Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Color Looks To Reinvent Social Interaction With Its Mobile Photo App (And $41 Million In Funding)

$41 million. From Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank. Pre-launch.

That’s how much a brand new startup called Color has to work with. Your eyebrows should already be raised, and here’s something to keep them fixed there: this is the most money Sequoia has ever invested in a pre-launch startup. Or, as the Color team put it, “That’s more than they gave Google.”

But the founding team goes a long way toward explaining it. Headed by Bill Nguyen — who sold Lala to Apple in late 2009 — the company has attracted a wealth of talent. It has seven founders including Nguyen and company president Peter Pham, who previously founded BillShrink. And its chief of product is DJ Patil, who was previously LinkedIn’s chief scientist.

So what exactly is Color?

Update: The application is now available for the iPhone at Android is coming tonight.

At first glance, it looks like another mobile photo app, like Path, Instagram, or PicPlz. You take snapshots with your mobile phone (the app supports both Android and iOS at launch) and they appear in a stream of photos. And there aren’t even any of those trendy lenses to spruce up your images. Sounds pretty basic, right?

Color Demo from Color Labs, Inc. on Vimeo.

But the beauty of Color stems from what it’s doing differently. Unlike Instagram and Path, there isn’t an explicit friend or following system — you don’t browse through lists of contacts and start following their photo stream. Instead, all social connections in the application are dynamic and established on-the-fly depending on whom you’re hanging out with. And your photos are shared with everyone in the vicinity. In some senses this is the Twitter of photo apps — it’s all public, all the time (I’m ignoring Twitter’s protected tweets, since most people don’t use them). Another way to look at it: it’s almost the complete opposite of Path, which is built around sharing photos with an intimate group of friends.

It’s difficult to explain what Color does with a bullet list of features, so I’ll try painting an example that hopefully demonstrates how it works.

Say you walk into a restaurant with twenty people in it. You sit down at a table with four friends, and start chatting. Then one of your friends pulls out their phone, fires up Color, and takes a snapshot of you and your buddies.

That photo is now public to anyone within around 100 feet of the place it was taken. So if anyone else in the restaurant fires up Color, they’ll see the photograph listed in a stream alongside other photos that have recently been taken in the vicinity.

In a crowded area these streams of photos will get noisy, so Color also has some grouping features. Tell it which four people you’re eating with, and Color will create a temporal group with a stream of just the photos you and your buddies have taken. But here’s the twist: because everything on the service is public, you can also swipe to view other groups, to see what the tables next to you are snapping photos of. And you can always jump to the main stream, which shows a mishmash of photos taken by everyone.

It takes some time to wrap your head around, and my time with the app was limited, so I can’t really vouch for how well it works. But there’s some very interesting technology that’s working behind the scenes to make Color more than just a simple group photo app.

First are the social connections, called your Elastic Network. All of your contacts are presented in a list of thumbnails ordered by how strong your connection is to that user. Whenever Color detects that you’re physically near another user (in other words, that you’re hanging out), your bond on the app gets a little stronger. So when you fire up the app and jump to your list of contacts, you’ll probably see your close friends and family members listed first. But if you don’t see a friend for a long time, they’ll gradually flow down the list, and eventually their photos will fade from color to black-and-white.

These social connections are important because they’re the only way to view a stream of photos beyond those have been taken near you. If you fired up Color in that restaurant example from earlier, you’d only be able to see photos that had been taken by friends and strangers within 100 feet of that restaurant. That is, unless you jump to your social connections. Tap on your best friend’s profile photo, and you’ll then be able to see all of the photos that have recently been taken within 100 feet of them. In other words, Color is trying to give you a way to see everything that’s going on around you, and everything that’s going on around the people you care about.

The Groups feature also makes use of this elastic network. In the restaurant example above, the application would likely already know who your friends were based on your previous interactions and would automatically place them in the same group — you wouldn’t have to manually do it yourself.

Color is also making use of every phone sensor it can access. The application was demoed to me in the basement of Color’s office — where there was no cell signal or GPS reception. But the app still managed to work normally, automatically placing the people who were sitting around me in the same group. It does this using a variety of tricks: it uses the camera to check for lighting conditions, and even uses the phone’s microphone to ‘listen’ to the ambient surroundings. If two phones are capturing similar audio, then they’re probably close to each other.

So far I’ve described a compelling and unique photo app with some neat tricks. But how exactly is Color going to make “wheelbarrows of cash”, as Nguyen says?

At this point the company is still very early on, but it eventually plans to offer businesses a self-serve platform for running deals and ads as part of the Color experience (you fire up the app to see the photos being taken around you, and you also see the special of the day, for example).

But that’s just the start. Nguyen has visions of fundamentally changing some aspects of social interaction and local discovery with the app, which he considers part of the so-called Post-PC movement. Using all of the data being collected (remember, the app is taking advantage of all of your phone’s sensors), Color hopes to eventually start recommending nearby points of interest, and maybe even interesting people.

There are still plenty of questions, even about the existing service. This kind of voyeurism — you’re sharing photos with the world and looking at photos from strangers — could take a while to get used to. People may reject it entirely. Or it may be completely addictive. There’s really no way to tell until people start using the app in the wild.

The future is unclear, but promising. And with this much money in the bank and a staff of 27, Color has plenty of time to hone in on what works.

READ MORE - Color Looks To Reinvent Social Interaction With Its Mobile Photo App (And $41 Million In Funding)

RIP Elizabeth Taylor

Oscar winning actress Elizabeth Taylor died today at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Hospital. She was 79.

"She was surrounded by her children: Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd, and Maria Burton," Taylor's publicist, Sally Morrison, said in a statement.
In the same statement, Michael Howard Wilding, 58, memorialized his mother:
"My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love," he said. "Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world. Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman, and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished. We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts."
In addition to her children, Taylor is survived by 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Morrison said that a private family funeral will be held later this week. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and said that those wanting to send personal messages can log on to Taylor's official Facebook page.

Taylor, a two-time Academy Award-winning actress who became notorious for her seven marriages and sometimes eccentric behavior, had reported health problems in recent years and appeared frail in public appearances. Six weeks ago, she was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. Though she had recently suffered a number of complications, her condition had stabilized and it was hoped that she would be able to return home.

 In October 2009, Taylor said she was having a heart procedure done. Via Twitter, she said it was "very new and involves repairing my leaky valve using a clip device, without open heart surgery so that my heart will function better."

The actress' past health setbacks included a fall from a horse during one of her early film shoots, bouts with pneumonia and skin cancer, a tracheotomy, treatment for alcohol and painkiller addictions, and lung, hip, brain and heart surgeries. She had anywhere from 30 to 40 surgeries, according to biographers.

READ MORE - RIP Elizabeth Taylor

American Idol 2011: Why Motown?

I have to say I’m more than a little disappointed with the rebirth of themes for the idol contestants for season 10 of American Idol especially after Nigel promised this was NOT going to happen.  I mean seriously!  Motown?  Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s been many awesome songs and singers come out of the motor city but we’re talking decades ago with this genre.  How are potential idols suppose to show us what type of artist they plan to become when they have to choose these type of songs?  How will they make these songs their own?  I thought Nigel said before the show even started that the contestants would get to choose more current songs and even get the chance to put together a video.  

For the majority of the contestants this will be fine because they’re going to sing sappy ballads anyway but what about Scotty McCreery and James Durbin?  How are they suppose to find their niche singing Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye?  Jacob Lusk should rule this week and come out on top since this is right up his ally with song choice.

In other news, Nigel Lythgoe has tweeted that he doesn’t class X Factor as a talent show and says the following about Simon Cowell:  ”In a way, I’m delighted Simon’s left American Idol. He’s given us the opportunity to refurbish it,” he said. “Everyone said that it would be the end. And what’s happened? The ratings are equal to last year’s, we got 30 million votes the other evening, and if we lost 50% of our audience we would still be the number one show.”  Let’s see if Simon fires back later on today.

What do you think about the motown theme week and do you think the contestants will make the songs their own?

READ MORE - American Idol 2011: Why Motown?

Mansion Owners Upset with Megamansion

Bill Christopher of Urban Concepts holds an artist's rendering of the 42,681-square-foot "megamansion" planned for Benedict Canyon. The 5-acre property would also include a "son's villa," guest house, staff quarters, gatehouse and other amenities. (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times / March 22, 2011)

They say his planned 85,000-square-foot family compound pushes the bounds of common sense and decency.

Nobody in wealthy Benedict Canyon can say for sure what his name is or where he's from, but the owner of a pricey 5.2-acre property on Tower Lane is fast becoming persona non grata among an exclusive club of Los Angeles homeowners.

In a neighborhood whose residents include Bruce Springsteen, Jay Leno, Michael Ovitz and David Beckham, this mystery landowner is preparing to build an 85,000-square-foot family compound, fit for royalty.

The proposed complex is an eclectic mix of European architecture in the coveted 90210 ZIP Code. Although the area teems with mansions boasting swimming pools and tennis courts, residents say the scale of this "megamansion" pushes the bounds of common sense and decency.

If the owner gets his way, the real estate will host a 42,681-square-foot main house, a double-winged "son's villa" of more than 27,000 square feet, a 4,400-square-foot guest house, a 5,300-square-foot staff quarters and a 2,700-square-foot gatehouse. Those and other proposed structures would occupy a combined area larger than Griffith Observatory.

"It's commercial-scale construction, like building a Wal-Mart in the heart of a quiet residential neighborhood," said Martha Karsh, who lives with her husband, Bruce, just east of the site.

In an area known more for gated estates than block parties, the controversy has so far united more than 150 residents. Through e-mails, house gatherings and phone calls, opponents have built support for their cause. Next, they plan to mount a door-to-door campaign and launch a website.

They seem to have a worthy adversary, one with deep pockets and expensive lawyers and who may even be a senior Saudi prince. Instead of disclosing his identity, the owner has created a special business, Tower Lane Properties Inc., to purchase three adjoining plots for $12 million. A team of lawyers, architects, intermediaries and sales brokers have been hired to manage the project, and all have signed secrecy agreements.

"We're not trying to be deceptive," said attorney Marc E. Petas, a Tower Lane Properties representative in Los Angeles. "It's just a matter of maintaining privacy."

City planning documents list Mansour Fustok of London as the president of Tower Lane Properties, with Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff Inc., a Century City law firm, as the "in care of" contact.

Fustok, a former brother-in-law to Saudi King Abdullah, is uncle to Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz al Saud, one of King Abdullah's sons. Rutter Hobbs attorney Olivia Goodkin, who served as the initial registered agent for Tower Lane Properties, has represented companies controlled by Saudi royal family members in the past.

A Tower Lane Properties representative told residents during a project presentation at one of their homes that the owner is a single father of three whose family would occupy the grounds only occasionally. Project opponents point out that Prince Abdulaziz is divorced and has three children.

Reached at his home in London, Fustok said he was prohibited from naming the owner and described the proposed development as "just a normal Mediterranean-style house." He insisted that the owner would comply with all building regulations and environmental reviews.

"All I'm trying to say is a very nice family is going to live over there," Fustok said. "It's a 5-acre lot altogether. It is far from everybody. … You buy a lot of land, you think you have the right to build on it.

"To face something like this, objecting to everything, it is too much," Fustok said. "Mrs. Karsh and Mr. Ovitz are the ones causing this mayhem and delaying things and so on."

Ovitz declined to be interviewed, but an associate who asked to remain anonymous described his position this way: "He just wants his neighbors to obey the law. It isn't personal or project-specific."

Residents of the canyons above Sunset Boulevard have defeated foreign royalty before. In the early 1990s, the sultan of Brunei proposed a 59,000-square-foot estate on Tower Road in Beverly Hills, near the Tower Lane site in Los Angeles. Sidney J. Sheinberg, a former entertainment industry executive, and the late actor Jack Lemmon were among those who complained loudly enough to quash the plan.

Ovitz himself sparked a neighborhood furor when he proposed a 28,000-square-foot megamansion on property straddling the Los Angeles-Beverly Hills border, but he fared better than the sultan after a battle that lasted several years. The former Hollywood agent-turned-investor's sleek, art-filled structure sits a stone's throw from the proposed Tower Lane development.

Royally owned or not, the site in dispute has had a colorful past.

The gates at the top of winding Tower Lane, a private road, open onto what must have seemed a remote wonderland in the late 1920s when movie director King Vidor hired Wallace Neff to design a 17-room, 8,010-square-foot Spanish Colonial hacienda.

In 1996, movie producer Jon Peters bought the Vidor estate for about $6.2 million. He razed the house and submitted plans for a new residence, but he never pulled permits. Instead, he built a 16-car underground garage as well as an unpermitted horse barn and other illegal structures. He also erected a 500-foot-long retaining wall that violates the original permit. Residents call it an eyesore.

The Karshes and the Benedict Canyon Assn. homeowners group have asked the city to conduct an environmental review and to require the owner of 9933-41 Tower Lane to strictly adhere to municipal codes before allowing the project to proceed. The Los Angeles Planning Commission will consider their appeals at its April 14 meeting. (Bruce Karsh is president and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a senior creditor in the bankruptcy case of Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times.)

The opponents contend that the city ignored "numerous, glaring omissions" in the property owner's application and say the owner has tried to evade rules limiting retaining walls in an area with steep hillsides. Most significant, critics contend that the owner has attempted to "piecemeal" the development to avoid a full-project review under the California Environmental Quality Act. An environmental review would evaluate the potential effects of years of extensive grading, hauling and construction.

The city of Beverly Hills has also taken an interest because trucks will haul thousands of loads of construction debris along its streets.

To residents like Sheinberg, who battled against the sultan of Brunei's proposed estate years ago and who lives in a 7,800-square-foot country-style home, the thought of an even larger complex rising amid the hills is troubling.

"It's hard for us to understand," he said, "why anyone needs an 80,000-square-foot compound."

READ MORE - Mansion Owners Upset with Megamansion

policeman and dog

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WOW.....Amazing Bus

READ MORE - WOW.....Amazing Bus

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Amazon Appstore for Android goes live, welcomes newcomers with free Angry Birds Rio

In spite of Apple's grumbling, Amazon's proceeding full steam ahead with the rollout of its Appstore for Android. The switch has just been flipped and early adopters will be welcomed with a free copy of Angry Birds Rio, whose Android launch Amazon scooped all to itself. Beyond day one, Rio will be a $0.99 app, but others will take its place as the online retailer is aiming to serve one usually-paid app for free each day. A total of around 3,800 applications are available at launch and you'll be able to get on board via either a dedicated Appstore app on Android (sideload link available below) or Amazon's web interface. The latter offers you a 30-minute Test Drive facility, where you can try out a program you might fancy for your phone before purchasing. Service looks to be US-only for now -- sorry, international users.

Update: The web Appstore has gone down. Don't panic, we're sure it's just teething troubles and not a smiting by the Cupertino ninja collective. In the mean time, the app still looks to be working okay.

READ MORE - Amazon Appstore for Android goes live, welcomes newcomers with free Angry Birds Rio

China warns of "humanitarian disaster" in Libya

China warned of a "humanitarian disaster" in Libya and expressed "deep concern" at reported civilian casualties as it renewed calls on Tuesday for an end to fighting in the North African country.

China "opposes causing even more civilian casualties through the use of armed force", Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing. "We again call on all sides to observe an immediate cease-fire."
"We've seen reports of how the use of armed force is causing civilian casualties, and we oppose the wanton use of armed force leading to more civilian casualties and more humanitarian disasters," she said.
Western powers began strikes against Libya over the weekend in a U.N.-mandated campaign to target air defences, enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
Jiang would not say directly whether the air attacks on Libya were in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution.
In last week's vote, 10 countries supported the resolution and the other five council members abstained. Those included China and Russia, which refrained from using their veto power.
China's official newspapers on Monday stepped up Beijing's opposition to the Western air attacks on Libya, accusing nations backing the strikes of breaking international rules and courting new turmoil in the Middle East.
Though Beijing is unlikely to go beyond verbal sparring with Western governments over the strikes, its opposition could win points with Arab and other nations that may become more alarmed if the air attacks continue and bring more casualties.
China's handling of Western pressure on Libya has laid bare the quandaries facing Beijing in the Middle East, an important source of oil for the world's second-largest economy.
At the weekend, Saudi Arabia's Aramco announced its latest proposal to supply crude oil to a refinery in southwest China, where Beijing is building an oil pipeline that slices through Myanmar.
About half of China's crude imports last year came from the Middle East and North Africa.
China wants to diversify its supplies, but Arab countries and Iran hold so much of the world's reserves that they are sure to remain major suppliers.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

READ MORE - China warns of "humanitarian disaster" in Libya

Sunday, March 20, 2011

prevue fetal visualization device by melody shiue

Melody Shiue, an industrial designer of the University of New South Wales has designed a product called, PreVue. It is an e-textile based device that employs latest stretchable display technology over the abdominal region, letting other family members to connect with the fetus in its context. Not only PreVue gives you the chance for interacting and watching the baby's growth inside, it as well serves as a tool to understand the personality of the baby. You can see the baby rolling, snoozing, yawning and smiling, bringing you closer until the day it finally lies into your arms.

Designer : Melody Shiue

The product represents design excellence and certainly deserves an Australian Design Award as it paves way for fetal-maternal bonding in order to keep the mothers in an optimistic state of mind. Establishing early bonding essentially sustains the maternal relationship post-birth and helps delivering a healthy child. The father also gets an opportunity to watch the current activity of his child and participate in the process of bonding. The fetus will be able to recognize the mother's voice by the 18th week. Studies reveal that when mothers sing a specific song throughout pregnancy, they can use the same tune to appease a crying baby. This means, adaptive learning starts effectively in uterus, so mothers can stimulate a mild extent of education to the fetus via music and gently tapping over the belly and watch the responsive expressions as well as reflexes of the fetus through a contextual screen.

READ MORE - prevue fetal visualization device by melody shiue

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Supermoon": Biggest Full Moon in 18 Years Saturday

It may not be faster than a speeding bullet, but tomorrow the moon will make its closest approach to Earth in 18 years—making the so-called supermoon the biggest full moon in years.

And despite Internet rumors, the impending phenomenon had no influence on the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami (see pictures).

The monthly full moon always looks like a big disk, but because its orbit is egg-shaped, there are times when the moon is at perigee—its shortest distance from Earth in the roughly monthlong lunar cycle—or at apogee, its farthest distance from Earth.

Likewise, because the size of the moon's orbit varies slightly, each perigee is not always the same distance away from Earth. Friday's supermoon will be just 221,566 miles (356,577 kilometers) away from Earth. The last time the full moon approached so close to Earth was in 1993, according to NASA.

The March 19 supermoon, as it's called, will be visible "pretty much any time during the night," said Geza Gyuk, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

"Look for the full moon as it rises above the eastern horizon as the sun sets below the western horizon—it will be a beautiful and inspiring sight," he said via email.

(See "Year's Biggest Full Moon, Mars Create Sky Show [2010].")

Though the supermoon will be about 20 percent brighter and 15 percent bigger than a regular full moon, the visual effect may be subtle, added Anthony Cook, astronomical observer for the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

"I doubt that most people will notice anything unusual about this full moon," Cook said.

"Because the total amount of light is a little greater, the biggest effect will be on the illumination of the ground—but not enough to be very noticeable to the casual observer."

Japan Earthquake Not Linked to Supermoon

Such a lunar close encounter can cause slightly higher than normal ocean tides and localized flooding—especially if there is already a storm surge, astronomers say.

A supermoon may even have some impact on seismic activity because of the stronger gravitational interaction between the moon, the sun, and Earth.

Even so, there is no clear evidence that any of these phenomena influenced the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

(Read more: "Can the Moon Cause Earthquakes?")

"The earthquake in Japan happened when the moon was close to its average distance to Earth—there was nothing extreme about its position or phase," Cook said.

"While some earthquakes seem to have tidal connections, this isn't one of them."

(Take a moon myths and mysteries quiz.)

There's no need to get worked up over a supermoon, Adler Planetarium's Gyuk added.

"We survived 2008 [an almost supermoon year] and 1993 just fine," he said by email.

"Just keep in mind even this 'extreme' supermoon is not really that extreme!"

READ MORE - "Supermoon": Biggest Full Moon in 18 Years Saturday

Mega Millions winning numbers worth $172 million


New Jersey's lottery players will be thinking green two days before St. Patrick’s Day. A whole lot of green.

The grand prize in Tuesday’s Mega millions drawing stands at $172 million. A winner would have the choice to take annual payments of roughly $6 million for 26 years or walk away with a cash option lump-sum payment of $108.9 million.

In this past Friday night's Mega Millions drawing, there was no jackpot winner, but according to, 11 lucky players matched the first 5 numbers for a $250,000 prize, one of them coming from New Jersey.

The 40-year-old New Jersey Lottery outdoes many other states’ comparable operations in sales and in the amount of revenue it provides to the state. In 2010, despite a poor economy that has hurt casino and racetrack gambling, the state lottery broke all of its previous revenue records.


10, 11, 12, 28, 43 and Mega ball 45

In June 2010 the state Treasury Department and acting director of the state Lottery Commission, Carole Hedinger announced that total profits for the previous 12 months had exceeded $2.6 billion for the first time.

Not all states shared such good fortune: The Press of Atlantic City reported last year that a study by the Rockefeller Institute for Government, based in New York, found in the same period that some lotteries, such as those in Oregon and West Virginia, lost as much as 15 percent of their revenue. Neighboring Pennsylvania, which has expanded casino gambling, saw a drop last year, too, of about $22 million, or nearly 1 percent of revenue.

But money can create just as many problems as it solves if you’re not careful. There are too many stories of people winning the lottery which turn into nightmares.

Craig Wallace, a senior funding officer for a company that buys lottery annuity payments in exchange for lump sums, told, "In New Jersey, they manipulate the reality of the situation to sell more tickets. Each winner takes a picture with a check that becomes a 3-foot by 5-foot stand-up card. The winner is photographed standing next to a beautiful woman and the caption reads: 'New Jersey's newest millionaire.'"

Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey twice in 1985 and 1986, for a total of $5.4 million. Today the money is all gone and Adams lives in a trailer.

"Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language — 'No,' said Adams.

Tuesday's Mega Millions jackpot will be the 12th drawing since the last jackpot prize winner. If no one wins on Tuesday, Friday’s Mega millions drawing could conceivably approach $200 million.

READ MORE - Mega Millions winning numbers worth $172 million

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Ab Hancer

I suspect that this is not a real product, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. It’s probably as effective as a six pack abs tattoo.

READ MORE - The Ab Hancer