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Little “black boxes” akin to the flight recorders on airplanes monitor your braking habits, whether you use a seat belt and how fast you go. Your car may be one of millions. But in its electronics is a unique profile of you and your decisions as a driver. Some fear that this automotive data could someday be seized by government spy agencies or used against helpless drivers by insurers or worse.
Technology is ruining our memory. Here’s why that doesn’t matter Dec 13, 2014 7:44 AM
Two people walk into a seminar: one takes photos, video and an audio recording of the presentation, while the other takes hand-written notes. Which person do you think will better recall the information?
Can technology pick the perfect health plan for you? Dec 13, 2014 7:43 AM
How people get their health insurance is undergoing a major transformation, in part because of changes in how employers are providing benefits and the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion. An estimated 25 million people will have individual coverage through Obamacare’s health insurance marketplaces within just a few years, while another 3 million people in 2014 received employer health coverage through similar private insurance marketplaces, or exchanges — where enrollment is projected to soon surpass the ACA exchanges, according to a couple of recent estimates.
How the anti-Uber backlash is spreading around the world Dec 13, 2014 7:36 AM
There’s no doubt that Uber, a car-sharing service launched in San Francisco in 2009, is a booming business. With billions in estimated revenues, it’s now set up in more than 200 cities in 51 countries. It’s equally sure, however, that the company has had its share of domestic controversies, from accusations of sabotage against competitors to suggestions that they would threaten journalists. Internationally, when dealing with different laws and cultures, the potential for new controversies is likely even higher. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that Uber has often been welcomed in countries, and sometimes is viewed as a positive force (in Saudi Arabia some see it as helping women, barred from driving, become more independent). The company has also shown a remarkable willingness to engage in lengthy legal and publicity battles to win over courts and the public. But can any one company win so many battles? Below, we’ve listed some of the controversies the American company has found itself in around the world. Australia Uber says it operates out of cities in Australia, including Sydney and Melbourne, though a number of states impose fines on “unauthorized” drivers and those without insurance. In particular, it has faced an organized backlash from taxi firms in Queensland, who have publicly warned of safety issues with Uber drivers. “The government has told these companies not to operate but they are ignoring this,” Taxi Council of Queensland Benjamin Wash said recently. “Queensland taxi drivers undergo daily criminal checks, but ride-share drivers don’t. You simply don’t know who is behind the wheel.” Belgium The capital Brussels, already known for its complicated taxi laws, banned Uber in April, and threatened drivers with a $12,000 (9,700 euros) fine. However, Uber has disputed the ruling and continued to operate. “Brussels is one of our fastest-growing European cities,” Filip Nuytemans, Uber’s operations manager in the Brussels, told Bloomberg in October. Local authorities are now said to be working on legislation that may allow Uber to operate. Britain In London, Uber has faced down one of the world’s most entrenched (and expensive) taxi systems. It’s led to protests from the iconic “black cab” drivers, who brought traffic to a standstill this summer and demanded Uber be further regulated. There have also been reports that black cab companies have been paying detectives to pose as Uber customers to gather evidence for an upcoming court case. Canada Uber has recently been expanding its UberX service (which connects riders with drivers in regular cars) in certain Canadian cities, which has prompted a backlash. Montreal’s mayor has told reporters that UberX is illegal, and the city of Toronto has tried to shut the entire Uber’s services down. France On Dec. 12, Uber is expected to find out if its Uberpop service (similar to UberX but riders share cars) will be banned in France. The company also suffered a backlash after the Lyon office ran a promotion that paired riders with “hot chick” drivers. Germany Taxi drivers in Germany have been particular vocal in their opposition to Uber, with one legal challenge from Taxi Deutschland calling the ride-sharing app a “form of locust share-economy” that was taking part in “anarchy capitalism.” The company has since faced legal problems, most notably a nationwide cease and desist order given out by a Frankfurt court in August that threatened a fine of up to $300,000 per ride for drivers. That decision was later overturned. The Netherlands On Monday, the Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal in The Hague ordered Uber to stop its UberPop service, claiming it broke rules that drivers must be licensed. “This is only the first step in a long-running legal battle,” Uber said in a statement in response to the ruling. India Almost certainly the most worrying problem listed here, Uber was banned in New Delhi this week after a driver was accused of raping a passenger and arrested. Police also called in Uber executives and accused the service of failing to properly check the driver’s background, though the service will continue in five other Indian cities. Here, Uber has found itself at the center of a larger problem: India has had a number of high-profile sexual assaults in recent years, sometimes involving attacks on public transport. As The Washington Post’s Rama Lakshmi has written, before the alleged attack the service had been viewed as a good thing for women, allowing them independence and safety late at night. The incident in New Delhi was only the latest problem for the group in India: The country’s stricter requirements for credit card transactions also put it in conflict with the ride-sharing app. Japan In Tokyo, Uber faces a less worrying problem: What Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has described as “very byzantine and complicated regulations.” These regulations forced Uber to register as a “travel agency” and work with existing companies. The company also faces competition from a number of other ride-sharing apps. Philippines Uber has faced repeated criticism from authorities in the Philippines, including sting-operations designed to catch drivers operating without commercial licenses. The government has recently been working with Uber executives to create new legislation, however. Russia While regulations in Russia are comparatively simple when compared with other countries, Moscow already has a culture of unlicensed taxis that makes Uber’s expansion there difficult. Muscovites can often just hail one by standing on the street corner, or via a number of apps that have existed for years before Uber arrived. South Korea The Seoul city government has repeatedly said that Uber’s services violate its laws, and recently threatened to fine or even jail drivers using non-properly licensed vehicles. “Those without a taxi license cannot offer rides in return for money,” Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Choi Eul-ko said last week according to the Korea Times. “If they do, they will be in big trouble.” Spain In October, the city of Madrid announced plans to fine unlicensed Uber drivers, and the government of Catalan recently announced its hopes to impound Uber cars. On Tuesday, a court in Madrid announced a preliminary nationwide ban on Uber. Taiwan Taipai’s taxi drivers staged protests about Uber over the summer, and the Taiwanese government plans to pull the app from local stores as it does not meet the country’s legislation, the China Post reported recently. Thailand In November, Uber was declared illegal by the Thai government. In particular, the government objected to the credit card only technology used by Uber.
FishBrain’s algorithm reveals anglers’ path to glory Dec 13, 2014 7:42 AM
The sport of fishing may be about to experience its biggest revolution since the 1920s, thanks to an app developed by Swedish startup FishBrain. Relying on the average piscator’s impulse to brag about a catch, FishBrain uses shared photos of fish to generate big data. The company says it’s now logged enough data to predict when and where fish will bite. Recreational fishing is one of the world’s most practiced hobbies. In the U.S., anglers spend $48 billion annually on bait, tackle, gear and trips, according to the American Sportfishing Association. That’s more than three times as much as global recorded music sales, which were $15 billion last year, according to trade body IFPI. “Building a bigger user base is the key focus for 2015,” FishBrain’s Chief Executive Officer Johan Attby, 40, said in an interview in Stockholm. “The goal is to become the first-choice app for anglers worldwide.” The social network is introducing an algorithm to forecast when and where to drop a line for a particular species, based on the 225,000 catches users have logged. The big-data version of the app became available on Android last week and on iOS this week. Niched social networks are attracting investor appetite. Strava Inc., an online community for running and cycling, in October raised $18.5 million from investors including Sequoia Capital. Attby, who is more into bicycles than fish, said his idea was to find a community with many potential users. Combining a specialized social network with big data, Attby hopes to beat the solunar theory — a method proposed in 1926 that’s still popular today — in predicting when fish will strike. FishBrain’s app gathers a range of automatic data such as wind speed and water temperature while users log data on their catch and the equipment used to land it. Algorithms then predict where to find nine species, including northern pike, largemouth bass and spotted sea trout. The company, which was founded in 2011 and introduced its app last year, now has 650,000 users of which over two-thirds are in the U.S., where it dominates the market. FishBrain relies on word-of-mouth and Facebook ads for marketing, has raised about $3.5 million, and plans to take in more capital next year. Future updates may offer users gear, bait and fishing permits in the app through affiliates. The company now employs 12 people, a number Attby predicts will grow to about 100 in a year or two. Attby’s FishBrain feed is full of anglers showing off their latest catch and sharing tips. To encourage users to log aquatic trophies, the app keeps track on records for different waters so that a user with the biggest specimen of a particular fish gets named “King of the Water.” Users can also opt to hide details about a catch if they wish. Luckily for Attby, anglers like to share stories. “The best proof is to check on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to see how anglers boast.”
Blackberry introduces first health-care app with Soon-Shiong Dec 13, 2014 7:41 AM
BlackBerry Ltd.’s investment in health-care technology has produced its first applications targeted at doctors and nurses who use its smartphones. Health care is a key target for BlackBerry, said Chief Executive Officer John Chen. The first part of the deal will connect physicians’ BlackBerrys with a NantHealth system that analyzes tumors and recommends treatment options. It will be available early next year, the companies said. More applications are planned, Chen and Soon-Shiong said in a joint phone interview.
Review: Standout phone features, but do you need? Dec 13, 2014 7:31 AM
There’s an Android phone for everyone. Need to swim with it? Get a waterproof model. Travel a lot? Get one with longer battery life. The novel features in these phones aren’t going to be necessities for everyone. But if you’re in need of that particular feature, you’re going to love it. Prices listed are without contract requirements. With two-year contracts, carriers typically offer substantial discounts on phones, but charge higher monthly service fees.
2015 likely the end for cathode ray tube TVs Dec 13, 2014 7:00 AM
All production of cathode ray tube TVs is likely to end as early as next year, as Sharp Corp. and two companies in India will withdraw from the business due to the spread of high-definition liquid crystal TVs. This means cathode ray tube TVs, an icon for decades in Japan, will disappear from the market.
Gift Guide: Small, smart stocking techie stuffers Dec 13, 2014 7:32 AM
If you were naughty this year, you might end up with something big and boring, like a vacuum cleaner. If you were good, you might ask for one of these little high-tech gems instead. Asus S1 Led Projector ($330): Yes, there is a digital projector that can fit into a Christmas stocking. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. It’s also a hearty performer for its size. The Asus S1 weighs less than a pound and has a battery that can last up to three hours. That claim held up well during my tests, which included hosting a children’s sleepover viewing of “Frozen” on a large wall. I successfully connected an Android smartphone and an Xbox 360 and used the S1 to project what’s on those screens. The most fun came when I plugged a small Roku Streaming Stick directly into the projector’s HDMI port. Within minutes, I was watching Netflix and playing “Angry Birds” on large walls throughout my house, with no power cords in sight. The S1 has a nice built-in speaker, but I tethered it to a large portable speaker for movie night. Cogito Classic Smartwatch ($180): If you’re going to buy your loved one a nice watch, it might as well talk to your phone. Right? The Cogito Classic does just that, connecting to your phone via Bluetooth and alerting you when text messages, social media updates or phone calls come in. I often tuck my phone in a back pocket or backpack when I’m walking around town or on assignment. With a quick glance at the Cogito, I can see who’s trying to reach me. I also get calendar alerts with some details about upcoming meetings. Unlike other smartwatches that require daily recharge, the Cogito Classic uses standard watch batteries that should last for months. It also has traditional analog hands alongside a digital time display. There are a lot of smartwatches, but the Cogito Classic stands out by blending classic handsome styling and just enough smart notifications to keep you informed without overburdening you with gobs of information to read. Orbotix Sphero 2.0 Smart Ball ($130): The Sphero is a plastic ball full of smart electronics and sensors. With a phone or tablet, you can make the ball spin, swim, chase your dog and even dance in response to completing challenges. For the rugged outdoors, you’ll want to outfit the Sphero with a knobby rubber cover, which is sold separately for $15. The Sphero comes with a couple of jump ramps. It can quickly reach top speed and go flying off the jumps, or you can create your own robot obstacle course out of ordinary objects. It is the smart round robot of choice. Intel Edison and Arduino Breakout Kit ($100): The Edison is an Intel-chip Linux computer about the size of an SD memory card. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities built in, making it ripe for developing portable or wearable devices, or just fun side projects. I tried a kit that included an Arduino expansion board, which allowed me to program the Edison using both a Mac and a Windows computer. I connected the Edison to my home Wi-Fi network and got a few lights to blink in sequence. From there, I can incorporate small speakers, proximity sensors and other small add-ons to flesh out the project of my choice. This kit and other Edison-related products are great for seasoned electronics or software enthusiasts who like to brew their own projects around the house. The online retailer SparkFun Electronics sells these kits, along with a multitude of Arduino-friendly expansion devices. NuForce Mobile Music Pump ($60): The amplifier in your smartphone likely isn’t strong enough to drive high-quality headphones. That’s where a portable headphone amplifier can be useful. This matchbox-sized amp from NuForce pumped up the volume for me while retaining clarity and limiting distortion on several larger, over-the-ear headphones I tried. My headphones plugged into the amp, and the amp plugged into my phone. My music suddenly had more bass and more acoustic range. The NuForce MMP is a nice affordable companion for the audiophile on the go. MOS phone cables ($30 Lightning of Apple; $20 Micro-USB for Android): The good news? Your smartphone came with charging and syncing cables. The bad news? They don’t always last very long, given the daily use we put them through. Give the gift of durability with these tough cables from MOS. I tried the company’s Lightning cable for the iPhone 5s and Micro-USB cable for a Samsung Galaxy S4. They’re better than the standard, out-of-the-box cables thanks to a spring-relief sleeve where the cable meets the plug and a rugged woven sheath that protects the full length of the cable. They’re smartly finished with sleek, anodized aluminum heads housing the connector ends. If cables can be sexy, these MOS cables are sexy.
App reviews: Red Stamp Cards; GateGuru Dec 13, 2014 7:33 AM
Holiday cards can be a not-so-jolly task. (It takes real work to look that festive!) With Red Stamp Cards, you can do it all from your smartphone -- even pull together your recipient list straight from your contacts. The app offers a range of options for cards to email to loved ones, or you can pay to have them sent within five to seven days. Users can add their own pictures. They can come up with their own messages or rely on boilerplate suggestions.
Stressed? Try checking your e-mail less Dec 13, 2014 7:00 AM
By some accounts, the average professional spends as many as 13 hours checking email each week — almost twice the time we spend reading. Or relaxing. Or socializing, even. Those misplaced priorities may, alas, be catching up with us: Per a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia, spending so much time on email is stressing us out — to our enormous detriment.
Can Amy Pascal’s career survive Sony cyberattack? Dec 12, 2014 7:17 PM
“I’d be surprised if my entire legacy was based on the leak of the email exchange,” Pascal told industry website The Wrap on Thursday. Virtually unknown outside of Hollywood, her nearly 20-year tenure at Sony and Columbia Pictures has included some very well-known films, such as “Skyfall,” “Superbad,” “Salt,” “Fury” and “The Equalizer.” Pascal was fourth on The Hollywood Reporter’s annual ranking released this week of the most powerful women in entertainment.
Driving while black? App developers offer advice Dec 11, 2014 11:21 AM
Though the developers of the soon-to-be released “Driving While Black” smartphone application want motorists to download their product, there is a time when they definitely don’t want users searching for it. “Do not reach for your phone when you are talking to police,” stressed Melvin Oden-Orr, one of two Portland lawyers creating the app.
Survey: Illinoisans are among the biggest braggarts on social media Dec 8, 2014 2:23 PM
An Internet company says Illinoisans are among the biggest braggarts on social media, painting the state as a sort of Land of LinkedIn.
Mishaps at nuke repository: New Mexico fines DOE $54 million Dec 7, 2014 1:01 AM
“New Mexico does not need to choose between fulfilling the laboratory’s mission and protecting the environment,” Ryan Flynn, state environment secretary, said in a letter to Los Alamos officials. “DOE now has an opportunity to learn from these mistakes and implement meaningful corrective actions that will ensure the long-term viability of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.”
Gift Guide: Get better at sports with smart gear Dec 7, 2014 7:32 AM
Advances in technology present sports enthusiasts with plenty of options to train better and smarter. High-level gear and biometric-analysis software are no longer limited to elite professional athletes. The weekender can now use some tech-savvy approaches to get better, perhaps, at a multitude of sports. Practice makes perfect, but technology can make practice better.
Auto sales rise as gas prices, interest rates fall Dec 6, 2014 7:34 AM
These are good times for automakers. Sales are soaring and new-car shoppers, encouraged by low gasoline prices, rock-bottom interest rates and an improving job market, are going for bigger vehicles with more options. All of which means heftier price tags. The numbers are still coming in, but analysts believe automakers had their best November in more than a decade.
App reviews: Splash Shopper; Facebook unbundles its Groups function Dec 6, 2014 7:41 AM
If you’re looking for a way to organize those gifts left to buy, consider a list manager such as Splash Shopper. This app comes with a lot of features that justify its $2 price tag. The Groups app brings back some of the intimate feel of Facebook before it grew into a behemoth.
3 brilliant ideas for giving urban streetscapes a modern facelift Dec 6, 2014 7:44 AM
As part of a broader vision to make cities smart, connected and environmentally sustainable, innovators are working on creative ideas to update the urban streetscape — think trash cans, street lamps, bicycle counters, bus stops and parking garages — for today’s digital lifestyle. Case in point: a new plan from New York City announced this month to transform the city’s outdated pay phone booths into a citywide network of 10,000 futuristic pillars that will give New York City residents and tourists free, superfast and reliable Wi-Fi coverage. 1. New York City’s Wi-Fi pillars The Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation has partnered with a consortium of tech companies known as CityBridge to radically transform the city’s streetscape. By the end of 2015, CityBridge plans to replace the city’s outdated public pay phones with 400 super-thin Wi-Fi “Links” capable of delivering Gigabit Wi-Fi speeds to New Yorkers. And within a few years, that number could reach as high as 10,000 Wi-Fi “Links” located throughout the five boroughs, including many in residential neighborhoods. According to CityBridge, each “Link” will also offer residents the ability to charge digital devices, look up directions on touch screens, and provide civic feedback on specific issues. New Yorkers will also be able to make free phone calls anywhere within the United States. And best of all, these Wi-Fi “Links” won’t cost city taxpayers a dime — the plan is to serve up ads on the Wi-Fi pillars, transforming citywide Wi-Fi into a free municipal service subsidized by advertising sponsors. Over the first 12 years of operation, says CityBridge, this network will generate over $500 million in advertising-related revenue. 2. Boston’s device-charging park benches In a first-of-its-kind rollout, Boston is now experimenting with a new form of mobile experience: a dozen solar-powered park benches placed in select parks, playgrounds and sports fields throughout the city. By converting this solar power into electricity, these “Soofas” offer charging capabilities for multiple digital device owners, making them a social experience for mobile users as much as a technological experience. This “smart urban furniture” idea, which originally started as a project by the MIT Media Lab before being spun off as the company Changing Environments, is so creative that it was even featured at this year’s White House Maker Faire in June. Eventually, say the three co-founders of Changing Environments, the plan is to expand the network of Soofas to build a smart energy infrastructure that collects urban data and informs citizens and city planners about everything from air quality to noise level by connecting to the Internet. In a statement about the launch of Soofas, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh pointed to the potential of smart benches for Boston: “Your cellphone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” 3. Singapore’s supertrees and Israel’s eTrees In Singapore, the vision for the city of tomorrow extends beyond just physical objects found on urban streets. Singapore has been experimenting with innovative ways to update the look and feel of the city that fully integrates technology with the surrounding natural environment. In June 2012, for example, the city launched its “supertrees” — a set of 18 man-made, 164-foot-high trees that are capable of absorbing and dispersing heat, collecting rainwater and generating solar power. The “supertrees” themselves contain vertical gardens and at night, they even light up with digital displays. For now, these trees are part of the vast Gardens by the Bay landscaping project, but it’s easy to see how similar types of supertrees might become stand-alone objects beautifying grim urban streets while simultaneously functioning as nodes of urban sensor networks. The next step, of course, is to connect all those man-made trees to the Internet. As a preview of what might happen in the future, Israeli company Sologic announced in late October the launch of “solar-powered trees,” in which the “leaves” of the tree are actually solar panels that provide energy for Wi-Fi connections, while the “trunk” of the tree contains outlets for electric-powered and USB devices. You can literally surf the Internet while connected to these eTrees. This concept, of course, is still in the experimental stage, but according to Sologic, both France and China are considering potential acquisitions of these solar-powered trees, each of which costs $100,000. The eTree was invented and developed by solar energy expert Michael Lasry and designed in collaboration with artist Yoav Ben Dov. These three ideas hint at the vast potential of transforming outdated urban infrastructure into smart, connected networks. Giving urban streetscapes a facelift is just the start. New “smart city” innovations promise to improve urban lives in tangible ways via cost savings, new ways to empower citizens and new types of apps and services offered to city dwellers. Across the world, the race is on to become a model “smart city.” And now with the Internet of Things, those cities might become smarter than ever.
Beacons pop up in stores ahead of holidays Dec 6, 2014 7:41 AM
The square or rectangular devices, smaller than a smartphone, can hang on a wall or be placed on a machine and communicate with your phone via Bluetooth signals. Accessed through apps you download to your smartphone, beacon technology can do everything from guide you to the correct airport terminal to turn on your coffee maker as you sleepily enter the kitchen. In retail, beacons aim to entice you to spend money. As you enter a store, your smartphone might light up with a sale alert. Stand in the dress section for a while and a coupon may pop up for something on a nearby hanger.
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