Friday, September 28, 2007

In the Lab: Beetle Juice

bombadierbeetle.jpg We know you're busy, so we'll forgive you for overlooking this week's announcement that researchers at England's University of Leeds have discovered a way to mimic the toxic defensive spray of the bombardier beetle. But you'll want to sit up and pay attention when you find out why: to create a new water-based compression technology called µMist that's being touted as the key to everything from improved fuel efficiency to next generation fire suppression to chemical-free drug delivery.

The lead researcher, Professor Andy McIntosh, describes the beetle's abilities as a type of complex pressure cooker. "Essentially it's a high-force steam cavitation explosion," he says in the release , "Using a chamber less than one millimeter long, this amazing creature has the ability to change the rapidity of what comes out, its direction and its consistency."

The µMist spray technology represents a huge potential leap forward for the precision control of droplet size, velocity and consistency, which in turn could have a massive impact on the efficiency of any system that uses mist as a delivery system–namely fire suppression, medical drug delivery and of course, fuel injection. The team has built a 2-cm chamber that can deliver mists up to 13 feet away, or produce a mist as fine as two microns. Hmm, imagine a fire extinguisher that fits in your pocket…

Say it with us now: Beetle juice, beetle juice, beetle juice. Biotech startup Swedish Biomimetics 3000, a self-described "V2PIO" (that's virtual venture philanthropic intersectional organization), found the research so promising that the company has inked a worldwide exclusive development and marketing deal for the µMist technology. No word yet on when these beetles will make their U.S. invasion.


Jajah Now Does Click To Call For Anyone

jajahlogo.png Jajah will be officially announcing their click-to-call buttons on Monday. The buttons, which let people call the owner for free and anonymously, have been quietly in private beta over the past year. They are also taking on international calling card services and Jaxtr and Jangl, who already have click-to-call offerings on social networks and dating sites.

button_services_02.gifThe call buttons are available to registered Jajah users and come as a bit of embed code you can put on your web page or at the end of an email. They come with several customizations. You can adjust the CSS styling, adjust the number it calls, and restrict which countries can try to call you.

When users click the button, the caller enters their phone number and Jajah connects the two parties over a VOIP line. The callee is then told who called and asked if they want to accept the call, say they're busy, or blacklist the number. If they accept the call, the minutes are charged to their Jajah account, like an "800 number". At two to three cents per minute, it can be used for some cheap long distance calling. For the cost conscious, Jaxtr and Jangl are still free, however.


Fusion-io's ioDrive puts power of a SAN on a PCIe card

In a recent demonstration at DEMOFall '07, Fusion-io showed off its newest PCIe device, which reportedly "places the power of a SAN (storage area network) in the palm of your hand." Essentially, this single device boasts up to 640GB of storage capacity, delivers 100,000 IOPS (input / output per second) and can achieve sustained data rates of 800Mb/sec (read) and 600Mb/sec (write)." In marketing terms, the ioDrive can perform "nearly a thousand times faster than any existing disk drive," and it can reportedly be integrated into existing data centers or workstations without any alterations to your infrastructure. Next quarter, the outfit will begin shipping the card in 40GB, 80GB, 160GB and 320GB configurations (with the 640GB flavor to follow suit), but unfortunately, official prices have not yet been divulged. Oh, and be sure to check out a video of the ioDrive's unveiling here. [Via TGDaily]


Thursday, September 27, 2007


Scientists at the Technical University of Denmark have created a refrigerator that cools using magnets instead of electricity

Edited September 17, 2007


Utilities: Automatically Refresh Any Web Page with Page Reboot

Keep an eye on that eBay auction in its closing minutes automatically with Page Reboot, a web service that refreshes a given web site every 30 seconds (or any interval you set). Similar to the ReloadEvery Firefox extension, drop the URL into Page Reboot's refresh box, set the refresh interval (in seconds) and go. A bookmarklet version is also available.


Out-of-Context Ads Prove Effective

Augustine: it's not that the "out-of-context" ads are effective; it's more like it is no less effective than ads placed in-context because both kinds are ineffective. When users want to find something, they will look for it. Any other time, they will ignore it. So no matter where the ad is placed, dismally low click rates will still be observed.


September 27, 2007
By Brian Morrissey

Yahoo! and MediaVest studied a group of consumers passionate about a particular subject area. Out-of-context ads proved about as effective as in-context placements.
NEW YORK New research casts doubt on the long-held belief that advertising is most effective when placed near content related to the product.

Yahoo! and MediaVest recently studied a group of consumers passionate about a particular subject area. Product ads displayed out of context had roughly the same impact on brand preference as identical placements shown next to related content.

Yahoo! asked self-identified food lovers to rate various brands, including the single-serve gourmet coffee product Tassimo. Brand affinity increased 26 percent among those shown the ad on a Yahoo! Food page, and 21 percent among those shown the same ad on a Yahoo! News page.

While the finding was a small part of a wide-ranging study, it suggests some softness in the long-held belief that ads shown in context are more valuable than those seen out of context.

This becomes a key issue moving forward: With new targeting tools, it is easier than ever to find specific audiences, such as foodies, wherever they are online, rather than only on food-related sites.

"Targeting the right people is more important than the content," said Jim Kite, president of connections research and analytics at MediaVest, part of Publicis Groupe.

The study supports earlier research by behavioral targeting companies like Tacoda and Blue Lithium. A Tacoda study in late 2005 found that users actually noticed out-of-context placements based on behaviors more than in-context placements. And according to an Oct. 2006 study by Blue Lithium, out-of-context, behaviorally targeted ads yielded higher conversion rates, though fewer clicks.

The findings should lift the spirits of companies like Yahoo! and AOL that are busily reinventing themselves, relying on their ad networks to give them added reach. Yahoo! has inked a deal to buy Blue Lithium; Tacoda is now part of AOL. With their portal sites serving as gateways, both companies hope to use their network assets to target ads to people with specific interests once they leave the portals for other online destinations.

For the most part, in-context ad placements are priced higher than those shown out-of-context with targeting information.

The study is notable because it gauged the most valuable customers: those passionate enough about subjects to spread messages—including brand messages—among their peers.

The study estimates that, depending on the category, 17-31 percent fall into the hyper-engaged consumer category dubbed, "Passionistas." Fifty-two percent are more likely than average consumers to recommend a product. It's no surprise that ads imparting some knowledge and/or added value on subjects of interest were found to have the greatest appeal.

"If a brand aligns with a passion, it doesn't matter where the audience is," said Edwin Wong, director of consumer insights at Yahoo!.


Useful Modding: Scientists Hack CD Player, Transform It into Lab Scanner

dn12688-1_400.jpgWhen researchers at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia needed a lab scanner, but didn't have the cash to pay for it, they didn't panic. Instead, Angel Maqueira and his colleagues bought a bog-standard CD player &mdash and hacked it, saving themselves a potential $70,000 in the process.

By soldering two additional light sensors inside the CD player, and then using software, the researchers were able to control how the device "played" a disk. The substance to be analyzed (in this case, the team was trying to detect traces of three different pesticides in various samples) was then placed on a normal compact disc, and inserted into the machine.

While the first light sensor identified where the sample was on the disc, using black marks on the edge of the disc, the second analyzed the sample itself, measuring the amount of laser light that was able to pass through the disk. Normally, discs reflect around 30 percent of the laser beam onto the reading head, while the rest passes through.

The sample, half a millimeter in size, was treated to produce dye or silver that was inversely proportional to the amount of pesticide in the sample. Using the modded CD player, they could detect pesticide levels as low as 0.02 micrograms per liter just by seeing how much laser light passed through the disc to the second sensor.

While it may not be as accurate as genuine lab sensors, which can cost between $42,000 and $85,000, the hacked CD player is accurate enough for many laboratory tasks &mdash some experts think the cheap and cheerful device would work wonders in developing countries, helping the fight against malaria, for instance. And the shorter wavelength lasers of Blu-ray and HD DVD technology will make the process even easier. [New Scientist]


Pure Digital announces million camcorder giveaway for non-profits

At under $200, Pure Digital's recently announced Flip Video camcorders are already pretty inexpensive, but the company now looks to be trying to make them even cheaper for non-profit organizations -- as in free. That's the goal of the company's just announced Flip Video Spotlight program, which aims to give up to one million of the camcorders to non-profits and other non-governmental organizations over the next five years. Apparently, the initiative (which is set to get underway this December) will operate as a donor matching program, with donors (or the organizations themselves) able to purchase so-called Flip Video Spotlight Kits, which Flip Video will match one-to-one. Much like the OLPC program, Flip Video sees virtually no end to the benefits of its camcorders, with Pure Digital CEO Jonathan Kaplan saying the company believes "video can help change the world."




Researchers tout advances in development of pure white LEDs

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science are making some fairly bold claims about their latest advance in the realm of white LEDs, boasting that they are now getting closer to the "Holy Grail of the illumination industry." That, they say, is a white LED that produces a pure white light suitable for everyday use (as opposed to the "warm white" LEDs used in pricey bulbs like the one seen here). The big advance here, it seems, is the development of the first LED based on a "new phosphor from semiconductor nanocrystals of cadmium sulfide mixed with manganese." While we're admittedly not entirely sure what all that is, the researchers claim that the result is an LED that produces a stable and constant shade of white light, which is "superior in overall performance" to previous white LEDs. They're apparently not fully satisfied with the results just yet though, and are reportedly working to boost the efficiency of the LEDs to make them more suitable for everyday applications.




D-Link gives DSM-520 access to hundreds of online TV channels

Evidently, loosing the DSM-750 Extender for Windows Media Center just wasn't enough for D-Link, as the firm seemingly felt the need to give loyal (and to-be) owners of the DSM-520 Wireless HD Media Player a nice bonus. Starting today, buyers of the aforementioned digital media adapter will have access to "more than 200 online channels," as the unit can now take advantage of active-TV technology. The service reportedly "allows easy access to internet video and entertainment sites with a remote control," and it also uses a "content aggregator developed by MediaMall Technologies." Some notable channels include Comedy Central, CinemaNow, Google Video, Movielink, ROOtv Music Videos, Akimbo, MTV, Musicmatch, Napster, VH1, ESPN and FOX Sports, and there's also international content out there for those willing to branch out. The expanded DSM-520 should be shipping momentarily for $249.99, and existing owners can snag the update gratis on October 4th.


A Chat with Konarka Co-Founder Howard Berke

Howard Berke, the co-founder and executive chairman of the board for solar polymer company Konarka, stepped down from his role as CEO in June, but we still found him out manning the company booth at the Solar Power 2007 convention this week. We chatted with him about the Lowell, Mass.-based company's plans for commercialization — Berke says the first products won't likely hit the market until the second half of 2008.

A lot companies developing thin film and other new solar technologies are struggling to move into the production phase, and companies like Miasolé and Nanosolar continue to raise funding to take that next step. Konarka was founded in 2001, and built with $60 million from venture capital firms 3i, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Good Energies, NEA, Partech and Vanguard Ventures. Konarka is also reportedly seeking to raise another $40 million in a late stage of venture funding and while the company won't comment on that report, they won't officially deny it either.

Konarka's technology is different from some of the other thin film startups and it is based on organic semi-conducting polymers. Berke says the technology can be manufactured at a lower cost — their target cost is $1 per watt — it is more environmentally friendly, and can be printed on a variety of lighter-weight materials. Thin film technologies like cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) can have potential safety hazards and some higher costs. At the same time, Konarka's efficiency rate runs between three and five percent, which is less than many standard solar efficiencies.

All these qualities make the technology suitable for applications such as packaging with a little solar power added in. Berke uses soft drinks as an example: Say there's two soft-drink brands in a store, one with packaging that has lights blinking and the other without — which one are you more drawn to? Another example would be a cereal box solar-powered electronic game — since the materials aren't hazardous, he says, they can more easily be disposed of.

OK, a little wasteful, but we get it. The company is also looking at applications in clothing, handbags, toys, cell phones, laptops, windows, traffic signals, and smart lighting, among others.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scientists Create the First Super-duper "Pure White LED"

purewhite.pngThe American Chemical Society is claiming that the "holy grail" of the LED world has been reached. A pair of Indian Scientists have created a pure white LED. No longer will we have to suffer with odd blue- or yellow-like white LED's. The method used to achieve the white color was so blatantly obvious, they used "phosphors made from semiconductor nanocrystals of cadmium sulfide mixed with manganese." The scientific duo is currently attempting to raise its production consistency so that it can be brought to the masses. [Physorg via ACS]


Cellphones: Sling Player Now Available on Nokia N95

We knew it was just a matter of time before the HSDPA-enabled Nokia N95 would score itself a Series60 friendly Sling Player, and lo, here it is. As you can see in the gallery, you initially access commands through menus, but the trick is to set your favorite commands along with your favorite channels. In case you were wondering, you can't use the transport keys for the N95 video player. One of these days, that would be nice. But as hand model Dave Zatz was showing us, you can do some quick maneuvers using keypad hot keys. Stay tuned for our detailed review. [Sling Media]


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

State of the Art computer generated footage


Web Utilities: Create a Multi-Anchored Link with URL Split

Web utility URL Split creates single URLs that direct users to up to seven different web sites. For example, clicking this link five times will direct you to five of my recent Hack Attack Features in the order I linked them ( one, two, three, four, and five). The site is built on an interesting idea, but in practice it could use some work—in particular, one would expect to be able to continue following the link chain from each link location (through some sort of proxy hosting). As is you have to continue opening the same link in a new tab until you see that it repeats, which really just causes more ambiguity than it's worth. If it worked as I suggested, though, URL Split could be a nice tool for sharing simple link tours or step-by-steps.


Featured Windows Download: Turn Your Smartphone into a Webcam with SmartCam

Windows only: Free, open source application SmartCam turns your Symbian Series 60 smartphone into a wireless Bluetooth webcam. Just install the program in Windows (works in XP and Vista) and install the client to your smartphone (be sure to follow the readme in the \win\installer directory). When it's all set up, your SmartCam works with Skype and most other video chat services, meaning that if your computer doesn't have a webcam but you've got Bluetooth and a Symbian smartphone, you're in luck. SmartCam is a free download, Windows only.

SmartCam [SourceForge via Inspect My Gadget]


How Terry Semel Blew Yahoo's Deal For Facebook

How much is Facebook worth?  $5 billion?  $10 billion?  $15 billion?  Whatever the number, it's probably a lot more than the $1 billion Terry Semel's Yahoo could have bought it for a year ago.  As Yahoo continues its soul-searching, here's the unpleasant history of Semel's catastrophic decision, courtesy of Fred Vogelstein at Wired:

When Yahoo came calling with a bid of $1 billion in cash, the pressure became too much. [Mark Zuckerberg] relented in July [2006], verbally agreeing to sell Facebook to Yahoo. Strategically, it seemed like a good match. Yahoo had hundreds of millions of users, but its foray into social networking was struggling. Facebook had cool tools and was looking for a mass audience.

The timing, however, couldn't have been worse. In the days after Zuckerberg agreed to sell, Yahoo announced it was projecting slower sales and earnings growth, and that the launch of its new advertising platform would be delayed. Its stock price plunged 22 percent overnight. Terry Semel, Yahoo's CEO at the time, reacted by cutting his offer from $1 billion to $800 million. Zuckerberg, who had been warned about Semel's reputation for last-minute renegotiations, walked away. Two months later, Semel reissued the original $1 billion bid, but by then Zuckerberg had convinced his board and executive team that Yahoo wasn't a serious partner and that Facebook would be worth more on its own. He rejected the offer and became famous as the cocky youngster who turned down $1 billion. Wired


How about 200Mbps for $88.20? Hong Kong Fiber Optic Rates Prove Verizon's FiOS is a Rip-Off

toastedtruck.jpgWhile Verizon is out aggressively trying to sell the country on their FiOS fiber optic web connection packages , which range from $40 per month for 5Mbps to 30Mbps for $180 (extra for TV and phone service!), Hong Kong residents can now enjoy their own fiber optic connections from Hong Kong Broadband Network Limited… which happen to be a fraction of the price and many times faster than what we can get here. Yes, HK residents can now get a whopping 100Mbps fiber optic connection for a mere $48.50 a month. And that's the entry-level package.

How about 200Mbps for $88.20? Yeah, not quite enough, I agree. You might as well jump up to 1Gbps for $215.40 a month. But hey, you don't really need that, do you? You should be thanking Verizon for the opportunity to pay them for a pathetic 5Mbps connection. I mean, the US is so far down on the per-country broadband speed chart (the Japanese are enjoying 60Mbps average) that we should just be loving any crumbs the telecoms are willing to toss our way, right? Thanks again, Verizon! [ CNNMoney via Broadband Reports ]


Terabitz To Expand Beyond Home Searches Today

Palo Alto-based Terabitz launched in July 2007 as a sort of Netvibes/Pageflakes for people searching for real estate.

A search on the site pulls up a basic Google map of the area and nothing else. But users can then drag in modules to add information - local foreclosures, recent sales, listed homes, schools, even fast food restaurants. Every module that is added by a user also adds the appropriate information to the map as well. It's a very convenient way to get a feel for the neighborhood.

The original idea for the company came from seventeen year old Kamran Munshi, who is now a freshman at Yale. His father, Ashfaq, ran with the idea and raised $10 million in funding. The company has 32 employees (12 in the U.S., 30 in India).

Later today the company is launching a new feature - the ability to create a map with various modules included and then embed it on another website. So any site that wants to add a Google generated map that includes, say, local businesses and restaurants (a hotel, for example) can now do so easily. The tool is free, but will be branded with Terabitz.


Marketers Wait Before Tackling Adblock

September 24, 2007
By Eric Newman

NEW YORK Marketers mostly shrugged off a threat from Adblock Plus, a tool recently added to the Firefox browser that lets users delete banner ads and disable flash and rich-media messages.

The software, described by some as a "TiVo for the Web," is designed to make Web browsing a purer user experience, said Wladimir Palant, who developed the program as an update to a version released five years ago.

"Adblock is definitely important because there are still too many ads, ones that make sounds and others that are animated, float in the middle of the screen obscuring text and do just about anything else to grab your attention," he said.

Firefox also hosts TubeStop, which blocks ad overlays on YouTube videos, and another program that replaces banner ads with public domain artwork.

Despite the potential attraction of ad-free surfing, marketers appeared nonplussed, arguing that Adblock Plus won't change the online marketing industry, mainly because it's on a niche browser. They also point to the fact that similar programs on larger browsers have not yet revolutionized the business model.

"This particular program is just one part of a larger trend that's a fact of life for marketers," said Ilya Vedrashko, an emerging-media strategist at Hill Holiday, Boston. Vedrashko said browsers such as Internet Explorer, which he says controls 64 percent of browser usage (versus 17.5 percent for Firefox), also have ad blocking tools. "I wouldn't overestimate the importance of the business impact of this application."

Vedrashko argued on his blog last week that such technology is actually good for marketers because it forces them to make better ads. John Paulson, president at digital marketing agency G2 Interactive, New York, agreed. "From an industry standpoint, I don't think any of this is stuff we should be afraid of because it just puts the onus on the image creators to put out messages of value to the user," he said. But Jenny Howell, manager of interactive marketing for American Honda Motor, was less sanguine: "Although penetration of Adblock is still quite low, conceptually, programs like Adblock are, of course, frightening to an online marketer."

Still, Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, New York, said his organization plans to reach out to technology providers to persuade them to discourage the use of ad-blocking software.


Attractive Online Diagrams, Charts And Maps

Data charts and diagrams are used when statistical data has to be presented in the most convenient and usable way. Visual charts are clear, visually appealing and easier to perceive than some simple enumerations or tables - mainly because users don't have to analyze the meaning of presented facts, but can perceive main tendencies through the visual weight of the facts — directly.

You can create charts in graphic editors or use special applications (software or web-apps) which can help you to create your charts in few minutes. However, once you'd like to update an old chart, or create a new one, you have to run the application and create new images over and over again. That's not flexible. Or maybe you just want to offer your visitors not a simple image, but a powerful dynamic chart.

amCharts: Flexible and Dynamic Solution



To gain a greater level of flexibility you need to take a closer look at further approaches. One of them could be a flash-based solution which loads the data from server — from a config-text file. And this is exactly what amCharts offers. There are 4 sets with predefined Pie & Donut, Line & Area, Column & Bar and Scatter & Bubble. Generated Flash-files are dynamic and can be presented in 2D or 3D.

The loader can load data from XML or CSV (coma separated values text file), this means you can easily export data from Excel, dynamically generate data file with PHP, ASP, .NET or other programming language. Some flash-charts also have animation effects (bounce effect, growing effect) and offer users a possibility to export the chart as an image. You can also choose font and text sizes for all texts, specify the colors and define roll-over indicator's color, transparency and text color.




Data sets and configuration can be changed in a simple text-file. You can download and use amCharts for free. The only limitation of free version is that a small link to this web site will be displayed in top left corner of your charts. If you'd like to be able to use the tool without a backlink you can buy a single site license for 85 Euros (~$117).

The developer of the tool, Antanas Marcelionis, also offers a customizable flash-based solution for interactive maps, amMap: same conditions, same level of flexibility. In both cases you can start to create your own charts and maps right away - the documentation is well-structured and easy-to-use.



Samsung's Armani phone has a surprise: a haptic feedback UI

All hail, all hail, official pics of the Samsung / Armani mashup: the Armani phone. Here's the haute couturey poop: tri-band 900/1800/1900 GSM, 3 megapixel camera, 2.6-inch 262K color QVGA touchscreen LCD, Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support, microSD expansion, full Internet browser, and support for H.263, AAC/MP3/WMA audio and MPEG-4 video. Fine and dandy but this little guy also features a haptic feedback user interface like Samsung's SCH-W559 handset loosed long ago in China -- "users can feel an immediate mild vibration when they touch icons on the display." How you like them Apples, Apple? The Prada-esque slab currently measures in at 87.5 x 54.5 x 10.5-mm and 85-grams; less after it starts making regular, post-meal trips to the toilet following its November European release.


DocuSign Raises $12.4 Million

docusign_logo.png DocuSign, an eSignature service, has raised a $12.4 million series C led by new investor WestRiver Capital, LLC and their existing investors Ignition Partners, Frazier Technology Ventures and Sigma Partners. It follows a Series B investment of $10 million in April 2006 from Frazier, Ignition, and Sigma. DocuSign, which has been around since 2003, enables companies to get legally binding signatures quickly over the internet instead of over the fax or mail. The whole digital signature business was really opened up during the turn of the century with that passing of the UETA and ESIGN acts, which clarified the legal grounds for electronic signatures nationwide.

docusign_screen.pngDocuSign certifies digital signatures completely over the web, acting as a intermediary who holds the documents and verifies the identity of the signature. To get a document digitally signed, you upload the documents to DocuSign (works with any document you can print), select the parts needing a signature, and create an authentication code for the transaction. DocuSign then sends an email to the recipient with a link to the documents where the signer can log in to their DocuSign account, enter the authentication code, and simply click the signature points to sign the documents. The person's eSignature (example right) and ID number are then posted in those points of the document, and the signed documents sent back to the sender. There are more details breaking down the transaction on their product page.

Competitors include EchoSign, VeriSign, Entrust and others.

If you have doubts that people are using eSignatures, you should know that, to date, DocuSign has completed over 5 million of them. Their clients currently include Expedia, Land America, RE/MAX, AMICA, Worldspan, Sony, Weyerhaeuser, Yamaha, Tektronix, and Fidelity National Title.


Creative Commons sued for deception

Augustine: the lack of understanding of the Creative Commons license (which is fairly new and un-tested in court) leads to these situations. This case has far reaching implications for Creative Commons too, since they are named in the suit.

Published Monday 24th September 2007 19:14 GMT

A Texan family has been handed a harsh lesson in what the Creative Commons "movement" really means for creatives who use its licences.

Filmmaker Damon Chang uploaded a family photograph of his young niece Alison to Flickr, only to discover weeks later that it was being used by Virgin Mobile in an expensive advertising campaign. Neither Alison Chang nor her youth counsellor Justin Wong, who took the photograph, have received compensation for the use of the image - having handed over the rights without realising it. Damon Chang used a licence which permits commercial reuse - and even derivative works to be made - without payment or permission of the photographer: Merely a credit will do to satisfy the terms of the licence.

Both Changs believe the use of the photograph was insulting and demeaning, as Alison - a minor - became known as the "dump your pen friend girl". And after taking legal advice, the Chang family is now suing Virgin Mobile USA and the Creative Common Corporation.

Virgin hoovered up over 100 "user generated" images for its ad campaign - saving itself a fortune. The lawsuit accuses Virgin of invasion of privacy, libel and breach of contract, but it's the section of the lawsuit that names and shames Creative Commons that promises to have lasting consequences for "Web 2.0" and "user generated content".

"Creative Commons owned a duty to Justin Wong," argue the Chang family in the complaint, but "breached this duty by failing, among other things, to adequately educate and warn him... of the meaning of commercial use and the ramifications and effects of entering into a licence allowing such use."

Virgin had said it believes "...the spirit of the Creative Commons agreement matches Virgin's philosophy."

(A philosophy of getting stuff for free, is presumably what they mean.)

In fact, in all but one detail, this is the "Creative Commons" working exactly as it should: Making it easier for images to be re-used, without permission or compensation to the creator. In the parallel economy of "Web 2.0", sharecropping is the norm. Virgin goofed in only one respect - by failing to credit Justin Wong, which it could have done so in tiny print. Otherwise, it got the free ride it wanted, thanks to the Creative Commons.

In this enthralling thread on Flickr (spare five minutes if you can to read it) - Alison discovers, to her horror, that she's famous - and lawyers rally round to help. Here's how it starts:

Flickr page where Alison Chang discovers her image has been used commercially

Alison Chang discovers how her image has been used. Surely a defining moment in the history of "user generated content"?

(Damon Chang explains his motivation at length in this message, further down the page.)

"People allowing commercial usage of their photography on Flickr are suckers being taken advantage of," is the advice from one of several professionals who pitched in.

"With all the money [Virgin Mobile] saved on photography through this campaign, they will probably break even on fees for the attorneys they keep on regular retainer anyway."

Flattering to deceive

For long-time watchers of Creative Commons, it's simply the latest in a series of confusions and misunderstandings that leave creators a dollar short.

In fact, the "movement" itself is founded on a fiction - that somehow, the era of free movement of cultural goods is coming to an end, requiring a new set of legal mechanisms.

(Out in the real world, where thanks to broadband we can consume digitised versions of cultural products without paying a penny for them for the rest of our lives - with a negligible chance of getting nicked - the idea of a clampdown is laughable. If this is oppression, many of you are probably thinking, can we have more please? But without this fiction, the rest of the Commons edifice would have no reason to exist: it would be a legal conceit with nowhere to go.)

Few participants who slap a CC license on their work understand that the mechanism was designed to benefit the network, not the humans, by removing "frictions" such as compensation or consent.

Meanwhile, confusion abounds - and we don't just mean the bewildering farrago of licensing permutations.

After criticism that the foundation-backed non-profit appeared to offer something it didn't - legal backup - the Commons produced a "you're on your own - don't call us" disclaimer.

Then there's what to do if you change your mind. You can't. After we drew attention to this two years ago, even some prominent Creative Commons evangelists - and as a pseudo-religious cult with its own Messiah, it has a fair few of these numpties - were surprised to learn this.

(For example, a songwriter who'd put out a tune under a CC license discovered he'd given away his rights, lock stock and barrel - and couldn't do anything about it.)

A Commons licence promises freedom, but requires the creator to abandon several; including the freedom to assign one's rights as one wishes, according to principle or whim.

While the Changs have now ditched the CC licence for a more sensible "All Rights Reserved", they've only been able to do so because of Virgin's failure to attribute the photographer, and it's far from clear that their change might stick.

Earlier this year, marketing consultant Seth Godin used a similar licence the Changs had used for a freebie booklet he'd written , only to discover it was printed up and sold for profit without his knowledge, with no compensation. He couldn't revoke anything, because no terms had been breached.

Is there a better way?

Evangelists have reacted in time-honoured fashion - by blaming the user. Just as Wikipedians blame the user for absorbing incorrect information, and OpenOffice nuts blame the user for not fixing bugs they discover, Commonistas today have rounded on the poster for... posting the photograph to the internets. A bit rich, you might think, coming from the "sharing" community.

Of course copyright, particularly in the European context, affords the little guy plenty of protection and some unique advantages over would-be exploiters.

If the photograph had been released under conventional "All Rights Reserved" terms, then Virgin would have been obliged to check with the family first - and also throw some of its multi-million budget advertising budget to the 100+ photographers who made the campaign so memorable. And by taking advantage of moral copyright, or "droit d'auteur", you can oblige a tacky commercial opportunist to withdraw the work with one just phone call.

No wonder Commons licence evangelists hate to tell the truth about copyright: The truth is that the world has always ticked along just fine without them.

What are the chances the Commons will add a disclaimer: "Using this licence may invade your privacy, and seriously damage your wealth"? ®


Monday, September 24, 2007

Dell Eliminates Almost All Crapware From Dimension and Inspiron Notebooks

crapware.jpg Dell's expanding their no crapware option from their high-end XPS systems to their entire Dimension desktop and Inspiron notebook line; meaning you're going to get the option at purchase time to opt-out of pre-installed trialware and shareware that slows down your computer considerably even when it's brand new. The one caveat is that these computers aren't entirely trialware free—it still has antivirus, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Google Tools left behind.

Dell's reasoning is this: most people want anti-virus built in, Acrobat Reader doesn't count as trialware (it's free), and Google tools is fine because it's from Google. You do have the option of declining the EULA for the antivirus on first boot to have it automatically uninstall, and Acrobat and Google Tools can be removed using Dell's new uninstall utility.

Although we would have liked for the machine to be completely empty when shipped—we've never had a use for Google Tools, and we like AVG's free antivirus just fine—we can live with this. [Dell]


IPhone Accessories: Helium Digital Solves iPhone's Stupid Headphone Jack Problem for a Mere $3.99

helium_jack.jpg Apple's numbskull design decision to make it so that regular earphone jacks can't fit in its iPhone have inconvenienced nearly everyone who bought it, but now Helium Digital steps up with a $4 solution to the problem. That's the cheapest one yet. Check out our market overview of problem-solvers—none of which is made by Apple—after the jump.

Sure, Griffin and Belkin were first up with headphone adapters for iPod, but they cost $10 and $11 respectively, and Shure has a $50 music phone adapter with a VoicePort mic that also lets you pause the iPhone's music and make/take phone calls. And oh yeah, of course Monster Cable weighs in with its overpriced entry, the $20 iSplitter 200 headphone jack splitter.

That leaves Helium Digital's HD-005 3.5mm headphone adapter, selling for $3.99 Canadian, which is just about the same as US dollars these days, and for a while the company's offering free shipping. Such a deal. [Helium Digital]


Planar intros transparent electroluminescent displays

While Planar was all about snazzy projectors and enviable plasmas at CEDIA, the firm is branching out a bit with its latest displays. The transparent and segment electroluminescent (TASEL) displays join the firm's family of EL displays and offer up the "added benefits of transparency and the ability to be cut or shaped." The units can also be transparent or mirrored, boast a viewing angle of 179-degrees, and feature "instant on" response times of under one-millisecond. Currently, only samples of Planar's TASEL displays are available, but hopefully these things will be going commercial real soon.

[Via LetsGoDigital]


Inexpensive solar panels nearly ready for commercialization

We've been inching closer to low(er) cost solar panels (for the mainstream public to enjoy) for some time now, and apparently, AVA Solar Inc. is just about ready to start cranking out units that "will cost less than $1-per watt by the end of next year." The technology was reportedly developed by Colorado State University's Professor W.S. Sampath, and production is slated to begin soon in a "200-megawatt factory" that could employ some 500 individuals. Of note, it was said that the "cost to the consumer could be as low as $2 per watt," but even that figure purportedly rings up at about half the cost of current options.

[Via Slashdot, image courtesy of CSU]


Big Brewers Gut Ad Spend, Sell More Beer

Augustine: Notice the point about spending less, yet their sales increased.  There is another example from a credit card company where they cut ad spending by 4/5ths (80%) and not only did they see no decrease in new cards acquired, in fact they got more cards acquired and higher spend in the same time period. While this was still a relatively small example that needs time to corroborate, it is a data point to illustrate the utter lack of effectiveness of traditional forms of advertising in this day and age.

As more and more of these examples come to light, it will further accelerate the "mass exodus" of dollars from traditional media -- funny how it's referred to as "measured media" -- to other forms of marketing, including online -- funny how it's referred to as "unmeasured media."


Big Brewers Gut Ad Spend, Sell More Beer

Exclusive: Miller and A-B Move More Money to Unmeasured Media

Spend less on measured media, reap more sales.

That's appears to be the lesson from the big brewers, long among the steadiest and most stalwart users of traditional mass media, who are now pouring their ad dollars elsewhere at a froth-inducing rate.
Beer spending
Source: TNS Media Intelligence
According to TNS Media Intelligence, top brewers cut measured media spending a whopping 24%, about $131 million, during the first six months of 2007, following a 12% cut during 2006. At the same time, the brewers insist they haven't cut spending at all -- and in many cases have increased it.

They maintain those beer bucks are flowing into less-traditional sponsorship and promotional activities that services such as TNS don't pick up on. Moreover, as a result of the influx of smaller brands into the big brewers' portfolios, more of their ad budgets are being channeled into local media, which the brewers say TNS doesn't measure either.

Successful strategy
The net effect is the disappearance of nearly one in four dollars from measured media. Oh, and one other thing: As measured media has dropped off the charts this year, brewers' long-struggling sales trends have improved.

"We're not walking away from traditional media by any means, but we're using it more intelligently," said Jackie Woodward, VP-marketing services at Miller Brewing Co. "Some of those new uses are not things that TNS is going to measure."

Indeed. TNS figures show Miller's spending fell by $36 million, about 36% in the first half, even though while Ms. Woodward said outlays increased ahead of revenue growth vs. the same period last year.

An example of Miller's new approach, Ms. Woodward said, was a Miller Chill-themed sketch that appeared on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" a few weeks ago. The sketch showed Mr. O'Brien's bandleader, Max Weinberg, starring in an absurd, obviously fake Japanese ad for Chill (which, incidentally, is not available anywhere in Asia). Because the ad was embedded in the show -- and, because it didn't say anything remotely positive about the brand, wasn't clearly an ad -- it was unlikely to be detected by media measurers.

Bar events
Other examples of Miller's tactics: a High Life-themed olympics of bar games in Chicago, co-developed with Tribune Co.'s properties there, that uses a smattering of print and online advertising to fuel a wide array of promotional events, as well as Miller Genuine Draft's "The Craft" concert series.

Beer marketers note that measuring services such as TNS tend to undercount outlays on local media, which is becoming a more crucial part of their strategies as they increasingly depend on import and craft brands that generally don't have national distribution.

"Brands like Stella Artois and Beck's obviously require a lot of local support, and it's not reported accurately, in our opinion," said Mark Wright, VP-corporate media for Anheuser-Busch, which earlier this year took over U.S. distribution and marketing of InBev's stable of import beers. "Actually, it's not my opinion; it's a fact that they have [spending estimates] wrong."

Mr. Wright said A-B's heavy investment in local sports programming -- including its position as the dominant alcohol player in stadium signage -- also tends to be undercounted. He said the only reduction in A-B's spending for this year was based on the absence of the Olympics, of which A-B is a major sponsor, compared with 2006. But that wouldn't account for the $50 million, or 21%, decline reported by TNS.

Shipments up
TNS, for its part, said it is measuring the use of traditional media by brewers accurately but that it's not uncommon to see steep declines in measured spending from marketers who target younger consumers, as brewers do.

"It's a broad generalization, but the advertisers and the categories that experience the largest declines are generally the companies whose customers skew younger," said Jon Swallen, senior VP-research at TNS. "Any smart marketer is going to identify where their customers are and try to reach them there."

On the latter point, the brewers appear to be succeeding: According to Beer Marketer's Insights, which was first to report the apparent spending declines, brewer shipments rose 2% during the period in which measured spending cratered, a healthy clip by the mature beer industry's modest standards.


Breaking: Online Backup Startup Mozy Acquired By EMC For $76 million

Online storage startup Mozy, headquartered in Utah, has been acquired by EMC Corporation, a public storage company with a nearly $40 billion market cap. EMC paid $76 million for the company, according to two sources close to the deal.

We first covered Mozy in January 2006 as part of an overview of the current generation of online storage solutions. The company has a dead simple way for users to back up their computer hard drives online. Download their software (Mozy supports both Windows and Mac machines) and the backups occur slowly over time. If there is ever a problem, you can restore your hard drive from Mozy's servers.

Mozy's chief competitor is Carbonite, another company we've tracked over the last couple of years. Carbonite has raised $21 million in venture financing.

Mozy, by contrast, raised just $1.9 million in capital. The round, closed in May 2005, was led by Wasatch Ventures, with participation from Tim Draper and Novell co-founder Drew Major.

That's quite an exit for Mozy - $76 million on just $1.9 million raised. It's almost identical to StumbleUpon, which was acquired by eBay earlier this year for $75 million after raising just $1.5 million in venture capital.

Rumors circulated a year ago that Mozy was close to being acquired by Google for significantly less than this. The company eventually passed on the deal, which must have been a tough call. They clearly made the right choice in waiting.

Look for an official announcement of the Mozy acquisition in the next few weeks. Congratulations to Josh Coates, Mozy's CEO (who refuses to comment on the deal), and the rest of the Mozy team.


10 Universities Paving The Way For Cellulosic Ethanol

The key to cracking the code for cellulosic ethanol — biofuel made from non-food crops and plant byproducts — could be under development in a university lab near you. While researchers have spent years trying to figure out how to effectively produce the alt-fuel, universities across the country have recently been working on moving the ball forward.

Here's our picks for 10 schools making significant strides in cellulosic ethanol research and production:

University of Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.): Last week, the executive committee of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees approved a business partnership with Mascoma Corp. to jointly build and operate a five-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol biorefinery. The partnership is a result of the UT Biofuels Initiative, an effort to grow the biofuel industry in Tennessee.

University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.): The University of Florida recently said it will build a cellulosic ethanol plant at a Florida Crystals Corp facility. The plant will be a research and development lab as well as a commercial facility and will produce between one and two million gallons of fuel each year. The plant is financed by a $20 million state grant. The school's Bioprocess Engineering Research Laboratory also has a sustained research program on biogasification of biomass; additional work in cellulosic ethanol is being done through the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels.

Iowa State University (Des Moines, Iowa): DuPont (DD) pledged $1 million to Iowa State University's New Century Farm. For info on other cellulosic ethanol initiatives at the school, check out their Office of Biorenewables Programs.

Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.): Chemical engineers from the school are working on a eco-friendly cellulosic ethanol production process that they say is more efficient than traditional methods and also suppresses the formation of carbon dioxide. Separately researchers from the University say they have an insight into the structural changes cornstalks go through in the ethanol-production process, which could "establish a viable method for large-scale production of ethanol from plant matter."

University of California, Davis (Davis, Calif.): Last year, Chevron Corp (CVX) announced that it would fund up to $25 million in research at UC Davis over five years to develop affordable, renewable transportation fuels from farm and forest residues, urban wastes and crops grown specifically for energy. UC Davis is also home to a lot of cleantech activity, including The California Biomass Collaborative, a statewide collaboration of government, industry, environmental groups, and educational institutions.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.): Chevron has also teamed up with the Georgia Institute of Technology with up to $12 million in funding for research to make cellulosic biofuels and "hydrogen viable" transportation fuels. The school has also partnered with Atlanta-based startup C2 Biofuels.

University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, Mass.): Microbiology professor Susan Leschine, a leading authority on cellulose digesting microbes, founded SunEthanol. The company licenses microbe technology Leschine developed at UMass that converts biomass into ethanol using an efficient carbon-neutral process. In August, we chatted with SunEthanol's CEO Jef Sharp about the company's Series A funding.

University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.) & the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, Ill.): Let's not forget Berkeley and Illinois, which in February jointly received a whopping $500 million from British Petroleum (BP) for biofuels research. The funding is being used for the creation of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), which will initially focus its research on biotechnology to produce biofuels, including ways to turn field waste, switchgrass, and algae into transportation fuels.

University of Minnesota (Minneapolis): Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a way to convert sawdust and waste biomass directly into a mixture of gases, called syngas, that either be burned to generate electricity or made into liquid fuels.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why knockoffs are good for fashion

James Surowiecki (author of the great book The Wisdom of Crowds) has a fantastic, tight little article about copyright and fashion in this week's New Yorker. Fashion designs aren't covered by copyright, and this means that couture designs are knocked off and sold at huge discounts in department stores and shops like H&M within seconds of appearing on the runway. This upsets many designers, but there's plenty of evidence that it's good for the industry as a whole -- the knockoffs sell to people who'd never buy the couture originals, so they don't really cannibalize sales; what's more, by making a hot new look ubiquitous, the knockoffs contribute to making it look tired and boring, which creates the market for next season's clothes.

This reminds me of the story of database copyrights, which exist in Europe and not the in the USA. Advocates for these monopolies argue that a copyright spurs investment and makes the industry bigger. But the fact is that the European database industry has stagnated over the past 25 years, while the US industry has grown 25-fold, and the biggest difference between the two is that European firms can prevent competition by using the database right.

Even though the evidence is that a database right has retarded the industry and limited growth, European database firms still profess a great love for their regulatory monopoly, and American firms still bemoan its absence.

The recipients of regulatory monopolies are like kids getting candy: they all believe that they need more, and nothing will convince them otherwise. But monopolies end up costing the public and the next generation of creators: by limiting competition in databases, Europe has created a smaller and less useful database industry. By encouraging competition in fashion, the world has created an easy means for all of us to get cheap clothes, while creating a huge amount of investment in the "next thing," making it easier for new designers to break into the field.

Designers' frustration at seeing their ideas mimicked is understandable. But this is a classic case where the cure may be worse than the disease. There's little evidence that knockoffs are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy--estimates value the global luxury-fashion sector at a hundred and thirty billion dollars-- and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger. More striking, a recent paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman suggests that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success. The professors call this effect "the piracy paradox."

The paradox stems from the basic dilemma that underpins the economics of fashion: for the industry to keep growing, customers must like this year's designs, but they must also become dissatisfied with them, so that they'll buy next year's. Many other consumer businesses face a similar problem, but fashion--unlike, say, the technology industry--can't rely on improvements in power and performance to make old products obsolete. Raustiala and Sprigman argue persuasively that, in fashion, it's copying that serves this function, bringing about what they call "induced obsolescence." Copying enables designs and styles to move quickly from early adopters to the masses. And since no one cool wants to keep wearing something after everybody else is wearing it, the copying of designs helps fuel the incessant demand for something new.

Link (Thanks, Scott!)