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Long weekend -- 2 mls. ahead

Friday, May 28, 2010 by Amber

Don’t the weeks ahead of a long weekend seems excruciatingly long? For all of you who haven’t cut out early to enjoy the beautiful weather, here is a recap of this week’s big news in science, technology and pop-culture!

-Big news this week is Microsoft has officially been overtaken by Apple as the most profitable technology company. I can’t help but feel like this isn’t a big surprise. How many of those iPods (and iPhones and iPads and ugly-as-s%&# iLaptops) could Apple actually sell at a 300% profit before they eeked past Redmond?

-This totally offends me. On a few different levels.

-Environmentalism and technology overlap in this story about Microsoft’s new Hohm program that measures the energy efficiency of your home vs. others in your neighborhood. Plus, there are recommendations should your home not rank well.

-News on Natal: It might not be called Natal anymore when it launches this fall. Reports pitching a possible name change also have a pricetag: around $150. I’m SO on it.

-OK, this is just weird. Matrix meets Grey’s Anatomy.

-Thank goodness – Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos is finally settling the record straight on a color Kindle. How many times do I have to explain this: Color drains battery life way too fast, and the LCD screen strains the eyes more than the Kindle’s eInk display ever will. I know, I bought my mom a Nook over a Kindle for her birthday/Mother’s Day gift, but that’s only because of Barnes and Noble’s brand recognition and their in-store support programs. Anyway, thank you, Bezos. I believe you.

-This new video game is making big waves in the community. I hear it’s fabulous – and I mean that in the most manly way a girl possibly can.

-We all know I dislike USAToday columnist Kim Komando with the fire of a thousand suns. (Sorry, Gannett – I still love you!) Why? For recommending people use those *ridiculous* screen saver programs willy-nilly without concern for internet security – that’s why! Trust me – don’t do it!

Anyway, now she’s suggesting you can bypass purchasing those hot beach reads we all need when baking in the sun for free e-books. Once again, Kim’s missing the mark. Beach reads are not classics, nor are the intended to be – they are entertaining books meant to make the hours of lounging for the perfect tan enjoyable!

Next week, Captivate.com will feature a list of our own suggestions for Beach Reads, and I promise you they’ll be some actually worthwile choices on there, rather than reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’ again or suffering through other way-past-its-prime lit that made your college English classes oh so fun. Just because an ebook is free doesn’t mean it’s worth reading! Come on now, people!

**Side note: USAToday, I’d be *fabulous* at writing the CyberSpeak column. Call me. Seriously. **

Anyway, rant over this round. We’ll be taking Monday off to celebrate Memorial Day with a beer in one hand and a cheeseburger in the other. See you back here Wednesday for a short week filled with news and tech bytes.

Previously on LOST

Monday, May 24, 2010 by Amber

Just on my drive in this morning, I was upset twice about LOST. Here’s the thing: There are going to be thousands of reviews this morning full of people calling shenanigans on Lindeloff and Cuse. This is not one of them. Frankly, I don’t know what the eff those naysayers were watching, because whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t the most perfect ending to television’s most perfect show ever.

*** SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading NOW if you haven’t watched it yet. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience – the crying and gasping and chest-clutching moments I had while I watched. Really, I’m not making this up. Go watch, then meet me back here! ***

Back to my ride in: Husband didn’t like how the arc of the show didn’t feature the Island’s story more. But, LOST was never really about the Island at all, was it? This show’s brilliance (and to some, it’s ultimate downfall) was it’s focus on the relationships. The survivors of Oceanic 815 were lost before they even got to the Island. The Island helped them find themselves and each other.

That the Island had mysterious electromagnetic properties that fostered time travel, polar bears, undead smoke monsters (because the Man in Black never was *dead* because Jacob wasn’t allowed to kill him. Anyway, more on that in a sec) was always just a side story to these people.

‘But didn’t that Ben guy kill people? Wasn’t he a murderer?’ Of course, but LOST isn’t about good and bad, or black and white. It’s about all the shades of gray that exist in between. Everyone had a reason behind the good things and the bad things they did in their lives both on and off the Island.

‘LOST’s ending was worse than Seinfeld’s.’ Before my shaking hand could even turn my radio dial off that blasphemous comment, I gave it a moment’s thought. What about the ending do people not understand? The Island was always a mystery, and the people were the central theme of everything. It only makes sense the creators left the Island a mystery at the end. We don’t need to know what happened – that was never the important part. It was the cool, theory-inducing hook that brought us all to the ‘Net to discuss seconds after an episode, but the Island was meant to stay a mystery because, in the end, it wasn’t important.

Let’s talk for a minute about the Man in Black: Mother said he and Jacob couldn’t hurt each other – and this is why MiB couldn’t kill Jacob to leave the Island. So, it stands to reason that Jacob couldn’t kill him either. So, what happened in the light cave after MiB’s unconscious body floated downstream? The light turned him into the unkillable Smoke Monster. And, Jack knew this, which is why he let Desmond uncork the evil. He needed to disrupt the flow of energy and rewrite the rules, so to speak. Once the cork was yanked out, MiB could be killed. It was all a set up – Jack knew what was going to happen.

And, speaking of Jack and the MiB, I offer this theory to you, Losties: Who is Jack’s son? Why does Jack need to have a son in the sideways timeline? I proffer this was the Man in Black, finally off the island. I’ll bet his name is David.

See, isn’t that amazing? The show is done, and yet I still have a theory about it!

For those of you still confused about what Christian meant in the church (and, trust me, it took a night of tossing and turning for me to work it out, too), here’s the deal:

Everything that happened on the Island was real. Oceanic 815 really did crash. The survivors really did get off the Island. Jacob and Smokey and Ben – they were all real. Christian explained that they had all died, some before Jack (Boone, Sayid, Locke), some much, much later than Jack (Hurley, Kate, Claire, Sawyer, Ben). How? Does it really matter? What does matter is that all these people needed each other.

And, in death, after all of the events on the Island in the timeline, they created this place between the real world and the afterlife where the could all find each other again as if the plane crash had never happened. So, you see, they wouldn’t remember each other. They were all like reincarnated soul mates playing a game whether they could find each other again even without the Island bringing them together. And, the answer was yes.

Brilliant end to a brilliant show, I say. Thank you, LOST, for being awesome and for making me think even as your curtain closed. You’ve rocked my world for 6 years.

OH, and before I conclude, I need to give a few nods to Target for some hysterical ads during the finale. I hate commercials, but I do appreciate clever marketing and that smoke detector had me on the floor laughing. And, a nod to the ‘Final Transmissions’ from Verizon. ‘Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, 4 8 15 16 23 42’ was fabulous. Loved reading everyone’s thoughts in the pre-game!

Cooking Gadgets for Burger Week!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 by Amber

It’s Burger week at Captivate.com – and in honor of the perennial summer BBQ season, I am offering you all a look into a different kind of gadget today – cooking gadgets!

My mom loves buying me these infomercial products – you know, the ones overly enthusiastic blondes hawk on cable channels when regular programming is off the air, and are packed onto the ‘As Seen on TV’ shelves in Kohl’s?

They’re revolutionary achievements in making our lives simpler, cleaner and lazier – but do they really work? Before you dial in an order (along with whatever free offer is being pitched to sweeten the deal) read on for my own experiences.

The Perfect Brownie Pan
“You cut, rip and tear – but your brownies never turn out square! And when they’re stuck, you’re totally out of luck! Need a hand? Now there's the perfect brownie pan!”

Really? I’ve never had a problem with my baked treats looking like slasher-movie rejects. Alas, mom wanted me to have the best brownies at my kids’ bake sales (assuming I’d ever participate in one), so I now own the whole set – including the ‘buy now’ sugar stencils still in their packaging.

Does the Perfect Brownie work? Sure, if you douse the entire apparatus with cooking spray before you even think about pouring in that ooey, gooey batter. I happen to love when my brownies are under-done and wet in the middle, but you can’t really accomplish this with the Perfect Brownie. Each little portion (and by little I mean embarrassingly small – that’s really the size of a brownie portion? Because if so, I’ve been eating, like, 4 servings every time I made them the ‘old’ way) is chewy and a tad on the dry side. But, even a bad brownie tastes kinda good.

You have to give the divider a helping finger when you remove the squares – if you don’t mind wrestling a bit (isn’t that what we are trying to avoid?), the disengagement is not an issue…

... Unless the Perfect Brownie fails, because that is a sad, sad, epic fail I’ve lamented on Facebook more than once. Brownie holes weren’t really on the menu that night, and we all learned a valuable lesson re: cooking spray.

Bottom line, though: The kids liked the brownies – my children, I mean, not bake-sale customers. The teensy (tiny) little squares were cute, easy to decorate with M&Ms and fit perfectly in lunch bags. And, throw two or three down as a base for some ice cream and hot fudge, and you almost forget the portion size and dryness.

Perfect Pasta Pot
“Do you love pasta, but hate that splashing, scalding mess? Pour out the liquid right through the lid – it’s a built-in colander with a non-stick surface!”

We’ve all had a pasta facial – and dread those few times we have to take the mondo pot over to the sink to drain. Does that mean we need a special pot/colander combo, though? Eh. Not really.

Metal, you see, conducts heat. It’s why you can boil water and cook pasta in metal pots so splendidly. So, it stands to reason that when you pour the scalding hot water out of a cover where you have to, in some supportive way at least, hold the lid on, your fingers are going to get scalded. And, moving the necessary colander up to the pot lid instead of the sink only moves your face closer for the facial.

Spoken from experience, locking lids will only get you so far. You tilt that big, heavy, burning hot pot in the wrong direction, the whole thing – pasta included – pours right out into the sink and splashes. And that’ll just ruin your dinner and your mood. Trust me – I’ve had it happen.

Then again, when did draining spaghetti/steamed veggies become such a cumbersome job, anyway, and why do the people on the infomercial have such a problem with it? If you can’t boil water and make pasta … well, then I’m not really sure you should be in the kitchen to begin with. You’re a 911 call waiting to happen.

The Magic Bullet
“What can you do in 10 seconds? You can start chopping onion for an omelet … Or you can chop onions, eggs, ham and peppers – even grate cheese! – at the same time for the fastest, easiest omelet ever with the Magic Bullet: the personal, versatile countertop magician!”

I’ll cop to it: I actually asked for this one. I mean, watch that commercial and tell me you don’t want a Magic Bullet! I love all those foods, and to have them made so quickly and with a high-powered, easy-to-clean, space-aged blender? Awesome!

Well, sort-of. My Magic Bullet only ever really worked for making homemade marinara sauce from my own recipe. Necessity breeds genius, and one night we were out of jarred pasta sauce, so I took a can of diced tomatoes, added in some dried spices and minced garlic to the Magic Bullet’s screw-on container and pulsed that baby for 30 seconds. The resulting sauce was tasty, simple and heated in the microwave in the same container in about a minute.

Here’s the thing, though (there’s always a thing): Those tomatoes were squishy. And the garlic was minced. And the spices were little. It only took 30 seconds because everything was already pretty malleable.

Days after delighting in my Magic Bullet, I decided to make homemade salsa from the fresh-from-the-organic-farm produce I’d just bought. I put in chunks of hot and green peppers, spices, onions and cherry tomatoes – just like in the commercial! – and hummed happily the whole time. You see where I’m going with this?

The vegetables were too crisp for the Magic Bullet to handle. The bottom-most parts were ground into mush, while the top parts barely moved in the blender. I ended up salvaging what salsa ingredients I could and hand-chopping the rest, which totally ended my love affair. I tried making an ice-based smoothie and ended up with something so chunky and gross I couldn’t sip it – I had to crunch it with a spoon.

To this day, my Magic Bullet sits on a cupboard under my counter. And, I make sure to have jarred pasta sauce on hand at all times.

Pancake Puffs Pan
“Perk up mealtime or snack time by making healthy, delicious new foods with the Pancake Puff pan.”

I swear these infomercials must hire the most daintily-handed actors on the planet to handle their food. These portions are so small! But, regardless, let me just say that, of all the products I’ve featured (and own) here, this pan is the best.

Genuinely, the Pancake Puffs Pan is simple to use and makes the most adorable (tiny) little balls of goodness you’ve ever seen outside a restaurant or that perfect soccer mom down the street’s kitchen. You know the one -- with her assymetrical bob and pressed khakis.

Based off the tried-and-true Nordic recipe and cast-iron design (but not made of cast iron), Pancake Puffs are hard to mess up. The caveat: The bottom of the pan isn’t flat – it’s shaped like inverted circles (of course), so the pan will not heat properly depending on your stovetop. I’m not sure why or what the parameters are, but my mom can’t use one in her electric flat-top, but my sister’s electric coil stove is fine. Speaking of my sister and her Pancake Puffs Pan: She made apple-filled pancakes that her boyfriend said were the best things he’s ever eaten.

OK, so I’m being a wee dramatic singing praises, but with so many tried-and-failed attempts at finding the golden infomercial product, spare me a little excitement!

One thing that will knock your socks clean across the room is my recipe for pepperoni balls. These are a throw-back to the treat we used to get at Grandma’s Bingo hall, and OMG are they delicious: Use the typical bread/roll recipe, but fold in a piece of pepperoni and a sprinkle of cheese right into the center before you flip them. When you’re done, the little pocket inside will be oozing with the most delicious (not healthy) filling you’ve ever tasted.

We've got a ton more offerings on Captivate.com for Burger Week -- be sure to check them out:

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It's all about the search engine, baby ...

Monday, May 17, 2010 by Amber

Word on the street is that the Google v. Bing rivalry is heating up.

Which side do I fall on? As my main man Weird Al rapped in 'It's All About the Pentiums,' I'm totally down with Bill Gates -- I call him 'Money' for short. I call him up at home and I make him do my tech support WHAT! :o)

Seriously, though, there isn't a reason I can see to stick with Google. Their drawings and attempts at personalization have become lame as of late (sorry, but it needed to be said), and in swoops Bing, this great image/text search provider with interesting travel pics making up it's home page.

Search-wise, which is why you'd actually go there beyond to be dazzled by pretty pics, the two are pretty comparable. Months into my own cold-turkey conversion -- I've never *not* found something on Bing that Google could give me.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that I suddenly find Google to be shoddy, or a less good search engine than I did a year ago. It's just that the leaders in the race will never run faster unless there is someone on their tail, coming up fast and really giving them chase.

All I'm saying is you should give Bing a chance. Seems like alot more people are on the bubble -- and those search numbers don't lie.

Meanwhile, in Captivate Web Land, we've kicked off a new feature this week to prep you all for those Memorial Day, unofficial-start-of-summer BBQs: Burger Week! All the blogs are involved, so be sure to surf on over to check out the offerings:

-Captivate Cooking has the burgers and sides to keep your grills sizzling with gourmet treats and your guests begging for the recipes!
-Our online Watering Hole quenches everyone's thirst with 8 simple, delicious drinks.
-Want to imbibe but are unsure of how your bathing-suit diet will be affected? Weigh-In has Slimming Summer Drinks as an alternative to bottle of beer!
-Need a new apron for a man or woman? Don't start shopping until you've read this Indulge post!

Hair helps mop up oil spills!

Friday, May 14, 2010 by Amber

Do you ever have those days when you do absolutely nothing constructive and time just drags, then follow them up by doing 18 things before your morning coffee gets cold? That's my day today! Exhilarating, no? :-D

Moving on, let's take a look at what's lighting up the tech talking boards this morning across WebLand:

--Is your computer keeping you up at night? Are you sabotaging your night's sleep by texting until the wee hours, but don't know why? Try this new download that changes your screen hue based on time of day.

--Kobo's new e-readers will be available at Borders for $150. I don't like Borders -- there, I said it. We've got the classic rivalry going on in my home town, and our Barnes and Noble is gorgeous, library-like establishment with high ceilings and quiet rows ... then the Borders has stacks of books on the floor and art deco everywhere and cheap trinkets ... Anyways, it's no contest. I'm not a fan.

--This video/article on the oil spill makes me a little light-headed. I've been thus far avoiding the story because the idea of all that oil spilling into the ocean hurts my heart and soul. I want to cry for the animals and the environmental disaster, but instead I'm the coward ostrich choosing to stick my head in the sand to not deal with it. I know, I'm hiding a pretty hard-core environmentalist under all this pink hair.

--Speaking of hair: Did you know getting your hair cut can help with the oil spill cleanup? Yup, apparently hair is a good sponge. Contact your local salon and make sure all the clippings and scraps are going toward the effort. Mine does, I already called.

--I need a distraction ... Oooh, these bamboo iPhone cases are pretty ...

--Is your Facebook page valuable? Check this site and find out.

We've got a fun week of posts headed your way next week with Captivate's Burger Week! Each and ever Captivate blog will feature something about summer barbecues and entertainment options, and the new Captivate Watering Hole will hook you up with some great drink options!

See ya then!

Project Natal set to debut, and Gyllenhall melts the screen

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 by Amber

With the retirement of our 'Gamer's Edge' blog, Byte-Sized has once again taken up the reins of Video Game News.

Here, with our first installment, is fabulous news about Microsoft's Project Natal (nah-TAL): Rumors say it's going to be released this October!

Project Natal is the XBox's answer to the Wii: The system uses face and body movements to control games, as well as voice recognition software for commands. Think of Natal like real-time CGI technology in your living room -- only without the ping-pong balls stuck all over your body. You can sit on your couch and drive race cars, with multiple people sitting besides you playing too -- and Natal will keep it's eye on you and let you control only your movements. This technology is amazing -- it's the future.

So when is the big news set to drop? All eyes are trained on E3 in June, when the industry heavyweights get together for the biggest and best video game conference there is. Check back here for the news -- and possibly the NAME -- of the new Microsoft system as soon as we get th announcement!

In other gaming news, have you *seen* the trailers for 'Prince of Persia: Sands of Time'? I'm dying to see this movie, and I'm not even a huge Jake Gyllenhaal fan! In case you're oblivious, here's the trailer:

Dare I say this movie might just break the curse of bad video game movies? I mean, how many 'Resident Evil' B flicks can Milla Jovovich star in before she hangs up the zombie weapons? Even Angelina Jolie knew when to bail on 'Tomb Raider' when the cool franchise idea that was floundering!

But a sweaty, drool-worthy, half-nekkie Jake Gyllenhall (which will alone bring the chicks to the theatres)? Come on now. I think the studios might have actually struck the right chord! It's all about keeping the fun and adventure of the game while adding in witting, humorous dialogue and casting a lead who knows how to laugh at himself. I mean, sure, the brooding heros from the games are great, but how many times can we hear an angry battle cry or alien-like guns blasting before we yawn and reach for more popcorn?

To see more of my suggestion (albeit for the ladies), check out my 'Summer Chick Flicks' list over at Captivate.com! See ya Friday!

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Weekend Update: With Amber Plante

Friday, May 7, 2010 by Amber

Happy Friday, everyone! Here are some stories to help make quitting time come a little quicker …

--Scrambling for mom but still trying to think outside the vase? Check out this list of the coolest tech gadgets for Mother’s Day.

--Facebook postings aren’t private. Shocker. But, apparently it’s gone a little far, and a glitch yesterday in the social network exposed pending friend requests and chat info to non-friends. Ouch.

--There have been 1M iPads sold, despite a name that makes me throw up in my mouth a little. If you have one, which you most likely do, check out these must-have games.

--On a similar note: CNet seems to think the iPad is killing the netbook. I disagree – the netbook, however clunky it is now compared to the touchpad, it still has a keyboard and, at the very least, a method to hold itself upright on its own.

--‘Apple’s decision to ban Flash and make developers use Apple tools may be an antitrust violation, according to federal authorities.’ Oh really? You don’t say.

--The new Worl’d Fair looks awesome – well, except for the creepy 2-story baby. Here are some pics …

--I don’t know about you, but my commute is getting worse every week. Either that, or I keep getting up later and using traffic as an excuse … No, I’m just kidding, those damn jams are becoming a real problem, and here’s a solution.

--Fellow anthropology/genetics enthusiasts, hollah! The Neanderthal genome is rewriting how we view human evolution, says MIT.

--Google is redesigning parts of its site. Looks like Bing is having an effect on the G-man after all.

--Warning: If you use Yahoo Messenger, there is a worm propagating through the IM tool, so watch out.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone! My baby boy turns 2, and I can expect lots of hugs on Mother’s Day! Oh, and just in case you’re thinking a social-network shout-out to mom is appropriate – IT’S NOT.

When you wish upon a superhero

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 by Amber

So, I know this isn't really a technology story today, but I don't care ...

A Seattle-area boy became an honest-to-goodness superhero for the day. If this story does not make you cry, you’re made of stone.

Hundreds of people banded together – including a professional sports team, Puget Sound Energy, and the sheriff’s departments of two different counties. Major highways were shut down. Jumbo-trons broadcast messages from evildoers. Crowds cheers and lined the streets. Even Spider-Man put in a special call.

Why? Because a 13-year-old boy living with liver cancer wished more than anything else to be a super hero for the day. Here’s the CNN video of the event. MADE OF STONE!

Dr. Dark and his sidekick Blackout Boy played this message over the Jumbo-tron at Qwest Field after Electron Boy saved the Seattle Sounders pro soccer team:

I can’t get enough of this story. Sometimes, people are just amazing. Wonderful and amazing.

Here’s a gallery of pics from the event.

Wanna be a fan of Electron Boy on Facebook?

Oh, and a shout out to Meredith at io9 – I wouldn’t have seen this without you!