About Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.


Latest Posts by Tom Foremski

Taking a Look at Unusual Consumer Tech Products Over 6 Years

January 16, 2015 by  

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Silentium comfort shell

Intel Free Press takes a look at some of the oddest tech from the past six years at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – by Intel Free Press.

CES 2015: Racing into Silence

At this year’s CES people could enter the “shell of silence,” Silentium’s Comfort-Shell (above). “It basically looks like a giant, white version of those spiky shells that Lakitu throws in the original Mario,” wrote Jacob Kastrenakes on The Verge. Despite its odd looks, any way to deaden the noise that is characteristic of CES is a blessing.

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CES had plenty of smartphones, the Tonino Lamborghini 88 Tauri phone definitely drew attention for its race car inspired design and its price tag. Revving in at $6000 and in scarce supply, its design turned a few heads but left others scratching theirs.

“With a stitched leather finish that’s the real deal and gold-plated stainless steel surrounding this phone, you’re bound to stand out in the crowd if you’re crazy enough to even want to pay $6,000 for pure stupidity,” said The Verge’s Tom Warren.

CES 2014: Helping the body?

Some design and product features found in some of the CES 2014 health tech products were questionable.

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A bit creepy looking the Sen.se Mother has “Cookies” to hand out as it watches and monitors its family. This Russian Doll-looking devices captures temperature and motion data from attachable sensors called Cookies.

 

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And as you wander the house being watched by the Sen.se Mother, you might be wearing a laser helmet by iGrow which claims to thicken thinning areas of the scalp as well as strengthen hair follicles.

“This is a helmet with lasers inside? It makes your hair grow? There aren’t enough sarcastic question marks in the world to express our skepticism on this one,” wrote Rachel Feltman on (Quartz).

Foreo ISSA brush

To round out the “healthy” tech, there is the Foreo Issa toothbrush. The “unique” design of this toothbrush raised many eyebrows. AsGizmodo’s Mario Aguilar put it “It vibrates like your Sonicare, and comes in woozy pastel colors. Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a sex toy disguised as a dental revolution.”

CES 2013: Stick a Fork in High-Tech Health

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CES is a proven launch pad for health and fitness gadgets, but sometimes those gizmos go a step beyond useful such as the HAPIfork, which vibrated if you ate too fast, and did rake in someawards.

“This was the most popular entry in the 2012 Was A Stupid Year category,” said John Mitchell, in ReadWrite.

“Little matter that it looks like a toy, needs connecting with a USB cable and wouldn’t be acceptable in any decent restaurant…” said Matt Warman in The Telegraph.

11738797235 a22d84e47d zThere were also a few products at CES 2013 that were in the crapper — literally — such as the iPotty, which coupled a training potty for kids with a tablet holder.

“The iPotty is a children’s potty with a built-in iPad activity stand…Make sure you teach your toddler what the real purpose of an iPad is at an early age,” said TechHive.

CES 2012: Smart Watch in the Bag?

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The “Watch your Bag” was a watch, a bag and a color light show as well.

“Some products are hard to sum up in a sentence. And then there’s ‘Watch Your Bag,’ the alarm clock that comes with a bag, filled with a rainbow of morphing colors.’ What it can’t tell you, however, is why anyone might find such a proposition appealing,” said Brian Heater on Engadget.

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The march of accessories also continued in 2012 with one of the biggest and loudest of all: the iNuke Boom speaker for the iPhone. The behemoth boasted 10,000 watts, weighed 700 pounds, cost a mere $30,000 and dwarfed the iPhone docked atop it.

“Is the iNuke Boom ridiculous? Absolutely. But it’s also fun and completely cognizant of its audacity, which is something we commend even if we don’t feel comfortable dropping fat stacks of cash on a monstrous beast,” said Buster Heine in Cult of Mac.

CES 2011: Bling for Your Smartphone (or Tablet)

From glitzy faux gems to glitter and other snazzy options, there was no shortage of bling for iPhone and iPads.

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“Seriously, folks, how many cases do you actually need? From shiny be-dazzled iPhone cases to every bizarre iPad stand/case/kiosk thing, the one thing that CES had in plenty was cases. Look, we appreciate a well-designed case as much as anyone, but do we really need four dozen of each type? Don’t answer that — it was a rhetorical question. Color us sick of iPhone and iPad cases, with only a few notable exceptions,” said Rob LeFebvre in 148Apps.

“The custom-made crystal case (in the Lux Mobile booth)… costs a whopping $3,000 — just about six times the value of the iPad it’s actually supposed to hold,” said Mike Schramm in TUAW.

CES 2010: Wearables in Search of a Use Case

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In 2010, CES offered up such forward-looking innovations asAndroid-based “smart” microwaves and “unbreakable” phones. And the march of wearables continued with products such as the Phubby, an elastic, smartphone-carrying wristband.

“Now this one takes the cake… an ugly wristband with a pocket that you can slide your iPhone into. It’s basically a fanny pack for a new generation,” said Paul Cash on Yahoo.

“We have to ask: what’s so wrong about carrying your phone in your pocket?” said the Huffington Post.

CES 2009: Hands-Free Tech

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Back in 2009, the Cell Mate promised to provide a wearable, and truly “hands-free” option for holding your smartphone — no Bluetooth connection required. Coverage at the time was less than positive.

“It’s possibly the single most embarrassing-looking contraption we’ve seen in years,” said Evan Shamoon in the Huffington Post.

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Not to be outdone, the iCap offered a new way to listen to music, hands-free. With a 1GB MP3 player and built-in speakers, you (and those around you) could hear it all . . . hands-free.

“Hear that kids? If you use any product other than the ridiculous looking iCap, you’re practically playing Russian Roulette with Dr. Death,” said Darren Murph in Engadget.

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Images: Cell-Mate, Gesten Technologies, South Mill Design, TUAW, Can You Imagine, Behringer, Hapi.com, CTA Digital, Android Police, recombu, Sen.se, iGrow Laser, Foreo.

CES 2015 & Fashion Sense: Wearables Need to be Invisibles

January 8, 2015 by  

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The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is featuring a lot of “wearables” reports Techcrunch (above) (which all seem to be smart watches).

Foremski’s Take: All the fuss over Apple Watch will certainly help sell a lot of watches – regular and smart. I recently started wearing a normal watch.

I like the watch, not because I can look up the time but I like the way it looks. And that’s a decision based on personal style. I might decide in a few months to stop wearing it. A decision that has nothing to do with the performance of the watch.

And that’s why “wearables” need to become separated from the whims of personal style and fashion and disappear into the fabric of our lives. If our personal technologies become invisible no longer become objects of fashion — they can last longer than a season, and manufacturers can worry about the tech and not about becoming unfashionable.

Also, if our personal technologies become invisible they longer create the same social problems with others, such as those encountered by Google Glass wearers.

But “invisibles” won’t come from a company such as Apple. Apple is very much a fashion brand, it makes its products distinctive and very visible. Its purchase of the Beats headphone brand underlines its fashion focus and it is how it can charge a premium. Becoming invisible would be impossible for Apple.

Invisible personal technologies will likely come from companies such as Google, which is interested in selling web services and not in selling hardware.

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My tongue-in-cheek proposal for a new type of wearable is an “unmentionable.” The underwear has several regions that silently buzz notifications from your smart phone. You’ll know if you have a message from your boss or your lover depending on if it’s your back side or front side that buzzes.

 

 

Growth of Drones Will Soon See Blue Skies Full of Them…

December 22, 2014 by  

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Dronefield

The word “drone” often conjures up images of autonomous, militarized technology. But in the context of small aircraft with multiple rotors that you often see carrying cameras, drones are more accurately associated with hobbyist sport and commercial applications.

They’ve begun attracting mainstream attention as drone makers such as Parrot introduced affordable models putting them in the hands of a broader range of buyers.

The giant Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has for the first time, created a dedicated  Unmanned Systems Marketplace, where over a dozen companies will be grouped together to show off their latest flying machines.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, sales of consumer drones are predicted to reach 400,000 units and $130 million in revenue in 2015, and surpass $1 billion in annual sales within the next five years.

Drones’ affordability and their extraordinary flying agility is directly related to Moore’s Law and lower costs for powerful chips. Drones are complex systems requiring precise control of multiple rotors and positioning in three dimensions.

Sensors feed data to a microprocessor, which decides on the rate of spin for the individual rotors, clockwise and counterclockwise…and that’s just to hover.

A pilot’s command to pitch, roll or yaw is received, calculated and translated to motor response in thousands of a second. Thanks to the miniaturization of key components as a result of smart phones and laptops, low-power CPUs, RAM, flash, sensors and I/O can be crammed into compact spaces and sold affordably.

As more powerful microprocessors become available,future consumer and military drones will have many new capabilities.

The space is evolving rapidly. Modern drone “brains” add orientation control, GPS-based points of interest, failsafe mechanisms, cruise and cameras to the list of features siphoning compute cycles.

Large drones designed for the defense industry, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk,  already have massive computer power “equivalent to an airborne super computer.” They’re immensely expensive (think hundreds of millions of dollars).

Manufacturers of cost-sensitive drones will use more affordable systems on a chip.

“It’s really not too different from the benefits of advanced computing on a mobile device,” says Brandon Basso, senior research and development engineer at 3D Robotics.

“Specific to drones, there are a couple of application domains that make sense for advanced computing. The first is computer vision—being able to sense the environment more effectively. Optimization and routing are also math-intensive problems.”

3D Robotics sells a sub-$1,000 quad-copter able to track and follow GPS-enabled devices running Android. Its 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 powered controller can keep the drone’s camera pointed at you. Or, using DroidPlanner 2 software, it’ll follow a flight plan of your creation and train its GoPro on a specific region of interest.

The company recently demonstrated a version of its Third-Person View (3PV) with Follow Me technology, which employs optical tracking of a subject, rather than following a GPS signal. According to Basso, the task is as much as 100 times more compute-intensive.

3D Robotics’ engineers needed to beef up their controller and turned to Intel’s postage stamp-sized Edison module, plus a dual-core 500 MHz Atom SoC with 1GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 4GB of flash memory, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

“The Edison hardware is better suited for vision tracking because of its high clock rates and more RAM,” says Basso. “Plus, it integrates well with open-source libraries for vision processing.”

With smarter chips, the next big thing in drone technology will likely be affordable radio and laser remote sensing subsystems to address routing — flying from one point to another in the presence of obstacles or adverse environmental conditions.

“One of the enabling technologies that got drones to where they are today is cheap MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) sensors—accelerometers and gyroscopes,” says Basso. “That was wave one. The next wave of lidars and radars, which used to cost thousands of dollars on their own, are coming down in price.”

Also, expect significant advancements to the cameras carried by drones. Today the emphasis is on higher resolutions and stable picture quality. But hyperspectral imaging, which involves the collection of information across the full electromagnetic spectrum (and not just the narrow band that humans see), promises a greater level of information than current systems.

3D Robotics drones are often used in surveying farms and with a full spectrum camera system they’ll be able to collect better data on crops and make farming more efficient, using less water and pesticides.

A sensors improve, new business applications will materialize. Delivery is one example. Amazon always wants to serve customers more quickly at lower cost, and is experimenting with its Prime Air drone delivery concept.

As the technology continues to improve and becomes less expensive, it is likely that multi-rotor drones will significantly change Amazon’s business.

A future world with skies swarming with buzzing drones will require some form of air traffic control. Regulations will likely mandate that drones will require permission to take-off and land just as aircraft do today. It’ll have to be a highly reliable and automated system and it’ll need a lot of computer power.

Until that happens, today’s hobbyist flight controllers benefit from return-to-home functions. Should a craft fly out of radio range, an autopilot will guide it back towards its point of takeoff.

Today’s hobbyist drones are packed with advanced technologies — not bad for something that’s priced in the hundreds of dollars.

Photo by Intel Free Press…

 

Paperless Restrooms Send User Generated Alerts

December 6, 2014 by  

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Flush with the success of a pilot program at its Silicon Valley HQ, Intel is rolling out digital restrooms across 22 campuses globally. From overflowing toilets to empty towel dispensers to faulty faucet motion sensors, Intel employees can now swipe their washroom maintenance requests using smartphones.

Near field communications (NFC) chips  installed in the restrooms of Intel’s Robert Noyce Building at the beginning of 2014let employees anonymously report maintenance needs with a tap of their mobile phone. Those without NFC-enabled smartphones have the option to scan a QR code.

Based on positive feedback from the Silicon Valley pilot, Intel is re-plumbing restrooms in all of its global offices to include NFC and QR codes. In order to ensure a clean flowing process, signage is being translated into eight different languages and the mobile application is being updated to have the most commonly reported restroom issues being the most accessible within the app.

Each of the restroom signs is custom-coded for that particular restroom so that when the mobile application is triggered, it is for that restroom. 2,215 signs with NFC/QR codes will be hung worldwide.

Streamlining the service request process addressed a big challenge for facility maintenance staff, according to Joe Maestas, a former project manager for Intel Corporate Services involved in the initial pilot program.

“One of the things that everybody loves to complain about is bathrooms,” he said. “But people never report issues.”

That general lack of movement prompted Maestas and his team to plunge into finding a way to unclog the restroom maintenance request process and get things flowing down the right pipe.

30-second window…

According to Suzy Hart Langdell a communications specialist in the projects and solutions team of Intel’s Technology Manufacturing Group, there are over 20,000 restroom service requests per year worldwide.

“There is [generally] a 15- to 30-second time period from when a person sees something to when they will report it — if you make it really easy,” said Maestas. “Outside that 30-second window, the opportunity is lost.”

Previously, employees could submit service requests via an 11-step process on the company intranet or call them in, neither of which had much sense of urgency. The restroom signs with NFC chips and QR codes keep opportunities to report issues from going down the drain by making the process easy — now three clicks or fewer — and immediate.

Gender bias…

Initially, usage has been divided along gender lines with approximately eight in 10 requests coming from men’s restrooms. According to IT in the Toilet, a study conducted by marketing firm 11Mark, smartphone use in the bathroom doesn’t differ much for men (74 percent) and women (76 percent), but men are more likely to bring their smartphone: 30 percent claimed they never go to the bathroom without their phone, compared with 20 percent of women.

“I know I don’t bring my phone into the restroom,” said Michelle Creed, a project manager on the program. “Maybe the guys keep it in their pockets or have it on their belt. So, that could be the difference, the mobile phone actually going with the person.”

In order to attract restroom visitors to use the new system and ensuring that bathroom “surfaces” are clean, Intel corporate services teased a giveaway of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 that Intel employees could enter to win using the new smartphone restroom app.

The janitorial staff in charge of clean restrooms noticed an increase in bathroom “issues” as people tried to enter via reporting a problem in the restroom. Even though the link to enter the giveaway did not require an “issue” being entered.

Regardless of where the requests come from, there is some anecdotal evidence that the new smartphone process has shortened response time to maintenance requests. Maestas cites the example of an empty soap dispenser that was refilled before the person who submitted the request had even left the restroom.

“From a customer perspective, that is what you want — real-time results,” he said.

Photo by Intel Free Press.

Silicon Valley’s Liquid Amorality – Water Will Find Its Way

November 27, 2014 by  

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The Facebook campus sits next to colorful algae on salt flats along San Francisco Bay.

Ten years ago in mid 2004 I left the Financial Times and started publishing Silicon Valley Watcher. Silicon Valley was starting to wake from a long downturn from the dotcom deflation and Google’s August IPO was a good sign after several years of bad news.

The culture of Silicon Valley was different then. The software engineering community was more radical than today, and far more socially conscious. The open source software movement was very strong among engineers and there was overall an anti-commercial attitude and a respect for protecting an open commons.

It shared much in spirit with the radical English groups from the mid-seventeeth century such as The Diggers, and also with the The Diggers of the 1960s in San Francisco, who ran free stores and served free food from their kitchens.

The business bible of 2004 was The Cluetrain Manifesto and it came directly from that culture. Here’s an excerpt:

…People of Earth

The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.

Google was a rebel…

Google was very much a part of this radical culture. Its IPO was shocking at the time because it tried to stop the Wall Street bankers and their insiders from profiting from the one-day flips on opening day. Its “Dutch” auction was designed to give small investors the same access to shares as anyone else.

Its passion towards social responsibility was front and center, its ”Letter from the Founders” was the first thing you saw in its IPO filing.

Google was a mystery black box…

I was working at the Financial Times when the much anticipated IPO documents were filed with the SEC. Until then, Google was a black box — no one knew how much money it was making. We raced back from lunch to comb through the hundreds of pages of financial statements.

The numbers were fascinating and told an amazing story of how immensely profitable “search” had become. But it was the “Letter from the Founders” that stood out. It was extraordinary, I had never seen anything like it in any IPO filings.

Here was Larry Page and Sergey Brin telling future shareholders that making money was not the prime goal, that building a business that improved the world was their motivation. The founders explained how a dual-share structure, that gave them ten-times the voting rights, was essential to its mission.

Here’s an extract:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains….

We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. . . We are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form.

We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

Corporate social responsibility

Google became an important thought leader in the burgeoning social corporate responsibility movement, which was kick-started earlier by Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff.

Corporate Social Responsibility was important because it was important to the software engineering community. It was essential in recruiting the best engineers. A company bus and a company lunch didn’t cut it with that generation of coders.

Today’s Silicon Valley culture is dominated by a peculiar amorality, a narcissism that claims Ayn Rand for its aspirations, even though few have read her books or even their dust jackets.

It’s as if everyone has forgotten, “What the right thing to do is.” And Google has worked hard to play down its “Don’t be evil” rule.

The culture of Silicon Valley today sits somewhere on the autistic spectrum and exhibits the elemental qualities of water.  Water will always find its way, it will find the unseen cracks, and find ways through obstacles and even tear them down, as a tiny leak can bring down a mighty dam.

Water is an amazing disruptor — materializing from thin air, it can torrent and push aside mountains, or it can patiently work at opening up tiny cracks in solid stone, freezing and expanding, thawing and flowing.

Water doesn’t need ethics or morality it is a force of nature. It will always find its right level. It’s an appropriate metaphor for Silicon Valley’s culture of amorality. For example,  the “Double Irish Dutch sandwich” tax accounting scheme used by (Bermuda based) Google, Apple, and others, to reduce corporate taxes in Europe and the US.

These loopholes in tax laws require extraordinary measures by large teams of accountants and lawyers to exploit, but like water finding its way through obstacles, if the holes are there water will flow through. Or as Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman told angry British politicians last year: plug the holes if you want more tax revenues.

This culture of amorality extends to lobbying in Washington where Silicon Valley companies don’t see a problem in giving money to re-elect politicians working against measures to control climate change, or restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

And the amorality of winning at all costs even when you are winning.

Look at the secret conspiracy by  Silicon Valley’s most successful and richest companies, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Adobe, against their own workers, to hold down their salaries and restrict their career moves; Zynga’s admission of nasty revenue scams; Uber’s uber-sleazy growth strategy; Twitter’s demands for tax relief simply for locating its HQ in San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood – an economic burden for the city.

Silicon Valley companies have discovered the simple fact you can have your cake and eat it because there’s always more cake. You can be shitty and behave despicably and never have to eat humble pie because there will always be more cake.

And like water, this culture of amorality doesn’t set out to be evil, but it also doesn’t set out to do good — it sets out to see what it can get away with, what holes it can find to win and keep winning.

Ten years ago Silicon Valley aspired to be more than this.

Wearable Tech, Stylish or Not, May Not Get Through Airport Security

November 16, 2014 by  

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Thinking of gliding through airport security wearing your new FitBit, Android Wear watch or soon, your Apple Watch? Think again.

New wearable technology in the form of smart watches, activity trackers and jewelry with embedded tech may cause confusion for security screeners.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have yet to write official policies around security, safety and usage of wearable technology.

The TSA says that over 1.75 million people pass through its security checkpoints every day.

“There are millions of things that people can bring through a checkpoint so it’s hard to give a policy or directive on one piece whether it’s a phone or other type of jewelry, so it’s in the best interests of the passenger to get items screened or put through an X-ray machine just to verify that they do not alarm,” said Ross Feinstein, spokesperson for the TSA.

“Our goal here is to ensure that there are no prohibited items on the passenger or in their luggage when they get access to the airport.”

FAA PEDS…

Under current rules, the FAA classifies wearable technology as a Personal Electronic Device (PED), defined as any piece of lightweight, electrically powered equipment capable of communications, data processing and/or utility. Examples are: lightweight electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones and electronic toys.

The FAA doesn’t distinguish between a PED and wearable tech products such as a smart watch or a light-up skirt. “If the device performs PED functions, then PED rules apply,” said an FAA spokesperson.

It is not clear how much attention companies working on wearable technology are paying to security situations such as at airports, but the issue is bound to become more prevalent as more devices come onto the market. Because there’s no specific policy in place, experiences – and opinions of protocol – during travel may vary.

Tim Pettitt, product line manager in Intel’s New Devices Group who helped design the MICA wearable (below), says that while Intel and Opening Ceremony follow the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) guidelines on capabilities needed, they haven’t worked directly with the TSA or FAA.

MICA

Bluetooth wearables…

Pettitt says whether or not your wearable has a cellular modem may determine what actions you need to take when going through security or using it on an airplane.

“In most cases, you can leave your wrist-worn wearable on through security and won’t need to power it off in flight,” says Pettitt. “Most airlines are not concerned about Bluetooth and will explicitly tell you to shut down your Bluetooth device if required. However, if you have a device, like MICA, which has a cellular radio, you need to put it into airplane mode just like you would a phone.”

A recent travel experience while wearing a Samsung Galaxy Gear Live Android Wear was in line with Pettitt’s statement. For security checkpoints that allowed jewelry and other accessories to remain on the person, the smart watch was treated no differently – though it’s unclear if security personnel recognized that it was an electronic device.

Techno-Fashonistas…

Fashion wearables such as the MICA may further blur the lines of what’s considered jewelry and a PED. While removing a bracelet or necklace may just be a minor inconvenience, tech-laced clothing with integrated sensors could pose logistical problems for passengers asked to place all electronic items in the plastic bins.

Onboard aircraft, passengers are now always instructed to switch all personal electronic devices into airplane mode, and most wearable devices today have such on/off capabilities for radios.

“For travel purposes, we did make it possible to turn off the wireless capabilities directly from the touch-screen interface of the new [Basis] Peak,” said Jef Holove, former CEO of Basis and now general manager in Intel’s New Devices Group. Basis, a maker of biometric smart watches, was recently acquired by Intel.

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Intel Free Press writers Michael Sheehan and Marcus Yam show their smart watches at IDF 2014.

While there’s yet to be a formal policy in place, agency representatives and wearable makers recommend following a number of guidelines when traveling with wearables.

Tips for Travelers with Wearables

Consolidate – Feinstein recommends consolidating all of your electronic gadgets into your carry-on, handbag, purse or briefcase and passing your carry-on through the X-ray screening device.

Leave it at home – If you don’t absolutely need your expensive wearable, it’s best to leave it at home.

- Fully charge your wearable – Condé Nast Traveler reported the TSA wants travelers to validate that your cell phone is real by powering it on. When asked about this new policy, Feinstein said it was for certain airports outside the United States for flights coming to the United States and that it was not a policy implemented in domestic airports. It’s often difficult to find free plugs and enough time at airports to charge your device, and most airplanes don’t have plugs.

Follow the PED rules  As per FAA guidelines, if the flight attendant asks you to turn off your wearable or put it in “airplane mode,” do it otherwise you may have it taken from you.

Remember, not every security screener has seen each and every wearable on the market. Some ankle-worn activity trackers have even been confused by authorities as a law enforcement ankle bracelet.

Looking at St. Louis’ Tech Culture As The City Celebrates 250 Years

November 14, 2014 by  

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With it’s famous arch in the background, St. Louis celebrates 250 years in 2014.

I recently returned from 4 days in St. Louis, meeting the local startup community and contributing to a new conference, Startup Voodoo organized by local tech news site Techli and Elasticity, an innovative digital marketing agency.

I was more than impressed with the strong sense of social responsibility everyone seemed to have from young business students, entrepreneurs, to philanthropists. Even newly transplanted residents with just a few months residency talked about S. Louis as “we” and exhibited a strong loyalty to their new community.

It is worth remembering that Silicon Valley used to have a strong sense of social responsibility, too. It once was very important in recruiting software engineers, they cared about it more than free lunches and free haircuts.

When Google registered for its IPO in 2004 the first pages of its SEC filing was a letter from the founders, in which they spelled out their goal of building an enterprise for greater good:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains….

We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. . . We are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form.

We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

Underground Cellar Helps Wineries Sell Wine Online

October 6, 2014 by  

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I recently met Jeffrey Shaw, CEO of Underground Cellar, a startup focused on helping wineries sell wine online. He and his team has developed a great technology platform to allow wineries to market themselves and sell their wines but it is also using its own platform to sell wine on behalf of many wineries — using a clever business model.

Shaw explained that when wineries want their help to shift certain wines, Underground Cellar will taste the wines first and then agree to sell a set number of cases and take a sales commission. It always asks the winery to give it additional cases of some of its other lines, often high-end expensive vintages, and those are used to reward its customers.

When customers order wine, they have a chance to win additional bottles for free, equivalent to what they have ordered, or better. The probability of winning extra bottles is shown each time in real time.

[All it needs (below) is some revolving cherries to create a virtual one-armed bandit.]

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Customers used to have to wait until their order arrived to see if they had won but Shaw says telling them immediately if they have lost gave them a ready opportunity to place another order and try again, and many do.

Additional services include storage of customer’s wine in its “Cloud Cellar” with courier shipping for same day delivery.

Shaw says that his startup is a technology platform and he thinks it could be used for many other types of products and services. But it clearly is more than that. The startup also represents wineries online with sharp marketing and page designs, and it is becoming an important e-commerce partner for many wineries.

Underground Cellar is really a new hybrid, a high-tech enabled marketing and e-commerce agency. I’m sure we’ll see more of this type of company because it combines three essential business services in one package.

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