The FTC Wants You to Battle Robocallers

Are you tired of those annoying calls that are nothing more than a recorded sales pitch? Could you use $50,000? Are you good at creating technical solutions to problems? If so, then you should consider entering the FTC Robocall Challenge.

Robocalls can be described as a recorded message that is played as soon as (or sometimes, even before), a person picks up the phone. They are automatically dialed, and the audio quality is often very poor. People who receive these unwanted phone calls immediately realize that there isn’t an actual human on the other end of the line. A robot called them. The person then hangs up the phone, and grumbles about having his or her dinner interrupted.

The Federal Trade Commission is interested in battling robocallers for several reasons, (and not simply because they are annoying). These types of calls often consist of a sales pitch that is intentionally deceptive. The majority of robocalls are illegal because they break the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. A person has to have given the commercial robocaller advance written permission to call them. If that permission has not been granted, then the telemarketer, (robotic or not) should not be calling.

The FTC Robocall Challenge can be entered for free. It is open to the public. Entries will be accepted as soon as October 25, 2012, and they will continue to be accepted until January 17, 2013. The FTC wants innovators to create solutions that will block illegal robocalls.

Your solution needs to block robocalls on both landlines and mobile phones. It must be able to operate on a proprietary or nonproprietary device or platform. You can enter the contest with a proposed technical solution, a functional solution, or proof of concept.

The individual, team, or small corporation (that employs less than 10 people), with the Best Overall Solution will win $50,000 in cash and a trip to Washington D.C to present the solution. Others will receive a Federal Trade Commission Technology Achievement Award. This is an honorary award that does not come with a cash prize.

Judging will be based on three criteria. Does it work? 50% of the score will be based on the answer to that question. Is it easy to use? That’s another 25%. The remaining 25% is based on another question. Can it be rolled out? Humanity’s battle against the robots is about to begin!

Image: A Fun Group Of Robot Toys by BigStock

Olympic Technology

Did you know that when they run track at this Olympics, that for the first time all runners will hear the gun at the same time. Before this because of the way sound travels the racer on the far side of the track from the starter pistol always heard the sound a millisecond after the racer near the starter pistol. This may not seem like a lot, but it could be the difference between a Gold and a Bronze medal. In these Olympics there will be a sound speaker behind each starter block so all runners will hear the sound at the same time. Each start block will have a pressure pad in it, if any runner releases the pressure faster than one-tenth of a second after the pistol is fired, it will be considered a false start. The finish will be measured by an Omega Quantum Timer which is accurate to a thousands of a second. Some racers will wear a suit made by Nike called the Pro Turbo Speed that has dimples in it like a golf ball which will cut down on wind resistance. There is some controversy over these suits, because some say they give an unfair advantage to those who can afford them. Their supporters simply say that they are just using the technology that is available to them.

Track isn’t the only sports where technology is playing a role in these Olympics.  Taekwondo contestants will be wear cloths and pads with sensors in them, so that every hit will be counted.

Not all the technology that is being used is for the athletes,  some is so that the spectators can see the events better. One example of this is synchronized swimming. Synchronize swimming has been traditional hard to film, because part of the action is below water and part above. Water reflex lights differently then air which makes syncing shots from above and below water very difficult. Historically it had required a lot of post work. NHK a Japanese company has created Twinscam, which combines images from two lens one above and one below water. This creates an almost flawless image of the swimmer.

So as you are watching the Olympics, remember that technology is not only being used to show you the games, but to allow the athletes to be swifter, higher, stronger.

TEDxBelfast 2012

TEDxBelfastAt TEDxBelfast last night I was inspired by the stories of individuals who passionately believed in an idea and then made that idea a reality. From working with autistic children to building a new arts centre, these people all made a difference. Presented in Titanic Belfast in front of the replica of the famous staircase, it was an unforgettable evening.

Titanic Staircase

As with all TED conferences, the presentations will be posted on-line but that will take a week or two before they are ready. In  the meantime, these are the speakers, their stories and how they made a difference.

David Maxwell of Tyrone Timberframes presented his work with Habitat for Humanity in building highly energy-efficient homes that have no central heating. The significant cost of fossil fuel-based energy can be a big factor in poverty and these homes can save the inhabitants over £1000 per year.

Maureen Murphy, Director of Aurion Learning, grabbed attention with the headline that 70% of training was wasted and proposed an innovative way of providing effective training using the acronym ASSAULT. One of the best bits was that of story-based approach that hooked the learner and got them more emotionally involved.

Fransuer Makula grew up in the slums of Kenya but is now a teacher in a prestigious school in Northern Ireland. Describing the harsh reality of existence as a street child, where death is commonplace, he related how the children dared to dream big. In the midst of utter poverty, these children wanted to grow up as doctors, nurses and lawyers. Fransuer established “Jengana” to help orphans, street children and schools in West Kenya.

Colleen Hardwick, billed as an urban geographer and serial entrepreneur from Vancouver, laid out the loss of personal engagement in democracy. The statistics she presented on the fall of voter turnout over the past few decades were shocking. To counteract the anonymous global nature of the web, she’s developed PlaceSpeak, a community-based website that lets local people be authenticated as stakeholders in local issues without necessarily giving up that anonymity.

Next was an absolute gem…acoustic guitar duo Declan McKerr and Andy Toman, aka Gypsy’s Wish, serenaded TEDxBelfast, equipped with a brand-new George Lowden guitar. His guitars are world-famous with owners such as Eric Clapton and Mike Oldfield. Sublime.

Following a musical theme, Chris Blake, Principal Horn with the Ulster Orchestra, talked about the work he’d done with autistic children and the therapeutic value of music. The results were truly ground-breaking, increasing the evidence between autism and musicality.

Dr Nigel Hart took us all on a trip to the peaks and Mt Everest in particular in his talk on Mountains, Medicine and Mantras. Clearly a keen mountaineer, he combined his medical training with his passion to investigate the effects of hypoxia on humans at altitude. During his climb to the top of the world, he had to rescue another climber who had collapsed. Apt for many shared endeavours, his response to the famous climbing question was not, “Because it’s there” but rather, “It’s not the height or the distance, it’s the people you travel with.”

Anne McReynolds, CEO of the Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre, had TEDxBelfast captivated by her struggle to get a world-class arts centre built in Belfast. Starting in 1996 and finally opening in 2012, it’s an amazing story of architects and artists (“good clients get good buildings”), buildings and space. If you want to build an arts centre, Anne should be the first person you talk to.

Colin Williams of Sixteen South tackled the “Can’t Do” attitude that has often afflicted Northern Ireland with a great story of “Can Do” success. It’s likely that you’ll never have heard of Sixteen South, a children’s TV production company but if you have kids under five you’ll have heard of Sesame Tree, Big City Park, Pajanimals, and Big & Small. Working with the BBC and The Jim Henson Company, Sixteen South produces these great TV programmes here in Northern Ireland. Fantastic.
Colin’s business plan was pretty clever too. “Do some good, make some money, have some fun.” Good advice for anyone.

Chris Horn completed the speaker line-up with his inspiration for Dublin’s Science Gallery, an exhibition space that takes a creative and artistic approach to the presentation of science and related issues. By taking the traditional remit of a science museum and combining it with the changing presentation of an art gallery, the Science Gallery is an innovation in itself that has proved tremendously successful. So much so that Google recently awarded the Science Gallery $1m to setup other Galleries around the world.

Overall, it was a great evening, with inspirational speakers in a fantastic setting. Thanks also to Davy Sims and Gary Burnett and Mark Finlay for organising #TEDxBelfast.

FloLight Stretches the MicroBeam 1024 Even Further

FloLight was at NAB 2012. They are the company that makes the MicroBeam 1024. What they have done is taken all the good things about the MicroBeam 1024, and made it into a slimmer rectangular shape.

The newly shaped light is called MicroBeam 1024LP. The LP stands for “low profile”. It is designed to give you everything that the MicroBeam 1024 has, but in a more accessible form. You can use the MicroBeam 1024LP in places that the original cannot be used because of the shape of the original light. It is designed to be used in rooms that have low ceilings, in conference rooms, or anywhere else that does not give you enough space to use a 1 x 1 light in.

The new MicroBeam 1024LP has the same features as the MicroBeam 1024. The only difference is that the LP version is easier to use in a smaller space. This allows people who are working on a professional filming project to choose the version that fits best into their production without having to sacrifice any features. The MicroBeam 1024 and the MicroBeam 1024LP the same, except for their sizes.

Features of the MicroBeam 1024 and MicroBeam 1024LP

* Equivalent of a 1000W “Hot Light”
* Offers both high light output and a high CRI
* The CRI of the Daylight version is 93
* Choose from Daylight version (~5600K) or Tungsten version (~3200 K)
* Both versions have Spot (~30º Beam) and Flood (~60º Beam) available
* Full dimming control
* They are 1024 Ultra Bright Daylight LEDs
* The LED lights are rated at 25,000 hours
* Mounting Yoke
* Optional V-Mount battery adapter
* External 12 VDC Input
* 110 – 240 VAC Power adapter included
* Slide-on filter holder and slide on Barndoors are sold separately
* Uses only 100W of energy

Why Chin Implants are On the Rise

The fastest growing trend in plastic surgery right now is chin implants. That’s right, there is an increasing number of people who decide to undergo plastic surgery in order to have their chins done.

Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows that the number of chin implants grew 71% in the past year. It seems that the people who want to have their chins augmented are evenly split between men and women, and that the largest increase is in patients who are age 40 or older.

The question is: Why? I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of a single instance where I looked at a person and thought to myself: “He would be so much more attractive if he had his chin augmented”. Most people, when listing the physical characteristics that they hope to find in a potential date neglect to mention anything about the person’s chin. In our culture, there are many body parts that are considered to be especially attractive or sexy, but the chin is not among them.

So, what is it, exactly, that is causing a growing interest in having plastic surgery to alter the appearance of one’s chin? It seems the answer has to do with technology. The president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Malcolm. Z. Roth, answered this question.

He suggests that the biggest reason why there is this sudden rush to get a chin job is because of video. People are using various forms of video-chat technology. Malcolm Z. Roth says: “They may notice that their jaw line is not as sharp as they want it to be”.

What is happening is that people, especially those who are 40 or older, have started using Skype, or FaceTime, or a variety of other communication tools that enable them to see other people while talking to them over the internet. It also allows a person to see how he or she looks on camera. Turn your head, your image on the video screen turns, and suddenly, you get a whole new perception of what your chin looks like to other people.

This story makes me giggle. Maybe it is because I think that elective plastic surgery is largely unnecessary under most circumstances. It also makes me wonder if there will be a trend of people who wear scarves when they are on Skype or FaceTime, in order to conceal their less than perfect chins.

Image: Patient’s chin with marks before operation by BigStock

Thunderbolt Power in the Palm of Your Hand

AJA Video Systems announced their new T-TAP adapter at NAB 2012. It is a very small bus-powered device that uses Thunderbolt connectivity for high quality 10-bit SD, HD and 2K output through SDI and HDMI connections. The device makes it simple to get professional video and audio out of any Thunderbolt enabled Mac system.

The T-TAP is lightweight and smaller than a standard mobile phone. It really does fit into the palm of your hand! Therefore, it is extremely easy to carry around while on the go. It includes AJA’s Mac drivers and software for integrated compatibility with major software packages from Apple, Adobe, Avid and more. The T-TAP will be available soon through AJA’s network of worldwide resellers and will cost $249.00.

T-TAP Features include:

* High-speed Thunderbolt connectivity

* 10-bit uncompressed 4:2:2 video and audio output

* HD/SD SDI and HDMI connectivity supports simultaneous output at 10-bit quality

* 3D support on HDMI for real-time stereoscopic review without requiring additional hardware

* Full 8- channel embedded audio allows for multi-channel playback

* Bus-powered via Thunderbolt connecter – no additional supply needed

* AJA Mac driver and proven software compatibility

* Backed by AJA’s 3-year warranty

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Check Out the New Cube from Teradek

Teradek has a new Cube x55, which is an upgrade from the original cube. It begins shipping on May 1, 2012. Like the original, the new Cube x55 is a camera-top wireless HD video encoder that connects with HDMI, HD-SDI or composite cameras. It can stream via a dual-band WiFi, an Ethernet port, or a single 3G/4G USB modem. Also like the original, the new Cube x55 has a compact aluminum chassis, comprehensive transport protocol support like RTP/ RTSP/ RTMP/ MPEG-TS, and a variety of camera inputs.

Here are some new features that the New Cube x55 has:

* OLED – which lets users quickly change and review the settings of their unit and to provide real-time feedback for filenames, recording status, and wireless connectivity.

* LI-ION Battery – built in, and gives up to 2 hours of runtime. The battery can be charged from an AC adapter or a suitable external battery such as an Anton Bauer.

* MIMO Access Point – improves wireless performance, enables wireless camera control for devices that don’t have built in WiFi capability, improves connectivity to iPad or Android tablets.

* Audio output – Cube comes with a headphone output for immediate audio monitoring.

* Micro SD – The micro SD slot lets the new Cube save onboard proxy recordings in real-time. The files are automatically synced to your proxy server over WiFi or cellular connections.

* Micro USB – The micro USB port can charge the new internal battery, and can connect with a computer’s USB port for hardwired configuration.

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Tiffen Rolls Out New Versions of Steadicam at NAB

Tiffen rolled out brand new versions their popular Steadicam Pilot and Scout Camera Stabilizer systems at NAB 2012. There are two new models in the Steadicam Pilot HD Series: the Pilot HD/SDI and the Pilot HDMI. There also is a new SteadiCam Scout HD System available.

The New Steadicam Pilot HD Series is designed for video professionals. Both new versions have a lightweight Iso-Elastic Arm and a low-profile vest. Each has a low-mass gimbal which allows the operator of the camera to capture fluid movement. They have a No-Tools precision camera stage that provides a solid base for the camera while facilitating smooth adjustment from side to side or front and back.

The Pilot HDMI version uses a fixed aluminum post that is non-adjustable. It also has a pass-through HDMI cable. The Pilot HD/SDI system comes with a CarbonLite expandable carbon fiber post. It is available with 12V, IDX V-mount or standard Anton Bauer. The Pilot HDMI system is standard with Anton Bauer 7.2V ElipZ battery systems.

More Features of the New Steadicam Pilot HD Series:
* Lightweight
* New 7” HD/SDI Composite monitor or New 7” HDMI Composite monitor
* True three-axis gimbal
* Micro adjustable X-Y stage
* Lightweight Iso-Elastic arm with 28” (71cm) boom
* Ultra low-profile lightweight vest
* High-definition wiring on Pilot HDMI version

The New Steadicam Scout HD System is a continuation of their Flyer vest, which is said to be comfortable. The new one has an ergonomic fit of the breastplate that is combined with solid metal shoulder fasteners. This should make the vest very comfortable for those who will be using it for an extended period of time. The vest and pad covers can be removed for easy cleaning. The vest can also be easily adjusted to fit the person who will be using it.

More Features of the New Scout HD:
* 5-18 lbs. camera payload capacity
* No-tools adjustable Iso-Elastic arm
* Dual-axis vernier adjustable stage
* Unparalleled inertial control and dynamically adjustable base
* Is available with a 7” HD/SDI composite 800 nit bright LCD monitor

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NewTek Unveils New Generation of TriCaster Family

NewTek now has a brand new line of TriCaster live production systems. There are three of them in this family of products: TriCaster 8000, TriCaster 855, and TriCaster 455. This new line comes with several “industry firsts” that are pretty interesting. They have Apple AirPlay support. They each have NewTek’s IsoCorder. The IsoCorder lets you record from multiple input sources and output options. It has embedded timecode and four audio tracks. IsoCorder supports most editing applications for both Mac and PC. You can delegate the audio mixing process to a separate iPad control app or to an Avid Artist series control surface.

TriCaster 8000, including the control surface, will be available later this year and will have a retail price of $39,995. This one is designed for media publishing professionals. It integrates well with social media production tools, and is capable of recording live video for large events. It has recordable macros that can be triggered simultaneously, extensive graphics and effects capabilities, and 8 M/E rows. The TriCaster 8000 also has a “Share” panel that lets you put video clips and individual stills right onto Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Flickr in a single pass.

TriCaster 855, including the control surface, is available now, and has a retail price of $29,995. It is designed for producers who want to build their businesses and brands. It has 24-channel switching, inputs for up to 8 cameras, 5 digital media players for video clips, graphics, and titles, and 2 network channels for sharing computer screens and displays from wireless iOS devices. It has 8 M/E-style virtual inputs and 3 outputs.

TriCaster 455, including the control surface, is available now, and has a retail price of $19,995. This one is designed for producers who are mobile who want to deliver professional quality live video content. It fits nicely into small spaces like a control room, small studio, production van, or blogger’s office. It has a 14-channel switcher with 4 camera inputs.

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GNC Hits The Gadget Show Live

Gadget Show LiveNext week sees one of the major technology events in the UK with The Gadget Show Live at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Born out of the Channel 5 TV show of the same name, it combines exhibition space with theatrical performances, making it more consumer than business and a great deal of fun.

The show is the UK’s biggest consumer electronics event and there’s now a press and professional day at the beginning of the week. Fortunately I’ve been invited along on Tuesday so I’ll be reporting back on the latest gadgets and technology. Depending on bandwidth, I’ll try some live-blogging and I’m taking along a digital voice recorder too to get a few interviews. It’s the first time I’ve attended so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

There’s a list of exhibitors here though the floor plan is bit easier to handle as it’s split up into various zones – audio, gaming, automotive, photo, home and international. Many of the big companies are here – Samsung, Dell, Canon, EA, Sennheiser, AMD – plus quite a few smaller ones. If there’s any particular vendor that you want me to hunt down, just leave a comment below and I’ll do my best.