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August 31, 2009

Get BaltTech on your fridge, coffee pot

Chris Ensey and Andrew Hazlett are BaltTech magnet-worthy.

These guys (@censey and @theoccasional on Twitter) were two of several BaltTech readers who recently earned a rare BaltTech magnet for commenting on recent blog posts.

Usually, I give them out in conjunction with polls I'll do on a timely (or absurd) topic. You can get one, too, if you're the first of five to comment on a blog post where there's a live poll going on.

Without further ado, here are the pics.

Andrew's BaltTeched-out coffee pot:

 @GusSent Breakfast of Champions on Twitpic

Chris's BaltTech'ed refrigerator:


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:56 AM | | Comments (1)

Skype's proposed new communication device: Skyping with your TV remote?

Skype, the Voice-over-Internet telephony provider that allows you to make cheap calls and free video chats, appears to be working on a companion communication device for its popular software application that would work with a computer, gaming system or television.

A patent filing made public last month shows that Skype, which is owned by eBay, is working on a device (or devices), with a speaker and microphone in some permutations. Among the possibilities are devices that could connect to a computer, video game system or television.

The filing by Skype comes with diagrams, including Fig. 3 below, which shows a rectangular box with a screen and an attached headset. Another version of the device, in Fig. 5 would be a smaller Skype box (those little round knobs, 505 and 506, are a built-in speaker and a microphone) that would connect to a television (501) and would work with a remote control. 


In the new world household, one device becomes another. In this case, your TV could become your Internet telephony center, too. Skype engineers envision hooking the device up to a television with a companion remote control. When a call comes in, you can use your remote -- which has a built-in speaker and microphone -- to take the Skype call.

(Aside: Wouldn't it be funny if that same remote just happened to be IBM's patent-pending auto-blogging remote, which would be able to auto-Twitter?

The point of the device seems to be to give Skype users a more dedicated way of receiving phone, video, SMS and instant messages. But it doesn't appear to have a video camera embedded in the device, so you'll still need a separate Web cam to do your Skype video chats.

The patent makes a few references to enabling users to field phone calls on gaming systems that don't interrupt their programs for Skype calls, so perhaps this is a new gadget geared toward gamer geeks.

The inventors listed on the filing are Duncan Lamb, Marek Laasik, Manrique Brenes, and Gareth O'Loughlin.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:20 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Gamers

August 28, 2009

Discovery e-books in bookstores and libraries?

There are a few more goodies in the news I reported yesterday of Discovery Communication's patent filing for an e-book reader.

The Discovery e-reader is a portable viewing device with a high-resolution LCD display, and would be a direct competitor to the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader. (Discovery has thus far declined to comment on the patent filing.) But according to the schematics, the Discovery e-reader will have line in and line out jacks, and coaxial in and coaxial out jacks -- which suggests multimedia capabilities, too. Discovery appears to be setting up its own virtual e-book store, and has some previous patents on electronic book formats.

But there's another wrinkle to what Discovery wants to do: in the patent filing, there are diagrams of an e-book system that could be used by book stores and libraries. I wonder if they're devising a system where you can go to a library and, instead of taking out a paper book, you can borrow an e-book reader with multiple books stored on it. See below -- what does the diagram suggest to you?


So how will consumers get the e-books on the device? From the patent filing: "The distribution network may be an electronic book store, an Internet web site, a wired or wireless telecommunications network, an intranet, a radio program delivery system, a television program delivery system, including cable television, satellite television broadcast, and over-the-air broadcast, for example. The electronic book distribution network could include direct delivery through a mail delivery system of electronic books on a fixed media, such as a CD-ROM, for example."

Wow. That's a lot of different options for it. Make sense for a big broadcaster like Discovery to leverage all its assets in delivering the electronic content in a variety of ways.

It's unclear if Discovery has set-up any partnerships yet with their reader, but in another diagram depicting a virtual menu on the gadget, it shows options for accepting a fax or other message type, and reading the Cox news service, U.S. News and World Report, and Fodor's Travel Service. See below:


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets

August 27, 2009

Discovery Communications working on a Kindle competitor?

Discovery Communications, which produces such cable channels as Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, may be working on its own e-book reader, according to a U.S. patent application made public today.

The diagrams included with Discovery's patent application, which was filed in February and made public today, depict a rectangular device with physical controls for user navigation. The device would be for reading e-books and "providing for e-commerce," and would be a direct competitor to the Amazon Kindle electronic book reader and the Sony Reader digital book reader.

Below is a sample diagram from the patent filing:


A phone call was placed this afternoon to Discovery's corporate communications office seeking comment. I'm waiting on a return call.

The Silver Spring-based company holds a patent on some security and copy protection features, and earlier this year sued Amazon for their alleged infringement of them with their Kindle and Kindle 2, according to this CNET article.

But it appears the disclosures in the patent filing today are the first signs that Discovery is seriously considering entering the e-book fray.

Hit the jump to learn more about the Discovery patent filing.

According to the filing's abstract, the e-book's user can view info about products and services, view an online electronic catalog, and receive samples of products available for purchase.

This alone sounds like Discovery may be attempting to build an iTunes-like or Amazon-like interface for people to consume their media.

Quote: "In the case of a digital product, the user can download the purchased product directly into the viewer. The viewer also records statistics concerning purchase and information requests in order to recommend related products or services, or for directing particular types of advertisements to the user."

Interesting stuff, no?

What do you think? Are e-readers the next big thing we're gonna see flooding the market in a year?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Media

Apple working on full-blown speech-to-text for iPhone?

Here's some news: According to a patent filing made available today online, Apple Inc. lays out the way it intends to accomplish speech-to-text for mobile phones, MP3 players (i.e. its iPods) and other PDA devices.

The patent application appears to lay out the method in which Apple is going to implement speech-to-text in its iPhone. The newest 3G S version of the iPhone already has some voice control features, for controlling music and dialing phone contacts. One of the diagrams included in the patent filing gives an example of using the method to create an email.


From the filing:

The speech recognition module can analyze the speech data to derive text data, the text data comprising sequence information associated with each of a plurality of words associated with the speech data. The text composition module can receive the text data and combine the text data with the non-speech data based upon the sequence information. The text composition module can thereby produce combined text data derived from the text data and the non-speech data. The interface can transmit the combined text data to the mobile device for presentation to a user of the mobile device.
It's worth noting that "non-speech data" will include "typeface data, symbols or punctuation" -- meaning you'll be able to control such inputs with your voice. Interesting stuff.

You'll also be able to record speech for later "subsequent processing" into text. And, you'll be able to tag and time-stamp your speech entries. Doubly interesting, no?

So, what it seems Apple is doing is building a fully capable audio-editting interface for speech-to-text. We knew it was coming, no? Thoughts?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:29 AM | | Comments (4)

Should Facebook be allowed to patent "community translation"?

My blog post on Tuesday about Facebook trying to patent their "community translation" process, which they've been using to crowd-source the translation of their site around the world, really did end up going around the world, thanks to tons of retweets.

The issue even got picked up yesterday by TechCrunch, in a thoughtful post by Jason Kincaid who noted some other sites that have used crowd-sourcing in this way.

Which brings me to the poll of the day below. [Note: The first five people who vote and leave a comment will get a free "BaltTech" magnet for their fridge!]

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Big Ideas, Social Media, Web Dev & Apps, West Coast

August 26, 2009

IBM building a TV remote that will auto-blog for you?

What do you buy your blogger friend who's also a couch potato? Why, IBM's proposed new auto-blogging remote control, of course.

Engineers at IBM have been developing a TV remote control that can be programmed to auto-blog while you watch whatever it is you want to watch, according to the patent filing.

How does it work? Let's take a look at a snippet from the patent filing, which was submitted last year but didn't show up online until April.

A viewer selects a media program to view by use of a remote controller with networking capability. Upon the viewer wishing to send a blog posting to a blog, the viewer determines whether a tag to be included in the blog posting is to be a pre-existing tag or a custom tag, wherein the blog posting comprises program information about the media program useful to identify the media program. If the tag is to be a pre-existing tag, the viewer selects the pre-existing tag from a plurality of pre-existing tags using the remote controller and if the tag is to be a custom tag, the viewer generates the custom tag using the remote controller. If a protocol provided by the remote controller to send the blog posting to the blog allows a snapshot of the media program to be included in the blog posting, the remote controller takes the snapshot of the media program and includes it in the blog posting.

So, basically, IBM has built a pretty potent little remote control that can be networked. You can set it to automatically post what you're viewing to your blog. (The patent talks about posting automatically to a microblogging service -- probably Twitter.)

The patent also references Joost, the social network for video watchers. One might surmise that IBM is looking for a way to do what Joost does for online viewers, but for your television set. One of my favorite parts of the patent offers this rationale for the remote:

"...more than ever, people wish to be able to share their comments with others in real-time as they experience life. In the case of television, for example, one of the joys of watching television is discussing with one's friends the juicy bits of a favorite show or the latest television program."

I contacted an IBM spokesman who couldn't help me ferret out more details in time for this posting. He could only confirm that the patent filing -- for "automatic blogging during media viewing" -- was indeed theirs.

Want to read the full filing? Go here.

But come back and let me know what you think? Do you watch so much TV and share your viewing habits so often with others that you'd need such a remote control?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:15 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Big Ideas, For The Home, Gadgets, Social Media

August 25, 2009

Poll: Maryland's startup climate

Alright all you techies, entrepreneurs and risk-takers here in Maryland...Now is the time to vote your peace. Do you think Maryland has the right climate for nurturing startups?

Vote here, and tell us why you voted the way you did in the comments below.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:11 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

August 24, 2009

Facebook applies for patent for community translation tool

My latest hobby is scouring the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's website for innovative ideas. One that stood out to me today: Facebook's patent application for what it called "community translation on a social network."

Below is a diagram I pulled from the patent application (filed in December), which can be found here.

Basically, in layman's terms (if I'm reading the patent app correctly), Facebook users will be able to submit text they seek translated to the Facebook community, with responses that can then be rated. Voila! Near-instant community translation.


Are the implications of such a service pretty big -- especially if the tool is designed in such a way that Facebookers can use it quickly and seamlessly? I have to think so. 

I tried getting a comment from Facebook on their patent application, but I received a generic response from their press email contact. I'll keep trying.

In the meantime, would you use such a tool on Facebook? My own take on it is that such a translation tool could potentially be a novel item, since most tools right now on the Web are algorithm based and far from perfect.

But if you can get the big crowd to translate for you quickly, and with better results, that could be something special for Facebook. No?

UPDATE: I got a response tonight from Elizabeth Linder, a Facebook spokeswoman, who clarified to me that this patent applies to their existing Translation tool, which they've been successfully using over the past year to get the site translated around the world.  Here's a link to the application.

Says Linder:

The translation app has been available on our site since we first introduced Spanish, and has been instrumental in enabling us to translate Facebook quickly and efficiently: it calls on the collective expertise of our users around the world to translate Facebook, so that the site feels comfortable for everyone, no matter what language they speak.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:20 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Big Ideas, Social Media, West Coast

The Luke Skywalker arm: a future in prosthetics?

lukeskywalkerhand.jpg You may recall the scene in The Empire Strikes Back (still my favorite Star Wars film), where Luke lost part of his arm in a duel with Darth Vader -- only to have it later replaced with a cool prosthetic. (Left, photo of the movie prop at a Star Wars show in Portland, OR, by The Kozy Shack via

Ah, Hollywood.

But you may not know that the federal government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (aka DARPA) has been funding the real-life development of next-generation prosthetics that one day will make the Luke arm a reality.


What's cool about this project is that part of it is being developed right here in Maryland, at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel (of course it is.)

An article today in TechNewsWorld recaps the progress of the project, quoting Stuart Harshbarger, biomedicine team leader at Hopkins's APL and project manager for the DARPA effort.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, BioTech

August 20, 2009

Some more responses to yesterday's Q of the Day

AsSeenOnTV.jpg Yesterday's Question of the Day was: Have you bought a gadget that had the distinction of being an "As Seen On TV" product?

Of course, we got a bunch of comments in the post. Apparently, I'm not the only one buying this stuff!

And, I learned this morning, there's an entire Website dedicated to pitching "As Seen on TV" products. The site is called, of course:

Yes, I have been living in a cave. Truthfully, I hardly ever watch TV anymore. We don't have cable and with the digital transition, the five channels I used to get are now down to three. For my entertainment fix, I either use Netflix, my iPhone, or my laptop hooked up to my TV for Internet video-watching.

Anyhow, below's a recap of some spirited responses we received via Twitter for yesterday's Q of the Day:

* @petela 2 words: rolling ruler.

* @lifestylecopy Guilty. I have the ShamWow. Oh, the shame!

* @Katie_Blaha 2 words-Bump. It.

* @grlittle I have the Snuggie and the SteamBuddy. I like ASOT gadget

* @Just_Ericka I have the "Ped-Egg"

* @OneFineJay Do those spikey blue dryer balls count?

Thanks to all who responded! Keep 'em coming!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q Of The Day

August 19, 2009

Today's Question of the Day: "As Seen on TV" products

I was at a drug store this week when I happened to peruse the little digital/tech section it had. As one who is easily distracted by silvery tech objects, my eye caught the Silver Sonic XL personal sound amplifier: basically a hearing aid disguised as a Bluetooth earpiece.

It, of course, had the little red "As Seen on TV" label on the packaging. And it only cost 15 bucks. I figured, eh, why not? Maybe I could use it to listen in on street corner drug deals or something. Clearly, I was not thinking rationally when I decided I had to have it.

The truth: it's a little glitchy. Plus, I've always felt silly wearing something like this on my ear.

That said, my experience here got me thinking about what would turn into today's question of the day: Have you ever bought an "As Seen on TV" product or electronic gadget? If so, which one? And what was your experience with it?

Drop a note here or submit a link to a video response either here or at

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:17 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Q Of The Day

Learn about things that go BOOM

1861148468_1a8408921b_m.jpgSo this caught my eye: you can take a four-day course here in Maryland where you can learn about explosives, and shock and detonation waves.

You won't be doing this out on a blasting range somewhere; instead, your learning will come via computer modeling. The course is one of many that's put on by the Applied Technology Institute in Riva, Md.

It's being taught by Charles L. Mader, Ph.D.,a retired Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The course is suited for "scientists, engineers, and managers interested in the current state of explosive and propellant technology, and in the use of numerical modeling to evaluate the performance and vulnerability of explosives and propellants."

The cost: $1,895 per person.

Below is the geeky course description. (And here's the course page.)



After an introduction to shock waves, the four-day course continues with shock matching and explosive technology. The formation and interaction of shock and detonation waves are illustrated using computer movies generated by numerical reactive hydrodynamic codes. Numerical methods for evaluating explosive and propellant sensitivity to shock waves are described and applied to vulnerability problems such as projectile impact and burning-to-detonation transitions. One-, two- and three-dimensional hydrodynamic codes for modeling explosive and propellant performance and vulnerability are described and typical applications presented. Hands-on use of codes for evaluating explosive and propellant performance is provided. We recommend that you bring your laptop to this course.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: University Tech

August 18, 2009

We're #3! We're #3!

...according to, at least. The job-hunt Web site is going all Google Trends with its slicing and dicing of job listing, unemployment and per capita data.

In June, Baltimore was No. 3 in terms of the ratio of unemployed per job posting (1 job per 1 unemployed person), while Washington D.C. was No. 1. (6 jobs per unemployed person). The top 50 metro areas were tabulated (see the full list here.) Okay, so maybe it's not the most uber-scientific analysis, but doesn't seeing Baltimore ranking high on a positive survey make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Be honest now.


Source:, via TechCrunch

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:11 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: East Coast, Jobs & Recruiting

Data vs. Creative

I'd argue that no medium in history has ever enabled the capacity for near-boundless creativity as well as hyper-granular analytics as the Internet has done for us.

ScottFerber.jpgThis tension -- especially for those engaged in trying to run a profitable Internet-based business -- rears its head in Internet content creation, in marketing and advertising.

Scott Ferber (left), a cofounder of (now part of AOL) and more recently, TidalTV, has his own interesting take on this tension in an essay on, a trade pub for the Internet advertising and media industry.

The essay's called: "Time to give data a voice in the creative branding process." Ferber believes that the online video market can be cracked open with better measurement and analytics:

In the online video space, traditional online metrics must evolve to include brand measurement – purchase intent, awareness, favorability, etc. After all, online video is a medium designed to deliver many of the same advertising characteristics that TV provides, only with more targetablity, measurability and interactivity. The need to measure (and optimize) against brand metrics in real-time is a must to make online video a truly viable brand building media solution.




What do you think?
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:55 AM | | Comments (2)

August 17, 2009

Q Of The Day

The old post from Craigslist -- where a person from Baltimore was seeking a "personal texting assistant" -- inspired me to pose a question about best practices with your mobile devices.

I'm looking for one or two tips that you follow to control your cellphone Tweeting, Facebooking, texting and emailing and Web-surfing -- before it starts to control you! What ground rules do you set for yourself?

Leave a comment below, or better yet: upload your own little video clip to my new Youtube channel,

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Q Of The Day

Breaking out of email jail

Howdy, friends. I took some time off recently, but now I'm back.

I spent some time unplugged from the virtual universe, which includes the Twitterverse. Truth be told, it felt good to be disconnected for awhile. It made me realize there are a lot of things that I think I need, but really don't -- such as an iPhone 3GS.

Mind you, I happen to now own the 3GS, but I don't need it and what it represents, which is total connectivity every waking and sleeping moment of my day.

Another one of the awesome things about taking time off is that my email inbox here at The Baltimore Sun fills up rather quickly and gets clogged with spam and bacon (bacon, as you may know, isn't just another tasty pork product; it can be stuff like email subscriptions that you sign up for, but hardly ever read, aka a milder form of spam.)

So, in addition to catching up on voicemails and weeding out spammers on this blog, some of us here can spend an hour or two just clearning out our emails, just so we can get our accounts active again.

Stay with me here. Hit the jump.

* One of my favorite emails came from reader BryaninTimonium, informing me that this blog had been hacked. Here's the email:


I think your blog has been hacked.


Short, sweet, to the point. Thanks, Bryan! In actuality, some malicious spam bots had somehow redirected my blog to some type of unformatted calendar page. It was odd. But I think it's fixed now, unless you can't see this post right now. If you can't read this blog post, let me know. Hehe.

* A video of speaker from the last Ignite Baltimore event was featured on Ignite's main website via O'Reilly Media. (Good to see Baltimore folks getting recognized on the national Ignite stage, wouldn't you say?)

* BMore Media launched last week. Another spot online for local news and features. The more, the merrier. The consumer/reader wins!

* Here's a funny "Best of Craigslist" posting brought to my attention by a PR firm that does marketing for Craigslist: Someone from Baltimore was looking for a "personal texting assistant" back in June. Anybody see this ad before?

* TedxMidAtlantic is coming to Baltimore in November, and it's gonna be held at Falvey Hall at MICA. Mark your calendars. I'm stoked about it.

* This wasn't an email, but rather, a book left on my desk by a mystery gifter. The book is "The World According to Twitter," by David Pogue, NYTimes tech columnist, and his 500,000 followers. Talk about crowdsourcing -- the book compiles tweet responses to Pogue's various and wacky questions, and sells for $12.95.

Or here's a DIY tip: you could grow your own followers on Twitter, pose your own wacky questions to them, and do your own little social media experiment. Save the 13 bucks for your cellphone's texting plan. :-)

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:05 PM | | Comments (2)
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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

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