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I bought a new car that is substantially wider than my old car and I end up having to park close enough to our garage wall, which is concrete, for the doors to swing open and hit it, especially the back where the kids sit. And they’re rarely all that careful when exiting or entering the vehicle.

So, I decided to put up some protective padding. I wanted something squishy but sturdy, and not so thick as to be in the way when walking between the wall and the car.

I bought 4 linear feet of this Apache Mills anti-fatigue mat at Lowe’s:

I cut three pieces out of it: 24” x 12” (2 pieces) and 48” x 12” (1 piece)

I marked on the wall with chalk where they needed to be to line up with the doors’ contact points. I did this with the car pulled in both frontward and backward (just in case). Also, since the wall is concrete, and I don’t like putting holes in concrete when I can avoid it, I glued them on using LOCTITE PL Premium Construction Adhesive:

I just criss-crossed the glue bead across the back (solid surface) of the mat pieces and pressed it up against the wall. Holding it there for 5 minutes left it retained in place. Pro tip: Do not skimp on the glue as it’s difficult to hold the mat steady against the wall to prevent it from sliding down while the adhesive is setting and curing if enough isn’t used.

Here’s how it turned out:

You can see in that last photo that it’s not very thick. But, because it’s closed-cell foam and pretty dense, it stops the door firmly but gently.

Finding the mat at Lowe’s was the hardest part. Total cost for everything was ~$20, which is cheaper than those ready-made garage door pads they sell, and I think this mat material works better. And the gray is very neutral, especially against concrete.

Anyway, I’m pretty happy with it.

I ordered a $15 dog toy made of leather and rope from Sundance Catalog. This one (click any screen shots to open full size in a new window):

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It arrived. I gave it to our dog to play with. Within 15 minutes, she ate half of it. Over the next 12 hours, she threw up twice, acted generally unhappy, and we ended up taking her to the vet to make sure nothing dangerous was stuck in her stomach or intestines. After 2 days on a restricted diet, all the parts had passed. 

I wasn't very happy that this supposedly "durable" toy took our dog only 15 minutes to destroy. And I wasn't pleased that it seemed to her like food...good dog toys don't give that impression. So, I went on to Sundance Catalog's website and wrote a 1-star review basically saying what I said in the above two paragraphs.

That review was rejected for supposedly violating their review guidelines:

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So I checked out their review guidelines:

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So, I wrote another review which adhered strictly to these guidelines. Here's the text of that review:

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That one was also rejected.

Suspecting that any 1-star review would be rejected, I scoured their website for a good 20 minutes and found not a single review with less than 3 stars out of 5.

So, I'm wondering...which of their guidelines did my reviews actually not follow? Curiously, they've not answered that question. I guess the reason is that it doesn't, but having 1-star reviews might tarnish up their otherwise pretty website.

If companies are going to let customers review products, they should let them do just that. Otherwise, why bother risking negative feedback? Because now that I know what they think of my opinion, I sure won't be buying anything else there.

LANGUAGE VIGILANTE
by Craig Froehle

You might call me a "Grammar Nazi,"
But I want to set the record straight;
I am a language vigilante
And I didn't come here to debate.

I'm a walking encyclopedia
Of punctuation and language rules.
If you ever doubt my credentials,
Here's a long list of my former schools.

I have accounts on all the websites.
I intend to point out each misdeed.
Your sentences are abominations
And your spelling makes my eyes bleed.

If you don't want me to hassle you,
Then adopt a better attitude.
Start to love subject-verb agreement
and confusing who with whom is rude.

The art of using semicolons
Is a subtle one, I will admit.
But substituting "your" for "you're"
Is an egregious crime to commit.

And when you confuse which and that
Or mix up adjectives and adverbs.
Please know I speak the truth when I say
I'm not the only one it disturbs.

Oxford commas are not optional.
Don't let anyone tell you they are.
Hyphens and dashes are different;
That you don't know that is just bizarre.

Knowing where commas go near quotations,
Is a sign of a civilized mind.
If I don't yell about your four-dot 
Ellipsis, know I am being kind.

When you see a comment with nothing
But asterisked words and silent rage,
You'll know that I have visited
Your blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

But realize that my cause is just 
And my goal is nothing too extreme.
I simply want an error-free Web.
Is that too optimistic a dream?

Since 5 years in a row makes a tradition in my book, it's now once again time to revisit my predictions for 2011, and see how they panned out...or not.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

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Mostly right: Yes on the FF camera (albeit an incredibly low-resolution one) and yes on the same resolution as the original iPad, but no 4G LTE. Heck, not even the iPhone 4S has LTE. C'mon, Apple...what's the problem? Afraid of battery life complaints?

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

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Again, mostly right. Nintendo launched a new console, the Wii U, and it does have HD output (although the multi-function controller, which includes a screen, is the main differentiator). But, like it's predecessor, it still won't play DVDs or Blu-Ray. Why, Nintendo, why??? The Wii U will be available early in 2012.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

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This was perhaps my most cynical prediction and I wasn't really that confident in it. But, amazingly, we saw not one, not two, but three smartphone platforms become abandonware in 2011. MeeGo was killed off when the Linux Foundation decided to move whole-hog towards Tizen, an HTML5-based OS. Nokia abandoned Symbian when it was clear there was no hope of it gaining traction in the smartphone space. We'll see if their cozying up to Microsoft and Windows Phone will prove to be a smart move. Finally, HP did, then didn't, then finally did open the cage and let webOS into the wilds of open sourcedom, likely to never see another smartphone installation again. So sad. Ironically, Bada is still going strong at Samsung, amazingly selling over 10 million Bada handsets in 2011. To whom, exactly, I'm not quite sure.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

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Perhaps I was a bit too US-centric in this prediction. According to NPD DisplaySearch, while 3D TV sales were so low that 3D actually lost ground in the US, it has grown in popularity in Europe and China. Given Sony's recent entry into 3D gaming TVs and systems for the home, it seems pretty clear that, at least in North America, gaming and theater experiences are the only things keeping 3D in people's minds. Whether or not the rest of the world knows something we don't, or soon follows suit, is yet to be determined.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

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Ha ha ha...not even close. All the estimates I've seen have iPads outselling all Android tablets by multiples in 2011. It's not clear to me why that is, especially now that Android phones are outselling iPhones by almost a 2:1 margin. That said, given the new Kindle Fire, Nook Color, and some other rather serious tablets running Android (e.g., the Asus Transformer Prime), and rumors that Google itself might release a Nexus tablet in 2012, this coming year might see that gap close somewhat.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

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Yes, but it wasn't Sigma (I still have no idea how they generate revenue). Pentax was purchased by Ricoh, who wants to get into the digital camera biz in a big way. Sony, Canon, and Nikon continue to dominate the DSLR market, with Olympus (who might not be around in a year), Panasonic, and others trying to carve out share in the Micro-Four-Thirds market.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.

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Yep. Apple still has the largest, with Android catching up quickly, and Windows Phone a very distant third. Although, if Nokia can execute on hardware and marketing as it has in the past, and Microsoft can continue to spend those Android licensing revenues on writing solid updates for Windows Phone, Redmond might just crack the top 3 smartphone platforms sooner than you think. RIM certainly isn't doing anything to stop them.

8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

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I'm not sure I could've nailed this more accurately. By any definition, Google TV was a huge disappointment for Google (not to mention Logitech) in 2011. Licensing problems kept certain content from being available, and platform software issues kept the user experience from wowing anybody. Better luck with the reboot, Goog.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

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If you look at these numbers, Facebook is indeed at #2, well behind Google and just in front of Yahoo! and MSN. However, if you add Google and YouTube together, as well as Microsoft.com and its MSN/Live properties together, Microsoft is still #2. But, the single-site statistics suggest that Facebook is a quickly growing superpower regardless.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.

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Nope. Honestly, I had hoped that Google would buy Twitter, make it a stable platform, and integrate it into its other properties and services. Instead, Google did something I didn't think they were capable of:  making a robust, vibrant, and successful social media platform from scratch. Google+ grew faster than anyone imagined and is well on its way to being the quickest to 100 million members of any online service anywhere. I can just hear Larry and Sergey asking, "Who needs Twitter?"

So, 8-ish out of 10 were mostly correct...my least incompetent job so far. Anyway, I'll be posting my predictions for 2012 tomorrow, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:
2004:Predictions, No Results
2006:Predictions, Results
2007:Predictions, Results
2008:Predictions, Results
2009:Predictions, Results
2010:Predictions, Results

Now that I'm firmly entrenched in middle age and raising two kids, I've started noticing a lot of ways things are different today for children from when I was growing up. Many things are better, but some things are, in my opinion, a pale imitation:

BETTER NOW:
1) The Internet: We didn't have the Internet (or, more precisely, the Web) when I was a kid, so if you had to research a topic, your options were basically going to the library, checking out book stores, and running around a lot to see what physical media might be available in your local area, and that was a pain.

2) Movies: I don't mean kids' movies are better -- that could be debated for forever with no obvious conclusion -- I just mean that watching movies is a better experience today. Not only is HD a great thing, but bigger screens at home make movies much more of an experience. Knowing anyone with a TV larger than 25" was a rarity when I was a kid.

3) Video games: Clearly, the variety and quality of video games out now puts those of the 70s and early 80s to shame. Pong was fun, Space Invaders was mind-blowing when it first came out, and who didn't enjoy marathon Atari 2600 sessions, but they really do pale in comparison to what's available today.

4) Markers: They're washable now. When I was a child, if you even looked at a marker the wrong way, your shirt/dress/pants wound up looking like a tarp from Jackson Pollock's studio.

5) Cameras: Film cameras? Expensive. You had to buy the film and then pay for it to be processed. Yes, Polaroids were fun in that they gave you almost instant gratification, but they, too, were prohibitively expensive. Now, with digital, the cost per shot is essentially zero, so handing a camera to a kid to play with taking some photos is perfectly reasonable.

WORSE NOW:
1) Car trips: Who wants to drive for 8 hours strapped into an immovable seat with a 5-point safety harness like some Air Force test pilot? Sure, we now have all kinds of in-car video systems and iPods and stuff, which helps. But there's nothing like spreading out a blanket in the back-back of the station wagon.

2) Playgrounds: Teeter-totters, carousels, monkeybars, and all sorts of metal, moving contraptions that kids loved are getting harder and harder to find as playgrounds emphasize safety and minimize their exposure to litigation. Yes, the new rubber play surfaces help avoid skinned knees and broken bones, which is nice, but today's playground is considerably less interesting than those of a few decades ago.

3) Cracker Jack prizes: I remember getting spy-decoder rings, paratrooper figures with working parachutes, and ball-in-a-cup puzzles in boxes of Cracker Jack. Now, it's at best a temporary tattoo, and at worst an inane joke. Cost-cutting has gutted this little piece of Americana.

4) Board games: The quality of the materials in a lot of board games has really declined. Whereas you used to get interesting metal figures to move around the board, today you're lucky to get even crappy plastic ones. And if you want the nice pieces, you have to buy the Special Edition, which costs 3X the normal kit.

5) Hot Wheels: Plastic and decals instead of metal and paint? Seriously??

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After a relatively successful set of predictions for 2010, here are our prognostications for 2011.  Don't laugh...if history serves as a guide, several will come true...or mostly true.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.
 
8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.
As is now a tradition, it's time to revisit our GearBits' predictions for 2010 to see if we were anywhere close to accurate. 
 
1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously. We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect. I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result. Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

thumbs-down.gifI'm REALLY happy that I got this one wrong. That is, of course, if you ignore the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies, and you don't consider WikiLeaks' activity "cyberterrorism" (I don't) or the "hacktivism" it prompted. Frankly, I was expecting some major outage -- a stock exchange taken down, a city's electrical grid compromised, or something on that order -- and it's great that that didn't happen in 2010. 
 
2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile. Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares. Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5. I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?). It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

thumbs-up.gifYep...mostly. Windows Phone 7 did not come out seeming "stale," but it was roundly criticized for lacking a long list of features found on other platforms (e.g., copy & paste, tethering, multitasking, etc.). While it certainly doesn't have the fleet of handsets that Android boasts, WP7 has launched on an impressive number of devices and carriers across the globe. Add to that the fact that WP7, just a few months after launch, already has more apps than webOS does after more than 18 months, Microsoft appears to have gotten more right than wrong and certainly enough to keep their seat at the smartphone table. 
 
3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010. Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

thumbs-up.gifBy any measure, 3D TV has been talked about in the press more than it's been brought into consumers' homes. In 2010, the combination of scant high-quality content and expensive/uncomfortable/incompatible gear failed to make 3D a compelling experience, and slow sales was the result.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010. I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users). However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

thumbs-up.gifThere's been relatively little discussion in 2010 of how social media should change search. While we saw a lot of sites become more integrated into social media, such as via Facebook's nearly ubiquitous "Like" button, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s attempts to add a social component to their search products never really gained traction. Clearly, it's harder than it seems to glean those rare nuggets of helpful, timely information from the vast noise of the social web.

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas. Coming soon to theaters near you.

thumbs-down.gifLooking back at 2010, I don't see any noticeable increase in "trans-genre" movies and TV shows. And maybe that's for the best, really. But, if the forthcoming "Cowboys & Aliens" is any indication, I just might've been a year early on this prediction. 
 
6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die. It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen. I just think it will. Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off. Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

thumbs-up.gifPretty much, yeah. ;-) 
 
7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010. Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing. As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.
thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give this one to me, but I'll admit that USB 3.0 adoption has been a bit softer than I thought it would be. I mean, we do now have motherboards, PCs, external external hard drives, and flash drives that all use USB 3.0, but it's clearly not ubiquitous yet. Wireless USB went nowhere in 2010, unfortunately, just as predicted. 
 
8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

thumbs-up.gifClearly a thumbs-up. You don't think Steve would've missed the grand unveiling of his "magical" iPad, now would you? 
 
9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market. The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

thumbs-down.gifBzzt! Wrong...thanks for playing. Sprint never got a buyout offer, but it did end 2010 on a much stronger note than it started the year. Not only has it met all its WiMax/4G rollout milestones, it is now being lauded for having among the best customer service in the US cellular market. Not that that's saying much ("tallest pygmy" and all that), but it's something. 
 
10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009. This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users). It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right. The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

thumbs-up.gifTwitter grew a lot in 2010, but not as quickly as it did in 2009. Two stats support this assessment. In 2009, Twitter grew from an Alexa "reach" rating of essentially zero to about a 5; in 2010, it grew from a 5 to about an 8. While that's another big increase, it's a smaller increase than in 2009. Also, in 2009, Twitter grew from 100 million tweets per quarter to 2 billion, a 1900% growth rate. In 2010, it grew from 2 billion to a around 8 billion quarterly posts, a 400% increase. So, while Twitter is still growing hugely, 2010 just wasn't as blockbuster of a year as 2009 was.
   

For 2010, things look pretty good: we got 7 right and 3 wrong.

Here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:

2004:Predictions,No Results
2006:Predictions,Results
2007:Predictions,Results
2008:Predictions,Results
2009:Predictions,Results
In the shower this morning, the germ of some song lyrics popped into my head.  Here's what I jotted down quickly after drying off:

YOUR HOUSE

You're the girl for me
I can feel it in my soul
Smile for my camera please
It's hidden and pinhole

I watch you from afar
And you give me hope
You're the shining star
In my Russian night scope

REFRAIN:
Into your heart I creep
To watch you while you sleep
And by "your heart" I mean
Your house

Don't misunderstand, I'm not a perv
Don't get me wrong for heaven's sake
I just don't have the nerve
To talk to you when you're awake

REFRAIN

I lay down next to you
An immediate release
The moment that you wake
Please don't call the police

REFRAIN

So you're playing hard to get
I'm better than other men
You will understand
When I see you in 5 to 10

REFRAIN

So...anyone want to write some music for this gem? ;-)

Plustek churns out a pretty crazy number of scanners in any given year, with the MobileOffice AD450 portable scanner being a prime example. The AD450 is a compact, duplex, color scanner with several tricks up its sleeve. 

plustek_box.pngFirst, it offers ADF (automatic document feed) for up to 20 sheets.  That's rare in a portable scanner.

Second, it can be powered off either a standard wall wart or two USB cables (attached to powered USB ports on the host machine).  That's also rare, yet amazingly handy and practical.

Third, it offers a variety of scanning features, including the ability to scan business cards and credit cards via a pass-thru slot in the back -- no need to open the automatic document feeder!

Here's the contents of the box:  bag, scanner, software & manuals, 2 USB cables (one A>B and one A>power), and a power wart.

plustek_contents.pngplustek_case.pngThe bag is actually pretty nice. It's just a zippered nylon material, but it holds all the important bits in a no-nonsense fashion and adds some (minimal) padding. The handle is fairly substantial, too, which is good because the AD450 isn't exactly lightweight (Plustek's specs claims it's just under 3 lbs...but it honestly feels like more).

This video, produced by Plustek provides a lot of the visual overview and hawt scanning action, so I'll continue below with my experience using the AD450 and overall impressions.


The installation instructions are not particularly helpful.  While the "manual" that came with the AD450 is 124 pages long, each language only gets 11 pages, which barely covers setup and the minimal amount of button description.  Playing with the software that came with the AD450 is the only way to actually get familiar with how things work. 

However, as with any electronics sourced from abroad, you have the opportunity for some interesting translations into English.  For example, in the setup software for the AD450 is this warning: "Your system is lack of the scanner calibration data required for ADF scanning. You are strongly recommended to calibrate the scanner now."

Speaking of software, the AD450 comes with five components:  a button profile configurator (more on this below), an unbranded business card management utility, an unbranded scanning utility, and a couple of document & image management apps (from Newsoft).  All in all, the included apps aren't spectacular, but likely adequate for most needs. 

plustek2.pngThe button configuration utility was pretty full-featured and very similar to the app that came with the last Plustek scanner I reviewed.  However, unlike that D28, the AD450 only offers a choice of three scanning modes accessible from the unit itself:  PDF, BCR (business card reader), and Scan (general purpose).  For most uses, especially mobile ones, I can imagine three profiles being enough.  But, it would be nice to switch between some common settings, such as simplex/duplex and color/grayscale/mono, without having to dive into the software to change it...and then change it back later.

plustek3.pngThe configurator lets you set up several different profiles linked to combinations of physical buttons and content type, although I didn't see where I could let the scanner decide automatically what kind of content it was scanning.

plustek4.pngOne app that actually did impress me was the included business card manager (below).  It seemed highly accurate at recognizing and cataloging various bits of info off the cards I scanned; I only had to correct one thing on about a dozen cards. 

plustek_bcr.pngScanning performance was pretty good.  To scan a duplex 8-1/2" x 11" sheet to grayscale at 200 dpi took just 12 seconds.  Scanning a business card using the default settings (duplex color, 300 dpi) took 14 seconds.  Scanning a photo at max res (600 dpi) duplex color took a whopping 1 minute and 3 seconds, so I definitely would not recommend this to archive your boxes of old photos (get a fast, stationary scanner for that).

Scan quality was fine.  For the most part, this is going to be scanning business documents, so it doesn't need to have the best quality image production.  Here are some examples.

First, a scan of a 4x6 photo of my daughter at Halloween.  This was printed at home, so the visible artifacting in the full-sized image (25 MB) is in the original photo.

plustek_sam-t.pngHere's part of a business card that had a misfeed evident in part of the image.  This had to be rescanned for the business card software to read everything properly.  I only had one misfeed, so it wasn't a regular issue.

plustek_card.pngIn conclusion, the AD450 is a highly functional portable duplex scanner with several features uncommon for its class.  Street prices run from the low $200's and up, so it's not exactly the cheapest scanner, but it may be the least expensive portable duplex scanner with a whole lot of nifty built in.
My friend is in an abusive relationship, but she won't admit it.  Sure, she recognizes the fact that it makes her crazy, but, so far, she hasn't been willing to confront the fact that it's her "significant other" who is a lot of the problem.  He's not physically abusive; it'd almost be easier to deal with if that were the case.  No, the abuse is entirely mental and emotional.

Her significant other -- let's call him Steve -- has created the epitome of an abusive relationship in several ways.

First, Steve is very controlling.  He dictates nearly every aspect of the relationship.  He makes all of their economic decisions.  He decides when she's using "appropriate language" and punishes her when she's not.  He determines when her ideas are worth sharing and rejects them when he, and only he, believes they violate some standard that only he knows.

That brings me to the second abusive aspect: Steve changes the rules of their relationship at will and unpredictably.  At one point, he'll reward her for doing something in a specific way.  Then, with no clear explanation, he'll punish her for the same (or very similar) thing another time.  He'll provide some incoherent or confusing justification for his decisions, which almost seem to purposefully designed to keep my friend off-balance and unsure of herself.

That lack of assurance opens up the third abusive element of the relationship:  Steve regularly increases my friend's dependence upon him, making it just that much harder for her to part ways.  Sure, Steve is successful; he has charisma such that being around him can almost feel like reality itself is distorted.  But when my friend even so much as finds someone new with whom she could enjoy spending time, Steve makes the relationship contingent upon her rejecting all others.  She can only rely on Steve's support, or else he threatens ending the relationship entirely.

It's really not a great situation.  My friend says the good times are absolutely the best, but the uncertainty and anxiety gnaw at her soul.  She often thinks about getting other friends behind his back, but she perceives the risks to be too great should he cut her off.  Also, Steve can be totally unapproachable even when it seems clear that he's the one causing the problem. There's just not much my friend can do since she has come to be so totally wrapped up in this twisted relationship of dependency and constantly changing expectations.

I regularly tell her, regardless of the upside, I just don't think it's emotionally healthy for her to continue being a third-party iPhone/iPad developer.
I started this blog 7 years ago, with no real idea where it would lead.  Since then, I've messed around with it, abandoned it, invited my friends to collaborate on it, adapted it, stressed over it, ignored it, and relied on it.  And both it and I have changed.

In a recent upgrade on Movable Type, many of the page URLs were changed, so Google lost a lot of my inbound links.  That made it harder for people to find the pages they were looking for, which isn't good.

Despite that, it's still here.

And I don't plan on pulling the plug any time soon.

I'm sure that's a relief to the 4 of you who read this semi-regularly.

Thanks.

p.s. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.  I do read those...especially the interesting ones.
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.


GearBits Needs a Logo

Anyone interested in taking a shot?  Need it in the next 24 hours, so anything more than a few minutes of your time is probably more than it's worth. ;-)

Now that we've reached the end of another calendar, in continuing a tradition I started in 2003, below is a review of my 10 predictions for 2009 and an assessment of how accurate I was on each one.

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.

thumbs-up.gifWhen Windows 7 was officially launched October 22nd, by any measure, it came out to positive reviews and very good, if not great, sales. Of course, following a dog of a product like Vista will go a long way towards creating pent-up demand, so it wasn't unexpected. However, if you went by the press and hype, you'd think Microsoft was the underdog to Apple instead of still appearing on about 93% of all desktops. Windows 7 has slowed the slight shift towards OS X, but it's not clear yet that any ground is being made up.  Ironically, the best thing to happen to Windows in 2009 may have been the explosion of netbooks (more on that below).

2) 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.

thumbs-down.gifAfter spending much of 2009 desperately raising capital and refinancing its debt, Blockbuster is trying a variety of tactics to stave off its own demise at the hands of an increasingly varied assortment of competitors.  Netflix and piracy, Blockbuster's perennial nemeses, are joined by Redbox in stressing the company's sweaty grip on life even further.  However, per part of my prediction, Blockbuster announced in early 2009 that it would be closing 128 physical stores.  That number was massively expanded late in 2009 to closer to 1,000 stores.  Additionally, Blockbuster is launching a large kiosk initiative.  It's amazing how consistently the company does exactly what its competitors do, but 2-3 years later.  However, Blockbuster did not enter into any form of bankruptcy during 2009, so I'm declaring this one a failed prediction.

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.

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As we all now know, Nova was introduced as Palm webOS in January, 2009 at CES.  The first device running webOS was the Palm Pre, a nifty portrait QWERTY slider with HVGA multitouch screen.  Also during 2009, a second webOS device, the Palm Pixi, was announced and launched.  However, surprisingly, there were no non-phone webOS devices released.  In hindsight, I guess that makes sense, as Palm just doesn't have the resources (technical or financial) to launch 3+ separate devices in a single year.  Looking back, it's pretty clear that webOS and the Pre were well-received.  In fact, the Pre was the only smartphone to make it onto Twitter's Top-10 Trending Topics list for 2009, something neither the iPhone 3G S nor the Motorola Droid accomplished.  The two frustrating bits for Palm in 2009 have been Sprint's performance as a sole-carrier partner (in the US) for its new devices and the slow growth of the App Catalog.  However, both of these should be resolved in 2010...for Palm's sake, I hope so.

4) 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.

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As I type this, Wal-Mart is selling a Magnavox NB500MG1F Blu-Ray Player for $98.00.  While it's just a Magnavox, it does meet the minimum criteria for confirming this prediction.

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.

thumbs-down.gifHa ha ha ha...um, no.  While many, many individuals would love for that to happen (if only as additional blog fodder), Apple has not announced anything.  However, there is feverish excitement in OS X fanboy camps about the iSlate being launched at an Apple event in January, 2010.  Or not.

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.

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There were a number of major entertainment industry mergers and acquisitions in 2009.  One biggie was Disney scooping up Marvel Entertainment (comic books & movies) for $4 billion. While this deal hasn't been finalized, signs point to it going through. Another deal was the spin-off and merger involving Liberty Media Entertainment and DirecTV.  Is this a baby Time Warner in the making?  Hard to say, but I doubt it.  These two deals pale in comparison to what might turn out to be a merger of tectonic proportions:  Comcast buying 51% of NBC Universal.  If this goes through (in 2010), it will continue the trend of the same companies controlling the pipes and content, which could will cause consumers serious headaches in the years to come.  Or, they'll just continue to ignore the networks more and more and, instead, turn to the Internet for socially constructed content.  In that case, pray for net neutrality...it'll be our only hope.

7) 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.

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Despite many people calling me a pessimist, an Apple-hater, and worse, I stood by this prediction.  On January 5, 2009, Sir Jobs sent out this infamous note claiming that his health issues were minor and transient.  But then, just a few days later, he followed up with a bombshell that he was much sicker than that and he'd be leaving until mid-year.  Given his absence at keynotes and overall behavior reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz ("pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"), his role has clearly changed.  And I take no joy in being right; Jobs is clearly a genius and consumer electronics is better off with him at the height of his abilities.  I look forward to him giving the keynote at WWDC in June, 2010.

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.

thumbs-down.gifWhile I'm counting this as a miss, it's actually 50% true.  Facebook's growth did not slow significantly as I'd predicted, but Twitter certainly did have the surge I thought was inevitable.

Let's look at some graphs:

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You'll notice that Facebook's growth is pretty continuous up until late 2009, where some outages and privacy issues potentially took away from its momentum.  Now, Twitter...

twitter2009.gif

This is a dramatic acceleration in Twitter's reach.  2009 will clearly go down in history as the year of Twitter.  In fact, Google and Microsoft so believed in it that they both inked deals to include Twitter's stream in their search engines as real-time results.

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.

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Undoubtedly true. Apple paved the way with this new model and, by the end of 2009, the existence of a robust app store is a requirement for any smartphone platform to be considered a contender. Apple's App Store recently passed 100,000 apps while Android's App Market has around 15,000 titles.  Palm's App Catalog just left beta status and is closing in on 1,000 apps.  In 2009, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and Symbian app catalogs were all launched as well.  Clearly, this is the dominant mobile app distribution model for the foreseeable future.

10) 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.

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This was evident even early on in 2009, and now, at year's end, the trend is clearly supportive. While initial netbooks were all burdened with screens in the 8"-9" range, recently announced models have 11" and even 12" screens.  Surprisingly, the prices we're willing to pay for netbooks is increasing, too (clear up to $1,500 if you consider the impressively engineered Sony Vaio X).  Sure, it could just be that our definition of "netbook" is expanding.  But, it's hard to argue that the line between netbook and notebook is getting pretty diffused. 

So, looking back, my record for 2009 seems to be 7 right, 3 wrong...about in line with last year. Some of these were hard to determine, as I had packed in several related predictions into a single item, something I'll try not to do when I post my predictions for 2010 in the next day or two. Until then, let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Thanks, and have a great New Year!