Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Update

A correspondent in Chicago reports to us that Black Friday line-ups in the downtown area are relatively thin. Photos above from the Northbrook Mall, taken shortly after opening at 8 a.m., show a moderate crowd in the Apple Store, but nothing to write home about. This is what an Apple Store in Toronto looks like on a normal day!

As for the "deals", we're told that, quote, "the marketing of the sale is better than the sale itself." Keep in mind that this might not hold true for every retailer in every U.S. city. But in this particular case, Black Friday "crowds" are a bit disappointing.

We're getting mixed messages from other sources: some stores appear flooded with shoppers trampling over one another...literally. In one Wal-Mart store in NYC, an unfortunate employee reportedly died due to the pushy crowds! (Though Wal-Mart only confirms that a "medical emergency" caused the retailer to close that store's doors). Some are claiming that it is in fact the bad economy that has forced them to come out and weather the crowds today: getting a "deal" might not have been so necessary before; but now, shoppers are willing to wait in long line-ups just to save a few bucks.

But other reports claim that retailers are cautious about how things will inevitably turn out. Even in shops with big crowds, people tend to be looking for that one fantastic deal, snagging it, and heading home versus prior years where they might have picked up a few extra items on the way to the check out.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available...

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Happy Black Friday...Or is It?

As our neighbours south of the border roll out of bed with their bellies full of turkey and all the trimming, many will surprisingly still find the energy to get out there and shop today, known as Black Friday.

Historically, Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, when retailers bring out the big guns, so to speak, with amazing deals and discounts. But it's more important than you might think, often determining a company's profitaiblity for the entire year. Some speculate that Black Friday could account for as much as 50% of a retailer's yearly profits! With the economy in the current state that it is, there's no doubt that many are crossing their fingers that shoppers will come, and that this year won't be a disappointment.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has relatively high hopes for the day: while the organization is not expecting record-breaking numbers, it does anticipate a 2.2% growth in spending. Not exactly a very healthy increase (in fact, it's the lowest it has been in years), but it's better than one might expect given the financial crisis.

A preliminary NRF survey forecasts that up to 128 million people will be shopping today, and into the weekend. 49 million of these are definitely putting on their shopping shoes, while the remaining 79 million are waiting to see whether the "deals" are worth the trek into the city. Last year, 135 million people said they would go shopping on Black Friday weekend.

Interestingly, the NRF, like many other research companies, points to the falling gas prices as positively effecting the retail landscape. People perceive the savings on gas as some extra money in their pockets. Still, the defining factor on consumer's minds this weekend is price, price, price. So good deals are more important than ever.

"Shoppers who held off on buying a DVD player or winter coat over the last few months will find that prices may literally be too good to pass up," explains Tracy Mullin, President & CEO of the NRF.

Hopefully, Mullin is right.

It doesn't end on Sunday, though. Since the Web has become such a dominant force in the retail industry, the Monday following Black Friday has been coined "Cyber Monday", where at-home shoppers can take advantage of deals online. The advantage here is, of course, the ability to avoid the thrill and confusion of packed sales floors and long line-ups. finds that more retailers will be offering Cyber Monday promotions this year than they did last year (83.7% vs. 72.2%).

Official Black Friday results won't be released until 4 p.m. this Sunday. But already, many local news outlets are reporting healthy turn-outs, with people waiting in lines from the early morning hours.

Still, we won't know how the retail industry has fared until the mass hysteria is over, the inventory has been accounted for, and the receipts tabulated. More than ever, this weekend is critical for the U.S. retail industry: it could, in many ways, make or break a retailer.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Ripping" Vs. "Sharing"

The debate about strict copyright laws, digital downloading, and the illegal "sharing" of music has gone on for some time. You shouldn't be able to make a back-up copy of a CD, say some, because that's copyright infringement. You shouldn't be able to download music from a legal Website and then burn it to more than one disc because, again, that's copyright infringement. Apparently digital downloading has caused this horror in the music industry. Yet today, I witnessed something that had me scratching my head. After lunch with a couple of colleagues, they wanted to pop into HMV to grab some "new" music for their iPods. Sick of the same old, same old, they decided to swap: you buy a few CDs you like, I'll buy some I like, and then we'll trade. Hmm...makes sense, right?

To the pro-copyright camp, they just violated the very sanctity of music. How dare you buy CDs and trade music like that? Essentially, that means you got every CD half-price, right? But from the pro-digital, evolution of music standpoint, what they've done is just opened each other's eyes to new music they may never have bothered to buy, in physical format or otherwise. Now not only is there a greater appreciation for different types of music, but there's also the increased chance that they'll like what they hear, and add a new artist to their radar for future purchases. What a concept!

On that note, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were new CDs available for as little as $12.99, and even $10! The last time I recall, new releases were, at best, $13.99 or $15.99. There were even some pretty good CDs selling "two for $12" or $25. Not bad. Still, I hesitated to buy anything, thinking that I'd just download the specific tunes I want and make a "mixed" CD (only one, of course. God forbid I make one for a friend as well). But at the prices they're at, it's almost worth it to buy the media (especially for the potentially better quality) and save myself the time.

I can't believe I'm saying it, but maybe CDs will return to profitability as people decide that they can't be bothered, or don't have the time, to compile a list of tunes, download them, and burn them to a CD as normal practice. If it isn't a hobby, it can certainly get time-consuming. And iPod owners know how expensive it can also get buying tune after tune, not realizing how much they add up until you get the dreaded credit card bill!

I could be way off base here, but it's food for thought, nonetheless.

On another note, Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers in the U.S. We wish you all the best on this wonderful holiday. Eat, play, and be merry!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beware of False "Sales"

The other day, I read about a hidden camera investigation that discovered that two retailers were re-labeling products with higher price tags than the original then claiming to mark them down to "liquidation" pricing. How common is this, and is it worth it for retailers?

Coincidentally, I was shopping with a friend this past weekend when I commented that a rack that claimed to offer "buy one, get one half off" blouses had obviously hiked up the price tags of the shirts first, making the supposed deal quite sour indeed. How did I know? Because it's a store I've shopped at before, and am privy to what the pricing normally is.

I understand fine print: the whole idea of grabbing customers in by advertising "SALE" in big letters in the store window, only for them to realize when they get close that below the gargantuan word is a line that reads "on some items", or something to that effect. But downright deception -placing fake tags on product - is just wrong.

As mentioned above, I suspected the possibly deceptive pricing at the store this weekend only because I am a relatively frequent shopper at that retailer. Is it worth it to lose your loyal customers just to grab money from a few unsuspecting one-timers? I'd think not, but perhaps this activity is more prevalent than we realize.

In fairness, this particular hidden camera investigation targeted a pair of retailers (yes, Circuit City was one of them) that were already going out of business (or closing some stores, at least) and were now being handled by liquidators. In the case of Circuit City, the reporters were lucky enough able to compare pricing in the "liquidation" stores with actual, still-in-business Circuit City locations. You can already guess which stores had the better pricing.

Still, hopefully this story will make other retailers think twice before relabeling products before a sale; whether it'll be your last in the business or not. As for consumers, be weary of "liquidation" sales: it appears that you're often better off shopping at regular stores that are offering you regular deals.

The full story of the investigation is a really interesting read, and provides some really useful insight into what could happen once a company is on its last legs. I'll bet you think twice now before you head down to a so-called "liquidation" sale!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Please...Stop the Spam!

It appears that lately, the amount of spam arriving to my e-mail inbox is growing exponentially. Not only am I summoned daily by ScotiaBank, CIBC, and important security alerts from PayPal (often three or four times in a row), but I'm now also being approached in French! I'm not sure what's caused the upsurge as of late, but I've heard the same complaints from many others. When will it end?

Typically, my e-mail spam filter picks up these messages, but these particular ones seem to be passing through quite easily. One tells me of refugees in Ghana that have a significant amount of gold they'd like me to help find a buyer for. Another contains the typical spiel: dad died and left me $4.5 million, yadda yadda yadda, I need to find a foreign investor to deposit the money in your bank in order to gain access to it. But I've noticed a considerable number of them now promising "easy money" with work from home projects. Playing on the weak economy? I'm not sure, but these spammers sure are stooping to new lows, and coming out in full force.

And this is just my office account. Don't even get me started on my personal Rogers e-mail account! There, I can learn about cheap meds (including yes, Viagra), designer watches at discount prices, how to get a degree online, and my personal fav: an e-mail with a subject line that reads "Internet scammers have stolen your money? We will help to get it back!" Sure you will.

The amount of e-mail spam is truly getting sickening. Some just contain gibberish, like one that included the following text: Nothing there that would stop a halfcrippled hun cutting off, with a razorfaced arrow, the bow instant so, standing at some centre to which shall van of that host, while the rear was protected a suitable bridegroom his daughter possessed of.


Never open an e-mail from someone you don't recognize, and never, ever, EVER click on a link or double-click to open a file contained in an e-mail that looks even remotely suspicious. Banks, credit card companies, and courier services will never send you e-mails asking for account changes or advising of a package unless you've requested it. In this case, it'll be sent directly to you from a real person, and will contain YOUR name in it, nor Dear Sir or Maam.

Spam is annoying, but it has the potential to be devastating if you don't delete instantly it and move on. If you're worried that it might be legitimate, pick up the phone and find out. It's not worth the trouble to take your chances.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Accessory Incompatibility: My Old Accessories Won't Charge My New iPod!

Have you ever bought a consumer electronics gadget, purchased a bunch of accessories for it, and then discovered that once you upgraded to the latest model of your main device, the accessories no longer worked? I recall a few years ago, a colleague of mine complained of this very issue with his Sony Ericsson mobile phone: he had a proprietary 12-volt charger, a second AC charger, and even a desktop dock. But as soon as he upgraded to the latest Sony Ericsson model, he realized the company had changed its proprietary connector. All of his previously-purchased accessories were now useless.

The other day, we received an e-mail from a frustrated consumer with a similar problem. He had just invested in the latest, fourth-generation iPod nano. The connector itself hadn't changed. But he discovered that while his old Belkin FM transmitter and a speaker system from another manufacturer worked with the player, they wouldn't simultaneously charge it as they had with his old iPod. Angry and upset at the fact that he didn't know this prior to buying the new player, he came to us.

"I read an article that it was due a change in hardware but said nothing more," he wrote. "Maybe with the larger screen (smaller unit), more juice is being used and it cannot support the charge. But wouldn't it help it to hold a charge longer? And bottom line is that this issue does not seem to be addressed by Apple anywhere online."

Apple could not be reached in time for comment, but Greg Milkovich, Country Manager for Belkin Canada, confirmed to us that Apple did indeed change to 5-volt USB charging internally in October. Manufacturers were notified that Apple would be making this change so they had ample time to devise new, compatible accessories.

Milkovich says that all of Belkin's current power and FM transmitters use the 5-volt USB charging, but yes, some of the company's legacy products (and obviously legacy products from other manufacturers) will not charge the new models.

"This is the same for all manufacturers as we were all complying with the previous 12-volt firewire standard," Milkovich explains. "This is similar to the video change that Apple made last year where you used to have video out of the 3.5mm but is now out of the 30 pin."

So why the change? Sure, it works out well for third-party accessory makers (not to mention Apple itself) because they can market and sell a whole slew of fancy, new accessories (something they arguably would have been doing anyway). But it also leaves consumers who might have eaten up docks, transmitters, and other gadgetry like hotcakes frantically setting up eBay accounts to salvage some bucks from these now obselete items.

A third-party source (who asked not to be named) predicts two main reasons for the spec change: one being cost improvements, and the other being size. "The smaller size of the USB 5-volt allows for sleeker/smaller design," the source tells me.

So while dealing with incompatibility from one iteration of a product to the next can be frustrating, keep in mind that sometimes the changes made are essential for the manufacturer to make improvements to other aspects of the device. And with technology being so prolific these days, early adopters are bound to find someone who still has the previous generation product, and would welcome your now obselete accessory with open arms.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

What Will They Think Of Next?: Bring Back the Mix Tape

Anyone who grew up in the '80s or early '90s will have given a girlfriend/boyfriend, potential love interest, friend, or family member that popular gift of a "mixed tape". Yes, before the CD, and then the downloadable MP3 format became popular, the cassette tape was king. People popped them into this cool device called a Walkman, listened to tunes blasting from a square-shaped player hoisted atop their shoulder, and flipped them from side A to side B to get a whole new listing of songs (accessed only by a tedious manual fast forward/rewind process: no song skip with these babies!) Today, about two decades later, a company called fi-hi aims to bring this format back, but with a modern twist.

Called the usB-Side Mix'D Tape, the device is designed to look exactly like a cassette tape. But there's a secret: it's actually a USB flash drive, with a connector that flip-outs from its side. Then, just connect it to your PC and load up all your digital files, including music, as well as documents, videos, or images onto the gadget's 512 MB of internal memory. Now you have a nostalgic "mixed tape" for your love; and you can even add your own personal touch via the two included labels.

Aside from the mixed tape, the device can obviously also be used for sharing other data, or for transferring files back and forth. The inconspicious tapes are also great for storing or backing up sensitive data. A thief might grab USB drives, CDs, and your PC, but whose going to swipe your old tapes and 8-tracks?

Business persons might also find good use for these stand-out flash drives. They can contain promotional materials for distribution (in the same way many companies already use standard-designed USB keys); press kits, or flyers.

The "tapes" work with either PC or Mac, and come with their own little gift box for US$15 ea. at I must say it's a pretty cool idea, and will certainly be a conversation-starter for anyone who receives them. But buyer beware: in case you didn't realize, they won't actually play in old cassette players!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Cyber Bullying Trial Could Set Precedent

Should people be held accountable for "cyber" bullying?

Two years ago, an unfortunate "cyber-bullying" incident led to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl. In a weird turn of events, it turns out it was the mother of another child that set up a fake MySpace social networking account and proceeded to verbally attack the girl, ultimately resulting in her taking her own life. The case is finally going to trial, and the mom now faces one count of conspiracy and three counts of illegally accessing computers.

As the first cyber-bullying trial to hit North America, the case could very well set a precedent for other similar instances that deal with virtual rather than physical bullying. Should someone be held accountable for indrectly causing harm, self-inflicted or otherwise, on another person? I'm torn on this one: while I don't believe they should be blamed entirely, I do believe that people needs to be accountable for their actions, whether they're in person or behind a computer screen.

In this case, the child was obviously in mental anguish prior to the last-straw indicent, when reportedly the mom in question, who was posing as a young boy that wanted to be her friend, said to the 13-year-old that "the world would be better off without her". According to the Associated Press, the girl had already been taking medication for ADD and depression, and her mother admitted to having even removed her bedroom door locks because she feared her daughter might injure herself. If you ask me, this is a clear sign that if the horrible message didn't push the girl over the edge, something else would have. She obviously needed serious, ongoing treatment for an obvious mental illness.

This doesn't, however, clear the vulger-typing mom of any guilt. In my opinion, bullying online is just as bad, if not worse, then doing so in person. People are liable to say much worse things behind the veil of a computer screen than they would in person, but the comments hurt just as much. The fact that the culprit was a mom - an adult who has a young girl of her own that's the same age as the victim - is absolutely appaling. But she can't be blamed for the girl's death nor prior issues. She can, however, and should suffer repercussions for something. But what?

The way I see it, we can liken virtual conversations to snail mail or crank phone calls. If someone sends you hurtful or threatening mail or constantly calls and pesters you, wouldn't this be considered harassment and warrant legal action? A restraining order of some sort? OK, so a restraining order can't really be invoked online (you could always block a person, but the damage has likely already been done by that time). But you can issue some form of punishment. It becomes even stickier, of course, when you can't really prove who was behind a computer screen and actually typing angry, hurtful, or threatening messages.

Ultimately, the punishment should be the same as if this identical incident happened except the mom was putting similarly nasty messages in the kid's mailbox (or even stuffing them in her bag at school), or speaking them via telephone. What's the difference? All we're doing today is replacing the phone or the pen and paper with the computer and keyboard. Granted these new, tech-savvy toys make bullying all the more easier to both conduct and later track.

As for prevention, another big cyber issue, online sexual predators, is already been heavily cracked down on. So maybe it's time to do the same with the issue of cyber-bullying.

Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see how to trial pans out, and what sort of punishment is handed out in this tragic case.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Black Friday, Holiday Shopping Looking Up...Considering

You've probably been bombarded with the words "economy", "downturn", and, (yikes!) "recession" over the past few months but, as Tracy Mullin, President & CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF) puts it, "no one is canceling Christmas because money is tight." To the contrary, while customers will be tightening their belts a bit, they're still going to be out there shopping like they do every other year. They'll just be more mindful of snagging the best deals.

The NRF says that price will play by far the largest role in purchasing decisions this holiday season, with 40% of respondents to its Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey citing sales or promotions as what they'll be looking for. This year represents the smallest increase in planned spending: up just 1.9% to US$832.36 per person vs. $816.69 last year. But the number is still up, which is a positive sign.

Shoppers will likely cut back on gifts for the family, says the NRF, because they feel their family will "understand their current situation". Surprisingly, however, many will still make personal purchases, waiting until the holiday season to take advantage of the best deals. Overall, the NRF expects holiday spending to increase 2.2% to US$470.4 billion: not too shabby, considering.

As for Black Friday, which is one of the busiest shopping days of the year and scheduled to take place on Friday, November 28 (right after Thanksgiving), the NRF projects that shoppers will be gravitating more toward "personal and practical gifts" instead of big-ticket items this year. The Federation cites things like DVDs, CDs, and books as being most popular in the technology category (55.6%), followed by gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, and other like items (30%). (Funny enough, HD DVD players actually outsold Blu-ray players on Black Friday last year!)

Consumers will be changing one other thing this year: more will be opting to pay by cash instead of credit. But with good enough deals, they will fork over the dough.

Given the number of e-mail notifications I've received over the last few days about product price reductions, it appears that retailers (and manufacturers) are working hard to offer enticing enough deals to keep customers in the shops. Remember: if you don't shop while the economy is in a downturn, you'll only make it worse! (Some may call that female logic, but I digress).

In retrospect, it's eye-opening to think that at this time last year, retail prices were dropping drastically due to the strength of the Canadian dollar. Meanwhile this year, price drops are happening for a completely different, and opposite, reason. But on a positive note, it just goes to show that things happen in waves, and for every downside there's an up. I'm confident that holiday shopping will be just as hot this year as it was last; leading up to bigger and better years to come!

Happy Shopping!

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Gift Cards Could Suffer From Economic Woes

I received an e-mail today - one of those forwarded chain notes I often get. It supplied a list of retail stores, and warned recipients not to purchase gift cards as Christmas presents from these companies because they have announced plans to close up shop by January 2009. This got me to thinking: will gift cards, a typically popular holiday gift, suffer in wake of the current economic climate?

An Ipsos Reid study conducted around Christmas-time last year found that 88% of respondents like receiving gift cards. In fact, 72% would rather a gift card than an actual gift! I don't think these numbers will drop this year simply due to fear that a store might close, but if e-mails like the one I received continue to circulate, it might just scare people off from buying gift cards.

The whole idea of a gift card is that the person can buy something they want. While it replaces an actual gift, what I've often found is that you end up spending more money than you otherwise would have with a gift card. Now if the recipient ends up getting nothing from the card because the company went out of business (a horrible experience: trust me, I've been there!), you've now both disappointed the person and lost a whack of money.

Will you be buying gift cards this year?

As an aside, I thought it funny that the most often-requested gift item I've heard over the past few months from family and friends is in fact a gift card, but of a specific kind: a gas card! You know times are tough when filling up your car becomes a luxury!

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Does the Younger Generation Lack Substance?

Is the younger generation totally lacking substance? Many have argued that in the age of quick bites (or bytes) of information in place of intense and involved content consumption, the youth of today are completely one-dimensional. They only know what they read on the Internet, only appreciate the opinions of their peers, and think they know it all after watching a few news programs. But is this true?

I've often argued in favour of the teens today: just because they're communicating via instant messaging, speaking in choppy, bite-sized sentences that involve "like" as every second word, and often using cryptic Internet slang (lol, ttfn), this doesn't mean that they're stupid or lack the capacity to actually carry on an intelligent conversation (like, seriously!) But I'm beginning to wonder if all of this sporadic, digital consumption is in fact leading to a seriously intellectually (or culturally) deprived group of individuals.

What prompted this thinking? For the past few weeks, I've been reading and hearing about all the hoopla surrounding the movie Twilight, which is based on the hugely popular book series of the same name. Shopping mall tours are jam-packed with fans looking to meet the actors. Young girls everywhere are screaming at the top of their lungs at the sight of the lead actor, what's-his-name (and yes, he is an unknown actor). Wow, I've been thinking to myself. I know I've heard that these books are really good, and it looks like the movie is just as great. It was only recently that I found out the movie hasn't even hit theatres yet!

I understand why there was a lot of anticipation for the new Bond movie before it came out. Daniel Craig proved himself a great actor in the last one and, well, the Bond series has been around for decades and has built a longstanding reputation and fan base. The same goes for the latest Batman installment, Dark Knight. Heath Ledger was an actor known to always deliver a fantastic performance. But the young'ens today are going crazy for this new actor guy with clearly no clue as to whether he, or the movie, is actually any good! Apparently a brooding face, spiky hair, and smart marketing are enough to warrant a fan base these days.

Within the next few years, the early baby boomer crowd will slowly be moving into retirement, while these teens and tweens enter the workforce. Let's hope that by that time, some substance is injected back into the group as a whole, and they, like, learn a thing or two about true appreciation for the spoken or written word; and for someone's acting chops by actually seeing them act, not just crack a smile on the red carpet.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Calgary Man Pays $1,500 & Gets One-Year Probation for Movie Piracy

A man in Calgary has become the first person to be convicted under Canada's new, much tighter, piracy laws. Richard Criag Lissaman was caught filming the movie Sweeney Todd in a Calgary theatre. Even though there's no proof that he was planning to reproduce and sell his recording, Lissaman was fined almost $1,500 and given one-year probation, during which time he is not permitted to purchase, own, or possess any type of video recording equipment outside his home. And yes, that even includes a cell phone with video recording capability!

In June 2007, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to crack down on movie piracy. The new offenses included the unauthorized recording of a movie in a theatre without the consent of the theatre manager, both with and without knowledge of the intent of selling, renting, or otherwise commercially-distributing a copy of said recording. The court is also permitted to confiscate any recording equipment used in the crime.

In this such case, I guess it is safe to assume that the man was going to distribute his recording in some unauthorized manner. He obviously wasn't recording it for himself, since he was there! And if his friends wanted to see the flick, well, they would have been there with him. Still, does this give the country free reign to fine a person $1,500 and put them on probation without actually proving anything other than the fact that he recorded the movie?

I know it might not seem like a fair comparison, but plenty of people attend concerts with their cell phones and digital cameras high in the air recording video footage of the artist singing, performing, and chatting up the crowd. While many will upload this footage to their own blogs, a site like YouTube, or a social networking Website to share with friends for free, how do we know they don't plan to sell it to a tabloid site for profit? And can we fine them simply because their actions imply that they might want to, or have the opportunity to, sell the footage? It reminds me of a joke that has been circulating the 'net for years whereby a coast guard threatens to fine a woman for illegal fishing, even though she's actually just reading a book in the boat. "Yes, but you have the equipment to begin fishing," he says, pointing at the fishing rod that's in the boat. At this point, she responds that she'll charge him for sexual assault. When he looks at her with a puzzled face, she declares, "yes, but you have the equipment to commit that crime".

What's more, I know it's a far stretch, but could this first iconic sentencing eventually spiral into more and more laws that crack down on innocent people? Those who copy DVDs onto their home PCs as a back-up, or create mix CDs for their friends, or that record TV content to an external hard drive for later viewing.

I know I'm playing devil's advocate here, but the legal system is sadly built around so many technicalities and loopholes that sometimes you wonder if we're paying more attention to convicting the guilty or protecting the innocent.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Can Vegas Sustain Another CES?

Trade shows, especially in the technology industry, often gravitate to the grand city of Las Vegas. Why? The location is always upbeat, the space accommodating, and the area fairly central to most. But anyone that's traveled to an event there over the past few years knows that the costs are also exponential, and only getting larger. If you go to Vegas for a show like CES, you're liable to pay upwards of $300/night for a hotel room that would normally run for half that. A good meal is tough to find for a reasonable price (although plenty of fantastic meals are to be had if you're willing to fork over the dough for them!) And drinks? You're lucky to find anything, and I mean anything with even just a drop of alcohol for less than $10. But with the economy in the state that it's currently in, will Vegas be able to keep up its perceived price gouging of trade show-goers?

The next massive show to arrive in Sin City is indeed CES this January. At this year's CEDIA EXPO, which took place in Denver, CO, many were rumbling that CES would be jumping ship to another city once its contract was up. The reason? Pricing was getting ridiculous in that great city known as Lost Wages. Some claimed that this wasn't entirely true: the CEA was just bluffing in an effort to get Vegas to wake up to the incredible loss the city would experience if events companies started moving their business elsewhere. Neither of these rumours have ever been substantiated, but we have seen evidence that Las Vegas definitely needs to, and might already be, waking up to the effects economic uncertainty can have.

Visit the official CES Website (, for instance, and you'll see a ton of hotels highlighted in bright yellow, signifying that they're offering reduced rates for show attendees. The most dramatic is the Excalibur, where a room that was $219 has now been reduced to just $141.

Aside from the show, the downturn the city is suffering from is becoming quite apparent. According to the Las Vegas Meetings and Travel Website from the Conventions and Visitors Authority, the number of visitors during the month of September was down 10.1% when compared to September 2007. In August, visitors were down 4.3%. The number of attendees at conferences was down 10% in Sept. and a whopping 22.3% in August; while the number of conferences actually held during those months was down 17.9% and 7.2%, respectively when compared to the prior year. Airline passengers arriving to or leaving from Vegas was also down: 9.9% in August and 13.2% in September. On average, all of the aforementioned figures were down at least 4% throughout the entire year of 2008 when compared to '07.

Meanwhile, even the gamblers are pinching their pennies. A recent Reuters report indicates that Vegas gambling is down for the ninth month in a row, while the take for casinos has dropped US$58 million from one year ago to an astonishing US$1 billion! Company shares on the stock market are also plummeting: Las Vegas Sands Corp. dropped from US$122 to just US$6; MGM Mirage from US$93 to US$11; and Wynn Resorts Ltd. from US$139 to under US$44.

While you won't see relevant companies opting out of attending CES this year altogether, you will see a cut back in the number of employees going down to the show. This means fewer flights, fewer dollars acquired from hotel room bookings, fewer dollars spent gambling, and fewer food and drink sales. Booths at the show will likely remain as big and flashy as they always are, but it's very possible that companies will be scaling back on even booth space as they consider bookings for next year's show.

What does this mean? The city of Las Vegas should really be pro-active in addressing all of these concerns, for both visitors and potential business partners that are looking to hold their conventions, events, and parties there. CES isn't moving to another location just yet, and has never announced that it is looking to do so either. But everything could tumble like a deck of cards if Vegas doesn't start proving itself a worthy, and reasonably-priced, home for convention-holders and goers to spend their money.

[Photo: Las Vegas News Bureau (LVCVA)].

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In-Person Convos? No Thanks, We'll Take E-mail

Most surveys that have been conducted over the past few years indicate that while people applaud technology like e-mail, instant messaging, and cell phones as being beneficial to business, the majority rank in-person conversations above all else. But according to a new survey by Robert Half Technology, it appears that IT professionals actually rank e-mail above a face-to-face conversation!

The study, conducted with 270 randomly-selected Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in Canada, discovered that 49% of them would prefer to use e-mail when conversing with staff in the office versus chatting in-person, which was rated second-best at 34%.

I can understand where they're coming from. If I ran down to the front of the office to converse with Lindsay every time I needed to talk to her, I'd be reaching marathon territory by the end of every day! In the same manner, I'd also be less productive if I walked next door to Robert's office every time I wanted to ask him something, or vice versa. (Funny enough, we often use telephone intercoms, or the much less tech-savvy method of shouting!)

Consider, also, that CIOs focus much of their time on numbers, data, and complex figures that require back and forth often resembling cryptic "code". So perhaps e-mail does make the most sense in this case. In person, their conversation might sound like an audition for the latest Star Trek movie (or an episode of House: does anyone understand what those guys are saying half the time?!)

On a larger scale, however, e-mail can most certainly come in handy. It was, after all, introduced as a way to help improve productivity, and make it easier and quicker to communicate. So it does serve a valuable function on the business end, regardless of one's position. But should this apply to inter-office communication, or just to those who are situated elsewhere?

One could make the argument that e-mail began as a useful technology for chatting with friends and co-workers in a different area code or country. That way, you didn't have to incur long-distance fees. But with things like VoIP and free long distance, e-mail really has evolved to become a dominant form of communication for anyone, anywhere to talk with anyone else, anywhere. And yes, that even means two offices away.

But keep in mind that there are times when e-mail just won't cut it. If there's a meeting to be had, something visual that needs to be reviewed, or an important item that should be discussed in person rather than through a series of back and forth e-mails or instant messages, then for God's sakes, get off your butts! And there are some conversations that just make more sense in person than through e-mail. For instance, our office manager Jeanette never sends me an e-mail to ask how my weekend was: she'll walk down and ask me in person.

With that, the survey did surprisingly find that, aside from e-mail and in-person convos, CIOs don't prefer to use many other forms of communication internally. Only 6% would opt for the phone, 5% use instant messaging, and 1% use text messages.

It would be interesting to see how the number skew when talking to sales and marketing professionals, engineers, support staff, HR personnel, or other areas of company operations.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

What Will They Think of Next?: Make "Beats" On-The-Go

There are plenty of things that you want to be able to do on-the-go. Chat with friends. Listen to tunes. Surf the Web. But what about making "beats"? A new device from Akai Professional contains more than 700 sounds, from drums to effects and instrument samples, so that you can create a "beat" whenever inspiration strikes.

OK, in all fairness, the device really is meant for music producers (or wannabe producers). As any creative type knows, inspiration often strikes in the oddest places. That's why writers (and musicians) might keep a pad of paper and pen on the bedside table; or a fashion designer might keep a notebook in his car. So why not bring along a device that can let you musically play out a tune that might be running over and over in your head?

The device, called the XR20 Beat Production Station, has an integrated effects engine that includes reverb, EQ, and compression, along with a mic input should you wish to mix in some hot lyrics. If you want to create your masterpiece in peace, though, think again: bright backlit pads offer visual cues that'll get the attention of passers-by.

At $500, the unit really is tailored to the professional crowd, or those hoping to make their way into the hip hop/R&B industry, or whatever other type of music utilizes funky "beats".

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

High-Tech Grocery Shopping

When you think of the list of after-work activities that fall under the theme of "high-tech", grocery shopping is probably last on your list, right? Wrong. A Canadian company is helping a U.S. grocer make shopping a technology-infused experience through functions like tracking shopping behaviour, making recommendations, and, probably the most appealing feature, instantly scanning items so there's no loading and unloading of products or long line-ups. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

Called Concierge, the system was developed by Toronto, ON-based Springboard Retail Networks Inc., and will be available on 125 shopping carts in the Bloom grocery store in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Shoppers simply boot up a PC on the cart itself upon arrival, then activate functions via the touch-screen interface. Not sure which aisle carries canned peas? The system will guide you there. Forget the name of that spice needed for your husband's favourite chicken dish? You can pull up recipes and meal-planning suggestions. Can't remember if you have any eggs left at home? The system will track your shopping behaviour over time, then make recommendations based on prior purchases or even based on what you've already picked up. All of your purchases and data is stored via a customer loyalty card, which is scanned via the system once you've got the cart rolling. This same card is used at check-out as well.

Of course there are some potential Big Brother-esque drawbacks. For one, you can expect to receive targeted advertising based on prior purchases. But then again, this might actually come in handy during your visit. Of course the advertising, as well as the complementary recommendations, can also lead to you spending more on groceries than originally planned. I already find that going to pick up a "few things" is virtually impossible to accomplish, so when there's a computer in my ear suggesting even more, my grocery bills would likely skyrocket! And then of course, there's the collection of customer data. The retailer will track information like stats, buying habits, lifestyle, and times you visit the store. While this is helpful when looked at on a large scale and taking all customer data into account, some might frown upon having a store know more about them then they'd like.

Aside from the Big Brother issues, the technology also poses another question: you don't have to unload items on a conveyer belt to scan, but then how do they get into bags? Are you supposed to bag items yourself? Does a sales clerk bag them for you? Either way, wouldn't this lead to back-ups at the check out anyway? After all, I doubt anyone will load their items, one at a time, into the trunk of a car!

With that said, it is still a pretty darned cool system, and really shows the potential of technology to help make the shopping experience quicker, more interactive, and most important, helpful to the everyday consumer. And for retailers, the sophisticated shopping experience will undoubtedly result in more items being sold. So it's really a win-win for everyone.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

CES: Huge Leaps or Status Quo?

As anyone in the CE industry knows, CES, North America's largest technology trade show, is fast approaching. Returning to Las Vegas this January, the show will feature everything from the latest in consumer electronics, computing, wireless technology and other portable gadgets, digital imaging, and entertainment. You name it: if it's a really influential, really cool, and attention-getting device or technology, it'll be at CES. But just as quickly as all the facets of the technology industry are coming together in harmony, so, too are they branching off in various directions. Because of this, does CES still have the same clout that it used to?

When you think about it, the show, despite its massive magnitude, is surrounded by several other smaller, more focused events. In September, CEDIA EXPO is where the custom A/V companies congregate, while PMA EXPO, held in March, is the show for the photo industry. If you're looking at wireless, whether we're talking handsets, software, apps, or business systems, April's CTIA WIRELESS event is a must-attend. Do you work on the commercial side of things? Then InfoComm is the show for you! So where does this leave CES?

Sure, CES gets the most media attention, and the most visitors, especially internationally. Because of this, many companies hold out for the iconic show to make major announcements. But what if you don't have that much happening in a year? If you're a flat-panel TV maker, for example, you can't hold back the following year's big items until January. Then what will you show at CEDIA? Hey, here's my old stuff. Thanks for coming. See you at CES! (?) Likewise, a camera maker might wait until March to make its big announcements at PMA, but then what do they show at CES? Do you divy up the line-up, showing off some teasers at CES followed by the grand reveal at PMA? Granted, it makes absolutely perfect sense to display the same products at CES that you did at CEDIA or PMA or whatever show floats your boat, because the smaller-scale events certainly don't target the same, massively mainstream audience that CES does. But if your dealers, partners, and specifically targeted media members were already at that other show, is CES worth it for the remaining exposure you're going to get?

The answer to this, of course, depends on a number of factors. How much does the rest of the exposure mean to you? What percentage of your dealers attend CES but don't attend the other targeted show(s), whether that be CEDIA, PMA, or what have you? How important is your message to both targeted and mainstream audiences? And finally, how major is the new product or technology that you're featuring this year? Even if it isn't a "revolutionary" breakthrough as so many companies claim the smallest adjustment to represent, the more exposure your company gets, the better. Exposure is everything. As they say, people might not notice you were there, but they'll certainly notice that you weren't.

With that said, while the 2009 CES might very well be a "status quo" year where we don't see any mind-blowing technologies introduced like we might have in previous years (Blu-ray and HD DVD, flat-panels TVs and 1080p, digital photo frames, and satellite radio, to name a few), it still remains a worthy event to attend if you're in the industry.

**Speaking of those in the industry, I'd love to know your favourite spots in Vegas to take dealers/clients, hang out for a drink or two, or relax during down time. If you send your top recommendation(s) to me via e-mail at, we'll compile a "top spots" list to publish in the mag and/or online that you can peruse and get some ideas. Because hey, just as much as the show is about learning about products, it's also about wining and dining your dealers, potential dealers, and American/overseas affiliates. Here are a few of my recommendations to get you started:

Japonais in the Mirage Hotel: it serves a fusion of Japanese and French food, and has sushi dishes that are absolutely amazing. The ambience is great, and service is impeccable.

Cirque de Soleil’s LOVE at the Mirage: It’s an exciting, captivating show that’s worth experiencing at least once, especially if you’re a Beatles fan.

The Shadow Bar in Caesar’s Palace: Having stayed in that hotel for the past three years, it’s almost become like my “local bar” a few times every year. It can, in many ways, be considered the new Bugsy’s Bar because it often ends up being a meeting place for Canucks. You’re sure to run into some Canadian industry members there.

And of course who can forget Canada Night at Caesar’s Palace: It’s the event for the Canadian consumer electronics industry. No invitation is required, and all are welcome. We’ll see you there on Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6 p.m.! Click Here for more details.

The deadline to send me your suggestion(s) is November 20, 2008.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Using Social Networking to Better Your Business

Ask any self-proclaimed Web 2.0 guru, and he'll advise you to use social networking to better your business. How? In whatever way you can! While social networking carries the reputation of allowing you to reach the youth audience, it has quickly grown to become much more than that, attracting members of every age group. So while reaching the up and coming young 'ens is definitely an advantage, don't rule out being able to reach others that way as well.

Take Barack Obama, for example, the President-elect of the United States of America. A major part of his campaign strategy involved utilizing Websites like to reach potential voters. I don't think anyone will argue that his influence with the youth crowd was and is stronger than with any other recent U.S. President. Retailer Future Shop is using the same social networking Website to promote upcoming events, show off photos and videos, and engage shoppers. Plenty of musical artists use social networking site MySpace to expose their music and gain feedback that becomes helpful in starting their careers. Even video-centric sites play a significant role. Major issues have arisen, or even been discussed, through widely popular video sharing Website YouTube. If you think your business doesn't apply, think again. Even book seller Chapters Indigo has an enticing online community where readers can share book reviews, make suggestions on new titles, and even join virtual book clubs. Come on! If a company who's primary focus is selling you printed, paperback books can join the "web revolution", so can you!

Given all of this, I find it odd when people shrug off social networking as just being a fun thing for kids or people with too much time on their hands. The Web and online social communities have the potential to foster relationships, promote brands, and keep you connected with what's going on in a specific area of interest or interests. You might even find that a fan has beaten you to the punch: type any popular company name into a social networking site, and you're bound to find that a happy (or perhaps even unhappy) person has already created a group centred around your products.

Remember: there is no age requirement for social networking. You don't need to be a teeny-bopper, or even just in your 20s or 30s. I know people in their 40s, 50s, and yes, even 60s that are members of social networking Websites. Some people use them for business, on sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, to connect with colleagues and business groups. Others use them for personal reasons, to stay in touch with out of town family members. Many use the sites for both purposes.

The bottom line: if the next President of the United States of America realizes, and in many ways, has proven, the powerful influence that the Web and social networking can have on important decisions that people make, you shouldn't be afraid to do so as well.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Keep Your Headphones Away from Pacemakers!

You might have already guessed this wasn't a good idea, but a new study has now confirmed that placing a pair of headphones nearby a pacemaker or defibrillator can interfere with the device. While this doesn't mean that people with either heart regulator need to stay away from the gadgets, it does mean that you should be mindful where you put them when they're not on or over your ears.

In other words: don't act like a DJ and sit a pair of over-the-ear 'phones across your neck and down by your chest when you're not listening to tunes. Don't throw a pair of earbuds in your shirt pocket either, or wear any of those fashionable earbuds that double as a necklace draped across your front.

Contrary to what some might believe, Bluetooth functionality in cell phones actually doesn't interfere with pacemakers or defibrillators. With headphones, it's those pesky magnets inside that can wreak havoc with the heart devices and cause potential issues. According to the study, though, you'd have to be holding them within 1.2" of your chest to even risk any effect.

Still, better safe than sorry. So always keep those 'phones in your ears, and keep them far from your body when you're done with them.

The study took place at the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, MA, and included eight different headphones used with 60 patients who either had a pacemaker or defibrillator. Interference was detected with 15% of those who had a pacemaker and 30% of participants with a defibrillator.

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What's Your Home Page?

Every weekday morning, I boot up my PC, open up Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer, and get things going for the work day. In Outlook, my e-mails rapidly begin flooding in, one by one....information on the latest CE products, event invitations and press briefings, and internal memos from colleagues. Over in the Web world, my browser opens up, every single time, to the very same page: Selecting this "home" page is a pretty simple task, but you never really pay attention to just how influential that choice is.

Think about it: it's the very first page you see every morning. You might only scan it for a moment before jumping over to another site. But that page is what starts your day. It's what provides you with the news, the laughter, or the updates you require. It's also the page you always go back to with the simply push of the handy "home" button on the top, right corner of your screen; or perhaps even on your fancy keyboard.

My parents use as their home page, simply because we found they would often open up the browser and start typing questions or keywords right into the address bar! This way, they get exactly what they want right off the bat. But with additions like Windows Live Search, which is always right at your fingertips in the top, right hand corner for searches, the opportunities for more interesting home pages are endless.

So before you choose lightly, I'd suggest thinking long and hard about the page you decide upon. It's a good idea to pick a Website that's updated daily so that you always have something interesting (and new!) waiting for you upon arrival each morning; or when you re-open your browser after lunch. Maybe it's the day's news headlines. Maybe it's the lottery numbers. Maybe it's an update from your favourite retail store or tunes streaming from an Internet radio station. Either way, the choice has the potential to brighten your day before you even begin a full day's worth of tasks.

So what's your home page? If you're not sure how to select one, here's how: open up Internet Explorer; click on "Tools" and then "Internet Options". The home page option is the first one that appears. Just type in the address you want IE to default to every time you open up the browser, and click "Apply" and then "OK" in the bottom, right of the pop-up window. And you're all set! Happy choosing!

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Never Have I Been More Interested in The Colour Of a Dress

By John Thomson

“I have not seen you smile reading the newspaper in three months.” That was my wife’s observation this morning at breakfast. Earlier this year, a colleague much older and wiser gave me shrewd advice that the way to get through tough times is to stop reading the paper, stop watching the news, and under no circumstances should you look at your investment portfolio. “Keep doing what you do best and things will turn around, they always do,” he said, adding an ice cap of reassurance with “trust me, I’ve been through this before.”

So what did I do with that solid insight? I kept reading the newspaper, only watched news, scrolled for international news online and looked at a token investment portfolio swim down the river. My brow has been furrowed and by all accounts reading the news has made me grumpy.

So what’s different about today? Well, for the first time in months, doom and gloom did not make the front page of one national daily. No mortgage meltdown, housing crisis, currency woes. No Iraq, no bailouts no nothing! Instead, Harper Praises “Historic” Victory, says the Post with a warm exchange between Obama. Both the Globe and Post dedicated the front sheet to a terrific gossip piece on what McCain really thinks of Sarah Palin. Republican insiders seem only too pleased to let the claws out, as long as they talk with anonymity, about Palin not able to name the nations involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement and her needing to be educated that Africa is not a country. This is great stuff. Politics is so much fun when fingers start pointing! I’m enjoying this while I can since tomorrow, we will learn that Ford is closing in on bankruptcy and the U.S. unemployment rate is at 6.5%.

While Obama announces Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff and gets to work mapping out how to solve the economic crisis, fix the climate, figure out how to fix the Middle East, end poverty, spread the wealth, what the world is really talking about is Michelle Obama’s victory dress. Does the red signify a stance to the left with the black representing African-American? Maybe the black accents represent mourning for her husband’s grandmother? Everyone who knows me well, knows that my first thoughts to such an editorial would be, WHO CARES! But today, having been beaten down with bad news for so long, that may be the most important topic I have entertained in a long time. More bad news on Monday for sure, but today, I couldn’t be happier with stories of inconsequence. I have missed them.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gamers Go Crazy for Gears of War, But is it Too Much?

The highly-anticipated Xbox 360 game Gears of War 2 will hit retail stores tomorrow, and many, like Best Buy and Future Shop, plan to open their doors at midnight tonight to accommodate anxious gamers. The majority of people in line will likely be males in their teens, 20s and even 30s. And a large percentage of them probably plan to stay up all night to delve right into the intricacies of the game, and play with others around the world.

Of course Gears of War 2 is only one of the two big stories surrounding the gaming industry these days; the other is the unfortunate news of the missing (and possible death of) Barrie, ON teen Brandon Crisp, who ran away from home on Thanksgiving after his parents took away his Xbox. Apparently Crisp was addicted to the game Call of Duty 4, playing for hours and hours on end, often until 4 a.m.

Naturally, the news has given anti-gaming activists plenty of ammunition to fuel their campaigns against violent and addictive video games that have the potential to overtake one's life. But is it the gaming industry's fault that kids, and even adults, can get addicted to the content, leading to social, health, and even fatal consequences?

I've covered the issue of video games and the perceived negative impact on children several times in this blog. Back in June 2007, I discussed the AMA's push to make video game addiction a psychiatric disorder. Is this a legitimate claim, or are we just looking to lay blame? If it can indeed be considered an addiction, what causes it? Every psychiatric disorder, after all, is caused by something.

It's hard to imagine that a harmful addiction to a video game occurs simply because the game is just so darned good. If a game is good, if you find it hard to put down, that's a good thing. But like anything else, it's also important to know when to put that game down and move on to something else. Sure, sometimes you might end up playing until the wee hours of the morning. Just like I will often pick up a good book with the intention of reading just a couple chapters, and next thing I know, I'm reaching the final pages. Or just like you might go to grab one potato chip from the bag and end up licking your fingers from the last few crumbs at the bottom of the bag a half hour later. The issue isn't the game, just like it isn't the book or the potato chip maker. It's you, and how you react to the situation at hand. We're all responsible for our own actions.

On the flip side, however, unlike paperback books, video games contain a lot of extra stimulants to get one going: visual cues, fantastic audio, and even interaction with others through headsets or on-screen text. Let's face it. Any gamer knows that it can be tough to put the controller down when you know you're one level away from completion; or your favourite ally has just logged on. But again, is this the video game maker's fault, or the player's?

Bottom line: everyone has hobbies. Everyone has interests. But it's important to recognize when something is negatively impacting your life, and the people around you. This principles holds true across anything, not just video games. We should be able to enjoy games and the amazing virtual stories they tell, without losing touch with true reality.

With that said, good luck to all the gamers that are planning to stand in line all night for a first copy of Gears of War 2!

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Clearing up Confusion About Ontario Cell Phone Ban

In late October, the Ontario government announced that it was tabling legislation that would ban the use of handheld devices while driving. It seems that the flurry of media attention the issue received caused residents of this province to believe that a ban has already come into effect. Just to clear things up: THE LEGISLATION HAS NOT YET PASSED!

While it has passed the first reading, a spokesperson from the communications branch tells me that the proposal still needs to go through the standard legislative process. While he couldn't provide an idea of how long this might take, he did indicate that the earliest we'd see the ban come into effect would be Spring of 2009. Yes, people. You've got plenty of time.

With that said, it's highly likely that the ban, or some variation of it, will indeed pass. As it stands, the Government is looking to ban not just cell phones, but the use of any hand held wireless device while driving. This could include everything from portable navigation units, to iPods. You would, however, be able to use the phone in emergency situations, or with a hands-free headset or speakerphone. But red lights? Sorry, you won't be able to quickly send that text while you're waiting for the green. Bottom line: you'll need to pull over before even so much as touching your cellular phone.

Of course when asked what the difference is between changing stations via my windshield-mounted satellite radio receiver and inserting a CD into the car's factory player, I'm told only that these are the sorts of issues that need to be flushed out before actually passing the legislation.

If the ban does come into effect, you can expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $500 as a fine.

While this can be viewed as bad news for electronics manufacturers, there is a silver lining: Bluetooth products will skyrocket in sales, and customers will respond much more positively to features like voice-recognition/activation and quick-button functions. Tailor your products and campaigns toward these features, and you could actually benefit from this ban.

But again, we're speaking hypothetically. For now, however, it would still be a good idea to outfit your car with a Bluetooth speakerphone anyway. You might not hold your hands at 2 and 10 while driving anymore. But this doesn't mean you should hold them at 12 and up-to-my-ear either.

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Obama Wins Election, and all Tech Geeks Can Talk About is Holograms

So I admit that I wasn't tuned into CNN last night, but apparently I missed something quite news-worthy. No, I'm not talking about the election coverage, but rather the network's odd decision to conduct interviews via holograms of the interviewee teleported from another city. I'm not sure of the reason behind it. Perhaps to keep young voters interested, or to help differentiate themselves among a sea of networks supplying election coverage. Nonetheless, after having seen the footage via the numerous online videos circulating the Web, I have to admit that it was pretty...weird.

In the video I viewed, CNN Reporter Jessica Yellin, who was physically in Chicago, was "beamed", so to speak, to the network's studio, appearing as though she was being interviewed there. The one glowing indication that she wasn't actually there was an odd ring around her body. The set up required 35 high-definition cameras placed around her, grabbing an image of her body at varying angles to create the 3D figure. Her image was then sent back to the studio, analyzed by cameras there, and voila: it's news history!

So is this the future of TV interviews? Forget teleconferencing, or even flying someone out to meet with you in person. Just film them at 50 different angles so that it only looks like they're sitting right next to you. Call it Photoshopping for the 21st Century, if you will.

Anyway, in case you've been stuck under a rock for the past 24 hours, Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States of America. While he's no doubt a three-dimensional person, there's no word yet on when he'll be appearing in 3D hologram form for interviews.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Does Anyone Want to Own DVDs Anymore?

Lately, I've found myself staring irritatingly at the hundreds of CDs and DVDs that occupy numerous shelves in my living room. How can we get rid of all this clutter without investing in an uber-expensive media server? Sure, there are Media Center PCs that can store all this content, but that would mean having to sit down and rip one DVD after another, repeatedly, for hours on end. Even then, what happens if the system crashes? Sure, there's always back-up, and even a back-up for the back-up. But I wonder: are people really interested in owning all of this content, namely movies, or do we just want to enjoy it, then chuck it?

Case in point: popular U.S. video rental company Netflix has just announced that it will get out of the previously-viewed DVD sale market and focus on rentals and streaming video. Despite how much consumers might be upset at the change, it makes perfect sense. Why do I need to own a physical DVD movie? There are very few titles that are worth watching more than once, and often times when I have watched a movie for a second or third time, it's because it happened to have been broadcast on cable TV. If there's a particular movie that I want to watch at home on-the-fly, I'll grab it on-demand.

As I write this, I hear my former self yelling "hypocrit" at the top of her lungs. I used to be the one that argued passionately in favour of previously-viewed DVDs. Why would I pay $5 to rent a movie when I can just own it for a few bucks more? I would say to people. And there certainly are people who appreciate the full DVD experience, including the extra features and interviews, and love to admire the beautifully-created cover artwork. But now, looking at the hundreds of colourful cases unnecessarily taking up so much space at home, I don't quite feel the same way.

But before you're quick to call me out on predicting the end to a profitable after-theatre movie industry, that's not what I'm implying at all. Rather, the money will funnel itself through new channels. This could mean a cut of pay-per-view profits or specialty TV channels subscriptions, and probably the most lucrative option going forward: involvement in the streaming movie business. And hey, perhaps Blu-ray will take over as the only viable physical DVD format worthy of investing in and "collecting" because of its premium video and audio quality.

This, of course, is great news for cable/satellite TV providers and online distribution companies; not so good for DVD makers and distributors. But who knows: maybe in future, everyone will have a stab at the TV airwaves, and you'll be able to tap into services not from just one cable or satellite provider, but from a host of them, operating somewhat independently of one another. Sure, the idea might seem far-fetched to some; not to mention potentially confusing (and expensive!) for the customer. But if it means I can watch what I want, when I want, in high-definition quality, and take back a big portion of space in my living room that's now otherwise occupied, then I'm game.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Plotting Out a Year's Worth of Topics

Anyone who works for a magazine knows that this is the time when everyone puts their heads together to formulate a list of topics, features, and interviews that will appear in the following calendar year's issues. It's called an editorial calendar, and we're now in the final stages of putting together ours for both Marketnews and here's how! magazines. While the fast-paced nature of this business is always on our minds, you never really comprehend it fully until you sit down to perform such a task as this. It's difficult to try and slot applicable topics into various months of the year! How do you truly look to the future of consumer technology, where things can change literally from one minute to the next? It's almost impossible! Nevertheless, we do our best based on projections, expectations, and good ol' intuition.

There are seasons and holidays that dictate high selling times for particular products, for example. Back-to-school is logically during the July/August timeframe, while the holiday shopping season is November/December. Flat-panel sales often spike during the SuperBowl (February) and Black Friday (end of November after the U.S. Thanksgiving). Photo products do well during or just prior to the summer time, since people are either looking to buy digital cameras to take on their vacations, or printing photos like wildfire having just returned from a trip. As for the camera manufacturers; they typically save their major official product announcements for February/March (during the PMA trade show) and October, which is when they all hit like wildfire. Yes, there are enough new digital cameras coming to fruition to result in two major launch times per year! And Boxing Day? Ahh, every retailer of every gadget loves Boxing Day...that is if you're not working a 12-hour shift on the sales floor!

When it comes to highly-anticipated technologies for next year, we can attempt to predict when a few might hit it big. New cell phone carriers, for example, all anticipate having their services up and running by Q3. So it's safe to assume that a lot of attention will be placed on this space come that time; which is also when we can expect to see a flood of Google Android devices hit the market. CES, North America's largest technology trade show, takes place in early January, and naturally, every manufacturer will be making major announcements at that time. Ditto when it comes to the custom audio/video industry and CEDIA; the September-held trade show dedicated to that part of the technology space.

Then there are other "up-in-the-air" items that need to be considered. Will LED become a fierce competitor in the flat-panel arena next year? Can Blu-ray make it for the long-haul? Is Android going to take over the cellular world? Will WiMAX and NFC technology become commonplace? Can digital downloading overtake physical video media? We can speculate all we like, but the truth is that topics have to be reworked throughout the year to best accomodate what's happening. And let's face it: something always happens to shake things up.

In a way, this is a good thing. There is never a time where we have nothing to write about in the technology industry; and never a slowdown in product development. While TV manufacturing might slow down, cell phone manufacturing picks up. As cell phones slow down, PCs and digital content take off. There's always something. The other day, I saw a demonstration on TV of a head-worn device hooked up to a computer that could analyze brain waves and dictate letters of the alphabet that the person was thinking. Entire words would be spelled out on screen, letter by letter, until a full sentence was formulated. The point? It was being used by a man with ALS in order to help him communicate. Now that is truly amazing: there's so much more to technology than we could ever imagine.

What do you predict will be the big topics of '09?

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