Monday, December 31, 2007

Tech Rewind: 2007 In Review and a 2008 Preview

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 31 December 2007

Happy New Year!

Nearly a year ago we watched Apple’s CEO threw a hat into the ring for mobile phone market share... the controversial AT&T carrier-exclusivity did little to discourage early adopters from lining up for the iPhone days before the June release. Another major product that actually shipped in January was Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Claiming “the wow starts now” – many XP users are sticking to the former operating system while the Northwest-based software giant works out bugs. Corporate users even pressured Microsoft to extend support for Windows XP.

We talked a fair amount about social networking in 2007—with relative newcomer Facebook stealing the spotlight from one-time king Myspace. The decision to open Facebook for outside groups to build software on the network paid huge dividends and earned the site a sizeable investment from Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Mountain View-based archrival, you know, the search, advertising (and added in 2007: Apps) giant Google watched its stock skyrocket above the 700 mark after announcement of an “Open Social” platform for social networking sites followed by plans to release an operating system for phones, resting months of speculation a so-called Google Phone was in the works.

Finally, in the world of video games – Two big winners, in this blogger's humble opinion: Halo 3 from Microsoft set records and Nintendo’s Wii console outsold rivals Xbox 360 from Microsoft and Sony’s Playstation 3. An exciting year, indeed.

As for my predictions for stories we'll be talking about in 2008...

I think (perhaps hope?) 2008 will be the year all these social networking sites finally grow up and become useful. A faster 3G version of the iPhone is due out while we see what Google has in store for their Open Handset Alliance. I’m personally excited about airline plans to offer inflight internet – a story we discussed a few weeks back on KXL – and the ever-changing face of digital content delivery ... are 24-hour movie rentals coming to iTunes in ’08?

As you may know, January 1, marks the start of the transition period to digital high-definition television… those old analog broadcast signals are going bye-bye... Finally, R&S, we’ll look to next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas and MacWorld in San Francisco the week after to set the pace for technology in ’08.

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Monday December 31: kxl_techexpert-2007rewind2008preview_20071231.mp3 (MP3)

I'll bring you these tech stories and more in the new year... as always, drop me a line and let me know what you want to hear. I look forward to hearing from you!

Happy New Year and thanks for listening (and reading)...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Power-hungry TVs, Mobile Gifting and a Wii Tip

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 21 December 2007

Today on Portland's Morning News on Newsradio 750 KXL we discussed how the TV you buy may affect your power bill, how to give a mobile phone as a gift, and gave listeners one last-minute tip to update the Holiday Wii Hunt.

For more information and tips on buying a TV for the energy efficient consumer, check out this post. You might also consider equipping your home with a "Green Switch" to completely cut off power to devices that drain juice even when in power save mode. The kits start at $1125 and more information is available here. If that sounds like an expensive accessory, consider you'll make it up in energy consumption from idle devices in just a few years!

Considering a mobile phone for that recipient on your gift list? I explain on today's show why giving a gift certificate or "IOU" may be the wiser choice. Many phone users prefer to pick their own phones. Some considerations:
  • Will this phone be used for work? Some employers only support certain models when interfacing with corporate systems such as email.
  • Is size, form-factor, style or the presence of a full keyboard important?
  • Does the intended user require WiFi web browser or the ability to connect to their laptop as a makeshift wireless modem?
  • Are they willing to switch carriers (are there contract implications?) to get a particular model such as Apple's iPhone?
As you can see, it might be best to talk this over with the recipient before making a purchase.

Finally, because dozens of you have written in asking where to buy a Wii -- I'm happy to share a special alert I received from Santa's Helpers. Seems St. Nick himself will be stopping by the Game Crazy in King City with 100 Wii consoles available for purchase. How they managed to schedule the last-minute delivery on Santa's busiest day of the year, I'll never know... but for those still on the Great Wii Hunt 2007 edition? Read this entry carefully!

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday December 21: kxl_techexpert-plasmaenergy&lastminutegifts_20071221.mp3 (MP3)

Got a question? Need help deciding what gift to buy? Drop me an email techexpert (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com (remove CAPS before sending)... I'm here to help!

Energy Consumption: LCD vs. Plasma Flat Screen TVs

New gadgets this holiday season come a bump in your power bill. Seemingly minor differences in technology can cause large swings in power consumption. Power bills can range from an average of $33 to $233 a year (source)

First on the list are new high-definition televisions. It seems logical that a larger television consumes more power than a same-technology, yet smaller, set. What you may not know, however, is that the type of display makes a significant difference. Standard tube televisions and newer LCD panels consume only two-thirds the power of a new plasma screen.

Current generation video game consoles vary widely in the amount of electricity required as well. For instance, according to a CNET’s TV power consumption guide, a PlayStation 3 consumes 197 watts while the Xbox 360 is just under at 187 watts. Nintendo’s latest console, the popular Wii, wins the efficiency award, roughly one-tenth of it’s rivals, consume approximately 19 watts.

And for those who think you’re saving power when the unit is “off” and in power saver mode? Think again! Some units tested in CNET’s report consume as much as 10 watts when sitting idle.

There are steps you can take to reduce your energy consumption. Buy an energy-efficient set – look for ratings or ask your retailer. Various brands in the same size can have different power requirements. Consider completely shutting down your set when not watching programming.

Does this mean you shouldn’t upgrade? No.

Being an educated consumer when shopping for a replacement set will reduce your energy consumption and save you money on your power bill.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Update: Last Minute Wii-Finding Tips & Tricks

Previously on Newsradio 750 KXL I gave listeners tips on how to find the sold-out Wii video game console. I've received dozens of emails from listeners and thought I'd post an update for those still searching for the video game device to put under the tree this Christmas.

Here are some tips:
  • Sign up for online Wii trackers: websites such as and have convenient, centralized and constantly updated, listings of where to find a Wii. Sign up for alerts via. Twitter or email or refresh the site frequently. Wii consoles have been available at the online retailers in the past few days -- but check often as they are being snatched up within mere minutes.
  • Get or give a raincheck: Some retailers are offering guarantees that you will be able to buy a Wii in January. And if the recipient can want (and really, they probably can, right?) -- why not offer to buy a Wii when stock shortages ease after the holidays?
  • Go to Game Crazy on Christmas Eve: I'm being told by Tanya Khamis, Sr. Marketing Manager for Wilsonville-based Game Crazy, that 100 consoles will be available at their King City store. "Santa Claus and his elves will be hand delivering them." Free raffle tickets will be distributed giving winners the opportunity to purchase the sold-out console at retail price. Those who don't win a chance to purchase will be given a chance to win one of two free Wii's the game retailer is giving away!

    Event details: Game Crazy - 15660 SW Pacific Hwy, Ste 100, Tigard, OR 97224 on December 24th. Tickets will be given out beginning at 7am, raffle drawing starts at 10am. (As an added bonus, those with a raffle ticket will be offered 10% off non-hardware purchases at Game Crazy all day December 24th!)
Did you listen to Newsradio 750 KXL's Lars Larson's 12-hour "Lars-A-Thon" raising money for the Salvation Army? Thanks to Game Crazy, Lars auctioned off a Wii console with proceeds benefiting the Salvation Army! Click here to hear Game Crazy EVP Wes Sand kick-off bidding on today's Lars Larson Show.

Keep it right here for more tips on how to score the holiday's hottest game console!

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Wii Bit Disappointed? Try These Alternatives

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 14 December 2007

Nintendo's Wii is by far this season's "must-have" video game console -- but getting your hands on the system is game itself. Fortunately there are alternatives and we talked about them on Portland's Morning news today, December 14, 2007.

First, why is the Wii so popular?

In my opinion? It's just that good. The folks at Nintendo hit it out of the park in designing a game console that makes gaming an interactive activity for the entire family. And we're not talking about previous generations' consoles that rely on sitting in front of the television shooting up the bad guys... The Wii will have you dancing, jumping, and bouncing in the living room. And sure, many of the same interactive titles are available on Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 -- there's a recipe for success that gives the Wii an advantage.

Now if you, like thousands of others are looking for a Wii - try these tips:
  • Look often. Try different times of the day, and call area stores often. They are getting consoles, you just have to be patient.
  • Look elsewhere. This one's going to require a low-tech approach: shopping online may leave you disappointed as Wii's are snatched up online in nanoseconds.
  • Wait until after Christmas. If you can wait you may have better luck getting a Wii when the holidays are over.
  • Look for sales. Often stores such as Target, Best Buy, etc. will save some consoles to have on-hand after ads hit Sunday morning. Arrive early, and again -- be patient.

Give up? Try an alternative!

Of course, you've read the gift-giving ideas on my annual Holiday Gadget Guide -- I've got one more gift idea for you: CLOCKY! This ingenious alarm clock leaps off the table and runs away from you forcing you to get out of bed to shut it off. No more hitting snooze and sleeping past that morning meeting! Buy the Clocky online here. Just think: You can get Clocky to wake you up early enough to beat the crowds and buy a Wii!

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday December 14: kxl_techexpert-getawii&clocky_20071214.mp3 (MP3)
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WiFi Wisdom: Watch for Wicked Wireless

A regular listener wrote in with a reference to a USA Today article warning users about the dangers of using public WiFi connections and the security dangers of such. One such concern, referred to as the "evil twin" in the report's headline -- is certainly worth repeating here.

Computer criminals can "sniff" the traffic in a cafe, or set up a fake hot spot that you might innocently log into. When that happens, watch out: Everything you type goes directly to the host computer, known as an "evil twin." In that scenario, as soon as you get into your online bank account, the evil twin is ready to grab the password.

As portable computers without WiFi connections are now in the minority, users of public hotspots are increasingly subject to attack. Here are a few of my own wireless safety tips when using public hotspots:
  • Connect only to known hotspots. Look for signs in airports, hotel lobbies, coffee shops, and anywhere else you might find a hotspot. If there isn't a sign, ask a staff member, especially if your computer recognizes multiple open networks. If you run a public hotspot yourself, make this information easy to find.

  • It's all in the name. Starbucks uses T-Mobile to power their hotspots. These hotspots are generally named "t-mobile". While it might sound appropriate for there to be a WiFi hotspot called "starbucks" -- that's exactly what the bad guys want you to think, it could be a trap.

  • Watch for "Computer-to-Computer" connections. While only a warning sign and not an absolute guide, those networks that show up in your list of available connections as a "peer-to-peer" or "computer-to-computer" are more likely to be the data thief sipping a mocha across the room. Some computers can be set to hide computer-to-computer conections as an added safeguard.

  • Increase your own security. Firewall software is essential -- most newer operating systems have it built-in. Keep your anti-virus software current by downloading the latest definition files. Finally, update your operating system to fix known vulnerabilities before they are exploited.

  • Change your passwords. Sometimes using a public hotspot is unavailable (same applies to internet kiosks) -- a good tip after using a public wireless connection is to change your email password when you return to your home computer. (Changing a password on a potentially tainted computer could be a bad idea if you think about it.) Even better: Change your password at regular intervals!

  • Don't access sensitive data. The best way to ensure you're being protected is to avoid accessing personal data such as banking information or email while using a public hotspot or internet kiosk. If possible, wait until you're back on your own connection or hardwired. And don't forget to look for the "s" or closed padlock indicating an encrpyted connection to the site you are accessing...

  • Bring your own (secure) wireless. Many hotels are offering wireless connections in addition to ethernet jacks in guest rooms. Even when a hotel offers their own wireless signal, I prefer to make my own using a portable router such as Linksys' WTR54GS Travel Router or Apple's Airport Express. I've used and recommend both devices.

While not completely fool-proof, being cautious -- and using common sense -- will help protect you from those trying to steal your personal information for purposes of identity theft.

If you've got a tech tip you'd like to pass along, or want more information on how to keep yourself safe while surfing, email me -- tech (AT) brianwestbrook (DOT) com.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Online Onboard: Inflight Internet in 2008

KXL Tech Expert Segment for 7 December 2007

A handful of domestic carriers have made plans to offer inflight Internet access starting next year. The carriers, starting with Jetblue's test plane next week, will offer a range of service options with fees ranging from free to $10 per flight.

This isn't the first time you've been able to online on board, yet there's new optimism this will finally fill in one of the last Internet dead spots with a useful option for frequent travelers. Boeing's now defunct Connexion project offered online access for largely international carriers but was disbanded in recent years.

Jetblue, through its subsidiary LiveTV, will offer email and messaging access for free while Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and new startup Virgin America each plan to offer a more complete Internet offering sometime in 2008 -- for an estimated $10 per flight.

Don't expect any mid-air connection as fast as services on the ground, but sometimes anything is better than nothing. Look for Voice-over-IP services such as Vonage and Skype to be disabled -- saving everyone from the feared Chatty Cathy in the next seat.

Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Friday December 7: kxl_techexpert-onlineonboard_20071207.mp3 (MP3)

For more on this story, check out the following links:
What do you think? Will Inflight Internet change the way you travel? Are you likely to select a carrier based on whether or not the carriers keeps you connected? I'll be following this story closely and look forward to trying it out...

Boarding Pass On Your Mobile Phone

The TSA recently gave the go-ahead for a pilot program in Houston, sponsored by Continental Airlines, to offer travelers the ability to flash a barcode on their cell phone to board a plane. The new boarding pass takes the place of the paper slips now used by carriers and promises to speed your boarding time -- eliminating a stop at the ticket counter or carrier's kiosk.

For much of the past decade, boarding passes have used barcodes. Seemingly random bits of black and white that a scanner reads and identifies with your seat, flight number, travel date and name. Matching this information with your ID then ensures you paid for a particular seat on the plane. The mobile phone simply replicates that barcode on-screen and replaces a printed barcode.

Those flying from Contintental's hub city will still need a boarding pass -- for their return flight home.

For more:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Using Gmail to Chat With AIM Buddies

Over a year ago, Google bought a piece of AOL. Now in a brilliant move and convenient step towards taking over the online world... Google Talk users can use the Gmail client to chat with their AOL-based buddies.

(Full disclosure: My partner is a software engineer on this project at Google's Kirkland, Wash. office.)

While not perfect, it's a step towards bringing all instant messaging clients together into one big, happy family.

I'm something of a power-user: the 17" screen on my laptop provides extra screen real estate, it seems, simply to handle the growing number of messengers I have running at any given time. With AOL's "Instant Messenger", Microsoft's "MSN Messenger" (err, "Windows Live... uhh, I forgot already"), Google Talk (I prefer a flavour known as the "Google Talk Gadget"), Yahoo! Messenger -- nevermind IM and instant messenger applications from various online and social networking sites. Keeping up with all the flashing windows can be something of a challenge.

MSN Messenger (insert current brand-name-du-jour) and Yahoo have previously allowed synergy between contacts -- though I confess I haven’t quite figured out how. While the Google-AOL partnership is currently only one-way (AIM client users aren't yet able to add Gtalk contacts), I'm happy to be able to drop my simultaneously open IM clients by one.

Not so fast.

Before I bury my AOL Instant Messenger client I'll need to wait until the service is added to the Google Apps platform, a move that will apparently happen in the coming weeks.

If you’re a Gmail user, however, and chat within the Gmail client (using the built-in chat box) – you’ve been upgraded. Look for the “Sign in to AIM” option in the dropdown under your name. Add your AIM login details (the feature requires a separate AOL Instant Messenger account) and your AIM buddies will appear alongside your Google Talk contacts.

Perhaps someday instant messaging will become ubiquitous – much like email – allowing anyone to talk to anyone regardless of which network they are using.

Baby steps … baby steps.

Google Helps NORAD Track Santa

As if search, maps, blogs, mail, talk among others weren't enough -- Google has its hands in the Santa Tracking business. The NORAD site has some fun games for the kids now, and according to the Google blog, a special website ( will be a must-visit starting 1:00 AM PST on 24 December 2007.

Tracking santa has never been easier.