Tag Archive: Gadget


nsahq

The National Security Agency has lost the political support it needs to maintain its controversial Internet and phone dragnet spying operation. Yesterday, July 24th, the House of Representatives nearly ratified the most brazen amendment to completely cut off funds for any broad NSA spying program (failing 205-217). With more time to build grassroots momentum and craft a less brute-force law curtailing NSA spy powers, the next bill will likely have enough support to win the day.

With only a few days to prepare, Representative Justin Amash managed to gain traction for an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would deny the NSA the ability to use funds toward programs that broadly spied on Americans. The surprise was that a majority of Democrats bucked their own leader, President Obama, in support of the Amendment, 111-83.

Just seen how close the Amash amendment vote was (217-205). Amazing shift in momentum on NSA surveillance among lawmakers.

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James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 25, 2013

Since the revelation that the NSA was collecting phone records and Internet browsing behavior en masse, supporters of the the Domestic spying program have worried that the laws would not be renewed. Specifically, the NSA gets its legal authority from section 215 of the 9/11-era Patriot Act.

Section 215 expires at the end of 2015,” Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, told his colleagues during a Congressional hearing this month. “Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew Section 215 . In other words, come 2015, Congress will be unlikely to renew the law that permits the NSA’s controversial program.

Over the past month, there have been a few laws proposed to limit the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans. Representative Steve Cohen’s FISA Accountability Act, for instance, would require both Congress and the Supreme Court justices to appoint new judges to the court that approves NSA spying request (FISA), rather than give conservative Chief Justice John Roberts the authority to appoint them himself. The FISA Court approves nearly every single NSA spying request, and this would, in theory, appoint judges who are more 4th-Amendment friendly (currently, there are 10 Republican judges and 1 Democrat, according to Wonkblog).

Unfortunately for NSA critics, none of the proposals came up to a full vote, so House members never had to declare whether they were for or against the status quo.

Now, we have definitive evidence that nearly half Democrats and Republicans support a radical reduction in NSA surveillance capabilities. A much greater percentage probably agree that there should be some change.

At the very least, it’s unlikely that the legal basis of the NSA dragnet will make it past the Patriot Act’s 2015 renewal date. In anticipation of this loss, the intelligence agencies will likely have to find some kind of compromise that will pass congress, rather than risk losing all of their powers.

Those who voted against Amash’s amendment today should be very (very) worried about the angry mobs they will face back home. The American populace has a particular talent for making life difficult for members when they hold town halls. Below is a video of the some of the angry town halls that House members faced during the 2009 health-care debate:


Yesterday, we published a list of representatives who voted down Amash’s amendment. Expect these representatives to feel the heat. The momentum is on the side of change, which means that NSA’s golden age of spying will likely be coming to an end.

2013-07-25_09h56_43

The market awarded Facebook a 25 percent share price spike today, following a strong earnings report that showed off the company’s ability to retain mind share among youths, build its total global usership, and monetize mobile traffic better than nearly any other company. Period.

The firm pop in its shares has pushed Facebook’s valuation past the $80 billion mark, where it currently rests at $80.21 billion. Not a bad day’s work, but that number is somewhat shadowed by the fact that, as a company, Facebook has torched tens of billions of dollars of shareholder equity since it first went public.

We draw two conclusions from that fact: Given that Facebook is now a tremendously stronger company than it was a year ago, and yet it is valued under its former price, a pox on our own house for overpaying for the company’s shares; and, naturally, that Facebook is more than another strong quarter away from being simply flat.

Here’s TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Kim-Mai Cutler the day before the fateful, and botched, IPO:

Facebook shares will start trading at $38 tomorrow, the company confirmed in a release, giving it a valuation of $104.12 billion. Facebook and its early shareholders will raise just over $16 billion in tomorrow’s much anticipated IPO.

At a $104 billion valuation, Facebook is worth more than any other tech IPO candidate at the time of its offering. It also perfectly matches what Facebook shares have been trading at in secondary markets over the last several months. Google was worth $23 billion at the time of its very unusual Dutch auction IPO back in 2004. As of tomorrow Facebook will be worth about half of what Google is worth now.

The implicit point in the second paragraph is that if Google managed to so greatly grow its valuation compared to its IPO price, to what heights might Facebook race? Despite general market furor, Facebook popped but a nibble to $42 a share on its first day, and then declined rapidly enough that its banking partners held the line at its initially offered price.

To illustrate just how off the market was concerning the pricing and sale of Facebook stock, here’s the same set of TechCrunch writers during its first day as a public company:

While the price is going to fluctuate a lot today, there’s a crowdsourced bet from Twitter users on FacebookIPOClosingPrice.com that the company will close at a $54 price and a $135.7 billion valuation.

Nope, Twitter users, that wasn’t the case. In fact, those shorting Facebook made out the best.

The gap between $104 billion and roughly $80 billion is $24 billion. But that’s not even the least-kind way we could describe Facebook’s total decline from former heights. Facebook opened on its first day at $42.05, meaning that it was worth more than $104 billion; those who bought in at that price would have enjoyed a far heavier decline in the value of their stock if they held onto it.

But, in effect, this is our fault. The Facebook IPO price, as noted in the first blocked quote above, matched secondary market interest. The market bore Facebook at a $38-per-share price; the IPO went off, hitches aside.

Christopher Hitchens once said that the ironies of history occur most pungently to those that don’t believe in them, and that applies greatly to us in the technology industry. We have undergone a number of periods in which valuations of technology companies have gotten far ahead of their earnings. Again and again we have bought into our own hype only to watch the money of the average Joe evaporate as founders and investors pocket cash at IPO prices. That’s fine. It’s simple market capitalism. But you’d think we would have learned a bit by now.

Facebook as a financial entity is much stronger than it was during the quarter it went public. Let’s do a little comparison for fun [Facebook Q2 2012 financial data versus Q2 2013 financial data]:

  • Revenue, Q2 2012: $1.18 billion
  • Revenue, Q2 2013: $1.81 billion
  • Net income, Q2 2012: -$157 million
  • Net income, Q2 2013: $333 million

Aside from higher expenses and a lower operating margin, it’s hard to find a metric by which Facebook is worse off than it was a year ago. And yet we the market public value the firm at $24 billion less than on its first day.

We were out of our skulls in 2012, and we are still paying for it. That said, Facebook is damn killing it recently, and is slowly growing into the valuation that its bankers and investors found palatable four quarters ago.

New question: Is Facebook overvalued at its current $80 billion price? The comments are yours.

Top Image Credit: Steve Snodgrass

fitBarkVisual

Bored of quantifying your self already? Why not quantify your pet instead? FitBark is a Fitbit style health tracker for your under-walked canine companion. We’ve covered this (frankly) barking mad gizmo before, back in May, when its creators were exhibiting at Hardware Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt NY but they’ve now taken to Kickstarter to raise funds to get the device out in the wild. Again.

It’s actually FitBark’s second attempt at Kickstarting the gizmo. As Gigaom points out, its creators pulled an earlier attempt at crowdfunding the device in order to rethink the business model, scrapping the monthly subscription fee and opting for a fixed price-tag of $69 via Kickstarter or $99 for general retail.

FitBark are after $35,000 to cover manufacturing costs this time around, and are more than half-way to achieving the target with 32 days left to run on the campaign – so crazy or otherwise, this is one hardware startup that’s pretty much a dead cert for its first manufacturing run-around-the-park at least.

Now I say barking mad but that’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, being as FitBark is not the only health tracker angling for pet owners’ cash. Whistle, a startup backed by $6 million in Series A funding, launched a $99 wearable activity tracker for dogs only last month. There’s also Tagg, which combines activity and location tracking by including GPS in its device. So underestimate the pet-owning dollar at your peril.

So what does FitBark actually do? Attach it to your dog’s collar and it tracks daily’s activity levels, sending the data back to FitBack’s servers when your smartphone is in range, or throughout the day if you purchase a dedicated FitBark base station (and keep you pet penned up at home while you’re out). The latter scenario would allow owners to keep remote tabs on their pet’s activity levels when they’re not at home, but unless you own a mansion (or employ a dog walker) your dog isn’t going to be able to do a whole lot of running around without you. FitBark then crunches all the activity data, offering customisable daily activity goals, and delivering the results back to you via an app. So far, so kinda sane.

At its more barking mad fringe, the FitBark also lets pet owners compare – well, they say “unify” – their own fitness with their dog’s fitness/activity. So yeah, boasting that you are fitter than Fido is apparently a thing now…

FitBark is also the first platform that leverages existing APIs of human fitness trackers to bring you a unified view of your fitness level and that of your dog. From the outset, FitBark will seamlessly receive input from your Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Withings Pulse, or Bodymedia Fit. We’ll look to expand the list as we learn about new open APIs or partnership opportunities. If you’re not only a devoted dog parent but are also serious about tracking your own fitness, you’ll love this.

Joor-logo

JOOR, an online wholesale fashion marketplace, has raised $15 million in Series B funding, according to an SEC filing from today. The round was led by Canaan Partners and joined by Advance Publications and previous investors, including Battery Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Landis Capital and Forerunner Ventures. This brings JOOR’s total funding to $20.5 million.

Launched in 2010, JOOR provides a digital platform for B2B transactions between retailers and designers. CEO Mona Bijoor tells me the funding will be used to scale the company’s tech and sales teams. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Milan, Bijoor says the funding will also go to opening new offices across Europe and Asia.

“We’re rapidly expanding our global footprint, and we want to keep up our pace,” Bijoor tells me. “It’s not just about the number of brands you have, but the number of retailers, because they are using it. We’re a B2B platform, it’s all about adoption.”

The company has more than 40,000 retailers and 600 brands using the site, including Diane von Furstenberg, Rag & Bone and Zappos. Bijoor tells me JOOR added 10,000 retailers in the last three months alone. That’s a big jump from when we last reported on the company in 2011. Back then, JOOR was working with 250 brands and about 7,500 boutiques.

Note: A previous version of this post said the company has over 30,000 retailers and 500 brands. That has been changed after clarifying user numbers with Bijoor.

Here we go. With new tablet season in full swing, we take an in-depth look at Apple’s flagship tablet, the iPad Air. Here’s how it compares to every single i…

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divya-dhar

We get it: there’s a silly number of mobile messaging apps out there, and a great many of them are meant for you to share your banalities more easily. But a Philadelphia-based startup called Seratis is different.

Before Divya Dhar founded Seratis earlier this year, she was a practicing physician who had to use a work-issued pager to try to keep tabs on her patients and colleagues. That didn’t stop her fellow doctors from using smartphones to do the same thing – it’s the 21st century for heaven’s sake – but it turns out sharing that kind of information over insecure protocols isn’t exactly lawful.

Enter Seratis, a secure, HIPAA-compliant messaging app that may finally kill medical pagers dead.

Frankly, it’s sort of a surprise to hear that pagers are still widely used since they’ve all but disappeared from the public vernacular, but Dhar told me at Dreamit Ventures’ Philadelphia Health Demo Day that “90 percent of hospital communications still flows through pagers.” Turns out they’re pretty expensive, too.

“Everyone knows pagers need to go, and everyone is moving towards that,” she added.

Here’s how Seratis works: you log into the service as you would any other mobile messaging app, but the app organizes messages based on the patient they pertain to, so the entire team can see exactly what’s been going on with a particular person before they even check in for their shift. Even better, the app gives physicians direct access to colleagues they may rarely see, which makes for a much more fluid transfer of patient information.

After all, if you need clarification about a patient’s condition from a fellow doctor you haven’t run into before, imagine how long it would take to track down their contact info, reach out to them (assuming they’re not knee-deep in other work), and respond accordingly? That’s time that could be much better spent, and Dhar is frankly pretty sick of wasting it. Throw in support for read receipts and a quick, at-a-glance view of a patient’s entire medical team, and you’ve got a solid little smartphone app.

Turns out, the app is only part of the solution (data nerds may like where this is going). Hospitals and wards inside them will have access to important analytics from those conversations – some of the metrics like messaging volume and response time are pretty straightforward, but Seratis can also track specific words as they’re thrown around. Think of it as a lexicological early-warning system. If a slew of doctors working with multiple patients all repeatedly use the word “infection” on the same floor, something bad may be brewing. Seratis will be able to flag this so staffers and administrators can prepare and respond accordingly.

Of course, Seratis’ model isn’t exactly without its drawbacks. If you’re going to implement a crucial smartphone-centric messaging system in a hospital, you need to make sure every doctor who needs to use it actually has a smartphone. Considering smartphone penetration rates, there’s a solid chance that most physicians already have one, but Dhar conceded that some hospitals may need to offer incentives like data plan reimbursement to coax doctors into joining the BYOD bandwagon.

The team is also still trying to figure out the sweet spot, but Seratis plans to charge users per month so it can fit into small hospitals, as well as sprawling ones. Right now an alpha version of the iOS app (an Android version is in the pipeline, too) is being tested by Penn Medicine, but here’s hoping my doctors can more easily communicate about all my terrible miscellaneous ailments sooner rather than later.

IMG_9682

If you want a rangefinder-style camera with classic styling and relative affordability, Fujifilm’s X100, and its successor, the X100S are some of the very few options out there. But the X100 had quirks around autofocus that made a niche camera even more specialized. The X100S zaps some of those issues, resulting in a camera that, while still quirky, is much more lovably so, for amateurs and enthusiasts alike.

  • 16.3 megapixels, APS-C sensor
  • Fixed, F2 maximum aperture 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens
  • ISO 200 -6400 (100 to 25600 extended)
  • 6.0 FPS burst mode shooting
  • 1080p video recording
  • Hybrid electronic view finder
  • MSRP: $1,299.95
  • Product info page

The X100S retains almost exactly the same classic styling as its predecessor, which features a leatherette body with metal accents, and it looks excellent. This is a camera that you’re actually proud to wear around your neck, even if it does make you look slightly like a tourist, and one that resembles the Leicas that cost oodles more money.

The X100S might be a little bulky for a camera with a fixed lens that isn’t a DSLR, but it’s actually a good size. It won’t quite fit in a pocket as a result, but it gives photographers plenty to hold onto, and offers up lots of space for its ample buttons and physical controls without resulting in a cramped feeling. Plus the thing oozes quality; it’s a $1,300 camera, but it feels even more solid and well-designed than its tidy price tag would let on, and it’s durable to boot – I’ve carted it literally around the world with minimal protection and it’s as good as new.

Functionally, the control layout is the real star of the X100S. A physical dial for exposure compensation and for shutter speed, as well as an aperture ring on the lens and quick access to ISO settings programmable via the Fn button on the top of the camera make this a manual photographer’s dream – and possible an automatic photographer’s overburdened mess. But that’s part of the quirk, and the real appeal of this unique camera.

The X100S offers a lot in the way of features, including the excellent hybrid viewfinder that can switch instantly between optical and electronic modes thanks to a lever on the front of the camera within easy reach from shooting position. It’s the best of old and new, giving you a chance to frame with true fidelity optical quality and also with a preview akin to the one you’d see on the back of the camera via the LCD screen. You can preview exposure that way, and white balance as well as depth of field. The EVF also offers 100 percent coverage of the image, meaning what you see is what you get in the resulting photo.

Manual focusing also gets a big improvement with the X100S, which is great because focus-by-wire is traditionally a big weakness on non DSLR advanced cameras. It uses a new Digital Split Image method that works with phase detection to adjust focus with a high degree of accuracy, and it works remarkably well. To my eye, which is generally very bad at achieving consistently reliable level of focus accuracy on full manual lenses with my DSLR, the split image trick (along with the inclusion of existing focus peaking tech) works amazingly well.

The X100S is a much better camera in all respects than its predecessor, the X100, and that was a very good camera. Its “Intelligent Hybrid Auto Focus” that switches between phase and contract AF automatically to lock as quickly as possible works very well, though it does struggle somewhat in darker settings and at closer ranges still. It’s heaps and bounds better than the original, however, and makes this camera a great one for street shooting; a task which, to my mind, it seems almost perfectly designed for.

Combining a camera that looks suitably touristy, with a short, compact lens and a 35mm equivalent focal lens, with great low-light shooting capabilities and fast autofocus makes for a great street camera, so if that’s what you’re after I can’t recommend this enough. It performed less well as an indoor candid shooter, owing to some leftover weakness at achieving focus lock close up, but it’s still good at that job too. In general, the X100S is a great camera for shooting human subjects, in my opinion, thanks to its signature visual style that seems to compliment skin especially well.

The X100S is a photographer’s everyday camera. It might frustrate newcomers, unless they’re patient and willing to learn, but it’s a joy to use if you have any kind of familiarity with manual settings, and the fixed focal length is a creative constraint that produces some amazing results. This isn’t the camera for everybody, but it’s a more broadly appealing shooter than the X100 ever was, and it’s also even a steal at $1,300 – if, that is, you have that kind of disposable income to spend on photography tools. Know that if you do spend the cash, this is definitely a camera that will stay in your bag and/or around your neck for a long time to come, and a worthy upgrade for X100 fans, too.

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