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Archive for February, 2011

Ron Conway, Chris Sacca And Others Invest 800K In PaaS Dotcloud

February 28th, 2011 02:58 admin View Comments

Hosted application platform dotcloud is announcing 800K in angel funding today, from notable angel investors Ron Conway, Chris Sacca, Jerry Yang, Raymond Tonsing, Roger Dickey, Ash Patel, Eric Urhane, Kenny Van Zant, Trinity Ventures and others.

In the same space as Heroku (before it got bought by Salesforce for $212 million) and a slew of 1st generation platform-as-a-service Heroku clones, what 2nd generation dotcloud does differently is that it gives developers flexibility. To make it easier to make server administration changes downstream, dotcloud lets companies “mix and match” components and use multiple languages and tools instead of focusing on one language and development stack.

Says founder Solomon Hykes, “The problem is that developers don’t want to be tied to one language or framework anymore. They still want simplicity – but now they want flexibility, too. And for that you need a completely new breed of platform.”

When asked on why he went in on the round, investor Chris Sacca said, “Hackers building stuff other hackers will pay for is too good to pass up.” Well, if Heroku

Hykes plans on using the financing to further focus on building what he considers to be a “developer’s dream platform” with an emphasis on flexibility and user experience in addition to world class support.

Source: Ron Conway, Chris Sacca And Others Invest 800K In PaaS Dotcloud

DEMO 2011: CoinStar for Smartphones, Mind Reading & Virtual Dressing Rooms

February 28th, 2011 02:39 admin View Comments

While the majority of companies launching at DEMO are entirely Web-based, there are some exceptions. This morning, we saw a handful companies hit the stage with gadgets in-hand (or in tow) that offer interesting perspectives on the future.

What does the future look like? If DEMO is any indication, it’s filled with mind-reading headbands, and augmented reality dressing rooms, and kiosks that eat your old devices and spit out cash in return.

EcoATM

Every year, more than 500 million devices reach consumers hands. The average smartphone lasts barely more than a year, with the average consumer swapping out at the 13 month mark. Where do these devices end up? In the landfill.

What’s the solution? An automated recycling station at your local grocery store that takes your old devices and give you cash or store credit in return, automatically. It’s call the ecoATM and it’s currently  All you need to do is put your old device, be it a smartphone, MP3 player, game DVD, GPS unit or other device into the unit and it scans it and determines what it is. It then determines the object’s condition and figures out a price. Then, right there on the spot, the machine offers you store credit or cold, hard cash.

That’s how we like our eco-activism – meted out in crisp 10s and 20s.

MindWave from NeuroSky

In a world of multitasking and distraction, it can be hard to concentrate. NeuroSky makes a game of it. Their device, which you wear on your forehead, monitors electrical EEG brainwave impulses and feeds the data through an algorithm to determine your state of mind. It then uses this measurement to advance the game. For example, on app requires a certain level of concentration to push an apple across the screen. Another poses quick mathematical questions and then graphs your ability to quickly and accurately respond.

Children’s games, however, seem to be just that. The company has a much larger play on its hands, with biosensors providing early diagnoses, “seizures avoided, machines operated, movies edited, games controlled, REM prolonged, bullseyes scored, and lessons learned using only the power of biosensors.”

neurosky-screenshot.png

Swivel & The Webcam Social Shopper

With the 2010 release of the Microsoft Kinect, the world is quickly getting used to the idea using your entire body as a controller. The device sold like hotcakes and now people are playing video games and controlling their Netflix accounts with the swing of an arm and shake of a hip.

What if, instead, you could use this same interface to see if that shirt really goes with that pair of pants? Or how about that purse with that dress? That’s the vision of Swivel from FaceCake Marketing Technologies and The Webcam Social Shopper from Zugara. Simply stand in front of an Internet-connected camera and try on your clothing before you buy it online.

Now, is it perfect? Far from it. The video was choppy and we have to wonder exactly how a system like this could tell you how something will really look on your without a full-body, 3D scan, but maybe that isn’t the whole point. Maybe it’s better to go from nothing to something, and right now when you’re shopping online you have nothing. Will this tell you if those pants are going to be a little tight? Or that shirt a little to slim in the shoulders? No. But it will tell you how they look together.

Both companies go beyond virtually trying on clothes, however, and tackle the more broad realm of augmented reality. In reality, the virtual dressing room is just one example of a wide variety of implementations and, if the Kinect is any indication, we’re going to see a lot more from where these come from.

socialshopper-screenshot.png

Source: DEMO 2011: CoinStar for Smartphones, Mind Reading & Virtual Dressing Rooms

Microsoft Adds Selective ActiveX Filtering to IE9

February 28th, 2011 02:32 admin View Comments

Internet Explorer

An anonymous reader writes “A post on the IE blog details the new ActiveX filtering feature in the IE9 release candidate. Microsoft’s Herman Ng writes, ‘ActiveX Filtering in the IE9 Release Candidate gives you greater control over how Web pages run on your PC. With ActiveX Filtering, you can turn off ActiveX controls for all Web sites and then turn them back on selectively as you see fit. While ActiveX controls like Adobe Flash are important for Web experiences today for videos and more, some consumers may want to limit how they run for security, performance, or other reasons.’ My favorite quote from the article is one of the image captions: ‘ActiveX content may prevent you from having a good experience viewing a Web site’”

Source: Microsoft Adds Selective ActiveX Filtering to IE9

Gmail Access (& Emails) To Be Restored “Soon” to All Those Impacted By Yesterday’s Outage

February 28th, 2011 02:59 admin View Comments

As we reported yesterday, many Gmail users woke up Sunday to find that their email inboxes were empty – and not in a good way. Users reported their entire Gmail history – inboxes, outboxes, and archives – were wiped clean.

Google reports now that it has identified the problem, which it says was a bug resulting from a software storage update. Users affected will have access to their Gmail accounts again, and their email messages will be restored “though it may take longer than we originally expected.”

Google confirmed the problem with some Gmail accounts yesterday afternoon, and its engineers have been working on the problem since. Although Google initially said the problems affected .29% of Gmail users, the company has revised those estimates downward to .08% and then to .02% of users.

It was a small number of accounts, to be sure, but the problem has lasted about 30 hours. And for those impacted, the thought of losing all their email records was fairly frightening, as many who took to the Google forums to help troubleshoot their problems remarked with panic and frustration that they had years of email history stored there.

Fully restored emails or not, the incident is a good reminder to back up your data by either storing it locally or by storing a copy with another service.

Source: Gmail Access (& Emails) To Be Restored “Soon” to All Those Impacted By Yesterday’s Outage

Ning Launches Slick New Mobile Social Tool Called Mogwee

February 28th, 2011 02:55 admin View Comments

Mogwee launches this evening, an ambitious new product from Ning unrelated to its core social networking service. It’s a new social/communications tool that’s built from the ground up for mobile platforms, beginning with iOS for iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads.

For now, Mogwee’s main feature is to let you have on the fly public and private instant message-like conversations with people via the app. It updates in real time allowing for synchronous conversations, or you can wait for notifications to come in to have a more asynchronous experience.

Unlike most new services we see, there’s no friending or following with Mogwee. If you invite someone to the service, or interact with them in a group “hangout,” you can then have one on one conversations with them. It ends up being very similar to services that have mutual friending, but it worked effortlessly in my testing without al the hassle of adding and removing friends.

For one one on communications it works a lot like text messaging, albeit with a synchronous flow that makes it more fun to use. In group hangouts, though, it really shines. If you want to have a quick group chat with some friends or coworkers from your mobile, this is something you’ll enjoy using. You can also post pictures and videos, give gifts, and do fun stuff like throw zombie sheep at each other.

I’ve tested Mogwee on iOS and have been using it over the weekend via an unlaunched Android version that works quite well (you’ll have to wait a while for the Android version to be released publicly). You can download it here for iOS now, though. And you can also use the browser version at Mogwee.com. You have to actually create your account via your phone, though, before you can use the browser version.

Try it out. At first it just seems like another fun chat application. But it’s actually quite a useful chat and productivity tool that is almost certainly finding a permanent home on my phone.

Source: Ning Launches Slick New Mobile Social Tool Called Mogwee

Light Painting Wifi With Light (Haunting Video)

February 28th, 2011 02:54 admin View Comments

lightpaintingwifi6.jpg
Above: WiFi signal spills gently into the street from an old Oslo apartment building built in the 1890′s. Video below.

Wireless communication channels are all around us all the time, but their variable strengths in different places create a textured, invisible part of the urban landscape. A team of Norwegian researchers, arguing that WiFi is “a fundamental part of the construction of networked cities,” created the beautiful video below visualizing the strength of WiFi signals around their neighborhood in Oslo. They used a four meter pole that measured signal strength and lit up to a great or lesser degree. Then they took time delayed photos of themselves walking through the snowy streets.

“The strength, consistency and reach of the network says something about the built environment where it is set up, as well as reflecting the size and status of the host,” writes the team in Immaterials: Light painting WiFi “Small, domestic networks in old apartment buildings flow into the streets in different ways than the networks of large institutions. Dense residential areas have more, but shorter range networks than parks and campuses.”

Wifi is just one kind of signal, of course. IPhone owners would likely love to paint 3G signals like this. As the Internet of Things brings more and different kinds of signals to our cities, and as we grow to depend all the more on those signals not just for Internet access but for the communication between our newly-networked home services and appliances and the networks, then this sort of measurement and visualization could become something more than just art. It sure is cool art, though.

Thanks to Flowing Data for blogging about it first.

Source: Light Painting Wifi With Light (Haunting Video)

Meteorites Brought Ingredients of Life To Earth

February 28th, 2011 02:50 admin View Comments

Earth

Meshach writes “A new analysis of a meteorite found in Antarctica is >leading scientists to think that life on Earth may have came from outer space. Chemical analysis of the meteorite shows it to be rich in ammonia and containing the element nitrogen. Nitrogen is found in the proteins and DNA that form the basis of life as we know it. The prevailing theory is that our planet may have been seeded by a comet or asteroid because the formative Earth might not have been able to provide the full inventory of simple molecules needed for the processes which led to primitive life.”

Source: Meteorites Brought Ingredients of Life To Earth

Searching for Sadness in New York: Is the Foursquare API Living Up to Its Potential?

February 28th, 2011 02:35 admin View Comments

As explained in this blog post, Foursquare needed a way for its business staff to run reports based on its data without slowing down production servers and without learning technologies such as Scala and MongoDB. The company decided to make its data available to business staff through a Hadoop cluster hosted by Amazon Web Services. Foursquare’s data miners could then query it using Hive, which provides a SQL-like query language for Hadoop.

As a proof-of-concept the company has produced a report on the rudest cities in the world, based on the number of tips that contain profanity. Which is pretty cool (apart from the assumption that profanity use = rudeness). But it makes me realize just how under-utilized geolocation APIs are.

Here are the results of Foursquare’s profanity-mining:

Foursquare rudest cities

And here’s how Foursquare’s data analysis system works:

Foursquare diagram

Some more practical applications, from a business standpoint, for data mining staff might include determining:

Which venues are fakes or duplicates (so we can delete them), what areas of the country are drawn to which kinds of venues (so we can help them promote themselves), and what are the demographics of our users in Belgium (so we can surface useful information)?

Of course, this sort of check-in data is solely in the hands of Foursquare’s internal use. But it makes me wonder whether you could pull together information like this through the Foursquare API if you built your own data warehouse for analysis.

I wonder what services like Fourwhere (which we covered here) could learn if they cached all the data they retrieved from various APIs and ran sentiment analysis on it. What could MisoTrendy (coverage) tell us about a venue based the long-term trend patterns? Is there something in Foursquare’s terms of service that prevents people from doing this? I guess we’re back to that old question what would you do with the massive data sets from persistent location tracking?

This feels like it could be the first steps towards accomplishing what was described in the opening lines of the Headmap Manifesto:

there are notes in boxes that are empty

every room has an accessible history

every place has emotional attachments you can open and
save

you can search for sadness in new york

Source: Searching for Sadness in New York: Is the Foursquare API Living Up to Its Potential?

Infected Androids Run Up Big Texting Bills

February 28th, 2011 02:01 admin View Comments

Android

Hugh Pickens writes “Computerworld reports that a rogue Android app is hijacking smartphones and running up big texting bills to premium rate numbers before the owner knows it. Chinese hackers grabbed a copy of Steamy Windows, a free program, added a backdoor Trojan horse to the app’s code, then placed the reworked app on unsanctioned third-party “app stores” where unsuspecting or careless Android smartphones find it, download it and install it.”

Source: Infected Androids Run Up Big Texting Bills

Nexus EnergyHomes Raises $1.5 Million To Build Luxury, Net Zero Energy Houses

February 28th, 2011 02:47 admin View Comments

Annapolis-based Nexus EnergyHomes raised the first $200,000 of a $1.5 million dollar series A round, a new SEC filing revealed. The company designs, sells and builds pre-fab homes that are “net zero,” or zero energy homes (ZEHs).

According to the U.S. Department of Energy ZEHs are “connected to the utility grid but can be designed and constructed to produce as much energy as they consume [or more] annually.”

Nexus EnergyHomes also makes and sells green building materials, and offers software to optimize the installation of, and manage the use of equipment in a net zero energy home — like air conditioners, filters, lights, meters, geothermal wells and solar power generating systems. The company’s software, under the brand name Energyze, also helps home builders attain rebates and incentives to build a ZEH.

Representatives were not available immediately after the filing was made public to answer questions about the company’s investors, or how the firm plans to invest its new-found capital.

Because Nexus Energy Homes focuses on building in and around Maryland, they are guarded, at least for the time being, against competition from established zero net energy home designers, like Ecofutures in Colorado or Vert Design in Ottawa.

A regional specialization will not, however, protect the business from competition on software and systems that it sells. Giant technology providers to venture-backed startups are angling for a piece of the green homes market, including GE and Fuji Electric, and OPOWER and Tendril which both specialize in home-based, energy management technology.

Source: Nexus EnergyHomes Raises $1.5 Million To Build Luxury, Net Zero Energy Houses

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