I'm a freelance writer focusing on consumer technologies. I'm most interested in UI innovations and business software.
I've written for Wired, GigaOm, and Windows Vista Magazine. I helped develop Wired’s Product Reviews site and was a member of the popular Wired Gadget Lab Audio and Video Podcasts. My work has been featured in The New York Times and Salon.
Another big Spanish sports star saying something racist. At this point it's not surprising. http://t.co/wJnuQVImwS
Congratulations to the Warriors for a freaking great season.@hbarnes, @StephenCurry30 ,Thompson, @dlee042 et al made an Oakland native proud
RT @perhakansson: Undivided attention will beat multi-tasking every fucking time.
I walked past 4 Seasons when Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood strolled by with handlers, woman on his arm, smoking, laughing loudly. rockers, man
When is Derrida's birthday? That's the guy. RT: @christophernull Kierkegaard's 200th Birthday. http://t.co/VYtrKPTuW4
Protesters Smash Google Shuttle Bus Piñata In Fight Against Rent Increases [Video] http://t.co/n6AU4AMsG3 via @techcrunch
Zito, Russell Brand, David Lynch meditate at SF school http://t.co/ek9vSP0HNs
Adobe Will No Longer Sell Software On The Mac: You’ll Have To Rent Photoshop Instead http://t.co/xG0C3DvETd via @cultofmac
It’s Germany! Champions League Final Set http://t.co/xebwBXaRqS (Que paso Madrid? Al otro ano, entonces).
Dick Cheney Vice Presidential Library Opens In Pitch-Dark, Sulfurous Underground Cave http://t.co/cr8ZG0K9Dk via @TheOnion
Awesome. A’s defeat Angels in 19 innings; Moss hits game-winner http://t.co/TPEwCidwPJ I was sleeping it off, think I heard 'yiaahhh booy!'
An iPhone App Might Have Saved The Life Of Boston Marathon Bombers’ Carjack Victim http://t.co/CxoeXtpOn7 via @cultofmac
important --> The Post-Boston Islamophobic Hate Crimes Have Begun http://t.co/pnY4Io7C0M
nice job connecting the story by @alexismadrigal considering the events of the last week. On the Errol Morris doc. http://t.co/ZjJaWtBnHF
RT @BarackObama: RT if you agree: I am one of the 92% of Americans who support background checks for gun sales. #NowIsTheTime
My thoughts go out to the victims at the Boston Marathon.
Obama Turns Over Weekly Address to Newtown Mom, Who Delivers Impassioned Plea for Gun Control http://t.co/Oa3gvo0Y4D via @slate
Louis C.K.: I'm an Accidental White Person (i.e. He's Mexican) http://t.co/gl3q9P8kYM via @rollingstone
Om's issues with FWD.us (too much focus on tech and none on its invisible victims) are right on the money: http://t.co/daOZNEkkPa via @om
Six years after its official launch, the consumer electronics industry's high-definition successor to DVD still hasn't taken off.
That's got manufacturers concerned enough to take action. Fortunately for consumers, the action will include lowering prices, adding features and integrating players into "connected ecosystems" that let users take advantage of increasingly popular online media as well as content that comes on shiny plastic discs.
Three main factors contribute to the perception that the now-dominant high-definition Blu-ray disc standard is stagnating: high overall prices, a general satisfaction with the current DVD format and buyer confusion in the midst of competing and multiplying technologies.
"The [Blu-ray format] is being adopted in a similar pattern as previous technologies, but it is not being adopted at the same [rate]," says Paul Erickson, Director of DVD and HD Market Research for DisplaySearch. While DVD also took years to become popular, he says, the adoption curve for Blu-ray is even longer and is fraught with bumpy obstacles, such as a few DRM security code and playback problems.
The two-and-a-half-year standards war with a competing high-def format, HD DVD, certainly didn't help. The battle ended in early 2008 when HD DVD's last major supporter, Toshiba, threw in the towel, but consumer confusion lingers. A tough economy has also slowed consumers' acceptance of the format.
At next week's CEDIA 2008 conference, an annual gathering of television and home theater manufacturers, retailers and installers, expect to see an orgy of competing Blu-ray players. Some will focus on low prices (like Philips and Netlogic), and others will highlight features that integrate their physical content with wireless systems to download content from the internet (such as BD Live).
Still, not everyone is convinced that these measures will help Blu-ray. Josh Martin of the Yankee Group says there are still too many "unclear messages" surrounding the format (such as unconventional BD spec profiles, which offer different versions of a player's capabilities) that throw that ecosystem out of whack.
There's also a value disconnect: Most people can't justify purchasing a Blu-ray player that costs five times as much as a DVD player -- especially if it's not five times better. "The opportunity lies in creating a simple, mass-market device," says Martin. So far, that device hasn't arrived, despite tries by everyone from Sony to Magnavox.
Until that device arrives, Martin says, a small price change (like Sony's recent 25 percent drop announcement),
or even a cool spec upgrade won't make a difference. "Blu-ray will
continue to struggle towards the end of  because the format
adoption is driven by price," Martin concludes.
Andy Parsons, a senior vice president at Pioneer and chair of the Blu-ray Association, sees a different side. He points to the 8 million Blu-ray players already sold this year (on pace to triple last year's sales) as an example that people are excited about Blu-ray and HD technologies in general, and will respond to more aggressive features:
"People say [low Blu-ray sales last year] were because of a lack of demand but it was really a lack of supplies. The demand was high," Parsons says.
The shortage wasn't caused by the difficulty and expense of creating Blu-ray discs and players, which many critics of the format often cite, but because manufacturers simply didn't expect to sell that many players in the first place, Parsons says.
Given the state of change, companies at CEDIA 2008 are focusing on developing the technology, regardless of the price. Pioneer will release a new Elite player next week that the company says will surpass every other high-end player in quality, but it comes with a heart-stopping $2,000 price tag. Yamaha is coming out with its own high-end player, as is up-and-coming Sherwood. And, it seems, every big-time audio maker at CEDIA is preparing huge systems to blow up the high-end sound produced by these players.
But that relative excess is the heart of the problem, says Gartner analyst Steve Kleyhans. For him, the entertainment ecosystem is simply too expensive to keep up with. In order to fully realize the value of a Blu-ray player's high-definition features, families also need to buy new HDTVs, new speakers and who knows, maybe an extra fluffy couch. Watching an HD movie on the 14-inch analog TV just won't cut it.
That's why Kleyhans predicts that more HDTVs will be sold as more Blu-ray players and other high-def media proliferates.
What about the threat from downloadable or streaming internet video? Interestingly, most manufacturers and analysts we talked with do not believe that online media is an immediate threat to optical discs.
First, the national bandwidth infrastructure is incomplete and can't come close to delivering HD movies on a wide enough scale to compete with physical discs within the next five years. Second, the market for set-top boxes that display internet video on your TV offers too many options, and most services are still incomplete (for example, Roku's set-top box only provides access to 10 percent of the Netflix catalog). And third, as Martin concludes, the experience is "still not as simple as popping in a disc."
It looks like for the majority of people, popping a disc in a slot for
entertainment is proving too hard of a compulsion to let go. It's just
going to take awhile before that disc is a Blu-ray one.
This article was originally published in Wired.com
The Plasma Era
The end of the Pioneer Kuro line of TVs represented a true tipping point in the TV industry, one preceded by long-gestating momentum from opposing forces. The recession and LCDs tipped over plasmas for good, and the slope downward will be quite steep, and fast.
Last week, Pioneer announced it was killing off its critically acclaimed TV business by March 2010 and will concentrate on car and audio/visual systems. It was a dramatic fall for a company that just one year ago had CES abuzz with its newest plasma TV, the so-called “Ultimate Black” Kuro.
The Kuro’s tech was impressive because it reduced light emissions from black areas of the screen to such a degree that at its maximum brightness, the contrast ratio was “almost infinite.” The result was a plasma display with the most vibrant, colorful images yet.
But even at the hype’s peak, problems in the plasma industry were apparent.
Plasmas were at their most popular from 2004 to 2006, a period that saw them overtake rear-projection TVs as the top big-TV format. But they had a tough time offsetting their lowest average prices with high sale volumes. The spectre of LCDs also prompted many customers to hold off on making a purchase. By February ’08, soon after the recession had officially taken hold, premium-quality Pioneers seemed out of touch. Most critically, LCDs were sporting features long the domain of plasma: bigger screens, greater contrast ratios, thinner and cheaper sets. LCD picture quality still failed to reach plasma levels, but to average consumers, the difference was no longer obvious.
Fast-forward to the start of 2009, and LCDs were outselling plasmas 8-to-1 globally, and the dominating the best-selling lists on Amazon.com.
Pioneer tried a last-ditch partnership with Panasonic to create a version of its plasma TVs, contributing its own “secret sauce” to keep the Kuro tech flowing, but that effort appears to be over.
The slumping demand is already having consequences: Projected losses of $1.41 billion in 2008-09 (following a loss of $203 million in 2007-08) and a nearly 50 percent drop in operating revenue have set the scene for 10,000 jobs cuts and the closing of U.S., UK and Japanese facilities. But Pioneer’s not the only TV maker suffering. They’re all taking it on the chin, regardless of display type.
Both Hitachi andVizio had to end the bleeding by shuttering plasmas to concentrate on LCDs. And not even the usually flush holiday period buoyed TV companies to a safe financial landing: Sony, Panasonic, and LG all posted lower quarterly profits.
Component suppliers have similarly been unable to escape the pain. As Om noted in recent posts, screen manufacturer Corning posted fourth-quarter 2008 revenues of $1.1 billion and still had to let go of 3,500 jobs.
Pioneer’s decision to end its plasma production was more complicated. It bought out NEC’s plasma business in 2004, used it as an OEM for its glass, but was recently forced to shutter the unit. Now, the only plasma manufacturers left standing are Panasonic, LG, and Samsung, all of which make their own components.
Panasonic is in good position to benefit from Kuro’s death. Most of the Pioneer engineers who came up with Kuro switched sides and are now working for Panasonic. In addition, recent demos have shown that Panasonic plasmas are nearing Kuro quality. Already in possession of the biggest plasma market share in the world (at more than 35 percent), the company will be able to build a diversified product line using plasma TVs as a premium screen type that appeals to a niche that still wants them. Add to that the fact that it receives significant revenues from selling its glass to other companies, including JVC and Fujitsu, and it appears that it’ll be able to keep plasmas afloat longer than any other company. Panasonic will inherit the burdens of the difficult economy and the LCD challenge, but once plasma is no longer economically feasible, its own LCDs will have likely caught up in picture quality. In fact, ultimate black contrast tech is already getting closer to LCDs. So it’s only a matter of a few years (maybe even less) before plasmas finally die out.
As for Pioneer, not all is lost. Reps say that the plasma TVs only accounted for 14 percent of its business worldwide, and patents for the Kuro technology will provide a profit for awhile. But any positives are bittersweet. The legacy of the Kuro TV will be that it was another best-in-class technology that was humbled by the force of the economy and the competitive market.This article was originally published in NewTeeVee.com.
The article was the top post on the site for 2009.
Facebook and Steroid Use
In the eyes of Valdis Krebs, the bulging bodies of baseball’s steroid era reveal a problem exacerbated by a powerful social network.
Krebs believes everything is quantifiable as a social network, from steroid use to linked websites to a strand of HIV working its way through the porn industry.
He is at the cutting edge of the growing discipline of social network analysis, and creator of InFlow, one of the most advanced social networking software tools.
The field has exploded recently as social networks, the complex sets of relationships between members of groups, have formed the backbone of popular Web systems like Facebook and Google’s search crawler. Social network analysts use software, like Keyhubs and NetMiner, to uncover how the structure of peoples’ connections affect their thoughts and actions.
At the annual PopTech conference this week in Camden, Maine, Krebs will present his top ten social network trends including the idea that the web, contrary to popular lore, is making us less diverse and more prone to extreme ideological thinking.
"What you know depends on who you know," Krebs says. "Depending on the network of information you are in, that is the information that you will believe."
Krebs is mining his data from some strange places with surprising results.
He argues that the moment a few key, highly connected ball players started using steroids in the early 1990s, the explosion of drug use in baseball was inevitable. And, he says, if the league was fully aware of the strength of the drug culture network in its early stages, the whole mess could have been avoided.
Steroid use spread because of the wicked combination of a closed network, or cluster, and positive reinforcement in the form of higher pay for better performance. And because the members of the baseball cluster frequently move between teams, the message spread quickly.
The investigators who blamed the individual trainers distributing the drugs and the individual players referring other players got it wrong, Krebs says.
Though he maps out the individual influence of players, he sees an underlying ideological shift at work. The fact that steroid use took hold and spread so quickly in spite of laws against its use, suggests that the closed nature of the cluster was more important than the individual cheaters, he says.
And the same process happened in reverse when a substantial group of steroid cheaters were caught.
"When the network was exposed publicly through a group of cheaters, the clustered community as a whole broke down," Krebs says. It had nothing to do with the drug laws enacted by the league after the scandals.
According to Krebs, this insight that a social network creates a pseudo-truth that overrides real, objective truth, can help explain why pack mentality dominates the web.
Using the current election as a model, Krebs says that the internet does not bring people with different ideas together. Instead, people seek out groups with similar ideologies, which makes them less prone to objective, flexible thinking. And no matter how extreme the idea, there’s someone out there on the web who will build a forum around it.
Psychological research has shown that when people find their
"political mirrors," they immediately build clusters around their ideas. This is why politicians’ use of confrontational language like,
"You’re either with us, or with the terrorists," seems to work.
But Krebs sees the positive side of social networks as well. He believes that serious analysis of networks can be used constructively from the outside. The key, he says, is identifying the strong individuals or groups that can lead to group-thinking shifts.
For example, analyzing the rise of the iPod can be used by other companies to chip away at Apple’s dominance.
When Apple released the iPod, there were other MP3 players with better audio or a cheaper price. But Apple created a network by connecting groups through an easy operating system and with marketing.
It’s taken close to seven years for other electronics companies to catch
up to Apple, but the aspirational ads, easy-to-use mantra and beautiful
hardware design have all crept into rival companies’
In the immediate future, Krebs sees social networks facing a decidedly human problem. They need to find a compromise between the seemingly infinite number of network connections and the limited interaction capacity of human beings. After all, a person doesn’t need to remember every person he’s ever met, unless he is Bill Clinton.
Ultimately, the answer could lie in software that analyzes our individual social networks and makes them more efficient and valuable. Perhaps in order to understand our own connected lives, we might all have to become our own personal Valdis Krebs.This article was originally published in Wired.com
DSRLs: Choose Wisely
It's a question all photographers ask themselves: Should I get a Nikon or a Canon? Pro users are the first to admit that technical differences between the two iconic brands are not deciding factors. In fact, the more experienced the photographer, the more adamant they are that camera brands do not matter, according to veteran photographer Ken Rockwell. "It's like golf. Winning's all about the golfer, not the club.” Yet, strong loyalties do exist. To make the decision easier, we've explored the heady combination of features and market forces driving today's DLRS sales.
A Fork in the RoadPhotographers typically develop niche preferences early on and rarely stray from them. These choices often reflect the respective historical reputations of Canon and Nikon.
From its start as a supplier of lenses, first to science labs in the 1920s and then to Japan's military during WWII, Nikon's expertise in optical technology has never been questioned. To this day, their lenses are used in equipment in the best labs in the world and most consider theircamera lenses superior. To many, this is enough to choose Nikon.
Canon was a late-bloomer, beginning as a consumer company dismissed for its lack of standout features. Their reputation climbed with years of steady upgrades until the 1987 unveiling of Auto-focus, a marketable, practical technology. The '87 EOS autofocus SLR took great action shots at top-speed and forced photojournalists to reconsider Canon. By the early 90's, almost all sports photographers had switched to Canon.
When DSLRs were ready to go mainstream, Canon offered an attractive price-point that, combined with its 90's momentum, cemented its lead. InfoTrends analyst Ed Lee confirmed: “The DSLR market [took off] when Canon introduced the EOS Rebel in 2003 at $900 for the body. It was the first DSLR to break the $1,000 barrier.”
With two DSLR monoliths now sharing the stage, it was inevitable they'd try to outdo each other by upping the feature ante every 18 months or so, leading to a proliferation of upgrades and new features.
Small, Real DifferencesIn our research, we found consensus on a few feature differences.
Canon's famed image processing system maintains a fast frame rate and helps smooth over images during processing. It's one reason “point-and-shoot-and-nothing-else” DSLR users tend to like Canon; they minimize post-processing and help avoid “fringing.” However, many users are turned off by Canon's in-camera adjustments.
Nikons' image processing, on the other hand, is not as fast, and tends to have more fringing and less "smoothing over." (See: D40 at a wide angle with a DX 18-55mm II lens.) But photographers work around this by shooting on raw mode and relying on stored correction-data to take care of fringing in post. Plus, IDC analyst Chris Chute says Nikon has more efficient auto-focus. The image stabilization technology is equally good in both product lines.
Another Canon advantage over Nikon, is the pre-dial settings that reduce the time it takes to set-up shots. However, everyone singled out Canon's lack of picture playback as a nuisance. Rockwell spiritedly concurs: “It holds pictures hostage! The Canon 7D LCD went blank when you … turned the rear dial. Nikon gives you full access to your pictures immediately after they're shot.”
As for light-performance, full-frame sensors of current Nikon rigs offer the best minimal-light performance, according to San Francisco Chronicle photographer Noah Berger, though Canon's full-frame EOS 5D is also well regarded.
And what about the lenses? Chute notes that the lower-end consumer market favors Canon's good zoom range and constant aperture, while pro photographers often prefer Nikon's wider and brighter glass. ArtBistro user Dylan Harper also appreciated Nikon's reverse engineering: “All the lenses they've made work on any of their cameras. [And] the ergonomics make them feel better.” In fact, Nikons were universally thought to be the most comfortable to use. But this is certainly a subjective feature. You can always learn how to use – and love – a new configuration.
Brands Align With Shooting GoalsClear understanding of shooting intent goes a long way towards making the right choice.
Feature consensus crystallized in the context of shooting goals, especially along varied expertise levels. A photography student from the Ringling College of Art and Design said that though Canon and Nikon were equally popular at the beginning of school, Canon was the preferred choice of all by graduation day. Most were happier with the first version of photos and felt the lenses were more reliable than Nikons, whose shutters tended to stick.
Despite such idiosyncrasies, older photographers tended to back Nikon, focusing on the premium lens quality.
The students' choice reflects their need to produce a wide range of images in a shorter period of time. The veterans' preference reflects their need for craft and expert technique. Consequently, most agreed that people dealing with widely varying shooting situations and fast-moving object should go with a Canon. For carefully set-up shots and better low-light sensitivity, go with Nikon, which gives you the most control on a shot-to-shot basis, says Lee.
The Impact of ConsumerismThe industry's emphasis on selling cameras based on the latest features has transformed the buying experience. Our research suggests that the overall change has been for the better as it pushes companies to continually raise the bar on their products. But it also leads to superficial upgrades, making it harder to figure out what's really important.
Consider the marketing focus on megapixels, instead of ISO levels, image sensor size, and noise reduction. All four features work together to translate light accurately into a digital image. ISO levels determine how much light hits the camera's sensor, which works with a converter chip to transfer the light to pixels. It's the heat generated by light that contaminates nearby pixels, creating noise. The solution? Large sensors, which allow more space between pixels, minimize heat contamination. It also allows for larger pixels, which better pick up the light. So for cameras with a comparable number of megapixels, it's the sensor size that will largely determine picture clarity. Now, consider how often companies advertise the size of the sensor — never. Instead, they heavily promote how many megapixels this year's model has. A greater number of megapixels allows for larger final images but it's by no means the be-all end-all of picture quality. “I can make great 12"x18" prints from a 3MP camera and 40"x60" prints from a 6MP camera,” Rockwell said.
Calculated feature staggering is also easy to see over time. Fresh rigs usually come every 18 months and few offer huge technical leaps over their immediate predecessors. (Exceptions: the Canon 5D Mark II, with 1080p video and a 2x resolution jump and Nikon’s d3 with full-frame sensor). Differences between, say, the Rebel XS and Rebel XSi, are too minimal to see in finished pictures or productivity gains. What's more, the compulsion to continually revisit each feature does not guarantee better performance. Take the Canon Mark III, whose problematic new autofocus struggled with multi-frame bursts as well as non-moving subjects even in ideal light conditions, causing many professionals to reject it outright. Clearly, buying the latest and greatest DSLR isn't always a slam-dunk.
Finally, it's worth noting that Canon is “more adept at marketing than Nikon," says Chute. Canon effectively highlights features (such as HD video) that "anyone, from an advanced amateur to professionals, can easily recognize and use.” And of course, Andre Agassi helped. Canon's long-term marketing advantage translates directly to sales: It dominates the sub-$1,000 category, though Nikon increasingly closes the gap as cameras get more expensive. Last year, Canon sold 4.4 million DSLRs to Nikon’s 3.4 million.
The ChoiceWhat's the next distinguishing feature that users should look for? HD video is one. Last week Nikon announced the addition of full HD video to its new d3100 camera. Data shows HD video has already buoyed Canon: “Nikon had the DSLR lead from 2007-08 but when Canon released the full HD video Canon 5D Mark II, it increased its market share, going from 38% in 2008 to 45% in 2009,” Chute said. InfoTrends' Lee also adds that image sensors might finally, rightly, take command of the stage, possibly tipping the scale in Nikon's favor.
So with the perpetual race to upgrade in full swing and less-than-reliable marketing, how do people choose the right DSLR?
For those starting out in their photography careers, Canons may ultimately be the best option, offering a more streamlined shooting process. For the mid-career to mature pro, any new high-end camera with a top quality lens will do, but if you're looking for the most accurate reproduction, Nikon is probably best, unless frame rates or video are especially important to you.
Just don't get caught up in every upgrade, and know both Canon and Nikon offer quality cameras. If you love photography, you’ll get years out of any rig.
Head illustration: Kevin L. Cole and U-g-g-B-o-y-(-Photograph-World-Sense-)/Flickr (CC). Second image: Kirstea/Flickr (CC). Camera photos courtesy of Nikon and Canon.
This article was originally published in ArtBistro.com
Crazy Survival Gear
As technology advances in practically every other aspect of human life, the tools for surviving nature and its disasters remain relatively primitive. Is a Leatherman the best we can do? The problem is that good gear needs to be practical, safe and portable which doesn't leave much room for robotic mountain-climbing exoskeletons.
We've compiled the most promising and innovative solutions we could find to common survival problems. Some are just concepts and others are already available. We might not trust our lives with all of these designs, but at least they're a step in the right direction.
Do you have your own favorite survival gadget?
The Cocoon is a short-term shelter made of durable insulating material that hangs off a tree (or any stable structure). In theory, getting the user off the ground seems safer, but it's still pretty vulnerable. Sure, you wouldn't be prey to wild animals, but the wind could swing you against the holding structure like a piñata and making a hasty exit from the cocoon seems unlikely.
Plus, the fact that it resembles a bear punching bag, Satan's
distended testicle or an alien rejuvenation pod doesn't inspire much
Designer: John Moriarity
The Adamant is an earthquake-resistant bed with an extra-strong carbon-fiber roof that can be pulled closed like the top of a convertible. It features two fluorescent lamps, an emergency beacon and a storage area for radios and food.
We like the fact that it uses the bed as a primary safeguard since most people spend close to 40 percent of their time there. Also, the slope of the roof conducts debris downwards. But we're worried that the cave-like housing could become a trap. And, if it's flipped over, the door latch or wooden side panels could pop.
Designers: Erdem Batirbek, Gonca Onusluel and Yigit Karatoka (Izmir University of Economics, Turkey)
The Bedu Emergency Rapid Response Kit is a keg-sized drum full of durable life-saving gear. It's built to support eight adults for up to five years and it includes a water-filtration system, medicine and tool kits, a multi-fuel stove, a radio and a hand-crank generator with a photovoltaic battery pack and a strip-cell blanket. Not only that, but the skeleton of the barrel can be used to create a shelter.
We see a few potential problems. If you need to change locations, how do you put it back together quickly? And there are also too many small parts to keep track of in the middle of a crisis: "Here comes a little wind and … it's gone. Thanks a lot Dad. Look at it roll over there. We could have gotten one of those weird cocoon testicles. Now we're dead."
Designer: Toby McInnes
The Urban Skiff looks like a body bag until you unfold it into your own personal get-out-of-dodge transport. While the unprepared (read: suckers) are hiking through arduous undergrowth, you're clocking miles down the river.
The boat assembles easily and includes an inflatable hub with a base skeleton made out of carbonite. At first glance, it seems that the backside of the boat is missing, but the hull is designed so that the back lifts out of the water.
The only problems we can see are that it's likely heavy and cumbersome out of the water and that it's probably too flimsy for prolonged sailing.
Designer: Thomas Setter
Use some elbow grease to crank this baby's power up and watch it last forever. The Grundig Eton Radio includes AM/FM and weather-band frequencies, a two-way walkie-talkie channel, a flashlight, a siren, a beacon light and a cellphone charger. It's also incredibly tough -- no need to worry if it gets banged around in the chaos of an emergency. It's also fairly cheap at only $150. Just make sure you can find it when you need it -- don't let it become a relic in the back of the garage.
Available at Etón
Read the rest of this article at Wired.com
Sony's Mobile Future
Sony Ericsson recently reported huge losses for the second straight quarter, for which it blamed the struggling economy. The results included a $240 million quarter loss and a 21 percent drop in phone shipments, garnering a vote of low confidence among analysts. And as Dick Komiyama, president of the joint venture between Sony and Ericsson, noted, the global handset market is contracting — in other words, the bleeding won’t stop anytime soon.
But Sony Ericsson faces more problems than most in that its phones don’t do anything particularly well. If it wants to avoid further losses, it needs to focus, notably on improved OS design, open systems, and flexible media integration.
Apart from the Nokia-styled G705u, Sony Ericsson has failed to push the design envelope, impairing its phones with stale ‘candybar’ designs and small screen sizes. Most critically, its phones’ best features have been sabotaged by uneven executions. For example, 2008’s Xperia X1 phone has sleek media menus and direct YouTube support, but transitioning between productivity-heavy applications on its WinMo 6.1 OS is a mess. Similarly, the W890i has excellent audio fidelity and music features (like a MusicDJ that helps you compose ringtones), but it’s WiFi-free and its keys are uncomfortably tiny.
In order to truly find success in the mobile market, Sony Ericsson needs to:
* Build media-friendly phone UIs that take better advantage of its Gracenote metadata software. Easier integration with wireless hardware (from cars to stereo systems) will allow people to stream content between all gadgets, not just Sony devices (See: PSP with PS3). While you can already do this to some extent, existing Sony Ericsson apps don’t make the process any smoother. Flexible apps would prompt people to use them more and increase a phone’s value.
* Include visually dynamic software, like Microsoft’s MixView music recommendation engine. It would give people a direct incentive to use Sony Ericsson’s Play Now Plus download service, which is also hampered with DRM music.
* Build a new operating system. Other phone makers have bypassed Sony Ericsson with a simpler OS and faster transitions between apps, as mentioned above. The company has promised an Android OS phone by the end of the year as well as an improved Windows Mobile 7.
* Keep all handset prices competitively low. With their sub-$200 Blu-ray players, Sony and Samsung found out this winter that affordable products from big-name brands are the most successful in a bad economy.
Sony Ericsson also needs to simplify by cutting its number of phone models. Counting CES announcements, there will be 24 phones laced with its Project Capuchin API. That’s too many. The company succeeded with mid-market customers when ‘high-end’ features were the province of business users, but that ended when the iPhone brought multimedia and web access to the mainstream. Its newest phones do include high-end features but they’re split between the Cyber-shot and Walkman lines. One phone has an 8-megapixel camera, but doesn’t have gesture control; another has shake-shuffling without camera face detection. Placing the best features in one high-end phone would create an excellent competitor for the Palm Pre and the iPhone.
Sadly, Sony’s business plan centers around maintaining legacy systems and saturating the market with multiple phones (even if evidence in the last few years suggests customers don’t care about brand loyalty and expect the full feature suite), so don’t expect such an approach to change anytime soon. At the very least, Sony Ericsson should create one major Walkman phone, one photo phone, and one low-priced web/business phone that combines the improvements already mentioned. The rest should be discontinued.
Greater openness also means taking a risk with gaming applications. Recently, Sony rejected Ericsson’s idea for a PSP phone, probably to avoid diluting the strength of the console. But a new focus on open-source, App Store-like gaming development needs to extend to Sony Ericsson phones. If not, Nintendo might get there first and jump further ahead of its rival.
If Sony Ericsson doesn’t make some of these changes, it will continue its recent pattern of bringing features a year behind its competitors — and its decline will continue.This article was originally published in GigaOm.com
MS Office Workspace
With this week's public beta release of the Office Live Workspace service, Microsoft has made its strongest foray yet into the world of web-based office software, an area the giant has quietly tiptoed around for some time.
Office Live Workspace aims to help users accomplish three things: access and share documents online, improve the collaboration process within workgroups and extend the features of Microsoft Office onto the web without compromising the familiarity of the desktop software's workflow.
The service doesn't offer a typical web-based document-sharing and editing environment like Google Docs or Zoho Office Suite. Rather, the web components of Office Live Workspace are designed to complement and enhance the copy of Office you and your co-workers already have on your computers, and that's where the service succeeds. It's also usable as a stand-alone document-sharing solution, though it disappoints in that capacity -- a copy of Microsoft Office is required for the full experience.
Office Live Workspace is a free service supported by ads. It runs on Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS X, and a modern browser like Internet Explorer 6 or Firefox 2.0 is required. Each Workspace account comes with 250 MB of storage, which seems low when compared to the capacity of other free services like Google Docs or Yahoo Mail.
The service is essentially an online storage repository that displays all the Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations you and your collaborators are working on. Clicking on one of these documents in the web interface opens them up right there in the browser, where you can edit them and save your changes. The editing tools have much of the same functionality as their counterparts in Microsoft Office, which connects to Live Workspace with a free plug-in.
The largest part of the web interface is reserved for document editing, but there's also an Ajax toolbar and an area where individual "workspaces" (which look and act like folders) and their documents reside. And there's a spot on the left edge of the page for managing workspaces. Users can also enter and share calendar items, to-do lists and contact lists within the web interface.
Once you have a document open, you can share it any time. Just click the "Share" button in the Ajax menu bar, and your co-workers are sent an e-mail with the Workspace link. They can then make changes or leave comments on the document. Of course, you can manage who gets invited and what permissions they have.
To test the service's sharing capabilities, we used two different Windows Live IDs. We uploaded standard desktop files, and we tried to break it by uploading MP3 files, which are blocked (the service didn't crash, but took minutes to spit out an error alert). Uploaded files are also checked by a built-in virus scanner.
Office Live Workspace has an excellent collaboration tool called SharedView. When a host initiates a session, users are invited to log in by e-mail or a secure IM prompt. Documents are shared on everyone's screen simultaneously in real time. Those with the proper permissions can take control of another user's desktop remotely, and everyone in the session can chat about the document using voice and/or video chat provided by Live Messenger.
It's a full-featured and impressive collaboration environment, but there's that nagging catch: You'll need to have Microsoft Office installed on your computer in order to edit and share the documents in the browser. There are no stand-alone editing tools for documents, though Office-less workers can still compose and share to-do lists, calendar events and lists of contacts. Those without a copy of Microsoft Office will also lose SharedView and the group-chat features, but they do maintain the ability to leave comments on any of the shared documents in the Workspace.
Office Live Workspace is useful for mobile workers or people who would rather not load up Office just to build a quick list, add an appointment or make some quick edits to a spreadsheet. But due to its umbilical-like integration with Office, Microsoft's online service is unable to fully cash in on the momentum behind web apps. However, for dedicated Office users -- and at last check there are about 500 million of them -- it's sure to prove a fine addition to their familiar workflow.
Rating:This article was originally published in Wired.com
Web Learning Resources
Want an education? Open up a browser. With the information available online, you could probably get a complete education without ever leaving your house.
But for more traditional students, as well as their parents and teachers, it can be tricky to find online information that is safe, relevant and age-appropriate. You don't want your kids to jump knee-deep into DNA sequences if they haven't even reached their third grade Mesozoic-era workshop.
Here is Wired News' selection of the best educational resources on the net. Sure, the sites on this list aren't going to replace Wikipedia or Google, or even a trip to the local public library. But if it's education you want, and you're at a computer, these sites are great places to start.
Cosmeo is an online homework toolkit from the Discovery Channel for kids in grades K-12. It includes over 30,000 videos and math tutorials, close to 150,000 reference articles and entertaining, but always educational, interactive games.
WIRED The math tutorial combines animation and participation with clear and colorful directions, and the articles all seem to have a fun spin to them.
TIRED Not free: Cosmeo costs about $10 a month or $100 for a year's subscription.
Do your kids dream of electric sheep? Encourage their interest in robots, and you might help spur them on to a future in engineering or science. Best Robotics can help, with a robotics competition that attracts more than 10,000 students in grades 6-12 nationwide. It matches up tech pros with kids in a robot-building process that leads up to the competition, which includes oral presentations and sportsmanship evaluations.
WIRED Local groups create sponsorship programs for hubs of students. Playing with robots is awesome!
TIRED It needs more interactive online resources.
The recently launched Education.com fills a need as a one-stop educational online resource for parents, and it has a strong community aspect too. It includes more than 4,000 reference articles from reliable sources such as education Ph.D.s and government agency studies. The site still has a way to go, but we can't wait for it to fully grow up.
WIRED The social-networking model with discussion boards, tag-based search features and recommendations are all excellent -- and it's all presented in a safe, parents-only space. The site encourages parents to contribute to real discussions, sharing advice on everything from camping trips to attention deficit disorder.
TIRED The site has a limited amount of content. The interface seems a little static and dated.
Teachers, do you need lesson plans or guidelines on how to teach a segment on Romeo & Juliet? Check out Curriki.org, a nonprofit site that aims to do for school curricula what Linux did for operating systems: Create a freely accessible, open-source alternative. The site is continually updated with input from educators and parents. Teachers have free access to add lesson plans and the more knowledgeable educators become involved, the more they improve each lesson plan.
WIRED It's a wiki, which means content is continually updated. There's a high level of participation among users.
TIRED If you can't find the curriculum you want, you're out of luck -- you can't start new development projects.
If you want to protect your kids from online threats while giving them a hand up on the educational ladder, why not give them an operating system tailored to their needs? Kiddix is a good start. Its colorful, simplified interface is easier for kids to pick up on their own than Windows or OS X. The Linux-based OS is secure, so malware won't get in the way of your kids' computer learning experiences. And it's got built-in parental monitoring tools too.
WIRED Packed with kid-appropriate software: A safe browser, an illustration-heavy word processor, e-mail and several instructive, just plain-wacky games starring the famed Tux penguin.
TIRED Some of the educational games might be a tad too easy for older children.
A crucial aspect of growing up is figuring out your place within the rest of the natural world, and this means more than just measuring up to bullies in the playground. Kids love animals and with the help of eNature.com, they'll get a close-up guide to enhance their curiosity. There's also a similar open-source project, the Tree of Life, covered recently on Wired Science.
WIRED They provide free field guides to more than 5,000 species, flashcards for reviewing what you just learned and an on-call nature expert to answer your questions.
TIRED The site puts user ratings and activities on separate tabs -- having all the relevant information in one page would be more convenient.
Many schools and colleges emphasize volunteering as part of the educational process. But how do you find the right place to volunteer? At Idealist.org, nonprofits post volunteer opportunities for kids (and adults too) in an easily searchable interface. There's a similar site at iEarn, which enables teachers and students to collaborate on volunteer projects.
WIRED The diverse database includes everything from a nature-focused volunteer program in Thailand to cleaning up garbage down by your local river.
TIRED There's not enough information on Idealist's own site -- many project details are only available by clicking through to other websites.
The Smithsonian Institution is more than just a large cluster of crusty old buildings. It's also an incredible online resource for every child in America -- there are innumerable educational features on everything from sharks and grizzly bears to Presidents and musicians. Be sure to check out Smithsonian Education, a site-within-a-site made specifically for younger children, with engaging Flash-based presentations as well as the Smithsonian Research site, which features detailed cultural programs for kids of all ages.
WIRED Online museum-exhibit tours. Resources range across technology, art, design, science and everything in between. There are huge amounts of historical and cultural context provided.
TIRED Information overload: You'd need a time machine to be able to see everything in this site within your lifetime (or at least the time you have allotted to do homework).
This article was originally published in Wired.com
Wired's Gadget Lab Podcast
I appeared in the Wired Gadget Lab Audio Podcast's first 50+ episodes. Listen to the podcast at iTunes.
Listen in every week as the Wired product team waxes poetic about the gadget news of the past few days. It may not change your life, but you'll hear our take on a range of products, from the latest laptop computers to the hottest geek toys on the planet. Laugh. Cry. Learn. Love. Just tune in. We'll do the rest.
The Gadget Lab crew talk about Microsoft's new Zunes and how they stack up against Apple's new iPods. Plus: Sony's new digital SLR camera, the Alpha 900, and highlights from the upcoming crop of TVs. With Dylan Tweney, Jose Fermoso and Brian Chen.
Deal With Criticism
Ever feel deflated after going through a critique with your boss? Do you feel personally assaulted when someone criticizes your work? Dealing with criticism can be difficult, but learning how to deal with it may be one of the most important skills you ever need. Being open to feedback improves communication in relationships and in the workplace.
In her book How to Deal with Criticism, Dr. Hendrie Weisenger says criticism is necessary because it tells us what is most important in our lives. In business, organizations grow or fall based on performance and task evaluations. In relationships, giving and taking criticism with a positive approach is the key to understanding preferences and helps you grow together. Research shows that the better you deal with criticism, the better off you’ll be.
Having trouble accepting criticism? Here are five steps to help you!
Don’t Take It Personally!
When criticized, you need to stay calm and not take it personally. Reacting emotionally will only make the situation worse. Behavioral research has shown emotional reactions are negative regardless of whether the criticism itself is good or bad.
Dr. Weisenger says this happens because people are emotional beings wired by their environment to think negatively of criticism. Society says self-confidence is always good and hard work alone should move us forward in our careers. This thinking preys on our status anxiety, grows our ego, and makes us resistant to change. If a writer’s editor says an article needs a tweak, the writer is bound to resist, even if it’s good advice. Relying on your emotions when confronted with criticism isn’t constructive.
You need to understand criticism often isn’t based on hard facts—critics have a subjective point of view, too. An artist can be criticized for innovation (“The painting is too weird!”) or for following conventions closely (“Ugh, it’s paint-by-numbers!”). Results don’t always matter either. A lawyer’s style can be criticized even if he wins all his cases. Everyone deals with criticism, no matter how smart, educated, successful, or talented they are.
Think of Criticism Positively
If we’re wired to think of criticism negatively, then a logical response is to change and start thinking of it positively. Think: “This is good for me!”
Criticism brings up new, unconsidered ideas. A buildup of new approaches to a problem can be crucial to finding solutions, especially in business. Companies that consider everyone’s opinions react faster and with more flexibility to change and are more successful in the long-term.
Criticism also alleviates the need to always be right. If you know constructive feedback leads to good solutions, you’ll suffer less anxiety and work to innovate.
Positive thinking also helps practice serenity. Remember, emotional reactions are no good and only take up time and energy. Say it with me: “Serenity now!
Deconstruct the Criticism
The next step is to take apart criticism. Break it down in four steps: listen carefully, seek clarification, find intent, and identify truths.
First, listen and don’t say anything. Understanding a critic’s argument makes your mind go over your own work and how it’s constructed. It’s self-analysis. Focus on words they use and how they relate to the criticism. This teaches you objectivity.
Next, seek clarification through questions. In Power Communications, career expert Valerie Wiener says questions “should be aimed at turning the critic’s generalities into specifics and exposing the objective facts behind judgmental statements.” If a critic says you’re lazy, ask which specific behavior makes her think that. Avoid making this exchange into an interrogation drama of furrowed brows. Instead, think of it as an info-gathering friendly conversation. Asking questions and possessing a willingness to learn invites respect.
Third, find the critic’s motivation. Is it negatively or positively motivated, or rather, is it a personal attack or a constructive point? More often, it is constructive.
Fourth, identify truths. Find out which parts of the criticism will help you grow and which work best within your comfort zone. There are kernels of truth in every criticism, and it’s up to you to find them.
Understand the Critic
If you truly want to accept criticism, you need to understand where the critic is coming from.
Determine if he is qualified to criticize you. Are they educated and experienced enough to make the arguments they’re making? If they are, take the criticism seriously. If they are not, consider it also, but focus on the specifics. People who are not always qualified can still make good judgments.
Also, determine the critic’s motive. Is it a good motive (concern for accuracy, fondness for the subject) or a bad motive (jealousy, immaturity)? A lot of people criticize others to make excuses for their own faults. If there are bad motives, think about removing yourself from the situation but don’t forget the content—it may help you.
Incorporate and Embrace Thoughtfully
In The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon’s Secrets to Success, Steve Scott says you can’t profit from understanding criticism until you fully embrace it.
Scott once wrote a commercial script his boss rejected because it needed “a hook” to appeal to viewers. Instead of sulking, Scott embraced the specific need as a challenge and came up with a funny hook that made millions. It urged him to embrace all criticisms with enthusiasm. Embracing criticism also made him tolerant of people’s opinions. The more constructive opinions you surround yourself with, he says, the better you’ll know how to deploy that knowledge.
Don’t Worry Too Much About It
Pay close attention to your reactions to criticism—it will show you what you need to improve. Do this: think of the last five criticisms that personally affected you. Write them down on paper and read through them right now. Were they so bad? Did you find one you thought was valid? If so, you most likely reacted emotionally and need to improve. If your boss said your work needs to improve and you took it as a neon-bright sign you’re an absolute failure in life, you were being irrational!
Challenge this type of thinking. It makes getting through life more difficult—after all, irrational thinking is automatic, not thoughtful, and accumulates to a snowball of negative thinking that leads you away from your obstacles. Face criticism to improve and be realistic about it, about yourself, and about people’s intentions.
“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” —Aristotle