Sunday, November 30, 2008

Microsoft Bidding for Yahoo!'s Search Business: Report (Update: Nah)

A little over a month ago Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said a Yahoo! deal still "makes sense," but that same afternoon, a Microsoft press release quashed any speculation by saying there were "no discussions between the companies."

A report in the Sunday edition of the Times Online is set to re-ignite that speculation.

The report lists, well, no sources at all, not even anonymous ones. It states that the deal will consist of Microsoft acquiring a 10-year operating agreement to manage the Yahoo! search business, with a two-year call option to buy the business for $20 billion. There is no chance of a complete acquisition of the company. The report goes on to say:
The proposal forms the centrepiece of a complex transaction that would see Microsoft support a new management team to take control of Yahoo. But there is no intention of Microsoft tabling another takeover bid for the web giant, after its aborted $47.5 billion offer this summer.

It is thought that Jonathan Miller, ex-chairman and chief executive of AOL, and Ross Levinsohn, a former president of Fox Interactive Media, have been lined up to lead the new management team. Senior directors at Microsoft and Yahoo are understood to have agreed the broad terms of a deal, but there is no guarantee that it will succeed.
Aha, no guarantee it will succeed. Another unsubstantiated rumor that will lead to nowhere for Yahoo!?

Still, it's true that billionaire Carl Icahn, now on the Yahoo! board of directors since nearly starting a proxy fight after the Microsoft deal was rejected by Yahoo!, has recently increased his stake in Yahoo!, buying another 6.8 million shares. Mere dollar cost averaging? He couldn't have made his deal with any knowledge of a Microsoft deal without facing an "insider trading" charge by the SEC.

I'm extremely skeptical based on Icahn's move. Another, more mathematical reason: Yahoo!'s current market capitalization at its price of $11.51 is $16 billion. How could you spend $20 billion for just a piece of the company?

Still. Barron's interview (subscription required) with Icahn indicated he felt that Yahoo! needs to complete a search deal with Microsoft.

The rejection of the Microsoft offer has, in fact, been called by some the "worst decision ever." It seems like a reasonable offer now would almost certainly be accepted. But will even that sort of deal give Microsoft a leg up on Google?

Update: I was pretty skeptical, as I wrote above. Multiple sources have confirmed with no less than Levinsohn himself that it's pure fiction.

As I said, the Icahn buy alone would prevent such a deal from going forward, unless he wants to join Mark Cuban in the SEC's doghouse.

So where did the Times Online get this info? As I said, the original story didn't even cite "anonymous sources." At any rate, many believe this sort of deal is what Yahoo! needs to survive. Still more to come.



Linux Ported to the iPhone

Linux 2.6 kernel has been ported to the iPhone, according to an announcement by the iPhone Dev Team on Friday. It's not complete as many drivers are missing, but it boots and you get a Linux shell.

According to the official announcement,
What we have:
  • Framebuffer driver
  • Serial driver
  • Serial over USB driver
  • Interrupts, MMU, clock, etc.
What we have in openiboot (but hasn't been ported yet):
  • Read-only support for the NAND
What we don't have (yet!):
  • Write support for the NAND
  • Wireless networking
  • Touchscreen
  • Sound
  • Accelerometer
  • Baseband support
The team has also created a multi-boot front end that lets users toggle between Apple's own operating system and an alternative platform, called OpeniBoot (pictured above).

That's just the start; the iPhone Dev Team is interested in porting Android to the iPhone; they even ask about Android porters in their announcement post.

Check out a demonstration video:



Indian Authorities Surprised by Mumbai Terrorist Tech

It's not new; I've written about the use of technology by insurgents and terrorists before, quite some time ago, in fact. This week, as spectators around the world either watched TV news, tracked Twitter feeds, read blogs and sites in horror as the Mumbai terrorist attacks unfolded, the terrorists themselves were tech'ed up in order to track the police response themselves.

While police and the military were impressed by the arsenal carried by the terrorists, they were also impressed by the technology they carried as well. According to reports from multiple sites, backpacks carried the Mumbai terrorists showed multiple BlackBerry handsets.

A typical move in such a standoff is to cut the TV feeds to buildings, shutting down any information feed the attackers may have to track government response. But in Mumbai the terrorists used their BlackBerrys to surf the web and keep track of police movements and global reaction to the attacks, according to analysis of the recovered devices.

And something police and the military need to remember in the future, is that these aren't guerillas using sticks or something to attack. If they can get their hands on an AK-47, they can get their hands on a BlackBerry --- more easily in fact. Reports are the police were surprised that the terrorists had Blackberrys, but they shouldn't be.

But while terrorists used their BlackBerrys to help themselves, so did survivors. According to reports, Amit Gupta used his own BlackBerry to keep track of things once the cable feed was cut off from the Oberoi Trident Hotel. He survived a 42-hour ordeal, all told, and despite it all, is going back to work on Monday.



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Windows Vista SP2 RTM in April: Report

Windows Vista SP2 will ship in April of 2009, with a release candidate issued in February, according to a Malaysian web site that successfully predicted the release dates for both Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3, earlier this year.

Microsoft released a beta of Windows Vista SP2 earlier this year.

The site, TechARP, released the following schedule for SP2:

Version

Type

Release Date


Windows Vista SP2 RC

Release Candidate

February, 2009

Windows Vista SP2

Release To Manufacturing

April, 2009

Windows Vista SP2

Release To Web

TBA


The actual release to the Web for end users is, of course, TBD. Microsoft will release the RTM package to OEMs for inclusion on their systems first. You might want to wait for a while anyway; early adopters of Vista SP1 and XP SP3 faced issues ranging from registry corruption to incompatibility with Microsoft Dynamics RMS.

Previously, Microsoft announced that (besides rolling up bug fixes since SP1), Vista SP2 will include:
  • Windows Vista SP2 adds Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches.
  • Windows Vista SP2 contains the Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology.
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista.
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration.
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones.
This service pack will also update Windows Server 2008, and Vista SP2 will require SP1 as a prerequisite. Of course, for those who still can't find drivers for their PCs (I still can't find the proper sound driver for my XPS Gen 2), it could be a problem.



Intel: Netbooks "Fine for an Hour"

Despite creating a line of CPUs seemingly targeted precisely for the netbook market, the Atom, Intel seems as though it just might be having second thoughts.

Speaking at a Raymond James IT Supply Chain conference last week, Stu Pann, an Intel VP of sales and marketing admitted some problems with the new notebook form factor:
"We originally thought Netbooks would be for emerging markets and younger kids, and there is some of that. It turns out the bulk of the Netbooks sold today are Western Europe, North America, and for people who just want to grab and go with a notebook. We view the Netbook as mostly incremental to our total available market.

If you've ever used a Netbook and used a 10-inch screen size--it's fine for an hour. It's not something you're going to use day in and day out."
It's something I've considered as well, and it's along the lines of those who say "no, I don't want my cell phone to become my computer. I want a larger form factor." However, Asus might disagree, along with other netbook OEMs. Asus recently said it was on track to sell 5 million Eee PCs by the end of the year.

What it sounds like Intel is saying, with its statement of "incremental" sales, is that these netbooks are cannibalizing notebook sales, rather than creating new sales, something analysts have posited for some time.

That's a definite problem for OEMs, as the profit margins on these things are quite obviously less than on full-sized notebooks. Unless, as VP of sales and marketing, you change your marketing stance, as perhaps he's trying to do above?

"Don't buy it as a replacement, use is as an adjunct." Frankly, the screen size is a problem for me, but they're also underpowered, still more of a problem --- at least for me.



Sears.com Slammed by Black Friday Traffic

Despite the dire predictions of a poor retail season, it appears that consumers are still looking, or at least trying to look, for Black Friday deals. Sears.com was inaccessible for hours on Black Friday, and other retail sites experienced slowdowns and outages as well.

The development bodes ill for Cyber Monday, which is the biggest online shopping day of the year (as opposed to Black Friday, the biggest retail shopping day of the year). The reason for Cyber Monday is the return to work for many, where a significant number of people access the Web for shopping purposes.

However, this year a number of retailers have been promoting online sales and thus we've seen the equivalent of L.A. freeway gridlock at some sites.

According to Keynote Systems, which monitors sites for speed and sells tools for monitoring performance, several sites, such as Amazon.com, experienced slowness on Black Friday, as well as the Sears.com issue.



Friday, November 28, 2008

Astronaut Invents Zero-G Coffee Cup

Ever try to drink coffee through a straw. For a coffee lover, it ruins the experience. A coffee-loving astronaut has devised a zero-G cup, that he can use to drink his java sans straw.

Normally astronauts drink fluids from plastic pouches with straws. But Don Pettit, currently aboard the International Space Station, wasn't satisfied with that. Using the same principle that helps spacecraft engines draw fuel in zero-G conditions, Pettit used a piece of plastic ripped from his Flight Data File mission book and folded it into a teardrop-shape that's closed at one end.

Surface tension inside the cup keeps the coffee from floating out.

As he explained in a demonstration sent by video to Mission Control, Pettit said:
"With the special shape of this "cup," the surface tension forces will wick the coffee up along the edge there --- and as you can see as I'm putting some coffee there in the bag. And the way works is the cross-section of this cups looks like an airplane wing. And the sharp angle, the narrow angle there will wick the coffee up, and this is what we use when design fuel tanks for rockets to re-ignite in a weightless environment --- the vanes in the tanks will wick the fluid into the suction port. And if that angle is less that 2 x 90 - thc contact wetting angle, the fluid will rise like that.

So knowing this for a fuel tank, you can make it into a cup and drink your fluid from. So you can just sip there right on the edge of the cup and as you sip more fluid keeps coming up and up and up. And you can enjoy a cup of coffee in a weightless environment without having to sip it from a bag. You can just keep sipping and sipping and sipping, clear down to the last drop in the cup."
Watch the video:



Sling Media Opens Its Video Streaming Site to the Public

Sling.com has emerged from private beta. This site is the now public beta video streaming site of Slingbox maker Sling Media (its parent company is Echostar, which purchased the former startup last year).

Sling.com has Hulu as a partner, so much of its content is similar (or the same). Not all, however. You won't find any Comedy Central stuff at Sling.com, for example. You'll also find CBS content at Sling.com, and not at Hulu.

Hulu is an NBC Universal / Fox partnership that although still trailing YouTube by leaps and bounds in terms of page views, has caught it, by some accounts, in terms of revenue.

Besides Hulu and CBS, additional free content is provided by PBS, BBC America, and video sites like Break.com.

Click the above image to get a better view of Sling's Windows-only player (yes, Windows-only, at least for now).

There are so many competitors in this market, can Sling make a impact? Integration with the Slingbox is one advantage Sling.com has over the others. If you have a Slingbox, you can use the site to control it and view live TV, without have to install the SlingPlayer software.

Sling Media's first product was the Slingbox, which allows users to watch TV or their DVR through the Internet. SlingPlayer Mobile was added later to allow mobile phone owners (Symbian, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile, no iPhone yet) to get TV on their cell phones.

Finally, just last month Sling Media released the SlingCatcher, a device that can pull media from the Web, as well as interface with your Slingbox and USB storage devices.

Sling.com fits in quite well with that progression of product introductions. But the ability to use your Slingbox without the need for SlingPlayer is the only truly differentiating feature between this and partner Hulu; will that be enough? For Sling owners, it just might.



Barack Obama Still Fighting to Keep His Blackberry

It's become a cause for some: to let Barack Obama keep his BlackBerry when he takes office.

What stands in the way? The primary concern has been the Presidential Records Act, which requires all presidential documents to be put in the official record.

Now, realistically, no matter what people say, it's not so much about national security as it is as making sure that if a "Watergate" happens, We The People have plenty of evidence to back it up. And as that's the issue, what's the problem?

We can track his cell phone calls. We can track his emails. So let him keep the BlackBerry (shoot, let him get a BlackBerry Bold or Storm if he wants).

Last night Barbara Walters had an exclusive interview with Barack Obama and Michelle Obama on ABC. Besides suggesting a dog for the Obamas (who doesn't nowadays?), she ask him about his beloved BlackBerry.
"One of the things that I'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation, the bubble that exists around the president. And I'm in the process of negotiating with the Secret Service, with lawyers, with White House staff ... to figure out how can I get information from outside of the 10 or 12 people who surround my office in the White House? Because one of the worst things I think that can happen to a president is losing touch with the struggles that people are going through every day."
After all, he has to be able to keep in touch with Oprah. Seriously, though, Obama used technology to his advantage during the election. He's going to be the first president with a laptop (though we don't know if it's going to be Windows or Mac --- I predict Windows because it's probably easier to fit into the rest of the White House IT infrastructure), so why not the first President with a BlackBerry?

Otherwise, our President may be experiencing the withdrawal shown in this video:




Nokia's 5800 XpressMusic Now Available

Nokia's highly anticipated 5800 XpressMusic, which was codenamed the "Tube," is now available, according to a Thanksgiving Nokia press release.

The 5800 XpressMusic also supports Nokia's "Comes with Music" service, which allows users to download an unlimited amount of music to their phones for a year --- and keep it, even after the year has passed.

The device comes with both a pen stylus and a plectrum (pick) as well. It has a 3.2" haptic touch-screen, 3.2 megapixel AF camera with dual-LED flash, VGA front camera, A-GPS, HSDPA support, and up to 16 GB microSD support (ships with an 8 GB card).

Jo Harlow, Vice President, Nokia said:
"When it comes to music phones, people all over the world want a device that is a great music experience and still works really well as a mobile phone, without sacrificing features. The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic delivers on this and allows consumers to quickly and easily access and share the content that is most important to them with the people that are most important to them."
Don't get too anxious, though. It's only available in select markets (Russia, Spain, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Finland, among others), and not in the U.S. until 2009.

Check out the full spec sheet below.




Printer-Equipped Digicam Set to Hit Japan

Think of it as the new generation of Polaroid's instant camera (which met its demise earlier this year). The xiao TIP-521 digital camera, made by toy company TOMY (makes you wonder if they think this is a serious device or a toy) is set to launch in stores in Japan on Friday.

ZINK Imaging produced the printer portion of the camera. It uses ZINK's Zero Ink Technology which embeds tiny color dye crystals in the paper, activated only when the printout is made. The pictures are 2" x 3", and as with anything printed, the money is all in the consumables.

The paper costs 880 yen, or about $9.25 for 20 sheets. The camera costs 34,800 yen or about $365 dollars.

The xiao is a 5-megapixel camera, with support for SD / SDHC cards up to 4 GB. It also supports IrDA so you can beam pictures from another camera for printing.

You might ask why Polaroid doesn't have their own camera with ZINK technology. Well, actually, they will. In May Polaroid announced their PoGo instant printer, using ZINK technology, and they had planned a camera for the holidays, but it's been delayed.

Now Polaroid's yet-unnamed camera will be showed off at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. Problem for Polaroid: TOMY's xiao is reportedly going to hit the U.S. starting in January.



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Apple's Black Friday Event Unfolds Globally; So-So Discounts

Apple's Black Friday event is still some time away in the U.S., but as it spreads across the world we can see that Kaufman analyst Shawn Wu's prediction of up to 15% discounts from Apple ain't gonna happen.

No, a peek at the Australian Apple Store, for example, gives us a hint of what we're going to see in the U.S. It seems we will probably get the biggest cuts on MacBooks and iMacs, of around $100. This is pretty much all in line with prior years' discounts, quashing Wu's prediction.

Oh, well. Hoping for the iPhone 3G to drop to say $99 and $199 tomorrow? Definitely not going to happen.

But don't forget Apple Stores will price match other authorized dealers. Keep that in mind as you shop.



Twitter, the Web, YouTube Prove Themselves in Mumbai Tragedy

I've written before about the use of text messages and Twitter in emergencies. In fact, in the U.S., emergency crews recommend the use of text messages rather than calls as SMS "piggybaacks" on top of voice data, saving bandwidth for those who really need it: emergency responders.

I, and probably most of you, have been awestruck by the terrorist tragedy in Mumbai, India. While many sat glued to the TV, many others searched the web, Twitter, and YouTube to try to get firsthand information from actual witnesses, or at least those local to the event.

A search of YouTube, for example, will produce a ton of videos, much of which, unfortunately, is copyrighted, but oh, well. If you missed something on the news, you can probably find it here.

The web has entered the picture as well, with tons of blog posts about the incident. A Google map showing the attack sites has been set up as well --- some would say, ironically, by Al-Jazeera News (it should be noted that some --- not myself, though --- try to disparage Al-Jazeera News, but it is a legitimate source).

Even Flickr has been used, with user Vinu submitting a series of photos of the aftermath.

Twitter, however, has been the real gold mine of information. A Twitter search reveals a host of information, much of it first hand information. Some of it corrects or supplements the mainstream media reports. For example, after information was broadcast that one of the hotels was cleared of terrorists, a tweet said:
Reports the siege is over are WRONG. Shooting continues at Taj and Trident locations.
Now, it's true that Twitter has been labeled "not journalistic" and criticized for misinformation, but inaccurate reporting isn't limited to Twitter. Witness CNN's iReport, something heavily promoted by the cable news channel, and one you would expect to be reliable. In the past, it has not, as stories are not vetted before posting. A prime example is the Steve Jobs fake heart attack story.

That particular story took a long time to correct. And there, for those Twitter doubters, is the beauty of Twitter. Erroneous information can be corrected quickly by others' Tweets. To me, if you want first-hand reports, and quickly, Twitter has emerged as a prime source of --- yes --- citizen journalism.

And despite prior examples of poor citizen journalism, this tragedy has brought out citizen journalism's best.



Seagate Releases Firmware Fix for Barracuda 7200.11 1.5 TB Hard Drives

Seagate this week acknowledged a problem with their Barracuda 7200.11 1.5 TB hard drives, as well as a firmware fix. Users had been complaining on the Web and in forums for some time that the drives would freeze for a few seconds or report less than full capacity to the OS.

In a statement, Seagate said:
"Some Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB hard drives may show uncharacteristic operation when used with Mac and Linux operating systems in multi-drive configurations. Users may experiences pauses in video streaming applications or a dropped drive from RAID arrays. Customers seeing these symptoms should contact Seagate Technical Support for a firmware upgrade.

"In order to assure the proper application of the new firmware, please email a description of the issues you're seeing to Seagate (discsupport@seagate.com) Please include the following disk drive information: model number, serial number and current firmware revision. Also, please describe your system, operating system and the application in use when the issue arose, and you will receive a prompt response with appropriate instructions.

"As an alternative to the contact email address above please access http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/about/contact_us/."
Yep, you can't just download it; you have to call, or at least email tech support to get the fix.

That's all well and good, but some have been complaining on the Seagate user forums that the new firmware slowed the drives down. Of course, slow is in the eyes of the beholder. A pause of a few seconds is way more of an issue, though there's no way users will be satisfied if this is truly the case.

Nor should they be.



Keyboard for Blondes? Like, Wow!

I must admit this keyboard, or rather, its manufacturer, seems to have a sense of humor. The Keyboard for Blondes is purportedly a keyboard made specifically with blondes in mind --- or people who may have had a "blonde moment" at least once in their lives.

This USB keyboard is totally pink, compatible with Linux, Windows and Mac,, and has unique sayings on 64 of the 103 keys (keys which would otherwise confuse blondes, I think).

Click the above image for a closer look at some keys.

Examples:
  • The Enter key is labeled "Yes! I want it!"
  • The Backspace key is labeled "Oops!"
  • Caps Lock is labeled "WARNING! size XXL letters"
I should note that the keyboard is approved by the American Blonde Association of America.

Oh, and let's not forget the top 10 reasons to own one (as suggested by the site):

It's $49.95, but what's even more interesting, is that there seems to have been a Russian version as early as November 2007. Are there more blondes in Russia?



Twitter Shuts Down Outbound SMS in Canada

SMS rates in the U.S. have doubled since 2005. Congress is asking why. And in Canada, billing changes have forced a company that depends on text messaging for updates for its users to shut down outbound SMS: Twitter.

This is the second market where usage of the outbound SMS functionality has halted. In August, Twitter shut down the service in the U.K.

While Twitter said you can still send updates to the Canadian shortcode (21212), without the ability of receiving updates, the service is pretty much hosed. Twitter said, in a blog post:
Unexpected changes in our billing have forced us into a difficult situation with our Canadian SMS service. We can’t afford to support this service given our current arrangement with our providers (where costs have been doubling for the past several months.) As a result, effective today we are no longer delivering outbound SMS over our Canadian shortcode (21212).
At this point, only the U.S. and India remain as countries where Twitter supports outbound SMS.

I don't blame Twitter. I've always wondering about not just the way SMS costs have inflated but why I pay for inbound (including spam) as well as outbound text messages. Particularly when I pay for unlimited Internet access. It's a cash cow for the carriers, and they've admitted it, too.

How long can Twitter continue outbound SMS in the U.S.? We'll keep watching.



Lori Drew Innocent of Felony Charges in MySpace Suicide Trial

After just over a day of deliberation, on Wednesday a six-man, six-woman jury has acquitted Lori Drew of three felony charges of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in the Megan Meier MySpace suicide case. For the charge of conspiracy, jurors were unable to come to an agreement, and a mistrial declared.

Drew was in fact convicted of three misdemeanors, of accessing a computer without authorization. Each count is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, as opposed to the original charges, which could have earned her five years for each count.

Tina Meier, mother of Megan (below, with pictures of Megan) shook her head from the gallery as the verdict was read.

For those not aware, the Megan Meier case caught the attention of the nation when it broke. Meier committed suicide after a MySpace romance went bad. The romance itself and the boy involved were in fact fictional, allegedly perpetrated as a vindictive prank by the mother of a former friend who lived down the street.

However, the prosecution's case was hurt when Drew's former assistant, Ashley Grills, then 18, testified that it was she, not Drew, who created the MySpace account used in the plot.

The defense, after that testimony, asked U.S. District Judge George Wu to dismiss all charges; he indicated at the time that he would probably not rule on that motion until after the trial was complete, as it is now. It's thus possible Drew may face no legal repercussions from the case at all.

As I said when charges were first filed against Drew, they were a stretch. The jury apparently didn't believe the prosecutors' argument that that violating MySpace's terms of service to inflict emotional distress on someone was equivalent to hacking. Nice try, but ...

At the time of the incident, the state of resident of Megan Meier, Missouri, had no cyberbullying laws. That has since been changed. Megan Meier, committed suicide in 2006. She was a classmate of Drew's daughter Sarah.



Retrevo Preps Consumers with "Black Friday" Strategies

Black Friday, Black Friday, Black Friday. That and Cyber Monday, that's all we hear right now. Some people are really prepared, others needs some help. If you are in the latter category, Retrevo, which bills itself as the site that "matches people and electronics" has two guides to help you sort through the confusion.

First up is their Geek Speak Guide (.PDF). While probably a bit elementary for this audience, if you don't know what Bluetooth is, it might help you.

Like I said, most reading this probably don't need that sort of help.

Second is their Black Friday Strategy Guide (.PDF). It has some general tips, which are very helpful, and some of their top picks in categories such as GPS, computers, HDTVs and more.

Retrevo allows you to search for products and look for deals, but in addition, each search results lists not just pricing information, but what both expert and user reviews. The summary information also includes what they call "Community Sentiment" and "Value Rating."

"Community Sentiment" is a measure, determined by what they call "Trevolysis," of how the community at large (not just users of the site, but aggregated across the Web) feels about a product: “thumbs up”, “sideways thumb” or “thumbs down”.

"Value Rating" is what it sounds like, and gets recomputed as new products are introduced.

An example would be this Magellan Roadmate 1200 GPS, one of their top GPS deals. You can see it's fairly priced, and has a positive Community Sentiment.

Also, if you set up an account you can save user manuals, a shopping list, and so forth. The user manual idea is nice, though they don't have everything. They also have some products with minimal information, such as this Canon CanoScan LiDE 200: no Community Sentiment or Value Rating.

Finally, the Retrevo Pulse feature, which was introduced recently, tells you how demand and pricing for various categories of electronics is trending. For example, currently, it looks like overall prices have remained stable, dropping very slightly, while overall demand has skyrocketed recently --- wonder why? --- holidays, anyone?

If you click into each index you can drill down into categories. Digital camera prices started falling in late October, for example. Demand for laptops (click above to enlarge), meanwhile, has skyrocketed in the last week or so.

All in all, there's some good info at this site. Take a look at the guides and the site, and get ready for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.



U.K. Ad Authority Bans Second iPhone Ad

For the second time (the first was in August), the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned an ad for the iPhone.

The first ad was banned over "false claims" regarding the prowess of the iPhone's browser. This one has been banned for "exaggerating the speed of the iPhone 3G."

In the U.S., a different, though "speed-related" campaign is something that's been argued about (and even sued over) before: "twice the speed, half the price" --- it's not really. For one thing, my earlier cost analysis showed, it ain't half the price.

In this ad, all they say is the iPhone is "really fast." But the ASA said the problem was that:
speedy visuals of the internet being used on one of the smartphones would "lead viewers to believe that the device actually operated at or near to the speeds shown in the ad."
Good point, and glad to see they're paying attention. A PC browser on broadband doesn't even work that instantly either (watch the video below). The ASA said the ad was misleading and that it should not be shown again unless modified. It had received 17 complaints about the ad before investigating.

video


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Black Friday" Comes Early for Mac Buyers

This just shows how things have changed. In the past we'd be salivating over Dell deals, or HP deals, but now it's Mac deals that grab people's attention. Both MacMall and Best Buy are starting their "Black Friday" sales early.

MacMall combines both instant savings and rebate, and is offering up to $250 off on MacBook Pros and $100 - 150 on other Macs. Best Buy is offering $100 - $150 in instant savings. MacRumors has a nice table (above).

MacRumors has bolded the "best" deals in each category, with instant savings given higher priority over rebates.

Don't forget Amazon.com's generally lower prices (and lack, for most, of sales tax), and also that Apple Stores will be willing to price match authorized dealers' prices. Apple also has a teaser site up advertising a 1-day "Black Friday" event.

Finally, Kaufman Bros. analysts Shawn Wu said in a research note this morning that discounts on Macs, iPods and accessories this year could be up to 15%, compared with discounts of 5%-10% from previous years. Wu initiated coverage of Apple (AAPL) at Kaufman earlier this week with a Buy rating and a price target of $120.

Might be a good Christmas for Apple buyers, despite the recession; perhaps even for Apple stock owners.



PayPal Adds SMS Security Key for Added Protection

PayPal has added another form of two-factor authentication to their service. Two-factor authentication means you enter not just your username and password, but a code from, in general, some electronic device.

PayPal already had the Paypal Security Key Token, which is an electronic device (see above left) you carry, and which generates a new code every 30 seconds. However, you pay $5 for each Key Token device, so while it protects you ... well, cheapskates like me will eschew it.

Enter the PayPay SMS Security Key. You can get temporary security codes sent to your mobile phone by SMS. The advantage: it's free (aside from your normal text message charges). The disadvantage? Well, you've only got 30 seconds after the SMS to login ...

It's just another example how the availability of cell phones to most means that SMS is getting more and more usage, and in different ways.

If you want to activate it, just go this page. Both of these security keys will work with PayPals's parent company eBay, as well.



Google Admits to Sidestepping App Store Rules

An earlier analysis of the new version of the Google Mobile App for the iPhone showed that in order to achieve some of its functionality, the ability to detect when the iPhone is raised to a person's head to perform a voice search, it had to use undocumented APIs. On Tuesday, Google admitted that it's been caught with its App Store rules down.

A Google spokesperson told C|Net that the Mobile App does indeed use undocumented APIs. At the same time Google denied that it was linking to private or dynamic frameworks, which is a far more serious charge.

The problem with the use of undocumented APIs, of course, is that those APIs can be changed at any time, rendering the application non-functional, or at least that particular feature.

However, more worrisome to other developers is the fact that according to terms of the SDK, such an app should not be able to make it through the App Store approval process. Since the App Store approval process has proved to be somewhat spotty at times.

The rules are supposed to make the playing field even for developers. The question is, did the app make it through because:
  • Apple missed the use of undocumented APIs
  • Google cut a deal
  • Google has political clout
If it's simply an oversight, will Google be required to rewrite its app? If not, how will other developers, who have cried foul in the past over App Store policies, react?



Porn / Spyware Case Closed, But Justice Not Served

I have previously railed against people who are silly enough not to install some sort of antivirus program on their system (I have signed up to clean out one such system). I am also amazed by organizations such as the Pentagon who, rather than installing up-to-date AV software, ban USB drives to prevent infection by an old (and thus easily detected) virus.

Here we have a school which didn't protect its computers with up-to-date AV software, and a teacher who has paid the price.

Reportedly, when Julie Amero was a substitute teacher in 2004, her PC started popping up random images of pornography when surfing the Web. Now, that's the same symptom my friend's system has, and it's often indicative of malware. Yet, despite this, without taking the time to examine the system for malware, the state of Connecticut chose to prosecute --- and convict --- Amero of felony charges, with a 40-year sentence, in January of 2007.

The verdict was overturned in June of 2007, after forensic analysts independently did their own study and determined that the computer was infected. Despite this, the state of Connecticut was determined to retry the case. They also never admitted any of the errors they made in trying the case, including the aforementioned lack of forensic analysis of the hard drive.

However, last Friday, the case finally was put to rest. Amero accepted a plea bargain to end the ordeal. She received a $100 fine, but she also had to surrender her teacher's license. While she said she was happy, stating:
"Oh honey, it's over. I feel wonderful. The Norwich police made a mistake. It was proven. That makes me feel like I'm on top of the world."
justice has not been served as she lost her license to teach as well as paying a terrible price for more than 4 years.

The stress of the experience has resulted in Amero being hospitalized, a little over a week ago.

BTW, the school was using Symantec's WebNot, which is a firewall program. However, they had not renewed the subscription so it was not up-to-date. It should have been obvious to an on-the-ball IT admin that even with a firewall, local AV software should have installed on all the PCs.

That would have prevented infection from the Web, and also prevented infection via USB drives (hint, hint, Pentagon?).

So, unfortunately for Amero, it seems like what we have here is closure, but it sure doesn't seem like we got justice. Just another example of what happens when non-technical people try to judge a technical trial.



Apple to Store Managers: Don't Forget the Price Match

It's been store policy for some time, but both consumers and store employees may have forgotten it: Apple Stores have the ability to price match items from other authorized retailers. I think the key to remember is "authorized retailers," meaning that you shouldn't expect a match to an eBay price.

The "reminder" is another move to shore up what looks to be a very disappointing holiday shopping season for all retailers. But it's also a way for Apple Stores to be competitive with stores like Best Buy and Amazon.com, which are either having sales on Apple products, or consistently have lowered prices.

While the policy has been in place for a long time, many are unaware of it, even sites that focus on Apple retail stores such as ifoAppleStore, which seemed to think it was a new policy. As a commenter on that site said (emphasis mine):
Much of this story is incorrect. As a long time Apple Store manager, I can state that retail has always had the ability to match prices with Authorized Apple Retailers with some limits, such as matching rebates and matching prices with Club stores. The policy is very clear and printed in the retail operations manual.
So think of this as a reminder to both Apple Store retail employees and us as well: don't forget the price match at Apple Stores. But don't forget this as well: live in a high sales tax state, like California (me)? Don't forget the automatic (at least for now) price cut because of no sales tax for online retailers such as Amazon.com.



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cyberchondria Hits Web Searchers

This is another one of those studies where I would say (insert sarcasm here), "No. You're kidding!" Microsoft has completed a study (.PDF) on how people search for medical information. The report was written by Ryen W. White and Eric Horvitz of Microsoft Research.

The conclusion of the report? Much as normal hypochondria, old school fear of diseases which used to be fuel by say TV shows or books, cyberchondria often leads to the conclusion that a searcher has the most unlikely, rare, dire disease possible.

The methodology used in the report spanned three groups:
We retrieved a 40-million page random sample of Web content based on a breadth-first crawl of all categories in the Open Directory Project (ODP) (http://dmoz.org), a human-edited directory of the Web. Following the crawl, for each of three common symptoms (headache, muscle twitches, and chest pain), we compared the co-occurrence statistics for the symptom and the corresponding most likely benign explanations with the co-occurrences of the symptom and serious, but less likely disorders.
Secondly:
We automatically mined the anonymized interaction logs of hundreds of thousands of consenting Windows Live Toolbar users during an 11-month period. The information contained in our logs included a client identifier, a timestamp for each page view, a unique browser window identifier (to resolve ambiguities in determining which browser a page was viewed), and the URL of the page visited.
And, they went internal:
We distributed the survey within Microsoft Corporation to 5,000 randomly-chosen employees. 515 volunteers (350 males and 165 females) who indicated that they searched the Web for health-related information, completed the survey, for a response rate of 10.3%.
One obvious problem with a Web-based search: since we know that search results are ranked, and that most people look at the first set of results, if you see brain tumor for headache instead of caffeine withdrawal, that's where you're going to go in your mind. Makes sense, though, based on typical search user behavior. That's why results are ranked, after all.

Researchers found that roughly 2% of all Web queries are health-related. Within the sample, about 250,000 users (about 25%) engaged in a least one health-related search during the study. About 1/3 then "escalated" with follow-up searches to "dive deeper" into serious illnesses.

Finally, from the survey of 515 Microsoft employees, it's clear most don't think they are hypochondriacs. In fact, over 95% said they did not feel they were hypochondriacs, and about the same said they had never been called hypochondriacs. However, more than half said daily activities had been disrupted at least once after searching and finding information about some obscure disease. Oops.

Why do humans jump to the worst possibility? Well, the simple answer would be that we are basically pessimists. But according to the researchers, this is basic human behavior, documented by researchers for decades.

Clearly, my wife needs to stay away from these type of queries.



Blockbuster Unveils VOD Set-Top Box

Blockbuster on Tuesday announced its own Video-on-Demand set-top box, joining arch-rival Netflix, which has been pushing VOD for some time now, with the $100 Roku set-top box as well as the Xbox 360, Samsung BD-P2500, Samsung BD-P2550, and LG BD300.

Blockbuster is teaming with 2Wire and using its recently introduced MediaPoint player. And, at least for a limited time, the 2Wire player is free, with some up-front cash that is:
Beginning today, for a limited time, the MediaPoint digital media player is available free with the advance rental of 25 BLOCKBUSTER ONDEMAND movies for $99 at http://www.blockbuster.com/. Unlike subscription-based services, which typically offer movies years after their release, BLOCKBUSTER ONDEMAND includes hot new releases, many available within weeks of leaving theaters. After the initial 25 rentals, movies are available for as little as $1.99 each. The players will begin shipping in time for the holiday season.
Once again, another broadband-connected device set to push us to the limit on the soon-to-be-nationwide (if things keep going the way they are) bandwidth caps, eh?

Nicely, there's no need for a subscription to the service. For those who don't watch a consistent number of movies a month, this would be a plus.

What's going to happen to MovieLink, which Blockbuster purchased in August of 2007? It's going to say good-bye. The site mentions that as of Dec. 15th it will no longer be available, as it passes the torch to Blockbuster OnDemand.

Details on the player are already posted on Blockbuster' site (.PDF). The player uses progressive playback rather than streaming, which Blockbuster claims will improve the playback quality.

Blockbuster needs this service to be a hit. It's been losing market share and revenue to Netflix for some time. The company has lost nearly $4.5 billion since 2001, including $14 million through the first three quarters of this year.



Samsung Demos Cell Phone with Foldable Screen

A Samsung concept cell phone was shown off at Japan's Flat Panel Display show recently. Shown in a video (below), it looks oddly square, and if you didn't know it was a cell phone, you might think it a portable media player.

Watch the video, though, and you see the secret: the screen folds in half, revealing a cell phone with a more typical appearance, including a smaller screen.

The folding was even done while the device was on and the screen active. Hard to tell, but it looks like a touch screen with the typical call and hang up keys. Windows Mobile? Probably.

Something like this could create a way for OEMs to expand screen real estate still further than even a touch screen device (iPhone) or one with a slider keyboard (G1) can allow.

On the one hand, I hate going through multiple actions to use my cell phone. That's one reason I eschew slider keyboards of any type (though I tried them, before realizing I hated them). Of course, perhaps the larger unfolded screen could be used for web browsing or viewing media.

Watch the video:



McCartney: Beatles' iTunes Negotiations Stalled

While just about everyone wants the Beatles music catalog to be on iTunes --- or any digital download service, for that matter --- Paul McCartney, speaking at the launch of his new album, Electric Arguments, said not the expect anything anytime soon.

According to McCartney, Apple Corps Ltd., the multimedia corporation founded in January 1968 by The Beatles, and the band's label EMI have not been able to agree on terms for release of the Beatles' catalog to iTunes or any other download services.
"That is constantly being talked of -- we'd like to do it. What happens is, when something's as big as the Beatles, it's heavy negotiations.

We are very for it; we've been pushing it. But there are a couple of sticking points, I understand. So the last word I got back was that it had stalled, the whole process.

(EMI executives) want something we're not prepared to give them. Hey, sounds like the music business. It's between EMI and the Beatles -- what else is new."
And while the RIAA and major music labels still can't seem to get their arms around the new Internet era, and how to handle music downloading, legal or no, McCartney seems to have a definite view on it.
"I think the majors at the moment, I'm not dissing them, but I don't think they really know what's going on. With the download culture, they are floundering a little bit."
Dissing them or not, it's all true. Strangely, he went on to say that EMI considers the Beatles "just another group." Just another group? Any deal that involved the Beatles catalog and any download service (I'm rooting for Amazon MP3) would be huge --- bigger than any other such deal.

Come on, EMI, none of the rest of us consider the Beatles "just another group."



Police Search for Culpability for Web Suicide Goaders

Police are investigating the suicide of a teenager on Justin.TV, specifically looking into any possible culpability for those watching --- and goading him on.

Abraham K. Biggs killed himself on camera last Wednesday night. Some watched in disbelief, and some watched and egged him on, saying "Do it, do it" in forum postings.

One response to Biggs' posting his suicide note was particularly harsh:
"You want to kill yourself? Do it, do the world a favor and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."
While the question of iw whether or not goading someone on can be prosecuted, I always think back to the TV show Law & Order ... though a TV show, their use of the "depraved indifference murder" charge, while quite possible, is probably overused. And, a quick search of "depraved indifference murder" turns up a number that were overturned.

As heinous as the reactions of people to Biggs' suicide note and video might be, it's not murder, but it might be something else.

As A. Randall Haas, a criminal lawyer in Ft. Lauderdale, FL told C|Net:
"It all comes down to how much is contributed to the victim being able to do the act. If you tell me you're depressed and want to kill yourself and I hand you a gun, I could be found criminally liable. If someone is on the edge and you help give him a push then you may have to answer for that. What has to be decided is whether communicating with someone over the Internet rises to the level necessary for someone to be considered culpable."
And while Florida criminal statute 782.07 says: "The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another ... is manslaughter," this is pretty much the same as any sort of crime "committed" over the Web:

I'm in New York, or even Russia: how do you prosecute me under Florida law, and is that even possible?

And is this another case of how numbed some may be in our current technological society. Jeffrey Cole, a professor who studies technology’s effects on society at USC told the New York Times that:
Online communities “are like the crowd outside the building with the guy on the ledge. Sometimes there is someone who gets involved and tries to talk him down. Often the crowd chants, ‘Jump, jump.’ They can enable suicide or help prevent it.

The anonymous nature of these communities only emboldens the meanness or callousness of the people on these sites. Rarely does it bring out greater compassion or consideration.”
Here's the clip of when police and EMTs broke down the door in an attempt to save Biggs. Caution: some may find it disturbing.

video



Apple Sued Over iPhone Web Browsing Tech

The iPhone has drawn a lot a lot of attention from consumers --- and plaintiffs. The latest lawsuit to be filed against Apple's immensely popular device was filed on Monday by law firm Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro (JMBM) on the behalf of EMG Technology, LLC against Apple Inc. in the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in the Tyler Division.

The lawsuit involves a patent which was just issued on Oct. 21, 2008, regarding:
Apparatus and method of manipulating a region on a wireless device screen for viewing, zooming and scrolling internet content.
It appears that patent number 7,441,196 centers around technology for displaying websites on mobile device screens, such as the iPhone. The inventors are Elliot Gottfurcht, Grane Gottfurcht, and Albert-Michel Long, all of California; EMC Technology appears to be a holding company.

The press release posted by EMG Technology says:
EMG Managing Member Elliot Gottfurcht is one of the named inventors of five U.S. patents for navigating the Internet on mobile devices and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). Issued on October 21, 2008, the ‘196 patent includes 76 claims, which are supported by specifications filed in 1999 by Mr. Gottfurcht and others.

JMBM partner and IP expert, Stanley Gibson, explains that "the '196 patent claims cover the display of Internet content reformatted from HTML to XML on mobile devices -- the industry standard currently displayed by the iPhone. Additional patent claims include the technology for manipulating a region of the screen for zooming and scrolling.

“Web sites are just beginning to develop their mobile sister sites for fast and easy navigation,” says Mr. Gibson. “For example, to access NBC on a computer the URL is NBC.com. For the mobile site on the iPhone, the URL would be m.NBC.com. The ‘196 patent covers the simplified interface of reformatted mobile content to provide optimum viewing and navigation with single touches on a small screen.”
Why pick on Apple, as there are many other companies with similar technology? Well, the sales numbers probably have something to do with it, as well as the fact that the patent mentions zooming and scrolling, something that Mobile Safari handles quite while with a flick of your fingers.

JMBM made sure to toot its own horn, by including in the press release information about their big win vs. Medtronic. In fact, Stanley Gibson was one of the lead trial attorneys from JMBM who successfully prosecuted Gary Michelson's patent infringement lawsuit against Medtronic, which resulted in a $570 million verdict.

Naturally Apple won't comment on pending litigation.



Nice Try! Sexy Wallpaper App Slips Into the App Store

Ah, the circus that is the App Store approval process. While it appears that Google's new voice-enabled Mobile App slipped through the approval process despite some SDK no-nos, so did a far-too an innocent sounding app, Wallpaper Universe.

Wallpaper Universe (since removed) by FunMobility gave you the ability to add wallpaper to your iPhone. Not just any wallpaper, though. Ahem (see above left).

The app has disappeared, and I wouldn't think of putting it on my phone (look what happened to Tina Sherman) anyway, so there's no way of knowing just how, em, adult-ish the wallpaper is, aside from this screenshot.

But really, the screenshot alone should have precluded it from making it into the App Store, based on Apple's policy of excluding such adult apps.

Someone was definitely asleep during the approval.

However, let's be honest: there are many apps that pass through the store. While you would think the screenshot alone would have earned this app a rejection, perhaps the employee checking these simply looked at the title of "Wallpaper Universe," and just assumed it was a simple wallpaper app.

At any rate, while some are bound to jump on this and criticize Apple, I think it's funny, and just another example that we (including Apple employees) are only human.



Second-Gen iPod Touch Faster Than iPhone 3G: Report

Both the iPod Touch 2G and iPhone 3G use the same CPU, but apparently the second generation iPod Touch is clocking its quite a bit faster, according to a report. While observing empirical evidence that the iPod Touch 2G was running games quite a bit faster than the iPhone 3G, Handheld Games Corp. noted that the CPU in the devices, an ARM 1176, is running at 532 Mhz in the Touch 2G, and 412 Mhz in the iPhone 3G.

Now, some might wonder if this bump up came with the 2.2 software update; it might have. Since the CPU in both devices is underclocked anyway (the ARM CPU is capable of 620 Mhz), it's possible the iPhone might get a boost later; historically it's been done, with the 1.1.2 update for the original iPhone boosting speed from 400 to 412 Mhz.

Of course, once they did that, you'd hear tons of complaints about the affected battery life (has anyone besides me noticed the difference in battery life in 2.2? Waaay better). What would be really cool is if they made the CPU speed adjustable.

On the other hand, remember how Apple has been billing the iPod Touch 2G in its commercials? "The funnest iPod ever." Typical of gaming PCs which require way more power in order to run games effectively, the same is obviously true for handheld gaming platforms, which Apple seems to be pushing the iPod Touch 2G as.

Further, according to the report, here's how the 1st and 2nd generation devices stack up:
  1. iPod Touch 2G
  2. iPhone 3G
  3. iPhone (original)
  4. iPod Touch 1G


Monday, November 24, 2008

Motorola Razr Takes Bullet for Owner, Saves His Life

I've written before about bulletproof backpacks for kids in the wake of such tragedies as Columbine. But what we have here is a case of a life-saving, though obviously not bulletproof, Motorola Razr.

A Louisiana man owes his life to his Razr. Unfortunately, it's probably not something the embattled and sinking Motorola can use in an ad.

R.J. Richard was using his riding mower on a Saturday when, as he told WWL-TV:
"All of a sudden, something hits me in the chest and I'm nor thinking bullet. I'm thinking, 'how could something pop up from the lawnmower and hit me?' That’s the only thing I could think of.

I had a sweatshirt on. I stopped and I lifted up my sweatshirt and I took out the cell phone to check it to see if it was damaged and this bullet falls out and it's like 'Wow.'"
Turns out it was a bullet, a 45-caliber bullet, to be exact, which he believes was a stray from the nearby woods.

Richard isn't sure why he clipped the Razr to the front of his overalls --- over his heart, according to the report. But he certainly is glad.

Police feel it was simply an accident, not intentional. However, this reminds me of what I always wonder when people fire off guns in celebration of events. The bullet has to come down somewhere.

This isn't the first life-saving cell phone. For example, in 2007 Roger Baxter from Colorado interrupted a burglary and was saved by his cell phone.



Amazon's "Customers Vote" Returns with PS3 Bundles

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Actually, while it is the holiday season, it really sucks. Look at the economy, the stock market, job losses, and earnings reports for many companies. But it is the time of the year for tne annual Amazon.com Customers Vote promotion.

How does it work?
  • Step 1: Vote.
    Browse our six rounds of great products, and vote for the ones you'd like to buy at an amazing discount.
  • Step 2: Check E-mail.
    Check your e-mail the day before each buying round to see if you've been randomly selected to participate in the race to buy.
  • Step 3: Go!
    If selected, make sure you come back and log-in early on race day. We will have many more participants than deals, so the race is on. Good luck!
Just remember, even if you qualify in Step 2, you still have to "race" other entrants to get the deal. You're not assured of the deal even with an email in Step 2.

This year, Amazon.com starts things off with your choice of one of three PS3 bundles.

Round 1: Go Blu-
  • 500 Blu-ray Sci-Fi Bundles (includes: 80GB PS3, "Firefly: The Complete Series" Blu-ray Collection, PS3 Blu-ray Disc Remote, and "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" game) $199
  • 500 Blu-ray Action Bundles (includes: 80GB PS3, James Bond Blu-ray Collection, PS3 Blu-ray Disc Remote, and "Far Cry 2" game) $229
  • 500 Blu-ray Family Bundles (includes: 80GB PS3, "Pirates of the Caribbean" Trilogy Blu-ray Collection, PS3 Blu-ray Disc Remote, and "LittleBigPlanet" game) $199
Voting for the first deal closes on Nov. 26th; the others close one day at a time after that. You can vote for all of them at once if you'd like, or take your time. The rest are:

Round 2: Go Play
  • 1,000 Eyeclops Night Vision Goggles - $39
  • 1,000 U-Dance Game Systems - $35
  • 1,000 Razor PowerWing Caster Scooters - $49
Round 3: Go Hi-Def
  • 250 Samsung 46-Inch 1080p LCD HDTVs - $699
  • 500 Samsung TL34HD 14.7MP Cameras - $139
  • 500 Sony Blu-ray Disc Players - $99
Round 4: Go Mobile
  • 500 Nokia N95-3 Phones (Unlocked) - $199
  • 500 ASUS Eee PC 900 Netbooks - $129
  • 1,000 Flip Video Camcorders - $49
Round 5: Go Your Way
  • 500 Navigon 8100T Portable GPS Navigators - $299
  • 1,000 TomTom GO 730T Portable GPS Navigators - $245
  • 1,000 Garmin GolfLogix GPS Navigators - $149
Round 6: Go Crazy
  • 1,000 "The Sopranos - The Complete Series" DVDs - $130
  • 1,000 "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" Collector's Editions - $50
  • 500 KitchenAid Professional Stand Mixers - $69
Race you to the finish line! More details at Amazon.com's site.



How to Make Gaming Consoles Suck Less (Power)

Humans like to use energy. We also waste a ton of it, sometimes withour realizing. The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) released a study last week, one that looked into just how much energy our gaming consoles are using. The study (.PDF), titled, "Lowering the Cost of Play: Improving the Energy Efficiency of Video Game Consoles,"was done by NRDC with and Ecos Consulting.

The study, which they say is the first ever comprehensive study on the energy use of video game consoles, estimates that American video game consoles alone use the equivalent of the amount of energy used by the city of San Diego annually: 16 billion kWh per year. The study did make the assumption that 1/2 of gamers that leave their consoles on all the time.

Simply by looking at the hardware specs of the various consoles, one would probably conclude that the Nintendo Wii sips energy, while the Xbox 360 and PS3 guzzle it, and you'd be right. The study noted that the Wii (16 watts) uses 1/7 the power of the Xbox 360 (110 watts) while gaming, and 1/9 the power (150 watts) of the PS3.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 can each gobble more than 1,000 kWh per year if left on all the time, equal to the annual energy use of two new refrigerators.

Not able to get your mind around that? Let's talk $. For those who have to pay the bills, turning off an Xbox 360 3 hours a day could results in estimated savings of $79 for an Xbox 360 and $105 for a PS3. Just think, you could spend that on more games.

Worse, and I didn't think about this previously, while the PS3 is a nice Blu-ray player, and in fact was the first BD-Live player on the market (due to a firmware upgrade), it use 5x the power of a stand-alone Sony Blu-ray player.

The study lists a number of recommendations for the video game industry, including campaigns to encourage users to shut down their systems, auto-power down systems enabled by default (the Xbox 360 and PS3 have this, but the options are disabled by default), and lower power consumption for new designs.

That last one will go over well, as it seems the better the experience and hardware, the more power it uses.

Still these are all decent suggestions. Humans waste a lot of energy, and we often don't even realize it. Ever wonder how your TV can turn on with a remote control? Does it magically detect the signal from the remote even though it's off? No, of course not. The truth is its not really off. Sure, sure it's not that much per TV. But add it up across the world and we're wasting a ton of energy.

Think of how much energy is wasted by the following, when added up across the world:
  • Retail stores with lights on all over the place (yes, yes, I know: security)
  • Automatic-opening doors
  • Not just TVs, but all the other instant-on devices in our houses
  • Chargers that are always plugged in (if they're warm, they're wasting power)
And on and on.

Oh, yeah, I will admit one thing: I am as much a consumer of energy as the next guy. Or maybe not, I do shut down more things than most, and don't leave my PCs or video console on all the time. But I am still pretty vampiric energy-wise.

End of rant.