Posts Tagged ‘leaps and bounds’

ownCloud Growing Into Its Own With Versioning, APIs and Collaboration

May 24th, 2012 05:30 admin View Comments

The ownCloud project is adding features fast and furiously. The open-source file synchronization and sharing project announced the Milestone 4 release earlier this week, taking ownCloud in an interesting direction for corporate users. Forget Dropbox killer – ownCloud could be something even better, someday.

We all know that where the data is, the money is. What ownCloud is doing, then, is sort of surprising. The project (and the company behind it) is all about helping users and companies keep control of their data. That means giving up control of the software, and hoping that money comes from services and support.

Understanding ownCloud

Like Dropbox and others, ownCloud has a client piece that synchronizes data from your desktop to a server. The big difference here is that ownCloud also provides a server that’s free software (under the Affero GPL), and ownCloud isn’t in the business of storing user data at all.

Instead, it’s up to third-party providers to offer hosting, or for companies to provide hosting for their employees.

The project provides a server and clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android and (eventually) iOS. You can also access ownCloud via the Web to get to files and use its collaboration features.

What’s New in Milestone 4?

The project is growing by leaps and bounds. The fourth milestone release includes versioning, encryption and drag-and-drop uploading from the Web client. Versioning and encryption are a big deal for business users, and something that the competition has had for a while.

The v4 release also includes useful collaboration features. ownCloud now has a tasks application, and this release also improves its calendaring features. For individuals, the release includes improvements to the gallery features, so users can not only sync photos – they can also create a Web-based gallery via ownCloud.

Perhaps most importantly, this release includes publicly defined APIs – stabilizing the server side should make it much easier for third-party developers to create applications against ownCloud. Now the company just needs a compelling developer program.

Finally, the Milestone 4 release offers migration and backup features so organizations that are deploying ownCloud can develop an effective strategy for their users’ backups.

Not Quite There Yet

The ownCloud folks are making impressive progress, but there’s still a few rough edges around the project. If you ask the ownCloud folks, they’ll say that they’re not a Dropbox competitor. But Dropbox is still the gold standard for users when it comes to easy file sharing and syncing.

The lack of a LAN sync option, which Dropbox has had for years, is a problem. The ownCloud clients are also a bit primitive compared to Dropbox and not entirely stable. Testing the ownCloud client on Linux, the client kept shutting down due to a segfault.

The opportunity is large, and ownCloud is something the market really needs – an open-source set of tools that allow users and companies to keep full control of their data and the ability to modify and extend the tools as needed. The question now is whether the ownCloud team can build a sufficient community and do the necessary development to get ownCloud to the stage where it’s ready for adoption.

Here’s hoping.

Source: ownCloud Growing Into Its Own With Versioning, APIs and Collaboration

Poll: People Don’t Rely On Facebook, YouTube, Twitter For Election Information

February 7th, 2012 02:00 admin View Comments

voting_october10.jpgFewer people are relying on the Internet in general and social media specifically for election news and information than some social media “experts” would have us believe, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

While many in tech journalism circles have been quick to call the 2012 presidential race “the Social Media Election,” the poll found that few of us are relying on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for election information. While 25% say they regularly learn something about the election from the Internet, tha’s almost unchanged from 2008, when 24% said they regularly got election information from the Internet.

Even more telling is where on the Internet that information comes from: 6% of poll respondents said they are regularly learning about the campaign from Facebook, followed by YouTube videos (3%) and Twitter (2%), according to Pew.

One reason social media hasn’t grown by the leaps and bounds predicted is less engagement by young people. In 2008, there were two contested primaries, including a Democratic primary which has traditional drawn younger and arguably more tech-savvy voters. This year, only one in five people under 30 say they have been following the campaigns “very closely,” down from 31% in 2008.


Source: Poll: People Don’t Rely On Facebook, YouTube, Twitter For Election Information

Top 10 Culture-Tech Stories of 2011

December 19th, 2011 12:00 admin View Comments

BestOf2011.pngTechnology is frequently examined as though it were the reason for its own being, a kind of byte-driven tautology or spectacularly dry religious sect. But technology is a means to address questions. In that spirit, here are the top 10 stories about how we’ve employed the social web to ask and answer questions about our lives. These are “top” stories in the sense that they are representative, not exhaustive.

I’m focusing on culture, specifically on the humanities and science. I’m leaving politics and free speech to the side for the moment, since I’ve reviewed that aspect of tech a couple of times this month. Here are stories of how tech has been used to uncover our past, conserve our present and preserve our future. They are organized by date of publication, oldest to latest.

10. 9-11 Oral Histories Saved and Shared via Smart Phone

911mem.pngThe terrorist attacks against the United States in September of 2001 left a lasting impression on the country and changes that came from that moment rippled out across the globe. We humans use whatever we can to understand what we’ve gone through and this year, mobile technology grew in leaps and bounds. It was inevitable that we used that technology to address our own feelings on the 10th anniversary of the attack.

Broadcastr, a Brooklyn-based mobile start-up, has struck an agreement with National September 11 Memorial and Museum to make 50 oral histories of first-responders available via smart phone and online.

When Broadcastr leaves beta In February, it will welcome the collection of additional cell-recorded oral histories it is hoping users will gather. Interviewers can also geolocate the interview.

9. Mapping the Dead Zones

As our population continues to increase and, as a species, we continue to claw at the world, technology keeps pace in an attempt to understand and roll back the damage.

The World Resources Institute and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences have teamed to create an interactive map of eutrophication and hypoxia in the world’s coastal areas.

There are 530 areas identified as suffering from low oxygen – that’s hypoxia – and 228 more suffering eutrophication, or excessive fertilization, usually from run-off. Identifying problem spots is job one for anyone hoping to slow, stop or reverse these sorts of marine declines.

8. New Software Helps Rebuild Ancient Cities

rome_map.pngThe natural world is not the only victim of our weight on the planet. Our own cultural patrimony and history suffers from neglect and abuse. Added to that, time, which is an intrinsic part of the environment, does nothing beneficial to the artifacts of our societies. But academics are hoping that advances in the sensitivity and data capacity of new technology will allow them to rebuild, in mind if not in fact, the physical remains of our past, specifically, the buildings that defined our relationship to the world. It’s an effort, as it were, to resurrect our ancestors from their footprints.

The first step in virtualizing a building is tracing it. That’s a tough and time-consuming activity. It can be creative but it can also produce inaccuracies. Now scientists at the University of East Anglia have developed a software that can capture and restore destroyed buildings from old maps.

Professor Stephen Laycock and his team have created a tool that will automatically extract dimensions and relationships from colored maps. Users can extract black and white maps by directing a cursor within the building’s mapped edges.

7. Using 3D Printing to Repair Rodin’s Thinker

3D printing is increasing in popularity as it decreases in cost. Makers fairs are increasing in frequency and small personal 3D printers are a bit more common, in offices, if not at the kitchen table. But it’s still largely the purview of dedicated companies. In 2010, Dutch firm Materialise worked with Egypt’s Council of Antiquities to “print” a picture-perfect Tut for traveling exhibits.

This year, Cornell University has begun to employ it to create safe-to-handle exact replicas of cuneiform, the ancient Near Eastern writing system, used on now-fragile clay tablets. But Materialise’s experience repairing the famous Thinker sculpture by the French sculptor Rodin, is a good picture of the so-what of 3D.

In 2007, the Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands, where The Thinker resided, was burglarized. The meatheads who broke in did so not to steal the art, but to steal the metal. They made off with seven sculptures and started to try to chop them up to sell for scrap.

The Singer Laren needed to figure out how to deal with the butchered figure. iMaterialise had an idea. They did a CT scan of the damaged figure. Then they scanned the original mold retained by the Musee Rodin in Paris. They printed out a full-sized copy from the original on their Mammoth 3D printer. The conservators at the Singer Laren have used that and the scans of the original to re-fabricate and lay in the missing and damaged parts of the statue.

6. Using Twitter to Preserve Minority Languages

celltower_jun10.jpgLanguages, like rain forests, have the potential to contain answers to questions we may not even have had to form yet, or information that will guide us or remedies for what ails us. But the same technological tools that allow us to throw our voices halfway across the world – television, film, telephones – have pressured us to use the same language to exercise it. Centralization has meant standardization.

But new communications technologies, the social web and its mobile technology, may have provided us with an avenue back to Babel. (It can be a confusing, clamorous place, but it offers a fecundity that homogeneity does not.)

Of the approximately 6,000 languages alive in the world today, 60 percent or more are said to be dying out. The majority of the world’s languages are, in fact, “minority” languages, used in the shadow of a more politically powerful tongue.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Prof. Kevin Scannell of St. Louis University launched a project called Indigenous Tweets. Using a web-crawling statistical software he wrote called An Crúbadán, Scannell identifies which minority languages are being tweeted, by whom and how.

Next page: Geospatial Technologies

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Source: Top 10 Culture-Tech Stories of 2011

Facebook Buys Gowalla, The Location Sharing Service That We All Thought Was Dead

December 2nd, 2011 12:41 admin View Comments

gowalla150.jpgCNNMoney reports that Facebook has just acquired the location-based sharing service Gowalla. Sources say that Gowalla’s employees will move to Facebok’s Palo Alto offices and work on the Timeline feature, which is all about telling stories. Gowalla had recently shifted its vision to storytelling.

When Gowalla launched in 2009, it faced off against rival location-based social network Foursquare. Since then, Foursquare grew leaps and bounds in the location space, transitioning from a check-in service to a partner of daily deals giant Groupon. Gowalla got lost in the dust.

In October, a Gowalla PR rep told us that Gowalla had teamed up with Sony Pictures that would let users take global travels with TinTin.

The last time we reported on Gowalla, things seemed similarly bleak and rather vague. Gowalla had just dumped its virtual goods and place annotations feature, which allowed used to collect and drop virtual goods for each other at various places they checked-in to. Gowalla said it was releasing new features that would “encourage more exploration of the real world.” Of course, that’s not what Facebook’s Timeline is. But somewhere along the way, things must have changed.

We reached out to Facebook spokespeople and will report back with any new information.

Source: Facebook Buys Gowalla, The Location Sharing Service That We All Thought Was Dead

Phonedeck Turns Your Phone Into A Cloud App — 500 Pre-launch Invites

December 1st, 2011 12:01 admin View Comments

Phonedeck appeared last year at Le Web. At the time it seemed very much like a beta project to manage calls from a computer. But we’ve long had the position that real social graph is in your phone – the people you text and call – and Phonedeck has now come on leaps and bounds. Today it’s releasing 500 invites for TechCrunch readers (use the code “TechCrunch” on the site) and revealing more about its upcoming service.

This web/cloud platform lets you manage your mobile phone activity, including your contacts from your computer, sending and receiving SMS, initiating and answering calls. You don’t need to unlock your handset and you can even activate a chime sound when you lose the phone, say in the house. But most importantly you get a tonne of stats and data on the people you call, entire conversation histories and automatic updating of your contacts list via LinkedIn and/or Facebook, in a Plaxo-like fashion.

Although it launches next year you can try it out now. It’s only on Android right now but an HTML5 version will work and an iOS and Blackberry app is in the works.

After downloading the app, users’ phones are connected to the web platform via a cloud database from where calls and SMS texts can be made and received. It also displays incoming callers, showing their previous calls, SMS history, company and LinkedIn activity to complement their name and picture.

Think of it as Rapportive for your phone.

Forgot what you called that person about? Entire interaction histories by contact are logged so you can remind yourself.

Founder/CEO Dr. Frank Fitzek says Phonedeck makes use of the fact that we can do more with a call when it’s on a PC than on a mobile.

Security is built in – all connections made by the platform and associated apps make use of SSL encryption.

Personally I’ve often hoped that one day the phone will just be another cloud app and this is very close to the ideal.

Phonedeck is headquartered in Berlin, Germany, and was founded in 2010 by CEO Dr. Frank Fitzek, COO Gerrit Schulte, Head of Business Development Jens-Philipp Klein and the chairman Christophe Maire (recent winner of The Europas, who is also an investor in the company.

Phonedeck – Make the most out of your mobile phone activities from phonedeck on Vimeo.

Source: Phonedeck Turns Your Phone Into A Cloud App — 500 Pre-launch Invites

FAA Goes To the Web To Fight Laser-Pointing

October 27th, 2011 10:49 admin View Comments


coondoggie writes “The Federal Aviation Administration wants you to go online to help it battle the growing safety problem of people pointing lasers at flying aircraft.The FAA today said it created a new website to make it easier for pilots and the public to report laser incidents and obtain information on the problem which continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, pilots reported 2,795 laser events through Oct. 20. Pilots have reported the most laser events in 2011 in Phoenix (96), Philadelphia (95) and Chicago (83). Since it began tracking laser events in 2005 reports rose from nearly 300 to 2,836 in 2010, the FAA said.”

Source: FAA Goes To the Web To Fight Laser-Pointing

Atlanta’s Growing Video Surveillance System

September 19th, 2011 09:29 admin View Comments


McGruber writes “An Atlanta newspaper reports on the city’s ‘Video Integration Center,’ which allows Atlanta’s Police Department to control more than 100 public and private cameras. ‘Officials say hundreds or thousands more private-sector cameras will eventually feed into the center.’ According to the Atlanta Police Foundation, ‘This is going to grow by leaps and bounds over the years. The goal, of course, is to have the entire city blanketed [with cameras].’”

Source: Atlanta’s Growing Video Surveillance System

58% Of Mobile Web Users Get Their Content Fix Through Browsers: Jumptap

May 11th, 2011 05:31 admin View Comments

Yes, smartphone apps are still in vogue, and most mobile app stores continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Yet consumers spend more time engaging with the mobile Web on their smartphones than through ad-supported apps, mobile advertising startup Jumptap says in its STAT (Simple Targeting & Audience Trends) report. The company claims more than 58 percent of mobile internet users in the U.S. are getting content through their browser(s), compared to 42 percent via mobile apps.

An explanation for the discrepancy was not given, but I suspect this has something to do with there simply existing more websites than there are apps, and that jumping from one app to the next to consume content isn’t as good a user experience as simply opening a new page or tab within your mobile browser of choice.

Additionally, a lot of major Internet services (Gmail, Bing, Google search etc.) tend to function as good or even better through the mobile browser than via native apps.

To put together the report, freshly funded Jumptap analyzed 10 billion ad requests on its mobile advertising network, made by 83 million unique users. The company not only looked at content consumption from mobile handsets, but also at how well users respond to mobile advertising, finding that ad engagement trends upwards with age and income.

The company claims consumers aged 40 and over were almost five times more likely to engage with an ad when compared to younger mobile consumers. Similarly, users with annual income above $50K were found twice as likely to engage with ads as those earning less.

As for the favored mobile platform, the report found that Android drives the largest share of ad requests on the Jumptap network (39.1 percent), with iOS and RIM not far behind with 29.8 percent and 24.8 percent, respectively.

However, Apple’s iOS maintains the lead for user engagement for mobile ads.

Source: 58% Of Mobile Web Users Get Their Content Fix Through Browsers: Jumptap

Erasing And Recovering Hard Drives: An Increasingly Complicated Affair

May 5th, 2011 05:52 admin View Comments

The buzzword of the year is “cloud,” and it carries with it an implication that your data is somewhere magical and safe, and in a way, it is. But there’s no getting around the fact that our appetite for storage is increasing by leaps and bounds, whether it’s stored locally or remotely. There’s always the possibility of catastrophic failure, and of course the flip side of that is that there is always the need to instantly and permanently delete our data.

I’ve always found both necessities, and the methods for achieving them, interesting topics. And with densities increasing and SSDs on the rise, the recovery and security scene is getting more complex by the day. I spoke with Chris Bross, a data recovery expert at DriveSavers, in order to get a feel for what the recovery practices are out there today.

Drives by the billion

The hard disk drive market today, says Bross, is vastly different from what it was like 20 years ago. Manufacturers have consumed one another until there are essentially only two majors today: Western Digital and Seagate. All told over 650 million hard drives are sold every year, and as the price per gig is still far better for HDDs, that number isn’t likely to go down any time soon. Enterprise and cloud storage are still exploding.

Naturally, as these numbers go up, the failure numbers go up as well. Just the failure rates resulting from natural manufacturing tolerances and such produce millions of failed drives per year (remember that many drives stay in service for years, making the total number of active HDDs in the world somewhat difficult to estimate), and in addition to that, there are huge amounts of catastrophic-type failures like dropped drives, water damage, and crush damage.

In fact, DriveSavers has been offering its recovery services for free to people affected by the tsunami in Japan. Water damage is a common and well-understood failure — unlike, say, irradiation or a corrupted driver.

Chris mentioned that they have a sort of symbiotic relationship with drive manufacturers: Drivesavers gets access to special tools for recovering data, and the manufacturers get access to a ton of failure data (some interesting examples here). That relationship is important, since the huge volume means manufacturers can’t address every issue, and the increasing density and precision of hard drives makes recovery more difficult every year. But as long as the platters are reasonably intact, it’s just a matter of careful dissection and re-mounting the drives.

Solid state difficulty

SSDs are a different story. Bross pointed out that the situation out there is more like a couple decades ago in HDDs, when there were a dozen or more drive manufacturers. By DriveSavers’ count, there are over 100 manufacturers of flash and SSD storage, and quite a few companies putting together drivers, interfaces, and other management software. It’s a jungle out there.

Interestingly, the first generation of SSDs, which relied on single-layer cell technology, was far more reliable than the current multi-layer cell devices; reliability per cell was much higher — but the drive controllers were primitive. Major advances in write patterns, wear control, and so on are rolling out constantly, and it’s difficult to stay abreast of all the different kinds of failures possible out there. Failure rates on SSDs are still relatively high (though data is hard to come by and harder to interpret), so consider yourself warned.

A failure on an SSD can happen in a number of ways, and unlike HDDs, it seems that they are more likely to fail irrecoverably than in a way you can reverse. This is partially due to the way data is written on the drives — the new MLC flash necessitates an almost random pattern of writes in order to control cell wear, and if this pattern can’t be derived from the driver or encryption, the drive is essentially filled with garbage data.

Sanitation services

This same “problem” is in fact a powerful security feature. One of the services DriveSavers offers, though you can of course do it yourself, is “drive sanitation.” It’s when you want to be absolutely sure that data isn’t recoverable, and SSDs make that an easy job.

On normal HDDs, zeroing out the drive can take quite a long time, and with the right tools there’s no guarantee formatting or zeroing is enough. There are more industrial-strength techniques for killing a drive (DriveSavers degausses the drive and then puts it in a “crush box” for total destruction), but as it turns out, the most practical thing is to use a self-encrypting drive. If you’re concerned about security, this is a must. They cost a bit more and you’ll have to manage the encryption via software, but by “losing” the encryption key, the data is instantaneously rendered unrecoverable.

SSDs are naturally encrypted, since it’s built into the drive controller. Again, by losing the key or destroying the encryption device, the data is instantly rendered garbage, even to professionals. Technically the data is still there, though, so the ultra-paranoid data sanitation expert will actually grind down the SSD to dust. Short of nuking from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.

My final question was regarding that situation we all fear may come one day: you look out the window some day and lo, there are black helicopters descending. They’re here for you — and your precious data. You have 30 seconds before they break down the door. How do you make sure they can’t get a single byte off those drives? It turns out that no amount of sledgehammering or thermite can do as thorough a job as a 256-bit encryption process can do by throwing away the key. Plus, sledgehammering your drives looks kind of suspicious. Just sit calmly down, go to your disk encryption manager, and hit the appropriate button. Then turn off your computer, sit down on the couch and look innocent.

The world of drive recovery is always growing more sophisticated, but the take-home message is that there’s no excuse not to back up. If your data is worth sending to someone to be recovered, it’s worth paying for an extra drive and some backup software, or even better, an off-site service. It’s also nice to know that these days, your data is exactly as secure as you make it — that is, if it’s within reach.

[header image credit: Seagate]

Devin Coldewey (like “cold-away”) is a freelance writer and photographer based in Seattle. His personal website is, and you can reach him at devin at crunchgear dot com.

Source: Erasing And Recovering Hard Drives: An Increasingly Complicated Affair

Chart: Apple’s Tablet OS Share Will Shrink To 47 Percent By 2015

April 11th, 2011 04:22 admin View Comments

How long can Apple hold onto its dominance of the tablet market with the iPad? There no question that the iPad is leaps and bounds ahead of all other tablets, including the latest Android tablets running Honeycomb, in terms of market share, apps, design and overall experience. With the recently released iPad 2, it is maintaining its lead. But how long can that last? After all, Android caught up in smartphone market share pretty fast.

Today, Gartner released some estimates that take a stab at guessing what will happen to tablet market share through 2015. Last year, Apple’s iOS held an estimated 84 percent share, compared to 14 percent for Android. The iPad’s share of the tablet market is expected to drop to 69 percent this year, 64 percent next year, and keep falling to 47 percent by 2015. It will still have the largest share, but during the same period Android is expected to grow to 39 percent share.

The Blackberry Playbook, with its QNX OS, is expected to take 10 percent share by 2015 (another total guess since it is not even on the market yet), and the other operating systems will remain negligible.

The truth is that nobody knows how the nascent tablet market will play out. And Gartner, specifically, completely underestimated Android’s rise in the smartphone market when it tried to predict numbers just two years ago. Gartner obviously doesn’t want to repeat that mistake with its tablet estmates, and perhaps is giving Android an edge this time around.

Tablets are such a new category of computing that anything can happen. If you believe Gartner’s numbers, the iPad will lose 37 points of market share between by 2015, while Android will gain 24 points. That scenario is certainly plausible, but it will almost certainly turn out to be wrong. How do you think the market will shake out?

Source: Chart: Apple’s Tablet OS Share Will Shrink To 47 Percent By 2015