The Times' editorial board mulls EMI

Emi_logo EMI Group's relatively new chairman, Guy Hands, announced a plan Tuesday to restructure the company's money-losing recorded music division, aiming to shift from the industry's high-risk, high-reward model to something more modest (and profitable). For starters, he wants to make smaller up-front investments in artists, lowering the amount of sales required before they break into the black. Doing so requires further cuts in EMI's expenses, which means 1,500 to 2,000 of the company's employees will be looking for new jobs this year. The layoffs notwithstanding, EMI's willingness to make fundamental changes in its business model struck me as something the LA Times should applaud on its editorial pages. So, in my role as an editorial writer here, I made the pitch at our editorial board meeting yesterday.

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CES: Schilling makes his pitch to the video game industry

Schilling_pic_2 As a World Series champion pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, Curt Schilling has long used computer analysis as part of his rigorous pregame preparation.

Now he hopes his stellar baseball career has prepared him for a life with computers. Schilling, who is 41 and says the coming season (for the Red Sox) will be his last in baseball, has founded and self-funded a computer game company that has been hiring industry veterans as well as some notable outsiders.

Though the first big game from 38 Studios won't come out until late 2010, the Maynard, Mass., start-up already has 35 employees and is looking for outside investors.

During a small dinner for the media at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Schilling said he had long been an active player of such major multi-user games as "World of Warcraft" and "Everquest."

As a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" and other detailed fantasy realms, Schilling hired bestselling novelist R.A. Salvatore to create the world and Todd McFarlane, who won an Emmy for the HBO series "Spawn," as creative art director.

Schilling said his only post-baseball occupation will be serving the company, which he likewise hopes will be the last job for other workers.

The Beantown icon said he was motivated in part by the possibility of changing his employees' lives for the better, especially after learning how debilitating the gaming industry can be for software developers.

"My only two rules are: Show up on time and kick ass," Schilling said, attributing that mantra -- and the rest of his managerial strategy -- to Red Sox Manager Terry Francona.

But he conceded that there were times when his All-Star history made it hard to empathize completely with the staff. Schilling, who is famous for pitching with a bloody sock as a result of having his injured ankle tendon sutured in place, recalled one weekly meeting where an employee complained about being tired.

"Let me tell you how this works: I stitched up my ankle to pitch in the World Series," Schilling remembered telling the man. "Let’s GO!"

-- Joseph Menn

Photo by the Associated Press


CES Video: The Amazon perspective's vice president of consumer electronics, Paul Ryder, walked the show floor with us to talk about some of the themes from CES 2008 that resonate with Amazon customers. One theme he repeated was the important distinction for users between convergence-capable and convergence excellence.

-- Michelle Maltais


CES: Penn Jillette will make you puke

Sony Pictures Entertainment Co. has spent the last six months trying to elevate its online video site, Crackle, as a cut above the creative chaff of other user-generated sites that serve up fat cats watching TV and skateboarding dogs.

It is in this spirit that Crackle announced the premiere of "Penn Says," the first unscripted series created specifically for the Internet by the outspoken comic, magician and pundit Penn Jillette. I should have prepared myself for what would come next: Even the press release describes the short, four-times-a-week videos as a "raw look inside Penn's life."

Penn placed a bean on his tongue, and, through a series of snorts, grunts and painful facial contortions, expelled the bean through the tear duct of an eye. The gross-out feat -- which Penn chose because he was prevented from doing fire eating -- literally made me retch over my keyboard and, for once, appreciate being too busy at the show to eat lunch.

"Remember, this is what I do when they don’t let me do what I want to do," Penn said. "All the Sony people should keep that in mind: You put one barrier up, it’s going to get worse."

I wonder how much worse it'll get for Sony's online site, which has apparently abandoned the creative high ground for the mosh pit.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski


CES: Sick of the show? Not if they can help it


The only contingent more numerous at CES than gadget freaks is hypochondriacs. Take 140,000 sleep-deprived, overworked humans, cram them sardine-style in planes, buses and meetings rooms, and voila! You've just transformed Las Vegas into a 24-hour party for germs. The lengths to which people here will go to avoid getting sick is impressive.

At a CES event Saturday, German clock radio company Sonoro Audio gave away white gloves, which were far more popular than the press kits they were handing out. It's not uncommon to see someone whip out liquid hand sanitizer shortly after shaking hands. One marketing executive, who declined to have her name used, said she lines the insides of her nose with Neosporin before she boards the plane to Vegas. Other preventive remedies include mega doses of vitamin C and packets of Airborne, an herbal product said to help boost the immune system.

Jay Stevens (pictured above) builds convention booths for a living and has survived five CES shows. He has bacteria aversion down to a science. Stevens, a 35-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah, gradually pumps his body with vitamin C leading up to the show, reaching a peak of 2000 milligrams a day. Before boarding the plane for Vegas, he sips Airborne. "I swear by that stuff," he said.

At the show, Stevens obsessively washes his hands. He tries never to directly touch escalator handrails,  doorknobs, keyboards, mice and controllers. But that's not always practical, especially at a trade show for gadgets. So every hour or so, he coats his hands with hand sanitizer, which he carries in his front pocket.

"People touch an escalator, pick up the germs," Stevens said. "The cellphone rings and they bring that to their face. That's all it takes. You're done!" This being CES, Steven's solution is a high-tech one -- a wireless Bluetooth headset, so the germs don't get a chance.

-- Alex Pham

Photo credit: Alex Pham


CES: GM on evolving smarter cars

X07co_at010l A car that can drive itself -- now that's a gadget Americans would love. But the self-guided Chevy Tahoe that General Motors was showing off in the parking lot across from the Las Vegas Convention Center wasn't exactly a production model.

Developed by a team that also included Carnegie Mellon faculty and students, the  modifications that enabled the SUV to win last year's DARPA Urban Challenge in Victorville, Calif., aren't going to be available as factory-installed options any time soon. And really, does anybody honestly want a LIDAR rig mounted on their roof?

Still, Bakhtiar B. Litkouhi, a manager in GM's research and development division, said some of the technologies that enabled the Tahoe to pilot its own way through 60 miles of simulated city traffic are starting to creep into vehicles today, and will evolve into more powerful versions in the next few years.

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CES Video: Couch potatoes, this one's all about you

Check out the i-Fi Chair.

-- Myung Chun


CES: Gadget of the day

What comes with a $50,000 bed?Bed_2

On display at CES was the Starry Night bed from Leggett & Platt, which at the top price includes an HDTV projector that pops up from the headboard, pop-up speakers, dual temperature controls for the mattress, snoring sensors, automatic head lifter (in case snoring is detected), breathing-pattern monitoring (it can be linked to a 911 call system if breathing is absent), iPod dock and automatic lighting systems that can be set for reading, awakening or romance.

A discount model, which comes without the entertainment package and some other niceties, is $20,000.

What ever happened to Magic Fingers?

-- David Colker

Photo: Leggett & Platt


CES: 'Flight of the Conchords' crashes Comcast keynote

Comcast Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Brian L. Roberts dazzled the hard-to-impress tech set in this morning's keynote, during which he demonstrated the breathtaking speed of the coming generation of cable modems. He says they're capable of downloading a two-hour high-definition movie (Warner Bros.' "Batman Begins" was used in the demo) in four minutes. He said the same task would take six hours via a high-speed DSL modem or seven days -- more time than it actually took to make the movie, celebrity guest Ryan Seacrest quipped -- over dial-up. 

Roberts' promise to have millions of these modems (that's Docsis 3.0 for you geek-speakers) in homes by the end of the year prompted spontaneous applause from the audience (more than "American Idol" host Seacrest managed to elicit from the crowd).

Roberts also showed off a new Web offering called Fancast, which allows Comcast subscribers to use their PCs as virtual remote controls. It recommends TV shows and movies the viewer can watch, on demand, on the home computer. They also can elect to record using the DVR.

But the biggest moment, by far, was a live performance by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, the stars of HBO's quirky comedy "The Flight of the Conchords." McKenzie demonstrated his own multi-platform devices -- including a "camera phone" with a disposable camera taped to a phone. The New Zealand folk duo sang their most popular song, "Business Time."

Yes, Roberts agreed, "it's business time."

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski


CES: Best of the Web

Here's some of the most interesting CES coverage from around the Web on this Tuesday morning.

-- finds a technology that lets you hear air guitar. "We took the air guitar phenomenon and put it into an amp," says creator Nitrous Roxide, who demonstrates it. Rock on.

-- Prada got a cellphone through LG last year. Now reports that Armani has teamed with Samsung for a handset of its own. It features a Web browser, 3-megapixel camera, digital music and video player and stereo Bluetooth.

-- Engadget finds lots of color at CES: Sony Vaio laptops in new hues and CAT5 cables in pink whose purchase supports the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

-- Gizmodo stumbles across geek legend Dean Kaman, inventor of the Segway. The site also finds some of the craziest ways to trick out your car with LCD screens and other high-tech gear.

-- Crunchgear finds one of the weirder lamps you'll ever see. Just in case the need to check your stock quotes grabs you while you're turning on the light.

-- Chris Gaither, LAT tech editor


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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