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    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Reuters - Desperate times bring desperate men to television

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    Desperate times bring desperate men to television

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 7:2PM UTC

    By Jill Serjeant

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Television audiences who thought the ladies of "Desperate Housewives" were troubled haven't seen anything yet.

    When ABC premieres its new sitcom "Hank" during the season that starts in September, the show's out-of-work CEO joins a growing list of American male characters taking extreme measures to cope with recession, unemployment, housing troubles and soaring medical costs.

    "Leading characters are doing things that a generation ago would never have been the activities of the protagonist of a TV show," said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

    "You could argue that when you have lost your job, the last thing in the world you want is to watch TV about people losing their jobs. But as it's a recession, TV executives think people want to see stuff about relevant issues, so they develop these kind of shows," Thompson said.

    On "Hank," Wall Street big shot Hank Pryor (Kelsey Grammer) loses his job, sells his fancy New York apartment, moves to Virginia and must learn to make his own toast.

    He follows in the footsteps of high school basketball coach Ray Drecker on HBO's new series "Hung," who finds himself divorced, broke and homeless, so he reluctantly decides to market himself as a gigolo to keep from having to live in a small tent on the grounds of his burned-down house.

    And then there is chemistry teacher Walt White in critics' darling "Breaking Bad" on AMC, who suffers from terminal cancer and faces massive medical bills, so he uses his chemistry skills to cook up and sell the drug crystal meth.

    LAUGHTER IN TOUGH TIMES

    "I think the story is very relatable in this economic climate where people find themselves without health insurance, without a job, and wondering what they are going to do and how they are going to provide for their family," said actor Bryan Cranston, who won an Emmy for playing Walt after the show's first season last year.

    But being entertainment on television, the shows are not all doom and gloom. Both "Hung" and "Breaking Bad" have elements of dark comedy that transcend their bleak premises, and "Hank" is a traditional 30-minute sitcom starring Grammer of award-winning "Frasier" fame.

    Creator Tucker Cawley said "Hank" was inspired by the failure last year of consumer electronics retailing giant Circuit City, which was for decades a family-run business.

    "We will be touching on riches-to-rags things. But Kelsey's character doesn't look on the new situation as something people should feel sorry about. It's the kind of old-fashioned American optimism with which he views the world which hopefully will be appealing," Cawley said.

    Grammer's character loses his maids, his yacht, his sub-zero fridge and his king-size bed, along with his blissful ignorance about the basic tasks of human existence.

    "These are the kinds of things you can deal with in comedy. A sitcom about a big shot like Kelsey Grammer's character who is now having to make his own toast can really be therapeutic," said pop culture watcher Thompson.

    (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Will Dunham)

    Reuters - "The Sims" creator eyes the world beyond games

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    "The Sims" creator eyes the world beyond games

    Thursday, Aug 06, 2009 12:24PM UTC

    By John Gaudiosi

    NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (Reuters) - Will Wright, the creator behind top-selling videogame "The Sims," is eyeing life outside the virtual world.

    Since leaving Electronic Arts in April to run entertainment think tank "Stupid Fun Club," Wright said he views himself as an "entertainment designer" rather than game maker and wants to create worlds crossing every spectrum of media.

    Following on from his bestsellers like "The Sims 3" and "Spore," Wright is working on new franchises that can go beyond games to the Web, mobile devices, and traditional Hollywood outlets like television and film.

    Wright, 49, said he was fascinating by watching gamers using the editing tools provided with "Spore" to make over 100 million user-generated alien species, space ships and even design games.

    "We're taking the idea that you can have a million people engaged not just in entertainment, but also have them creating huge amounts of content for other people to experience," said Wright.

    "The question is how can you transfer that to other fields besides games," he added, while refusing to divulge the details of the project he is working on.

    In an industry that has more failures than successes, Wright has distinguished himself in the game world by attracting mainstream audiences to his creations.

    "The Sims" franchise has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and it's relationship-focused, non-violent gameplay has attracted an unprecedented female gaming audience -- half of "Sims" players are female.

    EA has already sold over 817,000 copies of "The Sims 3" in the United States since June, according to The NPD Group.

    "Spore" has sold over 1.7 million copies in the United States alone since last year, according to The NPD Group.

    ""The Sims" was always an experiment," said Wright. "We never thought it'd be a mainstream thing. We simply did a game and started adding expansion packs and did a sequel and added more expansion packs."

    Wright said good examples of "cross-media" companies were George Lucas' empire, which runs the gamut from special effects house Industrial Light & Magic to LucasArts and LucasFilm, and the Walt Disney Company.

    Speaking at SIGGRAPH this week, the annual gathering of computer graphics professionals, Wright pointed to J.J. Abrams' "Lost" television show, which has used the Internet, as well as games, to build a story expanding beyond the serialized content.

    Wright, in his first public appearance since parting ways with Electronic Arts in April, said the fusion of technology will enable future entertainment to be more than interactive.

    "Games and stories are generative with one leading to the other," said Wright, who added that games allow people to build models in a virtual world to apply back to the real world.

    "People can learn lessons about the past, present and future in an entertaining way."

    (Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

    Reuters - Looking for a job? Try LinkedIn or Twitter

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    Looking for a job? Try LinkedIn or Twitter

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 4:2PM UTC

    By Sue Zeidler

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Job-seeking in this 21st century recession may just have gone viral and mobile.

    Since the start of the recession in December 2007, about 6.7 million workers have been laid off according to latest statistics -- at a time the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have exploded, drawing millions of users per day.

    As these sites continue to alter social and cultural landscapes, they are also transforming the job search process, enabling more and more people to connect with potential employers, promote their own skills, set up support groups and search for job leads and contacts.

    "Mobile technology and social networking has shifted the whole job search paradigm," said Susan Joyce, editor of Job-Hunt.Org, a site offering online job search tips. "You don't need to stay glued to your phone or computer at home anymore."

    With mobile devices playing a bigger role in the social networking phenomenon, any job hopeful with a Web-connected or smartphone can now compose resumes, view job listings and contact prospective employers on the go.

    Joyce suggests creating a resume through popular networking site LinkedIn -- a business networking site that lets users create a profile, list skills, work history, employment goals and contact details -- is among the more secure ways to compile a resume online.

    It can be done via Research in Motion Ltd's Blackberry device or Apple Inc's iPhone, she added.

    "The LinkedIn Profile is really the resume of the future," Joyce said. "The 'resume' on LinkedIn is really the standard LinkedIn Profile, but it's very popular with recruiters looking for good candidates.

    "You could build your whole LinkedIn presence from any Web-enabled phone."

    There are any number of job-search applications -- downloadable programs for your phone -- available for the iPhone, for instance, including one piloted by recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash. Others pool information on jobs in travel and in education, among other sectors.

    GETTING CREATIVE

    With jobs still scarce, many hopefuls are getting creative about getting noticed. Many have begun using Twitter -- a microblogging service that allows users to send 140-character messages at a time -- to get the word out.

    A career is unlikely to be launched on Twitter alone, but candidates are increasingly "tweeting" or posting messages to outline their skills, experiences and career goals. They are pasting links to their resumes on the micro-blogging service.

    People can also use Twitter to follow recruiters or companies of interest and learn of networking events.

    Job seekers have gotten job leads and tips on networking events that they otherwise would have missed, had it not been for their Twitter or Facebook account.

    "It's really helped in these hard times. You have a much easier time finding job and networking events. And every time I go to one of these events, I add at least one connection," said Nilo Sarraf, who was laid off from Yahoo Inc recently and formed a Silicon Valley online networking group called Layoffs Cafe at www.meetup.com/Layoffs-cafe/.

    Layoffs Cafe is one of several online support groups that have sprung up during the downturn, tipping off job seekers where physical networking events are taking place.

    Chris Hutchins, a former management and business strategy consultant in Silicon Valley, launched LaidOffCamp as the online component to offline events.

    "We focus on organizing events for people who are unemployed," said Hutchins, noting there have been about 11 "LaidOff Camps" set up around the country, drawing anywhere from 100 to 600 participants who attend panels on topics such as how to live on a budget, how to develop a personal brand and how to find a job in the current market.

    "We spent no dollars on marketing. If it weren't for social media and blogs, Laidoff Camp wouldn't exist," he said.

    While candidates these days are taking advantage of to easily access job information, one of the downsides, according to job seekers and employment experts, is managing the data.

    "It can be overwhelming. It's hard to weed out all the information and manage your time," said Sarraf.

    Privacy issues and falling prey to the many recruiting, work-at-home, make-a-million and resume creation software scams are also risks for the unwary.

    "When someone is job hunting, they need to be careful. I know a lot of people who have been hurt by bogus resume companies. People tend to think if its online, its legitimate and when you're doing a resume, people are being asked to provide a lot of personal information, such as where you live and your social security number," she added.

    (Reporting by Sue Zeidler; editing by Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon)

    Reuters - Microsoft, Nokia form alliance to rival RIM

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    Microsoft, Nokia form alliance to rival RIM

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 8:5PM UTC

    By Bill Rigby and Tarmo Virki

    SEATTLE/HELSINKI (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp and Nokia announced an alliance on Wednesday to bring business software to smartphones and counter the dominance of Research in Motion Ltd's BlackBerry.

    The alliance between the world's largest software company and cell phone maker means the latest versions of Microsoft's Office applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and messaging, will be available on a range of Nokia cell phones, which make up 45 percent of the global smartphone market.

    The two companies, at one time fierce rivals in the mobile telecommunications business, expect to offer Nokia phones running Office sometime next year.

    "This is giving some of our competitors -- let's spell it out, RIM -- a run for their money," said Nokia Executive Vice President Robert Andersson, in a telephone interview. "I don't think BlackBerry has seen the kind of competition we can provide them now."

    Research in Motion's BlackBerry created the market for mobile e-mail, and its dominant position in the corporate sector, especially in North America, has protected it from Nokia's attempts to crack the market in recent years.

    "RIM should be reasonably safe in the near-term because Nokia's presence in the U.S. is relatively small," said Neil Mawston from research firm Strategy Analytics. "Partnering more closely with Microsoft will help to raise Nokia's profile in the U.S."

    The alliance also aims to counter Google Inc's recent move into free online software, targeted at Microsoft's business customers, and the growing popularity of Apple Inc's iPhone device.

    "It's clear that Nokia and Microsoft are both facing competitive challenges, most notably from Google," said John Jackson, an analyst at wireless research firm CCS Insight. "It makes sense for these two companies to work together to see if they can pool their competitive strengths to try and counter some of this pressure."

    The alliance means Microsoft's new Office suite of applications could be available to a much wider audience than the users of Windows Mobile phones, which make up 9 percent of the smartphone market.

    "We see this as a great opportunity to deliver Office Mobile to 200 million Nokia smartphone customers," said Takeshi Numoto, an executive at Microsoft's Office business.

    Analysts said Microsoft is clearly looking at the largest possible audience with the Nokia deal.

    "The deal is a good win for Microsoft and it will surely now be hoping to upsell the Microsoft suite of operating systems into Nokia's possible portfolios of smartphones, mobile Internet devices and netbooks over the next couple of years," said Strategy Analytics' Mawston.

    The two companies stressed that the new venture will not affect the future of Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Nokia's Symbian operating systems for smartphones. Executives said Nokia has no plans to make a Windows Mobile device.

    "We are extremely committed to Symbian," said Andersson. "This is very clear. This is a multi-year collaboration building on Symbian. We are as committed as before, if not more," he said.

    Microsoft shares rose 2.1 percent to $23.62 on Nasdaq while Nokia rose less than 1 percent to 9.30 euros in Helsinki. Shares in RIM were 0.5 percent lower in Toronto.

    (Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle and Tarmo Virki in Helsinki, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Robert MacMillan) Keywords: MICROSOFT/NOKIA

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