April 24, 2011

How to back up your Android phone - CNET

Amazon glitch hurts Web clients

NEW YORK - Scores of websites and Internet services like Foursquare and Reddit crashed or had limited availability Thursday because of problems at a data center run by Amazon.com.

The problems revealed widespread reliance on Amazon Web Services, which rents out computers and data storage on a self-service basis over the Internet.

The service generally is considered reliable because it uses vast numbers of computers, spread out in different data centers, making Thursday's failure unusual.

Amazon officials said the trouble started early in the morning at a data center in northern Virginia, but the company provided no details. The problems were ongoing Thursday afternoon.

Foursquare, which lets people tell others where they are with the help of cellphone GPS chips, was still experiencing technical issues.

HootSuite, which provides a "dashboard" for social media like Twitter feeds, was down completely, as was questions-and-answers site Quora.

Reddit, a "social news" site owned by Conde Nast Digital, was in "emergency read-only mode."

Amazon.com Inc. is the leading provider of this type of "utility" computing, in which customers pay only for the computing power and storage they need. Anyone with a credit card can begin using it.

Amazon competitors include Rackspace Hosting Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s Azure platform.

Seattle-based Amazon has big plans for its Web services. CEO Jeff Bezos said last year that it eventually could be as large as Amazon's retail business.

Associated Press Apr. 22, 2011 12:00 AM

Amazon glitch hurts Web clients

Apple location tracking questioned

SAN FRANCISCO - Privacy watchdogs are demanding answers from Apple Inc. about why iPhones and iPads are secretly collecting location data on users - records that cellular service providers routinely keep but require a court order to disgorge.

It's not clear if other smartphones and tablet computers are logging such information on their users. And this week's revelation that the Apple devices do log information wasn't even new - some security experts began warning about the issue a year ago.

But the worry prompted by a report from researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden at a technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif., raises questions about how much privacy you implicitly surrender by carrying around a smartphone and the responsibility of the smartphone makers to protect sensitive data that flows through their devices.

Much of the concern about the iPhone and iPad tracking stems from the fact the computers are logging users' physical coordinates without users knowing it - and that that information is then stored in an unencrypted form that would be easy for a hacker or a suspicious spouse or a law-enforcement officer to find without a warrant.

Researchers emphasize that there's no evidence that Apple itself has access to this data. The data apparently stays on the device itself, as well as computers the data is backed up to. Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment by the Associated Press.

Tracking is a normal part of owning a cellphone. What's done with that data, though, is where the controversy lies.

A central question is whether a smartphone should act merely as a conduit of location data to service providers and approved applications - or as a more active participant by storing the data itself, to make location-based applications run more smoothly or help better target mobile ads or any number of other uses.

Location data is some of the most valuable information a mobile phone can provide, since it can tell advertisers not only where someone's been, but also where they might be going - and what they might be inclined to buy when they get there.

Allan and Warden said the location coordinates and time stamps in the Apple devices aren't always exact, but they appear in a file that typically contains about a year's worth of data that when taken together provide a detailed view of users' travels.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations," they wrote in a blog posting announcing the research.

Alex Levinson, a security expert, said the tracking Apple's devices do isn't new - or a surprise to those in the computer-forensics community.

The Apple devices have been retaining the information for some time, but it was kept in a different form until the release of the iOS 4 operating software last year, Levinson, technical lead for the Katana Forensics firm, wrote on his blog.

Through his work with law-enforcement agencies, Levinson said he was able to access the location data in older iPhones and warned about the issue over a year ago. The location data is now easier to find because of a change in the way iPhone applications access the data, he said.

"Either way, it is not secret, malicious or hidden," Levinson wrote. "Users still have to approve location access to any application and have the ability to instantly turn off location services to applications inside the settings menu on their device."

Charlie Miller, a prominent iPhone hacker, said a security change that Apple made last month would make extracting the file from the phone in a remote attack very difficult. Even if an attacker were to break into someone's phone looking for the file, he wouldn't have the right privileges to access the file.

The data is "pretty well-protected on the phone," Miller, principal security analyst with Independent Security Evaluators, said in an interview.

But it's a different matter when the data is transferred to another computer in a backup. If the backup computer is infected with malicious software, the file could easily be located and sent to the hacker. A way to protect against that is to encrypt the iPhone backup through iTunes, the researchers said.

by Jordan Robertson Associated Press Apr. 22, 2011 12:00 AM

Apple location tracking questioned

Apple's earnings nearly double

NEW YORK - Apple Inc. on Wednesday reported another exceptional quarter, nearly doubling its net income and far exceeding analyst estimates on the strength of the seemingly unstoppable iPhone.

However, sales of Apple's big new product, the iPad tablet computer, came in below expectations. The second version of the tablet launched three weeks before the end of the quarter, and manufacturing constraints prevented Apple from selling more of them.

Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said progress is being made on expanding iPad production, and the company is expanding the number of countries in which it sells the tablet.

Apple said net income for the fiscal second quarter, which ended in March, was $5.99 billion, or $6.40 per share, up 95 percent from $3.07 billion, or $3.33 per share, a year ago. Analysts expected earnings of $5.37 per share. Revenue was $24.7 billion, up 83 percent from $13.5 billion a year ago. Analysts were expecting $23.4 billion.

The results were lifted by the record sale of 18.65 million iPhones, millions more than analysts had expected. Verizon Wireless started selling the phone in the quarter, ending AT&T Inc.'s 3 1/2-year period of being the only U.S. iPhone carrier.

Earlier Wednesday, AT&T reported strong iPhone sales, as it continued to upgrade many existing subscribers even in the face of competition from Verizon.

For the current quarter, Apple said it expects revenue of $23 billion and earnings of about $5.03 per share. Both figures are below analyst expectations of $23.9 billion and $5.26 per share, respectively.

Apple shares rose $4.55, or 2.4 percent, to close at $342.41.

Associated Press Apr. 21, 2011 12:00 AM

Apple's earnings nearly double

Closed book: E-readers keep restrictive format

I've done my part to prop up the consumer-electronics industry in recent years: a flat-panel TV downstairs and one upstairs, his and hers smartphones, not-too-obsolete digital cameras, a desktop computer upstairs and an iPad 2 for downstairs (once it gets off back order).

But missing from this electronic inventory is a Kindle or a Nook e-book reader.

That's not an accident. The e-book business seems determined to repeat the early mistakes of the music industry with "digital rights management" restrictions. But this time around, I don't feel compelled to back their early investments with my own money.

Think back to how the first good mass-market music-download store worked. Apple's iTunes Store seemed like a revelation compared with earlier, listener-hostile efforts, simply because it let you listen to your purchases in most cases.

All you had to do was consent to listen to songs bought off iTunes only on the five computers you would authorized with your account, plus any iPods or iPhones you owned.

Those restrictions started to grate on some users. Then Steve Jobs admitted he wasn't a fan of DRM himself, one major label decided it could do without it as well, Amazon launched an entirely DRM-free MP3 store . . . and less than two years later, DRM vanished from iTunes, too.

Somehow, the recorded-music business did not perish. Digital sales should finally pass CD sales next year.

E-books haven't come as far along. If you buy a title from Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble's Nook bookstore or Apple's iBookstore, among others, the DRM attached to it will prevent you from reading that book on another company's software or hardware.

That might not seem like a problem today. Amazon makes a pretty good e-book reader today in the Kindle and has since shipped software for a growing variety of computers and smartphones. But do you trust it to lead that category of hardware and software for as long as you'd want to reread that book?

E-book DRM also disables many functions common to paper books or other electronic documents. Most stores don't let you copy text from a book to quote elsewhere, although Barnes & Noble is a welcome exception. Printing? Forget it, unless you go to the trouble of placing an e-reader face down in a copier, one page at a time.

Lending is limited to those titles for which a publisher has authorized it and comes with condescendingly strict limits that most librarians would not recognize. For example, Amazon permits only one 14-day loan per authorized title, ever.

Reselling an e-book? Forget it.

All those limits and lock-ins make an e-book with DRM a dubious deal. Why would I want to pay almost as much as for a paper book - in some cases more - and then have my purchase constrain its usefulness and therefore cut its value?

Some smaller publishers haven't bought into DRM, just as independent record labels never saw the point of it. Tech publisher O'Reilly and Associates of Sebastopol, Calif., sells titles on its own site and through such outlets as the Kindle Store without any "protection."

Has the company lost any sales? In a nutshell, no. E-book sales had grown to more than 10 times print sales on O'Reilly's site by the end of 2010, wrote Vice President Andrew Savikas.

The mainstream sites are showing some signs of being open to removing DRM. Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble now all allow publishers to opt out of DRM. Apple even defaults to omitting DRM, although it takes only one click for a publisher to restore that.

But good luck finding out whether a potential purchase comes with the usual digital locks. Apple and Barnes & Noble provide zero indication of an e-book's DRM status in their stores. On the Kindle Store, you might get lucky and find that a book's title notes that virtue, or that a publisher has thought to tag that page with a DRM-free label.

But most publishers don't give their own authors that option. Agent Michael Congdon said major publishers don't negotiate that.

Maybe most authors would choose DRM anyway. Dan Pacheco, chief executive of Boulder, Colo.-based BookBrewer, wrote that his Internet-publishing startup will provide an author's work without DRM, "but no author has done that to date."

There is a way to settle this discussion.

Give customers a clear choice, let the market work, and the book business might discover that it can read the recording industry's sheet music.

by Rob Pegoraro Washington Post Apr. 19, 2011 12:00 AM

Closed book: E-readers keep restrictive format

'PlayBook' could redeem BlackBerry maker


This isn't quite hell freezing over, but it's close: The makers of the BlackBerry have come out with something you might love.

It's the PlayBook tablet, and for Research In Motion, the stakes could hardly be greater. With market share for its pioneering smartphones falling, the company desperately needs the PlayBook to be a success. And it deserves to be, once the software catches up to the hardware.

The PlayBook, which arrives in stores Tuesday, is initially available only with a Wi-Fi connection. It's priced the same as the Wi-Fi-only models of Apple's iPad 2: $499 for 16 gigabytes of storage; $599 for 32 GB and $699 for 64 GB.

But it really shouldn't be compared to the iPad, whose bigger screen makes it better for watching movies and Web surfing but also makes it 40 percent heavier.

The PlayBook's true competitors are the likes of Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Dell's Streak 7, in a category that might be considered pocket-sized as long as you've got good-sized pockets. In that realm, the PlayBook raises the bar.

Like those competitors, the PlayBook is compact enough to be held in one hand. It's roughly the size of a half-sheet of paper and weighs about 14 ounces. Along its top edge are a too-small power button and media-playback controls; the bottom has a micro-USB connection and an HDMI video port.

The beautiful display measures 7 inches diagonally with a 1024 by 600 resolution, the same as the Galaxy Tab and much better than the Streak. Unlike the iPad 2, the PlayBook runs videos that use Adobe's Flash technology. Its cameras are also better than the iPad's: three megapixels facing front and five megapixels facing rear. It's also capable of capturing video in full high-definition.

RIM says it expects the PlayBook battery to provide eight to 10 hours of use, which seems about right based on my experience. After two days of using it for a variety of tasks, including Web surfing, watching YouTube videos and editing documents using the included Documents to Go suite of Microsoft Office-compatible productivity apps, I had plenty of juice left.

While the Galaxy and Streak use a version of Google's Android software that was designed for mobile phones, the PlayBook uses a new operating system called the BlackBerry Tablet OS. It's fast and easy - once I got used to the unusual fact that the border as well as the screen is touch-sensitive. You navigate by starting with your finger on the frame and then swiping it across the viewing area. Open apps can be dismissed from the screen with an oddly satisfying flick gesture.

The new operating system is strong on multitasking. If you're watching a video and bring up the PlayBook's desktop, the video continues in a smaller window. Connect it to a high-definition TV or projector, and you can continue to access the Internet or files on the tablet while your content plays uninterrupted on the big screen.

The main drawback is that the PlayBook feels unfinished. That's because it is: A number of critical features and applications, while promised, aren't yet available.

For starters, there's currently no software for accessing all your e-mail, calendars or contacts in one place. RIM says it will be available in the summer; in the meantime, you can expect to be doing a lot of logging into websites to access your personal information.

Perhaps the most important missing feature, which won't show up until later in the year, is software that RIM says will allow the PlayBook to run a limited selection from the vast universe of Android wireless-phone applications. The mobile marketplace is increasingly a battle of app-fueled ecosystems, and while RIM says the PlayBook is launching with about 3,000 apps, offering Android compatibility hedges the risk that developers won't continue to write for it if the tablet isn't an immediate hit.

It's impossible to say whether RIM's bet-the-company strategy will pay off. Still, who would have thought that the maker of some of the world's least-exciting smartphones would have produced a product this slick? The PlayBook makes BlackBerry relevant again.

by Rich Jaroslovsky Bloomberg News Apr. 17, 2011 05:14 PM

'PlayBook' could redeem BlackBerry maker

April 17, 2011

Car-charging market is becoming competitive

The competition is heating up for Phoenix-based Ecotality North America, which got a $115 million stimulus grant to roll out electric-car chargers in several cities nationwide.

Thousands of people will get free Ecotality chargers when they buy Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt vehicles thanks to the stimulus grant. The recipients must share their charging data with the company and the government in exchange for the $2,000 chargers.

Company officials hoped that the EV Project would give them a jump start on the competition from other companies hoping to sell car chargers as automakers release electric vehicles in the next couple of years.

But competitors are getting big deals to be the exclusive providers for some of the automakers, so Ecotality won't have the market to itself.

Nissan North America has a deal with Aerovironment Inc. so that people who buy the company's cars, and don't qualify for the free Ecotality charger through the stimulus project, are referred to Aerovironment to buy chargers.

Ford Motor Co., which said last week that Phoenix and Tucson would be among the first cities to sell the new Focus Electric later this year, has a similar deal with Leviton. And the company will partner with Best Buy for home installations, said Mike Tinskey, Ford's manager of vehicle electrification and infrastructure.

Electric cars can be charged with a standard wall plug, which can take eight to 10 hours to replenish a battery, or a Level 2 charger that is 240 volts that can charge them in four to six hours.

"The beauty of that (Leviton charger) is that it has a larger capacity than most competitors," Tinskey said. "It can charge the car in just over three hours."

Ecotality also will make some Level 3 chargers for the EV Project that can recharge a car's battery in about 20 minutes, but those chargers are much more expensive to install and not all cars will be capable of receiving that much electricity without an additional charging port.

Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies also makes chargers, and the company got a $15 million stimulus grant.

Some readers no doubt will also consider Better Place a competitor. The company promotes public-service stations to swap out depleted electric-car batteries, although the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Focus Electric won't have batteries that can be swapped out with Better Place's technology.

by Ryan Randazzo The Arizona Republic Apr. 17, 2011 12:00 AM

Car-charging market is becoming competitive

Recipient: Stem-cell therapy is God's will

CHATOM, Ala. - When Timothy J. Atchison regained consciousness, he was drenched in blood and pinned in his car on the side of a dark rural road.

"I was just pouring blood," said Atchison, 21, who recoiled in pain when he tried to drag himself through a window of the wrecked Pontiac he had gotten for high-school graduation. "I didn't know if I was going to bleed to death or not."

Then, Atchison realized that his legs felt strangely huge - and completely numb. He was paralyzed from the chest down.

"I was just praying - asking for forgiveness and thanking God for keeping me alive," said Atchison, who was trapped at least an hour before rescuers freed him. "I said, 'From here on out I'm going to live for you and nothing else.' I never got down after that. I figure that's what must have kept me up - God keeping me up."

That sense of destiny propelled Atchison when he faced another shock just seven days later: Doctors asked him to volunteer to be the first person to have an experimental drug made from human-embryonic stem cells injected into his body.

"We were just stunned," said Atchison, who was with his mother and grandfather when researchers approached him. "We were like, 'Woo, really?' We were all just kind of in awe."

Atchison, known to friends and family as T.J., described the events during an interview Tuesday with the Washington Post - his first detailed account since disclosing his carefully guarded identity to the Post. Atchison's story reveals provocative insights into one of the most closely watched medical experiments, including what some may see as an irony: that a treatment condemned on moral and religious grounds is viewed by the first person to pioneer the therapy, and his family, as part of God's plan.

"It wasn't just luck, or chance," said Atchison, who thinks, six months after the treatment, that he may be feeling the first signs that the cells are helping him.

"It was meant to be."

Atchison, whose Sept. 25 crash occurred while visiting home during his second semester at the University of South Alabama College of Nursing, had heard about embryonic stem cells' potentially revolutionary power to morph into almost any tissue in the body, as well as their infamy because days-old embryos are destroyed to get them.

"I didn't know as much about it then as I know now. I did know that stem cells could be used to cure all kinds of things," Atchison said, swiveling in his wheelchair, which like his car and many other belongings is the University of Alabama football team's crimson. "I was thinking like 50 years down the road or something like that."

Raised Baptist in a small town where the main road has more churches than fast-food restaurants, Atchison nonetheless has no moral qualms about launching the first U.S. government-sanctioned attempt to study a treatment using embryonic stem cells in people. The cells implanted into his spine were obtained from embryos being discarded at fertility clinics, he notes.

"It's not life. It's not like they're coming from an aborted fetus or anything like that. They were going to be thrown away," he said. "Once they explained to me where the stem cells were coming from, once I learned that, I was OK with it."

While undergoing surgeries and other treatments to repair his shattered spine, broken collarbone and pinky finger, and nearly severed ear at the University of Alabama Medical Center in Mobile immediately after the accident, Atchison was befriended by the pastor of a local Pentecostal church. When he found out the following week what Atchison had agreed to do, the pastor was uncertain how his community would respond.

"I said, 'This is not going to be popular with some people. You might face death threats. You don't know what the reaction is going to be,' " said Troy Bailey of the Reynolds Holiness Church later in the day.

Bailey realized he had to sort out his own stance, given that some people who, like him, oppose abortion also consider embryonic stem-cell research to be immoral. But Bailey concluded that he too believed the experimental treatment is acceptable because the cells were obtained from embryos that had never been implanted in a woman's womb and so had no chance of developing into a fetus.

"I am adamantly against abortion in any form. It did cause me some searching and researching biblically what is the proper answer," he said. "I don't really see a baby's life was destroyed for this to take place."

Bailey announced his conclusion to his parish the Sunday after Atchison's Oct. 8 procedure and invited his congregation to come to him with any objections. But he said he has never heard any complaints from anyone in town, which has rallied around Atchison and his family, including building a ramp around his mother's house and laying a concrete walkway for his wheelchair.

Bailey then devoted three weeks of Sunday school lessons to stem cells and issues he thought were related, such as birth-control pills and "designer babies."

"I'm definitely not wanting to encourage harvesting embryos for all kinds of crazy reasons," Bailey said. "And that definitely led some people to have some hesitancy about some of these things."

Critics raise concerns

If Atchison's role in the research has not provoked any overt objections among his friends, family, neighbors and fellow churchgoers, the study that he began has prompted denunciations from critics who oppose the research on moral grounds as well as an intense debate among scientists, bioethicists and others who support the research.

Some worry that not enough basic studies and tests in animals were done before injecting cells into recently paralyzed patients. Many fret the cells could be harmful, with the biggest dangers being that they will cause tumors or tortuous pain. Still others wonder whether patients who are still struggling to come to terms with their devastating injury can make that kind of risky decision just two weeks after such a trauma.

Many proponents fear that if something goes wrong - or even if the cells fail to show any sign of helping patients - it could be a major blow for the field at a time when federal funding for the research is under attack in court and in Congress.

Atchison dismissed such concerns and praised his care at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he was transferred for rehabilitation. Shepherd is one of seven centers recruited by the Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which is sponsoring the trial to test the cells on 10 patients.

Three days after arriving at Shepherd, doctors invited Atchison to undergo tests to see if he met the study's strict criteria.

Waiting for results

After the procedure, Atchison spent three months undergoing the center's standard program, learning how to care for himself. But he had to keep his involvement in the study secret, even when a friend in rehab wished aloud he could get stem cells so he could walk again.

"I kind of wanted to tell him, 'Hey, you know it could be closer than you think? Because it's already happened,' " he said. "I just didn't want him to feel upset about me getting it or anything like that. I didn't want him to think I was going to be able to walk because of this."

And although his doctors have stressed that they gave him a very low dose primarily to look for any adverse side effects, Atchison believes the cells may already be helping him. In studies involving rats, partially paralyzed animals that received the cells regained the ability to move.

In recent weeks, after months of feeling or being able to move nothing below his chest, Atchison said he has begun to get some very slight sensation: He can feel relief when he lifts a bowling ball off his lap and discern discomfort when he pulls on hairs on some parts of his legs. He has also strengthened his abdomen.

"That's something that just happened recently. It's just slowly progressed more and more," he said, noting that rodents that received the cells did not start to regain movement until nine months after being treated.

Geron would not discuss Atchison's case. The company is keeping the results of its tests on Atchison and other study subjects confidential for now.

"It's driving everybody crazy not to know," said James Shepherd, who founded the Shepherd Center. "At this point it's way too early to have a feel if it's going well or if he's getting anything back. The whole community and the patients in chairs are just curious and banging on doors and saying, 'Tell us what's happening.' "

Spinal-cord injury experts stress that patients can regain some sensation and movement on their own, and that it is simply impossible to know whether the cells are helping based on a single subject. Advocates for spinal-cord injury patients, while thrilled by the study, worry about raising false hope.

"I caution people: Don't expect miracles that these patients are going to automatically jump out of their wheelchairs and run all over the place," said Daniel Heumann, who is on the board of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Atchison's accident occurred on the birthday of Reeve, the actor who was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident and advocated for stem-cell research.

Several times a week, Atchison exercises his legs with a special stationary bike that delivers electrical stimulation to his muscles, and pulls himself to a standing position on another contraption to retrain his frame to stand erect. He learned to drive a car he can operate with his hands and has resumed hunting and fishing. He plans to return to school in August.

"I pray about it every night. I think I'll be able to walk again. I think it will help me. I'll keep riding my bike and exercising and one day I'll be able to walk again," he said. "You want to let the stem cells see what they can do."

After demonstrating how he mounts an all-terrain vehicle and operates his specially equipped Chevy Cruze, Atchison wheeled himself around the side of the house. His year-old Yorkie, Lilly, shot out of the door and scurried over to greet him, running slightly askew.

She, too, had been in a car accident and had recovered except for one lame rear paw.

by Rob Stein Washington Post Apr. 17, 2011 12:00 AM

Recipient: Stem-cell therapy is God's will

April 16, 2011

Cisco plans to shut Flip business

NEW YORK - Cisco Systems Inc., the world's largest maker of computer-networking gear, said Tuesday that it's killing its Flip camcorder business as it moves away from the consumer-products market.

The about-face comes after several quarters of disappointing results. Analysts say Cisco has been trying to do too many different things.

The San Jose-based company said it expects its consumer-business shake-up will result in the loss of 550 jobs, or less than 1 percent of its workforce of about 73,000.

It also expects to take restructuring charges of no more than $300 million spread out over the current quarter, which ends April 25, and the following one.

Cisco bought Pure Digital Technologies Inc., maker of the Flip camcorder, for $590 million in 2009, just two years after the San Francisco-based company made its first camera. It quickly became a top seller because of its ease of use.

A signature feature was a USB connector that flipped out of the case, letting the user connect the camera directly to a computer. The camera even contained video-editing software that fired up on the computer.

Cisco appears to see no point in selling the business - Tuesday's announcement said Flip will be closed down.

Cisco will continue to support the sharing of Flip videos online.

The company said it will realign its remaining consumer business to support four of its five priorities - routers and switches, corporate communications, collaboration equipment, servers for data centers, and video.

Cisco shares closed down 3 cents, or 0.02 percent, to $17.44 on Tuesday.

Associated Press Apr. 13, 2011 12:00 AM

Cisco plans to shut Flip business

April 10, 2011

Flexible plastic screens edge closer to commercialization as Army, tech manufacturers collaborate with ASU

A plastic screen that rolls up and doesn't crack when you drop it may sound like science fiction, but the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University is investing millions to liberate electronic devices from the constraints of rigid glass.

And reality could come sooner than you think.

The project was initiated by the U.S. Army in cooperation with a number of companies, including Boeing and Hewlett-Packard, to expedite the development of the technology.

"Flexible ... black-and-white screens for e-readers are very close to commercialization," said Nick Colaneri, Flexible Display Center director. Black-and-white screens are less complicated to create, and he estimates flexible screens capable of rolling up and displaying color images are three to five years away.

Manufacturers see vast potential for consumer applications. DisplaySearch, an industry research company, says the market for flexible screens will likely surpass $1 billion this year and reach $8.2 billion by 2018.

From the beginning, the project has been pushed along by the U.S. military, which is interested in flexible screens for their portability, durability and miserly use of power.

The military, high-tech manufacturers and academia have made Arizona ground zero for bringing the technology into mainstream use. They are pinpointing key materials and testing manufacturing techniques needed to make the sophisticated screens at the Flexible Display Center.

Colaneri, who has been director of the project for two years, said about $90 million has been spent on the project since the center was launched in 2004 under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army, and about $10 million more will be needed for completion.

Projects of this scale generally take at least 25 years to complete, Colaneri said. Even though flexible screens face manufacturing hurdles, because many companies have come together to collaborate, the process has been streamlined.

Carl Taussig, director of the information-surfaces lab at HP Labs, said, "If you can do it all yourself, it would be ideal. In practice, the risk-reward tradeoff does favor mitigation of the risk by defraying costs and tasks to partners. This also speeds the development, which is an increasingly important aspect in today's marketplace."

The development of color screens is highly coveted, because black-and-white screens typically show less detail.

Jennifer Colegrove, DisplaySearch vice president, believes the technology will be widely adopted, especially once it is available in color.

Because one of its hallmarks is its light weight, Colegrove believes the technology will find its greatest value in devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and laptops.

"It will not have a huge market share in TVs and computer monitors," she said.

HP recently demonstrated a lightweight wristwatch designed for soldiers in the field to view digital maps and other data on a flexible plastic screen that won't shatter or crack. The device uses E Ink front-plane technology, which is used in digital book readers like the Kindle and has better visibility in sunlight. It does not consume a lot of energy and requires no power to hold an image. And the screen is flexible enough that it can be sewn to fabric.

Taussig said HP also has been considering uses for the technology and ways to market it.

"We started thinking about all kinds of commercial applications for this military demonstrator," he said. "There are many uses for an inexpensive, super-lightweight, mechanically rugged hands-free display. Think about all the people that need to have their hands free but could use simple maps, schematics or other instructions available."

He said the technology would be particularly useful to first responders.

Armband displays for the military could be widely used in the not-too-distant future

Colaneri said the complex nature of the project has demanded collaboration. One of the problems has been to find adequate ways to seal the screens to prevent them from degrading.

"The organic molecules we use are very sensitive to oxygen and moisture," he said. "Plastic is like a huge open netting, and oxygen and moisture just pass right through it."

Finding ways of attaching the electronics has also proven to be a problem because the electronics are too hot and melt the screen.

A major challenge has been figuring out how to avoid damaging the plastic during manufacturing because existing equipment is made to handle glass.

Researchers tried gluing sheets of plastic to glass plates and other hard surfaces and running the plates through traditional machines. But temperature variances caused the plastic to stretch. The center had to research and create a special kind of glue, Colaneri said.

by William D'Urso The Arizona Republic Apr. 10, 2011 12:00 AM

Flexible plastic screens edge closer to commercialization as Army, tech manufacturers collaborate with ASU

April 9, 2011

Valley company offers storage, organization

A Scottsdale startup that offers data storage, syncing and organization services has a notable benefactor: Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Schmidt, who has made a career out of organizing and distributing information, is a major investor in the company, a cloud-technology startup that launched this year.

Schmidt's investment firm TomorrowVentures, in cooperation with Hanna Capital, financed the company, Cx.com.

Cx.com CEO Brad Robertson said the Arizona office could reach 100 employees as the company grows.

Cx.com provides a way to back up, sync, access and share files from any device or operating system - for example, Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android or BlackBerry. Using cloud technology, the business allows clients to access videos, documents, photos and a variety of other files from any of their remote devices, even if it's not the device on which the file is stored. This technology is also meant to protect information should the original device be damaged or destroyed.

Cloud technology involves using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server or personal computer.

"'Cloud' is a buzz word," said Robertson, whose beta version launched in early January.

Robertson, a 20-year veteran of technology startups, served as the chief operating officer and chief technology officer of Colorado-based Intern Inc., a company also in the TomorrowVentures portfolio. Robertson, 40, also co-founded and was CEO of Bizavo, a deep-web-search engine, which launched in 2008.

He is enthusiastic about the emerging cloud-software market and the opportunities for the new company.

"The space is pretty well open for whoever wants to grab it. At some point, there will be market consolidation, and it will boil down to a few key players," he said.

Since its launch, Cx.com has reached about 100,000 users and is acquiring about 15,000 more each week, using a free 10 gigabyte storage service as an attraction. Within a month, Robertson hopes to begin adding more features to attract more users.

The company has online advertising campaigns, including advertisements on Yahoo and Google. Ultimately, Robertson plans to charge for features and possibly for additional devices that users register for the service. For now, he just wants to get costs down and continue to improve the design.

TomorrowVentures, which has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Buenos Aires, Argentina, plans to expand the Scottsdale office. Robertson said that adding 100 jobs in Scottsdale "is a very achievable goal," and that there were a number of advantages to being in Arizona.

"In the Bay Area it's so competitive and there are a million people doing the same thing," he said.

Critics of cloud technology have cited privacy concerns, an issue Robertson has tried to address. Cx.com allows the user complete control of all files and information and allows users to block the company from seeing anything. Cx.com is still able to monitor activity but won't necessarily have access to user files.

However, concerns about information safety do still exist. In a 2009 survey by Information Technology Intelligence Corp., 85 percent of corporate customers around the globe said they would not implement a cloud-computing infrastructure in 2009 because of fears that sensitive corporate data cannot be adequately secured.

According to a report from Alcatel Lucent, a technology company, cloud computing is considered a form of outsourcing and could pose threats to existing structures within companies and people's jobs. Because of this, many enterprises are faced with internal resistance to adoption, the report said.

Others offer great optimism that the technology will take off.

Merrill Lynch dubbed 2011 as "the year of the cloud," and estimates the market value of the technology will reach $113 billion.

"We believe that Cx will change the way that people interact with their multiple devices with all data stored in a central location," said Court Coursey, managing partner of TomorrowVentures.

"We believe Cx has the potential to capture large market share in this growing sector with the potential to be a multibillion-dollar stand-alone company."

Some of the key players in the area now are Microsoft and Dropbox, an online hard drive service. Cx.com hopes to differentiate itself because it is open to all platforms and product lines.

"We will be your digital command center, through which you can take control of all your files from any 'net' device," Robertson said.

by William D'Urso The Arizona Republic Apr. 8, 2011 03:13 PM

Valley company offers storage, organization

FCC rules aim to spur wireless-broadband competition

WASHINGTON - Federal regulators adopted rules Thursday to drive more competition in wireless broadband as more people access the Internet using iPhones and other popular mobile devices.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to require big wireless carriers to open their data networks to smaller regional operators in places where they don't have their own systems.

The large carriers have to offer network access at reasonable prices, and the FCC would resolve any disputes.

The so-called data roaming rules are a response to consolidation in an industry dominated by two nationwide carriers, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.

And they come just weeks after AT&T, the nation's second-largest wireless company, announced plans to buy T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest, in a $39 billion cash-and-stock deal.

Existing voice roaming rules already allow regional competitors to use the big carriers' networks to handle phone calls outside their own service territories.

That enables Leap Wireless, for instance, to offer nationwide calling service. Leap Wireless pays other carriers for access to their systems when customers make calls outside Leap's service area.

But smaller wireless providers say they need to be able to do that with data, too, as subscribers increasingly use smartphones not just to make phone calls but to send pictures, watch online video and access bandwidth-hungry mobile applications.

"Consumers ... expect to use their mobile phones throughout the nation for voice calls or data - like email or mobile apps," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat.

Parul Desai, policy counsel for the consumer watchdog group Consumers Union, said the new rules should help lower prices by giving consumers more choices for nationwide data services.

by Joelle Tessler Associated Press Apr. 8, 2011 12:00 AM

FCC rules aim to spur wireless-broadband competition

Terror warnings will have 2 levels

WASHINGTON - Terror alerts from the government will soon have just two levels of warnings - elevated and imminent - and those will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances. Color codes are out; Facebook and Twitter will sometimes be in, according to a Homeland Security draft obtained by the Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to the government's confidential plan.

Like a gallon of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

The new system, replacing the five color-coded levels, is expected to be in place by April 27.

A 19-page document, marked "for official use only" and dated April 1, describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes when the government believes terrorists might be threatening Americans. It describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, then counterterrorism officials in states and cities, then governors and mayors and, ultimately, the public.

It even specifies details about how many minutes U.S. officials can wait before organizing urgent conference calls to discuss pending threats. It places the Homeland Security secretary, currently Janet Napolitano, in charge of the National Terrorism Advisory System.

The new terror alerts would also be published using Facebook and Twitter "when appropriate," the plan said, but only after federal, state and local leaders have been notified.

The government has struggled with how much information to share with the public about specific threats, sometimes over concern about revealing classified intelligence or law-enforcement efforts to disrupt an unfolding plot. But the color warnings that became one of the government's most visible anti-terrorism programs since the September 2001 attacks were criticized as too vague and were sometimes mocked by TV comedians.

The new advisory system is designed to be easier to understand and more specific, but it's unclear how often the public will receive warnings. The message will always depend on the threat and the intelligence behind it.

by Eileen Sullivan Associated Press Apr. 8, 2011 12:00 AM

Terror warnings will have 2 levels

Planned wireless Internet network threatens GPS

WASHINGTON - A new, ultrafast wireless Internet network is threatening to overpower GPS signals across the U.S. and interfere with everything from airplanes to police cars to consumer navigation devices.

The problem stems from a recent government decision to let a Virginia company called LightSquared build a nationwide broadband network using airwaves next to those used for GPS. Manufacturers of GPS equipment warn that strong signals from the planned network could jam existing navigation systems.

A technical fix could be expensive - billions of dollars by one estimate - and there's no agreement on who should pay. Government officials pledge to block LightSquared from turning on its network as scheduled this year unless they receive assurances that GPS systems will still work.

The stakes are high not only for the GPS industry and its users, but also for those who would use LightSquared's network. In approving it, the Federal Communications Commission seeks to boost wireless competition and bring faster and cheaper Internet connections to all Americans.

LightSquared and the FCC both insist the new network can co-exist with GPS systems. But device makers fear GPS signals will suffer the way a radio station can get drowned out by a stronger broadcast in a nearby channel.

The problem, they say, is that sensitive satellite receivers - designed to pick up relatively weak signals coming from space - could be overwhelmed when LightSquared starts sending high-power signals from as many as 40,000 transmitters on the ground using the airwaves next door.

"The potential impact of GPS interference is so vast, it's hard to get your head around," said Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble Navigation Ltd., which makes GPS systems. "Think 40,000 GPS dead spots covering millions of square miles in cities and towns throughout the U.S."

One of the biggest risks is to the GPS navigation systems used by about 40 percent of commercial and private planes. Backup systems that rely on ground-based radio signals are not as accurate and have coverage gaps. With GPS interference, a pilot "may go off course and not even realize it," said Chris Dancy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

LightSquared's network could also undermine the Federal Aviation Administration's multi-billion-dollar program to upgrade the nation's air-traffic control system, which is based on World War II-era radar technology.

The new GPS-based system is more precise and lets planes fly more direct routes. That will save airlines time, money and fuel and cut pollution.

Public-safety officials, too, are nervous about LightSquared because they rely on GPS to track and dispatch police cars, fire trucks and ambulances.

Even the Pentagon has expressed concern as it relies on GPS to guide planes, ships, armored vehicles, weapons and troops.

LightSquared plans to compete nationally with super-fast, fourth-generation wireless services being rolled out by the likes of AT&T and Verizon Wireless. It won't sell directly to consumers, though. Instead, LightSquared will provide network access to companies including Leap Wireless, parent of the Cricket phone service, and Best Buy, which will rebrand the service under its own name.

LightSquared won't be allowed to turn on its network until the government is satisfied that any problems are addressed, FCC spokesman Rob Kenny said.

"We have every reason to resolve these concerns because we want to make sure there is a robust GPS system," LightSquared executive Jeffrey Carlisle said.

by Joelle Tessler Associated Press Apr. 7, 2011 12:00 AM

Planned wireless Internet network threatens GPS

Dish's Blockbuster buy may keep icon alive

NEW YORK - Dish Network Corp.'s agreement to buy Blockbuster Inc.'s assets out of bankruptcy could keep Blockbuster's blue-and-gold logo from disappearing.

But whether Dish can use Blockbuster's brand, stores and streaming-video capabilities to create services more relevant to the age of Netflix and Hulu remains to be seen.

Dish, headed by billionaire Charles Ergen, won a two-day bankruptcy auction for Blockbuster that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning with a bid valued at $228 million in cash.

Dish has so far been mum about specific plans for Blockbuster, but in its announcement, the company highlighted the 1,700 stores that will remain and "multiple methods of delivery."

Dish spokeswoman Francie Bauer said the company, based in Englewood, Colo., would not comment further since the deal must receive court approval.

A hearing for that approval is set for Thursday. Dish expects the deal to close in the second quarter.

Satellite TV providers have been losing subscribers as cheaper alternatives such as Hulu and Netflix become more popular.

Ergen has in past calls with analysts praised Netflix, which offers unlimited streaming video at a monthly price along with a DVD-by-mail service.

Acquiring Blockbuster will make Dish a more viable competitor in streaming video online. It's doing so at a price easily affordable for Dish, which had nearly $3 billion in cash as of Dec. 31.

Dish also recently picked up satellite provider DBSD North America, which was also reorganizing under bankruptcy protection, for $1 billion.

"Ergen continues to look for distressed assets selling at bargain prices," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Ryan Vineyard. Blockbuster "could transform Dish into a much more viable online competitor than it is now."

Dish beat out billionaire investor Carl Icahn and a group of debt holders for Blockbuster, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

Icahn had teamed with a group of liquidators. Analysts say it was likely he would have liquidated the company. Dish has more of a vested interest in keeping Blockbuster a going concern, but analysts are split about whether Dish will keep the stores open.

Some thought Dish would keep at least some stores open.

"In order to get the most from the investment, Dish Network needs to keep the Blockbuster brand top of mind with consumers, and that means in kiosks in drug stores and physical store locations," Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said.

But others thought a total liquidation might be a possibility.

"Dish has zero retail capability at present, and therefore lacks the scale or synergies to benefit from the operation of Blockbuster retail stores," Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said.

Either way, Dish and Ergen, who also chairs former Dish parent EchoStar, is gambling the deal can help reinvent Dish as consumers' TV and movie-watching habits evolve.

by Mae Anderson Associated Press Apr. 7, 2011 12:00 AM

Dish's Blockbuster buy may keep icon alive

13 Ugliest Phones of the Mobile Era - Yahoo! Shopping

©Nokia/TheStreet illustration
Nokia 7600

Attractive cell phones are easy to find.

Ever since Motorola's Razr and, later, the Apple iPhone, manufacturers have had to work hard on pleasing designs. Gorgeous, giant glass fronts framed in elegant black, sleek steel or shiny chrome, smartphones pack brains and beauty.

But not always. Before the mobile phone industry got all busy with design makeovers and tummy tucks, there were -- and still are -- some delightfully hideous phones that represented the other side of the beauty trend. The Street has gone back through the past decade to dig up some of the best examples of designs that make you wince and stare in disbelief. The clueless stylings, the flights of fancy into odd shapes, the obsession with square versus rounded -- it is a wonderfully colorful history.

Here are 13 of the ugliest phones ever in this century:

No. 1: Nokia 7600

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. While Apple was changing the phone industry with a super-slim touchscreen iPhone in 2007, Nokia came out with this gem. (Shown above) It's not clear what inspired the small screen and the pig's ear shape, but it gets top honors in this contest. Any wonder why Apple is cleaning up in mobile, while Nokia is clearing out.

Samsung Cleo
©Samsung/TheStreet illustration

No. 2: Samsung Cleo

Ah yes, the "lady" phone. The Samsung Cleo really hit the mark with this one. Pink is bad enough, but does square really speak to the female phone buyer? What a cute, ah ... cigarette case? um ... makeup compact? Oh, look at that, it's a phone!

Research In Motion BlackBerry 8700
©BlackBerry/TheStreet illustration

No. 3: Research In Motion BlackBerry 8700

Business folk cherished this squat, homely little phone. Who cared that it was pudgy and unapologetically plastic? One redeeming feature was the thumb wheel, which allowed hard-chargers to scroll through emails with one hand and, you know, master the universe with the other.

Nokia 3620
©Nokia/TheStreet illustration

No. 4: Nokia 3620

Not to be outdone by those pesky Swedes, Finnish phone giant Nokia totally turned the tables on the Sony Ericsson T61z and made the 3620 with an oval bottom and a square top. Take that Ericsson.

Sony Ericsson t61z
©Sony Ericcson/TheStreet illustration

No. 5: Sony Ericsson t61z

It was a radical move by Sony Ericsson with the T61z phone. Do people want corners or curves? Let's give them both. Sony Ericsson made the T61z square on the bottom and oval on top. Brilliant. Who wouldn't like a phone shaped like a shoe-print?

Motorola Nextel i500
©Nextel/TheStreet illustration

No. 6: Motorola Nextel i500

Police-tape yellow and shaped a lot like a firefighter's walkie-talkie, the Motorola Nextel i500 wasn't trying to be one of your pretty phones. It was aimed at first- responders of business. Tech crews and workers out in the field needed a rugged-looking phone on their belt; the i500 was the perfect accessory.

Motorola Flipout
©Motorola/TheStreet illustration

No. 7:Motorola Flipout

Is there a demon whispering "make it square" in the ear of phone designers? Even the new Motorola couldn't resist the temptation. The Flipout, launched earlier this year, brings a whole new approach to square with its interesting corner hinge. Foxy? No. Weirdly boxy? Oh yes.

Microsoft Kin
©Microsoft/TheStreet illustration

No. 8: Microsoft Kin

Teen phones are a questionable move by any company, but ugly teen phones like Microsoft's Kin beg the question: What were they thinking? At least the Sidekick, the Danger-made predecessor to the Kin, had a cool look. The boxy shape of the Kin almost assured Microsoft's phone failure. It only took two months of sales for Microsoft to kill the Kin.

 HTC Apache
©HTC/TheStreet illustration

No. 9: HTC Apache

Before HTC made sleek black phones, they cranked out clumsy, silver bricks like the Apache. The Apache was part of a pioneering smartphone effort by Sprint, Microsoft and HTC. The phone was hot, but not in a good way. And it was pocket-straining heavy. Let's just say HTC has done well not to follow the silver brick road.

LG VX9800
©LG/TheStreet illustration

No. 10: LG VX9800

Two big speakers inside LG's horizontal flip phone didn't really compensate for the two puny display screens. LG, which had a decent track record with phones, apparently put aside its talents and let Verizon take over the design decisions. The VX9800 was intended to be a big vehicle for Verizon's VCast media offerings. Any wonder why Apple wouldn't play ball with Verizon all those years?

Palm Treo 700p
©Palm/TheStreet illustration

No. 11: Palm Treo 700p

Palm, now a division of HP, arguably invented the smartphone. But the signs of Palm's eventual demise were evident with this later generation Treo. While its contemporaries were slimming their designs, Palm's Treo 700 arrived not only thicker but heavier than its Treo 600 predecessor.

LG VX8300
©LG/TheStreet illustration

No. 12: LG VX8300

Like the Samsung hand grenade, the LG VX8300 was a lot of hardware all folded together.

A camera, music buttons, an external screen, twin side speakers and an antenna that Verizon required at that time -- the LG VX8300 had a lot going on. You can sort of see how the clutter made Motorola's follow-up with the clean, ultra-slim Razr so popular.

Samsung SGH X800
©Samsung/TheStreet illustration

No. 13: Samsung SGH X800

Folding phones offer a compact and winning design.Samsung's SGH X800 got the folding part right, but it missed on the compact part. Open the phone was fine, but folded? It was like a fat little hand grenade.

by Scott Moritz The Street.com April 9, 2011

13 Ugliest Phones of the Mobile Era - Yahoo! Shopping

April 3, 2011

Dish Network, billionaire may bid for Blockbuster

NEW YORK - Several bidders are set to duke it out for Blockbuster Inc. at a bankruptcy auction in New York on Monday. They reportedly include Dish Network Corp. and billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

The movie-rental chain has received several bids other than the opening bid of $290 million from a group of debt holders made in February. Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

Dish and Icahn have each submitted a bid, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

Dish Network declined to comment. Icahn could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jay Indyke, attorney for the committee of unsecured creditors, says several bids had come in but did not specify who they are from.

Icahn has been expected to make a bid. He was part of the group of debtholders that provided Blockbuster financing to operate while in bankruptcy in September. Everyone in that group, except for Icahn, made an opening bid in February, known as a "stalking horse" bid, to buy Blockbuster for $290 million.

Blockbuster used to dominate the U.S. movie-rental business. But it lost money for years as that business declined because customers shifted to Netflix Inc., video on demand and DVD rental kiosks.

Prospective bidders are either after Blockbuster's assets, such as its name, kiosks and movie-download service, or the money they can make from liquidating the brand, analysts said.

"The prospective bidders would have to believe that they can generate sufficient cash to provide payback plus a return on their investment," said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. "I am skeptical that a sale will occur at a price higher than was offered a few weeks ago."

When it filed for bankruptcy protection in September it was down to 3,000 stores, less than a third of the peak of 9,100 in 2004. In December, the chain said it planned to close 182 more in the next few months.

Following the auction, a sale-approval hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

by Mae Anderson Associated Press Apr. 2, 2011 12:00 AM

Dish Network, billionaire may bid for Blockbuster

APS, SRP are providing $99 home energy audits

Home-energy expert Ken Pancost opened the ceiling grate for a Chandler home's air-conditioner earlier this month, shone his flashlight inside and immediately spotted a gap where hot air from the attic was being sucked into the air-conditioner.

Instead of supplying the air-conditioner with air from inside the home, which is easy to cool, the unit was working twice as hard to cool the superhot attic air and blow it into the house.

The small gap was costing the homeowner $50 to $80 a year in wasted energy.

"Oh, that's nice," homeowner Theresa Boughton said when Pancost showed her the flaw, which also makes housework more demanding because it blows dusty air from the attic into the home.

Boughton took advantage of a $99 deal from Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service Co. to have energy experts audit her home and report how she can make repairs to save on power bills.

The audits help homeowners make the most cost-efficient home-energy repairs and not overlook simple steps to save electricity.

It might sound counterintuitive that electric companies would try to get customers to buy less of their product, but utility officials agree that it is better and cheaper to conserve electricity than to build new power plants to supply power as demand increases.

The SRP budget for efficiency projects this year is $39.3 million, while the budget at APS is $60 million. Both utilities plan to increase that spending in their next budgets.

Boughton's audit paid for itself before the family made any repairs. Pancost and his partner, Ben Chao, from Arizona Energy Management and Remodel in Phoenix, showed her that reducing the run time on her pool pump to six from nine hours a day can save her about $200 a year.

"All we had to do was change one setting on the timer," she said. "That pays for them to have come and done the energy audit."

Both SRP and APS call the program Home Performance With Energy Star and base it on guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The $99 cost is a discount from the $400 or more that contractors normally would charge for such an audit.

The utilities also offer rebates for certain work if the auditors identify the need for it, such as insulation and air-duct sealing. Some rebates are available only if the problems are discovered through a certified audit.

It takes about a week for the audit report to be complete, and the contractors then schedule a meeting with the homeowners to discuss the results and the most cost-effective repairs that can be made.

The homeowners have no obligation to make any repairs or pay for anything more than the $99 audit and are given 10 compact-fluorescent lightbulbs, a low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators, worth about $50, as part of the deal.

The auditors gave Boughton several repair ideas in a four-page report on her home, which looks much like the report a home inspector provides on houses for sale.

During the audit, Pancost and Chao sealed her front door to perform a blower-door test, in which air is forced out of the home with a fan and pressure readings are taken to determine where the home and its ducts are leaking.

The test found a few major problems that prevent the air-conditioner from cooling the home efficiently.

The home formerly had an evaporative cooler, and when it was removed a few years ago, the contractors simply left the ductwork in place, creating wasted space in the ducts.

Also, the connection on the roof between the air-conditioner and the home has a visible gap, allowing cooled air to get hot before blowing into the home.

And the air-conditioner on the house is larger than needed, but the ductwork supplying it is sized for a smaller unit, making the air-conditioner work extra hard to supply air.

"It has been a few years, and at this point, I don't know if there is any recourse to go back to the contractor (who completed the ductwork)," she said. "You assume somebody is doing a good job, and obviously they didn't."

The family has already decided to install a few hundred dollars worth of shade screens on the windows, which, like many of the repairs, qualify for rebates from the utility.

And based on the report, they could hire contractors to make some of the other suggested repairs.

"It validated some of the things we thought about," Boughton said. "It is all in scientific terms and some of the things we would not have known about."

The Boughtons' energy bills are $100 to $120 in the winter and as high as $350 in the summer, even when they keep the thermostat set at 80 to 82 degrees in their 2,100-square-foot home.

"This house was built in the 1980s, when they were just slapping them together," Boughton said.

Last summer was especially costly, with three college-age children spending their time off at the house.

"Between the rates going up and the kids being home, you try to control things, but it's just not going to happen," Boughton said.

A few years back, the family tried the time-of-use rate plan that charges more for energy used during peak times but discounts energy used at night or early in the morning.

"Disastrous," Boughton said. "The kids did laundry whenever they wanted, ran the dryer. It just didn't work."

The audits outline how many years it will take to pay off the investment of any work that is done to help homeowners determine if the work is worth the investment.

"The normal payback for duct sealing is one to five years," Chao said. "Usually, we don't recommend any repairs that are beyond that 10-year mark (for payback)."

When contractors are hired to fix the energy problems, the workers must test to ensure the fixes are saving energy before they can collect rebate from the utilities.

"They will set up the test equipment, and if it is not where they like it, they keep fixing and sealing and looking for hidden areas," Chao said.

Chao said that the things he found in the Boughton home were typical of homes in the Valley.

He said he has never audited a home without finding places to save money.

"Even right now, I'm writing a report on a home built in 2005 in Peoria near Lake Pleasant, an extremely nice house," he said. "They told us they had comfort issues. When I got in the attic, they had crushed ducts, detached ducts."

by Ryan Randazzo The Arizona Republic Mar. 30, 2011 12:00 AM

APS, SRP are providing $99 home energy audits

AT&T cuts off revenue for Jawa

A local company in the crosshairs of two lawsuits over how it charges for premium text-messaging services has had its revenue cut off by two of the nation's largest wireless networks.

AT&T Inc., the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S., said Tuesday that it will investigate Scottsdale-based Jawa for cyberfraud and that it has temporarily suspended the codes that allow the company to earn revenue from the sale of its text-messaging services.

Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 carrier in the U.S., filed suit against Jawa earlier this month and already terminated codes associated with the company. The lawsuit targets Jawa Chief Executive Jason Hope, five other people and 20 limited-liability companies Verizon Wireless says are controlled by Jawa.

Without citing Jawa specifically, Sprint Nextel, which ranks third in size, said it "suspended a series of premium short codes earlier this month to provide an opportunity for obtaining additional information in light of questions that have emerged."

In a statement, AT&T said it is aware of the suspected text-messaging scheme outlined in the lawsuit filed by Verizon.

"Because we want to determine as quickly and effectively as possible whether or not the allegations are accurate, we have retained a nationally recognized cyberfraud-expert team to investigate," AT&T said.

The carrier said Jawa has agreed to cooperate by allowing the independent investigators full access to data and records.

"In the interim, we have suspended the short codes identified in the complaint and have identified and suspended additional related short codes," the statement said.

AT&T this month said it will buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG in a deal valued at $39 billion that would make it the largest cellphone company in the U.S.

Lawsuits filed by Verizon and the Texas attorney general allege that Jawa, a cellphone-applications developer, used shell corporations, false business addresses, websites that did not comply with industry standards and diversionary software to deceive customers to buy its services.

The lawsuits demand that Jawa halt its alleged fraudulent practices. The lawsuits also seek punitive damages and customer restitution.

A spokesman for AT&T had no information on the amount of revenue the company makes from Jawa customers. But he said that the company maintains a liberal refund policy and that customers with unauthorized charges should request one.

Jawa said Tuesday that it has been regularly communicating with AT&T regarding what it called false and disparaging statements made by Verizon.

"The evidence in the lawsuit will show that Verizon's vicious attacks on Jawa are premised upon Verizon's reckless reliance upon inaccurate information provided to Verizon by a disgruntled former Jawa employee," the statement reads.

In a complaint filed March 7 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, attorneys for Verizon detailed allegations of how customers conducting Internet searches could be duped into providing their cellphone numbers, which triggered monthly charges. Verizon Wireless claims Jawa used sophisticated techniques so that its auditors couldn't discover the deceptive marketing.

The case centers on premium text-messaging services, which include ringtones, news and other content delivered for a fee to a customer's wireless phone. Once customers sign up, the costs are added to their monthly wireless bill.

Hope denies the allegations. Verizon simply wants the revenue brought in by Jawa and similar companies for itself, he has argued. Jawa has filed a counterclaim to stop a preliminary injunction sought by Verizon. The hearing is set for April 13.

Because the company is confident in the products and services, and in order to allay any concerns, Jawa said it voluntarily agreed to AT&T's independent audit.

AT&T said it has put safeguards in place to protect its customers when they are considering purchasing third-party content. They aim to help customers understand the product and possible charges before they agree to buy it, the company said.

"If third parties do not abide by our customer-protection policies, we can (and have) terminated their ability to sell content to our customers," AT&T said.

by John Yantis The Arizona Republic Mar. 30, 2011 12:00 AM

AT&T cuts off revenue for Jawa


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