November 30, 2010

Maryland tech gifts: a guide

Many consumers now think "buy local" when it comes to food, or in choosing to shop at small local storefronts as opposed to national big-box chains.

But how about buying local when it comes to technology purchases, especially around the holidays?
BaltTech compiled a list of products — hardware, software, accessories and games — that originate in Maryland, and could make for holiday gifts. Your dollars also would help to support Maryland's technology entrepreneurs and businesses.

If you're still shopping, here's the local list of tech gifts by category:

Home Audio: Polk Audio is a Baltimore-based company that produces speaker systems for cars, boats and the home. Check out the $299 I-Sonic iPod radio dock. (

Console/PC gaming: Maryland has a pretty robust video game industry. Check out Sparks-based Firaxis Games' popular "Civilization" video games, including the newest fifth installment. $39.99 to $49.95 ( Bethesda Softworks, based in Rockville, makes a lot of video games for PC, Xbox and Playstation, and even the iPhone. Fallout 3 is a recent title that was designed by a Loyola University grad. $15-$43 (

Mobile device cases: M-Edge, of Odenton, Md., makes several cases for the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPads, and electronic readers by Sony, Borders and Barnes & Noble ( The Latitude Jacket for Kindle costs $34.99. ZeroChroma, a new Baltimore company, makes unique cases that double as stands for use with Kindles, iPods, iPhones and iPads. The iPad case, for $69.95, is very useful. (

Cybersecurity: Got a friend or a relative who hates it when people glance at their laptop monitors while he is working? Oculis Labs' Private Eye software might strike his fancy. The Hunt Valley-based company's software uses a computer's webcam to detect when someone other than the computer owner is looking at the monitor. It blurs the screen when it detects an eavesdropper or if the user turns his head away. $49.95. (

Baltimore-themed: For that recent transplant to Baltimore, help her learn about the city's geography and history with an audio tour. Baltimore Audio Tours sells a CD or digital download for an MP3 player that delivers an auditory tour of the city. $12.97. (

iPad/iPhone games: Jumbalaya is a $1.99 word game for sale in the Apple App Store designed by Fastspot, a Baltimore-based interactive design agency that works on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. It's addicting. And you can give it to someone through iTunes. (

Gift cards: Don't want to burn the mental energy of choosing a gift for someone? Go the gift card route. Save some money by buying discounted gift cards through, an Ellicott City-based company. Some stores include Cheesecake Factory, Bed Bath & Beyond and Radio Shack. (And for those who receive unwanted gift cards, you could sell them through GiftCardRescue.)

Got an idea for a Maryland-based technology product that might make for a good holiday gift? E-mail it to me and I'll try and share on the BaltTech blog.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Apps, East Coast, Gadgets, Gamers, Geeks

November 8, 2010

Irony alert: First-person shooter video game stolen by first-person shooters


Fortunately, no one was shot.

But there's a touch of irony in the news that two handgun-wielding robbers stole more than 100 copies of the highly anticipated "Call of Duty: Black Ops" video game over the weekend.

The heist happened at a GameStop location at the Festival at Bel Air shopping center on Saturday night.

[Here's the full story at]

Call of Duty is one of the biggest video game franchises around.

The new Black Ops game is valued at $49.99, which means the crooks who hit the Harford County store stole about $5,000 worth of the game. The game goes on sale tomorrow.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gamers

November 4, 2010

Microsoft Kinect: Don't make me sweat!


Microsoft last night launched its new Kinect peripheral, which hooks up to their monstrously popular Xbox 360 video game console and enables the user to use his body as the controller.

It seems like a fascinating, well-engineered piece of hardware, one that advances the state of the art and will likely fly off the shelves for the holiday buying season. I expect it to be a big success, mainly because there's nothing else like it on the market for gamers. Xbox is huge among dedicated gamers and the Kinect will likely attract more casual gamers and young families who are looking for "lite" gaming activities for their young kids. That demographic has long been the domain of the Wii, which has its own Wii Fit set-up for people who want to work out with their video game console.

All that said, you won't catch me ponying up money for a Kinect ($150 for the hardware or $300 bundled with an Xbox). Why? Because I don't want to work that hard while playing video games.

Call me old school, but all I want is a controller. A simple touch screen is better. When I want to veg out, I play Angry Birds, which involves one, maybe two, finger swipes on a touch screen. Dead simple. No sweat, literally. I have a Wii, but half the time, I feel like I'm flailing aimlessly with the handheld remote. And sometimes I break a sweat.

No, I don't want to have to hit the showers after I play a video game.

No, when I play a video game, it usually means I'm tired, I'm coming off a long day, and I want to think less, and move even less. The last thing I want is exercise. I'm not saying I don't need exercise, I just don't need it in my gaming experience. Why would I want to break a sweat, as David Pogue covers in his New York Times column about the device today.

Plus, you haven't truly gamed until you have callouses on your fingers. What will the young whippersnappers of the Kinect era have to show for their video game prowess? Dislocated shoulders? Broken vases in their parents' living rooms? Lower body fat? Pshaw!

[Image from RedEye]

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Gamers

September 28, 2010

Good news for Zynga, others: virtual goods market to grow 40 percent

:: Become a friend of BaltTech on Facebook::

Last Sunday, I wrote a story about Zynga and its Baltimore connection: the San Francisco online social gaming company's office in Timonium designed its second most popular game at the moment: FrontierVille.

The good news for Facebook and Zynga (and its peers, both big-time and small game developers), is that people continue to shell out real bucks for virtual goods, usually in games.

The Inside Network estimates that the virtual goods market will grow from 1.6 billion this year to $2.1 billion next year, according to the New York Times.

Below, Brian Reynolds, Zynga's chief game designer and head of its Timonium office.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:43 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gamers, Social Media

September 23, 2010

Spotted: Zynga's chief game designer in natural habitat

:: Become a friend of BaltTech on Facebook::

I recently visited Zynga East in Timonium, Md., just north of Baltimore, where I had a long chat with legendary (to the gaming masses) game designer Brian Reynolds.

Zynga, which runs online social games, such as FarmVille, Mafia Wars and FrontierVille, launched its first game studio outside of its San Francisco headquarters here in the Baltimore area last year. They started with about a dozen or so people and have now grown to about 30.

You couldn't tell it from the humble signage outside Zynga East's office, but the company is on a huge tear in the world of online social gaming, thanks to its success on Facebook.

This Baltimore (er, Timonium) office, including Zynga's chief game designer Reynolds, is responsible for the successful FrontierVille, which has about 35 million users. Reynolds, in his past life in the Baltimore area video game scene, worked for Microprose and co-founded Firaxis Games and Big Huge Games.

I'll be doing an in-depth story about Zynga that will appear shortly in the print Baltimore Sun and here online, but I wanted to give you a little photo peek. That's Reynolds below, holding a cup of black tea.



This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:49 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: East Coast, Gamers, Social Media, Web Dev & Apps

August 3, 2010

The impact of computer gaming and software developers in Maryland

Interested in the history and industry of computer gaming in Maryland? Take a listen to this interesting and entertaining talk by Sid Meier, the "godfather of computer gaming" (and director of creative development at Firaxis Games.)

The state received a report prepared by the Sage Policy Group for the digital media industry -- of which computer gaming is a part -- which declared that the indusry is a $5.5 billion business in Maryland. Computer programming and software development and related jobs employed 32,000 in Maryland (as of 2008), the report found.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gamers, Geeks

March 4, 2010

Seeking video game bloggers


Below is a special request from The Baltimore Sun's Nancy Knight, who oversees our new network of Maryland blogs called Charm City Current.  I hope some Baltimore gamer geeks can help her out!




As you may already know, The Sun has launched what we hope will be a comprehensive network of the best blogs in Maryland, a site called Charm City Current. Along with showcasing the many awesome existing bloggers from the area, we’d like to create some new ones.

In that spirit, Gus was kind enough to lend me his podium for a minute to recruit any video game experts, amateurs or addicts to write a blog about the games, the industry and the people who make these games such hot topics.

We’re looking for someone who not will not only explain the difference between an MMORPG and a first-person shooter to all those noobs out there, but can write clearly and succinctly about the gaming culture that’s become so prominent in today’s tech-driven society.

And I’d especially like to hear your views on Felicia Day and The Guild.

So if you’re interested, or you know someone who’d be perfect for the gig, please e-mail me at

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gamers

January 27, 2010

LIVE Apple iPad coverage today

For updates via Twitter, follow @gussent.

Apple-media-invitation-2010-01-27-580x393.jpgHit refresh every minute or so!

Whenever possible, BaltTech will be featuring live reports from the Web to participate in covering Apple's big event today, where the company is expected to unveil a new "tablet" computer. Other sources of info include Engadget and Gizmodo.

PLEASE HELP: I will be looking to feature (and embed) live streaming video OR audio of the Apple event in this blog, so you can watch it in real-time. So if you find such a feed, please shoot me a Tweet with the link at @gussent or leave in the comments. In the meantime, check out The Sun's Read Street blog for a live Twitter feed!Many thanks!

IF a tablet is announced today, here are some questions I'll have about it:

* How much will it cost?
* How does it interact with existing iPhone apps? (And does it run a version of the iPhone operating system?)
* What kind of e-book experience does it offer?
* What kind of gaming experience does it offer?
* Does it do live video-conferencing?
* How will the iTunes store change to accommodate it?

What other questions do you have about the device? Drop a note below.

Live blog updates:

1:00 pm... Huge applause
1:03 pm ... Steve Jobs... we have over 140 apps on app store and 3 billion downloads from users.
1:04 pm ... Jobs talks about huge revenue gains for apple in last quarter....
1:04pm... revenue from ipods, iphones, macbooks... "apple is a mobile devices company... that's what we do." Jobs.
1:05pm Jobs: Apple, by revenue is the largest mobile device maker in the world... (when you talk about mobile/portable in total)
1:06: Now let's get to the main event (jobs teasing the crowd... instead, takes crowd back to 1991 and the first powerbook, as the first modern laptop computer)
1:07 Is there room for another category of devices? Of course we thought of this question for years as well (brief outage
1:09: third category of device have to be better at gaming, e-media than a laptop or a smart phone... some people say 'that's a netbook.' the problem is that netbooks aren't better at anything... they're just cheap laptops. (big laughs)
1:10: We call it the iPad
1:11... it's the best browsing experience you've ever had... (it looks like a big fat iPhone, folks)
1:12: describes how to email... almost lifesize keyboard.. "it's a dream to type on."
1:12: iPad is an awesome way to enjoy your music collection... (Jobs running through the various applications...i.e. YouTube in high-def...)
1:13: Jobs making lots of comparisons and saying it's better navigation experience than a smaller smartphone (Leo Laporte's feed just fuzzed out)
1:14 Jobs shows how easy to easy to buy movie tickets with iPad ("grab the tablet that's in the kitchen...")
1:18: Jobs shows off closeup of the virtual keyboard
1:19: shows off how to manage photos on the iPad
1:20 (Editorial: So far, folks, I think we're about par for the course here. .. No huge surprises if you've been following the tablet rumor mill the last few weeks)
1:21: Built in ipod in the iPad... no surprise there. (Leo Laporte's audio feed is glitchy again)
1:22: Jobs showing off the calendar function
1:24: Jobs showing off Google Streetview and how to find restaurants (sushi in San Francisco, for example)
1:24: Showing off video now, i.e. Youtube in HD.
1:27: movies, tv shows, music videos [so far, this device is heavy on pushing iTunes and YouTube content]
1:28: ipad is half an inch thin and weighs 1.5 pounds. 9.7 inch display ("super high quality", Jobs says)
1:29: Jobs going over tech specs of the iPad [appears to be around same size as Amazon's Kindle DX]
1:30: wireless networking
1:30 Ten hours of battery life [commentator asks, are those Apple hours or real hours?]
1:31 Now talking about the Apps and the Apple Apps Store
1:32 New apple exec explains how the iPad can automatically increase the size of apps originally designed for iPhone so they can be used on the iPad
1:35 Editorial: will this iPad be an ergonomic nightmare for people who try to type with it?
1:40: [Experiencing some technical problems on the live feed]
1:40: Showing off the gaming experience on the iPad.
1:41 [Editorial: Listening to Leo Laporte's feed... I have to say, if Apple prices this at $999, I don't think it'll be a winner. Just my 2 cents]
1:42 NYTimes content looks really nice on the iPad.
1:44: Electronic Arts about to show off games on the iPad
1:48 Very cool racing game being demo'ed... [Game console makers may have something to fear from this portable device]
1:49 Now Major League Baseball will show off what it has to offer on the iPad
1:52... here we go: the ebook reader. Jobs makes direct comparison to Amazon Kindle ... new app is called iBooks. ("we're going to stand on their shoulders," Jobs said of Amazon.)
1:53: will have five of the largest publishers in the world supporting iBooks... "and we'll open up the floodgates for the rest of the publishers this afternoon."
1:55 Jobs explains how to navigate on the ebook pages...
1:56 "And that is iBooks..."
1:57 [FYI: Gizmodo has some good, clear photos of the iPad over at:]
1:57: Jobs introduces updated iWork software productivity suite for the iPad
1:59 New versions of Keynote, Pages and Numbers software....
2:02 [Editorial: I'm not sure anyone was expecting Apple to configure iWork to work on the iPad....pleasant surprise? This device can also be used to do some productive work, too.]
2:06 Showing off how to use Pages to make spreadsheets.. [Aside: Imagine that: making spreadsheets with your fingers!]
2:10 $9.99 for each of the three iWork software apps... [Cheaper than I thought -gus]
2:12 Back to Jobs: syncing with iTunes.... 3G wireless data built in... Now what's it cost for data: U.S. Telecom typically charges $60 a month ... we 've got two awesome plans... first gives u 250 MB per month: just $14.99, or an unlimited plan for $29.99... AT&T providing the data .... No contract. you can cancel anytime....
2:23: Okay, folks, I'm stepping away from second-by-second blogging of the event... what do you think so far of the iPad?? Drop comments below!!

Leo LaPorte's live broadcast from the Apple event:
Live Broadcast by Ustream.TV

Live Videos by Ustream

First-person iPhone footage of the Apple event today:
Free video chat by Ustream

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:23 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Gamers, Geeks, Media, West Coast, Wireless

October 29, 2009

Men are for Playstations, women are for Wiis?

Admittedly, I am late to the Wii party. For my fourth wedding anniversary this month, I bought my wife and I a Wii. In addition to Wii Sports, which comes with the console, I picked up Mario Kart.

Now, I've played with Play Stations and XBoxes before, and they are amazing machines. My younger brothers have a Play Station 3, which I can't help but spend hours playing whenever I visit them -- to my wife's chagrin.

But I noticed that she was never interested in picking up the controllers to play with the PlayStation.

Many months ago, however, I remember my wife saying she'd be interested in a Wii. I stowed that tidbit away in my tiny Neandearthal-ish brain -- until a recent trip to a Best Buy, where I was drawn to the Wii display.

Within minutes, another small fold in my Neanderthal brain was triggering the impulse to buy, buy, buy. I picked up a box of Wii. Soon after, I was approached by a man who said he worked for Sony, who happened to be in the store. He said, for a $100 more, I could own a PlayStation 3, with built-in Blu-Ray player and Netflix streaming, and tried to get to check it out.

Fair enough, but I told him I didn't really care for Blu Ray and I already had Netflix streaming through my Roku player.

Plus, I said, my wife would really only play video games with a Wii. For some reason, I instinctively thought I could get away with buying a Wii as an anniversary gift, but a Play Station 3 could land me sleeping on the couch alone for a couple nights.

Sure enough, later that night, I watched my wife play Wii bowl, Wii tennis, Wii golf, and Wii boxing. It was delightful.

This was surely a first. Aside from enjoying great literature and warm, heartfelt talks, my wife and I now had another cool thing in common: we game together.

So how about that, ladies? Do you prefer the Wii to other gaming systems, and if so, why?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events (DC/No. Va. area), Gadgets, Gamers

August 31, 2009

Skype's proposed new communication device: Skyping with your TV remote?

Skype, the Voice-over-Internet telephony provider that allows you to make cheap calls and free video chats, appears to be working on a companion communication device for its popular software application that would work with a computer, gaming system or television.

A patent filing made public last month shows that Skype, which is owned by eBay, is working on a device (or devices), with a speaker and microphone in some permutations. Among the possibilities are devices that could connect to a computer, video game system or television.

The filing by Skype comes with diagrams, including Fig. 3 below, which shows a rectangular box with a screen and an attached headset. Another version of the device, in Fig. 5 would be a smaller Skype box (those little round knobs, 505 and 506, are a built-in speaker and a microphone) that would connect to a television (501) and would work with a remote control. 


In the new world household, one device becomes another. In this case, your TV could become your Internet telephony center, too. Skype engineers envision hooking the device up to a television with a companion remote control. When a call comes in, you can use your remote -- which has a built-in speaker and microphone -- to take the Skype call.

(Aside: Wouldn't it be funny if that same remote just happened to be IBM's patent-pending auto-blogging remote, which would be able to auto-Twitter?

The point of the device seems to be to give Skype users a more dedicated way of receiving phone, video, SMS and instant messages. But it doesn't appear to have a video camera embedded in the device, so you'll still need a separate Web cam to do your Skype video chats.

The patent makes a few references to enabling users to field phone calls on gaming systems that don't interrupt their programs for Skype calls, so perhaps this is a new gadget geared toward gamer geeks.

The inventors listed on the filing are Duncan Lamb, Marek Laasik, Manrique Brenes, and Gareth O'Loughlin.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:20 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Gamers

June 30, 2009

Big online gaming co. Zynga opening 1st East Coast office in Baltimore area

brianreynolds.jpg Some of you have been seeing the job ads posted locally for a couple weeks now and wondered what Zynga Inc. was doing recruiting in the Baltimore area.

I'll tell you what they're doing: they're opening their first East Coast office, here in the Baltimore/Timonium area, hiring 12-15 people, and calling it Zynga East.

One of the biggest companies in the booming field of online social gaming, Zynga has come to the East Coast -- and chosen Baltimore (er, maybe Timonium) to plant their flag. If you've ever played Mafia Wars or Texas Hold'Em or Pirates or Scramble on Facebook or MySpace, you've played a Zynga game.

To lead Zynga East, Zynga hired Brian Reynolds, an 18-year veteran of the Baltimore-area gaming scene who co-founded Firaxis Games (Hunt Valley) and Big Huge Games (Timonium), which was bought last month by Curt Schilling's (yes, the retired Major League Baseball pitcher) 38 Studios.

(That's Brian Reynolds to the left, in a pic taken Feb. 17, 1999 by a Sun photographer, when he was VP of software development at Firaxis Games, and designed the game Alpha Centauri. Sorry Brian, couldn't find a more recent pic in our archives.)

A Zynga spokeswoman told me in an email last night that Reynolds will be bringing some of his "key associates" to work with him.

Zynga East will be working on a new online game, but the company wouldn't say what it was about.

Reynolds has a deep background in building strategy games, so maybe that's what we can expect to see more of?

The Baltimore area has become a bit of a game developer's haven.

Zynga's presence here will add a new competitive dimension to the game development scene, with online gaming being white-hot right now. And Zynga itself is a buzz machine.

They've attracted something like $40 million in investment capital and they're reportedly cash flow positive, with around 250 employees. It reportedly has sales of around $100 million and is profitable, but it's privately held, so we don't know how profitable.

BusinessWeek's Valley Girl has the good lowdown on the company and how -- you ask -- it's actually supposedly making all this money. Basically, it seems people are willing to pony up a few bucks here and there to play their games. They've got 12 million daily users and 50 million monthly users, the company reports.

For a quick rundown of Zynga in the news, check this out. And my online news story is here. Good news for Baltimore area game developers? Let me know what you think.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: East Coast, Gamers, Jobs & Recruiting, Social Media, West Coast
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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

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