Businesses

Inside Ford's New Silicon Valley Lab 14

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-a-look-around dept.
An anonymous reader writes Engadget takes a look at Ford's new Research and Innovation Center located in Palo Alto. The company hopes to use the new facility to speed the development of projects such as autonomous cars and better natural voice recognition. From the article: "This isn't Ford's first dance with the Valley — it actually started its courtship several years ago when it opened its inaugural Silicon Valley office in 2012. The new center, however, is a much bigger effort, with someone new at the helm. That person is Dragos Maciuca, a former Apple engineer with significant experience in consumer electronics, semiconductors, aerospace and automotive tech. Ford also hopes to build a team of 125 professionals under Maciuca, which would make the company one of the largest dedicated automotive research teams in the Valley."
Government

Verizon, Cable Lobby Oppose Spec-Bump For Broadband Definition 141

Posted by timothy
from the never-let-the-government-define-words dept.
WheezyJoe writes Responding to the FCC's proposal to raise the definition of broadband from 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, the lobby group known as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) wrote in an FCC filing Thursday that 25Mbps/3Mbps isn't necessary for ordinary people. The lobby alleges that hypothetical use cases offered for showing the need for 25Mbps/3Mbps "dramatically exaggerate the amount of bandwidth needed by the typical broadband user", referring to parties in favor of the increase like Netflix and Public Knowledge. Verizon, for its part, is also lobbying against a faster broadband definition. Much of its territory is still stuck on DSL which is far less capable of 25Mbps/3Mbps speeds than cable technology.

The FCC presently defines broadband as 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up, a definition that hasn't changed since 2010. By comparison, people in Sweden can pay about $40 a month for 100/100 mbps, choosing between more than a dozen competing providers. The FCC is under mandate to determine whether broadband is being deployed to Americans in a reasonable and timely way, and the commission must take action to accelerate deployment if the answer is negative. Raising the definition's speeds provides more impetus to take actions that promote competition and remove barriers to investment, such as a potential move to preempt state laws that restrict municipal broadband projects.
Communications

For New Yorkers, Cablevision Introduces a Wi-Fi-Centric VoiP Network 33

Posted by timothy
from the they'll-take-manhattan dept.
The New York Times reports that Cablevision Systems plans to announce on Monday the start of a low-cost mobile phone service that will use Wi-Fi for connectivity rather than standard cellular networks, the first such service to be introduced by a cable operator. Called Freewheel, the service will offer unlimited data, talking and texting worldwide for $29.95 a month, or $9.95 a month for Cablevision’s Optimum Online customers — a steep discount compared with standard offerings from traditional cellular carriers. Freewheel customers initially must use a specific Motorola Moto G smartphone, which is being sold for $99.95. The service goes on sale next month, and no annual contract is required. (Reuters carries a similar story.)
Businesses

Calif. DMV Back-Pedals On Commercial-Plate Mandate For Ride-Share Drivers 187

Posted by timothy
from the can-your-neighbor-lend-you-a-cup-of-transportation dept.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that In an abrupt U-turn, the California Department of Motor Vehicles late Friday retracted its finding that drivers for ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar must obtain commercial license plates. That determination — based on a 1935 state law — ignited a firestorm of criticism from the San Francisco startups and their supporters as stifling innovation. Commercial licenses are cumbersome to obtain, meaning they could impede the companies’ growth, which relies on getting new drivers, many of whom work just part time, into service quickly. And commercial registration probably would have necessitated that drivers get commercial insurance, which is significantly more expensive than personal auto insurance. Republican Assembly members threatened legislation over the “nonsensical” interpretation if the DMV didn’t reconsider its stance before Feb. 17. Now the department says it will do just that. That doesn't mean drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft can expect to be left alone by the DMV, though, which according to the article "will meet with regulators and the industry to work through the issue."
Education

Brought To You By the Letter R: Microsoft Acquiring Revolution Analytics 100

Posted by timothy
from the interesting-choice-of-letter dept.
theodp writes Maybe Bill Gates' Summer Reading this year will include The Art of R Programming. Pushing further into Big Data, Microsoft on Friday announced it's buying Revolution Analytics, the top commercial provider of software and services for the open-source R programming language for statistical computing and predictive analytics. "By leveraging Revolution Analytics technology and services," blogged Microsoft's Joseph Sirosh, "we will empower enterprises, R developers and data scientists to more easily and cost effectively build applications and analytics solutions at scale." Revolution Analytics' David Smith added, "Now, Microsoft might seem like a strange bedfellow for an open-source company [RedHat:Linux as Revolution Analytics:R], but the company continues to make great strides in the open-source arena recently." Now that it has Microsoft's blessing, is it finally time for AP Statistics to switch its computational vehicle to R?
Bitcoin

Winklevoss Twins Plan Regulated Bitcoin Exchange 78

Posted by timothy
from the trust-us-there-are-two-of-us dept.
itwbennett writes They of the square jaws and famous dispute with Mark Zuckerberg over the origins of Facebook, are also believed to be among the largest holders of Bitcoin in the world. Now they want to launch a regulated Bitcoin exchange—named Gemini, of course. To bolster confidence, they said they have formed a relationship with a chartered bank in the state of New York. "This means that your money will never leave the country," the twins wrote in a blog post. "It also means that U.S. dollars on Gemini will be eligible for FDIC insurance and held by a U.S.-regulated bank.
Businesses

Smartphones, Tablets and EBay Send SkyMall To Chapter 11 65

Posted by timothy
from the not-to-mention-deal-extreme-and-amazon dept.
alphadogg writes SkyMall, the quirky airline catalog, looks as though it may be grounded before long. Parent company Xhibit has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and seeks to sell its assets. In an SEC filing, Xhibit explains that it has fallen victim to an "intensely competitive" direct marketing retail industry that now includes the likes of eBay and Amazon.com. Smartphones and tablets are largely to blame for SkyMall's downfall, according to the SEC filing. "Historically, the SkyMall catalog was the sole in-flight option for potential purchasers of products to review while traveling. With the increased use of electronic devices on planes, fewer people browsed the SkyMall in-flight catalog."
Verizon

Verizon About To End Construction of Its Fiber Network 192

Posted by Soulskill
from the you're-stuck-with-comcast dept.
WheezyJoe writes: If you've been holding out hope that FiOS would rescue you from your local cable monopoly, it's probably time to give up. Making good on their statements five years ago, Verizon announced this week it is nearing "the end" of its fiber construction and is reducing wireline capital expenditures while spending more on wireless.

The expense of replacing old copper lines with fiber has allegedly led Verizon to stop building in new regions and to complete wiring up the areas where it had already begun. The fiber network was profitable, but nowhere near as profitable as their wireless network. So, if Verizon hasn't started in your neighborhood by now, they never will, and you'd best ignore all those ads for FiOS.
Transportation

Local Motors Looks To Disrupt the Auto Industry With 3D-Printed Car Bodies 120

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-wouldn't-download-a-car? dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Local Motors solicits design ideas through crowdsourcing, allows anyone to use open source software to contribute ideas, and then 3D prints car bodies according to the chosen specs in a matter of days. To prove they mean business, Local Motors 3D-printed a car on the floor of the Detroit Auto Show last week. "It took 44 hours to print the Strati’s 212 layers. Once 3D printing is complete, the Strati moves to a Thermwood CNC router—a computer-controlled cutting machine that mills the finer details—before undergoing the final assembly process, which adds the drivetrain, electrical components, wiring, tires, gauges, and a showroom-ready paint job."

Here's another big difference from the current auto industry: "Customers can also bring their vehicles in at any time for hardware and software upgrades, or they can choose to melt their vehicle down and, for instance, add a seat. Because Local Motors uses a distributed manufacturing system to make only what is purchased, it doesn't stock inventory. Anyone can come into a Local Motors microfactory, use its design lab, and work on a vehicle project free of charge."
Transportation

Fake Engine Noise Is the Auto Industry's Dirty Little Secret 790

Posted by timothy
from the mazda-puts-it-right-up-front dept.
HughPickens.com writes Stomp on the gas in a new Ford Mustang or F-150 and you'll hear a meaty, throaty rumble — the same style of roar that Americans have associated with auto power and performance for decades. Now Drew Harwell reports at the Washington Post that the auto industry's dirty little secret is that the engine growl in some of America's best-selling cars and trucks is actually a finely tuned bit of lip-syncing, boosted through special pipes or digitally faked altogether. "Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry's dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks," writes Harwell. "Without them, today's more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away." For example Ford sound engineers and developers worked on an "Active Noise Control" system on the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost that amplifies the engine's purr through the car speakers. Afterward, the automaker surveyed members of Mustang fan clubs on which processed "sound concepts" they most enjoyed.

Among purists, the trickery has inspired an identity crisis and cut to the heart of American auto legend. The "aural experience" of a car, they argue, is an intangible that's just as priceless as what's revving under the hood. "For a car guy, it's literally music to hear that thing rumble," says Mike Rhynard, "It's a mind-trick. It's something it's not. And no one wants to be deceived." Other drivers ask if it really matters if the sound is fake? A driver who didn't know the difference might enjoy the thrum and thunder of it nonetheless. Is taking the best part of an eight-cylinder rev and cloaking a better engine with it really, for carmakers, so wrong? "It may be a necessary evil in the eyes of Ford," says Andrew Hard, "but it's sad to think that an iconic muscle car like the Mustang, a car famous for its bellowing, guttural soundtrack, has to fake its engine noise in 2015. Welcome to the future."
Media

The Untold Story of the Invention of the Game Cartridge 60

Posted by timothy
from the complete-with-diagrams dept.
harrymcc writes In 1973, an obscure company which had been making electronic cash registers looked for a new business opportunity. It ended up inventing the game cartridge--an innovation which kickstarted a billion-dollar industry and helped establish videogames as a creative medium. The story has never been told until now, but over at Fast Company, Benj Edwards chronicles the fascinating tale, based on interviews with the engineers responsible for the feat back in the mid-1970s.
Blackberry

Blackberry CEO: Net Neutrality Means Mandating Cross-Platform Apps 307

Posted by timothy
from the fantasy-world-of-atlas-shrugged dept.
DW100 writes In a bizarre public blog post the CEO of BlackBerry, John Chen, has claimed that net neutrality laws should include forcing app developers to make their services available on all operating systems. Chen even goes as far as citing Apple's iMessage tool as a service that should be made available for BlackBerry, because at present the lack of an iMessage BlackBerry app is holding the firm back. Some excerpts from Chen's plea: Netflix, which has forcefully advocated carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. ... Neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system. Since "content providers" are writing code they think makes sense for one reason or another (expected returns financial or psychic), a mandate to write more code seems like a good way to re-learn why contract law frowns on specific performance.
Businesses

Simon Pegg On Board To Co-Write Next Star Trek Film 135

Posted by timothy
from the scotty-gets-the-girl-and-saves-the-universe dept.
According to a report at The Verge, itself based on another at Deadline.com, Shaun of the Dead creator Simon Pegg is to co-write (along with Doug Jung) the next Star Trek film. Pegg is also signed on to play Scotty, as he did in both the Star Trek reboot and Into Darkness.
Google

Tracking Down How Many (Or How Few) People Actively Use Google+ 209

Posted by samzenpus
from the run-the-numbers dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Business Insider is reporting that despite billions of sign-ups, almost nobody is publicly active on Google+. Analytics and visualization blogger Kevin Anderson studied data compiled by Edward Morbius, who says that just 9% of Google+'s 2.2 billion users actively post public content. "We've got a grand spanking total of 24 profiles out of 7,875 whose 2015 post activity isn't YouTube comments but Google+ posts. That a 0.3% rate of all profile pages, going back to our 2.2 billion profiles. No wonder Dave Besbris (Google+ boss) doesn't want to talk about numbers," Morbius writes. For those interested both his methodology and the scripts used can be found here.
Bitcoin

Jim Blasko Explains 'Unbreakable Coin' (Video 2 of 2) 39

Posted by timothy
from the is-it-cryptocurrency-or-cryptic-currency? dept.
Today, the conclusion of my talk with Jim Blasko (here's part 1), who encourages you to go start your own crypto currency, because it's a fun exercise and because every entrant adds new ideas to the mix. As you'd expect, he's bullish about both his own Unbreakable Coin and cryptocurrencies more generally; how any given given currency performs, though, is an open question: U.S. dollars, Euros, or Yen may not go experience any meteoric rises, but their stability, even with inflation, is a nice feature, and so is their worldwide convertibility.

Regulation, speculation, fraud, and cultural fashions all play a role in making new currencies risky; reader mbkennel yesterday asked an insightful question: "Are you up to loaning bitcoin or something less popular for 10 years?" Confidence in any given currency can be tested with the terms current holders are willing to accept to make loans payable in that same currency. (On the other hand, if large companies will accept it in payment, they've probably got an idea that a given currency will be around next month or next year.) If you've bought any form of crypto currency, what's been your experience, and what do you expect in 10 years? (Alternate Video Link)
Crime

Silk Road 2.0 Deputy Arrested 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the book-him dept.
An anonymous reader writes With the Ulbricht trial ongoing in a case over the original Silk Road, Homeland Security agents have made another arrest in the Silk Road 2.0 case more than two and a half months after the site was shut down. This time they arrested Brian Richard Farrell who went by the moniker "DoctorClu." From the article: "Homeland Security agents tracked Silk Road 2.0 activity to Farrell's Bellevue home in July, according to an affidavit by Special Agent Michael Larson. In the months that followed, agents watched his activities and interviewed a roommate who said Farrell received UPS, FedEx and postal packages daily. One package was found to contain 107 Xanax pills, Larson said. That led to a search on Jan. 2 that recovered computers, drug paraphernalia, silver bullion bars worth $3,900, and $35,000 in cash, Larson said."
Google

What Will Google Glass 2.0 Need To Actually Succeed? 322

Posted by samzenpus
from the laying-out-the-plan dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes As previously rumored, Google has discontinued selling Google Glass, its augmented-reality headset... but it could be coming out with something new and (supposedly) improved. The company has placed a relentlessly positive spin on its decision: "Glass was in its infancy, and you took those very first steps and taught us how to walk," reads a posting on the Google+ page for Glass. "Well, we still have some work to do, but now we're ready to put on our big kid shoes and learn how to run." Formerly a project of the Google X research lab, Glass will now be overseen by Tony Fadell, the CEO of Google subsidiary (and Internet of Things darling) Nest; more than a few Glass users are unhappy with Google's decision. If Google's move indeed represents a quiet period before a relaunch, rather than an outright killing of the product, what can it do to ensure that Glass's second iteration proves more of a success? Besides costing less (the original Glass retailed for $1,500 from Google's online storefront), Google might want to focus on the GoPro audience, or simply explain to consumers why they actually need a pair of glasses with an embedded screen. What else could they do to make Glass 2.0 (whatever it looks like) succeed?
Businesses

The Tech Industry's Legacy: Creating Disposable Employees 263

Posted by Soulskill
from the train-your-replacement-to-train-your-replacement dept.
An anonymous reader writes: VentureBeat is running an indictment of the tech industry's penchant for laying off huge numbers of people, which they say is responsible for creating a culture of "disposable employees." According to recent reports, layoffs in the tech sector reached over 100,000 last year, the highest total since 2009. Of course, there are always reasons for layoffs: "Companies buy other companies and need to rationalize headcount. And there's all that disruption. Big companies, in particular, are seeing their business models challenged by startups, so they need to shed employees with skills they no longer need, and hire people with the right skills."

But the article argues that this is often just a smokescreen. "The notion here is that somehow these companies are backed into a corner, with no other option than to fire people. And that's just not true. These companies are making a choice. They're deciding that it's faster and cheaper to chuck people overboard and find new ones than it is to retrain them. The economics of cutting rather than training may seem simple, but it's a more complex calculation than most people believe. ... Many of these companies are churning through employees, laying off hundreds on one hand, while trying to hire hundreds more."
Windows

Windows Server 2003 Reaches End of Life In July 156

Posted by Soulskill
from the countdown-to-crying dept.
Several readers sent word that we're now less than six months away from the end of support for Windows Server 2003. Though the operating system's usage peaked in 2009, it still runs on millions of machines, and many IT departments are just now starting to look at replacements. Although Microsoft publishes support deadlines long in advance -- and has been beating the drum to dump Server 2003 for months -- it's not unusual for customers to hang on too long. Last year, as Windows XP neared its final days of support, there were still huge numbers of systems running the aged OS. Companies lined up to pay Microsoft for extended support contracts and PC sales stabilized in part because enterprises bought new replacement machines. Problems replacing Windows Server 2003 may appear similar at first glance, but they're not: Servers are critical to a business because of the applications that run on them, which may have to be rewritten or replaced.

[In many cases, legacy applications are the sole reason for the continued use of Server 2003.] Those applications may themselves be unsupported at this point, the company that built them may be out of business or the in-house development team may have been disbanded. Any of those scenarios would make it difficult or even impossible to update the applications' code to run on a newer version of Windows Server. Complicating any move is the fact that many of those applications are 32-bit -- and have been kept on Windows Server 2003 for that reason -- and while Windows Server 2012 R2 offers a compatibility mode to run such applications, it's not foolproof.
Google

Google Thinks the Insurance Industry May Be Ripe For Disruption 237

Posted by Soulskill
from the think-twice-about-googling-your-symptoms dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The insurance industry is a fat target — there's were about $481 billion in premiums in 2013, and agents' commissions of about $50 billion. Now Conor Dougherty writes in the NYT that the boring but lucrative trade has been attracting big names like Google, which has formed a partnership with Comparenow, an American auto insurance comparison site that will give Google access to insurers in Comparenow's network. "A lot of people are waking up to the fact that it's a massive industry, it's old-fashioned, they still use human agents and the commissions are pretty big," says Jennifer Fitzgerald. It may seem like an odd match for Google, whose projects include driverless cars, delivery drones and a pill to detect cancer, but the key to insurance is having lots of data about people's backgrounds and habits, which is perhaps the company's greatest strength. "They have a ton of data on where people drive, how people drive," says Jon McNeill. "It's the holy grail of being able to price auto insurance correctly."

People in the industry and Silicon Valley say it is only a matter of time before online agencies attack the armies of intermediaries that are the backbone of the trade, and Google could present formidable competition for other insurance sellers. As many as two-thirds of insurance customers say they would consider purchasing insurance products from organizations other than insurers, including 23 percent who would consider buying from online service providers such as Google and Amazon. Google Compare auto insurance site has already been operating in Britain for two years as a search engine for auto insurance prices.