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Op-ed: How patent trolls doomed themselves by targeting Main Street

Patent trolls have gone from targeting big tech to targeting Main Street, and it may hurt them.

The patent troll that demanded money from “Webtech,” a Vermont website developer (name changed), was just doing business in the same way trolls have for more than a decade now. Patent trolls typically buy up old patents that can arguably be interpreted to cover new technology. They assert these patents, demanding money in exchange for a promise not to sue. For example, one outfit has demanded $1,000 per employee from hundreds or thousands of companies that use document scanners attached to networks.  

But that troll may have gone one step too far. This wasn’t Webtech’s first patent assertion letter—the company had received seven over the last two years—but this one was too much. The patent accusations consumed a large amount of management time. Also, Webtech had lost two contracts each worth a million dollars because its customers wanted to be protected against patent suits. Because patent litigation is so expensive, Webtech could not afford to indemnify them.

So Webtech and several other small Vermont companies fought back. After consulting lawyer Peter Kunin, they formed an informal group to lobby politicians for better protection against patent trolls last year. This May, the Vermont state legislature unanimously passed a bill that provides new tools to fight trolls under state consumer protection laws. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law, and William Sorrell, the Vermont Attorney General, sued a patent troll the same day for engaging in “unfair and deceptive acts.” The Vermont coalition also met with their senator, Patrick Leahy (D), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discuss patent trolls. Now both Leahy and Vermont Representative Peter Welch (D) have co-authored separate legislative proposals in Congress.

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Toyota axes monthly fees for its Entune in-car infotainment systems

Toyota axes monthly fees for its Entune connected infotainment systems

Toyota’s original plan for its Entune in-car platform was to draw in new users with three months’ free usage, before whacking ‘em with a $5 monthly charge. At some point, however, the company decided to abandon that idea, and will instead offer the connected infotainment service free of charge. We’ll let the cynics amongst you ponder if it was a lack of demand that caused Toyota to change course.

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Via: Zatz Not Funny

Source: Prius Chat

How to make sustainable aquaculture inclusive—and actually sustainable

Ruakaka Bay salmon farm

According to a 2012 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, aquaculture now supplies almost half of the world’s seafood. With global fisheries stocks on the wane, aquaculture may soon be the only option for countries that rely heavily on protein from seafood. In spite of a growing awareness about the environmental effects of unregulated aquaculture, governmental attempts to develop a set of best sustainable practices have largely been unsuccessful.

This vacuum in governance has opened the door for non-governmental organizations, such as the recently launched Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), to step in and introduce a hodgepodge of sustainability guidelines and certification schemes. And that’s a problem, conclude the authors of an article published in Science‘s Policy Forum last week. These standards are often too narrow in scope and cater primarily to the whims of developed countries.

For those who’ve followed the various “green” and organic labeling controversies over the years, the idea of having a company determine what constitutes “sustainable” may not seem all that appealing—especially if that company sells seafood at a marked premium. Yet the alternative is typically an environmental group with a relatively small, privileged membership. While these often operate with the best of intentions, they typically know next to nothing about the working conditions of farmers in poorer countries.

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I Told Jaguar I Know They’ll Make The C-X17 Crossover After The Sedan

I Told Jaguar I Know They'll Make The C-X17 Crossover After The Sedan

Kevin Stride (Head of Engineering) and Ian Callum (Head of Design) both smiled when I told them I think I know what they’re up to with this concept. Of course, they couldn’t comment. But we talked numbers.

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How Zynga went from social gaming powerhouse to has-been

Aurich Lawson / Zynga

In Zynga’s July 2011 prospectus to future shareholders, company founder and CEO Mark Pincus outlined his firm’s ambitious plan to take over the gaming world.

“My kids decided a few months ago that peek-a-boo was their favorite game,” he wrote. “While it’s unlikely that we can improve upon this classic, I look forward to playing Zynga games with them very soon. When they enter high school, there’s no doubt that they’ll search on Google, they’ll share with their friends on Facebook, and they’ll probably do a lot of shopping on Amazon. And I’m planning for Zynga to be there when they want to play.”

Will it? At the time, Pincus had ample reason for confidence. Zynga was riding high after several years of success. Since its July 2007 founding, Zynga raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital, launched massive hits like FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and CityVille, and turned a 2010 profit of $90.5 million. It was also on an acquisition binge, picking up 11 companies in as many months between 2010 and 2011.

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How I Learned to Love Traveling Solo

How I Learned to Love Traveling Solo

I didn’t travel anywhere by myself until I was twenty-two. And then I spent a year as an international hobo. Now I travel alone all the time, for work and for pleasure. There is too much I want to do and see to wait for the perfect travel buddy.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

I like solo travel now, but it can still be hard—one morning in Hong Kong recently I ate some poorly labeled peanut sauce, had an allergic reaction, and then got ripped off by a corrupt cabbie. That was definitely a day I wished I were traveling with someone else! Anyway, here are some things I do to make it easier to go it alone. These tips are definitely not meant to double as advice for budget travel! I don’t do that at the best of times, and certainly not when I’m traveling alone—it’s stressful enough.

Embrace Introvert Time

I’m an ambivert, which means that I need to keep my social time and solo time in balance. Experimentation has let me know that three to four days of not speaking to anyone is fine, but I probably couldn’t cope with more than that. So if I go for two weeks, I break it up into social sections (places where I know people) and solo sections. If it’s a short trip, or I’m starting with solo time, then I’ll “people myself out” before my departure by going out every night. That way, when I arrive at my destination I’m due some alone time, and I’m happy to embrace it.

Always Have Data

I have very little sense of direction, but that’s OK, because I have a ridiculous number of cellphones, being a mobile developer. The first thing I do when I arrive at my destination is acquire a SIM card (or maybe a portable Wi-Fi device). Buying a card can seem overpriced, but I’m happy to pay the $40 or so for a few days —I know that it allows me to be more adventurous with restaurants (through recommendations and Foursquare), and lets me take fewer cabs (mobile mapping means I don’t get too lost and have to cab it home because I’m too exhausted to figure out another way). It also makes me feel safer — if I’m in a cab alone, I can track the route the driver’s taking and make sure it’s not out of my way.

Stay Somewhere Comfortable

Other solo travellers swear by hostels as a way to meet people, but I’m not sold on the idea. I’ve never stayed in one when traveling alone. My experience is that hostels are uncomfortable and feel unsafe (this may be skewed by the fact that the last one I stayed in was a former jail). I want to stay where I can get directions and recommendations from the concierge, relax quietly if I’m feeling overwhelmed, and order room service if I’m sick or if my flight’s delayed or if I just feel too exhausted to go out and find food. Exploring can be stressful, but where you sleep shouldn’t be.

Start With a Long Walk

I love roaming about cities by myself: I usually plug in some music, set a park as a destination in Google Maps, and go. As a bonus, daylight and exercise are the best things for jetlag! Once I’m roamed around enough to appreciate the place, I’m much more relaxed and feel ready to explore more.

Maximize “Alone” Activities

Things I love to do alone: reading, walking, visiting museums and art galleries, and hitting the spa. Things that I’m OK doing alone: eating lunch with a book, shopping. Things I find stressful to do alone: eating dinner and going to the movies or the theatre. So the more things I pick from the first category, the happier I’ll be and the less I’ll miss not having company.

Minimize and Space Out the Things You’d Rather Do with Company

I went to a show alone when I was in Prague—this was an achievement for me! But one show in three days was probably as much as I was going to enjoy. I tend to skip dinner, or eat at weird times (especially on weekends), which makes it easier for me to eat out alone. Sometimes I practice doing things I don’t really like to do alone while at home—like going to a restaurant I’ve been meaning to try by myself, or going for brunch to my favorite place alone. Maybe someday I’ll go to the movies alone.

Stick with Status

I have status with the Star Alliance, and I try to stick to flying with them, especially when I’m alone. Having access to a lounge when a flight is delayed and you’re exhausted is really handy. Some lounges allow you to leave a bag at their reception rather than having to cart all your belongings with you to the bathroom, for instance. The bigger airports will usually have showers, and it’s nice to be able to get clean before the red-eye after a day spent wondering about. The chairs in lounges are more comfortable, there are snacks, and I don’t feel as if I have to continually watch my stuff as much—I can relax with a book or even take a nap.

Go Midweek if You Can

During the week more people travel for work, or they’re just going about their regular day. On weekends, people are more social, and restaurants are less keen to accommodate a table for one. There are also more couples about, which might not be what you want to see if you’re traveling alone because you just had a breakup!

Morning/Afternoon/Evening—Pick Two

The biggest benefit of traveling alone is never having to wait for anyone. That could give you the opportunity to see more stuff, or it could just give you space in your day to chill out. I know my energy levels, and given that I spend most of my time on vacation walking or standing, leaving my hotel at 9 am and not returning until bedtime would be too much. So if I get an early start, I’ll aim to return for a bit in the afternoon and chill before I go out in the evening. Or I’ll return early and go swimming or something before bed. Or I’ll linger over lunch and drink more tea and read. Putting pressure on myself to be on the go for over twelve hours a day never makes me happy.

It’s Not the Trip, It’s a Trip

Something I really want to do in Hong Kong is have afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel there. But I didn’t do that on my more recent trip, because it’s an experience I want to share with someone. In Copenhagen, I missed out on Tivoli Gardens, the theme park there: I love fairground rides, but it’s more fun with someone else.

I don’t view my solo trips as trips-of-a-lifetime, or think about the destinations as places I’ll never see again. That takes the pressure off and leaves me free to do what I want to do on that particular trip, not follow some list of “must do” attractions.

A Picture is Like an Instant Postcard

If I see something a friend would appreciate, I email it to them. If I see something really cool, I tweet it. People usually reply or comment, and I get a little social interaction. I’ve also included my friends in my trip, in real time.

Shop for Memories

The shared memories of a trip are usually the best thing you bring home when you go with someone —“Do you remember when we took that tuk tuk in Bangkok?” You don’t have that when you go it alone. Here’s my strategy: I almost never shop at home; I shop when I travel. So when someone compliments me on my top or my shoes or my necklace, I have a built-in story to tell: “Thanks! I bought this when I was in… ” My outfits are connected to me memories of adventures I took, and that is kinda cool.

Pack Light (But Not Too Light)

I know that many people swear by taking only carry-on luggage, but given that I use my frequent-flyer status (see above), my bags come off the plane quickly, and I almost never have to wait long for my luggage. Checking a bag means that I don’t have to deal with a max-size carry-on by myself, both in the airport and when I’m on the plane. My goal is to have enough clothing to avoid having to hand-wash anything when I’m away.

Be OK with Being Scruffy

When you’re traveling on your own, hardly anyone cares what you look like, and you’re probably never going to see the people you meet again anyway. So comfortable, easily packable clothes should be a priority.

I lived out of a small holdall for all of last July. I did this by packing about five variations on the same outfit—leggings and a long T-shirt—and wearing them every day. Not my best ensemble, and after that month most of the leggings and shirts got relegated to the back of my closet, never to be worn again. Having a break from looking pretty and “making an effort” can be liberating. When I travel, I’m after an adventure, not to fall in love.

Savor Small Moments

When I visited Hong Kong, I had this moment sitting on a bench in a park with an amazing barbecue pork bun. I felt very peaceful, and just acknowledged it as the kind of moment that I get while traveling solo, but not when travelling with others. I felt relaxed and free to just do whatever the hell appealed to me at that moment.

Do Weird Stuff

I love going along with what other people want to do: I see different things than those I would have chosen myself, and it helps reassure me that I don’t live in a filter-bubble. But when I go places by myself, I often do things that may seem odd, but so what—they make me happy! While visiting Copenhagen, for instance, I spent about four hours in the most beautiful graveyard I have ever seen. I walked for nearly two hours to see a giant metronome in Prague. Those were highlights for me, but I don’t know anyone else who would have really enjoyed them.

Solo travel can be more stressful, but it’s worth it. Managing and reducing the things that you find stressful, and embracing whatever it is that you love doing by yourself are the keys to enjoying it and getting the most out of it.

How I Learned to Love Solo-Travel | Medium


Cate escaped from graduate school to be a Software Engineer at Google. She used to be an international hobo, teaching programming in the US and in Shanghai, training in martial arts in China, qualifying as a ski instructor in Canada, and aimlessly wandering around Europe. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia. So far this year she has visited five new countries, including North Korea… where tourists are never allowed to wonder alone. You can find her on Twitter @catehstn and on her blog, Accidentally in Code.

Image via Duderev Mikhail (Shutterstock).

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Sony launches Xperia Tablet Z: Kitchen Edition for $650… wait, what?

Sony launches Xperia Tablet Z Kitchen Edition wait, what

The Xperia Tablet Z already boasts strong water resistance credentials, but Sony’s decided that there’s an under-served market of chefs that needs exploiting. That’s why the company has launched a “Kitchen Edition” of the slate, aimed at nerds who know what a ramekin is. Unlike the regular version, this bork-tastic device comes with a book-style stand, pre-loaded recipes from Saveur magazine and an iGrill digital wireless meat thermometer. Priced at $650 with 32GB storage, there’s no word on if the hardware will double as a chopping board, but given how sturdy Sony’s hardware normally is…

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Source: Sony

Buying Online from Warehouse Clubs Can Save More than In-Store Sales

Buying Online from Warehouse Clubs Can Save More than In-Store Sales

If you have a membership to Costco, BJs, Sam’s Club, or another big-box warehouse or club store, don’t overlook their online selection. In many cases, you can get even steeper discounts on non-perishables, furniture, electronics, and more. Plus, you can have them shipped right to your home, often for free.

Considering that many of us shop at club and warehouse stores for groceries and non-perishable items, it can be tempting to walk in and assume you’re getting their best price in-store. In reality, some of those stores keep their best bargains online, along with more selection when it comes to model numbers and brands. Over at US News Money, Sabah Karimi explains:

Many warehouse club websites carry even more inventory – and less expensive alternatives – than the items you see in the store, and some also offer free shipping and other online deals. When you’re shopping for non-perishable items and larger items that you might want delivered to your home, consider the benefits of placing your order online instead. You can buy everything from patio furniture and bar stools, to kitchen supplies and bulk baked goods online at a discounted price. Compare your selections to the prices at other retail stores and online retailers to make sure you really are getting the best deal.

It may seem like common sense that shopping online can save you more than buying in a brick-and-mortar store, but because club stores have the aura about them that you’re paying a membership fee for the absolute best price, it’s easy to overlook—especially when the better bargain is on their own website. Hit the link below for more tips to save money at warehouse clubs.

6 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Shopping at Warehouse Clubs | US News Money

Photo by Fan of Retail.

Six Apps We Used to Love (and Where They Are Now)

Six Apps We Used to Love (and Where They Are Now)

The best apps and services today in search, email, music streaming, and to-do management today weren’t always number one. Some of the apps we loved a long time ago are still out there, updating, adding features, making their fans happy even if they don’t have what it takes to thrill tech bloggers or stay in the limelight. Here are a few of those old dogs you may remember, and some of the new tricks that make them worth a fresh look.

Duck Duck Go

Six Apps We Used to Love (and Where They Are Now)

Duck Duck Go is a bit of an obvious choice because it’s enjoying a huge resurgence now, but it wasn’t always that way. The search engine was founded back in 2008 as an attempt to aggregate more useful information from first party sites and trim out some of the fluff that you may have gotten searching with other popular engines at the time, including Google. It’s a "hybrid" search engine, which means its results are compiled through other engines and crawlers via open APIs.

What that really means for you is that as opposed to engines like Google and Bing, which do their own indexing of the web and use their own algorithms to organize the results, Duck Duck Go takes results from elsewhere and prioritizes them for you. The end result is a bit like the "metasearch" engines from the early 2000s, where you can see tons of different results from different sources without the fear that something you want is being filtered out, and sift through them one by one if you like. Duck Duck Go rocketed to popularity in the past year because it’s re-branded itself as a truly private search engine—one that doesn’t track your searches, doesn’t need you to log in, and by contrast to Google, doesn’t collect any data on your activities to sell, store, or give to anyone who asks for it.

Subsonic

Six Apps We Used to Love (and Where They Are Now)

In an age where Plex and XBMC are the most popular media center apps and we can stream music and movies with gadgets like the Chromecast, little old Subsonic seems to have fallen by the wayside. It’s consistently been one of your favorite personal media streamers for years, but never a winner, and never incredibly popular. That’s a shame, since Subsonic has a passionate community around it and active developers who are busy adding features and improvements. Even if you love Google Music or Spotify or Plex, Subsonic gives you control over how your media is shared, what format it’s in, whether it’s transcoded or not, and who accesses it—all without uploading it or its metadata to anyone else.

A long time ago, it used to be just a service for streaming music from one computer to another on the same network, but over the years it’s grown into a full-fledged media streamer that supports Windows, OS X, and Linux, as well as mobile platforms like Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry. There are even Subsonic apps for the Roku and Sonos. It runs on your own computer at home, and you have complete control over its security and who can access your media. You can easily stream music, movies, and other media whether you’re at home in another room, on your phone across the globe. Additionally, Subsonic serves as a jukebox app, and can download album art, lyrics, reviews, and more for you automatically. You can use it as a podcast catcher. Plus, if you’re a fan of unique or niche file formats and lossless audio, Subsonic is perfect for you. Seriously, take a look at its features if you haven’t lately.

Remember The Milk

Six Apps We Used to Love (and Where They Are Now)

A number of people have pointed out that Remember The Milk isn’t the productivity darling that it used to be. We covered it first back in 2007, but the discussion around its most recent updates, even if they’re been great, has largely been about how they compare to newer tools. Regardless of the competition, the team behind RTM has been busy working on the service, and it still has a passionate user base.

Over the years, RTM has introduced Evernote integration, made their mobile apps free, brought down their paywall, updated their apps to keep up with design trends, integrated with Gmail and Google Calendar, synchronized with Google Tasks, and more. Even if it’s not as popular as it once was, it’s still one of the most flexible productivity apps on the market, and it works seamlessly with so many other services that most of us already use that it’s hard to believe. The fact that most of those great features are behind a $25/yr paywall may be part of the issue, but free users get access to all of the mobile apps and once-daily sync. It’s by no means a full idea of what’s available if you pay up, but it is a taste.

Opera

Opera has been around for ages, and while there are definitely a lot of people who love it and evangelize it, most browswer market share stat counters reveal that its usage share is consistently low. It’s remarkably popular in Russia and specific European countries, so you’d be forgiven for thinking little has changed with the browser over the past several years. However, the team behind Opera has been busy. The browser recently made the switch to Chromium and WebKit for its next generation browser, called Opera Next. That new version of Opera exited beta in a semi-unfinished form back in July, but it shows a lot of promise, evben if some people have called it out as a "crippled Google Chrome."

Other people have been a bit more optimistic about it, and the new version does come with the bonus that you can install Chrome extensions in Opera with a little sleight of hand. However, with any new browser comes new features and new opportunities, and the new Opera is lightweight and fast. If you’re looking for an alternative to Chrome that doesn’t mean giving up on the core features that makes Chrome great, the new Opera is worth a look.

Hotmail (now Outlook)

We were abuzz when Microsoft unveiled Outlook, its replacement for Hotmail. If the last time you logged in to that hotmail account you created back in the late 90s was to change your password or empty out the spam that had accumulated in it, or when Hotmail eventually transitioned to Windows Live Mail, it’s time to take a fresh look. The new interface is fast, the new spam filters and junk mail tools are powerful, and reading your email is an ad-free experience. You can message friends, connect with SkyDrive to send files and attachments from the cloud and share photo galleries, and more. You can even use Outlook with your own domain.

Personally, I signed up for my first Hotmail account back in 1998, long before the Microsoft buyout, and I still have that address (and it still works). I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth when Microsoft bought it, and I wouldn’t be lying if I said people had a reason to be worried—it took until 2012 for Microsoft to do the name justice and present a really useful, functional, and fast webmail platform, but it’s here now. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl.

Winamp

Winamp may not be fair to include here because it’s still (for now anyway) our favorite music player for Windows, and one of your favorites, too. In many ways, it’s exactly the way you remember it, down to the layout of the player windows and the equalizer, and the skins available to make it look the way you like. Still, that doesn’t mean all has been quiet on the Winamp front—the team behind it has been working hard on Winamp for Android, and the Winamp Mac beta for syncing with mobile devices and organizing music.

If you haven’t used Winamp for ages, you’ll find a tool now that’s both familiar and more powerful than it was before, offers tons of music sources and downloads built-in, more complete library management and automated tools to help fill in the blanks in your music library’s metadata, scrobbling to Last.fm and other services, and of course, tons of streaming music from ShoutCast radio stations built-in, without you having to go hunt for them like you used to. If you have an Android phone, Winamp is one of the best tools to sync and organize your music with your phone if you don’t want to upload it all to someone else or use a cloud service for your music, and it’s only getting better on all of its supported platforms. It still whips the llama’s ass, after all these years.


These are just a few apps and tools that have long been toppled from their seat of dominance by other apps and companies, but are still great options in their own right, and continue to update to provide more features and value to their users. Contrary to the perception that the Internet only wants one of everything, options are good things to have, and the top tools in a category aren’t always the best for a specific use case or set of needs. If you’ve been looking for options and alternatives to some of the big names and haven’t looked at some of these for a while, take another look now.

Photo by sleepy kitty,

Garmin demos futuristic sat-nav display inside Mercedes S-Class concept

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In-car navigation HUDs may be safer than dash systems, but, let’s face it, they can’t yet claim to be pretty. Enter Garmin’s modular K2 infotainment system, which has been specially modified to suit the futuristic look of Mercedes’ new 4.7-liter bi-turbo V8 Concept S-Class Coupé. Gone are the flat designs of old, replaced with Garmin’s advanced 3D city models, which include parks, rivers, textured buildings and, of course, navigable roads. We don’t know when or if Garmin’s in-dash system will make it into a production model but Mercedes says its S-Class concept provides a “concrete vision” of its next generation car designs.

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