Batman: Li’l Gotham by Dustin Nguyen


This post is by Tom Mason from Gear Live


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Batman L'il Gotham

Others have reported on this so it won’t come as news, but it’s too good to not share. Because it's Batman!

DC Comics has a new digital venture that looks amazing. Batman: Li’l Gotham is from artist and co-writer Dustin Nguyen and his co-writer Derek Fridolfs. Batman: Li’l Gotham is a “stylized, watercolor take on the heroes and villains of Gotham, and each new installment will be set against the major holiday of each month.”


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Batman: Li’l Gotham by Dustin Nguyen originally appeared on Comix 411 on Wed, October 31, 2012 – 10:51:52


Hey Google, Your Nexus 7 Marketing Images Look Like Crap


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nexus1

No one understands why President Obama didn’t hammer Governor Romney on his 47% secret video comments during the first presidential debate. In hindsight, a mistake. Like President Obama, Google is throwing away its best ammunition against the iPad mini – pixel density – by publishing marketing materials that make the Nexus 7 look like a turd.

I’ve been perusing the iPad mini reviews and am thinking about getting one. A big negative that most people are focusing on is the screen resolution, which is just 1024-by-768 at 163 pixels per inch (ppi). The iPad 3 by comparison is 264 ppi.

“Ew, the screen is terrible” writes John Gruber (quoting someone else)

“The iPad Mini costs too much, especially considering the lower resolution of its 7.9-inch non-Retina Display” says CNET.

So 163 ppi isn’t all that bad, if we’re willing to live in 2010.

Anyhow, I read that the Nexus 7, Google’s competing tablet, has similarly sized 1280×800 display but far more pixel density at 216 ppi. The Nexus 7 is also just $200 to the Ipad mini’s $329 (for 16 GB).

So I’m thinking, maybe I’ll buy a Nexus 7. I haven’t been testing any Google hardware lately, since I moved to the iPhone last year.

As I’m perusing the Google Nexus 7 site with screen quality on my mind I notice something. All the screen images on the device are absolute crap.

Normally we all expect a little let’s say optimism in marketing materials for fast food and consumer electronics. But Google seems to be going the other way, showing a device putting out screen resolutions far below what they actually look like in person.

A few examples:

Here are a few from Apple’s iPad mini site:

Based solely on those images, which one of these devices do you want in your hands?

All of the above images were screen captured and then I played with the size with Skitch for this post. That distorts them somewhat, but you can go to the links above and see for yourself.

My biggest complaint with Android devices in the past was fit and finish. Apple nails it, Google doesn’t.

And even when Google has something to really show off, they fail to do it. Somebody in marketing needs to brush up on their Photoshop skills, pronto. Pixelated and blurry images (and boring ones, too) don’t make me want to buy a Nexus 7. I know the device has a way better screen than Google is showing me, but these things matter. Inattention to detail destroys products.


AT&T and T-Mobile switch on joint database for stolen cellphones


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cell tower stock 1024

AT&T and T-Mobile have introduced a database that will track stolen cellphones and keep them from being used on the carriers’ networks. All four major US carriers agreed to contribute to the database back in April; CTIA executive Chris Guttman-McCabe told IDG News that AT&T and T-Mobile have collaborated first because their GSM networks are essentially interchangeable.

“The goal is to not only protect the consumer by cancelling the service, but by ultimately protecting the consumer by drying up the after market for stolen phones.”

It’s not clear when Verizon and Sprint will introduce their own efforts, but all four carriers will operate a combined database by the end of November next year. The database records the unique IMEI…

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Disney/Star Wars: Top 10


This post is by Tom Mason from Gear Live


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Admiral AckbarStar Wars/Disney jokes were old the second the deal for Disney to acquire Lucasfilm was announced, but that won’t stop anyone, especially me.

A meme went around on Facebook earlier this week started by screenwriter William Martell. What are the best/worst Disney/Star Wars movies?

I joined in, thinking what a great idea, and then so I didn’t monopolize the thread, I started keeping my thoughts to myself to share them here because I can.

Here are my Top 10 Disney/Star Wars mash-ups. But be careful!

As Admiral Ackbar will say, “It’s a Parent Trap!”

10. The Scarecrow of Romney Maul

9. The Computer Wore Light Sabres


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Disney/Star Wars: Top 10 originally appeared on Comix 411 on Wed, October 31, 2012 – 10:16:14


Sony slims losses despite declining sales


This post is by Jeff Blagdon from The Verge - All Posts


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Sony logo NYC HQ (STOCK)

Sony announced its second-quarter financial results today, and things are beginning to turn around following last year’s $5.7 billion loss and a disappointing first quarter. While the company lost $198 million on $20.5 billion in revenue, it was a significant improvement over both last quarter’s $312 million loss and a $350 million loss at the time last year. But the improvement comes despite lackluster sales in many of Sony’s biggest businesses and troubles in China that cost the company some $375 million, according to Reuters. Nevertheless, Sony managed to stick to its forecast of a $160 million net profit for the year ending March 31st, 2013.

Before taxes, Sony made an operating profit of $388 million, compared to a $20 million…

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With 4.5M Users, Instructure Takes On The Courseras & Udacities Of The World With Its Own Open Course Network


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Instructure launched Canvas in 2011 to give educational institutions an alternative to the ubiquitous (but much criticized) software of educational giants like Blackboard. Rather than forcing schools to spend six months integrating and learning how to use inflexible and bloated learning management software, Canvas offers an open source and cloud-native system that is accessible to all students and educators, easy to use (avoids Flash) and mobile, while offering developers a set of APIs and scalable server capacity.

Since then, Instructure has raised $9 million and has seen its LMS adopted by 300 universities, colleges and school districts, serving over four million people (thanks in part to its recent partnership with Cisco).

Today, Instructure is adding another piece to its learning management system with the launch of its own MOOC hybrid called the Canvas Network. Essentially, the network allows schools to define the structure of their online courses and customize the learning experience. They can choose to offer courses in a scalable, open format (i.e. MOOC-style) or pursue a smaller, more closed model, in which courses are taught on the online platform schools already have up and running — and are tuition-based.

Why? Well, as you’ve likely heard, there’s a lot of attention being paid to massive open online course initiatives (MOOCs), thanks to networks like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, EdX and StraighterLine, to name a few. However, in talking with schools, Instructure CEO Josh Coates tells us, they learned that, while MOOCs have seen buzz from national media, institutions still have a lot of concerns about these open course initiatives.

Chiefly, many schools views open course platforms as a feature, rather than the future of education and, while being necessary and integral to the democratization of access to courses and learning content, are not yet sufficient. On top of that, Coates says, schools believe that MOOCs currently privilege a one-size-fits-all approach, which fails to take into consideration the fact that each university has its own needs, and views on how to educate their students.

In reality, universities want flexibility and the ability to run courses the way they see fit, rather than being shoehorned into a specific model or interface. And, somewhat controversially, schools content that real innovation in education is coming not from the vendors serving institutions, but within institutions (and the system) itself.

That’s why the Canvas Network allows schools to offer their courses in one aggregated resource, where students already enrolled in their programs can search for and access their content and where the public (you and me) can do the same — pursue and discover courses that offer open enrollment.

Beginning today, students can view and register for these classes for free, choosing from an initial set of 20 courses from both Ivy League schools and community colleges. What’s available today is basically the network’s initial catalog of courses, which will begin in January 2013, but the company plans to continue expanding that catalog as it goes.

The courses listed today are open to the public and cover subjects like economics, math, engineering, dance, music and business. Participating groups and institutions include Brown University, Colorado State, Ball State, University of Washington, Ball State, University of Central Florida, Utah, XYZ Textbooks and Open Course Library, to name a few. (See the list of courses here.)

Again, the intended benefit of the Canvas Network for learners is a place where they can find courses offered by a range of institutions that are free and available to the public, while students at particular institutions can access content from within their particular curriculum. Now, one might argue that, for those looking for the free, open course option, Coursera offers a way better option, because it only offers content from Ivy Leagues and top institutions.

This will definitely add some friction, however, Coates is of the mindset that, just because Ivy League schools have that lofty status, doesn’t mean they offer the best courses or methodology in every particular subject. Maybe there’s a community college in Colorado that absolutely nails archaeology. The idea, then, is that the Canvas Network allows schools previously unknown to those outside of their communities to reach a bigger audience.

That’s great, but as it fills up with content and adds more institutions, it will have to find better ways for students to find the best content. Sure, Instructure has a reach of four million, but it’s still a fairly unknown entity, so why would someone unfamiliar with its learning software immediately trust it to curate content from random institutions and community colleges few have ever heard of? Maybe it will open the courses up to commenting and student reviews, but my hunch is that will be a problem they’ll need to address at scale, even if it’s not a consideration at launch.

On the flip side, for schools, the Canvas Network proposes to add value by offering flexible course design, advance tools like built-in multimedia, ePortfolios, collaboration, mobile access, analytics, grading — leveraging features of its LMS. On top of the ability to use public enrollment and have their courses, teachers and subjects show up in a public course index, schools can also export their student data for analysis, marketing, research and all that good stuff. The idea is to help them understand how course design and instruction is affecting student outcomes, whether they’re blowing it or turning all their students into Einsteins.

It will be interesting to see how students and schools react to the Canvas Network in comparison to the StraighterLines and Courseras of the world. Each of them has value in their own right (StraighterLine with accreditation and Coursera with Ivy League content, for example), but obviously there could be a lot of value — if it’s able to offer a comparable number of Ivies and community colleges — in Canvas’ ability to offer a blend of MOOCs and accredited courses, especially as it already has a sizable network to leverage. But time will tell.

Although, it is a plus that Stan Lee is teaching a course on comic books.

What do you think?


Microsoft launches new Windows Phone 8 syncing app for Mac


This post is by Sam Byford from The Verge - All Posts


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windows phone mac

Hot on the heels of the new Windows Phone companion app for Windows 8 and RT, Microsoft has overhauled its syncing app for Mac users. Version 3.0 has been renamed simply to “Windows Phone” with a new icon that reflects the Windows Phone 8 Start screen; unsurprisingly the headline feature is compatibility with Microsoft’s latest mobile OS.

The interface also now allows for drag-and-drop file transfer between your phone and the desktop, there’s updated iPhoto and Aperture support, and the app has been enhanced for Macs with Retina displays. Windows Phone 8 users, meanwhile, will be able to see their battery charge state and have extra ringtone capabilities. The new Windows Phone app is available now in the Mac App Store.

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FastMail Escapes The 1990s With Sleek New Interface


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fastmail

FastMail is a popular e-mail provider among power users who want to be customers instead of products. But its interface has been stuck in the 90s — until this week when it rolled out a brand new AJAXy UI. And it’s really, well, fast.

Here’s a video of the new interface:

I use FastMail and the old school UI hasn’t been a burden since I mostly just use the IMAP service with desktop and mobile clients. I assume most other users do the same. But I do occasionally have need to use the web client and I had started to worry that the lack of an overhaul meant that Opera, which acquired FastMail in 2010, wasn’t taking the service seriously.

So I was pretty pleased when I logged in today to adjust some of my filtering rules and was greeted with a shiny new interface that no longer looks like Yahoo Mail circa 1999. I’ve only been using it today, but so far it’s great. It’s nothing revolutionary — it’s similar to the interface Yahoo Mail introduced back around 2005. But it’s more responsive than I remember Yahoo Mail being.

You can now drag and drop items from one folder to another, archive e-mail with a click of a button and, probably most noticeably, e-mails are now organized by conversation, just like in Gmail. In short, it works like other modern web mail interfaces like Yahoo, Zimbra and Outlook.com.

I mentioned it being fast and responsive before, and I want to emphasize that again. This feels like a native application — actually, better than many native e-mail apps. The only thing that isn’t lightening quick is search, and even Gmail is getting slower in that department.

One thing I haven’t gotten a good sense for, however, is how much CPU and RAM it takes up over time. So far it seems small and stable, using fewer resources than Gmail or most Windows desktop clients I’ve used in the past year, such as Thunderbird, Outlook and emClient. I’m skeptical as to how long that will last, but I haven’t noticed any memory leaks or CPU spikes — yet.

Assuming there aren’t any nasty performance surprises in store, I’d say it’s ready to go toe-to-toe with any other web mail service with one caveat: there’s no calendar or task manager. Therefore it’s not ready to displace my desktop software as my go-to mail app, but it will definitely make life nicer when I’m forced to use the web client. Anyone looking for an alternative to Gmail should take a look, especially if calendar integration isn’t a high priority.

If you’re interested in switching, check out Joe Brockmeier’s experience migrating from Gmail to FastMail. His experience is similar to my own, but I’d mention that the actual migration was problematic at times — I had a lot of e-mail and the transfer failed a few times. Part of that is because Gmail doesn’t follow the normal IMAP conventions for folders. If you add multiple labels to something in Gmail, that gets translated into IMAP-world as having multiple copies of it in different folders. So if you were using two gigs of space on Gmail you could easily be using six at FastMail because of this duplication. I ended up deleting almost all of my labels, but if you depend on labels this is probably not a good solution. On a brighter note SaneBox is a great cross-platform alternative to Gmail’s Priority Inbox and it works with FastMail.

For those of you already using FastMail but who prefer the old version, you’re in luck: you can still revert to the old layout. But everything is so well laid out it took no time at all to “relearn” it. That could be because I’ve spent enough time using enough different e-mail clients that I have the lay of the land down pat, but even some of the more hidden features like changing rules and filters were intuitive to find. All my earlier settings seem to have transferred over as well.


Black Girls Hack creates #blackhack: a hackathon for black women programmers


This post is by John Koetsier from VentureBeat


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What do you do when you can’t find a cofounder? Or, when not enough people in your demographic are programmers, much less startup founders?

If you’re one of the young women entrepreneurs behind Black Girls Hack in Atlanta, Georgia, you organize a hackathon. But not your run-of-the-mill standard white male sausage-fest hackathon — this is going to be a “blackhack.”

And it’s a blackhack for women.

Inspired by Black Girls Code in San Francisco, four women founded Black Girls Hack to inspire African American women (and girls) to be software developers and startup founders … and to gather, communicate with, and connect all those who already are.

I talked to one of the founders, Amanda Spann, who also serves as the PR coordinator of Black Girls Hack.

“We’re all African American, and we all have tech startups,” she said. “One thing we all struggle with is feeling like we’re the only ones … there are so few blacks in technology.”

Spann is starting up Glamobile, a review and recommendation community in the fashion and shopping space that is currently in stealth mode. Another founder, Kat Calvin, is starting Character’s Closet, a startup that will allow fans to find and eventually purchase their favorite TV and movie stars outfits.

Instead of bemoaning the fact that it can be tough to find black developers — especially female ones — and accepting it as the status quo, the women decided to do something about it.

The first thing they’re doing is #blackhack, and it’s happening November 16-17 in Atlanta. Spann expects about 100 African American women coders to show up, and she’s already excited with the early enthusiasm.

“We’re really amped to have people on board,” she said. “And MailChimp came on only two days after we announced as a title sponsor.”

The event is being run as a charity, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to Black Girls Code.

photo credit: kk+ via photopin cc

Filed under: Business, Dev, Entrepreneur, Social


Apple spends an extra $1 billion on research in 2012, still way less than competitors


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timcook-iphone5

Apple just handed its annual report in to the SEC, revealing that the company laid out an extra billion dollars on Research and Development this year. But despite jumping from $2.4 to $3.4 billion dollars, R&D spending stayed flat as an overall percentage of revenue — a scant 2.2 percent — thanks to a 45 percent increase in sales, to $156 billion. In comparison, rivals like Google and Microsoft spend around 15 percent of revenues, and Samsung sits in between at around 6 percent.

Just a third of Microsoft’s $10 billion

Apple says it racked up the billion-dollar increase by hiring more researchers. A year ago we reported that the company was expanding research efforts in Israel, which is likely responsible for a big share of the…

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Israel’s Plarium debuts graphically rich hardcore Stormfall game on Facebook (exclusive)


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stormfallIsrael’s Plarium is one of a new generation of Facebook companies that is creating graphically rich, hardcore games. Today, it is launching its Stormfall: Age of War fantasy empire-building game on the social network.

stormfall 2Tel Aviv, Israel-based Plarium launched its first games in 2009 and has focused on serving hardcore gamers in the popular medieval fantasy genre. In Stormfall, players build a castle and form alliances with other players to defend the throne of a fallen empire. It’s a real-time strategy title with cool 2D graphics. Players can battle each other, trade with friends, and go on raids with fellow lords. They also acquire food, gold, and iron to construct buildings and build armies.

stormfall 3Normally, social game companies target casual audiences such as older women on Facebook, which has a billion users and 251 million monthly active gamers. But Sean Ryan, the director of game partnerships at the social networking service, said last week that Facebook gamers are becoming more diverse and now appreciate hardcore titles such as Stormfall. He pointed to Stormfall as a beautiful-looking game that may not attract the biggest audience but would likely monetize anyway.

Plarium has more than 12 million monthly active users for its games across Facebook, Google+, Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, and Mail.ru. Ryan also noted that Israel is becoming a hotbed for social gaming, as more than 450 developers showed up at a recent social game conference.

stormfall 4“Following the success of our popular Facebook games Total Domination and Pirates: Tides of Fortune, Plarium is focused on delivering the next explosive title with the launch of Stormfall: Age of War,” said Avi Shalel, Plarium’s chief executive. “The story of Stormfall is one that will appeal to hardcore gamers. We’re eager to introduce our fans to the world of kingdoms, magic, and more with this exciting title.”

Stormfall: Age of War is available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, and Turkish. The company has more than 250 employees.

Filed under: Games, Social


Google Earth adds new 3D imagery in 21 cities to its 11,000 guided tours of our planet


This post is by John Koetsier from VentureBeat


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Google updated Google Earth today with new 3D imagery in Boston, Rome, Munich, and San Francisco, along with 17 other cities, adding to the virtual touring possibilities of a service that already has 11,000 of what Google calls “comprehensive and accurate tours.”

Here’s an example for Rome that showcases the ancient Coliseum and the Tiber river:

The 3D flyover tours were previously available on mobile devices, but you can now enjoy them on larger screens by downloading the new version of Google Earth to your desktop. Simply go to a part of the planet you’re interested in, and Google will highlight any available tours in that region.

Google previously updated the desktop version of Google Earth just at the beginning of this year to make its imagery more lifelike and realistic. Now the mobile and desktop versions are synced.

The 11,000 tours are not limited to our planet — you can also explore Mars, the Moon, or a variety of Hubble Space Telescope images. But there’s plenty to explore right here at home, with The Great Wall, Stonehenge, and more.

Between Google Earth with its 3D imagery and realistic flyovers — and flythroughs — and Google Maps with underwater “street view” panoramas in the Great Barrier Reef, Hanauma Bay, and other world heritage sites, there are precious few places you can’t virtually travel anymore.

Image credit: Google

Filed under: Big Data, Media, Search, VentureBeat


Summly wants to make news summaries cool


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Remember Nick D’Aloisio, the Internet wunderkind I met last year in Berlin? Well, he is back with Summly, an iOS (iPhone + iPod Touch) mobile app that takes full news pages and offers them as short and succinct summaries for on-the-go consumption. The app, which is likely to be available at the iTunes app store later today, is well-designed, relatively simple and easy to use. But more on that later.

All Grown Up

When I met him last year, the company he had started while still at school was just him. It was essentially focused on summarizing any kind of web page. Since then the focus has narrowed to news, probably because it is a more manageable market opportunity. Summly has managed to raise about a million dollars in angel funding from a potpourri of investors that range from actor-comedian Stephen Fry to Yoko Ono to your usual bold faced suspects from the technology industry.

Investors, frankly, don’t mean anything unless there is a product and a market opportunity that is validated by target customers. D’Aloisio, who has been riding the crest of a media tidal wave, believes that he is onto something new and unique. Why?  D’Aloisio argues that regular news articles, blog posts and tweets don’t allow us to consume copious amounts of news while on our mobile phones, especially since we only have a few minutes to glance at the screen. Tweets eventually lead to a bigger article or just don’t have context. Blog posts and news articles are mostly too long or are packed with cruft. Hence, he has focused his attention on “summaries.”

The company has grown from Nick (who has taken a leave of absence from school) to seven people in addition to about half a dozen people at SRI who have helped develop the technology platform for the new, improved news-focused app. And the back-end changes are there to see – the application (at least in trials) was fast and was able to serve up information rather quickly.

My Tiny App Review

There is a lot to like about the app: it is simple, initiative, fast, clean and extremely well designed. The app comes with pre-packaged categories such as sports, entertainment, business, politics and technology. These categories are represented by large color blocks. (It reminds me of Windows Phone blocks.) You can add your own key words — say, Apple — and a different color block (green) shows up in the app. I am not a big fan of blocks — they look out of place on the iPhone/iOS, but the are simple to navigate.

Latest stories show up at the top, and the ones that are read simply vanish. Want to save, email, tweet or share on some other social network? No problem — press anywhere on the screen and a flower-shaped menu shows up for you to take the necessary action. It is meant to be used with a single hand, with little more than a handful of gestures to navigate through lots of information.

Interested in the latest company funding news? One of the tech blog posts will be summarized into a few words that fit the phone screen comfortably. Want to know what the presidential candidates are lying about? There is a summary for that. You can read news flowing through Twitter and you can pick your news sources. As you shift locations — move from U.S. to U.K., for example, and the summaries change as well. Every time you open the app, the background image changes — a nifty little touch that makes me feel that I am seeing something new, even though nothing might have really changed.

Like I said, there is a lot to like about this app. However, after using it for a few days, I found some inconsistencies. The summaries were generally accurate, but were often nonsensical enough for me to wince. The sources of information that have been curated by the company are predictable and the summaries are bland.

So what’s the problem?

I have this weird way of identifying blow-out apps and services. It is my personal “addicted to dopamine” metric. Twitter has that weird addictiveness. Facebook used to have it (but now it is one giant sprawl of different kind of data.) Instagram was and remains insanely addictive. Prismatic is a drug for infovores like me. The digital services I find the most attractive are the ones that leave me craving more — so much so that I keep returning multiple times a day in order to get my fix.

Summly isn’t there just yet, because it doesn’t provide that constant craving and gratification. Despite the clean design and simple aesthetics, I don’t feel that I need to return to it multiple times a day. It doesn’t feel immediate enough, despite being fast. Many summaries are late, which makes the app feel a little dated.

I am in the news business and headlines, blog posts, tweets, visual information, long-form articles, data visualization — they are my stock in trade. In fact, I consume more information than even I realize. More than 500 blogs are flowing through my RSS reader. My Twitter desktop is jam-packed with lists. As I said, news is my business.

I should be an ideal candidate for a summary-centric service. Summly is something that makes logical sense to me and I want it to be the magic bullet, but so far it remains on the fourth (of seven) screen of my iPhone. In time, I am sure it will move up. I have complete confidence in D’Aloisio and his ability to re-imagine and reinvent what is clearly a much needed app.

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Now that Halo 4 will run on Windows Azure, what’s next?


This post is by Barb Darrow from GigaOM


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Microsoft knows how to make big, sweeping pronouncements. And there were a lot of those flowing out of the company’s Build Conference in Redmond, Wash. this week.

Satya Nadella - President, Server and Tools Business, Microsoft - Structure 2011In a blog posted Wednesday, the day of his Build keynote. Satya Nadella, president of  Microsoft’s Server and Tools business, talked up Windows Azure as the platform of choice for building and running modern applications. For developers, he said Microsoft’s Cloud OS — a combo of Azure and Windows Server 2012 — gives developers the most complete platform to build on “regardless of their preferred language, tool or framework.”

That’s a big claim and one that some non- .NET developers aren’t buying. Sure, they acknowledge that Microsoft has added support for non-Microsoft languages — PHP, Node.js etc — but they don’t trust that Microsoft is supporting them as robustly as it supports its own languages and frameworks. That’s a hurdle for Microsoft if it wants to attract these developers in addition  to enterprise developers. Business users are heavily invested in Java or .NET code.  according to Sinclair Schuler, CEO of Apprenda, a company that offers a business-focused .NET platform as a service.

Reaching out to web developers

In his blog, Nadella touted the company’s “internet scale” workloads including Skydrive, Office 365, Xbox Live and Bing. How many of those are running on Azure now? No one was saying, because the answer is close to zero. But, that’s about to change. Next week Halo 4 will launch and then, according to Nadella’s post: “2 million concurrent players will experience the power of Windows Azure, which is used to power the entire multi-player experience.”

Nadella continued:

” … the Halo 4 team was able to cut costs by more than 60 percent from the previous release. The team reduced the development time with high levels of infrastructure automation, and that in turn allowed them to re-platform the entire code base in less than a year. Finally, with the flexible and on-demand architecture of Windows Azure, each Halo 4 developer had their own development environment, which allowed development and testing to run in parallel.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman said Azure will “power the entire back-end and supporting services for Halo 4, which include presence, leaderboards, Avatar rendering, match making and more.” And, that the Bing Search API and Microsoft Translator will be available on the new Windows Azure Store.

Update: Commenter Tim Acheson points out that Bing Maps also runs on Azure.

Eating the dog food

Microsoft always brags about eating its own dog food (the world’s worst metaphor). So when it tells outside developers to build and deploy software on Azure when it isn’t doing so itself, it’s just awkward.

Halo ain’t Office or SharePoint, but it’s a start. When it comes to its productivity applications, Microsoft has nibbled around the edges by enabling developers to write add-ons for Office and Sharepoint that run on Azure. But as to when Azure will be the deployment platform for Office 365 or other of the company’s software-as-a-service products, your guess is as good as mine. Windows Azure launched after all, in February, 2010. Tick, tock.

Post-hurricane, New York’s internet industry runs on diesel


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diesel drums

Diesel fuel drums outside the Peer1 data center in Lower Manhattan.

Just before 5 p.m. on Monday, the team behind New York’s Fog Creek Software announced in a blog post that its services would be online during Hurricane Sandy, despite the fact that the company’s main data center was located in an evacuation zone in the low-lying Financial District.

“Given the preparation work that’s gone into this, we are confident that all of our services will remain available to our customers throughout the weather,” systems administrator Bradford Ley wrote. “Consider this the ‘Everything is Perfectly Fine Alarm.'”

The storm hit. The power went out. Fog Creek’s data center, Peer1, switched to an emergency diesel generator on the 17th floor, just…

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Mountain Dew-branded Halo 4 game makes a weird sort of sense


This post is by Jeffrey Grubb from VentureBeat


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Halo-Mountain-Dew-Screen-RS

Mobile developer Ogmento has two new games out today. One of them is an interesting location-based basketball game called NBA: King of the Court 2. The other is … Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled by Mountain Dew.

Yes, “Fueled by Mountain Dew” is part of the actual title. Gamers and the press didn’t miss their opportunity to lob a few insults at the ridiculous name. Still, it’s worth looking at: The game itself isn’t bad, and it’s a clever use of mobile game mechanics that makes use of location data, smartphone cameras, and the ubiquity of 7-Eleven stores, Mountain Dew, and Doritos to create a novel branding exercise.

Both games are due out tomorrow for iOS and soon after on Android, and while many people are quick to judge without playing, they should probably stick around for the description because Ogmento is on to something pretty interesting here.

“At Ogmento, we are really excited about location-based games,” he said. “The world is the final gaming platform. The idea, particularly with our augmented reality, is that we can trigger game experiences around the people, places, and things around you.”

Let’s explain how the game works:

Halo 4: King of the Hill is a free download from Apple’s App Store or Android’s Google Play market. Ogmento designed the entire game around enticing players to engage with its partners’ products: Mountain Dew, Doritos, 7-Eleven, and Halo. The developer accomplishes all of that through its real-world, location-based gameplay.

In Ogmento’s Halo, players need to physically enter an actual 7-Eleven store (which acts as the titular hill) and check in to become the king. If another player checks in to the same 7-Eleven, they can kill the current king and replace them.

Killing is accomplished when players use the Halo 4: King of the Hill app to shoot the current king’s avatar in a first-person shooter minigame that approximates the full Halo console experience. Of course, the other player isn’t going to just be hanging out at 7-Eleven, so the app creates an asynchronous representation for the current player to fight with.

Here’s the really ingenious part: Ogmento throws a kink in the works by limiting a player’s ammo. Guess what the player must to do to reload? He needs to use the King of the Hill app to scan the front of a Mountain Dew or Doritos package, which loads him with enough energy to keep on firing and overtake the old king.

Players get points for each 7-Eleven that they rule. If they earn enough points, they receive an unlock code for special downloadable content in the full Halo 4 game.

It’s a savvy marketing scheme that dangles something that Halo fans may want, and all they have to do is go out to 7-Eleven (a paying partner of Ogmento) and hold a bag of Doritos (also a paying partner).

But is it also brash commercialism? You bet your ass. Gaming website Kotaku called this iOS game a parody of itself. IGN joked in its headline: “Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled by Mountain Dew is a real app that exists.”

The game company is not showing any sense of shame, however: Quite the contrary.

“We’re in America,” Ogmento president Brian Selzer told GamesBeat. “We’re in the bastion of commercialism, and that’s what spawns a lot of entertainment.”

He was especially responding to a vocal minority of gamers who spent the last week in an outcry over gaming personality Geoff Keighley sitting next to several bottles of Mountain Dew, bags of Doritos, and a cutout of Master Chief.

Yesterday, Polygon ran a story about a Halo promotion at U.K. Pizza Huts. (Full disclosure: Polygon is part of The Verge family of media sites and is a competitor of VentureBeat and GamesBeat.) Angry gamers bombarded the story’s comments section with accusations that Polygon breached its ethics statement.

Then today, gamers got wind of Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled by Mountain Dew and quickly derided it as another example of how all of gaming is a slave to the corporate master.

“[Our technology] is very innovative, and there’s a big research-and-development cost to that,” said Selzer. “There’s opportunity for us as a company to work with partners like Pepsi, who are really allowing for these types of experiences to be built out and expanded.”

Basically, this game only exists because it’s a commercial for something else.

“It’s kinda like how film director David Fincher does some commercials [in between films],” said Selzer. “He experiments with his film techniques in car commercials, and then he’ll go out and make a feature film [using those techniques], and the audience gets rewarded for that experimentation.”

So, yes, Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled by Mountain Dew is gaming as a billboard, just like a TV commercial is filmmaking as a billboard.

“This type of game opens doors to new types of games,” said Selzer.

And it did. Ogmento’s NBA: King of the Court 2 is a basketball version of this type of location-based gameplay. It turns real businesses, parks, or wherever into virtual courts that players can become the king of. Players need to outplay the current king of the court to overthrow them, and it all happens asynchronously.

As for getting worked up about a game with a corporate sponsor, it’s kind of too late to do anything about that. The toothpaste is already out of the tube when it comes to commercialism intermingling with our big media launches. I mean, just try to get a non-film-branded large cup at any fast food restaurant during the summer.

Filed under: Games, Mobile


Funding Daily: Rainbow Brite!


This post is by Rebecca Grant from VentureBeat


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




 

You may have expected me to theme Funding Daily today around Halloween, but our copy editor here at VentureBeat suggested I be unpredictable and go another route. Considering I have spent the day dressed in Rainbow Brite, and am in full costume as I write this, I readily agreed. Scroll through today’s funding news, and then go out and have a night of spooky Halloween fun!

For more funding news as it happens, subscribe to our Deals Channel feed. You can also follow VentureBeat on Twitter, @venturebeat, to view funding news as it’s published.

Big Switch gets $25M to take traditional networks into Rainbow Land 

Big Switch Networks flipped the switch on a second round of funding for its network virtualization technology.The company’s OpenFlow platform makes network architecture more flexible by enabling multiple networks to act as one single network. This gives network administrators more control over the behavior of network devices, such as routers and switches. This round of $25 million came from Redpoint Ventures and Goldman Sachs, as well as from previous firms Index Ventures, Khosla and Ventures. Big Switch was founded in 2010 and has raised $39 million to date. Read more on VentureBeat.

Isocket charges up with $8M and a Star Scepter

Digital advertising startup isocket closed an $8 million round of funding, the company announced today. Isocket simplifies the advertising process for web publishers by providing a self-serve ad platform for high-end ad clients (meaning, the companies willing to drop a lot of money to advertise on the site). To address the growing number of publications that want a better way to run direct display ad sales, isocket is rolling out a new enterprise-level service, called BuyAds Pro, for advertising agencies that serve many publications. Read more on VentureBeat.

Locbox pulls in $5.1M to vanquish the King of Shadows and daily deals

LocBox wants to be the alternative to Groupon, Living Social and the host of flash sales sites, and has raised over $5 million in its quest to win over small businesses. The San Francisco-based startup helps businesses run marketing campaigns. The idea is that Groupon and the like can pull customers into a store to pick up a one-off promotion, but they can’t drive long-term loyalty. Read more on VentureBeat.

Star sprinkles and job transparency shine through Glassdoor

Glassdoor has locked up $20 million in new financing to make the job-hunting process more transparent. This career and jobs community provides a range of services such as job search, personalized job listings, company reviews, interview advice, and salary comparisons. The company is rapidly adding users and this investment will help scale the platform to accommodate the growth. This round was led by DAG Ventures, with participation from Benchmark Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures, and Battery Ventures. This brings the total investment in Glassdoor to $42.2 million. Read more on VentureBeat. 

UpWest Labs unveils its team of 6 startup Color Kids 

UpWest labs, an accelerator program in Silicon Valley that serves Israeli entrepreneurs, graduated its third class today. It also announced that over the past five months, over $3 million in seed funding has been invested in its graduates. Today’s unveiled companies are Drippler, Peer5, Tenfoot, Automatelt, KeyWee, and HoneyBook. Read the press release. 

advercar rides magnificent horse Starlite into $2 million

adverCar has raised a seed round of $2 million for its service that connects advertisers with drivers. Advertisers can deploy a fleet of adverCars, armed with display ads, to specific locations. The round was led by Canaan Partners with additional investors include 1-800-Flowers, Branford Castle Private Equity, New Orleans Startup Fund, and TiE Angels Boston.

Fleksy sends stars, happy typing, and funding out of its wand

Syntellia tapped into $900K in seed funding for Fleksy, its keyboard technology designed for touch-screen devices. Fleksy can be used by the blind and visually impaired to type faster and auto-correct their typing. The investment came from a group of angel investors and venture capitalists. It recently competed at the Distilled Intelligence pitch event.

Filed under: Deals


90 Seconds on The Verge: AT&T / T-Mobile, Boxee, Kickstarter, Paper


This post is by Ross Miller from The Verge - All Posts


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Ross 90 Seconds

Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strage. Watch this show and you will see 90 Seconds of Halloween. This is Halloween — let’s talk about technology. Smartphones bleep in the dead of night. This is Halloween, spotty connectivity. Trick or tweet ’til the readers leave the site.

Stories of the day:

Missed yesterday’s news? Watch more 90 Seconds on The Verge at 90so.tv — and now on iTunes, too!

(PS: On The Verge returns…

Continue reading…

Turntable.fm Founder’s New DJZ Dance Music Site And DJZtxt App Will Make Your Eyes And Ears Bleed


This post is by Josh Constine from TechCrunch


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DJZ Site

Electronic dance music (EDM) is all the rage with kids born after 1990 (Generation Z), and Turntable.fm founder Seth Goldstein is bringing the scene online. Today he launches DJZ, a news hub website, and DJZtxt, a messaging app that turns emojis into sounds. With $1 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins, music industry folk and more, DJZ could capture the youth’s eyes and dollars, or get skipped.

DJZ’s design captures the loud colors and sharp sounds of EDM and the costumed crowds who show up to its festivals. Bright pink, blue, yellow and jet black give DJZ a snazzy feel, though they might make long-term browsing a bit of a headache. You sure won’t forget it, though. That will be critical to DJZ’s success, considering it’s courting such an easily distracted audience.

As for features, DJZ’s home page offers a two-column feed of dance music news topped with quick links to stories about the genre’s biggest artists. The Artists A-Z tab has profiles for all the biggest EDM DJs, complete with biographies, music, tweets, Instagrams, news, and upcoming concerts. And if you want to know where to rave, the Events tab lays out future shows and festivals featuring the dance DJ elite.

The pop-up, Soundcloud-powered DJZ Playe in its Listen tab lets you bounce to mixes anchored around particular artists. Playlists such as “If You Like Skrillex” will give you a combination of favorites from the dubstep superstar and jams by similar artists you don’t know. DJZ could definitely benefit from some exclusive songs and videos to draw in fans. That’s not out of the question, considering along with KPCB, Google Ventures, Index, and True, DJZ’s investors include Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter plus MTV and BET owner Shari Redstone.

DJZtxt is just absurd. The iOS messaging app lets you choose from a set of emoji icons that each represent a drum, synthesizer, or other music loop. Choose a few and send them to a friend and they’ll hear the sounds combined into a little song.

I can’t imagine people spending serious time on it, but it’s surprisingly fun, at least from a novelty standpoint. I really dug the page of Internet meme samples that lets you throw Nyan Cat, “Double rainbow all the way”, and Peanut Butter Jelly Time sounds on top of a fat beat. Goldstein tells me premium packs of samples from big artists will go on sale regularly to try to keep the app fresh.

Goldstein’s new website has a lot of potential. It’s laser-focused on the core elements of EDM fandom, and a great way to keep up with your favorite artists while discovering new ones. Traction with teenagers is a fickle thing, though. Goldstein agrees, “you can’t lock them down”. DJZ has planned some clever ways to pull in visitors, though. Along with buying cheap search keywords to bring in what he expects to be high lifetime value users, Goldstein says DJZ is “partnering with festivals and handing out glow sticks in the audience.”

Still, DJZ may need exclusive content and promotion by the DJs themselves to pull in an audience. Goldstein explains, “The big difference between MTV 20 years ago and today is that artists themselves are distribution. If you put together the Facebook and Twitter streams of the the top 30 artists, that’s Comcast, that’s Time Warner Cable, that’s the direct distribution you need. When we get to the point where DJs are promoting their profile pages because what we’re doing with aggregating social feeds may be more compelling than what they’re doing themselves, then I think we have a much more sustainable model.”

It’s early days, but if artists adopt DJZ as their home, it could become as popular as the dance music kids love and people over 50 think is noise.


Watch Nerdery: Up Close With The New Seiko “Orange Monster”


This post is by from TechCrunch


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Seiko-SRP313-watch

If you know me, you know two things about me: I love watches and I smell, faintly, of ferret. That’s why I’d like to share my excitement at this review of the new Seiko SRP313K1 “Orange Monster,” one of the nicest and least expensive automatic diving watches you can buy.

I’m a huge fan of the Seiko Orange Monster. It’s a perfect “first watch” for a beginning collector and at about $300 it’s not very expensive. It has a solid case and bezel, a very legible face, excellent lume, and the band can last years. In fact, my Dad’s old Seiko diver from the 1970s had a rubber band that finally snapped in 2009. These new models are on-par in terms of quality and durability.

The new divers in this series have an improved movement, the 4R36. This movement has a “hacking” seconds hand – that is you can stop it when you pull the crown all the way out, thereby allowing you and your crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit to synchronize your watches. This model also allows you to hand-wind the movement, a valuable feature if you plan on setting this automatic down for a longer length of time.

The “New Monster” comes in multiple face styles including traditional orange with silver bezel, orange with black bezel, and a weird sunburst style that is a bit jarring to my purist’s sensibilities. I’ve found it for $289 online but expect it to be fairly hard to find in the U.S. until Seiko finally realizes that no one wants quartz dress watches that sell for $500 at Zales and instead wants these things. Seiko so rarely brings their truly great watches to the U.S. (I would kill to get a Golgo 13 watch, for example) so if you can spot one of these and it’s under $300 you should probably pick it up.

You can read the full review of the New “Orange Monster” here but I’ll try to pick one up to talk about for our upcoming gift guide. You know, for science.