Facebook To Close Its Virtual Giftshop August 1st

Those goofy ninja drawings, multicolored troll things, and birthday cakes adorning your Facebook wall are about to become collector’s items. Facebook has just announced that it is closing Facebook Gifts — a feature that launched back in early 2007 as the result of a Hackathon project and went on to seed the creation of Facebook Credits (it marked the first time Facebook users could actually pay for something). You’ll still be able to purchase gifts up through August 1st, and all the gifts you’ve received will remain on your profile and Facebook Wall after that point, but you won’t be able to buy new ones.

The explanation Facebook gives for the change is a little odd — Facebook employee Jared Morgenstern writes that it will help Facebook focus on improving other products:

Closing the Gift Shop may disappoint many of the people who have given millions of gifts, but we made the decision after careful thought about where we need to focus our product development efforts. We’ll be able to focus more on improving and enhancing products and features that people use every day, such as Photos, News Feed, Inbox, games, comments, the “Like” button and the Wall.

It makes sense for Facebook to trim away products that are adding clutter to the site, but these are pure profit and it’s hard to imagine they were draining too many resources. That said, Facebook has continued to evolve the feature since it launched, with the addition of celebrity gifts and the ability to gift Lala songs last year (the Lala feature was disabled after the music company was acquired by Apple).

This also can’t be good news for RealGifts and the various eCard vendors that Facebook offered as part of its Gifts selection.

If you still need your gift-giving fix, Facebook suggests third-party applications like Birthday Cards, Hallmark, Pieces of Flair, and someecards.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Glaring Omissions — Polarized Sunglasses Field Tested + Rated

Product: Polarized Sunglasses

Manufacturer: Roundup:

Wired Rating: 0

When you’re fishing or biking or driving (really anytime you’re outdoors) you’d do well to strap on a set of sunglasses with polarized lenses. These optics are designed to filter glare from notoriously reflective surfaces like water, asphalt and sand. The best ones are capable multitaskers, winnowing harsh photons without distorting colors, all while looking effortlessly cool.

Ray Ban P

Ray-Ban 8041 Aviator Titanium

There’s a reason why pilots, cops and your dad have been wearing aviators for years. They look tough and provide Secret Service-level protection for your eyes. Ray-Ban’s model 8041 amps things up by adding polarized lenses and titanium frames to the equation. Bright, overhead retina-searing sunlight? Filtered handily without a hint of color distortion. In our water tests, the lenses drastically cut glare, even when the surface became choppy. And the titanium frames are a revelation for the accident-prone. We repeatedly sat on, dropped and haphazardly tossed the frames without seeing them get bent out of shape. Best of all the specs look good on everyone. An assortment of folks in the Wired office modeled the 8041s; some with enormous heads, others with mighty shocks of hair, and folks with slim, angular faces. Without exception, everyone looked awesome wearing aviators, despite not being jet-jockeys or police. (We did have a few dads.)

WIRED Frames are the ideal mix of ruggedness and style. Look good on everyone regardless of head size or face shape. Titanium frames sits snugly on your face and never get uncomfortable. Kills virtually all glare dead.

TIRED Lenses not as tough as frames — they scratched like a pissed off tabby. Tough to keep clean; oily residue built up faster than a beach along the gulf coast.

$215, ray-ban.com

Persol

Persol PO2979S

For style, you can’t beat a pair of tortoise-shell Persols. (Just ask this guy.) The lenses handily eliminate aquatic glare, but they really distinguished themselves behind the wheel: The Persols distilled the reflection from asphalt better than any other model we tested. The lenses are tough, too — a series of drops onto concrete and sand didn’t leave a single mark on the optics. The frames however are a bit hefty and often slid off our tester’s nose when his proboscis got sweaty. Still, when you look almost as cool as McQueen these are the most minor of quibbles.

WIRED Cooler than the surface of Neptune. Earned top marks in driving performance. Lenses resist damage like +2 armor.

TIRED Thick, heavy frames slide off face fairly easily (unless you have a Cyrano De Bergerac sized schnozzle). Collects dirt and grime faster than a hobo with poor hygiene.

$255, persol.com/usa

Oakley FrogSkin

Oakley Polarized Frogskins

The Frogskins may look retro but they’re the lightest and most comfortable of all the shades we tested. We took them rafting (class 3 rapids, what?!) and they stayed secure despite some nasty drops, hard bumps, and one unplanned trip over the side of the vessel. They’re not bad at filtering out glare either with a subtle amber tint and very little color distortion. We really only have two slight gripes: 1) These frames are so lithe we often forgot we were wearing them in the first place. 2) The white Oakley logo that mars the side of each arm is hopelessly garish. Sorry guys, if we wanted to advertise that badly we’d go to work for Wieden+Kennedy.

WIRED Lenses and frames so light (1 ounce!), you swear they’re filled with helium. Metal-free joints lend an uncomplicated, casual feel. Quite possibly the best-looking design Oakley carries. Barely a hint of color distortion.

TIRED Enormous Oakley logo is seriously gauche, despite ’80s-era typeface. So little mass, some say they feel cheap.

$140, oakley.com

Zeal Optics

Zeal Optics Zyaa

Does looking like Bono from the Zooropa era sound like a smart look to go for? Then you might want to reach for a pair of the Zyaas. While the large, wrap-arounds actually did a fairly decent job of eliminating water-reflected glare; color filtration is not exactly stellar. Looking at the world through these glasses yielded a brownish-pink hue that is almost gut wrenching after long exposures. While extremely light (1.3 ounces) the Zyaas are also cheap in terms of construction and cost. But if you’re looking to get polarized at a low price, there are a lot worse choices than these specs.

WIRED Supremely light and quite comfy. Stays securely fastened to face no matter what crazy-ass (white-water rafting, mountain biking) conditions you put them in. Can you argue with that price? No. No you can’t.

TIRED A bit ridiculous looking on most people. Huge “Z” adorning each arm screams gelled hair and tribal tats. Color filtration is more warped than Lindsay Lohan’s legal defense.

$100, zealoptics.com

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Motorola’s Droid X Is a Massive Dose of Madcap Multimedia

Product: Droid X

Manufacturer: Motorola

Wired Rating: 8

It’s only been eight months since the original Droid hit like a wrecking ball. Now, the mother of all (Lucas-licensed) droids is upon us with the July 15 arrival of the feature-packed Droid X.*

At 5 x 2.6 x .04 inches, the X is unapologetically large and more Sticky Fingers than svelte when pocketed. Otherwise, Motorola wisely kept the handset remarkably thin and relatively streamlined. Paired with its spacious 4.3-inch, 854 x 480 LCD touchscreen, it’s clear the Droid X was carefully crafted with a visually dense, touch-driven experience in mind.

In fact, it’s this attention to presentation that allows the X to truly shine. Navigating the phone is a surprisingly immersive experience, due to an uncannily fast 1-GHz Texas Instruments processor and 512 MB of RAM. In reality, the X’s hardware shaves just fractions of a second off the Droid/Eris/Nexus One response times, but it makes huge impact in the long run. When switching apps, you feel like the device is actively responding to commands rather than merely processing them.

Naturally, this sweetens the X’s cache of capabilities. Watching movies from the Blockbuster app, playing games from the Android Market, and even streaming music from Pandora is fast, effortless and best of all, free of lag. With a few clicks through the menu, we converted the phone into a 3G hot spot for up to 5 devices — which is the welcome feature du jour thanks to the HTC EVO and Palm Pre.

Motorola managed to cram three microphones into this beast: Two for noise-canceling purposes and one for regular squawking. This arrangement produced a surprising degree of call clarity while navigating San Francisco’s urban jungle of perpetual construction sites, gusts of wind and horn-happy motorists. An increased degree of warmth in the audio could’ve pushed the X into all-star status, but the pragmatism of good old-fashioned clarity was more than enough to get by.

Speaking of just getting by, the handset’s 8-megapixel camera is underwhelming for still pictures. What’s worse is the process of snapping pics woefully relies on a hard press of a physical button, which screwed with image clarity. However, the X’s pairing of solid video chops (720p video at 24 fps!) with high-def output (mini-HDMI!) makes for the quite the saving grace.

All this power, acumen and flair isn’t for everyone, though. At its core, the X is designed for a large, splashy, multimedia-heavy experience. Its size disqualifies it from any smartphone quick-draw contests (we permanently left it out-of-pocket for sanity’s sake), and its occasionally power-hungry features make it a bad idea to stray far from an electric outlet. That said, even this phone’s most plain vanilla features (e.g., phone calls) are simple, lightning quick, and well implemented. If you can handle the phone’s immense size, you’ll be treated to one of the finest Android devices available anywhere.

WIRED Incredibly capable and dapper take on the multimedia phone. Standard battery endures a full day of regular web/video/phone use. Dual camera LEDs make for an awesome flashlight. Sports more connections than Ari Gold: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G, GPS and FM. Storage aplenty with 8 GB of on-board memory and included 16-GB card. Charges off mini-USB. DLNA ready for sharing pics, audio and video between compatible devices.

TIRED Call quality aside, it still feels like a TrapperKeeper against your face. No status light while charging. Movie downloads from Blockbuster are slooow and not viewable on the big screen in HDMI. Flimsy camera button and volume rocker. That mini-HMDI cord will cost you extra. Can’t realistically run a 3G hot spot unless you have POW-AH.

*Mother of all Droids … for now. The Droid 2 is due out later this year with more to follow.
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Rapid Transit: River Shoes Tested + Rated

Product: River Shoes

Manufacturer: Roundup:

Wired Rating: 0

Cold water. Hot sun. Sharp rocks. Slick docks. These obstacles mean nothing when traversing bodies of water with a good set of river shoes. The best ones will offer protection up top, and security below to keep you stepping, wet or dry.

New Balance SM921

If you want to make fast tracks across wet terrain, this lightweight low-impact river runner will add some serious twinkle to your toes. These kicks clocks in at a mere 11.3 ounces, and features a stable, running shoe-style sole with solid yet lightweight lugs that provide ample traction without stacking on grams. A quick-pull lacing system lets you enter and exit easily, and keeps the shoe secure on the foot so it won’t rub and cause blisters when wet. The mesh upper is flexible and light, and moves like a second layer of skin. We loved this shoe on a 5K run along the beach for crashing in and out of surf, and it was also our favorite for trail running.

But while it makes a great runner, its true calling is the life aquatic. Eight large holes along the sole evacuate water just about as quickly as it comes in. Likewise, a perforated rubber insole moves water through quickly without absorbing it along the way. Even better, not only does it let water escape, but sand and fine particulate matter also passes out of the shoe, rather than piling up in the toe or heel. When scrambling over wet rocks and wood, we kept a steady footing and were never in jeopardy of slipping. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the mesh upper does a fantastic job keeping dry sand out, another reason we loved this shoe for athletic adventures around the water’s edge. Finally, the shoe dried extremely quickly in all circumstances, both in direct sun, and at home in a dark closet.

However, the SM921 did strike a couple of sour notes. While the quick-pull lacing system meant the shoes went on easily, it also meant the shoe sometimes slipped off the foot occasionally. When we tried trudging our way through deep mud, for example, we had to work to keep the shoe on our foot, and our heel came fully out multiple times. For the same reasons, small pebbles and other debris can come in around the ankle. And while the lightweight construction is great for fleet-footed excursions, it also means that the shoe doesn’t offer much stability against turning an ankle, or smashing your toes against the rocks. You’ll also feel sharp edges underfoot.

These are minor quibbles though. Overall, this shoe is an excellent choice for those who will be frequently moving back and forth from wet to dry and want something that provides freedom of movement, top of the foot protection, and underfoot traction.

WIRED Evacuates mud and sand like the Nile River. Dries exceptionally fast. Extremely lightweight and low impact, almost feels like being barefoot. Best beach runner we’ve ever sprinted across the sands in.

TIRED Comes off of foot waaay too easily. Pebbles and other debris get a free pass into shoe.

$90, newbalance.com

Keen Cimarron II

Keen Cimarron II

When it comes to all-around wet-and-dry performance, we were blown away by the versatile Cimarron II. The 12.1-ounce shoe is lightweight, and secures nicely via quick-pull laces. Loops on the tongue and heel help you get the shoe on and off quickly. Thick multidirectional lugs provide nice traction. And the webbed mesh upper provided both protection, and a degree of warmth in cold water. It all stacked up to a shoe that did just about everything well.

As a hiker, the Keen’s sturdy sole with protection for toes and heel proved stable and secure; we navigated rocky off-trail sections with peace of mind and without having to focus on our feet. It even made a passable trail runner that we logged a beach-side 5K in without any discomfort. In the water, it handled slick surfaces exceptionally well, and was also solid on sharp rocks thanks to a very rigid sole. We were also pleased with its performance in the mud, where it stayed on our feet even after sinking completely below the surface into the muck. While our heel did come up in the back end of the shoe, it never came out.

Yet we did have a few nits to pick out of these kicks. It did a fine job keeping out small pebbles and debris, but it did allow quite a bit of sand and smaller particulate matter in. And because silt is not easily flushed out, it tended to collect in the toebox, which was uncomfortable. Also, if you do manage to get a small pebble in there, you’ll have to take your shoes off to get it out again. Finally, while it does shed excess water, it doesn’t dry quickly. It was much slower to dry — both indoors and out — than the other two shoes we tested along side it. The wet upper combined with the collected sand rubbed our skin, but not in a good way.
The bottom line is that the Cimarron II is a very solid well-rounded performer. It wasn’t the best at anything, but it was pretty great at just about everything we threw at it. For a combination rafting and hiking shoe, it was aces.

WIRED Stuck to slippery rocks like a starfish. Heavy-duty toe and heel will keep your feet from getting stubbed out. First rate trail shoe; handled hiking and scrambling across rocks as well as it did water.

TIRED Tends to collect silt and sand. Very slow to dry, our feet stayed soggy in these suckers all day.

$100, keenfootwear.com

Teva Avator SR

Teva Avator SR

While most river shoes are simply wetware versions of athletic shoes, the Teva Avator resemble work boots. The neoprene upper extends above the ankle, and it secures by means of a Velcro closure, plus two adjustable straps. Thick padding at the ankle and a stiff rubberized cup in the rear behind the heel offer some protection to keep your ankle from turning. Likewise, a stiff toe cup will keep you from totaling your toes on underwater rocks or other jagged edges. The hard sole was ace for stepping on sharp rocks and uncertain terrain, providing a secure platform that even stood up to a light stabbing from a Swiss Army knife.

And yet this work boot is very much a submersible shoe. Vents by the toe and heel allow water to escape, while the neoprene not only dries quickly, but it also keeps your feet relatively warm in cold river or ocean water. The adjustable straps stay closed no matter how turbulent the water, or what you wedge your foot in below its surface. Even when we plunged this shoe calf-deep in the mud, it never budged. Seriously, you’re more likely to have a beaver gnaw your foot off than you are to lose it in the water. Likewise, the ankle-high closure keeps out not only H2O but also dirt, grime and even fine sand. We were also surprised at how quickly the shoe dried. Although it has much more material than the New Balance 921 or Keen Cimarron II that we tested simultaneously, it was the first to dry in cool indoor conditions. It is, however, slow to drain, and in the sun it retained water longer than the others.

While we’re mostly positive on this kicker, but the shoe isn’t much of an athletic performer. The rigid ankle makes running and scrambling in it awkward, while the largely flat sole tends to become caked in sand and mud, and slips repeatedly on slick rocks and wet wood. It was also quite hot. While the neoprene upper is great for those moments when your dogs are sunk in chilly river water, in the sun they can get quite hot (and more than a little slimy).

Overall, we were impressed with the Avator, but it seems best suited to occasional splashes and is more of a workhorse than a thoroughbred.

WIRED More secure than a 64-character password; this shoe will not accidentally come off your foot. Exceptionally stable, great for walking through water where one can’t see below the surface. Neoprene upper kept our toes toasty. Dries quickly.

TIRED Banana peel-slick soles slid off algae-covered rocks like a fried egg off oiled Teflon. Slow to drain.

$90, teva.com

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Icon Motors Re-engineers the King of the Trail

Product: CJ3B

Manufacturer: Icon Motors

Wired Rating: 8

Back when records were state of the art, the pre-Jeep Willys CJ3B was king of the jungle trail. Unfortunately, its skills haven’t held up as well as its looks. Loving its style but not its capabilities, Icon Motors produced an aesthetically faithful update.

OK, update may be understating it. Severely.

Icon acquired a few old CJs and laser-scanned all of their surfaces, generating a 3-D model of the 70-year-old vehicle. Then, they pressed new body panels out of modern steel (the old Willys was made of wartime metals that aren’t as tough as modern stuff) and coated it all in a Teflon-polyurethane powdercoat that we couldn’t scratch despite hurling the truck at trees instead of around them.

While the outside looks just like an old Willys, a 1940s mechanic would never recognize the undercarriage. The new, mandrel-bent frame is designed to accommodate a fully independent suspension, instead of the old leaf springs. The Chevy-sourced 4-cylinder engine makes 205 horsepower, but gets 23 mpg.

The 4WD system is adapted from a 2010 model-year Jeep: It’s more advanced, and, as an added bonus, owners won’t have to scour eBay for antique replacement parts when they get overambitious in the off-road park.

And while a 1950s 3B tops out at around 50 mph on the highway, we throttled the Icon down L.A. freeways upwards of 80. Then, when we hit the Miller Jeep Trail, we switched into 4WD low and went way beyond our comfort zone without seeing the Icon balk. With 24 inches of wheel travel, it can scurry over boulders, romp rutted trails, and negotiate inclines that would make a Hummer run screaming for a pedicure.

WIRED Every light is LED—from the dashboard to the headlamps. At just 64 inches wide, it’s narrow and capable enough to tackle trails that Jeeps aren’t technically allowed on. Just try to scratch the paint: We drove through a big-ass thorn bush and wiped away the evidence with a rag. Attracts more thumbs-ups than the Colosseum. Only 83 grand.

TIRED Only 83 grand?! Just like the old CJs, high-beam switch is next to the clutch. (They moved that for a reason.) Shifter feels sloppy, er, retro. Seat belts were a little janky, prone to locking up even in the rare moments when we had the Icon sitting level.

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AdSafe Media Raises $7.25 Million For Brand Verification Platform

AdSafe Media, a brand verification platform, has raised $7.25 Million in Series B funding, led by Atlas Venture with participation from existing investors Founder Collective and others participating.

Launched in May 2009, AdSafe Media uses algorithmic modeling and human verification to rate and verify the brand safety of content on commercially supported Web pages via a proprietary system. The rating then allow advertisers to properly place display advertising campaigns of sites.

AdSafe plans to open its Content Rating API late this year to integrate with real-
time-bidding and demand-side ad platforms, giving advertisers information and data about the brand safety of every impression available for purchase.

The company recently released a report that provided an analysis of the key display advertising brand safety metrics and industry insights, which shows that 47% of traffic was served by exchanges, real-time-bidding (RTB) or demand-side (DSP) platforms. According to the report, premium brand advertisers seem to be shifting a larger percentage of their display adverting spending to exchanges, RTB and DSP platforms because of increased media efficiency and broader reach afforded by these channels.

AsSafe faces competition from DoubleVerify, AdXpose and others.

Information provided by CrunchBase


WakeMate’s Long Delays May Finally Be Coming To An End

WakeMate’s quest to help you kiss your groggy mornings goodbye continues. The Y Combinator-funded startup has become something of a poster child for the mantra “Hardware is hard” — when the company debuted its gadget in November, it promised to start shipping devices the following January. That didn’t happen, and the company didn’t have a concrete date for when the first batch might ship. A few units shipped in April, but the company wouldn’t say how many, so it probably wasn’t a very encouraging figure. Now, it looks like there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.

WakeMate has posted an update to its blog that indicates that it’s optimistic about having a large chunk of orders out close to the end of the month (though it sounds like that may slip a bit). From their post:

A lot has happened since April, besides what we’ve shown on the blog. To highlight, we’ve:
Lined up a local manufacturing partner for faster turnaround
Designed and implemented a new board layout that gives vastly improved Bluetooth performance as well as battery life
Sourced all parts for said board
Designed and prototyped a new wristband, currently in its final production revision
Expanded and improved phone support
Iterated on the Analytics site, making it more useful and eye-catching
Dealt with regulation, Apple approval, packaging, etc.

So where does this leave us in terms of shipping by the end of July? We remain optimistic—if we don’t make it by month’s end, we’ll definitely get close. We’re addressing a couple minor snags but the hard problems have been solved and it’s now a matter of urging the gears of industry to turn more quickly; something they’re not accustomed to doing. In April, we felt it extremely conservative to say we’d be shipping by July 30th; as any new company can tell you, things never happen the way you think they will and we were no exception.

WakeMate’s product consists of a $50 wristband that you wear while you’re sleeping, which can analyze your sleeping patterns and wake you up at the opportune time so that you can beat morning grogginess (also see the pricier Zeo Sleep Coach and Fitbit, which can track your sleep but doesn’t have the wake-up alarm). Data from the wristband is relayed to your phone — WakeMate is developing companion applications for the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. WakeMate’s delays have resulted in plenty of frustrated users, in part because WakeMate collected a five dollar downpayment for its pre-orders.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Best Buy Issues Reprieve For Employee Behind Videos — But He Declines Reinstatement

Last week, we noted that Best Buy was looking into firing the employee that made the hilarious EVO versus iPhone 4 video (and the rebuttal video). The employee, 25-year-old Brian Maupin, was placed on suspension as Best Buy decided what they wanted to do. Today brings some good news: they’ve decided not to fire Maupin. But Maupin has decided not to return to work just yet, as he’s not sure he’s comfortable with the situation.

In their statement about the situation (below), Best Buy humorously refers to Maupin as “the aspiring film-maker.” The company notes that they took their time coming to a decision about what to do because they wanted to ensure they were maintaing a supportive environment for employees, while also making sure employees couldn’t openly disparage customers, vendor partners, and other employees.

Best Buy says that three video in particular caught their attention, and that those videos have now been taken down. What’s interesting here is that the three videos apparently don’t include the two most popular ones. Maupin originally told us that there were a “couple other videos” on his account that did reference Best Buy in a comical manner and that he took those down immediately when the company asked. He said they were also asking him to take down the more popular videos, but he refused to do that, as they don’t mention Best Buy in any way (but do mention brands Best Buy carries).

But Best Buy is now apparently doing a 180 on what they initially told Maupin. Now, they’re indicating they only cared about the other videos in question (which, again, mentioned Best Buy specifically). But that wasn’t the case last week, according to Maupin. “According to the statement BBY issued, the videos they were offended over are gone, but 2 of them they took issue with are up, so maybe they’ve realized those two don’t mention Best Buy or maybe they’re just settling, considering the spotlight on them,” Maupin tells us.

Undoubtedly, without the two popular videos, which now have nearly 4 million views combined on YouTube, none of this would have been brought to Best Buy’s attention in the first place.

At the end of their statement, Best Buy notes that Maupin is scheduled to return to work on Friday. Unfortunately, they apparently didn’t clear that with Maupin himself. “I’m not planning on returning to work — immediately, anyway. Honestly, I don’t know how I could return considering some of the things that were said to me and not have a lot of awkwardness on the job. I’m looking at possible jobs in graphic art — nothing definite yet, but I’m searching,” he tells us.

Below, find Best Buy’s full statement on the matter and then Maupin’s official one. And, of course, the videos below that.

Best Buy:

We have completed our investigation into the videos created and posted by Brian Maupin, the aspiring film-maker and Best Buy employee.  This is an important situation for us because it involved balancing our social media guidelines with a commitment to creating a supportive environment for our employees.  It’s important to note that our investigation involved three videos that were posted in late June because they were openly disparaging of our employees, our customers and our vendor partners.  Our investigation is over, and these videos are no longer on the web.  Contrary to rumors, Brian has not been fired, and is scheduled to return to his job at Best Buy this Friday

Maupin:

Right now I’m planning on taking a leave of absence so I may survey my current career plans and the future. I’m not sure if it would be comfortable returning to Best Buy considering the circumstances, but I will definitely consider all options


Jeff Ma’s Keys To Success In Business: Blackjack And Sports

In terms of interesting backgrounds among people in the tech space, Jeff Ma has one of the most interesting. If you’ve read the book Bringing Down The House or seen the movie 21, the main character is based on Ma — yes, in the movie he’s a white guy, but still, that’s him. He was a member of MIT’s now famous blackjack team for seven years. From there, he went on to co-founder a sports startup, Citizen Sports, which Yahoo acquired this past March.

Ma is actually the only one of Citizen Sports 30-some employees that didn’t go over to Yahoo with the deal. Instead, he decided to take some time off to help promote his new book, The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big In Business. The book is an extension of talks Ma has given around the country relating risk-taking (or rather, calculated risk-taking) in both gambling and sports to advantageous moves in business.

Below, find a conversation I had with Ma on TechCrunch TV today. We talk about everything from blackjack, to the new Facebook movie (based on a book written by the same author who wrote Bringing Down The House, Ben Mezrich, whom Ma knows well), to Yahoo, to Ma’s own book, to where LeBron may be going.

You can find The House Advantage on Amazon here.


Help Key: Replacing the Apple TV


I’d been living under Apple TV hegemony for about two years I bought an early 40GB model, upgraded it to 80GB, and then hacked it. When hacked, the Apple TV is actually useful. Hacked it was, in short, one of the easiest ways to get video on my NAS or networked Macs to my TV. Unhacked it’s sort of like a really nice guy who works in insurance sales: you want to like him but he keeps trying to sell you stuff and he’s really boring.

Slowly but surely, however, the ATV hit its limit. I ran out of disk space and didn’t want to upgrade and XBMC was choking on larger files. The device itself was as hot as a griddle most of the time and I worried that at some point I’d have a bricked device on my hands. I went on a quest for a networked device to do two things: stream audio from multiple sources, including my library of MP3s, and to play video from a NAS drive over the network. If it could play Netflix that would be gravy. I put a number of devices to the test and have come up with a real winner.

Read more…


Twitter Explains What @EarlyBird Is: It’s All About Distributing Advertiser Deals

ReadWriteWeb had a solid scoop last week when it uncovered Twitter was set to go live with an account called @EarlyBird. Well, it has just gone live, with a tweet pointing to this page where the company explains what it’s all about.

Looks like Twitter is about to start offering users exclusive, time-bound deals, events and sneak peeks, for which it has partnered with a number of (yet unnamed) advertising partners.

Those advertisers will distribute offers via the @EarlyBird account, and they get to determine the terms of the offer, including availability, amount, and pricing. And you? You get to opt in to them.

If you want to get access to said exclusive deals, you need to of course follow the @EarlyBird account, although you may also see offers if someone you follow retweets a tweet from that account. Yes, that means exclusive deals are bound to get viral pretty quickly, which will be interesting to observe given that many of the offers distributed via the account will be time-sensitive of nature (otherwise it wouldn’t be called Early Bird, of course).

Twitter outlines that it has deals with select advertisers in place, but welcomes suggestions of a product/event sent by @reply to @earlybird. Nevertheless, since Twitter clearly looks at this like a significant potential revenue stream, they are keen on emphasizing that it will be selective about the type of deals they highlight.

Also worth noting: the company suggests that deals will come mostly at the beginning of the day (it’s safe to assume that they mean the start of the day throughout the United States, at least at first).

As for internationally available offers:

Will these deals be targeted toward Twitter’s many users outside the United States?

At first, many of the advertising partners will be large, international brands or focused on the U.S. market. As @earlybird grows beyond this first early phase, so will the deals in different places.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that at the end of the list of questions presented on the introductory page, Twitter makes it clear that while it is kicking things off with US-wide offers, the company will explore location-based and even thematic (e.g. fashion or music) deals in the future. This could get pretty big, pretty quickly, in my opinion.

Now let’s see how many followers the @EarlyBird account gains in the next few days. At the time of publication, it had 833 followers.

For Twitter, this is far from the first or only attempt at generating revenue. It currently rents out access to its data ‘firehose’ to notable Web giants such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft and is actively experimenting with Promoted Tweets and Trending topics.

For the record, Twitter has raised a staggering $160 million in funding to date, and we believe the valuation of the company to run up to $1 billion.

Do you think it’s worth that much?

Information provided by CrunchBase


Amazon’s Original Kindle Patent Could Spell Trouble For Competitors

A patent applied for by Amazon in 2006 has been made public today as a consequence of its being granted, and its language is rather more wide-ranging (and forward-thinking) than we might have expected. Depending on the interpretation, Amazon’s patent may be broad enough to justify a lawsuit over devices like the Nook and Alex, both of which sport a design clearly claimed by Amazon.

The relevant language in the patent starts off thus:

5. A handheld electronic device comprising: a first display for presenting visible representations of content, the first display comprising an electronic paper display; and a second display positioned alongside the first display, wherein the second display includes a plurality of graphic elements that correspond to portions of the first display, and wherein the second display is responsive to user input to one of the graphic elements to perform at least one action on content shown in a portion of the first display that corresponds to the one graphic element.

That alone would be be sufficient to give pause to the designers of similar devices — and unfortunately for them, it gets worse.

Continue reading…


TV Shack Flouts The Feds By Moving Video Piracy Site To Offshore Domain

Last week, the Feds shut down nine video sites for piracy and copyright violations. The enforcement was a combined effort by the Department of Justice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center under the Department of Homeland Security. It is the new Intellectual Property Police, and they are fighting to save Hollywood.

The press release announcing the online raid included this choice quote from U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara: “If your business model is movie piracy, your story will not have a happy ending.” The following domains were seized TVshack.net, Movies-Links.tv, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, ThePirateCity.org, ZML.com, NinjaVideo.net and NinjaThis.net.

Of course, it only took a few days for at least one of the sites to reappear at a different domain. TVshack.net, for instance, is now at TVshack.cc. There you can watch full streams of bootleg versions of The Twilight Saga:Eclipse (filmed in a theater with people standing up and casting shadows on the screen, see below), Toy Story 3, True Blood, and other movies and TV shows. The .cc domain is administered by the Cocos Islands, which is a territory of Australia. The company is based in Stockholm, Sweden. Another one of the shuttered sites has reappeared at www.watch-movies-tv.info, but it no longer offers streaming movies.

You get what you pay for with these sites. The video quality is predictably awful, and you have to endure pop-up ads for Russian mail-order brides blocking part of the screen. But some people don’t mind. We’ve been noticing spikes to our Crunchbase directory from people looking for info on TV Shack (our Crunchbase entry is the second result on Google). Who wants to guess how long the .cc domain will stay up?


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AP Not Amused By The Woot Story, Tries To Play The Oil Spill Card

Oh those jokesters over at the AP — the fun never ends! Last night, we wrote a post noting that Woot was (humorously) calling out the AP for not following their own ridiculous rules when quoting from content. By Woot’s calculation, using the AP tool, the AP owes them $17.50 (but Woot was nice enough to offer them the chance to buy some headphones off of Woot instead). The AP didn’t like that story — neither our’s or Woot’s.

This morning, Paul Colford, the Director of Media Relations for the AP sent emails to both me and Woot CEO Matt Rutledge. Here’s what we got:

MG Siegler:

Surely you’ll also want your readers to know that The Associated Press INTERVIEWED Mr. Rutledge, as this version of the “newsy little thing” you cite makes clear: http://bit.ly/cl8JlX

Meanwhile, AP staffers across the Gulf region and in Washington continue to provide comprehensive coverage of the oil spill.

You’ll find highlights of that coverage here: http://www.ap.org/oil_spill/

Cheers,

Paul Colford

Did he really just pull out the oil spill card? Yes, he did.

A few minutes later, Rutledge got the same basic email, minus the oil spill coverage reference. The emphasis of both is that the AP actually interviewed Rutledge about the story. Sure enough, they did. Here’s the quote the AP used from that interview:

“I’m really excited,” he said.

Yep, that’s it. So that’s 24 words lifted from Rutledge’s post (which wasn’t linked to, by the way) and 3 words from the AP’s reporting.

So, if I’m interpreting this correctly, the AP’s stance is that it’s fine to lift excerpts from others’ work as long as you interview them — even if that interview only results in a three word quote and the quotes you’re lifting are much longer. Just to make sure, I emailed the AP about it:

so I’m confused, you’re allowed to quote all you want for free from a blog post if you do a phone interview with the person and quote three words from that interview? so if I do a phone interview with the AP, can I then copy and paste an entire AP story free of charge? serious question.

I didn’t get a response. But I did send it to Rutledge (remember, the interviewee here). Here’s what he wrote back, “I was just mulling over how to respond to similar confusing email here, but I think I like your response better.” A couple hours later I wrote a quick follow-up to the AP:

Hi Paul — Just following up. No statement here about this? Happy to hop on the phone.

About 20 seconds later Colford writes back:

Root of this non-”story” ($17.50 for quotes) is 2 yrs old, as AP noted again in 2009: http://bit.ly/9ehJGZ

Thanks.

Ouch. Someone is a little cranky. A few things here.

1) Interesting that Colford didn’t note that position at all in his original email. Instead, his position was that they were free to lift passages from Rutledge’s post because they “interviewed” him.

2) That AP release from 2009 completely disregards the fact that in 2008, the AP did in fact try to bully Drudge Retort into taking down excerpts from their stories that ranged in length from 39 to 79 words. After some big backlash, they quickly tried to back away from that, and their 2009 statement basically rewrites their position stating that they’re not going after bloggers for using excerpts from their stories (even though they clearly went after Drudge Retort).

3) Wouldn’t a “non-’story’” be a story? The quotes around story already indicate Colford’s belief that the Woot issue isn’t a story. So a non-non-story is a story.

Anyway, whatever. I’m a little confused by this whole thing. So is Rutledge. I think the AP is too. But I’m going to go with what I can only assume is their policy now. Since I technically “interviewed” Colford for this post, I’m going to copy an AP story below. I’ll go with an oil spill one since he was so quick to point those out. And sure, I only got a few words out of Colford, but since that doesn’t seem to matter, I’m just going to paste an entire AP story below. I like this new policy.

Jun. 24, 2010 5:47 AM ET

AP check: Shoddy disposal work mars oil cleanup

JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (AP) — A leaky truck filled with oil-stained sand and absorbent boom soaked in crude pulls away from the beach, leaving tar balls in a public parking lot and a messy trail of sand and water on the main beach road. A few miles away, brown liquid drips out of a disposal bin filled with polluted sand.

BP PLC’s work to clean up the mess from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history already has generated more than 1,300 tons of solid waste, and companies it hired to dispose of the material say debris is being handled professionally and carefully.

A spot check of several container sites by The Associated Press, however, found that’s not always the case.

Along the northern Gulf coast, where miles of beaches have been coated with oil intermittently for two weeks, the check showed the handling and disposal of oily materials was haphazard at best.
A mound of oily sand sits in an uncovered waste container in a parking lot at the crown jewel of Alabama’s park system, Gulf State Park. Water from the previous night’s storm drips out of the bin into a brown pool on the asphalt.

In Pensacola, Fla., along the road through Gulf Islands National Seashore, trash bags from the debris removal hang over the side of big storage bins.

A waste collection area dotted with numerous bins full of spill debris stands in what seems like an odd spot: Smack in the middle of the tourist section in Gulf Shores, Ala., directly across the street from a seafood restaurant hungry for customers because of a lack of tourists.

Cleaning up a spill is an undeniably messy job, particularly when crude oil or tar balls are washing ashore in varying amounts in four states. The debris isn’t classified as hazardous waste, so it can be placed in landfills that accept ordinary household garbage, including table scraps.

Yet Jerry Kidd, doing maintenance work at a condominium, couldn’t believe it when he saw a Waste Management Inc. truck pull away from a collection site in Orange Beach piled with loose sand, oil-smeared protective gear and oily boom pulled out of the water. It was trailing pollution of its own.
The company says it is using 535 containers lined with what amount to huge black trash bags to collect debris from Mississippi, Alabama and part of the Florida Panhandle under a contract with BP. But not all of the bins really are lined, and liners have failed in others.
“They’re going down the road leading to the landfill; they take the same route every day. They’re leaking onto the roads, into the storm sewers,” said Kidd. “There’s no telling where it’s going.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health, which regulates the transportation of such wastes in the state, said it wasn’t aware of the problem until contacted by AP.

“This needs to be taken care of, and get these things sealed tight,” said Pres Allinder, director of environmental services for the department. “There’s no point in collecting this stuff if they’re just going to spread it around.”

Waste Management is taking solid wastes from the three states to landfills in Vernon, Ala.; Pass Christian, Miss.; and Campbellton, Fla. Spokesman Ken Haldin said the company would be more careful, having drivers check bins for problems and possibly using a new type of liner, because of the AP findings.

“It is something we are going to be addressing,” he said. “They’re probably isolated situations, but we are still early in the process with all this work.”

Despite problems, Haldin said Waste Management is trying to make sure oil spill contamination isn’t spread inland.

“There are a whole set of steps we are taking to make sure this operation is safe,” he said.

Liquid waste, such as oily water left from the cleaning of oil-blocking booms or the mix of oil and water picked up by skimmer boats in the Gulf, is handled separately. The oily residue is processed for sale where possible and the water is reused or injected underground.

The amount of waste being generated sounds staggering, but it’s not unusual in the disposal business.

“This whole spill is going to be a drop in the bucket for its impact on landfills,” said Vic Cullpepper, technical director at River Birch Landfill, near New Orleans. “A lot of people are trying to blow this up and say it’s going to be a problem for landfills, but it’s not.”

BP says 761 tons of crude-contaminated waste already has been buried at the two landfills in Alabama and Florida. Some 13,100 cubic yards of oily waste have been buried in Louisiana, where the amount is being tallied by volume instead of weight.

Marlin Ladner, a supervisor with Harrison County, Miss., is angry about spill waste being buried in his coastal county, which still is trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The county could use the dumping fees from the disposal operations, he said, but there are too many uncertainties.

“I just don’t think it’s worth it,” he said. “I just have a problem with BP, in effect, polluting our beaches, bays and estuaries and then turning around and hauling that stuff and dropping it just four or five miles from the coast here.”

BP says no oily material will be sent to the Mississippi landfill.
___
Associated Press writer Melissa Nelson contributed to this report from Pensacola, Fla.
Associated Press
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


EMC Acquires Data Warehousing And Analytics Company Greenplum

Enterprise software giant EMC has acquired data warehousing company Greenplum Software. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed but the acquisition is an all-cash transaction.

Greenplum, which has raised $61 million in funding, develops database software for business intelligence and data warehousing applications. Greenplum has a number of high profile investors, including Sun Microsystems and SAP Ventures. The company’s client base includes Skype, Equifax, T-Mobile and Fox Interactive Media Greenplum will become the foundation for a new data computing product division within EMC’s Information Infrastructure business.