waderoush writes: 'Dear Cable TV Subscriber: I don’t think I’ve ever told you how grateful I am,' Xconomy editor Wade Roush writes in a tongue-in-cheek commentary this week. 'I haven’t paid a cent for cable television since 2009. Yet I have on-demand access via the Internet to a growing cornucopia of great shows like Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, at reasonable à la carte prices. And it’s all because you continue to pay exorbitant and ever-increasing monthly fees for your premium cable bundle (around $80 per month, on average). After all, your money goes straight to the studios and networks that produce and distribute all the expensive first-run programming that I’m perfectly happy to watch later at heavily discounted prices. So in effect, you’re subsidizing my own footloose, freeloading, cord-cutting TV habits. I don’t know how to thank you!'
waderoush writes: Is the digital age sending the old therapist’s couch the way of the reference librarian, the CD, and the travel agent? Could be: several recent studies have found that therapy via the Internet is just as effective as face-to-face treatment. But it's taken online therapy startup Breakthrough about four years to convince venture investors and insurance companies that online therapy can remove many of the road blocks to mental health care, including the high cost, the social stigma, and the difficulty of access. So far, Breakthrough has partnered with 100 licensed psychiatrists and psychologists in Texas, California, Virginia, and Maryland; every provider on the site has a profile and a welcome video that allows potential clients to evaluate them before they even talk online. 'Now we have greater research supporting telemedicine, and people are more comfortable digitally,' says co-founder and CEO Mark Goldenson. 'I think the market is ready for it.'
waderoush writes: Startup founders in California can breathe a little easier today — they won't be getting bills from the state for up to $120 million in back taxes. On Friday California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting the state from levying retroactive taxes on founders and other small-business investors who took advantage of a tax break invalidated last year by a state appeals court. California Business Defense, a coalition of entrepreneurs, spent most of 2013 trying to reverse the California Franchise Tax Board's interpretation of the court ruling, under which it planned to hit Californians with new tax bills on the sale of small-business stock going back to 2008 (a story that Slashdot picked up on January 24). Two bills on the matter reached Governor Brown's desk in September, one fully restoring the investment incentive through 2016, the other partially restoring it. Brown signed AB1412, the bill granting full relief. 'For a bunch of political greenhorns operating in an environment where political partisanship is at an all-time high, we did all right,' writes Brian Overstreet, one of the co-founders of California Business Defense. 'But it should never have been this hard.'
waderoush writes: As with Twitter, itâ(TM)s always been a little difficult to define what Quora is and is not. But three years after the public launch of the Mountain View, CA-based question-and-answer site, itâ(TM)s starting to get easier. Itâ(TM)s a place to share knowledge, says co-founder and CEO Adam Dâ(TM)Angelo â" meaning first-hand experiences and advice that would otherwise stay locked inside peopleâ(TM)s heads. Itâ(TM)s growing at 300 percent per year, which means all engineering efforts are focused on scaling. But itâ(TM)s not consensus-based or anonymous, like Wikipedia. Itâ(TM)s not a platform, like Facebook. Itâ(TM)s not just for asking and answering questions (the service is taking on an important blogging and PR function). And itâ(TM)s not a business â" not yet, anyway. In an in-depth interview, Dâ(TM)Angelo and the startupâ(TM)s community head, Marc Bodnick, explain what they think Quora is best at and where they see the company going over the next year.
waderoush writes: Companies like Stripe, Meteor, and Kodowa have joined Heavybit Industries, a new accelerator in San Francisco that focuses exclusively on startups building tools for software developers. It's a booming area, but one where startups face special problems, says Heavybit founder James Lindenbaum. 'We are about to witness an unbelievable explosion in the number of companies doing this kind of thing and how much value they are providing to the world,' says Lindenbaum, who previously co-founded application platform provider Heroku. But 'a lot of things are not figured out yet. Customers haven’t figured what they want to pay for, or how much. Going to market is hard. Even this bifurcation between the people who are using the tools — developers — and the people who pay for them — companies — is really tricky to navigate.' Hence Heavybit's 9-month curriculum, which focuses on issues like designing for, and marketing to, developers. Says Lindenbaum: 'We think of it as grad school to Y Combinator's undergrad.'
waderoush writes: Google’s plan to combat aging and age-related illness through a new company called Calico, unveiled this week, has sparked massive, mostly worshipful media coverage. But the idea has many of the hallmarks of what scholar Evgeny Morozov has called ‘technological solutionism’---the idea that there’s no problem so large that it can’t be solved with enough data and processors. Perhaps, given enough time, Google-style thinking can 'Solve Death,' as Time put it this week. But the danger of the media's fixation on such moon-shot projects is that it will draw attention away from simpler things that can be done to improve life expectancy right now, like improving access to prenatal care, battling hospital-based infections, and reducing gun violence. This Xconomy commentary details those three ideas and seven others.
waderoush writes: Legions of reviewers, including many here on Slashdot, have expressed disappointment over what Apple didn’t announce this week. The new iPhones should be cheaper, many critics said. They should have a larger screen, or more memory, or longer battery life. The 64-bit processor in the iPhone 5S is marketing fluff. There’s no NFC, no notification LED, no always-on clock. The fingerprint scanner is either too hackable or too secure (will there now be a market in dismembered fingers?). Most absurdly: Apple should have skipped straight to the iPhone 6. At some point, clearly, consumers decided that incremental advances won’t cut it, and that we deserve to be bowled over by every Apple product refresh. But that’s unrealistic, bordering on delusional. A column in Xconomy this week offers a look at the real substance of Apple’s improvements to the iPhone, a defense of incrementalism, and a reminder that today’s smartphones already surpass the wildest visions of 20th-century sci-fi creators.
waderoush writes: What do Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Oracle, LinkedIn, and Intuit have in common? They’re just a few of the tech companies whose campuses alongside San Francisco Bay could be underwater by mid-century as sea levels rise. It’s time for these organizations and other innovators to put some of their fabled brainpower into coming up with new ideas to counter the threat, Xconomy argues today. One idea: the Golden Gate Barrage, a massive system of dams, locks, and pumps located in the shadow of the iconic bridge. Taller than the Three Gorges Dam in China, it would be one of the largest and costliest projects in the history of civil engineering. But at least one Bay Area government official says might turn out to be the simplest way to save hundreds of square miles of land around the bay from inundation.
waderoush writes: Elon Musk thinks California should kill its $68 billion high-speed rail project and build his $7.5 billion Hyperloop instead. It's a false choice. We should pursue all promising new options for efficient mass transit, and let the chips fall where they may; if it turns out after a few years that Musk's system is truly faster and cheaper, there will still be time to pull the plug on high-speed rail. But why not make things interesting? Today Xconomy proposes a competition in the grand tradition of the Longitude Prize, the Orteig Prize, and the X Prizes: the $10 billion Smog to Fog Challenge. The money, to be donated by big corporations, would go to the first organization that delivers a live human from Los Angeles to San Francisco, over a fixed ground route, in 3 hours or less. Such a prize would incentivize both publicly and privately funded innovation in high-speed transit — and show that we haven't lost the will to think big.
waderoush writes: ‘For the first time I recognized [that] some people found social life as obvious as I found computers, and those people weren’t stuck here in a windowless room with no friends. That’s when I set out to hack the girlfriend problem.’ So says Eric Muller, the coder-entrepreneur at the center of the new book The Unknowns, by first-time novelist Gabriel Roth. Eric is rich and young but utterly lonely, and the novel follows his effort to apply the problem-solving skills he’s honed as a programmer to understanding relationships and winning the heart of his inomorata, Maya. His results are suboptimal. But Roth’s portrait of Eric and his struggles is sweet and affecting, and should be on every literate geek’s summer reading list. Today Xconomy reviews the novel and offers a revealing Q&A with Roth about coding culture, the San Francisco startup scene, artificial intelligence, and the relative merits of thinking and feeling.
waderoush writes: While Santa Cruz, CA, may be most famous for its surfing, its boardwalk, and its lax marijuana laws, it was also the birthplace of big tech companies like Plantronics, Borland Software, SCO, Seagate Technologies, and Netflix. But that was all a long time ago. As entrepreneurs and city leaders in Santa Cruz work to revive the city’s technology scene today, they’re starting largely from scratch. In a three-part series this week, Xconomy looks at efforts in this sunny beachside town to build a thriving high-tech ecosystem with a unique identity, separate from that of nearby Silicon Valley. Part 1 surveys the products and industries that make up the Santa Cruz brand, from sports and recreation to organic food. Part 2 looks at the city’s past technology successes and its crop of emerging startups, and efforts to build a strong local network of startup mentors, advisors, and investors. Part 3 details efforts to increase the local talent supply, in part by encouraging more students from UC Santa Cruz to live and work in the city after they graduate; it also looks at the city’s campaign to reverse perceptions that it’s an anti-business haven for beach bums and pot smokers. 'Rather than trying to pick up scraps from Silicon Valley, I think this is a strong enough community with enough smart, innovative people that we can create—and I think we are creating—our own brand,' says Santa Cruz entrepreneur Jeremy Neuner.
waderoush writes: What would the world look like if Moore’s Law – the doubling of transistor count per microprocessor, every 18 to 24 months, at constant cost – slowed to a halt? Well, it’s not a theoretical question. Intel, AMD, and other chipmakers have already fallen years ‘behind schedule’ from a Moore’s Law perspective, and they’ve acknowledged that shrinking transistors beyond their current size will require costly new design and fabrication tricks, violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. But maybe the end of Moore’s Law isn’t such a big deal, this Xconomy piece argues. Yes, consumers might have to wait longer between big hardware upgrades. But even without further transistor miniaturization, there’s plenty of room for improvements to the way consumers experience computing, in areas like cloud-based services, virtual personal assistants (Siri and Google Now), and interfaces (speech, gestures, wearable devices). In each of these areas, progress depends on access to data and networks, rather than processing power per se.
waderoush writes: Over the last decade, just three companies — Google, Apple, and Facebook — have generated most of the new ideas and most of the business momentum in the world of computing. (Add in Amazon, if you're feeling generous.) But it's been a long time since any of these companies introduced anything indisputably new — and there are good reasons to think they never will again. This Xconomy essay argues that the innovation engines at Google, Apple, and Facebook are out of gas (the most surprising thing about OS X Mavericks is that it's not named after a cat) and that other players will have to come up with the underpinnings for the next big cycle of advances in computing. Granted, it's not as if any of these companies will disappear. But the idea that they'll go on generating ideas as groundbreaking as the ones that landed them in the spotlight defies common sense, statistics, and the lessons of history, which show that real innovation almost always comes from small companies. Apple, Google, and Facebook aren't too big to fail — but they may be too big to keep succeeding.
waderoush writes: The technology used inside Microsoft’s Kinect — a depth-sensitive, near-infrared camera-on-a-chip from Israel-based PrimeSense — is starting to turn up in some surprising new places. One of them is a second-generation 3D camera coming this summer from Matterport, a Silicon Valley startup working to make it easier for architects, designers, real estate agents, and eventually average people to create 3D models of interiors. The company’s first-generation camera has already been used to scan more than 1,000 spaces, from hospitals to cabins to cargo planes. The second-generation device, which spins on a motorized axis, will cost around $3,000 and will take just minutes to create 3D point clouds with hundreds of millions of points. Founder and CEO Matt Bell thinks PrimeSense sensors will eventually be built into smartphones and tablets, meaning Matterport’s third-generation product might simply be an app and a cloud rendering service. 'The same way people relentlessly share [2-D] images today, they will be able to share the spaces they visit and inhabit in a couple of years,' Bell says.
waderoush writes: Consumer Reports calls extended warranties 'money down the drain,' and as a tech journalist and owner of myriad gadgets — none of which have ever conked out or cracked up during the original warranty period — that was always my attitude too. But when I met recently with Steve Abernethy, CEO of San Francisco-based warranty provider SquareTrade, I tried to keep an open mind, and I came away thinking that the industry might be changing. In a nutshell, Abernethy says he’s aware of the extended-warranty industry’s dreadful reputation, but he says SquareTrade is working to salvage it through a combination of lower prices, broader coverage, and better service. On top of that, he made some persuasive points – which don’t seem to figure into Consumer Reports’ argument – about the way the 'risk vs. severity' math has changed since the beginning of the smartphone and tablet era. One-third of smartphone owners will lose their devices to drops or spills within the first three years of purchase, the company’s data shows. If you belong to certain categories — like people in big households, or motorcycle owners, or homeowners with hardwood floors — your risk is even higher. So, in the end, the decision about buying an extended warranty boils down to whether you think you can defy the odds, and whether you can afford to buy a new device at full price if you’re one of the unlucky ones.