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December 31, 2009

Top 10 reasons I'm not doing a Top 10 "year in tech" blog post

10) It was a mediocre year in tech at best -- teleportation is still centuries away from reality.

9) Why give Apple anymore publicity?

8) I can't remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, let alone what happenend in January 2009.

7) Focusing on simple tasks is too hard -- still dizzy from watching "Avatar" in 3D.

6) Hey, Rip Van Winkle. Did you sleep through the year? Figure out for yourself what you think was important. Sheesh.

5) Using my time to craft a blog post on how Google will torpedo another half-dozen industries over the next year with its "free" business model.

4) Why bother? You're too busy playing FarmVille to read it.

3) The only list worth making is my grocery list.

2) I'm a PC -- and not doing a list was my idea.

Annnnnd, the top reason I'm not doing a year in review list:

1) I'm too busy Tweeting. Please RT.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:12 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, Geeks, Media

December 30, 2009

Engadget "official blog" of 2010 CES, but retains independence, says Aol

engadgetCEA.jpg This morning, I received a press release from Aol Communications declaring that its insanely popular Engadget blog will be the "official blog partner" of the Consumer Electronics Assocation's 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show from Jan. 7-10. From the press release:
"Engadget will provide live coverage of the 2010 International CES on both its domestic and international sites, and will have extensive presence at the show, including interviews, product news and reviews, updates on CES events and commentary by a team of Engadget editors from across the globe."

Good for Engadget, I thought. But what did this mean for its journalistic independence? (What if, for example, the White House declared The Washington Post the official news source for the Inauguration? Would people be skeptical of the Post's relationship with the White House? Probably.)

So, in the interest of transparency, I sent the following three questions to Kurt Patat, director of Aol corporate communications, who originally sent me the press release:

* What does “official blog” status really mean for Engadget at CES? Will Engadget be able to cover news from the event from a journalistically independent perspective? What if, for example, the event is a relative dud compared to previous events – would Engadget report that?

* Will Engadget editorial staff get exclusive (earliest) access to products and interview subjects that wouldn’t be afforded to other bloggers/journalists who are covering the event?

* What is the financial (or quid pro quo) relationship between Engadget and CES/CEA for this event? Did Engadget pay CEA for the right to be marketed as the “official blog”? Should any financial or transactional relationship be made as transparent as possible for readers of the Engadget blog?

To see Kurt's answers (which he sent me promptly by email this morning), hit the jump.

From Kurt Patat:

* We're still absolutely 100 percent independent. The title -- to us -- is more of a recognition of the hard work and detailed coverage we do more than anything. I think the CEA is interested in the partnership because they feel that what we do truly reflects the spirit and buzz of CES.

* No. We're still slugging it out to get the scoops and coverage as we do every year.

* There was absolutely NO exchange of money. Two years ago, the CEA simply decided that they wanted to highlight some of the stronger media outlets that attend and cover CES, and we were happy to work with them. Previously, they had worked with broadcast and print partners (and continue to do so), and we were honored to be their first and only blog partner.

Okay, tech geeks, does this relationship and the transparency between CES and Engadget satisfy you? It's good to know that money didn't change hands and access for other bloggers won't be curtailed.

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 10:22 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Geeks

Renaming and rebranding your company: The story of

Have you ever been tasked with trying to come up with a new name for a company? (Or a website or a product?) It ain't easy. You have all sorts of issues to consider, i.e. Website domain availability, trademark issues, and what the name and brand might look like five years into the future. mp3car.jpg

I was intrigued about how a company handles such a task when speaking about it with Heather Sarkissian, CEO of The company started off as an online community and retail store geared toward selling mobile computers and parts to hobbyists.

But they quickly developed expertise in the field, and started to build systems for companies and governments looking to install them in their fleets of vehicles.

This new part of their business has been booming in recent years. Suddenly, a name like doesn't quite fit, as some seem to think all they're really about is helping people listen to MP3 music files in their cars. Not so.

Have you and/or your company gone through a renaming/rebranding initiative? Let me know how that worked out in the comments below. Hit the jump for the full story on's experience:

Finding a name that fits
MP3Car's growth in mobile computing prompts hunt for new brand
Gus G. Sentementes
December 29, 2009 used to be the right name for the Baltimore company. Not anymore.

The company traces its roots to a worldwide online community of geeks in the 1990s who installed personal computers filled with electronic music files, or MP3s, in their cars.

But, like many startup companies that surprisingly grew their business in a different direction, is now struggling to choose a new name that signals what it does well: build sophisticated mobile computers for corporate and government clients.

" is obviously a misnomer at this point," said Heather Sarkissian, the company's chief executive officer. "It's a very well-known brand. However, it is very confusing to our [business-to-business] enterprise customers."

MP3Car is going through a common, difficult process known to any company that realizes it has outgrown the name it started with, according to corporate branding experts. Coming up with a new name can be also be a bedeviling exercise for companies that merge with others or that are trying to distance themselves from bad publicity.

In changing a name, companies have to consider a long list of potential issues, such as whether the Internet domain and trademark is available; how well the new name communicates its identity; or even how expensive it is to make the change, experts said. Some companies choose to invent a name, such as, a real estate information firm. "should consider a name that not only explains the products they offer today, but also what they might offer in the future," said Roger Gray, chairman and chief executive of GKV, a Baltimore marketing communications firm.

"Many companies don't think about what they'll offer in the future. You've got to, otherwise they'll be changing the name every five years, and that's an expensive proposition." was formed in 2005 and, in part, consists of an online store that sells electronic parts - from power supplies to touch-screens - to thousands around the world who like to build computers for their cars.

Along the way, MP3Car's engineers developed increasing expertise in building and integrating mobile computers, and they started consulting and selling computers to companies and government agencies.

Recently, the company has experienced steady growth in sales of the off-the-shelf mobile computing packages that it assembles for corporate and government clients. But the name is a stumbling block for potential clients and even investors, Sarkissian said.

"One investor thought all we do is put MP3 players in cars," Sarkissian said. "He told us we'd be out of business in two years. ... I had to explain to him what we really do.", which has five full-time employees, is trying to save money by doing its renaming and branding itself. Larger companies might pay an outside firm to guide them through the change.

Corporate rebranding campaigns can be expensive, starting in the low six figures and running into millions of dollars, depending on the size of the company and how much marketing is involved, experts said.

Sarkissian and Robert Wray,'s president and founder, have been brainstorming about a new name for their business for awhile. They recently held a pizza lunch at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, where they invited other members of the startup incubator facility to offer up possible names for their business.

Sarkissian has a couple of names whose Web site domains she has already bought, including BitMergent, Mobile Strata and iMobilify, but has found that countless others she's thought of have already been acquired.

"I'm telling you, it's all been thought of. ... It's crazy," she joked recently in her company's offices. "This has been an incredible challenge."

Such a challenge is common for companies in's position, said David Warschawski, chief executive officer of Baltimore's Warschawski Inc., a public relations, marketing and advertising agency. "Naming a company is not a simple science," Warschawski said. "It's actually quite complex.... To come up with a name that you can own outright is not a simple task. You'll think you've come up with two or three great names, but you'll be surprised to find two or three companies already there."

Sarkissian hopes to come up with a name soon. She sees how quickly technology in mobile computing has evolved in just a few short years to open up a new business model for them, making the future hard to gauge.

"Our biggest challenge," Sarkissian said, "is figuring out what our products are going to look like five years from now."

Copyright © 2009, The Baltimore Sun

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Geeks

December 23, 2009

The case of the "racist" HP webcam

By now, you may have seen the viral Youtube video (above) where a black man and a white woman point out the shortcomings of an HP Media Smart web cam when it came to tracking the man's face. It's a video -- titled "HP computers are racist" -- that's done with some fun, but it's darn effective in pointing out an embarassing shortcoming of the HP product in a way that quickly became a PR headache for the company.

The topic of facial-recognition tech intrigued me, so I called up Bill Anderson, head of Oculis Labs in Owings Mills, which makes Private Eye, a sophisticated face and gaze-tracking software for security uses. Bill's been working on face-recognition tech for awhile. Below are key points and quotes from my interview with him today:

* There can be settings or environments where a facial recognition system finds it very hard to understand what it's looking at, Bill said. "A very white face like mine ... will not get picked up on some backgrounds if they are a pinkish or yellowish kind of color."

* "It's a relatively hard problem to make a facial recognition packgage smart enough to find faces in arbitrary environments," Bill said.

* "There's actually less difference between human skin tones [black vs. white], as far as the camera is concerned, than meets the eye."

* Computer software can't compete with the brain in terms of facial recognition. "The human brain has a disproportionate amount of its processing power dedicated to face recognition. A huge part of the brain is hard-coded to recognize faces. It starts since birth. It instinctively locks onto faces.... You can think of it as the human brian is several orders of magnititude more capable than the best supercomputers we have on earth, in terms of recignizing faces. That's the competition."

* Software typially is only capable of a "few bag of tricks" in its capacity to find and recognize a face, Bill said.

* Typical steps in software to find faces include: The software first is designed to locate an oblong shape (the head), then it goes looking for the eyes, which are typically two darker spots in the upper part of the oblong shape. Then the software goes looking for a nose, or a mouth, or lips. Once through those steps, the software determines whether it has a candidate for a face. That's just the "first pass."

The second pass involves gauging skin tone, considering intensity and color. "There a narrow band of intensity [regardless of actual skin color] that's unique" to all human skin, he said. "It's looking at something that looks like skin," he said.

The third pass will look for motion, to determine if the image is "acting like a face," and not a static object, like a poster of a human face, Bill said. "Our software looks for motion, because a face moves."

* What Bill thinks might have gone wrong in HP's case: "My guess is that of the various parameters the software uses to determine a face, that face was probably triggering only some of those parameters. It probably found the head and eyes.... but there was something else it didn't find. Something didn't pass that threshold. I don't think it was skin tone because his skin was clearly not the same as the background behind him. It wasn't a contrast problem... Now, it could've been the color band of the skin set by the software was a little bit too low, and the software was looking for skin tone that fit within a certain color band. It could've been the way that his skin tone looked at that particular lighting

* Bill has 250 people in his beta program who help test Oculis software. "We've had issues too, where software would not recognize a face."

* There are good (software) packages out there, but there are no perfect packages out there... and there probably never will be. They're just working at an incredible computational disadvantage compared to the human brain."

* Said Bill: "Having looked at that ["HP computers are racist"] video, I think the software we're using would've found it's face. I'd love to try. I'd suspect that HP has a little bit of work to do to fix their algorithms. I'm sure they'll fix them, but it's a little bit disappointitng they didn't have it working right the first time."

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets, Geeks, Startups

Why you can't ignore the email newsletter as an online publishing model

I spent several days recently researching a story about the business of email newsletters. Greg Cangialosi, CEO of Blue Sky Factory, an email marketing agency in Baltimore, gave me some great insight. gregcangialosi.jpgI asked Greg (pictured left) about the business model approaches of email newsletters vs. Websites, from an advertising and monetization perspective.

He said, in a nutshell: "The difference between Website and email advertising is the targeted nature of the [email] list of people. If that list demographic fits the target of the advertiser, they're going to get a good response rate."

Greg pointed to successes like Daily Candy and Thrillist as successful email newsletter companies, and talked about two of the local ones his company provides email newsletter services to: CityBizList in Baltimore and ExecutiveBiz in Washington D.C.

One of the big advances in recent years in email newsletter technology, Greg said, are the features involving sharing with a social network.

Companies disseminating email newsletters can embed them with options that allows the user to share the information on Twitter and Facebook, thus helping them grow their email subscriber base organically and through word of mouth. Pretty cool stuff.

Hit the jump to check out my full story on the topic.

Newsletters: An idea so old it's new
Niche e-mail publications thrive in age of social media, newsfeeds
By Gus G. Sentementes

Will Davis may prefer to get his news and information through slick new methods, such as online social networking sites and news feeds, but he still keeps one old-tech method coming to his inbox: the e-mail newsletter.

"I know if the information becomes one of 40 [news] feeds, it's less likely to cut through the clutter to me," said Davis, a 33-year-old Baltimore marketing professional who subscribes to two industry newsletters based in the Mid-Atlantic. "Because [newsletter] e-mails are a digest, you get all that information in one place."

Several electronic industry newsletters with a journalistic bent have taken root from Baltimore to Washington over the past decade. They have hung on through the recession and at least some appear to be growing steadily.

Meanwhile, other kinds of news outlets - from print to television to some online news outlets - have had to retrench, cutting employees and content as the advertising market has shrunk. Digital media experts think that e-mail newsletters, which typically target niche audiences with news about their professions or interests, will remain a strong and viable business in the coming years, partly because a steady e-mail subscriber is generally regarded as more valuable to many advertisers than a less-predictable Web page visitor.

Industry observers point to the sale of Daily Candy, a popular fashion, food and events newsletter, to Comcast last year for $125 million as a sign of the potential strength of newsletters.

"I think it's one of the best solutions going into 2010," said Amy Webb, who runs Webbmedia Group, a Baltimore-based digital media consulting firm that works with Fortune 500 companies. "The newsletter, I would say, is making a comeback," Webb said.

"The people having success with it are not the ones buying large distribution lists. ... The ones doing a good job are growing organically and producing superior content that fits a niche, which is what newspapers used to do until they became very generalized."

Even as online sources of news proliferate, from social networking sites to blogs to syndicated news feeds, the e-mail inbox remains a coveted spot for content producers and marketers.

Lori Connolly, director of research and analytics for Merkle Inc., an online database marketing company, called e-mail a "linchpin" for users' ever-evolving online habits. In a recent study, Connolly found that 42 percent of people who use online social networks also check their primary e-mail accounts more than four times a day. "E-mail is a vital part of everyday life," Connolly said.

Many of these industry newsletters employ editors and a few staff or freelance writers. In most cases, these editors are aggregating content from news sites and blogs from across the Web, and sometimes producing their own original content.

In Baltimore, CityBizList offers a free general business newsletter and another focused on commercial real estate, targeting top-level executives and professionals. It was started in 2005 by Edwin Warfield, former owner of The Daily Record, a Baltimore business and legal newspaper. Its Baltimore publications have a combined subscriber base of 31,000, while offering similar newsletters in nine other U.S. cities.

The company has a couple of editors and freelancers, and outsources some of its digital production to a firm in India, according to Jay Rickey, editor and publisher of the commercial real estate newsletter.

The company has a Web site, but its meat and potatoes - where the advertisers want to be - are in its newsletters, according to Rickey. "We're really targeting a specific market with hyper-local business news, and the e-mail product is what sets us apart from others out there," Rickey said. "It's a vital part of our business."

In Washington, SmartBrief has been producing industry-specific newsletters for 10 years. The company, which has about 100 employees, has been profitable since at least 2002, when publisher Merritt Colaizzi said she joined.

SmartBrief has 150 e-mail newsletters that go out to niche industry groups on a regular basis, and which are assembled by a staff of independent editors. The total number of subscribers to all its e-newsletters is three million, Colaizzi said.

"It has accelerated very rapidly," Colaizzi said. "When I came here, we had 200,000 readers."

SmartBrief editors will flag the essential stories of the day, summarize them, and offer links to the original content elsewhere on the Web. Colaizzi sees SmartBrief as providing an essential, yet free, service to busy professionals and leaders who need to keep abreast of the latest news in their industries. "The need for what we do is only getting more and more serious," said Colaizzi. "As more sources proliferate and people have less and less time, our mission is to save people time and keep them smart. People have to do more with less. They don't have executive assistants to hunt down news stories for them."

Another Washington-based company, FierceMarkets Inc., pumps out 29 e-mail newsletters and has 950,000 subscribers. The newsletters focus on specific industries, such as wireless or biotechnology. It has 40 employees, with 10 staffers who work on content production, which includes a mix of briefing and linking to outside news stories and some original reporting.

"We recognize that we're not the only source of news that we cover," said M. Sean Griffey, FierceMarkets president.

The company, which launched in 2001, has been profitable "since day one," he said.

Davis, the Baltimore marketing executive, subscribes to a SmartBrief newsletter and another one in the region, Potomac TechWire, to keep abreast in developments in advertising, marketing and technology trends in his industry and the region.

He uses an application called Google Reader to scan news feeds from more than 40 Web sites and blogs. But sometimes, he's grateful to get worthwhile information passively delivered to his e-mail inbox so he can quickly scan it.

"It is a timesaver," Davis said

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

December 22, 2009

Obama finally names cybersecurity czar

HowardSchmidtcrop.jpg Finally.

After seven months of deliberations (a.k.a. internal back-and-forth at some of the highest levels in Washington), President Obama is expected today to name a "cybersecurity czar" who will be charged with coordinating the federal government's civilian and military defenses against cyber threats.

The new guy is Howard A. Schmidt, a former adviser on cybersecurity to the President George W. Bush White House, according to multiple sources. He's worked in cybersecurity for Microsoft and eBay.

The Washington Post has a good rundown on the background of this position, including the delays and frustrations that many have with it already -- and it only is just about to get filled!

Many Maryland technology companies that hope to target the government cybersecurity market will be watching what Mr. Schmidt does very closely, I'm sure.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Government Tech

December 18, 2009

Shotgun Interview: Matt Goddard, CEO of R2I

The Shotgun Interview Series: A couple times a week, I put out a call via Twitter for requests for Maryland technology execs and thought leaders that you want me to interview. I then pick one person, and proceed to track them down that day for a 3-5 question interview, which I then publish here. Follow @gussent to play along and offer your suggestions. Matt-Goddard.jpg

Today, I interviewed Matt Goddard, CEO of R2I, a booming/growing Internet marketing and technology firm based in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore. They've got 67 employees and, just a month ago, opened an office in Seattle to service a big new client: Microsoft.

Here's the Shotgun Interview with Matt:

Gus: How did you come up with the name R2Integrated?  

Matt: It started when we were building a new company after our first acquisition when we were Round Two Communications. Then in 2007, we merged with technology company Business Intelligence Source. We then combined the R and the 2 and added in the I from Intelligence, and rebranded.

Gus: What are you working on today?

Matt: We're doing some social media work for Lonestar Steakhouse ... Finishing some campaign pitches for Honest Tea ... We're knee deep in final development phases for

Gus: How was 2009 for you and your business?

Matt: Fantastic. we had an organic growth rate of 60 percent.

Gus: Got any big news to share for 2010?

Matt: I would say the big news for 2010 is our seattle office, and the excitement aorund our expansion to the west coast.

Gus: Last question. Are you taking any early precautions for the pending snowstorm this weekend which has Baltimore completely freaked out?

Matt: I'm not. The reason is because my house in Canton is one block from the office. I have no plans this weekend. My car will be in the garage and staying put.... You know the live-work-play mentality in the city? i'm certainly the poster child for it.


Thanks for the Shotgun Interview, Matt!!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:13 PM | | Comments (0)

Mobile consumer trends on Thanksgiving: a time for online date-hunting?

Millenial Media, one of the largest online mobile ad networks, released its monthly scorecard of advertising on the mobile Web, with some interesting results around Thanksgiving.

As you'd expect, consumer searches for recipes spiked two days before the holiday and then again, on the day of, for last-minute cooking tips. Interaction rates for food advertising jumped 31 percent.

And, as you also might expect, more people may have decided to take a break from turkey leftovers for a meal out of the house -- the interaction rate for restaurant and fast-food advertising spiked 51 percent on Nov. 27.

But what was somewhat surprising was that consumers were interacting with online dating campaigns. Interaction rates climbed 19 percent from Thanksgiving through the weekend, according to Millennial.

Why? Were singles using the long holiday weekend to do some scouring for dates? Anybody out there get busy with the online dating scene with your smartphone over Thanksgiving?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:42 AM | | Comments (0)

December 17, 2009

RIM Blackberry outage

Apparently, there's a widespread Blackberry email outage that's affecting users all across the country this morning.

News reports are starting to trickle into Google News.

:: Survey the reports here.

:: And more links here.

What's been your experience with Blackberry so far today?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:38 AM | | Comments (2)

The Maryland TechCrawl: A carnival of the geek

I attended last night's first ever "Maryland TechCrawl," an event where startup companies from all walks of Baltimore life gave 60-second pitches to whomever showed up at their booths.

I didn't have time to get through all 21 booths, and indeed, only got through six pitches. But I was blown away by all the smarts in the building over at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, where the event was held. (Check out my story about the event from yesterday.)

I listened to Videntity, Heliograph, Localist, Figure 53, Lookingglass, mp3car and Direct Dimensions.

Direct Dimensions, by the way, won a $500 award for having the best 60-second pitch highlighting their product, Shape Shot, a 3D-photographic imaging device.

I regret not being able to hear pitches from Juxtopia, Nuvo Technologies, TrustedValet, AllegianceNano Solutions, Bloominescence, AwayFind, Vesta Mobile, Salar, ndexable, OtherInBox, Ark Sciences, Encore Path, 6th Street, and SmartLogic Solutions.

The organizers have grander designs for the event next year, I'm told.

If you're looking to get a flavor for some of the cool/geeky/techy things that are percolating in the Baltimore area at the startup level, the TechCrawl should probably be on your list of events to check out next year.

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 (1)
Categories: Events (Baltimore area)

December 16, 2009

The Shotgun Interview: featuring Amy Webb of Webbmedia Group

amywebb.jpg Today is the first in what I hope will be a fun series that originates on Twitter, which I'm calling: Shotgun Interviews. Follow me at @gussent.

A couple times a week, I'll put out the call via Twitter for a person in Maryland technology that you want me to interview. It's my job to scramble and hunt them down that same day and ask them three questions (feel free to suggest questions in your tweets to me.)

The first Shotgun Interview is with Amy Webb, who runs Webbmedia Group, a Baltimore-based digital strategy consultancy that deals with Fortune 500 companies.

I caught up with her by phone just a few moments ago, and asked her three questions:

Gus: So what are you working on right now?

Amy: We are advising on a project that's been in the news a lot lately. And I am preparing a report that offers our advice (to the client) on how to move forward with the next step. [Alas, Amy couldn't publicize her client's name.]

Gus: You could be living anywhere and running your business. Why are you in Baltimore?

Amy: Because my husband is here. He is a third-generation optometrist and his grandmother was the first female optometrist in the state of Maryland. I'm here because of him... But of all the cities that I've lived in, I really like this city alot. [Some other cities she's lived in include: Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Tokyo and Hong Kong.] I like being in Baltimore and I've gotten to know the tech community, but yeah, I could do this from anywhere. It's not as hard as it used to be.

Gus: How was 2009 for you and your business?

Amy: Without trying to sound like I'm gloating, we actually had a fairly fantastic year. I brought on new staff. We currently have a waiting list for new clients. We expanded. But this is also a good time to do what I do...Knock on wood, I see that trend growing. Personally, it was a good year too. Work is about 99 percent of what I do. I got to a couple of yoga classes, I took a kind of vacation.


Thanks, Amy for being my first Shotgun Interview!! 

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:45 PM | | Comments (0)

Morgan Stanley: Mobile internet market to be ginormous -- just like its report on it

Morgan Stanley yesterday released a huge report on the future of the mobile Web and, if you have a weekend to read it, you can find the documents over at ReadWriteWeb.

The key takeaways are also neatly listed in a Scandinavian blog, Arctic Startup. (Indeed, Arctic Startup's post is titled "We read the Morgan Stanley Mobile Internet Report So You Don't Have To.") Ha! Thanks, fellas.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:55 AM | | Comments (0)

December 15, 2009

Maryland TechCrawl is tomorrow. Here are the presenters...

The Maryland TechCrawl will be a show-and-tell of technology companies in the Baltimore area, tomorrow, starting at 4:30 p.m., in the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore.

You'll be able to get a hands-on introduction of what each of those companies does. (Say hi to me if you see me there -- I'll be milling about.)

Techcrawl Presenters Information Sheet

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events (Baltimore area), Startups

December 11, 2009

Oh really? Nearly 2/3 of companies planning year-end bonuses

A press release from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement company, made me stop in my tracks yesterday.

The Chicago company surveyed 100 human resources executives last month on the topic of year-end bonuses -- and found that 64 percent of them worked for a company that planned to give out bonuses. And eight percent of those polled said their companies would likely give bigger bonuses than last year.

That number was up from last year, when 54 percent said their companies would give bonuses.

Perhaps my favorite quote from the release: "Companies are also sending a message that we appreciate that this has been a tough year for everyone, and that the workers’ part in ensuring continued survival is recognized," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

So, will your employer play Santa and give you a year-end bonus, and is that a tradition at your workplace? Or do you think you'll get Scrooged?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:46 AM | | Comments (4)

December 9, 2009

Live video today: Gov. O'Malley and guest panelists talk small business

At 3 p.m. today, we'll be featuring a live video stream (below) of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and some small-biz guest panelists talking about strategies for strengthening the small biz economy in the state.

Blue Sky Factory, a Baltimore email marketing company and small biz, will be hosting the live discussion. And you, the Internet viewer, will be able to pose your questions to the governor during the live chat.

Stay tuned.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:34 AM | | Comments (0)

December 7, 2009

Baltimore man invented word of the year "Unfriend"?

Could the word "unfriend" -- which has come to mean dumping someone as a friend on Facebook -- have been invented right here in Baltimore?

Ron Samuelson thinks so -- and he claims in a blog post he was the first to use it in an earlier blog post which got the attention of a Wall Street Journal reporter, who ended up writing a story about the topic.

"Unfriend" really wormed its way into our lexicon -- it just so happens that "unfriend" was named "word of the year" last month by the New American Oxford Dictionary.

Samuelson, who sells diamonds via Samuelson's Diamonds in downtown Baltimore, tweets under @diamondbuyer and @SamuelsonsRocks on Twitter.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:11 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Geeks, Social Media

December 4, 2009

Startup lessons from Bill Me Later's success

bill-me-later.pngToday I attended a talk given by Mark Lavelle, one of the four co-founders of Bill Me Later -- a Baltimore area online payments company that was snapped up by eBay/Paypal for $945 million last year. (Yes, that would be almost one billion dollars.)

He was speaking to a group of ambitious entrepreneurs at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, sharing some nuggets of wisdom about his company's startup experience, growth and eventual big payoff-sale. He and the three cofounders were in the banking business but left it to start their own company in the 1990s. They each had different skill sets, but knew they wanted to do something that involved online transactions, because of a lucrative potential market. Launching in 2000, their first office space was in the Renaissance Harborplace hotel in downtown Baltimore.

Here are some of the "lessons learned" by Bill Me Later, according to Lavelle, who is VP of business development:

* For startup businesses, you have to double or triple the timeline to self-sustainability and quadruple the cash you think you'll need. "That's exactly what happened to us," he said.

* "Don't underestimate the time you'll have to spend pitching your product." Lavelle said he probably spent 80 percent of his time on pitching the company to potential customers and investors.

* Focus on the team. "If you have a partner, make sure it's the right partner." Also, know how and when to hire as your company grows. Many entrepreneurs can have a hard time letting go of control.

* Doing a startup is a commitmen, "so you have to be all in and you have to be in it for something other than an exit or money."

* Speed: You can move quickly and push your company hard, but sometimes progress and new business will happen at its own pace -- and you can't sometimes control that.

* Integrity -- you don't want to damage your reputation with partners and clients. So don't over-hype or over-promise what your product can do. Before the company was finally bought by eBay last year, it had raised $300 million in venture capital over an eight year period.

Lavelle said he probably pitched 300 venture capital firms in an effort to raise money. In the end, only three jumped in with Bill Me Later. That's a 1 percent success rate. "That one percent was tough," Lavelle said.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

Ruins of Pompeii now on Google Streetview

Check this out:

View Larger Map

This is cool: Google mapped and photographed the ruins of ancient Pompeii in Italy. Pompeii was a Roman city that was covered in volcanic ash after nearby Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

I visited Pompeii in 1997 and was struck by its relatively immense size, and appreciated how big of a disaster the eruption must have been for what was once a thriving little seaside city in the Roman empire.

Google Streetview gives you a good peek inside the place, but it's definitely worth a visit with your feet on the ground, if you're ever in Italy. Anybody else been there?

[via Mashable and USAToday]

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:04 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Web Dev & Apps

December 3, 2009

Aol pulling premium ads from

This could be bad news for

According to a report from a JP Morgan analyst that covers Aol, the online giant is expected to no longer offer premium ads through, its top ad network, MediaPost and Business Insider reported.


If you don't already know, is based here in Baltimore. It has about 400 employees who are waiting on pins and needles to see where Aol CEO Tim Armstrong (left) takes the company in the coming weeks and months after its spinoff from Time Warner next week.

A massive voluntary buyout program is about to get underway tomorrow (Dec. 4) that Aol hopes will trim a third of its workforce, or 2,500 people.

The impact on here in Baltimore remains to be seen. But if it's true that premium ads will no longer be sold through, one has to wonder how this will affect this division's long-term growth potential.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:05 AM | | Comments (3)

December 2, 2009

Old newspapers should harbor new tech firms

For some time now, I've thought that doing something like this would be a good idea -- and I'm glad to see that someone, in this case the San Francisco Chronicle, just went ahead and did it.

Three startup tech companies have agreed to lease space in the Chronicle's building in San Francisco, including Square, the startup by Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, which I covered in the previous post.

For many newspapers, including the Chronicle, that have cut a significant chunk of their workforce the last couple years, they're dealing with a glut of available office space and many, many empty cubicles. Meanwhile, newspapers are struggling mightily to transform themselves into nimble organizations in order to succeed on the Web -- thus sharing (or wanting to share) some of the traits of a quick-moving, entrepreneurial startup.

Why not invite startups into your building? Let a few of them together build an environment for experimentation and raw creative thinking, and encourage them to interact with the landlord -- that is, the newspaper staff.

Deals are made to be cut -- and it's easy to envision scenarios where newspapers can have symbiotic relationships with the startups they harbor. Newspapers can give startups a reasonable break on rent and infrastructure support, and the startups can license their products for use by newspapers, who are looking for new revenue models.

Am I too simplistic in my thinking here?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:15 AM | | Comments (3)

Square as a personal finance tool

The website for Square, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey's new startup, opened to the world yesterday and gave us more insight into what's ahead in the world of mobile payments.

With Square, users can attach a small card-swiping device to their gadgets (i.e. an iPhone) and accept credit card payments whereever they happen to be. It could come in very handy for small and medium-sized businesses, especially if it's robust enough for the enterprise. Users would get an electronic receipt like this one below:


Square is in a field that's quickly filling with competition. It just so happens that Square is coming along at a time when many tech experts and pundits are forecasting a sharp increase in interest in the realm of mobile transactions. Remember that Gartner report I cited recently? According to Gartner, mobile money transfer would be the No. 1 application by 2012, while mobile payments (what Square does) came in at No. 6.

Making spending money easier via mobile -- while decreasing our dependence on cash -- has some pluses and minuses, for sure. Pluses: convenience and accountability (your receipts are online). Minuses: potential security worries and slow adoption from the wary masses.

But what I like about an app like Square, though, is the potential it has to be used as a personal finance tool. I, like many people, use my debit card a lot for transactions. I hardly glance at my monthly account statements.

But if Square is able to track how often I visit the coffee shop across the street and tell me how much money I'm spending there over a period of time, that could start to influence my behavior. Maybe I'll stop buying so many $4 lattes and stick to plain ol' coffee for $1.60.

So, for many people who stink at tracking their personal spending, Square -- and similar apps -- could help structure the spending data we generate in our lives into meaningful formats for us to use in making decisions on how we spend. I'm looking forward to that.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:26 AM | | Comments (1)

December 1, 2009

Baltimore company's "smart bullet" gets TIME recognition

A major Baltimore-based division of Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) was recently honored by Time magazine for having one of the 50 best inventions for 2009: The so-called "smart bullet."

Alliant, which is based in Minnesota, is a military contractor that has sprawling operations across the United States and manufactures everything from weapons to propulsion systems. In Baltimore, the company's "Mission Systems" group oversees the design of advanced weapons systems, a.k.a. big, powerful guns.

One of their latest invention, the XM25, got the "smart bullet" nickname because it can explode at a pre-determined range. ATK says it "features a unique turn-count fuze, coupled with a laser range finder to detonate without impact at a pre-determined range." The bullet is being designed and tested in Minnesota.

It got the #46 spot in Time's top 50 list. The #1 invention of the year, according to Time, was NASA's new Ares rockets currently in development. Coincidentally, ATK is the prime contractor for the solid rocket motor first stage of the Ares I.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Government Tech

Mashup: Asustek's laptop with built-in projector

Asustek, which practically invented the category of ultra-cheap and small portable computers called "netbooks", appears to be working on portable computers mashed up with built-in projectors.

In a U.S. patent filing that was disclosed on Thanksgiving, the Taiwanese company outlined an idea for embedding a tiny projector in a notebook or tablet computer. A similar laptop/projector, made by Asustek, was spotted in the wild at a 2008 computer trade show (thanks for the link-lead, @ohbaltimore!), but it doesn't appear that Asus has officially released a laptop/projector model yet.


In the diagram above, #130 and #132 point to the built-in projector that would pop out of the side of the display. One key benefit of this type of notebook/projector design is that the user wouldn't have to worry about a semi-complicated set-up process of connecting various devices in order to give a presentation.

"The conventional problem of needing many connecting transmission cables is settled," the patent applicaion states.

Such a computer would be a big deal for business travelers and PowerPoint fanatics. Depending on the quality of the projector, it could just be good enough to use for most presentation scenarios on the go. On the business trip, you can leave the portable projector behind -- that's one less gadget to lug.

(One BaltTech reader on Twitter, @censey, said he thought Toshiba may have offered up a laptop/projector hybrid, but I couldn't find a record of one. Does anyone out there remember?)

A decent portable projector can cost you $350, and prices top out at well over $1,000 for some.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)

Shopping hangover?

What did I miss?

I didn't hit the stores on Black Friday or surf the web yesterday for Cyber Monday deals. Did I miss anything? I usually don't take advantage of "blockbuster" sales on items, because the sales are usually on items I don't really want anyway.

Black Friday shopping traffic and sales results may have been marginally better than last year, according to the news reports. Meanwhile, Cyber Monday sales were reportedly strong.

Did you buy anything online? If so, what? And from where? Links please!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:16 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets
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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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