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April 29, 2011

Hey 5th grader...Want a job in media?

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Today, I saw the future. And they were 11-year-old boys in t-shirts and girls in pig tails.

I visited Vincent Farm Elementary School, north of Baltimore city in White Marsh, for a career day presentation where I hoped to persuade 5th graders to become journalists. But I wasn't prepared for what I saw: 4th and 5th graders every morning put on a live video broadcast for the entire school where they share news and event information.

In the studios of WVFE (Vincent Farm Elementary...haha!), the three-year-old school has multiple video cameras, a "green room" which makes it easy to overlay background images on video, and a production booth with mixing equipment for audio and video.

Best of all -- the 5th graders were teaching the 4th graders how to produce the morning show. There were two adults supervising them, but many of these kids knew what they were doing and they were coaching their peers. They had wireless headsets to communicate between the studio and the production room. It was one student's job to count down to the live broadcast, beamed to every classroom: 5-4-3-2-1

Unbelievable!

This is the generation of digital natives. I told them a story of how, when I was their age, if I was out somewhere and wanted to call my mom, I needed to have a pocketful of dimes to use in a payphone.

They had never used a payphone.

As for me, I think the kids liked my talk. But I think the cop, the paramedics, the two guys from Geek Squad, and the Chick-Fil-A marketing guy were bigger hits with them.

Although, I was completely impressed when one 5th grade girl told me she watches "AutoTune the News" on Youtube. She'll either be a journalist -- or a Youtube star one day, I'm sure.


This is an archived version of the technology blog.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 1:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

April 26, 2011

Cyber pork? Cybersecurity and the dangers of threat inflation

Two George Mason University researchers are calling the bluff of the nation's military-intelligence-industrial-complex and essentially saying in their latest research paper: show us the evidence.

Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins, at the Mercatus Center at GMU, wrote a research paper titled: Loving the Cyber Bomb? The dangers of threat inflation in cybersecurity policy.

In the paper, they draw an analogy of the current political and national rhetoric on cybersecurity policy with the run-up to the Iraq War, and how the military, the press and public officials didn't paint the whole picture for the public.

Is this research paper a wake-up call for those of us citizens, taxpayers and journalists who are really wondering how much basis there is to the cybersecurity fear? I have written several articles on cybersecurity and how it's ramp-up is benefiting Maryland -- and I know that Brito and Watkins' paper is giving me pause.

But Brito and Watkins make a great point -- how much evidence is there really out there to support the rhetoric, to justify what we hear from our state leaders, such as Gov. Martin O'Malley ("Cyber Maryland" promoter ) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who's also been a huge booster of the cybersecurity industry in the state.

Is "Cyber Maryland" really about "Cyber Pork"?

Part of the issue, many agree, is that the federal government has an "over-classification" problem, meaning too much information is shielded from public view. That has to change if Americans wish to decide on the cyber threat for themselves, the researchers argue.

Take a read through Brito and Watkins' paper. Is there evidence out there in the ether that they missed?

What do you think ? Is the cybersecurity threat overblown? Is this an example, as Brito and Watkins say, of "Cyber Pork," and Maryland is just a beneficiary of it, to the expense of U.S. taxpayers as a whole?


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 5:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Malicious search terms and the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate

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>

Awwww, aren't they cute? Watch out -- searching for them online could kill your computer!

Norton, the anti-virus software company, is warning people to beware of the sites they click on if they're doing any searches for the upcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, on April 29. Apparently, there are plenty of malicious websites out there that want you to click on them, and then they'll do nasty stuff to your computer. An online misstep could even cost you money.

Perhaps the most important warning from Norton: "Think before you click – Beware of emails or links that promise “leaked” footage, offer “scandalous” pictures, or purport to have “secret” information. Cybercriminals take advantage of sensational and shocking headlines to get you to click on links that could infect your computer."

The chart below shows how many "poisoned" results showed up for each term, out of the first 100 terms returned.

royal-wedding-malicious-search-terms


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 3:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Sold out: Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Apparently today, a new tablet went on sale at Best Buy, and it sold out very quickly, according to Android Police. It's called the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, and it's supposedly an iPad competitor for $399 -- or $100 less than the entry-level iPad 2.

But maybe it sold out so quickly because Best Buy didn't have a lot of them to sell?

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Asus is not flooding the U.S. market with these yet, opting instead for a bigger role out in the U.K., according to Android Police. If you have been waiting out on the iPad because you're not impressed with its specs, this Android device -- which runs the Android Honeycomb software version -- has some hardware that the iPad lacks, such as two USB ports and a media card reader. It also hooks up to a keyboard. Clearly, this is meant as another option for a netbook.


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 1:06 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Competition! Facebook Deals, Google Offers, Youtube video rentals

Two things to pay attention to today:

1) Facebook is introducing its own version of Groupon and Living Social for its 600-million-strong online social network. It's called Deals and it launches in five cities today: Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego and San Francisco. The online-social-couponing business is hot-hot-hot right now. Even Google -- of course -- is getting into it with its own "Google Offers", which is running a beta in Portland, Oregon, with early plans for New York City, Oakland, and San Francisco. Google, as you may remember, tried to buy Groupon for $6 billion, but got spurned, and now wants to build its own Groupon clone from scratch.

2) Online video: the streaming wars are beginning. Netflix is currently in the pole position, as it is carried on a broad range of devices, from mobile phones, to PCs/laptops and tablets, to gaming systems. Apple is on the chase with its Apple TV offering, with iTunes movie rentals and downloads. And Amazon Video on Demand is a pretty darn cool service, too -- especially on a Roku player.

But wait -- now we're hearing Google/Youtube is planning a vast expansion of its own paid streaming service for Hollywood movies. The Holy Grail in online streaming is getting early access to movies that just left theaters and are on DVD. Movie companies make money off DVD sales so they don't want to stream them online without meaningful revenue replacement. So if Google gets it right, this could be a big deal. Peter Kafka, of All Things D, confirmed the report and noted that "big studios including Sony, Time Warner’s Warner Bros. and Comcast’s Universal are on board. So are indies like Lionsgate."

All of this competition is potentially good for the consumer. Let's see how good it can get.


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 10:53 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

April 22, 2011

Mobile apps, mobile work, mobile life: the rise of digital nomads

There are tons of success stories of developers who've built killer smartphone apps into thriving little businesses. But I'd bet there are fewer stories out there like the story of Jen Harvey and Steven Hugg.

This couple helped me kick off the beginning of my story about the rise of digital nomads, or people who increasingly work and live wherever they choose, thanks to mobile connectivity and the Internet. Harvey and Hugg run Voxilate, a company whose had great success with an iPhone/Android app called HeyTell.

Harvey and Hugg ditched their Bethesda lives early last year and went completely mobile, living in short-term rentals and traveling the country whenever they felt the urge to visit a place or visit with friends and family. And they've managed the sharp growth of their successful app (5+ million downloads) and their business while on the road. They're currently in San Diego.

I spoke with other traveler/workers, too, including Heather Van De Mark, a designer with Groove Commerce in Baltimore. She started traveling in August, and works on website designs for Groove from wherever she chooses to open up her laptop.

I also spoke with Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy, two very experienced digital nomads -- or technomads, by their term -- who've been working in software and traveling the U.S. for the past four years.

It's becoming more viable to do this kind of work/travel arrangement, thanks to advances in Internet and mobile communications. But do you have the boss -- or the business -- that will enable you to do it? What's more: is constant travel really appealing to you?

Below: Heather Van De Mark in Chapel Hill recently, where she is house-sitting.


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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 1:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Smartphones, Startups
        

April 21, 2011

When a public company deals with a very private NSA

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One of the companies in the Baltimore area that I pay attention to on my tech beat is KEYW Holding Corp., a three-year-old company that's launched itself hard out of the gate with a string of acquisitions and an IPO last fall.

It's a public company in fact. But if you look at its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, you'll be hard-pressed to figure out what it does for its federal government clients, namely the National Security Agency.

There are large defense contractors out there -- think Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics -- who do a lot of defense-related work. But you end up getting many glances at the stuff they're doing for -- and selling to -- the government because they'll often work on big projects that are hard to hide, i.e. fighter jets.

But more than half of KEYW's revenues come from the NSA, whose annual budget is classified. The intelligence budget, in general, is hard to wrap your hands around -- and spending on cyber security is generally not quantified. But KEYW needs to do some level of disclosure to appease shareholders and Wall Street analysts, to demonstrate that there is a bonafide market they are pursuing for business. So it's interesting to see how they balance this fine line of disclosure and the need for secrecy. For instance, here's KEYW's review of the national budget for intelligence spending:

The Director of National Intelligence disclosed that the 2010 National Intelligence Program budget was $53.1 billion. The budget for U.S. Air Force Intelligence is not separately reported within the overall Air Force budget, which was $160.5 billion for fiscal year 2010. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the fiscal year 2009 budget for information technology, or IT, security spending was approximately $7.3 billion, which represents a 9.8% increase over fiscal year 2008 IT security spending. According to INPUT, a provider of market information for U.S. Government business, the federal cybersecurity market is expected to achieve a 9.1% annual growth rate through 2015. Driving this growth, they cite a 445% increase in cyber threats since 2006 and increased reliance on the internet, networked systems, and connectivity as creating opportunities for cyber attackers to disrupt government operations, as well as U.S. critical infrastructure. Given our relative size to the size of the market, we believe that we have plenty of room to grow.
[source: Company 10-K]

My favorite part of KEYW's annual report is when they try to give shareholders a look into a positive outcome for some of the work they're doing -- a case study, essentially -- without actually telling you anything specific about their work. Here's how they describe their "Encounter" program:

Since early 2009, a program we call “Encounter” serves as an on-going example of how we use research and development funds to respond to our customers’ needs with agility and to grow our business. Our customer had a technical problem that had been lingering for several years. The customer had spent millions of dollars with several large companies (both integrators and technology companies) searching for a solution, with no near-term solution in sight. Our engineers, knowing the importance of this problem to our customer, looked for new and innovative approaches. After reviewing the concept with our customer, we authorized a proof-of-concept project to begin immediately, prior to our customer’s official approval of the project, to demonstrate the potential of the new approach to our customer without delay. This initial project took approximately six weeks to complete. Armed with the results of this project, we met with our customer to explore how this solution might meet its urgent needs. After the successful demonstration, the customer issued a directed task order to continue the work, while the other contract activities that had not been producing results were cancelled. Our work on this project continues and has produced strong results for our customer. Encounter has expanded into a deployment project, where a number of systems have been integrated and deployed in our customer’s operating environment, and are being supported by us. We expect further development, deployment and ongoing support to continue for a number of years.

This case study exemplifies how we create long-term growth opportunities, on a sole-source basis, by leveraging our in-depth knowledge of our customers’ missions and needs, our Agile DNA and our ability to use IR&D. Our product line has evolved through a combination of customer development and IR&D. We frequently develop a core capability or technology and then customize this capability or technology to meet specific customer requirements."

So, yes, KEYW is a fascinating little company that offers a rare look into how a publicly traded company can try to tap capital markets (which value a fair amount of disclosure) while also trying to satisfy their main top-secret client.


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 10:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Drug-dealing robots in Baltimore

Not illegal drugs, silly.

In case you missed it, I wrote about a Baltimore-area company that spent $30 million on robotic technology that automates the dispensing and packaging of pharmaceuticals for institutional clients, such as nursing homes and assisting living facilities. Mind you, these aren't humanoid robots -- rather, they're bulky, heavy, boxy beasts.

The company is called Remedi SeniorCare, and it's run by Michael Bronfein, who built up NeighborCare into a national player in the institutional pharmacy business. (Institutional pharmacies basically supply medications to, what else?, institutions, such as nursing homes, hospitals and even prisons.)

I got a tour of Remedi's facility in Rosedale, with these incredible robotic automatons that pretty much eliminated the need for humans handling, packaging and labelling thousands of medication orders per day. Pretty incredible stuff.

Here's my story on the company and the industry it's playing in. Like my headline?

And below is one angle of the robot, known as the Paxit system.

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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 3:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Venture Cap
        

The cyber security push continues at UMBC

If you've been within earshot of Gov. Martin O'Malley or Sen. Barbara Mikulski over the past year, you've no doubt heard them talk about the concept of "Cyber Maryland." The two public officials are some of the most ardent promoters of the cyber security industry in the country, and they're pushing it hard for Maryland.

And today, they pushed for it hard again -- this time at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's "bwtech" campus for technology startup companies. O'Malley and Mikulski helped mark the opening of the "Cync" program, a partnership between UMBC and Northrop Grumman to incubate cyber security companies. A bunch of executives from big and small organizations, from Northrop to the NSA, rounded out a panel of "experts" who led a short discussion on the cyber security industry and its needs.

I've had the chance to listen to Sen. Mikulski speak on several occasions, and I have to hand it to her: she has a great knack for the soundbite and for crystallizing complex issues in fairly simple ways for us laypeople to understand. In talking about the cyber security threat and online identity theft, the senator dropped this gem:

"You don't need a visa to come here to steal [someone's] Visa card."

Love it.

While overall government spending on defense is expected to tighten, spending on cyber security, many believe, will remain robust. And that's good news for Maryland and its federal facilities, from the National Security Agency and the Defense Information Services Agency, to the private contractors who support them.

In the past two years, UMBC's bwtech has attracted 16 cyber security companies.

UMBC and Northrop Grumman introduced the first two companies accepted into the Cync program: Rogue Networks, which is developing monitoring tools for large networks, and Five Directions, which enables high-security file sharing between public and private cloud networks.

So, this CYNC venture, from Northrop's perspective, is about seeding small companies that they can partner with to provide technology to their big clients. Northrop doesn't have any exclusive rights with these start-ups, i.e. first dibs on acquiring them.

And for UMBC, it's all about creating opportunities for their students after they graduate. "For all the employers in the room, we have no shame. We're looking for jobs for our students," said UMBC's president, Freeman A. Hrabowski III.

Below is the governor with the CEO of another bwtech incubator company, Fearless Solutions (I forgot to write his name down! Anyone have it? Drop it in the comments below.)

(Update: The CEO's name is Delali Dzirasa. Thanks @UMBCscitech for sharing his name.)

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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 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

April 20, 2011

Borrow Amazon Kindle books -- from the library

Amazon today announced that it will soon enable Kindle users (including those using Kindle software on Apple and Android devices) to borrow Kindle books from more than 11,000 libraries across the country.

This is good news for the digital reading platform and helps keep libraries part of the books ecosystem. (Okay, maybe that's a stretch.) The cool tech feature of Amazon's "Kindle Library Lending" service is that you can make digital notes in the e-books you borrow, and the notes are saved. So if you borrow the book again, or choose to buy it, your notes are maintained.

In a printed book, mind you, the library doesn't like it when you write in the margins.

Here's the original Amazon news release, for more details.

FYI -- Amazon is partnering with a service called Overdrive to make Kindle books available through local libraries. There's also an Overdrive app for the Apple iPhone platform that offers a similar service. But iPhone/iPad users also have access to the Kindle app, too.


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 3:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets
        

Clean energy: Catonsville biofuel firms files to raise $15 million

A small company in Catonsville called Fiberight LLC has been working the past four years to develop and build technology that converts solid and industrial waste into a kind of ethanol -- and is trying to raise $15 million to fund its venture, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday.

The company has a plant in Iowa, where it's been working on scaling the technology. It also has plans for a plant in Elkridge, MD.

As an aside, I've never heard of Fiberight before, so I'm pleasantly surprised to see this little company doing some apparently innovative things in the biofuels space. There is a lot of investment money -- and tax breaks and subsidies -- flowing into the clean energy sector right now.

There's some heavy science behind Fiberight's efforts. A glimpse from its website:

Fiberight has successfully developed a unique process of converting waste fibers into biofuel. Fiberight’s technology can efficiently unlock the potential to convert millions of tons of non-recycled municipal solid and industrial wastes into valuable next generation cellulosic ethanol and other key co-products.

Here's some more info about Fiberight from a trade pub.

Another trade pub, Green Energy Reporter, has been reporting that Fiberight has actually been trying to raise $27 million. We'll see if that $15 million in the SEC filing ends up being amended.


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 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

April 19, 2011

BlackBerry PlayBook: As hard to find as an iPad 2?

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I popped into a RadioShack this morning in Baltimore and asked whether they had any of Research in Motion's new tablet computers, the PlayBook.

Nope, the two clerks said. And one said only nine of the 18 stores in -- presumably -- the Baltimore area were getting any initial shipments.

Coincidentally, I am in the market for an iPad 2. So I called a couple of Best Buys in the Baltimore area, and the Towson Apple Store. And guess what? No iPad 2's in stock either.
That doesn't surprise me.

Part of the reason that the iPad 2's are so hard to find is that Apple can't make them fast enough, and demand for them supposedly is higher than for the first one. We'll have to see how demand is for the PlayBook and whether RIM can actually put enough of them in stores for consumers to actually walk away with one.

I'm more interested if any BlackBerry fans have gone out today to buy the PlayBook. Got any first impressions you want to share? Drop 'em below.


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 12:46 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets
        

410Labs: Baltimore startup attracting outside investors

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We've seen Dave Troy roll up his sleeves and help coordinate and promote Baltimore's tech scene over the last couple years, helping pull off such events as TedXMidAtlantic and BarCamp Baltimore.

He's also dabbled in politics lately, with a public endorsement of Otis Rolley, who's running for mayor in Baltimore.

But the local entrepreneur, who founded and sold ToadNet, an ISP, is coming on strong this year with a new startup venture. It's called 410Labs. The company is all about building nimble communication tools that make managing your flow of digital information better, whether its with Twitter or email.

A new tool that Troy and his colleagues demo'ed at the Baltimore Startup Weekend event is called Mailstrom, which helps people analyze and manage their email inboxes.

Last week, Troy tweeted that his company was receiving some investments to keep doing its thing. So far, 410Labs is about halfway through a $500,000-plus angel round of investing. And its attracted investors from San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington DC and possibly even New York.

Here's a short Q&A I did with Dave recently:

Q) Who are the principals in 410Labs?

A) David Troy, CEO; Matt Koll, Chairman (sold two companies to AOL). We also have two full-time developers and one part-time employee who have a stake in the company.

Q) What do you build?

A) We're building products that add value to people's lives using technology. So that's pretty broad. Our first product, Replyz, helps people find answers to questions. Our second product, Shortmail, is experimenting with innovations in email, which hasn't seen much innovation in a very long time. We anticipate having about four products in our portfolio by the end of the year.

Q) Why take investment?

A) We're not taking much, and the investments are strategic in nature. We want to build support within our industry, both in San Francisco and here in Baltimore. So it's really more about relationships, but this will also allow us to hire people and move faster than we have been. We also appreciate the vote of confidence and insights that we gain by working with outside investors.

Q) How much currently raised and how much targeted?

A) We are raising $500-$600K in this current round and are about half done. As I said, the investments we have secured so far are firmly in the "Angel" category.

Q) Who are your investors? (Is it Twitter and Living Social, per se, or individual executives from those companies?)

A) I can't speak to it in full before we close the round, but individuals at both Twitter and Living Social have committed to angel investments in the company. It's going to be a nice mix of people in San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington DC, and probably New York.


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

April 18, 2011

Baltimore's Startup Weekend -- the winners!

So this weekend, I ran a few errands: I went to the bank, dropped off recycling, cleaned my house, worked, and tried to pay some fatherly attention to my kid.

Sounds like a typical weekend for a lot of folks, right? Well, not for the uber-ambitious people who spent 2 1/2 days of their lives breathing, eating and sleeping the Baltimore Startup Weekend experience. That's some of them below.

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I wrote a story about the event for entrepreneurs and techies here. But it didn't quite do it justice. There were a TON of great ideas there, and super-motivated people who made a lot happen in a weekend. I saw prototypes, alpha versions, beta versions, and almost-ready-for-primetime versions.

In the 2+ years I've been covering these types of events in the Baltimore area, I have to say that, in my outsider's view, this was perhaps the strongest one, in terms of raw idea power and get-up-and-just-do-it initiative.

Baltimore's tech scene indeed has come a long way.

It helped that about half of the crowd seemed to be coming from out of state. This is, net-net, not a bad thing. We want outsiders being attracted to Baltimore. Let them move here. Let them connect with talented folks here. And hopefully, let them find some office space to call home here for their business. It is a good thing when Baltimore is seen as a place that's friendly to the shiny brightness of risk-taking entrepreneurs.

That said, Startup Weekend was a competition and there were winners. Here they are:

* 3rd place: @Dapprly, an app that enables people to crowdsource opinions of their outfits before they go out on the town, and @talkchalkco, a powerful Facebook app that enables teachers and students to do their work on the social networking site.

* 2nd place: @ispylocal, AKA Localize, AKA Proportunities, which enables owners of vacant buildings to essentially poll the neighborhood for ideas on what businesses should move in to the empty space, via text messages.

* 1st place: @Parking_Panda, an app that enables people who own driveways to rent them out, to make a little extra cash and help alleviate parking problems in the city.

If anybody puts together a list of all the ideas and pitches that came out of Baltimore's Startup Weekend, please let me know and I'll re-post here.


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

April 17, 2011

iPad 2 at Toys R Us: on sale today

Multiple online reports are saying that the iPad 2 is available -- starting today -- at Toys R Us stores.

Supposedly only the Wi-Fi models will be sold at the Toys R Us stores, not the 3G-enabled ones. Starting price is the usual: $499 for a 16GB iPad 2.

Apple's distribution of the iPad 2 is deeper and broader than the original iPad. Demand for the device remains huge, while supply is constrained, and yet Apple continues to expand the retail points that are making it available.

I think Apple sees a huge opportunity to flood the market with iPads, seeing that there remains no meaningful competition on the horizon yet this year. The company's only problem is that it can't seem to make them fast enough to supply demand.

Toys R Us is a smart place to launch an iPad. It's one of the most kid-friendly digital devices to ever launch, and Toys R Us is all about making kids drool for stuff. Plus, Toys R Us stores often contain Babies R Us stores, with young parents looking for all sorts of gadgets for their toddlers. The iPad, by the way, is great for toddlers. My daughter is growing up with one.

Apple is clearly trying to get iPads into the hands of kids -- and parents -- as early as possible.


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 10:58 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Gadgets
        

April 15, 2011

Lessons learned? Twitter's original angel investors who sold out early

oops-image.jpgThe Business Insider published a really interesting look at how a bunch of original Twitter investors feel about cashing out of the hot social media startup at its really early stages.

They sold out for $5 million five years ago, and now Twitter has reportedly received valuations of up to $10 billion. Yikes!

Here's the link: http://www.businessinsider.com/odeo-investors-who-sold-twitter-2011-4?op=1

As you might expect, some of the investors have gone with the flow and seem to have accepted how life and startups work out. Others seem more bitter about missing out on a crazy growth opportunity.

Twitter is a funny beast. Unlike Facebook, which seems like everyone introduced to it early on knew it would be a huge success, Twitter seemed to skyrocket thanks to the early, passionate adoption by users, especially by journalists and civic-minded folks who started using it as a breaking news tool.

It gained momentum that completely surprised Twitter management.

So really, if you're to believe the narrative the tech press is currently spinning about Twitter, then it may be safe to say that Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey are not only smart, they're also pretty darn lucky that they somehow managed to create a product that really resonates with people.

Smart AND lucky is a great combination for startups!


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 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups, West Coast
        

April 13, 2011

Startup Weekend comes to Baltimore: this weekend

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Entrepreneurs: start your engines.

The popular Startup Weekend event is coming to Baltimore this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our version is organized by some leaders in the local tech and entrepreneurial scene, but it's run off of a format developed by the Seattle-based nonprofit Startup Weekend organization, which encourages new business formation across the world.

It's a bootcamp-like weekend-long event intended to create a crucible of thinking, innovation and work for the participants, to move them toward a defined product.

From the Baltimore Startup Weekend site:

Startup Weekend is an intense 54 hour event which focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. The weekend brings together people with different skillsets - primarily software developers, graphics designers and business people - to build applications and develop a commercial case around them.

The weekend is not for the faint of heart. For those participating, they will spend basically Friday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday working on a project that they will then pitch Sunday night.

The event starts Friday evening at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, where it will also be on Saturday. On Sunday, it shifts to the University of Maryland Baltimore's BioPark, on the west side of downtown.


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 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Events (Baltimore area)
        

April 12, 2011

Google Trends' "Hot Topics" is gone

I just checked out Google Trends and discovered that the "Hot Topics" section was gone. I never really found it that useful and didn't quite understand what made a topic "hot" vs. highly searched.

WebProNews reports that Google decided to "streamline" and unify the hot topics section into the "hot searches" section. Hope this doesn't make too many people hot and bothered.

For anyone not in the know, Google Trends is a site commonly used by bloggers and other online writers to gauge the popularity of different search terms, usually in the hopes of writing good "SEO friendly" copy.


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 5:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Maryland motion-control tech company raises $5.5 million

Loop-pointer.jpgHillcrest Labs brought us the Loop -- a circular device that you hold and use to control your PC while it's hooked up to your TV. That's it on the left.

Now the Rockville, Md.,-based company has just raised a good chunk of money, presumably to expand and bring more cool gadgets to market.

According to a Securities and Exchange filing today, the privately held company has raised $5.5 million in an equity round of investment.

The firm touts itself as creating the world's first motion-controller for television, the world's first complete Web browser for television, and the world's first cursor-controlled apps for television (huh? who really wants a cursor controlled app on their TV? I'm confused). Anyhow....

Hillcrest made headlines three years ago when it filed a patent infringement suit against Nintendo, for its Wii controller. The company has had millions in investment pumped into it from major venture capital players, including NEA and Grotech, both local-regional firms.

Hillcrest has partnered with LG Electronics and Logitech on products, among others, to develop cool new tech.


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 3:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups
        

Bye-bye Flip camera

flip-camera.jpgMy, how fast the market changes. Just a few years ago, the Flip camera was a blockbuster seller and a bit of a revolutionary.

It represented easy video recording on the go. And it was relatively cheap and practically idiot-proof to use. But alas, the smartphone wave seems to be sweeping the Flip away.

With more and more consumers shooting HD video with their iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys, who needs a Flip?

Today, Cisco announced that it will be shutting down its Flip camera business and The Flip camera and laying off about 550 employees.

Cisco bet big on Flip barely two years ago, buying its maker, Pure Digital, for $590 million.

It's too bad they didn't find a way to make the technology work for them and for the consumer, but it's also a sign that people are increasingly using one device -- mobile phones -- for a lot of their digital media creation uses.

Personally, I used a Flip several years ago, when they first came out and it was okay. But, smartphones (or even an iPod Touch) now are generally equal, if not better, and more functional.

Will you miss the Flip?

 

Update: Random thought-- Why the heck didn't Cisco ever build some network connectivity into  the Flip?! I don't follow Cisco closely, but when I first heard the news 2 years ago that it was buying Flip, I thought: Cool. Here come the networked cameras. But they were never Wi-Fi or 3G enabled. What's the story behind that?


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 1:54 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets
        

A Brazilian iPad to go along with your Brazilian wax?

Well here's some interesting news: Apple Inc., an American company, may be working with a major Asian manufacturing partner to open up a production facility in Brazil.

Foxconn, Apple's manufacturer, is reportedly interested in investing $12 billion to broaden its manufacturing base from Asia, reports Reuters.

Apple's tablet computer, the iPad, is expected to made at the Brazil plant. Brazil is on a roll.

First, it got the World Cup in 2014. Now it may be getting iPad production, which is a fairly sophisticated consumer product to build. This could bode well for the country's manufacturing base and entice other multinational companies to bring production to South America.


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 (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

April 11, 2011

Hopkins Applied Physics Lab's Ignition grants encourage even more geekery

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md., employs a few thousand brilliant minds who work on complex -- often top secret -- problems, from space travel to defense.

But a new program is encouraging the lab's scientists to come up with solutions to challenges outside of their normal duties, and the organization is rewarding these thinkers with "Ignition grants."

A story in the JHU Gazette today identified eight winners of the grants, and their neat projects.

The winners get an infusion of $12,000 to $20,000 to conduct their research. It kind of reminds me of Google's "20 percent time", where it's engineers are giving a chance to work on their own pet projects a fifth of their time.

So what did the APL brains pitch to invent? According to the JHU Gazette's Geoff Brown, the winning entries were:

* “Find an Expert at JHU: A Marketplace for Connecting Innovation to Resources Within the JHU Family”

* “iBuoy”

* “Pocket-Size Personal Surveillance Robot”

* “On-Site Child Care” [Hands down, BEST IDEA EVER.]

* “Mechanical Engineers Unite”

* “Distributed Library”

* “Conformal Antenna for Gun-Launched Projectile” [Well this sounds interesting.]

* “Volunteer Cyber Defense Corps”

This article has some background on some of these inventions and ideas, but I'd love to get more detail on each of these entries, so if you know something about them, please drop some knowledge in the comments below. Thanks.


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 4:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Columbia University study: Facebook users either sharing too much, or too little

A computer scientist at Columbia University found that every single person surveyed in a study about Facebook usage was sharing something they wished to hide, or hiding something they wished to share -- a finding that highlights the shortcomings of the online social network's privacy settings, according to his research.

The study is believed to be the first that considers the privacy intentions of users of the popular network, which has more than 600 million members worldwide, and attempts to reconcile users intentions with how their information is actually displayed on the site.

Steven M. Bellovin, who as a graduate student helped develop the USENET internet discussion board system more than three decades ago, reviewed his study during a talk to students at the University of Maryland School of Law today in Baltimore.

"If you think it should be kept private, have you succeeded in doing so?" Bellovin posited to the crowd.

Bellovin said that most people indicated in his study that they cared about privacy, and that media coverage of privacy concerns with Facebook had made them pay more attention to the issue. But a majority of users indicated that they can not or will not fix errors in their privacy settings, he said.

"The overwhelming majority of people have given up," said Bellovin. "That, to us, is a fairly damning statement on the user interface."

The study was limited to surveying 65 Columbia University students, who were recruited on campus, and completed by using a customized Facebook application.

Below, Bellovin, left, accompanied by UMD law professor Danielle Citron.
bellovin-citron.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 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Social Media
        

April 7, 2011

YouTube wants to compete with the boobtube

Finally, YouTube is planning to bring some order -- and more professionally produced content -- to the chaos of content that is its site.

The WSJ is reporting today that YouTube, owned by Google, plans to restructure its home page into a bunch of "channels" to make it easier for us lazy viewers to browse such content as "arts" or "sports." (Umm, how is this different from its current design, WSJ?)

The company also plans to pump a $100 million to commission "low-cost content" designed exclusively for the Web, the WSJ says. Let's hope this "low-cost content" isn't really a synonym for "crap."

Here's why these changes matter, per the WSJ: The pending changes are a big bet by the world's most-popular video site to push in a new direction. Between the Wild West of user-generated content and the pricier precincts of full-blown TV shows, Google is hoping to carve out a niche of original, professionally produced Web videos that it hopes will cultivate loyal viewers.

But seriously, YouTube, let's chat for a moment. Who are you trying to be? Everyone loves watching videos of chattering twin babies and talking dogs? Such video clips are HUGE, and probably bigger than anything YouTube will ever professionally produce. So why spend the $100 million? Because you have it? Okay, well, that's a good enough answer, I guess.

Can YouTube's professional content ever beat the Bed Intruder video?


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 1:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

April 5, 2011

Smartphone ownership more than doubles in a year: Arbitron

Arbitron Inc., a media audience measurement firm based in Columbia, Md., that the percentage of Americans who possess smartphones more than doubled in the past year, from 14 percent to 31 percent.

Here are more factoids from the study:

-- Facebook is now being used by a majority of all Americans age 12 and
over (51%); this number was only 8% when Arbitron/Edison Research first
measured the social media phenomenon in 2008.

-- A majority of American households now have two or more computers (51%);
as compared to 24% of households in 2002.

-- Usage of online radio is up significantly, with weekly usage of all
forms of online radio having doubled in the last five years;
self-reported weekly time spent with online radio is now nearly 10 hours
(9 hours 47 minutes).

-- Daily time spent with TV, Radio and the Internet combined has increased
by 20 percent in the last ten years, with self-reported daily usage now
at 8 hours 11 minutes compared to 6 hours 50 minutes in 2001.

-- Just under one-third of all Americans (31%) have plugged an MP3 player
such as an Apple iPod into their car stereo systems.

-- One in ten Americans report listening to Pandora Internet Radio in the
week before they were surveyed.

-- Among the 81% of American households with Internet access, two-thirds
now have a Wi-Fi network installed.

-- More than one-tenth of all cell phone owners have listened to online
radio streamed in their cars by connecting their phones to their car
stereo system.


More than 2,000 people were interviewed for the study.


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 4:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Baltimore's Tixato: Ticketmaster, beware

Chris Ashworth's small Baltimore company -- Figure 53 -- has already scored a huge hit in the niche field of theater show management software, with thousands of paying customers and even more users of its free product. QLab is a "live show" controller that makes it possible for theater geeks to control all their multimedia special effects from their Macs. BaltTech covered QLab's success last year.

Now Ashworth and his motley crew of computer geeks have built a new Web-based product: Tixato. It's an online ticketing service for small theater and event companies -- and it's entering a highly competitive field that ranges from TicketMaster to smaller regional and local players.

But QLab is such a beloved piece of software in the independent theater community (oh, it's used on Broadway, too) that Ashworth has the kind of street cred among theater geeks that may be missing from certain competitors.

I spoke with Ashworth this afternoon and he said he thinks there's good potential for crossover in theater customers who use QLab and those who may be in search of an inexpensive box office solution. He sees his company building out a suite of features for small theater operators looking for affordable software and online products to run their businesses.

"Our approach is to pay attention to the smaller guys, because we are a smaller company and we can afford to do that," said Ashworth.

If Tixato takes off as well as QLab has, Ashworth and crew might be on to something big.

Alas, Figure 53 ain't THAT small anymore. On Friday, Ashworth moved the five-person company to a new office on St. Paul Street in Baltimore's Charles Village neighborhood. Before that, they had been working out of his house in Charles Village.

Here's Ashworth explaining how the QLab software works:


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 11:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Apps, Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Web Dev & Apps
        

Social enterprises: when non-profits and for-profits collide!

schroeder-starbucks.jpgMost days, you'll find Richard Schroeder (left) working off his laptop at the Starbucks on Boston Street in Canton. He's been busy setting up Sierra Leone's first "special economic zone" over the past year or so -- and he's done a fair amount of the work by telecommuting from a coffee shop.

The nonprofit he works for -- World Hope International -- is based in Alexandria, Va., but Schroeder, who lives in Baltimore, mostly does his work out of the Starbucks and a nearby Panera Bread.

It was while telling me his story about his work life when I was struck not only by how he works internationally from a local Wi-Fi hotspot, but how the field he is in -- international development -- is evolving.

I found that his effort to set up the First Step special economic zone in Sierra Leone is part of a trend in non-profits exploring for-profit ventures to improve people's lives -- and to better sustain their ventures and relying less on donations.

Schroeder's work became a launching point for me to explore this notion of "social enterprises," which is a broad catch-all term for initiatives that show characteristics of non-profit and for-profit ventures. Here's my story, which appeared in the Sunday paper.

The social enterprise: making a buck and doing good International, local projects blending nonprofit and profit models

By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

World Hope International, a Christian relief and development nonprofit group, has been providing charitable aid and small loans to farmers and entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone for years.

Now the Northern Virginia group wants to go into business with those it aims to help. It has started a for-profit arm to build an industrial park and helped launch a juice plant that would process the West African country's bounty of mangoes and pineapples.

World Hope's effort is part of a recalibration of how some nonprofit organizations approach their work — applying the strategies of capitalism to achieve their goals. In Sierra Leone, which is still rebuilding after a civil war that ended more than a decade ago, World Hope wants to create good-paying jobs by attracting "ethical" investment. They say they can provide the moral compass, while foreign companies provide the startup capital.

"This is marking a huge transformation in the way nonprofits would do international economic development," said Richard Schroeder, a Baltimorean and World Hope economist who has led the nonprofit's effort in Sierra Leone. "We transform that humanitarian presence into a framework that will support ethical foreign direct investment."

Read on: Full article.


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 10:31 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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