVs. It’s 10x faster than normal computers. It has 147x more processing power than today’s average TV. It converts SD content to HD automatically. It converts web content to near HD quality. It connects to your net channels. It has video calling worthy of a big screen TV (not a crummy computer webcam blown up to look grainy). It converts standard 2D TV to 3D on the fly (this is quite the impressive magic trick if it works!). It has a 1TB built in hard drive. It has a built in BluRay Player. It has an RF remote so you can use that 1TB hard drive to send content to other TVs in the house and control the drive in any room. It has twice the brightness of the average TV today. In summary, it’s more. As Toshiba pointed out, it’s not that one or two of these features are slightly better than typical TVs, it’s that all of these features are significantly better. I’m anxious to see this one up close on the convention floor.

Audiovox

The title of Audiovox’s presentation was “Promises Delivered”. Which is to say they went to great lengths to prove they did what they said they would do a year ago. They get an A+ in thoroughness if only a B- for fresh innovation. I like the ideas, but when you spend most of your time referring back to last year, well, you get the idea.

This isn’t to say that last year’s ideas were bad. They talked about their expanded line of Flo TV enabled products. Flo is the premium mobile TV service that allows you to watch live TV from ESPN, MSNBC, Disney, etc on your cell phone and now in cars as well through Audiovox products. The big advancement this year was an easy add on product that would allow the 20 million existing TVs in cars to receive Flo TV. (Last year you had to install a fresh system to receive Flo.) You do have to pay a monthly service charge for Flo TV, but the channel lineup is fantastic. And as Audiovox pointed out, once it’s connected in the car- there’s no battery to charge, no DVDs to remember, just instant on TV to keep the kids entertained for hours.

Next up was RCA’s Lexi e-reader. Short on details, but promised to be a low cost, high quality e-reader to get RCA into this rapidly expanding category. Content will be delivered through Barnes & Nobles’ BN.com page. Sadly no wireless connectivity so you have to plug it in to receive fresh content, but depending on the price point, could be a nice addition to the e-readers currently available.

My grandmother’s dream of a way to find her lost glasses is moving closer to reality. Available soon from Audiovox is a personal tracker. While not quite small enough to attach to eyeglasses, it is small enough to easily fit in your child’s backpack. Roughly the size of the cigarette lighter, it allows you to track whatever or whoever it is attached to through GPS. You can set geo-fences or perimeters and are automatically warned when the device leaves that perimeter. Price is $129 and seems to be a great solution for keeping tabs on kids, elderly drivers, or anyone else that needs monitoring. Available later this spring.

Audiovox’ Acoustic Research arm showcased a variety of home command products which allow you to use your BlackBerry or iPhone to control your home audio and video system, open your garage door, etc. Seems like a cool tie in. Though I was surprised to hear they have no intention of expanding the product to other mobile device platforms- particularly Android. Android is set to appear on a plethora of devices this year, so I suspect they may be amending that strategy soon. I also question whether people will want to change the channel on their TV through their cell phone. Interesting technology, but sometimes just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

In the “makes me wish I had an outdoor patio” moment of the day, Acoustic Research showcased their Outdoor Living collection of weatherproof speakers. They are a variety of speakers which look like ordinary outdoor lights, lanterns and rocks. They look great, if the sound quality matches, these look to be a great product line!

--Peter



Consumer Electronics Show Coverage 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 by Amber

Hey readers -- We're welcoming guest blogger Peter Szabo on Byte-Sized for a few days to make live updates from the CES floor in Las Vegas! Check back early and often for all the news and amazing gadgets to come out of the show!

Here is the first update from Peter -- after this, I leave you in his hands as he leads you around the biggest consumer electronics show of the year ...

Hard to believe a year has gone by from CES 2009. As I was preparing to return to CES 2010 this week, I thought back to the big news from last year’s show and wondered what progress had been made. 3D TV was a big “wow” at last year’s show, and just as I was thinking it was too bad more progress hadn’t been made to bring 3D TV into the home- ESPN & Discovery each announced their own 3D channel rollout. Sadly you’ll need to buy a new TV for it, but still, great technology getting one step closer to reality.

Connected devices were also big last year, and after initially wondering if we really needed every device in our home to be connected to the internet, I now have a Roku box in my living room at love it. Watching Netflix movies on-demand and listening to Pandora through my surround sound system made me a big fan of “connected devices” when done right.

Some of the gadgets I saw here last year have become staples in my every day life- Canon’s Powershot SD 880IS, Koss’ PortaPro headphones and the BlackBerry’s Tour (a version of the 8900 first seen here last year). I can’t wait to see what new gear will become part of my life in the coming year!

I’ve been monitoring the hot topics leading up to the show, and while you certainly have your core products (apps, more apps, even more apps, more connected devices, more 3D TV) I am excited to see some truly innovating products (devices to keep you from txting while driving, cars with broadband internet, wireless HDTV and many more).

The Google Nexus One phone had me really fired up on Tuesday. Though not revolutionary, and not unveiled at CES, some of the features mark a nice step forward in smartphone (or app phone) technology. Let’s hope we find many products like that in the next few days. We’ll bring them to you as quickly as we can find them! Should be fun!

--Peter






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Moving forward into 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010 by Amber

Happy 2010, everyone! Let's start the year off right by catching up on the cool stuff that happened while we were all on break ...

-As we did last year, Byte-Sized is putting a reporter on the floor of this year's CES! As a preview, here is a list of the hot gadgets already making some waves.

-Big surprise: Amazon touts the Kindle as the most-gifted item ever! Too bad they won't give real numbers to back it up, though.

--For those of you who can't get enough Star Wars ... and who also love shoes (?), here are some kicks you're sure to get a kick out of.

--There were some great games released in 2009 -- CNet has compiled a list of the year's best! My pick is Assassin's Creed II ... if only because Ezio is such a cutie!

--Oh, good lord. This is what happens when social media meets a-holes with too much time on their snobby little hands.

--Here is a cool article on what the Internet might look like in 2020 ... and why we won't recognize it.

See you back here Wednesday!





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