Thursday, December 29, 2005

10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year

I regularly check out David Pogue's column in the New York Times to see if he discusses some technology I am unfamiliar with and in today's column he listed the folding memory card as one of the ten greatest gadgets of the year. Somehow this new product from SanDisk had passed under my radar. Of course, many workstations now come with ports for a variety of different storage devices including the standard SanDisk memory chip so this product represents a different take on a common problem for computers without the new multiple device ports.

"After taking a few digital photos, the next step, for most people, is getting them onto the computer. That usually involves a U.S.B. cable, which is one more thing to carry and avoid misplacing.

SanDisk's better idea is to take the memory card out of the camera and stick it directly into your computer's U.S.B. port.

That's possible with the SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus card. It looks just like any other SD memory card, except that it folds on tiny hinges. When you fold it back on itself, you reveal a set of metal contacts that slide directly into the U.S.B. jack of your Mac or PC. The computer sees the card as an external drive, and you can download the photos as you always do - except that you've eliminated the need to carry around a cable."

He also mentioned a front-side connector offered on Hewlett-Packard's latest rear projection TV sets. I whole-heartedly endorse this feature but I must tell David it is not entirely a new concept. My Mitsubishi rear projection TV that I have owned for something like eight years features AV jacks in the convenient drop down control panel on the front of the set. Like the home theater setups David describes, my system's rat's nest of cables lies between the big screen on one side and an entertainment center/display cabinet on the other. If I must manipulate the wire connections, I must remove the smaller television in the entertainment center on the dining room side and crawl through the hole to get to the back of the big screen on the living room side - not my favorite activity.

Wednesday night I came home from work only to find that my three-month old DVR had had a melt down. Instead of thrashing around behind the big screen to unhook the other devices so I and the Dish network technician could trouble shoot the receiver without other components attached, I unhooked the output cables from the DVR receiver then simply used a set of patch cables to plug it directly into the front AV jacks on the big screen to test its behavior without intervening devices - sweet!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Chance to Meet the Author Online

When I was at the Historical Novel Society national conference last spring I talked about the importance of an author blog for marketing purposes at a general session. Either someone was listening or understands the value of blogs in communications and marketing as I do.

"Shoppers looking to pick up Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, 'The Position,' on last week found the usual readers' comments and excerpts from reviews. They also found something unexpected: posts on the subject of literature from Ms. Wolitzer herself.

"The program gives people who are interested in a particular author a way to get new insights into them, and gives the authors a way to develop more of a one-on-one relationship with readers," said Jani Strand, a spokeswoman for Amazon. The authors write on "anything they'd like their readers to know about them," Ms. Strand said, including what inspired their books and details about their experiences. Authors are free to update their blogs as often or as little as they like, and a linked profile page has information about other books, reading recommendations, personal information and, in some cases, e-mail addresses."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Simultaneous Release of DVDs with feature films an adventure in marketing

I'm so glad to hear that the film industry is considering simultaneous release for movies and DVDs. I always believed it would not really hurt theater sales because I think a theater experience is usually a social event for the younger audiences more than the preferred viewing environment for older audiences. Many older film enthusiasts have added home theater systems (at least surround sound) to their home viewing environments and feel more comfortable there without the distractions of other people hopping up and down to use the restroom or going to the concession stand. In addition, many of us, although we enjoy immersive sound, can hardly bear the volume that is used in many commercial theaters. We also appreciate the ability to pause a film to answer nature's call, often a more frequent requirement with age, without missing any of the action.

So, I applaud Todd Wagner, the CEO of 2929 Entertainment, the company, cofounded by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, that's experimenting with the "simultaneous release" program who was interviewed in this piece by David Pogue that appeared in the New York Times Circuits section.

"Simultaneous release," or "day and date," means releasing a new movie on TV, on DVD, and in the theaters all on the same day--a radical proposal that could shake up the movie industry...."

"This idea has been perceived as an attack on the exhibition [movie-theater] industry. It is not.

It was designed to try to increase DVD sales. It was designed to try to reach the kind of folks who are not gonna go to the movie theater on a regular basis. And that is an enormous percentage of the population.

I'm supposed to assume that they'll still be interested in my movie five months from now [when the DVD comes out]? I would argue that might be a dangerous assumption.

So our argument is that there is potentially this impulse buy. These people in their 30s and 40s and 50s, wife, kid, may not go to the movie theater. But they would pay a premium to have first-run, theatrical-quality movies that they can either watch on T.V., be downloaded, be delivered to their doorstep on a DVD or eventually HD-DVD, et cetera, et cetera. And let's see if we can go after them.

Look at Russia. In Russia, 99 percent of the DVDs are pirated. You walk in the subway system, there's all the movies--before they're even in the theaters.

That's not even simultaneous release; that's "DVD first," if you will. And yet the theater industry in Russia is doing very well."

Wagner also pointed out the current expense of two advertising campaigns, one for the film and one for the DVD.

"Advertising, as you well know these days, has gone from one big spends to two big spends. A spend to try to get people to go to the theater, a spend in another five months to try to get you to buy the DVD.

In the world today of information clutter, to get the public excited, for the second time, about that movie that they heard about five months later -- wow, that's really hard. So if you could do it once and have an efficient advertising spend, perhaps that's not so bad.

We've seen the lessons of the music industry. We know how technology is today. We know that this generation wants things now. We know it's a digital world. By the way, the day-and-date thing could also reduce piracy, because everything is available simultaneously everywhere in every medium. Maybe it's worth thinking about."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Take Your Cable Channels With You on the Road

Take New York Times: I found the following article quite interesting. Just the other day I was reading about the new PocketDish accessory available from Dish Network which allows you to download DVR content from your satellite receiver, as well as photos, MP3 files, and games to a 4" x 3" pocket device. This product seems to take the technology a step further by facilitating direct streaming from your cable or satellite's receiver.

"In 2002, Blake Krikorian and his brother Jason were beside themselves. Their beloved San Francisco Giants were in a pennant race, yet Blake and Jason, two Silicon Valley engineers, were traveling so much that they missed many of the games on television.

Desperate, they signed up for a service that offered live audio and video of the games over the Internet, only to find that subscribers from San Francisco could not watch Giants games because of blackout restrictions.

The idea for Slingbox was born. The Krikorians decided to find a way to let cable and satellite television customers watch what was on their home televisions while they were on the road. After several years developing the product, their company, Sling Media, released its first boxes in July.

Just as TiVo and other digital video recorders ushered in the concept of 'time shifting' a few years ago, the Slingbox promises to make 'place shifting' a reality for households. By letting consumers connect with their cable or satellite hookups when they travel, Slingbox has the potential to splinter further the way television is watched."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wikipedia scandal reopens the academy vs. open source debate

"...Rather than throw things on the Web and let a consensus emerge, in other words, researchers prefer having a few known authorities inspect the work before it's published by a known press. The credibility of authority, both the reviewer and the journal, are seen as more valid than the credibility of consensus."

The report made a big issue that almost half of those academics polled thought open access publishing would undermine the current system of academic publishing, but 41% said it would be a good thing.

"The fact is that while 'open source has no quality control,' as the headline writer put it in David Coursey's recent column, authority is no longer all it's cracked up to be. Authority can be corrupt. Authority can be an excuse for not thinking. Authority may say there are weapons of mass destruction or that oral sex isn't sex."

I didn't realize until recently that academics, particularly those in the sciences, actually pay journals to publish their articles. I spent many years as a freelance writer and editor and, in my publishing experience, that practice is called subsidy publishing. The quality of subsidy publishing has always been suspect because the goal of the publisher is to make money from the writer, as well as from the sale of the publication, so quality control is sometimes quite lax. I would tend to agree with this writer that "authority" is definitely not what it's cracked up to be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

MP3 Fm Modulator W/ USB Port And Audio Input had lunch with a friend today and we discussed products designed to work with audio devices like the iPod. He told me that a friend of his gave him an MP3 Fm Modulator that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter. It has a USB input that you can use to plug in a variety of USB devices whose contents are then broadcast over one of seven FM radio frequencies (87.7, 87.9, 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, 88.7, 88.9) through your car's stereo system.

Before introduced the ability to download their audio books and burn them to CD, I had attempted to use several different cassette to MP3 adapters with my MP3 players in an effort to listen to their contents with my car's stereo instead of using earphones (which I think is illegal in this state). None of the brands I tested would work. So I tried an adapter that used the AM radio frequency to broadcast music from a connected player but I couldn't get it to work either.

Part of the problem I had was the inability to set my radio to a particular frequency. The model I have in my Ford Explorer autoscans for broadcasts and apparently did not receive a signal of sufficient strength from the adapter to lock in on the required frequency. I might have the same problem with this device but at least it gives you more frequencies to try.

"Play music from a USB thumb drive or from almost any portable CD, DVD or MP3 player right through your car's radio with the FM audio modulator. It has convenient Play, Stop, and Track selection controls as well as 7 LCD indicators for preset FM frequencies. The wireless modulator lets nearly any USB thumb drive function like an MP3 player and the 3.5mm stereo input jack is great for your iPod or other portable audio devices."