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February 28, 2011

iPad 2 expected to debut Wednesday -- will Steve Jobs?

ipad2-invitation.jpg

The media has been invited to an event in California this Wednesday, where everyone believes a next-generation iPad 2 will be unveiled. (That's the invitation image above.) Will Steve Jobs, who has taken a leave of absence for what is reportedly cancer treatment, be there to unveil the device? Ten days ago, Jobs attended a meeting of top tech execs in Silicon Valley, with President Obama -- the San Jose Mercury News has a photo of the dinner here, with Jobs sitting to the left of the big man himself.

The iPad has been Jobs' baby. The first iPad has been a huge hit, selling millions and turning many assumptions on their head -- mainly that people don't really know what to do with a tablet computer. Truth is, you can do a lot, once you get used to having the device in your life.

So, the word on the street is that the new iPad will have some incremental enhancements that many are expecting. It should be faster and lighter, with a slightly better touch screen (though not a full "retina" display like the iPhone 4). It should have both a front and a rear facing camera for shooting photos and video, and it should come Facetime-enabled, meaning you can hold video chats using Apple's software. I'd expect it to also be Skype-compatible, if not immediately out of the gate, then by the end of the year.

There's also a good chance you'll see a new iPad that works on both CDMA (i.e. Verizon) and GSM networks (i.e. AT&T), or different versions for each network. Some are even reporting there'll be a white iPad, not just the brushed aluminum bodied ones.

What I'd like to see: native printer support for more models other than HP. Right now, I'm using a $10 app called Print Central for printing to a WiFi Epson printer in my house. It works wonderfully with WiFi printers, at least with my Epson. But it would be nice if I didn't have to spend that extra 10 bucks.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Wireless
        

February 23, 2011

Building a crowdsourced map of Maryland tech companies

As some of you may be aware, last week I put out a public Google spreadsheet and started asking Maryland tech companies to contribute their contact information. This is going extremely well -- nearly 50 companies have added their info.

My next step is to build a map of these tech companies.

There are some benefits for undertaking this modest effort. One, I'm learning about a lot of new tech companies that I had never heard of before. Two, the tech community -- I hope -- will benefit from a good open/crowdsourced list of companies across the state, with contact info such as names and Twitter addresses. And three, I suck at keeping track of contacts and business cards and names and phone numbers, so if I can have one cool spot on the web for this stuff, I benefit -- and hopefully you do, too.

Regarding the map you see below: I dumped the Google Spreadsheet into Google Fusion Tables. If you have any ideas on how to better serve and present this information, I'm all ears. For one, I'd like companies to add their logos to the spreadsheet, because I can incorporate them into the map. So, I'm open to more ideas -- just keep it simple and hopefully Google-y -- I'm not a programmer!


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas
        

February 22, 2011

Digital comics: hero or villain?

Diamond Comics Distributors Inc. of Timonium, the country's largest comics distributor, has a digital strategy for comic books. And they're planning to unveil it later this year in partnership with comic book publishers and comic book stores.

I wrote a story about their business plan in today's paper. (And if you want to find comic shops in the Baltimore area, check out this link.)

Below, Steve Geppi, owner of Diamond.



geppi-diamond.jpg

Pow! Bam! Kaboom! Are digital comics the hero or villain?
Timonium's Diamond Comic Distributors to experiment with digital comics distribution with retail partners

Digital entertainment has shaken the retail industry, shuttering your local brick-and-mortar record store, bookseller and video rental outlets. Could the neighborhood comic book shop be next?

Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. hopes not. The Timonium company is the country's largest distributor of comics to about 2,700 small retailers. It has been fighting the same forces — online sales, changing consumer habits and even digital piracy — that are pushing other retailers to the brink.

Just last week, the national bookstore chain Borders Group Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection as Internet and digital media cut into sales. One of its largest creditors: Diamond, which is owed nearly $4 million for comic book and graphic novel inventory that Borders bought.

But Diamond hopes it has found a secret weapon. In a plot twist, the company plans to cast allegiance with digital comics distributor iVerse Media. Starting this summer, buyers of many comics that Diamond distributes also will be able to buy the digital version at the cash register.

"At first we were a bit alarmed," said Diamond's Dave Bowen about the digital comic book's emergence. "But the more we studied it, the more we realized there wasn't as much cause for alarm as there was opportunity."

The comics industry has seen big upheaval before, from distribution fights and comic book speculators who drove up prices on collectibles in the 1980s and 1990s, to the more recent surge in the popularity of graphic novels and manga, or Japanese comics.

And so far, digital comics are just a tiny percentage of the industry, estimated at more than $6 million compared with total retail comic sales of about $680 million, according to ICV2, a research and consulting firm that tracks the industry.

But the big unknown in comics is to what degree retail shops may be hurt by the digital future. Consumers can download that content without ever setting foot in a store.

In a sign of the times, Amazon.com said last month that it sold more electronic books than paperbacks through its website. Last year, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy as the video rental chain faced competition from Netflix online subscription service and streaming video options that allow consumers to rent on their television sets and home computers.

And just like music and video piracy, comics are being digitally scanned and made available illegally online.

Diamond, a privately held firm owned by Baltimore publisher Steve Geppi, and other comics companies are trying to create easy — and legal — mechanisms for consumers to buy digital comics. And for Diamond to thrive, so must its customers: small shops across the country.

Diamond's lifeblood is its network of small retailers from coast to coast, so the company is proceeding gingerly with its digital efforts.

The company's new program enables retail partners to sell certain digital comics when they're first released, for $1.99 or more. After a month, and when the print comics hit stores, the digital comics would sell for 99 cents when purchased with their print companions.

Diamond has been able to persuade about 20 comics publishers to participate in its digital storefront initiative, which will launch in July.

But the two biggest publishers — Marvel, which prints Spider-Man and X-Men, and DC Comics, which prints Batman and Superman — have held out. The titles published by those two companies make up about 65 percent of the comics market.

Marc Nathan, owner of Comics, Books and Collectibles in Reisterstown, said he was interested in experimenting with Diamond's approach. He said it could appeal to existing customers, including avid collectors who want to own both print and digital versions of titles, though he doesn't necessarily think it would expand his customer base.

"It's just another format," Nathan said. "It's not going to be a game-changer."

While Nathan is optimistic about the future of the local comic book store, he said many operators fear dire times ahead. At a comics convention in Dallas this month where Diamond unveiled its plans to retailers, Nathan said, many retailers were concerned that the promotion of digital comics would only hurt their shops.

Digital comics in the form of DVDs and downloadable files that could be viewed on desktop computers were precursors to the interactive comics available today. For several years, major comics publishers have sold digital comics through various online initiatives.

Digital comics received a boost last year with Apple's introduction of the iPad, a tablet computer with a touch screen. Many publishers have released digital editions for Apple's iPad and iPhone, as well as for other forms of digital distribution.

Diamond's plan, developed with iVerse Media of Texas, which specializes in publishing digital comics, won't cost retailers to implement, the companies said. Diamond is using iVerse's comic reader technology that customers access on Apple's popular iDevices and through the Web on personal computers to read the digital comics.

To complete a digital sale, a retailer would print out a coupon redemption code for a digital comic buyer at the register, and the buyer would then input the code online and download the digital version. Retailers would keep 33 percent of the proceeds from every digital comic sale.

"We do not want the comic book store to go away," said Michael Murphey, iVerse chief executive. "Comic book fans are different. We are collectors. We want to own these things. We want to read them on our iPads, too. But we want our physical comic books."

At Alternate Worlds, a comic book shop in Cockeysville, owner Michael McKenzie, who is participating in a pilot test of Diamond's digital distribution program, said he's eager to see whether the approach will attract consumers.

So far, with digital comics sales making up such a small sliver of the market, he said he's not overly worried.

"Is digital going to complement paper or replace paper?" McKenzie wondered. "The amount of digital sales right now is really minuscule. It is in its infancy. Whether it will take off and grow rapidly remains to be seen. Digital music took off exponentially, but comics may not."


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas
        

Amazon Prime members: get your streaming video on demand

amazon-prime-video.gifAmazon just turned on its new streaming-video (commercial-free) service for its Prime members.

While Amazon already has a video-on-demand service, that service is more of an iTunes competitor, with options to rent or buy.

But this new service for Prime members (available only in the U.S. so far) has its most direct competitor in Netflix.

Amazon Prime members receive unlimited, free two-day shipping on many products they buy from the website, and pay $79 a year for the privilege.

As part of that program now, Amazon is tossing in its new video-streaming service, with access to 5,000 movies and TV shows. But that number will surely grow.

Not a bad deal, I'd say.

The video plays on a range of web, TV and mobile devices, but mostly notably, there doesn't seem to be support for Apple's iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, Touch, etc.).

Some speculate that's because if Amazon were to offer an app, they would have to give Apple a 30 percent cut of the subscription.

:: Here's an Engadget early hands-on review of the service.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:12 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

February 18, 2011

Despite reported layoffs, Tessco Technologies leases more space in Timonium

robert-barnhill-tessco.gifSeveral sources have reached out to me to say that the number of layoffs this month at Tessco Technologies Inc.  ranged anywhere from 30 to 60.

(That's Tessco's CEO, Robert B. Barnhill Jr., in a Sun photo at a Maryland Shock Trauma gala in 2002 -- the only picture we have of him in our photo archives.)

I don't have a more solid number to report to you, since the company hasn't responded to my inquiries. We do know that a Facebook page was created to organize a happy hour for the laid off employees, but that page is now private.

But here's another news nugget: Today, an SEC filing from the company was filed which showed that Tessco extended its building lease in Timonium by more than 3,800 square feet, for a total of nearly 100,000 square feet. (The company also has a global logistics center in Hunt Valley.)

Its annual rent in Timonium will climb from $1.7 million this year to more than $2 million in 2017, according to the lease agreement. I don't have a current estimate of Tessco employees, but I found this dated estimate in their annual report last May:

As of March 28, 2010, we had 918 full-time equivalent employees. Of our full-time equivalent employees, 442 were engaged in customer and vendor service, marketing, sales and product management, 387 were engaged in fulfillment and distribution operations and 89 were engaged in administration and technology systems services.

So why would Tessco, which builds local wireless networks and sells mobile devices and accessories, expand its space if it reportedly is laying off? I don't know. I'm actually slightly confused now -- did the layoffs allegedly happen in Hunt Valley, Timonium, or both?

Maybe there's a long-term growth expectation that Tessco is preparing for? I just left a message for Jamie Holloway, a PR person at the company. Hopefully someone from Tessco responds.

UPDATE: I found another picture of Mr. Barnhill, but our archives of Tessco are pretty bare. This one is from 1999. I'm hoping he grants me an interview:


bob-barnhill-2.JPG
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:50 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Bonus day at Verizon Wireless!

Forget the recession. Layoffs are so 2010. There's a tech company that's doing well enough to be sharing the wealth with its employees -- every single one of them. And it's called Verizon Wireless.

Today is bonus day at Verizon Wireless -- the mobile phone arm of Verizon Communications Inc., I'm told by some spokespeople. Verizon, which is publicly traded, reported operating income of $14.6 billion on revenues of $106.6 billion. Their numbers dipped slightly last year from 2009, but the company still made billions in profits. And they paid out a bonus to employees last year, too. (Sidebar: There were no bonuses for most of us hacks in the newspaper industry.)

So what did Verizon Wireless employees get today?

From a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman:

This year’s bonuses range from 8% to 10% of the employee’s salary and are based on the company’s overall performance in 2010.‪ In addition to their bonuses, our employees will also be receiving merit increases and profit sharing awards in the coming weeks.‪


To that I say:
cha-ching.gif


Verizon has about 2,200 employees in Maryland, working out of a regional headquarters in Laurel, a call center in Hanover, and numerous Verizon Wireless retail stores. The company has won several workplace honors from magazines, including Baltimore magazine.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Tech events and contacts in Maryland -- a crowdsourced effort

There are tons of tech companies and tech events in Maryland -- and I'm trying to get a handle on every last one of them.

You can help. Just input your tech company contact info and/or tech-related event in the public Google Spreadsheet below. Leave me an idea for a possible story or how your company can contribute any expertise on tech trends for a possible news story. And I'll do the rest.

My hope -- at least with the events -- is to create a Google map mashup that enables all of us to keep track of the various tech events happening in Maryland. Let's stay connected!


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Events (Baltimore area)
        

February 17, 2011

TechCocktail coming to Baltimore: It's about time!

tech-coctail.jpg
Got word via Twitter and other sources that TechCocktail, the popular DC-originated event run by Frank Gruber and associates is finally making a stop in Baltimore.

This is great news for the city and for the startup/entrepreneur/tech scene. TechCocktail events are happening all over the country and even internationally. It's a mix of networking and demonstrations from entrepreneurs. It always sounds like a good time when I've heard of them going on in DC, I just never got down to one.

But I know from keeping my ear to the ground for the last couple years that some Baltimore folks have been hoping and longing for TechCocktail to grace the city's tech scene. What I want to know from Frank Gruber is what finally tipped the scales and made him decide to bring the event to Baltimore? (Frank -- if you read this, please drop a comment below. Thanks!)

Baltimore tech guru Dave Troy told me via Twitter: I think it's great. Frank Gruber is a fixture in the DC scene and a genuinely good guy. It's a bit different than current offerings. (separate tweet) Should be a good way to mix things up and attract some new people and showoff our wares to a new crowd. +1.

Here's a great, full list of Baltimore tech events and initiatives, compiled by the local tech community, by the way.

Anyhow, looks like Baltimore's TechCocktail is finally gonna happen on March 3rd.

Sign up and event info here.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:23 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Sourcefire makes Forbes top 25 fastest growing tech company list

Sourcefire was the only Maryland tech company to get a shout-out from Forbes on its list of America's fastest growing tech companies. It was No. 15.

Columbia-based Sourcefire Inc., which specializes in cyber security (i.e. detecting and preventing hackers from malicious intrusion) was even listed ahead of Apple (#16) and Google (#17).

The top fast-growing tech company was one called FirstSolar, a maker of solar panels.

The Maryland Venture Fund, by the way, was an early investor in Sourcefire. That turned out well.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Government Tech
        

The smartphone/dumbphone digital divide....in Baltimore?

A commenter over on our Google Moderator page left a story suggestion that he'd like to see us cover: what is the state of the digital divide between smartphone and other cellphone users? Here's Craig's comment:

"There's an app for almost everything, but does everyone have a smartphone? What's the digital divide for smartphone users vs. non-smartphones. What's the real market for apps?"

Good question, Craig. I know in Baltimore there are the usual telecom wireless operators, i.e. Verizon and AT&T. But we're also seeing a company called Cricket getting in the action, offering smart and feature phones for cheaper prices. Sprint has a subsidiary called Boost Mobile. These companies offer monthly plans and alternative pricing options.

I haven't poked around yet to see if there are breakdowns of smartphone/feature (or dumb) phone users by geographic region. That would be an interesting stat. If anyone finds any data, please drop a link in the comments below.

That said, I'd like to start a Google Doc Spreadsheet where we can all document examples of a "digital divide" in Baltimore, whether it's for businesses, or schools, or government.

Please add your ideas or examples here.

FYI: About a year ago, I wrote about the broadband digital divide in Baltimore when compared to other East Coast cities. Here's the story:

A NEED FOR SPEED
Baltimore City struggles to play catch-up with its suburbs and other U.S. urban areas in broadband Internet access

Access to faster broadband Internet service is increasingly viewed as an economic imperative, and not just a privilege for those who can afford it. But many rural and some urban communities, such as Baltimore, are worried that they're being left behind as commerce, innovation and prosperity are increasingly intertwined with the Internet."My take on it is that Baltimore is not equipped for the future," said the Rev. Johnny Golden, past president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and an advocate for improved access to technology in the city. "We have a decent broadband system for today, but it does not have the infrastructure to take us into the future where we need to go."

To address such concerns, the Federal Communications Commission recently released a 10-year-plan to bring greater broadband access to many Americans and rewire the country so it can better compete globally.

Meanwhile, hundreds of local jurisdictions nationwide are vying to lure the attention of Google, which plans to invest up to $1 billion to build a super-high-speed fiber-optic network to serve as many as 500,000 people. A grass-roots effort in Baltimore prompted Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake to organize a public-private endeavor to attract the Google pilot project to the city.

In comparison with other large U.S. cities, Baltimore trails in broadband adoption among its residents, according to FCC statistics. And there are wide disparities across Maryland, with the most affluent counties of Howard and Montgomery having the best Internet connections, while Baltimore and rural counties lag, according to the data from the end of 2008.

As few as 200 and as many as 400 out of every 1,000 Baltimore households were using a minimum level of broadband service at the end of 2008 - compared with a range of 600 to 800 out of every 1,000 households in New York and Boston. Telecommunications carriers are required to report their customers' broadband adoption in a range that makes it easy to make comparisons across jurisdictions in the United States.

In Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore County, the rate is 400 to 600 out of every 1,000 households.

"I frequently am sitting at my computer and I'm always waiting for it to keep up, for stuff to come in from the Web," said Tom Loveland, chief executive of technology company Mind Over Machines based in Owings Mills. "I often lose one or two ideas because I couldn't get it out fast enough. It dawned on me that just doubling or tripling our speed would make everybody's productivity so much better."

Supporters of Baltimore's Google effort point to the city's educational and medical institutions, its budding technology and start-up culture, and its proximity to major federal agencies as reasons for the Internet giant to invest in the city.

Loveland, whom Rawlings-Blake appointed as volunteer "Google czar," said Baltimore has the people and the institutions capable of exploring new ways of handling the flood of data the Google service would bring. Google wants to build a network that delivers speeds of up to 1,000 megabits-per-second downloads - whereas Baltimore residents now generally have access to 50 megabits per second or less.

"Just imagine if you could walk through and go inside torrents of data," said Loveland, referring to how data was depicted in the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report."

"If you could walk through them in a Tom Cruise way, and be inside the data, just imagine the insights you could come up with to improve innovation in America."

Spurring that kind of leap forward in innovation has increasingly become a public sector goal. The FCC's push for broadband improvement was mandated by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted last year.

Public officials, businesses and technology advocates have argued that better broadband infrastructure across the U.S. would boost the economy and foster innovation. The FCC has highlighted the benefits that more powerful broadband networks could bring in the areas of health care, education, energy and environment, government performance, civic engagement and public safety.

Among 30 developed countries, the United States was a middle-of-the-pack performer in broadband connections and ranked last in terms of consumer affordability, according to a recent Harvard study.

"People are really starting to understand how important it is as an infrastructure," said John B. Horrigan, director of consumer research for the FCC's national broadband plan.

In Maryland, federal stimulus dollars are being used to map broadband availability across the state, with an emphasis on assessing services in rural areas. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development is working with the Maryland Broadband Cooperative to measure broadband availability, and it has set up a Web site that enables people to test their connections and respond to a survey.

Fear of obsolescence in Baltimore City is one reason Verizon has attracted the scorn of community activists. Progressive Maryland, a coalition of unions, community groups and clergy members, has accused the telecom giant of "redlining" Baltimore by choosing not to roll out its latest fiber-optic broadband service - known as FiOS - in the city and instead focusing on other Maryland jurisdictions.

Verizon says the next-generation FiOS service, which is costly to install, will eventually come to Baltimore, but a timetable has not been set. The service is in various stages of deployment in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

In the meantime, Verizon sells a slower DSL and satellite coverage with a partner. Its main competitor, Comcast, offers broadband through its cable television lines.

At the slowest speed - 1 megabit per second, which is good for Web surfing, e-mail, and downloading small files - Verizon offers a monthly plan for $19.99. The fastest Verizon Internet connection available to some Baltimore residents is 7.1 megabits per second, which is good for downloading movies and streaming video, starting at $39.99 a month.

Comcast offers 1-megabit-per-second service for $24.95 a month for customers who also have access to its television or telephone service. Its fastest service in the city, 50 megabits per second, costs $99.95 a month.

Neither company releases figures on how many Internet customers it has in Baltimore.

The FCC plan calls for affordable broadband by 2020, but it doesn't define what affordable means. In Baltimore, the median household income in 2008 was $40,087 - whereas Maryland's was more than $70,000.

Horrigan said the FCC's research showed that one-third of those who don't have broadband connectivity blamed its relatively high cost as the main barrier to adoption.

"To the extent that Baltimore has pockets of poverty, that's going to drive low broadband adoption in those areas," Horrigan said. "It becomes a self-reinforcing problem. You're less likely to subscribe to broadband if you live in a neighborhood with others who don't subscribe to broadband."

In November, the agency found that 67 percent of households in the United States had access to broadband Internet service. But the agency found a lower rate of broadband adoption among minorities, the poor, the disabled and senior citizens. Fifty-nine percent of African-Americans and 49 percent for Hispanics have broadband coverage in their homes, the FCC survey found.

On average, Americans paid $41 a month for broadband service, the FCC found.

For many middle- and lower-middle-class Baltimore families, $40 is the most they can afford to spend for broadband each month, said Golden of the ministerial alliance.

"Once you get beyond $40 a month, you're squeezing people out of the pot who probably say they can't afford it," Golden said.

The FCC's 10-year plan, which faces opposition from several telecom companies, seeks to bring 100-megabit service to 100 million consumers. The test network that Google wants to build would be 10 times as fast.

Companies and municipalities typically blanch at the high cost and technical challenges of running fiber-optic wires in dense urban environments. Getting optical fiber to each and every residential home is an expensive endeavor that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If Google were to wire the city of Baltimore, it would have to run fiber through at least 3.9 million linear feet of conduit under city streets, according to city officials.

Some Baltimore boosters argue that Google has an opportunity to set up its pilot project in a city without any significant competition because Verizon isn't building its fastest network here. Also, the city owns most of the underground conduits where the wires would run, and officials are using that as a selling point to Google, which wants to streamline its installation process.

"We believe if Google chose to go this route, they could build the entire network using almost all our conduits," said David Troy, an entrepreneur and volunteer organizer for Baltimore's Google Fiber effort.

The capacity that Google Fiber would bring to Baltimore would help fuel the city's renaissance, Troy said. And at the very least, he said, the effort has helped sharpen the debate.

"Even if this doesn't work out with Google, we've done two things," said Troy. "We've caused a citywide conversation about our infrastructure, and secondly, we made a strong pitch as to why Baltimore is a good place to invest."


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:54 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Big Ideas, East Coast, Smartphones, Wireless
        

February 16, 2011

Tessco Technologies of Hunt Valley -- did layoffs recently happen?

I've been getting messages through sources on the Interwebs that there was a significant layoff at Tessco Technologies in Hunt Valley (possibly 30-40 people), but no one from the company is responding to my emails or tweets. (Were the PR folks laid off too?)

UPDATE: A Tessco happy hour to honor those who were laid off is being planned through this Facebook page.

Layoffs, if they happened, may not come as a surprise to those in the region who follow the company. Tessco had warned last month that its revenues could take a hit since one of its biggest customers is AT&T and that that telecom company was losing exclusivity for the heralded iPhone. Tessco apparently makes accessories for AT&T. (Here's a Baltimore Biz Journal story on the topic from January.)

So, I'm trying to get an accurate, confirmed picture of what happened at Tessco, if anything. Know something you can share? Leave in the comments below or email me at gus.sentementes@baltsun.com.

Oh, by coincidence, it just so happens that a number of Tessco employees were "Glimpsed" as part of our regular feature on fashion attire in the workplace. Check out the photos if you got some time to burn.

:: If you're a Maryland tech company, don't forget to add your contact details in this public spreadsheet, so I have a way of reaching you. And if you have news ideas or tips to share, post them here for community review!


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 5:35 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast, Wireless
        

BaltTech crowdsourcing news tips and sources

I'm looking to crowd-source technology journalism ideas with a focus on Baltimore and Maryland. There are two main ways I'll be doing this, and both involve Google tools.

First, to contribute and vote on story ideas, we're using Google Moderator. You can post tips and ideas anonymously. (Marketing spam, however, will be down-ranked and/or deleted, so bring some value to the community!) Go to this link and start contributing and voting: http://goo.gl/mod/GMwD

Second, one of my challenges is finding people and companies in the tech community to interview, especially on deadline. I'm hoping to start fresh with a public online contact list that anyone in Maryland can contribute to -- just let me know your tech/biotech company and other key contact info.

Here's the link for that Google Spreadsheet: https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AkGXZtX4BNBZdHJQUERrWS05ZDg5ZDR2VkRMUjgyQlE&hl=en

And here's my goofy face introducing the Google Moderator page:


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

February 12, 2011

Civic Hack Day in Baltimore kicks off

civic-hack-day-2.bmp

That's Mike Brenner, above, a Baltimore web designer, kicking off Civic Hack Day in Baltimore, the first community effort to build Web-based applications with a small trove of data that the city and the mayor's office.

More than 30 people have showed up at the Emerging Technology Center on Saturday to work on various projects. Web geeks, including programmers and designers, and even journalists like yours truly, are trying to wrap their arms around the data, understand and analyze it, and see if there are any useful tools that can be built for the community.

So far, people are looking at applications -- some for the desktop Web, some for mobile phones -- that are tapping into city parking citation data, property tax data, and crime data. I hope to post links to finished (or semi-finished projects) in a day or two.

There's also a group that's using data from the social network LinkedIn to map connections between thousands of professionals in Baltimore, Annapolis and elsewhere. Their goal is to create visualizations that help people identify powerful and weak networks -- lots of potential there for understanding how people are connected to each other.

If you're interested in tapping into this industrious, entrepreneurial community of civic-minded tech geeks, check out their public discussion group on Google. Join the conversation.

Not to be a downer, but I should raise an issue that some people here have talked to me about (city officials take note.) The data that the city released was essentially a one-time data dump, though there may be more in the future. What the Baltimore hacker community is hoping for are real-time data flows from city agencies, so they can create more useful applications with live data, and not information that's months old.

But all in all, this is a good first effort. There are a few dozen independent people (citizens!) playing with "open" city data for the first time in the history of Baltimore. Some good things will probably come out of this effort -- but the future will be where it's at in Baltimore, if our city government can continue to improve data disclosure efforts.

civic-hack-day-1.bmp


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events (Baltimore area)
        

February 11, 2011

AT&T (iPhone) users: text to get free 1,000 rollover minutes!

Looks like competition is indeed good for the consumer once again:

Numerous online news sources are reporting that AT&T is giving away 1,000 free rollover minutes to certain iPhone customers (presumably those nearing the end of their contracts?) to keep them from switching to Verizon and its iPhone offering.

UPDATE:Some people are telling me that the offer is good for ALL AT&T customers.

But 9to5Mac, a Mac enthusiast website, discovered that any AT&T iPhone customer can take advantage of the free offer by responding to the text number. (I wonder if ANY AT&T customer can take advantage of this offer, not just iPhone users.)

Here's what you do:

1) In your number field, type in the number "11113020"

2) In the text field, type in "Yes"

Hit send and within seconds, you should get a prompt saying you're receiving 1000 bonus rollover minutes, after up to four weeks of processing time.

Thanks, AT&T!


ATT-text-offer.PNG


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:07 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Baltimore's Civic Hack Day tomorrow!

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Open government! Open data!

These are the tech cries of the 21st century that geeks and even ordinary people are rallying around.

About 40 or so people are jamming into the Emerging Technology Center (and inside, Beehive Baltimore) in Canton tomorrow (Saturday Feb. 12) to create new websites based on the release of a trove of Baltimore City data.

A few weeks ago, Baltimore set up a website called Open Baltimore, a site that offers data and tools for creating Web applications. Data sets released include city property tax, crime, 311, parking citations, and many others. Some people have already been talking about the apps they wish to create with the data over at this discussion group.

Tickets to the free event have been sold out for a few days. But I'm pretty sure those who participate in the day -- and create a Web app based on city data -- will be willing to share their work online with everyone.

I will be there and I hope to do two things: 1) blog about some of the cool things people are working on, and 2) roll up my sleeves, fire up my laptop and maybe toss my two cents in on the creation of a cool app.

I'm excited! This could be the beginning of something awesome in the online civic life of our community.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:43 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events (Baltimore area)
        

February 10, 2011

Verizon iPhone hits stores today

So, did you pick one up? The long-awaited Verizon-networked iPhone hit the stores today, and I'm interested in seeing and hearing how big the lines were at the stores this morning.

Did you wait at a Verizon, Apple, Wal-Mart or Best Buy store for the chance to buy one? Were they sold out or was there enough supply?

I'm also curious about whether people were switching from an AT&T iPhone to a Verizon iPhone. Drop a note below if you became a consumer on Verizon iPhone Day.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

February 2, 2011

Ciena executives' pay declined in 2010

garysmith-ciena.JPG

According to Ciena Corp.'s proxy filing today, compensation declined significantly for its top four executives, including CEO Gary B. Smith (above), in 2010.

The Linthicum-based company, which makes networking gear that's used by major telecommunications companies around the world, last year bought Nortel's Metro Ethernet Networks division for $769 million. The acquisition of the Nortel division, which is based in Canada, doubled Ciena's size. Ciena's stock price roughly doubled last year.

In all four executives' cases, their salaries remained the same but their stock awards contributed to most of the drop in their compensation.

* Smith earnings dropped almost in half to $2.2 million in 2010 -- compared with $4.1 million in 2009. Smith's salary remained the same at $650,000, but his stock awards dropped from $3.5 million to $1.5 million.

* Chief financial officer James E. Moylan Jr. had a total compensation of $1.2 million compared to $1.8 million in 2009.

* Compensation for Stephen B. Alexander, chief technical officer, nearly dropped in half, declined to $1 million for $2.1 million.

* Michael G. Aquino, senior vice president of global field operations, declined to $1.1 million from $1.3 million.

A fifth executive, Philippe Morin, senior VP of global products, apparently was hired last year and earned a salary of $1.8 million.

UPDATE: I asked Ciena for an explanation on the compensation changes and specifically, I asked about the changes in stock awards. Spokeswoman Nicole Anderson gave me some good context in an email:

"...[E]xecutive compensation is determined by the independent directors on the Compensation Committee of Ciena's Board of Directors, and a number of factors are considered in during the process. I’d also remind you that 2010 compensations decisions were made in the fall of 2009, so under a different set of market circumstances, etc.

On your first question:
• There was no increase in base salaries from 2009 to 2010.
• Executives were not eligible for incentive cash for half of fiscal 2010, as the company placed more scrutiny on cash expenses given uncertain market dynamics.
o They were eligible in the second half, but no payments were made under the plan.

On your second question:
• 2009 was unique in nature with respect to stock awards as the Compensation Committee was focused on improving the retention profile given the lack of unvested equity at the time.
Also, the Compensation Committee was concerned with the low share count under the plan at the time."


[Photo by David Hobby, Baltimore Sun]


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:47 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast
        

February 1, 2011

Uprising in Egypt: New protests, old tech

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The fax machine is relevant again. (Remember that image above, from the 1999 movie "Office Space", where disgruntled workers obliterated their fax machine.)

For days now, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Mubarak's government has responded by essentially shutting down the country's Internet infrastructure. The government has put pressure on independent television media (i.e. Al Jazeera) to cut off their broadcasting, with only minimal success.

Egyptians appear to be finding ways to spread words and images to the outside world. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube -- just search for "Cairo" and "protests" to see many videos uploaded over the past week.

Mobile phones apparently are still able to be used, but the Mubarak government reportedly has cut off text-messaging access. So how are Egyptians communicating with each other and sharing their views and images with the outside world? Here's a short list:

* Dial-up modems: With DSL connectivity down, people are turning to their old dial-up modems and calling international numbers to get access to the outside world, although access at a snail's pace.

* Ham radios: frequencies for Egyptians are being shared across the Internet. Morse code apparently has been in use by ham radio operators.

* Fax machines: apparently, the good ol' fax machine has been dusted off and used as a communication tool, according to the BBC and HuffPost. People are faxing information to phone numbers that automatically upload documents to the Internet, through coordination by We Rebuild, an Internet activist group.

* Twitter by phone call: Google and Twitter partnered to create a tool that allows people to call a number and leave an audio message, which then automatically gets tweeted with the hashtag #egypt.

* Television is, in some ways, "old tech," but it's still an unparalleled, awesome mass medium with arguably the biggest reach. Egyptian state tv has been generally broadcasting scenes of calm and of Mubarak with his new cabinet. But it seems such placid images only further irritates the protestors. For people outside Egypt, Al Jazeera has been the go-to network for 24/7 coverage. The satellite news channel isn't available in the U.S. (except in a handful of places) but it's easy to access it's English channel through its Website's live feed and its very awesome iPhone app, which is free. Kudos to the Al Jazeera correspondents across Egypt for defying government orders and continuing to broadcast and use social media to get news out around the world.

What other old tech tools and methods are Egyptians using to spread the news of their revolt against Mubarak's rule?


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:28 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Government Tech
        

NewsTrust: Rating Baltimore's news scene

If you ever wanted to be a critic of Baltimore news, now is your chance.

A new website that collects local news reporting and gives readers a chance to rate, critique and comment on stories launched a two-month pilot project on Monday with several partnerships in Baltimore's mainstream and independent media.

NewsTrust, a nonprofit started in 2006 by a former Apple Inc. executive, is partnering with several local media entities in Baltimore. The media partners will carry digital "widgets" on their websites that enable readers to participate in an online community of news reviewers that NewsTrust is attempting to nurture, said Fabrice Florin, executive founder and director.

"We're trying to feature some of the best journalism from Baltimore," Florin said. "Essentially, we're trying to find the best of the local news ecosystem. There's a lot of good journalism that's getting lost in the cracks."

The new site can be found at http://baltimore.newstrust.net/.

Local media partners include The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore magazine, The Marc Steiner Show (WEAA-FM), Urbanite Magazine and WYPR-FM. Website-only partners include Baltimore Brew, Center Maryland, Citybizlist and Baltimore-area Patch.com sites.

NewsTrust has a broader website that includes international and national news. But its Baltimore website represents a new step for the entity. It received funding from the Open Society Foundations, which has a program that is active in philanthropic endeavors in Baltimore, to launch a site in the city that focuses on local news.

"We're pioneering it in Baltimore," Florin said.

Readers will be able to rate and review stories produced by the media partners, as well as content by other local and independent journalists who don't belong to the partnership. Those who write reviews also can expect to be rated.

Area college and high school students are being encouraged to participate in the NewsTrust online community. The nonprofit is partnering with Towson University, the University of Maryland and Morgan State University, as well as the Baltimore Freedom Academy and the Baltimore Civitas School.

Stacy Spaulding, assistant professor of journalism and new media at Towson University, said she will be integrating the NewsTrust website into her senior-level multimedia reporting course. Students will post their own articles and review each other's work on the site.

"I certainly think it's a service," said Spaulding. "Anyone can get on a talk forum and post what they want, but what's exciting here is [NewsTrust is] a rated, trusted community."

[This column was published in today's edition of the Baltimore Sun.]


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        
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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: baltimoresun.com/balttech
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