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August 02, 2009|Shari Roan; Todd Martens; Alex Pham

BOOSTER SHOTS

Tracking how (badly) you sleep

Americans who have trouble sleeping and don't want to spend the night in a sleep lab can find out just how exhausted they are with a new at-home sleep monitor.

The device, called the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, is the latest addition to the $23-billion-a-year market for sleep aids. According to a review of the product in the MIT Technology Review, the device allows people to track their sleep cycles over time. It does not promise to improve sleep, and it won't diagnose severe sleep disorders.

The idea is to discover how just how much time you spend in various sleep cycles so you can work on improving your sleep.

Users wear a headband with sensors that measure electrical activity in the brain. In the morning, a display unit gives a summary of the night's sleep, including how long the user slept, how many times he or she awakened and how much time was spent in the various stages of sleep. The Zeo costs $399.

-- Shari Roan

From Booster Shots: Oddities, musings and news from the world of health

For more, go to latimes.com/boostershots

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POP & HISS

Whitney album aims at Grammy

Whitney Houston releases 'I Look to You' for free, sets sights on Grammy

With Mariah Carey's album pushed back until Sept. 15, the path to the Grammy for best pop vocal album should be relatively clear for Whitney Houston. The artist's comeback effort, "I Look to You," has been bumped to Aug. 31 from Sept. 1, a 24-hour difference that will now make the artist eligible for Grammy consideration.

The artist's official website credits buzz from recent listening events in New York and Los Angeles for the bump. But the holiday sales jump that will greet the album when Grammy nominations are unveiled in early December probably didn't make it a too-difficult decision for Arista Records.

Meanwhile, the R. Kelly-penned title track was released Tuesday as a free download. It's the second ballad from the album to make its way to the Web, after an earlier leak of "I Didn't Know My Own Strength." You can go to Houston's site to trade your e-mail information for a song.

Friends of ours who attended the Whitney listening events gave us positive reports, but we're going to need to hear much more than these big, over-produced end-credit ballads to be sold. Of course, "I Look to You" will probably sound swell at any weddings you attend in 2011, and that's largely a credit to Whitney.

She makes cringe-worthy lyrics ("winter storms have come and darkened my sun") sound like the most important Hallmark card ever written. Yet when all is said and done, the song fails to leave much of a lasting impression. Just when Whitney seems to power the song to another level -- breaking from the verse for a brief, energy-rising "oh yeah" -- the band and backing singers fail to rise to the occasion. Instead, we get a swipe of orchestral synths, resulting in it an inoffensive slow dance, but little more.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: In this image provided by Sony Music singer Whitney Houston and Chief Creative Officer, Sony Music Worldwide, Clive Davis, right, are shown during the Whitney Houston "I Look To You" CD Listening Party held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Thursday July 23, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (AP Photo/Frank Micelotta - Sony Music) IMAGE PROVIDED BY SONY MUSIC AP provides access to this publicly distributed HANDOUT photo to be used only to illustrate news reporting or commentary on the facts or events depicted in this image.

From Pop & Hiss: The L.A. Times music blog

For more, go to latimes.com/pophiss

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TECHNOLOGY

Real money goes for virtual goods

About one in 10 Americans reached into their wallets last year and spent an average of $30 on virtual goods, those pixelated swords, outfits and other non-real items used in online games such as Habbo and Club Penguin, according to a report released this morning by Frank N. Magid Assoc.

Of the $1 billion projected spending worldwide on virtual goods this year, between $200 million and $250 million will come from the U.S., the report said. Strategy Analytics, another firm that also is bullish on this market, has projected that it could grow to $17.3 billion in 2015.

Why waste real money on intangible items? According to a researcher with the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology Vili Lehdonvirta, people buy intangible items to gain status, identity, membership, class and performance.

Of course, the Magid results are potentially skewed -- the 1,927 people who participated were polled online, meaning they were more likely than the general population to be comfortable with online transactions (such as taking surveys or buying that fabulous chain mail to go on their level 80 troll).

-- Alex Pham

From Technology: The business and culture of our digital lives

For more, go to latimes.com/technology

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