Wednesday, August 7, 2013

World's Smallest Movie

Guinness World Records recently certified the following as the world's smallest stop motion film.
The short movie ”A Boy and His Atom” depicts a character named Atom who befriends a single atom and goes on a playful journey that includes dancing, playing catch and bouncing on a trampoline.

What makes this movie so unique and wonderful is the science to create this. IBM Research Labs in San Jose, CA created this movie using thousands of atoms individually placed to create 242 individual frames each frame measuring 45 nanometres by 25 nanometres. The movie set comprised of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), copper plate and carbon monoxide molecules. Operating the STM at -268 degrees Celsius the atoms in Carbon monoxide molecules were moved to precise location on the copper plate.

For more information visit the IBM Research article.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are you ready for startups?

Recently I came across Alex Taub's article on how to evaluate whether joining startup is worth it. Rightly he points out that one needs to evaluate the company, its future. Also its important to understand the nature of the job, the team you will be working with as well as your supervisor. You need to understand the compensation, both salary and stock options.

I think personally you should be ready for some grind and be open about varied responsibilities. Actually sharing varied responsibilities can be one of the most rewarding aspect. For example being a software developer you hardly interact with end users and customers but in startups you not only will be creating software but also testing and directly supporting the customers. Most importantly make sure you believe in company's vision and there are strong leaders at the top to execute it.

Here is a nice startup salary and equity compensation calculator from a wealth management startup Wealthfront.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Apple iPhone 5 Rumors

Apple iPhone 5 is widely awaited and here is a quick summary of the rumors around the net related to the launch.

AppearanceWider, thinner
Network4G LTE
Screen4-inch display, thinner
BatteryHigher capacity
Dock ConnectorSmaller, 8-pin
Data SharingNear Field Communication
AccessoriesNew headphones
AvailabilitySeptember 21

iMore is reporting a September 12th event planned by Apple for iPhone launch, if that is true we don't have to wait much longer. The event may also be used to announce a new 7-inch mini iPad.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Starbucks bugging Strawberry Frappuccino

Starbucks recently was in the news for all the wrong reasons. A vegetarian/vegan website reported that a barista at a Startbucks in midwest found Cochineal Extract in the ingredients of the strawberry sauce that is used to prepare the Strawberry Frappuccino. The site even has a picture of the packaging that clearly confirms this.

Cochineal extract comes from the dried bodies of female cochineal beetles found in Mexico and parts of South America. The extract and the resulting dye carmine (commercially know as Red 4) are commonly used in variety of products including foods, drinks and cosmetics. FDA approved the use of this long back but only recently ordered that food and cosmetics manufacturers who color their products with carmine and cochineal list them by name in the ingredient lists.

Although a natural additive, carmine can cause severe allergic reactions in some people as reported by University of Michigan allergist James L. Baldwin, M.D. The reactions can range from mild hives and itchy skin to dangerous anaphylaxis.

A petition at titled "Starbucks: Stop using bugs to color your strawberry flavored drinks" has been created and has already received 4500 signatures. The petition suggests Starbucks use other natural plant based alternatives like red beet, black carrot, purple sweet potato and paprika.

How about just using Strawberries to color the drink? As long as Starbucks uses cochineal extract its a goodbye from me to one of my favorite drink at Starbucks.

For all the people like me who would like to avoid eating bugs, beware of food products listing "carmine", "cochineal" or "confectioner's glaze" on labels. For the curious minds, other popular food products that I came across containing carmine/cochineal extract are:
Dannon Activia
PepsiCo Juices - Dole Plus Fruit Punch, Tropicana Fruit Medley Plus, Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice Drink, Tropicana Strawberry Orange Juice
Minute Maid Pink Grapefruit Cocktail, Minute Maid Light Kiwi Strawberry
SoBe Drinks - Energize Mango Melon, Smooth Orange Cream
SoBe Lifewater - Orange Tangerine, Pomegranate Cherry
SoBe Lifewater 0 Calorie - Acai Fruit Punch, Mango Melon, Yumberry Pomegranate

Update - 04/19/2012, Starbucks will stop using Cochineal extract instead replace it with a natural tomato based extract.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fueling innovation through crowd funding

Most of us have engaged in donations for humanitarian causes at some point or the other. Crowd funding is a similar idea where crowds of people donate money to fund creative aspirations of people and organizations seeking money for realization of their ideas. The ideas can be in variety of areas including art, music, film, design, technology, publishing and other creative fields. The funding can be from big to small ranging from few hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With the ubiquity of internet the idea is proving very effective for many creative entrepreneurs to get their projects kick started. There are websites that facilitate this - Kickstarter, RocketHub, ArtistShare among a few others.

On Kickstarter, project owner(s) describe their idea using text and video and seek a dollar amount. They also set a deadline to meet their target amount. If the members (aka backers) pledged enough money to meet the target amount for the project the project owners receive the money otherwise no money changes hands. So its an all or nothing model.

What's in it for the backers who pledge money for projects? No cash returns, its a donation not an investment. In return members receive small gifts generally a T-shirt, product or experience.

What about the accountability of project? None again. The success of the project solely rests on the project owner and as such is responsible for the completion of the project. Project updates are encouraged but not mandatory for the project owners.

There are some very interesting projects that are in the works. One that caught my attention is the Elevation Dock for the iPhone. Its a docking station for iPhone that works with or without the case and has looks pretty cool. As of the posting of this blog, there were 7479 backers for the project with $752,982 pledge amount far exceeding the target amount of $75,000 with 11 days more to go. Other interesting past projects are LunaTik touch pen that with one click writes on both paper and tablet. The TikTok watch band that makes your iPod nano into a cool touch-screen watch.

The crowd funding concept with all its concerns is off to a good start and is groundbreaking that anybody with a great idea can attract attention and more importantly raise money with no strings attached.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Online shopping at work

The holiday season began with the best Black Friday online sales ever, $816 million up by 26 percent compared to last year. Going by the trend sales on Cyber Monday, the big day in online shopping, look promising as well. According to comScore, last year Cyber Monday sales were the biggest and raked in over $1 billion.

Unfortunately as the name suggests it happens to be on a Monday when people are at work. That means in order to grab one of those online deals you have the difficult task of maintaining the "work-shop" balance.

According to Careerbuilder survey, 50 percent of American workers plan to spend time holiday shopping online at work this season – on par with 52 percent last year. Of these workers, 34 percent will spend one hour or more shopping (up from 27 percent in 2010) and 16 percent will spend two or more hours (up from 13 percent in 2010). Employers do notice this and 7 percent of human resource managers surveyed have fired an employee for holiday shopping.

In another survey organized by Robert Half Technology, 60 percent of the 1400 CIOs interviewed from companies across US having more than 100 employees said their companies block access to online shopping sites. This percentage is up from 48 percent in 2010. 23 percent plan to monitor employee activity for excessive non-work related use. The CIOs whose firms allow online shopping said they expect employees to spend four hours per week, on average, surfing for deals this holiday season. For the ones who think otherwise here is an interesting study by National University of Singapore researchers that claims browsing the Internet serves an important restorative function and enhances workers productivity.

Interesting consequence of this at work limitation would be more sales using mobile devices. According to IBM, this year Black Friday mobile deal seeker traffic increased to 14.3 percent compared to 5.6 percent the previous year. Apple devices accounted for 10.2 percent of this traffic (iPhone 5.4 percent and iPad 4.8 percent), Android came in third at 4.1 percent.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Return Fraud in the Retail Industry

Analysts are predicting a good year for retail sales, already we saw a good kick off to the Black Friday with retailers opening stores early thereby increasing sales.

We all know after a big sales day we immediately see a lot of people in the returns line. According to National Retail Federation (NRF) annual return fraud survey of 103 retailers, this year customer returns in the retail industry will see $217 billions in return, a jump of 15% compared to last year. Out of this $46.28 billion of it will be the holiday merchandise returns. This amounts to 8.92% average sales return and 9.94% average holiday sales return.

So how much of its fraud? NRF estimates retailers will lose an estimated $3.48 billion to return fraud this holiday season, down from $3.73 billion last year. Annual return fraud will cost retailers an estimated $14.37 billion in 2011, up slightly from $13.66 billion in 2010.

What constitutes a fraud and what's the impact on retailers? Return of stolen merchandise and employee return fraud or collusion with external sources affect 89.1% of the retailers. Return of merchandise purchased on fraudulent or stolen tender comes next with 81.2%. Wardrobing, that is, the return of used, non-defective merchandise like special occasion apparel and certain electronics affects 61.2% of retailers while 38.6% retailers have found criminals using counterfeit receipts to return merchandise.

So how are retailers countering return fraud? Most retailers as you may have experienced when making returns require identification. The survey found significantly less fraudulent returns when a receipt is present 2.89% as compared to 14.02% without a receipt. Therefore 62.1% of retailers now require customers returning items without a receipt to show identification while only 10.7% of retailers require customers making returns with a receipt to show identification.

Retailers have to walk a fine line when preventing return fraud as this could be perceived by customers as a hassle in their overall shopping experience. Companies have often used "hassle-free" returns as a competitive differentiator so ability to have more flexible and lenient return policy while reducing fraud is critical.