iPhone school
It’s amazing how much space Insider has already devoted to the iPhone considering that a) I think it’s the most overhyped piece of hardware ever and b) it’s even not available yet. I’m pretty sure I could keep reiterating those points over and over, yet I’m such a total sucker for newfangled crap. Apple should start marketing world peace as a must-get item du jour. If they’re even a tiny bit as successful at generating hype for something that’s genuinely important, we all might live in a nicer place. Where was I? Oh right. The iPhone. Takes up space. Wastes our time. So here’s more of it. The Apple marketing wonks have posted a 20-minute “tour” of the iPhone’s features. Admittedly, I have about as much interest in devoting that much time to a commercial as I do to reading the fine print on Tylenol bottles, but thankfully, someone has watched it for me. Gizmondo provides a link to the clip and a breakdown of the highlights.
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Eyes without a face
People slightly smarter than Insider have developed what could become an artifical eye. Using something called a “protocell,” scientists at Oxford and Harvard can cram in some DNA to manufacturer a living organ – in this case, an eyeball. The ick factor is high, but the technology could also help reduce our dependence on animal testing. Plus, imagine the possibilities. You could literally place eyes in the back of your head, which could be used to not only watch out for your boss while you’re playing java games on your PC, but also to shock and disgust your friends and family. It’s like some kind of Geordie LaForge moment, only without the warp core and smaltzy sentiment.

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Big in Japan
Insider recently discovered http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nc20070530pc.html>this column which details all kinds of bizarre gadgets discovered in Japan. The writing’s so awful you think it had been written in English, translated in Japanese and then translated back in English again (and maybe it has), but there’s gold to be mined here. In this particular one, writer Peter Crookes lets us know about a) a Japanese breadmaker, b) a USB shaver to help the forgetful man overcome “dishevelled mode” and c) tiny cube robots that mimic human interactions. Dig through the archives for more wacky crap.

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DVD Smackdown 2007
Is there the slightest possibility we can put Blu-Ray and HD DVD in the ring, give them a bunch of folding chairs and re-enact Wrestlemania XV? It would just be a whole lot easier (and more fun) than watching each side one-up each other to establish a winning format. The lastest salvo has been fired by the Blu-Ray camp: they have the support of 800lb. rental gorilla BlockBuster, which has agreed to carry the format in favour of HD DVD. Insider is old enough to remember the whole VHS/Betamax business, but not so old that he went out and purchased a Beta machine. Personally, I think HD’s gonna win, but mostly because Blu-Ray is just such a stupid name. Has the porn industry cast its vote for a format yet? You know that’s gonna tip the balance. Whoever wins, I just wish they’d hurry up.

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Take me to your receptionist
There’s some things I can write about that are guaranteed to get your knickers in a twist: parking meters that don’t give change; cellular bills that are twice what you expected; the blue screen of death; clogged public toilets . . . I could go on, but a near universal complaint is the crappy service you get from automated attendants. Please select one from the following seven options???? I don’t think so. Well, it’s about to get worse. A Japanese firm is renting out robots to act as office receptionists. The robots, called wakamaru, are able to recognise about 10,000 words and move around at about one km per hour. Granted that’s probably a little more enthusiasm than what you can expect from your average office worker, but I wouldn’t anticipate much in terms of actual helpfulness. The plus side is that you can repeatedly strike wakamaru in the noggin with a blunt instrument without much fear of a personal injury lawsuit.

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Stupid is as stupid blogs
The Internet is a haven for dilettantes and dummies. Not exactly earth-shattering news, but then it’s difficult to write anything original about the Internet when the medium itself gives people licence to write down every random idea that pops into their heads. Hopefully, Web 2.0 critic Andrew Keen gave the topic more serious scrutiny before publishing “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture.” To be honest, I have to side with Wired’s Tony Long on this one. He says that Keen is missing the point. Sure, the Internet is groaning under the sheer weight of stupidity, but there’s also a wealth of important information out there that wouldn’t reach an audience otherwise. People were babbling on this way about TV decades ago (and they still are). It’s all what you make of it. But consider this: Insider actually gets paid to do this. I’m even encouraged to do it. Scary stuff, folks.

Phoning in a prediction
On the eve of the iPhone launch, analysts are going nuts trying to figure out what kind of market this thing has. IDC says it’ll only cause a minor tremor – early adopters will be willing to line up and midnight to get their sticky paws on the iPhone, but the vast majority will hold off due to price considerations (US$499 or US$599, depending on the version) and the fact that you’ll have to switch to AT&T. In an interview with Bloomberg, IDC analyst Chris Hazelton said,“The initial success is close to given. But the 2008 goal? This market is very complicated.”
He’s hardly out on a limb here. I just hope to heaven that the phrase “cautious optimism” doesn’t appear somewhere in the IDC report because if I see that again, I may have to chuck my keyboard at the wall. Insider likes analysts, he really does, but sometimes he wonders what they’re smoking.

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Mission to madness
How did that best seller put it? Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Well, duh. But it turns out that men and women could both be from the red planet. The European Space Agency is looking for volunteers to travel to Mars. Now you couldn’t pay Insider to get into a bucket filled with a few million litres of rocket fuel, but I’m sure they’ll be line-ups around the block. The one catch is, you’re not actually going to Mars. You’re not actually going anywhere other than Moscow where you’ll be sequestered to an isolation tank for 17 months. The goal is to measure how people will respond to such conditions. I’m going to do an IDC here and say, they’ll all be wearing their underwear on their heads and calling each other Grandma within eight weeks, but we’re cautiously optimistic.

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So cheap it hurts
When did the FCC get to be such hardasses? Apparently, they’ve ordered AT&T to offer an Internet service for the sum of US$10 a month. It sounds a bit Draconian, but there’s some background here . . . According to this article on The Register:
“The deal was part of an agreement with the FCC when AT&T wanted to get its paws on BellSouth for $86 billion last December. They also agreed to give punters a free modem as part of the deal.”
Groovy, right? Well, AT&T has buried the deal so far in their Web site, it took an eagle-eyed shopper to dig it up. It seems they’re not all that interested in promoting a service that stands to make them diddly-squat. Apparently it was discovered on a page describing term plans. Who reads that crap? Well someone did, apparently. Unfortunately AT&T doesn’t offer ISP service in Canada, but if you’ve got any friends south of the border, send this along.

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More bad batteries
There are some things that technology manufacturers really don’t want to hear. One is, “practically obsolete before it hit the shelves.” Another is, “a hacker mod allows the player to view graphic nudity.” Another one might be, “(insert competitor name here) already has a superior model on the market for about half the price.” But the crème de la crème has to be “a Sony battery pack that had yet to be replaced under a recall last year burst into flames.” I mean, nobody wants to hear that. Not Sony, not Toshiba, in whose laptop the combustion occurred, and not the unfortunate user who was presumably looking for a portable computer when he or she bought the contraption, not something to cook meat.

It’s been more than a year and Sony batteries are still adding that unwanted zip to notebooks everywhere. Lenovo flambé, anyone? Perhaps I can interest you in HP surprise? This article has more details.

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Search engine finds politics
In another step towards omniscience and possibly renaming our planet “GoogleWorld,” the search giant has taking to blogging about Washington politics. Last year, Google was bleating on about Net neutrality and this year they’re sticking their nose into spectrum auctions. Now all of that sounds spectacularly dull (with apologies to networking professionals), but we really haven’t discovered how deep the rabbit hole goes yet. According to
this article, privacy and copyright protection are in Google’s sights.
The article quotes blogger Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of public policy and government affairs: “We’re seeking to do public policy advocacy in a Googley way. We want our users to be part of the effort, to know what we’re saying and why, and to help us refine and improve our policy positions and advocacy strategies. With input and ideas from our users, we’ll surely do a better job of fighting for our common interests.”
It’s cute, insidious and nauseating. You’d think Google was also taking an interest in open source or something.

Scientists not stumped
On the brighter side, get ready for tiny trees. I fail to see the purpose of this from a scientific perspective, but I still want one. Eggheads have discovered a means to shrink trees to the size of houseplants. Well, ‘shrink’ is perhaps the wrong word – it’s not like they’re pointing a shrinking ray at it like they’re Rick Moranis or something – but it’s definitely miniature. According to the article, the scientist responsible, Professor Steven Strauss, “said it appears possible, for example, to create an elm tree — which ordinarily would grow to 100 feet or more – that’s just about any height at maturity.”

Of course, Japanese artisans have been crafting Bonsai trees for centuries with a tiny pair of clippers and a whole lot of patience, but who’s got patience these days?

Steamy stuff
If you’ve ever had a hankering for Jules Verne gadgets, Flash Gordon ray guns or antique robots, then you’ve probably heard of steampunk. It’s a conceit dreamt up by William Gibson (I think. Correct me if I’m wrong), sci-fi novelist, and an interesting tweak on his conception of cyberpunk, which surfaced more than a decade ago.

But let’s face it: The Internet is kind of dull. Jacking into a virtual world isn’t exactly as exciting as what William Gibson imagined; it’s more like ordering beads for your girlfriend (which is how Insider spent a chunk of his Sunday) or resizing images of the X-Men on made-to-order T-Shirts (which is how Insider spent the last 20 minutes). All that is OK, I suppose, but where’s the pizzazz? The mystery? The cool gadgets with the fins and the metal dials? Well, they’re here. Wired has a nice little image gallery of steampunk stuff. I’m partial to the typewriter laptop and the steam-powered R2D2.

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Google eyes

Y’know, as I type this, it occurs to me it’ll be logged forever in a Google server. And not because it’s particularly worth saving (consider Insider disposal fun as I’m sure you do), but because Google has decided it must see everything on the Internet – especially if I type the word Google over and over (and maybe if I type the words ‘haddock’ or ‘llama’ or ‘Oprah’ or ‘diesel-powered tractor’ or anything else). This article delves into Google paranoia. Read it and weep.

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Childishness pays off
Where the frig was
this article when I was maxing out the score on my Atari 2600 Asteroids game? Perhaps it’s just not as exciting to watch, as say a Halo tournament. These days, professional gamers get paid to do just that: game their little fingers off. Apparently, some of the best among them are still too young to drive. Take ‘Lil’ Poison,’ for example, a pint-sized gamer who’s earning mega-bucks on the pro circuit. Life just ain’t fair. Still, I get to write stuff like this for a living, so it ain’t all bad.

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