Friday, May 11, 2007

Infinity Watch Concept : MP3, Video, Curves-A-Plenty

infinitywatch1.jpg When you design a gadget that tries to do everything under the sun, it invariably both sucks and blows. At the very least, this 3D render of the Infinity doesn't hurt our eyes. To the contrary, it soothes them. The wristwatch has a display on the front that you can use to show off digital photos and video clips. That, and it plays MP3s. Since it's still just an artist's rendering, we'll likely never see it in the local Wal-Merde anytime soon. 'tis a shame, since they're so many quality wristwatch review sites out there. – Nicholas Deleon

Swatch Infinity, Mp3/Video/Photo Player Watch [Yanko Design]


Pixsy multi-repository image search


Ringtone/Mobile Game Retailer Playphone Does Big Round

PlayPhone strikes us as another startup whose core strength is not technology but deal making. The company has done deals on the content side to bring in famous name brands and then gone out to do the distribution deals. drives traffic to its own destination site and powers mobile destinations for SEGA, ABC, Bandai, Lycos and RealNetworks. Regarding a recent Bandai deal, PlayPhone and Bandai expect to sell 100K units of their pre-paid Tamagotchi phone within 12 months of its July launch in the US.

PlayPhone has secured $18.75M in Series C funding led by Scale Venture Partners and joined by existing investors, Cardinal Venture Partners and Menlo Ventures. The startups says the funding will allow PlayPhone to expand into additional international markets this year.

playphone grab.png


B and C List VCs Sucking Wind

nytimes grab.png The New York Times today provides more reportage on the woes of the venture capital sector. Unless you are a top 40 venture firm, you are in a world of hurt.

“It’s been almost a decade,” said Eric Doppstadt, director of private equity for the Ford Foundation, which invests in venture capital firms. “I find it shocking that an asset class that has provided so little payback continues to attract so much capital.”

Read - Some Unrest Is Bubbling Beneath the Top Tier (NY Times)


Odd iPod Patent Shows Dual Screens, Rear Touchscreen

The Interweb is all a'flutter about an odd iPod patent filed by Apple that describes a device with screens on both the front and the back of the player. An amalgam of Sprint's UpStage and the iPhone, this patent describes an interface in which a rear touchscreen accepts input and reflects that input on the front screen. Confused yet?

It works like this. Because a Nano-sized device would be too small to allow for a real front touch interface, the rear touchscreen would sense your finger position and show a cursor where your finger or thumb would be on the front screen. This frees up front real estate and could potentially allow for an onscreen keyboard and other goodies. Possible? Yes. Will it happen soon? Probably not.

This is all pie-in-the-sky conjecture, but it does show a potential design for a future Nano-sized iPhone and makes for great Apple rumor-mongering.


Bypass Flickr Ban in Iran, UAE and Saudi Arabia

"We apologize the site [] you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates."

That's the message you're likely to see when trying to access Flickr pictures from certain gulf countries like UAE and Iran because the administration has blocked the photo sharing site from citizens for various cultural and religious reasons.
Unblock Flickr website in Dubai, Tehran

[The government ban also applies to sites like Hi5, Friendster, Skype, etc.]

To unblock Flickr in UAE, Iran, China or any other country, you may try the standard proxy route but there's a much better option developed by an Iranian photographer who's an ardent Flickr fan himself.

Hamed Saber has released an Access Flickr extension for Firefox that will let you circumvent the internet filters of any country where the site is banned.

The Access Flickr extension for Firefox substitutes the HTTP header parameters before sending a request to Flickr and therefore fools the government filters. This extension is only for accessing, it won't work for other sites like YouTube or Orkut.

Download Access Flickr | Hamed Saber on Flickr


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Clever AACS t-shirt hack

ThinkGeek has a great take on the AACS number censorship thing -- they've made a t-shirt that shows all the hex values in sequence leading up to the AACS key, a blank line labelled [redacted] and then all the numbers following from it. Link (Thanks, David!)

Read More... - Pay Someone to Answer Your Question

Guruza is creating an ask-answer marketplace that allows you to chat with experts until you get an answer to your question. After you get a satisfactory answer, you pay them an agreed-upon fee (usually $5 or $10). In looking at the most recent questions/answers, some questions are serious and get a serious response with the requested fee, while others just go unanswered. It is an interesting comparison with, which was less upfront about the fee part of the equation and thus received many more ridiculous and perverse questions. I also prefer the layout and functionality of this site, as compared to Jyve. They have a good Q&A section, as well as good graphics. In their own words: Guruza is a marketplace that brings together people seeking knowledge with those who can provide it. You don't pay unless you get the answer you are looking for. Go ahead and try it out-it only takes a minute to get started! Just enter a question into the box below, decide on how much you offer to have it answered, and submit to Guruza." Why it might be a killer: There must be a market for paying "experts" to answer random questions out there, and if there is, this site definitely answers the call. It is well designed, explained and managed. Some questions: What is that market for paying so-called "experts" online? Are these guys making a profit? kinda like the failed Google Answers -- never made it to critical mass.


Solid freeform fabrication: DIY, on the cheap, and made of pure sugar

CandyFab Sign

In February we gave a sneak preview of our project to construct a home-built three dimensional fabricator. Our design goals were (1) a low cost design leveraging recycled components (2) large printable volume emphasized over high resolution, and (3) ability to use low-cost printing media including granulated sugar. We are extremely pleased to be able to report that it has been a success: Our three dimensional fabricator is now fully operational and we have used it to print several large, low-resolution, objects out of pure sugar.

Coil Screw, dodecahedron

The general idea of our build process-- that of stacking solid two-dimensional printed layers-- is actually common to most solid freeform fabrication methods. Our machine employs what we believe is a fairly novel low-cost technology to accomplish this: selective hot air sintering and melting (SHASAM).

The printing process begins with a bed of a granular printing media that has a fairly low melting point. Using a narrow, directed, low-velocity beam of hot air, we selectively fuse together the print media, forming a two-dimensional image out of the fused grains. We then lower the bed by a small amount, add a thin flat layer of media to the top of the bed, and selectively fuse the media in the new layer, forming a two dimensional image that is also fused to any overlapping fused areas in the layer below. By repeating this process, a three-dimensional object is slowly built up. At the end of the build, the bed is raised to its original position, disinterring the fabricated model, while unused media is reclaimed for use in building the next object.

Our process is very much like a low-cost version of Selective Laser Sintering, or Selective Laser Melting, which are commercial processes used for plastic and direct metal printing. Rather than using a high-power CO2 or YAG laser ($5k and up), we use hot air created with the help of a $10 heating element.

Trading off a laser for a heat gun gives us lower resolution but at much lower cost, and is typical of our approach to 3D fabrication. We have taken a very different approach from most other fab projects (e.g., Fab@Home and RepRap) in that we have a comparatively large printable volume, but less need for precision and high resolution. Our fabricator is not designed for prototyping machine parts; it's designed for fun, for large-scale 3D illustration, for sculpting, architectural models, and other applications where resolution isn't the only important factor. We estimate the total cost to build a machine with similar capability to be in the neighborhood of $500. Realistically, the cost of any project like this is not a fixed number, and since recycled components are involved, the actual cost could range up or down by a factor of two depending on how resourceful the builder is.

There are a number of different print media that may be suitable for use with SHASAM fabrication: many types of plastics and waxes have low melting points and are available in granular or powder form. Beyond that, there are a number of interesting foods-- chocolate chips come to mind-- that can be used with the process However, one of the most interesting possibilities is using table sugar.

Granulated Sugar: low cost print media

Sugar As we mentioned in our preview of the printer, our printing medium of choice is granulated sugar. Sugar is a particularly good medium because it's non-hazardous, non-toxic, non-intimidating, kid friendly, water soluble, rigid despite having a low melting point, and as an organic, may be suitable for making forms for investment casting. It's also very easy to obtain and very inexpensive: you can buy it at grocery stores, and in large bags at places like Costco for about $0.37/pound.

The price of sugar compares quite favorably to the polycaprolactone (a low melting point polyester) used by the reprap project which costs about $4.00 a pound. As it turns out, even $4.00 per pound is quite inexpensive compared to the media for many other solid freeform fabrication systems.

Beyond just lowering the media cost of a given fabricated object, using a low-cost medium can be leveraged to make large-volume printing both practical and economical. Our fabricator has a maximum printable volume of 24 x 13.5 x 9 inches (61 x 34 x 23 cm)-- 2916 cubic inches, or 1.7 cubic feet, and holds a little more than 100 pounds of sugar, which costs about $37 retail.

Screw, dodecahedron Of course, the direct media cost in the models can also be an important consideration. Consider this model of a wood screw that we fabricated out of sugar: It's 20 inches long, with the head diameter of 4.5 inches, and it weighs about 2.5 pounds, so the total media cost is about $0.93.

For a fun exercise, look up how much it would cost to make a similar model on a prototyping industry standard $20,000 Dimension ABS 3D printer-- if it could print objects anywhere near that big. (Hint: it's more than $0.93.)

Mechanics and Electronics

The big idea of the mechanical system is that we take a hot air gun and move it around a bed of sugar, selectively fusing a set of points before lowering the bed of sugar and adding a new layer.

Our hot air gun is based upon the design of a hot air rework station. However, we have heavily modified it, and learned how to make an equivalent system inexpensively. The heater design now essentially consists of a 500 W, $10 air heating element and a small air pump-- a $5 aquarium air pump works well. At a minimum, use of the heater element requires a housing to be constructed, the air pump and a control system that can provide a the chosen amount of power to the heating element. We have seen that the element can be driven directly from 120 V, with duty cycle controlled by an inexpensive digital relay. The heater element is hardly new technology; it's the baby sister of the one in your hair dryer. None the less, it's well designed and quite suitable for this application.

The hose clamp Thus far, we are still using the bulky original housing from the hot-air station itself, but plan to design a replacement head and nozzle when time permits. The existing housing has a slightly odd shape so we made this mount to attach it to the carriage of our X-Y motion control system.

The original head was not designed to operate at both high temperature and low air flow; it tends to overheat easily. One improvement that we made that has been hugely beneficial is to mount a cooling fan right next to this structure, keeping it cool on the outside while in use.

The X and Y axis motion control systems are based on belt drives and quadrature-encoded motors recycled from two old HP plotters, a large one and a small one. This is one of those places that your resourcefulness can save you a lot of money: The number of old-generation inkjets and plotters out there is truly stunning-- go find a couple, and make them do something useful again.

In order to control the quadrature-encoded motors that came on our printer parts, we designed custom digital servo circuits that cost about $10 each to build. The circuits are based around a high-power analog output stage and an AVR microcontroller that accept position commands. The position commands are sent using a higher precision version of standard hobby servo PWM control code, where the position command is encoded in the width of a positive pulse between one and two milliseconds long. We will be writing up and releasing the hardware design as well as the source code (under the GPL) for these servo controllers in the near future.

The hot air gun is mounted to the belt-driven carriage on the Y axis of the printer. The Y-axis belt-drive system is mounted, on one end, to a linear bearing that slides along a steel rail. That bearing is pushed by the belt-driven carriage on the X axis, through a rubber band low-cost flexible rubber coupling. The other end of the Y-axis belt-drive system is supported by a free-rolling rubber wheel from the hardware store.

hello, world For our operational tests and a demonstration of the XY motion control system last month, we mounted the hot air gun to the system and placed a piece of bread where the sugar would normally go-- allowing us to make CNC (computer numerically controlled) toast, demonstrating successful control of both the hot air gun and the X and Y motion control systems.

Wooden parts

The fabricator primarily consists of a large wooden base, which was designed in Sketchup. It was designed to hold the X-axis belt drive system on the front side and provide a back platform for the rubber wheel to roll along. It also provides elevation above the floor and holds the box that defines the walls of the build region.

Here you can see the model as drawn in Sketchup, and the base that we constructed from that model. If you want to take a closer look, you can download the model here. (144 kB ZIP archive of sketchup .skp document)

Box and piston

Box and piston (raised)

Drawer slides, riveted together.

servomotor - 15

Since the vertical axis must be able to easily raise up the bed containing all of the sugar-- potentially more than 100 pounds-- it needs to be a bit tougher than a printer carriage. The vertical motion is constrained by a five-sided wooden box with a floor that can move up and down on a set of drawer slides. The motor for the vertical motion, which pushes up on the floor of the wooden box, is actually a modified one-ton electric automotive jack that has been converted into a (large scale) hobby servo motor.

Besides the three motion axes, there is also a heater controller that is used to control the power delivered to the hot air heating element. Together, the four controllers (X,Y,Z, Temperature) require four axes of computer control.

Canvas Liner

With the canvas liner

Wrapped around the wooden base is a flexible canvas liner that prevents sugar from leaking out in strange places and assists in recovering unused media. Canvas is a good choice for this application because it is strong, durable, woven tightly enough to contain granular media like sugar, and washable. We got ours at a fabric store for $7/yard, in 60-inch width, and we needed about five yards. If you're trying to save costs, you might be able to do better elsewhere, e.g., buying canvas drop cloths intended for painting.


The liner was designed to hold the sugar in place during forming, and to channel the excess into buckets for reuse after raising the platform. The canvas liner fits snugly around the bin, and the inner part folds up accordion-style to accommodate raising and lowering the piston. The pleats are reinforced with interfacing to assist with folding. The upper edge and the bottom surface are attached to the bin with velcro. The outer part of the canvas fits around the frame, and tapers in to meet the bin, forming funnels that catch sugar and feed it into buckets below.

Pinning 2

Figuring the sizes for most of the pieces was straightforward working from the measurements from the sketchup model. However, the tapering portions for the funnels were cut large, pinned in place, and then sewn and trimmed.


Seams were generally folded and reinforced in such a way that the sugar flows downward easily. Sewing was done with a home sewing machine with heavy duty thread usually used for denim.


There are several different layers to the software needed to control a three-dimensional fabricator, and they are implemented in our system with a variety of different techniques. We begin with a 3D model generated in (or imported into) POV-Ray, and then render the POV-Ray image as a set of two-dimensional bitmaps of slices through the image. The bitmaps are generated in such a way that they directly represent which points will, or will not, have the printing medium fused. We then take the bitmaps and use them to "draw" with our hot air gun at all of the black points on the bitmap.

Here is one of our 3D models, along with one of the generated 2D bitmap slices through that object:

You can download the 3D model, both the POV-Ray document, the rendered and sliced versions here. (53 kB ZIP archive)

Operating the 3D fabricator requires precision motion control in three directions, which is potentially difficult. Computer control and interface are provide through a MAKE Controller. Presently we are using an old student version of LabVIEW to control the MAKE Controller-- reading in a 2D bitmap, parsing it into a simple rastered toolpath, and converting that to position commands, sent to the MAKE Controller using UDP packets. Labview is, of course, not free software, and any suggestions about open-source solutions that would do the job nicely are welcome. (PD and Processing seem like possible directions, but we'd like to hear what you think in the comments.)

While the Make Controller has many remarkable capabilities, we are hardly taking advantage of them here; it is strictly acting as a computer-controlled device to output four servo-motor control code signals. Budget conscious builders may want to instead consider using a dedicated servo controller, like this Micro Serial Servo Controller, from Pololu, a precision 8-channel servo interface starting at $17.95.

Making things with the fabricator

Now that we've got all our parts together, let's fab some sugar objects. The effective horizontal resolution of our fabricator is presently limited to around 2 mm by the very one-point-oh design of our hot air nozzles, but can in principle be made much higher even while using granulated sugar as the print medium. The resolution is determined by a number of factors, including the air nozzle size, the air temperature and flow rate, and (obviously) the position step size in the three directions. Printing at a higher resolution takes longer, so we have actually been operating it in a low-resolution mode in order to produce some sample objects-- quickly-- before the Maker Faire. All of the objects on this page were made with pixel (well, voxel) size 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.7 mm (10 x 10 x 9 DPI), where the 3D models have been properly quantized to account for the larger vertical step size. Even at this low resolution setting, the total number of printable points in our fabricator is over 2.6 megavoxels.

Thin Line

Here is the first step: Drawing a thin line with the heater element, fusing the sugar together. The width of the line drawn in the picture here is about 3 mm, and so is a little wider than our minimum pixel width. For each pixel that we want to fuse, we hold the hot air gun over that point for a period of time, typically between one and three seconds, depending on air temperature settings and the thickness of the layer that we want to fuse. (We should be able to reduce that time with a better hot air nozzle design.)


This is how a newly melted spot looks in the middle of building up a 3D object. The melted region is about 3/4 of an inch across, and has a glassy surface of amorphous sugar. The top layer is about 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) thick and is uniformly colored a light golden brown-- caramelized in the melt process. The right half of the spot appears darker because that half overlaps-- and is fused to-- the dot which is slightly to the side of our top dot but on the layer below. It appears darker because we are looking into a deeper layer of colored sugar. (Click through to see the image larger.)


Because the hot air gun blows air continuously, it leaves a shallow trail wherever it goes. Here, you can see the trail indicate the dumb-as-a-rock toolpath of the heater over the sugar surface. Excess fusion has not been an issue so long as we move quickly between the points where we stop to melt the sugar.


We are nearly done printing this layer, which is near the midpoint of our coil sculpture-- very much like the bitmap slice that we've shown above. All of the spots have a glassy surface, but a few of them have been covered up by a dusting of granulated sugar.


The completed toroidal coil sculpture, one of the first objects that we made with our new 3D sugar printer. We've hardly begun to scratch the surface of how large of an object can be made in this machine; four of these could be fabricated at once, fitting within the printable volume simultaneously.


If you look at all closely, you can see the pixelated nature of our fabricated object. The bulk of the material is solid, glassy, lightly caramelized sugar. It feels and acts very much like regular glass. The outside surface is covered by loosely attached sintered sugar (white), and can be removed or smoothed over by hand.

Screw Threads

This shows the beginning of our making the model of a wood screw. This is one of the early layers, where just the edges of the threads are visible.

partial screw

This layer is nearly halfway through the model of the screw. It's a philips-head screw, so the fact that we can only see a single slot indicates that we're not exactly at the middle yet.


Here is what it looks like after we finished printing the screw, and raised the bed of sugar up to be able to get at the model. Even after raising the piston up, some digging is still required to get the last ten pounds of sugar off the top. (This part is actually quite fun.)


Finally, here is a group of three objects that we've made out of pure sugar: A little dodecahedron, the toroidal coil, and the twenty-inch-long wood screw

So how does it taste?

Like praline, no doubt.

While our process has incredible potential for making interesting food, we are still in the early stages of prototyping and we have not yet worked with the sugar under conditions that could be construed as proper food handling procedures. We are instead at this point treating the sugar as a relatively safe (but not edible) industrial chemical and prototyping medium. There is no fundamental obstacle to food-safe 3D fabrication-- however we still need to carefully audit the system and make sure, for example, that the air pump for the hot air does not contain any substances that could contaminate food.

See it at the Maker Faire

Our completed fabricator will make its public debut next week at the 2007 Bay Area Maker Faire. (Our Maker Faire program entry is here.) We will be bringing the machine itself and some of our fabricated sugar objects. We've decided to spend our time at the faire showing off the printer and its parts, rather than actually using it to fabricate objects. One reason is safety; we have discovered that the First Law of Laboratory Work (Hot glass looks exactly the same as cold glass) holds true for molten hot sugar as well.

CandyFab Sign In order to make the fabricator look a little nicer for the Maker Faire, we made this combination front cover and sign that labels it the "CandyFab 4000." Yes it's a silly touch-- but there is a certain benefit to overnaming things. (For example "Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories" sounds a lot better than "Our Kitchen.")

We made the sign from recycled and scrap acrylic for a total cost of about $20, cutting out the letters and segments on a laser cutter before cementing them in place.

We will continue to document the CandyFab 4000 as time goes on. In the mean time, you can find more pictures of the system in this flickr photoset.


Vonage Appeal Cites Supreme Court Patent Ruling

A new Verizon appeal cites a Supreme Court decision that may make it easier to invalidate patent claims.
Caron Carlson, Network World

Thursday, May 10, 2007 10:00 AM PDT   

In its appeal of a jury verdict in the patent infringement case brought against it by Verizon, Vonage has turned to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that some analysts see as making it easier to invalidate patent claims.

In a brief filed May 9 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Vonage argued that the March jury verdict relied on a standard of analysis that the Supreme Court has since rejected. The jury found that Vonage's service infringed three patents, and the VoIP provider was ordered to pay US$58 million in damages. Vonage asked the appeals court to rule Verizon's patent claims invalid or to at least order a new trial.

Vonage's argument rests on a decision by the Supreme Court in late April in KSR International vs. Teleflex.  In that decision, the Supreme Court looked at the standard for determining whether a patent claim is obvious. It ruled that courts should consider whether an alleged improvement to an invention is more than just the predictable use of existing elements.  If, for example, at the time of an invention there was a known problem with an obvious solution, a patent claim may not be valid.

Rather than using this functional approach to determine whether Verizon's patent claims were obvious, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia instructed the jury to use a more rigid standard.

"The District Court's erroneous jury instruction on the wrong standard for [obviousness], thus, materially prejudiced Vonage's ability to present its invalidity case, and is strong grounds for vacating the validity finding," Vonage told the appeals court on May 9.

Verizon's patent claims are invalid because they are based on combinations of predictable elements that already exist, Vonage argued.  In other words, it would have been obvious to try the solutions in the patent claims. 

"Under KSR, [experts] would have found it obvious to try uniting the VocalTec Iphone software on the Harvard wireless laptops talking to the Internet wirelessly," Vonage said about one of the patents. About another patent, it said that experts "would have found it obvious to try using routing control records, or other similar table lookups, to perform the conditional analysis translation . . . "

Verizon is scheduled to file its brief with the appeals court May 23, and Vonage's reply is due May 30.  The court is scheduled to hear arguments June 25.

While the appeal is pending, Vonage is permitted to continue signing up new customers, and the company remains determined to increase its business.


The Appeal of User Generated Gaming

As user-created content becomes an integral part of the gaming ecosystem, MTV Networks is getting in on the action

Nickelodeon MTVN Kids and Family Group recently made a series of announcements relating to and AddictingGames. These two online gaming destinations have experienced major growth of late; during 2006 AddictingGames saw its unique users grow 100 percent, while grew its users by nearly 50 percent. AddictingGames had 21.3 million unique visitors and 343 million page views in March, while garnered 19.7 million unique visitors and almost 117 million page views.

"We bought [AddictingGames] from a small team in Canada when it was about the third of the size of what it is now," detailed Dave Williams, the newly named Senior Vice President across both AddictingGames and Shockwave. "It started as a series of links to their favorite sites, then it evolved into a directory before we eventually bought it out. We realized it was much more like a conventional media site, as in users were treating the games like videos, playing things once [and] then looking for new ones. We enhanced it and added our own resources and now they're over 1000 developers.

" has been around for a very long time. It was originally built as a multimedia showcase for all the stuff you can do with Adobe Shockwave. Since then, we've built in all sorts of technologies for games. The site features something for everyone, with puzzle and casual games that really appeal to the women 30+ group and other games for early teens. It has helped build up brands for advertisers, which is very appealing to third-parties. Our daily project and photo sharing results in an amazing amount of sharing that you can't do in any other medium. We're also probably more focused than anyone to try and get [casual games] to work for advertisers."

In yet another sign of the web 2.0/game 3.0 phenomenon, one of the new features of the site is a game upload feature. User-created content is bound to have an increasingly profound effect on this industry. Already, the company has received 200 new game submissions in the past month, empowered by a game sponsorship program, which pays developers of popular games for integration on AddictingGames and provides them with enhanced distribution and marketing.

"One of the challenges for lightweight casual games is that there isn't much of a business model for them," explained Williams. "We worked on solutions for our two different sites. On AddictingGames, we offer to sponsor a creator's game with our brand and that helps create traffic for the site because it might be distributed to other websites. On Shockwave, there's a royalty pool that's based upon the amount of revenue received. I think this is going to drive content going forward because we're willing to pay for their games. We have multiple options for users, but advertising is at least as important as something like subscriptions for us. A couple other sites have mentioned something like this, but I think we've been making more from ad sales than anyone else.

"I think what we're seeing from AddictingGames... is that a lot of these users know Flash, whether for their job or from their school. They're having fun with it and getting their games published using our method. Really, it is a site that is born off its users and it is very much part of the heart of the site."

The announcement also touched on new integrated advertising deals with Nissan and HP. "Shockwave has been known for game customization for advertisers; we helped build some of the original advergames. At the same time, our sphere of online games lend themselves to user generated content. We get dozens of submissions of content users want to see. We try and reconcile these two factors with advertiser sponsored games. It demonstrates a way that we can integrate user content with advertiser needs."

"The Shockwave Mother's Day photo sponsorship offers a more engaging user experience than could be provided through a standard ad banner buy," said Steve Kerho, Director, Media & Interactive Marketing, Nissan North America. "It demonstrates an understanding of how to reach the Quest target through leveraging the strengths of the Shockwave brand, since 65% of Shockwave users share photos with others."

"HP consumer PCs are the preferred choice for casual gamers worldwide," said Tracey Trachta, worldwide director of consumer advertising, Personal Systems Group, HP. "We're excited to be working with Shockwave because they offer us a unique vehicle to reach both parents and children in a safe, casual gaming environment."

"Games like this have been sort of under the radar for something that could be the basis of a business. We have the resources and we can afford to invest more... I think it's going to be a great thing for the consumer," added Williams.

Provided by GameDAILY—Your daily dose of gaming


Investors Pour Funding Into ProVina Whose 2006 WinePod Sold Out

winepod logo.png San Jose-based ProVina, maker of the WinePod personal wine brewing device, has raised $4M in the firm's first outside investment. The round was led by VantagePoint Venture Partners. The company's board includes Cypress Semiconductor CEO TJ Rodgers.

WinePod is a wireless web-connected device that allows wine snobs to mix their own wines. The price is $3,500 per unit plus shipping. WinePod is a 2-foot tall insulated metal egg with a 2-ton metal press and automatic temperature control that ferments your wine. It can take from a few months to a year or more for your wine to distill. Your batch should yield about 6 cases. Your dashboard tells you to adjust pH or temperature, add water, etc. Clearly there is no practical reason to own won but so many people these days are showy with their wine collections, this is the state of the art in keeping up with the Joneses.

winepod grab.png winepod grab2.png

View - Winepod site


Tibco Ponies Up $195M For Analytics' Spotfire

spotfire logo.png TIBCO Software [Nasdaq: TIBX] says it will buy Spotfire in an all-cash $195M deal. Built on Microsoft’s .Net architecture, Spotfire is designed to allow business users to analyze and publish corporate reports without needing help from the IT department and to get data quicker and with prettier graphs than they were used to. Spotfire says it has over 800 active customers. Investors in Spotfire include Atlas Ventures.

spotfire grab.png


Analysis: The New Math - How Did MySpace Value PhotoBucket

photobuket.png If we had a dollar for every time we see someone roll their eyes about the return of the "bubble." Folks don't want to see companies get bought at valuations that are stretched thin. They don't want to see another Mark Cuban created. Why? Because the bubble aftermath sucked. We all knew the bubble was nuts at the time but Blodgett, Meeker and Co. told us to chill.

With that in mind, we think the discussions over the valuation of PhotoBucket and other big deals are somewhat important. If the deal is officially confirmed at $300M, that is 50x trailing revenue and over $17 per monthly unique visitor.

Mike Arrington calls the $300M (with earnout) that MySpace paid for PhotoBucket a steal. His logic is that: + Google paid $1.65B for YouTube. By the time the deal closed, the Google stock was worth nearly $1.8B. MySpace paid 1/5 of that. YouTube had little revenue, while PhotoBuckets projects it will make $25M in 2007. Photobucket has 80% of the visitors that YouTube had when it was acquired. + MySpace got a discount when it cut off PhotoBucket's users before the deal to show who wears the pants.

+ In a more recent post, he hedges, however, that PhotoBucket and MySpace might have 100% user overlap, so for $250M its gets no new users.

+ Valleywag accuses TechCrunch of being a shill for PhotoBucket's iBankers Lehman Brothers. We don't have any way of assessing this information.

Henry Blodget takes the case even further, arguing that PhotoBucket could barely give itself away, a dramatic statement he agrees.

Counterpoint is Microsoft's Don Dodge who instructs Blodget and Arrington to come to their senses:

"At some point the end user of all these free services is the same user and they can't be monetized any further no matter how many new services are added. Advertisers will eventually figure this out. Ad rates will drop. Revenues will drop...and stock prices will drop. It is all about the stock price. No one cares about real revenues and earnings as long as the stock price is high.When stock prices drop everyone along the chain starts to rethink their assumptions about value and ROI. The changes ripple all the way back up the food chain. The individual stockholders get more conservative and move out of bubble stocks. The Internet companies stop acquiring because their stock price has deflated. The entrepreneurs stop agreeing to acquisitions because the rewards are less. The VCs stop funding new startups because the risk/reward ratio doesn't work.

We have seen this before. It was the nuclear winter that lasted from 2000 to 2003. It is amazing how quickly we forget. As I always say "fear is temporary...greed is permanent"

HipMojo joins the naysers arguing that PhotoBucket is no YouTube. His point here is that Photobucket is just a utility and does not command attention.


(Over) Counting Widgets

I got an email from a friend the other day.

"Did you see that Clearspring has served 3bn widgets in the past five months?"

I hadn't actually seen that news, but here is the press release my friend was referring to. It's clearly an impressive number and Clearspring is doing some great things in the widget market.

But before we start putting Clearsping in McDonalds territory (billions served), let's get something straight. Serving widgets generates huge numbers quickly.

All you need to do is look at Photobucket, Slide, and RockYou's numbers for their photo/slideshow widgets to see how powerful the widget model is. I don't have access to the actual numbers for these three photo widget services and I'd prefer not to print the rumors I've heard, but I'd venture a guess that their numbers for widgets served each day will make Clearspring's 3bn number look tiny.

I do know the numbers for FeedBurner's widgets and they are well north of what Clearspring is serving. But this post is not about whose you know what is bigger than whose.

It's about the challenge of understanding what is what in the widget market.

Max Levchin, Slide's founder and CEO, is one of the most thoughtful people in the widget market and I've had some conversations with him about the challenges of measuring widgets. He's frustrated that there isn't good third party data on the widget market. I've also talked to the team at comScore about this issue because it's starting to become an issue everyone is paying attention to and there just isn't good data yet.

You can get unique visitor counts from comScore on widgets like Photobucket, Slide, and RockYou, but what does it mean? Here is the comScore data on the photo widget sector (the top three players).


Are those 18mm uniques that are attributed to Photobucket being seen on Or are those 18mm uniques the number of people that are being exposed to the Photobucket widget wherever it is being embedded (MySpace, Beebo, etc). I don't know the answer to that simple question, but it's an important one.

And what's the right number to look at? Should Photobucket get credit for having an audience that sees its widget on other services pages? When that page includes five to ten other widgets? Or should it just get credit for those who interact with the widget in some way?

The bottom line is we need better numbers on widgets, we need some standards, and we need them now.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

17 ways to beat Google - Search innovations and who is doing them

Nitin Karandikar sent me a link to his post on "Top 17 Search Innovations outside of Google" which reviews 17 different approaches to web search innovation. He also lists some of the companies leading the way in each area. Web search is a very popular topic for writers and bloggers. Charles Knight maintains a list of the Top 100 Alternative Search Engines and updates it monthly.

Web search is big business. Microsoft's Live Search is third in market share with about 10% of all web searches and it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. It is no wonder that VCs and entrepreneurs are investing lots of time and money to discover The Next Big Thing in search.

Of all the approaches described by Nitin and listed by Charles Knight, I think three are promising; Natural Language Processing, Local Search, and Cell Phone Voice Search.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) has been around for a while. The idea is to get users to ask questions in conversational style, and then parse that question using NLP techniques to divine meaning and context. The problem is that most users only enter two words in a search...sometimes three words. No matter how sophisticated your NLP technology is you aren't going to gain a lot more context from two or three words. The real secret power of NLP is realized by applying it to the search index...not the search term. Meaning, analyze all the web pages in the index with the NLP and add lots of meta tags, meaning, and context to the index. Then when search queries come in you can match the keywords to the much richer index. Powerset is doing some ground breaking work in this area.

Local Search is a huge market. The easy part of local search has already been done. The big search engines have developed crawlers to crawl all web pages, parse and extract local identifying information, and cross reference it to other online data. The problem is that over 50% of small local businesses don't have web sites. A great local search experience requires that ALL local businesses are included and that the index be updated regularly. CitySquares Online is a Boston based startup attacking this problem.

Cell phone voice based search is an obvious opportunity, but very hard to do. It requires great voice recognition technology, a well organized local search index, a high quality voice response system, and special screen rendering technology to display the results on the cell phone screen. Parts of the technology exist today, but no one has combined all the pieces into a great user experience. This is a huge opportunity with no clear leader.

OK, now back to Nitin's list of 17 search innovation areas. Please go to his site to get more detail on each one. Unless you are a search geek like me you may find this stuff boring, but here are the categories;

  1. Natural Language Processing
  2. Personalization
  3. Vertical Search
  4. Multimedia Search
  5. Restricted Data Sources
  6. Domain Specific Search
  7. Parametric Search
  8. Social network filtering
  9. Human directed search
  10. Semantic search
  11. Discovery linked search
  12. Classification, Tags, Clustering approaches
  13. Results visualization
  14. Results refinement and filters
  15. Specialized search platforms
  16. Related searches
  17. Search agents

What do you think? Who will be the next Google? Which approach to search will provide the most value? Place your bets and you could be the next search billionaire.


Writings on Starbucks Cup Upsets Customer

Controversy is brewing around a religious quote printed on a Starbucks cup, which has turned at least one customer off from the brand.

An Ohio woman was offended by one of hundreds of comments submitted by customers and celebrities that appear on the cups as part of Starbuck’s The Way I See It program. The program is meant to spark discussion and get people thinking about a variety of topics, including religion, the company said.

The offending quote reads, "Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imaginations for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure."

The comment was made by Bill Scheel, a Starbucks customer from London, Ontario, who describes himself as a "modern day nobody."

The Ohio woman, Michelle Incanno, told news outlets that she would not return to Starbucks.

Starbucks has been printing comments from celebrities, notable figures and customers on its cups since 2005. It has collected more than 250 writings since the initiative launched. By yearend, the company expects to feature about 300 different comments.

"Our goal with The Way I See It is to promote a free and open exchange of ideas and thoughts on a wide variety of topics," Starbucks spokesperson Tricia Moriarty said. "We think this tradition of dialogue and discussion is an important facet of the coffeehouse experience."

The fact that Scheel's comments are sparking dialogue "is the original intent of the program," she added.

A disclaimer on says the authors' opinions do not necessary reflect those of the company.

"Starbucks frequently receives feedback on many of the quotes as people express their thoughts and views on the different quotes and contributors," Moriarty said. "We highly value all of our customers and never wish to offend anyone. The objective of the program is to encourage open and thoughtful discussion."

This particular quote may have gained a head of steam because numerous media outlets picked up on it.

Despite the negative feedback, Starbucks has no plans to remove any of the writings from its cups, Moriarty said.

Only a few comments cover religion. But those that do have different points of view, Moriarty said.

For instance, musician Mike Doughty, wrote, "It's tragic that extremists co-opt the notion of God, and that hipsters and artists reject spirituality out of hand. I don't have a fixed idea of God. But I feel that it's us—the messed-up, the half-crazy, the burning, the questing—that need God, a lot more than the goody-two-shoes do."

Others have a humorous tone. A quote from Joseph Palm, a Starbucks customer from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, said, "Scientists tell us we only use 5% of our brains. But if they only used 5% of their brains to reach that conclusion, then why should we believe them?"

Customers can share their thoughts about the cups or submit a quote of their own to Starbucks said its posts responses on its letters to the editors section on the Web site.


High school students capture assault on video

David Pescovitz: Cyclistpunch A group of Toronto high school students on a field trip captured footage of an auto driver attacking a bicyclist who reportedly stopped in front of him at a yellow light. The interesting thing is that the students were out with videocameras investigating the notion of "public and private space" in their city. Toronto CityNews has the video online. Link (Thanks, Jess Hemerly!) (notice the amateur footage taken by video cameras, to be captured by videocameraphones soon)


Hollywood is burning (yet again) - UPDATED, video.

5:06pm: Helicopters are circling overhead where I am right now, not too far from an ongoing 200+ acre fire in Griffith Park, a little bit east of the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles. Flames are still live, and there's talk of arson

an arson suspect in custody.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Swingsha. Bear in mind that this was shot from a number of miles away, over the hill, in Burbank. You can see the fire/smoke plumes from just about anywhere in LA right now.

LATIMES blog has good updates.

It started as a small brush fire in the park, at about 120pm. I could see the smoke plume all the way from the NPR studios in Culver City a few hours ago. Driving from there towards this site, north on Western through Koreatown (a few miles away), I could see very large flames and clumps of black and brown smoke above the chaparral hills. It's huge. And it's crazy hot (100 F), gusty-windy, and dry out today, unseasonably so.

Humans have been evacuated from the LA Zoo and the Autry Museum (both inside the park), but I understand the more fragile critters inside the zoo (about 1,000 of 'em!) are instead staying put, under protection. No word on the ponies and the carousel, and the teeny tiny steam engine ride.

The guys at have a number of related items up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

BoingBoing pal Michael P. points to more photos on Flickr, and says,

We must go free the animals at the zoo NOW.

(Thanks also, Ape Lad and others)

UPDATE: Sean Bonner just called, out riding around the area on his bicycle -- he's roaming near the fire site, phonecamming what he encounters: Flickr stream, and one of the shots is below.

And eecue just uploaded this HDR shot...

UPDATE, 745pm: OK, there are a hell of a lot more helicopters, flying even lower and more frequently now. I guess some of these are news choppers, but some may be first responders, too? All I can hear are sirens and roaring helicopters overhead. I think we're about a quarter mile or less from the center of the burn area (though not in any immediate path of harm). They're saying it's 20-25% under control now. The numbers don't feel too comforting at the moment.

The power is out in much of our neighborhood now. Our DSL has been down for a while, and I'm using my EVDO card to blog this.

7:53: Someone just called me from a few blocks away via mobile, even closer to the burn site, and says the fire is coming closer to where we are, moving down the hill, towards houses, spreading out and covering an even larger area. The hills are glowing red, much ash in the air, heavy smoke smell. Lots of people in the streets looking up at the burn. Small planes circling. We're packing up a few essentials now, just in case the wind gets super hinky and we receive an evacuation order.

Local TV news is reporting the fire was started by a golfer who tossed a cigarette aside while playing golf in the course nearby.

8:30pm: Friend shot this photo a few blocks away, an hour ago. The air is extremely thick with smoke and ash. More homes now without power, increasingly. Officers going door to door instructing people of mandatory evacuation orders a few blocks way. All the newscasts I'm watching are covering the immediate area outside our house, which is weird. Windows and doors all closed here, neighbors doing the same. Sky overhead at night now is dark orange-red, hills look like lava flowing down. Hot Santa Ana winds, gusty, fast, from the northwest. I've lived here for years, through many fires, never seen anything this big.

8:50pm: Cops shutting down Los Feliz boulevard (big street here) now, to minimize incoming traffic from gawkers. Unclear if the shutdown order will make it more difficult to get out. Police on bullhorns giving mandatory evacuation orders about 5 blocks from here. They're closing more streets by the minute, and placing evacuees in a nearby high school shelter.

9:01pm: They're describing the fire's movement as having "exploded" over the past hour. No homes burned yet, but lots in imminent danger, and evacuations under way. 250 acres burned now. Landmark "Dante's View" destroyed, bird refuge in immediate danger. "Deer and coyotes here are running for their lives," a councilman at the burn site is saying on local news right now. Some animals who live in the park are running into the street now.

9:08pm: Cops going door to door evacuating people nearby now. Fire appears to be spreading via embers? New spots of burn now, burn area obviously growing, even from our distance. Guy on TV: "How did the firefighters not see this coming and plan for contingency? It's moved all over the place now."

9:19pm: 300 acres estimated burned now. Here's a cameraphone video shot a few blocks away, at 7:55pm, by M.D. Video Link.

Winds close to the fire are very hot and very strong now, which may be Venturi effect.

Outside my window, it looks like a giant SRL show on the hill. Big flame tornado shapes reaching up into the sky.

We're packing stuff up now. Homes close to us are being given evacuation orders and we might need to get out if things change once again for the worse. Ash and live embers are floating in the air, eyes burn, throat itchy when you step outside.

Policeman on TV saying lots of homeless people who live inside the park, up in the chaparral hills, are evacuating onto the street.

Electricity outages and mobile phone problems are resulting from the destruction of (or damage to) towers inside the park.

Lots more videos now at, and more updates: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Reader comment: David says,

Hey, I live a mile under the fire. We've been watching the new flare up for the past few hours. Thought I'd share photos from it: Link. This is also where the Greek Theatre is as well -- and we think its gone!