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Robot telepresence is here, it’s cheap, and boy it looks stupid

Here at Marketplace Tech Report, we’re awfully fond of robot stories. It’s good, we figure, to learn as much as possible about the cold metallic monsters who will replace us.

One of the stories we’ve followed for a while is robotic telepresence, the idea that you will someday be able to skip going in to work because there will be a robot avatar for you there and through it you’ll be able to see, hear, and speak to your colleagues, all while your colleagues wonder why you’re too lazy to bother coming in, jerk.

Well, it’s here. A company called Double Robotics has posted a video of its robot called the Double. Its operated through an iPad app (of course it is) and can basically video chat with anyone it runs into while you’re far away. You can pre-order it now for $2000 or buy it for $2499 when it goes on sale, allegedly later this year.

So it’ll be just like you! Except boy it looks dumb. Like a stick on wheels. Like a rough draft of the robot from Short Circuit but stretched out. And unlike you, it might tip over and then just have to lie there until someone picks it up.


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Aug 21, 2012

Google must cough up its list of paid commenters

First things first: no one at Marketplace Tech Report has been paid to say nice things about Google. To prove this, please note the many not nice things we’ve said about Google and please note the fact that we don’t sleep each night on piles of million dollar bills like Googlers do.

A judge has ordered Google to be more forthcoming about where its spending its money to get nice things said about it in the media. This is part of the settling up of Google’s lawsuit with Oracle.

From The Hill:

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said Google must submit a list by Aug. 24 that includes "all commenters known by Google to have received payments as consultants, contractors, vendors or employees." Alsup said Google does not need to disclose gifts to universities or advertising revenue received by commenters.
"Google suggests that it has paid so many commenters that it will be impossible to list them all," Alsup wrote in his order. "Please simply do your best but the impossible is not required. Oracle managed to do it."


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Aug 21, 2012

Amazon launches cloud based archiving, declares war on tape

You know that big room somewhere at your company with the huge banks of magnetic tape? The room where they back up all the data from the company? The room where you’re probably not supposed to go in?

Yeah, well, Amazon wants to get rid of that room. Amazon wants to replace the data archiving at your company and, ideally, ALL companies with a cloud based archiving system called Glacier. Amazon launched it yesterday.

Because if there’s one thing that’s completely reliable and permanent these days, it’s glaciers! Yes sir, those things are rock solid and totally NOT breaking away from ice shelves and melting and causing chaos. NICE WORK ON THE NAME, AMAZON GENIUSES.

Storing data and maintaining the equipment to do so can get expensive.

From the Register:

Enter Amazon, with its disk and server-based system and pay-as-you-go consumption. Glacier starts at $0.01 per gigabyte for a month, with further charges for data requests and transfers. Amazon says customers get 5 per cent of retrievals free each month.
The new product builds not just on Amazon’s S3 for cloud storage system, but also the AWS Storage Gateway that connects on-premise SANs and ports their contents to S3. Storage Gateway was launched by Amazon in January this year.

Dude, you’re TOTALLY getting that office where the data archiving used to be.


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Aug 21, 2012

You have until August 30 to get metaphysical

Did you hear that gasp? It was let out by witchcrafters, potion-pawners, and voodoo doll-dealers, all of whom currently sell their wares on eBay. In a routine clean up its site, the company announced that after August 30, it will no longer list auctions for items classified as intangible or metaphysical.

From Wired:

Among the items that will be taken down and prohibited from August 30, 2012, are “advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic; prayers; blessing services; magic potions; healing sessions; work from home businesses and information; wholesale lists, and drop shop lists.”

I mean really, there is nothing worse than the stay-at-home sorcerer who tries to magic potion a wholesale list through a healing session. Can I get a what-what?!? Uh... how about a hocus pocus?
An online petition has been circulating trying to urge eBay to reverse its decision. But wait a minute, couldn’t they just... I mean, aren’t they... why not just cast a spell and make it so this thing never happened?

Again from Wired:

Though the petition does not use the word discrimination, it does point out that the sales of items reflecting other belief systems that remain unproven are not in dispute. Most significantly, it singles out “rosaries, crucifixes or religious medals, all of which have perceived ‘intangible’ abilities and energies associated with them,” and goes on to say that feng shui items, such as crystals, and magnetic therapy jewellery could also be seen to offer “intangible benefits.”
eBay spokeswoman Johnna Hoff has cleared this matter up, however, explaining that “items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (for instance, jewellery, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases.”

Coming soon to an auction near you: potion rocks!


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Aug 21, 2012

Your next Wi-Fi hotspot could be a donkey

“Heehaww!” might be a decent password, and it also might be the sound your Wi-Fi-enabled donkey makes at an Israeli, historical amusement park. Visitors to the park can now simultaneously recreate the past whilst traveling on a donkey in a town built to look like ancient Galilee and embrace their modern addiction to documenting every moment of every thing.

Fast Company writes:

Kfar Kedem is a small historical reenactment park where actors drawn from the surrounding village play the role of peasants in Biblical-era Galilee. The park's decision to strap Wi-Fi routers to their donkeys as a publicity stunt marks one of the first times that any business, anywhere, has adopted animal-mounted wireless Internet as part of their business strategy.

And yes, this means that visitors can now tweet, update, and get all Instagrammy without ever getting up off their ass.

From Engadget:

So far, only five of the village's 30 available donkeys are currently outfitted with routers, but park manager Menachem Goldberg's toying with an expansion to the rest of his "fleet."


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Aug 21, 2012

MLB’s Melky Cabrera created fake web site to throw off investigators

Melky Cabrera, outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, has begun serving a 50-game suspension from the league for using illegal performance enhancing substances. Under the rules of baseball, a player who tests positive for substances can try to prove that they ingested the substance unwittingly, that they were duped by the dope so to speak.

Apparently, Cabrera and his associates created a fake website that was made to look as if it was selling legal substances.
The New York Daily News, which first reported on the scheme, says:

“There was a product they said caused this positive,” one source familiar with the case said of Cabrera’s scheme. “Baseball figured out the ruse pretty quickly.”
MLB’s department of investigations quickly began asking questions about the website and the “product” — Where was the site operating from? Who owned it? What kind of product was it? — and quickly discovered that an existing website had been altered, adding an ad for the product, a topical cream, that didn’t exist.

Cabrera was due to make $6 million this year. On the one hand, it’s astonishing that someone would jeopardize that kind of money (and future earnings) by such a bonehead stunt. Then again, when you can make that kind of dough, it’s tempting to do whatever you can - fake sites and illegal drugs included - to try to preserve it.


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Aug 20, 2012

Big shakeup coming at Hulu

Variety is reporting that there are some big changes coming to Hulu, changes that will affect not just who’s sitting in the executive offices but what kind of stuff we can watch on our TVs as well. That’s right: this has to do with our ability to watch our stories. Our precious, precious stories. Variety says it has a confidential memo dated July of this year that discusses plans to get a new CEO up to speed. Hulu presently has a CEO, Jason Kilar, but there’s been talk of him leaving for one place or another for quite some time. It’s unclear whether he’s about to leave but it is clear that the financial group Providence is set to end its relationship with the company, which could lead to all sorts of complex situations involving executives getting piles of money.

Variety says there will be some content changes too:

• No more exclusivity for current-season content once restricted to Hulu and the networks' respective websites. Now Disney and News Corp. can turn around and license programming to another third-party, i.e. YouTube, which could dilute Hulu's competitive advantage in the marketplace.
• No more content parity. ABC.com and Fox.com will be able to hold back certain content to differentiate their own sites from Hulu, which was once entitled to everything on the networks' sites.
• Exclusive "super-distribution" rights Hulu once retained to syndicate content to third-party sites like Yahoo and AOL would revert back to Disney and News Corp.
• Fox wants to increase to four ads per commercial pod on Hulu.com.


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Aug 20, 2012

OnLive heads for bankruptcy, to reemerge as a new company

Well, this is a weird one. The online gaming company OnLive was in pretty desperate shape and it took a rather odd course correction to try to solve it. OnLive laid off its entire staff, then sold itself to a new company that will also be called OnLive. The new OnLive was then able to hire back half of its staff immediately. So it’s all a little strange for those staff members but they still work for something called OnLive and collect their full salary. The remaining half of employees are being given offers to consult for the company (do their old jobs, presumably) in exchange for options in the company.

What it basically comes down to then is the old company dumping its stock options system and retaining most of its now-rattled employees.

What does it mean for Joe and Jane Gamer?

The company’s posted FAQ says:

Users should see no change in the OnLive Game or Desktop Services. All of their purchases remain intact and available. OnLive has been up 24/7 since launch over two years ago and expects to remain so. OnLive has over 2.5 million subscribers, with an active base of over 1.5 million subscribers, connecting from a vast range of devices and networks, with many sessions running for hours. The user base is growing rapidly with OnLive’s addition into recently announced devices and TVs from major manufacturers. We expect this growth to continue under the new company.

Yeah, yeah, great. But it’s hard not to conclude the whole system is shaky, which in turn tosses the idea of a cloud-based gaming system into question. That’s good news for the old guard gaming arrangement of expensive consoles and $60 games in clam shell boxes.


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Aug 20, 2012

Curiosity killed the cat. And now it turned a space rock into plasma with a laser.

Outasight, man! The Mars rover Curiosity got a chance to go to the gun range yesterday. It tested out its laser by firing it at a rock. MTR talked to Roger Wiens, in charge of the laser (ChemCam), just before the rover touched down, and he described its power as a: “million lightbulbs into the spot the size of the pin for five billionths of a second.” That’s just cool, right?

The Verge reports:

According to a statement from NASA, the test — billed as "target practice" for future missions — involved hitting the rock with 30 brief laser pulses, each delivering more than a million watts of power. The barrage transformed the target area into a stream of molten plasma

The test was deemed successful as the laser-enabled plasma was able to detect the rock’s chemical makeup.

That crazy, little Curiosity has a sense of humor too. Its official Twitter account tweeted this after the test:

“Yes, I've got a laser beam attached to my head. I'm not ill tempered; I zapped a rock for science: http://1.usa.gov/P7IXF1  #MSL#PewPew

Somewhere, deep in a maze of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, Calif. Roger Wiens has just high-fived everyone in arm’s reach.


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Aug 20, 2012

Apple responds to reports of SMS spoofing

Last week, hackers revealed that it is possible for bad guys to send text messages with misleading phone numbers attached to them. So someone could send you a text claiming to be from your bank and have it look like the call back number really is from your bank, then when you actually call it, it’s the bad guys’ hideout and they steal your money. I know it’s not like a real bad guys hideout like in the movies, I just like to imagine it like that. All secret knocks and stuff.

Apple’s iPhone was the case cited in the reporting on this bug although every phone uses SMS so it could be a problem with any mobile device.

Apple has come back to say that its own iMessage system is much more secure than the regular SMS system.

It told Engadget:

Apple takes security very seriously. When using iMessage instead of SMS, addresses are verified which protects against these kinds of spoofing attacks. One of the limitations of SMS is that it allows messages to be sent with spoofed addresses to any phone, so we urge customers to be extremely careful if they're directed to an unknown website or address over SMS.

Of course, iMessage only works between Apple devices. So let’s all make sure that bad guys only have iPhones and this won’t be a problem. See? Simple.


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Aug 20, 2012

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About this collection

You hear it a lot: For the economy to get better, we all have to spend more. Consumer confidence, consumer spending, consumer interest, consumer debt.... it's the consumer economy. But didn't spending too much get us in trouble a few years ago? Can we afford the consumer economy? Marketplace explores how we consume, what we get from it, what it costs, and whether we can keep it up.