Some Tech Behind Inception And Avatar Becomes A Reality On Your iPad And iPhone

Several years ago, it seems like just about everyone saw the film Titanic. This past year, it seems the same was true for Avatar. And this past Summer, it seems as if everyone is seeing Inception. All three films share something in common: their use of Autodesk Maya, a piece of visual effects software. Now that technology has been ported to the iPhone and iPad.

Obviously, Autodesk Fluid FX isn’t going to be as powerful as Maya running on a hardcore system. But Fluid FX is nonetheless impressive. And it’s pretty amazing that these kind of effects can be done on these relatively cheap consumer devices, whereas a just a few years ago systems costing thousands of dollars were required to render this stuff.

The best way to describe what the app can do is to show it to you. For that, watch the video below. But basically, it’s an app that lets you manipulate pictures with a range of effects. And it has other natural elements like smoke and fire that you can manipulate on your iPad or iPhone.

The use of these devices’ multi-touch capabilities is the key to all of this. The app can recognize up to 10 simultaneous multi-touch inputs, we’re told.

The resulting work you make can saved to your devices. Or you can output any of this to a larger screen, like a television. There’s also a way to cycle through various effects and put them on display. But to me Fluid FX is just as interesting as a technological demonstration of what these devices are now capable of. And perhaps even more so, as a way to show was the other software Autodesk offers is capable of.

Autodesk’s Joe Stam, who has won two Oscars for his work effect work on films, created this app. Previously, Autodesk has released Sketchbook Mobile for the iPhone and iPad, which was a top-selling app.

Autodesk Fluid FX will be out in the App Store tomorrow. It will cost $1.99.


Going Global: George Stephanopoulos And ABC News Execs Discuss New iPad App


Earlier this week, ABC News launched a new iPad application that adds a twist to the way most apps present the news: a third dimension. Fire up the app and you’re immediately faced with a nifty-looking globe that’s covered in headlines and photographs depicting the day’s top stories; tap one and you’ll be linked to the relevant video clip or news article. It’s quite snazzy, at least from a looks perspective (more on that later), and it’s quickly risen to become the #1 free application on the App Store.

To learn more about the app, our own Lora Kolodny ventured over the ABC News headquarters, where she interviewed anchor George Stephanopoulos and a pair of execs who helped create the application.

Stephanopoulos says that he was quickly enamored of the application’s globe, which is a running theme in the interviews (though he said that he hadn’t had a chance to play around with it too much at the time of the interview). On a related note, when guaging his affinity for gadgets on a scale of 1-10, he gives himself a 4.5 (he does own an iPad, but his family has issues getting the cable box to behave properly).

Andrew Morse, Executive Producer of Integration and Innovation at ABC News Digital, says that the globe is meant to be a “meandering experience”. He explains that on traditional sites, people complain that you only get what you’re looking for, and that there isn’t the discovery factor you get from a newspaper.

Isaac Josephson, VP Product Development for ABC News Digital, says that the team has been working on the app for a solid three months, and that it stirred up more excitement among traditional broadcasters than any previous product they’d developed.

My take on the app? Looks aren’t everything — if you want to catch up on the day’s top headlines at a glance, this might not be what you’re looking for. The globe may be fun, but in my experience it also has a habit of obscuring most of the app’s available content (only two or three stories are legible at once). You can flick the globe around a few times and be pretty confident that you’ve seen everything, but it’s hard to kick the nagging feeling that you may have inadvertently skipped over the day’s top story.

That said, the ABC team may be right: if you’re just looking to kill some time discovering random highlights from the day’s news, this may be exactly what you’re looking for. And if you just want the headlines, you can venture over to the ABC News HTML5 site, which is integrated into the app.


NSFW: Sorry AirBnB Hipsters, I’ll Take Health and Safety Over the Cult of Disruption

Get out of the way, old man! You’re being Disrupted! Screw you, newspapers: blogs are stealing your readers and Craigslist is pillaging your revenue! Take that publishers: Andrew Wiley doesn’t need you and your stupid dead trees!

And as for you, hotels – ha! hotels! – if ever there was an industry ripe for disruption, it’s you clowns. Charging $300 a night for a bed and a shower and a tiny plastic enema of shampoo when AirBnB will let you get the same, and more, for $50, so long as you don’t mind the creepy thrill of living in a stranger’s apartment. Kapow! See you in hell, hotels!

But of course the old men are fighting back – dusting down their old service uniforms and oiling their muskets and surrounding themselves with legislative sandbags to prolong their pathetic existence for another few months. This week, New York Governor, David Paterson, signed a bill outlawing the use of private dwellings as makeshift hotels. The bill, supported by hotel industry lobbyists (natch), bans rentals of less than 30 days and makes operating a residential apartment as a transient hotel illegal in New York City. Good news for big hotels, bad news for poor old New Yorkers who now find themselves banned from letting space in their apartments using AirBnB or Craigslist. And even worse news for NY-bound tourists who will now struggle to find a room in Manhattan for less than $100 a night (apart from these).

As TechDirt’s Mike Masnick puts it, “the internet has made it so that people can be more efficient in things like transportation or short-term housing, and the old guard doesn’t like it one bit, so they come up with regulations like these to outlaw it.”

Yeah!

Except, no.

Disclosure: I like hotels a lot – and I’ve spent much of my life in them. Both of my parents are career-long hoteliers, first managing large corporate chain units and now owning their own hotel in the UK. A couple of years ago I decided to sell almost all of my possessions, abandon my over-priced apartment in London and instead live permanently in hotels – in San Francisco, or wherever in the world I find myself in any given month. I’ve just finished writing a book about hotel living.

In the past thirty years I’ve stayed in hundreds – thousands? – of hotels. Some have been amazingly opulent, some adequate, some dreadful, some absolute flea-pit shit holes by the side of highways in Dallas. But every one of them has been licensed to operate as a hotel. Why? Because I don’t want to be burned alive by faulty wiring. Because I don’t want to be robbed, or scammed or murdered. Because I want to pay by credit card and not have that card cloned. Because I want legal recourse if something goes wrong.

Call me old-fashioned.

In New York, as in many major cities, there is a serious problem with transient hotels. Slum landlords know that even the most scummy city apartment – $500 a month stuff – can deliver that same amount per day simply by packing the place with bunk beds and advertising it on Craigslist or any one of the plethora of foreign language NYC hotel sites as a travelers’ hotel. Not only does this put guests at risk due to a lack of fire exits or basic electrical safety, while causing a living hell of noise and violence and shady goings on for the owners of adjacent apartments – but, given that New York apartment vacancy rates are hovering around 1% (against an 8% national average), it also makes it harder for families to find somewhere else to live when they’re forced out by drug-addled European backpackers armed with camping stoves.

And yet, despite all of these sound reasons for outlawing faux-tels, it seems that some people would rather let a Spaniard burn to death, or a family be left homeless, than allow The Man to impede the rise of AirFuckingBnB.

Says the opening para of this post by one Sean O’Neill, writing on Newsweek’s budget travel blog…

“Hundreds of New Yorkers, like others nationwide, have been making a few extra dollars by using sites such as AirBnB, Crashpadder, Roomorama, and Craigslist to sublet pullout sofas, living rooms, and whole apartments. But that may end soon. This week, New York state senators vote on a bill that would make it illegal for any homeowner or renter to sublet for less than a month.”

And says Joe Gebbia, president of AirBnB.com…

“We have received over 300 letters from New Yorkers who depend on renting by the night to make ends meet. As everyone knows, NYC is financially a challenging place to live – especially in a down economy. The consequences of this generalised bill will negatively impact thousands of New Yorkers more than by the small number of ‘illegal hotels’.”

Yeah, Joe. Screw the small number of “illegal hotels” and the untold misery they cause. Hipsters in peril – that’s the big story here. Except it’s really not. For a start, there’s an explicit exemption in the bill that allows for the letting of rooms in private dwellings if the owner is present (as is often the case in AirBnB lets). And for other lets (absent owners can lend their rooms, but are banned from taking money) State Senator Liz Krueger who sponsored the bill has made it clear that “the city is not going to knock on doors,”; AirBnB users will only fall foul of the law if their neighbours complain. Which they’re perfectly entitled to do.

And yet, commentators like Masnick and O’Neill and entrepreneurs like Gebbia are so enraptured by the cult of “Disruption” – that any use of the Internet to circumvent the traditional way of doing things is inherently good – that they can’t help but see the new law as The Man standing in the way of Progress. Or as Masnick puts it “the hotels, which have their high prices and don’t like the competition.”

They simply can’t contemplate the heretical idea that sometimes The Man is right, and that some of his laws are created for good reason. That not everyone on the Internet is a Gawker-reading, fixie riding hipster who just wants to share his space with weary travelers for a few bucks extra pot money. That some people on Craigslist are criminals. That sometimes legislation is needed to protect innocent people from those criminals, even if it stops the rest of us us doing precisely what we want. And that one of the dictionary definitions of Disrupt is “to interrupt or impede progress”, rather than the opposite.

Blogs disrupting newspapers is great, except when no-one can be held accountable for gross inaccuracies and libels. Online pharmacies disrupting doctors is great until someone is poisoned by Indian ‘viagra’. And advertising rooms on the Internet without legal safeguards is great until the platform is used by gangsters and slum lords to drive families from their apartments and fleece tourists into spending their vacations under unsafe roofs.

If AirBnB et al are so smart then they’ll figure out a way to thrive in New York’s new legislative environment. These are, after all, disruptive times. But if they can’t understand the fact that disruption cuts both ways, and that the rights of Internet folk to create awesome new business models doesn’t trump a city’s right to disrupt criminality,  then it’s time for them – not the hotels industry or legislators – to get out of the way. Young man.

Information provided by CrunchBase
Information provided by CrunchBase


ParkWhiz Is The OpenTable For Parking Spots


Finding parking in near concerts or sports events can be an incredibly frustrating task. Because of the event, the cost to park in lots near the stadium or venue can be exorbitant. Plus, lots can fill up fast. Enter ParkWhiz, a Chicago-based startup that allows customers to reserve parking on the fly.

Via a web app and a newly launched mobile HTML5 website, ParkWhiz allows you to reserve parking near concert and event venues in the U.S. ParkWhiz partners with parking lot owners, which range from people who own a single space to large parking management companies, across the country to list their inventory on ParkWhiz.

So far, ParkWhiz has partnered with 300 participating parking locations in over 25 cities in the U.S. Currently, ParkWhiz currently offers parking reservations near Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, AT&T Park, Cowboys Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Busch Stadium, US Cellular Field, Orpheum Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Beacon Theater, plus 17 airports around the country.

For example, ParkWhiz just helped park over 400 cars (who paid on average of $40 per parking spot) for the Paul McCartney concert at AT&T Park last week in San Francisco. ParkWhiz’s CEO and co-founder Aashish Dalal says the startup has also started to serve coupons for restaurants and bars (in neighborhoods nearby the event space) with parking reservations.

In terms of pricing, there is no fee to list a parking space on the site; ParkWhiz collects a fee only if a reservation is made and handles payment processing for the parking vendors. Generally, the user has to pay 10 percent customer convenience fee to ParkWhiz in addition to parking price, and ParkWhiz will also take a 15 percent cut from the base rate from the parking vendors. In a year, the site has already taken 50,000 reservations, with the goal of hittig 100,000 resetvations by the end of the year.

Of course, ParkWhiz isn’t the first company to use technology to try to solve the problem of finding parking. Car Harbor allows you to rent your parking space, and there are a number of iPhone apps to aim to solve the same problem including Spotswitch and Primospot. Even Google is getting into the parking game, recently launching Open Spot, an Android app that shows you a map with nearby open parking spots marked with colored dots.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Uranium Is Getting Some Glowing Reviews On Amazon

Did you know you can buy uranium ore on Amazon? Well you can. It’s actually been on sale for a while — BoingBoing pointed it out back in 2007. But talk of it has recently started popping up around the Internet once again this past week. Our sister site CrunchGear did a quick post pointing it out last week. Since then, a whole new batch of great customer reviews have been flowing in, as Amazon CTO Werner Vogels points out today.

Some of the negative reviews note that uranium is “bad for you.” Another says that it killed a pet gorilla. But some positive reviews mark is as a “great gift for a hostile dictator.

As Vogels points out, the best reviews are highlighted on reviews-only page. The most helpful positive review reads: “So glad I don’t have to buy this from Libyans in parking lots at the mall anymore.” Meanwhile, the most helpful negative review reads: ”I purchased this product 4.47 Billion Years ago and when I opened it today, it was half empty.”

Overall, uranium ore has earned 4 out of 5 stars after 221 customer reviews — with the majority of them giving it a 5-star rating. It’s largely seen as a good deal for $29.99. You may recall that these are the same users who love to review milk.

The discussions on the uranium page are good as well. One person wants to know, “Does this product put you on the CIA watch list?” Another person wants to know: “This is a joke, right?

Unrelated, it’s worth noting that people who viewing uranium on Amazon also viewed items such as wolf urine, fresh whole rabbits, and yes, milk.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Enterprise Software Is Sexy Again

This guest post was written by Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of Box.net. Box.net was founded in 2005 with the goal of helping people and businesses easily access and share information from anywhere. Box.net is now used by millions of individuals, small businesses, and Fortune 500 enterprises worldwide.

When we think of sexy technologies, enterprise software usually ranks somewhere between the fax machine and a Zune. With prohibitive pricing, long product cycles and user interfaces only a mother could love, the enterprise offerings of Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and other big vendors are about as appealing as Steve Ballmer in a bikini. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have been turned off by these unappealing traits, the near-monopolies held by big players, and the suspicion that problems being solved for the enterprise are less exciting. After all, if you want to rapidly develop and release technology to millions of users, build an agile and innovative company culture, and perhaps break a few rules along the way, you certainly don’t build software for the enterprise. You build Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, YouTube or Blippy.

Given all this, why have I decided to go down the road of building a hard-core enterprise software company? It’s simple. Enterprise software is sexy again. Just ask consumer tech guru Marc Andreessen, who recently confessed to being attracted to the new wave of enterprise software companies, or Peter Thiel, who thinks Palantir is hot to the tune of a $750M valuation.

Palantir is like the Jack Bauer of business software, helping to prevent terrorism and predict the spread of infectious diseases. Fortune 500 companies use Box.net to collaborate on billions of dollars in transactions, streamline national advertising campaigns, and help build new space shuttles (seriously, space shuttles). Cloudera is helping big businesses solve their biggest data challenges. Jive is building a meaningfully large business by bringing social into the enterprise, and just raised another $30M to do so. Zuora is reinventing customer subscriptions and payments, and has quickly grown to manage more than $1 billion in subscription revenue. These companies – along with Workday, PBWorks, Asana, Rypple, Salesforce, and dozens of others – are tackling big problems and even bigger markets, placing a premium on innovation, and building cultures around product execution rather than pure sales. And by doing so, they’re making enterprise software sexy (yes, I’m going to use this word a lot in this post, prepare yourself).

Big Problems, Large Markets, New Scale

Enterprises today have massive amounts of information to analyze and manage, disparate employees to connect, prospective customers across the world to market to, and business problems that need to be solved in real-time. Buyers across businesses of all sizes are on the prowl for better, sexier technologies to address these challenges, and collectively they have hundreds of billions of dollars in budget. The US government alone will spend nearly $80 billion next year on information technology. Compare that to a $24.2 billion pie for all of US internet advertising, the revenue stream for a large portion of web companies. New enterprise software companies are emerging to address problems that didn’t exist (or couldn’t be solved) a decade ago, and those with the most efficient and effective solution are being rewarded greatly.

These newcomers wouldn’t have stood a chance against the behemoths in the client-server paradigm, but the cloud is an inherently democratizing force, removing any unnatural channel, sales, or distribution advantages from providers. With the cloud, every user within an organization is a potential buyer – not just because their usage of your service determines your success, but because more and more we’re seeing bottom-up adoption of technology displacing top-down deployments. New enterprise services that leverage a freemium business model can operate at internet-scale, growing to millions of users as rapidly as the latest hip consumer application. Just look at Yammer, which is doubling revenue every quarter. Startups now have an unprecedented opportunity to disrupt traditional enterprise vendors.

Massive Innovation in the Enterprise

The latest crop of enterprise software companies are approaching business problems with the agility, speed and mindset of consumer startups, bringing explosive innovation to a traditionally stagnant, slow-moving market. To retain customers in this incredibly competitive landscape, you’re forced to build better technology – technology that customers love, is easy to implement and available across devices. It’s Moore’s Law on steroids, forcing you to constantly innovate and improve your technology at an unprecedented pace. At Box, we push updates that are incremental and sometimes monumental every week without interruption to our users or their IT departments, unlike SharePoint’s three-year release cycles and occasional patches that place the burden on the IT staff.

How is all this innovation translating to how users and businesses operate? Enterprises are now getting a real-time, holistic view of content and conversations within their business through activity feeds from Salesforce, Yammer, Jive and others. They’re experiencing more seamless interaction between the desktop and browser with HTML5-powered content viewing and editing, and drag and drop uploading from Google, Scribd, and more. They’re realizing the long overdue promise of the “mobile workforce,” thanks to sophisticated business applications that let them collaborate and communicate from mobile devices and the iPad. There’s more ground-breaking innovation going on in enterprise startups today than most of the consumer web; we just don’t see it because we’re conditioned to think enterprise software is dull.

Culture and Execution Matter More Than Size

Not surprisingly, company culture at these new enterprise software contenders looks a lot more like their consumer counterparts than the enterprise behemoths they’re attempting to disrupt. Rather than trying to build aggressive sales teams, many enterprise software startups are focusing on product execution as the best means of acquiring customers. The days of “elephant hunting” are quickly disappearing (it always seemed strange to associate customer relationships with killing large and mostly-friendly mammals, but what do I know?). Consumption and subscription-based billing, in contrast to the traditional licensing model, forces vendors to build amazing software that your customers need and use, not just software that you can sell better than anyone else. In today’s world, you only get paid if people are using your product.

Furthermore, without the hooks of costly infrastructure and rigid licensing, scaling in size is no longer an excuse for slowing down. In the highly democratized, competitive world of the Web, companies that let their bulk get in the way of innovation and user experience will quickly see a customer and employee exodus. Salesforce is sexier today having passed the $1B annual revenue mark than it was a decade ago because it has continued to innovate and build a culture around its core mission: “The End of Software.” SuccessFactors has aged gracefully to become one of the leading SaaS cloud companies by executing against five founding principles that include “No Jerks!” NetSuite, Taleo, LogMeIn and SolarWinds have also managed to maintain their sex appeal through recent successful IPOs. Others like Cast Iron and Greenplum have been snapped up in a recent wave of acquisitions as giants like IBM and EMC try to spice up their images and offerings.

So how can today’s business software vendors, as they grow, see similar success?

1. Make customers feel like they’re a part of your company — all enterprise vendors could all learn a little from Zappos
2. Align revenue with customer success and consumption — your product isn’t worth anything to someone who isn’t using it
3. Build usable technology that people are excited to experience every time — this is hard to do and easy to forget
4. Move quickly, stay youthful in approach, and innovate — complacency is the surest way to lose great talent and your best customers
5. Solve an enterprise’s big problems — the bigger the problem, generally the bigger the reward.

We’re going through a major shift in the technology landscape. Yes, photo sharing is fun, but the upside of creating the eighth service that lets you post photos of yourself to the web is becoming smaller than solving massive problems for enterprises. Organizations have unprecedented amounts of data, global and virtual workforces, and markets that change in real-time. It’s easier and more compelling than ever before to build, launch, and sell scalable enterprise solutions. There are billions of dollars to be made just by keeping it (don’t hate me) sexy.

Information provided by CrunchBase


GitHub Hits One Million Hosted Projects

GitHub, the source code hosting and collaboration service, has hit a major milestone tonight: the site is now hosting one million projects, confirmed Scott Chacon, VP of Research and Development at GitHub. Approximately 60 percent of these projects are full repositories – that is, shared folders with code spread across multiple files – while the remaining 40 percent are “gists”, or short code snippets contained in a single file, like this one, for example.

GitHub has seen rapid growth since it launched in February 2008, all despite the fact that the company has eschewed the traditional venture capital funding route. In an exchange that took place, appropriately enough, via the messaging system built into GitHub, Chacon stated that the company is still “funding free and very profitable” and that they are seeing “incredible growth for GitHub and Git usage in general.” In January 2009 they won a Crunchie for best bootstrapped startup.

The profit comes from the paid plans that GitHub offers for those developers and companies who want to host their repositories privately. GitHub offers essentially unlimited hosting to anyone who is willing to make their code open source, but charges based on the number of private repositories and the number of contributors for other projects. This profitability has spurred the launch of a number of new features of late, such as Organizations, which offers more advanced workflow tools for projects with multiple contributors and varying permissions, and support for fifteen new languages.

GitHub is a key part of the software development ecosystem, hosting a number of notable code bases, including Ruby on Rails, the jQuery JavaScript library and the Linux kernel. Git, the distributed version control software that GitHub is based on, was in fact built by Linus Torvalds, the lead developer and maintainer of the Linux kernel, and the source code for Git itself is also hosted on GitHub. TechCrunch hosts a number of repositories using the service, including some that are open source, and Twitter has recently been publishing the source for several of their gems and other code, using GitHub to do so. Ruby and JavaScript are the most popular languages on GitHub, with 19 and 17 percent of the hosted code respectively, but there are currently projects in over 50 languages on the service: everything from Visual Basic to Go.


Queer Eye-Phone: Gay Social Network Fabulis Gets An App

Since its public beta launch in April, fabulis has been growing quickly. The gay mens’ social network now has over 51,000 members — up 40 percent in the last 30 days alone. And they’re taking that growth mobile, with the launch of a new iPhone app today.

The app offers all the best parts of the website, but extends upon them by utilizing the location element that the iPhone offers. The default view of the app is the “nearby” tab which shows fabulius members, known as “fabbits,” that are close to your actual location. If you find someone nearby that you want to engage with, you can chat with the click of a button.

There’s also a “shake-it” functionality, which launches a fabulis slot machine. This returns you a random fabulis member nearby who you may or may not know, and allows you to view their profile and chat with them.

The other major functionality of the app is the Plans area. This gives you access to what fabulis says is the largest directory of gay-related events in the world — over 71,000 events, with thousands more being added each day. And again, thanks to the use of the iPhone’s GPS, you can sort by events that are close to your location.

And, of course, there is a way to view your messages, and look at other fabbits’ profiles in the app.

Some other stats from fabulis:

  • Registered users spend 10 minutes per visit to the site currently
  • There have been over 300 million fabulis bits (their virtual currency) spent by members so far
  • 67 percent of members are in the U.S., with the UK coming in second with 9%

It’s hard to top CEO Jason Goldberg’s quote that fabulis for the iPhone “is like carrying the big gay world around in your pocket,” so I won’t even try.

You can find the fabulis iPhone app in the App Store here. It’s a free download.


A Must Listen: The Steve Jobs Song [Video]

I thought I was a fanboy. I’ve got nothing on Jonathan Mann.

Regular readers may recall that Mann is the guy behind the Bing jingle (which we didn’t like – but students did, or were forced to), the song about me (which we did like), and most recently, the iPhone 4 antenna song (which not only did we love, but apparently Apple did too). Mann, touched by the fact that Apple decided to play his song at their press conference last Friday, decided to follow it up with a serenade for CEO Steve Jobs.

Warning: if some of my posts about Apple drive you crazy, this song is going to make your head explode.

We have lyrics like:

  • “If that sounds like Moses, it’s no accident. The cult of Macintosh is a religion.”
  • “We bow down to products that make us weep. The beauty of simplicity. The shepherd and his sheep.”
  • “In his guarded temple, there’s a beating drum. And it’s made of glass and of aluminum.”

But the craziest thing about this song is that it’s good. Seriously. It’s so damn catchy. Mann continues to impress.


NY, NJ Parking Lots Sign Up to Charge Electric Vehicles

The Car Charging Group, Inc. (CCGI) this weekend announced a partnership with LAZ Parking in New York and New Jersey to begin outfitting its facilities with smart, electric vehicle charging stations.

The Miami-based CCGI installs and maintains electric vehicle charging stations in government-owned lots, and at commercial sites like shopping malls, hotels, stadiums and corporate parking garages. LAZ Parking operates over 1,300 parking facilities in 21 states and 99 cities. The LAZ Parking sites will be equipped by CCGI with smart, ChargePoint Level II, 240 volts charging stations, manufactured by Coulomb Technologies.

Smart charging stations, unlike those designed for home-garage use, have metering and e-commerce capabilities, and are visible online. Drivers can find smart charging stations on Google Maps, for example.

Coloumb Technologies, the recipient of a $15 million Department of Energy grant (funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Transportation Electrification Initiative) is a leader in sales of charging stations in the U.S.

The company is, with some of its government grant money, setting up — sometimes temporarily free — public electric vehicle charging stations throughout the country, including New York City’s first.

General Electric and Toyota have announced that they are developing and will sell their own smart charging stations, as well.

The Department of Energy estimates that charging station locations in the U.S. will increase 41 times over between 2009 and 2012.

Citing consumer demand and a slew of new charging station technology, and vehicle models — like the Nissan Leaf, GM Chevy Volt, Fisker Karma, and Tesla Model S — Car Charging Group, Inc.’s president Andy Kinard said Saturday that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama administration fulfilled its goal: getting one million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

To recharge at public or commercially installed stations, Kinard says hybrid and electric vehicle owners should be prepared to pay about $3 per hour. He noted: “It’s hard to get 220 volts out into the streets. [Parking facilities] do have to charge more than it would cost an electric vehicle driver to plug in at home. But that’s nothing compared to gas prices now. And it will still be cheaper than what you spend driving an internal combustion engine.”


A Case For AIR: Adobe Evangelist Builds Video Conference App For Android & PC

Earlier this year, you probably heard that Apple blocked Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone App converter from the App Store on the eve of the tool’s launch. That may have crushed Adobe’s dream of allowing developers to write their Flash apps once and deploy them wherever they’d like, but its AIR platform still works with Mac, PC, and Linux, with support for Android devices coming later this year.  That means developers will soon be able to write applications that will work on both the desktop and smartphones.

Of course, the prospect of running cross-platform applications is a lot more impressive when you can see one in action. Which is why Adobe Technical Evangelist Christophe Coenraets has put together a demo showing off what AIR can do when it’s used to deploy the same application across both Android and desktop computers. He’s built a basic video conference app in 30 lines of code, which he demos in the YouTube clip above (the heavy lifting was pre-written, powered by Adobe’s LiveCycle Collaboration Services module). Obviously the application is quite basic, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.

I’ve never been a big fan of AIR — I’ve yet to run into an AIR app on my Mac that didn’t feel a bit out of place, with quirky window behavior and decidedly non-native UI (though this may be the fault of third-party app developers building on the platform). Still, it’s hard not to see the benefit of being able to build an application that runs on both mobile and PC.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Pinning Down Zynga’s Revenues Is Like Playing Pin The Tail On The Bullet Train

One of the most exciting things to watch in tech these days is various groups’ estimates for Zynga’s revenues. Depending on what you read and on what day, they are all over the map. It’s been that way for a long time too, because the social gaming service is simply growing so fast and monetizing the hell out of their properties. Now that we’re more than halfway into 2010, the consensus seems clear that Zynga made about $300 million in revenue in 2009. But 2010 is proving even tougher to nail down, it seems.

The New York Times has a feature on Zynga that’s online now but running the paper tomorrow. In it, they cite data from Inside Network, a service that tracks Facebook and social games, stating that Zynga is on pace to make $835 million in revenue this year. That huge — unfortunately, it’s not true. NYT actually read the data from Inside Network’s wrong. Their data said that $835 million would be the revenue for the social gaming market as a whole in 2010. We’ve confirmed with both Inside Networks and Zynga that NYT got that wrong.

That said, even though it’s inaccurate right now, that moonshot estimate may not end up being that far off. Two weeks ago, we broke the news that Google had secretly invested over $100 million in Zynga earlier this year. For that story, sources told us that Zynga’s revenues for the first half of 2010 would be an amazing $350 million. So if you double it for the other half of the year, that’s $700 million in revenue for 2010. Not bad. Actually, amazing. But it’s certainly seems likely that Zynga will continue to grow and make more money as the year goes on, so again, the $835 million number may end up not being that far off. It’s just not correct right now.

Those numbers are up hugely from earlier this year when managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Jeremy Liewbroke down what he believed Zynga’s revenues to be for us. At the time, Liew estimated that Zynga had made about $240 million year to date. That was May, so extrapolated out, that would equal a little over $500 million in revenue for all of 2010.

And those numbers were up from a BusinessWeek article in April, which stated that Zynga should do $450 million in revenue in 2010. Yes, the revenue estimates are soaring each and every month, it seems.

Two weeks ago, our sources told us that Zynga is projecting revenues of at least $1 billion in 2011. So it seems we’re going to be playing this game into next year as well. And at least until Zynga goes public, at which point they’ll have to release their actual numbers.

As a side note, the NYT story also confirms our Zynga Google-funding story from two weeks ago with their own sources. According to them, the Series D round was $300 million split “roughly” equally between Softbank and Google. This means Zynga now has about $520 million in funding.

Update: NYT has now updated their story with the following:

An earlier version of this article misstated the revenue Zynga was expected to take in this year, according to the Inside Network. It is as much as $500 million, not $835 million.

[image via ubergizmo]

Information provided by CrunchBase


Forum Site Lefora Gobbled Up By CrowdGather

Los Angeles based CrowdGather, which offers forums for online communities, has aquired the assets of Silicon Valley based Lefora. The size of the all-stock transaction isn’t being disclosed.

Lefora, founded by Paul Bragiel, first launched in 2008. It’s notable because of how simple it is for users to create and embed forums onto their sites.

The much larger CrowdGather boasts around 4.5 million monthly unique users and 80 million monthly page views. The company has raised $3 million or so in funding and has been on an acquisition tear – albeit always very small deals.

CrowdGather is also licensing technology from Tal.ki, another company founded by Bragiel. Tal.ki is acquiring the remaining assets of Lefora as well.

Bragiel also recently cofounded i/o Ventures, a work/cafe incubator located in San Francisco.


Halcyon Molecular’s William Andregg: “The Only Way To Reach The Stars Is To Live Longer”

This week’s episode of Speaking Of… (video below) features the founder/CEO of Halcyon Molecular, William Andregg.

Andregg grew up in Arizona. There’s a song by The Orb called Little Fluffy Clouds that describes the light-pollution-free Arizonan sky quite perfectly, with amazing clouds, sunsets and stars. Most Arizonans – at some point in their lives – will lay on the hood of their car and gaze towards the grandness of those fluffy clouds and the Milky Way, but most probably won’t come to the same conclusions that William did about it all.

William yearned to travel beyond the clouds to the stars, but become perplexed by the fact that he most likely wouldn’t make it due to an unfortunate condition that plagues us all — mortality. He knew that in order to reach the stars, which he so desperately wanted to do, he must dedicate most of his life to prolonging and increasing human lifespans so that he or others like him might have a chance to go where no man has truly gone before. In order to go big, he went very small. Our DNA.

Halcyon Molecular has come out of stealth mode, letting William tell his story in order to encourage a few good business women and men to join their plight to end aging. They’ve discovered an inexpensive and most importantly, fast way to sequence the entire human genome. If commercialized successfully, their discovery will change the world of medicine as we know it and increase our chances of living even longer.

Biotech startups are rare now, but we’re going to start seeing more and more of them pop up over the next decade. Technology that was once incredibly expensive is now becoming obtainable and the next wave of tech startups will delve into the largest market of all, human health. William is the only person I know with one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes operating out of his garage, which is pretty damn cool.

What about frogs? Well, the dissection of frogs in high school almost led to William avoiding an entire career in biotech, which struck me as one of many things we should consider revising in our public education system. We need more Williams, not fewer.

(Exciting Note! Speaking Of… is now available via RSS/iTunes Podcast: )


Wisconsin: Land of Beer, Cheese, and…Startups

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Steve Faulkner. He is the CEO of the GeoHuddle, a Madison, Wisconsin based startup developing community geothermal heating and cooling systems. You can follow him on twitter @southpolesteve.

Most people associate Wisconsin with cheese and beer, but you should think about adding startups to that list. Led by a tidal wave of mostly young entrepreneurs, Madison, Wisconsin is staking a claim as the startup capital of the Midwest. Madison was recently ranked as the 7th most innovative city in the country by Forbes magazine – just above perennial powerhouse Boston, MA.

Several key organizations are driving the growing startup community. Capital Entrepreneurs is a group of over 56 companies that meet on a regular basis to help founders network and develop connections. MERLIN Mentors provides free mentoring services to new startups. Applicants are assigned a team of experienced entrepreneurs who help founders navigate many of the challenges facing a new company. These groups, along with the University of Wisconsin, are fostering a great culture for new startups.

Here are just a small selection of technology companies in the area:

Entrustet is a free online service that allows you to securely list all of your digital assets, which are all of your online accounts and files on your computer, and decide if you would like them transferred or deleted when you pass away. It is like a Will for your digital life.

Virent is commercializing a proprietary sugar to hydrocarbon conversion process developed at the University of Wisconsin. This means they can take biomass and directly convert it to gasoline, which has attracted a lot of interest from the oil industry. Most recently, they received a $46 million dollar investment from Shell.

PerBlue is a mobile and social gaming company. They are the makers of the popular mobile game Parallel Kingdom, which currently has over 150,000 players worldwide and was the first location based RPG for the iOS and Android platforms. PerBlue was founded by University of Wisconsin students with their own limited cash, and continues to grow.

Alice is changing the way people shop for everyday household items. It allows users to buy home essentials directly from the manufacturer and have them shipped, for free, to your door. Based on your user profile, it will also remind you when it is time to restock on common items. This is CEO Brian Wiegand’s fourth company. Previously he sold Jellyfish.com to Microsoft for approximately $50 Million.

Networked Insights was founded in 2006 by CEO Dan Neely and provides social media analytics. Clients include P&G, Kraft, American Family Insurance, EA Games, Omnicom, and Starcom MediaVest. SocialSense, the company’s social media listening platform, analyzes conversation from 300 million individuals and 20 million sites that matter most to a brand. Networked Insights has raised over $9 million in VC funding.

Photo Credit/Flickr/infowidget