Because of how far certain Web technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 have brought us, many would say that—from a Web platform perspective—the future is _now_. Sounds like a cliché, I know. At the very least, it feels like the future is starting to bubble up to the surface… but it’s just not quite there yet.
When we use new DOM features, HTML5 APIs and the latest in CSS3, the possibilities that open up are astounding. These new technologies help us easily build Web applications with less reliance on hacks, plugins, images, and bloated scripts. This makes life easier not only for Web developers (for both building and maintaining these projects) but also for the end user who gets a faster and stronger overall experience. http://sswi.me/OYmU5Z via @smashingmag
The only Internet that matters is the Internet of things. Admittedly, this sounds like science fiction, but it is an idea that bears directly on the future of brand marketing that comes straight from consumer packaged goods. In 1997, Kevin… http://sswi.me/NeTRI3 via @TheBlakeProject via @TheBlakeProject
Now comes news that another DoE-backed green energy company may be running out of juice. This time, the company isn’t in the solar sector, and it received federal money through a separate program. Still, the Solyndra comparison is inevitable, especially for critics of the Obama Administration’s green energy policy.
Reuters reports that lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems Inc. told investors on Friday that it has only about five months’ worth of cash remaining. That’s despite a $249 million grant it got from the Obama administration, on top of a $378 million IPO in 2009. Insolvency isn’t a foregone conclusion for A123, but at this point failure wouldn’t come as a surprise.
The culprit in this case seems to be poor execution—the company suffered big losses after turning out a batch of defective batteries—coupled with lower-than-hoped-for demand for electric vehicles, which are the main end use for A123’s battery technology. Despite federal backing of its own, plug-in electric car startup Fisker Automotive has struggled, and sales of the Chevrolet Volt have been slow. Tesla has just begun shipping its latest all-electric car, the Model S sedan, but at prices upwards of $50,000, it will likely find a niche market at best.
Like Solyndra, Beacon Power, and Abound Solar before it, an A123 failure would provide yet more fodder to conservatives who see these investments as so much big-government waste. And if the bankruptcies continue to pile up, I wouldn’t be surprised if more liberals turn against the DoE’s investments as well, asking why taxpayer money should be going to private-sector startups as opposed to more traditional forms of government-funded research.
The only defense that remains is the one that has been most valid all along: Any investment in a new technology risks not panning out. That’s true for venture capital, it’s true for federal grants and guaranteed loans, and it’s true for government-funded academic research or military R&D. How many government-funded R&D projects over the decades have amounted to nothing tangible? The difference is that when they fizzle out, there are no headlines about all the millions of taxpayer dollars that have gone to waste. http://sswi.me/Nf1sJm via @slate
Social discovery service bitly raises $15M round led by Khosla
Known to most for its link shortening service, bitly has raised another $15 million aimed at changing that perception. Bitly, a betaworks company, wants to be the “primary online service for sharing and discovering interesting content.” Look for a new round of hiring to follow.
T-shirts developed that could charge mobile phones
Scientists at the University of South Carolina have found a way to use a cheap T-shirt to store electrical power. It could pave the way for clothes that are able to charge phones and other devices. Experts predict that new technologies including roll-up smartphones and laptops will be on the market soon. These developments would […] http://sswi.me/NmaAHT via @shellypalmer
Computer Watches Humans Play Connect Four, Then Beats Them
A computer scientist has published a paper detailing how systems can successfully win at boardgames after watching two minute-long videos of humans playing. Using visual recognition software while processing video clips of people playing Connect 4, Gomoku, Pawns and Breakthrough — including games ending with wins, ties or those left unfinished — the system would […] http://sswi.me/OXwGFv via @shellypalmer
Vita Sackville-West’s Love Letter to Virginia Woolf
"I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia."
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DC Dumps Bill To Force Uber Into High Prices; Complains That The Bill Was To Help Uber
Earlier today, we wrote about the city of DC working on a a bill that would require startup car service Uber to charge five times as much as a cab, arguing that they need to regulate what is considered a “premium class.” They don’t explain why one needs to regulate what’s premium and what’s not, but that’s what you get in a massively regulated/anti-competitive market. The public outcry over this regulation, however, has resulted in the Councilmember who wrote the amendment, Mary Cheh, backing down and shelving it.
As we noted in our earlier post, Cheh had said all along that the amendment was actually an attempt to _legalize_ Uber, after a Taxicab Commission “sting” earlier this year, which claimed that Uber was acting illegally. In response to all of this, Cheh seems upset, since she says that she worked _with_ Uber to create the amendment, and was blindsided by the criticism: _ “Several months ago, Uber contacted me and asked to work together to legalize services like Uber in the District… Since then, I have met with Uber many times, negotiated in good faith, and believed that I had reached an agreement with them last week.” _ Others have suggested that parts of the amendment could be acceptable if they remove the minimum pricing rules. Uber, for its part, claims that it’s always believed the service was legal in DC, so it never believed that the amendment was needed to “make it legal.” For what it’s worth Uber clearly has benefited from this fight, as it drew an awful lot of publicity to the company’s presence in DC (and elsewhere). Either way, it seems difficult to see how regulating a high price benefits Uber.
And, in the end, what you’re left with is questions about why tax licensing needs to be so restrictive and so all-encompassing. Are there concerns about keeping passengers from being ripped off and keeping them safe? Sure, but there seem to be ways to deal with that which don’t involve entirely regulating every aspect of the market, limiting competition and setting the actual pricing. But, in the end, as we’ve seen in other markets, those in regulated markets tend to figure out ways to use the regulations to their own advantage…
EnableTalk Turns Sign Language Into Speech, Wins Imagine Cup Prize
A trio of Ukrainian students built a $50 device that could help hundreds of millions of hearing-impaired people.
More than 275 million hearing-impaired people are unable to use speech to communicate. Sign language is one solution, but it’s only as helpful as the number of people who know the language. That problem is what drove three Ukrainian students to develop EnableTalk, a pair of sensory gloves that help bridge that communication gap by turning sign language into speech.
The three-programmer team behind EnableTalk, who were inspired by interactions with hearing-impaired athletes at their school, took the $25,000 top prize in software design at Microsoft’s 10th annual Imagine Cup. The decade-old tech competition challenges students to design innovative technology across various categories including game design, Kinect, the Windows Phone, and Windows 8.
EnableTalk consists of two parts: The first is a pair of gloves fitted with 15 sensors that determine what gestures are being signed. The second is Windows software for smartphones that converts those gestures, transmitted via Bluetooth, into sound waves. Those sound waves are finally translated into recognizable speech using Microsoft’s Speech and Bing APIs.
EnableTalk’susers can both modify its standard library of gestures as well as teach it new ones that fall outside of standard sign language. That’s incredibly helpful when you consider that sign language, much like any other language, has a variety of regional dialects. The $50 price tag makes it accessible to most anyone—similar devices, including an Android-compatible version that debuted earlier this year at a Google developer event in Tel Aviv, cost around $1,200 and don’t include integrated software. QuadSquad estimates the price per device will drop to around $20 if EnableTalk enters mass production.
Creative Week UK: Can creativity help the UK out of recession?
Creative Week UK got off to a brilliant start yesterday with a lively debate on the state of the industry and whether creativity can help the UK out of recession - and we’re giving you the opportunity to watch it all over again right here
The word ‘microbe’ sounds scary — we associate them with the flu, ebola, flesh-eating disease, you name it. But microbiologist Dr. Jonathan Eisen has given an illuminating TEDTalk that will make you put down the hand sanitizer. As Eisen explains, “We are covered in a cloud of microbes and these microbes actually do us good […]
Publishers may see Next Issue Media’s virtual newsstand as a solution to their digital problems, but it doesn’t fit the way growing numbers of people consume content. For them, the newsstand is already an anachronism, and recreating it in digital form isn’t going to help.
The Westridge Trail “single track” in the Santa Monica Mountains traces the spine of the hills, rising about 700 feet in waves of ascent and descent. It’s narrow, with dirt and brush breaking down occasionally into rocky scree, and on a bike the steep and craggy drops are challenging. After weeks of attempts, I finally learned how to master it. My teacher was an alcoholic ex-cop who wreaks havoc as a hired gun in Sao Paolo—the title character of Max Payne 3.
Most people who grew up playing video games experienced _that level_, the one that made you want to bash your controller and head through the television. In 1990, my mother decided she had to intervene after watching her otherwise cheerful son seethe and curse at Prince of Persia: I was being killed, repeatedly, by that tubby dude with the cagey blocking. (I finished the game in secret sessions, like some 8-bit samizdat.)
If you went over to a friend’s house to play Battletoads_ _or Mega Man back in the day, you expected to reach stages that took hours, or a boss that only the best players could take down. These expectations have changed. Today, even big action games—gamers’ games—favor advancement over befuddlement. In other words, they’re kind of easy.
Demanding video games have not gone extinct, but lists of the hardest games ever skew heavily to older fare. Today’s most challenging titles, like 2011’s Dark Souls, are increasingly seen as annoying outliers. To anyone who stopped playing games in the ‘90s, Dark Souls’ trials—you die a lot and have to repeat stuff—sound unremarkable. But in today’s market, they’re noteworthy. Cliff Bleszinski, design director on the Gears of War_ _franchise, recently said that games have “taken a lot of steps to grow the audience and [as a result] have become more linear and easier.” Bleszinski followed with a question: “When was the last time a game really challenged you and asked something of you?”
Like Bleszinski and others, I’d observed these changes and shifted my own expectations. Games now tell great big stories and present massive open worlds. If I seldom died, even on hard settings, that’s because we were now dealing with grander concerns than the attack pattern of some round guy with a cutlass.
I felt this way until Max Payne 3 changed my life a little bit,_ _demonstrating the narrative and moral value of hard video games—the ones that make your loved ones fear for your health and sanity. I’m never going back.
In Max Payne 3,_ _you play a gun-toting lunatic whose shattered life has devolved into a series of bloody firefights he doesn’t fully understand. It’s a third-person shooter, meaning you can see Max on the screen as you control his running, hiding, and shooting through various urban landscapes. You survive by murdering attacking gunmen before they can murder you. You don’t automatically heal, and it takes just a few shots to ice you. The bad guys are smart. If you hunker behind a cement slab to pick them off, they will a) flank you, b) shoot the slab into rubble, and/or c) lob grenades. You have to move, prioritize threats, and react quickly. You often die not knowing what hit you. The game is an ensanguined carnival that demands focus. After a few hours, you feel the way Max is supposed to feel: hounded, confused, adrenalized.
If the game weren’t close to impossible at times, the story wouldn’t land. An easier version of Max Payne would have allowed for quicker progression through stages and narrative. But slowing a game down with tough challenges arms a unique storytelling asset. Instead of using cut-scenes to tell you that Max is in harrowing situations, the game puts you in harrowing situations. This demanding gameplay transforms a stock confrontation between the honest Brazilian cop and the battered, out-of-his-depth American into a lived-in moment: You experience it with tired exhilaration, having gotten there by figuring out that blowing up that gas canister in the Panama Canal will decimate those sharpshooting death squad goons_._
Hard games are about repeating challenges. You growl and shout, particularly when some dude with body armor and a howitzer mercs you umpteen times, booting you back 10 minutes and 10,000 bullets. Naturally, there’s satisfaction in completing that level. But that’s just the beginning.
And that gets us back to the Santa Monica Mountains. I’d been trying to ride the Westridge single track for awhile. Its steep, crumbly hills require a technique of throwing your weight back that I haven’t mastered yet. Before Max Payne, I lacked neither pluck nor fortitude. If I wiped out, I’d move on down the trail, knowing I’d have another crack at that bit next time. But the first time I skidded on shale-y rock after Payne_, _I did not push on. Instead, I marched my bike back up to the top of that same stupid hill, studied the ledge that had pitched me, marked an alternate path, and tried it again. And again. And, on another drop later that ride, again and again and again and again.
The thought here is old: Practice makes perfect. But it’s amazing that something a lot more recreational than, say, practicing piano imparts similar lessons about diligent repetition. Playing this game, this hard game, reminded me that “trying it again” was not weird or a waste of time: It was the best and perhaps only way for me to become the kind of person capable of going down these hills on a bike. Mastery requires error and segmented iteration. This isn’t some wooly life lesson. It’s simple, practical advice that I learned by realizing that I had to dive here, no here, no, _here _to take out the guy with the howitzer.
Games have unique influence because we _do _them, and doing them can change us. Being hard isn’t the only way games can use_ _doing_ _to trigger growth. 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution broke my heart by dramatizing the weight of non-repeatable choice. My decision to let some hostages die affected how other characters perceived me for hours of subsequent play: I lived with shame and vowed to redeem it. But games’ most potent pedagogical tool is their ability to be hard: to demand that we learn and improve if we want to be rewarded. (You can always ratchet down the difficulty settings, of course. But cakewalks don’t build character, weakling.)
Let’s be clear: None of this teaching need come at the expense of pleasure. Max Payne 3 is fun. Bonkers fun. The point, as Bleszniski says, is that games should ask something of us. Big games that don’t require_ _us to do anything_—_ones that are just shattered movies that we walk around in—forgo one of the medium’s best attributes. Not every game need be as difficult as Max Payne 3, but the light expectations that many of today’s AAA titles place on players—long-familiar play mechanics, few real challenges—deprive us of things we may not even know we’re missing.
So ratchet up that difficulty to your personal max. Find a game that’s set forums alight with frustrated invective. Oh, you’ll yell. But you’ll finish with something to carry, maybe right up into the mountains. http://sswi.me/Nn2Ngh via @slate
My previous post looked at the first human gene ever discovered. In this entry, we’ll look at the other major aspect of genetics, DNA.
DNA encodes information, and despite the splendiferous diversity of life, the universal “alphabet” that DNA uses to jot information down consists of just four letters—A, C, G, and T. (This quartet is also known as the DNA bases, or, individually, as adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.) The bases bind together inside the famous DNA double helix, and they bind together in a particular way. If A appears on one of the helix’s two strands, T must appear opposite it on the other strand (and vice-versa), because A and T molecules fit each other like puzzle pieces. Similarly, if C or G appears on one helix strand, the other letter must appear opposite. (To remember the pairings, notice that angular A and T bond, as do curvaceous C and G.) Because of this complementary A-T and C-G base-pairing, one strand of DNA can serve as a template for copying the other. If one side reads CCGAGT, the other side must read GGCTCA.
Most DNA genes manufacture proteins—that’s their purpose. And although DNA strands can run for millions upon millions of letters, the functional units of DNA are mere triplets, like AAC, or GTA. To make proteins, cells first “transcribe” a DNA triplet into a triplet of RNA, a closely related molecule. They then “translate” each RNA triplet into an amino acid, the building blocks of proteins. Overall, with four DNA letters, there are 64 possible unique triplets (4 x 4 x 4 = 64). That means cells could, in theory, code for up to 64 different amino acids, by assigning one triplet to each amino acid. In reality, cells use only 20 amino acids, so two or more triplets often get assigned to the same amino acid. AAA and AAG both code for the amino acid lysine, for example. This redundancy makes AAA and AAG genetic synonyms.
The four DNA letters are molecules, but because DNA stores and transmits information, you might have noticed a lot of language-related terms being kicked about. It can be hard to even talk about genetics without poaching from linguistics. Beyond translations, synonyms, and letters, there’s also genetic punctuation, prefixes, suffixes, syntax, and my favorite, DNA palindromes.
There are two kinds of DNA palindromes. There’s the traditional, sex-at-noon-taxes type—GATTACATTAG. But because of A-T and C-G base-pairing, DNA produces another, subtler type that reads forward down one strand and backward across the other. Consider the string CTAGCTAG, then imagine what bases must appear on the other strand, GATCGATC. They’re perfect palindromes:
Palindromes have played an important role in evolution. Many bacteria like to shred each other’s DNA with special wire-cutter enzymes that happen to lock onto palindromes and start snipping. As a result, microbes have learned the hard way to avoid even modest palindromes. Not that we higher creatures tolerate many palindromes either. Consider CTAGCTAG and GATCGATC again. Notice that the first letter within each string can pair-bond with the last (C…G), the second with the penult (T…A), and so on. So if the DNA strand on one side ever disengaged and buckled upward, a kink (or “hairpin”) can form.
…CTAGCTAG… [buckle ->] …CG…
These hairpins can kill a cell by making DNA impossible to copy or transcribe.
The big exception to the palindromes-are-bad rule is the Y chromosome, the chromosome that makes males male. All humans, male and female, have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Just before cells divide, all these pairs line up along the cellular equator. And in some situations, the chromosomes intertwine their arms and swap genes and DNA, a process called crossing over. Crossing over adds variety to chromosomes, allowing them to acquire better genes, or acquire combinations of genes that work better together.
Just as important, crossing over also helps nature eliminate bad DNA. Imagine two chromosomes, each with one terrible, deadly mutation in a different gene. If they swap segments of DNA just right, both of the bad genes can end up on one chromosome. That chromosome effectively gets sacrificed and disappears (because any embryo that gets it would die), but at least the other chromosome can live on.
XX females can mend all their chromosomes this way, including both Xs. But in males, crossing over can’t eliminate any bum Y-chromosome DNA because the Y in XY males lacks a partner to trade with: If any mutations pop up, they’re stuck there. (The X in XY males also lacks a trading partner, of course, but only temporarily. Male Xs can still cross over in a future generation inside any XX female descendants. Ys never get that chance.) So whenever malignant DNA arose on Y in the past, cells essentially chopped that DNA out and threw it away. This in turn whittled Y down generation by generation. Once a proud chromosome, home to 1400 genes, Y has been reduced to a stub, with just two dozen or so genes today. And some biologists have predicted that Ys will keep getting chopped down and eventually disappear—perhaps making males disappear with them, since the Y houses the DNA needed to make male gonads. http://sswi.me/MeN6nL via @slate
If you’re looking for an incentive to finally start that business you’ve been thinking about, here’s your chance to give it a try — and potentially win a $50,000 investment in the process.
There is a retail revolution underway. From manufacturing (3-D printing) to shopping carts (flash sales), payment (Square), and fulfillment (Kiva’s mobile robots), there have never been more ways to take a new product straight to market. One innovator that excels in the shopping cart and payment sphere is Shopify, an online store building system used by more than 25,000 companies including Pixar, Tesla Motors, and GitHub.
So when Shopify approached me a few months ago about partnering with Fast Company for the 2012 Build-A-Business Competition it was an easy call. What I like about this competition is that instead of rewarding a startup based on its potential for success, this race is won by passionate entrepreneurs who best take advantage of those four pillars of retail to sell a new product.
It helps that we’ve already written about the winners from the first two competitions, DODOcase and Coffee Joulies, and other Build-A-Business companies. Coffee Joulies, which is expecting a million dollars in sales this year, is 100% designed and manufactured in the United States—including the raw materials—and assembled in a factory in upstate New York. (Recently we explored what “Made in U.S.A.” means for many companies these days.) The company has no investors, and no full-time employees except the two founders, who are both under 30. Fast Company will be writing about interesting Build-A-Business companies like theirs throughout the course of the competition.
Here’s what you need to know about how the competition works.
There are four verticals:Gadgets and accessoriesFashion and apparelArt, design, and homeEverything else
Each vertical has a mentor who will answer questions, post video tutorials and be actively advise contestants throughout the competition. Tim Ferriss of the 4-Hour Workweek oversees gadgets, Fubu president and CEO Daymond John advises the fashion companies, Swissmiss and Tattly founder Tina Roth Eisenberg works with the design entrants, and Lean Startup leader Eric Ries will pitch in for everyone else. Fast Company has written about all of these mentors at one time or another, which is another reason this competition felt like a good fit. Build-A-Business
The store in each vertical with the highest gross sales for any two months between August 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013 wins the grand prize or $50,000. Each vertical will have a winner. The prize is a $50,000 investment from the mentor in exchange for 5% equity, or the contestant can opt to take the winnings in cash (go to Shopify’s site to read the complete rules). On top of that, there will be a trip to New York City to meet with all four mentors, and a $20,000 Google Adwords credit. And there will be scads of mini-competitions along the way that will give contestants a chance to win prizes large and small.
Finally, the winners will be written about on Fast Company, and get an hour-long meeting with me to brainstorm ways to pitch stories about their company. That’s also a chance to convince the editors here that the company deserves a shout-out in the print magazine.
There is one requirement: Your business must be brand new, and use the Shopify platform for sales.
Okay, that about does it for this spiel. Now: Get ready, get set … build!
Get your hard drives ready, because Mountain Lion is on the verge of arrival. Apple released the golden master (GM) of Mountain Lion on Monday afternoon through its developer portal, signaling that the company is close to the final release of the next version of OS X. The GM is limited to registered developers until […] http://sswi.me/MeK2rH via @shellypalmer
Kitchen gadget: Barbecue mop
Los Angeles Times
And while you can baste the meat with almost anything — paintbrush, fancy silicone kitchen brush, wooden spoon — nothing does the job better than a basic barbecue mop.
Batman's Bio: How Two Crime-Fighting Legends Led to One Dark Knight
Everyone knows the story: After young Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered in a mugging gone awry, a sonar-deficient bat flew in the window of his mansion, prompting him to become a living embodiment of vengeance and/or the night. But the real-life inspiration for Batman can be found in two other crime-fighting characters.