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Go Bag grab bag: SXSW survival sundries

 

Attending a multiple-day event that covers a lot of ground, like South By Southwest, makes your go bag even more indispensable. Whether you’re on your way to SXSW or already running around downtown Austin, you need to take extra precautions that your bag is properly stocked. All the basic rules apply (you’ll find those external batteries to be a godsend), but here are my recommendations for that 20 percent buffer in your go bag.

These simple sundries could help you survive SXSW: You’ll need some sort of food item in your bag for that moment you realize you’ve been panel hopping for 16 hours straight without a barbecue break. Both Pure Protein and Clif Builder’s have 20 grams of protein, which provides great slow-release energy and fewer empty calories. Builder’s is closer to candy; 20 grams of sugar to Pure’s 2g. It’s also bigger: 64g to 50g. For more fat, quicker energy and carbs, I go with Kind. Most other bars I’ve tried or looked at seems to be candy masquerading as health food, or inedible heath substances masquerading as food. I love having fruit available, but it bruises easily. The best portables are clementine oranges: They are small, seedless and can take plenty of punishment. They are also messy, so you’ll need … A MSR PackTowl. Cleaner, smaller, more environmentally friendly than tissues or paper towels. Could make you a hero in the event that a keyboard has an unfortunate meeting with a margarita. Launder it in your hotel sink and it’ll be dry by morning. Gum and/or mints. They help stave off hunger in the morning and keep people from recoiling from that taco you wolfed down after lunch. Packs of gum will weather any go bag abuse. I prefer rolls of Newman’s Wintergreen to mints in metal or plastic containers because the packaging disappears along with the contents. And you don’t rattle. A refillable water bottle. One of the smartest is the Clean Bottle, which unscrews top and bottom to make it easier to clean. I carry a Platypus collapsable because it’s flat and — like that roll of mints — takes up less space as you use the contents. Eating utensils. Plastic utensils are terrible, and a terrible waste. The placesetting-to-go market has gone from bulky camping item to slick accessory, like Sigg’s Folding Clip Cutlery Set, so there is plenty to choose from these days. My personal choice is a little eccentric: Snow Peak travel chopsticks. They are made with excellent materials and are beautifully designed, down to the squared-off top half which prevents them from rolling around. A collapsible bag for all the SWAG you’ll pick up. My choice is a MiniSax. It folds as small as my pack towel, opens to 8 x 9 inches and can carry more than 20 pounds. Comfortable shoes for when you have to hoof it back to the Convention Center from way across the river. Consider a pair of unisex Timberland Radler Trail Camps, which slip on and off quickly and zip up into virtual nothingness. For heel-wearers looking for a more stylish option, I’ve heard foldable flats work well. There’s an easy trick to carrying around extra outerwear — wear as much as you can, and carry as little as possible. Layer! The three-shirt rule — t-shirt, overshirt, outershirt —  keeps your bag emptier. Based on the last few Austin deluges, you might want to throw a foldable plastic poncho. My pick is the Sierra Designs Microlight, which packs up into it’s own sack. Don’t forget your paper business cards – they were all the rage at TED. They are still the coin of the business meet-up realm — a physical reminder of having encountered you that Bump cannot match. It’s a quick, easy way to communicate your information when the decibel level in the room is too high to hear. And, “Here’s my card, let’s connect after SXSW” is quite possibly the best way to conclude a dragging conversation and hop on over to the next party.

None of these items will add much to your burden, but any one might just save the day.

 

Photo credit: REUTERS/Adrees Latif 

Chromebook Pixel: A netbook to challenge the notebooks

Google unleashed a snarkfest when it introduced the Chromebook Pixel. The reaction was swift and mostly merciless. “Sorry, but there’s no defense for the Chromebook Pixel” claimed BGR. “Bizarre, pointless,”said Bruce Berls. The Wirecutter declared: “The Chromebook Pixel is not for you.” In one of the most positive receptions ZDNet’s Matt Baxter-Reynolds calls it “deliberately bad” — and then goes on to give three reasons why Google was smart to release something that was “entirely illogical and unsellable.”

So, naturally, I had to see for myself. After using it for four days, I’m not convinced this product is ready for mass adoption. That isn’t because the Chromebook Pixel is a joke, or a toy; it’s as solid a performer as any full-featured computer I’ve used. But it’s going to take a few generations to make this netbook a true contender in a notebook world. At $1,300 or more, this Pixel is clearly an early adopter’s plaything with a price point to prove it.

(more…)

By Nook or by crook

Barnes & Noble, the venerable book merchant whose history spans three centuries, is in the midst of a strategic identity crisis: how to admit defeat on its Nook platform while turning its last-bookstore-standing status into a de facto monopoly. Barnes & Noble did not spark the e-book revolution – now accounting for 22 percent of all book sales – nor has it proven particularly good at evolving it. So now it’s back to basics, which is to say, back to books.

The precise fiscal health of the company’s Nook Division ‑ e-readers and e-books ‑ is not public knowledge. But the company’s most recent results revealed that its total losses had increased from the previous year. This, as you might surmise, is not the desired trajectory for a business unit that Microsoft asserted was worth $1.7 billion a mere 10 months ago (when Microsoft invested $300 million for a 17.6 percent stake). Only three months ago, Pearson reaffirmed that estimate when it took a 5 percent stake for $89.5 million.

Now the New York Times reports that a person familiar with the company’s strategy says disappointing holiday sales in particular “caused executives to realize the company must move away from its program to engineer and build its own devices and focus more on licensing its content to other device makers.”

Boxee CEO on the future of TV: Aereo, Cloud DVRs, Netflix and Apple TV, oh my.

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen recently sat down with me for a wide-ranging video interview on the state of television, and its future. His company just released a $99 device that uses the Amazon cloud to give its users an infinitely-sized DVR. If it takes off, the Boxee TV could fundamentally change the way cable customers consume content — and the way they pay for it. Users will also be able to watch their recordings from devices like the iPad. Can Boxee play nice with an industry it’s trying to disrupt? Ronen says yes. But between the Aereo lawsuit and the Apple TV rumor-mill, it’s a crowded, competitive landscape. So, can the company keep competing with the next generation of startups that have the television industry in their targets? Please watch, and find out:

Nielsen: the past, the present, but not the future of TV

This week, Nielsen announced that its viewership numbers will include the TV shows that get to the living room via Internet-connected TVs rather than through antennas or a cable/sat box. It’s a modest acknowledgement of the cord-trimming trend by which viewers are turning to non-traditional sources for “TV” such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

That’s good news, as far as it goes. But only a thimble’s worth. Nielsen, television’s quantifier of record, isn’t going nearly far enough to keep up with the times. Not accounting for rapidly evolving viewing habits and methods is a greater threat to the veracity of Nielsen’s numbers than age-old criticism of its method of computing them. 

Video consumption from Internet sources may still be just a blip – it’s at 4.2 percent now, though it’s growing rapidly. But consumption on devices that are not TV sets – tablets, smartphones, computers ‑ is also happening, with perhaps an even more rapid rate of growth. A recent study by The Diffusion Group (TDG) predicts that 10 percent of TV watching will be on tablets within four years. Nielsen itself reports that about 40 percent of Americans use a tablet or smartphone as a second screen, while watching TV, at least once a day ‑ and 80 percent at least once a month.

Go Bag grab bag: Analog accessories

Go Bag LogoBeing a successful road warrior isn’t just about electronics. There are a host of small items that aren’t flashy, but make mobile life easier. Here are a few useful things to help you can get more work done while on the go.
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Winter presents a unique challenge. When it’s cold outside you have to risk frostbite or wear special gloves to operate your smartphone and tablet, whose multi-touch screens respond only to your fingertips and materials that mimic them. I’ve tried a few different gloves, and the pair in my go bag is a recent acquisition: North Face e-tips.

These gloves work seamlessly with touchscreens; I type as well (or poorly) as I do without them. They are cinched at the cuff and long enough to stay tucked under a coat sleeve. The small rubberized dots on the palm and three fingers make it easier to keep a firm grip on your electronics (and good for driving). They keep my hands warm in the bitter cold.

I would recommend going down a size, as I did, so that they are skin tight. This allows for better accuracy and makes them akin to glove liners; you can wear a heavier pair of winter gloves over them during the coldest treks and still be protected as you tap away.

Apple 11″ Macbook Air: No compromise

For years I’ve used a 13″ MacBook Air as my primary computer. Before that, a 15″ MacBook Pro. Before that, larger, heavier WinTel machines. It’s a truism that tech tends to shrink and become ever more powerful, an extrapolation of the famous 1965 prediction by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore that chip performance would double every couple of years. But because I can do so many things now with a smartphone or tablet that only used to be possible with a “real” computer, the threshold question comes down to this: What is the least laptop I can get by with, no regrets?

By “least” I don’t mean going as cheap as I can, or foregoing features that I need. I do mean taking stock of what I actually need, or could use. Most of us probably live by an inflated notion of “must-have”; the new $250 Samsung Chromebook that I reviewed is the prototype for this idea of a stripped-down, bare essential machine, but it still lacks necessary utilities.

To find the sweet spot, you need to use a full-service machine, and the MacBook Air makes a strong case that it is worth the 4-5x premium over the Chromebook. (more…)

Inkling takes aim at Amazon

Inkling, the three-year-old start-up that transforms bulky textbooks into an interactive experience for the iPad and other tablet devices, launched on Tuesday an ambitious new publishing and search platform aimed for non-fiction content such as books on wine and cooking or ones that covers topics like pregnancy.

Inkling is taking on the big cheeses of distribution by making  content produced on the Inkling platform easier to search through Google. So the titles or chapters or just a page of a relevant book will pop up when someone is seeking a specific topic.

“The problem is people don’t start to search on Amazon,” said Matt MacInnis, founder and CEO of Inkling.  “They start on Google and end up on Amazon.”

from Paul Smalera:

In Amazon, Wall Street worships a disruptive god

Why does Amazon please Wall Street so much? The company treats shareholders with a disregard that borders on contempt. (CEO Jeff Bezos is "willing to be misunderstood" which means he really doesn't care if investors understand the business, as we'll see.) Yet when it announced that profits last quarter fell 45% year-over-year, the stock price saw a healthy bump. Meanwhile, many tech companies, like Apple, which had a high-profit, high-margin quarter, found their stocks punished. Perhaps this is a sign that Wall Street is finally embracing the idea that, for tech companies, growth comes first, even at the expense of profit.

If that’s what’s going on then the Street has started to adopt the ethos of the Valley, specifically of one its most prominent sages: Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen. The godfather of disruptive innovation, Christensen is often quoted chapter and verse by technology company founders and venture capitalists alike. Christensen studies how established, high-flying technology companies like Amazon and Apple conduct business, to determine if they are ripe for attack from low-margin, startup competitors. His thinking can help shed light on why the market loves Amazon, which is, after all, a barely profitable conglomerate of loosely related businesses that is growing at a bonkers rate. But basically, his theories all comes down to profit margins, and how companies spend their money.

Amazon’s razor-thin margins -- just 1.9% for all of 2012 -- are, according to Christensen’s theories (and some other Amazon watchers), the company’s key weapon defense against disruptive competition. Not just in defending itself from whatever competitors exist today, but also from competitors that might exist tomorrow. Christensen writes in his seminal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, that disruptive companies generally start at the low-end of the market, serving customers with cheap, low-margin products that established companies have neglected, in their endless quest to move upmarket, increase profit margins, and please investors.

BlackBerry Z10: The empire strikes back

There’s a lot to like about BlackBerry’s new Z10 smartphone, which makes its serious shortcomings all the more disappointing.

BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion, has clearly paid very close attention to how other smartphone makers have thrived over the past few years as it floundered. It has spent two long years preparing for this bet-the-farm moment — and is so desperate for the new traction that could come from a fresh start that it pre-announced a phone it cannot sell in the United States until March.

First, the good news: In look and feel this is a mature smartphone. It is both businesslike and fun to use and easy to imagine as the choice for road warriors and consumers alike. It is sleek and light; it fills the hand properly and can convincingly be operated with one hand most of the time. At 4.2 inches the screen is larger than the iPhone 5 but smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S III. Resolution is greater than on both: 1,280 x 768, matching HTC’s Windows 8X and One X.