Archive

Archive for February, 2011

Solo Drivers In Los Angeles Will Soon Be Allowed To Drive In Carpool Lanes For A Fee

February 25th, 2011 02:50 admin View Comments

This week, Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS) — which was acquired by Xerox (NYSE: XRX) in February 2010 — announced that it’s building a new, electronic toll system on the two busiest highways in Los Angeles, to allow all single car drivers, even those in a diesel guzzling Hummer, to shift into carpool lanes for a fee.

When average traffic levels in a carpool lane rise overall, so will the fee. The company and city plan to calibrate the systems to keep traffic at a steady 45 miles per hour in the carpool lane (at least). Once equipped with the new toll system, the carpool lanes along Interstate 10 and Interstate 110 will be called ExpressLanes, instead.

Los Angeles and Xerox are building this project with the idea of reducing highway congestion overall, according to a press statement from ACS and reports by Green.Autoblog.com.

Is the death of the carpool lane as we know it environmentally sound, though?

The faster, wide open appeal of a carpool lane is supposed to motivate Los Angelenos to roll with their homeys, instead of Swingers style; remember that distinctly not-green-scene where Vince Vaughn and his friends drive individually but together to party after party? At least, a carpool lane’s supposed to encourage drivers to buy clean vehicles.

The Department of Motor Vehicles and state law in California allows vehicles with a qualifying “clean alternative fuel vehicle sticker” to drive in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

Ken Philmus, senior vice president and managing director of ACS Transportation Systems and Services, believes that a pay-to-switch-lanes system is a win for the environment, of course. Here’s why, he explained:

“When people are stuck in traffic, watching the other lane, they might be encouraged to get into a carpool, later. Only 10 percent of vehicles [in Los Angeles] are multi-occupant, generally. So, there’s under-utilized capacity in [high occupancy vehicle, or HOV] lanes.

With this system, as the HOV lane gets more congested, the toll to shift over goes up, which should result in fewer [single car drivers] going in, and a free flow that’s maintained. It should not damage the occupancy of the lane. But it should maintain or improve environmentally positive aspects of the lane, by getting people out of stop and go traffic. That’s where the air quality situation becomes worse, usuall.”

ACS and Xerox are not charged with studying things like improvements in air quality, or reduction in diesel consumption in Los Angeles, resulting from this project in any official capacity, Philmus said. That job will be up to the likes of the Federal Highway Administration, local air quality management offices and departments of transportation instead.

To participate, Los Angeles drivers will need to sign up for a FasTrak toll account, and install a small transponder in their vehicles. They will be asked to set a switch on the transponder to indicate whether they’re driving solo and the system should charge them; or if they’re part of a carpool and can drive for free in the ExpressLanes. Sensors installed along the interstate will calculate the dynamically priced tolls and deduct the proper amount from a driver’s prepaid account, automatically.

The ExpressLanes Project in Los Angeles is projected to open to traffic in late 2012. Similar systems have been installed in Miami, where they’re known as HOT lanes (high occupancy toll lanes), and are averaging around $3.50 or $4.00 a toll during rush hour, and are about 16 miles per hour faster than regular, free lanes according to reports in the Miami Herald.

Image: Traffic on Interstate 10, under creative commons license via Florian

Source: Solo Drivers In Los Angeles Will Soon Be Allowed To Drive In Carpool Lanes For A Fee

iOS 5 May Be Previewed At Next Week’s iPad 2 Event

February 25th, 2011 02:47 admin View Comments

iOS 5

You might have heard by now that Apple is holding a special event on March 2nd. The graphics on the invitation indicates that Apple will unveil the second generation iPad.

Engadget claims that according to their source, Apple will unveil iPad 2 and also give us a preview of the next version of iOS – iOS 5 at next week’s event.

Engadget reports:

It’s also almost guaranteed that we’ll see the next version of iOS (number 5 in all likelihood, along with its SDK for devs), and an expansion of Apple’s cloud services (that part is a little… foggy right now).

Apple usually gives a preview of the next version of iOS in April and releases it in June.

Apple is also expected to release iOS 4.2.1 next week.

We can’t wait to find out what Apple has in store for us. How about you? What’s on your wish list for iOS 5? Let us know in the comments.

Source: iOS 5 May Be Previewed At Next Week’s iPad 2 Event

HarperCollins Wants Library EBooks to Self-Destruct After 26 Loans

February 25th, 2011 02:34 admin View Comments

DRM

An anonymous reader writes: “HarperCollins has decided to change their agreement with e-book distributor OverDrive [and other distributors, too]. They forced OverDrive, which is a main e-book distributor for libraries, to agree to terms so that HarperCollins e-books will only be licensed for checkout 26 times. Librarians have blown up over this, calling for a boycott of HarperCollins, breaking the DRM on e-books — basically doing anything to let HarperCollins and other publishers know they consider this abuse.” Cory Doctorow, who wrote TFA, says: “For the record, all of my HarperCollins ebooks are also available as DRM-free Creative Commons downloads. And as bad as HarperCollins’ terms are, they’re still better than Macmillan’s, my US/Canadian publisher, who don’t allow any library circulation of their ebook titles.”

Source: HarperCollins Wants Library EBooks to Self-Destruct After 26 Loans

Groupon Files SEC Form For Another $16.2 Million

February 25th, 2011 02:22 admin View Comments

Wait wha? According to this SEC form, daily deals site Groupon has raised another $16.2 million. There’s no word on whether this is an add-on to its recent $950 million round or just a smaller mini-round, in any case it seems unrelated to any M&A activity. Listed on the form is Blue Media’s Eric Lefosky, Brad Keywell and Accel’s Kevin Efrusy, among others.

Groupon recently turned down an offer from Google, and has raised over $1.13 billion to date when you include the amount on this form. When asked whether this was part of a new round, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason said, “We typically don’t comment on these things sorry. Ask me something else.”

Groupon recently named Starbucks founder Howard Schultz to the board, who then made a undisclosed investment to the company. Perhaps that’s actually what we’re seeing here.

Updating

Source: Groupon Files SEC Form For Another $16.2 Million

Survey: 85% of Employees Under 25 Use Personal E-Mail Accounts for Work

February 25th, 2011 02:05 admin View Comments

Gmail logo This week the e-mail management company Mimecast released the results of a survey of more than 2,400 corporate e-mail users. The survey found that 85% of what Mimecast dubs “Generation Gmail” – employees 25 years old and younger – have used personal e-mail accounts to send work-related documents.

The main reason these workers turn to personal e-mail seems to be the attachment size limits of their official work e-mail accounts. As we’ve reported, Palo Alto Networks found that Web-based file sharing such as Megaupload is also very popular in the workplace.

I ran into this frequently when I worked in IT. Google can provide much larger attachment sizes and mailbox sizes than most enterprise IT departments can. It’s not mentioned in the data that Mimecast released, but I also noticed that many employees used personal accounts for work because they didn’t have offsite access to their company e-mail. At most places I’ve worked VPN access is not granted to all employees. But many users want to correspond with work contacts when outside of the office.

Mimecast emphasizes that using personal e-mail accounts puts corporate information and intellectual property at risk because it exists outside of IT’s control. However, Chief Scientist Nathaniel Borenstein – one of the creators of the MIME protocol – sympathizes with the rule breakers. “The results show that workers frustrated with corporate restrictions are using personal email accounts in order to maintain productivity,” he says.

What can organizations do to reduce the bleeding? I would suggest:

  • Up the limits of e-mail attachments either by increasing the capacity of on-premise e-mail systems or by adopting cloud e-mail.
  • Implement an official external file sharing system such as those offered by companies like Box, Huddle and Memeo. One place I worked had a company FTP site for sharing large attachments, but it was too difficult for most users.
  • Give most employees access to offsite e-mail.

The attempts to curb the use of personal e-mail or third-party file sharing sites will prove futile when employees have a decent alternative.

Source: Survey: 85% of Employees Under 25 Use Personal E-Mail Accounts for Work

A Step Toward Inbox Zero: Email That Self Destructs

February 25th, 2011 02:02 admin View Comments

email-150x150.JPG

If you go and look at your inbox right now, we’re willing to bet that there’s some email in there that’s completely stale. There’s no reason to reference it, search for it sometime down the road or keep it around for sentimental value. It’s just expired.

If OtherInbox CEO Joshua Baer has his way, this email could simply delete itself, rather than lurking in your inbox and continuing the clutter.

According to CNET’s Rafe Needleman, Baer spoke at the email-centric Inbox Love conference today and proposed “a standard that would let e-mail messages carry with them the date of their own irrelevance.”

E-mails could use the the “x-expires” header to tell the receiving in-box that they become outdated after a certain absolute date, or a certain time relative to when they’re sent or received. Baer says this idea has been “bouncing around” for 10 years, but he’s learned, “the best way to get a standard adopted is to work with individual companies first, and make it a de facto standard.”

We recently wrote about a mobile app that worked to create self-destructing text messages, with the idea being that it would help keep communication secure. The idea here is much simpler and more obvious – your inbox is a cluttered mess full of irrelevant information that needs to go away.

Baer, of course, knows all about inbox clutter. His company, Other Inbox, is a wonderful email tool (which I just recently fell in love with) that categorizes all of the extraneous newsletters and notification emails so you can make sure to get the emails that matter.

If you’d like to hear more about Baer’s proposal, there’s a Google Group set up for discussion.

Source: A Step Toward Inbox Zero: Email That Self Destructs

First Two-Legged Robot Marathon is Under Way In Osaka, Japan

February 25th, 2011 02:48 admin View Comments

Robotics

gregg writes “Five knee-high androids have crossed the starting line in the world’s first marathon for two-legged robots.The contestants are expected to take four days to complete the course, which involves 423 laps of an indoor track.” The live robot marathon video feed will make you realize that not all robots are worthy of fear. Or even worth watching for more than a few minutes.

Source: First Two-Legged Robot Marathon is Under Way In Osaka, Japan

Kidlandia Raises $2.5 Million To Create Personalized Fantasy Maps For Kids

February 25th, 2011 02:47 admin View Comments

Kidlandia, the awesome site that lets you create your own personalized fantasy maps for your kids, has raised $2.5 million led by Alsop Louie Partners with GRP, Net Discovery, Ivan Sutherland and Jim Sandler participating. This brings the startup’s total funding to $3.5 million.

As we’ve reported in the past, Kidlandia lets parents and kids create maps of a fantasy land, where the child is King or Queen of their own eponymous fantasy kingdom. You can insert family members or friends names into the map, so other areas of the land incorporate family members’ names. The map also features whimsical characters from Kidlandia’s brand Kreechurs.

Shortly after launching in 2009, Kidlandia signed a deal with Pottery Barn to feature the maps in its catalog, its website, and its retail stores. Since that time, Kidlandia’s reach has grown to a number of other well-known retailers including Snapfish, FAO.com, DisneyStore.com, and NickShop. The startup will actually launch a mini-store at FAO Schwarz’s flagship store in New York City in the next few weeks.

And, Kidlandia has also started to create branded maps for kids toy and entertainment companies, and are currently producing products for Disney, Nickelodeon, Lego, and Marvel.

Source: Kidlandia Raises $2.5 Million To Create Personalized Fantasy Maps For Kids

Crawl Bank Accounts with the Ghost of Wesabe

February 25th, 2011 02:30 admin View Comments

safehandle.jpgThe personal finance startup Wesabe may be dead, but its code lives on. Former team member Brian Donovan recently open sourced the framework used to connect with bank websites and download statements in a machine-readable form. This might not sound impressive, but with thousands of banks just in the U.S., all with different website setups, entire companies like Yodlee have been built around solving this problem.

By open sourcing the code, Wesabe makes it possible for hobbyists, researchers and starving startup founders to build new and innovative personal finance tools. The code itself is pretty bare bones; Brian admits he’d hoped to spruce it up before release but his new job didn’t leave much time for a labor of love. What’s crucial though is that it’s a battle-tested system with broad coverage, and has a simple system for adding support for new institutions.

This makes it a strong potential competitor to Yodlee, if it can gather enough support from a community of developers to stay on top of the constantly changing bank websites. The forum posts ask for the code to be open sourced and now tips for running it show that there are enthusiasts interested in keeping it alive. This is a hopeful sign for innovation, but Yodlee may not be so happy. The loss of revenue from Mint after it was acquired by Intuit must have been painful for the company, and the emergence of an open-source alternative will be another headache.

So, what are the possibilities for end users? The simplest thing you can do with the code is set it up on your own machine and pull down all your own financial information automatically. Personal data lovers can create custom instrumentation for their own spending, saving and income patterns, building dashboards showing the measurements they care about. Getting a bit fancier, you could run something in the background on a private server. Want to send yourself an SMS when you approach your overdraft limit, or when there’s an unusually large transaction? Having this “Automatic Uploader” code makes it easy to build your own system to handle those requirements.

Hopefully this will also inspire a new generation of startups to build personal finance tools. As founder Marc Hedlund says in his insight-packed post-mortem on Wesabe, in the financial world “the help consumers have is absolutely abysmal”, so there are worlds of opportunity to create better solutions.

Photo by Todd Ehlers

Source: Crawl Bank Accounts with the Ghost of Wesabe

Amazon Web Services Moves into New Territory…Again

February 25th, 2011 02:10 admin View Comments

Michelin Man in the SkyAmazon Web Services is on an aggressive development cycle. Its latest announcement comes today with what it calls AWS CloudFormation, a service that Amazon’s Jeff Barr describes in a manner that makes it feel quite similar to cloud management technologies such as Puppet and Chef.

With AWS CloudFormation, developers can create their own templates for provisioning the resources needed for their applications. Barr’s descriptions show how far the “recipe” metaphor has spread through the cloud computing world. It’s related to Chef, which serves as a configuration environment. In Chef, recipes are He tells a story about how much cooking is done in his house and the need to be precise in measurements when baking. The recipe has to be just right.

In this case, the recipe automates the creation of the stack for the developer.Christopher Peter replied to my question about how this can integrate with WordPress: “…I was referring to the example template.I like the programmatic approach to convert manual setup into 1 efficient command.”

That’s exactly it. AWS is programmable. Now it’s becoming automated to some extent, too.

Barr:

To date, many people have used AWS in what we’ll have to think of as cooking mode. They launch some instances, assign some Elastic IP addresses, create some message queues, and so forth. Sometimes this is semi-automated with scripts or templates, and sometimes it is a manual process. As overall system complexity grows, launching the right combination of AMIs, assigning them to roles, dealing with error conditions, and getting all the moving parts into the proper positions becomes more and more challenging.

The mechanisms allows the developer to describe what resources are required. AWS CloudFormation then configures the setup accordingly.

Barr:

Using CloudFormation, you can create an entire stack with one function call. The stack can be comprised of multiple Amazon EC2 instances, each one fully decked out with security groups, EBS (Elastic Block Store) volumes, and an Elastic IP address (if needed). The stack can contain Load Balancers, Auto Scaling Groups, RDS (Relational Database Service) Database Instances and security groups, SNS (Simple Notification Service) topics and subscriptions, Amazon CloudWatch alarms, Amazon SQS (Simple Queuue Service) message queues, and Amazon SimpleDB domains. Here’s a diagram of the entire process:

cloudformation_1.png

Barr goes into some depth about how these recipes work. The conversation on Twitter was buzzing on the topic. Christian Reilly (@reilly) tried the service this morning and he was impressed with it. He said it is a solid end-to-end service from virtual machine to app. It’s free and in part for that reason it could be a killer in the market as the lines blur in terms of the differentiation between it, Chef and other services.

But just after a day, it is already spawning integrations with Chef. A post on Hacker News details how this can be done.

Reaction has been generally positive.

cloudformationchef.jpg

AWS has been on a tear lately. Last week it announced hosting for static Web sites. It launched Elastic Beanstalk, a PaaS environment earlier in the month. These are all new efforts.

But there are lots of other movements in the market that AWS has to be watching. OpenStack and hosting providers are starting to build their own cloud environments.

In any case, these are fast moving times. I wonder what it will be from AWS next week?

Source: Amazon Web Services Moves into New Territory…Again

YOYOYOOYOYOYO