Why face recognition isn’t scary…yet Friday, Jul 9 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

(CNN) — Most of the time, Stacey Schlittenhard finds facial recognition technology to be extremely useful. When she uploads her family photos to the website Picasa, for instance, the program automatically tags her friends and family members. This lets her share the photos easily and saves her hours of organization.

But every now and then, the computer gets things flat wrong.

“Babies,” she says. “That’s the hardest thing. All babies kind of look alike — they all have little round faces. If I label one baby as my [2-year-old] son, it will label almost every baby as my son.”

In another instance, she said, Google’s Picasa thought a lollipop was her friend.

As she uses facial recognition programs, Schlittenhard is coming face to face with a fact that has been troubling computer scientists for decades:

It’s hard to teach a machine to know a human face — and it’s harder still to teach a computer to identify one face from any other.

That may be comforting news for people worried about governments using facial recognition systems to surveil the public — in effect, ending anonymity.

Technologists say those ideas exist only in science fiction movies — at least for now.

“I don’t think, currently, any facial recognition system is good enough for security purposes — not even close, actually,” said Yi Ma, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois, and a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research in China.

Using face recognition for surveillance or to identify people at borders and in airports has been tried in limited settings, Ma said, but it is at least a decade if not much further away from becoming real and reliable.

Meanwhile, a handful of consumer apps are using available technology to detect faces in family and party photos — where accuracy is not as important.

On July 1, for example, Facebook announced it would give its users the ability to use facial detection software to select faces from photos on the site.

Facebook’s new feature only selects faces. It doesn’t identify the people in photos by name. But in a blog post, Facebook product manager Sam Odio said that updates to this system will be coming.

“Stay tuned for future posts about other work on browsing, uploading and tagging,” he wrote in the post.

Some photo tools go further than Facebook by identifying people in photos automatically. Face.com, a company that builds the face-recognizing software behind apps like Photo Finder and PhotoTagger, identifies friends in your photos by comparing them with similar shots on Facebook.

The company’s CEO, Gil Hirsch, said the goal is to make photo sharing fast.

“Tagging the whole [photo] album — let’s say 200 photos — takes less than 30 seconds” when using Face.com technology, he said.

Google’s Picasa and Apple’s iPhoto perform similar functions. A Google test product called Goggles may also identify faces from mobile phones.

Michael Sipe, vice president of product development at Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, a Carnegie Mellon University split-off company that makes face-recognizing software and is funded in part by the U.S. military, said the family photo programs are a response to the hassles of curating digital photo collections.

“In general, there’s this tsunami of visual information — images and video — and the tools that people have to make sense of all that information haven’t kept pace with the growth of the production of that information,” he said. “What we have is a tool to help extract meaning from that information by using the most important part of that media, which is people.”

Anil Jain, a distinguished professor of computer science at Michigan State University, said it’s still not easy, however, for computers to identify faces from photos — mostly because the photos people post to the internet are so diverse.

Computers get confused when a photo is too dark, if it’s taken from a weird angle, if the person is wearing a scarf, beard or glasses or if the person in the photo has aged significantly, he said.

Smiling can even be a problem.

“The face is like a deformable surface,” he said. “When you smile, different parts of the face get affected differently. It’s not just like moving some object from one position to another,” which would be easier for a computer to read.

The easiest faces for computers to identify, tech researchers said, are those that are photographed in bright light, with the person facing the camera and wearing a “neutral expression” on his or her face.

In general, facial recognition software works by comparing a picture or video of a face with a database of information about other faces. The software picks up on major facial features — like the distance between a person’s eyes or the location of his or her nose — and looks for an adequate match.

The software works more slowly and is thought to be less accurate when a large number of faces are compared, or when the source image is of low quality.

Still, privacy advocates worry about the future of facial recognition technology.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the motives behind the technology are what worry him.

Governments and corporations intend to use facial recognition software to track the public and to eliminate privacy, he said, noting that automatically identifying people in public in the U.S., when they are not suspected of a crime, could be a violation of constitutional rights.

When facial recognition comes to surveillance cameras, which are already in place, “you’re no longer racing through iPhoto to figure out how many pictures of Barbara you have,” Rotenberg said. “You’re walking around in public and facing cameras that know who you are. And I think that’s a little creepy.”

He said governments should stop investing in facial recognition technology, and the U.S. government should consider regulating how such information is used.

Some security systems that use facial recognition technology in crowds — a difficult feat, technologically — have been abandoned because they weren’t accurate enough. Tampa, Florida, for example, tried in 2001 to use facial recognition technology in conjunction with security cameras to curb crime in a nightclub district called Ybor City. The program was abandoned in 2003 because it was ineffective, according to news reports.

So, for now, facial recognition is mostly making inroads with shutter-happy consumers.

Schlittenhard, who uses Picasa to track friends and family members in her photos, says that for now, these programs are a big help.

“Nothing’s perfect,” she said of the fact that people and lollipops are sometimes misidentified by the free face recognition software. “I don’t expect it to be a cure-all to all my tagging woes, but it makes processing a lot quicker.”

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/07/09/face.recognition.facebook/index.html?hpt=Sbin


Gulf resorts get boost from July 4 holiday Thursday, Jul 8 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

(CNN) — Tourism was “better than expected” over the Fourth of July holiday in some beach communities along the Gulf of Mexico, and the weekend provided a much-needed boost to areas hit hard by the oil disaster.

Holiday occupancy at Gulf Shores Plantation in Gulf Shores, Alabama, reached 60 percent, up from 40 percent to 50 percent in the months since the oil washed ashore.

After next weekend’s popular Jimmy Buffett concert, occupancy is expected to drop back down, said Pedro Mandoki, president of property management group Mandoki Hospitality.

“In a nutshell, this season is pretty well killed,” Mandoki said. Typically occupancy would reach 95 percent to 98 percent over the July Fourth holiday, which is usually the busiest weekend of the year.

Business is down about 50 percent among other area accommodations, but tourism officials are trying to make the best of it, said Mike Foster, a spokesman for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Actually what we’re trying to do is get our industry to focus on the 50 percent that are here and making sure that they have a good time and go home and tell their people about it,” Foster said.

Reassuring potential visitors and maintaining the current occupancy numbers is important, he said.

Popular beach communities farther east fared better over the holiday.

“All in all, we feel like we did fairly well, all things considered,” said Dawn Moliterno, executive director of the Beaches of South Walton Tourism Development Council.

The coastal Florida area had occupancy rates ranging from 60 percent to 98 percent going into the Fourth of July weekend, Moliterno said.

Nearby in Destin, Florida, some properties were reporting 90-plus percent occupancy rates, said Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. Cumulative rates are difficult to gauge, but holiday business looked good.

“Based on traffic on the highways and all of the out-of-state plates, it was a very strong weekend,” Moody said.

“We’d love for it to continue to the middle of August, but right now if we can salvage July, I think that will help a lot of people.”

At Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, just east of Destin, occupancy was only down by about 10 percent from last year, said resort president John Russell.

“It was much better than we expected,” he said.

The resort’s 1,300 units do big business with groups in July, and this year’s bookings for those guests are a little ahead of last year, Russell said.

The non-group leisure travel segment, which makes up about 35 percent of July’s business, is down by half. But this year customers have been booking within a week of arrival, a much shorter window than last year when visitors typically booked three weeks in advance.

Travelers’ wait-and-see stance is nerve-wracking for resort properties.

“That’s the tension of it is you don’t have that business and you don’t know if you’re going to get it or not, but if you sell hard and you’re giving great service and you have good weather, you can get it,” Russell said.

“And we saw that in the Fourth of July.”

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/07/07/july.fourth.gulf.tourism/index.html?hpt=Mid

Would you play ‘Pocket God’? Wednesday, Jul 7 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

(CNN) — “Pocket God” started as a sprint, a week’s worth of work that was supposed to be practice for Dave Castelnuovo’s “real game.”

Instead, it became one of the most popular apps for the iPhone, selling millions of copies and spawning an online community that continues to grow as its creators expand into dolls, comic books and, now, a version for the iPad.

It’s one part video game, rife with juvenile humor, and one part demented virtual sandbox — letting players take care of a tribe of digital islanders or, more likely, dunk them in the ocean, toss them into volcanoes and subject them to other darkly humorous torment.

As of last week, the 99-cent app was nearing 3 million sales, along with another 440,000 purchases of in-game “skins” that let players change the look of the game.

“Pocket God” spent about a month this year as the top-selling iPhone app of all time before being outstripped by casual games “Doodle Jump” and “Angry Birds.”

Not bad for a project that Castelnuovo and designer Allan Dye finished between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2008.

“We didn’t really have high hopes,” Castelnuovo said. “We kind of did something to make ourselves laugh. We said, ‘Whatever. … It’s kind of a throwaway. We’ll work on our real game afterward.’ ”

This year, they’ll look for similar success on the iPad, Apple’s slate-style computer heralded largely as an e-reader and gaming platform.

“Pocket God: Journey to Uranus” is expected to be released this fall, Castelnuovo said. The new version of the game will be available only for the iPad.

Preview images of the game show pygmies, “Pocket God’s” cartoonish and often-bewildered islanders, floating in space and orbiting planets.

Castelnuovo, who was a game developer for Sega and other companies before forming his own Bolt Creative, said the iPad version will feature more detailed graphics and an increased focus on mini-games.

“It’s a completely new game,” he said. “I don’t really believe in taking an existing title and cranking out an exact same clone of the game on every different console out there. If we have a really hardcore fan that has it on both iPad and iPhone, we want them to have a different experience.”

Scott Steinberg, founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV, said “Pocket God” is at the forefront of the rise of casual video games.

“What we’re actually seeing is a casual-game genre, and a platform — the iPhone — that you wouldn’t typically associate with the so-called god games,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg, a freelance gaming blogger for CNN.com, said “Pocket God” harkens to the success of “god games” like “The Sims” — the best-selling PC game of all time — and even earlier titles like “Populous” and “Ultimate Domain.”

“In some sense, it’s just really an offshoot of sandbox play, when you were lining up toy soldiers and castles, then knocking them all down and building them up again,” he said.

The creators of “Pocket God” help keep the game relevant with their frequent updates, Steinberg said, adding bite-size adventures that keep players interested until the next update comes along. (“Pocket God” had been updated 32 times as of Monday).

“When it comes to games, sometimes less is more,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a months-long, world-spanning epic journey that you need to master 67 keyboard strokes to enjoy. Sometimes, a little instant gratification is what the world wants.”

Castelnuovo said “Pocket God” has players of all ages, but the majority are high-school and college age.

He credits the game’s success to not worrying too much early on about how it would be received.

“We made something for us,” he said. “We didn’t really think about the audience. We really didn’t think about the business potential.

“I think a lot of companies, with games in particular, think, ‘What is somebody else going to buy?’ They start to second-guess that instead of building something that they themselves respond to.”

Since “Pocket God” was released, Castelnuovo and Dye have stayed engaged in their player community, largely through the game’s official blog. They began making changes based on player feedback.

Early on, they removed some images from the game that Pacific Islander groups said they considered offensive. They briefly stopped calling their island characters “pygmies” but returned to it, Castelnuovo said, after being assured that it wasn’t considered an insulting term.

He also credits the game’s twisted humor. Updates have frequently had snicker-inducing names like “Shake that App,” “Flipping the Bird” and “Great Job, Ice Hole.”

Players can subject the pygmies to earthquakes, thunderstorms and shark attacks — and those are some of the tamer possibilities.

“I think people really respond to the comic characters, the edgy humor,” Castelnuovo said. “You see that all over the media today — whether it’s Sarah Silverman or ‘South Park.’ I guess for the kids’ part, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ is kind of edgy.

People want to rebel. They want to be bad, but safely be bad.”

A comic book from independent publisher Ape Entertainment and a limited run of plush pygmy dolls are on the way. There’s word from the company that a “Pocket God” app for Google’s Android system also is in the works.

And, Castelnuovo promises, that’s just the “tip of the iceberg” — an iceberg that, no doubt, will be populated by freezing islanders.

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/gaming.gadgets/07/07/pocket.god.ipad/index.html?hpt=Sbin

Fight BP oil spill with Xbox Tuesday, Jul 6 2010 

Courtesy of Tomsguide.com:

Try your hand at this totally unrealistic spin on a real-world crisis.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (the one BP is blamed for) continues to dominate worldwide headlines. Here’s your chance to try out Crisis in the Gulf, an Xbox game that sees you placing specialized submarines to destroy blobs of oil as they try to reach the surface.

Crisis in the Gulf is simply a tower defense game. Ships that shoot high-caliber rounds, torpedoes, and even lasers are at your disposal. Can you stem the tide of the leak, even at the most difficult “Gulf Oil Crisis” level? Find out for the low price of $1 or 80 Microsoft points.

link: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/bp-oil-spill-xbox-game,news-7328.html

The near-future of TV? Thursday, Jul 1 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

(CNN) — With all the free video on the web these days, or compelling new video devices such as Apple’s iPad, it’s tempting to get excited about the day you can fire your cable or satellite TV company and get all your entertainment from Internet streams.

But having spent a few years as an early adopter trying to do this — a “Hulu household,” I called it — and recently caving in and resubscribing to cable, it’s clear to me that the future of TV is simply more TV.

At least for the next several years, the way most people consume video in their homes isn’t going to change much. There may be new gizmos and services to complement or extend your home video entertainment. But the vast majority of television is still going to be watched the old-fashioned way — on a TV set, from a cable or satellite provider.

Case in point: My most recent experiment with mobile TV, a technology that’s been hyped for years but still hasn’t delivered.

Last weekend, I brought my new iPad to the gym, excited to stream some of the afternoon Chicago Cubs game while I worked out.

That’s one of the nice things about Major League Baseball’s “At Bat” iPad app. If you subscribe to the league’s MLB.TV web TV service, you can stream all the live baseball you want to your iPad.

And, in theory, that’s the beauty of the iPad 3G: You don’t need a wi-fi hotspot to access the internet, and can watch live video — such as baseball games, Netflix movies or ABC television shows — anywhere.

But the reality is that the technology just isn’t there yet. After a few seconds of watching, my screen went blank, indicating AT&T’s 3G signal couldn’t keep my video stream alive. Then it switched me to a fuzzier stream of the game, which used less bandwidth. And then it went blank again. I tried to reboot the stream. It worked for a few seconds and then went blank again.

Based on my experience, today’s 3G networks just don’t always have the capacity to reliably handle steady streams of video. It may work sometimes, in some areas, but it’s not reliable.

So I plugged my headphones into the TV set on my elliptical machine — powered by a cable feed of some sort — and watched the rest of a World Cup game. Not as futuristic, but at least it worked.

I experienced different challenges at home while trying to be a “Hulu household.” There was no shortage of sources for streaming video content or new gizmos to try to hook up to my TV to support streaming video.

But if you enjoy even watching a modest amount of video, it’s a lot of work always having to figure out which sites offer which video, how much it costs, which gadget it supports to hook up with the TV and how the video quality would look on a hi-def TV.

And the biggest problems are the small problems: Figuring out what to watch next, and actually going through the relatively easy motions to make it happen. Don’t overlook the simplicity and serendipity of linear television channels, which always have something cued up to watch next.

TV just works. It’s always there, and that’s what people love about it.

So that’s why Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and co-founder of HDNet, cable network HDNet, isn’t crazy when he argues that “The future of TV is … TV.” Despite all the talk about the internet disrupting TV providers, it isn’t happening yet.

A few supporting facts from Nielsen:

People who subscribe to cable and broadband have increased to 66 percent of the U.S. population, up from 55 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the percentage of the population that only subscribes to the internet — and doesn’t subscribe to cable TV — has stayed the same around 4 percent. Online video streaming accounts for less than 2.5 percent of total video consumption.

So when are Google, Apple and everyone else in Silicon Valley going to come and steamroll the cable industry with futuristic products and payment or advertising models? That’s a good question, and we’re still waiting for the answer.

Apple has tried to invade the living room for a few years already with Apple TV, and it’s been one of the company’s biggest flops. Meanwhile, the only thing that’s really exciting about Google’s new Google TV product is that it works with your existing TV service. This suggests that it’s not going to replace your cable subscription for a long time.

Over the next decade, technology will likely enhance TV in the living room, making it better, more interesting and possibly more social. New devices such as the iPad and faster wireless networks may eventually make mobile video a more realistic proposition.

But the Internet isn’t going to knock the TV industry out of business any time soon. And the future of TV is still TV.

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/07/01/future.tv.frommer/index.html?hpt=Sbin

Why women love bloodsuckers Wednesday, Jun 30 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

(CNN) — Vampires, werewolves, fallen angels and fairies lurk in the shadows, their intentions far from honorable. Think I’m talking about villains? No, I’m talking about fiction’s hottest heroes.

Monsters have always been able to elicit thrills and chills, but for a lot of women lately, those shivers are more of delight than fright. Just turn on your TV, visit a movie theater or wander through a bookstore, and you’ll see multiple examples of morally questionable men sporting fangs, fur or fairy wings, all about to sweep women right off their normally sensible feet.

Through fiction and mythology, the paranormal bad boy was usually defeated in the end, but now, you’ll more often find him going home with the girl.

Just look at Charlaine Harris’ vampire Eric Northman. He might be ruthless and manipulative, but he still has women around the world wishing he’d pick their necks to snack on (myself included, heh). Likewise, Kelley Armstrong’s werewolf enforcer Clay is the epitome of antisocial, yet his encounters with Elena are sexier than a throaty growl in the bedroom.

What is it about these anti-heroes that make them so appealing? Is it their good looks –show me an ugly one, and I’ll show you a true rarity — or is something else?

Perhaps some of the appeal of the dangerous-but-yummy paranormal anti-hero lies in his scorn for societal expectations. Yes, women have come a long way, but there are still some cultural stigmas more associated with women than men.

Have a very promiscuous hero? Then, often the consensus is, “lucky heroine, he won’t need to fumble around wondering what to do once the lights are low.”

Have a very promiscuous heroine? Then, inevitably, you’ll see the comment of “slut” come up. In some ways, a supernatural bad boy’s disregard for propriety and his devil-may-care attitude may call to women’s inner rebels.

Or is it the lure of the unusual? Many women today are juggling jobs, families, relationships, school or other responsibilities, not leaving much room for themselves. A fictional hero gifted with mystical abilities, lethal sexiness and a razor-sharp wit is the ultimate fantasy package.

The appeal of the paranormal bad boy — or James Bond super-spy, as one example of male escapism — can sometimes make everyday problems seem less dire. Thus, a few hours spent immersed in the world of the wicked yet alluring hero is the equivalent of a minivacation.

Perhaps it’s the amazing strength of these preternatural protagonists that makes them hard to resist. Today’s heroine is no longer stuck in the role of damsel in distress, but she doesn’t need to worry about rescuing herself and the hero if he’s no stranger to dire supernatural situations.

You won’t catch a paranormal anti-hero being intimidated by a strong woman, either. In fact, more often than not, her strength is what attracted him in the first place. Sure, these hell-raising heroes can be rough on villains — or anyone trying to force them to conform — but you won’t see them raise a hand to the heroine.

Plus, when the cocky hero has no doubt about how bad-ass he is, he’s less hesitant to reveal his feelings to the heroine who catches his heart.

Of course, some of the “bad” boy’s appeal could be derived from answering the question: What if he really isn’t bad? The paranormal bad boy is usually a fiercely loyal partner for the heroine. Once his sights are set on her, he doesn’t notice other women, and he’s utterly unconcerned with what anyone else thinks of his choice.

The heroine also doesn’t have to hide her flaws — he’ll accept her just the way she is. With divorce rates and infidelity being as prominent as they are in the real world, that combination of intensity and devotion, all wrapped up in a supernatural package, can be the literary equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.

Ready or not, today’s creature of the night has evolved from monster to leading man. So, put away the wooden stakes, iron and wolfsbane. Whether it’s because of their wicked smiles, disregard for rules, dedication to the heroine or superhuman abilities, the paranormal bad boy hero is here to stay.

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/06/30/why.women.love.vampires/index.html?hpt=C2

Tech-savvy coupon clipping! Tuesday, Jun 29 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

(CNN) — Forget about the little old lady digging through her cluttered purse in the supermarket checkout line.

Thanks to smartphones, e-mail and sometimes-scary economic news, denizens of the digital world are now the ones clipping coupons — even when there’s not an actual piece of paper involved.

With services such as the iPhone app Scoutmob and e-mail offerings such as Groupon and Living Social Deals, experts say it’s now hip to be cheap.

“The advent of digital savings tools coupled with a challenging economy has taken couponing mainstream,” said Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons.com. “All sorts of people, including what we call the ‘sophisticated couponer,’ are proudly aboard the couponing bandwagon.”

A recent survey by Harris Interactive showed that coupon use, particularly online coupon use, has spiked among a nontraditional population — those who are urban, well-to-do and tech-savvy.

In the survey, six out of 10 adults with household incomes over $100,000 said they had used a coupon in the past six months.

Four out of 10 of them said they got that coupon online — a rate nearly twice that of people who made $35,000 or less.

Keila Kirkpatrick said she started hearing friends talk about Groupon, a location-based service that deals out a daily bargain in subscribers’ hometowns, along with a punchy, fun e-mail description of that deal.

“I signed up to see what all the buzz was about, and turned out that they had some really good deals,” said Kirkpatrick, 23, who had recently moved to Washington to work for Americorps.

Since then, she’s used Groupons for a Korean restaurant that she’d never tried and Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

For the online coupon companies, encouraging that sort of urban exploring is part of the sales pitch.

“Our point, simply put, is to help you be a better local,” says Scoutmob’s website. “The only way to really get to know your city is by getting out, being curious and exploring the scene for all its worth.”

Scoutmob capitalizes on the rise of mobile social networking apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla, which let people “check in” to locations, alerting their digital friends to their whereabouts. Its original aim was to, in effect, create flash mobs at participating businesses which would offer a coupon for a short time, usually 24 hours.

But recently, many have extended their deals, allowing users to better plan social outings based around current offers.

The Scoutmob app runs only on the iPhone. The phone’s screen, in effect, acts as a user’s coupon.

Scoutmob co-founder Michael Tavani said the Atlanta-based company has spent almost nothing on marketing, with word of mouth spreading the app’s popularity in the 12 U.S. cities where it’s available. (Scoutmob’s website shows a 13th that will be familiar to fans of “The Simpsons,” the fictional Springfield).

Between 1,500 and 2,500 people claim a Scoutmob coupon everyday, Tavani said. Then, those “mobsters,” in the lingo of the application’s regulars, plan “mob hits,” visits to a spot by sometimes as many as 25 people at once.

Scoutmob doesn’t release its total number of subscribers.

At Groupon, the growth has been swift and strong, from about 400 subscribers when they started in November 2008 to roughly 5 million in the United States and another 1 million in Europe, according to founder and CEO Andrew Mason.

Groupon, which makes its money on revenue-sharing with the businesses it features, is active in 50 cities in the United States and 60 in Europe.

“It just resonated well with consumers,” Mason said.

He points to a recent deal for a boat tour in Chicago, Illinois. Groupon and the tour company expected to sell a few thousand tickets, total. Instead, they sold 20,000 in the first few hours.

“If you think about any other advertising medium, it wouldn’t have done that for this company,” Mason said. “That’s the power of the social commerce we’ve created.”

He, too, links the success of digital coupons to the emergence of online social-networking — calling Groupon an extension of the “friending” functionality that sites such as Facebook and Twitter have popularized.

“The holy grail is how can we make e-commerce social,” Mason said. “Usually, [a coupon] is a pretty solitary, one-to-one experience. But we’re helping consumers discover things.

“Somebody sees a screaming deal on paintball and, instead of buying one Groupon, they’re telling 10, 20, 30 of their friends and sharing it on Twitter and e-mail and Facebook.”

Heather Sokol does just that, as well as spreading word of coupons she likes on her “frugal blog network,” Inexpensively.

“When I find a deal worth sharing, I tell Inexpensively readers, friends, family and Twitter or Facebook,” said the Indianapolis, Indiana-based blogger.

One potential concern, as these coupon applications grow in popularity, is that they could end up being too much of a good thing for some participating businesses.

The price cuts offered are sometimes steep, and a small business swarmed with eager subscribers could be trading some significant profit losses in the short term for potential customer gains in the long term.

“Our platform is not right for every business, especially smaller businesses that can’t handle the traffic,” said Scoutmob’s Tavani. “[But] businesses that are scaled to serve many customers are ideal customers and loving the new customers we’re driving them.”

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/06/25/online.coupons/index.html?hpt=Sbin

Watch out Smart Car! Monday, Jun 28 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

London, England (CNN) — His most famous car has a top speed of 240 miles per hour.

With a top speed of 80 mph, Gordon Murray’s latest design isn’t likely to trouble too many speed cameras, but it shouldn’t worry environmentalists either.

The former Formula One engineer who created the iconic McLaren F1 supercar has officially unveiled the T.25 — his idea for a new class of city car.

Murray and his team based in Shalford, south east England have been working on the design for the past three years and, until now, have kept the exact details of the car firmly under wraps.

The car made its first public appearance on Monday at the UK’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford.

At less than eight feet long and a little over four feet wide, the T.25 is smaller than Daimler AG’s popular Smart car, and a petrol engine model will retail for around $9,000.

The price tag isn’t exactly Formula One, but the technology and thinking employed to create the T.25 certainly is.

The centralized driving position — also a feature of Murray’s McLaren F1 — and central instrumentation and controls are perhaps its most obvious traits borrowed from Formula One.

Others might not be so easy to spot, but they are no less important to the overall design.

The T.25 is light, weighing in at just 550 kilograms, helping it achieve a fuel efficiency of around 74 miles per gallon.

A chassis design based on “Formula One derived materials, philosophy and technology” provides an “immensely strong structure,” says Murray and body panels are also easier to replace in the event of damage.

A flat under-floor design also improves overall aerodynamics.

One thing the car most definitely does not share with an F1 car is its turning circle, which at six-meters — a Smart car’s is nearly nine meters, a BMW Mini’s over ten — makes it highly maneuverable in an urban setting.

Inside, the modular interior allowing for six different configurations, which can be easily adjusted to accommodate passengers or used as storage space.

You’ll find it hard to lose a wing mirror as they both sit within the overall width of the car and fuel caps are situated on either side of the car.

The T.25’s also has an electric cousin, the T.27, which Murray says will have a range of 80-100 miles and cost around $18,000.

Gordon Murray Design has also developed a new manufacturing concept especially for the T.25.

“iStream” is “a complete rethink and redesign of the traditional manufacturing process,” he says, which simplifies the auto assembly line by allowing all major components to be fitted directly on to the chassis prior to the body panels, which are also pre-painted.

The streamlining of the process could mean smaller, more efficient auto plants which reduce the overall carbon footprint of the car.

Holger Erker, managing director of the German engineering consultancy, IPE Engineering, was asked to provide independent analysis and verify the principles set out by Murray’s “iStream” concept.

He’s convinced of its benefits.

“It is the most radical change in, let’s say, the last 100 years of car body making. With “iStream” one of the most cost intensive production steps — body panel press shop — is completely eliminated,” Erker told CNN.

Erker, who has worked as an auto industry consultant for two decades, believes Murray’s manufacturing concept provides more flexibility than any other current car manufacturing process.

“Flexibility is what all of the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers) are trying to bring to their current car plants. “iStream” is already there,” Erker said.

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/06/28/murray.green.car.launch/index.html?hpt=C2

iPhone 4 hits stores today! Thursday, Jun 24 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — They call it the Jesus Phone, and the scene outside Apple’s New York City flagship store did have something of the air of a religious event an hour before the iPhone 4 was slated to go on sale Thursday morning.

More than 600 aspiring buyers filled the plaza outside the iconic Fifth Avenue glass cube — and a line of hundreds more stretched on behind them, filling an entire city block. Passersby chattered with the gathered throngs while marketers circled: AOL (AOL) earned fans by handing out 500 Magnolia Bakery cupcakes. Vuvuzelas blared, and the crowd cheered and applauded as opening hour neared.

New York resident Joe Duffy, 43, turned up at 4 a.m. to join the line, snagging one of the last spots on the barricades outside the store’s door.

“I knew it would sell out and be really popular. I’m lucky to get the spot I did,” Duffy said. His “lucky” spot had him behind more than 500 other shoppers hoping to snag one of Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) limited supply for walk-in customers.

Nearer to the front of the line, a mere 200 or so back, Karl Kozma clocked his 27th hour on line. But the wait would be worth it, he vowed. He likes the iPhone 4’s improved screen resolution and speed.

Those who pre-ordered their phones earlier this month will be able to pick them up starting at 7 a.m. But with Apple’s pre-sale inventory sold out until August, braving an epic line is one of the only ways to get hold of the coveted gadget.

“Steve Jobs is a marketing genius. He sold me on the look and style and FaceTime,” Duffy said, referring to the new phone’s video-calling app.

This will the fourth iPhone for Duffy, who has faithfully upgraded every year when the annual release hits. But this one blows past its predecessor, he said: “The phone has double everything that the 3GS has.”

Minutes after 7 a.m., Evan Wiendczak became the first customer to leave the store with a phone. His plan for his new device’s maiden voyage: “I’m going to call my mom,” said the Boston resident, 18. “She’s the most important person in my life.”

Wiendczak had pre-ordered his phone, staying up all night and battling system crashes for four hours before successfully completing his order. Even though his phone’s arrival was guaranteed, Wiendczak queued up at the Apple store to ensure he would get it first thing. He waited 48 hours.

At an Apple store in Atlanta, college student Seth Herren also logged two full days in line awaiting a phone.

The scene was a stark contrast just a few blocks away, at other retailers on the periphery of the iPhone 4’s debut. A nearby AT&T store, set to open at 7 a.m. so customers with pre-orders could pick them up, had no one waiting.

The first iPhone customer, Mani Haque, walked in 10 minutes after opening. He pre-ordered his phone through the store last week (after trying, and failing, to complete an order on AT&T’s crashed website), and was told it would arrive at 3 p.m.

Haque turned up eight hours early, having heard that some shipped iPhones were already in customers’s hands, but he didn’t score: The store told him to come back in the afternoon.

Others who arrived without pre-orders also left empty-handed. AT&T said it won’t start selling the iPhone 4 to walk-in buyers until June 29, and it stuck by that statement Thursday morning. Customers who turned up seeking one were set away. (For more on the iPhones in short supply at other retailers, click here.)

Some iPhone 4 buyers managed to snag their coveted devices early: FedEx shipments began arriving as early as Tuesday. CNN iReporter Keith Taylor, 23, got his in the mail Wednesday and promptly used the gadget’s front-facing camera to shoot a short video review.

“The FedEx driver walked in with a big smile on his face and asked, ‘Who do you know at Apple? This is the only one on my truck today,'” said Taylor, a resident of Sarasota, Fla. “Needless to say, I was pretty excited when it arrived before most of the known worlds’.”

So far, he’s thrilled with the phone’s upgrades. “I’m amazed at the difference in resolution,” he said. “Even text message print is so clear. It’s like reading from a Kindle or e-reader.”

Link: http://money.cnn.com/2010/06/24/technology/apple_iphone/index.htm

Be mindful of what you’re eating! Tuesday, Jun 22 2010 

Courtesy of CNN.com:

1. Xanthan gum

Sure the word “xanthan” sounds a little ominous, and yes, the stuff is made from the bacteria that cause black rot on broccoli plants. But xanthan gum is a pretty benign substance. When the bacteria (called Xanthomonas campestris, if you’re a scientist) is mixed with corn sugar, it produces a tasteless, colorless goop that can be used as a thickener. It keeps ice cream from crystallizing and is what gives gluten-free bread its spongy texture. Some people may be allergic to it, but it’s pretty much as harmless as you can get.

2. Tertiary butylhydroquinone

In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan wrote that this additive –- known as TBHQ -– was “perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget.” He listed a bunch of terrifying symptoms that might result from ingesting a single gram of the stuff. Of course, to get a whole gram, you’d need to eat over 300 nuggets at one sitting. So while TBHQ is pretty nasty stuff, it probably won’t do anything bad to you in the short term. It’s an antioxidant; it keeps cooking oil from going bad. McDonald’s sprays it on nuggets to preserve a “fresh” taste. Derived from petroleum, it’s also popularly used in paints and varnishes.

3. Sodium stearoyl lactylate

You know how you use the expression “like oil and water” for two things that will never blend? Through the magic science of sodium stearoyl lactylate, oil and water blend perfectly well. It’s used in Twinkies, flour tortillas and many other packed baked goods. No studies have shown it to be harmful, but because the chemical is made from lactic acid, it does tend to make vegans a little nervous. Most of what’s used in food comes from cocoa butter and other vegetable sources, though, so they can eat all the tortillas they want.

4. Phosphoric acid

That tangy “bite” you feel when you take a swig of cola comes from phosphoric acid, an inexpensive chemical made from minerals treated with sulfuric acid. It’s also used in paint stripper, but in much higher concentrations. Those stories you might have heard about Coke melting metal aren’t really true; the soft drink isn’t any more corrosive than orange juice. But the jury’s till out on phosphoric acid. Some studies have suggested that it can leach calcium out of the body, leading to weaker bones.

5. Cochineal extract

Good news: cochineal extract is all natural and has been used as a coloring for centuries. Possibly gross news: It’s made from bugs. Tiny insects that live on cactuses in Mexico and South America are dried and crushed to make the bright red coloring. The Aztecs dyed their clothing with it. Since several artificial red food colorings were found to cause cancer, it’s been used more in food. You can find it juice drinks, processed meats, cheese and cookies (a more refined version is known as carmine or Natural Red #4). Some people have mild allergic reactions, but other than the ick factor, there’s nothing harmful about the substance.

6. Soy lecithin

Soy lecithin shows up in a lot of ingredient lists. In candy bars, it keeps the cocoa and the cocoa butter from separating; in baked goods, it makes the dough less sticky. It’s a natural product, chemically extracted from the sludge left over after pressing soybean oil. While some anti-soy crusaders claim it should be avoided, other studies suggest that it could lower your cholesterol: It contains the nutrient choline, which is a popular supplement in vitamin shops.

Link: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2010/06/22/9-scary-sounding-food-additives%E2%80%A6and-what-they-really-are/?hpt=C2

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