Verizon abandons new fees

Public pressure can build quickly in the social media age. Verizon tried to push through a new $2 fee and ended up with a PR nightmare.

Verizon Wireless bowed to a torrent of criticism on Friday and reversed a day-old plan to impose a $2 bill-paying fee that would have applied to only some customers.

The consumer vitriol, which cascaded across Twitter and onto blogs and petitions all around the Web, struck a chord with a company that was clearly not expecting it.

“The company made the decision in response to customer feedback about the plan, which was designed to improve the efficiency of those transactions,” Verizon Wireless said in a statement referring to the reversal.

Everything is changing, as consumers have real power now with social media.

Smartphones and the boom in social games

People love to gamble and they love to play games on their computers and phones. With that the trends will just accelerate on games like poker that can be played in all sorts of settings. Now with new smartphones there are even more ways to play. You can play real games against real people, or just play practice games against a computer so you learn to avoid losing all your cash.

The new rules from the Obama administration announced Friday might make this even more popular, as the new rule suggests that the federal government can only restrict sports betting under the current federal law. This can lead to an explosion of state regulations overseeing and encouraging online play in order to generate tax revenues.

This decision makes sense, as people love playing online casino games. Now with smartphones exploding, imagine how much more time people will spend playing these games. You can play blackjack hands while standing in the line at the grocery store. So get ready for a bunch of new players as people start using their Christmas gadgets!

Mobile games will drive holiday shopping

Poker is fun, and tons of people love to play. Like most games, it was a huge leap forward when we could play them on our computers. Then game better networks and amazing online experiences with these games.

Smart phones have taken all of this to a new level. Now you can play games of every kind everywhere. You can play by yourself or with other people. Add in social networking, and gaming even becomes a new way of communicating with friends – let’s chat while we play a game!

Of course this is going to drive tons of holiday sales, and phones, iPads and other devices fly off the shelves. People of all ages love this stuff, and kids are obsessed with it. Tons of companies are cashing in on mobile gaming as tons of mobile betting apps are downloaded for all sorts of devices.

Stuff like iCoud makes mobile gaming even better. Now you can track your games and scores from multiple Apple devices, from your iPhone to your iPad to your laptop. It’s just amazing.

The growth here is exponential, so expect some huge numbers from the holiday season and the week after Christmas when people downloads apps on the new gadgets they found under the Christmas tree!

Finding fun gifts online

Shoppers went crazy this year on Black Friday as they snapped up deals everywhere. Some stores went so far as to open on Thanksgiving night. But the increases there were matched by the surge in activity on Cyber Monday. Online shopping is now part of the mainstream, as people realize the the selection and prices are amazing.

While deals are great, the best part of the web has to do with variety and uniqueness. You can find so many cool gift ideas with a little bit of research and imagination. Mainstream gift ideas are fine, but think of stuff that is a little different.

Think about stuff like ideas for sexy costumes. Of course this will only apply to certain people on your list, but women in particular love to dress up for parties. Girlfriends also like to dress up for you, so a sexy costume can be an incredible stocking stuffer. You can pick anything from80s costumes to hot Wonder Woman costumes.

If you’re armed with a woman’s size (don’t get this wrong!), then you can find a ton of cool stuff online. Of course you should also get her a romantic gift like maybe jewelry or a watch, and naturally everyone likes gadget gifts this time of year. But a sexy gift like a costume for a party you’re taking her to might end up as her favorite gift! Happy hunting!

Just start searching online and you’ll find plenty of stuff.

Online research is always critical

With the shopping frenzy of the holidays, there are so many deals out there your head will spin thinking about them. Also, your list of items can get ridiculously long.

Does anyone shop blindly today? Do you ever just walk into a store, browse around and buy something? I guess that still happens, particularly with things like clothes, but with gadgets, electronics and bigger stuff like cars, doing research online before you venture into a store or showroom is critical if you want to make a smart purchase. First, you have to get a better idea of what you want to buy, and then you can think about what deals are available so you can save money.

The good thing is that there’s a ton of helpful information out there on gadgets, electronics and cars. You can browse expert reviews and then look for reactions from consumers. Cast a wide net, and if you’re open minded and flexible, you can end up with amazing deals.

If you think about cars, for example, you can use an online used car price guide to arm yourself with information before walking into a car dealership. Now, like I said, flexibility is important. If you’re dead set on a 60s Mustang or a used Porsche 911 , then obviously you will have less leverage. But if you have a variety of potential cars you want, you’ll do much better.

The same applies to electronics. You might not be able to negotiate in the stores, but you’ll see auctions for products. If you’re not married to one product, you will do better with price.

The water-powered jetpack

Very cool – especially the part about swimming like a dolphin!

Activity gadgets for the holidays

There are all sorts of gadgets that will be popular this holiday season, from game consoles to iPads to smartphones. But in today’s world you have to ask yourself whether there is too much emphasis on gadgets that reinforce a sedentary life for our kids. Video games are great, but do we want kids doing that all day long?

Keep that in mind when you’re buying gifts. We live in a time where childhood obesity is a serious problem, and while we want to give kids what they want, we need to consider sending a more balanced message.

With that in mind, think about gifts that encourage kids to get up and move around. When you think of gadgets, think beyond small electronics that fit into a kid’s hands.

One option of course would be a video games that involve movement. The Wii and Connect systems are brilliant for their innovations in this area. Virtual games like tennis and boxing can help kids work up a sweat.

Old-school games like ping pong also encourage movement, so maybe a real ping pong table is in order for your basement.

And then of course we have games like basketball, that really get kids moving around. Think about the excitement kids would have if you went shopping for adjustable basketball goals that you could install in their driveway! Now that’s a gadget that they would remember.

GAME REVIEW: Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is right up there with UNO as one of the better card games around, so the only real surprise about its release on Xbox Live Arcade is that it took this long for anyone to digitize the experience. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s pretty simple. There are two decks of cards: green apple cards that contain adjectives and red apple cards that contain nouns. Each round, one player assumes the role of judge and selects a green card from the deck. The rest of the players must then choose a red card from their respective hands that they feel best matches the word on the green card, and the judge picks the winner. Of course, it’s completely up to the judge to decide what’s the best match (some will choose literal meanings, while others will favor witty combinations), but that’s part of the appeal.

For the most part, the experience is replicated on Xbox Live fairly well, even if it’s more fun to play with real friends than a bunch of strangers. The game’s other two modes, however, aren’t quite as successful. Local multiplayer is more about trying to fake out the other players by using a tool that conceals your card choice (a necessary inclusion considering everyone shares the same screen), while the single-player mode isn’t really Apples to Apples at all. Instead, you’re shown a red card and three green cards and must select the most appropriate choice using letters on a Boggle-like game board. It’s a creative way of adapting the game for one player, but aside from the fact that it doesn’t take very long to complete, it’s also not the reason you should be buying “Apples to Apples” in the first place. If you have enough friends planning to pick up the game as well, or you don’t mind making new ones on Xbox Live, then this is a no-brainer, but anyone else would be wise to reconsider.

GAME REVIEW: Gears of War 3 – RAAM’s Shadow DLC

Fans of third-person shooters have become accustomed with getting the same, stale DLC over the years – usually new maps, but every once in a while, an extra game mode or weapon is thrown in for good measure – which is why an add-on like “RAAM’s Shadow” is such a welcome surprise. A five-chapter campaign that takes about three hours to complete, the story shifts focus from Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad to follow the exploits of another group of COGs (Zeta Squad) as they attempt to evacuate Ilima City in anticipation of a Kryll storm being implemented by the Queen’s go-to badass, General RAAM. But wait — isn’t General RAAM dead? Yes, he is, but this takes place before the events of the original game, shortly after E-Day.

Though Zeta Squad doesn’t quite have the personality of Delta (although it’s probably unfair to compare the two considering you spend so little time with the former), it does feature several familiar faces like Lt. Minh Young Kim from the first “Gears of War,” Tai Kaliso from “Gears 2,” and cigar-chomping Michael Barrick from the “Gears” comic book series. Rounding out the quartet is female COG Alicia Valera, whose only real purpose in the story is connected to another “Gears” character from the latest installment.

While diehard fans will certainly enjoy the prequel-esque nature of the campaign due to how smartly it weaves into the fabric of the “Gears of War” universe, the highlight for a lot of people will be getting to play as General RAAM himself, who you take control of in corresponding missions throughout the campaign. But although RAAM offers a unique gameplay experience, it’s not very challenging. Sure, you’ll have fun charging at enemies with his oversized knife, or mincing them to pieces with his ever-present shield of Kryll, but because he’s near-invincible, you never feel the same sense of danger as you do while playing as a COG. Most people won’t mind, however, because “RAAM’s Shadow” is still good value for its price, with additional goodies like six multiplayer character skins and a new chocolate-themed weapon skin. If this is what fans can expect from future DLC, then you might want to think again about picking up a Season Pass.

GAME REVIEW: Voltron: Defender of the Universe

As a fan of the 1984 animated series, I was pretty excited to check out THQ’s “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” game for Xbox Live Arcade, but unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last for very long. Though its heart is undeniably in the right place, the game is little more than a chaotic shoot ‘em up that wears out its welcome fast. Players take control of the Lion of their choice and fight through three different levels populated with the same handful of enemies to complete objectives like destroying energy towers, defending castles and escorting groups of survivors to safety. It’s pretty monotonous stuff, made even more so by the lack of variety in the Lions themselves. Although they may boast different colors and seemingly unique stats (including agility, long-range shooting and armor), they don’t really handle all that much differently.

I might have been able to get past the sheer tedium of the Lion-based gameplay if there was something worth looking forward to at the end of each level, but while you do eventually get to fight as Voltron against some of King Zarkon’s Robeasts, it’s not exactly as you’d imagine. The combat system for the boss battles is uninspired to say the least, with attacks consigned to turn-based controls where you select a move and then execute it by stopping a sliding bar in the sweet spot, while defense is a ridiculously easy QTE. “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” isn’t a complete mess – the visuals are pretty good for an XBLA game and fans will love some of the nostalgic cues, like the narrator who announces, “Voltron will be back after these messages,” whenever you hit the Pause button – but considering its price (800 MS), it’s simply not good enough to warrant a purchase, even for the most diehard fans.