links for 2009-07-28

  • Hundreds of applications that use software updates are making computers more vulnerable to attack.
    Automatic updating, if done right, can help eliminate the threat of known security vulnerabilities before attackers start exploiting the flaws. Done wrong, however, the updating process itself becomes an efficient way for attackers to install their code on the victim’s system.
    One security researcher has found that at least a hundred programs use an update process that puts their users at risk. How? A computer on the same network as the target machine–think public wireless network–intercepts a message requesting the most recent software update, replies that there is a more recent version available, and then provides malicious code that will be installed through the update process, explains Itzik Kotler, security-operations-center team leader for security firm Radware.
    (tags: security)
  • Rumors about a new Apple tablet computer are nothing new, but the venerable Financial Times has kicked the blogosphere into a spin with a story sharing details of the much-discussed device and suggesting it’ll be ready by September (free registration required).
    The FT’s sources say that the device will have a screen measuring 10 inches diagonally and will come with Wi-Fi but no cellular transceiver. Weirdly, the story also suggests that the effort is aimed at reviving sales of full-length albums. To be honest, I suspect it has more to do with tapping into the growing demand for netbook-sized computers.
    What’s more, despite Steve Jobs’s previous claims that “people don’t read anymore,” an Apple tablet could be a killer for the Kindle. With the iTunes App Store already established, a full-color, fully functional tablet computer would surely be much more attractive as a portable reading device.
    (tags: apple tablet)

  • EBay Inc. wants to attract more buyers to its online marketplace. So it’s trying a new way of rewarding good sellers.
    Traditionally eBay has offered discounts and other perks to “PowerSellers” — the merchants who sold the most stuff on the site. Under a new program it was unveiling Monday, eBay is giving top-tier status to sellers who have very little negative feedback from buyers — even if these vendors aren’t among those who make the most sales on its online marketplace.
    Now top-rated vendors will get a 20 percent discount on the fees they must pay eBay after selling an item, along with a virtual badge they can display on their pages to indicate their status. Products they offer will be more likely to show up in searches that buyers make on the site.
    (tags: eBay)
  • If you had asked me this morning how many times I woke up last night, I would have guessed four or five. But according to the Zeo, a new gadget that monitors a person’s sleep, it was a disturbing 15 times. I’m also getting considerably less sleep than I thought; averaging about six to seven hours rather than the seven to eight hours I had always estimated.
    (tags: sleep gadget)
  • On the second floor of the Lexington Medical Center here, Burrell Best, 37, an electrical engineer, and his wife celebrated the birth of their second daughter and voiced fear about the government-run health-care plan being pushed by leading congressional Democrats: “I’ve just never been a government-takeover kind of guy.”
    (tags: Politics)
  • Spinvox has found itself amidst a scandal this week, as the BBC alleges that the company sometimes uses people — not computers — to transcribe voicemails from speech to text. This is disappointing, to say the least. Should you be concerned about your privacy?
    Spinvox offers a service whereby voicemails are (supposedly) sent to computers, where complex algorithms transcribe them from speech to text, which are then sent as emails or SMS messages to end-users’ phones. That’s not what the BBC says, however.
    The BBC apparently conducted an investigation and found that the majority of voicemails were “heard and transcribed by call center staff in South Africa and the Philippines.”
  • Something few people could have foreseen is the impact that apps have on smartphone and feature phone sales; as the iPhone has demonstrated, apps really are the tail wagging the handheld dog.
    Not just here in the U.S., but everywhere it sells the iPhone, Apple has promoted the apps more than the device itself. Put aside the original adds demonstrating the touch-screen and the pinching effect and some ads for the 3G S, the focus of iPhone ads have been on apps.
    Just as the iTunes App Store is credited with putting wind in the iPhone’s sales, so correspondent market share losses by Nokia (NYSE: NOK) are blamed to a huge extent on the lameness of Ovi; the BlackBerry OS and Android are likewise acting as a drag on the fortunes of their respective devices, and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is scrambling to launch an app store of its own.
    (tags: Google apple)
  • Amazon announced Wednesday that the Web retailing giant would acquire the popular shoe shopping destination Zappos.com in exchange for 10 million shares of Amazon stock.
    “This is a win-win situation,” says Jeff Grau, eMarketer senior analyst. “Amazon’s footwear business gets an immediate shot of adrenaline and Zappos gains access to Amazon’s deep technology and order fulfillment expertise.”
    As the news traveled around Twitter and the blogosphere, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh reassured employees—and customers—in a letter: “We plan to run Zappos the way we have always run Zappos—continuing to do what we believe is best for our brand, our culture, and our business.”
    (tags: Zappos amazon)
  • Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch continue to be the platform of choice for mobile Web users, but the Google (NSDQ: GOOG)-backed Android is picking up steam, according to data from AdMob.
    In its monthly “Mobile Metrics” report, AdMob analyzed what handsets and operating systems were using the most mobile data for June. While it is not a comprehensive report of the industry because it only measures Web sites and applications that use AdMob’s advertising network, it does give some insight into mobile Web usage.
  • If you had to explain why you believe Zappos.com has been so successful, what key reasons would you attribute it to?
    I think it’s because of our focus on customer service and company culture. Our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long term enduring brand, will happen naturally on its own.
    (tags: Zappos)
  • Corporate leaders in the United States often draw leadership lessons — good and bad — from the examples set by American presidents. But in looking to the White House, it’s important to recognize that history’s take on presidential performance is subject to change, according to presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, who spoke at a recent Wharton Leadership Conference. He offered 10 rules for presidential evaluations that stand the test of time.
    For example, he said, Dwight D. Eisenhower was considered something of a do-nothing president, ranking below Chester A. Arthur, during the dynamic Camelot era of John F. Kennedy. In contrast to the PR-driven Kennedy, Eisenhower used to say, “The job of the president is to persuade, not to publicize.” Indeed, the Supreme Commander of the Normandy invasion was so subtle and self-effacing as president that historians judged him mediocre.
  • According to the “Q1 2009 Email Trends and Benchmarks” report by Epsilon, 94.1% of marketing e-mails were delivered in Q1 2009.
    In addition, 22.1% of e-mails were opened and 6.1% were clicked through. Open rates and click-throughs were up slightly from Q4 2008. Deliveries were down.
    (To compare these numbers to figures from a MailerMailer study, see E-Mail Marketing and Click-Through Rates.)
    How often e-mails were opened and clicked varied with the industry of the sender—and the size of the list.
  • Why should we fear Google? There’s an easy, obvious answer to that, particularly if you’re a media or marketing person: because Google is killing us. It is, duh, blatantly steamrollering the business models of countless business sectors, from Madison Avenue to print media. (Despite all the Bing hype, it appears that Microsoft’s refreshed search engine — er, decision engine — isn’t making a dent in Google’s dominance.)
    (tags: Google)
  • While Mac OS X is a top-notch operating system, there always are things it can’t do, or could do a bit better. This applies to every operating system, because if they were all perfect, then no one would make money writing third-party software! I know the Internet abounds with various lists of “Mac Software You Can’t Live Without”; if you can stand one more, I’ve compiled what I’ve found to be some cool and useful tools. No, I don’t think you can’t live without any of them, but they’ve all made my Mac experience more complete, and a little more fun, too. One further word: Don’t take the order below too seriously; it’s more a reflection of how and when things occurred, rather than a definitive comment on relative merit.
    (tags: mac software)
  • StartUpHire, the largest online database of jobs at VC-backed companies, has announced its list of the fastest growing startups in major metropolitan markets based on current job openings and positions available during Q2. These are the teams which are most actively expanding in today’s recessionary climate, a proxy suggesting strong business models and/or deep conviction that the future is promising. Baltimore jobs and Washington, DC jobs available at venture-backed startups currently exceed 300 open positions despite a tough economy.
    Regional lists for Boston, Silicon Valley, Southern California, New York and elsewhere can be found at http://www.StartUpHire.com/blog/2009/07/job-openings.
    “Our region benefits from a unique and diverse industrial base, including telecommunications, software, biotechnology and a wide mix of non-tech companies, along with the government business,” said Don Rainey, general partner at Grotech Ventures and a board member of the Mid-Atlantic Venture Assocation.

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