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In no particular order, if I had to pick 10 movies to last me the rest of my life, they'd be
  • Star Wars
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Terminator
  • Princess Bride
  • Monty Python & the Holy Grail
  • Spinal Tap
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (counts as one*)
  • The Usual Suspects
Ten more movies I was tempted to include:
  • Alien
  • Scream
  • Blade Runner
  • The Incredibles
  • Kill Bill (Vols. I & II)
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • Twelve Monkeys
  • The Shining
  • V for Vendetta
  • Airplane!
Oh, crap, I forgot a few several that must be mentioned:
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  • Good Will Hunting
  • The Jerk (thanks, Ben)
  • Sin City
  • Caddyshack
  • Ghostbusters (thanks, Rob)
  • Young Frankenstein (thanks, Bryan)
*It's my list, so sue me.
ceslogo.gifCES 2010 was fun. The International Consumer Electronics Show (its full name) is the world's largest trade show for gadgets, televisions, computers...pretty much everything in that fuzzy category of consumer electronics.  Sure, there are shows more focused on subsets, such as E3 for gaming, but CES is the king-daddy for the overall industry.

twitpic.gifI was there Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning.  I phototweeted (new term?) from the show floor while I was there, and my pics and comments are posted at Twitpic.

Now that I've had some time to unpack, soak my feet, and reflect on the experience, here's what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Wow It's Big! -- I've been to trade shows before, but nothing on the scale of CES.  I'm not really sure how much total floorspace the show takes up, but it spreads out across very nearly the entire Las Vegas Convention Center (which, by itself, is larger than the town I grew up in) plus two other nearby hotels. Some numbers that came in right as I was typing this entry: an estimated 120,000+ attendees, 2,500 exhibitors, and 20,000 new products announced. No wonder I felt like I'd need a week to really see everything.

No Seminal Announcement -- Unlike last year's webOS launch from Palm, which really stole the show, 2010 didn't see any particular event or surprise that caught everyone's attention.  I asked lots of people what they thought was the big thing and got lots of different answers...a few people were excited by all the 3D TVs, projectors, and laptops; some thought Google's Nexus One was big (although technically not a CES event...they held it just one day before); Boxee Box wowed some folks; and more than one mentioned Palm's flurry of announcements, but no singular thing captured all the buzz.

Ebooks A-plenty -- There were just scads of ebooks all over CES.  They ranged from cheapo Kindle knock-offs to high-end, portfolio-style, dual-screen devices.  The success of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have clearly excited what had previously been a rather quiet market niche.

ebooks1.jpgAndroid in Everything -- Google's free (mostly as in beer) operating system was crammed into all sorts of things, from gorgeous smartphones to touchscreen remote controls to hideously bad stationary videophones.  Mostly, at least it seemed to me, it was small Chinese and Korean companies doing this, but it does suggest the possibility of an interesting trend.

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TV Still Has Tons of Room for Innovation -- Four trends in TVs stood out clearly.  First was the ubiquitous 3D that you just couldn't escape. I'm still a skeptic that 3D TV in the home will become popular any time soon, although gaming, sports, and porn could change that.  Second, picture quality continues to improve.  I saw some LCD sets that truly rivaled plasma in black levels (but not in size). Third, LCD will be replaced in the near future.  I saw some AMOLED displays of reasonable size (20" or so) that looked flat-out amazing.  Oh, and they were 3D, too.  Finally, TVs are getting thinner by the minute.  As an example, Samsung's booth had a jaw-dropping display of crazy-thin LCD TVs (the video below is kind of short because, as you can hear at the end, I was asked not to take any photos); these will be shipping later this year!



Flying Stuff is Cool -- One of the show's major prize winners was the Parrot G Drone, a bigger and all-around better version of that remote control helicopter you like to taunt your roommates and/or family members with, but which has a remote video feed and you can pilot it with your phone.  Another guy was selling an RC X-Wing Fighter (not licensed by Lucas, I would expect, since he calls it the "Star Stryker"), which cost $299 and has the biggest remote control unit I've ever seen. Here's the video:


It's a Great Time to be a Fan of Mobile Tech -- All these reports say that nobody buys MIDs (mobile Internet devices, like the Nokia N810 or Microsoft's UMPC format), but you wouldn't guess that by looking at the CES exhibits.  There were so many slates and tablets, most powered by Windows 7, that I stopped getting excited about them.  And some of them were really impressive; Viliv had a whole line-up of interesting portables.

viliv.jpgSome other incompletely articulated thoughts:  car tech is getting interesting; Nokia's booth was pretty empty the few times I went past; few were very excited about Windows Mobile, either; there's a lot of garbage at CES, but at least they stick it in the "International Market" areas; LEGO has an interesting new MUD game coming out soon; geeks are attracted to exotic cars almost as much as they are to scantily-clad women...and they're equally unlikely to get much hands-on time; it's a good idea to have an actual working version of whatever it is you're trying to sell; there wasn't a lot of innovation in cameras that I saw...mostly around GPS embedding, which is cool; food is expensive there.

So, there you have it.  I hope to get back next year...it's a fun, if exhausting, experience.


Once again, here are GearBits' prognostications for the coming year. If you're interested, check out how our predictions for 2008 panned out, or previous years' predictions.

1) Microsoft Launches Windows 7 to Fanfare, Skepticism
Microsoft's two pillars of financial solvency -- Windows and Office -- have been standing on shaky ground recently. Office 2007 was a decent hit, despite it not offering much new and causing significant backward compatibility issues. But Windows Vista, on the other hand, has been an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft even had to resort to tricking users into liking Vista (Mojave, anyone?), it had developed such a bad reputation. Windows 7 will be launched late in 2009 to a general consensus of "it's better," but will not be the "wow" that Microsoft needs to regain the market share it has recently ceded to Apple. But maybe that's a good thing...having strong competitors is usually a good thing for consumer markets.

blockbuster_store.jpg2) Blockbuster Declares Bankruptcy
This may be a bit "out there," but I see exceedingly tough times at Blockbuster. And this isn't vindictiveness...I've been a reasonably happy Blockbuster.com customer for several years, now. I just think that, given the state of its business (poor), the weakness in the economy (near-critical), the nature of its service (luxury), and the rapidity with which that industry is transforming, I think Blockbuster will file for bankruptcy protection to get out of some of its debt, sell off some property (store locations that aren't faring well), and reinvest that into developing newer and more attractive services. So, they aren't going away...yet.

3) Palm Launches New OS to Fanfare, Skepticism
We've all heard the rumors that Palm will be launching "Nova," its replacement for the ancient Palm OS, at CES 2009 in a few days. I'm pretty sure that's going to happen. I'm also pretty sure that Palm will have at least one new device, if not several, running the new OS available by the end of June. While launching phones can take a while, given the carriers' lengthy testing requirements, launching a PDA doesn't, so Palm could certainly come out with two (or more) non-phone PDAs running Nova pretty quickly. And it needs to...the TX is older than my grandmother (at least in technology years). Generally, I predict there will be more nice things said about Nova, and the new devices, than critical, and it will stack up fairly competitively with Android and WM 6.5. What I do not have a lot of faith in is Palm's ability to develop and deliver the ecology of services (e.g., app stores) that customers are now expecting their smartphones to be integrated into. Time will tell on that front.

blu-ray.jpg4) Blu-Ray Players Hit $99
During 2009, I think we'll see a raft of Korean and Taiwanese off-brand manufacturers launch budget Blu-Ray players. Just like the 2008 holiday sales saw BD players hit $149 in some stores, 2009 holiday sales will see them hit $99...if not sooner.

5) Apple Launches a Tablet to Fanfare
This has been a persistent rumor for years, but I think 2009 will see it actually happen. Why? A few reasons. First, Apple is looking to multi-touch as a key differentiator in its product lines, and having a full-screen, large-display MT device would make total sense. Second, it fits perfectly with the needs of the "creative class," Apple's core customer base. And third, it fills out a hole in their mobile product line that netbooks and other devices not running OS X fill nicely, and that's not a good thing for Apple. So, the technology is ready, the market is willing...and now I think Apple will be able to meet the demand.

6) Consolidation in the Entertainment Industry
2009 will be a strange year on a lot of dimensions. Not only will the stock market be hard to predict, there will be a lot of odd relationships come out of the mess. One industry that is still poised to make things happen is the entertainment industry, where I expect we'll see larger firms (e.g., major movie studios) start to acquire smaller, but very successful, examples from the newer media (e.g., game producers). A good example of the type of transaction I'm imagining would be Vivendi acquiring Ubisoft. I think Time Warner would love to swallow up Electronic Arts, but that might be a bit too big a bite unless something untoward happens to EA's stock price over the next year.

jobs.jpg7) Steve Jobs Announces Transition to New Role
I think concerns over Jobs' health have more merit than most of us want to admit. In 2009, I expect him to announce that he's transitioning into a different role than President and CEO of Apple (and CEO of Pixar). Something that keeps him out of the spotlight while he deals with his health issues will be valuable to keep Apple's stock price up and customer base intact. The move towards reducing his presence in near-term product launches is consistent with this strategy. But, he's far from gone...his influence will still be felt behind the scenes, but we'll see less of him in his traditional role as Apple poster boy.

8) Facebook Membership Growth Flattens; Twitter Surges
Signs are pointing towards Facebook's popularity beginning to peak. Just as with everything social, when moms and dads begin to frequent the coffee shop, the kids need a new place to hang out. Facebook currently has almost 40 million members in the US. While that number has been skyrocketing since it opened up membership to anyone in September 2006, I think 2009 will see a marked deceleration in its growth. The loss of perceived exclusivity and the hassle of the relatively unprotected app space will combine to make it less appealing to many long-time users and new prospects will find fewer people urging them to get on board. Twitter, however, will see continued growth as it continues to tweak and adapt its environment to meet its core users' needs.

9) App Stores Dominate Mobile Software Delivery
iPhone's app store, Android's market...these types of bazaars, managed by the sponsors/manufacturers of the mobile operating systems, are coming to be the dominant mode for software distribution to mobile users. It marks a significant break from the traditional model, where mobile developers could sell software from their own sites, through 3rd party aggregators, and through carriers. This new approach is more streamlined, making it easier for users, but also more controlled, which can make it harder to accommodate large and complex ecosystems. The fact that each of the existing app stores serves a relatively small market is why we haven't seen these problems emerge to a point where they start driving users away. 2009 will see continued movement towards these controlled markets and away from the free-form/multi-channel models that previous mobile generations (e.g., Palm OS, Windows Mobile) relied on.

netbook.jpg10) Line Blurs between "Netbooks" and Notebooks/Laptops
Netbooks are currently a fairly homogeneous, and well-defined, niche of laptop computers. Most of them have an Intel Atom processor, a screen from 8.9" to 10" in size, no optical drive, weigh between 2.2 and 3 lbs, and cost $300-$500. There's a big gap in pricing then between these netbooks and the subnotebooks/ultraportables that often have slightly larger screens, way more RAM and processing power, and cost $1,500 or more. To paraphrase the old adage, markets abhor a vacuum, so I expect we'll start seeing all manner of new small notebooks come into the market in this $500-$1000 range sporting screens in the 9"-12" range with anything from 512MB to 2GB of RAM, a variety of operating systems (XP and Linux will continue to be most popular), and a range of processing and display capabilities. Not everyone needs to play Crysis on their notebook, but not everyone can get by with a 1024x600 screen and do everything inside their browser.

So, there you have it...GearBits' predictions for 2009. Some are probably pretty safe bets, and some are bound to be wrong. What do you think will happen?

Here's a sneak-peek at Blockbuster's beta test of its new movie download service (I just received an invitation to try it out). Not thrilled about the movie they offered me, but hey, it's free.

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So, it looks like you have 2 weeks to watch the movie, but only 24 hours to finish it once you start watching.

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Apparently, you will also need a special player app (a remnant of the Movielink service Blockbuster acquired last year), as this helpful note indicated on the download page:

YOU NEED THE BLOCKBUSTER MOVIELINK PLAYER The BLOCKBUSTER Movielink player is a free program that allows you to download and watch movies. Click on the button below to start installing the player.

The MovieLink player looks to be using Microsoft WMV DRM and it requires the massively bloated .NET Framework 3.0 to be installed as well. Gee...thanks.

So, DRM-laden, non-portable (other than on a laptop), time-limited, doesn't work with Firefox, and can only be played on Windows PCs...I'm having a hard time figuring out why someone would subscribe to this download service instead of just getting DVDs via mail (something Blockbuster already does quite well).

Here's a screencap of the BB Movielink app UI:

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Download speed so far is quite impressive...I am averaging 2100 kbps on this trial download.

I'll comment on the video quality after I've watched part of the movie, so stay tuned.

Update: Video quality is quite good...nearly DVD-quality, I'd say. Clearly not HD, but very watchable with minor, if any, artifacting. Download size is 1,243 MB for a 115-minute film.

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I then tried copying the download file (a protected WMV file as expected) to another Windows machine on our network and, upon attempting to play in Windows Media Player, got this error:

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So, there you have it. If you (a) watch movies only on one PC, (b) always finish them within 24 hours, (c) and have no desire to share or keep a copy for future watching, BB's new download service may be just what you've been looking for. For me, it's not a good fit at all, so we'll keep renting DVDs.

lifespoke-logo.gifA week-and-a-half ago, I spent all weekend (well, about 34 hours of it) in a habitrail of meeting rooms with about 100 other people trying to do something pretty incredible: invent, build, and launch a new Internet startup in less than three days.

The event, InOneWeekend 2008, was the inaugural entrepreneurial exercise by this new Cincinnati organization, which hopes to jump-start new-venture creation in the technology-based services space (i.e., dot-coms).

After lots of thinking and working and coding and sweating (not to mention eating fast food and swilling highly caffeinated beverages), our concept was outlined and mocked up to a degree that we thought the world should be invited to share in its evolution from beta concept to fully operational service.

I, er, we give you...LifeSpoke.

Go on...click the link and check it out...it won't hurt, I promise.

LifeSpoke is, and soon will be more of, a place to save, organize, and share all your personal memorabilia and life's memories (assuming they come in handy digital format, of course). With an innovative, patent-pending interface (that we're not quite ready to share yet) and a family-oriented content model (that includes loads of privacy, security, and convenience), we're pretty stoked at the idea that moms, dads, kids, grandparents, and close friends will finally have a place to share their intimate memories and most precious media in a rich new environment.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Actually, you're thinking "I'm hungry...I wonder what's in the fridge." Hey, focus...there's just a little more to read here. You were also thinking "But aren't there a bazillion other media-sharing websites out there, like YouTube, most with sharing features?" To that I say of course! But LifeSpoke is different and will be the best solution for families and close-knit groups of friends to share their memories. While those other sites are great for stuff like watching someone's dog ride a skateboard or having anonymous 15-year-olds "friend" you, LifeSpoke focuses on the relationships in your life that mean the most.

So...go sign up for one of the limited beta invitations at LifeSpoke.com and join us as we ride this idea to wherever it takes us. Should be a fun trip.

If you're interested in reading more about the InOneWeekend adventure we had, check out these stories:
Official LifeSpoke press release (Marketwatch.com)
Cincinnati Business Courier article (bizjournals.com)

Mitch, seeing my Hot/Not list from yesterday, compiled his own, so here it is:

HOT

  • iPod Touch - I tried the Archos 605 Wi-Fi first and its mediocrity makes the Touch that much more delightful. I really love well done user interfaces and this one is first rate. My only complaint is its picky eating habits when it comes to video formats.
  • iMac - I waited longer than any other tech purchase to finally go with Apple's all-in-one desktop PC. I opted for the top of the line 3.06 GHz 24" model and have been completely blown away by it. So far I have found no flaws. It is stunning.
  • High Gas Prices - Innovation rocks and if it takes $5/gallon gasoline to get us out of this oil addiction then I'm more than willing to pay my dues. Fewer SUVs and pickups, electric cars, solar energy, alternative fuels, more big butts on bicycles, less traffic congestion; I'm all for it. Let's drop our consumption by half and let OPEC drink their devalued crude.
  • Synology - A NAS will soon be as ubiquitous on a home network as the router is today. The clever, feature-filled offerings from Synology are the best of the breed. I'll have a DS508 please!
  • Subaru - Totally agree with Craig here. I've been
    in Imprezas now going on six years and I still feel like I'm cheating when I share the road with normal cars. Scoobys are fabulous.
  • Ken Follett's Historical Novels - "The Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" are two of my favorite books of all time and I just took them in this Spring. I listened to both on my iPod (over 40 hours each) after downloading them from Audible and they made a month of 1000 mile weekly commutes totally enjoyable. Masterful stuff.
  • CrossFit - I was in good shape 20 years ago and at 44 I can wipe the floor with my 24 year old self (if that was possible). I've been CrossFitting for almost a year now and some of the things I can do now would have seemed outlandish back then.

NOT

  • General Motors - If you Google dinosaur, out of touch, lethargic, and unimaginative you should pull up GM's home page. I used to be a fan, but they have been disappointing me for 25 years now and don't seem to be planning any big changes. The sooner they finish themselves off, the better off we'll be.
  • Labor Unions - Working in the industrial world I cross paths with unions
    of all sorts way more than I would like. I completely understand why our manufacturing sector is fleeing to other countries. I have never seen such a lazy, selfish, destructive, regressive bunch of people in my life. They can't all be like that, but the ones I've met surely are.
  • Sheeple-Filled Corporate IT Departments - My 26,000 strong corporation is going to switch to Vista because they don't want to be left with no anti-virus support for their XP platform. Goodbye nice warm frying pan and hello fire.
  • Cable/Satellite TV - I'm SO tired of paying $80 a month for a bunch of
    garbage that I would never watch even if I had the time. It won't be long until I cut that cord and start rolling my own TV. If I could just decide which way I want to do it!
  • Global Markets - I realize that even the lowliest trader in/on most investment banks/trading floors/commodities exchanges is smarter than I am, but I would really love to see them use those brains rather than run with every emotion that riffles through the world markets. Do investors even pay attention to P/E ratios or supply and demand or is it all about what the hot analyst is saying or the sheeple are doing?

Why does Steve Ballmer (photo borrowed from Gizmodo)

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keep reminding me of Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein?

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Seriously...is it just me?

The 605 WiFi, a fifth-generation portable media player from the French electronics firm Archos, is an impressive device. It boasts a vivid, high-res 4.3" touchscreen, 802.11g Wi-Fi (more on that later), and the ability to handle a reasonably broad array of media formats (although the larger, more expensive Cowon A3 handles far more). Plus, the 605 WiFi is available with hard drives of 30, 80, and 160 gigabytes or with 4GB of flash storage (the flash model also sports an SDHC slot for unlimited expansion). This review focuses on the 4GB flash version, which can be had for under $200 online and at a few brick-and-mortar electronics retailers.

Archos605.jpg

And the results are horrifying. I guess it's about time to pack that show up.

I've only met two people who didn't "get" the humor in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and they were both about as smart as a bag of hammers.

Wired has an interesting article that shows the media (recording artists, TV shows, and movies) most popular on the P2P networks (i.e., BitTorent). I was surprised...surprised by (a) two of my favorite shows were on the list, and (b) I'd heard of nearly nothing on the music list. I guess aging has its consequences, eh?

Anyway, here are the lists (for the full details, check out the Wired story):

Top Songs of 2007
1. Shop Boyz - "Party Like A Rock Star"
2. Akon - "I Wanna Luv U"
3. Sean Kingston - "Beautiful Girls"
4. Mims - "This Is Why I'm Hot"
5. Akon - "Don't Matter"
6. T-Pain - "Bartender"
7. Soulja Boy - "Crank Dat Soulja Boy"
8. Justin Timberlake - "My Love"
9. DJ Unk - "Walk It Out"
10. Jim Jones - "We Fly High"

Top Music Artists of 2007
1. T.I.
2. T-Pain
3. Akon
4. 50 Cent
5. R. Kelly
6. Lil Wayne
7. Justin Timberlake
8. Fergie
9. Ludacris
10. Snoop Dogg

Top Movies of 2007
1. Resident Evil: Extinction
2. Pirates of The Caribbean: At World's End
3. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
4. Ratatouille
5. Superbad
6. Beowulf
7. Transformers
8. American Gangster
9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
10. Stardust

Top TV Shows of 2007
1. Heroes
2. Prison Break
3. Top Gear
4. Smallville
5. Desperate Housewives
6. House, M.D.
7. Lost
8. Grey's Anatomy
9. 24
10. Dexter

I just received a notice that my Blockbuster.com subscription pricing would be increasing at the end of the year. My original plan price was $14.99, then was increased to 17.99 earlier this year, and is now going up to $19.99. So I went to the Blockbuster website to see about alternate plans.

Upon reviewing the currently available plans I noticed that none of them seemed to offer the two monthly "e-coupons" (good for one free movie or game rental each) that I get now. Upon searching their FAQs for clarification, here's what I found:

Question: Why don't I receive e-coupons? My friend receives an e-coupon each month.

Answer: We recently enhanced our plans to provide our subscribers with more options. As part of this effort, e-coupons were eliminated from most of, but not all, our plans. If you have friends who still receive e-coupons, it may be because they are on one of the older plans that still include e-coupons.

Hold the fort. When they "enhanced their plans" to "give more options," they eliminated coupons good for one free anything in the store? What's more flexible than that? How can the elimination of a great feature like this be either an "enhancement" or "give me more options?" This kind of doublespeak makes Blockbuster look silly, if not downright disingenuous.
C'mon, Blockbuster...you can do better by your customers than this.

So, in the interest of honesty, here's what I suggest as an alternate FAQ:

Question: Why don't I receive e-coupons? My friend receives an e-coupon each month.

Answer: We recently changed our plans to better serve more customers in a cost-effective manner. Coupons were confusing to some customers and were not used by most, suggesting that we could do better by focusing on other aspects of our service.* As a result, we eliminated e-coupons from all plans available to new members. If you have friends who still receive e-coupons, it may be because they are on one of the older plans that still include e-coupons.

* I made this sentence up just to give some reasonable justification for their decision. In my experience, customers are much more willing to work with you and accommodate your pricing/terms if the rationale behind them is clearly explained and reasonable (i.e., not overly advantageous to the provider).

Instead, why not read a book? Chances are that you're not reading as much as you used to...or should.

I do NOT want to know what happens in the final book until I read it myself, thank you very much.

As most any avid fan knows, the Transformers movie is opening today.

I was a huge fan of the toys and cartoons when I was a kid. That fact was reinforced when I happened upon this old Polaroid of me on my 14th birthday.

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My buddy Greg also has a kick-ass Transformers collection, so I know where to go when I need a fix. But until I can visit, the movie will have to sate my appetite. If you see it, leave a comment and let me know what you think.