Strange New World: Picks of the Week

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Being the tech nerds that we are, all the hype surrounding the just-wrapped Sundance Film Festival did little more than make us hunker down with our "Madden 08" and get ready for the Super Bowl.

But we turned our glazed eyes toward two trade shows we could get excited about: the Independent Games Festival, where fresh ideas still reign, and the Photo Marketing Association International Convention and Trade Show, which is touting the latest in cameras and image processing.

We're not actually going to either, of course, because we're too busy texting so we share the growing outrage over the high cost of text messaging.

Here are our picks of the week.

The New Sundance

Remember when the Sundance Film Festival was actually a festival for independent films? Now it has become just another Hollywood get-together, where so-called "independent" films are shown to the Hollywood players whom the original show attendees would have avoided. So if you are looking for a high-quality multimedia festival and indie vibe, check out the 10th annual Independent Games Festival in San Francisco, Feb. 18-22.

The festival showcases fresh new video game ideas that have yet to be watered down or corrupted by mainstream publishers. Past festival winners have gone on to get widespread distribution, and it's always fun to be able to say, "I played that game way back."

Head to the festival Web site and check out the games of tomorrow. We like "Goo," a cool game in which you are a lump of mercurylike goo that moves around the screen capturing other goo. It's cooler than it sounds: You use a webcam to put your face in the goo.

Bad Photos Gone Good

Hot on the heels of this month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Photo Marketing Association show, or PMA, kicks off this week.

Already we are hearing great things in the world of digital photography. We conservatively estimate that about 70 percent of the digital pics taken these days are terrible. It's the nature of the beast — with a digital camera you don't worry about setting up a good shot, you just fire away and hope you got a good one. Now there may be a way to save some of the clunkers.

A Canadian company called Athentech Imaging is showing off improvements in software technology that takes data captured by a digital camera and improves the image quality. It's like that cool scene in "Bladerunner" where Decker blows up an image to reveal little tiny bits of data.

We also liked a couple of new cameras from Pentax: the PENTAX K20D digital SLR camera with 14.6 megapixels, and the PENTAX K200D digital SLR with 10.2. The K200D is a digital single lens reflex camera with noise reduction and a big 2.7-inch monitor.

High Cost of Text Messaging

If you need a reminder of how much a phone company can rip us off even in these days of 1,200 phone companies, check out this post that recently went up on Slashdot. It links to Sam Garfield's gthing blog, which did a simply shocking analysis of what it actually costs to send text messages.

AT&T is raising its text charges to 20 cents later this year (it was 10 cents when Garfield originally signed up), with media messages jumping to 30 cents.

Compare the cost of the bandwidth to send data on your phone with, say, what it costs to send the same content on your normal broadband or Wi-Fi connection, and it turns out you are paying roughly 1 cent for every seven bytes (!) of data. That's roughly $1,500 per megabyte.

Put another way, that's about $6,000 to transfer a single song. It might be time to look into unlimited text messages before prices are jacked up again.

Text messaging might be simply another expensive service from the phone company if not for the fact that these same operators are locked in a life-and-death battle to retain customers. It's sort of shocking that they have no compunction about gouging the consumer any chance they get.

No wonder the wireless business is a mess.

Jonathan Blum and Dan Evans co-host "Strange New World," a weekly syndicated radio show. Blum hosts the blog Blumsday.com and Evans is a features editor at PC Magazine.

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