Monday, May 25, 2009

The Pre Gets a Release Date

The Palm Pre Countdown Begins

You may think of it as smarmy or disorganized (I think the latter), but the Palm Pre has been on ice for months now with bits leaked out now and then but no release date or price until last week. Instead, they've been quietly trying to drum up hype for it. I think they honestly didn't know until earlier this month when they were going to release it. Anyway, it's going to be released on Saturday, June 6 for $200 (after a $100 mail-in rebate) with a 2-year contract to an Everything Data plan (which is required for the phone). Also, the fancy wireless Touchstone charger will be available on the same day for $70. In the interest of full disclosure: I fully plan on buying this phone on June 6 (or even earlier in the unlikely case that the lady I spoke with at Sprint today calls me back next week if they get it before June 6). The stores themselves seem to know almost nothing about the release: the store at Westlake Center told me that all they know is that they have to close early on June 5 and don't know when to even open on June 6 (though the store in U Village is opening on June 6 at 10AM - their normal hours).

What's really noteworthy about this announcement that you have to read between the lines for is that it's coming out literally 2 days before details are purported to be released on the next iPhone at Apple's WWDC keynote (see rumors and their reliability here). This topic has been debated for a little while know in anticipation because there are two schools of thought (neither of which I joined). One thought that releasing shortly before the iPhone announcement would keep Palm from being shut out in the aftermath of what's likely to be a deluge of iPhone coverage. The other believed the exact opposite: releasing before the iPhone would mean that it would only be hot for a short time before the iPhone blew it away into disinterest. I'm warming up to the former because I think that Palm and Sprint are relying heavily on guerilla fanfare and word of mouth pitting it against the iPhone. Also, I think that having it out there and a reality poses the situation as "how will the iPhone be able to best the Pre?" instead of "how can the Pre possibly best the iPhone?" Also, people are less likely to believe that the Pre is too good to be true (and, thus, default to the iPhone) if they can touch it in a store. There's risk either way, but hopefully it works out for Palm (I don't care about Sprint, just vaguely about Palm).

The first big smartphone was undoubtedly the Treo, and then came the Blackberry, and finally the iPhone. Can the Pre be next in line? Remember, jockeying to this position has been a bloody battle that neither RIM (with the Storm), nor HTC (with the G1), nor Samsung (with the Instinct) have been able to win. What you have to appreciate about the situation is that this is seriously Palm's last hope to not go bankrupt. If the Pre fails I can all but guarantee that Palm will not be around 18 months from now. They're betting big on the webOS platform and smartly abandoning the outdated and now unpopular Palm OS.

So what do they need to do to hit a home run? First of all, they need to make this thing as available as they possibly can. With an iPhone announcement for an impending iPhone imminent, they cannot afford long shortages. They're not selling a product like the Wii for which there are no equal competitors, and they risk losing people's interest fast. They need to start with a lot of momentum and keep it going forward as they start announcing other webOS phones. The Pre alone cannot save Palm, they need webOS. The Sprint CEO claims that he expects shortages for a while, but it may be presumptuous to think that people will be waiting in line early morning on June 6. I predicted it for the iPhone because of the cult of Apple and because it brought 100% brand new and innovative ideas to the mobile phone market. The Pre has some awesome principles behind it and unique ideas, but not like the iPhone in its day and it doesn't have the Apple brand. I personally think people will wait in line just because the other Sprint phones blow and we've all been waiting for a solid smartphone.

Anyway, the next thing they need is to nurture an open platform. I read on their FAQ that the Software Development Kit (SDK) will be free, which is awesome. They have the start of the forthcoming O'Reily book available freely right now, and I'm really digging it. From what I can tell, they've taken a totally opposite approach from Apple in having the code be standard Javascript and CSS and other technologies familiar to most web developers rather than Objective C (C is no longer the lingua franca of developers, Java is, which is why I still have a soft spot for Android). The fact that they're supporting the Amazon MP3 store right out of the box along with whatever offering I'm sure Sprint will have is already an impressive showing of openness. There has been no talk yet of censorship, either, so this could be a pretty killer combination to do battle with the iPhone application ecosystem. It's still an uphill battle, but they totally have a fighting chance if the SDK is easy to pick up and stays open. I know I said that Android had the potential to someday overthrow the reign of the iPhone OS, but I think the Mojo SDK (that's what they're calling it) has an even better chance now just because the Pre hardware seems to be much better than the G1. Plus, Palm has much more experience in a mobile platform than Apple or Google. I know that Palm OS is fraught with problems, but it was a pioneer much like DOS was back in the day. They were industry leaders once and have the talent to be a platform leader again once more, if they play their cards right (again, uphill battle).

In some ways, they have to be everything the iPhone is and everything that it isn't. I really really hate to keep comparing it to the iPhone. It almost disgusts me to do so, but I have to. Whether or not you like it or own one or like Apple, you have to admit that the iPhone is an incredible device that has literally captivated the world in a way that no cell phone ever has before. To break that spell, the Pre has to show that it can one up Apple. Fortunately, they have an ace in the hole: background processes. What I love from reading the SDK documentation and watching all the videos and reading the reviews is that it seeks to give you a rich experience without the complicated, overbearing interface of the Treo series. Being able to control processes by throwing the "cards" (an instance of an application) is awesome (my Treo crashes so much because the applications just don't get cleaned up). A lot of Apple fanboys claim that background processes are stupid, but they're powerful. That means that even though the Pre has no on screen keyboard right now, it could actually be legitimately added on with a software update. Conversely, copy/paste wasn't possible on the iPhone until Apple did it because you'd need the clipboard to run in a background process. Being able to have flight notifications running in the background or twitter applications or just whatever is really awesome, and they need to capitalize on that. Hopefully, they'll get Flash support soon and try to go for the hat trick.

I think I've gone on quite long enough about the Palm Pre getting a release date. I've just bottled up all these thoughts for a while now and wanted to get them out. I really hope that Palm can recover with the Pre and give Apple some fair competition, especially for their tightly controlled app store. This is the first phone since the iPhone that I truly have believed was going to be a big success (go back in the archives and read, I'm not lying), and I know that Palm is banking on it. Until June 6 though, let's not drink that hype water and just wait to get our hands on it (it'll be a long wait though, I know).

The Digital Afterlife

No, this is not the headline of a Popular Science story. Actually, I'm referring to what happens to your social networking profiles after you die. Someone at my office who was actually only 30 died very suddenly, and it made me wonder (among many things) what would happen to my Facebook profile and my e-mail and all that stuff if I die since no one else knows my passwords. At Facebook, they keep your profile up as a memorial for a couple of months before they take it down (unless family requests that it be left up longer). I guess the idea of a guest book to write down the things you wished you could say to someone before they died isn't a new concept, but I think it's a really good example of how the simplest technologies have transformed our lifestyles, even in death. I'm not implying that a Facebook memorial page is tantamount to an obituary, but it brings up the point that it may add eerie discomfort to have that profile page available. What I'm actually more fascinated by is that you may be more aware of when people die who you weren't all that close to since reading obituaries isn't a very common practice. Just some food for thought.

No Ads for Twitter

I haven't talked very much about Twitter at all here. I don't entertain all the Twitter articles on the fringe about mundane junk. Still, I do want to briefly talk about their lack of a business plan. Co-founder Biz Stone announced that they will not be going down the path of advertising and will instead go down the path of premium tools and services. Some consider this risky, but it's really not all that crazy. I don't think that Facebook is doing gangbusters with its ads, and the way people use Twitter probably doesn't lend itself well to eyeballs for banner ads. I actually buy into the Craigslist model: charge a reasonable rate to the businesses that can afford it so that it can be free for the rest. Maybe they should call this the Robin Hood model? It's admittedly a pretty liberal principle, but a company like Twitter would need something liberal.

Of course, they could also start a Twitter TV channel, like Twitmatic, which allows you to surf videos posted on Twitter via keywords. That's actually one of the few mashups for Twitter that I think is truly neat. Sometimes, you're too lazy to pick something to watch, so just let the community pick for you (in a manner of speaking).

Intel Unveils Moblin 2.0 Beta

Intel has been a key partner of Microsoft for quite a while now, but they've recently decided to try their hand at a customized flavor of Linux called Moblin. Why? Same reason as everyone else who's doing it: more control to optimize for what they care about (probably for the kinds of applications used in benchmark tests to help sell more chips). They want some form of leverage against Microsoft, but I really don't think this is going to do it. I think that pushing Linux to a mainstream consumer audience is prohibitively difficult and usually a bad idea when it's your own blend (even if they did give it to the community to continue working on) rather than one of the big, widely used/supported ones. Windows 7 is bringing in features to try to make it less intimidating to people like burning discs, easily showing content on projectors, a reliable backup utility, and the ability to record problems for easier bug fixing by Microsoft developers. An OS that's only focused on performance though (Moblin) is just way too likely to miss the mark on usability.

Final Stories
the firm
Ok, I'm starting to doze off and I've gone on way too long here. I do have some other stories I liked though, so let me give them to you to read if they pique your interest.

Wired has a good article about why e-Book texts seem so ugly: the firmware usually can't support many fonts, partially because of licensing issues. I wouldn't be too worried though: the text can only get better.

Pandora is predicting its first ever profit this year, partially because of a growing audience (thanks in no small part to the iPhone) and partially through new forms of revenue (like audio ads). I'm just glad that Pandora hasn't had to fold already and hopefully won't have to anytime soon.

Mozilla announced and posted some literature/videos about Jetpack last week, their API for encouraging add-on development using technologies that web developers should already know (kinda like the Pre's strategy). I'm a big believer in add-ons customizing your browsing experience, so this is really cool to me.

Cory Doctorow (founder of Boing Boing) wrote an awesome editorial about why net neutrality is important and censorship is terrible.

CNet posted the winners of the Webware 100, which are the best web applications in 10 different categories. Amazon is on there a few times (Google is on there several times), and it's a great place to start surfing from on a lazy Memorial Day weekend afternoon.

Gmail Labs added automatic translation!

Seattle and Dallas both made PCWorld's list for the 10 best cities to find jobs in tech - you should go over there for the full list if you're looking for somewhere to move to.

Smashing Magazine posted a great lexicon of random web development terminology.

Samsung's LED TVs are going to be nuts.

Hope you all have had a great weekend and are planing on basking in the shortened week!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Note: This is not my standard weekly post - this is a bonus one. To see my regular post, just scroll down past this one.

My Terminator Salvation Review

I terminated 2.5 hours of my overcast afternoon to get to and wait in line for the sneak preview of Terminator Salvation, so I figured that I might as well try to get my review up tonight to help people make an informed, spoiler-free decision this weekend. I know I waited about the length of movie in line, but I did walk into it knowing what to expect and I got exactly that: a summer blockbuster action movie.

The plot is basically what you think it is given the plots of the first two movies (the third one doesn't really count in the continuum of this movie's timeline, from what I remember of it). In the future, the government contracts Skynet for defense technologies, which creates robots that end up becoming self-aware and decide that humanity is a threat on "Judgement Day" and start trying to destroy the entire human population. Unlike the first two movies, which take place because robots from the future travel back in time, this one takes place in the middle of the war with John Connor right in the middle of the resistance as they prepare to attack Skynet. If I tell you any more than that then it would spoil what little there is to be spoiled (but the trailer does spoil quite a bit).

It's really easy to pick apart this movie. Let's face it: it's a hardcore action movie. No one is going to see it for quotable dialogue. Sadly, you never really connect to the characters so you don't care much about them. Character development is slim-to-nil, even with the leading role of Christian Bale as John Connor. Some of the supporting characters give predictably weak performances, most notably Common (although he is very good at hip hop). The only characters I ever felt myself caring about were Sam Worthington's and Moon Bloodgood's (you can just call her my future wife to make it simpler). I'm not even going to get into the scientific impossibilities or inconsistencies in the movie, or its strange idea of time (which differs with Lost and Star Trek). Of course, no one is going to this movie for a character study though or scientific accuracy, so to critique those points would be dumb. You're really going because you want to see this:

You will definitely see a lot of that. Those robots get pretty creepy, so if the robot apocalypse scares you excessively then this is definitely not the movie for you. Seriously, the robots are creepy, and there are some startling moments (not a whole lot, just a few). I definitely don't think the movie is appropriate for any kids younger than 13 (though I think even 15 is kind of pushing it). There's no sex or excessive gore, but there's plenty of violence and the robots are eerie. The dystopian future it paints can just be a lot to handle for a young teenager.

Anyway, the action is definitely stellar. There's also a lot of it. It reminds me of Mission Impossible III since the breaks between action scenes are few and far between, and each action scene is ridiculously intense and has you very anxious. I have to admit that it's a bit of a stressful movie to watch after a full day of work, but it's still fun. The only criticism I can viably make about the action is that at times the characters didn't seem sufficiently scared about the situations they found themselves in, but I could believe that they live in a world where the stuff that happens in this movie just doesn't phase them anymore because they've been totally desensitized to it.

I was sitting in the very front of the theater and I didn't notice any crummy CG. Whatever CG they had was actually pretty believable. They do an incredible job of creating a world and a reality that you believe could happen. I seriously found myself pondering what I'd do to deal with the robot apocalypse at points in this movie. I really wished they took it a step farther and covered a little bit further some of the ethical/logistical issues they touched upon with regard to robots rather than skirting them or handling them awkwardly, but I knew that it really wasn't that kind of movie.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I'm not the pretentious film critic who's going to give this movie an F just because it wasn't the best movie of the year. Sure it didn't measure up to Watchmen or Star Trek, but it was a solid action movie. We live these super busy lives where we don't take a whole lot of time to stop and just rest and enjoy something, and I think that Terminator Salvation, ironically enough, gives us something to enjoy as a fun experience. Assuming that you don't think you're going to have nightmares about the robot apocalypse, I definitely recommend seeing this movie while it's in theaters. I've seen better action movies so I have to give it a solid B-, but I still think it's a very worthwhile B movie.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why the Kindle is the Future of Reading

My Two Cents on the Kindle

Disclaimer: I have no non-public information on the Kindle. I don't even work in the same building as those folks. The following are just my own opinions and do not reflect the opinions of or any of its employees or partners.

I was walking home from the gym a few days ago and was listening to Buzz Out Loud bash the Kindle DX when I reached an epiphany that may be obvious but I wanted to share it anyway: the Kindle is ridiculously forward thinking and will most likely be the future of reading.

I've read several articles and heard multiple podcasts bash the Kindle, and I'm pretty tired of it. I don't own a Kindle, but playing with it for a bit was enough to sell me on it. The first thing wrong with all these "pundits" writing off the Kindle is that they're often not the target audience. Not everyone loves reading, and that's ok. The Kindle is designed for people who love reading. It's not designed to be a super sexy gadget like the iPhone or the Pre or anything like that - it's meant to be as functional as possible. I feel like we've entered a world of gadgets where style taking precedence over substance helps sales, and it sells some reporters on the devices, as well. I don't want to discredit all people that review gadgets, that's just an observation I've made about some of them. I haven't heard anyone who has a Kindle and enjoys reading tell me that they hate it or regretted getting it.

The real point I want to make is that a lot of the best technology starts out unpopular. Do you know why MSN was so late to the game with it's Internet services and web portal? Because Microsoft thought that the Internet was a fad (it's pretty hard to find a citation for this, but he definitely said something to the effect of "The Internet? We're not interested in it"). When most people hear MSN now they probably think of MSNBC, whereas the ISP didn't do all that hot (competing with the likes of AOL and Earthlink) and the web portal never caught up to Yahoo, which never caught up to Google, and the rest is history (although MSN is still around). Nowadays, the odds are slim to none that you'll go through your day without directly or indirectly interacting with the Internet. Our lives basically revolve around it, but I'll get back to this point.

There are a couple of other great examples of technologies that people mocked early on. When Jeff Bezos invented e-Commerce in 1994 with, people thought he was out of his mind. Why would people want to buy stuff online they could drive to their store and get instantly? Why would you buy a book that you can't flip through in a bookstore? And yet, here Amazon stands as a formidable force in retail in the U.S. with a growing presence across the world. The people who doubted Jeff Bezos weren't stupid, they just weren't thinking ahead that far. The DVD format was seen as ridiculous since it required a new player and the discs cost more without a very big jump in quality as far as most people were concerned, and yet now almost every house has a DVD player. Heck, just a couple of years ago pundits thought that the iPhone was prohibitively expensive and no one would want to pay that much money for a smartphone without a keyboard. I think we all know what happened there.

The lesson to be learned here is that you can't believe what you hear in mainstream media - take it with a grain of salt. The common thread is that the doubters weren't forward thinking. The iPhone provided so much value and gave people such a rich experience that price just wasn't an issue to them. The Kindle is expensive, and yet people are still buying them. I don't need top secret information to know that - I see them outside on the bus and at the gym. Amazon sold out of them this past winter. If you don't want to believe that, you have to believe that 35% of sales on all books that have a Kindle edition are that Kindle edition. Books are the bedrock that was founded on, so 35% of a book's sales being for the Kindle is a pretty big deal. As much as all these journalists want to naysay, people aren't being deterred.

So why are people paying so much for a device that serves a single function? In a way, I think it serves a lot of functions. Not to sound like a broken record, but we live in an information society. Think about that for a second. The amount of knowledge we have available instantly at our fingertips has grown dramatically in the past couple of decades. I'd posit that people are actually becoming smarter because even though they haven't to remember less stuff overall since they can always just look it up, they also look up and learn more stuff because they can. We know names of random actors and actresses because of IMDB. Small underground artists are building worldwide fanbases through digital distribution. Let's face it, books aren't as portable as we'd like to think. If we want to read multiple books, we have to carry them in a bag. If you're a student - this really sucks (especially math and science texts). The Kindle not only lets you carry all these books in a thin, easy to carry package, but you can get leverage the Internet to get books directly onto it. Past that though, you can highlight and make notes without damaging the book, and you have more room than just the margins. Plus, you can define words you don't know on the fly (context clues don't always work), and having that kind of power for younger students can really encourage their thirst for knowledge.

If I'm not convincing you by now then maybe I'm just not explaining it right, but the Kindle is an improvement on a dying technology. People just don't have a whole lot of free time anymore. We wait around a lot, or ride public transit, or do other random things where we happened to be free, but it's not really free time. That's why carry mp3 players to fill that time. Books often lose the battle for our time because they're just not as convenient as carrying your iPod. If a Kindle is portable enough to carry to a gym, then it's portable enough for most anything. I fully understand that people love the feel of books, but people love the feel of CDs and yet they're still around while mp3s are popular. Why can't the same be true for books? I think books will die off in favor of digital copies some day, but that's a really long time from now. The Kindle may be a bit ahead of its time, but it's going to take a while for it to really catch on because an e-Reader is such a radical concept. Amazon has just done well because they have the online book store with access from where ever.

As for price: the first iPod and iPhone were expensive at first, too, but the price went down. Same with HD TVs, DVD players, personal computers, laptops, etc. It's going to be a while. For college students, the cost of a Kindle DX amortized over 4 years would easily be cheaper than real textbooks if the cost of these books were maybe half (even without the ability to re-sell books). For grade schools this could put a huge dent in their budgets if they could give each kid one of these and pay less for books (plus the drop in administrative costs if they could be managed remotely). The possibilities for education are really endless, and it's really a lot easier to study if your books are always with you in a portable device. I know I would've gotten more done.

Ok, I think I've gone on long enough. I hope that thoughts haven't been all that scattered, I just feel like I need to stand up for the Kindle because I honestly believe in it. I think that Amazon has been really smart so far in its diversification of not only its stores and acquisitions but also AWS, and I think that the Kindle is another key cog in its future (much like when Apple jumped into mp3 players and cell phones, which ended up re-vitalizing the Mac). The Kindle vision is "every book, every made, in any language, available in under 60 seconds". That vision is immensely inspiring. It feels pie in the sky, but it is possible. I think that alone should be enough to sell people on the idea of the Kindle being the future of reading. The idea of having the entirety of human knowledge available at your fingertips in under a minute is priceless. The Internet has taken us on that path, but it doesn't have the full text of every book every made in any language. The point I really want to get across is that we're at the forefront of an entirely new industry, much like digital music when Napster got big or the beginning of the end of broadcast television as we know it when Hulu came out - savor the moment. Don't buy into the hype and don't buy into the cynics, just be reasonable. That's all I ask.

Microsoft vs. Apple Ads

The advertising war between Microsoft and Apple is alive as well. It was pretty lopsided for a while, probably partially because Microsoft didn't want to seem like it was bullying an underdog, but Apple pushed too hard and woke the sleeping giant. The latest spin out of Redmond (aside from the commercials where people buy cheap PCs) is that it costs $30,000 to fill an iPod. The reason they can get around this with the Zune is that it's subscription-based, which has the advantage that for $15 a month you get all you can eat music plus you can keep 10 of them each month. Anyway, I still thought that this was kind of a stupid tactic from Microsoft, but meanwhile Apple came up with an attack that you couldn't get a PC without the stuff people hate about computers.

Which is a more ridiculous ad? The answer is that they're equally crazy. You may think that the Zune one is more dumb because most people already have a library of CDs and music to fill up their mp3 player with, but the Mac ad doesn't make any sense. Macs aren't as stable as people think they are - if you use certain software you will see crashes. I used iMovie for few months on a Mac Pro last spring and it crashed almost each time I used it. There are definitely security vulnerabilities for Macs, too, and it totally ignores the inflated price of a Mac. I'm not saying that Macs are bad computers, but these ads are slinging mud. They know that people won't fact check, but they're not quite slanderous so Apple can get away with them. My point is simply that when Microsoft comes up with ads like this Zune one, just remember who cast the first stone.

I have one more thing to slip in here: Google started airing a Google Chrome ad created internally by Google Japan just for fun. It's interesting that they care this much about Chrome (what's their master plan?) and that they're using a competing advertising venue to sell themselves.

Facebook's Funny Money

Ok so they don't really call it funny money, but I still can. Facebook is toying with an idea that's certainly not inventive, but it could definitely help them get on the track of a successful business model. They're testing a payments system with developers where virtual money can be used between applications to buy and sell virtual (or I suppose even physical) goods and services. It would make buying stuff easier and safer (like getting a wristband of money at a water park), and Facebook taking a cut of the transactions could help them replace/supplement their oft controversial advertising model with something less obtrusive. I don't really know if it'll work because I don't know if people will really trust Facebook with their money or want to buy what third party developers offer, but I'm definitely anxious to see what happens.

Meanwhile, their employees are going in the opposite direction: having imaginary money turned into real cash. Facebook has sought funding (to the tune of $150 million) from private investors to buy back their employees' stock to keep loyal employees around who have been chomping at the bit for a cut of the profits they were promised but haven't come to fruition quite yet. Won't people leave if they get rich off their stock? More importantly though, isn't this a dangerous financial decision? $150 million seems like a lot of money to bet if they don't come up with a good business model before their star burns out. I hope they know what they're doing.

Final Notes

Aside from being tired from today (didn't sleep enough last night), I think you're tired of reading this post by now (assuming that anyone is actually still reading this). Let me link you to a few other interesting tidbits before I send you on your merry way:

Google has launched a search options feature to try to get themselves closer to real-time search. They're actually pretty nifty.

The CEO of Sony Pictures admitted that he doesn't see anything good as having come from the Internet. You don't have to scroll up very far to get my opinions on the glory of the Internet, but it goes to show how backwards the movie industry can be and why licensing for TV shows and movies and their related properties is so wacky. If their CEO is living in the past then how can they hope to have a future?

The judge in the Pirate Bay trial has been under fire recently for having been involved in a pro-copyright association in Sweden (which he claims didn't bias him), but now they're starting to discover that his appointment may not have been random (as is supposed to be the case in Sweden). The plot thickens! Will it be called a mistrial?

Smashing Magazine has a really well-written article on how to optimize your website's conversion rates with usable designs, and it's full of pretty pictures. I love the concepts they point out here, and I think it's worth a read if you're interested in usability at all.

Coldplay is releasing their live album for free. Enjoy.

I hope you all have a great week! I think I'm going to spend my nights trying to learn how to play this.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

Star Trek [Zero]

I spent two hours on a wonderfully sunny Saturday afternoon to see Star Trek and it was worth every minute/penny. Color me impressed. If you're familiar with the series then you'll probably see several characters you know, just in a younger form:

If you haven't seen the series though then fear not because that's definitely not a pre-requisite. Other than saying that this movie is a pre-quel to the popular old school iteration of the series, there's not much I can say that without spoiling the really fun plot. Having only seen a few episodes of the original series though, I walked out not only pretty impressed and satisfied but I actually wanted to look up old episodes (which are available legally online at Hulu and and others) because it got me really interested in the show's storyline. From talking to my friend who was a fan of the series, I'm not sure how well the plot fits in with the series that succeeds it, but I have a theory that I can't share without spoiling the movie. Anyway, there were several nods to the series to give fans that giddy nerdgasm that you can only get from being in the know on the series.

Every aspect of this movie was really enjoyable. They all came together to make a genuinely fun movie experience. I think almost every actor fit their role very well - especially newcomer Chris Pine as James T Kirk and Zachary Quinto (Sylar) as Spock. By the way, don't look at the IMDB cast list because it has a few spoilers. The plot had a few minor issues, but I didn't find any of them to be dealbreakers. The script was strong, but had a few minor issues (mainly a couple of scenes I didn't think needed to be in there) that I didn't think were very noticeable. Even though it was more than 2 hours long it really didn't feel that long and there was an ample amount of welcome comic relief sprinkled throughout the film. Oh, and the visuals were tasteful and well done. You have to expect a lot of CG in a movie like this, and that's probably the only real downside to the movie. If you're one of those purists who hates seeing CG, then you'll definitely take issue with this.

I highly recommend running to your nearest theater to see this one. I'm actually probably going to pre-order it on Blu-ray, in fact, so that I can watch it again. It's one of those movies where I can't recall all the scenes because there were so many great scenes and they were quite dense. I'd say it's a solid A movie and appropriate for the whole family. There was almost no nudity and no bad language, although the plot may be too complex for some kids.

The Kindle DX

There was a lot of criticism for the Kindle when it came out (both times) for being a bad experience for reading magazines and newspapers, but the DX changes all that. It's a large format (9.7" screen) electronic reader that's really ideal for magazines, newspapers, and textbooks. Additionally, it can show PDFs without having to convert it to the Kindle format, which is because the Kindle 2 screen is simply too small to display PDFs natively without being irritating to browse.

PC World has a great walkthrough of the device showing you everything you could want to know about it. They note that it's still a great travel companion, the navigation joystick is better than before, it has an accelerometer to easily change orientation, and it includes enhanced notation features for textbooks. You can see a lot more about it at its product page (the video tour is pretty neat), but be forewarned that it's not going to be out until later this summer so all you can do is reserve your place in line. It's also pricier at over $400, but I think it has enough features to entice book lovers to give it a shot.

More Microsoft Layoffs

Microsoft promised more layoffs this year and they have, unfortunately, arrived. Approximately 3,000 employees were laid off, but from talking to someone who was laid off in January it sounds like the severance packages are pretty generous and I think many were bright enough to find work elsewhere before their severance runs out. Also, some layoffs are getting re-hired in different parts of the company, and this may be the last of Microsoft's layoffs for the foreseeable future (at least they hope so).

The work on Windows 7 continues though and Gizmodo has a cool little article that's kind of an FAQ for Release Candidate 1 (RC1). It explains things like that it'll work on your computer comfortably through March of next year, the upgrade path is really easy from Vista or the beta, and that the bugs right now seem to be pretty trivial.

ATM and Botnet Scandals

In last week's security news I have two small-time scandals.

The first has probably been going around through people's inboxes (which I think is a bad way to spread security tips, to be honest): having your bank account stolen at an ATM machine. You can see a video here of how a hidden camera over the number pad and an attachment on the card reader can record not only your account number but your PIN. It doesn't appear to be in more than a few places (on the west coast, at that, I believe), but with the Internet spreading an idea like this far and wide, I wouldn't be surprised if it starting popping up in random locations sooner than later so please be on the lookout for it (even at your usual ATM).

Some researchers at UC Santa Barbara hijacked a botnet for 10 days earlier this year to see just how bad they are, and the results were definitely grim. In a single hour the botnet was able to collect 56,000 passwords. Since these passwords were often used at multiple sites, the original hackers were able to steal much more sensitive information from these users, and all via pretty simple crackers designed to break weak passwords. It kind of just shows a common theme in my posts: people have to be responsible when they use their computer online, especially when it comes to their finances. Please, at the least, pick strong passwords and try to rotate them (i.e. change them) at least a couple of times a year.

Quick Stories

I actually don't have much to say about these last stories, but they're still noteworthy:

The MPAA is so backwards that they think teachers should videotape showings of films used for educational purposes rather than rip the DVDs for fair use purposes. Wow. To put together a video explaining how to do this is even worse (almost a slap in the face to teachers).

Trent Reznor made a pretty frustrated post about the Apple iPhone app store and its rejection of an update to the Nine Inch Nails application that allowed you to stream a song that had profanity in it (which you could actually buy through iTunes). I just really liked how straightforward and sensible his arguments were (concise, too).

Vic Gundrota recently left his position at Microsoft as General Manager of Platform Evangelism in promoting their APIs to become Vice President of Engineering at Google. There's a short interview video that's become popular in which he explains that his young daugther's knee-jerk reaction to consult his phone when he didn't know something sparked in him the realization that the personal computer was dying and smartphones were the future. I thought it was a cool epiphany and while I think that personal computers still have a long life ahead of them I agree that smartphones have become more and more pivotal in our everyday lives.

Aleptu has a roundup of some really tricked out keyboards. I'd really like to try the keyless ergonomic keyboard - it sounds pretty interesting (but radical).

Hopefully, data recovery will never be an issue for you. Just in case though, you'll probably want to pay attention to this roundup from Lifehacker of the five best free data recovery applications.

I hope everyone has a great week! If you live in Seattle: sorry, it looks like our week is going to have a pretty rainy start, but we can hope for a beautiful weekend (it looks like it'll be a definitely possibility, and just in time for the cheese festival at Pike Place).

Monday, May 04, 2009

When Brick and Mortar Sells Bricks

When B&M Goes Wrong

Brick and mortar (B&M) retail stores have a distinct advantage over online stores of instant gratification. and other sites can offer guaranteed 2 day and even 1 day shipping, but that's usually a decent premium (unless you're on Amazon Prime, in which case it costs nothing extra at the time of purchase). Nowadays, people seem to be getting used to the idea of waiting more and more for most items. When's the last time you went down to a store to buy a CD or DVD because you just had to have it?

Ok, so what else do B&M stores have on online sites? It's definitely not selection and usually not price, either. Well, they tend to pride themselves on excellent service, right? Having a salesperson there who's knowledgeable enough to help you (though Amazon offers this over the phone) and immediate exchanges and returns. So stuff like this has to hurt them bad. Someone paid a lot of money for a MacBook Pro and got a large brick. Seriously. Best Buy claims that Apple put the brick in the box and decided to point fingers instead of handle the situation. This is a terrible customer experience. The fact that the Consumerist has a piece about how to avoid this situation means that it's actually something to be concerned about. That guy will probably never go to a Best Buy again. Do you want someone who's willing to buy an overpriced laptop from you to never come back to your store again? It's stupid in so many ways, and it shows that there are stores like Best Buy out there that are still living in the past. They think that their antiquated policies are going to continue to work in their favor. If the same situation happened to an customer, they definitely wouldn't get the run-around.

Amazon certainly isn't the only company that's been raising the bar for the retail customer experience, but Best Buy definitely isn't. Neither was Circuit City, whose decision to replace intelligent, commissioned salespeople with high school kids cost them dearly. The newcomers to an industry, especially in retail, may have an uphill battle, but have you noticed that the new guys always work the hardest? Think about how many times in life that's true. A guy who wants to prove himself on a football team is going to work twice as hard as the veterans to earn respect. A company that wants to enter a market with high barriers to entry is going to innovate as much as it can to gain customer respect and trust. Online retail isn't flourishing because of low prices, it's doing well because there are B&M stores just throwing customers away with stupid stuff like this. In the long run, you really want to just replace the brick with a laptop. Sites like the Consumerist have totally changed the game. That can be very dangerous and lead to mob justice, but it can also encourage companies to treat all customers equally and with respect. It's really a lesser of two evils situation, and I pick the public exposure of injustice to get to real solutions - not to get blood.

Windows 7 RC1

Microsoft shipped Release Candidate 1 of Windows 7 last week to MSDN and TechNet subscribers and it will likely be release to the public this week. For the uninitiated: the meaning of a release candidate varies from company to company, but it generally means that the software is potentially shippable barring any further fatal bugs and it's feature complete. So if Microsoft is aiming for a winter release, this would definitely indicate that they're right on track. The word on RC1 for Windows 7 is still very positive. It seems to be more polished, more stable, and unlocks some features that were previously internal only. Even though they're little things, sometimes the sum of a lot of little things can make the difference. Like streaming your home media PC content to another PC right out of the box is pretty awesome, especially for your giant mp3 library (or if you use your computer as a DVR and want to watch your TV shows while you're on a business trip).

What's really interesting is how they've changed their marketing a bit for Netbooks. They'll sell with a stripped down version of the OS with options for online upgrades for a price, which is actually a pretty smart way to try to stay relevant in the netbook market. I don't know if it'll add up to more sales for them, but with the amount of money they're going to make off of enterprise users (and education), I'm sure they're not going to be hurting for sales.

Oh, and there are a lot of new wallpapers (some of which may or may not be laced with LSD) with Windows 7 (30 with RC1), including this awesome Seattle shot:

It's a reflection of the Space Needle in the Experience Music Project. I don't know what about the Space Needle makes it so photogenic - it's certainly not extraordinary in height, but it is very cool.

Microsoft Vine

Also new out of Redmond this week was Vine: Microsoft's crack at a social networking site. And get this: it's not free. How's that for a different business model? They're part of the school of thought that there hasn't been a good advertising model ironed out for social networking because none exists. They're going for a subscription based model where the basics are actually free. It's targeted at public offices to help spread information during emergencies and such (like, you know, a possible pandemic). It aims to be available by as many means as possible to make it a reliable way to send and receive information during these situations. You could also send alerts to friends and family: like that you're going to be late for dinner because of traffic.

It's actually not a terrible idea, to be honest. I would use this service because I never know when stuff is happening in the city that's going to totally screw with traffic. My GPS usually knows, smaller street closures sometimes aren't covered, and there's no way to know information like that, or when a freeway ramp is closed for the part of the day you need it for, or something like that.

More on the Pirate Bay

The verdict is now in English, so we have all the dirt on what happened in the sentencing of 4 Swedish guys who started possibly the biggest haven for illegal torrents in the world. The documents revealed the confiscation of all their equipment, the confiscation of illegal narcotics (who it belogns to is debatable), the fact that 3 of the guys' lawyers were hired by the government for a substantial amount of money, the court's argument against the Google defense (that the Pirate Bay made it easy to find specifically illegal content whereas it was just a side effect on Google), and that Sweden provided no safe harbor from prosecution from foreign governments because the site admins flagrantly denied the rights of foreign copyright holders. Still, the Pirate Bay's appeal is in progress and they've already changed the ownership of the site's IP addresses to the prosecuting lawyers to prove that the RIPE whois database is not the ultimate source of information on website ownership.

Palm EOS

There are pretty strong rumors now of a new Palm phone running WebOS coming to AT&T called EOS that may be to the Pre what the Centro is to the Treo: a more stripped down version for more average users. It looks pretty nice and its specs include 4GB of storage, a 2MP camera (with flash and video capture), a capacitive display, and more. It looks very slick to me, but, much like the Palm Pre's release date, we're still awaiting an official announcement. The wait for the Pre is killing me, by the way. If it sucks I'm going to buy a Blackberry, if not then I'll get it. Either way, I'm going to do something terrible to my stupid Treo before July once I replace it.


There are a few pieces of news that just speak for themselves:

Coldplay is going to be releasing a live album for free in a couple of weeks. Concertgoers will get a copy in hand, but everyone else will just download it. I just think that rocks.

Gmail Labs now has Google search from right within Gmail. I wonder if they're going for one new labs thing a week?

Maximum PC has a pretty sweet guide on decoding Blue Screen of Death problems in Windows. It's a must-bookmark for PC users. By the way, Mac users have BSoD also, it's just a screen cap instead of a blue screen.

Here is everything you could ever want to know about BitTorrent.

Tech Radar has some pretty cool tips on breathing life into an old website

Have a great week, everyone! Or at least as great as it can be while waiting for the glorious release of Star Trek. I'm going to be playing with my new toy, and I'm very excited about it.