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about a year ago:

Abe Lincoln Has Ultraslick Obama-Like Social Media Campaign

A satirical site is asking for your 15 cents to support the Lincoln-Johnson ticket — “less than the cost of a green turtle soup!”

This morning I received an email from Mary Todd Lincoln about the debate last night, or another one a century and a half ago. It's hard to tell. She wrote:

I started getting emails like this about a week ago, when Abraham Lincoln himself (from the grave, obviously) wrote me. “Is there anything greater than the crack of an iron wedge bursting into hemlock wood?” he asked. “In this time of great civil strife, it's the only kind of rift I can get behind.”

The emails led to a website, lincoln1864.com, where I spotted a helpful-sounding link called “What is this?” Exactly what I was wondering! I clicked and was swiftly redirected to a blank webpage, satire.com, which somehow explained both everything and nothing at the same time.

I emailed the campaign: Who are you? All of the responses, from gentlemen who go by names like “Archibald Marshall Chauncey” (Deputy Campaign Superintendent), stayed in character. “President Lincoln is obviously a very busy man,” Chauncey advised me, “but I'd be happy to answer any questions you have about his vision for healing the Union.”

Exploring the rest of the website provided just about as many revelations as to its provenance and purpose, though there is certainly a campaign-finance reform bent to the whole thing: A “Get the Facts” button sends you to a Washington Post article about campaign finance. “Get the Latest” links to a Google News search for “campaign finance reform”. “Get Involved” will bring you to an Atlantic article by Lawrence Lessig, “The Last Best Chance for Campaign Finance Reform: Americans Elect.” My favorite little Easter egg of the bunch is a “Store” link connected to Wikipedia's entry on consumerism.

The whole thing looks like your standard 2012 presidential campaign website, with more than a passing resemblance to many of the devices — textual and visual — that define the Obama campaign's online presence.

There's a campaign blog too, complete with supporter-generated art from one “Earl Tyron of Illinois, sole proprietor of Kline Creek Farm”:

To which the campaign added:

Well done, Earl. Well done.

We ❤ our farmers.

Do you ❤ us back?

Followed by, what else, a donate button (which, mystifyingly, will take you to the donate form for the Trust for the National Mall).

Whoever is behind the effort remains a mystery. The best bet so far is from Kate Dries at WBEZ, who found the first person @Lincoln1864 (the campaign's twitter account) had followed, a logo designer named Graham Smith. Based on his classy personal site, Smith would definitely have the design chops to pull off Lincoln for the Union. Smith has not yet responded to an inquiry, nor did he respond to Dries, she reports.

In a sense, the project's significance is the way it lays bare the confluence of design language, web features and even a particular email argot that together signal “campaign” to us. There's a sort of template to it, an impersonal personalization, mass-produced but trying desperately to connect.

But for all it does in showing us those incongruencies, my favorite piece of the website was not a piece of political commentary but a piece of history: a link to a video of a song in support of Lincoln's 1860 campaign. The web-design language of today may not be with us in 150 years, but in listening to this tune, there's no question that the idiom of American folk music has held up well since Lincoln's time.

This article originally published at The Atlantic here.


about a year ago:

AOL launches Alto cloud-based mail, aggregates Gmail and others

Attempting to stay relevant in a world where even Yahoo! gets more press, AOL on Thursday launched the beta version of its new cloud-based e-mail management tool, Alto.

Alto won’t replace Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, or any other e-mail services. Instead, the free HTML 5-based client manages your existing accounts in a less linear, more visual way. You visit Alto’s site and sign in with your AOL, Gmail, Yahoo, or iCloud information.

AOL says it looked at how people sort their mail in real life—typically in stacks of bills, personal letters, and junk—and sought to replicate that system with Alto. For those of us whose inboxes are filled to the brim with a mess of unimportant chats, parent-child communiques, work documents, Craigslist furniture links, Facebook notifications, and Groupon deals, Alto may provide some organizational relief.

The tool lets you drag and drop mail into labeled stacks by category or sender, so you can designate messages from your mom or boyfriend to be filed away in their own stack rather than hitting your inbox with the rest of the riff-raff.

Alto's deals and retail stack
If you’re on store mailing lists or have daily deal subscriptions, Alto automatically sorts those e-mails into separate stacks so you can page through the deals whenever you want. AOL likens the experience to window shopping.

Photos, attachments, and social network notifications are also instantly sorted into stacks, so you don’t have to comb through your entire inbox looking for that elusive paperclip icon.

Alto has a clean, well-designed user interface that's fairly intuitive. With your inbox on the left-hand side of the screen and stacks visible on the right, dragging and dropping messages from the inbox to stacks is quick and simple.

Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook, and other e-mail services have their own filing systems, but Alto’s added visual element is useful. You can also manage multiple e-mail addresses on Alto, so if you want to mingle work and personal accounts and use the stacks system to organize, that’s an option.

Alto's address book view

The platform seems like a perfect fit for touch-screens. AOL says it’s working to optimize Alto for mobile and tablet users in the first quarter of 2013, when the client officially opens to the public. Alto is for now in invite-only mode and currently taking requests.


about a year ago:
From style.com

On Our Radar: James Jean x Lane Crawford

“I had always been looking for an interesting way to translate my work into three dimensions,” artist James Jean reveals of OVM, his new jewelry and accessories collection, which launches with an exclusive line of limited-edition print scarves, pouches, and iPhone veils at one of the Far East's top shopping destinations, Lane Crawford. This collaboration, titled Velum, is a natural extension for Jean, perhaps best known in the fashion world for conceiving of the now iconic fairy prints seen in Prada's Spring ‘08 collection. “I started brainstorming ideas and taking parts from my artwork and translating them into wearable art,” Jean tells Style.com of beginning his creative process. “The idea is that jewelry is more interesting because it's an abstraction of my work.” The result is an installation at Lane Crawford's Blitz concept space that will house the limited-edition prints, which were designed around the notions of transparency. Relying on the exploration of the subconscious, dreams, and fantasy that has become his signature, the collection's print scarves ($255 each) are rendered in chiffons to mimic the textures and materials present in the space's Glass House.

Treating his OVM designs as the artifacts from his expressive paintings, Jean paired with Hong Kong's legendary retailer Lane Crawford for the opportunity to bring the narrative landscape of his work to life in a fully idealized space. In addition to the exclusive prints, Blitz will feature a hand-painted mural, OVM jewelry and accessories, and books that all work together to form Jean's dimensional world. And it's a deeply personal world that will continue to shape the visual artist's journey. “Whenever I create art it comes from a very personal space. I naturally pull inspiration from my instincts when I'm putting together imagery, and afterward is when I'm able to figure out the narrative,” he says. The OVM x BLITZ project for Lane Crawford is available beginning today at Lane Crawford, Hong Kong, and online at LaneCrawford.com. The collection debuts exclusively here on Style.com.

—Alexis Brunswick

Pictured: A limited-edition silk scarf from the collection (left) and an detailed look at the print (top).

Photos: James Jean; Courtesy of Lane Crawford


about a year ago:

Turntable Interview: Grass Widow

Grass Widow

There's no other band that sounds quite like Grass Widow. The San Francisco post-punk three-piece composed of drummer Lillian Maring, guitarist Raven Mahon, and bassist Hannah Lew consistently churns out complex and catchy songs that blend genres, pairing sounds like spacey Moog with powerful punk beats and three-part harmonies. They put out two albums on Kill Rock Stars before opting to release their third record, Internal Logic, on their own label, HLR, which draws its name from the initials of the band's three members. We spoke with bassist Hannah Lew about self-publishing, feminism, filmmaking, and how much they want to be on Saturday Night Live (so much!).


Melissa Locker started playing “Back In Your Head” by Tegan & Sara

STEREOGUM: Hello, welcome to Turntable Interviews!
HANNAH LEW:Thanks! This is actually pretty fun and way easier than I thought it was gonna be.
STEREOGUM: Yes, spread the word! So you are just back from tour, how was it this time out?
HANNAH LEW:Yeah – we got back a couple of weeks ago.

Hannah Lew started playing “The 15th” by Wire

HANNAH LEW: I would say it was a really good overall. We played a lot of towns we've never been to. It feels really good to share the songs from our new record.
STEREOGUM: This was the first album you self-published, right?
HANNAH LEW: Yes, this is the first LP we've released on HLR, but we released two 7″s from the record earlier this year.
STEREOGUM: Was self-publishing more of a labor of love?
HANNAH LEW: HLR is really just a way for us to give a name to all the work we've always done. Even though we've collaborated with other labels in the past, we're always really hands on. Working with Kill Rock Stars taught us a lot about some business stuff and when it came time to release a new record – we decided to take that knowledge and do things exactly how we wanted. It feels really good to have control over all aspects and do everything exactly how we want to/work with exactly who we want to

Hannah Lew started playing “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned

STEREOGUM: Your album features an acoustic classical track, and “Response To Photographs” is piano, which aren't typical additions to a rock album
HANNAH LEW: Yeah, Raven wrote that. She is actually a really amazing classical guitarist and I'm glad we could include that aspect of her talent into the album. A lot of people were thrown off by the acoustic interludes, which I think is funny. David Bowie just busts out into acoustic guitar in the middle of a song and it's no biggie. We wanted to include whatever we were feeling on the record.
STEREOGUM: Right! And Queen does it all the time. You and Raven have worked together for a loooong time now. How has your relationship changed over the years?

Melissa Locker started playing “David” by The Radio Dept.

HANNAH LEW: Yeah, Raven and I have been playing for almost a decade. We are lifelong songwriting partners in whatever form that takes. We discovered through our friendship that we could use music writing as a way to transcend our problems/issues. We have a common sonic language between us.
STEREOGUM: Do you think your partnership is still maturing? As in do you think Internal Logic is the culmination of that friendship?

Hannah Lew started playing “Seagreen Serenades” by Silver Apples

STEREOGUM: Oh I love the Silver Apples!
HANNAH LEW: I think the three of us are on a roll creatively and I'm looking forward to continuing. Our music is very much an extension of the three of our friendship and idioglossia.
STEREOGUM: Idioglossia? BRB Googling.
HANNAH LEW: Internal Logic is my favorite record we have made. It's the most hopeful and fun to play.
STEREOGUM: Goldilocks is an incredible track.
STEREOGUM: Just because it's a particular interest of mine, why did you decide to go through your own label?
HANNAH LEW:Goldilocks Zone
STEREOGUM: Right, sorry for the shorthand.

Melissa Locker started playing “Octavio” by Viva Voce

STEREOGUM: Was it just the next logical evolution for you?
HANNAH LEW: Are you Googling the Goldilocks Zone now?
STEREOGUM: No, I'm Googling “idioglossia.” I found it. “An idiosyncratic language invented and spoken by only one person or very few people.” My word-a-day calendar missed that one.
HANNAH LEW: Well, “Past Time” was written during a really hard time for us personally and all we could write about was death. Those songs were really hard to perform and when it came time to write Internal Logic we just wanted to write songs that had positive affirmations and were fun to play.
STEREOGUM: You can definitely tell that you are having fun on the album. The review of Internal Logic by Vice caused a lot of waves.
HANNAH LEW: I don't want to give Vice any credit for starting a conversation about gender. We've always talked about our role as women in the music world.
STEREOGUM: Did you read Judy Berman's response to the review? I would give her the credit.
HANNAH LEW: I did think a lot of interesting things happened in cyberspace.
STEREOGUM: That is true. This interview for instance!
HANNAH LEW: At least people are talking and I think there have been some interesting conversations. I think a lot of people truly don't realize what we're up against.
STEREOGUM: All you have to do is spend an afternoon on reddit looking at all the women-in-the-kitchen “jokes” to know that it's alive and well.

Hannah Lew started playing “Don't Lie” by The Mantles

HANNAH LEW: Judy Berman chose to screengrab instead of linking to Vice, which I thought was a cool way to give form to an amorphous, anonymous outlet.
STEREOGUM: I agree. It was one of the savviest moves I've seen.
HANNAH LEW: Also, anyone that thought misogyny is over in 2012 can think twice.
STEREOGUM: Do you think people think misogyny is over?
HANNAH LEW: It's not the issues that 1st wave feminism or the Riot Grrrl movement had. It's internet sexism.

Melissa Locker started playing “Sugar” by Bikini Kill

STEREOGUM: Right, It's easy to be sexist anonymously online where the only thing you are calling out are other anonymous people
HANNAH LEW: That's what we deal with the most as girls in the scene. Maybe all artists do? When I was young no one ever commented online. We had MTV, which is a one-way screen. but now everything is so interactive. It's just different.
STEREOGUM: I interviewed Marnie Stern and she said she never really experienced sexism, except for the occasional catcall. What has your experience been?

Hannah Lew started playing “Paranoid Video” by Total Control

HANNAH LEW: My personal experience as a woman in music? I find that people refer to our gender before our musicianship a lot.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it's always “female guitarists” “female rappers”
HANNAH LEW: I think a woman can be good at anything, but her sexuality will be recognized before anything else. There's a lot of things about me. I think everyone has a fractured identity. I'm a bass player, I'm a film maker, I'm a woman, I'm Jewish, etc…
STEREOGUM: What lead you to filmmaking?

Melissa Locker started playing “Whirring” by the Joy Formidable

HANNAH LEW: When I was younger I was having a hard time and I wanted to prove to myself that I could start and finish a really big project. I had always filmed things with my super 8 camera since I was 17 or so – and had always been interested in film, but then I made my first movie in 2005 and eventually I made a music video for Fried Egg (GW) and then a bunch of other bands asked me to make videos, so I've been doing that.
STEREOGUM: How does your storytelling differ between music and film? And I love your Fried Egg video.
HANNAH LEW: It's a lot like songwriting – same attention span. We use language in a very abstract way in our songwriting and I like to abstract narrative visually as well. There are a lot of nuances that I don't think language does justice to, so there's melody and colors.
STEREOGUM: If you could make a video for any artist who would it be?
HANNAH LEW: If I could make a video for any artist… oooh that's hard! I've mostly done videos for people I know. I approach it like portrait art. I think in another dimension. I am an oil painter.
STEREOGUM: I was wondering if who you would make a video for would be different from who you would want to tour with?
HANNAH LEW: Well, when I make a video I really try to understand what an artist is going for and emulate that accurately with my own lens. Touring is very specific for us. We tend to grandma out a lot. The funnest videos I've done were with people that were very outgoing. I definitely compartmentalize sometimes. I can make a video for someone that is saying something different that I am, but I can empathize.

Melissa Locker started playing “Christine” by Siouxsie & The Banshees

STEREOGUM: What do you mean “grandma out” on tour? Like knit?
HANNAH LEW: No tour knitting. I guess I hear about crazy party times on tour. I know we usually play and then it's like 2am and we're ready for bed. We do a lot of books on tape in the van.
STEREOGUM: What did you listen to this time out?
HANNAH LEW: A couple of David Sedaris books. We've done Tina Fey in the past

Melissa Locker started playing “6'1″” by Liz Phair

STEREOGUM: What bands would you like to tour with? I'm sure there are other musicians who appreciate Sedaris and Fey on tape
HANNAH LEW: We've toured with The Raincoats twice and it is a dream team. I would tour anywhere with them again.
STEREOGUM: I saw that in New York. It was truly amazing.
HANNAH LEW: People were crying at all the shows. We joined them for Lola and Fairytale in the Supermarket on the last tour and I couldn't believe it every night!

Hannah Lew started playing “Say What's On Your Mind” by Broken Water

STEREOGUM: Do you hope to be making music when you are the same age as The Raincoats?
HANNAH LEW: Yes, the Raincoats are very inspiring because they have kept music as part of their lives in many different forms. Ana didn't even play in a band until she was 28.
STEREOGUM: Do you think women have a responsibility to support female musicians?
HANNAH LEW: I think men need to be feminists too or there's no point.
STEREOGUM: True. Do you think music is a good medium for that message?
HANNAH LEW: I think any art form offer an opportunity to express an individual idea. I think women have a responsibility to express individual female identities so people can stop thinking of women as one kind of woman-some it girl. I think any art forms offer an opportunity to express an individual idea.
STEREOGUM: So what do you make of artists like Katy Perry?
HANNAH LEW: I don't personally feel inspired by Katy Perry.
STEREOGUM: Her movie is billed as inspirational. I know you have to go, so last question: what artists do you think are doing a good representing feminism in music right now?

Melissa Locker started playing “Your Silent Face” by New Order

HANNAH LEW: I think female sexuality and desire gets expressed in a way that seems very much for validation from men. I like when you see women expressing themselves in a way that is for them. Hunx. I think he offers an expression of what it might mean to express gender in an individual way.
STEREOGUM: From Hunx and his Punx?
HANNAH LEW: Yeah. Honestly I think Grass Widow, too. We are three totally different women expressing our multiplicity.
STEREOGUM: What's next for Grass Widow?
HANNAH LEW: We will be touring the record till the end of the year. We've been taking a bit of a writing hiatus and working on some solo stuff – but are planning to regroup and start working on the next record this fall! Also, we're trying to play on SNL. I'm just gonna plant that seed right now.
STEREOGUM: Whoa! That would be AMAZING. You had an excellent turn on Portlandia, SNL is the next logical step!
HANNAH LEW: I know. We want to be in the skits too. Although now without Kristin Wiig and Andy Samberg…
STEREOGUM: …They need more stars and you women are just the ones to do it
HANNAH LEW: We actually met Andy Samberg when we were on Portlandia and told him most of our tour jokes were based on his skits. He said us and Maroon 5 have that in common.

Hannah Lew started playing “Trash” by New York Dolls

STEREOGUM: Ha! That may be the only thing you have in common with Maroon 5
STEREOGUM: What do you think you have in common with Maroon 5?
STEREOGUM: Ha! Well thank you so much. It's been great.
HANNAH LEW: Yes! Nice tunes too! It's way more fun to do an interview when you get to jam out at the same time. See ya!

Internal Logic is out now via HLR. Grass Widow is on tour in November:

11/02 – Brooklyn, NY @ 285 Kent

11/04 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott

11/05 – Montreal, QC @ Il Motore

11/06 – Toronto, ON @ Parts & Labor

11/07 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Yellow Barn

11/08 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle

11/09 – Columbus, OH @ Double Happiness

11/10 – Baltimore, MD @ The Metro Gallery

11/11 – Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong

11/12 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Barbary


about a year ago:

Smart CCTV knows when you need shopping advice

ARE you enjoying your shopping experience? Video surveillance systems might soon be answering that question for you. CCTV security cameras are a familiar fixture in shops, but the same cameras can also be used to track and analyse your browsing habits.

Mirela Popa at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and colleagues are developing software that can automatically categorise shoppers' behaviour using video footage from the fisheye cameras that many retail outlets have on their ceilings.

For example, the system can tell if customers appear to be disoriented, are looking around for a specific product, or are heading purposefully towards a particular section. When a customer seems in need of assistance, a member of staff can be directed to them. The aim is to help customers and increase retailers' profits, says Popa, who hopes the technology will lead to better customer service. "If I don't find what I'm looking for, I leave the shop," she says.

"This could be extremely valuable in terms of how to judge when a customer needs help," says Patrick O'Brien of retail analysts Verdict Research in London, UK. "In a busy shop it's difficult to know who it would be most productive to help next."

By installing additional cameras at eye level among shop displays, Popa's system can also build up a detailed picture of how a shopper interacts with particular products, providing instant feedback for retail analysts. In a mock-up shop in their lab, with volunteers posing as shoppers, the system was able to identify specific browsing behaviours, including what items were picked up or put back, or when shoppers tried clothes on.

The technology is based on motion-detection algorithms that track people's movements. It then learns patterns, based on what it has observed, that can be used to predict future customers' behaviour, says Popa.

The team reports an overall accuracy of 85 per cent in categorising customers' behaviour. They presented the latest version of the work at the International Conference on Image Processing in Orlando, Florida, this month.

But even if such technology could lead to a better experience for customers and retailers, will people accept a greater level of intrusion? The team conducted an early trial in a supermarket in Eindhoven, the Netherlands and, according to Popa, people have been positive so far. "I think that life is changing," she says. "You can't do anything about that."

"The real challenge is in turning that data into something of value," says Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance in Milton Keynes, UK, and co-founder of Retail Think Tank. He believes it is a challenge that's about to be met.

Within two years, video analysis systems that monitor consumer behaviour could be cost-effective for many retailers. He notes that there are already smart billboards with built-in cameras that use visual cues to guess whether you are male or female, and display a different advert accordingly.

As for privacy, Denison is pragmatic. "If it's clear both consumer and retailer derive benefit from the technology, then it's fair game," he says. "A win-win scenario."

Benefits to retailers are obvious: more customers, and more profit. Consumers could enjoy better customer service - the system can predict when a shopper appears to be in need of help - and improved shop layouts and displays that make it easier to find products.

Volker Roth at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, is less sanguine: "In general, any work that targets and profiles users, potentially without their consent or awareness, has a significant privacy dimension." He adds that many of the people being tracked may not value any improvement in customer service above their own privacy.


about a year ago:

The 5 Best Videos Of The Week

Nicki Minaj - "The Boys" Video

Virtually the entire music-blogging universe (except me) is at CMJ right now, so you'll have to forgive the indie music universe for neglecting to drop too many videos in the past seven days. I always think it's funny how things come to a near-complete stop for the assumption that most music writers and publicists are going to spend all their daylight hours hungover, even when the vast majority of the music-consuming public is nowhere near CMJ. But anyway! There were still some great videos this week, including a #1 pick that I fully expect most of the comments section to viscerally hate. Five are below.

5. The xx – “Chained” (Dir. Young Replicant)

Hushed intimacy is this group's calling card; they seem to create their own little sonic world. And this Creators Project-produced video, in which the three xx members share an underwater moment, is a nice visual representation of that. Beautiful laser-precise cinematography, too.

4. La Sera – “Break My Heart” (Dir. Cassandra Lee Hamilton)

Cuteness is an abstract concept that exists in the beholder's eye; it's not exactly a sustainable music-video aesthetic. If you're relying on cuteness to make your music video, you're running a real risk of producing some truly cloying bullshit. But sometimes, a music video will take cuteness and absolutely own it, turn it into something undeniable. That's what happens here.

3. R. Kelly – “Trapped In The Closet, Chapter 23″ (Dir. R. Kelly)

Gloriously absurd serialized melodrama has returned to our lives, and I couldn't be happier. This one hinges on the not-quite-riveting plot point of “everyone gets a phone call,” and I don't remember who half these characters are, but I'm fully on board anyway because the sight of Kelly in pimp drag still makes my soul sing.

2. El-P – “Stay Down” (Dir. Timothy Saccenti)

Locking down that #2 spot entirely on the strength of TV On The Radio's Jaleel Bunton, portraying Nick Diamonds as a celestial rock-star who drives female crowds into frothing riots of desire. The Prometheus to “The Full Retard“‘s Alien.

1. Nicki Minaj – “The Boys” (Feat. Cassie) (Dir. Colin Tiley)

Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott aren't making videos like this anymore. Thank god somebody is.


about a year ago:

AOL Wants To Renovate Your Inbox

AOL unveiled a new webmail service yesterday called Alto.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Alto is not a new webmail service in the way that Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are webmail services. And that’s a good thing–the world doesn’t need another email address to consider switching to. (How’s that new outlook.com domain working out, Microsoft?)

Alto is what you would call a “skin” of sorts: it’s a different visual representation of your inbox that works with your existing email account (so long as that account is from Google, Yahoo, AOL or Apple’s iCloud/Mail service—they’re the only ones compatible with Alto at this time).

What’s most interesting about Alto is how it tries to collate certain kinds of emails into “stacks,” which in this case look exactly how they sound : like stacks of paper that are loosely grouped on the home screen. Click on a stack, and you get a grid view of its contents. There are stacks for “daily deals,” “photos,” “attachments,” “retailers,” and “social notifications.”

The idea here is to segregate certain kinds of messages from the rest of your inbox, so that messages from real people get more prominence than sale notification from J. Crew. The stacks are intelligent, in that they are able to automatically identify which messages may come from, say, Groupon and which come from a friend or colleague. Furthermore, the stacks can get smarter: If you move an email alert from LinkedIn into the “social notifications” stack, Alto will treat further similar messages the same way. Messages with photos or attachments still reside in your inbox, but there are stacks for each as well, so you can quickly find that photo your friend sent you from the Amalfi Coast.

(If you like the idea of stacks, but don’t necessarily want those messages moved out of your inbox, there’s a setting that will allow messages to exist in both places. You can also create a stack of your own, based on parameters such as who sent it, who received it or what is contained in the subject line.)

Alto is very attractive, in a very “designy” kind of way. It uses contemporary fonts and plenty of white space in between messages. In some ways, it reminds me of Windows 8 in its spare, two-dimensional aesthetic (something that Microsoft has also pursued with Outlook.com).

But it may not appeal to power users. For starters, all that white space and oversized fonts mean you see fewer messages per screen than on most email services’s standard interfaces. I could view about nine messages at a time on Alto; on Gmail, I could see about three times as many. I suppose AOL would say that my inbox is now less cluttered, so it’s not such a big deal that I’m not seeing that Jetsetter email that I keep meaning to unsubscribe from. Still, I get enough legitimate emails that the volume remains high and I’d like to see more of them at once.

Alto does include a novel feature that used to only be found in browser plug-ins like Boomerang: You can have a message reappear in your inbox at a later time. Alto calls this “snooze,” and lets you set a time in the future when you want to see a particular email at the top of your inbox. It’s a nice feature, since some emails function as reminders and you want to see them when they’re most relevant.

Alto also has a link to calendar services like Google Calendar, and says that it will have its own calendar overlay soon. That’s good, but Alto’s going to have to add a few more features before it can function as a true replacement. For starters, an IM client would be nice. Many webmail services integrate mail with a chat feature, and until Alto can do that (maybe start with AIM, ’cause… you know, it’s in the family?), you can’t run Alto and ditch your other mail page altogether.

Also, if you have a signature file that automatically appears at the bottom of each message, it won’t carry over to messages written in Alto. The site is still in private beta, so it’s possible that some of these issues will be resolved in the coming weeks and months. It is expected to roll out for public use sometime in the first quarter of 2013.

There is another thing about Alto that was curiously good. It got incoming messages faster than my native email site. With both Alto and Gmail running side by side, messages would appear in Alto first, only showing up in Gmail a minute or two later. You’d think that a company’s own webmail service would access its data faster than a third party, but for now, Alto has the speed advantage.


about a year ago:

LG Optimus G review: a quad-core powerhouse with Nexus aspirations

You've heard it before: the more things change the more they stay the same. It wasn't that long ago that we reviewed LG's flagship Optimus 4X HD, the world's first quad-core HSPA+ handset. Despite representing the company's best engineering and design effort to date, it wasn't quite able to match the competition's global offerings -- Samsung's mighty Galaxy S III and HTC's lovely One X. Today, just a few months later, quad-core LTE superphones are the state of the art. Samsung's selling the global Galaxy Note II, HTC's just announced the One X+ and LG's betting everything on the Optimus G -- the first handset to feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro together with an LTE radio.

The Optimus G is a pivotal device for the Korean manufacturer, especially in the US, where rival Samsung is massively popular and LG's success has been hampered by a series of forgettable products (hello, Intuition) and a lackluster track record for software updates. It's so critical that LG even invited us to spend some quality time with the Optimus G at the launch event in Seoul last month. In the US, LG's partnering with Sprint and AT&T and there's strong evidence that Google's upcoming Nexus will be based on the Optimus G. So, does the company's latest powerhouse measure up to the competition? How different are the US versions from the Korean model? Does LG finally have a winning formula with the Optimus G? Find out in our review after the break.

LG provided us with three Optimus G review units: an unlocked white handset with the 13-megapixel camera for Korea's Olleh LTE network, Sprint's almost identical black version and AT&T's bespoke model with the 8-megapixel shooter. Unlike Samsung's curved, pebble-like, "inspired by nature" theme, the Optimus G inherits LG's chiseled, angular, slab-like design language. The details are more subtle than with the Optimus 4X HD -- it's more of a simple and elegant tribute to past Chocolate and Prada phones. While Sprint's version shares the same appearance and dimensions as the Korean model (the reference, if you will), AT&T's handset is 2.8mm (0.11 inches) wider and 1mm (0.04 inches) shorter. Thickness is uniform at 8.45mm (0.33 inches) and weight varies between 145g (5.11oz) and 147g (5.19oz). Regardless of which Optimus G you handle, build quality is superb -- it's like holding on to a solid block of technology. AT&T's phone feels slightly too wide, but the other two are extremely comfortable in hand, thanks to subtly curved edges where the sides meet the back.

In front, all three devices feature a beautiful 4.7-inch True HD IPS PLUS panel fitted under an edge-to-edge sheet of Gorilla Glass 2. The earpiece is flanked by sensors on the left and a 1.3-megapixel camera on the right. The Sprint and Korean versions also include an RGB notification light next to the earpiece (it's been relocated to the power / lock key on AT&T's model). You'll find three capacitive buttons below the screen (Back, Home and Menu) which are only visible when backlit. Interestingly, the bezel surrounding the display is black even on the white Korean model. There's no branding in front other than LG's silver logo up top and centered. Around the back, the Optimus G is covered by another sheet of what appears to be glass incorporating a pattern that's only visible at certain angles. This glossy finish, which LG calls "Crystal Reflection", is a veritable fingerprint magnet, especially on the black versions (Sprint and AT&T). It's interrupted only by the camera lens above the single LED flash in the top-left and a vertical slit hiding the mono speaker in the bottom-right. LG's silver logo returns along with carrier branding, except on Sprint's unit which is pleasantly free of network labels. There's no way to remove the back cover -- the Optimus G's sealed 2,100mAh Li-polymer battery is rated for 800 charge cycles.

The most obvious difference between the three handsets is also our biggest design gripe. The Optimus G is available with either a choice of 8-megapixel or 13-megapixel shooters. Sprint follows the same recipe as the Korean model with the 13 MP camera sensor mounted in a protruding square pod and the LED flash embedded in the back. On AT&T's version, it's the reverse: the 8 MP module is located under the glass surface and the LED flash is recessed in its own divot. This inconsistency is annoying -- it makes AT&T's phone less visually appealing than the other two. We understand that the eight and 13-megapixel modules have different thicknesses, but LG could have used a similar square pod to house both cameras and simplified its assembly process while maintaining a cohesive design across models.

Each device sports identical controls and ports: a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and secondary microphone on top; the power / lock key on the right; a micro-USB / MHL connector, primary microphone and two screws at the bottom; and the volume rocker on the left. While Sprint's Optimus G is devoid of any extra openings, the Korean version includes a micro-SIM tray on the left side below the volume rocker and AT&T's model puts a flap in the same location covering both micro-SIM and microSD card slots. Our Korean unit also rocks a retractable T-DMB antenna in the top-left corner for that extra bit of street cred. Beyond the wider body and lower resolution camera, AT&T's handset deviates further with a completely different edge design. Where the Sprint and Korean versions have mostly flat sides with two handsome silver rings -- one along the edge of the front glass and the other a quarter of the way down the side -- AT&T's model features curved edges with a dark chrome finish on the left and right along with textured flat sides at the top and bottom. As mentioned above, the notification light on AT&T's Optimus G is located around the power / lock key (instead of living next to the earpiece in front).

By now you're probably wondering how that 4.7-inch True HD IPS PLUS panel stacks up to the competition. LG's Zerogap Touch technology puts the capacitive layer right inside the non-PenTile, 1,280 x 768-pixel screen for an ultra-thin design. It's definitely a top-notch display -- bright and crisp, with deep blacks and rich colors. Still, it falls short of HTC's gorgeous Super LCD 2 panel on the One X, which offers better viewing angles and remains the best screen on any phone we've ever used. Our Korean unit also suffers from a yellow discoloration at the bottom of the display -- it's mostly noticeable with a white background and we've alerted LG to the issue, which is likely the result of an early batch of defective panels. The Sprint and AT&T devices are flawless.

Under the hood is where the Optimus G really shines. Reading the specs will put a smile on the face of even the most jaded tech journalist. It's the first handset built around Qualcomm's Fusion 3 chipset, which pairs a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC (APQ8064) with a 2G / 3G / LTE radio (MDM9615). Beyond the quad-core Krait CPU and Adreno 320 GPU, you'll find 2GB of DDR RAM and 32GB of built-in flash storage on board (reduced to 16GB on AT&T's unit, which also supports microSD and ships with a 16GB card). In terms of radios, the Korean version is quad-band GSM / GPRS (no EDGE), dual-band UMTS / HSPA+ (2100 / 900MHz) and LTE capable (Band 3, possibly 1 and 5). The Sprint model works on the carrier's CDMA and LTE technology in the US but should be able to roam on GSM / GPRS / EDGE (quadband) and UMTS / HSPA+ (dual-band 2100 / 900MHz) networks abroad. AT&T's phone supports quad-band GSM / GPRS / EDGE, tri-band UMTS / HSPA+ (2100 / 1900 / 850MHz) and LTE (Bands 4 and 17). Other specs include 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 + LE, A-GPS, NFC and a bevy of sensors (ambient light, proximity, magnetometer, accelerometer and orientation).

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: the Optimus G is a performance beast. Subjectively, it never skips a beat -- everything is snappy and fluid, with no lag or delays. Despite launching with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.4, to be exact), it feels quicker than our Galaxy Nexus and on par with our Galaxy Note II, both running Jelly Bean. This is a testament to LG's UI optimizations, Qualcomm's engineering chops or both. In our benchmarks, the Optimus G slots right between our reigning champions -- the global Galaxy S III (ICS) and the Galaxy Note II (Jelly Bean) -- for most tests, while handily beating both with the best Quadrant score we've ever recorded for a handset (7,628) and barely lagging behind in AnTuTu (11,284). The results are similar across all three versions, with the Sprint model falling a smidgen behind the other two. It will be interesting to see how much these numbers improve once the Optimus G is updated to Android 4.1.

GLBenchmark 2.1 Egypt Offscreen (fps)

We didn't have any issues with overall radio performance but calls sounded a little flat in our tests. AT&T's handset was the clearest, followed closely by Sprint's, with the Korean Optimus G (likely not optimized for US networks) trailing behind. The built-in speaker is somewhat tinny but loud enough. We didn't have much time to compare music playback with other phones, but audio quality with various headphones and earbuds was up to our higher-than-average standards. It's worth mentioning that LG's bundled music and video players feature Dolby Mobile, if you're into audio enhancement. Speed tests on AT&T's LTE network in San Francisco yielded about 12 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up (on average) with four out of five bars of signal. Until Sprint deploys LTE in the Bay Area we're stuck doing speed tests on CDMA, which means peaks of 2.3 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up with full signal. Our Korean unit only supports GPRS data here in the US, but we saw some impressive numbers with a prototype Optimus G on Korea's U+ LTE network while in Seoul.

Battery life on Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon S4 devices is usually fantastic, and we're happy to report this trend continues with the quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro-equipped Optimus G. While all three versions have the same sealed 2,100mAh Li-polymer battery, we focused our attention on AT&T's model since it's the only one with an active LTE connection. Our standard battery rundown test involves setting the brightness and volume to half, using 4G in a 75 percent or better signal area, enabling GPS and WiFi (not connected) and disabling Bluetooth while looping a video from a full charge until the battery is drained. AT&T's Optimus G ran for eight hours and 43 minutes; Sprint's lasted seven hours and 53 minutes on 3G (LTE off); and our Korean phone kept going for eight hours and 40 minutes on 2G (LTE and HSPA+ disabled). In our moderate battery usage test, which consists of using a handset lightly from a full charge until it shuts down -- emailing, texting, checking social networks, making a few brief calls, taking some pictures, etc. -- all three review units went on for almost 20 hours. As such, we're pretty sure most people will have no problems using the Optimus G for an entire day. Heavy users can use "Eco Mode," a setting which extends battery life by dynamically switching between quad- and dual-core operation.

This is really a tale of two different cameras with identical functionality -- the story of promising shooters held back by a frustrating user experience. Both the Sprint and Korean versions of the Optimus G use a 13-megapixel, 1/3.2-inch BSI sensor with 1.1碌m pixels and a five-element, f/2.4 autofocus lens. AT&T's model sports an 8-megapixel BSI sensor with identical 1.1碌m pixels, but it's unclear if the autofocus lens is the same (the 13 MP module captures a wider field of view). Both cameras are capable of recording video at 1080p and are complemented by a single LED flash. The user interface is similar on all three phones -- it's intuitive, customizable and offers a full range of settings. You'll find HDR, panorama and burst modes, plus features like "Time Catch Shot" (which buffers pictures in the background and stores five images centered around the time when you press the shutter button) and "Cheese Shutter" (which takes a shot when you say the word "cheese" or "whiskey").

What makes both shooters problematic for casual users and photography buffs alike is the way the autofocus is implemented. It's continuous, but unlike competing systems, it re-triggers too often. There's no way to sidestep this -- no dedicated two-stage camera key, no ability to lock focus and exposure by tapping and holding the on-screen shutter button then releasing it to snap a picture. While touch-to-focus is available, it only locks focus and exposure momentarily before resuming continuous autofocus, which only gives you a brief window of opportunity to take that special shot. Other recent LG handsets like the Optimus 4X HD, Intuition and Escape suffer from the same problem, so hopefully the company is paying attention. It's an easy fix -- just add a setting to disable continuous autofocus.

Now that we have that out of the way, how do these cameras fare? We're pretty satisfied with the resulting pictures, actually. Both shooters do a reasonably good job with white balance and exposure. We prefer the softer, more natural colors captured by the 13-megapixel camera -- the 8 MP sensor tends to produce overly warm and saturated colors. Low-light performance is generally excellent, but here again, the 13 MP shooter comes out ahead, with less visible noise. The 8-megapixel lens flares up a bit when shooting into bright light. Video recording is decent, if perhaps somewhat over-sharpened -- the Optimus G captures 1080p HD video at 30fps (10.5 Mbps bitrate) with continuous autofocus and mono audio. Overall, the 13-megapixel camera gathers tons of detail and edges out the One X and Galaxy S III. The 8 MP module slots right below the competition.

All three phones are running the manufacturer's now-familiar UI 3.0 skin on top of Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). While it's somewhat disappointing that LG is launching the Optimus G without Jelly Bean, we're told this will be remedied soon. Of course, everyone knows the company's track record with software updates has been less than stellar. We shared our concerns with several executives during our recent trip to Seoul, who assured us that LG is aware of this and is committed to providing timely upgrades for the Optimus G. In other words, stay tuned. Unlike the handset's refined industrial design, UI 3.0 still looks dated and boring, like an nth-generation copy of Samsung's cartoonish TouchWiz interface. It's probably not going to offend anyone, but it's not particularly compelling either. At least it's lightweight, with little (if any) impact on performance.

We've detailed UI 3.0 in other reviews before (Optimus L7, Optimus 4X HD and Intuition) but some of the existing features stand out. We're rather fond of the quick settings menu, a scrollable (and customizable) bar of icons at the top of the notification tray which provides shortcuts for various settings. Strangely, the hotspot quick settings icon is missing on AT&T's version (like on the LG Escape, it turns out). Perhaps it's an attempt by the carrier to discourage tethering? The app tray includes some welcome additions like folders and the ability to sort icons alphabetically or by installation date. "Icon Personalizer" lets you swap icons for any home screen app. "Quiet time" works like Apple's "Do Not Disturb" by defining times when notifications are muted. You'll also find a few Optimus G-specific tricks. "Wise Screen" is similar to Samsung's "Smart Stay" and prevents the phone from going to sleep when you're looking at the display. "Dual Screen Dual Play" lets you play back content on an external monitor connected via MHL or LG's Miracast dongle while you're performing other tasks on the device. "Live Zooming" enables pinch-to-zoom during video playback (up to 5x). Last but not least, "QSlide" overlays videos in a transparent window that floats over whatever app you're currently running -- it's really quite slick.

The Optimus G comes with a bunch of pre-installed LG apps. Each model features a slightly different bundle, and while apps like SmartWorld (LG's app store) are self-explanatory, others are worth a closer look. QuickMemo is a lot like Samsung's S Memo -- it lets you annotate what's on the screen and save the result as an image. The app is invoked by pressing both volume keys simultaneously or by touching on the appropriate quick settings icon. LG Tag+ (called Olleh NFC on our Korean unit) is used to program the supplied NFC tags and set up profiles which are then activated by tapping the handset on the appropriate tag. Video Editor (oddly missing from AT&T's phone) and Video Wiz are, unsurprisingly, video editing apps, the former being similar to Apple's iMovie and the latter providing a quick way to create music videos by combining content from your music library with your own video clips. All three devices also include Polaris Office 4.0.

Kudos to Sprint for keeping clutter to a minimum and bundling just two apps: Sprint ID and Sprint Zone. By contrast, AT&T makes a mess of the Optimus G by pre-loading 11 mostly useless apps that cannot be uninstalled: Amazon Kindle (useful, but readily available in the Play Store), AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, Device Help, Live TV, myAT&T and YPmobile. Adding insult to injury, AT&T chose to further customize LG's UI 3.0. The settings have been regrouped into tabs instead of using Android's standard sectioned list, the Gallery sorting order is set to descending by default (why?) and the default browser is contaminated with an utterly meaningless "browser bar" (which is thankfully defeatable).

The Optimus G is a phenomenal piece of hardware that combines refined design, superb build quality and specs to die for. Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro provides gobs of performance without sacrificing battery life. While LG's 4.7-inch True HD IPS PLUS panel is beautiful, it still ranks behind HTC's gorgeous Super LCD 2 display on the One X. Despite that pesky continuous autofocus, both 13 and 8-megapixel cameras are capable of capturing top-notch photos and videos. Where the Optimus G falls short is in the software department -- LG's UI 3.0 skin is mediocre and Ice Cream Sandwich is somewhat disappointing on such a great handset. Apparently, there's an Optimus G-based Nexus phone running Jelly Bean in the works -- problem solved, then.

The question remains: should you plunk down $200 (on contract) for Sprint's Optimus G when it goes on sale November 11th or AT&T's version when it hits the shelves on November 2nd? We prefer the simple and elegant design of the Sprint and Korean models -- not to mention the marginally better 13-megapixel shooter. Sprint's device is held back by poor LTE coverage and an embedded SIM. AT&T's unit suffers from excessive carrier tweaks (both hardware and software) and a slightly lower-grade 8 MP camera, but benefits from a mature LTE network and expandable storage. With AT&T about to offer HTC's One X+ and Samsung's Galaxy Note II, it's a tough call. So, did we mention that upcoming Nexus?


about a year ago:

iPad Retina display trumps Microsoft Surface, display expert says

A display expert has debunked claims from Microsoft engineers that the Surface tablet display is sharper than the Retina display on the new iPad due to its use of ClearType technology.

The Surface with Windows RT will start shipping October 26 with a 10.6-inch, 366-by-768-pixel display, while the third-generation iPad has a 9.7-inch screen with 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution. The pixel density per inch on the iPad is 264 PPI compared to 148 PPI on the Surface RT.

During a discussion on Reddit earlier this week, Steven Bathiche, director of research for Microsoft's Applied Sciences group, claimed “Microsoft has the best pixel rendering technology in the industry” and “doing a side by side with the new iPad in a consistently lit room, we have had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the iPad with more resolution.”

Dr. Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, was intrigued by Microsoft’s claims, put them to the test and reports that they don’t actually stand. He tested the theory by running the Safari browser on the new iPad, iPad 2, and an Asus tablet with a 1366-by-768-pixel 130 PPI display that uses Microsoft's implementation of sub-pixel rendering, called ClearType.

In some cases sub-pixel rendering can make the screen appear to have up to three times the resolution of pixel rendering, as individual red, green, and blue sub-pixels are treated as independent image elements and are not all bound together into specific pixels.

However, Dr. Soneira’s test found “the Windows ClearType 768p display on the Asus Netbook was significantly sharper than the iPad 2 768p display but also significantly less sharp than the new iPad 3 1536p display. It is certainly possible that the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet will perform better than the Asus Netbook, but it is very unlikely that it will turn out to be visually sharper than the new iPad 3.”

Steven Bathiche later backtracked and edited his Reddit post, saying, “I hope folks understand that I am not saying that one resolution is better than the other. Nor that one display is better than the other.  […] So in some cases ClearType will look better and in other cases (darker environments) the iPad retina will look better. Further, in a number of cases the differences will be negligible.”

A Surface tablet model might match the new iPad screen, though, Dr. Soneira explained. “The Windows Pro version of Surface will have a 1920-by-1080 208-PPI screen, and it is quite possible that it will be comparable in sharpness to the new iPad with 2048-by-1536 264 PPI. It will be really interesting to compare them all, including the displays on Windows Tablets from other manufacturers, who might provide better displays than the Microsoft Surface.” (See also By the Numbers: Microsoft's Surface vs. Apple's iPad.)


about a year ago:

Small Business Owner Announces Drastic Measure, Blames Obamacare

Michael Fredrich says he cares deeply about his employees. So much so that he plans on firing seven of them.

The Wisconsin business owner is planning the drastic move to skirt the new health care law, which mandates that by 2014 businesses with more than 50 workers must offer an approved insurance plan or pay a penalty.

"I don't relish the idea of talking to those seven people and saying 'Sorry, we have to go below 50 and you're the ones,'" said Fredrich, who bought Manitwoc-based MCM Composites in 2001. His workers, he said, are "like family."

Fredrich is the rare small business owner who has formulated a plan for dealing with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In interviews with The Huffington Post over the past few months, small business owners have said they feel anxious and uncertain about the new law. Few said they completely understand its implications, and most said they haven't begun to dig into its rules and requirements, which don't go into full effect until 2014.

At the presidential debate on Tuesday night Mitt Romney portrayed the new regulation as a small-business killer: "The thing I find most troubling about Obamacare -- well, it's a long list, but one of the things I find most troubling is that when you go out and talk to small businesses and ask them what they think about it, they tell you it keeps them from hiring more people," Romney said.

Fredrich, whose business expects revenues of $7 million in 2012, is joining a chorus of larger firms that have announced bold, and in some cases unanticipated, measures in order to deal with the law. Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, announced it would boost the number of part-time workers in order to skirt Obamacare's requirements. Papa John's earlier this year said it would pass higher costs on to customers.

Fredrich’s decision echoes the sentiments expressed by other small businesses. After the Supreme Court upheld the health care law in June, Rose Corona, owner of Big Horse Feed and Mercantile in Temecula, Calif., said, “I’m going to have to reduce the size of [my] labor force.”

Dan Galbraith, owner of Solutionist, a visual communication, sales and marketing firm in Greensburg, Pa., predicted that, like Fredrich, “Those who employ 60 are going to lay off 11. Those who employ 49 will hire nobody.”

The administration has strongly countered the idea that Obamacare will be a "job killer," pointing to research from Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank, which found that under the law, small businesses would save 8.7 percent compared with their current premium contributions.

Fredrich said he believes the plan he currently offers his workers -- a high-deductible health savings account (HSA) with an out-of-pocket deductible of $2,500 per individual and $5,000 deductible per family -- not meet the new requirements of coverage under Obamacare.

Health care experts who've studied the law don't necessarily agree. Christine Eibner, senior economist at RAND Corp. who has analyzed health insurance costs for small businesses and studied the health care law, and said Fredrich may not face such a "dire tradeoff" in 2014. She believes he could maintain his current insurance plan past 2014 under a grandfather clause that exempts existing plans from the new regulations.

According to a fact sheet from the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), many small firms will lose or relinquish their grandfathered status by 2013 -- the estimate runs from 49 to 80 percent.

Even if Fredrich's plan isn’t grandfathered in, Eibner pointed out that he could find something comparable through state exchanges or through the newly regulated small group market. "He may be able to find another plan that is cost effective or works for him," she said.

Though Obama has repeated variations of his 2009 statement that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” the HHS has yet to reveal the full details of Obamacare that could clear up some of the confusion for business owners like Fredrich.

While doing his own calculations, Fredrich did consider one other alternative to cutting employees: "discontinue offering health care at all. Honestly, from a dollars and cents standpoint, that's our best approach," he said.

The total number of people insured through MCM, including 26 employees, their spouses and children, is 43. Fredrich said MCM Composites' total annual premium is $135,000. With employees paying about 30 percent, Fredrich's annual cost is $104,000.

In 2014, businesses with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees that don't offer health insurance must pay a $2,000 penalty for each full-time employee in excess of 30 employees. For Fredrich, that means a $54,000 penalty for 27 employees -- about half of what he's currently paying for insurance. "That's a good deal," he said, but it's not one he's considering. "When you have a small business, you know everybody's names, how many children they have. I'm not going to cut their insurance," Fredrich said.

Corona also said she knows of “a lot of others who will cut out health care altogether, pay the fine and leave the people to the government to insure.”

The option of sidestepping the new law by forfeiting health care and taking the penalty may appeal to some small business owners, but Eibner believes they're not considering the ripple effect. "Even if it cuts your health care expenditures in half, it'll have an adverse effect on employees," she said. "An employer can't just cut part of the compensation without anticipating some fallout, like people leaving or having a harder time recruiting. It might seem like a cost savings, but when you look at the total costs, it might not be."

Fredrich is frustrated by the expectations workers place on small businesses to cover their insurance costs in the first place. "I never bought this company to be in the health insurance business," he said.

Small business owners have been pummeled with the skyrocketing costs of health care, which rose at an accelerated rate in 2011, increasing 4.6 percent to $4,547 per person, according to a report from the Health Care Cost Institute. Fredrich said his insurance premiums increase every year by 10 to 18 percent.

Rick Newby, a quality technician who has worked with MCM Composites for more than 12 years, said his health care was covered 100 percent in the '90s, but he's now used to his health care plans constantly changing. "Mike's always looking for the cheapest route for us, but it's getting harder," Newby said.

Though at times he has paid up to $1,000 out-of-pocket for medical expenses, Newby said he is satisfied with his current plan. If Fredrich does take the option of laying off employees to keep health care costs low, Newby said he'll take a roll-with-the-punches approach. "I don't want to see that happen, but I have to live with the times."


  • 10. France

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $3,978 Expenditure as % of GDP: 11.8% (3rd most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +2.7% (18th most) Life expectancy: 81.5 years (8th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $4,218 Expenditure as % of GDP: 11.6% (4th most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +4% (15th most) Life expectancy: 80.3 years (18th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $4,298 Expenditure as % of GDP: 11% (8th most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +2.2% Life expectancy: 80.4 years (16th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $4,348 Expenditure as % of GDP: 11.5% (6th most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +6% (11th most) Life expectancy: 79.0 years (25th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $4,478 Expenditure as % of GDP: 11.3% (7th most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +7.4% (7th most) Life expectancy: 80.7 years (tied for 12th highest)

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $4,808 Expenditure as % of GDP: 7.8% (7th least) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +8% (6th most) Life expectancy: 80.7 years (tied for 12th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $4,914 Expenditure as % of GDP: 12% (2nd most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +16.4% (the most) Life expectancy: 80.6 years (14th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $5,344 Expenditure as % of GDP: 11.6% (5th most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +2.8% (17th most) Life expectancy: 82.3 years (2nd highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $5,352 Expenditure as % of GDP: 9.6% (16th most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +8.4% (4th most) Life expectancy: 81.0 years (10th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>

    Total expenditure on health per capita: $7,960 Expenditure as % of GDP: 17.4% (the most) Annual growth of total health expenditure: +2.2% (14th least) Life expectancy: 78.2 years (27th highest) Source: <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/03/29/countries-that-spend-the-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1qWtpJfhZ" target="_hplink">24/7 Wall St. </a>


about a year ago:

3M Streaming Projector With Roku Review: What A Cool Little Thing This Is!

A very nearly pocket-sized projector can't replace a full-sized one yet--but it is an incredibly fun toy.
By Dan Nosowitz Posted 10.19.2012 at 2:00 pm

3M Streaming Projector Video Dan Nosowitz

Pico projectors have been chugging along for awhile, getting better but never quite breaking that wall to become something we should all have. They seem so cool--a 120-inch picture in your pocket!--but nobody's managed to really knock it out of the park yet. The tech still isn't quite there, but the 3M Streaming Projector Powered By Roku (cool name guys) is by far the closest--it's portable, self-contained, is the first to have a built-in Roku, and the price is just right. It's not essential--it's still basically a toy--but it is a really fun and surprisingly useful toy that you might actually use.

First thing to know about the projector is that it's way, way smaller than you think it is. Like, it won't fit in a pocket, but it will fit in a cargo pocket, or a jacket pocket. It's just about the size and shape of my palm, and only two inches tall at its tallest. And it's meant to be portable; it has content built in, sort of, in the form of a Roku Stick (a tiny but full-featured Roku that needs no extra power); it has a rechargeable battery; and it has speakers. So the projector can, theoretically, provide a home theater experience anywhere. It's a really cool idea.

3M Streaming Projector Is Tiny:  Dan Nosowitz

In the real world that's tempered a little bit. The Roku does need Wi-Fi, the battery life is about an hour and a half at most, and the speakers are pretty tinny and unimpressive. But you can get around all that. I've used it with a mobile hotspot created by a 4G LTE smartphone (speeds are faster than my home internet anyway) and with a Jawbone Jambox, which sounds great and gets loud. That stuff costs extra, but combined with the projector, you can make a pretty legit full-featured portable theater.

Oh, right, the projector. So, its major weakness (and it has several weaknesses) is resolution. It's WVGA quality, which means, roughly, 480p. DVD quality, not high-def, not Blu-ray. That's noticeable when you're used to an HDTV. The picture can expand to 120 inches--huge!--but I wouldn't recommend it; the lacking resolution gets very noticeable above maybe 50 or 55 inches. It's only a 60-lumen bulb (though it's an LED bulb, so it shouldn't need replacing), which is fine for a pico projector but means you really do need darkness. It's perfectly usable in dusk, low-light rather than pitch-blackness, but the bulb just isn't powerful enough to blast through daylight. There are minimal picture controls, too--just one little wheel for focusing.

But, I found the picture absolutely good enough for most uses. Yes, I wish it was better, but in a dark bedroom, it looks really pretty good. It has two flat sides so you can point it horizontally (at a wall) or vertically (at your ceiling), which is awesome. I wouldn't want to watch The Tree of Life or anything amazingly visual with it, but I watched about four hours of The West Wing with it last night (cool guy over here) and it was totally serviceable. And a bigger picture than my TV! Out of this tiny little thing!

The Roku Stick is a surprisingly excellent idea. Not that Roku is bad--it's a capable, if not particularly exciting, way to get Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video, and more--but I first wondered why they didn't just build Roku software into the projector itself. This way turns out to be great: You get an included Roku Stick, which can be removed and used on any MHL-capable TV (admittedly there are about nine of those total at the moment, but they'll be more popular soon), and removing it reveals an HDMI port that can be used with any HDMI gadget (Blu-ray player, computer, game console, another media streamer, whatever) without using any extra room. The Roku Stick fits right into the back of the projector, under a little cover--very neat. And you control it by using one remote for both the Roku and the projector. The remote is small and kind of hard to use but does the job reasonably well. (The Roku Stick, by the way, has pretty much the exact same software as the regular Rokus, only the hardware is shaped like a USB flash drive.)

3M Streaming Projector Remote:  Dan Nosowitz

So the 3M Projector is a novelty, yes. You can't really replace your TV or full-sized projector with it--it just has too many compromises in the picture department. But I really, really like the thing. It's adorable and tiny and so easy to use, and the Roku gives it tons of content. And the price, $299, is so tempting; yes, pico projectors often cost around $300 or under, but this one is better than most. Major legs-up over its competitors: it includes a Roku Stick ($100 on its own) and it's battery powered, which means you've got display, content, audio, and power, all in one tiny package. I don't think it'll change my life, like the Jawbone Jambox (another tiny, wireless version of a bigger home theater element), but I think the 3M Projector is great.

Plus, it's really exciting for the future--here is a gadget that's legitimately good, at a very low price. Imagine the next one! If they can keep the price at $300 but bump the resolution and the lumen count for the next generation, it could be a must-buy.


Product: 3M Streaming Projector Powered By Roku
Category: Pico projector
Price: $299
Cool bonus: You can pop the Roku Stick out and use it in any compatible TV
Rating: Inessential, but a very fun toy


about a year ago:

When and where meteor shower will peak on weekend

By Steve Gelsi, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — A meteor shower caused by debris left behind by the famous Halley’s comet peaks this weekend as the Earth’s orbit brings the planet through a trail of cosmic dust.

The Orionid meteor shower could provide a visual treat in areas of the U.S. with clear skies, mostly outside big metropolitan areas.

It’s expected to reach its zenith over the weekend, with the best viewing expected Sunday before dawn, according to Space.com.

Columbia University Astronomy Professor Joe Patterson said while Haley’s Comet won’t be visible in the night sky until 2061, the Earth passes through its trailing debris field every October and April. Halley’s comet last swept by the earth in 1986.

“The tail of Halley’s comet is really long — it’s an old comet and the tail doesn’t have a lot of particles in it,” he said. “A small number of these dust particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere.”

The Orionid meteor shower will typically deliver a “shooting star” once every three minutes, he said. A shooting star is caused when small objects in space enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn, becoming visible as blurs of light.

The meteors will appear near the Orion constellation. This time of the year, the star formation rises at about 10 p.m. Eastern and remains prominent until 3 a.m.

BP is close to a deal to sell its 50% stake in troubled Russian venture TNK-BP Ltd. to state oil company OAO Rosneft.

“Looking south, that’s where you’ll see it, but you’ll have to get away from city lights,” he said. “The phase of the moon will be favorable as well with nearly no light coming from it.”

Patterson said the cosmic event typically draws interest from “hard-core meteor observers.”

The shower has already made headlines in California, where hundreds of people called in to KGO-TV in San Francisco to a loud boom and streaks of light around 7:45 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday, according to ABC News.

Astronomers interviewed by ABC News cited the Orionid meteor shower as the source of the phenomena.

NASA will hold a live Web chat on Saturday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Eastern time with astronomer Mitzi Adams to talk about the night sky. See NASA chat information.


about a year ago:

Formlabs FORM 1 high-resolution 3D printer spotted in the wild, we go eyes on (video)

Last time we checked in with the 3D printing upstarts over at Formlabs, their Kickstarter was doing splendidly, having over doubled its initial funding target. Well, less than a month later, and with the money still rolling in, the current total stands (at time of writing) at a somewhat impressive $2,182,031 -- over 20 times its initial goal. When we heard that the team behind it, along with some all important working printers, rolled into town, how could we resist taking the opportunity to catch up? The venue? London's 3D print show. Where, amongst all the printed bracelets and figurines, the FORM 1 stood out like a sore thumb. A wonderfully orange, and geometrically formed one at that. We elbowed our way through the permanent four-deep crowd at their booth to take a closer look, and as the show is running for another two days, you can too if you're in town. Or you could just click past the break for more.

As we've alluded to already, one of the more striking features of the FORM 1, is its striking features. Most of the machines we've seen before look like they were imagined by, well, engineers rather than designers. Fit for purpose, and not much else. The FORM 1, however, is different. The orange print cabin, perched on top of the minimal-looking brushed metal base let you visualize it sat in the corner of any design studio, or creative environment perfectly. But the FORM 1 isn't just razzle-dazzle, underneath that outer shell is that self-developed technique for bringing stereolithography to the masses, and seeing it in action is as hypnotic as it is innovative. For those unfamiliar with the method, stereolithography uses a special resin that solidifies under laser light. This means it's more interesting to watch than the regular FDM printing, as every few moments a laser "show" hits the pool of resin, and another small part of the product emerges.

And about the products... the difference in resolution is more than just mildly noticeable. Many of the conventional, yet affordable, machines turned out great models, but often with the tell-tale lines of the incremental plastic layering. The models from the FORM 1 are much smoother, more detailed, and go beyond the realm of simple prototypes and into potentially complete products. One of the items on display was a full chess set (including the board). Albeit made of plastic, the smoothness and detail were good enough that you could not only get your Kasparov on, but you might even leave it out on display afterwards. For us, this represents an exciting page turned in the the 3D-printing story. You can still secure one from the Kickstarter page, too. The lowest pledge that will earn you one is $2,699, which comes with a liter of the resin to get you going. Be sure to check the video below to see it printing the Eiffel tower, as well as a glimpse at the software and finishing kit.


about a year ago:

Google's Disappointing Third Quarter [Infographic]

Google‘s third-quarter earnings report leaked four hours early Thursday afternoon. The earnings, which missed Wall Street's expectations, sent the stock down more than 8% before trading was halted. Google said R.R. Donnelley, its filing agent, is to blame.

Earnings were $9.03 a share on $11.33 billion in revenue, missing expectations of $10.63 a share on revenue of $11.86 billion. Profits took a 20% dip due to costs related to the acquisition of Motorola and Android development. Google’s paid clicks were up 33% year-over-year, but cost-per-clicks revenue declined 15% from the year previous.

Numbers are one thing, but the data is much easier to take in visually, which you can do in the Statista graphic below. What do you make of Google's less-than-stellar third quarter? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Front-page thumbnail courtesy of iStock, Hillary Fox


about a year ago:

Conan, Leif Garrett Lampoon Brad Pitt's Chanel No. 5 Ad [VIDEO]

The world turns and … parodies take over.

At least that's what happens when you drop an ad as weird and confounding as Brad Pitt's spot for Chanel No. 5. Conan O'Brien stepped up to the challenge with a visual re-imagining of the ad that will make it hard to view the original the same way.

A more unexpected parody came from Leif Garrett. The '70s teen idol has fallen on hard times of late, but at least he seems to have developed a sense of humor. Garrett memorably rips Pitt's fatuous utterances with mundane digressions. “Plans disappear, dreams take over,” Garrett muses. “…Ever have that dream where you're naked in school?”

One thing's for sure: Chanel's $7 million investment in Pitt seems to be paying off. After all, no one parodies an ad no one cares about. I suppose that's just the brand's luck, its fate, its fortune….


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