Friday, June 15, 2007

Late with your car payment? ON TIME system equipped cars won't start

Filed under: Products and services, Competitive strategy

If the American economy tanks, look for car loans to follow the same pattern as house loans, right into the dumpster. However, Sekurus Inc. may have a tool to help subprime car lenders such as AmeriCredit Corp. (NYSE:ACF) fight defaults, help the repo man reclaim the assets, and protect against car theft.

Sekurus' ON TIME system patches a legal wireless-controlled device into the car's electrical system. The consumer is given a wireless control that he must push before he can start the car, which sends a signal to Sekurus. The company verifies that financing is up to date before authorizing the car to start. The customer begins receiving a countdown three days before the vehicle is disabled.

The system also serves as a theft deterrent, since car thieves won't be able to start the car without the wireless remote.

The product is especially useful for sub-prime car loans, a $75 billion market. The company claims that, because lenders can depend on this system to increase pay rates and reclaim vehicles, it will result in more borderline drivers receiving financing that otherwise would not. ON TIME also can be used by new dealers who have problems with cars being stolen off their lots.


Featured Windows Download: Change folder and file names in bulk with Flash Renamer


Windows only: Shareware application Flash Renamer renames your files and folders in bulk.

Flash Renamer doesn't just flat-out rename; it can change the case (UPPER and lower) of file names, search and replace strings within file names, rename MP3s based on tags, clear read-only attributes and add counters to files that are related (like photos).

The unregistered version of Flash Renamer is not limited in any way whatsoever - except for the popup at launch reminding you that you haven't registered. A license will set you back $19.99 and buys you free lifetime upgrades and free tech support over email. Flash Renamer is shareware for Windows only. Thanks, Jeremy!

Flash Renamer [rl vision]


Jingle Awarded Patent For Advertising-Supported 411 Calls

Jingle Networks, operator of the free directory assistance service that has been emulated by AT&T, Google and others, was awarded a U.S. Patent “for providing telephone directory assistance service in which a telephone user calls to the system and the system will, based on the requested number or type of service, hear a recorded advertisement.” The patent was issued in May and is being announced by the Company today.

If the patent is enforceable, and Jingle has the stomach to try, it will be a significant hurdle for their competitors. The company has raised significant capital (over $60 million), but that is nothing compared to the resources of Google and AT&T. If those companies are serious about this business, it could get ugly in the courtroom.

When we last heard from the company, they claimed to be receiving 17 million monthly calls and had grabbed over 6% of the U.S. market for directory assistance calls.


Google Zeitgeist -- keeping the pulse of the world

Zeitgeist this Month: April 2007
  1. currency converter
  2. cheap flights
  3. directions
  4. airlines
  5. airport delays
I'm feeling sporty
  1. espn
  2. nfl draft
  3. boston marathon
  4. red sox
  5. sports authority
Spring babies
  1. baby names
  2. babies r us
  3. behaviour children
  4. pregnancy
  5. bratz
Financial matters
  1. irs
  2. mortgage calculator
  3. turbo tax
  4. free credit report
  5. employment
Google News Queries: April 2007
Headline makers
  1. britney spears
  2. anna nicole-smith
  3. cho seung-hui
  4. kate middleton
  5. alec baldwin
Mais oui
  1. presidentielle 2007
  2. bayrou
  3. sarkozy
  4. france
  5. segolene royal
Middle East related
  1. iran
  2. pakistan
  3. iraq
  4. israel
  5. syria
Spring fitness
  1. golf
  2. fishing
  3. yoga
  4. health
  5. wellness
Google Image Queries: April 2007
  1. virginia tech
  2. knut
  3. yuri gagarin
  4. shaha riza
  5. kurt vonnegut
  1. hawaii
  2. dubai
  3. mexico
  4. chelsea
  5. london
At the cineplex
  1. ghost rider
  2. shrek
  3. borat
  4. 300 movie
  5. spiderman 3
Global consciousness
  1. global warming
  2. world map
  3. earth day
  4. southern cross
  5. iceberg


Archos gets set to unveil Gen 5 products

We knew they were coming, and now Archos really wants you to know that they're coming, with the company's website now replaced with a teaser page counting down to the imminent launch of its new fifth generation PMPs. Don't get too entranced by those decreasing digits though, we'll have complete coverage of whatever it is the company has in store before you know it. [Thanks, Mike]


Sigma SD14 reviewed: promising, but not quite there

Augustine: example of great tech that missed the consumer/user boat...

We've been hearing about Sigma's SD14 14.1-megapixel DSLR with that nifty Foveon 3-layer image sensor since last year, but it looks like all the hype was just that: Popular Photography got their hands on a review unit and wasn't too impressed. Although the cam earned high marks for color accuracy and image quality, the reviewers didn't see the full potential of the novel image sensor -- JPEG shots were rated on par with the 8-megapixel Canon Digital Rebel XT, while RAW images actually had less detail in them than shots taken by the 10-megapixel Nikon D80. The reviewers also knocked the slow image processor, which they found produced blocky JPEG images at higher ISOs and took 8-10 seconds to clear its buffer after shooting just six pictures in burst mode. Although the Foveon sensor is promising, the review concludes that you're probably better off spending your $1,600 elsewhere -- not exactly a ringing endorsement of the "fundamentally better technology" Sigma and Foveon promised. Read - Sigma SD14 review Read - Foveon X3 sensor review


baby monitor swipes NASA shuttle feed

Looks like Summer Infant has a whole lot of explaining to do after one of its baby monitors has reportedly been able to "pick up black-and-white video from inside the space shuttle Atlantis." A Chicago-based mother probably had uncomfortable flashbacks to Signs after her newly purchased monitoring system chose to broadcast video of the mission right on the screen, but a NASA spokeswoman has already deflated hope that it was somehow coming directly from the shuttle. Apparently, a live feed is also available on NASA's website, which is leading investigators to focus on more earthly origins -- the mom, however, will probably just cancel her cable and keep on watching intently "to see what happens next." Thu Jun 14, 4:52 PM ET

PALATINE, Ill. - An elementary school science teacher in this Chicago suburb doesn't have to turn on the news for an update on NASA's space mission. She just turns on her video baby monitor. black-and-white video from inside the space shuttle Atlantis. The other still lets her keep an eye on her baby.

"Whoever has a baby monitor knows what you'll usually see," Meilinger said. "No one would ever expect this."

Live video of the mission is available on NASA's Web site, so it's possible the monitor is picking up a signal from somewhere.

"It's not coming straight from the shuttle," NASA spokeswoman Brandi Dean said. "People here think this is very interesting and you don't hear of it often — if at all."

Meilinger silenced disbelieving co-workers by bringing in a video of the monitor to show her class on Tuesday, her students' last day of school. At home, 3-month-old Jack and 2-year-old Rachel don't quite understand what their parents are watching.

"I've been addicted to it and keep waiting to see what's next," Meilinger said.

Summer Infant, the monitor's manufacturer, is investigating what could be causing the transmission, communications director Cindy Barlow said. She said she's never heard of anything similar happening.

"Not even close," she said. "Gotta love technology."


uuhhh... should the NBA hire him?


iPod blamed for stealing the thunder from contemporary art

If you've been yearning for controversy, why not meet Mr. David Hockney? Commonly know as "Britain's best-loved living painter," Hockney has suggested that the proliferation of the iPod has been a primary contributor to the recent "fallow period of painting." He insists that today's society is "all about sound," and even mentions that people are turning off their eyes and ignoring contemporary art whilst "plugging their ears." Put simply, he believes the modern "decline in visual awareness" rests heavily on Apple's own cash cow, and further stirred the pot by insinuating that it led to "badly dressed people" who cared not about lines nor mass. As expected, a spokeswoman for Apple Australia refuted the claims, and while we certainly have seen no shortage of brilliant creations since the iPod explosion, there's always two sides to the canvas.



Thursday, June 14, 2007

Taxes: Pay your estimated taxes online


The June 15th tax deadline looms, which means freelancers, sole proprietors and other misc income-making individuals and small businesses have an estimated quarterly tax payment to make. Up until now estimated tax payments were one of the last things that I wrote a dead tree paper check for; but it turns out I was living in 2001. The US Department of Treasury offers EFTPS, an online payment system that takes electronic estimated tax payments. The catch is you have to enroll online and wait up to 15 days to get your PIN number via snail mail, so it's already too late for this payment deadline. Also, not sure about other states, but California's Franchise Tax Board also offers online payment, too.


Shoestring opportunity

TV Guide was purchased for more than $3 billion, back when a billion dollars was a lot of money. At one point, it was worth more than ABC or NBC.

CMP, like many other trade magazine publishers, is busy consolidating, laying people off and closing magazines as they try to move to digital.

Put those two facts together and there's an opportunity. In fact, a bunch of them.

Who is curating YouTube? Who's the TV Guide of a world with a million channels?

We don't need someone to point us to goofy edited scary car ads. What we need are tiny, specialized sites that obsess about specific industries. Is there a good video every day about how to do better real estate sales? If there isn't, there soon will be. Or for heart surgeons?

For every segment where there is currently a trade magazine, I believe there's an opportunity to build a blog-like, woot-like, ad supported page that finds the good stuff. Jeff Jarvis, who ironically used to work at TV Guide, is already doing this with politics.

Like most opportunities, this one will be obvious later. And then it'll be too late for most of us to get in.


Stealing $3 billion from Wal-Mart

Filed under: Wal-Mart (WMT)

Thieves have stolen $3 billion worth of stuff from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) in the last year, according to the AP. That's enough to make a pretty good size company but it represents less than 1% of its $348.6 billion worth of sales in the last year.

It turns out that Wal-Mart is not the only one suffering from the problem. Theft cost retailers $41.6 billion in 2006, according to a joint study released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and the University of Florida. The study found that the theft rate as a percentage of sales rose to 1.61% of sales in 2006 from 1.60% in 2005. So at 0.9%, Wal-Mart is relatively tough to steal from.

Interestingly, it turns out that most retail "slippage" comes from employees. Specifically, employees stole about 47% of the dollars and customers swiped about 32%. Administrative errors accounted for 14%, supplier fraud accounts for 4%, and the remaining 3% is unaccounted for.

Continue reading Stealing $3 billion from Wal-Mart


Kodak High Sensitivity Image Sensor Tech

Kodak Image Sensor Solutions has today announced a new Color Filter Array (CFA) layout (and image processing path) as an alternative to the widely used Bayer pattern which should provide higher sensitivity. This new layout features one 'panchromatic pixel' (monochrome) to every colored pixel (red, green or blue) and there are three proposed layouts. Kodak ISS are presenting this as a technology solution which can be applied to any size, megapixel count or type (CCD / CMOS) of sensor. Kodak claim a one to two stop improvement in sensitivity, the tradeoff is of course color resolution which is effectively a quarter of the traditional Bayer pattern. This interesting development will of course only be proven when we see it actually implemented and we can compare it to traditional Bayer.


How To: Track your Flickr page views with Statr

Flickr-Statr.pngEver wondered how many people are perusing your Flickr photos? Statr is a web-based application that will track the amount of page views your Flickr account receives.

Statr for Flickr allows you to track and plot page views statistics for your Flickr account. Graphs are automatically updated on a daily basis and can be linked from external websites.

Getting started with Statr is a breeze -- all you need to do is grant Statr read access to your images. It takes Statr a day or so to collect data before it will begin displaying your page views. Unfortunately, Statr is a little simplistic and only displays page views. It doesn't give you any information about uniqueness of visitors, visitor frequency, visitor location, etc. If you're proud of your Flickr traffic, Statr also generates some in-line HTML so you can showoff your Flickr traffic graph.

Statr for Flickr []


Researchers use magnetic fields to manipulate light

We've seen magnetics used in everything from closet improvements to insomnia treatments, but researchers at the University of Alberta and the United States Naval Research Laboratory have found that "by manipulating electron spin using magnetic fields, they can turn off and on light that's being guided through metals." By looking deeper into the fields of plasmonics and spintronics, the gurus have discovered that this on-off light switch could be used for tasks such as routing infrared light in optical communications or processing radio signals in cell phones. Additionally, this system could potentially decrease power requirements for the devices it invades, and while a finalized product isn't quite ready, the team is already anxious to "build devices that can act as switches in a chip."



River Glow project detects pollution with style

We've seen pigeons that monitor pollution and cement that eats pollution, but for eye-catchiness and do-goodedness, it's tough to beat Soo-in Yang and David Benjamin's River Glow project, which provides a light show as it keeps an eye on water quality. Built with a budget of $1,000, the current bathtub-bound prototype system consists of an LED connected to uncoated fiber optic strands, which gets triggered when the pH sensor detects changes in water quality. What's more, the whole thing's apparently powered by a single AA battery, which is recharged using floating strips of thin film photovoltaics. Presumably, that'd be scaled up before it gets let loose in some larger waterways (as seen above), although it's not clear when or if that'll happen. [Via Inhabitat]


Samsung's 70-inch LED-backlit LCD television now on sale

Samsung's gettin' busy this morning in Korea with the launch of their 70-inch Full HD LCD television. Not only is it the world's largest commercially available LCD, this 1080p pup also brings a 120Hz refresh along with Samsung's local dimming LED backlighting solution for a reported 500,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio... for whatever that measurement's worth. The LN70F91BD is another ACAP packer featuring 3x HDMI 1.3 terminals and a USB 2.0 jack for purposes unknown. Available in S.Korea only at the moment with worldwide sales starting in the second half of the year. Only ₩59,000,000 for the privilege which translates to about $63k or €48k -- chump-change for culturally ambiguous superstars. [Via AVING]


The 3D Real/Virtual World Hybrid: How Far Away?

How long will it be until we can stroll through the streets in a virtual world that is identical to our own? Given the state of a number of technologies, not very long. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen Microsoft Street Side and Virtual Earth as well as similar efforts from Google. But different technologies are now being deployed that are even more interesting that the results achieved from large companies taking and processing massive numbers of photos into now-standard 3D views.

Two standouts are Microsoft’s Photosynth Project and newcomer Everyscape, which Brady Forest wrote about today on O’Reilly Radar.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sanyo LP-XL50 projector touts uber-short throw

For those who picked up Sanyo's LP-XL40 wide-angle projector for its sensational short-range capabilities, we hope your wallet's prepared for an upgrade. The firm's newest LP-XL50 steps it way up by touting the ability to shoot an 80-inch image onto a screen with just 8-centimeters of space between the lens and the wall. Moreover, you can still squeeze out marginally smaller images from even closer ranges thanks to its newfangled optical engine. Specs wise, you'll find a 1,024 x 768 native resolution, 275-watt UHP1 lamp, 2,000 lumens, "blackboard mode" for mounting just above a classroom board, theft deterrent system to foul up those mischievous kids, a pair of VGA inputs, component, S-Video, and composite connectors, and a built-in two-watt speaker to boot. Unfortunately, it seems that you'll be waiting 'til late December to throw down your ¥600,000 ($4,931), but click on through for a few more looks for the time being. [Via AkihabaraNews, images courtesy of Impress]

Continue reading Sanyo LP-XL50 projector touts uber-short throw


GigaOM Top 10 Most Popular MMOs

WoW The attention surrounding MMOs (massively multiplayer online worlds) has never been greater. But it’s not just role playing games along for the ride; non-game, avatar-driven virtual communities are just as popular, if not by more, and we’re not just talking Second Life here.

So in an effort to cut through the hype and glean some context, here are the most popular MMOs in terms of active users or subscribers, based on publicly available data. These titles may or may not be games, but the medium has expanded far beyond Tolkienesque fantasy worlds. They all are Mac-friendly/Web-based with exception of Guild Wars.

1. World of Warcraft, released 2004 - 8.5 million subscribers. While Habbo is giving Blizzard a run, the numbers generally support WoW as the biggest MMO in the world. Important qualification, though: only 4 million are based in the West and monthly subscribers, while its 4 million Chinese players only pay roughly 4 cents an hour to play it in Internet cafes.

2. Habbo Hotel, released 2000 - 7.5 million active users. The Finland-based “social game” MMO popular with teens and growing fast. Look out, Horde!

3. RuneScape, released 2001 - 5 million active users. A Java-based MMORPG operated by Jagex Ltd. with over nine million active free accounts. Boasts one million paying customers. Fancy that.

4. Club Penguin, released 2006 - 4 million active users. MMO for the kiddies developed by New Horizon Interactive. The game shares similarities with other social environments like Habbo Hotel.

5. Webkinz, released 2005 - 3.8 million active users. Here’s a novel idea: create beanie baby like stuffed animals, assign them a unique ID, then create an MMO portal in which kids can spend even more time using your product. When kids graduate from Club Penguin, they go to Webkinz (or so I’m told.)

6. Gaia Online, released 2003 - 2 million active users. Not quite an MMO, not quite a social site, but founder Derek Liu has openly stated the networks desire to focus on social gaming. Forums make up 30% of the current site activity.

7. Guild Wars, released 2005 - 2 million active users. Another MMORPG made by the popular NCsoft out of South Korea. No Mac love here, but a lot of active users.

8. Puzzle Pirates, released 2003 - 1.5 million active users. Published by Ubisoft and developed by indy king Three Rings, Puzzle Pirates merges casual games with a rising interest in pirate culture. Puffy shirt aside, it’s working like a charm.

9. Lineage I/II, released 1998 - 1 million subscribers. Published by South Koreas NCsoft, Lineage was once the most popular MMO of its day. At one point total active users peaked at 3 million. A Western release in 2002 mostly fizzled.

10. Second Life, released 2003 - 500,000 active users. No introduction needed here. Created by Linden Labs, this virtual world features a rabid fan base, inflated numbers, a high influx of corporate doppelgangers, and lots of digital genitals. First life optional.

Other popular MMOs are sure to exist, particularly new-comers and non-localized Asian games that are sure to grow. Also, this list reflects popularity alone, not necessarily revenue models, though World of Warcraft is performing well on both counts.

For all intents and purposes, the most popular MMOs represent an estimated 50-75% of the total MMO market (30-60 million active users.) Is that enough attention to justify MMO’s recent surge of attention? Maybe not all of the hype, but definitely a large portion of it. And who wouldn’t want a piece of Blizzard’s reoccurring pie or another revenue model with a similar install base?

Interestingly, however, it’s apparent that no single business model is winning out. Subscriptions work well for MMORPG games like WoW that are more akin to crack cocaine than mere entertainment. But what about other non-game MMOs? How will companies bank on consumer attention in those areas? One thing’s for certain: with all the popularity surrounding MMOs several new business models are sure to flourish in the coming years, as it’s not just about games anymore.

*Of Western origin or with a localized presence here. “Active users” based on most recent monthly log-in figures when available. Subscriber numbers are not necessarily a reflection of active users. Figures compiled from Wikipedia (excluding, to the best of my knowledge, free trials, beta users, and web visitors without accounts.) Virtual Worlds News also referenced; Habbo figures taken from company spokeswoman, Second Life figures from most recent published stats. Special attention was given to notable MMOs in terms of where they stack up when looking at the numbers in addition to their popularity and/or high profile (i.e. Second Life.) Amendments and additions welcome.

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Kodak color-filter technology could redefine low-light shooting

We already knew that Kodak was up to something good when it began to phase out low-end digicams and refocus on developing new technologies, and now it seems like we've got one more innovation from its laboratory to look forward to. Reportedly, Kodak has developed a "color-filter technology that at least doubles the sensitivity to light of the image sensor in every digital camera." Bold words, we know, but even Chris McNiffe, general manager of the photography company's image sensor business, went so far as to say that this very invention would enable a "2x-4x improvement in light sensitivity." The company also suggested that a variety of camera manufacturers could expect samples of said technology during the first quarter of next year, and while consumer rollouts weren't detailed, we do know that this magical concoction will hit P&S cameras first with cameraphones to get equipped shortly thereafter.


projectiondesign's Action! M25 DLP projector does 1080p

Sure, Epson and Philips' endeavor to create a mini projector may be novel, but projectiondesign's forthcoming device packs the power we AV freaks admire. Touting an almost unbelievable assortment of niceties, this 3.7- x 9.2- x 10.8-inch DLP machine is reportedly the "world's smallest" Full HD projector to date, and if that wasn't inspiring enough, it also uses TI's 0.95-inch 1080p DMD, the firm's proprietary RealColor technology, and plays nice with home automation systems with RS-232 and IP interfaces. Additionally, it sports a 10-bit video processing engine, HDMI 1.3 compatibility, 1,000 lumens, and a even-segment, 5x color wheel. Best of all, this HD-lovin' projector is available for purchase as we speak, but we're assuming that the unlisted price is a good sign that we common folk should just keep on looking. [Via Slashgear]


Lawyers and the $54 million pants

Filed under: Good news, Bad news, Products and services, Law, AFLAC Inc (AFL), Allstate Corp (ALL), Amer Intl Group (AIG), Sunday Funnies, Progressive Corp,Ohio (PGR)

America is a "sue-happy" country. Where else can you sue the dry cleaners for $54 million because they lost your Hickey Freeman pants. You think I am joking; but this is a case of life being stranger than fiction. A Washington DC judge (who in my opinion should know better) is suing a dry cleaners that lost his pair of pants.

For a moment last week my trust in the American legal system began to fail as Paris Hilton, heiress of Hilton Hotels (NYSE: HLT) fortune, spent a heart-wrenching three days in jail before being released by the sheriff for "medical reasons." Then suddenly my faith was restored as the judge sent her back to jail.

Well it didn't last long. It seems this week a pair of lost pants is worth crying over -- and $54 million. I guess America is land of the free and home of too many lawyers. Maybe this is why I respect Vice President Cheney: I mean, we all talk about the problem with lawyers, but at least he shot one.

Continue reading Lawyers and the $54 million pants


The Long Tail in real life

Wow, talk about a visualization of Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail" in action! This graph indeed shows how the tail has lengthened and that music discovery sites like this one ( are helping potential consumers of such content reach further into the tail to discover stuff that they like and to then be able to buy the song one at a time.

Read More... Takes a Simple Look at Q&A

from TechCrunch by

wisdmlogo.pngToward the end of last year we covered a veritable cornucopia of question and answer sites. They mostly served as aggregation sites for members to post, answer, and rate questions. Yahoo effectively dominated the space, leveraging their user base and even adding an API. Q&A service has taken a different look at questions and answers, and added a Facebook application today. is for simple yes/no questions, not about writing long answers to life’s most elusive questions. Within the Facebook application you can answer a stream of questions that appear on Unfortunately you can’t ask questions through the application right now. As you answer questions, assigns you points and matches you with other users that answer questions similarly to you.

The long-term vision is to match up potential friends and help silo users into interest groups. Matching people based on their answer history is also gives them a clear way to insert contextual advertising into the question stream. Advertisers on will be able to target their ads based on a user’s question profile (i.e people who answer positively to sports questions, get the latest ESPN ad).


Toshiba announces new "3D" NAND flash technology

It looks like Samsung's not the only one trying to build a better NAND flash chip, with Toshiba now joining the fray today with news that it's made some advancements of its own. Much like Samsung, Toshiba's apparently managed to cram more storage into roughly the same size chips by changing the way the various elements are stacked, in this case busting things out into three dimensions. According to Toshiba, the so-called "pillars" of stacked memory elements can be squeezed into a tighter space thanks in part to some shared peripheral circuits, although that apparently comes at the expense of a longer and more complex manufacturing process. What's not clear, however, is exactly how big an increase that'll translate to in terms of bits and bytes, nor is there any indication as to when we might actually see some NAND units based on the technology. [Via TG Daily]


Chime.TV: A Prettier Way to Watch YouTube

chimelogo.pngChime.Tv’s video player has got the kind of flash and style Ruby developers would envy, especially since it’s programmed in PHP and AJAX. The player, which dishes out 22 themed channels of viral video content, with a bunch of added utilities.

The full page player is similar to Joost and Babelgum, but in your browser. Like the IPTV guys, you can flip through pre-made channels, roll your own, or search for content by keyword. The player is pretty hands off, and will just run if you give it a channel or a search term to munch on. The player searches through videos on YouTube, Veoh, Metacafe, Google Video, and DailyMotion. You can reorganize the results by title, length, or randomize. They also have a bookmarklet so you can add content to your channels as you surf the web.

chimesmall.pngSo, iIf you want to create the “bikini” channel, all you have to do is search for “bikini” in the search bar and Chime will start playing through all the results. The player also has a friend feature for sharing your channels and vids with someone else.

The player can play in full screen mode, wide screen, or anywhere in between by dragging the corner of the video. It also comes with some color controls for brightness, contrast, and color in case the original quality is less than stellar.

All this thing needs is a mashup with one of the TV show aggregators.


Sparter Launches, Go Buy Some World of Warcraft Gold

Sparter Launches, Go Buy Some World of Warcraft Gold

Sparter, a stealth startup founded by Bessemer Venture Partners, launched this evening. They are jumping into the middle of the estimated $1 billion market for buying and selling virtual currencies in games like World of Warcraft (WOW), EverQuest, Eve and others. The current spot price of 100 gold on WOW? About $10.

The company is a true person to person trading company. Users can sign up and either buy or sell virtual currencies at market prices. There are already a number of sites that sell these currencies directly to users (IGE is the largest), but they don't take sellers, just buyers. And the prices are set by the company, not the market.

I spoke to Dan Kelly and Boris Putanec, the two executives Bessemer brought in to start the company, earlier this week. They say that a major supply of WOW gold today comes directly or indirectly from "farmers" in China and India. People are paid a very low wage to play the game and gather small amounts of gold, which are then sold directly to players or to services like IGE. Those models are fine, they say, for people who want to buy currency. But it gives no way for people who want to liquidate their virtual gold into real world money.

eBay is one place where gamers currently try to trade virtual currency for real money, but the company started restricting the sale of virtual goods on the site earlier this year, and proactively removing listings that include virtual money and other items. Sparter is simply filling the void that eBay has voluntarily created, the company says.

Others note that eBay left the market due to trademark and other concerns. In particular, it is a violation of the terms of service of many of these services to exchange currency in this way. Whether these virtual worlds will turn a blind eye to Sparter's activities, or attempt to fight it, remains to be seen.

Sparter acts as the go-between for the parties, keeping payments in escrow until both sides say the virtual transfer went through properly. Users are also asked to rate each other after a transaction. Users with higher reputational ratings may be able to charge a premium.

The company only supports trading in currency for now. Other digital goods cannot be traded on the platform. They say they have no plans to deviate from that strategy, unless users show strong demand down the road.


Virtual Sales Associates poised to harass interactively

Thanks to a beautiful marriage between digital signage company Fastrak and interactive voice response specialist Message Technologies Inc, consumers will soon be able to converse with in-store talking heads who will provide product information along with what we can only assume will be subliminal messages to max out your credit cards. These so-called Virtual Sales Associates will be positioned near particular items of interest ("Steve recommends you only buy iPod-brand MP3 players: always look for the apple!"), and are said to be capable of holding limited "natural language" conversations about said product. To include window-shoppers in their diabolical advertising schemes, retailers can also mount a VSA behind the glass and offer browsers a phone number for chatting up the salesbot. This is good news indeed for retailers like Best Buy, who will soon be able to not only automate the process of providing customers with fake pricing information, but also begin planting the seeds of those rip-off warranties even earlier in the sales pitch.


Epson and Philips ready mini projector for portable gaming and beyond

Get ready for personal projection kids now that Epson and Philips have released this tiny joint reference design. Immediately available for OEMs, the 0.47-inch (diagonal) 3LCD panel is capable of projecting an 800 x 600 pixel image with the aid of Philips' 2.8 x 1.4 x 1-inch driver and 1.7 x 2.5-inch Ujoy lamp system. Perfect for portable gaming systems, camcorders, and PMPs assuming somebody picks this up for mass production. Hear that Microvision, the big boys are comin' for ya. [Via Impress]


Tuesday, June 12, 2007 – One click logins

Are you tired of always having to fill in the same information when logging into sites, or when registering online? Well, now you can save time by using Sxipper. It is a free Firefox add-on that lets you login into any website with just one click. It stores all the users' passwords and usernames securely in the users computer, and when the user is confronted with a form to fill out, Sxipper takes the users personal data it was provided with, and fills in the form for the user. Users can create multiple personas, whereas, when filling out a form they can opt to use professional info, personal, or private, depending upon the form they are filling out. At every login or form, users are able to choose which information they want shared and what they don't want shared. In their own words: "Sxipper is a free Firefox extension that saves you time on the web enabling you to easily control the release and management of your identity data. With a single click, Sxipper is trained to securely log you in with a username or an Identity 2.0 authentication mechanism such as OpenID." Why it might be a killer: Everyone who uses the web is confronted multiple times per day with a form to fill out, or a website they have to log into. It can take time and become very frustrating. With Sxipper, it can save you time with your logins, as well as help you remember you passwords and usernames. Some questions: What does it do that Firefox password manager doesn't already do?


Find Alexa Rank of any Website using Google Talk

Imagine typing "whois" inside GTalk to find out who owns that web domain name. Or saying "alexa" will show you the Alexa Traffic details of that website right inside your Google chat window.

You can now easily run popular network commands inside Google Talk, Yahoo!, AOL or Windows Live messenger through IMified - just add to your buddy list and start using the chat window as a network command line tool.

Other than whois, commands like traceroute and ping can also be executed from GTalk.

google talk alexa

We earlier mentioned IMified as a quick tool for publishing posts on Wordpress or Blogger blogs through messenger clients.

The service has come a long way since then and now works seamlessly with tumblr, jaiku, twitter and so on.

You can even use Imified to add bookmarks to your account from Google Talk. How cool is that.

imified |


New low in patent stupidty: searching for a used car with a clean title

Cory Doctorow: The US Patent and Trademark Office has just granted a particularly ludicrous patent: Carfax now owns the idea of searching for cars that have clean titles. Somehow, this didn't qualify as "obvious."
A method of searching for used vehicles comprising:

* Using VIN numbers to look up the title status of a vehicle; * Storing the title status of the vehicle in a database; and * Providing a list of vehicles based on title status to users who search for them online.

Could this be any more obvious? Even the patent itself admits that methods of compiling title information on used cars have been around since 1991. So what's the novel aspect of this invention?

Why does stupid stuff like this matter? It matters because every click and every idea is becoming someone's property. It doesn't matter if we've been doing it forever (like querying databases!), or if it's totally obvious, someone ends up owning it. The USPTO is open for anyone who wants to claim ownership of any idea (no wonder -- their funding comes from filing fees for patents), and once those patents end up in the hands of patent trolls, it's open season on the firms and people who make great stuff.

We all pay: we pay for the legal costs of fighting patent battles, built into the price of our stuff. We pay for the technologies that never come to market because of patent fears. We pay for all the ridiculous "defensive patents" filed by startups (there's no such thing as a defensive patent: having a patent doesn't mean that the USPTO won't give the same patent to someone else, and then your "defense" consists of not running out of money to fight the patent in court), which then turn into patent-troll armaments when the startups tank.

Astroturfing companies run bogus sites like this one, where they argue for "patent reforms" that consist of not reforming anything. Sites like Patent Fairness are a good place to get the real story.



Promising New Technology for Wi-Fi Enabled Secure Digital Memory Cards

Wi-Fi memory cards coming to cameras | CNET CNET is out with an article on Eye-Fi, a company that is set to release new camera memory cards this Fall which will allow you to transfer your photos wirelessly to your PC or to online photo-sharing websites. This is exciting technology indeed. It looks like the cards will hold 2GB and sell for about $100. Even more exciting to me than Wi-Fi image transfer is the possibility to use Wi-Fi hotspots to auto geotag images prior to transfer. If by using hotspot geolocational data, Wi-Fi enabled chips could accurately geotag images, this would represent a great step forward for geotagging. It will be interesting to watch this technology unfold.


Nothing Me.dium about its Funding

Me.dium, a company making a browser add-on that relates the webpages you are browsing to those being viewed by other people concurrently using the tool, today announced it had raised $15 million in a second round of funding, bringing its total amount of capital to $20 million from Commonwealth Capital Ventures, Spark Capital, Appian Ventures, Brad Feld, and Elon Musk.

Really? $15 million? I didn’t realize it had taken off to a level to attract that kind of bet. Me.dium is something I tried out for an early review and ended up uninstalling a week or so later during a plug-in purge.

I called Me.dium co-founder David Mandell this morning to ask how many users the company has. He said it had just opened up its private beta a week ago, and has 20,000 registered users total. How many were active users, he couldn’t say (though he said he would try to follow up). The users tend to be pretty geeky, he said, because the plug-in is only available for Firefox (IE is coming “in the next couple weeks”) and the sign-up process was until recently not very accessible.

The funding, Mandell said, is to be put toward infrastructure costs — “managing and making recommendations based on the real-time activity of everyone online actually uses a lot of hardware and engineering” — and also consumer marketing in the fall.

I have to say, $15 million is a pretty big bet for a company that has not proved many people will use its tools. In this latest round of post-bubble-burst web funding, I thought it was users first, money later, but here that doesn’t seem to be the case.


China kicks Three Gorges Dam turbine generator into motion

The AP reports that China has flipped the switch on the first of 12 turbine generators on the right side of the ginormous Three Gorges Dam, with it apparently already pumping electricity to the national power grid after a 72-hour test run. The dam itself, as you're no doubt aware, is the world's biggest hydropower project evar, totaling up to some $22.5 billion. In addition to giving it something to brag about, China is hoping that the dam will let it cut its dependence on coal, as well as control flooding on the Yangtze river. This latest development follows the activation of 14 turbines on the left bank of the dam, which began operating in September of 2005.



Virgin Charter Launches: Private Aviation Marketplace

Virgin’s most recent new business, Los Angeles based Virgin Charter, launched this evening. The company was founded by CEO Scott Duffy with the hope of modernizing the booking systems for charter aircraft. Virgin’s Richard Branson got wind of the startup, gave the company three times the funding they were looking for and took a controlling interest. The company was renamed Virgin Charter.

Today, the Internet doesn’t play much of a role in chartering private aircraft. Well to do clients have their organizations contact small operators who generally control 3-5 jets. Schedules are compared and prices negotiated. The entire process takes up to five hours on average. And inefficiencies in the marketplace result in very high prices - the average U.S. flight is $18,000 round trip, and a cross continent, Los Angeles to New York flight is generally $35,000 - $65,000. Much of the price is due to “empty legs” - flights that have to come back early instead of waiting for clients, resulting in four legs flown for a round trip. The most well known Internet site for operators to list their planes is CharterX, but it leaves much to be desired.

Virgin Charter aims to change all that by putting small operators of charter aircraft together with potential buyers. In a process that is much like booking a trip on expedia, buyers can look through available aircraft, view ratings on the companies and actual planes, and choose to big on flights. Sellers respond, and flights are booked. Payment is completed via the site using a credit card, wire transfer or EFT, and Virgin Charter keeps a percentage as their fee. Following the flights, both the buyer and seller are requested to leave feedback on the other party. And Virgin Charter will work hard to fill those empty legs, which increase marginal revenue substantially for operators.

The U.S. is most of the worldwide market for private aviation, Duffy says, with about 75% of operators based here. The company is starting out only in the U.S. for now.The company has been in private beta for a few months, with 60 operators (out of 2,500 in the U.S.) By September, when they go live, they plan on having the largest 500 operators under contract.


Kodak's new Zooms: the 12 megapixel Z1275 and ZD710 with 10x zoom

Egads, Kodak just busted out two new members of their Zoom series: the 12 megapixel Z1275 and 7 megapixel ZD710. That's right, 12 freakin' megapixels packed into a tiny 1/1.72-inch CCD -- thanks a lot Sharp. The Z1275 brings a 5x Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon optical zoom lens and 2.5-inch LCD powered by 2x AA batteries. As for that "HD" on the front? Well, that's due its ability to record 1280 x 720 video in MPEG-4 format. Meanwhile, the ZD710 cranks the zoom up to 10X while dialing the LCD back to 2-inches. Both shooters lack any kind of optical or mechanical image stabilization which, amongst other shortcomings keeps the price down to $249 when they ship starting August 2007. [Via Photography Blog]


Monday, June 11, 2007

Peonies from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

In Blogger/Blogspot, BE SURE to go into Settings -> Formatting and make sure "Convert Line Breaks" is set to NO. Otherwise it will add < br / >'s to every line and break the javascript.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ztail, online listings made easy

It has been a weekend of relative quiet and peace – where most of the time was spent cleaning up the apartment, and discovering that I had more digital device clutter than any sane person should have. In other words, time to head on over to eBay and list some old stuff to make room for the new gee-gaws. Apparently I am not alone: a recent survey released by eBay shows that the average US household has approximately $3,000 of unused things in their home

Call is serendipity, but right after watching Roger Clemens right the New York Yankees' ship, I met with Bill Hudak, cofounder and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Ztail, that has come up with web service that allows you to easily create "classifieds" and then publish them to not only eBay, but to other sites such as Edgeio, Facebook, MySpace, TypePad and WordPress blogs, and of course the Ztail listings site.

The company launched earlier this week has been bootstrapped by Hudak and Dave Keefer, and the duo have lot of online commerce experience, having worked at companies such as Google, and Epinions.

Ztail is a dead simple and easy to use. Once you go to their site, Ztail starts you off by asking you the question, what do you want to sell today? You type in, say, Nokia E61 – and Ztail gives you all options, including photos and technical specifications that you might have to otherwise type out. You personalize this information, describe the condition of the item; add your eBay ID (or Facebook ID or your blog credentials) and hit publish. That's it! You are done.

Being someone who is flummoxed by the eBay listings process, I found Ztail a time saving utility. Of course there is the added bonus of listing my stuff in many different places and thus increasing the chances of selling makes Ztail worth giving a whirl. Okay, time for me to go make listings, create a special blog for listing the items, and then have a massive virtual garage sale!


Vietnamese fishermen mistakenly swipe miles of fiber-optic wire

While this mishap may not look as if it would cost Vietnam nearly as much as the Alaskan vaporization, losing 27-miles of critical fiber-optic cabling connecting the underdeveloped nation to Thailand and Hong Kong is fairly serious (and pricey). As it turns out, hordes of Vietnamese fishermen were given permission to salvage war-era undersea copper lines to fetch whatever price they could on local markets, but things got out of hand when vital telecommunication pipelines began getting swiped instead of antiquated cabling. The country has since disallowed the removal of any underwater wire until things pan out, but it looks like Vietnam will be relying on a single cable to the outside world until it can pony up the $5.8 million in replacement costs.


Publisher steals laptops, misundertands copyright

Richard Charkin, the CEO of Macmillan USA Chief Executive of Macmillan and owner of Nature Publishing Group -- a division of Holtzbrinck, the same company that owns my publisher, Tor -- disgraced himself this week at BookExpo America in NYC. He walked up to Google's booth and stole two of their laptops, then later returned them, saying that he'd done it because there wasn't any sign telling him not to steal them.

This was intended as trenchant commentary on Google's book-scanning project, a generally laudable effort to scan and index all the books ever published, including huge dark-matter of books that are out-of-print with no clear rightsholders.

Pat Schroeder and the American Association of Publishers have sued Google over this, saying that Google shouldn't be allowed to index these out-of-print books (the majority of books published) unless they take on the Sisyphean task of figuring out who controls the copyright to all of them and then get permission to make an index.

Google makes indexes of every page on the Internet without ascertaining who their copyright belongs to, without asking permission. If your page is on the public Internet, Google will index it. The publishers argue that books shouldn't be indexable without explicit permission.

Larry Lessig has posted a great rebuttal to the idea that stealing laptops is the moral equivalent of indexing books -- a must-read if you want to understand exactly why Charkin's stunt was so mind-numbingly wrong-headed.

(3) If the computer was not sitting at a market booth, but instead was in a trash dump (like, for example, the publishers out of print book list), or on a field, lost to everyone, then that fits the category of property that Google is dealing with. But again, Google doesn’t take possession of the property in any way that interferes with anyone else taking possession of the property. The publisher, for example, is perfectly free to decide to publish the book again. Instead, in this case, what Google does is more like posting an advertisement — “lost computer, here it is, is it yours?”

(4) Or again, imagine the computer was left after the conference. No easy way to identify who the owner was. No number to call. In that case, what would the “head honcho’s,” or anyone’s rights be? Well depending upon local law, the basic rule is finders keepers, loser weepers. There might be an obligation to advertise. There might be an obligation to turn the property over to some entity that holds it for some period of time. But after that time, the property would go to the “head honcho” — totally free of any obligation to Google. Compare copyright law: where the property can be lost for almost a century, and no one (according to the publishers at least) has any right to do anything with it. Once an orphan, the law of copyright says, you must be an orphan. No one is permitted to even help advertise your status through a technique like search engine.

(5) Or again, imagine the computer was a bank account in New York. And imagine, the bank lost track of the owner of the account. After 5 years, the money is forfeited to the state. Compare copyright: in New York state, a sound recording could be 100 years old, but no one has any freedom with respect to that sound recording unless the copyright owner can be discovered.