When tech toys attack

This is the first holiday season in seven that I won’t be reviewing tech and other toys for TV, radio and/or print. It’s mostly a matter of time and focus on my part; I did, after all, go to Toy Fair in February and followed the introductions of many new toys through the fall.

While this means I won’t be able to share several cool toys I’ve seen (I’m particularly fond of Tyco R/C’s Terrain Twister, for example), I can share a handful of general tips on what to avoid in tech toys this holiday season — based on seven years of bad luck with a few hits and many misses.

Beware the hot toy. This season there doesn’t seem to be a single “must-have” toy, and that’s a good thing — scenes of people fighting at Toys ‘R Us, with the exception of those involving bankruptcy lawyers, are never fun. The problem with many hot toys is that they are high-concept toys, easily understood immediately, but don’t necessarily stand up to repeat play by kids. They’re like the clever hit song on the radio that you like at once but sicken of by the fourth or fifth replay (I was a DJ when Disco Duck was released; I know).
Continue reading When tech toys attack

When dinosaurs ruled the airwaves

The following originally appeared as a “State of the Art” essay in Analog Science Fiction & Fact’s July 1992 issue. Portions were later excerpted in the Seattle Times in October 1992.

Though 2004 is a dozen years later and some of the names of the players have changed, much of the game being played remains the same today. When it comes to news and the human capacity to make sense of it, filters are important since more broad-based information gathering and dissemination mechanisms — up to and including the latest darling, Web logs — don’t change the limits of the human attention span. And mass media continue to have increasingly less mass.

Back in 1992, this was considered farsighted heresy. Now, it’s happened. Continue reading When dinosaurs ruled the airwaves

Life at 35,000 feet

If you’re a frequent business traveler, you know we’re in the midst of the busy summer air travel season or, as I like to think of it as, amateur season. It’s a time when things which worked marginally smoothly during the first half of the year self-destruct like baggage on an airline conveyer belt.

I’ve just wrapped up six months of being on the road nearly every week for clients and conferences. Twenty-six roundtrips give one ample time to reflect on things one should have known before, say, having to choose between the ham and turkey sandwich. (Tip: They taste identical. I know, because when I asked the Northwest flight attendant, that’s what she told me.)

So while I haven’t written as many tech analyses and commentaries as I’d like since beginning my journeys, I can offer hard-earned advice for the infrequent business traveler: Continue reading Life at 35,000 feet

When companies collide

(The following essay originally appeared as a Special Letter in the March 4, 2004 issue of STRATEGIC NEWS SERVICE, published by Mark R. Anderson. For more information on the SNS newsletter, please visit www.stratnews.com.)

Pop quiz: What is a computer? For extra credit: What is a consumer electronics device? What is a toy?

Or, more to the point: define what makes a firm a computer company, consumer electronics company or toy company.

This would have been an easy quiz a decade or even five years ago. Computer companies sold big, expensive ($2,000 and up) multifunction boxes with microprocessors inside. Consumer electronics companies sold single-purpose devices at sub-$200 price points. Toy companies sold stuff that was fun to play with, usually for under $100, and rarely had any advanced technology in it (unless, like me as a kid, you were fascinated with how an Easy Bake Oven could actually cook anything edible). Continue reading When companies collide

Sam the polydactyl torby

This morning, I went though my usual routine: Make coffee. Open freezer. Grab ice cube tray. Remove one tuna cube and place in bowl. Microwave for 20 seconds. Add cold canned mystery chicken parts mix from refrigerator. Microwave for 10 seconds. Grab container of lactulose, measure 2cc into a syringe, and release over tuna-chicken mixture.

Give to wide-eyed feline. Did I mention wide-eyed, radioactive, occasionally-exploding feline? Continue reading Sam the polydactyl torby

Why Apple may win

In light of the recent news that ailing MusicNet will now offer its subscription service in Windows Media format, that RealNetworks will add Rhapsody to its subscription services and that Pressplay is being acquired by Roxio, it’s clear to me that MusicNet, RealNetworks and Pressplay just don’t get. Or, more likely, don’t want to get it.

Apple is winning the online music battle, and may win the war.

Apple’s new music service is brilliant move by Steve Jobs. The iTunes Music Store continues the transformation of Apple from a PC company into a CE (consumer electronics) company (as I humbly predicted four years ago to almost universal derision). Continue reading Why Apple may win

The spam inflection point

When it comes to spam, we’re approaching an inflection point. The latest stats from spam filtering firm Brightmail show that by February a whopping 41% of all e-mail was spam. We are, as John Edward is wont to say, about to cross over. At the current rate of growth, it won’t be long before more than half of all e-mail messages are unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Put another way, fully half of your time perusing your inbox will be spent with messages you didn’t ask for, don’t want, and may find offensive.

Many people have already passed that point. Two years ago, I recounted how spam had become the final refuge of desperate companies. One year ago, I documented how spam had so overwhelmed two of my long-time e-mail addresses that it rendered them useless.

This year, I watch in amazement as lawmakers and direct marketers bicker while the tsunami slowly approaches the populated shore. To wit: Continue reading The spam inflection point

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