Tech Today w/ Ken May

Featured entries

Uber brings on-demand flu shots to Boston, NYC and DC for a day

Posted by kenmay on October - 23 - 2014

If there’s one thing on-demand car startup Uber likes more than ferrying people around, it’s trying to grab people’s attention with kooky promo stunts. Uber for barbecue ? Uber wedding packages ? Pairing riders with attractive lady drivers ? Been there, done that (for better or worse). Every once in a while though, Uber cooks up something genuinely useful and today is one of those days: if you live in Boston, Washington DC or New York City, you can order an on-demand flu shot for you and up to nine of your friends until 3PM Eastern. No, really. You’ll have to punch the promo code “HEALTH” into the app, but once that’s done you can flag down a roaming nurse to either drop off a flu prevention kit or administer those shots. Uber refers to the day’s events as a pilot program flying under the UberHealth banner that could wind up marrying Uber’s logistical might with even more valuable health services, like bringing doctors straight to doorsteps. If that sounds a little familiar, you may be thinking of a New York startup called Pager (which is actually helping power today’s flu shot promo) that does something similar, and it’s not hard to imagine a frenzied MD responding to an in-app house call by jumping into a Uber some day down the road. Anyway. Uber warns that high demand means you’ll probably have to be very patient, but hey — free flu shots! Why the hell not. Seeing as how we’re a bunch of cynical jerks, we feel compelled to remind you that Uber’s operations definitely aren’t all sunshine and roses . After all, Uber’s got a precarious little balancing act going on: it’s positioning itself to the people an valuable alternative to the traditional cab experience, and pissing off the drivers powering its success at the same time. Filed under: Mobile Comments Source: UberHealth

Why Sweden Commissioned Its Own Typeface

Posted by kenmay on October - 23 - 2014

The idea of branding a place is a fairly new one, and the notion of place-based typefaces is even newer, with national and local governments from Qatar to Chattanooga commissioning their own fonts. The latest country to set its on typeface is Sweden—but it’s also questioning whether a national font is a bit too nationalistic for their progressive Scandinavian sensibilities. Read more…

Comcast reported its third quarter earnings today with positive results—and even the bad news was good. “Video customer net losses declined to 81,000, the best third quarter result in seven years,” the company’s announcement said . “I am pleased to report strong revenue, operating cash flow, and free cash flow growth for the third quarter of 2014,” CEO Brian Roberts said. In addition to slowing video losses over the past three months, “cable results highlight the consistent strength of high-speed Internet and business services,” he said. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ever heard of Electronics for Imaging? We hadn’t either until this morning, but it’s apparently a multimillion dollar, multinational, public corporation based out of Fremont, California. And the United States Department of Labor just caught EFI red-handed in an investigation, which found that “about eight employees” were flown in from India to work 120-hour weeks for $1.21 per hour. EFI apparently thought it was okay to pay the employees the same wages they’d be paid in India (in Indian rupees). Here’s the unbelievably crazy sounding quote EFI gave to NBC ‘s Bay Area affiliate : “We unintentionally overlooked laws that require even foreign employees to be paid based on local US standards.” Just so we’re clear: is there anyone reading this who doesn’t know that any person working in the United States is legally required to be compensated according to United States laws? Alberto Raymond, an assistant district director with the US Department of Labor told NBC, “It is certainly outrageous and unacceptable for employers here in Silicon Valley to bring workers and pay less than the minimum wage.” And that applies to EFI especially, which posted just shy of $200 million in revenue in its last financial quarter. EFI is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange, and the company’s in the business of computer peripherals (mainly printer-based stuff). The eight employees are being paid $40, 000 in owed wages; they were reportedly installing computer systems at the company’s headquarters. EFI was charged $3, 500 — yes, seriously — for being at fault. [Image credit: Shutterstock] Filed under: Misc Comments Source: NBC Bay Area

With another sweltering summer over you might have already forgotten the glory of your AC unit, the 100-year-old modern convenience which truly changed the way we live. But the U.S. might have felt the cool breeze of relief a half-century sooner, if an entire industry built on keeping things frozen hadn’t stopped the first air conditioner from being made. Read more…

Bluetooth-tracking beacon programs uncovered in LA, Chicago

Posted by kenmay on October - 23 - 2014

The Logan Square stop on the Chicago Transit Authority blue line. Kumar McMillan A report from BuzzFeed News Wednesday suggests that the tracking beacons that cropped up in New York phone booths last year have spread to new cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago. The beacons have been sprinkled around transit centers, including Chicago Transit Authority rail stops and LA bus stops. The beacons, created by Gimbal, connect with devices like smartphones via Bluetooth and can harvest information like the device’s Bluetooth address, as well as the date, time, and location of connection. The beacons in New York were installed as a “test” by advertising company Titan 360. Though officials called for their removal over a year ago, they were not taken out of phone booths until earlier this month, after they were used in promotions for the Tribeca Film Festival and shopping app ShopAdvisor. Marketing company Martin Outdoor Media confirmed the beacons’ existence in LA to BuzzFeed News, as did the CTA in Chicago. Martin called the beacons part of a “pilot program” in a press release last week, while the CTA stated its beacons were part of a “two-week test,” to be followed up by a bigger test for a longer period with beacons placed and tracked by Titan. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An anonymous reader writes Now that its file synchronization tool has received a few updates, BitTorrent is going on the offensive against cloud-based storage services by showing off just how fast BitTorrent Sync can be. More specifically, the company conducted a test that shows Sync destroys Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Dropbox. The company transferred a 1.36 GB MP4 video clip between two Apple MacBook Pros using two Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapters, the site as a real-time clock, and the Internet connection at its headquarters (1 Gbps up/down). The timer started when the file transfer was initiated and then stopped once the file was fully synced and downloaded onto the receiving machine. Sync performed 8x faster than Google Drive, 11x faster than OneDrive, and 16x faster than Dropbox. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

45,000-year-old modern human bone yields a genome

Posted by kenmay on October - 23 - 2014

The femur from which the DNA samples originated. Bence Viola, MPI EVA Svante Pääbo’s lab at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany has mastered the process of obtaining DNA from ancient bones. With the techniques in hand, the research group has set about obtaining samples from just about any bones they can find that come from the ancestors and relatives of modern humans. In their latest feat, they’ve obtained a genome from a human femur found in Siberia that dates from roughly the time of our species’ earliest arrival there. The genome indicates that the individual it came from lived at a time where our interbreeding with Neanderthals was relatively recent, and Europeans and Asians hadn’t yet split into distinct populations. The femur comes from near the town of Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. It eroded out of a riverbank that contains a mixture of bones, some from the time where the sediments were deposited (roughly 30-50,000 years ago), and some likely older that had been washed into the sediments from other sites. The femur shows features that are a mixture of those of paleolithic and modern humans, and lacks features that are typical of Neanderthal skeletons. Two separate samples gave identical carbon radioisotope dates; after calibration to the 14 C record, this places the bone at 45,000 years old, give or take a thousand years. That’s roughly when modern humans first arrived in the region. That also turned out to be consistent with dates estimated by looking at the DNA sequence, which placed it at 49,000 years old (the 95 percent confidence interval was 30-65,000 years). Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

As the music video starts, Avicii nonchalantly wanders into Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena. He strolls past the venue’s reception; a Grand Marnier poster gets some vital screen time. The bass drops. The crowd goes wild. For some reason, I feel like drinking. Over the past few weeks, Avicii fans in the US have been unknowingly drawing an association between their favorite Swedish DJ’s proghouse hit ” Lay me Down ” and orange-flavored cognac. Everywhere else in the world, the brand is never seen — a plain wall lies in its place. It’s one of the first examples of a new kind of temporary product placement called “digital insertion.” Typically, product placement currently takes the form of a lingering product shot — like a Beats Pill speaker at the start of a Miley Cyrus video . With recent advances, companies can now use algorithms to digitally serve you unique product placements based on where you live, your age or your salary. It’s a creepy concept, but it could change advertising forever. The Grand Marnier spot is the work of Mirriad, an agency that sells what it calls “advertising for the skip generation.” Mirriad uses highly complex analysis tools to map video clips, automatically discerning the best places to insert products, billboards and other adverts. The software it created tracks objects and backgrounds in each frame, creating an optical flow of how objects move from second to second and essentially mapping the video in 3D. This enables both planar tracking (for modifying flat surfaces like walls, computer screens or newspapers) and 3D tracking (for placing complex 3D objects into a moving scene). Mark Popkiewicz, Mirriad CEO, explains the potential for the company’s technology. “We can embed brand assets, digital forms of whatever the brand is. It could be signage, like posters or billboards; it could be actual products. Anything from a can of Coke, a packet of Frosties, a mobile phone. You name it. It can even be a car; we’ve done many of those.” Mirriad has signed some big deals with Vevo and Universal Music Group (UMG) over the past six months. It also recently announced a partnership with advertising firm Havas to match the right companies to the right videos. Havas is an industry giant with huge brands on its books, and the first wave of Mirriad-UMG placements will include Coca-Cola, LG and Dish Network. Product placement is obviously nothing new. It dates back almost a century in radio and film, and has its beginnings in literature: Companies reportedly clamored to get a mention in Jules Verne’s 19th century novel Around the World in Eighty Days . Music videos, too, have long been firmly in the grasp of brands, with many clips acting as thinly veiled advertisements for Beats, Coca-Cola and countless other brands. However, these placements come with their problems. Advertising is ephemeral. Why should product placement be any different? Ever seen the first minute of Hilary Duff’s “All About You” video? It’s essentially an Amazon Fire Phone commercial . How valuable will that ad be to Amazon in five years’ time? You need only look at the countless ’00s musicians flashing two-way pagers for your answer. Regular advertising, be it in print, web or TV, is ephemeral. The ads running alongside this article, for example, are for current products and companies. Why should product placement be any different? Once Grand Marnier’s contract expires, Avicii may be walking past a Ford poster, or a can of Sprite. But let’s not forget location. At the time of writing, the Fire Phone is available in exactly three countries, yet anyone in the world can watch “All About You.” With digital product placement, the same artist can plug different brands depending on where the video is viewed. When it comes to buying these ads, Mirriad’s software automatically generates metadata about videos it processes, cataloging not only the advertising opportunities in each, but also the ideal target market and the value of placements — in fact, it’s really quite similar to web advertising. Rather than Microsoft placing branding on Taylor Swift’s wall, the company need only come to Mirriad and explain what kind of people it wants to advertise to. A campaign could target a million views from 16- to 24-year-olds in the US over a four-week period. Mirriad then embeds the relevant ads into as many videos as necessary to meet that target, using existing analytics from YouTube and others to prove their worth. “There’s no algorithm in the world that can tell you, ‘This is a good place for Smirnoff.'” “Our algorithms monitor down to a pixel level the actual exposure on screen, time, size, location and orientation of the brand so that we’re always meeting and exceeding a minimum level of exposure, ” says Popkiewicz. “Our technology is monitoring that, so that when you buy a campaign from us, you’re going to get a guaranteed level of exposure … For the brands, it takes the uncertainty out of advertising.” Of course, there are limits to what can be automated. “There’s no algorithm in the world that can tell you, ‘This is a good place for Smirnoff because it’s a party atmosphere, ‘ as opposed to, ‘This is a good place for Starbucks because it’s an office environment.’ Those sort of things we have to leave to human judgment.” Mirriad has already brought its ads to TV, and it’s not the first company to do so, either. If you’re in the UK and you watch Hannibal or Bones , chances are you’ve seen some digital product placement, while in the US, rival firm SeamBI offered a similar service that was used to, among other things, insert up-to-date ads into reruns of How I Met Your Mother . SeamBI was founded almost a decade ago, but it’s unclear what’s happened to the company. It hasn’t issued a press release in over two years; its founders are all working elsewhere; and a request for comment on this article was left unanswered. For now, it seems, Mirriad has this potentially lucrative market largely to itself. Popkiewicz is coy when quizzed on where the company’s placements might end up next, but is clear the company has big ambitions. TV could potentially be a far bigger market for Mirriad and other firms than music videos. There’s an obvious trend away from traditional television and toward digital content, whether through on-demand services from existing TV companies (think Hulu or HBO Go), or from all-digital services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. As we move away from watching live broadcasts or buying Blu-ray boxsets, Mirriad’s techniques become more and more feasible, and with a growing audience the potential for more complex placements increases. Although none of the big streaming players are keen on discussing the viability of product placement, TV studios are happy to explain its potential benefits and drawbacks behind closed doors. “As you offer your shows around the world through syndication, you encounter different laws about product placement, ” one executive, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains. “Adding ads after the fact increases the amount of money you can make from syndication because each country that airs your show can potentially generate revenue.” Another executive felt similarly upbeat about the financial possibilities, but did note that placements would have to be “tasteful” in order to prevent upsetting its shows’ “biggest fans.” “If you’re not careful to be tasteful, you’ll just end up upsetting your biggest fans.” Services like Netflix could be key to kicking product placement up a gear. There’s nothing preventing distributors from supplying streaming sites with special versions of your favorite show for various territories, each with different product placements from the version that aired on TV. Similarly, a service could, at any given moment, have hundreds of versions of a particular video for targeted advertising, serving Coca-Cola ads to teens or Grand Marnier to 20-somethings. Of course, this would require a lot of work on Netflix’s end — the company told us it has “nothing to share” on the matter — but should it make financial sense for both parties, it’s hard to see it not happening in some form. The same could be true for on-demand movies. Of course there would be some backlash if, for example, Quentin Tarantino’s Big Kahuna Burger joints suddenly turned into McDonald’s, but with a subtle hand, there’s a chance you may not even notice a new bottle of Coke in the background of your favorite Pulp Fiction scene. Comments

FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors’ Chips.

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014

janoc writes It seems that chipmaker FTDI has started an outright war on cloners of their popular USB bridge chips. At first the clones stopped working with the official drivers, and now they are being intentionally bricked, rendering the device useless. The problem? These chips are incredibly popular and used in many consumer products. Are you sure yours doesn’t contain a counterfeit one before you plug it in? Hackaday says, “It’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.