In the Chip War, Intel’s Rival Is ARMed and Dangerous [GigaOM]

Last week ARM, the company that licenses its low-power cores to those building everything from mobile phones to consumer home devices, announced a new iteration of its A-9 family of processor cores that can achieve speeds of 2 GHz. Dubbed Ospery, ARM hopes this design will help move its chips upmarket into netbooks, routers and base stations for homes and smaller businesses, as well as high-end set-top boxes. Ironically, a week later, its largest rival, Intel, announced its own high-end chip designed for the set-top box and TV market where ARM is winning business.

Today, I went to the ARM offices in Austin to visit with Nandan Nayampally, director of CPU product marketing for the company. We talked about Osprey, the fact that ARM partners sold 4 billion ARM-based chips in 2008 compared with 12 billion over the last 15 years, and how the x86, MIPs and PowerPC architectures will fare as device makers cram the web into their wares and Intel tries to make sure its chips are in there with it. The first two minutes focus on ARM’s business model and is aimed at those who may not know about its licensing focus. As for anyone familiar with my previous video efforts, you’ll be pleased to note that this time, I remembered my tripod!

From the Tips Box: Receipt Tracking, Frozen Foods, and Preventing Syncs [From The Tips Box]

Lifehacker readers offer tips for automating receipt tracking, frozen food shopping, and we learn a quick trick for stopping our MP3 players from syncing when we plug them in.

Don't like the gallery layout? Click here to view everything on one page.

About the Tips Box: Every day we receive boatloads of great reader tips in our inbox (tips at lifehacker.com), but for various reasons—maybe they're a bit too niche, maybe we couldn't find a good way to present it, or maybe we just couldn't fit it in—the tip didn't make the front page. From the Tips Box is where we round up some of our favorites for your buffet-style consumption.

Avoid Refrozen Bags When Shopping for Frozen Foods

Photo by paulidin

Menzies gives us a pointer about grocery shopping:

I've got a tip on buying frozen food, for those nights when you just don't have enough time to make dinner and sleep at a reasonable hour. Whether buying raw shrimp or frozen berries, when buying a bag of individually-frozen goods, always feel for loosely packed contents, and stay away from bags with a solid frozen block of ice inside.

If indeed the contents are meant to be individually frozen, then they can really only form a solid block if it has experienced prolonged thawing/re-freezing cycles. Especially when buying raw meats, evidence of this type of treatment should be avoided.


Keep Track of Online Purchases with Email Filters

Photo by Carly & Art

Shandog writes about how he keeps track of online purchases:

I like to make a lot of online purchases and use my Gmail for all of the orders. Sometime after when I want to check my bank account or I have a problem with the product I would need to search through hundreds of emails to find these receipts or I would have to guess some search terms and hope they work. So I came up with a filter that has so far not failed me. By filtering out these terms "Order Confirmation", "Order Shipped" and "Your Order" I have rounded up almost 95% of my receipts and labeled them as purchases. On the odd occasion that one is missed, I add the label and then scan it for a generic 'receipt' term to add to the filter.


Prevent Your Peripherals from Syncing with Some Tape

Photo by R4vi

Smudge00 has a tip that might not apply to all MP3 players, but could come in handy for any USB chargeable device:

Occasionally I want to charge my MP3 player with the supplied USB cable and listen to music on it simultaneously, but when I connect the player to the computer, it goes into "USB docked mode" and therefore I can't use the player until it is fully charged and I unplug it again. The solution is putting a narrow piece of electrical tape over the two inner contacts inside the computer end of the usb cable. Since the outer two contacts are used for power and the inner two are for data, the tape stops the computer from connecting to the MP3 player making it possible to charge the player and still use it.

This trick could be used to prevent your media player from syncing with your computer when you're just looking for a quick charge without any sort of delay.

Beware of Germs When Napping

Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Wratch6647 has a bit of a warning for those of us prone to napping in odd spots:

Reading the about the DIY hand sanitizer reminded me that cold and flu season is indeed coming. People who are still in school and might be pulling all-nighters or partying (which would also weaken the immune system) should be wary about putting their heads on the desk if they decide to take a little nap time in class. Reason for this is, someone else might have taken a nap in that same desk and left some germs on it, and think about it, that desk is probably touched by a lot of people and really it only takes one person not to wash their hands...




Crossing Diesels with Plug-In Hybrids: Good or Bad Idea? [Earth2Tech]

Volvo V70_PHEV_dieselDiesels and hybrid-electric cars have often been posed as competitors racing to capture the green-automotive market. Diesels are more popular in Europe, while hybrids are more popular in the United States. Both have their advantages and disadvantages: diesels can get impressive fuel economy without complicated drivetrains (providing a cost advantage over hybrids today), while plug-in hybrids bundled with a renewable energy-powered grid can be even cleaner.

But now, it looks like these competitors are coming together. Volvo Car Corp. announced Friday that it plans to bring a diesel plug-in hybrid to the market by 2012. The news comes after Peugeot earlier this month unveiled a diesel PHEV minicar that it plans to bring to the market next year, and BMW also showed off a sporty diesel PHEV concept car at the Frankfurt auto show. While companies have been tinkering with the concept for some time, it looks like diesel PHEVs are finally starting to gain some traction.

It’s an exciting idea. First of all, diesel fuel packs 10-20 percent more energy per gallon than gasoline, according to Fusel, a site that advocates running diesel engines on vegetable oil. That higher energy content, combined with some engine advantages, means modern diesel cars can get about 40 percent more miles per gallon than their gasoline counterparts, according to the site.

With that kind of diesel fuel economy, it means the new crop of clean diesels, such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, achieves similar fuel economy to hybrids like the Toyota Prius without a complex drivetrain, according to AutoblogGreen. On top of that, advocates say diesels are more fun to drive, because they deliver more torque. Perhaps the most important factor to consumers: diesels often cost less than hybrids. According to an Edmunds comparison earlier this year, the 2009 Jetta TDI cost $22,890, compared with $28,933 for the Prius. And plug-in hybrids are expected to cost even more.

But diesels also emit more particulates than gasoline, and while new technologies have enabled companies to meet strict U.S. standards for particulates, those technologies cost money. Diesels also have an image problem. In the United States, many people still think of diesel as the “loud, smoke-belching beast” they remember from the 1970s, as this Edmunds.com article puts it, even though they have changed dramatically.

A marriage of diesel and plug-in hybrid technology could produce a wonder child that brings out the best of both technologies, boosting fuel economies to their highest levels yet while avoiding the range issues of pure electric vehicles. An electric motor could help diesels easily meet even the strictest potential particulate standards being considered today, while a diesel engine could boost the fuel economy of a PHEV.

But some think that the match could also produce a monster. Adding the technologies together could result in an incredibly complex drivetrain that ends up being far more expensive than its worth. And it could still have trouble winning diesel converts in the United States. We’ll be waiting with our fingers crossed to see what automakers produce. What do you think?

How Should RIM React to Increased Competition From Apple, Palm?

Poor RIM. One or two analysts lower your stock rating from “buy” to “neutral” (or the equivalent), and then your stock drops some 16 percent. You know who to blame, too: it's those busybodies at Apple and Palm, what with their iPhones and Palm Pres eating into your bottom line. (Never mind that your own “iPhone killer” was sorta meh.) What is RIM to do?
TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Lifehacker Workspaces: Kevin Purdy Edition [Lifehacker Workspaces]

We've been getting personal with our offices all through this Supercharge Your Workspace week, and now it's my turn. I just moved in three weeks ago, so I've applied only the cheapest, quickest workspace tweaks I've learned hanging around Lifehacker.

Three situations influence the look, feel, and function of my desk:

  • I'm the morning guy at Lifehacker, meaning I get up at 3 a.m. Pacific time (6 a.m. my Eastern time), earlier on busy days, and jump right into feed and email reading. To let my wife sleep, I've set up my office with a dresser and moved my good shirts and slacks into a closet there. That allows me to sneak away quietly in the morning to get dressed, get coffee, and get working, and also gives her the entirety of our bedroom's undersized closet
  • I have yet to upgrade any of my computing components to wireless, other than the internet connection. My mouse, keyboard, and speakers all require some kind of cable run onto the desktop or into the laptop's side, as does my main monitor. I'll get a sleeker look someday, but at the moment, I basically cash my checks at Home Depot.
  • I like to get out of the house quite often in the afternoon, after spending most mornings glued to two screens. When it's time for longer writing, I hit coworking spots, coffee shops, and out to our patio, when it's nice. I also don't have a dedicated desktop for work. I've tried to set up my desk so the laptop can both be the mother brain of two monitors, music, and whatever else I've got going on, but also easy to extract and plunk into my laptop bag.
There's a lot more I'd like to do with this workspace when it comes due on my weekend project list—paint the desk white and top it with glass, install a ceiling fan for centralized light (hence the high-ISO photos), and make the aforementioned wireless upgrades. In the meantime, I've made it work for me with a few little adjustments, detailed in the photos below. Click on the thumbnails for a bigger view and description of what I've done:
 The main arrangement. A 19-inch LCD serves as the main space for stuff I'm actually working on, while the laptop screen on the right usually has a zoomed-in Firefox window open with <a href="http://lifehacker.com/5342149/set-up-space+saving-permanent-gmail-and-reader-tabs-in-firefox">perma-tabbed sites</a> I'm passively watching&mdash;personal Gmail, Lifehacker mail, Google Voice SMS, Google Calendar, and Remember the Milk tasks, along with Lifehacker's <a href="http://campfirenow.com">Campfire</a> chat site in the late morning. The (<a href="http://lifehacker.com/5342237/five-great-reasons-to-root-your-android-phone">rooted</a>) G1 phone charges when needed, and my college-era, still-awesome Boston Acoustics speakers sit slightly behind and askew from the monitor.  Directly inspired by the <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/oldwisemonk/tags/laptop/">inverted inbox laptop stand</a> of Flickr user oldwisemonk, I held out until I found the perfect, black model at Staples and made it my laptop's place of rest. There's a indented space in the back to stash the laptop's power brick and cord, the "shelves" hold headphones and USB cables, and it elevates my laptop's screen to just about eye level.  I, uh, didn't do <em>quite</em> as well as <a href="http://lifehacker.com/179911/hack-attack-the-cordless-workspace-sort-of">Adam's cordless endeavor</a> at using a <a href="http://www.ikea.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?topcategoryId=15600&catalogId=10103&storeId=12&productId=20919&langId=-1&categoryId=15781&chosenPartNumber=50035115">Signum under-desk cord catcher</a> to completely contain my cords. Then again, I regularly yank out my laptop cord, and occasionally my phone charger, from the back, so I grabbed some flexible plug extenders from Target to make them a little easier to get to. Looks real ugly from the back, but from the front ...
 It's not too bad a view. If I could somehow plug in my power strip without actually needing a plug, I'd be oh-so-happy. The other cord, from a Keurig single-serve coffee maker, is much better hidden.  The lamp is just what I had handy to spread a bit more light around. The Keurig is my little goofy indulgence, though some mornings it's crucial. I occasionally boil a tea kettle and let it cool, then pour its "distilled" contents into a jug, kept in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet it sits on. Where do I keep the pods, you ask?  The bottom drawer of my dresser, which stands directly behind my desk. I can quickly wheel back and grab any of those many things that I don't need on my desk at all times, but need too frequently to stash too far away. USB headset, still and video camera, an external hard drive and DVD burner, and those essential Keurig K-cups (Pumpkin Spice coffee and Earl Grey tea at the moment) all get their place with other odds and ends.


The walls need another coat of Hidden Meadow, the cables need more attention, and that gadget drawer could use some organizing, I know. Other than that, I'm happy to take comments, suggestions, and questions in the comments.

Navy taps Solazyme to make jet fuel out of algae

solazymelogoThe Pentagon announced today that it has chosen San Francisco-based biofuel company Solazyme to supply the Navy with jet fuel made entirely of algae derivatives. This isn’t the first time it has worked with the military, having already had its research and development funded by the Navy in exchange for 20,000 gallons of fuel for its ships.

The oils produced by Solazyme’s algae act as a full replacement for petroleum-based fuel, not simply an additive. Some of its byproducts can also be converted into consumer and industrial chemicals, including food additives and cosmetics.

As per the Navy contract, Solazyme will be working with Honeywell-developed technology to provide 1,500 gallons of algae-based jet fuel. The fuel provided would probably retail for $200,000. The 20,000 gallons of ship fuel was valued at about $8.5 million.

Solazyme competes with companies like Sapphire Energy — though the latter is more focused on producing algae-based fuels for cars and trucks. It may also come up against microbial biofuel companies like Coskata, LS9 and Codexis.

Solazyme has raised $72 millon in capital to date from Roda Group, Braemar Energy Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Harris & Harris Group, VantagePoint Venture Partners and BlueCrest Capital Finance.

picture-31613VentureBeat is hosting GreenBeat, the seminal executive conference on the Smart Grid, on Nov. 18-19, featuring keynotes from Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr. Get your early-bird tickets for $495 before Sept. 30 at GreenBeat2009.com.


ABC’s FlashForward Goes Crazy With Online Content [NewTeeVee]

The premiere of ABC’s FlashForward last night was positively Lost-ish, with the pilot episode promising at least one solid season of strong character drama and compelling mystery (not to mention the incongruous appearance of an exotic mammal). It also hinted strongly at being one of the first major network dramas to really understand the potential of social media.

In the pilot, the entire world’s population falls unconscious for two minutes and 17 seconds, at which point they each have a vision of what they’ll be doing on April 29, 2010 — and thus everyone on Earth has a unique experience that, when shared with others, might help decode the mystery behind the Global Black Out. Thus a plucky young FBI agent suggests that they build a web site to compile said “flashes.”

To say that ABC has taken that one bit of dialogue and run with it is an understatement; there are currently at least eight vaguely separate components to its digital campaign right now, which explore and expand the universe of the show to varying degrees of success. First off…

The Mosaic Collective

This technically launched earlier in the summer, long before the pilot episode aired, and is essentially the follow-through on Agent Hawk’s initial suggestion: a sleek Flash interface hosts videos and texts describing people’s visions. However, the visions in question weren’t written by the show producers — it’s all UGC. The videos were mostly filmed at Comic-Con 2009, where ABC had a booth set up to collect visions from passersby, and you can submit your own text comments to the site.

Which means there are some contributions that work better than others — even that of showrunner Marc Guggenheim is a little too literal. But while The Mosaic Collective doesn’t currently function as a storytelling device, it’s still really fun to play with; changing the view on the visions, for example, allows you to make connections between other people’s visions using keywords and see the flow of updates. And folks really seem to be engaging with it, having fun imagining their own potential futures — which is a huge added bonus.

Truth Hack

I could write a whole separate review on Truth Hack alone, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Investigative journalist Oscar Obregon has been reporting for weeks now on the Global Black Out, hoping to dig up answers using his YouTube vlog and Twitter. It’s pretty standard conspiracy theory stuff, but you have to love touches like how the actor playing Obregon appeared at Comic-Con in character to interview those who’d just given testimony at the Mosaic Collective booth. ABC said it couldn’t reveal whether Obregon would be appearing on the show this season.

The FlashFoward Facebook Experience

Brace yourself, because this one’s a trip. Unlike the Mosaic Collective, which gives you authorship over your potential future vision, this site, once connected to your Facebook account, essentially creates a vision for you using your Facebook contacts, status updates and photos. The result is more than a little jarring, and the use of personal information possibly borders on invasive — but overall it’s undeniably creative and memorable.

FlashForward: 11 Things

This isn’t story content, but rather behind-the-scenes stuff. In this 11-part series of short interviews, Guggenheim and co-exec producer David S. Goyer provide hints as to what viewers should be paying attention to in past and upcoming episodes of the show. The first installment is honestly a bit of a letdown, even aside from discovering that the episode in which the present catches up with the future will actually air on April 29, 2010.

The Fate Documentary

A three-part documentary series interviewing show staff as well as experts in the field of fate. Is that a hint at the mysterious reason behind the blackout? There are no answers yet, as you might imagine.

ABC.com Live Chat

During last night’s premiere, fans had the opportunity to live chat with Goyer and Guggenheim via Facebook, after which ABC immediately packaged the video, hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s Lynette Rice, and began putting it online. Rice is a solid host, and the questions asked are great, including, “Do you know how the series will end?”

Other brands are getting to play in this sandbox, too. Sprint is sponsoring the Flash Ahead experience, which allows customers who text a keyword planted at the beginning of each new episode to get a sneak peek at upcoming content. And October will bring an eight-episode series of “man on the street” interviews — scripted content sponsored by Lexus.

And this is all coming from ABC’s end. Its team began meeting with FlashFoward producers last January to strategize this content, and will be working with the show throughout the season to continue acquiring and engaging fans. How many fans will plow through the full experience is an interesting question, the answer to which remains to be seen. Having gone through it myself today, I can tell you I’m exhausted — but excited about next week’s episode.

Pandora: From Near-Death to Profitability in a Year

stacks_093I’ve always liked how outspoken Tim Westergren of Pandora is. He’s not one of those all-too-common founders who puffs up his chest and gives rationalizations for why everything is great even as user numbers are sliding or a competitor is stealing momentum. When his company is in trouble—which Pandora was for most of its life—he’ll tell you in excruciating detail, even down to ugly employee lawsuits.

And that’s worked to Pandora’s advantage. Westergren did such a good job of warning the site’s rabid fans that the RIAA may be running it out of business that those fans actually broke fax machines on Capitol Hill with complaints. Westergren gets what a lot of entrepreneurs don’t: It’s about survival, not ego. That’s especially true when you’re an online music company.

Of course, today Pandora is sitting pretty thanks to a hard work and a serendipitous one-two-three punch. Punch one: The iPhone app, which changed the nature of Internet radio by making it mobile. Punch two: A nice $35 million round of funding from top investors. Punch three: Finally a reasonable settlement from the RIAA.

Pandora has 35 million registered users (double what it had last year), it’s bringing in some $40 million in revenues and should be profitable by the end of the year, said Westergren on NBC’s Press:Here. (The show airs Sunday, but you can watch it online now.)

Most interesting were Westergren’s comments about advertising. As you can see in the clip below, the show’s host, Scott McGrew, and my co-panelist, NPR’s Laura Sydell, claim to be huge Pandora fans but couldn’t seem to remember hearing many ads. Said Westergren: That means we’re doing it right.

He said when he talks to Pandora users they always say they don’t hear many ads, and they don’t think they interact with the site much. In reality, users are hearing a good number of ads and most go to the site six times per hour to thumb up and down ads, where they get served another visual ad. “[Users] are always shocked to hear the actual data,” he said after the taping. “I think it’s because the interaction doesn’t feel like work. It’s a natural instinct tied to the ability to affect the listening, and it’s rewarding.” He added that click-through rates are way above industry average, which he credits to knowing each user’s taste so well. Depending on the product it can be ten times greater than the industry average.

Pandora also has more creative ways of advertising. Westergren also talked off camera about a recent gig in LA for Aimee Mann. Pandora sent an email to users in driving distance of the club that it knew loved her music and the venue quickly filled up. “Can we do this every night?” the club owner panted.

Pandora didn’t charge the club anything for this, but there’s clear opportunity to do so. This kind of promotion plays directly to Pandora’s strengths especially now that it’s on iPhones, Palm Pre and Android. While people gush today about Spotify’s ability to play your music on any device and its a beautiful UI, Pandora’s offering has always been about discovery. The heart of it is the “Music Genome Project,” which analyzes why you like a song and gives recommendations based on the song’s inherent characteristics, not what other people who liked that song also enjoy.

If it can translate that to the physical world of gigs, it could do for venue owners and artists what Travelocity and Expedia first did for airlines—fill empty seats that are worthless once a gig is over. That’s not only an “ad” that has value, it’s one that actually uses the unique interactive elements of the mobile Web. “This is the part of Pandora’s future that I’m most excited about,” Westergren said. “I wish they had this when I was in a band!”

Pandora may just be hitting on that much-talked-about but mostly elusive online advertising Holy Grail: Ads that users actually want. If they pull it off, and avoid the far-too-crowded online music graveyard, Pandora will be a textbook case for why execution matters more than vision in tech.

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Life With Snow Leopard: One Month Later [TheAppleBlog]


Installing a new operating system on Day One is often a foolish undertaking. Yet, there I was, installing Snow Leopard the night of the 28th.

I took the plunge day one for two reasons: as a tech journalist specializing in the Mac, I felt I owed it to our readers to offer timely insight on Snow Leopard from the perspective of one who has actually used it. After all, someone needs to be able to report back if it’s a smart idea to strap a jet engine to a Ford Pinto. The other reason was timing. I knew I wanted to install it. I was going away the weekend after, and my night classes started a week later and I wanted to be able to allow a couple of weeks to smooth out any issues.

Leaving plenty of time to resolve any issues appeased the karma gods and my installation went very smoothly with no issues. Another friend of mine angered the gods by installing Snow Leopard at 1 am the night before a business trip — ask her how her Snow Leopard install went.

I’ve been very happy with SL over the last month. After I installed Leopard before the first patch, I quickly realized it was bad news. My gaming performance — admittedly meager on a Macbook with a GMA 950 chipset — took a nose dive. I had odd crashes, application incompatibility, and a nightmare getting my printers working again that was reminiscent of Vista’s printer issues.

Snow Leopard has been a joy and I have zero regrets about upgrading. I’m going to break down my experiences in terms of positive and negative experiences.

Positives

My Snow Leopard install has “just worked.” All my printers work, even our ancient HP Color Laser at work. The only major incompatibility issues I had were with Launchbar, but upgrading to the latest version and waiting for it to index cleared the problem.

Dock Expose and Minimize to Dock Icon have become Features I Wonder How I Was Able to Get Through the Day Before™. It’s so intuitive and so hard to believe it’s taken Apple this long to implement it.

The new Automator is really amazing. I wrote about it already, and I stand by that article. Automator alone has been worth the upgrade fee for me.

Being able to drag off selected pages of PDF file in Preview is proving to be godsend. Every now and then, I’ll need to grab a few sections from 200+ page PDFs, and dragging them from the sidebar to my desktop is very efficient.

As an aside, while this isn’t really a Snow Leopard feature, a week ago I upgraded my aging 2006-era Macbook to a new Macbook Pro. I was able to just swap out the hard drives with no reinstallation needed. I’ve heard conflicting reports on how this worked in Leopard, but the only painful — and I use that term loosely — part of the hardware swap was re-pairing my Bluetooth devices and resetting up Time Machine.

While there’s been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Photoshop compatibility issue, my ancient copy of — wait for it — CS1 is working fine. I really should get around to upgrading that one of these days, but I’ve moved most of my image editing needs over to Pixelmator. The only thing I really use Photoshop for these days is cutting masks with the pen tool, so it’s possible other features aren’t SL happy.

Negatives

I haven’t really had any negatives. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought while composing this article to make sure I’m not being a total fan boy, but the only negative I have is Microsoft Word crashes a lot on exit. It’s not affecting any data. It’s not crashing while I’m using it; just when I quit. According to this tweet by David Pogue, reinstalling Office solved that problem. When I went to reinstall it, I was having media issues with my internal drive so I can’t test the validity of his statement.

As I mentioned in my Automator piece, Word 2008 isn’t context services aware, but that’s not really a Snow Leopard problem; Word is still a Carbon app.

I guess if I wanted to, I could complain that items in stacks aren’t context sensitive…but that’s reaching.

Would I recommend upgrading?

After my glowing words of praise, you’d probably expect me to join the chorus of pundits proclaiming, “It’s a no brainer! Make haste to the Apple Store!” but my verdict is instead one based on reason. Therefore, I can definitively answer this thusly: kinda, sorta, maybe. I know, it’s hard to get people to make a stand for their beliefs; I’m glad I could fall on that sword for you.

The Word crash on exit issue is enough for me to tell heavy Office users to hold off. It may well be that a reinstall fixes it, and I’ve had no issues with Word other than the exit crash, but apps that crash quitting don’t fill me with confidence, even if it’s just cosmetic.

If you work in the design business, I’d definitely say let others test the waters and wait a few app upgrades before upgrading the OS. Actually, that statement works for anyone who considers their Mac to be mission critical. If it’s working just fine now, and you rely on it working just fine, don’t upgrade.

One of the problems with Snow Leopard is while I can come up with reasons like these not to upgrade, until applications are updated — and in some cases rewritten — to take advantage of Snow Leopard, you’re likely to not see a big upgrade.

Sure, the new cat is faster than the old one. Even on my old 2006 MacBook I could tell they patched in more snappy. While I love the new Expose and Stacks, and would miss them if I had to go back to Leopard, right now I’m still having a hard time recommending people make a change for the sake of change.

I can’t think of many reasons for you not to upgrade. However, unless you want the new UI improvements, until we see apps take advantage of Grand Central and Open CL, I can’t really think of many reasons you should upgrade.

How Important is a Removable Notebook Battery? [WebWorkerDaily]

MacBookAlmost exactly a year ago, Apple introduced its unibody aluminum MacBooks. “Unibody” means that the case is a single piece, with the battery being sealed inside. My immediate reaction, shared by many road warriors and web workers, was horror: “They can’t do that!” Not only did Apple do it, but soon after, the range was expanded to include the 17” MacBooks as well. As of today, the only MacBook available with a removable battery is the legacy white 13” MacBook, whose days are believed to be numbered by many analysts.

So what happened when legions of Apple fans were faced with being unable to change out the batteries on their beloved notebooks? Did angry mobs descend on Cupertino? Not exactly. After the initial shock wore off, we began to ask ourselves how important removable laptop batteries actually were.

There are good arguments for removable notebook batteries, especially if you compute on the go a lot. Power outlets are frequently unavailable in locations such as conference rooms, convention centers and aircraft. Power access is improving in newer facilities but it is still easy to find yourself without power. Having the security of the second battery in your bag makes the quest for power a little less panicked. Also, replacing a battery that has outlived its hardware life requires no downtime.
A sealed battery has its advantages too, though. It can provide more power for the same weight/space as a removable battery, because you aren’t sacrificing some of the footprint to the hardware and case to make it removable. Your onboard battery will thus get you further with no need for extra power (or to carry around the weight of the back-up).

This debate was front-and-center in my mind when I purchased my latest computer, a MacBook, last April. My choices were narrowed down to a white MacBook with a removable battery, and the MacBook Air that has a sealed one. (Obviously these machines have a lot of other major differences, including their prices.) I was finally convinced to discard the battery difference as an issue when my geek husband pointed out that I rarely if ever used the backup battery that I had for the machine I was replacing. I realized that the spare battery was more of a security blanket that I hauled around than a necessity. Although I eventually purchased the white MacBook, I haven’t felt the need to buy a spare battery for it yet.

The reality is that only a small percentage of notebook users do purchase and use extra batteries. Apple seems committed to this path, and Dell is also trying the concept out. Others may follow.

But heavy battery users are not completely out of luck, and we aren’t all doomed to a future of using our notebooks for four hours at a time. An accessory market has sprung up for external batteries for MacBooks. While not as convenient to use as (and definitely more expensive than) an onboard battery, they do fill that need for people who must have additional power.

We should remember that technology advances. Batteries will continue to improve and soon will be easily capable of getting a notebook through an entire workday. New aircraft are being built with in-seat outlets to power passenger electronics through long flights. Maybe Apple will even realize that there is money to be made by offering its customers the option of a battery upgrade at purchase.

Do you have a spare notebook battery? Do you use it?

This Week’s Most Popular Posts [Highlights]

This week we introduced you to 10 underhyped webapps, helped your rejuvinate your workspace, and discussed some of the finer points of laptop battery best practices.

  • Top 10 Underhyped Webapps, 2009 Edition
    As with rock music, video games, and other awesome pursuits, great web applications often don't get enough credit for what they do well. We're revisiting and updating our favorite underhyped webapps to give a new crop of contenders their due.
  • Rejuvenate Your Workspace with These Office Supply Favorites
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ABC’s FlashForward Goes Crazy With Online Content [NewTeeVee Station]

The premiere of ABC’s (s dis) FlashForward last night was positively Lost-ish, with the pilot episode promising at least one solid season of strong character drama and compelling mystery (not to mention the incongruous appearance of an exotic mammal). It also hinted strongly at being one of the first major network dramas to really understand the potential of social media.

In the pilot, the entire world’s population falls unconscious for two minutes and 17 seconds, at which point they each have a vision of what they’ll be doing on April 29, 2010 — and thus everyone on Earth has a unique experience that, when shared with others, might help decode the mystery behind the Global Black Out. Thus a plucky young FBI agent suggests that they build a web site to compile said “flashes.”

To say that ABC has taken that one bit of dialogue and run with it is an understatement; there are currently at least eight vaguely separate components to its digital campaign right now, which explore and expand the universe of the show to varying degrees of success. First off…

The Mosaic Collective

This technically launched earlier in the summer, long before the pilot episode aired, and is essentially the follow-through on Agent Hawk’s initial suggestion: a sleek Flash interface hosts videos and texts describing people’s visions. However, the visions in question weren’t written by the show producers — it’s all UGC. The videos were mostly filmed at Comic-Con 2009, where ABC had a booth set up to collect visions from passersby, and you can submit your own text comments to the site.

Which means there are some contributions that work better than others — even that of showrunner Marc Guggenheim is a little too literal. But while The Mosaic Collective doesn’t currently function as a storytelling device, it’s still really fun to play with; changing the view on the visions, for example, allows you to make connections between other people’s visions using keywords and see the flow of updates. And folks really seem to be engaging with it, having fun imagining their own potential futures — which is a huge added bonus.

Truth Hack

I could write a whole separate review on Truth Hack alone, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Investigative journalist Oscar Obregon has been reporting for weeks now on the Global Black Out, hoping to dig up answers using his YouTube vlog and Twitter. It’s pretty standard conspiracy theory stuff, but you have to love touches like how the actor playing Obregon appeared at Comic-Con in character to interview those who’d just given testimony at the Mosaic Collective booth. ABC said it couldn’t reveal whether Obregon would be appearing on the show this season.

The FlashFoward Facebook Experience

Brace yourself, because this one’s a trip. Unlike the Mosaic Collective, which gives you authorship over your potential future vision, this site, once connected to your Facebook account, essentially creates a vision for you using your Facebook contacts, status updates and photos. The result is more than a little jarring, and the use of personal information possibly borders on invasive — but overall it’s undeniably creative and memorable.

FlashForward: 11 Things

This isn’t story content, but rather behind-the-scenes stuff. In this 11-part series of short interviews, Guggenheim and co-exec producer David S. Goyer provide hints as to what viewers should be paying attention to in past and upcoming episodes of the show. The first installment is honestly a bit of a letdown, even aside from discovering that the episode in which the present catches up with the future will actually air on April 29, 2010.

The Fate Documentary

A three-part documentary series interviewing show staff as well as experts in the field of fate. Is that a hint at the mysterious reason behind the blackout? There are no answers yet, as you might imagine.

ABC.com Live Chat

During last night’s premiere, fans had the opportunity to live chat with Goyer and Guggenheim via Facebook, after which ABC immediately packaged the video, hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s Lynette Rice, and began putting it online. Rice is a solid host, and the questions asked are great, including, “Do you know how the series will end?”

Other brands are getting to play in this sandbox, too. Sprint (s s) is sponsoring the Flash Ahead experience, which allows customers who text a keyword planted at the beginning of each new episode to get a sneak peek at upcoming content. And October will bring an eight-episode series of “man on the street” interviews — scripted content sponsored by Lexus.

And this is all coming from ABC’s end. Its team began meeting with FlashFoward producers last January to strategize this content, and will be working with the show throughout the season to continue acquiring and engaging fans. How many fans will plow through the full experience is an interesting question, the answer to which remains to be seen. Having gone through it myself today, I can tell you I’m exhausted — but excited about next week’s episode.

Chevron chips in $25M for biofuel company LS9

picture-126LS9, perhaps the company to watch synthesizing biofuels and chemicals from organic feedstocks like switchgrass, has brought in $25 million in a new round of capital from Chevron Technology Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Flagship Ventures.

This is the second big win, the South San Francisco company has had recently. In May, it also landed a deal with corporate giant Procter & Gamble to make consumer chemicals from renewable and sustainable sources. Right now, it’s claim to fame is its production of UltraClean Diesel through microbial one-step fermentation. Right now, it’s doing it on demonstration scale, claiming that commercial distribution could occur as soon as 2013.

LS9 says that its biofuel’s big advantage is that it could sell for $45 to $50 a barrel (a fact it hopes to prove by 2011), still cheaper than the average price for a barrel of oil. That said, remaining cost competitive will be vital to the company’s success and that of its major competitors like Codexis, Genomatica, Coskata and Solazyme. The more affordable oil becomes, the more challenging it will be for them to market their more experimental products.

LS9’s technology works like this: A strain of e. coli has been genetically engineered to convert sugar into a methyl ester that is structured very similarly to existing brands of clean diesel. The microbes take in the feedstocks and secrete the oil-substitute without dying. A lot of other biofuel companies are forced to kill the microbes they use in this process.

Chevron has been placing a lot of emphasis on biofuels recently, also investing in Codexis, another company relying on custom-designed microbes. It has also supported research and development at Solazyme, which just won a 20,000 gallon contract to supply diesel to the U.S. Navy for further product testing.

picture-31612VentureBeat is hosting GreenBeat, the seminal executive conference on the Smart Grid, on Nov. 18-19, featuring keynotes from Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr. Get your early-bird tickets for $495 before Sept. 30 at GreenBeat2009.com.


AT&T to Google: So You Wanna Be a Phone Company? [GigaOM]

A few months, ago when covering the launch of Google Voice, I wrote a post entitled: Meet Google, Your Phone Company. That headline sums up why Google’s voice service has drawn the ire of everyone from AT&T to Apple Today, Ma Bell asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Google Voice on the grounds that it was preventing consumers from calling certain numbers, which AT&T argues violates the principles of net neutrality. The letter is worthy of a pay-per-view event. It also reveals how the Google Voice service works.

AT&T alleges:

Numerous press reports indicate that Google is systematically blocking telephone calls from consumers that use Google Voice to call telephone numbers in certain rural communities. By blocking these calls, Google is able to reduce its access expenses. Other providers, including those with which Google Voice competes, are banned from call blocking because in June 2007, the Wireline Competition Bureau emphatically declared that all carriers are prohibited from pursuing “self help actions such as call blocking.” The Bureau expressed concern that call blocking “may degrade the reliability of the nation’s telecommunications network.” Google Voice thus has claimed for itself a significant advantage over providers offering competing services.

Google, of course, doesn’t agree with such a portrayal of Google Voice and argues that since it’s not a traditional phone service, it shouldn’t be treated as such. The company instead refers to it as an Internet application.

AT&T obviously disagrees with Google’s description, writing in its letter to the FCC:

But in reality, “Google Voice” appears to be nothing more than a creatively packaged assortment of services that are already quite familiar to the Commission. Among other things, Google Voice includes a calling platform that offers unified communications capabilities and a domestic/international audio bridging telecommunications service that, with the assistance of a local exchange carrier known as Bandwidth.com, provides the IP-in-the-middle connection for calls between traditional landline and/or wireless telephones. As such, Google Voice would appear to be subject to the same call blocking prohibition applicable to providers of other telecommunications services.6 For its part, Bandwidth.com is undeniably a common carrier subject to the Commission’s call blocking prohibition; it markets itself as a “National CLEC” and has certified to the Commission that it operates as a local exchange carrier.

Now if Google’s description is true, then pretty much every service that uses VoIP in the middle of the network should be referred to as an Internet application. My view is pretty close to that of an average consumer. As I wrote in my Meet Google, Your Phone Company post:

The mobile app for Google Voice uses the regular PSTN connection to place a call to Google Voice, which then places a call out to the person you need to reach. Since these calls (and SMS messages) originate from your Google Voice, they display your Google Voice number for the recipients. The service needs a data connection but it isn’t necessary to have a Wi-Fi connection to place and receive calls. The wireless number you buy from the cell phone company becomes less relevant. The Google Voice app essentially reduces the cell phone carrier to a dumb pipe.

In its letter to the FCC, AT&T wrote that the commission “cannot, through inaction or otherwise, give Google a special privilege to play by its own rules while the rest of the industry, including those who compete with Google, must instead adhere to (FCC) regulations.” (see related post from GigaOM Pro, sub required: How Google Voice Could Change Communication)

AT&T claims that this is a breach of network neutrality rules, but organizations such as Free Press are dismissing the carrier’s claims as political stunts that have “absolutely nothing to do with” such rules, insisting that the “spats between two dueling giants cannot be allowed to stand in the way of Internet freedom.”

This is the second time Ma Bell and Google have tussled over Google Voice. In the last round, Apple was also involved and FCC had to jump in to play referee. The results of that round are still pending — the Google Voice app for the iPhone is still missing in action.

Google Hits Back At AT&T Over New Google Voice FCC Complaint

Earlier today news broke that AT&T had filed a letter with the FCC asserting that Google is violating net neutrality principles with Google Voice by preventing users from calling certain numbers. Google has wasted no time in posting a response to its Public Policy Blog to defend itself against the accusations.

For those who missed the initial letter: AT&T has long had to deal with local phone carriers who charge exorbitant prices to long-distance companies to connect their calls. These local carriers are further exploiting the system by partnering with phone sex operators and similar services to maximize the number of calls to these high-priced numbers. AT&T has tried to restrict such calls but was barred from doing so, and it’s angry that Google Voice — which does restrict calls to some of these pornographic numbers to save money — is getting away with it.

Google’s response outlines AT&T’s concerns over the local operator abuses and actually says that it too believes the current carrier compensation system is “badly flawed.” But then it goes on to say that none of this should apply to Google Voice, because it’s not a phone service.

Google writes that AT&T has tried to “blur the distinction between Google Voice and traditional phone service”, then offers the following bullets as evidence for why they are different:

  • Unlike traditional carriers, Google Voice is a free, Web-based software application, and so not subject to common carrier laws.
  • Google Voice is not intended to be a replacement for traditional phone service — in fact, you need an existing land or wireless line in order to use it. Importantly, users are still able to make outbound calls on any other phone device.
  • Google Voice is currently invitation-only, serving a limited number of users.

Finally, Google closes out the letter by saying:

“The FCC’s open Internet principles apply only to the behavior of broadband carriers — not the creators of Web-based software applications. Even though the FCC does not have jurisdiction over how software applications function, AT&T apparently wants to use the regulatory process to undermine Web-based competition and innovation.”

So who is right? Google may well be correct in its interpretation of the current open Internet principles, and given AT&T’s history of fighting against net neutrality it’s hard not to take its arguments for it with a nice big grain of salt. That said, the notion that a call traveling directly over carrier lines should be treated differently than those that go though software applications seems to be a distinction that is quickly blurring. And from the consumer’s perspective, having some phone services that can call any number and others that come with restrictions seems like a setup that’s ripe for confusion.

Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

Measy Helps You Pick Gadgets With A Quiz (Private Beta Invites)

Picking out the right gadget to buy is so difficult that an entire publishing industry (Cnet, Engagdet, CrunchGear, GDGT) has grown around helping people sort through the process.  A new site in private beta called Measy is taking a different approach.  You take a quiz answering questions about what you are looking for in a digital camera, flat-screen TV, or netbook, and it comes up with the gadgets that match your requirements.

We have invites for the first 200 people who redeem them here with the promotion code “techcrunchfriends.”

Measy’s CEO Ian Manheimer is the creator of Glassbooth, a site which helped voters pick candidates based on taking a quiz about their political views and then matching those up with candidates’ positions. Measy takes a similar approach to helping people make decisions about what gadgets they should buy.

Visitors set their budget and answer questions, pick brand preferences, and answer questions about what features, specs, and size they are looking for. For instance, the digital camera quiz asks how important is brand, picture quality, recording videos. The HDTV quiz asks about viewing angles and sound quality.

After you answer all the questions, it presents you with the single best match, and you can also browse other close matches. (Contrast this to the crowdsourced wiki approach at GDGT). While all of this sounds great in theory, the truth is that there are always a couple of factors that are more important than others to any given consumer. Measy seems to weight all the factors roughly the same. It is not going to eliminate the research you need to do before you buy your next gadget, but at least it gives you a starting point and helps cut down the overwhelming number of initial choices.

When it comes to finding the best digital camera or TV, there never is one right answer, as much as we all wish that there was.

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

TechCrunch50 Conference 2009: September 14-15, 2009, San Francisco

SabSe continues VoIP roll-up with Mobivox buy

SabSe Technologies, the voice-over-internet-protocol service provider that bought competitor Jaxtr three months ago, has acquired voice-activation calling service company Mobivox — continuing a trend of consolidation that has changed the VoIP landscape over the last year, reports TechCrunch. The Mountain View, Calif. company says its new buy will allow it to quickly deploy voice-activation and voice-to-text features to its current users worldwide. Mobivox also allows users to access contacts, initiate conferences and transfer calls all via voice.

Based in Montreal, that company previously raised $11 million from Brightspark Ventures, Flybridge Capital, IDG Ventures China, IDG Ventures Vietnam and Skypoint Capital. SabSe does business as Sabsebolo, and has long had the goal of offering cheaper phone service to people around the world.