Thursday, April 30, 2009

Controversial video games keep on coming




TV shows like “Law & Order” aren’t the only form of entertainment that can claim subjects that are “ripped from the headlines.”
Video games are getting their inspiration from real-life events too. From games that riff on rampant layoffs and the bailout of U.S. banks to ones that poke fun at the foibles of political figures, interactive entertainment developers have become quite topical.
In some cases, the video games themselves become news because their content offends people.

"Swinefighter: The Swine Flu Game"

One new online game is based on the outbreak of swine flu that’s been in the news lately. In “Swinefighter: The Swine Flu Game,” players have to shoot flying pigs representing viruses. Players control a doctor character who wears a facemask and carries a giant syringe. “Swinefighter” is from Heyzap.

"Saving Captain Phillips"

Another online game is based on the U.S. Navy rescue of an American freighter captain from Somali pirates. In “Saving Captain Phillips,” you play a Navy sniper who has to pick off four pirates with a high-powered rifle to save the hostage. “Saving Captain Phillips” was developed by Games2win. Play it here.
Those games follow three recent games that caused outrage among some groups.

"Baby Shaker"

Apple pulled an iPhone game called “Baby Shaker” from its App Store on April 22 after groups condemned the game for encouraging people to quiet a crying baby with a vigorous shake.
The App Store description of the game included the line, “See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down!”
Once the iPhone owner finishes shaking the device, the on-screen baby is depicted with large red X’s over its eyes. Organizations protesting the game included the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, according to the Associated Press.

"Faith Fighter"

Another controversial game recently was “Faith Fighter,” a “Mortal Kombat”-style fighting game featuring deities and holy men. In the game, players can choose to fight as such figures as God, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims were particularly incensed about the depiction of Muhammad.
Italian game developer Molleindustria pulled the game earlier this month, the AP reported. But it’s still available on other sites like NewGrounds.com.

"Six Days in Fallujah"

And finally, the publisher behind a video game based on one of the Iraq war’s fiercest battles has pulled the plug on the title, called “Six Days in Fallujah,” according to news reports this week.
The game, which had been set for release by Konami next year, sought to re-create the November 2004 Fallujah battle from the perspective of a U.S. Marine fighting against insurgents. But some veterans, victims’ families and others criticized the game, calling it inappropriate.

Photos, top to bottom:
“Swinefighter” screen shot
“Saving Captain Phillips” screen shot
“Faith Fighter” screen shot
“Six Days in Fallujah” screen shot

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

‘Twitter quitters’ are the talk of the Net

News sites and Web logs are buzzing about a study that shows Twitter has a terrible retention rate. People hear the hype about the microblogging service, sign up and give it a try. Then most don’t come back.
It’s what I’ve been saying for awhile: Twitter has some valid niche uses, but in its current state is not a mainstream consumer service.
A Nielsen Online study determined that more than 60% of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month. In other words, Twitter’s audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month’s users who come back the following month, is now about 40%.
The retention rates for Facebook and MySpace, when they were emerging networks like Twitter is now, were twice as high. Facebook and MySpace even improved their retention rates as they went through their explosive growth phase, Nielsen said Tuesday. They both have nearly 70% user retention today. See the Nielsen report here. And here’s how Reuters covered the report.

Not a lot of there, there

To most people, Twitter is like a public message board with a lot of inane chatter, conversations that are impossible to follow, and people posting Web links (guilty!).
All those @ symbols before user names that show a response to someone else’s message are very confusing and break up an individual user’s tweets. The design of the Web page is a mess and finding useful information is like hunting for gems in the dirt at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.
I’ve noted in other posts about the numerous empty or abandoned Twitter user pages. I’ve found scores of blank or barely used accounts just by typing in possible user names in the URL. Just type in possible user accounts after twitter.com/ and hit enter.
Here’s a few more such dead or joke accounts: Nigerian Prince, Dr. Gregory House (at least three), Tracy Jordan, Terminator, IP Freely, Amanda Hugankiss, Wizard of Oz, Homer Simpson, Bart Simpson, Lisa Simpson, Maggie Simpson, Montgomery Burns, Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, Porky Pig, and on and on.
My account on Twitter is just a week old. I’m just using it to post Web links to my stories on Investor’s Business Daily and personal blog entries so Twitter users can discover them. So far I haven’t been tempted to tell people what I’ve eaten for lunch.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do petitions to save TV shows work?

You see it a lot in TV fandom. A devoted fan base for a television show with low ratings starts a petition to convince network suits to save a beloved show from cancelation.
Right now, you’re seeing online campaigns to save “Chuck,” “Dollhouse,” “Reaper” and other shows on the bubble.
Do these petitions work? They can’t hurt, particularly if a show could go either way between renewal and cancelation.
Ultimately it depends on whether a network thinks it can do better with another show. If its options are limited, it’s more likely to stick with the known quantity and hope the fans can build ratings through word of mouth.
“Jericho” (2006-08) is perhaps the best recent example of a show brought back for another season because of fan support.
Fan support for the CW’s “Supernatural” may have helped that horror-fantasy drama get two more seasons to finish telling its story. It’s expected to end its run next year after five seasons.
At the suggestion of a reader, I recently signed an online petition to save the CW’s “Reaper.” I encourage other fans to do the same. It’s a gem of a show.

Monday, April 27, 2009

TiVo looking to cash in on consumer move to free over-the-air television


In these tough economic times, many consumers looking to save money are switching from pay TV to free over-the-air television.
The average cable TV household can save nearly $1,000 a year by making the switch. Over-the-air television offers the highest quality high-definition TV signals and many stations broadcast additional “hidden” channels through multicasting.
But consumers accustomed to cable or satellite TV will want a set-top box with a digital video recorder and on-screen program guide.
TiVo, the DVR pioneer, is stepping up to fill that need. It’s been advertising its hardware and service paired with free TV in online ads. (See above.) Those ads link to a special Web site that pitches the benefits of using its offering plus an antenna for free on-air TV.
In addition to free HD programming from the major networks, TiVo boxes can receive streaming movies from Netflix and video-on-demand movies from Amazon.com.
Of course, TiVo, Netflix and Amazon VOD movies aren’t free. TiVo and Netflix charge monthly subscription fees and Amazon sells a la carte rentals.
The TiVo HD DVR costs $299 and the service is either $12.95 a month or $129 a year (a savings of $26.40 over the monthly plan for a full year). Right now, TiVo is offering a bonus pack of music and movies worth $50 and a free TiVo wireless adapter (worth $60). The offer runs through July 31.
Tempting, very tempting.

Beyonce plays to her broad fan base – from adults to preschoolers


It’s a big week for Beyonce Knowles. Her mature-themed movie, “Obsessed,” was No. 1 at the weekend box office. And today she appears on kid’s cartoon “Wow Wow Wubbzy” as Shine, the lead singer of girl group the Wubb Girlz.
Knowles is featured on multiple episodes of the animated show this week on Nickelodeon. Having conquered music and movies, this is the singer’s first children’s project.
She’s following a path blazed by other celebrities. In recent weeks, we’ve had Jack Black on “Yo Gabba Gabba,” Johnny Depp on "SpongeBob SquarePants," and Ricky Gervaise and Paul Rudd on “Sesame Street.”
Knowles will have to bring her "A" game to top my favorite celebrity cameo in recent years: Alicia Keys on “The Backyardigans.” She played an animated Martian mom who sang “Almost Everything Is Boinga” on the episode “Mission to Mars.” Great voice for a great song.

Photos:
Top: Beyonce Knowles and the characters from "Wow Wow Wubbzy"
Bottom: Jack Black on "Yo Gabba Gabba!"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Four low-rated TV shows worth saving




I have the frequent misfortune of choosing to watch TV shows that end up having short lives.
Four of my favorite TV shows are “on the bubble” and being considered for cancelation because of low ratings. They are:
  1. “Cupid” (ABC): With all the violent, pessimistic, base TV shows out there, you’d think there’d be a place for a gentle, romantic comedy with heart and mystery. This remake of the 1998-1999 TV series of the same name might be even more short-lived than the original. Both shows feature a main character who thinks he’s the Roman god of love, Cupid, and must get 100 couples to fall in love so he can return to Mt. Olympus. Or he might just be insane. In many ways, the new version is better than the original, which lasted just 14 episodes on ABC. (Another episode was unaired, according to Wikipedia.) The freshman series is a midseason replacement with just 7 episodes ordered.

  2. “Dollhouse” (Fox): Another entertaining and thought-provoking series from Joss Whedon, the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly.” This show, staring Eliza Dushku, got off to a slow start but is really cooking now plot-wise. “Dollhouse” revolves around a secret organization that uses programmable people to carry out missions and fantasies for high-paying clients. Fox ordered 12 episodes of the new series. (A 13th episode was filmed, but Fox hasn’t agreed to air it.)

  3. “Reaper” (CW): Now in its second season, “Reaper” is a hugely enjoyable comedy-drama. The show focuses on Sam Oliver (played by Bret Harrison) who works as a reaper for the devil, retrieving souls that have escaped from hell. Oliver is helped by two sidekicks – slacker co-workers from a home improvement superstore called the Work Bench. Comic standouts include Sam’s buddy Bert “Sock” Wysocki (played by Tyler Labine) and the Devil (played by Ray Wise).

  4. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (Fox): This television sequel to “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” movies has been inconsistent during its two-season run so far. This season started slow (a sin with short attention span audiences these days), but ended with a bang. The show is at its best doing twisty science-fiction and intense action sequences featuring murderous Terminator robots from the future.

My hope is that these shows have fans at the networks who are willing to give them another chance and maybe a different time slot. Or maybe a cable network is willing to pick them up. Either way, fingers crossed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

GeoCities gets a headstone alongside TheGlobe.com, Xoom and AOL Hometown

As Yahoo’s GeoCities prepares to enter the Internet graveyard, it’s interesting to look back on all the other failed Web services that consumers embraced only to be let down later.
The list is a long one. Thank goodness for Web chroniclers and historians like It Died by Glenn Fleishman, Archiveteam’s Deathwatch, Ghost Sites of the Web, Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and Wikipedia.
Yahoo’s announcement Thursday that it is shutting down its GeoCities Web site hosting service later this year is disappointing. Many people, including myself, now have to find ways to save photos and other personal information stored on GeoCities.
I used GeoCities mostly for photo essays about vacations and other key events in my life from late 1998 through 2004.
What do I do now?
Do I look for a way to port those Web pages to another hosting provider?
Only if it’s easy and free.
Do I download the old photos and move them and the cutline information to my paid Flickr account?
Doesn’t seem like a good fit.
Do I save them as PDFs and put them on CDs?
Or do I make hardcopy books out them?
This is the first time I’ve had to deal with something on this scale. I’ve had e-mail accounts shut down on me as well as services like Yahoo Photos and Yahoo Briefcase. But I didn’t have a lot to save there.
Before opening my first GeoCities account, I experimented with Xoom.com. I ultimately switched to GeoCities because it had better Web design tools.
Xoom folded along with other Web 1.0 hosting ventures like TheGlobe.com and AOL Hometown. Now GeoCities gets a headstone too.
I found an interesting Web page in an AOL community blog where panicked users of AOL Hometown posted notes seeking help in recovering their lost data. AOL Hometown shut down on Oct. 31, 2008.
Here are some of the comments posted after that date:

Is there not a way to obtain the blogs any more. I was unable to transfer them before Oct. 31. Please let me know if there is any way to get them.

I need my files back. This is crap. You can't just close it and delete our files!!!

My question is like those above. Is there anyway still to retrieve my journals and homepages? I tried before the deadline but nothing happened. These are my memories. Things I wanted to remember about my kids. And when I tried to access them before the deadline I was unable to. Otherwise I would have printed it all out. Please help.

What a shambles & a poor show. No one wants to know either. Fortunately I saved my Web page & transferred it to GeoCities.

That last note was posted Nov. 6, 2008, by Phil. Poor Phil, less than six months later and he’s going to have to move his Web pages again.
I hope I don’t end up like Phil.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

End of GeoCities shows once again that nothing is permanent on the Web



Yahoo’s announcement that it plans to shut down its GeoCities Web site hosting service later this year is more proof that Internet services are not reliable for archiving personal data.
Yahoo said Thursday that it was no longer accepting new customers for the service, which will close for existing users later this year. Yahoo will provide more details about how individuals can save their photos, writings and other data this summer.
I used GeoCities from December 1998 until December 2004 to post photos and document everything from vacations, my engagement, honeymoon and the birth of my son. I actually had three free GeoCities accounts. I kept running out of storage space because the photos I posted were quite large. When one site was full (15 MB maximum), I’d open a new account.
I became frustrated with the hourly data transfer limits (4 MB) that Yahoo set on free accounts and switched to a paid photo hosting account with Flickr, also owned by Yahoo, in March 2005.
Even though I wasn’t updating my GeoCities pages, I liked going back to view them every now and then. I also naively believed that they were always going to be there. Yahoo’s not going out of business, I figured.
Yahoo kept trying to get me to upgrade to a paid Web site hosting account. But the fees were exorbitant, because they were aimed at small businesses, not personal users.
GeoCities isn’t the first Web site hosting service to go under and leave users scrambling to save their data. A number of photo hosting services also have gone under over the years.
The Internet is littered with dead links related to defunct services. Anyone who has ever bookmarked a news story and gone back to it later to find nothing knows what I’m talking about.
So, people need to back up not only the data on their personal computers, but their personal data on the Internet as well.

Photos:
Top: Home page from my original GeoCities account.
Bottom: Notice from Yahoo about GeoCities shutting down.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Signing up for Twitter to be a more knowledgeable critic


I’ve been mocking Twitter on Tech-media-tainment for some time now. But my experience with the micro-blogging service has been from the outside.
I’ve bookmarked the Twitter pages of colleagues and media organizations and have been reading them for several months. I haven’t found the service all that interesting or useful.
Tonight I signed up for a Twitter account as PatrickSeitz.
As I told my L.A. colleague Brian Deagon via e-mail today, “Twitter to me is useless banter, people posting Web links, conversations that are hard to follow, and information that is scattershot and disorganized.”
I called Twitter a joke and said the service was going to be a perpetual money loser. “Some media company is going to buy it and regret it later,” I wrote.
Deagon said he found Twitter to be a good tool for having information pushed to you that you might not have otherwise seen.
OK, so I’m going to give Twitter a try and maybe I’ll change my mind.
As I mentioned in a post on Monday, there seems to be a lot of dead and unused Twitter accounts on the service. Also, joke accounts. (See photo above of "mypenis" on Twitter.)
When I signed up for the service, Twitter searched my Yahoo Mail contacts for people with Twitter accounts. It found eight based on my stored e-mail addresses. One of my contacts has two Twitter accounts. Another had an inactive account with just two Tweets, both from December 2007. Yet another had one post from February 2008. (“You Tweet, you twit!” it said.) One had no posts at all.
In fact, as I clicked around on the Twitter accounts of friends and friends of friends I discovered an amazing number of accounts with one or no posts. I have a feeling there are numerous such empty accounts on Twitter.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Terminator, Roomba in Robot Hall of Fame



The Robot Hall of Fame has chosen the T-800 Terminator from the 1984 film “The Terminator” and iRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner for its latest class of inductees.
The other members of the class of 2010 are NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity; Intuitive Surgical’s DaVinci Medical Robot System; and Huey, Dewey, and Louie from the 1971 film “Silent Running.” Check out the press release here.
Carnegie Science Center and Carnegie Mellon University announced the inductees Tuesday at a press preview of Roboworld, the Pittsburgh science center’s new robotics exhibition opening June 13. Roboworld will be the permanent home for the Robot Hall of Fame. The hall honors both real world robots and fictional robots.
The five inductees (actually eight, but who’s counting) are all fine choices. For the second year in a row, real robots outnumber the fictional ones among the selections. That’s a testament to the maturation of the robotics industry.
My only complaint is that the group won’t be formally inducted until a ceremony next year. So, the Robot Hall of Fame is skipping a year of inductees. The last three classes of inductees have been done every two years. As a robot enthusiast, that’s disappointing to me. There are enough interesting robots to be inducted annually. Hopefully with the Roboworld exhibit opening, inductions will take place on a yearly basis after next year.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lots of bogus accounts on Twitter


I don’t know anyone in my personal life who uses Twitter. But everyone in the “Star Wars” universe has an account with the micro-blogging service.
Darth Vader and Princess Leia each have at least two accounts. Obi-Wan Kenobi has at least three. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO and Yoda all have accounts. Even lesser characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and fish-faced rebel leader Admiral Ackbar have accounts. So do Lando Calrissian, Darth Maul, Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. And on and on.
None of my friends or family members use the short-message posting service. But Twitter is estimated to have 14 million users in the U.S., according to Compete.com.
Those users include Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Tarzan, Jack Bauer, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Buddy Holly, Adolph Hitler, Jesus Christ, Damien Thorn, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, Prophet Muhammad, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson and, of course, Tweety Bird.
Famous writers like Shakespeare, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald also are Twitter users.
Twitter doesn’t release statistics on users, much less active users. I can see why the San Francisco-based company doesn’t want to give out those statistics.
There are a ton of joke accounts and dead accounts, many of which only have a couple of posts and were abandoned long ago.
Based on all the publicity the service has generated thanks to a few celebrities using Twitter to promote themselves, many people have signed up to see what all the fuss is about. Based on what I’ve seen, they’re not going to stick around for long. For mainstream Americans the service has little utility. It’s a novelty.
A lot of jokesters have signed up for accounts with funny names based on the Twitter user-page greeting that reads, “Hey there! (FILL IN THE BLANK) is using Twitter.”
So, you get “Hey there! YourEvilTwin is using Twitter.” Also, YourMom, YourDad, Your Grandmother, etc. Then there’s ALoser and ALoner who are using Twitter.
Comedian George Carlin said there are “seven words you can never say on television.” But they’re all being used as Twitter user names.
Other Twitter users: YourPenis, YourScrotum, YourAss, MyPenis, MyBigPenis, MyBoner, MyPussy, and so on. Not surprisingly, they don’t have much interesting to say.
Twitter has many critics. Some of them are using Twitter. They have user names like IHateTwitter, TwitterSucks and FuckTwitter.
But Twitter has put a stop to that. You now can’t sign up with names like TwitterIsDumb, TwitterStinks, TwitterMustDie or TwitterBlows. You get this message, “User name can’t include Twitter.”
I guess they grandfathered those other guys in.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kelly Clarkson's trailer-park love song

The title and refrain of Kelly Clarkson’s latest hit single are a little jarring. Her song, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” might speak to young kids today, but to me it comes off as white trash and without class.
When I was young, “suck” was a dirty word when you said “That sucks” or, worse, “You suck.” The object of the sucking was implied, but still.
I remember getting reprimanded for saying “sucks” in junior high in the mid-1970s. The offended adult said, “Do you know what that means?” And I wasn’t about to answer that question.
What classifies as a dirty word often depends on the listener. An adult with our Catholic church-sponsored Boy Scout troop once criticized me for saying “Geez.” He said, “That’s short for Jesus,” like I was taking the Lord’s name in vain. So it’s not a contraction for “gee whiz”? That’s a new one.
Times change. And so do our swear words.

Celebrities are using Twitter, so it must be great

Who are these 1 million people who signed up to follow actor Ashton Kutcher’s thoughts on Twitter? Does he even have any thoughts worth reading?
News organizations covered Kutcher’s challenge to CNN over who could get to 1 million Twitter followers first. As my favorite snarky celebrity blog – the Superficial – noted Friday “Kutcher has officially won the Twitter race to acquire 1 million asshats.”
The Superficial said the end of civilization must be near because more people are interested in “Ashton Kutcher’s twatting than actual events in the real world.” That’s sad.
In other celebrity news, talk show host Oprah Winfrey started tweeting on the microblogging service Friday. Now housewives nationwide will be jumping on board.
But other celebrities on Twitter have turned out to be fakes, including posts by Christopher Walken, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Megan Fox and George W. Bush.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My picks for Robot Hall of Fame this year: Transformers and Terminator


Every year about this time, the Robot Hall of Fame announces its latest inductees. The honorees include both real robots from science and industry and fictional robots that have inspired future engineers and researchers.
CNet, a unit of CBS, recently made its choices for the top five “coolest movie robots” and “best TV robots.”
Several of those top robots already have made it into the Robot Hall of Fame, which was established in 2003 by the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
CNet’s picks for the top five coolest movie robots are, in ascending order: Maria from “Metropolis” (1927), Marvin the Paranoid Android from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (2005), Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet” (1956), Johnny-5 from “Short Circuit” (1986), and the pairing of R2-D2 and C-3PO from “Star Wars” (1977).
CNet’s choices for the five best TV robots are, in ascending order: Rosie the Robot from “The Jetsons” (1962-63 and 1985-87), Robot from “Lost in Space” (1965-68), Cylon from “Battlestar Galactica” (1978-80 and 2003-2009), Bender from “Futurama” (1999-2003 and 2008-present), and Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994).
Of those CNet picks, five are in the Robot Hall of Fame – Maria, Robby the Robot, R2-D2, C-3PO and Data.
Other fictional robots in the hall are HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), Astro Boy from the Japanese show “Astro Boy” (1963-66), Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), and David the android child from “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (2001).
Here’s my list of the top five fictional robots that aren’t already in the Robot Hall of Fame:

  1. Transformers – These “robots in disguise” likely got a lot of kids interested in engineering with cars, trucks and other vehicles that transform into humanoid robots. I’d induct all the Transformers at once – heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons. That way you cover all the favorite characters: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, etc. Transformers have been popular as toys, comic books, cartoons, and movies.


  2. Terminator – Once again, I’d induct the whole class of robots known as Terminators. That includes the original Arnold Schwarzenegger model and different models from the movies and TV series.


  3. Wall-E – Disney Pixar’s animated film “Wall-E” (2008) showed a future where robots do our dirty work and take care of our every need. It also was a touching romance between two lonely robots (Wall-E and Eve).


  4. Cylons – Yet again, I’d induct all the Cylons from “Battlestar Galactica.” That includes the original chrome Centurions from the 1978-80 TV series, the reimagined Centurion “toasters” and the humanoid “skin-jobs” of 2003-09 TV series.


  5. Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) – KITT is the Pontiac Trans Am controlled by a computer with artificial intelligence from the 1982-86 TV series “Knight Rider.” Let’s just forget the follow-ups and remakes. Who wouldn’t want a talking car that can chauffeur you around and give you personal advice?
Runners up include Robot from “Lost in Space,” Rosie the Robot from “The Jetsons,” Nomad from “Star Trek” the original series (1967), Bishop from “Aliens” (1986) , Gunslinger (played by Yul Brynner) from Michael Crichton’s “Westworld” (1973), and Huey, Dewey & Louie from “Silent Running” (1972).
The Transformers and Terminator robots would be good choices this year since both have big-budget summer movies coming out. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” opens on June 24. “Terminator: Salvation” is out May 21.

You can vote for your favorite robots or nominate ones not listed at the Robot Hall of Fame Web site. The list of nominees needs to be cleaned up however. It contains a lot of duplicate entries and some that are already in the hall of fame.
The 2009 inductees to the Robot Hall of Fame are scheduled to be announced on Tuesday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HP overtaking Dell as top U.S. PC vendor no surprise to IBD readers


One of the big stories in the tech industry on Wednesday was the fact that Hewlett-Packard dethroned Dell as the No. 1 personal computer supplier in the U.S.
Investor’s Business Daily ran the story “Global No. 1 PC Seller HP Now Also Leading In U.S.” from yours truly on Investors.com Wednesday night. Dell had been the top U.S. PC vendor for 10 years until last quarter, when HP shipped more PCs domestically.
The news was no surprise to IBD readers. On Feb. 5 Investors.com posted my story “After Losing Global Lead, Dell Slipping In U.S.” That story addressed the factors why Dell would likely fall to No. 2 in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2009.
Ouch, I just broke my arm.

Enough with the backwards peace signs, people



When crew members of a U.S. cargo ship rescued from Somali pirates boarded a bus for their return home earlier this week, at least two of them flashed backwards peace signs at photographers.
In Britain, Australia and elsewhere, that’s a hand sign meaning “fuck off.” Somehow in the U.S. it’s caught on with celebrities and urban hipsters as a sign to show how cool you are.
Regardless of whether the hand sign is offensive, it’s not very classy. How about a friendly wave next time, people?

Photos above:

A crew member of the Maersk Alabama flashes a backwards peace sign on April 14, 2009. Photo by the Associated Press.

Shaquille O’Neal shows how cool he is by “chuckin’ the deuce.” (WireImage photo on TMZ)

Still from a YouTube video of sign language swearing in Britain.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another Chicago newspaper in jeopardy

First, the parent company of the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection. Then, the Chicago Sun-Times parent did the same. Now, StreetWise, the weekly Chicago publication sold by homeless people, is in danger of collapse.
All right, so StreetWise isn't in the same class as the Tribune or the Sun-Times. But it still serves an important role -- providing income for the homeless since 1992.
The nonprofit organization that publishes StreetWise says it will close down within a couple of months unless it can raise about $75,000 in donations, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Charitable support has declined in the rough economy, backers say.
StreetWise isn't a very good read, but it makes people feel better about handing money to homeless people on street corners.
The publication's decision to switch from a newspaper format to a glossy magazine and raise the cover price from $1 to $2 probably wasn't a wise one. Many people can part with a buck pretty easily. But $2 for a publication many people probably toss without reading is a bit much.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Redbox is considering using its self-service kiosks to rent video games


With its self-service video rental kiosks, Redbox is putting the hurt on traditional movie rental stores like Blockbuster.
Redbox, a unit of Coinstar, rents DVD movies for $1 per night from its automated machines in grocery stores, drug stores and fast-food restaurants. It operates about 13,000 red kiosks nationwide in Walgreens, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s outlets and plans to have over 20,000 deployed by year’s end. (I profiled Redbox in a story published April 8 in Investor’s Business Daily.)
Meanwhile, GameFly, which rents video game discs by mail, is experimenting with self-service game rental kiosks. Privately held GameFly is the online video game rental leader. It provides video games on a subscription basis, much like Netflix does for DVDs.
Redbox is watching the video game market closely. I asked Coinstar President, and former Redbox CEO, Gregg Kaplan about the GameFly test and Redbox’s plans for video games in a March 18 interview.
“Video games is an obvious place for us to look,” he said. “I can’t really comment on plans for the future specific to video games because we’re currently focused just on DVDs. But it seems like a pretty obvious place for us to consider. You could bet that it’s certainly something that we’re looking at.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

People who forward alarming e-mails need to consult Snopes.com first


Tech-media-tainment’s senior correspondent – my mom – forwarded another conspiracy e-mail to the home office today.
This one was about a terrorist expert who supposedly accurately predicted 9/11 and other attacks and was now predicting multi-city, simultaneous attacks in the U.S. within the next 90 days.
A quick check on Snopes.com revealed the e-mail’s claims to be false.
Once again, Snopes quickly shot down another Internet rumor. It’s amazing that bogus rumors and urban legends continue to be spread online when a fact-checking service like Snopes does such a thorough job.
The April 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest profiles the couple behind Snopes.com. The husband-and-wife team of David and Barbara Mikkelson has run the Web site since 1995. The two started the Web site as a hobby and it has become a full-time profession. Each month, 6.2 million people visit Snopes.com.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fringe sports get their own video games




Football has "Madden NFL." Basketball has "NBA Live." Sports fans like to indulge their passions by playing video games featuring their favorite teams and players.
Now even fringe sports are getting their own video games. Fringe sports are sports that haven’t found a mainstream audience. They have niche fan bases and are working to expand the popularity of their sports.
Two of the wackiest fringe sports – beer pong and competitive eating – now have their own video games.
Publisher X, a global publisher of digitally downloadable games and interactive software, is now selling “Beer Pong – BPong 2009 Edition” for download to Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch.
The publisher partnered with BPong.com, the official governing body of the annual World Series of Beer Pong, on the video version of the drinking game.
“Beer Pong – BPong 2009 Edition is the closest you can get to Beer Pong without getting splashed in the face with beer,” Doug Kennedy, co-founder of Publisher X, said in an April 8 press release.
Last summer, video game publisher Mastiff launched the first video game based on the sport of competitive eating for Nintendo’s Wii console.
“Major League Eating: The Game” features “the world’s greatest gurgitory athletes competing across a variety of foods and venues,” a July 11, 2008, press release announced. The game is available for download as WiiWare. The game uses the motion-sensing Wii Remote to simulate a variety of eating techniques including the cram, toss, and “typewriter.” Gamers guide their on-screen characters as they eat hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and other dishes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Twitter mockery continues

Twitter’s owners should have sold out to Facebook for $500 million late last year when they had the chance.
In the five months since those talks broke down, Twitter has attracted a lot of users because of the buzz surrounding the microblogging service. And lately it’s attracted a lot of ridicule too.
Given the state of the economy right now, potential acquirers are likely to be very cautious anyway. But all the joking about Twitter is making it look like a fleeting fad.
While Twitter might have 6 million users by one recent count, it still hasn’t found a way to make money.
In a New York Times article last month, analysts with Sanford Bernstein said monetizing Twitter “would be difficult at best and likely unsuccessful.”
Twitter has the makings of a “value-destroying acquisition” for the purchaser, along the lines of eBay’s $4.1 billion acquisition of Skype, the article said.
The backlash against Twitter is in full swing. Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and political cartoonists are among those poking fun at the superficiality of Twitter.
Many people are getting “online sociability fatigue” and are backing away from social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, according to the Associated Press.
Politicalcartoons.com has a bunch of Twitter-themed funnies. Here are three of my favorites: the first from Mike Keefe of the Denver Post, the second from John Cole of the Scranton Times-Tribune and the third from Patrick Corrigan of the Toronto Star.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

DJs gaining rock-star status


Since when did spinning records make someone the object of adulation?
DJs in recent years have become celebrities. They’re dating Hollywood stars, attracting big crowds for their gigs, and getting written up in the gossip pages with the A-listers.
I recently caught a music video of a Dutch DJ named Tiësto and couldn’t believe my eyes. He was on stage playing recorded music for a crowd of thousands who were going wild for him. He just stood at his turntables and digital mixing controls, wearing his headphones and played music. He didn’t sing, dance, or play a guitar, keyboard or drums. He simply smiled and pumped his fist in the air while playing his dance beats and grooves. Not very compelling for a live performance. But the fans loved it. Maybe it’s a European thing.
I like electronic dance music – house, rave, trance, you name it. But I wouldn’t join thousands of fans to hear or see a particular DJ.
Enjoying the work of a good DJ in a club is one thing. But in a stadium or arena setting? No thanks. It’s bad enough going to see a rock concert at a big stadium and ending up watching the video screens because you’re so far away. But a DJ is a lot less interesting to watch.
There’s a range of DJs – from those who mash up and remix other people’s recordings like Girl Talk to those who create their own beats and melodies. Some like DJ Colette from Chicago even sing their own songs.
DJs have been around for a long time, but mostly as an underground culture with a devoted, but niche following.
Now U.S. DJs like Samantha Ronson and DJ AM are frequently in the gossip columns.
Kids are learning about DJs thanks to “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” a show on Nickelodeon in which DJ Lance Rock orchestrates the activities.
Later this year, everybody will get a chance to play DJ when video game publisher Activision Blizzard releases the music game “DJ Hero.” An extension of the company’s “Guitar Hero” rock music franchise, “DJ Hero” will feature a new genre of music and different game controls.
I’m sure it comes with everything you need to be a DJ. Except the adoring crowds.

Photo of Tiësto from djtiesto.com.
Photo of DC Lance Rock and characters from “Yo Gabba Gabba!”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fox needs to pink slip the guy who green lit this show – a reality TV series about layoffs

The Fox network is making a reality TV show about layoffs in the current recession.
The upcoming series, called “Someone’s Gotta Go,” lets employees of a small business decide which one of their colleagues will be laid off. Each week a different company lays off an employee, according to the Associated Press.
No air date has been announced for the show, which is being developed by Endemol USA, the company behind “Big Brother,” “Fear Factor” and “Deal or No Deal.”
“Someone’s Gotta Go” sounds just as slimy as Fox’s lie-detector show “Moment of Truth.”
Not only does the show sound exploitative and in poor taste, I don’t think it will do well in the ratings. People don’t want to be reminded about the troubled economy. They see the effects of it every day. They want escapist entertainment – superheroes, B-list celebrities learning how to dance, young singers looking for their big break, etc.
“Someone’s Gotta Go” will fail for the same reason movies about the Iraq war have bombed. It’s a serious and sensitive topic that hits too close to home.

Photo: Advertisement for Fox's reality TV programming.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nintendo is the new Disney


My 5-year-old son, who will be 6 in a little over a month, loves Nintendo. And so do his schoolmates and friends.
They play with Nintendo’s Wii video game consoles and DS handhelds and talk about game strategy and characters.
My son, Christopher, can discuss in detail the characters from Nintendo’s Mario universe – their personalities, relationships, strengths and weaknesses. I have to feign interest when he talks at length about the merits of Mario, Luigi, Wario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Peach, Bowser, etc.
All of Chris’ friends and young cousins speak the same language of Nintendo. They’re all growing up with Nintendo’s games and characters.
Nintendo has taken the role once served by Disney. Nintendo is now the most significant, mass market, pop culture influencer of young kids today.
Years ago, kids talked about the Mickey Mouse Club and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. Now they talk about Mario and friends.
With interactive entertainment like video games, kids are immersed in Nintendo more than they ever were in Disney’s cartoons and comic books.
Chris has owned a Nintendo DS dual-screen handheld game device since early March 2008. We bought a used DS from GameStop and a couple of games to keep the then 4-year-old occupied on a long flight. It worked. And he quickly mastered Mario Kart DS and a few other games.
He had wanted a digital camera, so we upgraded to the new Nintendo DSi over the weekend. (Again at GameStop.)
The DSi includes two cameras – one pointed at the user and the other away from the user. He’s been taking lots of pictures in the first three days. He uses the included software tools to edit, morph, draw and put artwork on his photos.
The DS has been a good experience for Chris because it’s gotten him used to using icon-based software tools for operating computers. He's comfortable with technology. It’s also inspired him to learn to read more because he has to follow the on-screen instructions for games like Mario Party DS and Super Mario 64 DS.
My only question for Nintendo is: Why no theme parks?

Hall-of-fame honorees Michael Jordan and Metallica; different halls, of course


It must be hall-of-fame season.
On April 4, it was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which honored – most notably – Metallica and Run-DMC.
Today, former Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan was elected to the 2009 Basketball Hall of Fame class along with David Robinson, John Stockton and Jerry Sloan.
The two halls of fame couldn’t be more different. One honors the arts and the other athletics. Another difference is that the basketball inductees seem logical and obvious, while the rock-and-roll inductees seem at times commercial and political.
Jordan, a five-time MVP who won six NBA titles, was, and still is, a sports superstar. He finished his 15-year playing career with 32,292 points, the third-highest total in league history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. His career average of 30.12 points per game is the best in NBA history, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Stockton, who played his entire career with the Utah Jazz, holds NBA records for assists in a season with 1,164 in 1990-91 and the highest assist average in a season with 14.5 the previous season.
Robinson played 14 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and won two NBA championships.
Sloan is the only NBA coach to win more than 1,000 games with a single team, the Jazz.
Also elected to the basketball hall was Rutgers women’s coach C. Vivian Stringer. She led three schools to the Final Four in her 38-year career and has an 825-280 record.
Induction is Sept. 10-12 in Springfield, Mass., home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
I can’t argue with any of those picks.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is another matter. Heavy metal rockers Metallica were an iron-clad pick. Same with guitarist Jeff Beck.
But rappers Run-DMC? I don’t think so. Hip-hop hall of fame, sure. Pop music hall of fame, sure. But not rock and roll.
The online debate over the definition of rock and roll for the purposes of the hall of fame has been pretty heated this year.
Rock and roll is like pornography, people know it when they see it, or hear it. Otherwise, it can be hard to describe.
Run-DMC was influenced by rock and roll and influenced some rockers who followed them. But they themselves were not rock and roll.
It’s clear that the voting members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame want to broaden the hall’s scope to include practically all popular music forms. At the same time, they’re ignoring some legitimate rockers. (Rush, KISS, Boston, Genesis and Yes, to name a few.)
At this point, there’s really no sense in arguing about who gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The hall has already established the precedent, especially when it chose Madonna last year.
It’s only a matter of time before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts ABBA and Britney Spears. Now they’re rockers.

Michael Jordan photo from the Chicago Tribune.
Metallica photo from Flickr site of James Parker Photography.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chicago’s Circus Cats a hit with the kids

Parents of young children know that finding quality family entertainment can be a tall order. Most options are corporate productions like “Disney on Ice” or “Dora the Explorer Live.”
Today my wife and I took our kids to see the Circus Cats, which play to sold-out shows at the intimate Gorilla Tango Theater on the northwest side of Chicago. My kids – Christopher, almost 6, and Aerin, 3 – got a big kick out of it.
The show is the only U.S. act featuring trained housecats. They do tricks like raise flags, roll basketballs, ride on skateboards, walk tightropes, jump through hoops and even “play” musical instruments. The troupe includes the Acro-Cats, which do acrobatics, and the Rock Cats, a musical group with a cat that strums a guitar and others that bang drums and paw a synthesizer keyboard.
The hour-long show was very entertaining and kept my two easily-distracted kids interested. Tickets were $12 each and well worth it.
Chicago-based animal trainer Samantha Martin has been working with and training animals for more than 25 years. She operates a USDA-approved, fully licensed and insured, private zoo that houses over 30 different animal species. She has trained animals for movies, TV shows and commercials. She and her animals have appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and Animal Planet.
Check out the Web site for Samantha’s Amazing Animals.
Also watch videos of the Rock Cats here on YouTube.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

'Battlestar Galactica' finale shows the value of ending a show in its prime

Good storytelling requires a good ending.
That’s something U.S. television shows are starting learn.
The updated “Battlestar Galactica” recently ended its four-season run on the Sci-Fi Channel with a very satisfying conclusion.
The final episode sewed up loose ends in the plot and answered the big questions. Plus, it had a rip-roaring space battle sequence and a twisty ending. It also had some heart-wrenching scenes as central characters said their good-byes. In other words, the show went out with a bang.
It’s the best show finale I’ve seen since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” concluded in 2003 after seven seasons. (Of course, many other quality shows have had much-talked-about finales in recent years, such “The Sopranos” and “The Shield.” But I didn’t follow those shows.)
U.S. television series often drag on too long and die a slow death, like NBC’s “ER.” It aired its finale this month after 15 seasons and 331 episodes.
Medical comedy-drama “M*A*S*H” ran for 11 years. It was a great show for the first three. The Korean War, in which the show was set, only lasted for 3 years.
ABC’s “Lost” got its mojo back only after it set an end date and stated how many episodes were left. That gave the writers a mission.
Shows without an end date tend to meander and lose their way. Networks strive to stretch out a show to get enough episodes to make it suitable for syndication. In doing so, shows often lose their urgency and plot lines get needlessly drawn out.
I stopped watching NBC’s “The Office” this season because it had a been-there-done-that feel in its fifth season. It’s still a funny show, but I’ve gotten bored with it.
NBC needs to put an end date on that puppy.
How many years is that documentary crew supposed to be filming at paper company Dunder Mifflin before it actually produces something?
The original U.K. comedy series ran for two seasons and concluded with a two-hour special that showed characters reacting to the public response to the documentary about their office.
Thanks to the DVD business, studios and networks often work to provide finales to canceled shows. ABC’s “Life on Mars” is one example from this season. The show, a remake of a BBC time-travel drama of the same name, was cancelled in its first season.
The superior U.K. “Life on Mars” was always intended as a limited run show. It ran for two seasons and 16 episodes. Many British series are limited run, which makes their storytelling tight and fast paced.
If there was a DVD business when “Twin Peaks” was on the air, maybe that show wouldn’t have ended with the mother of all cliffhangers in 1991.
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