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Penny for your thoughts...

EmotivAre you ready to be freaked out?

Then read this article from Wired magazine.

It reports findings of a study that showed researchers could read the thoughts of subjects who wore certain EEG headsets. The headsets, which read brainwaves, are already readily available and help people with disabilities manipulate computers and games hands free.

A team of security researchers from Oxford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Geneva say that they were able to deduce digits of PIN numbers, birth months, areas of residence and other personal information by presenting 30 headset-wearing subjects with images of ATM machines, debit cards, maps, people, and random numbers in a series of experiments. The paper, titled “On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain Computer Interfaces,” represents the first major attempt to uncover potential security risks in the use of the headsets.

“The correct answer was found by the first guess in 20% of the cases for the experiment with the PIN, the debit cards, people, and the ATM machine,” write the researchers. “The location was exactly guessed for 30% of users, month of birth for almost 60% and the bank based on the ATM machines for almost 30%.”

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Pint-sized programmers....

KidsComputersGrandparents like to joke that their toddler grandkids know more about the computer than they do. And who doesn't get a chuckle when they see a four-year-old boot up the family's PC?

But it looks like early exposure to computers, gaming and coding could be the key to turning out American engineers, something this country does less of than India and China.

This article on Bloomberg takes an interesting look at pint-sized computer programmers:

Lua is one of a handful of visual coding languages that are helping kids try their hand at software coding amid a boom in online games and applications for devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone. The user-friendly tools are being popularized by sites like Roblox, a platform that lets users create and play games with interactive animations from zombies to medieval fortresses. They could be instrumental in helping fill what companies like Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. say is a shortfall in U.S. engineering talent . . . .

Some young people are picking up coding skills from online programming classes offered by startups, including Udacity Inc., Codecademy and Coursera Inc. More than 1 million people have taken Codecademy courses since its introduction in August 2011, and elementary school teachers through college professors have used the material in their classrooms, said Codecademy co- founder Zach Sims, who said learning coding is the “new literacy.”

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Who invented it?

FranklinCheck out this interesting article in the New York Times.

Inventor Mark Stadnyk is suing the U.S. government to try to overturn recent legislation in patent law that he says bows to corporate lobbyists and strangles American innovation:

The present system, one of the nation’s oldest patent principles and called “first to invent,” relies on lab notebooks, e-mails and early prototypes to establish the date of invention. The impending law would overturn that by awarding patents to the inventors who are “first to file” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office . . . .

Opponents say it will give big companies a huge advantage over start-ups and small inventors. Large corporations have deep pockets and armies of lawyers to write up and file patents, they say, and the new law will touch off a paper chase to the patent office instead of a race to innovate. Yet the opponents are in the minority. And there is genuine debate about how much garage inventors and fledgling companies contribute to innovation and economic growth these days.

Proponents of the legislation says it will cut red tape and prevent long legal battles that tend to arise over intellectual property.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Hurricane impact could be felt here

Isaac1Hurricane Isaac has already blown through Haiti, Cuba and Southern Florida. Now experts say it's headed to the Gulf Coast.

Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have all declared states of emergency. About 10.5 percent of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have been evacuated, which is expected to reduce oil production by about 24 percent per day and natural gas production by 8 percent daily.

An article on Forbes is predicting Isaac could give Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive hurricane in history, a run for its money in terms of destruction and economic impact, especially when it comes to the energy industry:

When it comes to offshore oil and gas rig infrastructure in 2012 versus 2005, the biggest difference is that the rigs placed into the Gulf of Mexico in the last several years have been hardened to resist Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. However, up until now, other than Hurricane’s Gustav and Ike in 2008, there has been no real test of the endurance of newer ‘hurricane resistant’ infrastructure that has replaced much of the aging platforms in 2005.  Isaac may very well be the storm to test the fortitude of the newer offshore hardware.

Natural gas and oil prices are expected to increase accordingly:

The hurricane damage inflicted by Katrina caused oil prices to increase from the mid-$60s per barrel to over $70/bbl and gasoline prices at the pump rocketed to near $5 a gallon in some areas of the US. The US government released oil from its stockpile in the Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) to offset price rises. In the natural gas market, prices were trading in the $9 to $10/MMBtu range at the time, but spiked to over $15/MMBtu as the full extent of the damage became apparent . . . . In terms of energy prices, it’s very likely that the oil and gas markets will react bullishly to Isaac when traders come back to work on Monday


You made it--it's Friday! Here's a classic from Loverboy to help you celebrate.

Let's be grateful the weekend is here, and be grateful these clothes are no longer in style:


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Not charging for your product leads to trouble

GodinEntrepreneur, blogger and marketing guru Seth Godin made himself famous partly by giving his books away and encouraging other people to give their products and information away free, too. He is a best-selling author, even though most of the books he has written are available on his Web site for free.

Many of us have gotten used to the idea of getting things for free: our digital content, our social media sites. But what happens when free fails? The Wall Street Journal asks just that in this article:

  For some, the "freemium" strategy is turning out to be a costly trap, leaving them with higher operating costs and thousands of freeloaders.

That's what happened to Chargify LLC, a provider of billing-management software to small businesses, which used the freemium business model when it started out in 2009.

The Needham, Mass., company gave away its software to merchants that billed fewer than 50 customers a month. If a merchant wanted to bill more than 50 customers monthly, then the business owner would have to start paying $49 a month.

Most Chargify users never became paying customers. Within a year, the company was on the path to bankruptcy.

Chargify eventually put up a paywall for all users. Last month the 12-employee company became profitable, with more than 900 paying customers. The starter plan is $65 a month . . . .

The freemium approach doesn't make sense for any business that can't eventually reach millions of users. Typically only 1% or 2% of users will upgrade to a paid product, said David Cohen, founder and CEO of TechStars, a start-up accelerator since 2007 with five U.S. locations . . . . Paid users generally expect to get better or different versions of what they've already received free of charge. And it rarely makes sense for companies that sell products or services mostly to large businesses. Enterprise clients typically have budgets for buying goods and services, thus, they aren't as drawn to free products.

Of course, The Buffalo News is about to roll out a subscription fee for its digital content. But some non-profit news organizations, such as the excellent investigative reporting sites Pine Tree Watchdog and Wisconsin, are making a go of giving their content away free to other publications. This article takes a look at why they might have a tough time of it. 

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann


Buffalo and the lists she makes

Most people have weighed in by now about the silly Ukrainian "study" that has deemed Buffalo the city with the most miserable people, judging by their Tweets. LOCAL BUFFALO AERIAL GEE

No one seems to be buying it, but it is interesting to see that we have a high concentration of that kind of Tweet. It's more intriguing than all of those other lists Buffalo keeps ending up on, with dubious selection criteria.

We placed 10th on's list of places to find a sensitive man, 16th out of America's top 25 drunkest cities and 33rd among America's most literate cities.

Forbes magazine has ranked us one of the countries "Most Miserable Cities," a top tailgating city, a top city to raise a family and the best place to be a working mom. American Style magazine named us a top 25 arts destination, Kiplinger named us the 5th best place for commuters and BusinessWeek named us the best place to ride out the recession.

 If you could come up with your own ranking, what kind of list would Buffalo top?


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Hmmmmm, commerative stamps....D'oh!

SimpsonsBloomberg has an interesting article today looking behind the scenes at stamp production at the U.S. Postal Service.

The USPS, which is on track to have lost $15 billion this year, made a bet on Simpsons stamps a couple of years ago, which turned out to be a misfire:

The money-losing U.S. Postal Service guessed that TV cartoon character Homer Simpson and his family were twice as popular as Elvis Presley when it came to sales of commemorative stamps.

As Homer would say, “D’oh!” In a move that wasted $1.2 million in printing costs, the service produced 1 billion of “The Simpsons” stamps and sold 318 million.

The Postal Service inspector general in a report singled out the overproduction of stamps marking the 20th anniversary of the cartoon’s run on News Corp. (NWS)’s Fox network as an example of failing to align stamp production with demand.

“If the Postal Service can’t address a simple matter such as determining how many commemorative stamps to produce, it shows they can’t address the larger problems,” Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said. “Unfortunately, even a small item can create larger problems."

Job hunting, waste disposal and IDA drama...

Is technology making it easier or more difficult to find a job? A click of a button and your resume is off to a potential employer. But that ease of applying has created a mountain of resumes for every HR department to glean through. If you are not adept at putting in the right key words, you may never get noticed. Some folks still like the old fashioned method of dropping by for a visit to say hello to the person doing the hiring.

Can't wait until the next county hazardous waste drop off day? A City of Tonawanda company thinks it has solved your problem. Hazman accepts household hazardous waste all the time - for a small fee. So you just lost your excuse for not cleaning the garage.

The discussion over how to revamp the region's vast array of Industrial Development Agencies has taken an unexpected turn. The suburban IDA's that oppose a plan to fade away and let the Erie County IDA take over may request the authority to grant tax breaks in nearby towns that do not have their own IDAs. The idea it to create a whole bunch of smaller regional IDAs. Opponents of that plan, like State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, say that would just give the small IDAs more clout to grant tax breaks to bad deals.

Some nice digs...

What better way to spend a Friday than to voyeuristically scan the real estate ads?

The only thing that can top a trip through The Buffalo News' HomeFinder listings is to pair it with a trip through the real estate ads for New York City.

Let's have a look, shall we?

In Brooklyn, $150,000 gets you this 480-square-foot studio in Midwood:


In Lockport, $150,000 will get you this 1,506-square foot three bedroom:


Up your bid to $500,000 and you'll get a lot more space and amenities. For example, you can find 1,300 square feet and three bedrooms in Central Harlem:


Or you can spend $550,000 and get this six-bedroom, 3.5 bath with more than 4,000 square feet on Windsor Avenue in Buffalo:

And just for fun, what can you get once you pass the $1 million mark?

Well, in Manhattan's Upper West Side, you can find this 980-square-foot, one-bedroom condo for $1.25 million:


And for $1.149 in Ellicottville, you can get this custom-built, 4 bedroom, 4.5 bath home overlooking the slopes at Holiday Valley. It comes complete with a gourmet kitchen, ski room entry and artist's studio:

Livingroom Ellicottville



It's fun to dream, no?

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

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