The Importance of Living Life [GigaOM]

The circle of life sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo

The circle of life sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo

Yesterday brought me a simple memo: live life.

It didn’t came on a piece of paper. It was more like a series of disjointed scenes from a movie reel lying on the floor, waiting to be clipped together. It didn’t come as a revelation; instead it came as itself: life.

Like many San Francisco days, it started out gray, wet and cold, enveloped in fog that makes you apprehensive. And like many California days, it ended in bright sunshine, and blue skies with warm wind that caresses the skin.

I started my uniquely American day at a Jewish Temple in Palo Alto, celebrating the life of my friends Saar and Patty’s baby boy. It ended with the memorial service of my friend Rajeev Motwani, a famed academic and venture investor, but most importantly a great human being, in a church on the Stanford University campus. It started with tears of joy and it ended with a quiet tear of sorrow.

And that’s just it — Friday turned out to be metaphor for life. If one event bookended the start of the journey, then the other simply highlighted the destination. And in the process it taught me that it is how we live that is really important.

Saar’s boy has his entire life ahead of him, just like a blank page, only to be filled by the ink of time. Rajeev’s life is like a great novel that has come to an end, filled with stories. I sat in the back of the church and heard a lot of Rajeev’s friends, family members and business colleagues tell stories about him at a heavily attended memorial service that included everyone from his current students to random strangers to two of his most famous students, Larry and Sergey. (Google has endowed a chair in Stanford’s computer science department in Rajeev’s name with a $2.5 million donation.)

Someone called him a great connector, others called him a brilliant mind. But to me, he was just a quiet, thoughtful, kind man, who spoke not with his words but with his actions. He communicated with a smile, and not with a frown. It was not who he was or what he did, but it was how he did it that will remain with me forever.

Of the many who spoke at the memorial, it was Lakshmi Pratury who put it best when she said (and I paraphrase) that in our life we spend too much time agonizing over things related to work, almost forgetting to celebrate and savor the little, countless moments of joy and happiness. And that’s what life is all about. She reminded us that Rajeev used to enjoy those countless moments. The little joys. Perhaps we should, too. (Share you memories about Rajeev at http://rememberingrajeev.com.)

Last night, when I had difficulty falling asleep after my long and emotional day, I decided to watch the season debut of “House.” In the episode, Dr. Greg House, my favorite malcontent (after me, obviously), when asked why he obsesses on failures so much, says, “Successes only last till someone screws them up; failures are forever.” I guess we’ve all thought about life in those terms. I know I did before my own brush with mortality.

Later in the same episode another character, Lydia, remarks: “Everything ends. Life ends. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the beginning.”

To Rajeev, good-bye till we meet again. To my friend Saar’s boy, welcome.

Photo Courtesy: The circle of life sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo by Quistnix via Flickr

WinMo Wrap — the Week in Windows Mobile [jkOnTheRun]

windows-mobile-6-5The week marches on and today being Saturday means it is time to recap the recent happenings in the world of Windows Mobile. The biggest news this week had to be the statements that Microsoft Steve Ballmer made to a group of venture capitalists about Windows Mobile. His Steveness (not that Steve) made it clear that Microsoft had screwed up with Windows Mobile and that WM7 should already have launched. Ballmer went on to mention shakeups in the WM team at Microsoft and that new talent had been “pumped” into the team.

The other big news of the week in the WinMo world may not have anything to do with WM phones, for all we know. Gizmodo found some leaked pics of two new phones thought to be the mystery “Pink” project phones that Microsoft is developing internally. The two phones look like a cross between the Palm Pre and the Sidekick. This is not surprising given the Sidekick is the brainchild of Danger, a company Microsoft acquired a few years back. The new phones leaked this week are reported to be co-branded by Microsoft and Sharp, who is making the handsets. Sharp also made the Sidekicks for Danger, so it’s all in the family. It’s not definite if these branded phones will run Windows Mobile, but Microsoft would be digging an early grave for WM if not.

The Oct. 6 launch date for WM 6.5 is drawing near and it’s looking like OEMs are chomping at the bit to get handsets released with the new OS. Microsoft China has indicated that partners will be releasing over 30 handsets running WM 6.5 this year, which is an awfully tight window. These new phones will be released by over 15 OEMs, so this should get fun to watch come October.

Business Card Alternatives For the Real World [WebWorkerDaily]

business_cardsSo you’re a web worker, but you still meet people in meatspace that you want to network with, and making them type an email into their phone or handing them a plain jane business card either feels awkward or isn’t getting results.

There are other things you can do, things that are far more representative of your trade than a lifeless rectangular slip of paper with some contact information printed upon it. That’s not to say that all rectangular slips of paper are without merit, just that most traditional ones just aren’t getting the job done like they used to, following the demise of the Rolodex. Here are some alternatives you may want to consider.

Email/Blog Address Fortune

Maybe I just have a lot of superstitious friends with hoarding tendencies, but I, and people I know, tend to hang on to the fortunes we get from fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants. At least until the next time I wash the pants I’m wearing, at which point I empty out the pockets and re-read said fortune.

Lucky Brand jeans uses this as a marketing tactic, and includes a branded fortune in the pocket of a new pair of its product. You can do the same. Find a memorable quote or write an interesting fortune, print them on slips of paper with your logo if you have one, and put an email or blog address on the back. Handing these out will not only help you network, it should spark conversation, so long as the content you print on them is interesting enough. Try to come up with a variety so that you can hand them out in groups without doubling up.

QR Code

Depending on the crowd you’re mixing with, and whose attention you want to attract, you might want to riff on the traditional business card by handing out cards printed with QR codes. QR codes are a type of barcode that can be used to link to digital content via a scanned, printed symbol. Here’s an example:

qrcode_wwd

QR codes can be scanned by software readers on smart phones with cameras (as long as there’s an app available for the phone, which there often is) and will process the information and launch the appropriate content. For example, the one above should open a link to WebWorkerDaily. You can generate your own QR codes here.

Obviously, you have to be careful who you give this kind of thing to. It works best with tech professionals who’ll either be familiar with QR codes, or with tech enthusiasts who’ll be interested enough to find out more about them.

Contact Info T-Shirt

If you’re going to a trade show or convention, and you aren’t afraid to do a little shameless self-promotion (which you really shouldn’t be if you’re in this line of business), then have a t-shirt printed up with either your email or web address on it.

Now that cell phone cameras are so prevalent it’s unlikely you’ll come across someone who doesn’t have one, all you have to do to share your info with someone is stand very still for a couple seconds while they snap a photo. It’s memorable, it’s environmentally-friendly, and you get to feel like a rock star for a day while getting your picture taken.

Business Rock

This isn’t mine, it’s something I found on Instructables, but it was so off-beat that I had to share. Basically, the idea is just that you find a well-worn lake or river stone, hand-write your details on it, and distribute that in lieu of a business card.

It’s time consuming, sure, but it doesn’t cost a thing, and it will help you stand out from the field, especially if you work in a creative line of business. You can pick up a relatively inexpensive customizable craft stamp if you’d rather simplify and save your hand some cramping, too.

It’s a little out of left field, but maybe in your line of work, that’s seen as a good place to be coming from.

Let’s face it. The business card isn’t useful. It’s a little like wearing a hat in public. An odd tradition left over from a bygone era that evokes some nostalgia, but that’s about it. You don’t have to start carrying around a sack of rocks, necessarily, but try and shake things up a bit, and your business relationships will benefit.

What business card alternatives do you use or have you come across and thought about using? Any tangible benefits to do doing things differently?

Photo credit: bargainmoose

Android This Week: Motorola Cliq Pre-Orders Near, MID Teaser [GigaOM]

gigaom_icon_google-androidIt’s been quiet on the Android front this week, as the industry took a much-needed rest following the frenzy surrounding the unveiling of the Motorola Cliq phone earlier this month. The biggest news this week was a leak of some internal T-Mobile promotional materials that pegged the Cliq pre-orders to begin Oct. 19. T-Mobile is the U.S. carrier that will offer the Cliq to customers, apparently starting on that date. There is no official word on when the Cliq will actually start shipping, but Motorola has repeatedly said it will happen before the holidays.

Plus, a Chinese PMP maker has a teaser for what appears to be an Android mobile Internet device to be announced this week. The Ramos Digital MID looks to be the same MID that had previously appeared as a concept by chipmaker Rockchip, and it’s expected to support HD video playing. This would be the first non-phone device running Android — and likely the first of many.

Fall TV Piracy Trends Don’t Support CBS’s Anti-Hulu Stance [NewTeeVee]

thementalistIt’s that time of the year again: TV networks are debuting new shows and hoping that established names will bring in huge ratings. These numbers became even more important than usual after Techcrunch published an internal email of CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith this week. Smith had forwarded to his staff a Contentinople article in which TV exes railed against Hulu, and suggested: “We should think about how hard it would be to prove that some ratings declines are a result of reckless hulu streams…”

CBS has been having a couple of good nights lately, with shows such as The Mentalist holding up against audience darlings like Grey’s Anatomy, and new shows like NCIS Los Angeles pulling in record audiences. But is that really because CBS is shunning Hulu and only posting full episodes of some of its shows to its own sites, CBS.com and TV.com? Is free online TV to blame for bad network TV premiere ratings? Take a look at fall TV shows popping up on torrent sites, and you’re gonna see a different picture.

TV schedules are a little bit like black magic, even in the age of TiVo and Hulu. Take CBS’s The Mentalist . The network moved the show to a new spot this season — Thursday nights at 10 p.m., where it will compete with ABC’s Private Practice once that show comes back on the air in October. The new spot probably could have given The Mentalist’s season premiere a solid lead, if it wasn’t for the fact that ABC premiered Grey’s Anatomy at the same time this week. Still, The Mentalist got 14.3 million viewers, which is only slightly less than last year’s series premiere and 26 percent above the numbers that CBS got for the same spot last year.

Would The Mentalist have fared any worse if the show premiere had been on Hulu.com as well, or on any of CBS’s web properties, for that matter? A look at online piracy indicates that online availability wouldn’t have done much harm. Case in point: The premiere episode of The Mentalist popped up on torrent sites before it aired on CBS this year. CTV premiered the show early in Canada, and P2P fans quickly redistributed a recording that has since attracted tens of thousands of downloads.

Other networks’ success stories don’t appear to be influenced by free online offerings either. The season premiere of FlashForward was watched by 12.5 million viewers, despite competing with CBS’s Survivor, which attracted 11.6 million. FlashForward is not only available in full on Hulu.com, but the show is also a big hit on torrrent sites like The Pirate Bay, where the premiere episode currently ranks as the third most-downloaded TV show.

This is not to say that free TV content online can’t have an on impact network ratings. Fox’s debuted its new teen comedy Glee last spring, and the season’s pilot has been available on torrent sites ever since. Maybe it wasn’t a big surprise that only 4.3 million viewers tuned in when Fox showed the director’s cut of that episode earlier this month. Still, the show has been having pretty solid ratings ever since and has actually impressed with a sizable audience share of 18-34-year-olds. You know, the ones that tend to download stuff and browse reckless sites like Hulu all day.

TC50 DemoPit Startup AskYourTargetMarket Simplifies Market Research

TC50 DemoPit company AskYourTargetMarket is hoping to simplify market research for businesses and solutions by offering a comprehensive platform where businesses can both create and deploy surveys. Since the site is in closed beta, AskYourTargetMarket has offered 500 invites for TechCrunch readers. Each invite comes with a free survey package for up to 50 respondents; enter the beta code “TC50-2009″ here.

The site lets you define your target market demographic, then write a survey to distribute to focus groups. Because you are able to target a particular group, you don’t have to waste space on your survey with demographic questions. Once your survey is finalized, AskYourTargetMarket will launch it to your desired demographic within their consumer panel for as little as $29.95 for 50 respondents. The site, which says it has thousands of U.S. consumers on their survey panel, draws its respondents from its sister site, InstantCashSweepstakes.com, which offers users a cash prize incentive for filling out surveys. AskYourTargetMarket is also developing its own “worker site” where members will get paid per question and will be ranked by a detailed algorithm which will determine their pay scale per question.

Once your survey has been deployed, results can be delivered in a few minutes up to 72 hours. Upon receiving the results, the site will offer you tools to create a easily shareable report with analysis and distribution of the results, through charts and graphs.

While the company hasn’t tweaked its pricing yet, its founders tell us that they hope to provide survey options with up to 400 respondents under $100. This price point is definitely appealing considering how expensive it can be to conduct market research. SurveyMonkey (which is growing fast) and Survs.com offer in-depth survey options but don’t offer AskYourTargetMarket’s consumer panel.

Crunch Network: CrunchBase the free database of technology companies, people, and investors

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

DEMO: Basically one big tech party (photo gallery)

The big draws at DEMOfall 09, the emerging technology conference co-produced by VentureBeat, were of course the 70 companies launching or previewing new products. But now that we’ve pointed out the best of the bunch, it’s important to note that DEMO’s not just about the presentations. It’s also about hallway conversations, swapped business cards, and oh yeah, dancing.

So after covering 56 launching companies and 14 Alpha Pitches, here are some pictures of the rest of DEMO.

matt-dancing

VentureBeat Editor Matt Marshall inherits DEMO Executive Producer Chris Shipley’s dancing shoes. Yeah, we posted this once already, but I think it’s worth publishing again.

opening-reception

The opening reception.
demo-last-6Matt Marshall and Chris Shipley engage in on-stage banter. Notice that Chris’ index cards are much bigger than Matt’s. [photo by Dean Takahashi]

demo-last-2Chris Shipley (far left) talks to Donna Dubinsky, co-founder of brain-based software maker Numenta, and Numenta’s partners. [photo by Dean Takahashi]

demo-last-5All 70 companies got to show off their wares inside the DEMO circus tent. [photo by Dean Takahashi]

parr-shipley-dancing

Chris Shipley dances with Mashable Co-Editor Ben Parr.

demo-last-4Under the circus tent, people will do anything to get you to notice their demo. [photo by Dean Takahashi]

jam-session

Attendees unwind at the “DEMO After Dark” party.

demo-last-3VentureBeat’s Anthony Ha is hard at work outside the DEMO hotel. Actually, he only lasted a few minutes because the sunshine was too bright. Sunlight is bad for bloggers. [photo by Dean Takahashi]

augustin-pincusJudges Larry Augustin (of SugarCRM) and Mark Pincus (of Zynga) discuss the presenting companies. VentureBeat writer Dean Takahashi and I were big fans of Pincus’ shoes.

lifetime-achievement-winnrs

The winners of DEMO’s new lifetime achievement award.

marshall-shipley-mcgovern

Incoming DEMO Executive Producer Matt Marshall and outgoing Executive Producer Chris Shipley with Pat McGovern, founder and chairman of IDG, which owns the DEMO brand and produces the conference with VentureBeat.

demo-last-1

Chris Shipley imparts one last (dance) lesson to IDG’s chairman Pat McGovern. [photo by Dean Takahashi]

[All photos courtesy DEMO and taken by Kenneth Yeung, unless otherwise noted.]


Yfrog Lets You Post Media to Twitter Via an iPhone MMS Text [GigaOM]

yfrogYfrog now lets you send photos and video to Twitter via an MMS message on the iPhone, which is in accordance with the Apple device’s new MMS capability going live today.

If you’re new to Yfrog, sign up for an email address on the site, which you can do through OAuth. After that, open a new text message on your iPhone and select a photo or video to upload. Then just type in your Yfrog email address and hit send. You can even type in your own message within the MMS text to add a caption to your picture or use the “@” reply function to notify someone that you uploaded the photo. Other than its slight sluggishness — it took about a minute for the photo to finally go through — the main downfall of Yfrog’s MMS capability is that “Multimedia message” is written before the link to your photo, which isn’t very aesthetically pleasing. Overall, the new Yfrog capability works just as it promises, but for now I’ll stick with Twitpic and Echofon.

yfrog profile

VentureBeat’s policy on embargoes: We’ll take ‘em

embargoIn the news business, there’s something called an embargo. That’s when a company, usually through a public relations person, gets an agreement from a writer not to publish a story until a certain time. The writer is then allowed access to people and information to craft the story prior to the time the embargo lifts. A writer might spend all day Monday writing a story that’s embargoed until Tuesday morning, when more people will read it.

In the horse and buggy days, there was a clear understanding about the ground rules for these embargoes.

On the Internet, though, the real-time nature of publishing and the rise of self-published bloggers and Tweeters has led to what seems like an infinite number of publications, each with different policies about how they deal with embargoed news that lands in their inboxes. So I think it’s important to explain VentureBeat’s policy on embargoes very specifically.

We embrace embargoes, and we hold to them fastidiously.

Why? Because the lead time granted to writers by an embargo gives companies an easy way to get their news published at a time that works for the company, while also giving writers a chance to research the story and write it well. The embargo period gives writers a chance to interview the company, do some quick fact-checking, and take some time to review their work.

If company simply releases news with no care to timing, writers attack the news like a pack of piranhas. That often results in blood everywhere: Writers scramble to hit the publish button within five seconds (and I’m not exaggerating here; writers to get credit for having the earliest story, and it gives their stories more juice among search engines and other news aggregation services, such as Techmeme). End result: Mistakes are made, and companies feel misunderstood, frustrated or burned.

What’s not to love about the embargo?

At the same time, I can understand why TechCrunch and the WSJ abandoned embargoes. They are making calculated gambles that they can be the biggest players in their game, and they see little to gain by sharing the story. They’d rather force companies to give them the exclusives; that way they can stay ahead.

For a majority of news events, though, companies can get the maximum distribution by sharing news with a number of different outlets. The only fair way to do so is by setting an embargo.

Despite our acceptance of the embargo, we’ve made some silly mistakes in our short life as a publication. For instance, last year, we didn’t realize that our WordPress software didn’t adjust to account for daylight savings. So we posted a few stories at 9pm, and only later realized they were actually showing at 8pm. (Yes, we really did post an hour early for a few days. We’re that dumb.) And there have been three or four times we’ve broken an embargo either by misunderstanding or sheer human error (for instance, we broke the Microsoft Hohm story when one of our writers forgot the embargo time). However, in each of those cases, we’ve immediately pulled the story (the Hohm case included), and we’ve apologized to our sources.

The odds of these mistakes happening are pretty small, though: We’ve held to literally thousands of embargoes. And when an embargo agreement is clear stated by the company, and accepted by our writer, the chances of a misunderstanding are almost zero.

Finally, there are many times when a PR person initially shares news with us under embargo but where the story shows up on a competing publication before the embargo. Sometimes, this results from an honest mistake made by another publication, where a reporter “forgets’ about the embargo, or somehow lets their publication publish it early (these mistakes have happened about just every publication I know). But other times, it’s clear PR person or company executive have broken their promise to hold to the embargo — and bent the rules to please a particular publication. Sometimes, they’ll bend the rules for us, and we won’t complain (the trouble is, sometimes competing publications begin to believe we’ve broken an embargo, but we haven’t, because we were tacitly given the go ahead). But when it’s VentureBeat that is left in the cold, here’s our policy: If a PR firm or company shows repeatedly that it can’t be trusted to enforce embargoes, then we won’t accept embargoes from them anymore.

[Image credit: Colostate]


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.

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