Archive for January 2010
January 28, 2010
Well, the worst-kept secret in recent memory is finally out of the bag, as Apple yesterday introduced their new tablet computer to the world. Not the “iSlate”, “iTab” or “iTampon” (as some wags dubbed it after hearing the real name), the new machine is called the “iPad” and it appears to be everything the spies claimed and then some.
Your Kindle just became a relic ...
In typical Apple style, the event was held in San Francisco with CEO Steve Jobs once again taking the stage to demo the new product (One aside: Jobs appeared lively but still critically gaunt. He’s looking more and more like a man whose body will fail him long before his mind …). The presentation mixed canned presentations of the device’s capabilities, followed by live demos that backed up the promise. From all accounts, the promise was met, as the iPad seems nimble, capable and quick.
There are those who will see the iPad as nothing more than a steroid-driven iPod Touch, and initially that’s not a bad comparison. The iPad can run all iPhone apps, both in the native iPhone resolution or full screen using pixel doubling. It syncs via iTunes and a connector identical to those found on iPhones and iPods, and most of the applications developed by Apple for the iPad release are simply rewrites of the iPhone apps with larger, more capable interfaces. However, part of the presentation was devoted to a series of presentations by app writers who showed how in just a few weeks they were able to improve their applications to take advantage of the real estate and capabilites of the iPad. As Jobs commented later, “imagine what they can do with a couple of months?”
The challenge now is to convince the user public that there is a role for the iPad. Jobs from the start pointed out that the last device considered the logical item to slot between smartphones and laptops – the “netbook” – failed miserably. As he put it, the new device needs to do things better than both laptops and smartphones to survive, and the netbook did neither. The iPad, however, he believes will.
Unlike any computer Apple has produced before it, the iPad is clearly a consumer device. Apple believes that it can be shared by members of a family, passed around the same way you might the TV remote, and be used to view television and movies, surf the web, check email, and read books and magazines. In fact, a key new element of the iPad is the iBooks app, which is a slick e-book reader. Unlike previous Apple media apps, this one uses a standar e-book format, and it includes integration with an iBook store where new books can be purchased and downloaded in seconds. Naturally, it has a classically Apple interface, resembling a bookshelf. Jobs said that five major publishing houses had already signed on to provide books, and negotations would begin immediately with the rest that afternoon.
Another target of the iPad will be newspaper and magazine readers. The print media has been worried at their shrinking market share, and some are following the lead of the New York Times and contemplating charging for content. The combination of the iPad platform and the iTunes/iBook stores should allow them to advance the concept and perhaps regain readership.
It was only briefly mentioned, but Apple also sees the iPad as a wonderful textbook reader. Apple has long been a favorite of the education community, and I can certainly see this as the future of the textbook.
One interesting thing I saw from the reporting of the event was a sense of … disappointment … that the iPad was less revolutionary than evolutionary. People forget that when the iPod was released, the general sentiment was, “Gee – another MP3 player … how nice” – it wasn’t until the iPod was mated to the iTunes store that the real power was felt and the paradigm changed. While I welcome the faith and enthusiasm the media has in Apple’s ability to force societal change, I suspect their faith will be rewarded in the long run as content becomes available and apps are written to take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities.
The first of several models of iPad (differeing by memory capability and connectivity options) will cost $499 and ship in the next month or so. Time will tell if this is the game-changer the iPod and iPhone were, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
I guess in the end, the winner is … everyone!
January 27, 2010
Everyone does product rollouts, but no one does them quite like Apple – and today, we’re going to get one more example.
Just a little bit of hype ...
The tech world is a-twitter – literally and figuratively – over today’s mysterious meeting in San Francisco. Apple sent out crytic emails last week inviting the press to “come see our latest creation” – and you know that’s better than crack for the Apple fanboys and tech media alike. Let’s face it – when’s the last time you saw USAToday hyping a product launch from Dell … or HP … or any PC brand. Today’s event is likely to be bigger than most, however.
First, and most important, it should be the first time most of us have seen Apple CEO – and corporate compass – Steve Jobs since he returned from a leave of absence for medical treatment. When last we saw him, he was pale and gaunt – looking every bit the cancer patient he was rumored to be. Since he returned to the Apple Cupertino campus, he’s been said to be as busy as ever, and an active part of the development of the product expected to be released today.
And the product? All signs point to Apple’s version of a tablet computer – but you just know it won’t be your typical tabled. Informed sources say it will be a 10-inch unit running a beefed-up version of the MacOS that drives the iPhone. In fact, several interviews this morning with corporate partners seem to have spilled some of the beans, confirming that current iPhone apps will run on the new machine. Expect it to have Wi-Fi and possibly 3G connectivity, as well as enhanced multi-touch interfaces. It will no doubt sport a soft keyboard, but it will be interesting to see how Apple uses the additional real estate afforded by the screen size to improve the concept.
More important than the hardware, however will be the way Apple intends it to be used. Tablet PCs are nothing new – versions have been available for a decade. But they’ve always been one of those products that seemed directionless – no one really knew what to use it for. That’s where Apple can really shine – they’ve been masters of not only providing new products, but reshaping the niche in which the product resides. the iPod didn’t introduce the world to digital music, but it – and the iTunes store – revolutionized how we listened to music and watched movies. Similarly, the iPhone wasn’t the first so-called “smartphone”, but it was the one that convinced the masses go get on board. How – and what – will the iSlate (or iTab, or whatever the decide to call it) push the envelope?
At the same time that the boys in Cupertino have been hammering out the hardware design, the lawyers have been working with different media companies to secure distribution rights. Apple sees their new tablet as the opposite of a personal computer – this is a device to be shared … the ultimate media device. It will be used to watch movies and television, of course, but also read newspapers, magazines and books. Apple has long been a favorite of schools, and this device could see use as a way to replace textbooks. They’ve even shown it ot the folks at several major gaming companies to demonstrate its capabilities as a gaming device. Everyone keeps looking for the “iPhone killer” – Apple may just have the “PSP/Kindle killer” …
Frankly, it’ll be good to see Steve Jobs back on stage in his black turtleneck, stopping just before leaving to say, “Oh … one more thing …” and blowing us all away one more time.
More to follow …
January 26, 2010
Looking for a little oneupsmanship with the boys in the golf foursome? Ever thought about owning your own private plane? Well, have I got a deal for you – a low hours Airbus A320 that can be yours for little more than salvage costs! Of course, you’ll have to clean the mud and goose guts out of it, and assembly is definitely required …
As you may have guessed, the plane in question is N106US, the Airbus A320-214 airliner skillfully landed in the Hudson River last year by Chesley Sullenberger. When last we saw it, it was on a barge headed down to river to parts unknown. Now we know that unknown destination is a salvage yard and a sale being managed by Chartis Insurance. But before you whip out your checkbook, you may want to read the terms and conditions …
Sale of the listed aircraft is “AS IS/WHERE IS.” We make no expressed nor implied warranties for the condition, fitness for purpose, value, airworthiness or operation of performance of any kind whatsoever, whether in contract or tort in respect to the sale of any aircraft salvage. The buyer acknowledges that they have had the opportunity to inspect and evaluate the aircraft before submitting their bid.
OK, so maybe it’ll cost a little to haul it back to the mansion, but what a conversation piece! Imagine a desk chair made from Sully’s captains seat, or a multimedia room made from the fuselage … why the possibilities are endless!
Don’t wait … operators are standing by …
January 25, 2010
I’m trying something new here at the ol’ MB by not automatically having certain posts on certain days (goodbye, Weekend Eye Candy …). But if it’s Monday, and I’ve seen sports I need to rant about, whatcha gonna go …
- For once, everyone in the NFL stuck to the script, and the teams that should be going to the Super Bowl will actually meet in Miami in two weeks. The Colts wore down a gritty but ultimately overwhelmed New York Jets team to take the AFC championship, and the Saints continued their feel-good story season by surviving in overtime against a battered Vikings squad. A couple of things came to mind watching the games. First, if teams take on the personality of their leader, then Peyton Manning must be as cool as the other side of the pillow. Down 11 at the half after a pair of TD passes by rookie Mark Sanchez, the Colts never panicked – hell, they never even cracked a sweat. They just rolled off 24 unanswered points and reminded everyone why they started the season 14-0. One more performance like this, and they’ll justify coach Jim Caldwell’s decision to tank the last two regular season games – and a shot at a perfect season – to rest the starters. Meanwhile, down in the Big Easy, the Saints turned Vikings QB Brett Favre into their own personal voodoo doll, sticking him and bending him into positions no man was designed to assume. Give Brett credit for courage and pain tolerance, but the repeated hits may have led him to force a pass he wishes he could have back – the one intercepted with 15 seconds to go in regulation. Sure, it would have been a 55-yd field goal attempt, but indoors. Whatever your thoughts on that, it’s likely to be the last throw of a Hall of Fame career. Given a healthy offense and a little protection, Favre would be facing Manning in the Super Bowl; instead, he’s facing one more offseason of decision.
- Did you know the 2010 PGA season had started? Probably not, and I’m not surprised. Welcome to the Tigerless-PGA – and it’s not pretty. This is the downside of the legend – much as he was responsible for the addition of new events and inflation of prize checks and audiences, his dramatic fall from grace has left the tour in the hands of a bunch of young, flavorless touring pros. Sure, they have talent, but no one knows who they are – and unless the PGA can figure out how to market them, they’re in trouble. Meanwhile, Eldrick is cooling his … heels … in a Mississippi clinic, purportedly to recover from sex addiction. As I recall, that was the same dodge that Lindsay Lohan pulled, so excuse me if I’m less than sold. One things for sure, though – the tour will be without Woods longer than it thinks. There’s a great article by Jason Sobel on ESPN.com that outlines his belief that Woods simply lost his love for the game long ago, making it all the harder to come back now. I think he’s right, but we’ll see …
- Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something fundamentally unnerving about seeing Khloe Kardashian at the White House shaking the President’s hand. And yet, that was just part of the … um, excitement … as the Lakers made their appearance with President Obama for the traditional White House greeting. Khloe, for those whose tastes don’t take them to places like TMZ.com, is the new wife of forward Lamar Odom. Dude – next time, just buy a dog and a Bentley … it’s a much better investment, and likely to last a whole lot longer.
January 22, 2010
Homer says five and a half ...
Here at the Home Office we love to laugh at the weathermen, but once in a while they get it right. They predicted we’d get pounded with rain this week, and boy did we! I’ve lived in this house for 15 years, and with the exception of the particularly nasty storms we got back in ’98, this was the worst I’ve seen.
Looking at the trust rain gauge – otherwise known as a Homer Bucket, we can see that 5 1/2 inches of rain has fallen here since Monday morning. Most of it came in four fast-moving storms that were each followed by eerie calm, although today was a more traditional soaker. In any case, it’s more rain than we’ve gotten in many full seasons, and a welcome gift.
The truly amazing thing about these storms is the relatively minor impact they’ve had on the hillsides that surround Los Angeles, particularly the ones where last fall’s wildfires left them particularly vulnerable. Nearly 1000 homes were preemptively evacuated, fearing the rivers of mud that all this rain would doubtless cause. So far, though, the hillsides are holding.
This weekend is supposed to be clear, but there’s a possibility of another storm next week. It’ll be nothing like what we saw this week, though – and I suspect it’s going to be quite a few years before we do again!
January 21, 2010
Our long national nightmare is finally over – yes, NBC has hammered out an agreement to end the Late Night Wars.
Bringing to an end one of the more contentious – and public – squabbles in TV history, NBC will buy “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien out of the remaining 2+ years of his contract for a whopping $32 million, with another $12 million going to his staff as severence. Jay Leno, O’Brien’s predecessor on the “Tonight Show” and a prime-time failure, will return to his familiar 11:30 turf once NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics concludes next month. O’Brien, meanwhile, will be free to return to TV on a competitor network this September.
We already talked about how they got into this mess, so I won’t burden you with it again (just urge you to go back and read the earlier entry – and tell a hundred or so friends to do the same … ). But this is an ugly, expensive end to a sad tale of greed – one in which there are no winners. NBC President Jeff Zucker looks like a fool, having tried unsuccessfully to have it both ways and ending up with nothing more than the status quo and a lot of expenses. Leno – who was worried enough about how he was being portrayed in the media that he took time on his show to explain his position and unsuccessfully change the tone of the debate – still comes across as the guy who just wouldn’t go away, unwilling to live up to an agreement he made five years ago. O’Brien, meanwhile, will resurface in the fall with an new show, and pockets 32 mill for his troubles – but he still has to live with the tag “fired ‘Tonight Show’ host”.
Everyone is trying to stay amicable, but it will be interesting to see how O’Brien handles his final “Tonight Show” tomorrow night. He’s been beating his NBC bosses up pretty good since this whole controversy broke, but I suspect he’ll take the high road in his finale. Not only does he want to be remembered as a good guy, but he’s been with the peacock for a long time (remember, he started out as a writer on “SNL”). He’ll have his largest audience ever tomorrow night, and you know whatever he says will live on forever on YouTube. Count on him keeping it classy.
Whatever happens tomorrow, this one’s gonna go down with the Edsel and New Coke …
January 20, 2010
It’s been a week since the massive earthquake destroyed Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, and there hasn’t been a lot of good news coming out of the region. Aid trickles in, hampered more by a lack of infrastructure in country than any lack of sympathy by the world. Bodies remain in the streets and crushed in buildings, and the smoke rising from burning corpse piles can be seen in many locations around town. As the reality of the devastation sinks in, the task ahead for Haiti – and those who will have to step in to rebuild it – is daunting.
One bright spot amid the darkness is well-known to those of us in SoCal. The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Heavy Rescue Task Force is one of the best in the world when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, having prepared to face the inevitable “Big One” here in SoCal. When the first rescuers hit the ground in Haiti, the lack of resources and organization stymied their efforts, but not CRT2 – they came fully staffed, supplied and prepared. Once a flatbed truck had been appropriated, they were a mobile rescue unit, moving site to site and applying their expertise to pull victim after victim out of the rubble.
Because it was clear that they were among the more effective groups in those chaotic first days, they attracted significant media attention. Several SoCal news crews are in Port-Au-Prince, and have been documenting the efforts of their local team, but even CNN’s Anderson Cooper has followed the team around, turning them into something of a media sensation, particularly with the attention that came with their rescue of the “singing woman” earlier this week:
Ironically, as the team works to save lives in Haiti, SoCal faces one of its biggest challenges in years as a series of nasty rainstorms moves into the area. The good news is that there are plenty of Urban Search and Rescue teams left here to get the job done.
You can follow the ongoing efforts of CA-TF2 at the LACFD’s Daily Briefings page.
And of course, if you haven’t already – and even if you have, if you can – click on the banner at the top of any SCMO page to donate to the Red Cross Haiti relief effort. They’re gonna need a lot of help for a very long time.
January 19, 2010
The amazing thing about democracy is that no matter which side of the political aisle you may sit on, you’re going to be subject to the whims and wishes of the electorate. Sometimes they’re going to see things your way, and sometimes, they’re not. It’s a lesson as old as the concept itself, and one that must be taught over and over. Today, members of the Democratic Party are the unwilling students.
Tomorrow morning, Democrats will awake to the uncomfortable reality that the newly elected junior senator from Massachusetts, the man replacing the revered liberal Ted Kennedy, is a Republican. They already have their spin doctors working the news shows, trying to convince themselves that this isn’t one more repudiation of the Obama administration and rather just a statistical blip caused by a weak candidate who blew an election. Meanwhile, the Republicans are doing giddy “toldya so” cartwheels and thinking it means that maybe – just maybe – the public is willing to forgive them for trying to foist them with Sarah Palin.
But what does it really mean?
Barack Obama strikes me as a sincere, well-intentioned person who is doing all he can to execute the platform he outlined during his successful campaign for president. And, to be honest, I don’t disagree with much of what he’s trying to do. But anytime you hit the ground running and never slow down, you can miss the scenery – and when that scenery changes, you can be the last to know.
We all know the President inherited a mess, and he did a decent job addressing the recession upon taking office. You can argue about the scope of his plans, but there’s no disputing the number of projects in work or the people employed by them – you can’t turn a corner in SoCal without running into some public works project with its “Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” sign. But once he turned his attention to health care, without slowing to first take the temperature of the populace, things went south in a hurry.
There’s a reason health care reform has been a concern for so long, and it’s not because Congress is lazy – it’s hard! There are a lot of details, and options, and opinions, and it’s been very difficult to achieve a consensus. Thus, every new Congress butts its head against it until bloodied then moves on to other issues. But this Congress – and the President sending the orders – had something different … a super majority, and they weren’t afraid to use it.
You know that old saying about how power – and particularly absolute power – corrupts? Well, Americans on the right – and, increasingly, the center – saw how Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi rubbed their hands together in glee at what they could do with their filibuster-proof majority and began to worry. At their core, most citizens don’t trust politicians, particularly if the checks-and-balances built into the system are overridden. Once it became clear that the Democrats were going to shove health care through no matter what the opposition thought – and with little concern for the opinions of said opposition – a red flag was raised. One-time fringe groups like the Tea Party movement suddenly gained traction, and an increasingly large number of voters wanted to put on the brakes. At the same time, the speed at which the Democrats were moving prevented them from seeing the size of the wave that was about to break over their heads until it was too late to do anything about it.
To be sure, the campaign of Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General who was the Democratic candidate for the senate seat, is as much to blame for the loss as anything. She stumbled badly and often, and did everything she could to lose the election. But in a state with as long a history of sending Democrats to Washington, this is a stunning blow.
The message has been sent to the President and his party – slow down. Think things through. Consider all the opinions, even those of the opposition. Now we’ll see if anyone is listening.
January 18, 2010
We like to make fun of the local TV weathermen for the panic-stricken way they react to every cloud in the sky, but the truth is that most Calis (myself included) are pretty much clueless when it comes to weather. One of the reasons we live in SoCal is so we don’t have weather, and most of what we know is from experiences living elsewhere or hours spent watching the Discovery Channel. For the vast majority of the time, the forecast for LA is unchanged – sun, light breezes and mild temperatures.
Once in a while, though, the weather gods throw us a curveball. Most of the storms that roll off the Pacific pass to the north of us (are you listening, Portland?) – all we get are a few annoying clouds. But when the El Nino phenomenom fires up in the equatorial Pacific, things can get a little interesting – like they’re gonna get this week.
The following is the summary from a much longer forecast from Samuel Johnson of the USGS up in Santa Cruz. To say it catches ones interest is quite an understatement:
In short, the next 2-3 weeks (at least) are likely to be more active across California than any other 2-3 week period in recent memory. The potential exists for a dangerous flood scenario to arise at some point during this interval, especially with the possibility of a heavy rain-on-snow event during late week 2. In some parts of Southern California, a whole season’s worth of rain could fall over the course of 5-10 days. This is likely to be a rather memorable event. Stay tuned…
To hear it described, we’re supposed to see a series of really fast, really nasty storms that will dump a couple of inches each on us here at the beach, and even more in the mountains surrounding LA. That could be problematic for the folks in the foothill burn areas both in LA and Orange counties, where sandbags and K-rails aren’t going to do much against a wall of mud.
I’ve seen a couple of other forecasts that use the word “biblical” to describe what’s gonna happen this week. Naturally, I have to spend most of it in a class at a Boeing facility in Huntington Beach, which means I get to experience rush hour freeway traffic right in the middle of this slop. Should be … fun.
I’ll have the Home Office Rain Gauge deployed before the first drops fall – we’ll see together just how deep it gets.
Stay tuned …
January 15, 2010
Shh … here that sound? It’s Johnny Carson spinning in his grave …
It’s hard to believe, but it was not that long ago that NBC was the leading broadcast television network in America. My, how the peacock has moulted. Nowhere is the lack of vision at the network so obvious as in their handling of Jay Leno and the iconic late night vehicle “The Tonight Show”. It’s quickly turning into a classic example of how not to handle the succession of leadership – or leadership in general.
Throughout its long history, the Tonight show has seen old hosts go and new ones come. Most people remember the classy way Johnny Carson departed nearly 20 years ago to make way for Jay Leno, and assumed there’d be something similar when Leno’s time came. Behind the scenes, things were not nearly so smooth. When Carson left, NBC has more hosts than timeslots, and when Leno was given the Tonight Show, David Letterman (who at that time followed Carson) bolted to CBS and direct competition with Leno. No doubt fearing a similarly messy future, NBC promised Letterman’s replacement – Conan O’Brian – the Tonight Show slot once Leno retired. They even went so far as to identify the point five years in the future when that transition would occur. Apparently, thought, Leno either didn’t get the memo or simply didn’t sign off on it.
Last fall, as the five-year window approached closure, Leno began to grumble about leaving, indicating that he was being pushed out the door rather than retiring. He even intimated that once he was off “Tonight”, he might bolt to another network and continue his late-night career. Suddenly, NBC once again found themselves with an embarassment of riches.
We all know the old fable of the dog with two bones, and what happened to him. Actually, I guess everyone knows the story other than NBC’s Jeff Zucker, who wanted to keep both bones. His genius move? Scrap the expensive, unwatchable 10PM lineup and give the slot to Jay! It’s perfect, he must have thought – we get old Tonight Show followed by the new Tonight Show!
Well, that worked about as well as you might imagine. Leno bombed at 10, angering affiliates who lost their vital viewer lead-in to their local newscasts. Conan, meanwhile, who was a tenuous fit at best for the Tonight Show, lost all the Leno fans who simply got to sleep a little earlier now.
For those wondering how long the experiment – and the pain – would last, the answer is apparently February. Multiple sources are reporting that Leno’s show has been cancelled and will be off the schedule once NBC ends their coverage of the Winter Olympics. O’Brian, meanwhile, was asked to accept having the Tonight show pushed back a half-hour to make room for a new half-hour Leno show at 11:30 and suggested NBC go pound sand, claiming he was “defending the franchise”. NBC looks like fools, Leno looks like an ungrateful bully, and O’Brian looks for a new network.
What amazes me is that whoever owns NBC/Universal/General Electric/Comcast, or whatever they are, will allow the good soldier O’Brian to be shown the door while Zucker and Leno both keep their jobs.
More to follow, no doubt …