March 2009 Archives

Microsoft's Weird New Ad

I'm starting to think that Microsoft's Marketing Division just has no ideas how to make commercials; after blowing an immense amount of money on their Gates-Seinfeld ads last year; they're trying once again to say that Macs are expensive. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the same thing just a few weeks ago, so this commercial and marketing strategy is something that has been in the works for a while now, I would guess.

Here's the thing; these ads target the Mac on cost, but why is Microsoft doing this? Sure they go face to face in the operating system marketplace, but as far as hardware goes, Microsoft doesn't make their own PCs; the laptop that Lauren walks out with at the end of the commercial is a HP product. Why does any of this matter? Because of the iPhone, which is slowly crushing Windows Mobile smartphones, and because the halo effect is working. There's a reason why they've chosen Lauren, a young twenty-something actress for this commercial; because a forty-something actor isn't going to make the same impact on the cash-strapped college audience. In effect, the ad is saying that "Macs are cool, PCs are cheap, and PC buyers are losers who can't afford a Mac..." Way to go Microsoft for that message.

If you've been on a college campus lately; one thing you're sure to notice is the abundance of white earbuds; the second thing you'll notice is that they've got an iPod/iPhone/iPod Touch; and if you go into the classroom, there's a good chance that the laptops are 50% Mac, and these are college students who are going to graduate, get a job, buy their own computer, and what are they going to buy? A Mac or a PC? They're going to go with that they're familiar with, and increasingly, this is a Mac. One of the brilliant incentives for students to buy a Mac is the great educational pricing, which, feature by feature gives the competitive advantage to the Mac -- wi-fi, microphone and webcam built-in, and virus free on top of that? The thing that Apple needs to do at this point is equip educational Macs with SSDs so that students won't ever have a hard drive crash, and they're golden.

The computer that Lauren picked out does have a 17 inch screen, which runs at a resolution of 1440 x 900, the same resolution as the 13" MacBook, so in effect, the screen is bigger with fatter pixels, but is not at a higher resolution; reading some of the reviews of this laptop complain about a variety of things, not least of all the speed of this laptop. Weighing nearly 8 pounds, I think this should hardly be called a laptop at that point; it's quite a lot to lug around, and that's where the Mac excels -- in the long term. In 2002, I bought my first Mac. To this day, it still works, albeit slowly and were I to stick it up on eBay, I could still get a couple hundred dollars for it. This is a 7 year old computer we are talking about -- any PC or laptop would be lucky to fetch even one hundred dollars. (This is Pentium 3/4 generation we are talking about folks -- relatively worthless processors at this point). Plus, research has shown that things get skewed when things become free -- this ad is one of many in which people were given free computers, and let's face it, who is going to say no to a free computer that can go up on eBay as nearly brand new?

Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

I Will Teach You To Be Rich is a personal finance book written by Ramit Sethi, who writes a blog of the same name. More than a compilation of blog entries, the book is a six-week plan for setting up personal finance.

The target audience for this book are young adults from 20 to 35, and goes through explaining how to manage personal finances, as well as the steps to be taken to reduce credit debt and get the most out of money. While this book is freshly published, the one big criticism I have for the book is the use of a 8% rate of interest for the gains an average person can make -- in the state of the current economy, I tend to believe a more conservative number on the order of 4-5% is a little more realistic.

It's great for handing out financial advice, and the advice that Ramit Sethi gives out is sound, and time tested; it's easy to read, and with a little bit of discipline easy to follow his instructions. While I find the book cover and title to be colorfully embarrassing (just a little too neon for my tastes), it's a book that I would wholeheartedly loan to anyone interested in improving their financial status.

This book is not a get-rich-quick book -- it's about setting financial goals and saving slowly; fairly boring stuff, but also fairly simple advice to follow.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi.

The Power of Stephen Colbert's Empire

A month ago, NASA announced a contest to name Node 3 of the International Space Station. For a long time, the contest was dominated by "Serenity" (after the ship in the Joss Whedon series Firefly), but now it seems that "Colbert" may have been a popular enough write-in vote that Node 3 might be named after him (the final name is chosen by NASA, after all).

Adam Savage of Mythbusters talks of Dodos and Maltese Falcons


Review: Watchmen

Watchmen is the movie adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's landmark graphic novel, which attempted to make superheroes serious and realistic; Watchmen, along with The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new era of grim and gritty superheroes. Due to the violent nature of the graphic novel, it should be expected that Watchmen is also the first mainstream superhero movie to earn an 'R' rating.

The R-rating is due to the amount of violence and nudity within the movie, and it is easy to see that director Zack Snyder really wanted to remain faithful to the graphic novel; while there are changes to the movie, it is easy to see how the graphic novel served as the storyboards for the film -- many of the shots for the scene are laid out exactly as they were in the book, leaving very little out. It reminds me a great deal of the first Harry Potter novels, where the director loved the books too much to dare cut out a single event or scene, but without some amount of editing, the movie, as faithful as it is doesn't feel right as a cinematic experience.

The movie is long, coming in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, which could have (and should have) been pared down for relevance. The dialogue too, seemed to be taken word from word from the comic, which may help explain the length of the movie. While most of the events within the movie originates from the book, I certainly got the feeling that the movie could have been edited down and still have kept much of the impact of the overall story arc. As it had been nearly 10 years since I last read Watchmen, I had forgotten just how dark and bloody the graphic novel was, and the movie follows most of those bone-chilling moments to a tee. The movie is a visual treat, with plenty of visual effects and eye candy, but at the same time, due to the length and the content within the movie, I just can't see this movie being a blockbuster superhero hit, but at least it'll beat out Hancock.

Massive Apple Refresh

I've been expecting this for some time, but Apple this morning released the new line of desktops, refreshing not only the Mac mini and the iMac, but the Mac Pro as well.

The new Mac minis start at $599 with a 2Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo and NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, which is the same graphics chip in the latest revisions of the current line of laptops. Unlike the Pro laptops which also include a 9600M GT, spec-wise the Mac mini is technically very similar to Apple's MacBook line, the exception being that the Mac mini comes with far fewer accessories, yet includes a FireWire 800 port.

The iMacs have dropped in price, essentially the 24 inch iMac is now $300 less than it was yesterday, for more screen real estate as well as more RAM.

The MacPros have undergone what I believe is the most significant change, which is the upgrade to the Xeon verion of the Nehalem microarchitecture. Nehalem uses QPI - QuickPath Interconnect, which means a dedicated memory controller for each processor. Prior to this, processors not only shared memory controllers, but the memory controller was a bottleneck before feeding information to the I/O controller. With Nehalem, each processor is connected directly to the memory controller and the I/O controller, resulting in an overall speed boost, which Intel claims is almost twice as fast as the previous version.

Apple also released new Airport Extreme and new Time Capsule products, adding support for 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz dual-band networking and a Guest Network feature.

This is the update that I hoped would happen at MacWorld; I am a bit puzzled as to why this was done all at once rather than trickled out week by week, product by product. My laptop which I bought 3 years ago is officially old, by the way -- when the modern Mac mini is faster than your 1st generation MacBook Pro... it might be time to get anew computer.