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Other People's Misfortune

This news is probably only relevant to your mother and/or grandmother, but lawmakers might delay the switchover to 100 percent digital television for four months.

Fearing that too many Americans aren't ready and would be without their precious, precious television programs, the US Senate voted Monday to delay the digital change until June 12, giving you plenty of time to either help Gram-Gram set up her new converter or save up the money and buy her a new TV. Similar legislation is being prepared in the House.

I spoke to L.A. resident Robyn Simms about helping her mother with the switchover. Simms instructed her mother over the phone, and while she said that the process was painfully easy, describing it to her mother was like "Trying to give driving directions to someone who doesn't speak English."

"Technology is a foreign language to some people," Simms said. "It was one freakin' cable! How hard could it possibly be?" She added. 

Are you and your family hooked up and ready for the switch? How did setting up the new box work out?


If you have satellite TV or cable, this won't affect you, but if you're still watching TV over the air, here's the instructions for how to get your converter box and how to hook it up.

Phone giant Sprint Nextel, the third biggest U.S. mobile service provider, said it plans to cut up to 8,000 jobs, about 14 percent of its employees. The company is trying to cut costs, and it hopes that the cuts will keep Sprint "financially secure in a challenging economic environment." The cuts are coming across the board, to all areas of the company, though less in customer care, as part of Sprint's effort to bolster customer satisfaction.

Here are more companies that have announced layoffs:

  • 20,000 jobs from Caterpillar Inc
  • 7,000 from Home Depot
  • 6,000 at Philips 
  • 12,000 from AT&T
  • 3,600 from Microsoft
  • Many, many more

If all this dire financial news makes you sad, why not click on this story? It's the heart-warming tale of the 10,000th wish fulfilled by the Make a Wish foundation. Eight-year-old hockey fan Jacob Anderson loves the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, to give him the experience of joining the team, the Pengs signed him to an official one day, one-dollar contract and let him skate with them. He even scored a goal during practice. Imaginary reports that Phoenix Coyotes' right guard Brian McGrattan took to the ice and hip checked the kid into the boards are simply not true.


If things have been feeling a little claustrophobic on your Internets lately, here's why: There are over a billion people on the 'Net, not including minors or mobile internet users, according to comScore.

"Surpassing one billion global users is a significant landmark in the history of the internet," said Magid Abraham, president and chief executive of comScore. "It is a monument to the increasingly unified global community in which we live, and reminds us that the world truly is becoming more flat."

The U.S. is second among countries: Residents of the U.S. make up over 16 percent of the population of the internet. China makes up 17.8 percent of 'Net users, followed by Japan, Germany and The United Kingdom.

While I'm worried that the tubes will clog up with people, I'm happy that, now that there are a billion people on the internet, we'll finally be able to determine whether Kirk could beat Picard.


'Mad Magazine' Goes Quarterly

Posted January 26, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson

Of all the depressing, fershlugginer news I've been forced to report over the last few months, this has to be the saddest: The economy is so terrible that Mad Magazine has been forced to cut back production and only put out their rag quarterly. The humor magazine has been around since 1952, and is generally regarded as funnier than imitators like Cracked or Crazy.

Starting with the April issue, you'll only be able to get Mad four times a year. Mad Kids and Mad Classics, two spin-off mags, have been canceled altogether.

Mad editor John Ficarra said, in typical Mad-style self-deprecating fashion, “The feedback we've gotten from readers is that only every third issue of MAD is funny, so we've decided to just publish those."

I blame you, the reader, for not buying Mad Magazine enough. I also blame myself for the same reason. I loved Mad as a kid, poring over my older brother's back issues, buying paperback collections, loving Spy Vs. Spy,  and only half-understanding a lot of the more "adult" humor, but as I got older, I just kind of stopped reading it... But I'm going to change. I'm going to start buying every issue of Mad that comes out. Hopefully you'll join me, and the uptick in sales will mean a return to monthly publication for the magazine. After all, I have to line my birdcage with something!

Are you a Mad fan?


Electronics Giant Philips is joining seemingly everyone else in the consumer electronics world and tightening its corporate belt. The company is Europe’s largest maker of televisions, and it's cutting 6,000 jobs. Philips also plans to stop buying back stock shares after reporting its first quarterly loss in almost six years.

“Stopping the buyback is the right path,” said Eric de Graaf, an Amsterdam-based analyst at Petercam. “If you don’t know what’s going to happen in these difficult circumstances, it’s better to preserve your cash.”

As for Philips' take on the situation, there's the official word from a company release: “Our fourth-quarter results confirm the expectation we expressed early December that the short-term economic outlook is worsening and that 2009 is likely to be a very challenging year." 

No doubt this year will be challenging for everyone. Here's a a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head to help us all feel better.


Want to know how tough things are out in Hollywood right now? David Fincher, creator of Se7en, Fight Club and current Oscar nomination leader (and gajillion-dollar-picture) The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button, is having trouble getting his next project off the ground.

Fincher was set to make Torso, an adaptation of a Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Andreyko comic, and Paramount apparently let the rights to the book lapse. See, Paramount had to either purchase the rights altogether last month, or lose the chance to make a flick based on the comic. They seem to have chosen the latter.

"It's a weird and odd situation," Bendis said. "We heard it was greenlit one day, then the next we heard it wasn't. Hopefully, it'll have a happy ending."

There is some speculation that, since the story is based on real-life crime fighter Eliot Ness, it could be made using available, historic sources, but the smart money is on Paramount not wanting to risk the kind of lawsuit that could result in a move like that.


If you're getting tired of reading tech stories about layoffs, I apologize in advance, but I'm duty-bound to tell you, Microsoft is laying off 5,000 workers over the next 18 months, which is nearly five percent of its total workforce.  The tech giant's total profits for the fourth quarter of 2008 declined to $4.17 billion from $4.71 billion in the same period last year, so heads will roll.

It's apparently not the Xbox's fault, though: Profits in Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division rose 3% over last year's fourth quarter to $3.18 billion.  But the division had less revenue in the second half of 2008 than it did in the second half of 2007 -- $4.99 billion versus $5.02 billion. Why is this? Probably because no one is buying the Zune and there was no huge game release like Halo 3 in 2008.

The cuts are coming in the areas of R&D, marketing, sales, finance, legal, HR, and IT. "The decision to eliminate jobs is a very difficult one," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a company-wide memo.  "Our people are the foundation of everything we have achieved and we place the highest value on the commitment and hard work that you have dedicated to building this company."

For their part, Sony said it's posting a $2.9 billion annual operating loss for the year to March. But hey, look on the bright side, things seem pretty solid over at Nintendo...


Russia: No More Space Tourists

Posted January 22, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson

According to Russian Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov, Russia will not be flying any more paid customers to the International Space Station after 2009.  So if you've been saving up your money to pay the $20 million-plus ticket price, you're out of luck. U.S. software billionaire Charles Simonyi will be Russia's last private space passenger when he blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in March.

Russia has flown six private citizens into space since 2001, most recently video game designer Richard "Lord British" Garriott, who paid $35 million for the ticket to the space station. Russia is ending the practice because the crew of the International Space Station is expanding from three people to six. According to MSNBC: "The space station crew is expanding to six largely to accommodate Canadian, European and Japanese astronauts who have been waiting years to live aboard the station their countries have helped create."

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Way back in the pre-digital camera era, the only way to instantly see photographs that you just snapped was to use a Polaroid camera. Sadly, the times changed and Polaroid announced last year that they would no longer produce film for instant cameras. Enthusiasts of the format aren't ready to give up just yet. A group of fans love the quality of the Polaroid picture so much, that they're trying to create a new film compatible with Polaroid cameras.

The group raised private funds and were able to purchase a good deal of Polaroid's manufacturing equipment. With the help of former employees of Polaroid, they are working hard to create an instant film compatible with Polaroid cameras just for the comparatively few Polaroid junkies out there.

Although the problems with the project are vast -- chemicals used in the original film are no longer available and any film the group produces is likely to be crazy expensive -- the enthusiasts are committed to bringing their film to market by 2010. God speed, you living anachronisms, you!



Obviously, you and I love technology, but sometimes it's good to be reminded of the downside of the world's reliance on computers for every aspect of our life.

Case-in-point: Heartland Payment Services, a huge credit and debit processing company,  announced yesterday that it was the victim of a "highly sophisticated" attack. Up to 100 million accounts may have been compromised. 100 Million... That means, yeah, probably yours.

Hackers apparently installed malware on Heartland's systems that allowed them to capture card account numbers and expiration dates -- in 20 percent of cases, the customer's name, as well.

"We found evidence of an intrusion last week and immediately notified federal law enforcement officials, as well as the card brands," said Robert H.B. Baldwin, Jr., Heartland's president and chief financial officer, in a statement. "We understand that this incident may be the result of a widespread global cyber fraud operation, and we are cooperating closely with the United States Secret Service and Department of Justice."

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