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Holiday Shopping?

Happy Thanksgiving. It's been a tough, tough year for most of us, which makes the pessimist wonder what's there to be thankful for. But I'm too cool to navel-gaze, so I'm kicking off the year with a few tech shopping tips. We don't really celebrate Thanksgiving in these parts, but hey, December is just around the corner.

#1 - Netbooks? I know it's a rising trend, but do you really want to get cramps working the tiny keyboard? (I don't.) If you're really fixed on getting a netbook, get one with the features that you need, as well as a full keyboard. Otherwise, I recommend getting a thin, light (and sleeker) notebook.

#2 - TV's? To enter the new year with a brighter perspective, I suggest you (finally) go flat-screen. LCD and Plasma TV's are all good, and they come in small enough sizes that fit your budget. For longevity, go at least 1080p.

#3 - DVD players? Whoops, hold on. We may not exactly have Netflix yet, but believe me when I say it's going to land in Southeast Asian shores in the next two years or less. Skip the one-trick DVD players and go Blu-Ray. Better yet, look for a device that can play Blu-Ray and DVD, in addition to streaming HD movies from the Internet.

#4 - iPod Touch? Definitely a must-buy -- Steve Jobs wasn't kidding when he said it was the "funnest" iPod ever. It's only a sidestep away from an iPhone, and with the App Store handy, it should give you thousands of hours of fun throughout its lifetime.

#5 - Windows 7? Also a good upgrade, although "good" is relative when it comes to Microsoft. While Microsoft finally got things right, going Mac might be the best "new beginning" you can have, especially with the robust Snow Leopard OS doing very well.

#6 - Printers? Don't make the mistake of buying a one-trick printer this year -- they're already overshadowed by printers that offer more features. Find out what your home office needs (Scanner? Fax machine? Photo printer? All of the above?) and find printer models that solve most, if not all, your deficiencies.

#7 - Gaming Consoles? The Wii is still tons of fun, but the Xbox 360 and slimmer, sexier PlayStation 3 are very quickly catching up. These consoles also have HD movie streaming offerings, which can do away with your DVD needs, as well. But if you're willing to wait another year for a gaming console, you might want to watch out for Microsoft's Project Natal.

#8 - E-book Readers? They're easy enough to get, but it's going to be tough getting books from e-libraries for a while. Singapore, for instance, still isn't on Kindle's global list, and there's no way of knowing when the mobile carriers will get their heads out of their behinds and comply with Amazon's requirements. Best put this off until next year.

What would YOU want for Christmas?

My Take On The Twilight Saga

I'm pretty sure some of you are surprised about Chris Gomez writing with regards to the Twilight saga, especially since I do consider myself the savior of what's left of the world's machismo. Isn't Twilight a girl's movie? Has Chris crossed over to the dark side? Hardly, and I'll tell you why before we head to the cinemas for the weekend.

Besides being overly concerned with the emergence of girly men in the world, I'm equally concerned about the lack of representation that women often get in film and media. I'd wish that such gender bias only existed in the most backwards places in the world, but unfortunately even our beloved movie industry is plagued by it.

Let's take the past two decades, for instance. Most of the great movies we've seen were designed for a largely male audience -- lots of action, explosions, and sex. Movies geared towards female audiences were meanly called "chick flicks" -- by itself a derogatory term in the movie industry -- and were relegated to a tiny niche that doomed them to failure.

You might argue that it's not the men's fault -- after all, "romantic comedy" is an oxymoron that's up there with "clean politics" and "military intelligence" and "Microsoft Works" -- but it's still pretty unfair. While a few romantic movies (Titanic) got lucky and scored big in the box office, others (Pearl Harbor, Australia, and a host of others) failed miserably.

So what about Twilight?

I'm not much for emo/goth romances, but I believe finally giving women a reason to troop to the cinemas is a good thing. Even to me, Twilight can be a refreshing break from too much angst, action, and misguided machismo in the movies. Oh, and there's no denying the guys behind the movies did a pretty good job.

Does Twilight represent a paradigm shift in the film industry? I doubt it -- the upcoming years has a healthy list of male-oriented movies coming our way. At best, Twilight simply tips the scales to the women's favor -- something that couldn't have been done sooner.

The latest Twilight movie, "New Moon," is still topping the charts after two weeks in business. If you're up for something different, give it a try -- but leave your biases at the door if you want to enjoy it.

Newer, Deadlier Worm Hits Jailbroken iPhones

Image credit: Found on - Link -

Been hearing the buzz on this for the past 48 hours.
Recently, the first ever iPhone worm spread from Australia to the rest of the world. The worm, which only affected jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches, subjected users all over the world to the horror of looking into Rick Astley's cold, cold eyes. Other than that, the worm was mostly harmless.

The first worm was a far cry from the second one, which was only very recently discovered by iPhone watchdogs around the world. This new worm scours the jailbroken devices for bank account, credit card, and other private information, and routes the data back to an IP address that researchers have traced to Lithuania.

This newer, deadlier worm uses the same exploit that the Rick Astley worm used. Jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches have a security hole that lets hackers change the root password and create unique ID's for themselves, essentially accessing the devices remotely.

Several fixes have already been suggested on the Internet, so it's rather easy for stricken users to address the problem. But experts have predicted that the worm can do much more damage in the near future, and are keeping a close eye on developments.

What's worrying about this new worm is that, as of yet, there's still no way of knowing whether or not un-jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches can be affected by it. So far no legitimate user has reported an infection, but if that changes in the next few days, it's going to cause a ripple of panic among Apple users all over the world.

Apple's no doubt on the case, but it's likely they won't do much for users of jailbroken iPhones and iPod Touches. Perhaps this is just another indication of a lesson that's never learned -- you shouldn't really tinker with other people's intellectual property and expect to go scot-free. Somehow, in some form, the bad juju manages to find its way back to you.

The same goes with pirated software, the use of which is still pretty rampant in this part of the world. Sure, you can get pirated Windows OS's almost free, but without the proper updates and protection, you leave yourself vulnerable to attacks -- and stand to lose much more over the long run. Frankly, if you're on Windows in the first place, you've probably already lost the war, but that's my humble opinion.

So, again and again, respect intellectual property -- only buy legitimate devices and software, and only use them according to the makers' specifications. At the very least, it's one less thing to worry about.

My (Rather Reluctant) Take On Chrome OS

Google released the Linux-based Chrome OS a few days ago, to a largely mixed reception. Many pundits were quick to dismiss it as "unimpressive" and "underwhelming." It this a bad thing? For Google, it doesn't really seem to matter.

The Chrome OS is a revolutionary new operating system that pretty much relies on cloud computing for 99% of its work1. A Chrome OS netbook doesn't have a hard drive -- it only has a non-volatile flash drive that processes data. All your documents, programs, and applications will be based on the cloud -- and this means a slew of pros and cons when compared to the way we currently do things.

Chrome OS Pros:

#1 - No hard drive.
That means you don't have to backup your files -- everything will be stored on secure servers on the cloud. That also means you won't have to worry about viruses and other malware infecting your system.

#2 - Speed, speed, speed.
Chrome OS netbooks can startup at a super-fast 7 seconds, which means you can start working in the amount of time it takes you to turn on the TV. The fastest Windows systems take at least a minute2.

#3 - It's open-source.
That also means it's (... well.. kinda') free.

Chrome OS Cons:

#1 - Needs an Internet connection to survive.
That means when the Net connection conks out (which happens more than you think in this part of the world), you'll be left in the dark.

#2 - No installing of third-party software.
You can't, for instance, install video games. There's enough entertainment on the Internet, you might argue, but this is still a pretty limiting feature for most of us.

Google doesn't seem to mind the mixed feedback -- it would seem that most pundits see Chrome OS as Google's attempt to take over the computing world3. That's actually missing the point -- Google isn't out to beat Windows. At Chrome's infancy, Google is very likely out to start by dominating the Netbook market4, since Chrome OS's features seem more geared towards portable computing than anything else.

The way I see it, as it stands, a Chrome OS netbook would make an OK second computer -- one you could bring on business trips and such. Chrome OS won't officially be out until next year, meaning Google's simply letting the community take a more active part in developing it.

But no matter what Google's intentions are, there's no doubt that Microsoft is on its toes right now. Google Apps has already scored a noticeable dent on Microsoft Office -- will the Windows OS line be next?

1 OK, I just picked that percentage figure out of the air.
2 OK, that's probably not true, but it sure feels like a full minute (sometimes two, even).
3 OK, who doesn't know that yet? Dumbass.
4 OK. OK. They're out to take down Windows. You happy now? Geez.

Laptop Steering Wheel Desk -- WTF

Every now and then, I come across some pretty strange ads on the Internet. Some just raise my eyebrows (e.g. Wanted: Condom Testers) while others make me seethe (see my article on Burger King's "blow your mind" ad campaign in Singapore, here -> ). This one in, however, simply gave me a migraine -- a "Laptop Steering Wheel Desk."

I've seen some pretty idiotic inventions in my time, but this one takes the cake. The Laptop Steering Wheel Desk apparently fits into most car steering wheel configurations -- and lets you use your laptop comfortably in the cramped space of the driver's seat.

I know the darned thing was meant to be used while the car's on park, but for goodness sake -- Einstein himself said that the only thing more infinite than the universe is human stupidity. So undoubtedly some poor sod's going to get hurt with this thing. It felt wrong if I didn't try to stop this thing from hitting the streets -- or worse.

Of course, I didn't have to. It's a good thing to know that there are some really smart comedians scouring Amazon for idiotic inventions like this one, and leave some of the funniest comments I've ever read in my life.

Here are samples of the wittier comments I came across:

#1 - "I only got two accidents since I bought my own laptop steering wheel desk, but I finally managed to clear my inbox."

#2 - "Driving a school bus, I never have enough time to check my e-mail and Facebook page. Now I can network anytime I want!"

#3 - "Now I can supervise my daughter's driving over Skype, right in the comforts of my living room."

Hilarious. Apparently this is how things go down in Amazon -- commenters "flag" dangerous (or plain idiotic) posts by flooding them with outrageous comments. Eventually Amazon's going to notice and take the ad down.

If you ask me, this is a much more enjoyable way to pick on poor idiots without having to troll or flame. I honestly hope this trend picks up.

SOUR '日々の音色 (Hibi no neiro)' music video

This video is really cool. The group SOUR choreographed their fans recording themselves on their web cams and piecing together all the videos into a really nice montage.

The song '日々の音色 (Hibi no neiro)', which is on their 'Water Flavor' EP, means "Tone of everyday". A quick check with Google Translate says it means "Thanks to everyone".

Whatever the case, it's a good song with an equally good music video. Both meanings sit well with me.

Sesame Street Turns 40!

I don't think any kid's TV show has had a more sustained, more far-reaching, more worldwide reach than Sesame Street, which celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday. Every generation that grew up since 1969 (that's basically most of us) has fond memories of Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie, and other friendly neighbors they meet on Sesame Street.

Sesame Street began in November 10, 1969 as a simple experiment to help underprivileged kids learn through TV. That simple experiment has since landed on the shores of more than 140 countries, teaching kids the values of honesty, eating healthy, reading and writing, and -- this year -- global warming.

Okay, not global warming per se -- but this year, Sesame Street is all about knowing about the Earth and loving the world we all live in. Climate change, apparently, is a grown-up topic, but that doesn't mean kids can't do their part in making the world a better place.

Guess who got to Sesame Street on its 40th birthday -- US First Lady Michelle Obama. Popular for teaching kids about home-gardening at the White House backyard, the First Lady gamely played with a multi-ethnic group of kids at Sesame Street and told Elmo and Big Bird that vegetables were what made her "big and strong." Yup, take it from her.

YouTube videos about Sesame Street have enjoyed a surge in popularity lately, owing to the approach of the Street's 40th anniversary. My favorite? Cookie Monster teaching Rocketboom's Ella Morton the finer points of eating a cookie. See video below, for a good dose of nostalgia.

This article has been brought to you today by the number "40."

Technology Improves Social Relationships, Study Says

A new study claims that the Internet and mobile technology actually improves the average individual's social relationships, instead of hampering them as commonly conceived. This is a surprising find, particularly because it's easy to think a kid who spends hours on a PC or fiddling with a mobile phone doesn't have a social life.

The study "Social Isolation and New Technology" was released last week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It seems that if you have at least a few friends, and maybe if you stay in touch with your family more than other people, it's likely because of e-mail, Facebook, and mobile technology.

Of course, the news should be taken with a grain of salt -- the findings are likely to be challenged by new studies in the near future. After all, it was only a few months ago when another study found that students who regularly use Facebook and play video games tend to get lower grades than students who spend comparatively more time studying.

If there's anything these studies show, I believe it's actually the limitations of technology. While certain technologies may influence your personality and social responsibilities, it won't control you completely unless you let it. These findings should only underscore the importance of developing responsible individuals through the Internet.

It may be wishful thinking for some. But now that you know how technology doesn't really have a hold over your performance and relationships, can you really sit on your hands and do nothing?

NEC's Eyewear Translator May Do Away With Language Barriers In The Future

While most of today's eyewear may cut back on radiation damage to the eyes, one of Japanese company NEC's devices in development may cut back on language barriers instead. NEC is developing an eyewear translator device that can translate foreign languages into your own in real-time -- definitely a handy tool at a business meeting in a foreign country.

Unlike previous prototypes, NEC's eyewear translator doesn't have any lens, which makes wearers look much friendlier -- very important when trying to make a good impression as a stranger in a strange land. With the help of a mic, the device translates languages in real time and recites the translation into your ear via an earpiece -- and at the same time projects a text translation directly into your retinas.

While using the eyewear translator, you may feel like you're watching a movie with dubbing and subtitles (except, of course, you have to talk back). The great thing about the eyewear translator is that if everyone around the table wears the device, everyone can talk in their native language and be understood completely by everyone else. Translators no longer required.

The technology is still in development, but NEC is confident it'll have it available for commercial use in two years or less. A company set of 30 eyewear translators is estimated to cost around $83,300 -- that's almost $3,000 for one set, and you'll need at least two.

Will it be worth the investment? If it closes business deals, builds friendships, and sets the tone for world peace, then I'll take two.

Google And Apple Make Headway In China

Over the weekend, Google and Apple made significant headway in China (or at least, with things related to China). As time goes by it gets easier to wonder whether or not the two industry giants are out to get each other's throats, since their marketing strategies seem to cross on so many paths.

Let's start with Apple. Last weekend, the iPhone finally made it to China, greeted by the usual droves that go where the world's leading smartphone goes. Sales were brisk, but noticeably subdued at the same time -- while hundreds of people braved the cold rain to get their hands on an iPhone, there weren't many sellouts, unlike in Japan and the US.

Should be expected, I guess -- after all, what do you expect from China? Millions of "genuine imitations" of iPhones have been in use in China for months, and the new iPhone -- with a hefty price tag and no Wi-Fi -- isn't really as appealing as it could have been. While I think the iPhone will eventually make up lost ground in the next few months, I also hope Apple learned a thing or two about the Chinese market from the "lukewarm" reception.

Next up, Google. Now Google hasn't really physically ventured onto China like Apple did, but one of their most recent developments -- Google Voice Search in Mandarin Chinese -- make it so they might as well had. Google Voice Search is a smartphone application that lets you recite your search query instead of typing it out, saving lots of time and effort. (Hmmm... this sounds like what Yahoo! had some 2 years ago. I think I need to dig up some info on them and find out how they're faring in this area of search.)

Google Voice Search recognizes an increasing number of English accents, but stepping into Mandarin Chinese territory is a major feat. I mean, think about it -- it's China! China has two times more cellphone subscribers than the US, posing a very tempting market. Mandarin Voice Search is only available on Nokia S60 phones at this point, but if Google does things right, it poses to reap dividends over the next few months.