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  • 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 Case in point: a new plan from New York City announced this month to transform the city’s outdated pay phone booths into a citywide network of 10,000 futuristic pillars that will give New York City residents and tourists free, superfast and reliable Wi-Fi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 By the end of 2015, CityBridge plans to replace the city’s outdated public pay phones with 400 super-thin Wi-Fi “Links” capable of delivering Gigabit Wi-Fi speeds to New Yorkers.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.

     
  • Gift Guide: Gadgets for avid TV viewers Dec 6, 2014 7:33 AM
    For avid television viewers out there, the standard digital-video recorder that comes with your cable TV box just isn’t enough. TiVo and SlingTV can add to the TV watching experience. Here’s a look at what each does — and why you might want both.

     
  • Gift Guide: How to choose a new cellphone Dec 6, 2014 7:32 AM
    Now is a good time to get a smartphone. The latest devices hit shelves in time for the holiday shopping season, and there’s likely to be a lull in new releases until next spring. So why wait? Here are some things to consider before hitting stores. If you’re upgrading from an older model, you can skip the first part aimed at first-time smartphone buyers.

     
  • Mobile payment services offer holiday deals Dec 6, 2014 7:31 AM
    This holiday shopping season, trying a new way to pay may at least be cheaper. PayPal and Google Wallet are offering deals and discounts to entice customers to use their services. Shoppers need to pay for goods in stores using a smartphone or online. The deals are available at major stores, including Toys R Us, Sephora and Home Depot. The promotions come as competition among such services intensifies, with the recent launch of Apple Pay.

     
  • Naperville couple launches angel app for iPhone Dec 4, 2014 2:09 PM
    Kukec's eBuzz column features David and Jeanne Buddingh of Naperville who have launched a new app called Angel in My Phone, which modernizes the practice of carrying a symbol of an angel in your pocket.

     
  • Cyber Monday gears up to get online shoppers hyped Dec 1, 2014 11:01 AM
    Retailers rolled out discounts and free shipping deals on Cyber Monday, with millions of Americans are expected to log on and shop on their work computers, laptops and tablets after the busy holiday shopping weekend. But with retailers extending their online deals into “Cyber Week” and even “Cyber Month,” some shoppers aren’t quite seeing the jaw-dropping deals they were hoping for online.

     
  • Supreme Court to consider Facebook threats case Dec 1, 2014 10:57 AM
    The Supreme Court is weighing the free-speech rights of people who use violent or threatening language on Facebook and other social media. The justices will hear arguments Monday in the case of a man who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for posting graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent.

     
  • Girls Scouts byting into digital for cookie sales Dec 1, 2014 10:42 AM
    Watch out world, the Girl Scouts are going digital to sell you cookies. For the first time in nearly 100 years, Girl Scouts of the USA will allow its young go-getters to push their wares using a mobile app or personalized websites. But only if their scout councils and guardians say OK.

     
  • Amazon’s new robot army is ready to ship Dec 1, 2014 6:32 AM
    A year ago, Amazon.com workers like 34-year-old Rejinaldo Rosales hiked miles of aisles each shift to “pick” each item a customer ordered and prepare it for shipping. Now the e-commerce giant boasts that it has boosted efficiency — and given workers’ legs a break — by deploying more than 15,000 wheeled robots to crisscross the floors of its biggest warehouses and deliver stacks of toys, books and other products to employees.

     
  • Justices weigh limits of free speech over Internet Nov 30, 2014 3:35 PM
    In a far-reaching case that probes the limits of free speech over the Internet, the Supreme Court on Monday was to consider whether a man's violent Facebook posts, and others like it, deserve protection under the First Amendment.

     
  • Planning helps guard against package theft Nov 30, 2014 7:45 AM
    With packages piling up outside homes, apartments and condos this holiday season, here are some tips to make sure they don't get stolen.

     
  • Windfarms risk being blown away as Austrailia’s Abbott lauds coal Nov 30, 2014 7:42 AM
    Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who enjoys the backing of the mining industry, plans to slash support for alternative energy that’s helped pump $17.2 billion into renewables, including the windfarms that Treasurer Joe Hockey called “appalling” and “utterly offensive.”

     
  • Streaming services are ruining the easy gift Nov 29, 2014 7:34 AM
    For lazy gift-givers, the latest evolution in digital content delivery is the most ominous yet. Like the Grinch disrupting Christmas for the denizens of Whoville, streaming media threatens to spoil the era of the easy present. It’s one thing to drop $16 on a hardcover of the new Michael Lewis book for someone who has a Kindle. It’s quite another to buy it for someone who has Kindle Unlimited- and has thus, in a real sense, already paid for on-demand access to the very text you’re gifting him.

     
  • Royal Mail warns Amazon Deliveries to cut size of parcel market Nov 29, 2014 7:43 AM
    Royal Mail Plc, the British postal service that sold stock to the public last year, said first-half profit declined and warned that Amazon.com Inc.’s move to develop its own delivery network will trim the parcel market for other carriers.

     
  • Tips to avoid having your holidays hacked while mobile shopping Nov 29, 2014 7:42 AM
    PRIVATE WiFi has teamed up with the National Cyber Security Alliance to help holiday shoppers stay cyber secure when using their mobile devices this holiday season. Today they release an infographic and announce a Data Privacy Day Twitter chat, both focused on the threats of holiday shopping on the go and how to stay safe.

     
  • Source: Facebook at Work to debut in next few months Nov 29, 2014 7:33 AM
    Facebook Inc. is testing a version of its social network that will let people communicate and collaborate at work, a person familiar with the matter said, taking on tools from Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc. Facebook at Work lets people communicate with their co-workers using the social network’s traditional tools, such as messaging and news feed, without mixing the professional posts with personal ones.

     
  • Review: 3 cheap smartphones to consider Nov 29, 2014 7:32 AM
    Because you spend so much time with your phone, there’s a case for having the best. But those come with a price tag starting at about $650 (unless you agree to a two-year contract, in which case you end up paying higher service fees for voice, text and data). So consider how you use your phone and what features will remain most important to you over the next year or two. Before you break the bank, here are three solid phones that cover the basics.

     
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