New social network Unthink says ‘FU’ to Facebook and Google+

Dubbed the "anti-Facebook," newly launched social network Unthink aims to free users from the bonds of corporate money-making by giving them complete control over their personal data.
There’s a new social network in town, and it bills itself as everything Facebook’s not., which opened up registration today for an initial round of beta users, says it is the “anti-Facebook,” and vows to give users complete control over their personal data.
Unthink, which is based in Tampa, Florida, came out swinging, with a manifesto that vows to “emancipate social media,” along with a promotional video that literally says “FU” to Facebook and Google+ for making money by “spying – yes, spying” on users and bombarding users with ads, among other grievances.
According to Unthink chief executive Natasha Dedis, the idea for a new kind of social network came to her in 2007, when her son asked to join Facebook. After reading Facebook’s terms and conditions, as well as the terms of MySpace (which reigned king of social media at the time), Dedis said in an interview with SixEstate that she realized that these companies were operating under a business logic that was “totally irrational and exploitative.”
“…I felt that they were basically taking my son hostage,” said Dedis. “He was giving them a perpetual license to do whatever they wanted, they could change the terms at any time. So I thought, ‘Oh my god, in the real world, no business could ask its clients to enter into such a legal relationship. So how is this even legal on the Web?’ It just baffled me.”
Unthink attempts to tackle the exploitation problem in a number of different ways. First, Unthink makes all user data private by default. Users may then allow others to see the information they want public, and keep private anything they want private. Next, Unthink doesn’t sell user data to companies. Instead, users can choose to have specific brands “sponsor” their pages. Any users who don’t want corporate sponsorship can pay a $2-a-year fee to use the service. In addition, Unthink users may choose how brands communicate with them via a section that’s totally separate from their regular information stream.
As we see it, Unthink faces an inconceivably difficult uphill battle against Facebook and Google+. At the same time, however, Unthink’s servers are, at the time of this writing, completely overwhelmed by the bombardment of traffic headed to the site today. While some may see that as evidence that the company is unprepared for the big leagues, it at least shows that people are interested in a Facebook alternative – something we saw in droves with the launch of Google+.
We’ll definitely be exploring Unthink more in the coming days. In the mean time, check out Unthink’s in-your-face promo video, and let us know what you think of, er, Unthink:

Apple plans to build solar farm beside North Carolina data center

It looks as if the land cleared beside Apple's $1 billion data center in North Carolina will be used to build a solar farm to help power the new facility.

After buying and clearing 171 acres of land next to its gargantuan soon-to-begin-operations data center in Maiden, North Carolina, it looks as if Apple is about to build a solar farm on it.

The reason for Apple’s purchase of the extra land had been something of a mystery until the Charlotte Observer came across engineering plans entitled Project Dolphin Solar Farm A Expanded. The Observer points out that Project Dolphin was the code name used by the Cupertino company for the data center.

Confirmation about the construction of a solar farm is expected once the computer giant applies for a building permit. Permits recently issued by Catawba County show that Apple has been granted permission to reshape the slope of part of the vacant land beside the data center – thought to be in preparation for the construction of the solar farm.

A data center the size of Apple’s facility in Maiden – which covers around 180 acres – will no doubt need a fair bit of power to keep it ticking over. The Observer reports that using renewable energy would fit with Apple’s apparent interest in this kind of power, with plants in Austin, Texas, and Cork, Ireland, already powered entirely by renewable energy.

The new data center is thought to have cost somewhere in the region of $1 billion to build and should bring 300 new jobs to the area.

Apple hasn’t publicly stated what the data center will be used for, although its recent launch of cloud-based services doesn’t leave too much to the imagination

Siri Co-Founder Quits Apple

Dag Kittlaus, the co-founder and CEO of Siri, whose voice control feature Apple launched to much acclaim recently, left the company, according to sources.

There were several reasons for the departure, which was amicable and was planned for a while, sources said. They included Kittlaus' family being in Chicago, a desire to take time off and an interest in brainstorming new entrepreneurial ideas, AllThingsD reported.

Kittlaus has led the speech recognition efforts for Apple since it bought Siri in April of 2010. He had been Siri's CEO since 2007. Before that, the Norwegian-born Kittlaus was an entrepreneur in residence at the Stanford Research Institute and also worked at Motorola.

Kittlaus apparently left after the launch of Siri, but sources said other key Siri execs were expected to remain at Apple.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Steve Jobs Reading List: The Books And Artists That Made The Man

"I like living at the intersection of the humanities and technology," Steve Jobs said once.

LSD, Bauhaus and Zen Buddhism shaped Apple's pioneering products as much as anything that took place on the assembly lines. They were among Jobs' greatest influences and they shaped his attitudes toward design, business and innovation.

The books Jobs read, particularly as a teen and college student, helped expose him to the ideas and experiences that would serve as Apple's foundation years later.

Walter Isaacson's 571-page biography of Jobs, a copy of which was purchased by The Huffington Post, provides an unprecedented look at the texts -- by writers ranging from William Shakespeare to Paramahansa Yogananda -- that influenced Jobs; "required reading" for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the visionary.

Less than a handful of the texts Isaacson mentions directly concern technology: one is Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma," which Isaacson writes, "deeply influenced" Jobs, and the other is Ron Rosenbaum's 1971 Esquire article "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," a profile of hackers who could tap into phone networks that later gave rise to Jobs’ first collaboration with Steve Wozniak, who went on to become Apple's co-founder.

Jobs' interest in literature and the arts burgeoned during his junior and senior years of high school, which coincided with his first drug use. Jobs tried marijuana at 15 and before graduating high school began experimenting with LSD. (He later observed, "Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life," he said.)

"I started to listen to music a whole lot, and I started to read more outside of just science and technology -- Shakespeare, Plato. I loved King Lear," Jobs recalled of his teen years. Isaacson notes that "Moby-Dick" and Dylan Thomas' poetry were among Jobs' favorite works at this point in his life.

During his freshman year at Reed College, Jobs befriended Daniel Kottke, who went on to work at Apple, and together they devoured books such as Shunryu Suzuki's "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," Chogyam Trungpa's "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" and Paramahansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi," a book Jobs read and re-read many times during his life.

Isaacson writes,

    Jobs found himself deeply influenced by a variety of books on spirituality and enlightenment, most notably Be Here Now, a guide to meditation and the wonders of psychedelic drugs by Baba Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert.

    "It was profound," Jobs said. "It transformed me and many of my friends."

Throughout his life, Jobs embraced numerous extreme, even obsessive, dietary regimes. He fasted periodically and, at various points, was a vegetarian, vegan and fruitarian, though he made an exception for unagi sushi while in Japan. This attitude toward food began to take shape in college after Jobs read "Diet for a Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappe in his first year at Reed.

"That's when I swore off meat pretty much for good," Jobs told Isaacson, who adds Jobs became "even more obsessive" about food after reading Arnold Ehret's "Mucusless Diet Healing System."

One book in particular stayed with Jobs his entire life, and Isaacson noted that it was the only book Jobs had downloaded on his iPad 2: "Autobiography of a Yogi," "the guide to meditation and spirituality that he had first read as a teenager," Isaacson writes, "then re-read in India and had read once a year ever since."

Yet no discussion of the artists who influenced Jobs is complete without mentioning the music that made the man.

Jobs called Bob Dylan "one of my heroes" and had over a dozen Dylan albums on his iPod, along with songs from seven different Beatles albums, six Rolling Stones albums and four albums by Jobs' onetime lover Joan Baez.

Jobs likened The Beatles' creative process to Apple's own. While listening to a bootleg CD from one of the band's recording sessions, Jobs remarked, "They did a bundle of work between each of these recordings. They kept sending it back to make it closer to perfect ... The way we build stuff at Apple is often this way."

He also framed his motivations and the principles that drove him forward in terms of Dylan and The Beatles.

"They kept evolving, moving, refining their art," Jobs said of the artists. "That's what I've always tried to do -- keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you're not busy being born, you're busy dying."

Android Apps More Popular Than iOS Apps, ABI Research Study Finds

On Monday, marketing firm ABI Research released a study which showed that Android app downloads have overtaken those of iOS. Of all mobile apps downloaded in the second quarter of 2011, 44 percent were Android while only 31 percent were iOS.

In a press release, an ABI research associate chalked this up to to the fact that Android platform is open, allowing any developer to create and distribute any app:

    Being a free platform has expanded the Android device install base, which in turn has driven growth in the number of third party multi-platform and mobile operator app stores. These conditions alone explain why Android is the new leader in the mobile application market.

In addition, Android phones are finding their way into the hands of more and more users, therefore it's not a huge surprise that more Android apps are being downloaded. According to comScore's August report on mobile market share, almost 44 percent of smartphone owners have Android phones while 27 percent have iPhones. These numbers closely resemble ABI's percentages for Android and iOS app market share.

The ABI study nods to the disparity between the number of Android and iOS supporting handsets. According to their report, iPhone shipments decreased by 6 percent in the second quarter, while Android shipments increased 16 percent. Apple expects next quarter's iPhone sales to be much higher and has speculated that the drop in iPhone shipments was probably partly due to consumers holding off on buying new phone until the iPhone 4S came out.

While fewer people have iPhones, they download more apps each than Android users do. In fact, Apple is beating Android 2-to-1 in terms of app downloads per user. The ABI report attributes this to, "Apple's superior monetization policies attracted good developers within its ranks, thus creating a better catalog of apps and customer experience."

Business Insider writes that this distinction is important for Apple because it means developers will continue working with them even though Android has more users, "For now, developers are still happier with iOS despite the smaller user base and smaller number of total downloads."

Even though it's easier for developers to get apps into the Android Market, at least some of them prefer Apple's strict vetting process that keeps bad apps out. In an interview with The Huffington Post, one developer said that the quality of apps on the Android Market was "pathetically low." Which may be why the ABI report found that the number of app downloads per iOS user was twice as high as that of Android users.

While Android may be dominating the smartphone market in terms of units sold and apps downloaded, Apple is the clear winner when it comes to tablets. According to Mashable, Apple's tablet market share as of April 2011 was around 83 percent. While some report that sales of Android tablets have started to catch up with Apple's iPad sales, PC World thinks Android's tablet numbers are being inflated by "shaky math" and clever semantics. While Apple usually reports tablet figures in terms of how many have been sold, Android often talks in terms of how many are shipped. It sounds impressive to say 250,000 tablets have been shipped, but not if 95 percent of them are sitting in a warehouse somewhere unable to be sold.

Steve Jobs Eulogy by “Last True Hacker” Goes Too Far

The reaction to Steve Jobs’s death from most members of the technology establishment — including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Google — has been dignified, heartfelt and respectful.

Those adjectives do not apply to the reaction of Richard M. Stallman, the leader of the free software movement and the so-called “last true hacker,” who responded in a different way.

On his personal political blog, Stallman remembers Jobs as “The pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool,” and remarks that “I’m not glad he’s dead but I’m glad he’s gone.”

Stallman is known for his radical and often controversial beliefs, especially as it comes to software — or, more specifically, Stallman’s vision of software freedom. He famously surfs the web not from a web browser but from a daemon he runs from the command line that emails him the contents of a web page.

Apparently, going around your ass to get to your elbow is just that much more free than using a web browser. All hail software freedom. The freedom to get absolutely nothing productive done.

Stallman is influential, for sure. His work on GCC, the Gnu Compiler Collection has had a huge impact on the way that modern software is written. Furthermore, without the GNU system and its toolchain, Linux would not exist as it does today.

Still, I’m bothered by Stallman’s remarks. The man is famously anti-social and his views on software freedom (don’t you dare call it open source!) have put him at odds with practically every person who has ever touched a computer. Despite that, I would have hoped the man had enough common sense and compassion to at least refrain from comment.

Mr. Stallman is certainly entitled to his own opinion and to express that opinion any way he wants. I just wish he would be more open to others expressing opinions that differ from his own. For instance, some might argue the freedom to choose something closed is just as important as the freedom to choose something open.

Furthermore, I am bothered by Stallman’s stance that art, music and film are worthy of being provided protection under the law, but software is somehow a lesser form. Why should anyone who develops software not be allowed to use their code or share their code as they like? To me, that undervalues every single software developer. Including Mr. Stallman.

Stallman’s full comments:

    Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

    As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.” Nobody deserves to have to die – not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

    Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

Do you think Stallman went too far with his remarks or was he right on? Let us know.

Apple to Start Television Revolution, Analyst Says

Reports have suggested for more than a year that Apple is working on a smart TV product, and those reports were firmed up last week when an excerpt from Steve Jobs’s biography revealed that the Apple co-Founder was indeed working on an Apple television.

”I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Jobs said according to biographer Walter Isaacson. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

In a note to investors on Monday, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White said that the upcoming introduction of a smart TV represents a $100 billion revenue opportunity for the Cupertino, California-based consumer electronics giant. Read on for more.

White says Ticonderoga was the first Wall Street firm to uncover concrete evidence that Apple was working on a television of some kind, revealing in June that the product was already in early production stages. White says such a product will be a much more substantial opportunity for Apple than its current Apple TV set-top box.

“We believe the TV experience is in need of greater simplicity and innovation, providing Apple with opportunity to yet reinvent another product category and develop even closer ties with its customers,” the analyst wrote.

“For Apple, we believe the Smart TV market represents a significant new revenue opportunity for the company, while bringing Apple into a consumer’s living room and providing the digital hub in a home,” White said, noting that DisplaySearch estimates the LCD TV market will generate $100 billion in revenue in 2011 and $102 billion next year.

“We believe a product could hit the market in the coming quarters, opening up a new growth category for Apple and driving sales of existing products that play into the Apple digital ecosystem.”

White believes Apple’s smart TV will tie in closely with Apple’s digital ecosystem. He also believes Apple will charge between two and three times the cost of competing LCD TVs for its television product, which will feature “unmatched aesthetics” and an unrivaled user experience.

“In our view, features such as Siri, FaceTime, the App Store, iTunes and gaming are a natural fit for a full blown Apple TV, combined with potential new features and technologies in the future,” White wrote, adding that deep integration with iTunes and iCloud is also a given.

Finally, White notes that Apple’s smart TV will be a great opportunity for the company to further expand its position in the video game market. He thinks Apple could make some key acquisitions and become a major player in home-based gaming, noting that Apple’s Game Center already has 67 million registered users.

Creator of the iPod: Saving Energy Is Sexy

Can the father of the iPod make saving energy sexy?

Tony Fadell is the man who took the idea of the iPod to Steve Jobs, spawning a renaissance at the company and then overseeing successive products, including the first iPhones. He officially left the company last year (after a stint in a consulting role) to pursue green technologies, and today he's ready with his first introduction.

Dubbed Nest Labs, his post-Apple debut is a home thermostat. Yes, a thermostat.

What's different is that Nest looks like the kind of slick gadget that you'd want to display on your coffee table. Its brushed metal fascia reflects the colors around it, and the sky blue digital display is elegant, yet high tech. It's designed to go on your wall and replace that old-fashioned, mercury-filled Honeywell model we all grew up with. But Nest has a rotating push-in dial (sound familiar?) that makes you want to touch it -- even though after it learns your habits you may never have to.

"I wanted it to be something that draws attention," Fadell told me over lunch before the launch.

Nest certainly does. But it's more than just a pretty face. It's smart, too.

It neatly solves several problems that have bedeviled home owners who have been trying to save energy -- and money -- for years but been thwarted by either awkward technology or expensive home automation systems.

One problem is the second home/country home/away from home issue. If you're not there, why heat or completely cool the house? But of course, you've got to remember to change the thermostat or program it. I've installed programmable thermostats. They're clunky and about as easy to use as a mainframe computer from the 50s.

Nest takes a different approach by learning when you turn it up and down, understanding your preferred settings at particular times of the day, and then after a week or so starting to make those changes on its own. It even has a motion sensor so that if no one walks by it after a couple of hours, it will switch into "away" mode, and turn down the heat or the AC, according to presets. (Of course, you can turn it back up, and it will learn to stay on longer, too.)

Current programmable thermostats can be set for a week, but they don't learn your family's habits or watch for movement. They also aren't automatically connected to the Internet.

Nest has built-in Wi-Fi so that it can connect to a home network. It can then be set or adjusted remotely from anywhere, including an iPhone or Android-based smartphone. To warm up or cool down the house before you get there, simply tap a few settings from your phone before you leave the office -- or while you're on the way there.

Fadell also considered other issues with existing programmable thermostats: They usually require power (something the old ones don't) and aren't compatible with forthcoming smart meters from the power companies. Nest has a built-in rechargeable battery that receives a trickle charge from existing wires (no new wiring needed) and it has the de facto communications standard that power companies are using built in. And most people should be able to install Nest in about 20 minutes.

How much energy or money could you save? The U.S. Department of Energy says a typical home owner saves about 10 percent with a standard programmable thermostat. Fadell thinks Nest can do better, by shaving 20 to 30 percent off some people's energy bills. That's several hundred dollars or more a year for most of us, which should justify Nest's $249 price tag.

Nest will go on sale in November, available not just in hardware stores but from electronics stores like BestBuy, which also sets it apart from other solutions. Unlike other home energy focused tech companies, such as Tendril and Opower, Nest is reaching out directly to consumers. You don't even have to go to a hardware store.

Fadell thinks there's a huge market for Nest. According to the CEO, there are about 150 million thermostats in American homes, 60 percent of which are manual thermostats. Roughly 10 million are swapped out or installed each year, many for digital thermostats these days. (Not exactly iPod market numbers, but still serious business.)

Even those people who already have electronic thermostats could benefit from a smarter gadget, however: Nest's device is the first to learn your habits and alter itself, after all.

While iPods and iPhones are wonderful devices, Fadell says he wanted to make a more meaningful difference by bringing similar technology to the green market. With Nest he may succeed in doing exactly that, applying slick, high-tech, easy-to-use solutions to the dull world of heating and air-conditioning.

And he hints, there's more to come.

Read more:

Control Siri from 50 feet away with Iris 9000 for iPhone 4S

The Iris 9000 iPhone 4S accessory from ThinkGeek allows users to control the Siri voice recognition assistant from across the room.

With Apple’s iPhone 4S now solidly on the market, the wave of peripheral devices has begun to gather its ground swell, and will soon be crashing into tech retailers around the world. This morning, the first mists of these devices landed in our inbox, and it’s actually pretty cool.

Dubbed the Iris 9000, this newly launched device allows users to control the Siri voice recognition assistant, which is one of the big new features exclusive to the iPhone 4S, from up to 50 feet away.

On its own, Siri lets users perform a multitude of tasks just by speaking naturally into their phone. Unlike voice recognition artificial intelligence of the past, Siri can understand things like “What’s the weather like today?” or “Change my 3 o’clock meeting to four.” or “Send Mom an emails that says, ‘I want socks for Christmas.’” (You get the point.) Siri then performs the requested task.

To use Iris 9000, simply plug your iPhone 4S into the dock. Iris comes with a small remote, which can easily fit in the pocket. Hit the button on the remote, Siri will chime, and the built-in microphone of Iris 9000 will pick up your commands. Once Siri has an answer, “her” response will play through the speaker of the Iris 9000.

Of course, much of Siri’s functionality – like performing web searches or finding directions to the nearest coffee shop – requires that you be able to see the screen of your iPhone 4S, not just hear what Siri has to say, so that limits the usefulness of Iris 9000.

Iris 9000 can also be used to make calls, like a standard speakerphone device. And the giant red “eye” of Iris 9000 flashes when Siri is speaking, giving you even more of a 2001: A Space Odyssey user experience.

Produced and sold exclusively by ThinkGeek, Iris 9000 is set to launch in spring 2012 (according to the ThinkGeek page, it will be available for purchase on April 18) for a price of $59.99.