Episode 23 News: The Hurricane Ate My Homework

As the storms of the past few weeks — Hurricane Sandy, the US elections, a snow-spewing Nor’easter on the East Coast, it’s time to take a minute and regroup before hurling into the holiday season. Geeks everywhere were goggling over the news that Disney bought Lucasfilm and Star Wars 7 is headed for theaters in 2015; the screenwriter for the project has already been hired.

Princess Leia didn’t need no “Floral Kiss” pink blaster to pop those stormtroopers. She got the job done just fine with standard-color armaments, so sorry, product designers of little pink computers and little pink cars, you’re going to have to try harder with some of us out here. (At least a certain Hoosier songwriter already called dibs on little pink houses.)

Meanwhile, out in Redmond, Microsoft giveth and taketh away: A new Xbox Surface gaming tablet us said to be underway, but those who love Microsoft Messenger will be booted off the system next year when Microsoft retires Messenger to focus on Skype.

Amazon is said to be testing out a $7.99-a-month version of its Amazon Prime service for those who’d rather pay more in installments that cough up the $79 annual fee all at once. The Massive Superstore of Everything also signed up Staples to host its Amazon Lockers that hold your Amazon packages when you’re not home to get ‘em.

Instagram is getting some Facebook-like enhancements like profile pages and desktop access, which also seems to have generated some Facebook-like privacy concerns among advocates. Still, the mobile space is still where Instagram rules. Oh, and Mary Meeker popped up before her next annual report with some thoughts on the current state of Android, iOS, Windows and other systems people use to get in the Internet.

Mobile devices were often the only way some people on the East Coast had to communicate in the wake of Hurricane Sandy two weeks ago when the power went out in many towns and cities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a guide for what to do before, during and after a major storm and the folks at NBC’s Rock Center news show have compiled a list of Hurricane Sandy relief organizations and efforts for those wanting to help.

Hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 to November 30 each year, so it’s not over yet, and then we move into winter storm season in the northern and western parts of the country. Having a cellphone car charger or hand-cranked turbine/solar unit (USB charger, flashlight, radio) on hand in times of emergency can really help, so if you’re compiling a holiday shopping list, perhaps one of those might make a more useful gift than another necktie or pair of fancy slippers. (Or those freaky singing robot fish that were way too popular a few years back…)

And if you see a storm headed your way on the TV, the Web, your weather app or your other source of weather news, be prepared. Stock up on emergency supplies of food, water, battery, candles, flashlights and all that. Fill up the car’s gas tank, batten down the hatches and bunker in until the storm passes. And if you’re going to be stuck inside while the weather rages outside, red-velvet cupcakes and a nice bourbon make excellent comfort food.

Mini Musings

After months, nay YEARS, of speculation by Apple Watchers, a smaller version of the iPad finally arrived last month. The iPad Mini is just like the regular iPad, except it’s smaller — a 7.9-inch screen compared to the 9.7-inch on the iPad Maxi.

While the higher-than-expected price point ($329 for the 16GB WiFi-only version and northward from there) and delay of the WiFi + Cellular models — not to mention a big nasty hurricane on the East Coast a few days before — made for mini-lines at the Apple Store on Release Day, the new product was mostly well-reviewed.

Here are a few takes from around the Web:

And Gizmodo gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars with a number of specific gripes, including the less-than-Retina display, the slower processor and the aforementioned price point.

Let’s take a ride in the History Helicopter for an overview and speculation on why the wee tablet may be a bit underpowered: The the iPad Mini seems to be following the path Apple took with the original iPod Touch back in 2007. Start with lower-quality components (no camera or a really lousy camera, slower processor, etc.) on the first couple generations of the device just to get it out there. Then march along a clear upgrade path with a handy supply of parts that have already been in the iPhone for a few years until you get to a more useful version of the device that inspires people to either buy it at last — or upgrade from their early-adopter models with the wussy specs.

Episode 23: You’re Never Gonna Keep Us Down

J.D. gives us her thoughts on the new iPad Mini and Pedro mourns the loss of his beloved Star Wars now that is a Disney product. In the news, new tech products designed specifically for women; Microsoft set to debut a gaming tablet, Amazon Lockers to be available at an office supply giant; and Instagram heads to the web.