Tag Archive | "girlfriend"

Hackathon Team Builds ‘Open Radioactivity Warning System’ For Crowdsourced Data


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Hackathons can sometimes turn into a sea of laptops and monitors, so perhaps it’s no surprise that, as I wandered the Disrupt Europe Hackathon today, I found myself drawn to a table covered with wiring and gadgets, including a Geiger counter.

The idea was pretty unusual, too – as the four-person team explained it to me, they’re trying to build a system for collecting and displaying crowdsourced radiation data.

Philip Wagner (the team member actually working with the Geiger counter) explained that in situations like the Fukushima nuclear disaster, you might not trust the company involved to give you accurate warnings about the radiation danger. So a participant in the Open Radioactivity Warning System would receive their own Geiger counter that collects and shares live data online.

The team’s hardware attracted other passersby, and one of them suggested that a similar project already exists. I think they were talking about Safecast, a project that was originally funded through Kickstarter in the wake of Fukushima – right now, it looks like Safecast is focused on Japan.

The team comes from the Austrian cities of Linz and Vienna, and it’s their first time at Disrupt. Wagner attributed the idea to his teammate Alex Entinger, who seems to have brought the the group together – he went to school with one of his teammates, another is his girlfriend, and he said he recruited Wagner because they work on the same floor.

It seems like the system is still very much a work in progress, but Entinger said he’s determined to have something finished for the hackathon presentations tomorrow. In the meantime, you can see an initial version on the website of Entinger’s startup, LXRobotics.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

The Caktus Hug Sensor Makes Sure You’re Drinking Enough Water


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Summer’s all but over, but it’s no less important to stay hydrated. According to the CDC 43 percent of Americans drink fewer than four glasses of water a day, and while the actual amount you should drink varies from person to person, four glasses probably doesn’t cut it.

That’s where Caktus, a neat Finnish hardware startup that presented at TechLaunch’s second New Jersey demo day, comes into play. Their mission? To fix that dearth of drinking with an app and a curious sensor that straps onto your water bottle.

The sensor (called, adorably enough, the Hug) is a foam-lined gizmo that wraps itself around a water bottle and quietly tracks its motion. It’s not just a pint-sized koozie though — the Hug quietly monitors the bottle’s movements so it can provide its user with a rough idea how much fluid they’ve imbibed so far. Think of it as a giant Jawbone Up that straps onto your water receptacle and you’re on the right track.

As always though, the hardware is only part of the equation. A companion app (iOS only for now) uses an algorithm to suss out which of those motions actually correspond to the user lifting the bottle to drink and which are just noise caused by random movements. The app also tracks ambient temperature and keeps tabs on what sorts of exercise you’re doing (you still have to punch that in yourself) so it can update your hydration goal in real time.

To hear founder Panu Keski-Pukkila tell it, the Hug (and the rest of Caktus) was born out of pure necessity. An avid extreme athlete, he grew used to his girlfriend reminding him to drink more water while he was out carving up slopes in the Alps. When she moved to New York, though, that useful feedback mechanism disappeared and Keski-Pukkila set out to create something that could fill that particular hydro-centric void.

And you know what? As downright kooky as the whole thing sounds, the combo of the Hug sensor and the app actually worked really well. In a brief demo, the sensor was accurately able to determine that roughly two ounces of water were squeezed out of the bottle, and the partner app updated almost immediately. With the Hug, you’re not quantifying yourself so much as you’re quantifying the stuff that goes in your body. That said, the team is taking a proactive approach when it comes to all those fitness-tracking gizmos floating around out there. They’ve already managed to bake in Fitbit support so users won’t have to punch in how many glasses of water they’ve downed in a day.

For now the device is still strictly in its prototype phase, but the team is eagerly working to get the Hug, its partner app, and a dev-friendly API ready for prime time by early next year. So far they’ve locked up $25k in seed funding from the TechLaunch accelerator, and they plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign in early 2014 to lock up the cash necessary to start producing these things en masse.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

MyTAG Wants To Make Local Selling Safer And Simpler


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Spotted in the Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013, myTAG is a soon-to-launch online platform for local selling that aims to make the e-commerce experience more transparent between buyer and seller by adding “social proof” into the equation. That is, instead of only looking at anonymous postings on a community board like Craigslist, myTAG users pull in their eBay and Amazon ratings as well as their social media profiles, and add them to their account to gain legitimacy.

Of course, many of companies have tried to take on Craigslist, and have failed to gain traction. But, explains myTAG co-founder Tony Pham, his platform is differentiated not only by the introduction of social profiles and seller ratings, but also because of its support for video. Buyers and sellers can integrate videos into their posts, instead of just photos. The service has some gamification elements, too, as users can earn “vouches” as others leave them ratings and reviews, and earn badges for reaching specific milestones, like the number of videos they create.

Color Band Lets Children Paint Pictures With Sound Using The iPad’s Motion Sensor


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Freemium app Color Band uses the iPad’s front camera motion sensor to create a magical experience for children learning about music and color. With a few strokes of their fingers on the iPad’s touchscreen, kids can draw their own instruments. To play them, they just have to wave their hands in the air.

Color Band was created by LND Games, a Taipei-based studio staffed by programmer David Liu, artist and animator Yi-Ning Wang and 18-year gaming industry veteran Louis Lu, who was once lead character artist on the God of War series but now focuses on making non-violent games as an indie developer.

Color Band is similar to apps like SoundBrush (which we recently profiled), but it also includes coloring canvases and pages that combine art practice with basic music theory. For example, children can draw seven shapes on their iPad’s screen–and then use the motion sensor to tap out the major scale (or “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti”) on them. Sounds can also be recorded–sketch a bunch of flowers, record a voice, tap on individual blooms to make them “sing” and then use auto playback to turn the garden into a miniature choir.

Another nifty feature is the ability to use real-life objects as instruments, as demonstrated by this video.

Programmer Liu conceptualized Color Band after watching his girlfriend, a teacher, show small children how to play simple musical instruments.

“We wanted to create an interactive app that would teach kids about music and art, but also be intuitive and fun to use,” says Liu.

LND Games packed Color Band with features in order to keep children (and adults) engaged. Users can “paint a picture with sounds” using more than 80 interactive colors that each have a unique instrument or sound effect assigned to them, including cymbals, bongos and animal noises. Some colors contain multiple sound effects, while others have scales or chords, allowing kids to learn more about pitch and harmony.

Interactive coloring pages and canvases, more of which are available as in-app purchases, feature drawings of instruments such as pianos and guitars that can be played like their real-life counterparts. After kids finish working on a drawing, they can interact with it using the iPad’s motion sensor, touchscreen and automatic playback, or invite Color Band’s animated mascot, an pink bunny called Lalabee, to dance along to the rhythms and sounds they created.

LND Games was founded by Liu after he became intrigued by the gaming possibilities of the motion sensors on the iPad’s front camera. The studio’s first title, Slap That Zombie, was released last fall. A fun, simple game that Liu created to test the iPad motion sensor’s reactivity, Slap That Zombie allows players to pummel undead characters (and test their reflexes) without touching their iPad screens.

Liu says the LND Games team will continue to push out new features for Color Band, while their next motion sensor-based app will focus on fitness for people of all ages.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Nuance Announces Voice Ads, So You Can Talk To Mobile Advertising


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Nuance, a company known for its voice technology, is getting into the advertising business.

It’s launching a new product called Voice Ads, which brings Nuance capabilities to mobile advertising. These are ads that you can actually have a (limited) conversation with, potentially creating a much more interactive and fun advertising experience — which is particularly challenging for mobile advertisers who have to work with limited screen space.

The company isn’t ready to announce specific campaigns yet, but the team showed me a demo ad in a demo news app. The ad initially just looks like another mobile banner, but when you tap on it, it opens into a magic 8 ball promoting the fictional Alpha deodorant brand (with the slogan, “Don’t sweat it”). We asked questions like, “Is my girlfriend going to break up with me?” and the 8 ball would offer some follow-up questions before delivering an answer. (It was not very optimistic about this relationship.)

The ads can also take advantage of location data, and data from the microphone — so for example, if the noise level is too high, the app might show you a regular ad instead of a voice ad.

Behind the scenes, the advertiser has to write a Q&A script that the ad can follow. Thanks to Nuance’s technology, the ads take advantage of natural language processing, so they will still understand questions even if the visitor doesn’t use the exact wording that the advertiser expected. Plus, Nuance allows advertisers to improve the system by uploading their own terminology.

The company has a number of partners in the ad industry, including agencies like Digitas, OMD, and Leo Burnett, as well as mobile ad companies Millennial Media, Jumptap and Opera Mediaworks, plus mobile ad server Celtra. Not only are those partnerships necessary in order to ensure that the Voice Ads actually work, but they should also be crucial to actually bringing advertisers on-board, especially since Nuance isn’t building out an ad sales team of its own.

The company is also trying to fit into existing ad infrastructure. It’s charging on a CPM basis (that’s cost-per-thousand-impressions), rather than trying to use its own engagement metric. And the voice functionality could be included as an additional feature in existing ads.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Microsoft Launches New Scroogled Video For Valentine’s Day, Says Google Will Read Your Love Letters


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“Don’t want Google snooping on your Valentine?” That’s the question Microsoft is asking today in its latest “Scroogled” video. Last week, Microsoft picked up its anti-Google campaign to put the spotlight on privacy and the fact that Gmail looks at your email’s content to better target its contextual ads. Those ads were, to put it mildly, very aggressive. For Valentine’s day, Microsoft just launched a new ad that shows the evil “Gmail Man” opening and reading love letters as he delivers them to their recipients (though on a positive note, he does throw some random coupons into them to sweeten the deal). The Outlook postman, naturally, just delivers the letters without looking at them.

The message here doesn’t really need any explanation, but I had a chance to talk to Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of Online Services and the lead spokesperson for the Scroogled campaign yesterday to discuss these ads.

Weitz was very open about the fact that this is indeed a very negative campaign. The reason for this, he argues, is that Microsoft is trying to get people to pay attention to its products like Outlook.com and Bing. Google, Weitz said, “is a habit” that even his girlfriend can’t quite break.

The problem for Microsoft, according to him, is that just focusing on features and speed may work when trying to attract early adopters, but for mainstream users, it matters for more how they feel about a product and that it is aligned with their values. With the Scroogled campaign, Microsoft is trying to get people to stop and at least reconsider their options.

Whether these videos really get people to stop and think about whether they want to use Google or not remains to be seen. While it’s hard to like the secret agent-like Gmail Man in today’s video, it’s at least a slightly more lighthearted take on the this message. Overall, I still think Microsoft would be better off if it just highlighted where its products outperform Google, but Weitz is probably also right that Microsoft also needs to have a more visceral message that doesn’t just focus on “features and speed.”

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Swartz’s Girlfriend Shares Intimate Details Of His Last Days, Explains ‘Why Aaron Died’


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In a heartfelt tumblr, the girlfriend of fallen Internet activist, Aaron Swartz, explained why she thinks he committed suicide. After revealing intimate details of his seemingly chipper, curious lifestyle, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman argues that “I believe Aaron’s death was caused by exhaustion, by fear, and by uncertainty. I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a persecution and a prosecution that had already wound on for 2 years.”

Stinebrickner-Kauffman, who found Swartz hanging by his own belt on January 11, devotes the lion’s share of her post to dispelling the myth of Swartz’s depression. “Over the last 20 months of his life, Aaron spent more time with me than with anyone else in the world. For much of the last 8 months of his life, we lived together, commuted together, and worked in the same office,” she writes. “I was never worried he was depressed until the last 24 hours of his life.”

“The Aaron I knew was sociable and excited to spend time with his favorite people, right up to the very end. He had plans and ambitions — huge ones. On January 9, two days before he died, he spent hours deep in conversation with our Australian friend Sam about the new organization Aaron was in the early stages of building. Sam asked him whether he had support, and Aaron replied that everyone who was competent enough to support him was, in fact, supporting him — classic Aaron pessimistic arrogance, but also a reminder that he knew his friends were standing with him. Sam gave Aaron a quick overview of Australian politics; Aaron expressed astonishment at how easy it would be to “take over Australia”, but concluded that a country of only 20 million probably wouldn’t be worth it. Self-esteem, needless to say, was definitely not Aaron’s problem.”

Placing the blame on mental health, she argues, diverts attention to the true cause of his suicide: an overzealous prosecution. Swartz was the target of a controversial legal case for releasing millions of pay-walled academic papers from the popular JSTOR database. In response, Hacktivist organization, Anonymous, replaced part of MIT’s website with a statement condemning the prosecution and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has proposed a bill to limit the prosecutorial power of similar crimes, dubbed “Aaron’s Law.”

The AtlanticWire boldly surmised the opposite, that he may have in fact been depressed, even if he wasn’t outwardly showing signs, leading Stinebrickner-Kauffman to tweet:

Controversy aside, the post is heartbreaking and well written. Let us hope his death was not in vain.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

The Little Black Dress Reinvented By You: Bow & Drape Reworks A Fashion Cliché


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Technology is quickly disrupting one of the oldest industries in the country, fashion. And customization is at the heart of that, whether it’s personalized web fittings or Indie boutique pieces via Etsy or completely customized clothing. Bow & Drape, a company we met in Boston, is ready to rethink the way you shop for dresses.

In essence, Bow & Drape lets you start with a silhouette — A line, drop-waist, or whatever — and continue customizing from there. You can select the hemline, color, sleeve-length, and add special accoutrements like beads. The site asks for a quick set of body measurements before you get too in-depth to make sure that whatever you choose will fit like a glove.

According to founder Aubrie Pagano, Bow & Drape allows for over 30,000 different dress combinations, so ladies will no longer feel like they’re wearing the same dress as everyone else. A Bow & Drape is a true original.

We tested out the service, and found that the average dress runs between $120 and $180, but the pieces we tried fit very well and (according to my girlfriend who works in fashion) are made of premium materials.

Being out of Boston, the Bow & Drape dream is to revive women’s relationship to their clothing. Back in the day, the relationship with a woman and her seamstress was very special, and together they would create pieces that were worn forever. Today, we churn out clothing like it’s food to be eaten and digested, and since much of it is the same as what our friends are wearing, there’s no urgency to preserve it as special or unique.

And every Bow & Drape dress is manufactured in the U.S., unlike most of the clothing we buy today from major retailers.

Bow & Drape wants women to take control of their clothing, in a way that makes each piece special to own and wear. More colors and customizations are on their way, but in the meantime feel free to check out the already-wide selection that’s available. Shipping takes between two and three weeks, but it’s free. And if you’re worried about fit, there is a Fit Kit warranty you can purchase to make sure the dress fits properly.

Click to view slideshow.



Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Google Makes A Pre-Holiday Marketing Push For Chromebooks With New Online, Times Square And Best Buy Ad Campaigns


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We don’t know much about how successful Google’s Chromebooks really are. Outside of talking about their adoption in schools and businesses, Google has never released any detailed sales figures. Most analysts assume they aren’t exactly a run-away hit. That hasn’t stopped Google from pushing forward with this initiative in the past, though, and this holiday season is no exception. Not only is Google running a massive campaign on Times Square and online, it also looks as if it has secured some prime real estate on Best Buy’s storefront windows.

Google’s “For Everyone” campaign includes an online component at galleryforeveryone.com, where users can upload their own images with a short message about who Chromebooks are for. A selection of these images and texts is then shown online and on billboards on Times Square, which is becoming an increasingly popular venue to highlight new tech products. Just like Google, Microsoft featured a Windows 8 booth in the middle of Times Square earlier this month and also rented out a number of billboards. Only Google, however, got somebody to propose to his girlfriend using its hybrid online/offline campaign.

Google’s intent here is clearly to make Chromebooks more of a mainstream product and it makes sense that it is also enlisting the help of Best Buy, the U.S.’s last major brick and mortar electronics retailer. Best Buy has been featuring various Chromebook displays for a while now, but as Google+ user Clayton Pritchard noted earlier this morning, some Best Buy’s now also feature massive “For Everyone” Chromebook ads on their storefront windows.

Specifically, Google is highlighting the new $249 ARM-based Samsung Chromebook in these ads. Despite mostly positive reviews, it’s not clear that mainstream users are all that interested in Google’s Chrome OS-based laptops. The company clearly believes in the product, though, and isn’t likely to pull the plug in this experiment anytime soon. Most kids, however, would rather get an iPad for Christmas than a Chromebook.

Image credit: Clayton Pritchard



Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Tired Of Waiting In Line At Bars? Coaster’s Got Your Back With A Mobile App For Placing Drink Orders


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Here’s a startup idea that’s close to my heart. If at any point in your adult life you’ve ever entered a bar, pub, night club, lounge, or other fine watering hole, you’ve probably dealt with the problem of waiting in line to order a drink.

It’s a huge pain in the ass for all involved: You’ve got the gal who’s just standing there and can’t figure out what it is she wants to drink, the bro ordering 12 shots of Fernet for all his friends, the poor guy who just wants to close out his tab, and the other guy who forgot his credit card and doesn’t have any cash, all those people holding up the line. And then there’s the bartender who’s running between them, trying to keep everything straight. Meanwhile, your date’s sitting alone by herself getting hit on while you spend 20 minutes trying to get her a raspberry martini.*

Or you could just use Coaster and save yourself the trouble of waiting in line. Instead, you just place an order from your phone, sit back, and wait for your drinks to be made. When they’re ready, you get a push notification telling you to pick them up, as well as a unique identifying code to make sure that you’re the person who gets those drinks. And the best part? There’s no worrying about running a tab or closing down at the end of the night — all payments, tips included, are done on their phone.

Sounds great for patrons, but what do bars get out of it? Well, a few things: Coaster streamlines the order and drink-making process, since bartenders can make drinks that have already been ordered while patrons in line figure out what they want. It means better tips, since users can choose to pay from right within the app. It also means no dead or declined credit cards holding up things, and no cards left at the bar at the end of the night.

Co-founder Inderpal Singh tells me that the idea for Coaster came from DJing at various bars and clubs over the last 15 years. After seeing the pain point that comes with ordering drinks first hand, he set out to do something about it and built an app. Now he and co-founder Kevin Callaghan are pitching it to bars and clubs and trying to get them signed up.

So far, they have about 15 different bars on board in San Francisco, including places like Public Works, Wish, Jones, Harlot, Eve Lounge, Temple, and 111 Minna. But they’re always looking to add more. Check out the app, drink up, and let us know what you think.**

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* I have never actually dated someone vapid enough to order a raspberry martini. Although my girlfriend once did order something called a Junior Mint. It tastes just like it sounds.
** That’s right, comment drunk. Please.



Article courtesy of TechCrunch

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