Monday, August 21, 2006

Sirius Shatters the Satellite Radio Price Barrier

Sirius announced four new tiny Plug and Play radios today. All of them will work at home, in your car, or with a boombox thanks to a nice universal docking system. Three of the radios are upgraded versions of older models: The new Sirius Starmates are designed to fit into smaller cars but still have a nice wide viewing area. The Sportster 3, like the Sirius Sportsters before it, has a nice tactile feel. All of these have bells and whistles that let you do things like receive alerts when your favorite team is playing, jump to local news and weather, and more. But the big news is the Sirius Stratus. It is stratospherically low priced. It's a $59 Sirius receiver and that is going to allow a lot more of us to enjoy satellite radio without killing our budgets. (The others in the Sirius lineup start at $119.) The Sirius Stratus is expected to be available in October. It'll have some features most radio listeners will be familiar with: 10 button presets, direct entry tuning, a three-line display, and large buttons. It'll come with everything you need to mount it in your car. As with all satellite radio, once you buy the radio you get your 100 or so stations for a monthly fee. All of this got me thinking about my dwindling use of my own satellite radio. I own an XM radio and take it to the gym more than I listen to it in my car. I love about three of the 100 plus stations and don't ever think of the others. And when my XM is on I always feel like I'm missing the color of local radio—what's happening in the music scene tonight? Where is the best grocery shopping in town? Is there a fair? A cool event? A special sale? Who would believe it when I tell them that I miss the commercials—and the patter of a local DJ who really personalizes things. Both Sirius and XM have flatlined in terms of growth, so I have to wonder if a $60 version of the radio receiver is going to win nonsatellite radio listeners over or whether they want to hear commercials, too. A new low cost satellite radio is a great idea—long overdue. But tell me, will it convince you to make the move to satellite or not?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Smoking Laptops Could Make Life a Little More Unstable

When Chris Null first reported on the combusting Dell notebook it was chalked up to boys and their pyrotechnics! When he reported it for a second time, it was amusing. Now it's flabbergasting. So Null, what's the next trick? Levitating Lenovas? If you connect the dots between the two news stories of the day you might come to some strange predictions. Story one: The recall of Dell laptop batteries because they might overheat to the point of combustion. Story two: Airlines trying to understand what to ban now that they understand more about how consumer electronic devices can be used in a terrorist plot. Put these two together and you've got to believe that stories of laptops going up in smoke aren't sitting pretty with the FAA and other authorities. When there are heightened alerts the last thing you need is the potential danger of laptop computers powered by unstable battery packs. Some experts are saying that the Sony battery problem is caused by some metallic impurities that were introduced during the manufacturing process. These impurities may "intrude through the insulation that is supposed to keep apart the anode and cathode elements in the battery cells, leading to a spark that can cause a fire," according to a story in The Financial Times. Reports in The Financial Times acknowledge the fact that authorities might be troubled by this bit of information. According to an ABC news report, the Consumer Product Safety Commission knows of 339 incidents in which lithium batteries used in laptops and cellphones (not just Dell products) overheated between 2003 and 2005. Transportation officials have got to be sitting on pins and needles as they look to Sony and Dell for more specifics about the precise cause of the laptop failures. And every hardware manufacturer needs to be doing whatever it can to dispel fears of self-immolating consumer electronics. By the way, if you look historically at battery recalls these are not the first, and not even the first for Sony. Sony recalled about 415,000 InfoLithium battery packs distributed worldwide that were manufactured between March and June 1999 and were used in everything from digital cameras to portable DVD players. The recall followed the discovery of three defective battery packs. Maybe the best thing to come of all this will be more R&D and quality assurance testing on batteries.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

At an electronics trade fair recently an official with the Sony Corporation announced that Apple Computer has joined the Blu-ray alliance that is battling to set the next standard format for DVDs. The alliance’s competition is the HD-DVD format backed by NEC, Toshiba and Warner Brothers. In joining with the alliance Apple will get a seat on it’s board of directors. The HD-DVD is similar in structure to current DVDs and seems to be cheaper to manufacture, but only has a 30 gigabyte capacity. However Blu-ray, at around 50 gigabytes of capacity, stores about six times as much data as current DVDs. Blu-ray also has much larger support, with other directors at Dell, HP, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Phillips, Samsung and LG. It also has more entertainment industry backing with Walt Disney, Twentieth Century Fox and Sony Pictures.

Electronics giant Sony recently unveiled an assortment of MP3 players using flash memory for song storage. The players emerge in a tough market that has been expanded by Apple's introduction of the iPod shuffle. Flash devices, using solid state memory, hold fewer songs than hard drive players. However the players have a much longer battery life than hard drive units. Sony has said that instead of the Shuffle’s 12 hour battery life their players will have about 50 hours of play time and will have a display screen too. Apple has pushed the random playback of the Shuffle as a selling point and touted the fact that its player does not have a display. Sony’s new units will have up to a gigabyte of storage and will cost between $150 and $180, depending on the version. A Sony official has said that they know they have lost ground in the digital music player industry but that they intend to gain it back in 2005. Industry analysts are predicting that Sony will make an impact.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Microsoft announced it will be investing up to $30 million over the next three years in its mobile research and development center in Korea. At the headquarters of their Korean affiliate in Seoul, Microsoft has opened their Mobile Innovation Lab in order to develop wireless technology. An officer with the company has said that together with the Korean government, they hope to develop advanced mobile technologies that will shape mobile communications in the future. The official stated how, in creating software for future mobile devices, Microsoft is hoping to boost the industry in Korea. This is the Microsoft’s first mobility research center outside the U.S. The lab will have around 30 researchers, 10 from the headquarters in Seattle are already working at the lab. An official with Microsoft Korea recently talked about how they will develop mobile software three to five years ahead of its time in cooperation with Korean technology companies. Korea has been a test bed for many cutting edge mobile applications, more than 36 million of Korea’s total population of 48 million carry at least one cell phone. Korea’s cell phone vendors are expected to meet over 30 percent of the world’s demand for phones this year.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The world’s largest LCD maker has unveiled the world’s largest high-definition LCD TV. Samsung Electronics has developed an 82 inch thin film transistor LCD that they claim is the largest in the world. With the unveiling of the 82-inch LCD, Samsung has retrieved from Japan’s Sharp corporation their reputation as the developer of the world’s largest LCD TV. Samsung’s latest LCD is much larger than the 65 inch one developed by Sharp late last year. An officer with the company said that the huge LCD panel proves Samsung’s technology superiority. The 82 inch panel is cut from a single 1,870 millimeter by 2,200 millimeter glass substrate sheet made at Samsung’s seventh-generation LCD line at their Tangjong facility in South Chungchong Province. Two 82-inch LCD panels can be cut out of one mother sheet, or one 97 inch panel can be made from the whole sheet. An official says that building a 97-inch model is simply a matter of time, that there is almost no technical limitation for making TVs larger than 82 inches. Samsung has said that making the 82-inch model available to the commercial market will take about a year and a half. LG Philips LCD currently makes the largest LCD panel used for digital TVs that are available to consumers. The collaboration of LG Electronics and Royal Philips Electronics commercialized 55 inch LCDs on their sixth-generation production line. The largest LCD panel made by Samsung is 46 inches. Samsung has said they will begin production of 47 inch panels soon. Samsung developed the world’s first 40 inch LCD in mid 2001, 46 inch panel in late 2002 and 57 inch model in late 2003. Samsung will not provide a price estimate for the behemoth, they will allow that the price will be similar to equal-sized plasma TVs. A Samsung officer has stated that prices of computers and TV LCDs probably won’t rebound until fourth quarter of this year. Prices have dropped mostly because demand for expensive LCDs fell short of manufacturers estimates. Samsung has said that prices will likely stay stable in second and third quarters after a small dip in this quarter. Samsung Electronics has been the number 1 producer in the global LCD market since 2002. They received nearly $8 billion in revenue from the LCD operation in 2004.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Anti-virus companies are reporting increasing talk about viruses on Microsoft's messenger service. It is looking like a concentrated attack on MSN messenger users. Experts are warning that never before seen worms that have unique methods of replicating have been found, along with mutated versions of the Bropia virus. The altered Bropia versions are able to install the trojan horse known as Backdoor.Rbot , this then lets an attacker gain remote access to the infected computer. This worm can log keystrokes to thereby send detailed and personal info from the infected computer to the attacker. Control of the Rbot Trojan can be maintained thru Internet Relay Chat to scan networks for computers that don’t have the latest security patches, to launch denial-of-service attacks or to monitor network systems to then hijack sensitive information. The Bropia versions of the worm commonly use adult-oriented images sent as hyperlinks in a messaging session. All of the worms have a .PIF extension. When users click the link, their system is then infected, it then propagates by sending this file to MSN Messenger contacts in the infected system. As if all that weren‘t enough the worm also tries downloading a file named "me.jpg" and saves it on the infected computer as "dumprep.exe." The file when opened is a version of the RBot backdoor.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Microsoft’s Jim Allchin while speaking at Intel’s developer forum said that at the beginning of April the desktop version of Windows’ 64 bit operating system would make its premier, while a version for servers would be released at the end of the month. Microsoft had promised the final release would debut by June’s end. Allchin spoke to developers trying to encourage them to begin tweaking their applications so that they could take advantage of the new OS’s increased processing power. Microsoft last month released a near-final version of the OS. It has taken a long time for Windows XP and Server 2003 64 bit versions to make their debut, especially where chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices is concerned. They have marketed 64 bit chips for servers for about two years and around 18 months for desktop PCs.

Some prominent musicians and artists have split from their colleagues and studios by urging the Supreme Court to not make online file-sharing services responsible for acts of illegal traders of songs, movies and software. Representatives of Chuck D, the band Heart and Steve Winwood, stated in soon to be filed court papers that they condemn stealing copyrighted material. However they contend that services like Grokster and Kazaa provide legal and important alternatives for artists to promote their material. The group stands in contrast to aggressive moves by recording studios and hundreds of artists to convince the Supreme Court that file sharing hurts the earnings of artists by robbing them of payment for their work. The studios are asking the justices to rule that Grokster is responsible for illegal sharing by many of its users because it is used mainly for piracy and takes no preventative steps. The case is scheduled to be heard March 29. The artists standing in opposition to the industry's position say closing major file-sharing services used all over the world by many millions would strip them of chances for exposure and income. The opposition group contends that before online file sharing came into being that only a few large recording companies, and a few independents, ruled over distribution to retailers. File sharing however gives accomplished performers chances for distribution control of material that might not be seen as worthy of commercial sales and promotion. Grokster’s lawyers argue that services for file-sharing are extensively used for legal distribution of work by permission from the artist or because the copyright on works expired or never were filed. The stance of the entertainment industry is also opposed by other file-sharing, telecom and electronics companies, and groups of computer scientists, inventors and digital-rights advocacy groups. This opposition group argues that if we hold technology creators or internet providers liable for illegal acts by users it would become too risky for developers of products that can be used for legal purposes.

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