Xbox 360

Fortune writes:

Despite a relatively steep pricetag of $400 for the complete hardware package, an initially sparse selection of new games at a typical hit of $50 each, requirement of a broadband Internet connection, and online fees that can be as much as $8 a month, we expect the Xbox 360 to be the techie toy of choice for gamers this holiday season.

The $400 Xbox 360 “premium” bundle includes the completely redesigned game console; a wireless controller; cables for attaching the Xbox 360 to a TV set; a removable 20GB hard disk; a headset; customized face plates; a monster-size AC power adapter; and a free pass for a basic subscription to Xbox Live, the online gaming network that is rapidly setting Xbox apart from its main rival and the market leader, the Sony PlayStation 2.

To recoup its investment$4 billion is a big ante even for a company with $40 billion in cashMicrosoft has to sell its Xbox 360 as not just a hard-core gaming machine for testosterone-addled men 18 to 34 years old but also as a family entertainment and communications center for boomers, soccer moms, and casual gamers.

Snocap

The New York Times writes about Shawn Fanning (ex-Napster):

His new company, called Snocap, has produced software that can enable music services to fulfill the original promise of Napster – a community of dedicated fans exchanging a wide selection of music – while monitoring the file-trading for copyrighted works. The new Grokster will still use peer-to-peer technology, which lets users download songs directly to one another’s computers. But when a user tries to get a copyrighted file, Snocap can block the download or force the user to pay for it, depending on what the artist and label want.

IF Snocap catches on – still a very big “if” because only one file-sharing service has signed up to use the software – it will vindicate Mr. Fanning’s passionately held belief that if Napster had been allowed to live, it would have become a legitimate and profitable sales outlet for artists and music companies. After the original Napster closed, the name was sold to a new company that sells licensed music under paid subscriptions and does not use peer-to-peer technology.

“Nobody has ever built a reliable peer-to-peer service, where people can really access all the music they want in one location,” Mr. Fanning said. “Once I got it into my head, I couldn’t imagine the media space without one.”

Laptops for Children

David Kirkpatrick asks: “Nick Negroponte wants to give $100 laptops to poor kids around the globe. It’s a noble goal, but is it feasible?”

Negroponte’s team is seeking not only a technological breakthrough but also a teaching breakthrough. They believe that illiterate kids can, with a little instruction, learn to use computers on their own and then use the laptops to teach themselves to read. After that comes math, historyyou name it. Alan Kay, a Xerox Parc veteran, is working with MIT mathematician and educational theorist Seymour Papert to build software that “watches” each student and makes suggestions. Papert’s “constructionist learning” approach encourages children to reach conclusions through trial and error.

The impediments, needless to say, are numerous and daunting. “Most schools in the developing world don’t even have textbooks,” says Allen Hammond of the World Resources Institute. “How the heck are they going to pay for Internet access?” Even Hector Ruiz, CEO of AMD, which gave $2 million to OLPC, says success will require “developing larger ecosystems around … tech support, application development, training, and business models for the Internet service providers.” Those elements aren’t close to being in place, and Ruiz thinks the laptop’s price won’t drop to $100 for two to three years. Yet even skeptics are loath to pooh-pooh Negroponte’s activism: “If he can pull it off,” Hammond says, “my hat’s off to him.”

Cingular’s Live Ticker

Investor’s Business Daily writes about a new service:

The Live Ticker feature is seen as the latest incarnation of push technology, which was developed by PointCast in the 1990s for desktop computers. Though PointCast’s technology fell out of favor, the idea could work well on cell phones, analysts say.

“Live Ticker fits in well with how people use mobile phones,” said Mark Donovan, analyst at research firm M-Metrics. “The PointCast-type model makes a lot more sense on a mobile phone than it does on a (desktop) computer.”

Cingular’s goal: getting more of its 52 million wireless subscribers to access the Web via their phones.

Blodget on What Microsoft Should Do

Henry Blodget writes:

1) Merge MSN with AOL in the complex transaction described below. Do NOT enter into a “partnership” with Time Warner.

2) Eliminate duplication: development teams, VOIP efforts, content platforms, network operation centers, bandwidth deals, sales forces, call centers, etc.

3) Spin the combined entity off as a separately traded public company, with Microsoft and Time Warner together owning about 70%-80% (but neither having a controlling interest) and the public and other strategic partners owning the rest.

4) Cut broadband distribution deals with cable companies, telecom companies, and wireless companies.

5) Combine the portal infrastructures of AOL and MSN and gradually migrate toward a single brand in each geography in which one is weak.

TECH TALK: Good Books: Big Bang

The last two book recommendations in this series are quite different. The first is the story of how our universe came to be. Simon Singhs Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe. Here is what the Publishers Weekly has to say (in a review on Amazons site):

It was cosmologist Fred Hoyle who coined the term “big bang” to describe the notion that the universe exploded out of nothing to kick-start space and time. Ironically, Hoyle himself espoused the steady state theory, positing that the universe is eternal and never really changes. Former BBC producer and science writer Singh (Fermat’s Enigma) recounts in his inimitable down-to-earth style how the big bang theory triumphed. Readers will find here one of the best explanations available of how Cepheid stars are used to estimate the distance of other galaxies. Singh highlights some of the lesser-known figures in the development of the big bang theory, like Henrietta Leavitt, a volunteer “computer” at the Harvard College Observatory who in 1912 discovered how Cepheid stars can be used to measure galactic distances. Singh shows how the creation of the heavier elements was a major stumbling block to widespread adoption of the big bang until Hoyle (once again boosting the theory that he so fervently opposed) proved that they were created in stars’ nuclear furnaces and strewn throughout the universe via supernova explosions. Readers who don’t need a review of the early development of cosmology may wish that Singh had adopted a somewhat less leisurely pace. But his introductory chapters hold a lot of worthwhile material, clearly presented for the science buff and lay reader. There’s no better account of the big bang theory than this.

On his personal website, Simon Singh writes: I decided to write a book about the Big Bang theory of the universe because it is one of the pinnacles of human achievement. I wanted people to understand the theory and to appreciate why cosmologists are confident that it is an accurate description of the origin and history of the universe. The book is essentially the story of the Big Bang theory. Like any good tale, the discovery and proof of the Big Bang theory has more than its fair share of curious incidents and peculiar characters. The stage was set for a major battle between the two camps Bang Bang versus Steady State. It would take the rest of the twentieth century to resolve the conflict, with both sides desperately searching for evidence to shore up their own theory and crush the opposition. The battle for cosmic truth would involve politics, religion, bitter disputes, nuclear physics, satellites, telescopes, a supposed echo from the Big Bang, and remarkable serendipity, resulting in one of the greatest adventures in the history of science.

Many of us are broadly aware of the Big Bang. Simon Singh takes us into a fascinating journey through the theory and the people who put it to together. ReviewsOfBooks quotes Scientific American: Singh spins out the drama with verve and wit. We meet scientists who are shy and retiring and others with a flair for contention, epic discoveries made serendipitously and beautiful theories shot down by intractable facts, a pooch named Kepler and a persistent pigeon that made its home in the Bell Labs telescope. This is a perfect book for anyone who wants to know what science is all about.”

Tomorrow: Raising Alex

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