October 15th Last Day to Get Taxes Back on Your Roth IRA [Saving Money]

If you decided to take advantage of the simple power of a Roth IRA—something we've encouraged before—take note: October 15th is the deadline to change your IRA for tax savings. In a nuthsell:

Say your IRA was worth $100,000 last year when you converted it to a Roth, and your account is only worth $60,000 now. You essentially paid taxes to convert the IRA on an additional $40,000 you no longer have. The tax code allows you to reconvert, or recharacterize, the Roth back to a traditional IRA and get a refund on the taxes you paid.

If that seems like something that may apply to you, get in touch with the people who handle your Roth IRA before Thursday. [Consumer Reports]



Threadsy Now Talks Back To Facebook

TechCrunch50 startup Threadsy debuted its all-in-one, web-based communications client a few weeks ago and received positive reviews from the judges and audience, making it as a finalist at the conference. Three weeks later, the startup is already innovating and improving upon its product by launching additional support for Facebook.

Threadsy takes all of your online communication and aggregates it into a single service. All of the messages directed at you (email and Twitter @replies) are put into a single stream of messages, called the “inbound” column. And all of the activity streams that you follow (Twitter, Facebook, etc), is put into a single activity stream, the “unbound” stream. The result is a universal communications platform. Threadsy, which is backed by August Capital, is still in private beta and we have 100 invites for TechCrunch readers here.

Today, Threadsy is launching the ability to integrate Facebook wall posts into the “Inbound” column, letting users comment on active discussions, see attached content, like new items, pictures, videos and links, etc. Previously, you could pull in your news feed from Facebook, but couldn’t interact beyond that. Now, you can post status updates, comment on other friends’ updates and indicate a “like” from Threadsy. Users can also pull in their inbox messages from Facebook, but cannot reply back from Threadsy’s platform.

Threadsy’s founder Rob Goldman says that the startup is also getting a lot of requests from users for deeper chat integration, which they plans on integrating in the platform in the near future. And Goldman says a mobile strategy is huge and an iPhone app and support for other smartphones will be rolled out at some point down the line.

Threadsy also lets you filter and manage your communications stream. You can filter by the type of service (for example, only seeing tweets or Facebook messages). Threadsy, which monetizes via contextual advertisements, is sort of like FriendFeed on steroids. And with FriendFeed’s fate yet to be determined after it was acquired by Facebook, perhaps Threadsy will fill a future gap.

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This Week, Google Boldly Goes Where It Has Been A Long Time: Mobile

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.17.26 AMLike us, it appears that Google is a big fan of movies and television. It has dubbed this week “Go Mobile” week not for any real product reason, but rather because this week marks the anniversary of the original pilot episode of Star Trek. The rationale is that in that episode, Captain Kirk first uses the Communicator device, one of the first widely-recognized wireless communication tools. If the Communicator had existed at the same time as Google, the thought is clearly that it would have been G-powered.

For its Go Mobile week, Google has unleashed a logo, presumably to use in ads, and it is dedicating some major face time across its blogs to mobile tips and tricks for Google’s services. The first is a big overview of Google’s mobile agenda on its main blog today. They will also be tweeting tips from their official Twitter account. They’ve also set up a simple app to allow any “cadet” to ask questions of the Google Mobile team. People can then vote on these questions, and Google will answer the most popular ones.

Example questions right now are: “What is the phone of choice for the majority of the folks that work on mobile at Google?” — Gee, I wonder what they’ll say. Although we know that plenty of them have iPhones. Another question asks, “Will Google Voice ever get VoIP? Everyone already thinks it has it already.A good question given certain government inquiries.

gomobilelogoWith an onslaught of new, cool Android phones finally coming out, and many more right around the corner, Google is obviously thinking the time is right to step on the gas for its mobile aspirations. Of course, it has really been doing that for a long time, it just didn’t have a Star Trek episode to tie it to.

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Wikinvest lets you find financial data with new Bling search engine

wikinvest-bling

Wikinvest has been taking on popular finance sites, especially Yahoo Finance, since its redesign in June. Now it’s adding a feature that Yahoo lacks — a finance-focused search engine, which it calls “Bling.”

Visitors to sites like Yahoo and Wikinvest are often looking for a specific piece of data, says co-founder Parker Conrad — to use a phrase that Conrad is fond of, they’re “spearfishing for specific information,” such as Google’s revenue in 2008 or Apple’s profits in the last quarter. And it turns out that Yahoo and Google Finance aren’t actually great for finding this information.

Let’s say you wanted to find Google’s revenue last year. You could probably dig up those numbers, either by going to the company profile page in Yahoo or doing a general web search, but there’s no easy way to search for that specific number within Yahoo Finance itself, so you’d have to hunt around a bit. On Wikinvest, you just type in “Google revenue 2008,” and the site directs you to a page with the information you want.

You can search for other types of financial and company info, such as the load factor for Delta Airlines or the profit margins at Home Depot. Conrad says this is just an early “alpha” test of the search engine, and Wikinvest plans to add other possible searches, like news stories and regulatory filings. The eventual goal is to turn Bling into the first place users go when they want to search for financial data.

By the way, you probably noticed that the site name and design look awfully similar to Microsoft’s Bing search engine. All Conrad will say, on-the-record at least, is that it’s a complete surprise and coincidence. Whether you believe him is another matter.

San Francisco-based Wikinvest has raised $2.5 million from DCM.


Productivity Superstar: Is Your Brain Starving For a Lunch Break? [WebWorkerDaily]

Out to LunchThe past few months, it seems I’ve spent countless lunch hours hovering over my desk while shoving food from the deli next door down my throat. Between telephone interviews, Twitter postings and tough economic times, I often don’t make the effort to do more than choke down a salad or sandwich and call it lunch. In between forkfuls of romaine, my mind wanders to the good old days when I leisurely ate steamed dumplings from the dim sum restaurant down the street, or pomme frites from the French-style sidewalk café overlooking the bay. All this midday-meal mayhem has left me longingly wondering, “What has happened to the lunch hour?”

According to one new study from DiGiorno, 45 percent of the country’s workers say they’re taking shorter and/or fewer lunch breaks than they did a year ago. More than a third say they pass on their lunch break, thanks to an increasing workload.

So what impact does this meal skipping have on productivity? Plenty, according to Dr. Rallie McAllister, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.”

“Skipping any meal is detrimental,” says McAllister. “The brain is what most workers rely on and it does not have storage tanks for energy.” McAllister says instead the brain relies on consumption of available blood sugar and that after just a few hours of not eating, blood sugar can drop to sub-normal levels and the brain can’t function optimally. “In short, skipping meals leads to poor cognitive functioning, including loss of memory, concentration, the ability to learn, hand-eye coordination and catching mistakes,” says McAllister.

Eventually, however, we all get stark-raving hungry — what McAllister calls our “hunger threshold.” At that point, we throw caution to the wind and end up eating whatever foods are closest at hand — be it a high-fat burrito from the vending machine or a donut served at the afternoon sales meeting.

So what’s a well-meaning web worker to do when faced with ten projects all pressing down on one’s head and lunchtime looming large? Well, for one, plan for your hunger by standing up to the tyranny of your to-do list and giving yourself some lunch hour love. Here’re five ways to take a lunch break and mean it.

  • Ditch your desk: Wolfing down a cereal bar with one hand while emailing a colleague with the other does not qualify as a lunch break. Even if you only have a few minutes and can’t leave the building or your home office, walk away from your work area or go into your kitchen to grab a bite.
  • Schedule your salad: Want to make sure you get a real lunch break? Make a date to take yourself out to lunch, and write it into your calendar.
  • Co-opt a colleague: Make an arrangement with a co-worker, vendor, colleague or pal to have a working lunch outside the office. You’re more likely to keep the appointment when another person is involved.
  • Manage your meeting times: A customer wants to make a telephone appointment for 12:45. Suggest 11:45 instead. By avoiding meetings, conference calls and deadlines that occur within an hour of your designated lunch break, you run less risk of digestive distress from skipping the midday meal.
  • Store a stash: Just in case the raging river of work crises proves too much, and you have to work over a lunch period, don’t go without feeding your brain the food it needs to keep you sharp and focused. Plan for these lost-lunch-break emergencies by keeping a healthy stash of snacks on hand in your desk drawer. Most nutritionists recommend a combo of protein, fats and carbohydrates to keep your energy up and your brain on track. A few easy-to-keep combinations include dried fruit and nuts, cheese and whole grain crackers, fruit and cheese and protein bars.

So over the next few weeks, get out of your house, step out of your office, take a walk, spend some time in the sunshine (or at the very least, leave your desk) and commit to taking a lunch break three times a week for the next few weeks. I predict you’ll not only feel calmer, but your productivity will improve with each tuna sandwich consumed.

How do you make sure you get a proper lunch break?

Photo Uploader for Facebook Is a Dedicated Desktop App for Facebook [Downloads]

Windows/Mac/Linux: Free application Photo Uploader for Facebook sounds like its simply a tool for uploading pictures to the popular social networking site (which it does via a simple drag-and-drop), but it's also a robust desktop client for Facebook complete with notifications.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

Facebook already offers their own desktop client—also built using Adobe AIR—but where their tool is rather limited, Adobe's Photo Uploader for Facebook is actually very functional. From Photo Uploader for Facebook, you can view your news feed, chat with friends, update your status, and, yes, upload photos by dragging and dropping them into the application.

My only complaint with this app is that I have a custom group of friends set up as my default home feed so I only see the updates I care about, but this app uses the default firehose news feed instead.

Photo Uploader for Facebook is a free download, works on any platform with Adobe AIR. If you're a die-hard Facebook user, it's a great app. If all you want is desktop notifications when something updates on Facebook and you're on a Mac, check out previously mentioned Facebook Notifications.



Personal Navigation Devices to Lose Their Way Among Smartphones? [GigaOM]

garmin-nuvi-travel-gpsPersonal navigation device (PND) sales will grow “at an anemic rate” over the next five years before giving way to GPS-enabled phones, according to an In-Stat report published today. The total semiconductor market for PNDs will surpass $1 billion next year before beginning to decline, In-Stat said. Much of that growth is expected to be driven by connected PNDs that can deliver information such as gas prices and local weather, but manufacturers will have to lower their price points and offer innovative apps if they’re to compete in the superphone era.

While I’m a big fan of mobile phone navigation apps, there is a lot to like about stand-alone navigation devices. Dedicated gadgets typically offer larger screens and more simplified layouts, making them easier to use on the go, and they don’t require a user to choose between making a call and accessing location information. And subscription-based services that leverage 3G connections not only allow service providers to deliver information updates at will, they also enable users to access relevant web-based content such as traffic information and travel tips.

But the price points for dedicated devices are simply too high to compete with mobile phones — especially in a tough economy. Modern smartphones (and even lower-end handsets) typically include GPS functionality, and carriers have wisely begun to package navigation offerings with data plans to introduce them to consumers. There is a ton of opportunity for players that can add value to navigation via user-generated content such as real-time traffic reports and travel reviews, but for the most part, those opportunities will be realized via apps on mobile phones — not through stand-alone devices. When it comes to delivering navigation information to mainstream users, the battle is quickly shifting from the hardware to the applications themselves.

In Q3, Social Media Business Models and Real-Time Search Took Center Stage [GigaOM]

Subscribe to GigaOM Pro for $79 a year, get this report.Social networking and the real-time web are changing how information on the Internet is consumed, as the ability to disperse and share information through social platforms and do it using real-time tools is shifting the focus of content from “historical” news to real-time events. Such a shift is giving rise to what we’re calling the NewNet, and it will impact everyone with a business presence online. As part of our GigaOM Pro subscription research service, we’ve compiled a look at the major trends and emerging issues for this next-generation version of the Internet in a third-quarter wrap-up.

For social networks, “coopetition” is the name of the game
As the NewNet develops, competition among social media players is being monitored more closely. While the rise of one networking site does not necessarily mean the demise of another, user numbers are suggesting that there’s a correlation, as evidenced most recently by MySpace’s performance in the third quarter. With Facebook superseding the social networking site in the U.S. and Twitter overtaking it in the UK, MySpace is struggling.

As social networking sites vie for users (and by extension, market share), the competition has encouraged a great deal of mimicry. What one social network does, another is soon to copy. There were several instances of this in the third quarter, especially in terms of new feature releases.

But the market isn’t entirely defined by competition. Facebook in the third quarter released a feature that allows administrators of Facebook Pages (the pages for celebrities, organizations and businesses) to send status updates out directly as tweets as well as to link each Page to different Twitter accounts. While this feature embraces Twitter as a communication channel, it also serves as a way to keep users on the Facebook site, resulting in a blurring of cooperation and competition known as coopetition. Such arrangements will continue to mark players’ relationships in the space.

Google’s two-front war in search
The rise of social networks, which enable the searching and accessing of current events and dialogues in a casual manner that’s personal to users’ interests, is forcing Google to try and figure out how it can better incorporate real-time search. To that end, the company during the third quarter released a slew of new products, apps and search features — such as such as location-aware results for mobile users — that are geared toward moving Google into the NewNet era by providing context to the user experience. In the meantime, however, the search giant is also facing competition from more established players, most notably in the form of a 10-year search deal inked by Yahoo and Microsoft.

The NewNet is a rapidly evolving space, and the leaders of today (such as Google) can easily become the losers of tomorrow. Innovations around NewNet technologies are forcing companies, new and old alike, to continue evaluating and redefining themselves in order to keep pace. After all, the real-time, social web is not a momentary trend, but rather the future of the web. The next several quarters will be critical when it comes to both defining the NewNet — and to identifying which companies will take the lead in bringing it forth.

A more in-depth look at these trends and others is available in the latest Quarterly Wrap-ups in our five focus areas — NewNet, Mobile, Green IT, Connected Consumer, and Infrastructure. These quarterly reviews are available to GigaOM Pro subscribers, along with dozens of detailed research briefings and in-depth articles on specific topics in each of these areas. You can subscribe here.

Soros to pour $1B into clean energy technology

imageGeorge Soros, famed currency speculator and Democratic party-backer, announced during a speech (aptly in Denmark, where Copenhagen will host the largest climate summit in years in December) that he will be sinking $1 billion into the development of clean energy development. On top of that, he will contribute $100 million ($10 million every year for the next decade), to support a new foundation creating relevant policies called the Climate Policy Initiative.

No further details were given on the types of technologies or companies the $1 billion will help finance. Soros said only that contenders will go through a rigorous evaluation process to make sure they are feasible and able to scale. But his earlier investments in the sector may be indicative of his current interests. For example, he has funded several clean coal companies, including carbon sequestration provider Powerspan. He has yet to express much interest in solar or wind — suggesting that he will focus more on strategies to clean up and improve the efficiency of fossil fuels.

“There is no magic bullet for climate change, but there is a lethal bullet: coal,” he said. “I will look for profitable opportunities, but I will also insist that the investments make a real contribution to solving the problem of climate change.”

Soros said former vice president Al Gore influenced him to take a closer look at cleantech. And he must have been pretty convincing. Soros’ Climate Policy Initiative will launch next month in Berlin. Half watchdog, half lobbying firm, its mission will be to “protect the public interest against special interests” when it comes to energy legislation. Based in San Francisco, it’ll be headed up by Stanford professor Thomas Heller — perhaps taking advantage of the proximity of Silicon Valley as it rebrands itself as a cleantech hotspot.

Also notable, the billionaire used his speech in Denmark to advocate for carbon taxes — extra charges on top of gasoline purchases and other major sources of carbon emissions. This is a pivotal position for a man who made his fortune through currency speculation. He said he opposes carbon tap-and-trade systems because it will give investors and other big money men too much sway over carbon markets — something that could adversely impact too many people.

Back in June, he told reporters, “Neither energy security nor the control of global warming can be achieved without putting a price on carbon emissions. The United States cannot do it alone, but it cannot be done without the United States taking the lead.”

Soros’ involvement could be a major victor for the clean energy space. But, as BusinessWeek points out, this isn’t the first time investor royalty has made this kind of promise without delivering. It cites Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens’ plan to pour millions into wind energy in particular, which never came to fruition. This doesn’t mean it will never happen, however.

Setting out to give $1 billion is no small matter in the cleantech world. So far this year, only $4 billion in venture funding has been invested in the entire green technology space. Months ago, Soros argued that investing in green could be the tipping point in turning the American economy around — it looks like he finally found his opening.


Yahoo’s Connected Home Ambassador Jumps Ship [NewTeeVee]

Patrick Barry, the public face and force behind Yahoo’s living room efforts, is leaving the company after five years, he told his team today in an email picked up by TechCrunch. Barry, who was Yahoo’s VP of Connected TV, had done his best to advocate the cause; there’s hardly a video industry conference without him on the speaker list. We’ve interviewed him multiple times and seen him land plenty of press elsewhere.

Barry’s Connected TV efforts reached their pinnacle through a partnership with Intel to bring widgets to the living room, a topic that has taken hold across the industry, but recently Intel seems to have made Adobe its new favorite son. Meanwhile, as always, Yahoo is in flux, and now Barry is moving on.

From: Patrick Barry
Date: Sun, 11 Oct 2009 19:01:01 -0700
To: Connected Team
Cc: Tapan Bhat, XXX
Subject: Moving on

Connected TV Team,

After 5 great years here at Yahoo, it is time for me to move on to new projects and aspirations. I am tremendously proud of all we have accomplished together, from defining the world’s best user experience for interactive television, to shipping our technology platform on millions devices with some of the biggest brands in the industry. You have been an amazing team, and I will treasure the great times we have had working together to overcome challenges and make an impact for Yahoo. I remain a big believer in our vision for the future of television, and I would not be leaving now if I didn’t have faith in your ability to continue to achieve our goals and extend that vision.

Thank you for the hard work, passion and commitment over these several years. I will miss you all.

I will continue to be here through the end of the month to help make sure our plans and partnerships stay on track. Please join Tapan and I on Monday morning at 9:30 in Chutes so we can answer any questions you might have about my transition.

Patrick

Linux Foundation Rolls Out New Member Benefits [OStatic]

LF art

The Linux Foundation rolls out some new member benefits this week, along with a membership classification just for students. Though there were already a ton of cool membership perks to begin wtih, new access to employee purchase pricing on products from HP, Dell, and Lenovo is a really terrific addition to the list.

A $99 annual membership to the Linux Foundation has always included a personal Linux.com email address, but now current members have the option of keeping their address for life with an additional one-time fee of $150. New members who want this option will pay $249 upfront and $99 per year after that.

Students with a verifiable school ID now qualify for a special $25 annual student membership that comes with all the same benefits as a standard membership. If you haven't checked out all the great membership perks, here are a few more:

* 50% off Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE)

* 30% discount on the Linux Foundation’s LinuxCon and Japan Linux Symposium events

* 20% discount on registration fees for Linux Foundation training courses

* 35% off O’Reilly books and e-Books

* 15% off subscriptions to Linux Journal

* a free Linux Foundation t-shirt

Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation's executive director, says the organization is always looking for new ways to reward members. "Linux will be the center of computing for decades to come," he told OStatic. "In order to provide a long-term, neutral home for Linus and the platform, we are developing innovative ways that individuals can both support Linux and recieve direct benefits for themselves. Discounts on hardware, events, books, software, merchandise and a really cool email address for a small annual fee make that happen.

"The feedback we get from individual members is that they like having the opportunity to support the work of Linus Torvalds. Beyond that, we've been asked to provide the lifetime Linux.com email option, which we're doing today. And, people have asked for discounts on Linux-based devices so we're adding employee purchase pricing from Dell, Lenovo and HP."

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Google Wave Sends Invites to Second Round of Invitees [Google Wave]

Late last week Google started rolling out a new round of Wave invites to folks who were invited by those first 100,000 Wave users. That means that if someone was nice enough to share a Wave invitation with you in our big Wave invite exchange or you tried the dedicated Google Wave Invites web site and got lucky there, you've probably gotten your invite by now (or you will sometime soon).

All of the folks that I invited received their invites on Friday and Saturday, but, interestingly, none of those new users are able to send out their own invitations. That probably means that the folks at Wave are busy putting out a lot of fires right now and aren't ready to open their doors to that kind of explosive growth of new users just yet, but if you made it in with their first round of invites, you should probably be getting your invite soon if you haven't already. If you did get one, let's hear about it in the comments.



The Today Show Jumps On Mommy Blogger Bandwagon With TodayMoms

As Mommy bloggers steadily grow in ranks, the segment is beginning to wield more influence in both the blogosphere and on the web as a whole. And it looks like NBC is waking up to the potential power of this audience. The media company is launching a web-based offshoot of the Today Show, called TODAYMoms.com. Unsurprisingly, the site is currently sponsored by Walmart.

The site will offer parenting news, advice and tips from the show, and wants to engages web-savvy mommies in engaging with the site. There will be a considerable amount of web-exclusive content, and NBC says that they want to create a mobile destination for the site, and perhaps in an iPhone app. It appears that the site will be partly a social network, as moms will be encouraged to create a profile, share photos and participate in the blog via comments and reviews.And the site features a large amount of video content, which is partly on-air segments from the Today show and original content.

The “mommy” audience is a growing segment of web-users that are steadily looking to the web for advice, support and to simple express themselves. We just wrote about the fast growth of Circle Of Moms, a social network for mothers, has seen in the past year. And more Moms are turning to the iPhone and other smartphones to organize and manage their lives. It’s smart for NBC to try and engage this audience in a meaningful way. TODAYMoms’s interface is simple and could use some sprucing up. And the site would be wise to add a few interactive tools for Moms to use as well.

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

Time Capsule Memorial Web Site Launches, Shames Apple [TheAppleBlog]


Time Capsule MemorialEnterprising Apple customers unhappy with the inexplicable death of their Time Capsules have taken matters into their own hands and launched a dedicated web site to record and discuss their experiences. It’s called The Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register, and it’s hauntingly beautiful.

The site has been created to provide a central support hub for Time Capsule customers who have suffered the sudden death of their devices, but feel neglected or ignored by Apple, which has yet to acknowledge there’s even a problem.

It seems the main culprit in most cases of Time Capsule Death are fried capacitors. Users are reporting that the lack of adequate ventilation/cooling in the Time Capsules causes the capacitors to run very hot and, eventually, die. For affected customers, “eventually” turns out to be approximately 18 months.

Here’s the introduction from the site:

Your Apple Time Capsule has died. You are now faced with the difficult, but important, need to mourn.

To show that you’re not alone in this process, we’ve opened the Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register. Please take a moment and submit a few details of your beloved Time Capsule. You will instantly notice it will make you feel better but will also help others facing the same difficult period in their lives.

And hopefully, this register will also provide a reliable overview of the scale of the premature passing of Apple’s “server grade” backup solution.

Apple is accomplished in the art of making us part with our money in return for its beautiful, shiny products. It is somewhat less accomplished in admitting when things have gone wrong with those beautiful, shiny products. The recent drama surrounding the problems caused by the iPhone OS 3.1 update illustrates just how slow and stubbornly silent Apple can be when it comes to reacting to glaringly obvious problems with its products. Over 140 comments on that article tell me that the “coma” problem I wrote about last month — caused by OS 3.1 and experienced almost exclusively on iPhone 3G’s — was much, much more than just the “sporadic issue” Apple casually labeled it in the release notes for iPhone OS 3.1.2. Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, that short line in the 3.1.2 release notes remains the only “official” confirmation from Apple that there was anything wrong.

Ticking Timebombs

The Time Capsule is one of Apple’s more indispensable peripherals; it offers hassle-free, automatic, over-the-air backups along with reasonable storage capacities. Sure, there are cheaper ways to emulate what a Time Capsule does, but the convenience of its simple set-it-and-forget-it nature makes the added expense seem justified.

Imagine, then, the pain when a well-used Time Capsule croaks, taking up to 18 months’ worth of incremental backups with it. I don’t mind admitting that the thought of it strikes fear into my heart. I use two Time Capsules every hour of every day. They’ve proven invaluable to me a handful of times. But these reported problems are making me think of dusting off my old external USB LaCies. I can’t help thinking that I don’t own two Time Capsules; I own two ticking Time bombs.

Apple still hasn’t acknowledged there’s a design problem with the Time Capsules. I wonder whether sites like The Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register could do a sufficient job of shaming Apple into admitting there’s an issue worthy of investigation. At the very least, a perfunctory “We’re working on it” would be better than nothing.

Exponential Entertainment launches movie-star game for iPhone

expo-1With the launch of its first iPhone app, Exponential Entertainment has launched a new prong in its strategy to create Hollywood-focused casual games.

The company has launched Ask the Stars, a 99-cent game on the AppStore that extends its HollywoodPlayer experience from the web to the mobile market. It will be an interesting test to see if video-based games about Hollywood celebrities can take off on the iPhone and iPod Touch, where fans have favored indie titles that exploit the unique nature of the mobile platform. Now the company can judge whether its brand new titles will fare best on the web, on Facebook, or the iPhone.

The game plays scenes from movies using the iPhone’s media player. It also exploits the iPhone’s accelerometer, which allows you to issue commands by shaking the device. In a new twist on the old Magic 8 Ball toy, you ask a question and then shake the iPhone to get an answer from Hollywood stars.

expo-2If you ask, “Should I buy this app?”, a video of Meg Ryan will appear as she screams her fake orgasmic cry “Yes! Yes! Yes!” from the film When Harry Met Sally. Exponential launched its HollywoodPlayer web site this summer and launched a Facebook version with two of its games recently as well. All of the games blend entertainment and casual trivia and puzzle games.

Seattle-based Exponential was the winner of VentureBeat’s first annual Who’s Got Game GamesBeat startup competition in March. The company was founded in 2008 by Bill Kuper and Dave Long. Kuper and Long were the inventors of the popular movie trivia DVD game series, SceneIt? The series generated 25 editions and more than $500 million in sales for Screen Life, the predecessor company. In their new startup, Long and Kuper are essentially taking movie trivia games to the web and coming up with a more interesting mix of interactivity.

Exponential has 11 employees. It raised $1 million in seed funding from founders and angels.[EMBED1]


CleanScores Dishes the Dirt on Local Restaurants [Restaurants]

CleanScores catalogs restaurant inspections so you're not left guessing whether or not the place you're planning on eating is a rat-riddled dive.

You can search by restaurant name or by city/region to locate the restaurant you want to dig the dirt on. If the restaurant can be found you'll receive a report back that includes the date of last inspection, a star-based rank which is complied from the factors in the report, and then a breakdown of the major, moderate, and minor violations the restaurant has incurred.

In addition to the most current report you can also look at a graph of the previous reports, when available, to see if the establishment has an increasing or decreasing score over time. You can also leave comments if you've visited the restaurant—reading over various reviews in different cities it becomes apparent that poor health inspection scores and poor customer service seem to go hand in hand.

Have your own favorite tool for scoping our restaurants from afar? Share it in the comments below.



Google Maps Ditches Tele Atlas in Favor of Street View Cars and Crowdsourcing

google_maps_logo_jul09.pngAfter a flurry of activity around Google Maps over the last few weeks, it now looks like Google is also ditching Tele Atlas as its data provider for Google Maps in the US in favor of a do-it-yourself approach. Google had been using data from Tele Atlas' maps since September 2008 after moving away from Navteq's data after Navteq was acquired by Nokia. Now, Google will use its own data, which it will supplement with data from government sources and a crowdsourcing approach.

Sponsor

Thanks to its Street View cars, Google already has a pretty dataset for even some of the more obscure locations in the United States, and the company has also recently expanded its efforts to launch more Street View data in other parts of the world.

google_maps_data_without_telenav.png

Last week's update to Google Maps introduced new ways to report errors for Google Maps users, so Google is clearly thinking about using a crowdsourcing approach to mapping for Google Maps. Google also announced that it now includes data from a number of US government organizations like the Forest Service and the US Geological Survey in its maps.

In the US, the Census Bureau creates a fairly accurate base map, and this data is available freely and represents the core data set for the OpenStreetMap project. With Map Maker, Google also offers an easy-to-use mapping product that even non-geographers can use to create and edit maps and which Google has already employed to let its users create maps for countries where no accurate maps existed until now.

While the new maps that were launched last week also include new errors, the overall detail of the maps has clearly increased and now even includes data for the boundaries of land parcels in some municipalities.

Why?

The question, of course, is why Google plans to make its own maps now. For one, chances are that Google is currently paying Tele Atlas a lot of money for using its maps. Mapping services are notoriously protective of how their data can be used, which is one of the reasons Apple can't offer turn-by-turn directions in the built-in mapping application on the iPhone, for example. Google probably wants to be free to do whatever it wants with its maps without having to worry about licensing issues.

By providing its own maps and an API for others to use these maps, Google could potentially become a major competitor to Tele Atlas and Navteq now, and if Google continues to make these maps easily available to developers without cumbersome licensing restrictions, it could bring radical change to the mapping business.

Discuss


How Easy is it To Switch CDMA Phones on a Regular Basis? [jkOnTheRun]

Samsung Moment™ PhoneI’m actually posing this question out to you folks because I’ve never had more than one active CDMA device in the past. See, I’m thinking about having two on the same plan. Oh, I know they can’t both be active at the same time and I also know that there’s no physical way to activate one in lieu of the other on a given day. After all, there’s no SIM card in most CDMA phones. But I have heard that both Sprint and Verizon offer an online portal for phone activations. And I’ve also heard that the portal can be used to swap phones on the same account as needed. Do we have any readers that switch CDMA devices on a near daily basis? I’m looking for any tips or gotchas in this area.

Oh, why am I looking into this? Glad you asked! When I saw that the HTC Hero for Sprint was $479 with no contract, I got to thinking about how I don’t have a current Android device to work with. I do have Om’s old G1 but I don’t have a SIM card nor a T-Mobile account to use it as a phone. I mainly keep it around to try different Android software or features. But it’s a little long in the tooth when compared to the newer, faster Android handsets. Plus I have a devil of a time typing on the keyboard — the backlit keys nearly match the bronze key colors and it drives me batty! So, since I have an Everything Data Sprint plan for my Palm Pre, I thought it might be feasible to buy a new Android handset and use the same plan. Both the Hero and the Samsung Moment require the same Everything Data plan as my Pre, so there’s no plan difference. So does anyone have experience with this situation?

Yahoo Loses Connected TV Leader Patrick Barry. Is Bartz Paying Attention?

Yahoo is losing another executive today. Patrick Barry, who heads up Yahoo’s Connected TV group, sent out an email to staff this morning (reproduced below) informing them that he is leaving at the end of the month to “move on to new projects.” According to the email (below), he is briefing staff right now. (Josh Jacobs, head of ad technology platforms, is also leaving).

Update: Barry confirms via email: “i am leaving yahoo. too much opportunity out there not too.”

Through a series of deals with TV manufacturers like Samsung and Sony, the Connected TV product brings Web widgets from Yahoo to your TV. As such, it is a pretty central part of Yahoo’s strategy to connect consumers to the Web and the information that matters to them most.

Yet one former Yahoo executive I spoke to says Bartz has never even seen the Connected TV product. Whether or not that is true, losing executives heading up the products meant to extend Yahoo’s reach beyond the PC is an indication that her attention is elsewhere.

Update: A Yahoo spokesperson also confirms: “We are conducting a search for a new head of Connected TV, which we hope to announce shortly. We remain committed to building upon the innovation and leadership the team has delivered in the connected TV category.”

Here is Barry’s email:

From: Patrick Barry
Date: Sun, 11 Oct 2009 19:01:01 -0700
To: Connected Team
Cc: Tapan Bhat, XXX
Subject: Moving on

Connected TV Team,

After 5 great years here at Yahoo, it is time for me to move on to new projects and aspirations. I am tremendously proud of all we have accomplished together, from defining the world’s best user experience for interactive television, to shipping our technology platform on millions devices with some of the biggest brands in the industry. You have been an amazing team, and I will treasure the great times we have had working together to overcome challenges and make an impact for Yahoo. I remain a big believer in our vision for the future of television, and I would not be leaving now if I didn’t have faith in your ability to continue to achieve our goals and extend that vision.
Thank you for the hard work, passion and commitment over these several years. I will miss you all.

I will continue to be here through the end of the month to help make sure our plans and partnerships stay on track. Please join Tapan and I on Monday morning at 9:30 in Chutes so we can answer any questions you might have about my transition.

Patrick

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