18 March, 2012



Why everyone’s buzzing about startups in Singapore, part 3 [video]

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 06:42 PM PDT

At South By Southwest Interactive, we caught up with three entrepreneurs who have chosen Singapore as the geographical launch pad for their startups.

The tech community stateside has been buzzing about this Asian tech hub, and VentureBeat wanted to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth: Just what is it that makes Singapore so special? With these entrepreneurs, we discussed community, culture, competition, the talent pool, and venture capital in Singapore, and the folks we met with were quite enthusiastic about their hometown.

Here’s the first of three interviews on that subject. Stay tuned for the rest, and be sure to check out the startup referenced here, Gametize.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Why everyone’s buzzing about startups in Singapore, part 2 [video]

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 03:41 PM PDT

Singapore has been said to be Asia’s next new, big tech hub, and at South By Southwest Interactive, we decided to investigate that claim for ourselves.

VentureBeat caught up up with a few Singapore-based entrepreneurs and get the story straight from the horse’s mouth. We talked about culture, competition, the talent pool, and venture capital in Singapore, and the entrepreneurs we met with were quite enthusiastic about their hometown.

Here’s the first of three interviews on that subject. Stay tuned for the rest, and be sure to check out the startup referenced here, Protégé Production.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, video

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Facebook’s Hacker Cup draws the world’s speed-programming elite

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 03:13 PM PDT

More than 6,000 hopefuls from around the world entered Facebook’s programming challenge, the Hacker Cup, in January. Three months later, just 25 finalists went head-to-head in a three-hour battle for supremacy today at Facebook’s new Menlo Park campus.

The winner will have his name (all 25 finalists are male) inscribed on a 50-pound trophy, a sort of pixelated-looking two-dimensional brass fist with the work “HACK” blazoned it, which is set on top of a cube of concrete.

Update: After three hours of competition, Facebook has announced the winners of the 2012 Hacker Cup:

  • 1st place: Roman Andreev from Russia, completed one problem correctly in 1 hr 4 min
  • 2nd place: Tomek Czajka from the US, completed one problem correctly in 1 hr 5 min
  • 3rd place: Tiancheng Lou from China, completed one problem correctly in 1 hr 44 min

There’s a $5,000 prize for the first-place winner, but most of the reward will be the glory of being named, publicly, as one of the world’s top coders. Plus, of course, there’s the thrill of going up against a roomful of world-class programmers.

“They’re here because they love competing in these things,” said David Alves, a software engineer at Facebook and one of the event organizers.

All but one are from overseas. Countries represented in the finals include Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S. After making it through three successively more challenging qualification rounds, the 25 finalists are here at Facebook’s expense for a couple of days of visiting, bowling, and three intense hours of coding.

Facebook’s Hacker Cup is not the only such coding competition. Many of the coders here also compete in TopCoder contests and Google Code Jam, as well as in coding contests in their home countries. That’s one reason Alves surmises that certain regions, such as Eastern Europe and Asia, produce more successful code contestants: They are more used to competitions like these. Plus, he adds, their countries have excellent science and math education.

The Hacker Cup works like this: Each coder is given three difficult programming problems and three hours to solve them. In the first round, the problems are easy: For instance, figure out the maximum size font you can use for a sign of a given size and specified text. By the time the challengers reach the final round, the problems are mind-bendingly tough. (See below for a sample problem from last year’s competition.) Alves expected that only one or two contestants would complete all three problems and that only about half of them would even complete one — which is how things turned out last year at Facebook’s first Hacker Cup competition.

Contestants can use whatever programming language and development environment they want, though 70 percent choose C++, Alves said. (A minority use Java, and one or two might use C#.) After completing the program, the contestant can test it out, then submit it to the judges. The program has six minutes to run, and if it produces the correct result, it passes.

Judges determine the winners based on the accuracy of the results their programs produce, followed by the speed with which the coder came up with the solution.

It’s a challenge that tests the computer science skills of all the contestants but also demands a level of intuition and out-of-the-box thinking.

“Usually the straightforward way of solving the problem won’t be anywhere near fast enough,” Alves said.

Physically speaking, the Hacker Cup is not much to look at: A bunch of young men staring intensely at their oversized monitors for three hours straight. The room was so quiet that the clicking of my camera’s shutter was the loudest noise to be heard. After an hour, the Hacker Cup webpage displayed on the wall showed that three contestants had completed one problem apiece. The silence with which that news appeared belied the underlying intensity.

Contestants are not supposed to collaborate or communicate with anyone on the outside, though they do have Internet access and can, for example, look things up on Wikipedia. But Alves is not too worried about anyone outsourcing their problem sets.

“Who are they going to outsource to?” Alves said. “The people in this room are the best qualified to solve these problems.”

Sample problem

Wondering what it’s like to compete in the Hacker Cup? Take a look at this problem from last year’s competion. Remember, this is just one of three problems, and you’d have just three hours to create a program to solve all three.

Party Time
You’re throwing a party for your friends, but since your friends may not all know each other, you’re afraid a few of them may not enjoy your party. So to avoid this situation, you decide that you’ll also invite some friends of your friends. But who should you invite to throw a great party?

Luckily, you are in possession of data about all the friendships of your friends and their friends. In graph theory terminology, you have a subset G of the social graph, whose vertices correspond to your friends and their friends (excluding yourself), and edges in this graph denote mutual friendships. Furthermore, you have managed to obtain exact estimates of how much food each person in G will consume during the party if he were to be invited.

You want to choose a set of guests from G. This set of guests should include all your friends, and the subgraph of G formed by the guests must be connected. You believe that this will ensure that all of your friends will enjoy your party since any two of them will have something to talk about…

In order to save money, you want to pick the set of guests so that the total amount of food needed is as small as possible. If there are several ways of doing this, you prefer one with the fewest number of guests.

The people/vertices in your subset G of the social graph are numbered from 0 to N – 1. Also, for convenience your friends are numbered from 0 to F – 1, where F is the number of your friends that you want to invite. You may also assume that G is connected. Note again that you are not yourself represented in G.

The first line of the input consists of a single number T, the number of test cases. Each test case starts with a line containing three integers N, the number of nodes in G, F, the number of friends, and M, the number of edges in G. This is followed by M lines each containing two integers. The ith of these lines will contain two distinct integers u and v which indicates a mutual friendship between person u and person v. After this follows a single line containing N space-separated integers with the ith representing the amount of food consumed by person i.

Output T lines, with the answer to each test case on a single line by itself. Each line should contain two numbers, the first being the minimum total quantity of food consumed at a party satisfying the given criteria and the second the minimum number of people you can have at such a party.

T = 50
1 ≤ F ≤ 11
F ≤ N-1
2 ≤ N ≤ 250
N-1 ≤ M ≤ N * (N – 1) / 2
G is connected, and contains no self-loops or duplicate edges.
For each person, the amount of food consumed is an integer between 0 and 1000, both inclusive.

Filed under: dev

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Why everyone’s buzzing about startups in Singapore, part 1 [video]

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 03:04 PM PDT

Word on the street is Singapore’s the next new big tech hub in Asia.

Not being the type to take anyone’s word for it, VentureBeat decided to catch up with a few Singapore-based entrepreneurs and get the story straight from the horse’s mouth at South By Southwest Interactive. We talked about culture, competition, the talent pool, and venture capital in Singapore, and the entrepreneurs we met with were quite enthusiastic about their hometown.

Here’s the first of three interviews on that subject. Stay tuned for the rest, and be sure to check out the startup referenced here, Business.me.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, video

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Not so fast SEO, Google wants to punish “overly optimized” sites

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 03:03 PM PDT

Head of Google’s Web Spam team Matt Cutts spoke on a panel at SXSW about search engine optimization and revealed a new strategy from Google that could send fear into the heart of any website manager. Google’s planning to punish any website that is “overly optimized,” according to Cutts. An audio clip of the discussion was posted by Search Engine Land on Saturday.

Search engine optimization is often a moving target. Search engines change their standards and practices for how they crawl sites, and most website content managers struggle to find the perfect balance of keywords and internal linking to help their sites get picked up by Google, Yahoo, and others. Now, Google’s throwing a wrench into the machine with plans to penalize websites that go too far to optimize their content.

Cutts had this to say about how Google handles well-optimized websites versus those developed without much SEO:

Normally we don’t pre-announce changes, but there is something we’ve been working in the last few months and hopefully in the coming weeks we hope to release it. The idea is basically to try to level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have been doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly doing their SEO – compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we are trying to level the playing field a bit. We try to make the GoogleBot smarter, try to make our relevance more adaptive, so that if people don’t so SEO we handle that. And we are also looking at the people who abuse it, who put too many keywords on a page, exchange way too many links, or whatever else they are doing to go beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.

Cutts makes no mention of what sort of punishment would befall an overly optimized site, though in Google’s world, not showing up in the first three pages of search results could be punishment enough.

This may coincide with Google’s plans to revamp its search engine, which includes more direct answers and facts on its results pages, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The company plans to introduce ”semantic search,” which will better understand the meaning of words to provide more relevant search results.

SEO image via Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Worth a listen: This American Life’s emotional showdown with Mike Daisey over iPad factory conditions

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 02:44 PM PDT

The radio show This American Life aired its hour-long retraction show today that admitted there were “numerous fabrications” in a story it aired in January by Mike Daisey, a theatrical performer who said he had documented the harsh working conditions of Foxconn employees working in Chinese factories that make Apple’s iPad and other products.

We posted the story about the controversy along with the transcript of the show. In a blog post, show host Ira Glass wrote that he could not longer vouch for the truth in the earlier radio broadcast and that “Daisey lied to me and This American Life producer Brian Reed” about details of the show.

But it really is worth listening to in audio form. Here’s the link for the show, entitled, Retraction. Glass’s voice shakes when he says, “I should say, I am not happy to have to come to you and tell you something that we presented on the radio as factual is not factual.” And the show plays haunting music in the background as Daisey’s translator, Cathy Lee, tracked down by Marketplace China correspondent Rob Schmitz, disputes Daisey’s over-dramatization and downright fabrications of encounters with Chinese workers. In a confrontation about the lies with Glass and Schmitz, Daisey’s answers are evasive.

“Rob Schmitz: So you lied about that. That wasn’t what you saw (about talking to workers who were poisoned by hexane).

Daisey replied: I wouldn’t express it that way.

Rob Schmitz: How would you express it?

Daisey: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip. So when I was building the scene of that meeting. I wanted to have the voice of this thing that had been happening that everyone has been talking about.

Ira Glass: So you didn’t meet any worker who’d been poisoned by hexane?

Daisey: That’s correct.

Glass and Schmitz confront Daisey head-on in the recorded conversation over a number of things. They pick at him and he says, “I don’t know if this is a wise thing to be doing, like, telling you it into this microphone, in this conversation.”

And Glass lashed out, “I have such a weird mix of feelings about this, because I simultaneously feel terrible, for you, and also, I feel lied to. And also I stuck my neck out for you. You know I feel like, I feel like, like I vouched for you. With our audience. Based on your word.”

Daisey replied, “I’m sorry.”

Later on, Daisey came back for a second recorded interview and said that the heart of the fictionalized story was true, but the mistake he made was airing it as journalism, rather than theater, on This American Life.

Glass concluded the show with some real facts about China’s Foxconn factories in an interview with New York Times writer Charles Duhigg, who along with David Barboza wrote an investigative series about the Apple supply chain. Apple hasn’t commented on the show and its retraction.

Filed under: mobile

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Path, Apple, Facebook named in mobile privacy class-action lawsuit

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 01:28 PM PDT

privacy sign
A class-action lawsuit was filed against 18 high-profile mobile application companies this week, resulting out of recent reports that these companies “steal” user address books.

The 13 individuals are bringing Path, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare, Gowalla, Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Rovio, ZeptoLab, Chillingo, Electronic Arts, and Kik Interactive to court in Texas. In February, it was uncovered that these companies actively access a user’s mobile address book and transfer it to their servers. The reason was usually to provide users better friend-recommendations, based on who they already knew, but without clearly stating this intention, the companies were violating users’ rights.

“The defendants—several of the world's largest and most influential technology and social networking companies—have unfortunately made, distributed and sold mobile software applications ("Apps") that, once installed on a wireless mobile device, surreptitiously harvest, upload and illegally steal the owner's address book data without the owner's knowledge or consent,” the plaintiffs say in the filing.

The group alleges that these companies committed negligence, invasion of privacy, theft under the Texas Theft Liability Act, fraud, aiding and abetting (in the case of Apple), violations of the Texas Wiretap Act, and more.

At the time that these reports surfaced, Apple, which distributes these applications through its App Store, said the companies were in violation of its privacy policies. Specifically the apps violated guideline 7.1 that states, “Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user's prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used."

Soon thereafter, Apple and a number of other mobile companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Research in Motion made an agreement with California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris to make sure to police mobile app developers who submit apps to their app marketplaces. The agreement also states that any and all mobile apps that use personal data from a user must have a privacy policy, and the marketplaces must build areas where people can read the policies prior to downloading the app.

Apple is, however, still named in this suit with 11 out of the 13 plaintiffs owning iPhones. The filing also quotes Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as saying Apple should have control over apps in the App Store to provide “freedom from programs that steal your private data [and] freedom from programs that trash your battery.”

The group says they’ve experienced damages such as loss of privacy, diminution of address book data value, loss of mobile device computing, processing and battery life while the address books were being transferred, out of pocket expenses and more. To repay these damages, they are suing for $12,000 or more from each offending company, as well as any profits made from the use of the address books.

Check out the filing below:

Pirvacy sign image via Flickr user rpongsaj

Filed under: mobile, security

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TiVo co-founder and senior vice president Jim Barton resigns

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 12:20 PM PDT

An SEC filing from March 14 reveals that Jim Barton, co-founder, chief technical officer, and senior vice president of TV recording service TiVo has resigned.

The resignation became final on Saturday March 16, though TiVo hasn’t officially released a statement on the news. Tom Rogers, TiVo chief executive officer, issued a statement to Deadline.com saying, ”We are extremely grateful to Jim for his years of dedication and his commitment to innovation that he has provided to TiVo since its founding. We are pleased that he will remain on in an advisory capacity and look forward to working with him in this new capacity in the future.”

TiVo spokesperson Jessica Loebig Monney was also quoted saying that, ”Jim is headed off to pursue his next ‘big idea,’” so perhaps he’s got something in the works.

Barton will become a consultant for the DVR company, receiving $25,000 per month for his services, according to the SEC filing.

Barton and co-founder Mike Ramsey incorporated TiVo in 1997 after launching at DEMO. A year later, trials of the service began in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the service officially launched to the public at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show.

TiVo gained a lot of popularity in the early 2000s for its digital video recording (DVR) set-top boxes. TV viewers could record TV shows to watch later and fast forward through commercials. TiVo built its own software that will also record shows it thinks the viewer may enjoy. The original TiVo DVR digitized and compressed video from antenna, cable, and satellite broadcasts. The company later released a DVR that worked exclusively with satellite provider DirecTV, called the DirecTiVo.

Hat tip Deadline.com

Filed under: media

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Kaptur wrangles together your friends’ photos from your special event

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 11:52 AM PDT

kaptur photo sharingKaptur, a photo-centric startup out of New York, will collect all the photos taken of your special event that your  friends and family have uploaded to Facebook, so you can see them in one place. The company just announced it has raised $2 million in its first round of institutional funding.

If you’ve been to a wedding in the last 15 years, you probably saw disposable cameras on each table so guests could take pictures that the happy couple would later develop. In this iPhone-and-Instagram-filled world, that practice is becoming outdated, and people are just snapping pictures to put on Facebook or Twitter. Kaptur is hoping to wrangle all those digital pictures together so you can hold onto them forever, just like the days of printed photos.

Kaptur’s president Tejpaul Bhatia got the idea for the company after his own wedding. He and his wife were frustrated that pictures and videos of their celebration were scattered across Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. Along with Kaptur’s now chief technical officer Vikash Mishra, Bhatia decided to build an algorithm to search Facebook to find pictures that his friends had shared and wound up finding 4,000 pictures of his wedding, most of which he hadn’t seen before.

Bhatia and Mishra decided to turn the idea into a business and launched Kaptur in 2011. The service works as a Facebook app and collects photos, videos, and statuses that correspond to a special event, such as a wedding, baby shower, or vacation. Once you connect your Facebook account, you can view all of your friends’ photos. Kaptur uses Facebook album names, photo captions, and people tags to collect pictures that relate to one specific event. When you click on individual pictures, Kaptur uses its algorithm to search for similar photos and create your Kaptur album, which can be edited and shared. I was able to go into my boyfriend’s “tagged pictures” album, click on one specific image and find the all the photos from a party we both attended.

Similar products are out there, focused on creating group albums and collecting pictures. DropEvent, for example, lets you create an event-specific group album where you friends and family can upload pictures they take. Hipstamatic Disposable is a more quirky concept with a similar idea to Kaptur. The iPhone app creates a digital disposable camera roll that can be shared among friends once the roll is complete.

Kaptur will use its funding to market the company in the wedding industry and develop mobile applications.

Kaptur was founded in 2011 and is based in Manhattan. Angel investors Archie Cox, Deb Meijer, John Quigley, and Prakash Mishra, and investment firm Green Hat Partners participated in this funding round. The company has eight employees.

Filed under: media

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iPad teardown reveals $375.10 total cost; Samsung wins big

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 10:50 AM PDT

The new iPad costs about $364.35 for its bill of materials, according to a teardown analysis by IHS iSuppli.

The tablet also costs $10.75 to manufacture, raising the total production cost to $375.10. That means that Apple makes a handy profit on every machine that it sells for $499 or more, in keeping with the company’s policy of pricing its hardware to make profits. The cost likely gives Apple considerable advantages over rivals trying to enter the business. The teardowns also reveal who the winners and the losers are among chip and component makers.

The bill of materials for the 16-gigabyte 4G LTE version is $347.55, while the 64-gigabyte version is $397.95. The $364.35 bill of materials cost for the 32-gigabyte 4g LTE version is about 50 percent of the $729 retail price. The lowest-end version of the new iPad with 16 gigabytes and no LTE costs $316, which means that the 4G LTE components carry a pretty hefty cost. The highest-end model with 64 gigabytes of memory and LTE costs $408.70.

IHS iSuppli notes that the estimates account for hardware and manufacturing costs only and do not include additional expenses such as software, licensing, royalties or other expenditures.

The new iPad is more expensive to produce than the iPad 2 at the time of its launch, even though the retail prices are the same. The 32-gigabyte LTE model costs 9 percent more than an iPad 2 with 32 gigabytes and 3G wireless ($335). Higher costs include the addition of the high-resolution Retina display, 4G LTE wireless, and a larger-capacity battery.

The new iPad is more expensive to produce than the iPad 2 at the time of product launch, even though the retail price points are the same. The 32GB LTE model's BOM is nearly 9 percent higher than an iPad 2 equipped with 32GB and 3G wireless, which carried a cost of approximately $335 at the time of product launch. Major factors driving up the BOM include the addition of the high-resolution Retina display, LTE wireless and a larger-capacity battery.

Samsung is the big winner with the new iPad. It supplies both the display and the A5X applications processor. The display is the most expensive item in the machine, costing $87, while the applications procesor costs $23. That gives Samsung a 30.2 percent share of the 32 gigabyte LTE version of the tablet.

The NAND flash memory (the 32-gigabytes) was supplied by Toshiba in the unit analyzed, but Samsung is also a supplier of these parts. Counting the $33.60 cost of the NAND flash, the units where Samsung supplies the flash give it a total $143.60 share of the cost, or 39.4 percent of the bill of materials. Hynix also provides NAND flash. IHS also believes Samsung supplies the battery, but isn’t sure yet.

"The Retina display represents the centerpiece of the new iPad and is the most obvious enhancement in features compared to previous-generation models," said Andrew Rassweiler, senior principal analyst, teardown services, at IHS. "The first two generations of the iPad employed the same type of display—a screen with resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. For the third-generation new iPad, Apple has taken a significant step up in display capabilities and expense, at four times the resolution and 53 percent more cost."

The iPad 2′s screen cost only $57. Apple reportedly has three sources for the display: Samsung, LG Display, and Sharp. The touch screen portion of the iPad costs $40, or 10.9 percent of the total cost. The main suppliers are still TPK, Wintek and Chi Mei.

The wireless section costs $41.50 and accounts for 11.4 percent of the cost. As 4G LTE is more expensive, it costs more than the $25.60 wireless section of the iPad 2. The winner here is Qualcomm, which supplies the MDM9600 baseband processor, which provides the LTE wireless data networking.

Apple itself designs the A5X processor, which is 6.3 percent of the total bill of materials. Samsung is the foundry, or contract chip manufacturer, and so Samsung likely commands a lower margin on the device. The flash memory is where Apple makes its money.

"The NAND flash memory is one of the key profit-generating components for Apple in the new iPad line, as it has been in previous iPads and in the iPhone family," Rassweiler noted. "Apple makes far and away more money in selling consumers NAND flash than NAND flash manufacturers make selling it to Apple. And the more flash in the iPad, the higher the profit margin there is for Apple."

For instance, Apple charges $100 more for a 32-gigabyte version compared to the 16-gigabyte model, but the extra cost is only $16.80.

The new iPad camera module design is the same as in the iPhone 4. The two cameras in the tablet cost $12.35, or 3.4 percent of the bill of materials. The new battery is a lithium polymer model that supports 42.5 watt hours, up about 75 percent from 25 watt hours in the iPad 2. But because prices have fallen in the last year, the new battery is only 40 percent more than the old one. The cost is $32, compared to $22.75 for the iPad 2 battery.

iFixit mentioned that Broadcom supplies the BCM 4330, which handles WiFi and Bluetooth.

[Image credits: IHS iSuppli]

Filed under: mobile

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