Sunday, September 30, 2012

Testing Out Bodymetrics, The Startup That Wants To Be A Denim Shopper’s Best Friend [TCTV]

Screen Shot 2012-09-30 at 8.32.01 PM

Few industries with mainstream visibility and appeal have remained as unplugged from serious tech disruption as apparel and fashion. Of course, the realm of shopping has had major shifts, as has the marketing of clothing from the runway to the mall clothing rack. But the way that clothes are actually made has remained surprisingly unchanged in many ways.

When it comes to the incredibly popular category of blue jeans, for example, clothing samples are typically designed to the proportions of a single human “fit model.” Then, versions of that design are replicated in smaller and larger sizes to be sold to the masses. Different brands are known for having different shapes, but with the ever-increasing variety available in the premium denim category alone, it can be pretty daunting to know where to start. Basically, if you want more customization for fit, you better have a good tailor.

A Bodymetrics scanner

A company called Bodymetrics is keen to bring a bit more personalization to this whole process. The company, which is jointly headquartered in London and San Francisco, makes walk-in pods that use the same technology found in the Microsoft Kinect to get a full rendering of the shape and size of each shopper’s body. The program, which has software and hardware components, then recommends to you the best brands, fits, and sizes for your body type.

Bodymetrics has made quite a splash in the UK for several years, but just landed stateside this past summer when it installed a scanner at the Silicon Valley outpost of Bloomingdale’s. Like a lot of people I know, I’ve been eager to check it out, but also a bit skeptical — about both the technology and the platform’s actual usefulness.

So I solicited TechCrunch’s head of events and partnerships (and resident fashion bug) Leslie Hitchcock and TechCrunch TV producer Ashley Pagán to make the trek down to the Palo Alto Bloomingdale’s to try out the Bodymetrics scanner in person. You can watch her experience with the technology along with Bodymetrics’ creative director Tania Fauvel in the video embedded above.

It was also a big pleasure to meet with Bodymetrics’ co-founder and CEO Suran Goonatilake, who was on-hand to dive a bit deeper into the company’s technology and business strategy. You can watch our interview with him in the video embedded below.

from TechCrunch

Up Close With The Next Big Home Commodity: LED Lighting


Editor’s note: Sal Cangeloso is the editor of and wrote a new book on an odd topic. It’s called LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future and it focuses on the upcoming explosion in LED manufacturing, offering a basic understanding of the technology and an interesting look at the history of LED lights.

You can buy LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future here and the first three commenters below gets a copy of the book. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book discussing the growth of lighting from old-timey incandescents to modern LED technology.

The incandescent bulb is a good place to start with any talk about lighting. This design has had tremendous longevity (over 130 years) and it makes for a cheap, versatile bulb. Unfortunately, this design is also power-hungry, inefficient, short-lived (with some exceptions), and fragile. They produce a minimum amount of lumens-per-watt, though they’ve made appreciable gains over the years, and are highly sensitive to power conditions. For example, a 5% reduction in voltage could double the life of a bulb while only decreasing light output by 20%.

One of the most notable strengths of the incandescent is the quality of the light it provides. This isn’t as easy to define as some of the other characteristics that will be covered, but it’s an important one when it comes to consumer adoption. After all, it’s nice to try to sell people on longevity and power savings, but if they think that the new bulbs are ugly or are too different from what they know, you’ll find them hoarding 75W and 100W incandescents before such bulbs are removed from the shelves.

Quality of light means that in order for people to be comfortable with the light these bulbs provide, the bulbs will need a color temperature that they find to be in an acceptable range, a high degree of color accuracy (usually measured by CRI), and a usable light pattern, to name a few qualities. The bigger point, as any early CFL or LED bulb buyer could tell you, is that if the bulbs don’t produce attractive light that people are comfortable being around, it won’t matter how long they last or how little power they consume.

Incandescents have good qualities, but ultimately their inefficiency means they are not a viable solution moving forward. Even modern incandescents can turn about 90% of the energy they take in into heat, which is obviously wasteful and inefficient in the extreme. Physicists might argue that this isn’t wasteful at all, and you might enjoy the heat they provide, but most of us want to leave the lighting to the lights and the heating to our furnaces. Before we demonize the long-standing bulb design, it’s worth noting that there is such a thing as efficient incandescence. While these are in fact more efficient versions of the incandescent bulb, they are still not at the level of top CFLs and LEDs. In fact, GE was working on a high-efficiency incandescent (HEI) for about 18 months, but gave up on it in order to focus its efforts on LED and organic LED (OLED) bulbs. HEIs were said to produce about 30 lm/W with the ultimate goal of doubling that amount.The halogen lamp is a type of incandescent that operates hotter and lasts longer, but its efficiency gains are minimal.

The much-maligned CFL solves some of the efficiency problems of incandescent bulbs, usually producing around 50 lm/W. Unfortunately, each bulb contains a small amount of mercury (about 4 milligrams per bulb), so disposal can be a problem, especially if the thin, usually helical, glass breaks. The bulbs have reasonably long lives, usually rated for 5,000 to 15,000 hours—but they don’t last nearly that long if they are used in short time spans as rapid cycling is bad for the bulbs. That means a CFL in a bathroom or closet might not last much longer than an incandescent bulb, despite what it says on the package. In fact, a CFL that runs for an average of 15 minutes at a time might last just 40% of its rated lifespan. Alternatively, a CFL that is used continuously from the first time it was turned on might last close to twice its expected lifespan.

CFLs saw a big jump in marketshare in 2007, capturing around23% of the market, but have been in decline over the last year or so, despite the bulbs being widely available, affordable to purchase, and much cheaper to operate than incandescents. Part of this is due to an increasing number of consumers learning about the CFL’s use of mercury, but current economic conditions also indicate that people have simply been looking for a more affordable option. In that respect, incandescents still cannot be beat.

One of the most important characteristics of LED lighting is that they are solid-state. “Solid-state” might be a term we normally associate with computer parts (as in the solid-state drive) but it’s not something the casual LED buyer will ever consider. The concept is quite simple: rather than generating light through burning or gas-discharge, LEDs use semiconductors. The is the most fundamental and important distinction that determines why LED lights have their unique characteristics and will be able to have such an impact on the lighting market. As seen in other industries, semiconductors improve at an exponential rate and have a way of taking over wherever they are used. Lighting should prove to be no different.

Of course, LEDs are just one type of solid-state lighting; there are also organic LEDs (OLEDs) and polymer LEDs (PLEDs). Right now, the LED is the main focus of SSL adoption and its future looks quite promising, thanks to the efficiency gains it brings to the market. OLEDs and their carbon-based semiconductors have potential, but high costs mean they won’t be a viable option as soon as standard LEDs.

The advent of solid-state lighting doesn’t just mean more efficiency. Just as with the introduction of high technology to other parts of our lives—from our phones, to our mail, to our televisions—light is now high-tech. In this case, it’s not the tech that makes the difference, it’s that this latest step means our lights could soon be gadgets. Today’s technology brings with it intelligence and connectivity, which makes way for lights that can be tracked, controlled remotely, and designed to work with other devices. While the humble incandescent was just a conduit for electricity and output both light and heat, a modern-day bulb can be and do much more.

What does this all mean for the LED lamp? Basically, the time is ripe for growth. LED adoption is low at the moment, but not because purchasing one won’t pay off. An LED bulb will pay for itself many times over thanks to its energy savings, but the high initial cost is just too much of a hurdle for many businesses and is unpalatable for even more consumers. As prices drop we’ll see a dramatic growth, just as CFLs grew when it was clear that they could lead to long-term savings and could, in fact, provide acceptable light for our kitchens and living rooms, not just offices.

from TechCrunch

Cloning Instagram For Video Will Not Revolutionize Mobile Video

Sandeep Casi

Editor’s note: Sandeep Casi is founder and CEO of Cinemacraft. Previously, he worked on Virtual Reality at General Motors, led the Systems Group at Industrial Light + Magic (a division of Lucasfilm), and was a research scientist at Fuji Xerox Palo Alto Lab. He currently lives on a plane traveling between Tokyo and San Francisco. You can follow him on Twitter.

Peter Csathy’s recent article on TechCrunch does an excellent job of addressing the requirements of mobile video sharing and the need to rethink how video services are built. Peter is right about the six “ingredients” that will make an “Instagram for video” a success, but there is a critical point that should be added to his list: the inherent difficulty of video discovery, access, and engagement.

Most of the players hoping to monetize video on mobile by following in Instagram’s footsteps are assuming that video is basically the same as photos – just longer and with bigger files. But video is a fundamentally different experience than still images, and any startup that thinks it can just apply the Instagram model to video is doomed from the start. First let’s look at what made Instagram so popular to begin with.

Obviously the social aspects and the general ease of use were important. But the feature that I think really cinched the deal for most users was the rich set of fun and distinctive photo filters. The filters are such a critical component for Instagram because they gave the users a reason to switch from simply shooting the photo with the built-in camera and sharing the images via MMS or email. Filters were the visual hook that made the whole process more fun and engaging. Without filters there was little reason to switch to Instagram, because you could do almost everything else with the built-in capabilities of the phone and your existing social networks.

But video is different, and engaging video users on a mobile device requires an entirely different set of tools. While filters can, and should, be part of the video experience, on their own they cannot solve the problem of how to get consumers to discover and engage with video. The best video filters in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference unless the consumers are motivated to watch the video in the first place.

The primary reason that photos inspire such massive user engagement online is that consumers can flip though lots of photos in minutes and visually engage with the content immediately. With a glance they can determine if the picture appeals to them and can like or dis-like them in a matter of seconds. This enables more comments, likes, and shares – leading to massive engagement.

Video, unlike still images, consists of a stream of dynamic visuals. While it is compelling as part of a long period of engagement (television, DVD, cinema), it is not as instantly suitable in its current form for mobile consumption due to the short attention span of consumers on mobile combined with the issues of oversubscribed, congested mobile networks.

Following are the primary reasons why video lags behind photos in terms of user engagement.

  • The thumbnail of the video is the single point of advertising for the video. In most cases the thumbnail may not fully communicate the context of the video’s content. If the thumbnail doesn’t engage them visually, users will choose not to click on the video.
  • Consumers do not want to invest time to view the whole video if it is not engaging. In most cases they will close the video in fewer than 10 seconds. The content could be compelling later on in the video, but it was not interesting enough in the 10 seconds that they chose to view.
  • In other situations, a consumer will like only a portion (clip) of the video and doesn’t want to share or like the entire video. Even when they do choose to share or like the whole video, it is extremely difficult to communicate to the recipient where the most interesting parts of the video are located.
  • While the cloud (and cheap local storage) solves the issues of archiving for home videos, it doesn’t eliminate the pain of searching for clips from the archives and sharing clips with friends and family seamlessly to or from a mobile device.

These problems are complex but solvable, and the process of addressing them promises to be both interesting and lucrative. There is a need for video solutions such as search, visual cues to interesting clips of the video, thumbnails that offer visual summaries of the video, and embedded objects that can engage consumers with contextual commerce. Startups that can innovate with solutions to these challenges will be able to help publishers monetize and continually re-engage consumers with their content more efficiently and effectively.

There are numerous startups competing to create a video “clone” of Instagram. Even if one does emerge a clear winner in this race, it will ultimately fail if it does not solve any of the significant problems of video discovery and engagement. The revolution will not begin when Instagram for video comes to your mobile device. The revolution will begin when video engagement becomes as seamless, fun, and immediately engaging as mobile photos.

from TechCrunch


Millet, Gleaners

I love my iPhone. I love connectivity. I hate the resulting obligation of connectivity – and that removing one’s self from it now makes you the crazy person, the weirdo in the room. I recently saw a girl on some Bravo reality TV show the other day – entirely by accident, I swear* – talking about men she would and would not date. “I don’t want someone who’s not on Facebook,” she said. “I don’t want a man who doesn’t have an iPhone or an email that isn’t Gmail. If he has Yahoo or Hotmail, I think that’s a big no-no,” she added. Profound social commentary, actually: participate appropriately, or be abandoned by society. Become the un-dateable. The loser. The left behind.

But our obsession with technology, the right and wrong of it, the speed with which we have to create, consume, and engage with it, is not sustainable. People aren’t meant for this, not forever.

It’s an imperfect state of being. We humans are always looking for balance. Today’s parents are realizing that they can’t achieve work/life balance with their children, for example. The same goes for technology. Tech/life balance is a similar myth. There’s no such thing, not really. You’ve just gotten used to it in the same way a coffee drinker gets used to caffeine. The effects are still there, but you don’t feel them until the drug is gone.

People can function like this for months, years, a decade, decades maybe if they’re good. But at some point, you have to stop, have a genuine moment outside of the hyper-interlaced web mob. Watch a sunset without posting to Instagram; think a thought that isn’t tweeted. And then string those moments together and together, without deadlines forcing a return to the land of the infinite feedback loop. Remember, relax, breathe, dream, think. We long for more than a vacation; we’re a society longing for an off switch.

We’re burning out.

A journalist at the New York Times had to switch her phone this summer because of a “no cellphones” policy at a pool. It was so incredible, so positive an experience that she then had to write not one, but two articles for the paper about its meaning. The reactions to the piece were par for the course, except for one guy who chastised our tendency to fetishize the “IRL” experience. We’re congratulating ourselves too much when we manage to obtain peace outside the grips of the digital world. We’re getting smug about it. Elitist.

Or something like that.

Fuck that.

We should damn well fetishize it, because it’s increasingly rare. It’s something that’s nearly impossible to achieve, or rather, it’s easy to achieve if you don’t care about others’ perceptions of you. If you’re fine with the fact that some (arguably shallow) girls will think you’re a loser. If some (arguably fair weather) friends abandon you because you don’t update your Facebook. If you don’t respond to email, you somehow cease to exist (to arguably impatient people). But we’re programmed to please. We want to be liked. And the guilt. Oh, the guilt in disconnecting. It’s awful.

And it’s not just the lone reporter affected – someone whose job forces them to spend entirely too much time engaged with the pulsating beast of the web. It’s everyone. Everyone who wakes up and grabs their phone before wiping sleep from their eyes. Checks email from the toilet. Tweets drunk. Swerves out of their lane to text. Can’t maintain eye contact. Takes pictures, pictures, pictures and videos of everything. Feels naked, alone and desperately bored when device-less.

It’s society. And yes, it’s a first-world problem.**

Today, our society’s secret craving for an off switch is being thrown back in our faces, through what I’ll dub “disconnect porn.” For those of you who only watch Netflix, let me explain. There’s a new TV show called “Revolution” whose entire premise is that something happened to Earth that made all the power shut off at once. No more computers. No web. No more iPhone. No lightbulbs or air conditioning. No email. No cars. No planes.

“I used to work at a place called Google,” says the bearded, nerdy character in episode one.

“That’s a computer thing, right?” asks the child of the new world, where buses and skyscrapers are covered with vines.

If only, breathes the subtext of that exchange. If only.

Americans are now collectively fantasizing as a culture about a disconnected world. “Revolution,” by the way, set a ratings record for NBC. And it’s holding. People want this. It’s an escape fantasy.

What now? The call to action: make something that reflects society’s desire. Stop building more of the same. Build things that speak to our souls, our secret longing for the disconnect. Our cravings for simplicity.

Use up your youth and hyperlinked years to build something entirely different, before you burn out and long for things only, ironically, the young and connected have the energy and time to devote to, yet not the mind that could originally envision these things or actively want them. Build tools to allow us to disconnect.

Build “slow web” apps that aggregate, analyze, summarize and discover the meaning from a thousand posts. Create sharing applications that work in the background, on auto-pilot mode. (Hello, Flock). Build intelligent presence devices and tools that auto-respond so you don’t have to without sounding like the bots that they are. Build them for normal people, too, not just businesses. Make calendars that reply to appointment requests. Buttons that send auto-responses to emails when clicked. Build smartphones that adaptively learn which calls to put through and when notifications should be read or hidden. Digital assistants that can tell you about the advances the digital world made when you leave it for an hour or a day. (Siri, catch me up.) Make cameras that take photos by themselves, which can be scattered Internet-of-things style around your home snapping and recording moments with no button push needed. Build apps that disappear into the cloud when you forget them, and replace themselves with new versions and sequels to bring you back, appearing on your screen automatically.

You decide. Do this:

Go offline today.

Come back tomorrow.

What did you really miss? Name one thing. How did you have catch-up? What would have made that process easier for you? Can you make something that would have improved it?

Build that.

* Not really.

** P.S. From now on, anyone who says “first world problem” will be shot. Or the online equivalent: de-friended, marked as spam, blocked. Whatever. So sick of that meme. Everything is a first world problem if you’re not starving to death or dying of preventative disease. It’s fucking understood. Shut up about it.

Image credit: D.Munoz-Santos

from TechCrunch

An Analysis Of Market Demand For Web Programming Languages


Editor’s note: Marc Gayle is a Rails developer and founder of 5KMVP, where he builds Minimum Viable Products for just $5K. Follow him on Twitter.

A few months ago, I got the idea that one way to get leads for remote freelance gigs was to scour Craigslist. So after doing the manual work of “crawling” through at least 100 job postings by hand, I wrote a Ruby script to do the heavy lifting and filtering for me.

Once I started looking through the data, some interesting things started jumping out at me. Even though I don’t actually live in the Valley (I live in Jamaica), I consume a lot of the news, blog posts, and articles that come from the Valley. Suffice to say, I am affected by the “Valley echo-chamber.” One side effect of that is an obsession with Ruby and Ruby on Rails as my development stack and a general expectation that the rest of the world has woken up to its beauty and elegance.

Alas, much to my surprise, that is not the case.

Before diving into the data, let me explain exactly what this script does. Throughout Craigslist, there are two URL subpaths that tend to have the majority of the web development freelance gigs: /cpg/ and /web/. So the script creates a list of all the cities on Craigslist (because CL doesn’t provide a clean, RESTful API that allows you to get this info easily) and then simply adds /cpg/ and /web/ to the end of that URL.

Then, on each link, it checks to see if the current link actually has gigs posted in that city. The reason for this is that whenever there is no gig posted in the current city, what CL does is shows gigs from “Nearby cities.” To prevent duplication, the script automatically checks for that and eliminates those cities that don’t have uniquely posted gigs. However, it does not eliminate a gig that has the exact text and is posted in two different cities – because, well, I hadn’t gotten there yet.

Once the script has a list of valid cities with gigs posted, then it starts to parse each of the links on the first page of those cities (i.e. up to 100 links in each city – CL does pagination by the 100 links) for keywords that I specified. The upside to only using the last 100 links in each city is that those are the most recent. The downside is that in active cities, the last 100 links aren’t always a good sample from the entire population.

For the Rails results, I have the following keywords: rails, (ruby on rails), (ruby on rails 3), (rails 3), (rails 2).

For the Ruby results, I have the following keywords: ruby, (ruby 1.8.7), (ruby 1.9.2), (ruby 1.9.3), ruby187, ruby192, ruby193.

The searches are case-insensitive, so any link containing Ruby, rUbY or RUBY will be found and included. I am trying to capture every permutation that someone would use “Rails” in a web dev sense.

The downside to this basic approach is that for technologies that share similar keywords – e.g. Ruby on Rails (the framework) and Ruby (the language) – there will be overlap. So in this case, the Ruby results contain a ton of Rails links, i.e. Rails is basically a subset of Ruby.

I have done my best to fine-tune as many obviously spam-like CL posts out of the results to really get at the legitimate posts.

So it is fair to say, I think, that these results give us a relative proxy for what the marketplace for freelance programming gigs is actually looking for.

Without further ado, here is the data and analysis.

General Stats
  • Cities Parsed: 720
  • Total Gigs Found: 11,992-12,076 (scripts were run multiple times – for accuracy purposes – and the results returned were within this range)
  • Time Script Takes to Run: 16 minutes-1.25 hours
Languages Searched For

Server-Side Languages and Frameworks

  • C# (C-Sharp)
  • CodeIgniter (PHP Framework)
  • Django (Python Framework)
  • Dot-Net
  • Java
  • Lisp
  • Perl
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Rails (Ruby Framework)
  • Ruby

Client-Side Languages and MVC Frameworks

Batch 1 – Languages

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Javascript
  • Flash

Batch 2 – JavaScript MVC Frameworks

  • Backbone.js
  • Closure
  • Ember.js
  • Knockout.js
  • Node.js

On the server side, you can see that PHP wins by a long shot, with an almost Bolt-like performance, blowing everybody else out of the water. In fact, Ruby comes in at a paltry fifth place, Java comes in second, and Dot-Net and C# come in third and fourth, respectively.

The most surprising result from the above is that Flash is still in demand, even with all the “Flash is dead” rhetoric flying around the tech presses and blogs. It’s almost as much in demand as JavaScript! Who woulda thunk?!

As for the JavaScript frameworks, there is a silent battle going on with the multitudes of JavaScript frameworks in existence and being released regularly. Here is where the unscientific-ness and imprecision of this little exercise rears its head again.

Upon first glance at the results, the script says that Ember had an output of 14 gigs. However, because the keyword being searched for is “ember,” Ruby finds any string with a substring of “ember.” So it had 14 links with “Member” and “Membership” in the link title. Not one with Ember.js or the Ember we were looking for. So after I manually reviewed the links, 0 results were returned. So the only two client-side MVC frameworks that the script found that is in-demand is Backbone and Node. Both, just barely.

That being said, please take that with a grain of salt. Here is an alternative data point for you. I was told by one of the founders of GroupTalent a few months ago that the largest demand from clients they are seeing is in fact for client-side JavaScript frameworks. Even more so than server-side frameworks.

Below is the combined data:


This post is not meant to start a flame war between the various camps. It is just an unscientific analysis of what the general marketplace (using Craigslist as a proxy for that marketplace) is looking for in web development talent.

If you are considering learning one of these languages or frameworks, using what the marketplace requests is one factor to consider in your decision-making process. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage that, though. I certainly didn’t.

I chose Ruby and Ruby on Rails and love every minute of it. I would encourage you to try out various languages and see which you feel most comfortable with, because the vast majority of the time you spend in the language (assuming you really want to get better) will be non-billable stuff.

In the web applications I build for clients at 5KMVP, I use Ruby and Ruby on Rails because that’s what I love. Clients have been satisfied and seem to love it, too.

If you want me to do an analysis of anything else – say Mobile vs Server languages or anything else, let me know in the comments or drop me a line on Twitter.

If you found this interesting, you may find a piece I wrote about Dropbox, or a guide to understanding cashflow vs profit, similarly interesting.

You can find the Ruby script I created on GitHub, along with some sample output files that have a list of all the gigs generated for this article.

Do look around, and if you submit any pull requests for any improvements you may have, the Karma Fairy shall multiply your lineage ten-fold and your seed shall outnumber the celestial bodies.

from TechCrunch