Friday, February 29, 2008
Happy Leap Year! What to do with this bonus day that comes but once every four years? Spend it online... check out these fun websites:
Meebo / meebo.com -- You know the problem… you’ve got a few friends on one instant messaging client, some on others – Meebo.com brings them all together into a single website. Handy for those that might have trouble with the traditional IM clients downloaded to your computer, perhaps banned by your company or school’s network settings – meebo.com makes it easy. Networks supported: MSN, AOL/ICQ, Yahoo, and GTalk/Jabber. Bonus points for registering: Ability to save chat logs, single sign-in, and customization.
Buzzillions / buzzillions.com – Before you buy anything online, it’s good to get the good, bad and the ugly from those who have ventured through the checkout path before. Are the shoes true to size? Does that product really do what it’s designed to do? Did you have any problems? Consumer reviews are a powerful force. A leader in product ratings online is Power Reviews and their consumer site Buzzillions.com brings this data to potential buyers. The same folks that power sites from big players such as REI, Toys-R-Us and Brookstone – present the shopping site buzzillions.com. Features to look for: Narrow search results by various criteria, compare brands, upload customer images. Unique: Buzzillions users have, for the most part, actually bought the product they’re reviewing.
Pandora / pandora.com – Pandora creates a radio station tailored to your tastes. By selecting songs and artists you like, the online service selects other music based on hundreds of criteria in the Music Genome Project. The service is free and doesn’t require you to load a player – it works right in your browser. The more songs you review the better it predicts what else you might like. Limitations: It’s not a music-on-demand service, so you can’t play a particular song or request only songs from one artist, given rights issues – only US customers can play, a bummer if you travel. Favorite feature: Thumbs-up, Thumbs-down ratings are super-simple.
Yelp / yelp.com – Looking to check out that new neighborhood restaurant? Want to try a new night club? Want to share your review with friends and get their feedback? Social Networking meets local community reviews with Yelps slick interface, intuitive navigation and the ability to add darn near everything in your ‘hood. Seattle’s a focus city, so you may not find the same level of detail if you’re visiting, say Peoria.
Woot! / woot.com – Looking for a bargain? Don’t really care what the bargain is? Look to woot! Woot offers exactly one product (most days) and each customer can buy up to three of this item each day. When the item is gone, it’s gone… some products can sell out in hours or even minutes and are generally electronics or related gizmos. Sign up for various woot! notification services to have new products sent to you daily. Caveat: Return policy restrictive, shipping can be somewhat slow.
Etsy / etsy.com – The “ebay for handmade products” allows anyone to sell homemade products to others online. Unlike Ebay, which sells anything to anyone, Etsy focuses only on handmade products. One real benefit to this site, as opposed to buying from some of the larger mass-merchants, is that you can focus your search on those items made right in your area – perhaps you’re limiting your carbon footprint or just want to support local artists. Another neat feature – search by color. How clever is this? The site offers the ability to pick a color and it will find products that match that color. Wouldn’t you have loved to have this feature the last time you were decorating a room or in search of the “something blue” at a wedding
Chegg / chegg.com – Why buy when you can rent? Textbooks are an expensive part of any education. Now various online sites are providing an alternative to the full-price of retail stores. One site, chegg.com allows students to rent a textbook for a semester or quarter. That econ text that costs over 150 bucks? Just one-third of that for a quarter – $60 if you need it for the semester. When you’re done? Print a pre-paid shipping label and send it back. Eco-friendly bonus: Chegg.com plants a tree for every book rented!
Prosper / prosper.com – Need some cash? Got some to lend? Prosper.com matches lenders and borrowers. Giving borrowers the opportunity to bid on the loan, value, and rate you want to receive – lenders select the max. interest rate they’re willing to pay. Prospective lenders have insight into the credit rating (through an obfuscated grade) for a better idea of the risk involved. Sign up at: http://www.prosper.com/join/brianseattle
Grand Central / grandcentral.com -- One number. Doesn’t that sound great? Sign up for a Grand Central account and you are assigned a number. This number, when called, will ring all your phones, give callers the ability to leave you a voicemail that you can listen to online and the ability to switch calls mid-conversation. Personalize voicemail greetings – (tell the boss you’re working when you’re really out goofing off). Big Brother Add-on: Record calls during a conversation.
Of course, if you've got others... pass them along or post in the comments for all to enjoy! Happy Leap Day Portland!
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Bill O'Reilly hosts an Inside Edition broadcast featuring a classic review of the Super Mario Bros. game from 1988. With all the talk about Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 -- it's a nostalgic look at how far video games have come.
(I still have my 8-bit Nintendo, perhaps I'll dust it off and play a game of Super Mario Bros. on my 42" Plasma HDTV. ;-) Who wants to be Luigi?)
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Apple launched updates to its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines today. Adding 802.11n (faster WiFi), faster Core 2 Duo processors and larger storage are among the features. Jump on over to the online Apple Store to learn more.
Throughout much of the day users of Microsoft's Windows Live Services experienced outages. Users of Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger -- along with other online applications -- found themselves unable to access mail and instant message tools today. The new Windows Server 2008 operating system, which runs the services and launches to the public tomorrow, is said to not be at fault.
Finally to round out what is apparently a look at the big three today, Google launched a micro version of its Google Talk Gadget. Called "Chatback" it allows website developers to place a small bit of code on a web page enabling users to interact with the site creator via. Google Talk. Google's Official Blog has more on the enhancement.
Your feedback is always welcome! Email: techexpert (at) brianwestbrook (dot) com
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Any speculation on how much Apple paid for the iPhone product placement?
Enjoy the show!
Friday, February 22, 2008
When Microsoft announced it had finished the service pack update for its Windows Vista operating system -- but that users wouldn't see it for over a month -- confusion set in. Add to the rather mysterious launch plans new reports that the update is being made available to some users ahead of schedule. What's more, there are reports of requisite rebooting (an infinite loop in some cases) and incompatible software. Read more here, here and here.
MSNBC.com has a story on how hackers can bypass hard drive encryption with a blast of cold air. The results are somewhat alarmning and a good reminder that physical security is your best bet. In other words: Don't leave a laptop with sensitive data someplace thieves could get at it. Like your car.
Finally as we head into the weekend some business news. Northwest company Real Networks buys TryMedia. Of note? More fun and games!
Enjoy the weekend... we'll be back Monday with more on Tech Check.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Microsoft announced earlier today plans to release details of application programming interface (API) software. The deal, met with skepticism from open source advocates and an anti-trust aware European Union, has Microsoft sharing previously tight-knit secrets to help developers interface with their software. Open source advocates are concerned the announcement doesn't go far enough. Meanwhile, the EU is cautiously optimistic.
Know a foreign languauge? Good at software development? A recent AP story describes the latest efforts among hackers and virus writers to recruit foreign language skills to target specific countries. Applications being accepted now.
Finally in the news -- how about an unlimited mobile phone plan? AT&T and T-Mobile have matched a previous Verizon announcement launching a frenzy of unlimited mobile plans. Fairly soon, anyone paying more than $100 for monthly cell phone service will be paying too much.
That's your look at tech news for Thursday... more tomorrow on Tech Check.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Microsoft is putting you in charge. Tentatively called the Xbox Live Community, the objective is to let user's submit their games for community review. Once the pass the peer test, they're made available for other users. Think Ebay meets Youtube in the gaming world... watch for more from the 2008 Game Developers Conference this week in San Francisco. (Check out Evan Ackerman's 2008 GDC coverage at OhGizmo.com, including this kick-off report from today's keynote.)
Apple yesterday announced a new smaller price for their smallest iPod -- a mere $49. The iPod Shuffle 1G which holds about 240 songs and does not contain a screen drops $30 and gains a big brother with a 2G version, expected later this month, for $69. Find colors, details and order yours here.
This week many Ebay sellers have agreed to neither post nor purchase on the popular auction site. KOMO-TV has the story. Will this have any effect on the auction site? Will buyers and sellers flock to alternatives?
Stay tuned for more tomorrow... on Tech Check.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I'll be attending (so apparently it's not just the 'elite' afterall), if anything for the social aspects and photo opportunities, and will bring you a recap tomorrow.
Do you have similar events you would like to share with readers? Other Northwest happenings I should check out? Leave a comment in the blogs or send me an email: techexpert (at) brianwestbrook (dot) com.
Have you ever gone over your minutes? Ready to ditch your land-line but can't afford the bill for mobile airtime? Verizon today announces an unlimited calling plan for $99/month. That's right, it's finally here -- unlimited calling plans! It was only a matter of time and for those that now pay more than $100 for your cell phone, look to save a few bucks. The question now is... will other carriers follow suit?
If free minutes aren't your thing -- how about free software? The brilliant marketing minds at Microsoft are giving it away. Qualifying students are eligible to download developer tools such as Visual Studio Professional (software development suite), Expression Studio (web programming and graphic / web design) and XNA Game Studio 2.0 (video game development) and SQL Server 2005 (developer edition database engine) as well as Microsoft's Windows Server software. To find more about what Microsoft is calling Dreamspark, visit the program's website: http://channel8.msdn.com
And finally, if you are looking to fill your free time -- check out the website StumbleUpon.com. The site brings to your attention online resources you might not have found on your own -- the best and most popular of the web as voted by you. Check it out, but don't blame me if you find yourself spending more time online!
Thanks for visiting and tuning in for today's report. I'm off to Ignite Seattle and will have a complete report tomorrow... that's the latest look at tech, today's Tech Check.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Hallelujiah! These words being chanted in the hallways of Sony Corp. offices today. After nearly two years of competing and incompatible standards, Toshiba appears ready to give up on the fledgling HD DVD format. BluRay, backed by Sony and available in the company's Playstation 3 console, has won the support of most major studios and retail giants WalMart, Best Buy as well as rental partners Blockbuster and NetFlix. An announcement is expected from Toshiba tomorrow.
For those with outdated analog televisions, help is on the way. Coupons are in the mail for those who can't receive digital broadcasts, the only way to receive over-the-air television after a 17 Feb 2009 conversion date. We talked about the transition on Portland's Morning News on the 15 Feb show (listen: mp3). If you need more information, or to request your coupons valued at $40 toward the purchase of a converter box, visit DTV2009.org.
Finally today, Oprah's golden touch transcends print books. After being made available on The Oprah Winfrey Show website, over 1 Million copies of Suze Orman's "Women & Money" have been downloaded. Does this prove digital downloads can be profitable? Will this affect future releases of books, movies, and music on the Internet?
Check back for another week of the latest tech news and information here on Tech Check!
The first player was released in March 2006 at a price just under $1000. Despite efforts to significantly reduce the price of players, Toshiba was just not able to gain traction and market share. BluRay, backed by Sony, has prevailed as the dominant standard.
At the request of family and friends, no services will be held. In lieu of flowers, please buy BluRay discs.
Listen to this report, originally broadcast on KXL-AM Monday February 18: kxl_bluraywins-wrap1_20080218.mp3 (MP3)
Friday, February 15, 2008
Professional Weather Center (WMR200) – Oregon Scientific
Check the latest backyard weather from 100 yards away with this convenient Weather Center from Oregon Scientific. More than 10 measurements give you the exact time, indoor / outdoor temperature as well as wind and rain details and more! Comes with software to download historic weather details to your computer. A must-have for the amateur meteorologist or serious gardener!
WeatherNow with MSN® Direct Service (WMS801) – Oregon Scientific
Plug in the WeatherNow desktop display and weather data is transmitted automatically over the air. All the basic conditions and a 3-day forecast in addition to weather warnings are displayed. Dreaming of a warmer climate? Simply program to receive weather updates from a tropical climate!
Personal UV Monitor with Exposure Timer (UV888) – Oregon Scientific
Prevent prolonged skin exposure to harmful UV rays while working in the garden – or any outdoor activity. Alongside current UV levels and temperature, the monitor calculates how long you can stay outside given current UV index, your skin type and the SPF being used. It will alarm you before you become a tomato, but it won't put sunscreen on your back.
Rain Gauge with Outdoor Thermometer and 9-day Memory (RGR126) – Oregon Scientific
Just how much does it rain in Portland? Keep track with this outdoor rain gauge. Perfect for knowing how much to water your lawn and garden, it remembers over a week of precipitation amounts. In case you're wondering, the rain cup self-empties for your convenience. (For those who want to monitor the rain, not get soaked in it.)
Waterproof iPod Speakers (IceBar2) – Atlantic EGO
Perfect for splashing around in the pool, a garden pond, even gardening out in the liquid sunshine, these speakers don't mind getting wet. Available for a variety of iPod models, the latest works with all three Nanon generations. They've even been spotted in the showers of aspiring singers!
Price: $80 (Coming April '08, many ipod models available online now)
Ladybug iPod Speakers – VestaLife
These speakers look like a ladybug and sound great. Launched at the 2008 CES and Macworld, these speakers operate on battery or the included AC adapter and support most iPods with a dock connector. It's rare for portable speakers to include auxiliary jacks, but these speakers have 'em all: AUX in, AV Out, even a USB port to sync with your computer. At $110 for the red and silver models, there's a series of limited-edition designs by Element Skateboard's artists for $125.
Versions: Red / Silver ($110), limited edition designs ($125)
Available: 1st Quarter 2008
Retaining wall speaker (RisiSound) and light (RisiLight) – RisiStone
If you're building a retaining wall or pathway through your garden – don't forget to include permiter lighting and unobtrusive speakers! These innovative stones have built-in lights and speakers and look great. Ask your contractor or the guys at Mutual Materials (www.mutualmaterials.com) for details.
Price: RisiSound - $175, RisiLight - $140
Details: http://www.risistone.com or http://www.mutualmaterials.com
Solar-powered post light
Light up hard-to-reach pathways with solar-powered post light.
Better Homes and Gardens Landscaping and Deck Designer software
Put your dreams to the test with garden and landscaping design software from Better Homes and Gardens and by Chief Architect. Visualize garden designs, scope out deck possibilities or build the ultimate dream backyard – with the click of a mouse. Warning: Set your project's budget before using this software or your dreams make take over!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang sent an email to shareholders defending Monday's announcement to turn down Microsoft's unsolicited offer. CNET's News.com has the story and quotes the Internet company's defiant leader:
"I wanted to reach out to you personally to let you know why your board of directors, after a careful review by Yahoo's management along with our financial and legal advisors, believes that Microsoft's proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo and is not in the best interests of our stockholders."
Remember the movie review I brought you last week on KXL? The AP has a story today about rogue DNS servers. Those name-to-numbers translators that make the web easy for us humans to access. Well, the bad guys are trying to send you places you don't want to go... and that's just the half of it. If you haven't seen Untraceable -- it's a fascinating (if somewhat predictable) peek at what the web in the wrong hands could become. No felines were harmed to bring you this news item.
Finally in the V-Day news roundup, from the "no duh" files comes this report that Apple's iPhone is expected to get a 3G upgrade this year. You may recall the AT&T CEO leaking this information already -- despite the obvious nature, I can't help reading every bit of news about a future iPhone release. Has this swayed your decision to buy an iPhone? Are you "waiting for 3G"?
Thanks for making this your stop for tech in the Northwest... be sure to subscribe to the email feed so you, too, can get Tech Check sent right to you daily!
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
If you're like many Internet surfers when I say "Net Neutrality" you say... Huh? Don't worry -- you're not alone. Net Neutrality is about keeping the Internet open for all types of traffic. This week the FCC heard from Comcast, arguing it has the right to shut off high-bandwidth users (as I first reported here last year) and two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation on the topic. Nothing's been decided yet, but it's a hot issue we'll be watching in the coming year. Educate yourself -- the ramifications are quite significant.
In the days leading up to the annual heart holiday, the FBI has warning of a malicious virus posing as an e-greeting. The warning is clear:
Be wary of any e-mail received from an unknown sender. Do not open any unsolicited e-mail and do not click on any links provided.
Finally, I confess -- I'm a Disneyland fan. Something about the 50-plus year old theme park, the attractions, people-watching and... the future! Disneyland has announced plans to open a "House of the Future" in May. CNN.com has a preview. and I'm going to see if I can check it out for you when I'm down there early April. If I can work it out, it'll be posted right here.
Thanks for checking out the latest and greatest news from the pages of tech, that's another Tech Check.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Microsoft's Zune Originals team has preemptively apologized for leaving some planning to give the company's tune player... well, Zuneless. According to the statement due to a fulfillment center hiccup, some deliveries due before the February 14th holiday will arrive a few days late. Those affected will receive a complete refund of the purchase price and shipping. The credit will buy quite a bundle of roses.
Remember that high-definition debate? You know the one between Blu-Ray and HD DVD formats? In the latest blow to Toshiba-backed HD DVD, both Netflix (Monday) and Best Buy (today) endorsed the competitor format, backed by Sony and others -- Blu-Ray. Netflix has said they will only ship Blu-Ray discs to rent-by-mail customers. Best Buy is commiting to "recommend" Blu-Ray movies and related hardware. You might recall in the days leading up to CES I reported that Warner Bros. became the fourth of a mounting number of studios to solely support Blu Ray. HD DVD seems to be on a lifeline as Blu Ray sets to dominate the latest format debate.
That's today's Tech Check... I'll be back tomorrow with more of the news and noteworthy from the world of technology.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I first saw this video a few weeks ago -- a crackup then and still funny the second time around. Take a look at this Web 2.0 party... a good time for all!
Remember the iconic film made popular in the 1950's? The instant satisfaction of a print that reveals before your eyes? Polaroid, which stopped producing cameras that used this film in commercial lines in 2006 and consumer models a year later, has announced plans to shut down factories that produce the film. If you have a Polaroid camera, there'll be enough film to last you until 2009.
Coffee shops are addicting. Some are addicted to the coffee -- me? It's the WiFi. In an attempt to draw more traffic to its stores, Starbucks announced today it will end its partnership with T-Mobile in favor of a new agreement with AT&T. The new plan gives customers using a Starbucks card two hours free access with additional hours for two bucks each. We've heard Steve Jobs announce access for Apple's iPhone devices at Starbucks stores. The iPhone works exclusively on the AT&T network in the USA. For those with a T-Mobile plan, a roaming agreement between AT&T and T-Mobile hotspots will keep you connected. Or you could order a cup of coffee.
Microsoft may have to up the ante' on their $40 billion (down from almost $45 billion given a slump in MSFT stock) bid for rival Yahoo. Leaked over the weekend, and made official by Yahoo's board today, the move may cause Microsoft to increase its offer -- or take the deal directly to Yahoo! shareholders. Yahoo! is rumored to be in discussions with Google about a potential buyout-averting partnership. The Times of London is reporting talks between Yahoo and also-struggling AOL / Time Warner. As Yahoo searches for the right deal -- what will Microsoft do and how might Google respond?
That's today's Tech Check. Look for another update on the day's top tech stories tomorrow... right here.
Here's a list of the products discussed on the show and where you can buy them.
Drop me an email if you have questions, or want additional information about anything you see listed here.
Waterproof iPod Case – H20 Audio
Take your iPod swimming with this waterproof iPod case by H20 Audio! At the beach, on a boat, or swimming laps at the gym – protect your iPod with this watertight case. Available for most iPod models, they run from $40 for the 2nd Generation Shuffle to $100 for the iPod Classic. The separately available H3 Waterproof Headphones to complete the underwater listening experience for another $50. Buy now online or at iPod accessory dealers.
Versions: iPod Shuffle ($39.99), iPod Nano ($79.99), iPod Classic ($99.99), H3 Waterproof headphones ($49.99)
VholdR Wearable Helmet Camera – Twenty20
I've always wanted a video camera to capture my poor snowboarding skills. This tiny digital camcorder – by a local Seattle firm -- is just 4 ounces and is super-simple to operate. The one-button record can be operated with gloves on and the clever mounting system allows it to slide on to your helmet…. Making this the perfect way to capture your downhill or mountainbike adventures. Connect the camera to your computer and share video quickly and easily… but my favorite feature? A laser guidance system that helps you ensure your shot is lined up – at least until I fall down again.
Underwater Digital Camera Mask – Liquid Image Co.
Introduced at CES, Liquid Image's innovative Underwater Digital Camera Mask allows swimmers and snorkelers ages 8-Adult to take photos and video up to 15 feet under water. There's camera is built-in to the snorkel mask to eliminate the need for a tethered underwater camera. Press a button on top of the mask to snap a photo or record video. Transfer images to your computer by removing the optional memory card, or connecting the included USB cable. It runs on just two AAA batteries – with no need for a screen you can't see anyway, it's light on power – and starts at only $79.
Available: March 2008
Versions: 3.1 Megapixel ($79) 5.0 Megapixel ($99)
SPOT Satellite Messenger – SPOT Inc.
It's been out just a few months and already it is credited with saving the life of an Alaska worker. For those who frequent the outdoors, this bright orange messenger is a critical link when miles from traditional wireless services. With a press of the "911" button – emergency services are dispatched to your precise location. Just want people to know you're "okay"? An email will be sent with your location as a Google Maps link. And an optional tracking service (an additional $50/yr.) will update your position on a map every few minutes. Perfect for outdoor adventurers, frequent travelers or remote workers, it's just over $150 for the device and $99/year for the standard messaging service.
Price: $169 (SPOT Messenger) + $99 / year (service plan), $49 / year (optional tracking service)
DVDirect MC-5 Multifunction DVD Recorder – Sony Corp.
Eliminate the boxes of old VHS and camcorder tapes in your garage with Sony's standalone DVD recorder. This slick box doesn't require a computer and accepts inputs from virtually any video device, a variety of digital camera memory cards, or –of course – a Sony Handicam video camera. Simply connect the device, insert a disc and press record. Come back a bit later and that talent show video from 1985 is now preserved on DVD. Slide in most memory cards to make a slideshow of your photos! It's available online, through SonyStyle stores such as the one at U Village -- I've even seen them at Costco stores…. The suggested retail price is $230 but last I checked Costco and Amazon were selling them for $40-45 less!
Price: $229.99 MSRP / $190 online
Harmony One Remote – Logitech
Clean up the coffee table clutter with the ultimate of remote controls. The Logitech Harmony One sports a new ergonomic design, a color touch-screen and buttons arranged in logical zones. It's activity-based use means when you want to watch TV, you press a button cleverly labeled "Watch TV" – the Harmony One then knows to turn on the flatscreen, switch to the appropriate inputs – eliminating the need for dozens of remote. Set up your Harmony One via simple included software. Gone are the days of cryptic codes Logitech's database knows about 225,000 devices… that's nearly a quarter-million remote controls no longer needed.
Available: Mid-Feb. 2008
USB Missile Launcher – Dream Cheeky
How many times have you wanted to lob a missile across the cubicle wall at your co-worker? Now your dreams have become a reality thanks to a $35 USB-powered and computer-controlled Missile Launcher from Dream Cheeky. And for a more HR-friendly approach to office stress-relief: the Stress Button. Bang the oversized red button (to protect from accidental engement) and the screen displays an A-bomb explosion, an image of your "boss", or – my personal favorite – the fake spreadsheet ("no, really – I'm working diligently!").
Versions: Missile Launcher ($35) / Stress Button ($12)
Slingbox SOLO – Sling Media
Ever been stuck in a hotel room far from home and long for updates from Seattle? Slingbox's latest entry into the so-called "place-shifting" game is the Slingbox SOLO. An HD-compatible device, it let's you watch whatever content you'd be able to see in your living room – thousands of miles away over the Internet. With their recent support of the ubiquitous business tool – the Blackberry – taking TV with you just got a whole lot easier.
Product Image: http://www.slingmedia.com/docs/CP/1333/slingbox-SOLO-angle.jpg
Ladybug Ipod Speakers – VestaLife
These speakers look like a ladybug and sound great. Launched at the 2008 CES and Macworld, these speakers operate on battery or the included AC adapter and support most iPods with a dock connector. It's rare for portable speakers to include auxiallary jacks, but these speakers have 'em all: AUX in, AV Out, even a USB port to sync with your computer. At $110 for the red and silver models, there's a series of limited-edition designs by Element Skateboard's artists for $125.
Versions: Red / Silver ($110), limited edition designs ($125)
Available: 1St Quarter 2008
If you have ideas for gadgets you'd like to hear about... or a radio, TV, publication or other media outlet you want to see Brian Westbrook on -- drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.