Tech-Society Archives

March 1, 2007

Our Digital Life

Consumers love portable devices and digital media -- and this excitement is demonstrated by the annual DigitalLife show, returning to the Javits Center in New York on September 27 - 30, 2007. Plus, it's joined by DigitalLife Chicago, June 8 - 10, 2007 --

Last year's New York show in mid-October was the third annual, and was again crowded with some 50,000 kids, families, and tech fans of all persuasions.

Key trends for the 2006 show included mobility and gaming, plus an emphasis on security and safety for home computing. But the real action was on the show floor, with the crowds visiting booths exploring hot areas including PCs, digital imaging, mobile media, storage, and communications.

However, content and delivery were trumped by fashion and flash in the large Accessories Zone area. And all this paled in comparison to the excitement of gaming -- which took up easily a third of the show floor.

The bottom line is not just that it's a new world out there; it is a very different audience. Our baby boomer perceptions are being outmoded by the gamer generation, as described by John Beck and Mitchell Wade in their book, Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever (hardcover at

Yes, gaming is the formative experience of this new generation -- to the extent that rock and roll was to the baby boomers. (Mario and Sonic now trump the Beatles and the Rolling Stones!)

Full Article: Our Digital Life

April 1, 2007

Fulcrum Gallery: Google Ads

How does an online art gallery and store like market their products? In this Internet age, most prospective customers look for art prints through searches on Google.

As a result, the company is building its own custom search marketing optimization software -- that is required to manage the over a million Google Adwords that Fulcrum Gallery runs that respond to specific user searches for art, including more than 200,000 works, 10,000 artists, and many categories.The challenge of course, is to choose the right keywords and manage the advertising budget to achieve a reasonable return.

For an almost accidental buiness, Fulcrum Gallery has grown after only 2 1/2 years to $4 million in annual sales with a staff of over 30 people at its offices in central New Jersey.

Full article: Fulcrum Gallery: The Art and Science of Google Ads

July 6, 2007

HDTV and the Transition to Digital Broadcasting

HDTV and the Transition to Digital Broadcasting is targeted to "non- or semi-technical managers and executives" who want an overview of the high-definition / digital TV transition and the its role in business. It's part of the NAB Executive Technology Briefings series published by the National Association of Broadcasters and Focal Press.

The book is written by Philip Cianci, who was involved in the original development of HDTV at Philips Research in the 1980s. He continued his HDTV participation at ESPN with the construction of the HD Digital Center and the debut of SportsCenter in HDTV.

Cianci provides a nice overview of the development of HDTV, the fundamentals of digital TV technology, and the business and political issues in play that got us to the sometimes confusing state of DTV and HDTV today.

The book can be used as an introduction to HDTV, particularly in the U.S., and as a handy reference for historical and technical details. The coverage walks a fine line -- a tad breezy for my technical perspective, and certainly deeper at times than those "non-technical managers" might need.

It concludes with coverage of emerging technologies including MPEG-4 and enhanced TV on the Internet.

    Find HDTV and the Transition to Digital Broadcasting on

Contents and more details below ...

Continue reading "HDTV and the Transition to Digital Broadcasting" »

IPTV and Internet Video

IPTV and Internet Video is targeted to non-technical managers and executives in broadcast and multimedia companies, to provide an introduction to IPTV and Internet Video networks and applications -- terms, market, and the business of IPTV and Internet broadcast distribution.

The book is part of the NAB Executive Technology Briefings series published by the National Association of Broadcasters and Focal Press.

It is written by Wes Simpson and Howard Greenfield, experienced consultants, writers, and speakers in video and telecommunications.

The book begins with an explanation of using IP (Internet Protocol) for video, comparing broadcast-like IPTV to Internet Video clips. The chapters also include very helpful "Reality Check" segments that go beyond the general discussion to look in more detail at specific real-world applications and case studies, for example, showing how a company like MobiTV blurs the lines between the IPTV and Internet Video categories.

The authors then drill down into more detail on business models and required technology, examining issues and trade-offs for areas including IP transmission, compression, quality and security, servers, bandwidth, and set-top boxes.

The book concludes by looking at the business of setting up video service over the Internet, including types of streaming, system architecture, commercial components, content creation workflow, and related business issues. The final chapter then explores possible future extensions of these trends, particularly into mobile devices.

IPTV and Internet Video provides a comprehensive overview of the market and technology for Internet video services, and should be helpful to anyone who wants to understand the big picture, with sides of additional detail as required.

    Find IPTV and Internet Video on

Contents and more details below ...

Continue reading "IPTV and Internet Video" »

July 9, 2007

Smart Start-Ups: Profit by starting online communities

Intrigued by all the excitement about online social networks? Are you frustrated by the amazing success of apparently simple ideas -- photo and video sharing with Flickr and YouTube, online communities like MySpace and Facebook, tech tidbits like digg and reddit, online virtual shared worlds like Second Life, and now mobile micro-communication like Twitter? Do you have a hot idea like these that could explode into a Web 2.0 business?

If so, David Silver wants to help -- with his new book, Smart Start-Ups: How Entrepreneurs and Corporations Can Profit by Starting Online Communities (

Silver is the founder of Santa Fe Capital Group, an angel capital firm, and the author of thirty books on entrepreneurship and finance. He has been funding high-tech start-ups for the past three decades, and is looking for more. He doesn't want to start a new company, he wants to help you to do so -- and has written this book to flush out more good ideas to fund.

Smart Start-Ups starts with an explanation for understanding the opportunities of online communities, plus details and sage advice for evaluating and starting a new venture, including Silver's formula for evaluating business opportunities.

The second half of the book then elaborates specific examples of business opportunities just waiting to be created, with 19 chapters of start-up ideas, from specific markets like travel, art, and college sports, to meta-businesses managing online virtual money and arbitrating online disputes.

    Find Smart Start-Ups on

Contents and more details below ...

Continue reading "Smart Start-Ups: Profit by starting online communities" »

December 18, 2007

Interactive Toy - iFLY VAMP Radio Controlled Bat

Interactive Toy Concepts sells a variety of radio controlled (R/C) vehicles, especially helicopters and planes (more to come).

Perhaps the most amazing is the iFLY VAMP, a radio controlled ornithopter -- which means an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings. There's no propellers, no jet engines, just a small bat-like toy flapping away.

The VAMP is designed as a somewhat nasty looking bat, with glowing eyes. The body is basically ultra light foam (11.7 grams), with wings of thin plastic sheets. It has a wingspan of around 12 inches, with the body some 10 inches long. It's available at a variety of retailers in the U.S. and Canada for around $39.99.

You'd think there would be no hope of controlling such an animal, but the VAMP is quite stable in flight, and has full directional control and proportional speed. With no action on your part, it can continue flying forward, and if you ease off the throttle it comes down calmly for a relatively gentle landing.

We're not quite to the level of precision control shown in this promo video ...

More on flying the VAMP ...

Continue reading "Interactive Toy - iFLY VAMP Radio Controlled Bat" »

December 20, 2007

Interactive Toy - Micro Mosquito R/C Helicopter

The Interactive Toy iFLY VAMP described in the last post is an amazing creature -- a remote controlled bat with flapping wings that you can literally fly around and over a house.

But for more constrained indoor flying, the Interactive Toy Micro Mosquito Remote Control Helicopter is amazing also -- a tiny chopper in the ITC Bladerunner series that's self-stabling, and can hover by itself inches off the ground. The trick is that it has two co-axial rotors that keep it stable in the air.

The Micro Mosquito is tiny -- it fits in your palm, and weighs around 20 grams. But it's fully controllable -- hovering, and flying up / down, left / right, and forward / reverse, with radio control up to 10 meters. And it generates a lot of power -- sheets of paper fly away as it takes off from the surface. It's available at a variety of retailers in the U.S. and Canada for around $79.

You get an idea of the precision control possible (with practice) in this promo video...

    Find the Interactive Toy Micro Mosquito on

More on flying the Micro Mosquito ...

Continue reading "Interactive Toy - Micro Mosquito R/C Helicopter" »

April 20, 2008

SIRIUS Backseat TV: Technology to Product

"Are we there yet?" -- The perennial cry from the back seat that strikes fear into parents on long road trips. I remember a long ride home from Cape Cod with our toddler daughter crying the entire time, except for a half hour time-out for lunch and play in a small park. As the kids grew older we were able to get some peace with a portable tape player, and then graduated to the Nintendo Gameboy -- only to have a huge crisis when the screen broke before a trip and we had to rush to get it repaired.

These days, of course, you can equip each child with a music / video player, or game machine that also plays movies. Even better, you can buy a car already equipped as a mobile theater, with iPod jacks, DVD player, and video screens for the back seat. But parents still bear the burden of planning and organizing the entertainment, and a trip still can be ruined if you leave a favorite DVD at home.

The folks at Sirius Satellite Radio's advanced development team in Lawrenceville, N.J. had a better idea -- add video to the existing Sirius radio service to deliver your kids' favorite cable TV experience directly to the car.

From an early concept demo in January 2002, the resulting product, Sirius Backseat TV, was announced at an event in Times Square in March 2007, hit the streets on 2008 model Chrysler vehicles in October 2007, and shipped as an retail aftermarket product in March 2008 to add the Sirius radio and TV service to your car.

The service features three channels of live TV, available 24/7, from the top family networks -- Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network.

The Sirius Backseat TV service is $6.99 per month, as an add-on to the Sirius Satellite Radio subscription at $12.95 per month. Adding the service to a new Chrysler vehicle costs $470 with Sirius Satellite Radio and the Rear Seat Entertainment System, plus the first year of service. The new aftermarket product, the SiriusConnect Audio/Video Tuner, model SCV1, is $299.

The Sirius engineering team performed some amazing magic with the Backseat TV product -- They squeezed the video channels into the existing satellite radio bandwidth allocated to Sirius without affecting the radio service. The kids in the back seat can watch the live TV, while the parents in the front seat can enjoy the full Sirius radio experience.

The product was developed by a core team of some 20 people, including a large ex-pat contingent from local companies including Sarnoff and Hitachi. They started with concept demos and prototypes, and then developed the end-to-end process and productr, from inserting video broadcasting into the satellite radio transmission to pulling a reliable signal out in a car zipping along a highway.

See full article: SIRIUS Backseat TV: Technology to Product

May 13, 2008

Peter Shankman on Social Networking

Peter Shankman is Hyper ... And that's a good thing!

Peter Shankman describes himself as "living proof of what can happen when you harness the power of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and put it to work" -- with an emphasis on Hyper.

Shankman spoke (rapidly) on Social Networking last Monday at a meeting of the River Communications Group.

The site was Marsha Brown's restaurant in New Hope -- a great space for preaching, designed inside a 125-year-old church right on Main Street in the heart of New Hope. We were in the former choir loft above the main dining room, and Shankman was so dynamic that the wait staff below was cheering along with us.

Peter Shankman is a marketing pundit and consultant, and CEO of the marketing and PR strategy firm The Geek Factory. He has an astounding storehouse of stories, especially PR stunts that leverage viral marketing. This is a guy who turned his own 30th birthday party into a sponsored exclusive event, with over 30 corporate sponsors and 400 gift bags worth over $1000 each.

Shankman also is a big fan of social networking, saying that everyone should be on Facebook, even though your kids will be creeped out when their parents try to "friend" them. The kids are over MySpace, which is about the total number of friends, while Facebook is your important people. And LinkedIn is "your resume digitized" online, but a poll of the audience agreed that it does not result in much business.

But why establish an online presence? If nothing else, so you can "control your online reputation; the way other people see you." Do you own, or, to try to preempt negative hits in online searches? Even if not, you can establish a solid presence online, build links and reputation in the search engines, and at least be the first hit for your name.

Of course, social networking is more than just your static resume online. Shankman's Facebook page goes beyond "the business stuff" to "humanize" him -- not the gory details of his private life, but some sense of his personality, from skydiving to fat cats, so that people can make connections to him.

He warns that Facebook and other social networking are not magic solutions, especially "if you suck at [real-world] networking." Instead, you need to "live on the social grid." But this is not about business networking for profit -- Shakman is a big believer in Karma, in "random twists of fate," so that the more you do to help others, "to become a hero" to them, the more opportunities open up to you.

But, he says, "you've got to take the risk."

His book, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work -- And Why Your Company Needs Them, preaches the same lessons of being creative and taking risks, starting by shaking yourself out of complacency and ruts.

So change your routine -- food, travel, reading, exercise, even people you talk to. Take a walk to break away, and then try something new.

it might be exciting and creative, and fun.


Steve Lubetkin has posted the audio podcast of Shankman's presentation on his Professional Podcasts site (MP3 file, 26 min.).

The audio and video podcasts of the meeting is now available on the River Communications Facebook group, and on the River Communications web site.

May 16, 2008

The Future of News(papers)

I'm back from a two-day Workshop on The Future of News, organized by the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University on May 14 and 15.

Ed Felten is the Director of CITP, in his dual role as Professor of Computer Science, researching computer security and privacy, and Professor of Public Affairs, interested in technology policy (see his Freedom To Tinker weblog). There aren't many places that combine this kind of hard-core technology engineering with considerations of social impacts, which makes for an exciting mix of interdisciplinary academics and students in the program, combined with speakers from the news business (mostly print), and other interested members of the public. (More on the founding of CITP from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.)

What was striking about hearing from these members of the news business is the similarity in their tales of woe to what we hear from the recording industry and the film industry. It's all bad news -- The physical media business is declining precipitously, sales are down, the customer base is getting older, the younger generation has moved on, kids today just snack at media and do not pay attention to longer forms, and, worst of all, the future promise of the digital side is not picking up the slack to close the gap... Sound familiar?

But even more, these industries also share a longing for the good old days -- when single-paper towns were the only outlet for classified ads, broadcast-only television meant you could choose only from one of three news shows during the dinner hour, and enthusiastic fans bought massive libraries of LPs and then replacement CDs. But the days of more than 20% profit margins on newspapers are long gone. (Paul Starr, the keynote speaker and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton, quoted one old newspaper man as saying his fortune was built on the two great American values, monopoly and nepotism.)

The interesting difference between these industries seems to be the rate at which they are moving through the Five Stages of Grief as they lay the good times to rest:

The speakers at the workshop from the newspaper industry were moving beyond Depression to the final stage of Acceptance. They are biting the bullet to mask the pain as they cut deeply into operations, and are going forward and innovating to enhance their digital offerings.

In comparison, the recording industry clearly has moved beyond the first stage of Denial, but seems to be stuck cycling between Anger, Bargaining, and Depression -- as it still lashes out by suing its own customers, and grabs on to each next new copy protection scheme while simultaneously going DRM-free in other venues.

For more info:

Continue reading "The Future of News(papers)" »

October 31, 2008

CityPass Discount Tickets for Major Cities

We've been traveling this week, so this is a good time to highlight the CityPass discount booklets, available for eleven cities -- across the U.S. and Toronto.

Each booklet concentrates on the most-visited attractions, with no more than six per city -- featuring art museums, aquariums, science centers, natural history museums, zoos, themed attractions, and historical attractions -- plus viewing towers or waterfront cruises when appropriate for the big view of the city (i.e., the Empire State Building and a Circle Line or Statue Cruises in New York, or the Prudential Skywalk Observatory in Boston).

These are great when you are visiting a city, of course, and also helpful when you have friends visiting and want to set them loose to see the landmark sights. And there's a further bonus -- CityPass tickets allow you to avoid waiting in the main ticket lines at some sites (including the Empire State Building, MOMA, and Guggenheim Museum in New York).

Each ticket also includes information on the attraction, including hours, directions, and insider tips with the best time for visiting. And the booklets also include additional pages with additional special offers, city maps, and city information from National Geographic Traveler magazine on shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.

The New York CityPass is $74 and the Boston CityPass is $44, around a 50% savings from standard prices (see the CityPass website for price information on each attraction). Lower prices are available for kids, and the booklets are valid for 9 days.

More on the New York and Boston CityPass booklets --

Continue reading "CityPass Discount Tickets for Major Cities" »

December 15, 2008

CDSA Media Market Intelligence Summit Tomorrow in NY

The CDSA Media Market Intelligence Summit is tomorrow in New York City, sponsored by the Content Delivery & Storage Association.

The CDSA publishes Mediaware Magazine -- which I edit -- and is a global trade association focusing on the innovative and responsible delivery and storage of entertainment, software, and information content.

The Summit brings together companies involved in delivering both physical and digital media, to discuss how to best weather the economic storm, expand HD content with Blu-ray, and address developments in securing intellectual property.

Speakers include:

  • Michael Frey of Sony DADC, on increasing production capacity for Blu-ray

  • Adam Powers of Macrovision, on distributing over home networks

  • Daniel Schreiber of SanDisk, on future opportunities for Flash memory

  • Bill Wohnoutka of Level 3, on the role of Content Distribution Networks

Other sessions include discussions of expanding the use of Blu-ray though independent producers and BD-Live interactivity, and coverage of market developments from Jim Bottoms of Futuresource and Steve Koenig of the CEA.

The CDSA Media Market Intelligence Summit will be held at the Marriott New York East Side on December 16, from 8 am to 4 pm.

December 19, 2008

Walter Bender on the Sugar Software for OLPC

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project (see Wikipedia), founded by Nicholas Negroponte (co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory) has reopened its Give One Get One program (see Wikipedia) so you can donate an XO laptop for a child for $199, or to get a laptop and donate a second for $399 (purchase through

The OLPC XO was designed for use by for the world's poorest children, as a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. It includes a rugged plastic exterior and membrane-covered keyboard, rotating display (readable under direct sunlight), plus built-in wireless (the side antennas cleverly rotate down lock the cover closed).

The OLPC XO runs custom-designed software called Sugar, designed for children to encourage exploration, creativity, and collaboration. (The OLPC also announced last May that it would also offer a version of Microsoft Windows.)
(Main screen with views (network, activities) at top, activities at bottom.)

The Sugar development platform is now available as stand-alone software from Sugar Labs, a non-profit foundation formed to produce, distribute, and support the use of Sugar as a learning platform (see Wikipedia).

Walter Bender is the founder of Sugar Labs, and former president for software and content for the original development of the software at OLPC.

Bender spoke last night about Sugar to the Princeton, N.J. joint chapters of the ACM and IEEE Computer Society.

Continue reading "Walter Bender on the Sugar Software for OLPC" »

December 24, 2008

magicJack Easy VoIP Phone Service

(with Tim Geoghan)

(Almost) free phone calls! Who can resist? VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) allows users of software like Skype to make free phone calls over the Internet to other Skype users, and, for a fee, also make calls to landline and mobile phones. But PC-to-PC voice connections do not replace having a fixed phone number to make and receive any calls. And using these kinds of services requires installing and running software and calling from a computer using a headset.

Instead, magicJack provides the benefits of VOIP cost reductions in the form of a small USB device that connects a regular telephone to a computer, and from there to phone service over the Internet.

Each magicJack device is basically a portable phone service, with a regular ten-digit telephone number. Sign up for the $39.95 annual subscription, and you can receive calls at that number from anyone in the world, you can call any other magicJack user for free, and you can call for free to numbers in the U.S., Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. You also can buy International minutes to make calls to other countries.

Since the service is associated with the magicJack device, it works from anywhere in the world that you've connected your computer to the Internet. (Or just take along the magicJack device, and plug it into another computer wherever you are -- you're also taking the phone number with you.)

One end of the magicJack has a USB connection, to plug into a computer. But there's no software to install -- it runs directly from the device (Windows, and Intel Mac beta). And there's no special equipment -- the other end of the magicJack has a standard phone jack (RJ-11), so just plug in a standard telephone and pick it up to hear the dial tone and start making calls.

The magicJack service also includes Directory Assistance, Caller ID, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Voicemail, and enhanced 911, all at no extra charge. If your computer or magicJack is not active, incoming calls will be routed to voicemail. You also can use Follow Me to redirect incoming calls to up to three other phone lines.

The magicJack device with one year subscription is $39.95, and the service is $19.95 for additional years. Also check the magicJack site for free 30-day trial offers.

Overall: The magicJack is an interesting option for VoIP phone service, with the potential to save a bunch of money. It's a matter of personal preference whether you want to ditch your land line for this kind of service. The magicJack is best for people who are tech savvy, or who call internationally to Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico.

    Find the magicJack on

More on using the magicJack ...

Continue reading "magicJack Easy VoIP Phone Service" »

January 19, 2009

Rand McNally Obama Inaugural fabMAP

Even in this digital age, Rand McNally has found a fun way to reinvent old-fashioned physical maps with its Rand McNally FABmap line of fabric maps -- water-proof, tear-proof, wrinkle-proof microfiber maps that pack easily (you don't have to struggle to fold them). fabMAP designs are available for 24 popular destinations for $5.95. As a bonus, they also can be used as a cleaning cloth for glasses, mobile device screens, or camera lenses or a protective cover for electronic devices.

Plus there's the special limited-edition President Barack Obama Commemorative Inaugural fabMAP.

This napkin-sized fabric map features a detailed map of the Mall area and Inaugural parade route from the Capitol to the White House, plus notable D.C. monuments and museums, as well as hotels and points of interest.

The reverse side has a full-color portrait of President-elect Obama against the backdrop of the Capitol building, where he will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The map is just under 8" x 12", and features a larger type size so text is easier to read.

The Inaugural fabMAP is available while supplies last for $9.99. It's also designed to be framed as a collectable, and includes a certificate of authenticity.

    Find the Obama Inaugural fabMAP on

February 11, 2009

New Media at Princeton University

My latest article for the U.S.1 Newspaper in Princeton highlights the expansion of "new media" and digital media at Princeton University.

The new Frank Gehry-designed Lewis Library building on the Princeton campus includes expanded facilities for a New Media Lab to serve students working on multimedia products, plus a new Broadcast Center and studio to consolidate shooting and sharing university classes and events, on campus and beyond.

David Hopkins, Broadcast Center director, and Paula Hulick, New Media Center manager (Image:
U.S. 1 Newspaper)

The New Media Center features a 1024 square foot Multimedia Lab, plus a private video editing room. The lab has some 32 high-end computers, mainly Apple Macintosh but also some Dell PCs, all with large-screen monitors. Roughly half of the lab is set up for video production, with video and audio tape decks and other recording equipment. The other half is set up for graphic design work, with document scanners and drawing tablets.

The computers include a full compliment of digital media software, for video and audio editing (i.e., Apple Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite), graphic design and page layout (i.e., Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, plus Autodesk AutoCAD), and Web development (i.e., Adobe Flash and Dreamweaver, Microsoft Expression Web).

And this is supported by only two full-time staff members, plus more than 20 student staffers. The lab is open during the week from 1 to 7 pm, and until 5 pm on the weekends. Students come for class work and group projects, and the staff also helps professors prepare materials and provides specialized training.

And the demand keeps growing: The old New Media Center has over 2200 visitors last year, and the new facility is twice the size and is a half mile closer to the center of the campus, and so expect some 6000 visits over the next year.

The new Broadcast Center facility has a 1600 square foot facility, including the 625 square foot video studio and a 30 square foot audio recording booth. The studio is set up primarily to host remote interviews of Princeton professors -- with the economy and the election, the demand had grown to six such requests a day, from the Good Morning America to The Daily Show in the evening.

The Broadcast Center staff also shoots lectures and events all over the campus. Live and recorded events then are delivered over the Princeton campus television network, and through Web streaming media both within the Princeton domain and to the outside world. However, recordings of classes are delayed for ten days, to encourage students to go to class.

See full article: New Media at Princeton University

February 13, 2009

The Lean Forward Moment: Creating Compelling Stories

It's the story stupid! Creating compelling films or TV or even webisodes comes down to the story, but also how it is told -- how you use the tools of your craft to draw in your audience with a strong emotional connection to your characters and their story.

In earlier eras you might have learned and honed your craft as an assistant on a production or as an apprentice film editor. But those opportunities are limited with today's smaller and dispersed production teams.

Film schools provide another way to teach the craft, if you can find a way to communicate years of hands-on experience in a classroom. Norman Hollyn has done this in developing his concept of the "lean forward moment," from his experience as a film editor and music editor, and working with Hollywood greats including Alan J. Pakula, Sidney Lumet, and Francis Ford Coppola.

Hollyn is currently head of the film editing track at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, and has published his ideas in a new book, The Lean Forward Moment: Create Compelling Stories for Film, TV, and the Web.

The entire book is structured around this central concept -- first clarifying the key elements and characters of a story, then using that understanding to identify the "lean forward" moments of change in the story, to help focus your filmmaking tools and technique to better create those moments on the screen.

Hollyn uses a variety of examples thought the book, from The Godfather to Terminator 2, Citizen Kane to Finding Nemo to The Matrix, Lost to The Real World (on TV), as well as from less well-known and independent films.

He starts by refining the "logline," a story summary that helps shape the storytelling by clarifying the emotional path of the characters. He then expands this with a carefully-written scene analysis of a "lean forward" scene, such as the chase in the LA drainage canal in T2, and Michael's restaurant killing scene in The Godfather.

Much of the rest of the book then describes how this careful understanding of the story and its characters guide the filmmakers in their decisions on how to stage and shoot the scenes. Each chapter than walks through these scenes from the perspective of the stages in filmmaking: writing, production design, directing, cinematography, editing, visual effects, music, and sound.

We visit these scenes again and again, studying how each of these elements contributes to highlighting for the audience what it truly important in the scene. From subtle details of lighting and music, to careful consideration of camera placement and motion to focus on the reactions of the key character, the filmmakers grab the emotions of the audience and get us to lean forword into the story.

After discussing some genres and special cases that may be exceptions to his rule (horror films, music videos), Hollyn concludes with the "dirty little secret" -- now that you've spent all this time learning to use these concepts to analyze a script and craft a scene, you should know that in practice, professionals actually don't use the "lean forward movement" -- at least consciously or overtly. But, Hollyn argues, this is how filmmakers do think, so when he explicitly uses these concepts in discussions, they understand what he means.

Hollyn's bottom line is that thinking and analyzing a story in this way can solve a lot of the difficulties in making all the little decisions about how to make a movie (or other production) -- It all comes down to really understanding and communicating what is important, from the big story to the individual scenes.

Order The Lean Forward Moment from

Details ...

Continue reading "The Lean Forward Moment: Creating Compelling Stories" »

February 16, 2009

Peter Shankman on Social Networking in Princeton on Thursday

Peter Shankman is a marketing pundit, CEO of the marketing and PR strategy firm The Geek Factory, and has a long history of inventive marketing stunts, especially leveraging viral marketing (see previous post).

Shankman will be speaking in Princeton this Thursday evening, February 19, on "Social Networking: For Good and For Profit."

He has a strong message on the value of social networking, for business and for individuals. He will discuss social networking, viral marketing, and all the “fun ways” to use our social networking technologies – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Most importantly, he will discuss why sometimes it is a better bet not to use any of them.

Shankman also will talk about “non-traditional ways of thinking” – including examples of unconventional PR and social networking examples, such as Will It Blend and his own Help A Reporter Out website.

The meeting is sponsored by the Princeton chapters of the ACM / IEEE Computer Society, and is open to the public -- the meeting is free, including refreshments.

The meeting is held at 8 PM, at the Sarnoff Corp, Route 1 at 571, in Princeton (see Directions at the bottom of the page).

Download the printable Meeting announcement (PDF)

Shankman's book, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work -- And Why Your Company Needs Them, preaches similar lessons of being creative and taking risks, starting by shaking yourself out of complacency and ruts.

February 20, 2009

Blowing Peter Shankman's Mind

Peter Shankman came down to central Jersey last night to speak to the Princeton chapters of the ACM / IEEE Computer Society -- and we blew his mind!

Peter is a social media pundit, always on the go, swapping between phone and PDA, and laptop. He teaches business execs -- and NASA -- how to adapt to social media, and debates PR issues on the O’Reilly Factor (most recently on Kellogg’s firing of swimmer Michael Phelps -- see on YouTube). He kindly came down from Manhattan to visit us on only the promise of a free dinner. And here he is taking advantage of the train ride back to the city to record his daily What’s Hot on HARO video, live from N.J. Transit.

Peter came to talk about social media (see previous post). -- He's the exemplar of how to use Twitter (he's skydiver), not just updating his adventures and travels, and spouting pundit-isms, but also using it for immediate distribution of urgent queries from reporters on his HARO (Help a Reporter Out) service. He has some 30,000 followers on Twitter, and over 50,000 sources receiving the full HARO posts three times daily.

From mingling before the meeting, Peter already understood that we were not his typical audience, as he faced 80-some mostly techies -- a core of computer / software types (ACM) and engineers (IEEE), plus some other groups (we actually mix worlds here) like video production pros and marketing / PR folks, and even some students.

But it was Peter's first question that really reset his expectations. He was discussing the development of "citizen journalism" with the proliferation of camera phones (as demonstrated by the first picture of the U.S. Air plane landing in the Hudson River in New York City). So Peter asked how many people in the audience did NOT have a camera in their phone -- and almost half the audience held up their (camera-less) hands. Yikes -- The group is techies, but also Luddites, with not much interest in messing with crummy camera-phone photographs.

But the ultimate moment came when Peter was demonstrating how to use social networks to keep in touch with contacts, for example by using the birthday information from Facebook to send out best wishes. So he asked what information Facebook displayed in the top right corner of your home page, and got an instant, and quite literal answer -- "the sign out button." Okay, yes, but ...

Peter is big on Facebook. He is insistent that you can't separate your professional and personal lives (although you do need to manage them carefully online). Around half of our audience was on LinkedIn, and maybe a quarter on Facebook, and the group seemed to agree with the perception that "LinkedIn is for business" -- but when Peter asked how many people who had actually gotten business though LinkedIn, only two hands went up. Point taken --it's not about "hiring resumes" anymore.

This was Peter's message -- managing your online persona by finding an audience and being relevant, keeping your audience's attention by being brief, and then using your social network not to send out resumes, but by keeping "top of mind presence" -- just keeping in touch, maintaining connections without always expecting something in return. It's not about making money from Twitter, it's about building a reputation and credibility in your niche, developing your brand, which then can grow into clients and business.

Interesting, Peter ended with a techie vision -- predicting that all these different social media networks will consolidate into one network, but will also develop the intelligence to distinguish between close and casual contacts, so you can stay more closely connected to the people more important to you. The network should understand who's more important to you, who you're communicating the most with, and help keep you connected and updated with them as appropriate. It would be nice to have social networks that understand overlapping types of connections to your contacts, so no more having to reject friend requests, or keeping requestors in purgatory.

Of course, this tediously long post to tell these stories breaks all of Peter's rules for focusing on brevity in this 140-character Twitter world. His summary of the event on Twitter:

Just gave a talk on social networking to members of ACM and IEEE in Princeton. Imagine talking to male cast of "Big Bang Theory." :-)


See the meeting preview, Social Networking: Perils and Promise, in the U.S. 1 Newspaper, February 18, 2009

UPDATE: Dennis Mancl took extensive notes on Peter's talk, posted on the chapter website.

Peter's book, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work -- And Why Your Company Needs Them, preaches related lessons of being creative and taking risks, starting by shaking yourself out of complacency and ruts.

April 12, 2009

PakSeat Backpack with Built-In Seat

The Deltess PakSeat Backpack is a clever design from a local company that solves the problem of finding a good place to rest when you're out traveling. -- It provides both a clean and dry place to sit, and support for you aching back.

The entire back panel of the PakSeat folds down into a seat -- with adjustable straps to set the right angle. The internal panel has a frame on each side to help support your back, as does the outside seat panel to provide further support (and ventilation) when hiking

The backpack itself has a large capacity (18 x 15 x 7 in., 1900, and 3 pounds), with a small outer zippered stash and a pair of pouches for bottles on the front, another front pouch with multiple pockets for small items, and even a small pocket on the shoulder strap. There's also an inner universal elastic sleeve against the back that holds either a laptop or a hydration reservoir -- with a small exit slot for either a water line or iPod headphones.

The PakSeat Backpack is available for $69 in back & gray or blue & gray. There's also a PakSeat Messenger Bag coming, also with adjustable seat.

Find the PakSeat Backpack on

May 27, 2009

John Dougherty Turn C.S. into "Computational Singing"

Our Princeton N.J. Chapters of the ACM and the IEEE Computer Society has sponsored a lot of interesting and fun meetings over the past 28 years, but last week's event was the first time our meeting turned into a group sing-along.

The reason, and the evening's speaker, was John P. Dougherty (aka “J.D.”), assistant professor of computer science at Haverford College, who lead a fun romp though his adventures in "computational singing," using fun songs that he has written to illustrate fundamental concepts in computation.

Beyond his technical studies in dependable parallel scientific computing and data intensive scalable computing, Dougherty has passionate interests in computer science education, including introductory courses for undergraduates and outreach to K-12 students.

His idea of outreach for computer science is finding connections between information technology and society that can make computing more accessible to a broad audience, to help people appreciate "computational thinking."

Dougherty' Computational Singing site has lyrics and some recordings of his songs, including the whirlwind The Tour of The World of Computing (to the tune of The End of the World by R.E.M.), and illustrations of C.S. concepts including loop invariants, infinite loops, and, of course, spam.

Also see his two videos accepted for the ACM SIGCSE 2009 Video Exhibition (Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education):

- Input and Output (to the tune of My Sweet Lord and He's So Fine, play on YouTube)

- Recursion Song (play on YouTube -- if you dare)

June 5, 2009

SIGGRAPH 2009 Computer Graphics Conference in New Orleans

ACM SIGGRAPH 2009 is coming to New Orleans this summer, from August 3 to 8. This is the 36th annual International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.

If you're into graphics and animation, this is the worldwide gathering to attend:
- for the Technical Program and new breakthroughs you'll be seeing in movies and video games in a few years,
- for the Animation Festival featuring high-end commercial work, state-of-the-art research demonstrations, and enchanting student projects,
- for the Art Galleries, Emerging Technologies and other showcases and interactive experiences,
- for the Exhibition with new developments in graphics hardware and software, and
- for all the other opportunities to meet and explore.

The SIGGRAPH 2009 Advance Program booklet is now available, especially with details on the technical sessions (59 pages, 2.28 MB PDF)

Also enjoy the Computer Animation Festival 2009 Preview Video (2:30)

November 7, 2009

Marc-Antoine Goulard -- "Almost Recognizable"

Marc-Antoine Goulard creates wonderfully evocative paintings. At first glance, they are pleasing compositions of color, and totally non-representational.

But as you keep looking, the layers of colors and horizontal flow often suggests landscapes, especially scenes with the blues and green of water.

Yet the scenes remain tantalizing out of reach, "almost recognizable," and still open to individual interpretation.

At a reception at his one-man exhibit this month at the Ruth Morpeth Gallery in Hopewell, New Jersey, Goulard described his working process as starting with the palette of colors -- and an idea of a particular landscape. Yet he does not like to discuss his particular vision of his paintings, preferring (and encouraging) each viewer to find their own image -- or not.

The paintings are so evocative because of the way they are created. Goulard paints on wood panels, a plywood built of layers of birch so they will remain stable over time. He starts by applying a background of white as the base of his canvas, and then begins building up layers of color. -- Lots and lots of layers, building up subtle combinations of translucent shades. He works with painting knives instead of brushes, like a spatula, which works for him as an extension of his hand.

Goulard was actually trained as a concert musician at the Paris Conservatoire, and then took up the saxophone and studied jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. But it was in painting that Goulard found a stronger creative voice.

Goulard actually works on five or more paintings at a time, because of the drying time required in the process. His jazz background shows in his work, with light, color, inspiration, and splashes of spontaneity. He still begins with music playing as part of the inspiration as he starts to work on his painting, but it drops away along with other outside distractions as he focuses into his creations.

Image: "Out There," 2007, Paris, 30 x 26 in. (75 x 70 cm )

Marc-Antoine Goulard
New York City and Paris

Ruth Morpeth Gallery
43 West Broad Street
Hopewell, NJ 08525

November 25, 2009

Verilux HappyLight for SAD Gray Days

It's gray and overcast and drizzly here in New Jersey, and it's going to be like that a lot over the next four months or so, at least when it's not snowing.

All these gray days can wear you down with the winter blues, even if you don't have a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD -- see Wikipedia). So if you can't fly away to a warm and sunny beach, you can at least bring some of that sunlight into your home with a bright light -- to provide both more lumens than an ordinary bulb to make a room glow, and a full spectrum of white light closer to the natural sunlight that you are craving.

For example, we've been trying out the Verilux HappyLight line of sunshine supplement lights. The HappyLight 6000 provides up to 6,000 lux of white light for $89 in a unit that's easy to carry -- 12 x 4 5/8 x 3 inches and 2 pounds. It uses a custom 36 watt Verilux Natural Spectrum bulb that lasts up to 10,000 hours ($24.95).

This puts out a very bright light -- 6,000 lux is not quite full daylight, but close (full daylight is 10,000 lux and up -- see Wikipedia). The unit also has a high/low brightness control.

Verilux also offers the larger HappyLight Deluxe with 10,000 lux and 19" tall ($189 -- shown in image), and the smaller HappyLight 2500 with 2,500 lux ($34.95) -- at 9" tall and 1 pound you can buy multiple lights in combo packs.

Verilux recommends positioning the HappyLight 6000 one to two feet in front of your face, although offset on a diagonal, so your eyes can take in the white light. The recommended daily use to reduce sluggishness and lethargy is listed as 2 1/2 hours. However, Verilux disclaims any medical claims regarding the use of the product, and states it is solely intended for use as portable supplemental lighting.

We don't have long-term experience with the HappyLight, but it certainly is bright and white, and it does make me happy to see it really light up the room.

November 26, 2009

Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 -- And Talk at the Princeton Public Library

Happy Black Friday! It's time to start thinking about holiday gifts, and especially consumer electronics gifts (see previous post). Which also means it's time for my annual Holiday Tech Gift Guide.

This year the focus in on portable devices, and especially smartphones -- the one device that can do almost anything, at least on a small screen.

But there are other alternatives for your shopping consideration, from larger netbooks to a variety of other portable -- but non-phone -- devices focused on other uses, including media players, handheld game systems, and E-Book readers.

And don't miss another hot gift option -- accessories to go along with these devices, including Bluetooth headsets, portable speakers and displays, wireless power, and portable storage.

If you're in the Princeton area, come on down to my annual Holiday Tech Gift Guide presentation at the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday -- It's free and open to the public, and you can see and even try out many of these devices.

Holiday Tech Gift Guide

    Douglas Dixon, Manifest Technology
    Tues., Dec. 1, 2009 at 7 pm
    Princeton Public Library, Community Room
    65 Witherspoon St., Princeton, NJ 08542
    Event Info - Princeton Library

See my full article -- Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009

It's expanded from my annual gadget guide article published in this week's U.S. 1 Newspaper, Nov. 25, 2009:
- If the Wish List is an E-List, Think Small & Portable
- Accessories for Portable Devices

Also see my Digital Media Galleries for more on these and related products and trends.

November 29, 2009

Holiday Tech Gift Guide Talk at Princeton Library

My annual Holiday Tech Gift Guide presentation at the Princeton Library is coming up this Tuesday, December 1 at 7 pm.

It's free and open to the public. I'll have lots of fun gadgets to talk about, and demo -- and to hand around for you to check out.

I'll focus in on portable devices, and especially new smartphones including the Verizon Droid. And there are interesting new non-phone devices, including media players, handheld game systems, E-Book readers, and pocket camcorders.

Plus don't miss another hot gift option -- accessories to go along with these devices, including Bluetooth headsets, portable speakers and displays, wireless power, portable storage, and computer peripherals.

Holiday Tech Gift Guide

    Douglas Dixon, Manifest Technology
    Tues., Dec. 1, 2009 at 7 pm
    Princeton Public Library, Community Room
    65 Witherspoon St., Princeton, NJ

    Event Information

Keeping up with changes in technology is a full-time job. No one knows that better than Douglas Dixon of Manifest Technology, who returns to the library to present the Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009. This annual roundup of tech trends and toys will track the latest developments, from portable gadgets to netbooks to set-tops, game consoles and beyond. Dixon, an independent technology consultant, author and speaker specializing in digital media, breaks it down to help participants discover which gadgets to put on the gift list, not to mention the personal wish list.

See my extended Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article for a preview.

Also see my Digital Media Galleries for more on these and related products and trends.

December 1, 2009

FTC Disclosure Statement

If you're the kind of person who would be shocked to discover that celebrities are paid for their endorsements in late-night infomercials, or would be horrified to discover that Google Ads are advertisements and Amazon product links have to do with selling products, then the Federal Trade Commission is stepping up to protect you -- from evil bloggers!

Yes, the FTC has issued Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (PDF), imposing new rules and "guides" as of December 1, 2009.

While most of the 81-page document is concerned with claims made by advertisers and celebrity endorsers, the federal government also worries about Mommy bloggers: "... an individual who regularly receives free samples of products for families with young children and discusses those products on his or her blog would likely have to disclose that he or she received for free the items being recommended."

However, the guidance in this document is provided in the form of examples of situations that could trigger disclosure, omitting both clear, specific requirements and any discussion of the form of such disclosure. Sigh.

(Interestingly, the FTC is not concerned about such reviews in what it calls "traditional media" -- so newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations can continue to enjoy press junkets without government supervision. Mommy bloggers are much more dangerous!)

So, while I've been clear about describing my background and industry relationships on my Manifest Technology website (and associated Manifest Tech blog), I'll take an extra step here in a FTC Disclosure Statement. In general, while I'd prefer that you not consider me as on the take, you should assume that companies have provided samples of many of the products that I discuss on my site.

Bottom line: I look at lots of products. You should expect that many are provided by companies for this purpose. I also receive various food, tchotchkes, and other swag at various industry and press events. I don't profit from these. I have other long-term relationships and occasional business relationships with some companies, which have been explicitly disclosed on this site (when not confidential). And in case you haven't noticed, I use Google Ads and Amazon affiliate links on the site to help defray my costs.

Yeesh! Do you feel safer now?

In case you missed the link above, click here for full FTC Disclosure Statement

January 25, 2010

Quirky - Crowd-Sourced Product Development

The Internet has allowed isolated individuals to expand from their local perspective and sell products all over the world. If you have stuff to sell, then you can use eBay as your online marketplace, with some 88 million active users. Or if you're a crafter type, you can use Etsy to sell handmade goods (see previous post). And small entrepreneurs can build a business through persistent development of clever product concepts (see previous post).

But what if you're more the creative idea type, with concepts for possibly interesting products, but without the support system required to develop, produce, and market them?

That's the idea behind Quirky, the social network site for product concepts. You bring the idea, the crowd-sourced community rates it and helps develop it, and then Quirky can bring it to market -- paying you a royalty stream from the sales.

Admittedly, these are not fancy creations -- they must be able to be sold at retail for under $150, and cannot contain complex electronics. Most Quirky products are relatively simple but clever and useful accessories for home and personal electronics.

For example, the DigiDudes is a portable camera tripod with retractable legs that collapses and then screws into a bell-like holder (decorated as funky dude), with a keychain to hang on your bag or belt ($24).

And the Split Stick is double-sided USB drive so you can store personal and public data separately on the same device ($24).

You begin the process by submitting your idea, typically with some sketches, and pay a $99 fee. At worst, even if the idea does not get into production, you will receive feedback from the community on your idea, along with some market research support.

The real power here, however, here comes from incentivizing everyone involved (much like the successful MIT Red Balloon team for the DARPA Network Challenge). All the people involved in the development of the product are allocated percentages of the royalty stream, based on their contributions through the key elements of the process: tagline, logo design, product naming, industrial design, and product research.

The packaging for each product then includes a credit to the inventor, with photo, and a fold-out panel that lists the many contributors.

Quirky goes through the process of choosing a new product to develop each week. The site currently lists 6 products available for sale, 18 products in production and available for pre-sale, plus 5 products in the development pipeline.

More on Royalties and Open Development ...

Continue reading "Quirky - Crowd-Sourced Product Development" »

March 8, 2010

Cool Gadgets - From 3D TV to Smartphone Apps

I'm back at the Princeton Macintosh User Group (PMUG) on Tuesday evening to present "Cool Gadgets for 2010 – From 3D TV to Smartphone Apps." Come on down!

The big push at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (see previous post) was on 3D TV, but consumers are more interested in downloading apps to their iPhone and Android smartphones.

So I'll be discussing the latest trends in electronic devices, from set-top to desktop to handheld - and demoing some fun and interesting products and apps, including Apple, Google Android, Palm webOS, and Windows Phone devices.

Cool Gadgets for 2010 - From 3D TV to Smartphone Apps
    Tues., March 9, 2010, 7:30 pm
       Princeton Macintosh User's Group
             Room 006, Friend Center, Princeton Univ.

Then I'll be Cabrini College next Monday afternoon, March 15 for a reprise of my presentation on "Tapping Into Apps: Local and Cloud Services on the iPhone and Android." (See previous post for more info and Princeton podcast version. See my Presentations schedule for other talks.)

See my related articles and galleries for more on trends, smartphones and apps:

February 22, 2011

Trends from CES 2011

I'm presenting some talks in Princeton on Highlights from the 2011 CES Show, and have posted the notes on 2011 Trends From CES with images of representative products.

This year's Consumer Electronics Show certainly kicked off the new year with a bang (see earlier post), with over 140,000 attendees packed into Las Vegas to check out over 2700 exhibitors. Some 20,000 new products were introduced at the show -- including the launch of over 80 tablets.

The big theme this year was connectivity, with connected TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, autos, and even major appliances -- yes, your fridge is texting you.

And while the industry continues to push hard to promote 3DTV, the action is in mobile connected devices -- smartphones and tablets, as smartphones power up to "superphones" at desktop performance and broadband speed, and tablets proliferate to meet any conceivable niche.

(Image: LG Optimus 2X "superphone" with NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor and Verizon Wireless LTE 3G mobile broadband service.)

Also see my article for Digital2Disc Magazine --The Glory Days Were Back at CES 2011 (digital magazine).

And my CES 2011 Summary with facts and figures on the show and its events.

August 20, 2012

High Definition Television: the Creation, Development, and Implementation of HDTV Technology

The creation of High Definition Television was a long and torturous saga, not only on the technology side in creating a new digital infrastructure, but also in the contention between national and corporate interests for prestige and patents.

Luckily, Philip Cianci was there to record the story, as he worked with HDTV systems at Philips Research USA starting in 1984 to help develop the technology, and then at ESPN in 2003 to help deploy HD for sports.

He also served as the editor of Broadcast Engineering magazine's e-newsletter Transition to Digital from 2005 through 2007, and has written several books, including HDTV and the Transition to Digital Broadcasting: Understanding New Television Technologies (see earlier post).

But Cianci's labor of love is documenting the story of the development of HDTV, which he hosts at his site, The HDTV Archive Project.

And all this information is now crammed into Cianci's latest book, High Definition Television: the Creation, Development, and Implementation of HDTV Technology.

Cianci chronicles the development of HDTV from the beginnings of advanced TV at NHK Japan in the late 1960's, to the formation of the U.S. Grand Alliance in 1993, to worldwide deployment and the end of analog transmission in the U.S. in 2009.

The book has a broad range -- technology and business, technical testing and corporate politics, TV and broadcast infrastructure -- in Japan, the U.S., Europe, and around the world.

Yet its core is technical, with tables and diagrams on many two-page spreads, illustrating details including transmission, decoding, MPEG, pixel formats, resolutions and aspect ratios, timelines, and specifications.

Plus it provides fun peeks into the behind-the-scene negotiations at meetings and restaurants, as well as a look at the engineers crashing to implement these new designs -- though unfortunately there are only a handful of photographs of equipment, people, and test material.

The development of HDTV is an exciting story, especially with tremendous work done under tight time pressure to prove the viability of an all-digital system. And it's an impressive story of companies and nations working out differences to create a common standard for all of our sanity.

And HDTV is a success story -- the final compromise standard is holding up well, bridging between broadcast to cable to satellite, and on to discs and to the Internet and computers.

Cianci has done a great job of telling the story and showing how all these pieces fit together. Visit his HDTV Archive Project site for the extensive bibliography and his related artistic projects.

    Find High Definition Television on

Contents and more details below ...

Continue reading "High Definition Television: the Creation, Development, and Implementation of HDTV Technology" »

December 14, 2016

Fitbit Charge 2 with Heart Rate Monitoring

Fitbit continues to enhance its line of fitness trackers to help monitor and encourage your activity and health.

You can start with small pocket trackers like the Fitbit Zip and One ($59 and $99) that track your walking steps, stair climbing, and even sleep activity.

Or wear a fitness wrist band like the Fitbit Flex 2 and Alta ($99 and $129) that also connect with your smartphone to display incoming texts and calls and calendar alerts (along with the time).

And there are fitness watches like the Fitbit Blaze and Surge ($199 and $299), with a larger watch face, deeper smartphone integration to control music playback, and even built-in GPS to track movement even when you do not have your smartphone.

The Fitbit Charge 2 ($149), kindly loaned by Verizon Wireless for my Holiday Tech coverage, is an interesting new addition -- It's still a relatively low-profile wristband (0.84" wide), but also adds an optical heart rate monitor.

The Charge 2 has a bright OLED display that automatically lights when you turn your wrist to show you the time (with your choice of clock faces). Or you can tap to cycle through displays of your fitness measurements. The bands are also interchangeable.

It also connects to your smartphone, to display call, text, and calendar alerts on your wrist.

As a fitness monitor, the Charge 2 tracks steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes, and hourly activity. It also can encourage you to stay active by providing reminders to take at least 250 steps each hour.

It also tracks your sleep, reporting how long and how well you sleep so you can see your restless periods. And it has a silent vibrating alarm to wake you up peacefully.

But the big addition is heart rate monitoring, using LED lights on the back of the display to detect blood volume changes as your heart beats and your capillaries expand and contract. These are mapped into three heart rate workout zones: peak (high-intensity exercise), cardio (medium-to-high intensity), and fat burn (low-to-medium intensity). (Be aware that these devices are not scientific or medical devices, the precision of the readings is in dispute, and the reading depends on wearing the band correctly.)

With this data, the Fitbit app can help explain and guide your fitness level. For example, it can track different kinds of workouts, plan an interval workout with alternating periods of high-intensity exercise and recovery, and even provide calming guided breathing sessions. You also can link with your smartphone GPS to provide real-time stats like running pace and distance, and to record a map of your route.

The Charge 2 has local memory to save up to 7 days of motion data by minute, daily totals for 30 days, and heart rate data at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5 second intervals at other times. It also syncs wirelessly and automatically to iPhone, Android, and Windows devices using Bluetooth LE.

It is sweat, rain and splash proof, but it is not water proof for swimming or showering. It has up to a 5-day battery life, and recharges in 1 to 2 hours.

The Fitbit Charge 2 is available starting at $129, in different styles and sizes.

See Holiday Tech 2016 for more fun holiday ideas from the mobile digital revolution.

Find the Fitbit Charge 2 on

October 13, 2017

Pike Trail - Pocket Blanket

Here's a simple product that just makes sense -- the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket.

The Pike Trail is an outdoor picnic / beach mat that's big enough for 2 to 4 people (60 x 56 in.), but is also thin and light and portable -- folding down into its pocket-size pouch (~ 5 x 4 1/2 x 2 in.).

It's durable, made from reinforced rip stop nylon that is puncture resistant to sticks and rocks. And it's waterproof and easy to clean, since it does not absorb water.

You can use it for a ground cover, for a shelter, or even to build a solar still. You also can anchor it in windy conditions with the sand pockets and stake loops at each corner.

Even better, it's inexpensive -- around $19 -- and available in two color combinations, gray/orange or yellow/blue.

We even play tested the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket with kids, wrapping up and rolling on the ground and flying in the wind, and it stood up well, was easy to wipe clean, and then packed up easily by folding and stuffing back into the pouch. It's a nice holiday stocking stuffer.

Find the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket on

November 26, 2017

Holiday Tech Talks 2017 -- Smart Home for the Holidays

It's Holiday Tech season again -- And this year I'm focusing on the "Smart Home" -- including using wireless speakers to jingle bells around the house, digital assistants to remotely deck the hall lights, and wireless cameras to record video of any late-night visitors that come down the chimney with a bound.

However, you better watch out -- these devices can see you when you're sleeping, and know when you're awake. So you do need to think about whether they are bad or good -- whether watching you in the living room, or listening in the bedroom, or conversing in the kid's room.

So come on over the river and through the woods to one of my local talks, to check out this year's winter wonderland of tech gadgets in action, so you can make your own list of what's naughty or nice:

- Princeton PC Users Group (PPCUG)
     Tues., Nov. 28, 2017, 7 pm
     Mercer County Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville

- Princeton Public Library
     Fri., Dec. 1, 2017, 7 pm
     Newsroom / Discovery Center (2nd floor), 65 Witherspoon St, Princeton

- Computer Learning Center at Ewing
     Tues., Dec. 5, 2017, 2 pm
     Ewing Township Community Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road, Ewing

- Hopewell Public Library
     Wed., Dec. 6, 2017, 7 pm
     Hopewell Train Station, 3 Railroad Place, Hopewell

For more, see:

Associated U.S.1 Newspaper article (in three parts):

December 15, 2018

littleBits - STEM Learning Toys for Smart Kids

There's a big push to encourage science and technology education, under the acronym STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math). This has helped to drive innovation in educational toys for kids that can serve as a gateway to STEM, helping kids to learn by doing and by engaging with tangible physical objects, while still having fun.

One such product, the littleBits electronic building blocks, is seeing success -- reporting, for example, that up to 40 percent of kids using its kits are girls, four times the industry average.

The littleBits electronic building blocks, first released in 2014, allow kids to engage with electronic circuits by embedding a collection of electronic modules into "Bits" -- small circuit boards that simply snap together magnetically, so no icky wire wrapping or soldering is required.

There are some 70 different bits now available, along with 10 pre-packaged themed inventor kits.

The individual bits are priced starting at $7.95 and $9.95 for basic bits, around $17 to $25 for more complex bits (temperature sensor or servo motor), and up to $39 and $49 for specialty bits (MIDI or MP3 music). These are designed for ages 8 and up.

You build your invention by snapping together the four kinds of bits -- power bits to power the chain, input bits to control the following bits, wire bits to route and change the flow, and output bits to do something at the end.

The input bits include touch controls like buttons, switches, and sliders, sensors for light, motion, and sound, and sound generators like a keyboard and micro sequencer.

The wire bits can perform logic (e.g., and, or, not), fork the signal on multiple paths, and communicate wirelessly to other bits via radio.

Then the output bits display light like a bargraph or number, generate a sound with a buzzer or speaker, or can be in motion, from a fan to a DC motor.

Newer bits can perform even more sophisticated actions that bridge from toy circuits to smartphones and computers. These include taking input from a microphone or MP3 player, communicating using USB or Bluetooth, sending/receiving signals from the Internet, and programming with mini-computer bits (including an Arduino processor).

littleBits also has packaged a variety of kits with a selection of bits for different themed types of inventions. You can get started with Hall of Fame starter kits ($39), a Rule Your Room kit for touch-based inventions ($79), and a Droid inventor kit for creating robots ($99).

The new collection of Inventor Kits include the introductory Base Inventor Kit to build an intruder alarm or voice-activated robotic gripper arm ($99), the Electronic Music Inventor Kit to experiment with electronic instruments from a keyboard synth guitar to a hands-free air drum ($99), and the Space Rover Inventor Kit to customize a planetary rover ($199).

There's also an Avengers Hero Inventor Kit to build high-tech hero gadgets ($149).

littleBits also has packaged kits for educators and classrooms, and has developed over 20,000 school partnerships and 300 invention clubs.

- See full Holiday Tech 2018 presentation for my local talks in the Princeton area
- See companion article in U.S. 1 Newspaper, Nov. 14, 2018

Find the littleBits Base Inventor Kit on

December 16, 2018

Ozobot Creative Robot

In addition to littleBits (see previous post), another clever approach like to making STEM interesting for kids is the Ozobot Creative Robot.

This appears so simple -- it's just a small pocket-size (1 1/4 inch) rolling robot, first released in 2014.

The brilliance of its design is that you can play with it at many different levels. Start out with only pen and paper -- just draw lines to have it follow paths and randomly pick directions at intersections.

The next step is to add simple commands -- just by drawing patterns of colored dots (or using stickers) -- to have the Ozobot change speed, move in a direction, pause, count down until change, and perform pre-defined moves.

Then use the color commands to create activities for the Ozobot to perform, including race tracks, obstacle courses, mazes, puzzles, and other games.

And you can share these online, and download and print designs to try out. The company calls this "screen-free coding" -- you're thinking about programming logic by drawing colors on paper.

You also can bridge the physical and digital worlds by having the Ozobot explore different activities on a tablet. The Ozobot website has a Playground section with a variety of play ideas and printable games, plus interactive games you can play using a web browser with the Ozobot on the tablet screen.

All this physical fun can then transition into programming using the OzoBlockly programming tool, which also runs in the browser.

OzoBlockly is based on Google Blockly, and can grow with you to step through five levels of sophistication. You start with simply dragging and dropping to link icon-based code blocks, with the same kind of logic that you have already done using colored pens. And then you can progress to advanced programming with logic statements.

You transfer the program to the Ozobot by simply holding it up to a circle on the computer or tablet screen, which blinks a sequence of colors to transmit the program -- without requiring connecting any wires or setting up any wireless connection.

There are now two Ozobots available. The original Ozobot Bit ($59) works as described above, and is designed for beginner coding for ages 6 and up.

The new Ozobot Evo ($99) is designed for ages 9 and up, to grow into advanced coding. It adds more lights to flash, proximity sensors for detecting obstacles, a built-in speaker, and a Bluetooth connection.

You can use the Evo app to play games, write code, and connect with others online. The Evo also has a few built-in tricks that it performs out of the box using the proximity sensors, to follow or run away from your hand, or to play musical notes as you touch the different sensors.

There are also DIY (do it yourself) packs for decorating your Ozobot ($10), and Marvel Avengers Action Skins to turn your Evo into a superhero like the Hulk and program its actions ($15 each).

The Ozobot is cleverly designed so that kids can have fun playing, while actually doing creative drawing, problem solving, and group challenges. It teaches concepts like code language, robotic behavior, and deductive reasoning, without books and outside of school.

Ozobot has sold over 750,000 robots, which are used in over 10,000 classrooms across the U.S., from grade 3 to grade 12. For example, they have been used to demonstrate a planetary orbit model with multiple Ozobots following orbit lines.

- See full Holiday Tech 2018 presentation for my local talks in the Princeton area
- See companion article in U.S. 1 Newspaper, Nov. 14, 2018

Find the Ozobot Evo on Amazon

Manifest Tech Site

About Tech-Society

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in the Tech-Society category, listed from oldest to newest.

Previous: Resources

Next: Web-Media

Main Page