Archive for October 7, 2011

Get carefully crafted packages of cool things from interesting people with Quarterly

As a kid growing up in California, much of my young life was spent walking and playing on beaches. For almost as long as I can remember, my dad took me beachcombing, which is basically walking along the beach looking for interesting things to collect and take home.

For a while it was colored glass that had been polished and worn by the tide and sand into smooth opaque jewels. Then it was fishing tackle and lures left behind by fisherman. As I got older, we graduated to shipwrecks abandoned by their owners.

All of this beachcombing led to a fascination with gathered things and some very interesting mantle decorations. I still have an immense bottle filled to the brim with flotsam, much of which I can remember gathering.

These physical objects each have memories attached that create a frisson or wave of sentiment whenever I look at them, touch them or even smell them.

This is the kind of physical narrative that Quarterly founder Zach Frechette is looking to bring to our primarily digital online world. When Zach was working at Good magazine, he often got comments from readers and friends about their favorite articles and he began to think about the editorial process and the way it related to the magazine as a physical thing.

Screen Shot 2011 10 07 at 4.59.36 PM 520x428 Get carefully crafted packages of cool things from interesting people with Quarterly

This led to the creation of Quarterly, a service that allows you to subscribe to an interesting person and receive a quarterly shipment from them containing a narrative (read: story) component, as well as several physical objects that they have hand picked.

image 520x507 Get carefully crafted packages of cool things from interesting people with Quarterly

Effectively, you’re getting a care package from one of a carefully curated bunch of interesting people. These people are hand-picked by Quarterly (for now) and include people with expertise in their area, good taste and a significant social media footprint.

Examples of the current crop that you can choose from are Mike Monteiro of Mule Design, Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swiss Miss and Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, just to name a few.

Shipment ztf04 520x389 Get carefully crafted packages of cool things from interesting people with Quarterly

Once you subscribe to a person, which is a $25 per shipment fee, you will receive a package that contains several objects hand picked by the contributor and a message. These objects could be anything but will generally surround a theme of some sort and be representative of the general bailiwick of the contributor.

The narrative component might consist of the reasons why they picked these items and how they fit them into their own lives.

Honestly it sounds like Quarterly is a sort of matter replicator for creatives that allows them to transmit, not just words, but physical objects that help them to tell you a story.

Frechette gave me an example of one of the first sample mailings that he sent out which contained items based on elevating daily rituals like brushing your teeth. His shipment contained a tube of toothpaste from Portugal, a bone-handled toothbrush from England and a toothpaste tube key used to wind it as you used it up.

Other examples that he might explore would be the ritual of making coffee or making the perfect cocktail.

Frankly the service sounds fascinating to me and I can’t wait to see what the contributors that he has lined up will deliver.

The logistics behind the project are interesting by themselves, as Zach and the folks at Quarterly  work with the designers on a ‘writer-editor’ basis to help them refine their packages into things that are feasible in the budget and logistically possible. They have relationships with vendors and boutiques that help them supply the decided-upon objects within that $25 budget.

Quarterly launched two months ago with the site going live just a couple of weeks ago. They are opening signups for a limited launch window of 48 hours beginning every Thursday. That means that you still have about 18 hours left to sign up in this period if you’re reading this article close to publish.

I’d highly recommend you check it out to see if any of the contributors strike your fancy. I personally can’t wait for my shipment of the sharp edges of other people’s broken dreams from Mike Monteiro.

Storify Integrates SoundCloud Audio Clips

SoundCloud-Logo.jpgSoundCloud may have been knocked offline by a DDoS Attack last night, but today it’s back and fully integrated into content curation platform, Storify.

Storify launched its public beta version in April of this year, and quickly became a popular platform for online content curation. Storify allows users to pull information from social media – tweets, videos, photos, links – in order to build stories, and SoundCloud is a smart, seamless way to add original music to the stream. It’s an easy way to stitch together a diverse array of content into a news stream, a homeknit story, or just a curious experiment, like the aggregated nyan cat content below.

Homeland Security Less Worried About a Public Cloud Threat

There is the public cloud and the private cloud, and it isn’t clear to lawmakers where the differences lie.

The fear among members of Congress yesterday (when an election year draws near, fear becomes as valuable a resource as coffee) is that public cloud connectivity could enable unauthorized public access to a wealth of private resources. Yesterday on Capitol Hill before the House Cybersecurity Subcommittee, the CIO of DHS testified that his department is doing a better job of ironing out the differences, and is going ahead with its plan to roll out some public cloud-based services by 2013.

This while the Director of Information Issues for the Government Accountability Office testified that the General Services Administration – the agency responsible for procuring new equipment for the government – had yet to complete tasks begun a few years ago toward assessing a security strategy for cloud transitions.

The public cloud might pose a few issues

“While private clouds incorporate new technologies that may be challenging to secure,” stated DHS CIO Richard A. Spires, “public clouds introduce additional risks that must be addressed through controls and contract provisions that ensure appropriate accountability and visibility. Though many distinctions can be drawn between public and private cloud computing, a fundamental measure of readiness is their ability to meet security requirements.”

The government’s official assessment and authorization (AA) policy for hardware, software, and services related to cloud deployments is called FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program). Think of it as a cloud for the cloud: Since cloud deployments are often comprised of multiple, incremental buildouts of the same nodes (new disk arrays, new servers, new networks), FedRAMP is designed to let an existing assessment for a common, probably commoditized piece of technology apply to future purchases like a template. The policy’s catch phrase is, “Approve Once, Use Often.”

“By design, FedRAMP provides a common security risk model that supplies a consistent baseline for cloud-based services, including security accreditation designed to vet providers and services for reuse across government,” Spires continued. “Reducing risk and bolstering the security of clouds, while ensuring the delivery of the promised benefits, FedRAMP not only applies to public cloud services, but private, too. Ultimately the consumption of cloud services requires acknowledgement of a shared responsibility and governance. From the fact that accountability can never be outsourced from the Authorizing Official (AO) to the need to continue to meet government requirements, all require acknowledgement of a shared responsibility between the cloud service provider and customer.”

It’s here that Spires used leverage from FedRAMP to make this case, one which the GAO would agree with: For those assessment templates to be reusable, government has to trust vendors not to change the game in mid-stream. This means (and here comes a vital watch-word) government needs greater visibility into private vendors’ operations.

Spires went on: “For public clouds, there is a ‘visibility gap’ between the provider and customer, in which they cannot see into each other’s management, operational, and technical infrastructure, and procedures. As such, the visibility gap must be reduced through a series of requirements for contractual reporting and technical auditing and continuous monitoring data feeds. The key to secure use of cloud computing is the shared understanding of the division of security responsibilities between provider and client, and the ability to verify that both are meeting their responsibilities. As DHS advances in the use of public cloud computing, we will be ensuring we have the proper visibility based on a determination of risk given the cloud service and underlying data in order to ensure the security of our information.”

Vendors may be the weak link

Cloud deployments, either public or private, assume a trust relationship between government and private vendors. But individuals working within government agencies are worried that vendors may not rise to the occasion, according to the GAO.
“The use of cloud computing can also create numerous information security risks for federal agencies,” reported the GAO’s information issues director, Gregory Wilshusen. “In response to our survey, 22 of 24 major agencies reported that they are either concerned or very concerned about the potential information security risks associated with cloud computing. Several of these risks relate to being dependent on a vendor’s security assurances and practices. Specifically, several agencies stated concerns about 1) the possibility that ineffective or non-compliant service provider security controls could lead to vulnerabilities affecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of agency information; 2) the potential loss of governance and physical control over agency data and information when an agency cedes control to the provider for the performance of certain security controls and practices; and 3) potentially inadequate background security investigations for service provider employees that could lead to an increased risk of wrongful activities by malicious insiders.”

In short, the fear is that vendors could be the weakest link in the chain, with inattention to detail leading to real security vulnerabilities. Speaking on behalf of vendors, CA Technologies’ Chief Security Architect Tim Brown said that government could learn more about how vendors earn trust with institutions by examining their relationships with colleges and universities.

“Right now, there is no standard mechanism to evaluate common services from different providers against one other,” Brown told Congress. He went on to describe a new consortium for cloud service measurement (CSMIC) that CA developed in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon, the State of Colorado, and professional services firm Accenture. CSMIC, he said, “can be used to measure and compare a business service using a common language and evaluation process. A high level representation of the characteristics and questions the CSMIC seeks to address is included as an attachment to my testimony today. In conjunction with standard recognition of cloud services authorized under the FedRAMP program, the use of a framework like SMI in government procurements will enhance the analysis of competing cloud services and lead to greater standardization of solutions. As such, CA Technologies encourages the U.S. government to investigate using the SMI to encourage data-driven decision making on cloud acquisitions.”

Scalar for iPad makes mathematical calculations simple and beautiful

One of iOS’s native apps is the Calculator, and it works very well. Apple also sells its own ‘Numbers’ app which works well and is gorgeous in that Apple way.

Sergey Mikhanov has decided to take those Apps to a new level, and actually does so with his new offering Scalar. The app is $4.99 on the App Store, and it might be worth your time (and numbers) especially since Apple’s Numbers app is $9.99 and hasn’t been updated since April.

Mikhanov told us:

Scalar is a replacement spreadsheet app on iPad for 90% of cases — no more forced table structure or inconvenient tiny cells to tap.

Making numbers fun

With a very Apple-esque beautiful design, Scalar really does its job in making calculations less of a hassle. In one app, you can save limitless calculations for re-use and have an infinite number of pages to get your work done.

photo 27 520x693 Scalar for iPad makes mathematical calculations simple and beautifulphoto 37 520x693 Scalar for iPad makes mathematical calculations simple and beautiful

Mikhanov feels that with Scalar, he is serving a need that not many others are seeing as an opportunity on the App Store. The one killer feature that makes Scalar stands out is the multiple screen option, whereas the native iOS calculator is one calculation at a time.

photo 16 520x693 Scalar for iPad makes mathematical calculations simple and beautiful

Mikhanov had this to say about Apple’s offerings opposed to Scalar‘s:

What I found interesting while working on the app is that this niche is almost empty on the App Store. Everybody seems to be happy with Apple’s Numbers, though it’s clearly NOT an app most suited for touch screens. We have just released a major update, which puts us way ahead of any competing apps except for, maybe, Numbers, and user reviews are raving.

Pretty strong words, considering Apple has the Numbers game cornered for now. Check out Scalar, and let Mikhanov know what you think in your app review, as he is listening to his users in hopes of making the app better.

Google+ users can now decide who is allowed to notify them

Continuing with the regular release of new features on Google+ week after week is the ability to now select who is allowed to notify you on the young social platform from who is not.

In a Google+ post by Kathleen Ko, Software Engineer at Google, she reveals that the “Who can notify you” feature is being rolled out in response to popular vote from several G+ users asking for similar privacy controls.

What the new settings do:

According to Ko, these new settings control notifications from posts or users who do any of the following.

  • Share with you individually
  • Select ‘Notify about this post’ (when sharing to a circle you’re in)
  • +Mention your name
  • Invite you to a hangout
  • Invite you to play or send you messages from a game

You will also still be notified if someone comments on one of your posts or adds you to a circle, and will be able to find these customizable options in your Google+ settings. It should also be noted that the feature is only just starting to roll out now, so Google+ users might not see the changes right away.

interact 520x167 Google+ users can now decide who is allowed to notify them

Why is this good?

Previously on Google+, some of the more popular users were often forced to deal with the spammy notifications coming in, having absolutely no way to handle the chaos other than repeatedly clicking away the little red notification numbers in their dashboards. Having just over 9 thousand followers myself, I can definitely attest to how irritating or annoying this actually is — though I can’t imagine what it must be like for those on Google+ who’ve been circled by hundreds of thousands.

Fortunately, Google+ has been forming a pretty nice reputation around responding to some of the more in demand feature requests. In fact, other than a few surprise features here and there, most of the feature rollouts I’ve been seeing lately have been based on the demands of its community, making the Google+ project almost an interactive service that its users can shape to their liking.

We’ve already seen the G+ team respond to demands for comment and post-locking before sharing on the service, another sought-after feature from regulars of the G+ platform. Now with better notification controls, users will be able to customize their individual experiences even further. Bravo, Google+. It’s about time.

You tell me: What other features do you want to see on Google+? How are you liking the service so far? Sound off in the comments.

It’s Not Just Chatter: TV Shows With Social Media Buzz Have Higher Ratings

twitter-tv.jpgTelevision shows that are widely discussed on social networks like Facebook and Twitter also have a tendency to have higher ratings than other shows, new data from Nielsen reveals.

The fact that people tweet about TV shows and chat about them on Facebook and Google Plus is hardly breaking news, but this is among the first hard data that demonstrates a correlation between that social chatter and actual, real-world viewership. This is especially true among younger viewers, Nielsen points out.

Springer to Digitize 65K Tech Books from 1840 to 2005

springer150.jpgGerman science, technology and medical publisher Springer Science+Business Media, will digitize its entire catalog of books back to 1840 by the end of the coming year, including works by Einstein, Niels Bohr and Sir John Eccles and Rudolf Diesel. (Yes, that Rudolf Diesel.)

The books, 70% of which are in English and nearly 30% in German, will total 65,000 titles when the project is finished.

Sony Pictures to make Steve Jobs biography into a movie

Well you know it had to happen at some point and it looks like it will be sooner rather than later now. Sony Pictures is in the process of making a ‘hefty’ deal for the feature rights to the upcoming biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, reports Mike Fleming of Deadline.

The reports says that the deal is set for $1M against $3M with Mark Gordon tapped to produce for MG360. Gordon is represented by ICM, who also reps Isaacson.

Sony has a recent tech biopic, The Social Network, under its belt which went home with 3 Oscars this year.

The biography was recently pushed up in its timetable to be released later this month on October 24th, after Jobs passed away this week. It clocks in at 448 pages and Isaacson, who has authored biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, was given unprecedented access to Jobs for the book. It contains content based on 40 interviews and over 100 conversations with friends, family and competitors.

Jobs has previously been played by Noah Wylie in the TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. Jobs liked his portrayal so much that he invited him to reprise his role at Macworld New York in 1999.

So now that the gears are turning it is time for the fantasy casting to begin. Who would you choose to direct this? But more importantly, who would you choose to play Jobs?

After A Big Public Fight With Salesforce, Larry Ellison Went And Unveiled A Direct Competitor (ORCL, CRM)

Larry Ellison

Image: Oracle_ImagesviaFlickr

See Also:

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

Salesforce Marc Benioff OpenWorld keynote at restaurant

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There was a small fight between Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff earlier this week. It ended with Benioff being kicked out of Oracle’s OpenWorld conference and delivering his speech from a nearby restaurant instead.

The thing is, it’s surprising Benioff was ever invited in the first place, as a big part of his pitch lately has been to criticize Oracle’s “false cloud.”

On Thursday, Ellison struck back, unveiling Oracle’s first-ever actual cloud service: the Oracle Public Cloud.

Oracle makes most of its money by selling databases and other software to companies with complicated needs, like banks or huge online retailers. It’s in no hurry to displace this business model.

So in the past, Oracle has given only a half-hearted embrace to cloud computing, noting that its products can be used by companies to set up “private clouds.”

It’s a stretch to call this cloud computing at all. The architecture is similar to public cloud services, and has some of the same benefits like greater flexibility. But private clouds usually run on hardware and software that is owned and operated by the company using them (or perhaps by a third-party hoster — not the provider of the software). So private clouds are really just a more advanced kind of private data center.

With the Oracle Public Cloud, Oracle will actually host applications for customers — not only its database, but also its CRM apps and social networking tools. Just like Salesforce does.

But there’s still a catch.

The Oracle Public Cloud uses a single-tenant architecture, meaning that each company’s applications run in isolation on their own virtual machine. Ellison touted this as a benefit, saying it would offer greater data security.

But as Google’s Rajen Sheth recently explained, the more traditional way of doing cloud computing is in a multitenant architecture, where each company’s applications are distributed across lots of different physical and virtual machines. This generally offers greater reliability (if a server goes down, the customer probably won’t even notice), lower costs (because servers can be used more efficiently, and those savings are passed along to customers), and easier feature upgrades (because the service provider doesn’t have to upgrade each application instance individually).

Ellison also touted the fact that the Oracle Public Cloud will run on open standards, unlike Salesforce, but there may be some catches there — as Ars Technica reports, it’s not clear whether the applications running in Oracle’s cloud can be ported to other cloud providers, unless those cloud providers also use Oracle hardware and software.

It’s worth noting that when Microsoft first got into cloud computing, it offered its largest customers a dedicated service as well. But Office 365 is multitenant for all but the very largest customers. Oracle might follow that path.

Pricing and availability were not announced, either, which suggests this is still a work in progress.

Tagging Non-Friends: Is Facebook Forcing You to Grow Up?

Facebook is taking yet another step toward becoming more Twitter-like by allowing Facebook profile owners to tag non-friends in the comment threads of their public posts. This update brings Facebook profile users one step closer to becoming their own idealized, public brands, and arrives upon the heels of the Facebook Subscribe button, which allows Facebook users subscribe to public posts.

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