May 13, 2011

Stolen laptop recovered with help of technology, Twitter followers

Sean Power (or @seanpower) riveted the Twitterverse last night with his play-by-play of his efforts to use technology and the Twitter crowd to reclaim his stolen laptop.

His computer had been stolen days before in New York City and Sean had to fly to Canada in the meantime. But on his computer, he had free, open-source location-tracking software, called Prey, that alerted him when his laptop was being used. His laptop's webcam took pictures of the alleged thief, and tracked him as he surfed the Web, used Skype and even logged in to his bank account!

Sean ends up calling the guy and arranging for his computer to be given to two people, who apparently heard about the drama as it unfolded on Twitter, and offered to help Sean.

It's a crazy tale of high-tech and, um, crowdsourcing, I suppose, your stolen laptop's recovery. Hit up the links over in Geekwire to dig further into the story.

Here's a question: how popular is the Prey software today after Sean's story?

Here's their video of how the software works:

Prey Project introduction from Carlos Yaconi on Vimeo.

This is an archived version of the technology blog.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

March 4, 2011

Taking the Chevy Volt for a (speedy) drive


(Photo taken in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park.)

I normally write about digital gadgets, like smart phones and tablet computers. But the electric car may very well be the ultimate digital gadget – one that melds transportation, communication, navigation, entertainment and energy efficiency in a four-wheel package.

I glimpsed a bit of that future recently with the new Chevy Volt -- a plug-in electric car with a backup gasoline engine that is so networked, you can use a smart phone app to lock and unlock its doors and check on its charge level. [I write a story for this weekend about the future -- and history -- of electric cars. Did you know Baltimore had electric cars 100 years ago?]

To turn on the car, you push a little blue rectangle button to the right of the steering wheel. You just need to have the car's key fob with you. It's an electric-car cliche, I know, but the car was eerily quiet when started. Barely even a detectible shudder in the car's frame. Then the car's electronic dashboard and LCD touch screen came to life. At first, it was disorienting. There is a lot going on with these displays. But Monica Murphy, a GM new technology guru, patiently walked me through the various indicators.

The battery life indicator is on the dashboard's left. There's another indicator with a little green ball that helps you gauge the energy efficiency of your driving – the goal is to keep the ball hovering in the middle of the vertical gauge. The LCD touch screen is the core interface for interacting with the car, including the GPS function.

As someone who drives a decidedly analog 2002 Subaru, I was initially overwhelmed by the digital dashboard and electronic console of the Volt. But I quickly grew accustomed to the main indicators I needed to watch.

After I left the parking lot at The Baltimore Sun, I entered the Jones Falls Expressway at Monument Street and started to accelerate. I had it up to 55 mph within seconds. Then Monica encouraged me to switch the mode from "normal" to "sport" driving. That draws more juice from the battery and cuts into the car’s range, but it also makes the car twice as fun to drive. I won't say how fast I got it going – I plead the Fifth – before I spied a police officer and slowed down.

Monica and I drove up to Timonium on I-83, circled back and shot over to Druid Hill Park. At this point, the battery had gone from about an 80 percent charge to almost zero, and as we headed back to the Sun building, the gasoline engine kicked in. We probably drove a total of around 25 miles roundtrip, with many of those highway miles at, um, high speed and on the "sport" setting.

For the driver obsessive about tracking a car's fuel economy, the Volt is a dream come true. The dashboard and LCD touch screen display almost exactly how much energy is flowing into the car's propulsion system, with second-by-second calculations on how much battery life is left. For details on the car's slightly complicated electric/gas mileage, check out this official GM site. A key metric to consider is that the Volt's total range is 379 miles when it's fully charged and gassed up: 344 of gas range plus 35 miles electric range. (The gas motor doesn't technically propel the car; instead, it provides energy for the electric motor.)

So can the Volt satisfy every car buyer? Not quite.

First, the car's price ranges from $40,000 to $44,000, pushing it into luxury car territory, though you can get a $7,500 federal tax credit on the purchase. And Marylanders can realize another $2,000 electric vehicle tax credit. (The all-electric Nissan Leaf is selling for around $32,000 before the tax credits, and promises a 100-mile-range on an electric charge.)

Second, for city slickers the Volt – and other similar plug-in cars – may still be a challenge to keep charged. In many neighborhoods in Baltimore, street parking is the only parking available. Where would people plug in their cars? The electric charging infrastructure hasn’t been built out yet – and probably won’t be for a few more years. (The Volt can be fully charged for around $1.50 a day, or less if you have access to more favorable off-peak electricity rates late at night.)

Of course, the Volt is not the only option out there for electric-curious drivers. The Nissan Leaf and coming Ford Focus Electric join hybrids like the Toyota Prius that have been on the road for years. Comparisons of different specs are endless and sure to make the car-buying experience even more complicated. Websites such as and have side-by-side comparisons that might help.

Take a poll -- Which type of vehicle would you prefer?

And, here's a video of the Nissan Leaf:


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:46 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, For The Road

November 15, 2010

Baltimore's ZeroChroma launches: unique cases for mobile devices

I did a Q&A with Brian Le Gette, original co-founder of 180s (you know the company that makes those funky behind-the-head ear warmers) and we talked about his latest venture: ZeroChroma.

Le Gette (below left) teamed up with Dave Reeb (right) to design a patent-pending collapsible swivel stand that pops out of the back of a flat case. The design has great potential for many different kinds of applications, but for now, Le Gette and Reeb are focused on the mobile device case market.


The pair are doing a product launch push this week and, early next year, their hope is that their cases for Apple iOS devices are stocked in the Apple Store and Best Buy.

For those investment banker types out there, ZeroChroma is a self-funded operation that's based here in the Baltimore area but does manufacturing in Taiwan. Le Gette said their goal is to keep the company small and nimble and largely "virtual" and "in the cloud." They don't have a fancy headquarters office yet, in other words.

So far, I've tried out their cases for the iPhone and iPad and have been impressed with their finish and functionality. I particularly appreciate the iPad case, which is flexible enough to rotate from portrait to landscape mode. If you find yourself watching a lot of video while sitting at a desk, or in an airplane, this case may be for you.


You can even lower the iPad to a gentle typing level, which is very useful for those of us who do a lot of typing on the iPad. The cases range in price from $35 to $70.


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

June 17, 2010

Hacking Apple iPad for the car

Local car-computing gurus featured on their blog this week a cool video showing how an iPad was modified to work in a car. Pretty sweet! But please, folks -- don't take your eyes of the road.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For The Road, Gadgets, Geeks, Startups
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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

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

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