SF Giants bring new tech out to the ballpark

SAN FRANCISCO--Could changing phone systems pay a big-league baseball player's salary? To hear Bill Schlough, the CIO of the San Francisco Giants tell it, the answer is a definite yes.

Last winter, the team migrated to a new $1 million-plus VoIP telecommunications system from ShoreTel for its ballpark, AT&T Park, abandoning its legacy system, which--ironically--was provided by AT&T. According to Schlough, the old system cost $490,000 annually, while the new setup for the 457 phones at the ballpark run the team just $135,000 a year.

Given that the minimum salary for Major League … Read more

Making an Internet list, and checking it twice

NICE, Calif.--Over the last few days, I spent hours with my wife's parents, Tyler and Donna, helping them adapt to the first Internet connection they've ever had. For them, living on top of a mountain at 4,000 feet, in the middle of a national forest, and entirely off the grid--this has been a big step.

For my wife and I, it's also been a big project, at least in terms of teaching them the basics, and helping them get ready to learn on their own. While their Internet proficiency is still low, they are learning … Read more

Big progress for off-the-grid Net-newbie in-laws

NICE, Calif.--As a San Francisco-based Internet junkie, I can't count the number of times I've been in groups with almost as many wirelessly connected Mac laptops as people.

So the scene in front of me shouldn't be new: four people, three connected Mac laptops.

But there's something completely novel going on: I'm visiting my in-laws at their off-the-grid, mountaintop house in Northern California, about four hours northeast of San Francisco. And I can say with absolute certainty that this is the first time such a scene has played out here.

How do I know? Because it's been less than two weeks since my in-laws, Tyler and Donna, had Internet installed on their property for the first time--in their case, the only available option was satellite--and it's been just hours since I personally set up their wireless network. In other words, Wi-Fi is a newly arrived house guest, and judging by the concentration on their faces, the occasional smiles, and the superlatives coming from their lips, it's a very welcome one.

For years, my wife and I had been trying to get her parents to cotton to the idea that their lives, at 4,000 feet, surrounded by national forest and steeped in the necessities of growing most of their own food, could be improved by getting online. But they'd gotten by just fine, thank you, for more than 30 years, without even a television.

Now, suddenly, there is a Wi-Fi network set up in their house, and I could see my in-laws' lives changing before my eyes.

For example, Tyler said excitedly to me one morning during my visit that he'd figured out how to use e-mail and the Web to do many of the things that used to require him to stop at the post office and get stamps.

"That's the end of snail mail for me," Tyler told me. And, he added, no more catalogs would be cramming their P.O. box.


Working so much better now My wife and I had conveniently--and coincidentally--managed to time our last visit to the mountain with the HughesNet satellite installation. But as I wrote previously, those first baby steps didn't go so well.

Thanks to glacially slow initial download speeds, the unexpected realities of a 200MB daily download limit, and the necessity of loading countless Windows updates onto their 2-year-old, Internet-chaste PC, we had retreated the mountain almost embarrassed by how badly it had gone.

So, I set out to make it all better by bringing them a refurbished MacBook, pre-configured at home with everything they'd need for a happy Internet life. I even unhooked my home Wi-Fi network and donated it to the cause. … Read more

Can a Mac make me a hero to my in-laws?

Could a Mac be what it takes to get my in-laws to love the Internet?

Last week, I had the very rare opportunity to help get my in-laws, who live off-the-grid at 4,000 feet in the middle of a national forest, online for the first time and, my wife and I hoped, to instantly end more than 30 years of their being cut off from media innovations.

As I wrote afterward though, their initial experience was quite a bit less than stellar, mainly due to the vagaries of navigating what seem like fairly restrictive download threshold policies implemented by … Read more

AT&T drops the ball on iPhone service at SXSW

Update at 10:20 p.m. PDT, Sunday, March 15: Silicon Alley Insider is reporting that AT&T will add wireless capacity in downtown Austin to deal with the "unprecedented" demand.

AUSTIN, Texas--If there's one thing that's been made clear after two full days of the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference here, it's that AT&T clearly didn't get its network up to speed for the throngs toting iPhones around.

You could hear it being talked about everywhere: it was nearly impossible to call anyone inside the Austin Convention Center because the … Read more

Forrester study: Got game? Not in a recession

Internet and mobile services are expected to score against handheld video game players and satellite radio amid an economic recession, according to results from a Forrester Research survey released Monday.

According to the results, 51 percent of North America consumers surveyed said they planned to curtail technology spending in the coming year, due to the economy. And areas expected to take the greatest hit include handheld video game players, followed by satellite radio, smart phones, video game consoles, and portable GPS devices.

The report noted:

While no device is immune from consumer spending cuts, new devices such as satellite radios … Read more

Nintendo: More Wiis available for holidays

Updated at 10:42 a.m. PDT with new information from the rest of the Nintendo press event.

SAN FRANCISCO--Nintendo on Thursday said it expects to ship a much higher number of Wii video game consoles to retailers this holiday season than it did last year.

At its annual fall media event here, the Japanese company's North American president, Reggie Fils-Aime, told the gathered media that the company intends to try to address the well-documented shortages of the Wii that occurred during the 2007 holiday season.

He didn't say exactly how many Wiis had been available last year, nor how many more would be making their way into consumers' hands this time around. And he didn't even commit to being able to satisfy all demand this year.

"Will there be enough (Wiis) to meet demand?" Fils-Aime said. "Talk to me in January."

Still, it's important for the company to at least try to address the shortages that resulted in long lines at retailers that happened to have a few Wiis available.

But Fils-Aime added that the company is in uncharted territory with the Wii, and he suggested that the company doesn't have the ability to judge exactly how many units would be required to satisfy all consumers this holiday season.

He did say, however, that Nintendo expects to increase supplies of the Wii by about 50 percent in the fourth quarter of this year.

Asked how much more demand there had been for the Wii during last year's holiday season than available units, he said there was no way to quantify that.

"All we know," Fils-Aime told me, "is that as soon as units were available at retailers, they were gone in seconds."

Fils-Aime opened his remarks by unveiling Nintendo's new DS-i handheld console. However, because Nintendo also had a media event in Japan last night, that news had already made its way around the world.

He said the DS-i will not be available in North America until well into 2009 because there is still strong demand here for the existing DS Lite. He explained that the DS Lite is still selling better here than any device ever has and that there is still a large amount of penetration to be had.

In fact, he said that while one in every two Japanese households already has a DS or DS Lite, that number is just one in five in North America. Nintendo said it won't release the DS-i, which is expected to cost the equivalent of $180 in Japan, in North America until that penetration rate is higher.

Whether there are warehouses full of DS Lites that still need to be sold is not clear, and Nintendo isn't saying what its specific game plan is regarding the North American transition from DS Lite to DS-i. … Read more

An open-source approach to tracking stolen laptops

SEATTLE--Imagine your laptop is stolen.

Set aside for a second the likelihood that if it was you wouldn't be able to read this story and think instead about how you might go about tracking it down.

There are existing services, such as LoJack, that are designed to help find purloined laptops by identifying the IP addresses where they are subsequently used and through other assorted methods.

But according to a team of computer scientists at the University of Washington, the price you pay for utilizing such services is a loss of privacy--as well as a reliance on a corporate third party to take care of you.

That's why the team has come up with its own alternative, which it is calling Adeona, the name for the Roman goddess of safe returns.

The idea behind Adeona, according to Tadayoshi Kohno and Gabriel Maganis, who gave a talk about the project at the Gnomedex conference here Saturday, is to give people a method for safeguarding their laptops that relies neither on proprietary commercial software nor the centralized servers of the companies that provide such software.

Adeona, they said, is the world's first free, open-source laptop-tracking system, and one that can be installed by users themselves, and which doesn't require a corporate intermediary.

The team is also developing a version of its software for iPhones, though it isn't ready for public use yet.

To Kohno, the danger associated with commercial laptop-tracking services is that it's never possible to know for sure that someone at a company that makes such software wouldn't exploit the company's possession of your personal information--and access to what's on your laptop--for personal gain. Or, he said, that information could be subpoenaed in court cases. … Read more

When will the next next-generation of game consoles arrive?

Video game console makers have tended to operate on approximately five-year cycles. That is, the manufacturers generally wait about five years between new consoles, give or take a year.

For example, Sony's PlayStation 2 was released in 2000 and its PlayStation 3 in 2006. Microsoft's original Xbox came out in 2001 and its Xbox 360 in 2005. And Nintendo's GameCube first launched in 2001, and its Wii hit store shelves in 2006.

But with the release of the so-called next generation of consoles--with the 2005 release of the Xbox 360 and the 2006 release of the Wii … Read more

How to survive the next-gen confab

There's no fighting it. Conference 2.0, as some have called it, is here to stay.

The term refers to tech confabs where audiences communicate about what they're witnessing via a vibrant backchannel on Twitter, blogs, IM, and other forms of live media.

But while this new form of conference interactivity--where audiences are using the online tools to demand to be heard--may best be known for ugly scenes at South by Southwest this year or at Gnomedex last year, there's no reason participants can't turn the emergence of this backchannel into something positive for everyone.

If … Read more