Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's Not Over...

Sorry I've been away for so long. I haven't given up on this blog, life has just made having time for it a challenge. It has taken me longer and longer to put together these posts and I think it's time to reboot how I do this blog. I want to try posting on a less regular schedule (i.e. not every Sunday, maybe Wednesday or Thursday or something sometimes) and focus on specific issues . Covering all the news that interests me is just too much and I think not providing a lot of value - I much prefer giving developed commentary on the big things.

Stay tuned - I want to start posting again very soon. It may start out bi-weekly and improve over time.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Lots of Cell Phones

Cell Phone News Galore

Sorry I haven't been around the past couple of weeks - life has been busy! I was out of town on business a couple of weekends ago and had a wedding to go to last weekend. Should be back in action for a while now though!

I've seen a ridiculous amount of cell phone news in the past couple of weeks, hence the headline. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is because we're nearing the holiday season that so many phones are coming out of the woodwork.

Verizon has added a feature to its Android devices much in the vein of what Apple gives iPhone users with Mobile Me. If you lose your phone you can have it play a really loud noise (even if its volume is down) or turn on GPS and track. Like many other phones, it also supports remote wipe. Unlike Apple's Mobile Me, this service is free. Gotta love competition!

HTC has officially unveiled the Desire HD, which was hotly anticipated by some Android fans and looks pretty damn slick. It has a 4.3" screen and an 8MB camera, and the specs are pretty tricked out with a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, and 768 GB of RAM. Plus, it supports microSD.

When you instead look at the Nokia E7, you can see why Nokia still doesn't have a foothold in America. I feel like their designers are living in 2006 or something. Sure, it has a 4" screen and 8 MP camera, but a phone with an angled slideout keyboard is something you'd see in a movie and seems like it would be cool but practically probably sucks. Also, the software doesn't seem very impressive. If you can't beat Android then why even try? Maybe I'm biased because I've never understood Nokia UIs.

That right there is the rumored Samsung Continuum phone. What's super fascinating about this phone is that it sports not one, but two OLED screens. Why would a phone need two screens? It's actually rather clever - the bottom one is like a news ticker for updates and notifications you can subscribe to and would show up when you put your hand on the device. Aside from being nifty, it'd save you battery life on checking that kind of stuff without firing up the whole main screen.

Last, but not least, two mystery webOS 2.0 devices are rumored to be getting announced this month. I may be the only person who cares about this, but I still love the webOS software and just need better hardware.

Internet Explorer 9

Internet Explorer 9 is on the horizon (like every other Microsoft product, they have to put in 3 years of development time), and some of the upcoming features truly are noteworthy. Apparently, the integration with Windows 7 will be tighter than in IE 8 including the ability to pin websites to your taskbar. What's really cool though is a performance advisor that tells you how much load time each add-on you have tacks on to your clicks. The other features are improvements from Chrome or Firefox: searching within the address bar, new tabs showing you most frequently viewed sites (color coded though), and a more compact interface. In a lot of ways, it looks like a Chrome clone to me; I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Must be surreal for Google since Internet Explorer is the top dog for browsers.

Apple TV is Out

The Apple TV is now available and PC Mag put up a review with plenty of footage of the UI. As you would expect, it's slick and simple like the first generation. In fact, just think of the UI as that one with just some added features. I acknowledge that this is a cool device at $99, but it bothers me that it doesn't have a hard disk. It would be so cool (though I know, impossible) if you could rip Blu-rays and DVDs to it so that it'd be like your traveling media hub. I wonder if the Boxee Box is dead in the water at $200 though it supports 1080p and is more open.

Digg Traffic Down

Anecdotally, the Digg redesign wasn't very well-received, but now we have metrics that traffic has dropped 26%. Despite popular belief, most of that traffic did not go to Reddit. That's a really significant drop and I think there are a couple of really important lessons to learn here. The first lesson is that they didn't have their biggest users test this out. That was stupid - they would've caught the problems in the redesign immediately. Secondly, they added the functionality of following people without including the old Digg - there was no good reason to do that. The experiment alone would've been valuable and it may have even succeeded comparing the two. Instead, they alienated a very loyal user base.

Additionally, it sounds like Kevin Rose may be leaving Digg due to burnout. He said they could've been bought out for $80 million but the board turned it down. Too bad, because they're in a rather precarious position now.

Galaxy Tab and Blackberry Playbook

In tablet news, Digital Trends got some hands on time with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and it looks cool. It's funny that the Desire HD is actually more powerful, but the specs aren't bad. I haven't seen pricing information, but I wonder how it'll fare against the iPad now that a lot of tablet enthusiasts have already picked that up.

Meanwhile, Blackberry has announced the Playbook, a QNX-based tablet to be released next year. They're developing QNX with full support for Javascript, HTML 5, CSS 3, and Adobe Air. I'm going to guess that they're going to push hard on video conferencing and other business-oriented features here, but it may be too little too late depending on how late into next year it's going to come out.


Music download sales are flat right now, which doesn't seem all that odd to me. It's a pretty mature industry now, how much should it be growing, especially given that the holidays are just around the corner?

Netflix is going to start streaming a bunch of NBC content, including every season of SNL. Given that SNL used to be so much better than it is now, that's pretty big news.

Google wants to replace JPEG with a more efficient format: WebP. If anyone can force a new image standard, it'd probably be Google.

The Super Mario Brothers anniversary was a couple of weeks, so please enjoy this belated bit of anniversary nostalgia. So many memories of being a preteen.

Have a fantastic week!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Censorship in the US

What do Rackspace and Medal of Honor have in common?

These are big enough stories that you probably do know what they have in common. While this topic is a bit more political than I like to get, they're probably the biggest things to get noticed last week.

Medal of Honor, which I played at PAX and was quite fun, has been getting a lot of attention for the ability to play as the Taliban. This is only in multiplayer so it's not like you play a single player campaign trying to bomb an American landmark or something, but has ruffled quite a few feathers. It's been banned from American military bases, in fact. This strikes me as especially ironic because these guys go out and fight to preserve our freedom and for the freedom of others - whether you politically agree with what they've been sent to do or not, they serve their country with honor and believe in this freedom. Yet, they don't get the freedom to play this game. I know you give up some rights when you're on a military base, I totally understand that, but they might as well start outlawing war movies, right? How is that different from a game? An immersive movie can be just as powerful as a video game. Video games are an artform and should not be considered a second class citizen in today's media, it's not fair. I applaud EA for sticking to their guns. You can play as the Axis Powers in World War 2 games and you see things from Hitler's side in the movie Downfall, so why is it so wrong to play a game with the Taliban? It's not my cup of tea, but this clamoring for stores to not sell it is effectively censoring freedom of speech for EA, and it's not right.

In a totally different arena, Rackspace has denied service to a church that was planning to burn copies for the Koran. At first reaction, I'm totally with you: burning Korans is hateful and terrible. And yet, the right to peacefully assembly is what America is all about. Who is Rackspace to judge this church? I can appreciate the right of a business to refuse service to anyone, but being a service provider as Rackspace is, they're in a unique position. They may not be the only game in town, but they shut off this church's primary voice to the world. Imagine if Wal-marts started refusing service to Catholics because they don't believe in the death penalty. How different is that from this situation? In some places, Wal-mart is the primary source of a lot of random stuff, much like service providers like Rackspace. Their power is larger than that of a lot of companies because of this.

Maybe I've opened up a can of worms here, but I just believe in freedom of speech. Call me a wide-eyed optimist if you want, but I love this country and stories like this kind of suck.

G2 and Milestone 2 Announced

The cell phone is taking a cue from the movie industry with all these sequels they're coming out with. Motorola's Milestone 2 is a slick-looking slider phone that looks to be targeted more towards Europe and will be released there this fall. Of more interest to us is probably the T-Mobile G2, which is the first HSPA+ (basically, T-Mobile's 4G). Apparently, it has an unusual flip keyboard of sorts. The hardware under the hood sounds pretty similar to the Milestone 2. Aren't there processors other than the Snapdragon?

In more interesting mobile news, Nokia has replaced their CEO with a Microsoft exec. I do not know why they think he'll do any better, but I guess anyone else is better with the rut that Nokia has been in. To be honest though, Nokia needs something pretty drastic to get back in the game, at this point they need to take some pretty large risks. To go from having more than half the market cornered to 34% in 4 years is pretty bleak.

Apple Changes App Store Rules

I don't fully understand this, but Apple has decided to lax their app store rules a bit by not restricting the development tools used to create iPhone apps. This has prompted Adobe to go back to work on Flash for the iPhone. This doesn't mean the browser will display Flash, only that Flash-based applications will start appearing in the app store. There's speculation that the about face was from the antitrust investigation that Adobe is said to have instigated, but the investigation hasn't stopped as a result. I'm really curious to see if this will really create many more quality iPhone apps - Flash just doesn't seem as big of a development tool as it did even 5 years ago, but it's hard to predict where developers will hang their hat. It's a very fast-changing industry.

The Rest

Alright, I have to work on a speech so it's time to wind down.

Kevin Rose spoke a bit about the Digg issues on Diggnation and it didn't help their case tremendously because it made their engineers look like they didn't prep well for the v4 upgrade. If Digg were to add a tab to also show the old Digg they'd be doing just fine right now with their users.

If you're confused between Apple TV and Google TV, this is a pretty good article breaking down how they're conceptually different products altogether. Personally, I pictured what Google TV is purported to be to be where TV was going, but I like the idea of renting shows (especially if there are marathon sales).

This seems like old news now, but GMail released Priority Inbox to all users last week (not just Google Apps users as the week before) and it's pretty sweet. I've been using it and it's the biggest improvement GMail has had probably since Google Chat.

Google also released Google Scribe to help auto-complete everything.

This is old but I forgot to cover it last week: Google posted resources online to help with teaching computer science. Very cool stuff.

Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, September 06, 2010

PAX 2010

My PAX 5

This was my third year going to PAX and it was a blast, as always, albeit exhausted (I counted having played over 30 games on the show floor). I feel like last year was a little better because there were more games I was pumped to see and less people there, but this year was bigger (the main theater was moved out of the convention center to Benaroya Hall - maybe it'll be the Paramount next year). Anyway, per tradition, I'd like to list out the top 5 games that I saw. I obviously didn't play everything and I'm not a journalist so I just did what I could with the schedule of stuff I wanted to see.

5. Infamous 2 - I was a little surprised how much fun this was to play. It was just a very satisfying experience overall and the controls just seemed to click with me, possibly better than with other people. The demo showed off how the camera does some automatic camera zooms for stylistic fighting, which I could see getting annoying after all, and it showed off a fair bit of rampant destruction of the city at your hands. I didn't really play the original, but I'll have to keep my eye on this.

4. Star Wars Force Unleashed 2 - My friend doesn't agree with me on this, but I think Lucasarts made an enormous improvement over the original here. The demo of the original was so bad that I didn't even finish it - I just couldn't get force grip to go my way. Ultimately, force grip is very hard to nail down with a normal game controller and may be better for something more like the PS Move controller where you can gesture in 3-D space. Anyway, the demo they had was pretty long and I had a ton of fun tossing around storm troopers and just being a Jedi (or is it Sith?) badass. Give this one a try before you knock it.

3. Epic Mickey - I think fanfare was low for this one because it's a Disney game rather than a big video game property. Still, I thought it was pretty creative. The graphics weren't that great (better than I expected for the Wii), but the gameplay was something different and I, for one, appreciated that. I don't think Disney games appealing to an older audience are so common that this game is a write-off. The visual style is superb and it brought back so much nostalgia of playing Mickey Mania back in day, even though it has nothing to do with it. Anyway, the game hinges on you using a paint brush to thin out (i.e. remove) pieces of the world or painted in parts that are missing. It lends itself to some great puzzle elements so I'd probably call it an adventure game more than anything else.

2. Donkey Kong Country Returns - If there's one game that Wii owners need to look forward to, it's this one. I adored this series growing up. I didn't own any of them, but I rented and beat each of them (actually rented from Phar-mor, remember when they existed?). My heart grew three sizes seeing the love they put into bringing this franchise back. It's so great that they preserved the 2-D nature of the game while upgrading the graphics (very well, I might add, despite being on the Wii). The gameplay felt just as cute, clever, and fun as it did growing up, and I definitely see it being a great party game (well, a party for nerds, that is).

1. Portal 2 - Even though it wasn't playable, this game looks like it's what we've been patiently waiting for since Portal came out what seems like forever ago. Aside from being more of what we came to know and love, it has co-op (including the ability to hug - chest bump will probably be in Portal 3) and newer guns (actual I think from Tag, which I covered last year) for painting surfaces to make you faster or bounce around, etc. The only problem was that the puzzles seemed very difficult, but I imagine it'll be back next year since they have over a year to go on it. That'll give them a chance to make it even longer and see people struggle with how difficult the puzzles are (or, hopefully, to make it easier to chew for more gamers).

I do have a few honorable mentions that didn't make the list:

  • Duke Nukem Forever was the biggest news of PAX, by far. That's right, after 10+ years, they really are doing a sequel to the iconic FPS Duke Nukem 3D. It didn't make my list because I didn't wait in the 2-4 hour line to play it. I decided that my priorities lied in other stuff going on during PAX. My friend played it and it convinced him to pre-order it as soon as he can. It's apparently just as fun as it used to be with the humor intact and much longer. This game stands to be pretty huge though, especially judging from the great lengths people went through to play it at PAX. I managed to find some probably illicit videos of it online and it definitely looks awesome, but I can only imagine the outcries against it when it comes out given how crude it is. They should be releasing videos soon for the rest of us to see it - it doesn't seem to be vaporware this time around though. By the way, I think this was the first major game to be announced at PAX, which is a pretty awesome achievement for what started as a tiny indie games expo in Bellevue.

  • LittleBigPlanet 2 was fun, but my playtime with it didn't involve much of the super new stuff, I'm afraid. The level we played was trying to protect these Sackbots and it was very cute. The new costumes were also really neat. I can't say I'm amped for this game since it's nothing revolutionary, but I will be getting it at some point because it's looking very good.
  • Killzone 3 deserves a shout-out because (aside from them giving out the best quality shirts) it was so fun we played it twice. The graphics were some of the best on the show floor. I wasn't sure whether to put it on my list at #5 or not, but ultimately it was just another FPS. It was neat how you chose a class and had abilities based on that class, like cloaking and stuff, and the gameplay modes were cool, but nothing really new. Just a triple A FPS. They did have it in 3-D and with the Move controller, but I played some third person shooter in 3-D and it hurt my head - I didn't bother trying with the Move controller.
  • NBA Jam is back, and playing it very much took me back to middle school where I used to play it all the time when guests my age came over. It's as fun an arcade basketball game as ever, and actually transferred pretty well, visually, to the Wii.
  • I'm not big on action games, but I thoroughly enjoyed Marvel vs. Capcom 3, even if I did get owned. The character models and gameplay are the high quality you'd expect from this series.
  • Similarly, Mortal Kombat was a return to form. You can see some footage of it here - fatalities are back and bloodier than ever. A couple of them were so disturbing I shudder to describe them - no one under the age of 17 should be in the same room as this game's disc, but it will be a great ride for the rest of us.
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was playable in multiplayer and, while the graphics didn't impress me, it was fun. I think it would get repetitive after a while because it's just about trying to stay hidden until you find your target and kill them, but it seems like something that would be fun once in a while. You get a new target once you kill yours, but of course you're also someone else's target and have to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious since there are clones of all the players walking around under AI control that are not actually assassins.
  • I didn't get any time with the Kinetic, but I tried out the Playstation Move a bit and it seemed fun. Not really a game changer, but I noticed better accuracy than with the Wiimote. Supposedly, it's hit or miss and I only played one game with it, but we'll see what happens with it.

And a few dishonorable mentions, real quick:

  • Bethesda really missed with Hunted. It's a medieval take on Army of Two with very clumsy controls. Nothing at all was compelling about this game, and it actually froze before we could finish the demo. I was actually glad it froze so I could leave.
  • I don't know why Sega was showing off Conduit 2. If anything, they should lock it away in a box so no one knows it exists. Aside from being by far the ugliest game I saw all weekend, the controls were really bad and the AI was even worse. Nothing redeemed this Wii FPS, except that you could relax your frustrations by moving three steps to the left to try out Sonic Colors, which is classic Sonic in 3-D and on speed.

PAX Keynote

Warren Spector, associated with many great classic games including Deus Ex and Wing Commander, gave the keynote this year and it was the best PAX keynote I've seen (I never saw the Wheaton one). Unfortunately, there's not a video online yet with the most poignant part of his speech, but he basically made the claim some considered quite bold that video games are the medium of the century much like books were ages ago and movies were last century. Every new form of media faces resistance before it makes it big, and video games are growing to the point that they're becoming the ultimate multimedia experience. I've always considered them to be that way because of the ridiculous music quality and, often, voice acting nowadays, but the growth of PAX and the revenues of the industry as a whole are proof that it's becoming more and more mainstream.

He also went into a diatribe, and rightly so, about a case that has reached the Supreme Court on whether video games can be censored by the government (i.e. what games can and can't be sold). It will effectively revoke the right of free speech to video games if the governator wins, and single-handedly bring the industry to its knees. Please join the fight for rights for video games - it's not fair for the government to tell us what we can and can't create if it doesn't have a net negative effect on society.

Real Tech News

Ok, so quite a bit of stuff happened last week, and yet I'm out of time here. I had a bigger to do list today than I was hoping for and I already have spent way too much time on this post, so I'm going to quickly touch on what I thought was the biggest stories from last week before I wrap this puppy up.

Apple had a big press event where the main thing announced was a new Apple TV at a $99 price point and integrated with Netflix and TV show rentals (just $1), as well as YouTube and Flickr. It seems like a device that would've saved Blockbuster if they thought of it two years ago. There's also a new shuffle (with buttons) at $50 for 2 GB, a stupidly small iPod nano with touchscreen starting at $150 for 8 GB, and a new iPod Touch in line with the new iPhone starting at $230. You can drill into these things in more detail here, but I personally am impressed by the Apple TV offering and I think it totally stands a fighting chance against Roku (that's the only direct competitor it really has, to be honest). There's also some silly social networking music thing they're trying to do and a new iTunes with somewhat strange UI choices.

Palm is working on version 2.0 of webOS and the biggest improvements are card grouping (kind of like on Windows 7 task bar does with windows) and a display when docked that passively shows information (I assume stuff like stock tickers and news headlines). Other cool features under-the-hood: outside developers can extend Synergy for better integration with your address book, background services can be written in Javascript (leads to performance improvements over Java and easier to write for many mobile developers versus C), and applications can provide information to make their data searchable from global search. I really hope it's not too little too late because I love webOS from a user experience standpoint.

Say goodbye to national broadband - it's just not feasible.

Gmail has launched the coolest feature it has released in a while: Priority Inbox. It has an algorithm for figuring out what mail is most important to you and bubbling that up to the top above your mailing lists and other junk based on your behaviors and what it knows are sites just selling you stuff, but you can also add in your input to help the algorithm out. I've been using it and have been very impressed - it's really helping me manage my unread items better because you can create subsections within your inbox view and stack them however you want.

I'll leave you with this awesome video from PAX. If you liked it, please support Paul & Storm (you'll have to click through it to YouTube to play in HD - it won't fit in my layout at that size):

Monday, August 30, 2010

Traitorware From Apple

Apple's Odd Patent

It was kind of a slow news week, and when that happens there's always some interesting incendiary anti-Apple article to talk about. I'm going to start out by saying that the EFF calling a patent Apple filed "traitorware" is going a bit far - after all, it's not even a real product yet. Still, it's an interesting solution to the problem of theft.

In a nutshell, the patent is to use things like taking a picture, measuring various biometrics, GPS coordinates, voice recognition, whether your phone is jailbroken, and/or keystrokes to determine if you're the one using your device. The article from Computer World focuses a lot on jailbreaking for some reason - Apple can already technically remote wipe your device if they know it's jailbroken - not even they're crazy enough to do something like that though. The real issue is that giving them that level of information about you is scary. Your heart rhythm is pretty private health information - can you trust Apple with something like that? What's even scarier is the prospect of them collecting this information without you knowing about it. Doesn't this all seem to be going a bit far in the name of identifying unauthorized users of your device? Not if you think of it as their device that you're borrowing instead of your device, which may be their mindset.

The point that I'm trying to make in a somewhat roundabout way is that technology is a wonderful, magical thing, but it's up to us to keep advancements in technology in check. The EFF is just trying to sound the alarm on this issue early. If we don't speak up when scary stuff like this happens, we get on a slippery slope of trading away our privacy for less important advancement in software. Apple has not implemented this yet and it's very possible that they never will, but if they do then how will you react? Will you continue to support them?

Net Neutrality Worst Case Scenarios

In the wake of all this Verizon/Google net neutrality stuff, Mashable put together a few frightening and (mostly) believable scenarios of a world without net neutrality. It's funny that the first two relate to the progression of TV, which has clearly evolved into a far from a consumer-friendly industry ripe with petty fighting and unreasonable pricing.

A couple of the situations are on the other side. The government could go power crazy and over-regulate the Internet, but I think that there are too many Internet lobbyists to alow something like that to happen. There is an argument to be made for the fact that the amount of wireless spectrum available is limited, but I don't think that rules out a net neutral WiMax network if built correctly (not an expert in wireless communication though). I know that Verizon disagrees, but I don't understand how constrained capacity means that you can't send bits faster instead of just more bits at once.

In any case, I think people would have less problems with nominal wireless network management from Verizon if it was more clearly defined as really benefiting the greater good and being abundantly transparent. When you throw in clauses to add tiered services, you lose a lot of points even if there can be some argument made for wireless network management.

Galaxy S

That's the line of Samsung Galaxy S phones, and it looks like every major network gets one, though there are tiny differences between them, like 4G on the Sprint one or better battery life on the T-Mobile one. I personally think that the keyboard on the Sprint Captivate model is really cool because most Android phones lack a physical keyboard, but all 4 are probably the sexiest phones Samsung has come out with in a while. What's interesting is that these are much more multimedia focused than other models, which makes sense since Samsung is known for superior video and audio quality. Maybe they'll be able to attract more 3-D games to Android. In any case, they're definitely devices to keep on the radar.

Netflix for the iPhone

This is one of those things that I think really helps sell iPhones: Netflix has made an app for streaming some of their movies directly to your iPhone. It's apparently not quite optimized yet, but I think this is a pretty big deal since it's yet another way to consume movies aside from their ideal venue (a move theater). It just goes to show how much that industry is evolving as much as the MPAA has tried to resist it (obviously certain studios do get it for this app to exist at all). Of course, you could have probably also guessed that from Blockbuster's current problems.

Digg v4

Digg got a face lift last week, and I personally really like it. Public opinion has been mixed, but I think change is always like that on the Internet. I think they've done a really great job trying to innovate in the news aggregation space by taking into account the people that you actually care about. It applies the technology you use to get from useless information from your Facebook feed to information that you should care about: actual news. It's still a little rough around the edges, but I do hope that it works out in the end for Digg.


Just a few one-liners:

Beware of HDMI cables upselling you on their refresh rate - it's all marketing lies.

This is a pretty interesting article on what fields of study Computer World thinks will be useful for getting a job in the future.

For a bit of cell phone nostalgia, you'll appreciate these old school ads.

This year was the biggest price hike yet for movie theater tickets, mostly because of 3-D. Ouch. When I was growing up, a movie was just $6!

Last but not least, the new Kindle is out!

Have a fantastic week!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Google and Verizon Sold Out the Internet

Net Neutrality Under Fire

I don't know what's more sickening, the proposal I have to talk about here or the fact that it's not likely that enough people are going to care about it to stop it. Google and Verizon have made a joint policy proposal that dresses itself as supporting net neutrality though it really smacks it in the face. It supports great ideas like transparency, protection of customers' right to send what they want over the wire, granting the FCC power to regulate the broadband access (but not its content), a commitment to using the fee on consumers' phone bills to help build a nationwide broadband network, and non-discrimination of traffic that would hurt competition. However, it only supports these things for wired networks, and given the pervasive nature of mobile Internet access and the hopeful future of 4G, this is a pretty enormous loophole. It's also conceptually silly to divide the Internet into wired and wireless where one of the two becomes a second class citizen. They claim this is because of the way that wireless works, but that's a total cop out. There's also other not-so-exciting provisions including the ability to create a separate network that an ISP can charge extra for if it's different from regular Internet access (whatever the Hell that means) and the power of network management to improve service quality. Network management assumes a lot of trust in companies that have traditionally only screwed their customers. In any case, isn't network management just a back door out of actually improving their networks to not need such management?

Senator Al Franken has rightly lambasted the agreement and called out how laughable some of the details are. I think his most potent argument is that it doesn't make sense that the major players in an industry get to write the rules on how they operate. Another really going point he brought up is regarding the future of what can happen if we let these companies do what they want.

Make no mistake, Google and Verizon have sold us out to ensure their success - they've shown that they don't care what's best for the continuation of innovation on the Internet. They're carving up the rules in a way that favors what's sure to be most profitable in the coming decades while making concessions to simply wired Internet. An Internet that's not neutral puts in danger free competition on the Internet by creating tiers to protect the websites that are already doing well without giving competitors a fighting chance. Write to your congressmen and tell them that this policy does not make any sense.

Xbox Live vs. Android Mobile Gaming

Engadget got the scoop on the set of launch titles for Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 and it's not a bad list, but definitely nothing to stop the presses for. To be fair, we still haven't seen footage of Halo: Waypoint, Star Wars, or Castlevania, so Microsoft hasn't shown all their cards yet. Supposedly, performance is pretty solid, but I didn't see anything showing off what separates it from the iPhone, Android, or Palm Pre (which has a surprising number of 3-D games). What happened to the Xbox 360 integration that was demoed months ago?

Comparatively, there's very strong rumors of a Sony Ericsson phone that crosses a touchscreen Android phone with a PSP Go sliding controller. Heavy hitter franchises seem to be part of the equation including LittleBigPlanet and God of War. Given that the PSP already integrates with the PS3, if Sony can pull off an Android device that integrates with the PS3 with really strong titles, they could beat Microsoft to the punch and really put together a compelling product for casual gamers and hardcore gamers.

I don't think video games are something that should be underestimated when it comes to mobile platforms - when you look around in meetings and on buses, you see people playing games on their phones a lot. It's a burgeoning industry and that's why the iPhone got on the bandwagon with partners like EA very early on.

More Droids

After about a year now, the Droid 2 is finally here, which is the true successor to the original Motorola Droid phone since it has an improved physical keyboard. It seems to improve upon the Droid, which was already a pretty highly celebrated phone, in every way including the screen and camera.

Meanwhile, the R2-D2 Droid was announced. It will be available next month only and only online, so it'll be a true collector's edition type of phone. I think this is kind of weird - as cool as it is to have a unique phone, I'd be afraid of buying a phone that there's so few out there for Verizon to care about supporting. Of course, there's enough Star Wars geeks out there that this thing will almost surely sell out.

Facebook Places

After much talk and speculation, Facebook's Places API for geolocation check-ins has been announced and is now available to play with. It's supposed to play nice with Gowalla and Foursquare, but I can't imagine that those two companies don't feel threatened. Foursquare believes that it's a different enough product to co-exist with Facebook Places, but given how much more pervasive Facebook is, it'll be interesting to see what really happens. As silly as it may seem, these services have a lot of potential in that it's something that small businesses can really sink their teeth into, but their profitability is still yet to be fully mined.

Google TV Struggles

Google TV was announced not too long ago as a product that basically mashed up Chrome, Google, YouTube, and your TV to provide a rich television watching experience. Apparently I was one of only a few who thought this was a compelling concept if done right. So far not so good for Google as they struggle to sign on partners. They'd like to have content owners share information to help Google link live television with offerings on these content owners' websites, but traditional media still isn't sold on the profitability of what Google is setting out to provide.

Maybe Google needs better TPMs - how do you get this far in a product (i.e. as far as telling the public about it) without having dug into the feasibility of support from the people whose support you'd need? It may be that this is ahead of its time, but I think Google may have known it was kind of pie in the sky and that it could take years to really get off the ground - Google is the sort of company with the resources to be in it for the long haul. I really do hope they pursue it - I think getting video on demand to work well in the living room has been a struggle for everyone, including Apple, but each company to try makes a small dent in it.

The Small Stuff

Just a few quick articles in closing:

Gizmodo has an awesome article explaining common symbols, like USB and Bluetooth and other such techie things. They're not at all things you'd guess unless you really knew the inside story.

This is an awesome parody trailer of The Social Network substituting Twitter for Facebook. Even though I think The Social Network will be terrible (not even David Fincher can salvage that idea), I have to give props for its trailer being pretty good.

Speaking of Facebook, Giga Om has an interesting piece talking about why so many Facebook employees who have been there from the beginning are leaving now. It's mostly normal stuff when a new company starts to age, I don't think it's particularly telling.

If you know of any kids who show an interest in computers then please direct them to one of these tools to help teach kids the fundamentals of programming. It's like giving a kid lego blocks - they're the tools to build what's in their heads.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I really was hoping to get to a full post this week, but a number of things have come up that I'm not at liberty to talk about and so I'm at the point now that I'm past the point of exhaustion. Still, I do have some words in my head that I feel are worth giving up sleep to share, so I hope you'll enjoy my review of Scott Pilgrim.

Best Comic Movie Ever
It was with very little fanfare that I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on opening night. The ads were never really appealing to me and I felt like Michael Cera was being typecast so I figured this movie would be a flop. Still, there was enough positive buzz that I agreed to come along when a friend wanted to go and I'm floored at how opposite of a reaction I had to this film. Not only is it probably the biggest surprises of my life as far as movies go (not plot-wise, just in my feelings about it), but it's hands down one of the most fun experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.

The plot of Scott Pilgrim is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the trailers: Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, who has fallen in love with a very alluring girl who, as it so happens, has 7 evil exes who have banded together to ensure that no one dates her if they can't. You really have to go into the movie accepting that this is the plot because it's not anything deeper than that, and that's a big part of what I love about it. This is one of the few movies I've seen in a long while that understands exactly what it needs to do and really nails it. It focuses on a few things and blows them out of the park. So even though the romance story is never fully fleshed out, it's the first movie I've seen that has felt like a comic book and a video game have come to life, slept together, and produced a child on the big screen.

I don't know how true it is to the comic book, but that's irrelevant because it stands on its own as something really smart if you can appreciate the references and things it tries to parody. You don't have to be a gamer or a comic book fan to enjoy the film, you're just guaranteed to love it if you are either. I never thought I'd see a movie that got so many things right about video games - everything from nonsensical fights to collecting coins where it doesn't make sense to a ton of subtle things that are just elegantly done. It's either subtle or obviously over-the-top, it never beats a joke to death. I laughed a lot - from even before the movie formally started - but I also saw very few promotional materials.

Aside from those facets, the music is perfect for the movie. I almost felt like it had as much music as a musical without the baggage that would entail. The cast really contributing to pulling off the music though. I believed in them in their roles, as crazy as the world they lived in ended up being. I believed their passion for their music, and that was a cool feeling. The way they weaved music into the storyline was truly clever.

I can't leave out how much heart this movie had either. I don't mean gushy have-a-good-cry heart, I just mean that it actually makes you feel good to be a nerd if you're a nerd. It makes you want to go out and jam out on your guitar or play Street Fighter or something - I just felt pumped and enamored with how much the director seemed to love music and video games and comics.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is a movie everyone will love. I can't imagine anyone hating it because it just makes you feel so good walking out of it, but I can see parts of it being harder to appreciate without being in your 20s or early 30s. It is somewhat of a niche movie, but I wouldn't be ashamed to show it to anyone (assuming they're at least a teenager). I will say that the writing is weak at times. Even though I did identify somewhat with the romance, it was still at times handled a little strangely. I can see people taking issue with the characters, but I actually liked how non-traditional they were. They weren't people you could totally peg down, but in a good way. One minor gripe I had was that the ending was possibly a little more drawn out than it needed to be, but I didn't really mind that much.

This movie is easily an A+ to me, and I urge you to please go and see it. It's only done like $10 million and I think it'll make it up over the course of its run in theaters and on home video, but I feel bad that the makers may not feel the love from the box office that I felt for this movie. I feel silly having had such a strong positive reaction to a romantic comedy action movie that appeals to the 12-year-old inside of me, but I can't lie: I enjoyed this film and can't wait to get it on Blu-ray.


I also saw Inception over the weekend and I know it's been talked about to death, but I just wanted to quickly say that I agree about it being a must-watch. You may want to see it before Scott Pilgrim because it's definitely not as light overall as Scott Pilgrim, but it's an experience on par with Memento. I really didn't think it was as complicated as people said it was - I mean unlike Donnie Darko, they actually explicitly explained ideas to you. Albeit, often in more words than necessary, but they did. Go see it in theaters because the visuals are truly stunning - not in the way that Avatar was, but more just from a creativity standpoint. If you want my score: easily an A.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Prohibition on Software Patents

The Software Patents Situation

This article calls for the abolishing patents, but I don't think I fully agree so I'm going to stack them up with those in support of the prohibition of alcohol. As I'm sure we can all agree, Prohibition sucked.

The US patent system is by no means perfect, but I don't think I agree that companies shouldn't be allowed to protect their products. Just because it's being abused so badly in technology doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. When it boils down to it, the real problem with patents seems to be patent trolls. Granted, there's also a problem of patents being granted for silly things, but I think patent trolls are really what has created an patent arms race.

What's wrong with having patents for products you actually create though? Rather than squatting on an idea, I think you have the right to protect a genuinely good idea that you develop a product based on. I don't think you should be allowed to own ideas that never materialized or that you have no vested interest in other than to sue people because that's contrary to the basis of patents.

Blackberry Torch

A survey came out last week showing that less than half of all Blackberry users want to stick with RIM, but I think smartphones are a market where it's hard to predict what brand of phone you're getting next unless you're a month or two (or less) out from the decision.

Their newest phone is coming out in a couple of days and it's a doozy. It's a slider with a full physical keyboard, though a little thinner than typical Blackberry fare. Engadget has a full review. The OS is a pretty big shift here as it borrows elements from the iPhone, including a mobile browser worthy of the year it's being used in. It seems like the UI is a true evolution of the standard Blackberry OS, but there's nothing it has under the hood that 1ups any other current phone - it just joins the table they're already sitting at. One of the commenters said it best: it would be a great phone if it came out in 2008.

Wave is Dead

Google finally killed Wave, the little product that never could. Google went to great lengths to generate buzz for Wave before it came out, so what went wrong? Marketing to nerds is a tricky thing, and if you can't make a compelling case for it then they move on to the next shiny new thing. It's not enough to be a novelty, your product has to serve a definable purpose or set of purposes. I think wave was a great idea that didn't have enough practicality behind it. The curse of a great engineer can be not having the right direction. Still, I think it's cool that Google took the risk anyway. No risk, no reward - that's the story of any great CEO.

Other Stuff

A page derailed my night, so I have to wrap up early here.

Amazon launched the Kindle store in the UK.

Barnes and Noble is trying out new and used textbook purchases as well as rentals.

Android now has the largest smartphone market share in the US.

Make sure you keep your Windows machine protected - here's some great free antivirus choices.

This is a list of some Google services that don't get much attention despite being pretty nifty.

Monday, August 02, 2010

New Kindles

Black Graphite is the New White Plastic

The coolest thing to happen last week is probably the one thing I shouldn't talk terribly much about: the new Kindles. I'm just going to go on record that I work no where near anyone on the Kindle team and I have no knowledge of how that business operates or its strategy. Independent of being an Amazonian, I'm finally really excited about the Kindle now. I was definitely very skeptical when it first came out and was concerned when the iPad came out at its competitive price point. Though it's a totally different device, the comparisons are inevitable because of the form factor. Anyone who says reading a book is better on the iPad than the Kindle is definitely an Apple fanboy - it's technologically superior for reading plain text. At $139 for the entry WiFi model, it's finally at a price point fitting of a standalone book reader, and features better battery life (up to a month now), faster page turns, and better contrast ratio than the previous generation. I believe the reason for the switch to black graphite is probably because that makes it easier to read in sunlight, but you can still get it in white for the 3G model at $189.

I'm really curious now to see how Barnes and Noble will respond. Now that the Kindle has a model at $60 less and also available in-person at Target stores, the Nook is quickly losing what competitive advantage it had. Still, with e-Book sales outpacing physical book sales, there's gotta be enough to go around, but how big a piece of the pie will Apple and Barnes and Noble get compared to Amazon?

Ballmer is an Idiot

Steve Ballmer is really pissing me off nowadays. Ever since he's taken over, he's made many terrible decisions, including killing the Courier. This was the super creative tablet that Microsoft was working on that Ballmer decided to cut. Now he admits that the iPad is their number one threat and they need to compete with it. It's frustrating that he had a product that stood a chance against the iPad and threw it away, and now they have little hope of taking on the iPad. Microsoft has gone from being known for innovation to being way behind on market trends. Instead of trying to create another iPad now, why don't they either resurrect the Courier or invest in something totally different?

Windows Phone 7 and Free Bumpers

A lot of interesting stuff has been going on in cell phones. Ars Technica has a really good preview of Windows Phone 7 going in great depth into some nice UI touches and little nuggets of their impressions, like the keyboard being on par with the iPhone keyboard. Still, it's clear that there are a lot of question marks to be filled in. How well will the Xbox Live integration work? Will developers give the platform a shot? Given that someone leaked Microsoft's internal announcement to give all employees a Windows Phone 7 device, it's clear that Microsoft is definitely serious about the platform, so we just have to hope that it will all come together in the end.

I'm a little late on this since I missed last week's post, but Apple finally decided to respond to all the negative coverage of its iPhone antenna woes by giving away the bumpers that pretty much solve the issue. I have to bring up something that Molly Wood and others were predicting at CNet before this event happened: Apple never owned up to a problem and instead spoke at great length about how the problem had been overblown. It's definitely a smart strategy because it makes them look like they've been bullied into having to do this free bumper thing even though it's clear they had to know about the issue to create this case, which they hadn't done for any previous iPhone. In any case, it's great that they're doing the right thing now, but if they're only doing so until September 30 I wonder if they've figured out a hardware fix for the issue so that future batches won't have the issue?

Google has finally killed the Nexus One. Google has proved that people don't want a phone they can't play with at a store, even if it is a somewhat compelling product. It will still be sold abroad, but no more for US consumers.

Ars Technica has a ridiculously detailed review of the Droid X, and it seems like probably the best phone Motorola has put out in a while. Still, the UI seems to fall short of the Droid Incredible in visual flare. Plus, at a screen size rivaling the Dell Streak you have to wonder if anyone wants something that big in their pocket. There is such a thing as too big for a smartphone.

WPA2 Hole Discovered

WPA2 has finally been cracked - kinda. It was only a matter of time before a hole was discovered, and it doesn't render the standard useless but does damage it for enterprise use. It turns out that the standard's language allows for an authorized user on the network to send malicious packets to others on the network as well as sniff the packets of others. For most people, this probably isn't such a big deal, but could be worse for business use. The problem with fixing it is that all implementers would have to fix it, and it's unlikely to organize something like that. The next best bet would be a revision to WPA2, but there doesn't appear to be language in the standard to support something like that. It's a rather interesting conundrum.

Also in security news recently, Apple was deemed the company with the most security vulnerabilities in its software. So much for their claims of having the safest platform. The issues weren't in OS X, but rather in other ancillary products. Still, it helps debunk the claim that you can ignore security just because you have a Mac.

Funny Videos

I missed this a while back, but the guy who posted his customer service cartoon ranting about iPhone fanboys also posted one sticking it to Android fanboys. It's almost as hilarious.

In an example of social media marketing gone right, the Old Spice marketing guys decided to create a bunch of videos with Isaiah Mustafa responding to people on Twitter with short videos, including Alyssa Milano. They did a pretty awesome job.

Final Notes

I'm out of time, but here are a few other stories I found worthwhile.

Gawker has a funny post on the stupidest things caught on video that people said about the Internet, including the infamous Al Gore quote on his greatest invention. You may recognize certain terminology sourced from some of the videos.

I've seen reports off and on recently about issues with cell phone manufacturers and building screens, and it looks like HTC has had enough issues with AMOLED that they've decided to move to Super LCD for these devices. AMOLED hit the market a few years back and was quite impressive, but apparently still not easy to make.

If you're wondering what to load on your Android phone, PC Mag has you covered. Makes me a little envious on a few of those, I have to admit.

YouTube has increased their upload limit to 15 minutes, so now you can post longer useless videos.

If you want to see a real ninja badge, you have to check this out.

iPhone jailbreaking is now legal!

Hope everyone has an excellent start to their August.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Can Digg Come Back?

Digg v4

Turns out that I'm doing well enough after the surgery to blog, so thought I'd put together a little post since last week was a bit light on the news.

I didn't want to talk about it until it was actually in production, but several people have gotten their eyes on the next iteration of Digg, and it's definitely a bigger change than previous upgrades. The question is, is it enough to reinvigorate Digg? Unlike a lot of other folks, I really don't think Digg is dying - not by a long shot. They still get a lot of traffic, they've just been on a decline. Despite the fact that the new Digg looks way too much like Facebook, I think it has a ton of potential and is the best direction to take the social news site in.

Currently, Digg works by just having stories voted up by its users within various categories so that you read the news that the masses deem most interesting. However, this process has proven to be flawed as the wisdom of the masses isn't always so wise and often skewed by people who you don't agree with (i.e. fanboyism is rampant). The new paradigm unashamedly takes a little from Facebook and more from Twitter in that you follow individual sites and users to get the stories that they think are valuable instead of the general rabble. This is one of the few application of social networking these days that actually makes sense. I think most of us talk to our friends about some story they saw or read about and want to share on almost a daily basis, so Digg would be ideal for that.

Another cool feature is that websites can automatically submit their newest stories to Digg. I think this can add up to a winning combination for Digg. By getting the content providers more involved and empowering the little guy, I think they can bring back a lot of people that have probably left Digg in recent years. All they have to do is make sure it gets publicized well enough. If this doesn't work though, it could potentially be the beginning of the end for Digg, but I think Digg would have a pretty long tail even then.

Twitter and e-Commerce

Twitter is trying a new way to make money, but it's a rather unoriginal idea: twitter feeds for retail deals. This has been done by Amazon and several other sites as well as a ton of small businesses already. It's not that it's a bad idea, but I think it's bad that it took them this long to put something like this together. It's not the best sign of Twitter's future if they're this behind the curve.

YouTube Leanback and 2304p

I like how often YouTube experiments with new things. Last week two cool features were revealed. One of them is called Leanback, which feels an awful lot like a precursor to Google TV. It basically lets you experience YouTube on a bigger screen, or even just on your computer screen but with minimal user interaction unlikely typical YouTube browsing. It provides better flow between videos you'd be interested in given your subscriptions and viewing history, and you can search and immediately consume videos from your search results.

Less cool, because it's less useful, is the ability for YouTube to support more than 1080p resolution: 2304p (4096 x 2304). Very few people have displays that support this and is probably more ideal for a small theater than your living room, but I do like that YouTube is thinking big.

iPad Ad Second Look

For the record: I think the iPad is really cool for what it is. I have no desire to get one because I know I'd play with it for a while and then never touch it, but it is compelling. Still, I can't resist pointing out this analysis of an ad showing a scene from Star Trek on the device in a better format than you'd see in real life. Apple did this also with Flash on the iPad - why do they keep fudging their ads like this if they already have a product that makes people piss their pants? It's just in poor taste, and it's disappointing. The one thing I've always come to expect from Apple is quality, even in their advertising. The antenna scandal with the newest iPhone and iPad chicanery like this is just unfortunate.

Other Stuff

There are a couple of stories I noted that I found interesting but have nothing to say about, really.

Java developer is now one of the most difficult positions to fill in IT. It's ironic how many more people know C/C++ than Java given how much more confusing they are, in my opinion.

Facebook has bought Nextstop, which is in the business of user-generated destination guides.

Have a sunny week, everyone!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Apple's iPhone Launch Under Fire

You're Holding it Wrong

Believe it or not, I'm tired of doing derogatory Apple stories. Still, this has been too big a story to pass up, so I'm going to speak my piece about the iPhone 4 launch and keep it brief.

As is now pretty famous, it turns out that holding the iPhone 4 naturally affects the antenna such that you lose some signal and may be more prone to drop calls. AT&T is notorious in many parts of the country for dropped calls, so this is a pretty big drawback to a release that a lot of users seemed pretty pumped for, especially since a lot of folks skipped out on the 3GS in anticipation of it. This is a company that has built its entire brand on great design, so something like this is really an unacceptable blow to their brand.

If they just dealt with it responsibly, I don't think it'd be such a big story because I'm sure that for many people it isn't actively a huge problem. Instead though, they're claiming that a software glitch is to blame and, literally, that people shouldn't put their palm on the bottom part of the phone. What's truly outrageous is that they're selling a bumper that fixes the problem. So they knew far in advance that this was going to be a problem and decided to sell a way overpriced solution instead of giving it away for free. It's amazing how many people are ok with buying this thing. I personally wouldn't get one just out of principle until they gave a free solution. I know not all iPhone users are that silly, but I'm a fan of this really funny video criticizing an iPhone buyer. Too bad the guy who made it was fired from Best Buy, but Best Buy's terrible customer experience and management is a story for another day.

I'm not usually a big fan of class action lawsuits because they're often stupid, but I'm glad people are filing them against Apple for this. It's terrible to think that they can get away with selling an obviously flawed product. It's just unethical. It's like selling a car that explodes at the slightest touch knowing how unsafe it is *cough*Ford*cough*.

Aside from this flaw, the new iPhone seems like a cool product. Face Time is surely going to bring about many more phones with video chat, and the improved screen is going to lead to more competition in screen quality, as well. It's a bigger evolution than the 3GS was.

Hello Samsung Epic, Goodbye Kin

It looks like Sprint may finally be getting a cool Android phone with a physical keyboard soon: the Samsung Epic 4G. I'm sad to say that it may end up being my next phone if Palm doesn't come up with an improved Pre (I just need it faster and with better battery life). Engadget got their hands on it and it seems pretty damn snappy. I don't know if Samsung has the best track record, but I think Samsung has enough really solid products on the market in general (especially TVs) that they can still recover.

Sadly, it looks like Kin is a different story. Well, maybe it's not so sad since the Kin was an odd little device. Microsoft has finally axed the little feature phone that couldn't. While that article from Ars is a pretty great summary of the situation, my own take on the situation is that Microsoft was building for a market that didn't really exist anymore, partially because their product cycles are so long and they started work on it back when a successor to the Sidekick made sense. Microsoft has so many great engineers, they're just being mis-managed as a whole with these long product cycles and silly strategic decisions. I think it'd do a lot better to split up into a few key pieces that operate independently and try and drive down some of the politics.

YouTube and iTunes Hacked

The YouTube "hack" is actually pretty simple, but still an interesting story. They were susceptible to an injection attack, which just means that YouTube didn't sanitize comments well enough to check for people writing scripts in the comments and have them execute each time the page is loaded. This could mean a pop-up alert box telling you that Justin Bieber is dead. I'm pretty surprised it wasn't discovered sooner since that's a pretty obvious problem, but it could be that people knew and didn't make it publicly known.

What's much worse though is a still-developing story on reviews being doctored in iTunes by accounts getting hacked to buy hundreds of dollars worth of apps and write one-word reviews. What was once believed to be a single person turns out to be somewhat of a conspiracy as multiple people are apparently doing this. It's likely that Apple has known about this and kept it quiet, but whatever the case may be it definitely casts doubts on how controlled iTunes really is. Don't be too hard on Apple though: it's inevitable that the biggest app store would get targetted by disingenuous people like this.

There's actually one more security story, but admittedly less interesting. Foursquare had a security hole allowing people's private check-ins to be seen publicly. It was later dealt with, but the response time was definitely disturbing. Just another example showing that no matter what you set your privacy at online websites, you can't be 100% sure that it's protected.

Big Decision for YouTube

This story is a bit old, but didn't get a whole lot of coverage despite how big of a deal it is. A district court ruled that YouTube is immunity from being sued by Viacom for copyright infringement because they remove infringing material as soon as they're notified it. Basically, the fact that infringing content can be posted to YouTube is legal as long as YouTube takes down infringing content, but this is not enough for Viacom or the RIAA, who really want blood.

How do these people sleep at night? I can't believe that there are people out there who subscribe to this nonsense that the Internet should be on lockdown so that the rich can get richer.


Ok, it's been a long week so I'm exhausted and need to get to bed soon, but there are a bunch of stories I don't have time to really discuss from the past couple of weeks that I think are still worthwhile.

CNN Money interviewed Jeff Bezos and I just loved his answer to what revs him up. He's really one of the greatest CEOs of our time.

Another low-key story that I think is really important is that some are pushing for HDBaseT to replace HDMI, which adds Internet connectivity to the audiovisual equation and looks very similar to Cat 5 cables.

Amazon has acquired deals site Woot, and their internal memo regarding it is really priceless. When I first read it at the office I was literally laughing out loud and distracting some co-workers.

It's been rumored for a while and is now official: Hulu is rolling out Hulu Plus for people who want Hulu as it is now, plus back-episodes from shows' entire runs. If they had more shows, I don't think that'd be such a bad deal, but I don't know what'd keep you from just getting it for a month and watching the entirety of whatever show you're interested in. Anyway, it's $10 a month, and ads are still going to roll.

Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle to $189 and has released a new Kindle DX in black graphite at a new price of $379. From what I hear from current DX users, the new case is going to help with making it even more readable in bright light. Oh, and the old one is $20 cheaper.

If you're shopping for a new ISP, PC World has a great study of ISP speeds across the country based on people's broadband speed tests. Looks like Verizon FiOS is the winner in many areas - too bad they have atrocious customer service.

If you're shopping for an HD TV, Maximum PC has some excellent tips for you.

If you're a Java developer, you pretty much have to watch this trailer for "Java 4-Ever". It's not what you may think it is, it's much funnier. Not entirely NSFW, but mostly is.

Ok, I'm having my wisdom teeth removed this weekend so I anticipate being in too much pain to blog next week, but will try to post the following week. Peace out!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Homebuying for Dummies

It's really killing me that I can't scrounge up the time for a full post because E3 had plenty to talk about. However, juggling unpacking with my normal life has been more time-consuming than I envisioned. I should be back in action soon, but this week my time was taken partially by a speech I had to write for Toastmasters. So instead of a true post, I thought I'd just paste the entirety.

It's been a little while since I've delivered a speech because I made the bold decision back in late March that I was ready to buy my first home. Now that I've moved in, I feel a bit like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix when he was being programmed to fight: instead of kung fu though, I've learned a lot about the process of buying a home. It's not uncommon in Seattle for people to rent a place much longer than in other cities. Hence, I felt like it would be appropriate to talk about the part of my journey leading up to negotiating an offer, starting with deciding if you should buy.

Deciding whether buying a home is right for you is a very difficult question that there's not an exact method to. If there's one thing you take away from this speech, I hope it's that buying a home is a choice that only you, and possible your significant other, can control. Do not let peer pressure get to you like a bad after school special. To be precise, the right reasons to buy include that you're looking to settle down somewhere for at least 5 years, you have the job security to afford a mortgage, you want nicer amenities than a rental can offer, you want more room than you can get in a rental, or you want a place you can freely make changes to. The wrong reasons to buy are for a tax break, to make a quick buck in flipping the home, or simply for prestige. This is a major financial decision. Don't take it lightly and don't be afraid to rent a little longer to help you build up some cash.

Before you embark on searching for your home, you need to decide a budget. Ideally, you do not want to spend more than 28% of your gross income in monthly payments for your home, including taxes and homeowners' dues. Let that be a hard upper ceiling and then modify that ceiling to what you would be comfortable with given your usual budget. Take a firm stand here and stick with it. Wavering above your limit is a financial minefield. It's a very good idea at this point to get pre-qualified by at least one lender. This legally means very little, but an honest lender can encourage or scold your price range at this point. I had a great experience with Cornerstone and would be happy to speak with anyone afterwards in more detail about them. You can change your lender before you offer, so you're not committed yet.

You're still not ready to set sail on the high seas of house hunting though: you need to set your criteria first. Decide on your must-haves, and then pick a location with homes fitting your restrictions. Some buyers need to bask in the glow of natural sunlight while others can't live without a quiet patio for their morning cup of coffee. You will not find the perfect home. Before you even set foot in a potential home, understand that compromise is key. You would be surprised how cheap major changes can be, like painting walls or changing carpet. So keep only a short list of must-haves. Don't forget to make sure that the location you pick fits your price range: is a great resource to research this.

If you've made it this far, then you're ready to enlist the help of a realtor. While all realtors are mainly interested in making a sale, their advice can be invaluable. It's not a good idea to see a bunch of places without representation. It can be especially messy for your agent getting paid on closing if the seller thinks you found the place on your own. I used Redfin and had a great experience all around. I enjoyed taking charge of the search though. You'll need to turn to a traditional agent for a more controlled experience. My agent was mainly an advisor and kept all the paperwork in order. I had what's called a Redfin field agent to show me condos. Good questions to ask a traditional realtor include "how many clients do they have right now" and "how many sales have they made in your desired area in the past year".

Once you have your realtor, the fun really begins. You get to tour potential homes. Be sure to take notes at each place on things you liked and disliked. Take note of things like how much HOA dues are and what they cover, what appliances stay, whether or not there's parking, and don't be afraid to talk to residents to get their honest opinions. I recommend taking video tours of each place for reference later. The Flip Mino camcorders on Amazon are affordable and produce crisp picture and sound.

Trying to explain how you know you've found the one is like trying to explain how you fell in love: all you know is that it happened. One indication for me was that any place I saw afterwards paled in comparison, even though they were actually quite nice. You'll also be able to smell the aromas of a dinner party with friends and feel the joy of relaxing evenings on your couch. Even after you reach this point, I'd encourage you to see at least four more places and sleep on it. This is risky advice in a strong market, but I urge you to not rush this decision.

When you're ready to make an offer, the negotiations begin. I could give a whole speech on negotiations, but the one tip I'd like to offer for now is to be reasonable. Don't offer an offensively low price on a property you know is worth more - your agent can best guide on you on this.

Getting to the point of making an offer on a home is a long process. You have to decide whether to buy, set criteria, pick a location, get pre-qualified, and find a realtor before you can even start touring. However, you stand to reap many fruits in the purchase of a suitable house or condo. Last night, I walked out of the shower into my living room bathed in the orange light of sunset. I can't put a price on that, and I'm sure that you'll feel the same when you get the keys to your dream home.