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As I covered earlier at MSN Autos Exhaust Notes blog, drug store giant Walgreen has announced an initiative to become the largest host of public electric vehicle charging stations in the country. The plan calls for 800 such 240-volt charging stations, built with partners including Car Charging Group, 350Green and NRG Energy, to be installed at Walgreen locations around the country; according to the current plans, EV drivers looking for a boost would be charged between $3 and $4 for a 90-minute connection, with exact prices varying based on grid prices for electricity in various locations. Most importantly, though, the announcement puts a major corporate name behind the rapid expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Game developer Zynga, responsible for popular titles Farmville, Cityville, and Words With Friends, filed to raise up to $1 billion in an initial public offering, according to SEC documents. The company’s popularity is undeniable–Zynga counts 60 million daily active users spending a total of 2 billion minutes per day playing its various games–though popularity and profitability do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
Researchers from the University of Ulm in Germany have found that 99 percent of devices running Google’s Android operating system are vulnerable to attacks in which adversaries can steal digital credentials used to access calendars, contacts and other data, writes Dan Goodin for The Register. The researchers reported that even though Google patched the security hole earlier this month with the release of Android 2.3.4, devices that sync with Picasa web albums still transmit sensitive data through unencrypted channels.
Santa baby, slip an iTouch under the tree, for me Been an awful tough year, Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight. This holiday season, the little somethings that small business owners are asking Santa to slip under the tree include lightweight notebook computers, next-generation smart phones, HD cameras, and more. With the economy in the doldrums, there’s not a whole lot to celebrate this year and not a whole lot of IT money left to celebrate with. But small business owners who’ve managed to squirrel away a little of their annual computing budget to spend on themselves or their employees before Dec. 31 have a sleigh full of electronic devices to choose from. According to a very informal poll of several dozen small business owners, here are some of the most popular items on their holiday wish lists: Little laptops Sallie Goetsch, a podcast producer at The Podcast Asylum in California, wants a UMPC — an ultra-mobile PC — the latest in lightweight computing. Also known as a tablet PC, netbook or subnotebook, the devices run 13” or smaller, weigh just a couple pounds, have touch screens and/or QWERTY keyboards and come with built ins like GPS and Wi-Fi and a variety of options. Goetsch wants something to take to conferences and events and prefers a UMPC over a smart phone. “I never did learn how to type with my thumbs,” she says. “I’m trying to decide which one, the new HP? The EEE?” Joe Pulizzi, owner of Z Squared Media, a Cleveland, Ohio, content marketing firm and founder of the Junta42 content marketing blog network, wants a mini laptop too. Pulizzi has a 17” Toshiba laptop in his home office, but it’s too big for the road. “Sometimes small is better,” he says. Pulizzi has his eyeona Toshiba Portege with a 12.1” display, built-in fingerprint reader, webcam, digital card reader, and 4 USB ports. Smartphones Linda Musgrove, owner of an Aventura, Fla., trade show consulting firm called Trade Show Teacher, already has a smartphone. But that hasn’t stopped her from lusting after the HTC Touch Pro, Sprint’s Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone with a slide-out QWERTY keypad, touch screen, expandable memory, 3.2 megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth support. The device will do double duty, managing Musgrove’s business and “my crazy family,” she says. Nancy White, owner of Custom Interface, a Bingen, Wash., custom electronics manufacturer, treated herself to an AT&T Tilt smartphone as an early Christmas present. It hasn’t been pure love at first sight — “It takes three screens to get to speed dial” — but she does love the fact that it comes loaded with Microsoft Outlook, “so the interface with my work desktop is fantastic,” she says. Cameras and gadgets When it comes to gadgets, former newspaper photographer Jay Bryant has a soft spot for cameras. This holiday, Bryant, now business development vice president at Live World, a San Jose, Calif., social networking company, has his eye on the Kodak Zi6 Flip Cam in HD. The palm-sized device has a 2.4” screen and weighs 3.8 ounces and has built-in USB port and editing software. “I’m going to try my hand at video blogging,” Bryant says. “And I’m going to start recording some of my presentations to review them afterward to see how I can do better,” Bryant says. Plus, at a suggested retail price of $180, “it’s cheap,” he says. After Andre Preoteasa, IT director at Castle Brands got himself an Apple iPod Touch, he was the most popular guy at the New York City fine spirits distributor. “Everyone in the office is asking to use it. Everybody wants one,” Preoteasa says. “It’s literally a computer in your pocket, and a very posh one.” Reviewers have dubbed the second-generation iPod Touch the iPhone’s baby brother, with many of the same features — music and video player, Safari Web browser, email, iTunes store, etc. — minus the ability to make cell phone calls. Prices run $270 to $400 for models with 8, 16 or 32 GB flash memory. Travis Isaacson, senior director of organizational development at Access Development, a Salt Lake City, affinity marketing business, doesn’t want anything that fancy, just an iPod Classic with 120 GB of memory instead of the old 80 GB model he has now so he can squeeze in more of the business books he downloads from Audible.com. Nov Omana, managing principal at Collective HR Solutions, a San Mateo, Calif. HR industry consultant, doesn’t like it when people sitting next to him at Starbucks or on an airplane peek at his laptop screen. So this holiday his wish list includes a pair of MyVu Shades, eyewear that looks like regular sunglasses but blocks out whatever is showing on a laptop or iPod screen for everyone except the person wearing them. The $199 device, which comes with built-in earbuds, is primarily sold as a way to watch videos in private but Omana thinks it has big potential with business travelers. “The next generation may allow us to just ‘see’ each other in a virtual world or over the net no matter where we are,” he says. John Klebes, business development program manager at Sig Sauer, the Exeter, N.H. gun maker, has his eye on the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, a $200 digital pen with built in microphone, speaker, display screen and tiny camera. The Smartpen can record notes in written and audio form simultaneously when used with special “digital paper” embedded with microdots. “It sounds like a very useful tool and I wouldn’t turn down one for Christmas,” Klebes says.
Seasoned computer users know the most important laptop features boil down to processor, system memory, battery life, and monitor size — but consider these the essential “basics” that are just as relevant today as they were a decade ago. Since then, however, we’ve had a number of new technologies crop up, such as dual- and quad-core CPUs, wide-area networking (WAN) connectivity, solid state drives and security-related tools. Here’s a look at a few of the newer features available if there’s a need and a budget. Multicore processors Why limit yourself to one engine under the hood of your car when you can have two or four? This is a way to think about dual- and quad-core technology, giving your laptop a serious boost in performance. Powered by chipmakers Intel and AMD, many laptops today include a dual-core processor, which speeds up your applications and makes multitasking smoother, while high-end laptops have quad-core processors for serious PC video editors, animators, and gamers. The good news is that you need not break the bank to afford one as dual-core CPU-based laptops start at $549. Solid state drives Rather than a traditional hard drive to store all of your PC’s data, laptops with “solid state drives” (SSDs) use Flash memory — similar to what holds your digital camera’s photos or iPod nano’s music — which offers a number of advantages to the mobile computer user. Solid state-based laptops are smaller, lighter, more energy efficient, run faster, and are less susceptible to damage because there are no moving parts. “In many vertical markets, rugged-ization and durability are very important, with features like shock mounted [hard disk drives] or SDDs, crumple zones in the notebook in case of accidental drops, and spill-proof keyboards,” says David Daoud, an analyst with IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research firm. Not everyone is sold on SSDs, however. Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at the New York-based Jupiter Research firm, says small businesses watching their budget might be turned off at the relatively high costs of SSDs compared to traditional hard drives. “While battery life is improved, you’ll definitely pay a premium for not a lot of disk space, plus the claims about [increased] performance are not proven,” says Gartenberg. “The best bang for your buck is still is magnetic [hard disk] storage.” Integrated cell connections Rather than hunting for a Wi-Fi hotspot, your laptop can log online anywhere you can get cell phone reception — even while on a moving train or in the back of a cab. A new trend is for laptop makers to include integrated GSM/GPRS connectivity, giving you access to a wireless carrier while on the go. Some even include support for high-speed “3G” connections, offering broadband-like wireless speeds. “Integrated WAN and GPS are interesting new features in laptops,” agrees Gartenberg. But he cautions “you need to decide if you’re willing to make an investment in a carrier, which is not unlike a cell phone commitment.” “In the wireless world, we also expect Qualcomm’s Gobo chip to find a great deal of interest, among those who travel a lot and travel across regions with different wireless broadband standards,” adds Daoud. Side view screens Many laptops today include a 2.5-inch colour liquid crystal display (LCD) on the opposite side of your screen — just as your flip phone might have a smaller screen on the outside (mainly to show who’s calling). Some Windows Vista-based laptops include an extra “SideShow” screen so you can quickly read downloaded emails, notes or calendar appointments — all without having to turn on the PC. Gartenberg agrees a “mini environment in which you can rapidly boot up to look at a calendar or access a Web browser” is appealing, though SideShow hasn’t caught on just yet: “It remains as a promise more than a fulfillment at this point.” Security improvements, too Integrated fingerprint readers are a reliable biometrics-based technology that ensures only the laptop user can access data on the drives — an important consideration given the potentially sensitive corporate data carried under the arm while traveling. Further, traditional locks, from the likes of Kensington, can serve as a visible deterrent to a would-be thief; a steel cable is connected to a small security slot on the laptop, usually at the side or back, before tethered to a large or heavy object, such as a desk at an airport lounge. A mobile businessperson may also install clever software, such as Lojack (from $39.99 a year), that will stealthily contact the security center with its whereabouts the moment the stolen laptop is connected to the Internet. But for all of these newer laptop features, however, Gartenberg believes one of the most important is still battery life. “Today, it’s possible to have your laptop last more than 10 hours on single charge — you don’t want to fight for a plug at the airport or your local Starbucks. “At the end of the details these are the details that boost productivity,” he says.