Category Archives: Design

Disney Pixar CARS: Disney California Adventures CARS Parade

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Thanks “CollectorMom/Monica” for the great pics of the new Pixar parade.

Thanks – now back to Mickey funnel cakes!

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Filed under Advertising, CARS, Design, Disney Pixar, Film, Marketing, Toys, Travel, TV

Pixar’s Brad Bird on Fostering Workplace Innovation

Gigaom sums up a McKinsey Quarterly feature on Brad Bird’s management style & thoughts at Pixar.

Steve Jobs hired him, says Bird, because after three successes (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2) he was worried Pixar might struggle to stay innovative. Jobs told him: “The only thing we’re afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out,”“…We want you to come shake things up.” Bird explains to McKinsey how he did it — and why, for “imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.”

The summary is available at GigaOM.

If you prefer to read the original article with interactive features, follow this McKinsey Quarter link – registration required (free).

For fans of Pixar, there is a great documentary airing on Starz this month, THE PIXAR STORY.

The producer of the film also worked on this official book published a year ago, “To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios.”

There is also a new book I just bought but haven’t read yet, “The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company.”

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Filed under Apple, Computing, Design, Disney Pixar, Film, Financial, Marketing, Media, Retail, TV

Mac’s: 66% Market Share – Facts Not Spin

It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. NPD’s report that Apple Mac’s market share of $1,000+ personal computer is 66% is not really subject to interpretation – except apparently for the last dying gasp of PC fans.

Here’s how this works.

Of the people who had and were willing to spend $1,000 on a personal computer, 66% looked, shopped and choose a Mac. It’s as simply as that.

You can dig further down but extrapolate that generally, the more well-heed your customers are, the better off you are (as a seller) – whether you’re selling cars, refrigerators or computers. For the company selling products, it generally means you have higher margins or better yet, have created a brand of higher value.

In other words, the market share of Windows OS personal computers in the $1,000+ group has slipped from 98% to 34% in 7 years. That is not a good trend.

Why is that? Part of the reason is that Microsoft has poisoned its own name. They traded short term profits (1992 to 2002) for long term branding. By neglecting Windows and placing their NAME large & square in FRONT of every virus report, every global trojan and the poor customer choice of blaming the hardware manufacturer who then blamed Microsoft for the user woes – what are they left with?

A brand that is perceived as a commodity that’s just built in – it’s the OS assigned to you at work much like the OS on the fax machine or the copier. It’s just there. Now, in the beginning of the desktop technology age (1985 to 1995), Microsoft’s brand held esteem as the leading edge of technology and why not buy the brand I’m using at work, right? Why not get my opportunity to own the leading edge also? But Microsoft frittered that away through arrogance, later neglect and now apparently cluelessness – what does the name Microsoft now mean to the average personal computing consumer?

It is the OS you get when you buy a $499 computer. It’s useable, it’s passable but that’s all it’s worth. How can we tell? What percentage of PC users paid for the full Vista upgrade? Versus what percentage of Mac users paid for the full retail upgrade?

And of course, now this stat. Which basically can be summed up as such: If I have or am willing to spend more than $1,000 on a personal computer, I’m 66% more likely to buy a Mac. That’s what the numbers say in black & white. Not many ways to spin it.

Whether you think Macs are over-priced does not matter in this equation because there are literally thousands of PC’s choices that are readily available – it’s not as though there is limited competition in the $1,000+ PC category – the bottom line is those can afford or are willing to spend more than $1,000 on a computer will 2 to 1 buy a Mac now after considering a PC.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with selling to the masses at the low end – there is certainly money to be made, the audience is large – the margins are much lower but it’s a living.

But PC fans & MS still think it’s 1995 – it’s not for Microsoft’s real reality. Face the facts, they are simply the low priced OS of “choice” for those who don’t wish to spend $1,000 on a personal computer. Microsoft should stop having pretensions otherwise, that is the problem. Somehow, because Bill Gates is worth $50 BILLION dollars, that means his company brand should carry high esteem and brand worth but it’s exactly like Wal-Mart. There are dozens of Wal-Mart billionaires also and like WM, the store – they are profitable but everytime WM tries to go upscale or even slightly upmarket, they get pushed back to their new natural order (with WM, it’s the George apparel line).

It is exactly the same with Microsoft now. They occupy the low tier of brand value for consumers now – hence why MSN, the ISP could not defeat AOL (after MS spent $4 BILLION dollars!), why WIN mobile phones sell so poorly after 8 years in the marketplace, nor could they “revolutionalize” the watch industry … not the home networking industry and why after 18 months, they have “shipped/sold” as many Zunes that Apple sells in 1 WEEK.

When given a CHOICE, consumers do not choose Microsoft unless price is the sole factor.

This is also why MSN Search is such a colossal failure – even when FREE and a switch is 2-seconds away, MSN or LIVE Search is still such a failure and LOSING market share after plowing $6 bilion in R&D & marketing.

Consumers didn’t randomly arrive at their mistrust and assignment of MS products and technology to the low tier/price as the sole factor in decision making – this is a hard fought battle of amazing neglect on Microsoft’s part. From blithely ignoring and blaming users for viruses and trojans, their solution after 6 YEARS and hundreds of millions of infections? – send us $100 for virus patches … to the case of the Xbox 360, instead of building consumer goodwill by actively acknowledging build & over-heating issues, again, their solution is to try and ignore the problem – again, poisoning their own well for a short term gain … triumphing 10-million console sales but not accounting for the 10-30% returned and non functional units … and after a year, they have lost 30% of the market to the Wii and slipping behind sales of the PS3 – the pattern repeats itself. They still have a fan base but beyond that?

This is a company that has literally and figuratively failed in EVERY consumer venture since 1995. The company has been propped up by enterprise sales so unlike most companies that can spend some $50 BILLION over the past ten years on divisions that has accounted for ZERO profit, they just keep plugging along as if showing up and saying we’re #1 is enough for everyone to fold up and go home. It doesn’t work that way in the consumer market. Microsoft should do two things – a) either just concentrate on the enterprise market or b) acknowledge that they are a lowly consumer brand and accept that fact and just sell on pricing. They have spent too long on poisoning their own name for anything loftier and even if you want to go upscale and upmarket – their recent attempts are just as feeble and ill-conceived such as the Zune or Vista – both positioned as if they’re cool and better than anyone else. They simply aren’t because it’s from Microsoft – a brand that consumers mistrust and associated with poor working technology. It can be fixed but first they have to get off their arrogant horse and realize they are riding an ass and not a horse – no one is fooled.

Buying Yahoo and/or causing further complications (such as requiring users to have a LIVE name to access anything) is only going to further sink their cause.

They are rapidly losing the highest margin customers to Apple. Those with more than $1,000 to spend on a computer are buying Macs 2 to 1.

We know in all computer sales, while PC sales have slowed to a few % points growth, Apple is galloping at 35% – of course, Apple is starting from a smaller base but growth is growth and apparently with each sale, Apple is obviously adding in revenue at $1k per machine while MS only adds $50 per machine in OEM Vista sales.

So, Microsoft is losing market share in the below $1,000 personal computer category – even to Linux in the below $500 category – and what is their response to forces pushing them in from all sides?

To buy Yahoo?

What happens if Google builds an internet desktop that doesn’t require Windows – knowing Google, it will be bundled for FREE with a $300 personal computer … leaving Microsoft with no high end margin sales (or very much diminished if Apple continues to add 35% growth every year) and Google gives away a free OS?

Windows 7 available in 3 years selling for $169 will resolve this?

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Filed under Advertising, Apple, Apple Mac, Computing, Design, Financial, Gadgets, Internet, Marketing, Media, Retail

Mattel Disney Pixar CARS: Motor Speedway Set Unboxing Photos + Yep, Dale Jr. is a Variant

Thanks to reader, “Steve” who seems to have one of the first official ones. Don’t ask me or him how he got it … just look at the pictures and be ready to get in/on the cyber-line on Tuesday.

The Box:

The Coke can is for height comparison, of course but as we proceed further, it’s evident you will need a cold one to finish and display this thing … by my eye, it’s like 8 Coke cans tall so clear off you Emmy and Best Camper Awards for this thing.

And now, we open:

The cardboard boxes inside only serve to support the box – nothing inside.

From Steve’s own words (with some UK English to American English),

“Anyway, it comes in a big cardboard box with Mattel logo an the usual purple banding, weighing in at 8.4 kg, which is about 18.5 lbs. (REVISED – CORRECTED).

The ends are sealed with standard packing tape. Inside the box are 2 boxes, some packaging and tissue paper.

The first box is the Speedway of the South box itself, as shown in the pictures above. It is sealed with circular tabs, but contains no cars, only 3 cardboard fillers to support it, and display plinth area.”

(Plinth is a cool word, no idea what it means so I left in there 🙂 )

The CARS come in a separate cardboard piece:

Again – Steve says, “The second box is a long, flattish cardboard box, sealed with packing tape, in which there are the cars themselves. They sit in 2 moulded plastic trays and are individually bagged. These bags are not sealed. There is also a packet of ties which can be used to secure the cars to the proper box.

In other words, it’s a kind of self assembly job.”

So, you can’t display it without cracking it open – so on your marks – OPEN!

Back of the box:

Steve also seems the mention the front clear plastic is heavier gauge clear plastic – not like the flimsy plastic covering the typical box sets which tend to sag after a while.

But that’s not all, Steve was thoughtful enough to give us a view of the DIFFERENT & VARIANT Dale Jr.

Yep, it’s all true.

For reference, here is the current Dale Jr.

All smiles and a happy go lucky guy.

New Dale Jr.? The I’m passing and I’m gonna spin you out Dale Jr. (ie: I’m sick and tired of hearing about LM, King & Chick!)

What is different? As far as I can tell:

It’s the No Stall/Nitroade body

He’s not smiling

Eyes different

The stylized JR logo on the back “trunk” is thicker and taller – almost touching the windshield.

There are 7-8 rivets on the “front” of the spoiler – the back of the spoiler looks the same.

Back “tail-lights” are now triangular in shape versus the rectangles before.

The red color might not be a Budweiser red (to avoid trademark issues) but another red now but that’s hard to say until I hold them side by side but that would be logical.

Anything else?

Well, here’s your one “exclusive” car – whether this becomes the new Dale Jr., we shall have to see.

BUYING THIS SET?

Normally, Mattel starts a countdown 12-4 days beforehand and we are already at 4 days so it seems unlikely we will get a countdown … Reader Matt brings up an interesting point about why we haven’t seen a countdown yet.

” …it seems really odd that there has not been a price release or countdown timer for this set despite the fact that they have confirmation that 5/20/08 is the day. Wondering if Mattel is trying to drum up more sales through their regular RL Club members who are anti-Cars. Have looked through some of the message boards on Hotwheels.com, and have seen estimates by their members that they think the price point is at $100.00, and most saying that they won’t even sniff if it is over that amount. I think they will be in for a big surprise…”

One reason for no-countdown is that it might annoy the regular HW/RL Club members who already cried about offering the Factory Set last year so Mattel might not want to wave a red flag in front of them – knowing full well that 99.8% of the buyers for this set have pretty much been ready the to buy the first rumors leaked out last fall.

So, apparently on Tuesday, the 20th, the flag will drop at 9 AM Pacific US time and the only countdown is when they sell out. And since the set is $250-$300, they don’t want you to think too hard by analyzing it logically over days or weeks – instead they just want you to go all Vegas and click away on Tuesday. The current info is 1,000 sets so good luck and may you be blessed with 50 MBps broadband.

So thanks Steve, enjoy and hope that everyone else who wants one will have a great Motor Speedway of the South Day May 20th.

Any other questions – presumably, they’ve been answered in the sneak peek post or our recent & older posts so good luck everyone!

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Filed under Advertising, collecting, Design, Film, Marketing, Mattel Disney Pixar CARS, Retail, Toys, TV

Review: Grand Theft Auto IV – Liberty Call

Sailors understand the phrase, “liberty call.” It means you are finally touching land and you have a few hours, a few days to spend all your money on souvenirs, salads and antiquing … at least that’s what it says on the official Navy website.

The Grand Theft Auto IV game is completely different. You get to be the you you want to be if you had no inhibitions or deal with that stupid law & order thing they keeping talking about … Unfortunately, I am stuck in Club Penguin and wonder if the grass is indeed …um, the kind of greener grass you mow …

So, JackDaddy spent just a few hours/days playing the game to let us know. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to worry about alloting time to find CARS in any retail stores (inside joke) so he can devote all his time to properly being a gangsta gangster in Liberty City … take it away JackDaddy … (a perfect character name by the way).
LIBERTY CITY – HAVE YOU BEEN THERE YET?

For those who don’t know and for those who think they don’t/shouldn’t care, April 29th was a big, big day for home entertainment.

At 1 minute past zero in the morning, retailers and onlinepurchasing systems around the planet went into overdrive.

After 2 years of hype, advertising and some text bookmarketing stops and starts, Rockstar North realised a life time ambition.

(MET: I realized the UK still hates the letter Z … “realized.” 🙂 )

I am of course referring to Grand Theft Auto 4 – Liberty City.

So what’s the big deal?

Grand Theft Auto 4 – Liberty City (GTA4) is estimated to have cost $100 million to produce, market and release, a fact alone worth taking notice of! Incredibly it is now officially the fastest and biggest selling home entertainment retail item of all time!

GTA4 sold approximately 3.6 million units on its opening day with a retail value of approximately $310 million globally.

It sold 6 million units globally with an estimated retail value of more than $500 million in the first week.

No VINYL, AUDIO CASSETTE, VIDEO CASSETTE, DVD, CD or GAME has ever sold anything like that before!

That’s the Beatles, Star Wars, Super Mario, and others, smashed off the charts!

The figures are still rising, with most retailers reporting that strong sales are continuing and some even running out of product!

Sony refuse to admit it, but retailers are also saying thatthey have sold more Playstation 3’s in this quarter than they did in the PS3 launch month quarter and if sales continue, possibly more than they did for Christmas! This would more than confirm the belief that most gamers have delayed their PS3purchase until the release of GTA4! Only Nintendo and Mario have sold a console like this before, but the figures were peanuts compared to this.

But that surely could just be a result of hype and clever advertising?

Is it really that special?

The simple answer is – ABSO ’BLOODY’ LUTELY!

I have essentially spent a whole week in Liberty City, so before I tell you all why, let me tell you what is wrong with it. I assure you all I will not give too much away.

Despite the release of Vice City stories on XBOX & PS2 afew years ago, GTA4 has essentially had to follow up what many describe as the greatest video game of all time, Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas. This was a revolutionary game and arguably was the main player game wise that helped to bridge the gap between geeks/teenagers and the adult market with free time at home. For those who played it, you will know what made it great. I have caned the life out of both GTA San Andreas and GTA4 in my spare time, but am somehow left fonder of GTA San Andreas in many ways.

(MET: I have no idea what the last sentence meant in American English but I believe he likes virtual macking, jacking and hoin’ … 🙂 of course, hey, who doesn’t?)

It is hard to say why, but I suppose it is probably has to be a combination of factors. GTA San Andreas was so innovative and groundbreaking at the time, every turn had a new never before in a video game surprise. The sheer exploratory side of the game was incredible. The humour was at times genius and missions (overall) were a joy. Playing it was like eating a slice of deprived 90s urban America, and getting the runs as a result, with references to all our favourite black gangsta movies, rappers and personalities from recent times. It was naughty, nostalgic and a massive virtual playing field where you could just do whatever you wanted without consequence. Customisation of your character and Car also made your copy of the game unique.

(MET: In Club Penguin, I planted a tulip on my ice floe).

GTA San Andreas was warm, a friend even!

So GTA4 isn’t then?

It’s an entirely different game, part of a new era!

The down side of this? In GTA4, you can’t………………

1 – Fly a plane.

2 – Gang fight like in San Andreas

(You could literally fill up a van with your homeys and go round to you enemies and take them out.)

3 – Parachute jump

4 – Jet pack around

5 – Play as many in game games like the casino/with characters/danceoffs

6 – Make money as easily

7 – Get a hair cut/tattoo

8 – Buy as many clothes

9 – Customise your Car

10 – Buy property

11 – Go into a nightclub

(even though one of the radio DJs is house music legend François K)

Due to the above, its ground breaking innovation and the fact that GTA San Andreas has such a brilliant story and setting, I will always be very fond of it, maybe more so than GTA4. GTA San Andreas had many, many flaws/glitches and bad points, having me throwing my controller across the room! Remember the ‘learn to fly Carl’ missions anyone? Oh my god!

Fondness is fondness, I am fond of ex girlfriends, but they are not better than others!

GTA4 is a darker, grittier experience. You can tell that the franchise has grown up a lot, and is taking its self much more seriously as mainstream medium. The silliness is gone, the next gen engines have been explored and it reeks of real life. It’s a virtual realm, but a believable one!

Rockstar are clearly saying – “hello adults, don’t watch that DVD, play this!”

So is GTA4 over rated then? NO!

If anything, recent reviews and exposure leave it looking somewhat under rated. This is probably deliberate; maybe because Rockstar know what they have got and are letting their consumers do the talking for them (look what I am doing?)

I have now completed it twice as a story and have nearly went through all the mini missions within the game. For those who do not know, that’s a hell of a lot of game play, basically everyday for long periods of time during the last two weeks

In total, the games main story mode contains 87 missions, some very brief, a few very long with most others around the 5 – 10 minutemark. In addition, the game also contains –

9 x Assassin missions

10 x drug run missions

40 x car steal missions

9 x races

50 x police car missions

36 x other random missions involving characters

200 pigeons to shoot (replacing the ridiculous clams from San Andreas)*

50 stunt jumps to perform.

(MET: *Yes, clams is correct – not a typo).

Its retail price? £44.99 or $29.99!

(MET: If you were paid in £’s and then flew to the US but here in the US, it’s $59.99 … and of course, ours is the NTSC version).

This is undoubtedly the bargain of gaming history. GTA4 contains the equivalent of at least 4 – 6 games if you consider the length andcontent of games already released and available for PS3 and XBOX360.

IT’S MASSIVE!

In fact, in my opinion, you would be getting value for money if you bought a PS3 and a copy of GTA4, just to be able to play GTA4. You would get a blue ray DVD player for free and an online compatible gaming console too?!

The game is just wild!

Rockstar have made the playing field more condensed, but San Andreas did have huge waste lands of space with nothing to do.

Liberty City doesn’t.

For those who don’t know, it’s based on New York.

You play an illegal immigrant and experience his struggles as he arrives off the boat from Eastern Europe and moves in with his cousin in Brooker.

(MET: Location: Liberty City, broken up into five areas: Brooklyn is Broker; Manhattan is Algonquin; Queens is Dukes; The Bronx is Bohan & New Jersey is Alderney)


The story mode prompts you from there and 87 missions later reaches conclusion.

There is an alternative ending scenario, but is not much different.

The graphics, architecture and physics are exciting, dazzling and true media innovation.

Detail has obviously figured to be paramount in planning and it is staggering just how much there is.

Simply driving around is breath taking, with every Car having different handling, acceleration, braking and cornering features. All the vehicles are beautiful, with well over 400 to drive/ride/fly/steer.

When Rockstar released the less popular but mildly superior videogame version of the 1970s classic gangland movie ‘The Warriors’ not long after GTA San Andreas a few years ago, it left players begging the question, “why can’t GTA be like this?” Rockstar seemed to have learnt from that and have almost injected the GTA franchise with the Warriors strengths, most noticeable when your character is running, jumping, fighting and climbing.

One of the focal points of GTA4 is its new cover and targeting system, this is essentially up there with the best of games now, where as San Andreas had terrible targeting and weapons accuracy, it was a poor part of the game and looked as though they had to do it rather than wanted to. GTA4 pulls this off perfectly, with all objects in game becoming usable ascover which you can duck up and down from or blind fire from while avoiding incoming bullets. The weapons are slightly limited, but are all awesome. Enemies are much more intelligent, they too will duck and cover and try to kill you more assertively, whereas in previous GTA instalments, they stood still and were easily avoided.

There is just so much you can do in this game, with shootouts, chases, races, and missions to make your eyes pop out in astonishment.

(MET: Penguins?)

My favourite level in story mode was the Bank Robbery. Without giving too much away, this is very much like the bank robbery scene from the film Heat with De Niro and Pacino. It took me 40 minutes to get through this level.

The Assassin missions were another joy. Merely answering the phone and then going to take people out was almost like a game all to itself.** There are hundreds of similar things to do like this, like vigilante mode or most wanted mode in a cop car. You can also just go for a drive and cause mayhem with whomever you choose. My Brother particularly finds joy in causing endless road blocks which he then explodes. I had fun while on top of abuilding merely phoning the cops and shooting them.

**(MET: remind me never to call JackDaddy 😉 )

YES, YOU CAN PHONE PEOPLE!

The biggest change from San Andreas is the Multimedia capability in GTA4.

You can use the in-game internet and your mobile phone, which becomes part of your progress success. You can also access the Police computers from any police vehicle and use their information to your gain.

While online, you can read blogs, email certain people, arrange dates and even send a job application! Virtual reality with a sick sense of humour!

Your phone is equipped with a camera; you can send/receive text messages and can phone certain characters. You can also phone random numbers dotted around the game, some of which are very amusing!

You can go out with friends/dates an do a variety of activities, like bowling, pool, darts, food etc.

The Music is excellent, with loads of different radio stations to listen to, some hosted by very some very famous people indeed.

The humour is there but it’s not as slapstick as San Andreas, which is a little sad, and there are lots of liberal agenda antiestablishment skits and references. GTA4 gives you a panoramic look at the not so different world of our own in your living room. It’s ironic, sarcastic, brutally honest and always down right vicious!

(MET: Welcome to Brooklyn!)



All in all it is an incredible gaming experience, and is the ultimate time killer.

There isn’t a two player option which is a little disappointing, but there is a 16 player online mode you can play via the network. My Brother and I happily exchanged the controller throughout missions and mini games though.

In closing, I would say that the franchise is gearing up for Expansion packs, maybe like the Sims, where every 6 – 12 months they release something new to accompany the game. This would be welcomed in Liberty City, where many of the buildings look empty and dormant, almost demanding to become involved. More clothing and activity outlets/venues would have been better; you can’t really customise your character that well or do a lot with in game characters. My Brother and I are salivating at the prospect of playing GTA San Andreas revisited!

Who knows?

One thing we all know or will know is that Rockstar Games have changed history as we know it with Grand Theft Auto 4 Liberty City.

If you haven’t already – BUY IT!

(PS3 & Xbox360)

Need a PS3 or XBox360?

BTW, there are five non-violent things you can do in GTA4 😉

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Filed under Advertising, Computing, Design, Film, Financial, Internet, Marketing, Media, mobile, Retail, TV, video, Video Games

Disney Pixar CARS: Petersen Museum Exhibit Opens (Update Pixar Artists Talk)

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The page is up and the exhibit is open at the LA Petersen Auto Museum, “The Art of CARS.

If anyone visits before we do, let us know what you think – write it and take some pictures!

Don’t forget to stop at Pink’s for a dog

The museum web page doesn’t contain much info than the press release they sent us and our original post.

The museum doesn’t even tell you to stop and visit the Mattel stores – only 40 minutes away (with no traffic … er, good luck with that). The El Segundo store is right by Mattel’s HQ. The link to the Mattel stores also offers a 10% off coupon. (If you land at l.AX, it’s right there so you can go there first).

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If you’re planning on visiting all the Mattel stores – before you get to the City of Industry store, swing by Langer’s for the best pastrami in LA (call in your order, not much parking by MacArthur Park). The other stores in Pomona and San Bernandino are only reachable in the sense that Alaska & Australia both are on the Pacific Ocean=

UPDATE:

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© Copyright Disney/Pixar

(PRESS RELEASE)

On Wednesday May 13, at 7:30pm, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles will present a gallery talk by Pixar’s artists behind the movie, CARS with Art Director Tia Kratter, Sketch Artist Jay Shuster, and Character Team Manager Jay Ward were some of the creative minds and hands behind Disney/Pixar’s 2006 animated feature film, Cars. Hear the insider stories about the making of the film from three artists on this special evening.

This public program is offered in conjunction with the Museum’s latest exhibit, “The Art of Cars” on view in the Hollywood Gallery.

Free with Museum general admission ($10 adults; $5 seniors & students; $3 children ages-5-12; free under 5). Reservations are recommended. Call 323-964-6347 or email to yray@petersen.org for more info or reservations.

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Filed under Advertising, collecting, Design, Film, Marketing, Mattel Disney Pixar CARS, Retail, Toys, TV

Microsoft to Open Retail Stores: Bullet Proof Glass Industry Rejoices!

Appropriately, a web site called Fudzilla is reporting that Microsoft is going to open retail stores.

It’s time for shareholders to weep a little more.

Everytime, Microsoft has a brainstormin’ meeting, it’s more money down the drain:

Let’s buy Yahoo! ($45 BILLION)

Let’s launch a DAP/MP3 Player! (3% marketshare) ($1 BILLION)

XBox – The Xbox division is @$16 BILLION in the hole after 8 years.

MSN – $1.1 BILLION in R&D & a marketing blitz is all we need to get MSN going ($700 million – 2002), 2005 & 2007).

MSN is down to 8.4% (Google at 70%). Nice use of $2 BILLION dollars. Most people lose 50% of their market share in 2 years by not spending any money on a product, only MS can spend $2 BILLION for the same result.

Let’s spend 6 years and $6 BILLION on creating Vista … and of course …
“Microsoft is planning to promote the launch with a $500 million marketing campaign”

The list goes on and on – why? The simple fact is that when consumers have a choice, they do not choose Microsoft. This isn’t some whim. Microsoft worked hard to destroy their credibility as the leading edge of technology from 1995. After that, they simply thought they had everyone else locked down and out and could just rest so they offered products such as OSes riddled with hundreds of thousands of different infections … or me-too products such as PDA’s, watches, Talking Barney’s, video consoles, MP3 player, home networking or MSN and both an ISP & as search … all failures in the sense that they offered nothing new and they are ALL are losing money or losing market share.

In fact, they have become the “dollar-store” of technology. They are only worth buying if it’s rock bottom $399 pricing – why PC makers margins are all falling because of association with MS OS … why bother paying for even a $999 machine when it’s just going to run as well/poorly as a $399 machine?

Hey, if the shareholders don’t care, why should we?

Now, another meeting and another “brilliant” idea without mentioning you-know-who in the meeting.

It is almost laughable how clueless they are.

It would be like the IRS opening retail stores. Come. Mingle. Hang out.

Though this is a good plan for the bullet proof glass industry. You know Microsoft, they’re not just going to open 1 store at a time, that’s no way to spend money fast, if the budget isn’t a $1 BILLION, why bother so I’m sure they’ll sign 20-year leases at 100 locations.

Photo Courtesy of Pacific Bulletproof.com (where I go for my bullet proofing 😉 )

“Sir, I can’t help you, it’s a hardware issue – reformat the drive and then come back … yes, this is bulletproof glass, why do you ask? Have a nice MSN/Live Day!”

So, how exactly are you going to find employees to staff this place?

Who here would like to stand at a desk and answer questions about why ME, 2000, NT, XP or Vista is not functioning correctly?

Who thinks there might just be a few slightly annoyed to raging Windows customers?

Will they be taking red-button-of-death XBox returns and softly announce they’ll get another in 4-6 weeks?

Will they answer why Microsft Plays4Sure WMA is not the same as Zune WMA?

Can they point us to where the Apple store is in the mall?

Microsoft doesn’t really get that consumers don’t really like them. They don’t seem to notice that when consumers have a choice, they don’t buy MS. The OS issue is a heated one but let’s look at some more neutral markets. Look at the home networking gear they tried to sell. While there are some known brands, there are plenty of detractors for #1 & #2 but MS couldn’t even crack that market – why? Because MS poisoned the brand name. The average consumer took a look and decided – NO MORE IN MY HOUSE, DO NOT WANT.

Or using MSN search. It’s 100% FREE and takes 2 seconds to type and bookmark but now down to 8% market share? What does that tell you? That either their search results are poor or that consumers don’t believe their ‘technology’ is any good – either way, bad, bad news for MS.

That is why their retail stores will be a miserable failure as branding because they rank somewhere near the IRS. How often will you step into an IRS store to hang out?

AND at the IRS store, you know if you complain too much, they’ll audit you but aren’t you just going to go into the MS to vent and unload?

Yea, good luck finding employees.

(on the corporate side, they’re doing fine, IT guys made a choice and now are stuck with MS so whatever but when you’re spending your own cash, MS – DO NOT WANT).

Yet again, it proves that they are clueless about their place in the consumer’s mindset.

MS will build a 100 retail palaces because they think they are the king … but MS is really like those local cable ads where the guy wears a crown selling the very ordinary at a huge markup.

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Review: Neuros OSD MP4 Video Recorder + the Mac

The Neuros OSD is a deceptively simple looking device.

osd-3lsideanglejpg.jpg

It is a recorder that will record ANYTHING as a QUICKTIME Mp4 video file …

That’s right, ANYTHING that has RCA outputs and or S-Video, the Neuros OSD can record.

Cable TV
Satellite TV
DVD
VCR
TiVo
DVR
Video Game Screens

Anything … and unlike some current solutions, your storage is only limited by the USB hard drive you’re willing to buy … and unlike most solutions that require a proprietary hard drive, any USB drive will do … if you’re not much of a TV saver or you want ultra portability, you can record also onto:

Memory Stick: Duo and Pro Duo
Compact Flash: Type I and Type II
Microdrives with CF type II interface
Secure Digital (SD)
Multi Media Card (MMC)
USB thumbdrives

The Neuros OSD can pretty handle ANY format you can throw at it.

It is in many aspects a dream device.

Sure, a TiVo or DVR has good capacity but there is a limit unless you hack it and of course if you want to transfer a file to a computer or a portable device like an iPhone/iPod or PSP, that requires getting around a proprietary format like .tivo and/or DRM and/or having to convert from one format to another … or of course you can output to a DVD-R but then you have all these DVD-R’s after which you still have to convert from VOB to MPEG-4 … and it’s hard to edit out commercials or simply to edit. You have to convert from VOB to MPEG-4, edit and then re-output …

Doable but more work than necessary.

The Neuros OSD saves you time. It’s MPEG-4, if you want to watch on your Mac, iPhone, iPod or PSP, just save it in the scale size it prefers (480 x 320, etc, etc …) or if you prefer just a QT MPEG-4 ready for editing from iMovie to FCP, it’s already done. Of course, you can also just watch it on your TV.

The Neuros OSD does not have a lot of video plugs/ports though.

(1) S-Video IN
(1) “Mini” to RCA IN
(1) “Mini” to RCA OUT

(Most people might know them as camcorder out cables (pre firewire/USB days) – one end is the “mini” connector and the other end are the three headed RCA plugs of yellow for video and red/white for audio).

218x206_442cables.jpg

(there are some other plugs/ports I’ll cover later that do not have to do with video)

The simplest setup would be your cable/satellite box out via s-video and RCA’s to the Neuros OSD and then the Mini from your Neuros to your TV input (RCA’s).

There is no s-video out, no composite and no HDMI (in or out).

So, yes, no HD.

There is another Mini plug for the IR Blaster (which actually works-hurray!).

There is also a mini to serial port but unfortunately, it’s only for developer debugging.

There is an ethernet port for the network and on the other side, there are memory/flash card ports and a USB port.

So again, the basic setup is pretty straightforward.

For the price of a Neuros OSD (@$180), and a USB hard drive (in my case – 1TB for @$250), you have a 1 TB MPEG-4 DVR for about $430. A price that is not possible to beat. You can find, cobble, hack or buy a hacked TiVo, PC-based DVR or a retail 1TB DVR’s but other than DIY kits, you’re not going to find one for $430 – especially one that can putput a MPEG-4 file literally within seconds of setup.

BUT, it’s not for everyone.

If you can identity a USB plug from a firewire plug or know where the black nub is on a S-Video connector receptor, then the Neuros OSD & setup will work fine for you but if you cannot, then you might reconsider as the software and setup portion as it’s not really ready for the average person.

osd-10remotejpg.jpg

If you understand the setup choices outlined above, then the Neuros MIGHT be for you. Again, if you can identify your composite in and outs, which are component in and outs and all the other ports by sight, you’re fine and/or if you don’t mind experimenting – then you’ve passed the first test and you may proceed to the next level.

THE SOFTWARE/UI

There are two parts. First, the on-screen “OS” is functional – though it could stand much improvement but it’s not the worst on-screen menu design.

And of course, the UI & OS are still very much a work in progress with apparently a major OS upgrade coming in a few weeks though it’s impossible to say what will be improved and what will not.

Like most Linux based OSes, there are some aspects of this OS with a thousand choices (well, okay not 1,000 🙂 but taking up a huge chunk of real estate) while other seemingly important choices are grouped with much lesser functions.

I’m not going to go into great detail as some might be fixed in the upcoming major firmware revision but suffice to say, you are warned that it’s not exactly like plugging a VCR – think more like a programmable remote. All the features are there, you just have to wade through its reasoning.

And yes, I uttered the phrase ‘firmware revision.’

The “Hidden” OS portion …

Which of course is good and bad. Good that it’s being upgraded all the time and not so good that you have to update the OS (but of course, only if you want). If you have it hooked up to the internet, it will ask you if you want to update if there’s an update.

For people who know Linux or commands, you are set, go out and buy the Neuros already. For those who are not, the TV functions are nice looking and for the most part function fine and you can’t really wander off the reservation into command line territory so don’t be scared by that but for those who know/love Linux, it’s an extra bonus … for instance, you can telnet and remotely set or change the record function. For those that do not understand the last sentence, the good thing is somebody might be kind enough to write a web browser accessible page in the future – so that everyone can remotely access their Neuros graphically … but no promises.

The Remote

The next part of the problem is that the setup is done entirely with the remote and frankly, the Neuros IR eye is not very sensitive to this and while this remote is seemingly designed for the Neuros OSD, it’s not very well designed for it. The important HOME button should be larger and well, it’s just not very well thought out from a user point of view – clearly they just took an average remote and crammed in the Neuros functions on it.

It’s not horrible, it’s just not as good as it can be.

Other User Notes

One huge major flaw is the inability to type titles with a keyboard. And there’s no qwerty keys on the remote … so you get random sequential file names – now, if you intend to port everything over to your Mac to edit or load onto an iPhone/iPod, it’s not a huge deal since you’re probably going to open the files anyway to trim the beginning and end but unlike TiVo or most DVR’s, there’s no thumbnail, preview or any indication what you recorded when you get to your text list of things you recorded. You have to hit play before you can see what it is. So, if you just want a massive DVR for TV viewing and you’re the type who hates to have to remember to type in a name while you’re setting the record function or go back and have to add it later – this is probably not the way to go as you’ll get frustrated both by trying to edit its name on screen and not knowing what your dozens to hundreds of shows actually are.

PICTURE QUALITY

Beyond its user functionality. Of course, the critical consideration is picture/video quality. It’s not HD but you can select 2500 kpbs which is the encoding rate for AppleTV and/or directly select a setting for your iPhone/iPod or PSP. The final image is a little soft but acceptable. Honestly, my opinion is its fine for viewing on a smaller TV or monitor and it’s fine for the iPod/iPhone/PSP but beyond that, that will be your call. Personally, I found it too soft for archival purposes unless you’re only interested in watching it on a portable device or on a laptop … it works fine for me as that’s all I’m interested in. If you want a back up of a DVD at its best resolution, I’d still advise using Handbrake as it creates a much crisper file. (Our HT and subsequent Handbrake, MPEG Streamclip & El Gato Turbo Stick tips & reviews). But if you find the quality acceptable, it is generally a quicker backup to hit PLAY on your DVD into the Neuros OSD than if ripped it via Handbrake unless you have a quad-core Mac Pro, then it might be close … and if you can spare the bandwidth, I would advice ripping it in Handbrake.

Here’s your checklist:

If you’re interested in a expandable PVR where you can literally record some 600 movies (on a 1 TB drive) and you don’t mind it a little softer than your typical cable reception … plus the advantage of no DRM to transfer to a portable device or to a desktop computer for editing, it’s a great way to go.

If you want to convert VCR files to MPEG-4, you pretty get what you see – so if you have a nicer VCR with s-video outs, it’s about a 98% video quality “preservation” transfer. Good enough for VHS.

If your goal is to back up your DVD collection, depending on picky you are, the resolution might be a tad too soft. It still looks very, very nice – it’s just not “virtually” a DVD picture resolution – again, if your intention is to watch it on an iPod/iPhone/PSP for your morning commute or on a plane, it’s fine. If you want to watch your DVD’s on your laptop without carrying discs or the dreaded 10-pre roll ads plus FBI warning, it’s pretty good. It’s probably not for watching Blade Runner for the first time on your laptop but if you’re watching it on a re-sized window, it should be fine.

Unlike Handbrake which will rip you a MPEG-4 file of your DVD that is virtually identical to the DVD – Neuros is not quite there. So, if your preference to watching video on a 17″ laptop monitor is full screen or death, you should still back up your DVD’s using Handbrake.

But it is subjective and you might think I’m being too picky.

INPUTS & OUT

The main problem is you only have one s-video in and no s-video or composite out which would improve the picture quality greatly.

Here are some screen shots that give you a decent idea of the resolution loss:

Here is a scene from the film CARS when it focuses on #86 Chick Hicks who has a lot of sponsors and detailed text on screen

I also selected CARS because in addition to my DVD rip, it is playing as an HD video-on-demand choice this month and of course, I still have my DVD.

The screensnaps below were opened in Photoshop only to resize to fit WordPress. No color adjustments were made. Also note, a screensnap of a paused QT video screen is not necessarily a 100% accurate representation of the true image but it’s a relatively accurate apples to apples comparison.

#1 is from a DVD – converted by Handbrake using the Apple TV setting.

(2500 kbps bit rate plus other settings automatically included when selecting ‘AppleTV’ in Handbrake)

You can not find much fault with the MPEG-4 file converted from a DVD VOB file.

#2 is from a DVD – as played by a Pioneer DVD player and into the Neuros OSD.

(2500 kbps bit rate plus other settings automatically included when selecting 2500 kpbs in Neuros OSD)

You can clearly see that it’s “pretty good” but not nearly as sharp as a DVD rip.

#3 is from Cable TV – Comcast HD VOD into the Neuros OSD.

(2500 kbps bit rate plus other settings automatically included when selecting 2500 kpbs in Neuros OSD). Though note, since the Neuros OSD only has S-video in’s, of course, it’s not TRUE HD being recorded but it is still much higher resolution and less compression than regular cable.

You can clearly see that it’s slightly different from DVD to Neuros OSD but about the same resolution – again, “pretty good” but not nearly as sharp as a straight DVD rip.

Again, how many films are going to require you to read text throughout?, this scene is about 2 seconds long. And keep in mind, that you can pretty much read all the logos you can can in scenario #1 so again, it’s a matter of your standards and your final viewing hardware choice.

Is the Neuros OSD the best solution for archiving DVD’s? No.

Is the Neuros OSD good enough for using as a TiVo/PVR to record and erase after watching? Yes.

Is the Neuros OSD good enough to transfer over to a portable device? Yes.

Is the Neuros OSD good enough to transfer over to a laptop or desktop? Yes.

For the three yes’ above, are you compromising – yes but it’s hard to beat for a $170 PVR that can record anywhere from 60 to 600 movies by adding a HDD ($100 – $300) for an out-the-door price of $270 to $500.

And you get a file to edit.

If you want the easiest way to get a video file for editing, again, hard to beat something that can record in MPEG-4 – ANYTHING you can output via RCA’s.

You can simply unplug your hard drive and connect it to your Mac.

You can set up the networking feature, mount it as a remote drive and copy files over.

Then just drag or import into iMovie, Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro.

Then you can ‘sharpen’ the resolution before outputting.

It’s not “broadcast” quality but it’s fine for the iPhone/iPod and watching on a laptop as long as full screen 17″ HD is not your minimum requirement.

The alternative is a DVD-R recorder. The Panasonic one I have is great but if you want one with a 250GB HDD, it’s over $700 dollars and you have DVD-R’s ($.30 each) to contend with – you can only fit about 4 hours and 20 minutes (at standard resolution) on one and then you have to convert from VOB to MPEG-4 before editing and of course, DVD-R’s and DVD-R recorders are flakey, you have to ‘finalize’ each disc and that’s just one more possibility of a file error … so are the hassles, convenience, time savings and cost of the hardware setup worth a 5-10% tradeoff in resolution from a DVD recorder?

That’s your call to make.

Other Relevant

AND hopefully, the next firmware upgrade will improve the picture quality even more. I’ll let you know if it does.

Other things to note – the file size is about the same as a Handbrake rip – about 1.5 GB for a 90 minute movie or about 1GB per hour.

Each file is limited to 4GB or about 4 hours – it will continue to record but only after FINALIZING this file at around the 4-hour mark before continuing so if your interest is to tape sports only, this might not be for you as during the finalizing phase, it will STOP RECORDING to finalize the file before starting a new file for the next 4-hours period. This will take @15-seconds.

So, you will have a 15-second gap. Of course, if you’re watching. You can stop during a commercial break and you can start a new recording session and then edit them together or hope that stop/finalize/restart new file takes place during a break in the action.

Also note, it only has one tuner and/or software that can only do one function at a time so unlike my DVD-recorder where I can enter the next recording schedule while it’s already recording, the Neuros OSD will ask you if you want to stop recording. But the IR Blaster works great in changing channels so just remember to set all your programming in advance before it actually starts recording.

The remote control works best when the side of the Neuros with the compact flash card is facing towards you.

The initial setup & understanding of what’s going one will take you a couple hours including testing so it’s not exactly like swapping out a VCR where you are ready to go in 5-minutes. This will take some time and some tweaking.

AND remember, only ONE input so you will need a solid intermediary machine to handle more than one input before feeding into the Neuros – and a NON OR POWERED SWITCHER does NOT WORK … at least not for me. It degenerated the video quality even more. You will need a high quality receiver/switcher that is an actual video component if you’re interested in feeding a VCR/DVD-R/DVD/Video game console or anything else into the Neuros OSD (of course, you can just switch cables since it can only record one input at a time anyway).

Other Nice Points

The Neuros Forum/help/support is amazing. I have never had a question that was not answered correctly or promptly within 12 hours

Summary

A fun DIY video recorder that works as promised. It could stand with some improvement in many areas including more inputs, better OS/UI and slightly better video quality (but that might be solved with higher end inputs such as composite in’s).

It does a lot for an inexpensive price with a lot of flexibility – particularly for those who are tired of wonky DRM transfer technology and or time-consuming conversions for editing.

Not perfect but still pretty cool.

Can’t wait for Neuros OSD v2.0

I also can’t help but recommend Amazon, the first one I got had a flawed IR Blaster port (no connector) – Amazon shipped me out another one overnight without waiting for me to mail back the other one – great customer service!

Mac Users Hard Drive Additional Notes

The drive needs to be formatted in FAT32 mode so the Linux OS can recognize. Most drives are formatted for the PC but to be absolutely sure, launch DISK UTILITY (in the UTILITIES folder) and format it for MS-DOS. This will take 30-minutes or so.

There are also some great deals at Amazon on 1TB drives.

I bought the Western Digital My Book 1 TB drive (USB) for only about $220 (for 1 TB!!). Looks nice, fairly compact and quiet. Only real non-feature is it has no on/off switch but not a huge biggie – just make sure it’s sleeping when you unplug it. If you want Firewire & SATA, you can step up for more connectors for about $30 more. (the Neuros OSD only has a USB connector port but if you manually will switch your drive for editing or transfer to your Mac, then the Firewire version might be your prefered choice).

Have fun!

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Disney Stores: Rewind & Back V2.0

If you didn’t know the THE DISNEY STORES are NOT actually owned by the Walt Disney, Inc. but rather by a company that sells clothing for toddlers & kids called, “A Children’s Place, ” you can save your brain cells in tucking away this fact as they are selling it BACK to Walt Disney, Inc.*

The deal is not finalized yet but Walt Disney, Inc has announced they want to buy them back. You think we go go through fad phases but so does corporate America. In 1987, when they launched The Disney Stores, it seemed brilliant – what better way to capture ALL the profit margins and of course, where most stores might only carry a limited amount of merchandise, what’s better than your own store to sell everything? It was a huge success at first – encouraging Warner Bros. to get in the act with the Warner Bros. Studio Stores (closed in 2001) but while the WB cartoons are beloved, Disney pretty much has the market from 1-month old to … well, I’m surprised they haven’t licensed coffins … the problem that they got caught up in thinking the huge profits from the store could be duplicated hundreds of times – the first were huge because they were at travel shopping destinations but pretty soon you go from Times Square (nice) to Beverly Center (still pretty good) to being next to Walgreen’s (um, not so special anymore) in Butane, Iowa.

And suddenly, they were questioning why they were running a retail business so they sold it off to a company that would ‘license’ it from them … only now, the cycle has returned, everyone sees how great Apple’s retail stores are – how they serve to reinforce the brand and image – and how much money they make so everyone is back on that bandwagon. Sony, Nintendo, Samsung and Dell have all opened stores … the Samsung in NYC is just bizarre. In order not to annoy anyone, Samsung does not actually sell anything – you can look and they will point you to a retailer. A short concise description of this is – WRONG!

Open a museum with a gift shop but not not open a gift shop that is a museum.

Anyway, back to the Disney Stores being Disney stores pretty soon – maybe we’ll see more 1:55 diecast CARS …

*If you live in the UK & Europe – ignore this as the Disney Stores there have always been owned by Disney and will continue to do so.

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Disney Pixar CARS: A Walk Down CARS Advertising Memory Lane

This post has been updated at our new blog TAKEFIVEADAY.com – please visit us there. just click on the logo to be taken to the updated post, thanks!

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