Category Archives: Technology

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), including some of the very hard to find toys of the 80’s that my friend has managed to fin,d 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). Toys should be timeless and really, thanks to the imaginations of children, they don’t need to be anything spectacular or expensive. In fact, you can easily find toys on something like Shoppok’s site where they’re really affordable, and they’ll have the same effect as the latest must-haves.
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

Love/hate/blog

Partisans either in favor, or critical, of blogging seem to have an awful lot in common with the three blind men asked to describe an elephant. Depending of the part of the elephant they touched, each envisioned an entirely different type of creature.

After my essay of a month ago, I’ve had a similar experience … only with a lot more emotion.

My intent with “Blog No More” was to pen a cautionary tale for would-be bloggers — detailing two realities of creating and maintaining a personal Web log that I’d discovered in the year since beginning and abandoning my own (and while, simultaneously, writing this blog as a tech Web newsletter and contributing to a group blog in a different industry).

It was designed to counter the hype that many in the mass media had heaped upon blogging in the wake of its use in politics and by entertainers. As Rob Greenlee of WebTalkRadio said to me, too much hype and unrealistic expectation and blogs become this decade’s equivalent of personal Web pages — easy to set up and just as easy to let sit idle and watch die a slow, neglected death. Continue reading Love/hate/blog

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

Blog no more

Let me let you in on two dirty little secrets of blogging. First, for every blogger, there is probably a handful of readers.

That’s right. Just because you put a Web log in front of the hundreds of millions of people with Web access worldwide doesn’t mean that most, many or even some of them will read it. Hell, they may never know about it. One way to make sure your blog will be read by the largest possible audience would be to check out an unlimited web hosting site such as Certa Hosting. They can help improve your blog so that it no longer stays at the bottom and instead becomes hugely popular.

New figures from the Pew Internet and American Life Project bear me out. Pew finds two-to-seven percent of adult Internet users write blogs, and only about eleven percent read blogs.

Eleven percent, you say. Not bad, considering how many people are on the Internet. But think again. Those eleven percent aren’t reading every blog, most blogs or even many of the blogs authored by those two-to-seven percent. They’re mostly reading blogs of friends. Not yours.

Assuming you’ll find a mass audience simply by doing a blog is akin to assuming your Great American Novel will reach best-seller status if you throw it on a Manhattan sidewalk. Continue reading Blog no more

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

Nigerian scam, reconsidered

We’ve all received the scam spam: Somebody in some other country (Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Iraq) needs help getting something (large sums of money, luxury cars) out of that country … and you can share in the spoils if you just front some cash to help make it happen.

By now, the e-mail scam is almost comical — almost, because some people continue to be taken. But if the scammers really want to do boffo business, as Hollywood types used to say, they should make a few tiny, purely fictional changes to their standard pitch to make it more relevant in today’s U.S. economy.

Humbly submitted for your consideration: Continue reading Nigerian scam, reconsidered

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