Best iPhone Apps 2012

Where's My Water? - Disney
WHERE’S MY WATER IS THE HIT DISNEY APP EVERYONE IS PLAYING! “Game of the Year 2011” — PHONEARENA.COM “Game of the Year 2011” — APPLE 'N APPS “92 Metascore” — METACRITIC.COM “Editor’s Choice Award” — IGN “Game of the Month” — SLIDE TO PLAY “One of those rare gems that manages to get everything right.” — ...


Grand Theft Auto 3 - Rockstar Games
The sprawling crime epic that changed open-world games forever. Welcome to Liberty City. Where it all began. Rockstar Games celebrates the 10th anniversary of one of the most influential games of all time. The critically acclaimed blockbuster Grand Theft Auto III comes to mobile devices, bringing to life the dark and seedy underworld of Liberty ...


Fruit Ninja - Halfbrick Studios
NOW WITH GAME CENTER MULTIPLAYER! -- OVER TEN MILLION FRUIT NINJA COPIES SOLD! A huge thanks to everyone out there, you have made this great game even greater because of your amazing support! #1 Paid App in Germany, Norway, Czech Republic, Russia, Israel, Taiwan and Macau! #2 Paid App in USA, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, Italy, China, UK...


Clear - Realmac Software
*INTRODUCTORY SALE!* For a limited time try Clear's next-generation take on lists for just 99¢! Life is messy. Keep it together with Clear, an amazing new app for list-keeping that is unbelievably simple, quick and satisfying to use. Clear is designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind and works great with any list you throw at it! Try it ...


Scramble With Friends - Zynga
It's on SALE! LIMITED TIME ONLY! Not ready to commit? Try Scramble With Friends Free! Play the deluxe version of Scramble With Friends™! ★ EARN TOKENS TWICE AS FAST! ★ NO ADS! Everyone's favorite word game is back, with all new features to enjoy with your friends! Scramble With Friends™ joins the world's most popular word-game franchi...


Angry Birds - Clickgamer.com
Use the unique powers of the Angry Birds to destroy the greedy pigs' defenses! The survival of the Angry Birds is at stake. Dish out revenge on the greedy pigs who stole their eggs. Use the unique powers of each bird to destroy the pigs’ defenses. Angry Birds features challenging physics-based gameplay and hours of replay value. Each level requi...


Cut the Rope - Chillingo Ltd
•BEST GAME ON THE IPHONE – IGN 2011 •Over 60 MILLION copies downloaded •Constant FREE UPDATES with NEW levels A mysterious package has arrived, and the little monster inside has only one request…CANDY! Cut the ropes, catch the stars and avoid various obstacles in your mission to feed Om Nom. Combining outstanding physics, tricky levels...


WhatsApp Messenger - WhatsApp Inc.
WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform smartphone messenger currently available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones. The application utilizes push notifications to instantly get messages from friends, colleagues and family. Switch from SMS to exchange messages, pictures, audio notes and video messages with WhatsApp users at no cost. ...

Camera+ - tap tap tap
AN AMAZING CAMERA AT AN INCREDIBLY LOW PRICE! GET IT NOW AND SEE WHY EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT CAMERA+! ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★ ❃❃❃ Over 6 million sold! ❃❃❃ ✦✦✦ Works marvelously well with ✦✦✦ ✦✦✦ the wonderful camera on the ✦✦✦ �...


Ragdoll Blaster 3 - Backflip Studios
Have a blast! Introducing Ragdoll Blaster 3. With over 15 MILLION downloads, Ragdoll Blaster is certainly the most popular ragdoll blasting game of all time. Ragdoll Blaster 3, the latest and greatest sequel to the mega-hit Ragdoll Blaster game franchise, is serious fun. You'll make your way through hundreds of increasingly challenging levels by ...

How Pinterest Is Becoming the Next Big Thing in Social Media for Business

Move over Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Another social media site is stepping up as a valuable marketing tool for businesses.

Pinterest, an online bulletin board for your favorite images, launched in 2010 and is already experiencing wild growth. The site registered more than 7 million unique visitors in December, up from 1.6 million in September. And it's driving more traffic to company websites and blogs than YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined, according to a recent report from Cambridge, Mass.-based content-sharing site Shareaholic.

Why should small businesses care? To answer that, you first have to understand how consumers are using the site. Pinterest allows you to organize images -- maybe pretty sunrises or wines you've tasted -- into boards for specific categories. When you "pin" something new, your followers will see it. They can like, comment or re-pin it to their boards. Like Facebook content, your Pinterest pins can go viral.

Brides-to-be can pin pictures of different wedding dresses to review, and people shopping for a new car can pin images of their options. When I joined Pinterest I started a board to show the Major League Baseball stadiums I've visited. The possibilities are unlimited.

Here's a look at why some business owners -- particularly retailers -- might want to seriously consider starting a business profile on Pinterest now.


How It's Being Used
Perhaps the most powerful business application is the ability to post images of your company's products on your Pinterest board and link them back to your website. It works as a sort of virtual store catalog.

But remember that this is social media. If you simply display images of your products without contributing other content or sharing other users' pins, you'll likely find that people don't pay much attention. After all, no one likes a self-absorbed blowhard.

Related: What's With All the Interest in Pinterest?

But savvy social media users know not to get too promotional. For example, Whole Foods Market pins pictures of delicious-looking food, food art and images of recycled or reused products to inspire customers to be environmentally responsible. Daniel Gordon, who runs Samuel Gordon Jewelers in Oklahoma City, pins pictures of his rings and watches, but he also has a board for images that make him laugh and other types of products he loves.

Driving Sales
Pinterest already is driving buyers to some websites. In the last six months, the retail deal site ideeli.com has seen a 446 percent increase in web traffic from Pinterest and sales resulting from those visits have increased five-fold.

"We continue the Pinterest conversation with [the] members by following their pins, and we love to give feedback outside of the shopping category -- whether that means commenting on a great recipe or [giving] a heart next to our favorite pet pics," says ideeli.com social media manager Sarah Conley. "We also see Pinterest as a growing resource to better understand our members and the larger retail landscape."

Is Pinterest Right for Your Business?
The site does have some drawbacks for businesses. If your product or service isn't particularly visual, your images may not tie directly back to your brand. Pinterest also doesn't offer business-oriented features, and its search function prioritizes pin and board subjects ahead of "people," the category that brands would fall into.

The best way to determine if Pinterest could attract buyers is simply to give it a shot. Set up an account and start pinning things that are relevant to your business but not too promotional.

Related: How to Use Social Media for Research and Development

If you run a lawn-care center, for instance, pin pictures of landscaping you find online or snap in your community. If you're a brick-and-mortar store, pin shots of the interesting sites and people around your neighborhood and photos you take at community events. You also can search through Pinterest's categories and add some inspirational, funny or beautiful images you find.

Then, follow interesting boards and individuals who post images that inspire you. Once you've done some pinning of other people's content for a week or so and attracted a few followers, create a new board of your products. Add descriptions and perhaps the price to the images. Make sure they link back to your website and start tracking pinterest.com as a referral source in your website analytics.

Next, try creating an image of a special deal or coupon just for your Pinterest followers. Upload it to a new board for Deals. Perhaps offer a prize to the person who gets the most likes or comments on a re-pin of the coupon, and then see who shares it the most. Don't fret about creating multiple boards. People who follow you will see them all.

In a month or two, see if you're getting referral traffic or sales. Depending on the results, you may need to tweak your boards with new images and words.

One thing is clear whether you're on Pinterest for personal or business reasons: the best images -- be they funny, beautiful or thought provoking -- attract the most attention and followers.

10 Reasons Your Small Business Shouldn't Start a Blog

If it wasn't before, blogging is certainly the "it" marketing vehicle of the moment.

A study of more than 3,000 marketers done by Social Media Examiner last year showed 68 percent of small businesses use blog posts already as part of their social-media strategy. After all, if you're going to be tweeting and updating your status on LinkedIn and all, it's helpful if you can link back to some tasty piece of content on your site. Blogging makes that easy to do.

But that doesn't mean blogging is right for your small business, as the blog Reputation Capital pointed out earlier this week. Here are a few reasons you might want to hold off on blogging at your business:

No one has time. Be honest with yourself about whether you could spare at least two or three hours a week to write. If no one at the business can do it, consider hiring a professional writer -- the study found 10 percent of small business owners hired this task out. Without somebody committed to posting, you'll end up with a dusty blog that hasn't been updated in six months, which makes a worse impression than if you never blogged at all.

You don't know what to say. Develop a calendar of at least four post ideas each month, month after month -- and they shouldn't be product releases.

You don't have a realistic goal. What are you hoping the blog will do? You likely won't boost sales, as less than half of business bloggers said their blog achieved that goal. By contrast, 88 percent said it generated great exposure for their brand.

You're not careful. Nothing erodes a company's credibility faster than a sloppy, typo-filled blog post.

You haven't established your tone. Successful blogging businesses have an online writing style that's consistent and makes visitors feel comfortable. Another benefit: if you can establish a company-wide writing style, more than one person can post.

You don't use social media. Many people think you write a blog post and -- presto -- thousands of people will stampede to your site. But blogging doesn't work like that. After you write it, someone has to promote that post online. This is where social-media skills come in.

You think it's about you. Blogs are a powerful tool for getting to know your customers and building relationships with them.

You don't trust your bloggers. If you're delegating blogging, you need to give that person the authority to represent your brand online. Otherwise, it'll be rounds of editing by committee, resulting in junk posts.

You want to close the comments. Many businesses are afraid of what their customers might say on their blog. But blogs are all about engagement, so you need to be willing to take reader feedback.

You're not willing to invest in design. Your company blog needs to look clean and inviting, so that readers want to stick around and it's clear what you want them to do next (usually, subscribe).

What You Need to Know About YouTube's New Analytics Program

Google's video publishing powerhouse YouTube recently unveiled a major upgrade to its video analytics predecessor YouTube Insight. The new system, YouTube Analytics, features a much-improved dashboard that's easy to navigate and understand.

Beyond aesthetics, YouTube Analytics also includes a cache of new tools that allows you to have a deeper understanding of who's watching your videos, what viewer demographic associations are and which topics viewers watch most. Here's a look at some of the most useful features that can help you tailor your business videos and offer a more engaging video channel:

Detailed viewer data: Among the new features is the ability to split off viewer data from engagement data and drill into each of these categories to generate insights into viewer "Likes" and "Dislikes" across all videos in your channel.

In addition to providing viewer stats, demographics and abandonment rates, the new program comes with data on how users are accessing content and which channels deliver the most engaged viewers. It also offers a host of engagement metrics that can help video owners understand the social side of their viewer data -- specifically, what viewers think about each of the videos in your channel. This can help you decide which videos to promote, which new videos to create and what content to scrap.

Related: Seven Tips for Marketing a Business with Video

Audience retention reports: For each video in your channel, you're now able to see exactly where viewers start to lose interest in your videos. With this information, you can learn more about the attention span of your audience, as well as what specific types of content they prefer.

How to use the data: Ask yourself the following questions to get a feel for how to use the information found in the new Youtube Analytics program to make decisions about your current and future business video choices:

1. Take a look at your Top 10 Videos, as displayed in the new Youtube Analytics dashboard. Do you notice any trends throughout these videos? Do they cover similar topics or run about the same length? Extrapolating from this information should give you a good idea of what type of video to launch next.

2. Next, look at your top Traffic Sources. Which sites send you the most visitors? Can you use the other tools within the Youtube Analytics dashboard to learn more about the visitors from each source? Even if you have one source that sends the bulk of your traffic, keep an eye out for other sources that send highly engaged visitors and beef up your promotional efforts on these sites.

3. Finally, look at your Audience Retention reports. How long, on average, are viewers sticking around during and after your videos? If they aren't making it through your content or seem to lose interest quickly, get a handle on what they're looking for to provide future video content that's more engaging.

Scientists create working transistor from a single atom

Researchers from the University of New South Wales, Purdue University and the University of Melbourne have achieved a breakthrough in computing by creating a working one-atom transistor, beating Moore's Law's prediction by eight years.

Researchers, in a cross-continental effort by the University of New South Wales, Purdue University and the University of Melbourne, have achieved an astonishing feat: the first-ever creation of a working transistor from a single atom.

Since 1954, when Texas Instruments scientist, George Teal, created the first silicon transistor, the innovations in creating smaller and smaller transistors have paved the way for the manufacturing of today’s computers and mobile devices. A single device may hold billions of transistors, which work together in concert to perform simple binary calculations. With more transistors packed into a specified area, calculations will become faster and computers will be able to store more information, all the while requiring less power than contemporary transistors.

The creation of single-atom transistors using silicon has been recreated in the past, albeit accidentally. Until today, the margin of error to beat has been ten nanometers. (A nanometer equals one billionth of a meter, just FYI.) But for a single-atom transistor to be utilized in computers and other devices for practical use, requires  the ability to isolate and situate a single atom accurately onto a silicon chip. According to nanotechnology journal Nature Nanotechnology, however, this is precisely what the researchers have done.

Here’s how they did it: Using a scanning tunneling microscope (a device that allows researchers to see the atoms, and provides them the precision necessary for atom manipulation) the researchers etched a narrow channel into a silicon base. Phosphine gas was then deployed, which carried an isolated atom of phosphorous to a desired area between two electrodes. When an electric current was passed through the device, it amplified and switched electrical signals — just like any other working transistor.

The milestone achievements of the Australian universities in conjunction with Purdue, brings mankind one step closer to the practicality of manufacturing quantum computers. Amazingly, the team has also defied Moore’s Law (based on a statement by Gordon Moore to Electronics Magazine in 1965), which estimates the rate at which the number of transistors that can fit on a single circuit will double. Following the rate of doubling every 18 months to two years, Moore’s Law predicts that a working single-atom transistor would be created by 2020. Today, thanks to researchers, this mind-blowing benchmark has been achieved about eight years earlier than anticipated.

Not surprisingly, the research’s undertaking was inspired by Moore’s Law. “We really decided 10 years ago to start this program to make single-atom devices as fast as we could, and try and beat that law,” said Michelle Simmons, director of the ARC Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications, and the team’s head researcher. “So here we are in 2012, and we’ve made a single-atom transistor in roughly about eight to 10 years ahead of where the industry is going to be.”

Despite the breakthrough, you won’t be seeing its application for classical computing for the next 15 to 20 years, according to  Gerhard Klimeck, professor and director of Purdue’s research group. ”This technology researchers used to create the device will not scale up to billions of devices,” Klimeck informed Digital Trends. Until the process to manufacture and operate the device — which can only currently function in minus 391 degrees — is refined for the transistor’s use outside of labs, the device in its current state is just a working proof of concept.

Lenovo ThinkPad T420s Review

The workhorse Lenovo ThinkPad 420s sticks with what works, offering more durability, performance and usability than comparably priced ultraportables.

The ThinkPad T Series is an elder among laptops. IBM introduced the first laptop in the line, the T20, about 12 years ago. Since then the series has been consistently updated and has never once been removed from the market. Only the ThinkPad X Series has enjoyed a similar tenure.

IBM’s original T20 was offered only with a 14.1-inch display, but over the years the line has expanded. High performance and 15.6-inch variants were made available. More recently, Lenovo decided to spin off a thinner, lighter version — resulting in the T420s.

Though this is the thin-and-light version of the T420, don’t mistake it for an Ultrabook. The 14.1-inch display and maximum thickness of just over one inch seemed modern when the original T400s arrived in 2009, but today it’s merely average. It does allow for a standard Core i5-2520M processor, however, which means performance should be much better than what is provided by today’s thinnest laptops.

Lenovo is debuting an Ultrabook version of the T-Series, called the T430u, later this year. Which raises the question: Is the T420s a good choice, or is this thin and light losing ground to more modern designs? Let’s find out.

Still in black

When Lenovo took over the ThinkPad line from IBM there was widespread fear that the brand would be watered down. Instead, the company has remained shockingly stubborn. This T420s is thin, but its appearance is otherwise not much different than the laptops made ten years ago.

From an aesthetic standpoint the use of matte black is a terrible choice, but that’s not the point. Functionality is the focus here. The expanses of non-gloss material ensure that fingerprints are rarely an issue. Dings and scratches also tend to be obscured. While a shiny new consumer laptop may look worse for wear a few years down the road, this laptop will display its scars with pride.

The T420s’ designation as a thinner version of the T420 is literal. We’ve had the chance to see both, and the design elements are the same right down to the size of the display bezel, the hinges used and the location of the latch (yes, this laptop has a display latch, a feature long gone from consumer products).

Connectivity is the only major change. Due to its thinner profile this laptop offers only three USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort, VGA, Ethernet and a card reader. That’s down a couple ports to the normal T420, but it’s also much better than what is provided by most laptops of similar size. Better still, the ports are mostly along the rear of the laptop. That’s beneficial because it means peripheral cords are less likely to get in your way.

Old-school keyboard

Similarities between the T420 and T420s continue with the user interface. The keyboards on both appear to be identical, which means that the thinner model has the same excellent key feel. While most of the competitions — including HP’s own business-oriented Elitebooks — have transitioned over to island-style keyboards, Lenovo has continued on with beveled keys. The result is not as visually attractive, but we think this design is better for high-speed touch typing.

Users new to the ThinkPad brand will undoubtedly be tripped up by the location of the function key, which is located where the Ctrl key is on every other keyboard ever produced. This strange layout has been used for years, so it’s unlikely to be changed soon. On the other hand, the T420s offers dedicated buttons for speaker mute, microphone mute and volume as well as double-sized Escape and Delete keys. These enhancements more than make up for the layout’s other oddities.



The touchpad is extremely small for a laptop of this size. It’s obvious that you’re expected to use the trackpointer (a little red pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard) instead. Users who’ve never tackled a trackpointer before are bound to be confused by it, but there are benefits. Once you’ve become accustomed to it you can navigate via mouse without lifting your hands from the keyboard.

Great for business, OK for entertainment

The T420s is a business laptop, and as such it comes with a matte display, making it possible to use the laptop in many different environments. Even outdoors use is possible with the display’s brightness turned to maximum.

Usually the downside to a matte display is less-than-stellar performance in movies and games, and that’s certainly the case here. You don’t get the “pop” of vibrant colors that you receive from a decent glossy laptop display. Performance in movies and games is still adequate, however — and better than matte displays we’ve seen in the past. Part of the reason for this may be the resolution of 1600x 900, which is high for a 14.1-inch display.

Audio quality has never been a focus of the ThinkPad brand, but the sound the 420s emits is surprisingly adequate. It has all the typical laptop issues with bass and distortion, but maximum volume is sufficiently loud and clear.

Cool and quiet

At idle, the fan of the T420s isn’t audible. At load, the fan spins up a bit, but still remains quiet. This is one of the least audible cooling systems that we’ve ever heard.

You’d think that the low fan speed would result in warm operation, but that’s not the case. At idle most of the laptop’s surfaces are between 70 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just barely above room temperature.

Placing the laptop under load with a stress test did raise temperatures, but almost all surfaces remained under 90 degrees. The only potential source of discomfort is the left rear bottom of the laptop, which is where the exhaust is located. Temperatures here reached 103 degrees, which means that lap use could be uncomfortable if the processor is heavily stressed.

That battery goes where?

Though built to be thin and light, the T420s isn’t the most portable laptop around. Its 14-inch display puts it at a disadvantage compared to 13.1-inch or 13.3-inch laptop. The laptop’s weight of about 3.9 pounds is far from classleading, as well.

With that said, the T420s is reasonably small. It will fit in most bags that accommodate a 13.3-inch laptop and is light enough to tote around on a regular basis.

All ThinkPad T420s laptops come with a standard six-cell battery. In our Battery Eater’s Standard Test it lasted just one hour and nine minutes, but in the Reader’s Test is lasted a reasonable five hours and thirty two minutes. Typical mobile use will result in between four and five hours of endurance.

That’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. If you need more life you can buy a three-cell bay battery for $120. This battery replaces the optical drive, which slides out using a fool-proof latch system. With the extended life battery installed, life in the Battery Eater Standard Test goes up to two hours and ten minutes and the Reader’s Test is extended to an impressive eight hours and thirty nine minutes. There’s an optional nine-cell battery for people who need even more life, but it was not provided with our review unit.

Software

As with other ThinkPads, our T420s came with Lenovo’s bundled ThinkVantage software. It includes a wide variety of software such as ThinkVantage Connections, which is a replacement to the standard Windows wireless manager. Unlike most such bundled solutions, the software offered by Lenovo is actually better than the standard Windows solution. This is also true for the Power Manager.

Not everything about the included software is great, however. Lenovo includes advertisements for other ThinkVantage services in portions of the bundled software interface by default, which is annoying. In addition, the Virus Protection section recommends Norton Internet Security. It’d be more useful to recommend Microsoft’s free Security Essentials software.

Strong performance

Though thin, the T420s is not so thin that it prevents the use of normal Core i5 processors. That’s a major advantage older and thicker ultraportables have over newer Ultrabooks, and its shows in the performance numbers. SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic test achieved a combined score of 43.44, which sets a new record among the laptops we’ve reviewed. The 7-Zip score of 8,247 MIPS is also the highest we’ve yet recorded.

Considering the strong processor performance, the score of 2,358 returned by PCMark 7 seems low. The reason for this, as mentioned in other reviews, is that PCMark 7 heavily favors solid state drives. If we take laptops equipped with SSDs out of the running the score of 2,358 is strong. Only the HP Envy 15 scored higher.

Nvidia NVS 4200M discrete graphics can be had as an option, but our review unit did not come equipped with it. Instead it relies on Intel’s HD 3000, which can’t run 3DMark 11. 3DMark 06 returned a score of 3,701, which is a bit low for a laptop of this configuration. Combine this with a 1600 x 900 display and you have recipe for terrible gaming performance. Even older 3D games will need to be played with many detail options turned off.

No one has ever mistaken a ThinkPad for a gaming laptop, however, so the lack of 3D gaming prowess isn’t a problem. Overall performance from the T420s is extremely strong, held back only by the mechanical hard drive. Solid state drives are available as an option. We highly recommend them if you’re interested in maximum performance.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad T420s is another example of Lenovo’s stubbornness. Besides the hardware, which is quick, there’s nothing about this laptop that is particularly modern. The entire design philosophy, from the boring matte black surfaces to the beveled key caps, could easily be at home on a laptop built five years ago.

But being stubborn isn’t bad when you have it right. This is a laptop built for people who use their laptops for work every day, and for that use the T420s is perfect. It’s simply a miniaturized version of the T420, offering the same performance in a more portable package. While the T420 might be used around an office, the T420s can be taken nearly anywhere.

You might expect to pay a higher price for the slimmer chassis, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Right now our review unit can be yours for just $999, while a similar T420 is $949. That’s not much of a difference.

The only weakness of the T420s is battery life. It’s not terrible, but it’s a little below average for a modern ultraportable. The included three-cell extended battery does extend life, but it requires the removal of the optical drive and is an additional cost. It’d be nice if this laptop managed six or seven hours in real-world use without additional juice.

One minor disadvantage can’t spoil this party, however. The T420s is an excellent laptop for business users, and also well worth the consideration of consumers who prefer an excellent keyboard and durable design to flashy aesthetics.

Highs:

Durable construction
High-resolution display
Excellent performance
Reasonable price
Lows:

Not particularly thin or light
Lackluster battery life
Display isn’t great for multimedia

Meet CERV: The military’s mean, green, gunning machine

Recently on display at the Chicago Auto Show, the Army's Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV) is a green gunning machine meant to make a big impact on the battlefield while making a small impact on the environment.

The United States Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) were on hand at the recently concluded Chicago Auto Show showing off a vehicle of its own. The Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV) is an energy-efficient vehicle developed by Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide in conjunction with TARDEC.

Quantum, which specializes in natural gas, hydrogen, and hybrid vehicle technologies, gave show attendees a glimpse of the CERV. The company states that the CERV will save both money and soldiers lives (although we can’t quite discern how it is able to save lives exactly), while the U.S Army has labeled the CERV as one of the “greenest technologies.”

According to Quantum and Tardec, these lightweight vehicles were developed with the intention of making a big impact on the battlefield while making a small impact on the environment. The CERV prototype is a diesel-hybrid that utilizes Quantum’s “Q-Force” powertrain and can achieve a top speed of 80 miles per hour with silent run capabilities of eight miles, which we assume refers to the vehicles total electric range of eight miles.

On top of being green, CERV is also surprisingly powerful. With its lightweight chassis, CERV is able to climb 60-percent gradients and produce torque in excess of 5,000 foot-pounds.

Of course all that power won’t account for much if it constantly has to refuel while out in the field, which is why CERV is also efficient. The eco-friendly transport consumes up to 25-percent less fuel compared to other vehicles its size. According to a recent Army Energy Security Task Force report, even a one percent increase in fuel economy can result in 6,444 fewer soldier trips on fuel convoys.

So while the CERV might be mean to its enemies – that top mounted gun probably doesn’t help make it any friends – at least it’s relatively kind to the environment.

“Quantum’s high efficiency powertrain technologies help to save fuel, while enhancing vehicle performance and versatility,” said Alan P. Niedzwiecki, President and CEO of Quantum. “Our new generation powertrains are ideal to support tactical operations in both urban and un-urban environments across the broad range of U.S. military operations and terrain profiles, for direct action, reconnaissance, and unconventional warfare and counter terrorism.”

Currently, CERV is still undergoing further testing around the country with no concrete word on when or if it will make it through to further field testing.

New ZTE Mimosa X smartphone packs Ice Cream Sandwich and a Tegra 2 processor

ZTE announce the Mimosa X, an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone with a Tegra 2 processor, which could sell for less than $200 when it's released later this year.

ZTE has been threatening to break its run of releasing simple, low cost Android phones for a while, indicating it wants to break into new markets with more exciting phones to rival its high-priced competitors.

Yesterday, the Chinese company unveiled two new Android Ice Cream Sandwich phones, the PF200 destined for the UK and the CDMA N910, both of which will make their true debut during Mobile World Congress. They’re notable not only for using the latest version of Android, but for using the ZTE brand name too.

Today ZTE has made another phone official, and it’s named the Mimosa X. Like the PF200 and N910, it will use Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as standard, but unlike them, it has a Nvidia Tegra 2 processor inside.

Nvidia’s powerful dual-core Tegra 2 didn’t make a huge splash in the smartphone world, preferring to hide inside tablets instead, but its charms did make the Motorola Atrix 2 and the Samsung Galaxy R attractive. Interestingly, the Mimosa X will combine the Tegra 2 with the Icera software modem, made by a company purchased by Nvidia last year.

Talking to AllThingsD.com, Nvidia’s general manager admitted they didn’t move fast enough to capture the high-end mainstream market when the Tegra 2 was released last year. Now it appears the chip will find its home in mid-range phones such as the Mimosa, leaving the superphones for the quad-core Tegra 3.

The phone has a 4.3-inch touchscreen with a qHD 960 x 540 pixel resolution, a 5-megapixel camera on the rear and a forward-facing video call lens, 4GB of internal memory plus a microSD card slot to expand this to 32GB. Android 4.0 will have ZTE’s own user interface over the top too.

If the estimate of a sub-$200 unsubsidized price is correct, the Mimosa X could be very exciting when it’s launched in the next few months.

Pepper spray iPhone case sounds like bad news for everyone

The SmartGuard iPhone case comes complete with a slot for you to attach your pepper spray along your everyday ventures. But is it really necessary?

You know the scenario: Girl walks home alone at night, encounters a stranger danger, and protects herself with a portable pepper spray before making a run to safety. While it might be a good idea to have such protective tools handy, would you go as far as having it attached to your iPhone? Swiss manufacturer Piexon thinks you should.

Meet the SmartGuard iPhone case for the iPhone 4 and 4S. The durable design not only aims to keep your phone out of harm’s way, but the case comes with a pepper spray dispenser which you can detach to use during an emergency situation. This included formula of pepper spray is a ten percent concentration of oleoresin capsicum, derived from cayenne pepper plants to deliver the hottest sting to your perpetrators. The spray is capable of shooting within a five foot range, making it a practical item for the everyday users looking for extra protection. The SmartGuard case’s slot for this pepper spray canister also automatically locks the can in to prevent accidental discharge in your pockets and bags.

The SmartGuard is one of those ideas that only work in theory, but in reality we foresee a lot of terrible things that can go wrong. The first thing we noticed is that the canister and its holder adds an extra bit of width to the iPhone, likely making the grip off balance and harder to use for apps and texting alike. The canister is also conveniently placed by the phone’s camera so there goes your chances of shooting pictures of your friends without them thinking the can’s going to shoot them first.

While the case advertises a safety mechanism lock for the pepper spray can, we’re not sure it’s childproof enough to prevent kids from removing the can out of the case, and if the child is successful then it’s all downhill from there. You will also have to make sure the vial is nicely cleaned up after use because if any residue is left behind, having pepper spray in the air that close to your face, eyes and nose is pure suicidal.

And if you’re living in Michigan or will be driving there any time soon, you can plan to leave this SmartGuard case behind as state laws require pepper sprays to have an oleoresin capsicum concentration below two percent to be legal for everyday carry-on. Speaking of carry-ons, pepper spray is also not safe for flights, so you’ll have to toss it out at security check or not bring the case at all before your air travels.

With the case cutting you back $35 a pop plus $20 for every replacement pepper spray vials, is the dual protection investment worth all the hassle? We think you’re better off with a separate, slim-fitted case and portable pepper spray that you can take or not take along under your own volition.

The Shirt Shuttle keeps dress shirts neat while traveling

With the Shirt Shuttle you'll never open up your suitcase to a pile of wrinkled mess again. The rest of your suitcase may look that way, but whatever you put in the clever Shirt Shuttle will stay pressed and neat for wherever your next business meeting is located.

One of the worst things about traveling for some people, probably more for business-types than post-college backpackers, is that it’s nearly impossible to keep clothes from wrinkling up into a messy ball in your suitcase. What do you wear when you arrive? Or if your hotel doesn’t have an iron for you to use? As you might expect, someone has come up with a solution to this problem that we think is pretty great. If you’re a business traveler, having a clean button-down ready at all times means that you’ll always look professional, put together, and unphased by any situation. The Shirt Shuttle (about $50) solves that problem by creating a small little capsule for your clean and pressed shirt to travel in.

Think of it as a semi-rigid laptop case, except it’s for your shirt. The case zips open and inside there is just enough room for a perfectly folded button-down that you’ve folded around the including folding board. That folding board has curved edges to make sure that no area of your shirt will end up with creases. Small pads keep the shirt in place while you travel and there is even a special collar pad to keep your shirt’s collar from being crushed in transit. The integrated folding board has a built-in hanger and the semi-rigid case has a recessed carrying handle and will protect your garment from the elements, like rain, and prevent it from getting crushed in a suitcase.

Originally we thought that this would really only be handy for the business traveler, but the Shirt Shuttle site reminded us that it might be helpful if you bike into work on a regular basis or have meetings after you’ve already hit the gym. Keep one of these in your bike or gym bag, or in a drawer at your office, and you’ll always look sharp even if you’re not traveling.

Sony Vaio Z Review

This year we reviewed Sony’s flagship XBR-46HX929 as well as the KDL-55NX720, which sits two models down in Sony’s LED TV lineup. Both were excellent TVs, but the top-of-the-line XBR and its full-array local dimming managed to outperform the edge-lit NX720 with slightly better contrast performance.

The XBR model may have come out on top in our head-to-head performance comparison, but the considerably less expensive NX720 looked so great that our review ended up being centered around whether or not the XBR was worth the extra cheddar. At the end of the day, we acknowledged the XBR’s technical superiority but gave the NX720 props for offering better value.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when Sony’s KDL-HX820 came busting through our office doors, and we found ourselves scratching our heads a little. The HX820 sits right between the previously reviewed Sony models, which were already very similar in features and performance. Then we realized we had an opportunity to take a close look at the few differences that exist between the HX820 and NX720 and open up a discussion around whether there is any point in offering he HX820. So, that’s what we’re going to do.

For a full overview of design, connectivity, picture quality and other specifics, check out our in-depth review of the nearly identical NX720. For a closer look at that handful of feature that’s separate the NX820 from its cheaper brother, read on.

MotionFlow XR 240 vs XR 480

To understand what the above numbers mean and the effect they have on the picture we see on our TVs, it might help to have a quick briefing on a technology known as “motion interpolation” because we’ve found there is a lot of confusion about the difference between a 60Hz native or 120Hz native display and the 240Hz, 480Hz and 960Hz numbers we see from various TV manufacturers. This is a rather technical topic so, for the sake of brevity, we’re going to have to water it down a bit.

120Hz panels were designed in part so that TVs could display movie content recorded at 24 frames per second with less judder than 60hz displays. Since 120 is an even multiple of 24 (where 60 is not), the display, using a process called 3:2 pulldown, is capable of displaying the image with less judder. The result is a smoother, more natural looking image. Yay.

The problem with LCD panels, however, is that they are what is referred to as a “fixed framerate” display. So, even though 120Hz panels help keep a picture smooth, there will still be some visible artifacts which make the image look blurry or jittery when the camera pans across a wide space at a high rate of speed. The effect is easily visible on, say, a basketball game.

In order to combat this issue which is native to the display panel, TV makers employ motion interpolation. This can be accomplished using a number of different techniques, but the principle behind them is the same. This technology essentially “adds in” images where they do not naturally exist in an effort to “fill in the gaps”, so to speak.

While this processing is intended to further smooth out the picture (and we do acknowledge that the processing has a very noticeable effect) the issue is that we hate what it does to the picture. Many new TV owners complaining that their TV makes everything look like a bad soap opera. In fact, the term “soap opera effect” has taken hold in the industry and, because of that, most TV manufacturers offer the option to turn the processors off (which is standard practice in our TV reviews).

In short, we feel that it doesn’t matter whether a TV has 240, 480 or 1920HZ processing and, as such, don’t consider it a benefit which should influence a decision on which model of TV to buy.

HX Ambient Sensor vs. NX Light Sensor

Sony’s Ambient Sensor works by automatically adjusting the TV’s color and brightness based on the room’s lighting conditions in an effort to provide a great looking picture automatically. Sony’s Light Sensor leaves the color alone and just adjusts the brightness.

Again, we turn these features off when we evaluate TVs but we have played around with both and think that the light sensor is actually the better of the two. While we can see the value in the idea behind adjusting color to look more bold in bright light situations, we tend to prefer leaving the color settings alone so that they are accurate in low-light situations where TV viewing tends to be a little more “active” in terms of picture appreciation.

XReality vs. XReality PRO

The final distinction between the HX and NX series of Sony televisions is the inclusion of Sony’s XReality Engine or the higher end XReality PRO Engine. The latter uses two chips whereas the former uses just one. Sony’s description says that the XReality chipset analyzes each frame to provide sharper images and better contrast detail. Its description of XReality PRO says that a pixel-by-pixel analysis is done to provide better color, contrast and brightness.

Here we must admit that XReality PRO does a better job. That said, the only time we found it useful was when we were watching low-resolution, low-bitrate streaming content from the Internet. Both Netflix standard definition videos and YouTube content looked better with the PRO engine, versus the standard.

Conclusion

Is the added cost of the non-XBR HX series TVs worth it? There may be isolated cases where it is. Perhaps hardcore Internet video fans who need the improved picture quality will see it as enough of an advantage. However, we prefer the standard light sensor on the NX series TV and don’t give a good cahoot about MotionFlow, no matter the number. So, our position is that the NX reigns king when it comes to value. If you want a better performing TV, pony up the extra cash for the XBR series.

Because the HX series is precariously positioned, determining a rating is also precarious proposition. We would prefer to “recommend” the NX series TVs, however, the HX820 is a really solid performer. So, we dock one point for less value and call it a day with the HX series with an 8.0 rating.

Highs:

Excellent black level and contrast
Very bright white levels
Slick, flat panel with darkened, anti-glare glass
Built-in Wi-Fi, plenty of Internet apps
Quick network media access
Lows:

3D glasses not included
Remote not backlit
Unnecessary processing adds expense

Escape Plan review

Fun Bits Interactive starts the PlayStation Vita off right with its quirky, side-scrolling touch-based puzzle game, Escape Plan.

I’m going to make this really easy for you: if you’re a PlayStation Vita early adopter then you need to own Escape Plan. The rest of this review will go on to explain why this is the case. Really though, just go and spend the $15 on the download. Then play, and be delighted.

To me, Escape Plan accomplishes what Little Deviants tries so hard to do in showcasing what Sony’s Vita is capable of. Unlike Deviants‘ discrete, function-focused minigames, Escape Plan plays out as a cohesive whole (though it never uses the built-in camera). More than that, it challenges you at every turn to experiment. To tap the screen. The rear touchpad. To tilt and to shake. You learn the game as you go through experimentation rather than dedicated tutorials.

At the most basic level, Escape Plan puts you in control of the slim, coffee-loving Lil and the jiggly, spherical Laarg. Sometimes just one of them. Sometimes both together. Your moment-to-moment goal is to guide either or both of the characters through a hazard-filled room.

Early on this could involve nothing more complex than tapping a brick on the floor to shove it out of the way. Later you’ll be tilting the Vita to steer a balloon-inflated Lil between deadly, oversized razorblades and pinching her, using both touch surfaces, to make her “fart” out some of the air that’s keeping her aloft. There are fans to spin, leaking pipes to temporarily plug, ink-black lambs to shepherd and blowdart-shooting enemies to trap and squish.

Fat Princess developer Fun Bits Interactive put a lot of effort into delivering a polished presentation with Escape Plan. The black & white visuals are some of the best on the Vita at launch and the art design is immediately striking. There’s a little bit of a Rube Goldberg aesthetic going on, but Escape Plan cartoon elements feel much slicker.

The sound design is also tremendous, particularly the music. The soundtrack changes every few rooms, jumping between different and often familiar orchestral pieces. You’ll also frequently hear canned audience applause when you perform a particular task correctly in the game. Escape Plan‘s grim B&W art design plays very well against the playful classical music renditions and self-conscious design choices; this is a game that seems to revel at every turn in never taking itself too seriously.

You’ll rarely spend anything more than a minute or two in each room, especially once you’ve got it figured out. The replay hook is built around earning better rankings in each room, with up to three stars awarded based on how long a room took to complete and how many gestures you used to complete it. There’s also a dedicated challenge mode; the big one right now is to complete the game with less than 20 deaths spread between the two characters, but a second screen promises that weekly challenges are incoming soon.

The only real problem I have falls more on the replay value side. It’s great that you can replay any room you want to shoot for the higher star ranking, but with the game recording every gesture and marking it against you if you use too many, the Vita’s extremely sensitive front and rear touch surfaces will often be your own worst enemy. You really need to grip the device in a very awkward way if you want to avoid contact with either surface until it’s absolutely necessary.

Conclusion

Such a minor complaint though. That shouldn’t deter you from sampling one of the strongest titles in the Vita’s launch library. Fun Bits Interactive continues to show off its talents as a developer with Escape Plan, leveraging the unique features of Sony’s latest hardware platform to deliver a rewarding and visually pleasing puzzle game that is equal parts fun and funny.

Army Corps of Hell review

Square Enix introduces one of the most interesting, but also repetitive games for the Vita’s launch with Army Corps of Hell.

With the obvious exception of rhythm-based titles, if the soundtrack is the highlight of a game, that game is in serious trouble.

In the buildup to the release of this game, there was a great deal of talk about how the it resembled the classic cult-favorite GameCube title Pikmin. I freely admit that I never played these games, and other than being aware of them due to Shingeru Miyamoto’s involvement, I know little about them. I do, however, know fans who still look back fondly at the original and its sequel through nostalgia-tinted glasses. They rave about the unique brand of real-time strategy the Pikmin games used, and the originality of the design. Regardless of feelings this game may conjure from its similarity to the GameCube title, Army Corps of Hell lacks both of those things.

For those, like me, who never played Pikmin, the real-time strategy style in Army Corps of Hell consists of controlling minions. In that, it is a bit like the Overlord series, but it lacks the third-person action that characterized that game. Instead, you control the recently deposed King of Hell after being stripped of most of his powers, as well as his flesh. He in turn controls a small army of goblins that do your bidding.

The object is straightforward enough. You traverse through multiple levels of Hell while fighting bosses, and destroying enemies determined to stop you. While you do physically control the King as he hovers over the battle field, the King himself never gets his hands dirty. Instead he sends his goblin hordes out, which are made up of three classes: warriors, spearmen, and magi.

The three goblin types each have their own attacks. The warriors mob up on enemies then attack as one; the spearmen run in a straight line and attack anything in their path; the magi have ranged magic attacks. In practice though, only the warriors and the magi are of use — the magi distance attacks are better in almost every way than the spearmen, rendering them mostly obsolete.

You simply choose the type of goblin you wish with the touch of a button, then send the goblins out to attack using the shoulder button on the Vita. Using the right analog stick to aim, the main focus of the game is keeping your goblins alive while avoiding traps and collecting items that can be used to upgrade weapons and armor. The goblins are expendable, but when a goblin dies, you can walk over the body to reanimate them. They can die permanently though, leaving the King undefended and without any offense.

The gameplay can have a few good moments, especially the odd boss battle, but for the most part it is a grind. Collecting items takes an increasingly annoying length of time as well, and there really is no exploration to be had — enemies either drop items or they don’t. There is a decent amount of strategy to be exercised, especially later in the game when the enemies get tougher. You have to decide whether to hold your ground in a defensive stance and issue forth strong attacks from a fixed position, or bob-and-weave through the platform while avoiding traps and nickel-and-diming the enemies to death. But it gets old, fast.

The game is broken up into 20 levels that comprise a handful of enemy-infested platforms. The number of platforms and the variety of enemies changes — a bit — but the levels are incredibly dull and lifeless. Most platforms are just brown squares that connect to another brown square. The bosses are actually interesting to look at, but the rest of the fairly short game (about four or five hours) is boring to see. This isn’t helped by the overload of action on the screen, as goblins and enemies become one giant jumble of motion.

The highlight of the game is without question the original, heavy-metal soundtrack. It paints a better atmosphere than the game can deliver. When the soundtrack of your game is better than the game itself, there is something seriously off.

Conclusion

Square Enix deserves credit for going outside its comfort zone and trying something totally new. As far as the Vita launch titles go — and as far as most titles go — Army Corps of Hell is in a genre of its own. It is unique, and the closest comparison is a slightly obscure GameCube title that was released over a decade ago and had one follow up in 2004. Unfortunately, the game is mired in repetitive attacks, boring level designs, and generally uninspired gameplay. The soundtrack rocks though, so there is that.

2013 Mercedes SL63 AMG revealed

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL gets some added muscle, thanks to the company's AMG performance division.

The SL roadster is Mercedes-Benz’s top sports car, but there is always room for improvement. Nearly every new Mercedes is handed over to in-house tuner AMG for some added muscle, and the SL is no different. The German carmaker just released photos and specifications for the new SL 63 AMG, based on the revamped 2013 SL, ahead of its Geneva Motor Show debut.

As with other AMG models, the SL63’s engine has been downsized to help lower emissions. The old naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 is replaced by a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter unit (the “63” name remains out of habit). The new engine actually produces more horsepower (530 versus 518) and torque (590 lb-ft versus 465) than the old one, even in “base” form. The optional Performance package raises those figures to 557 hp and 664 lb-ft.

All that power is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters). Instead of a torque converter, the transmission uses a wet clutch pack that should allow it to cope with the SL63’s massive torque while still being more responsive than a conventional automatic. Mercedes claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds and a (limited) top speed of 155 mph for the base model. The Performance package shaves a tenth of a second off the 0-60 time and raises the top speed to 186 mph.

The SL63 AMG also benefits from the 2013 SL’s weight loss program; the new car supposedly weighs 275 pounds less than the old one. To achieve this, aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber, and high-strength steel were used throughout. Adding lightness should improve the SL’s handling, as will bigger wheels and tires (19-inch or staggered 19-inch front, 20-inch rear) and the Performance package’s limited-slip differential.

In addition to the new wheels, the SL 63 AMG gets a more streamlined front fascia, more prominent exterior vents, and quad exhaust tips. It’s a more toned version of the standard 2013 SL; if you don’t like that car’s looks, AMG’s styling tweaks may not change your mind.

On the inside, the SL63 AMG is just as luxurious as the regular SL. The interior will be covered in leather, with endlessly adjustable seats. Like the base SL, the 2013 SL 63 AMG sports a folding metal roof, offering coupe-like serenity with the top up. Optional tech includes a Bang & Olufsen sound system, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and Airscarf, which blows warm air from the headrests onto drivers’ and passengers’ necks.

All of that luxury and performance can be had for about $140,000. That’s a lot, but this is an AMG Mercedes. It’s also $60,000 cheaper than Ferrari’s hardtop convertible, the California. The SL63 AMG will make its public debut at Geneva, and will go on sale in the U.S. later this year

The Investors Who Laughed at Zynga

It's been a banner week for Zynga, which went public with one of the healthiest balance sheets we've seen in an Internet-startup IPO company this year. Zynga's mostly-free business model was such an instant smash, and it's been so widely adopted over the past four years, that it's hard to remember when the idea was considered ludicrous.

But it was. And by people who ought to have known better.

As it happens, I've been writing a big chunk of an upcoming business book about successful American startups, and one chapter is about Zynga's early days. It was fascinating to look back to when founder Mark Pincus's vision -- that the games would be free, but supported by the small portion of players willing to pay to improve their results -- was viewed as more deranged than visionary.

Early on, Pincus was rounding up investors for Zynga. One of the places he visited was then-dominant gaming company Electronic Arts.

EA, of course, was built on a pay-to-play model. You buy the game, you stick it in your console or download it onto your computer, and then you play it all you like. The model was traditional, simple, and a predictable source of revenue.

Pincus got the idea EA might be a good backer for Zynga, given their deep knowledge of the gaming space. But one source I spoke to said Pincus was about laughed out of the building when he pitched EA for possible funding.

You can imagine the crushing sarcasm Pincus heard from the EA execs. The knee-slapping. Let me get this -- the games are free?

Only one person in the pitch meeting reportedly recognized the vast potential of the free model to transform the entire gaming industry. EA executive and investor Bing Gordon -- now of storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers -- ended up coming along for Pincus's ride. No doubt he's had a very good week, too.

It's the rare person who has the ability to tell an industry's transformative moment from just another crackpot idea. Meanwhile, EA has raced to catch up with the new wave of free online and mobile games.

How Military Veterans Are Finding Success in Small Business

Robert Dyer was sitting around a campfire with some buddies in late 2007 when they came up with an idea for a business. That may not seem unusual, but the campfire was in Afghanistan, and the buddies were all active-duty members and officers of the U.S. Navy, as well as Marines. Their idea was to develop a nutritional supplement designed for the rigors of war.

"Our missions would last about a week at a time, and if we did get resupplied, it would be five or six days into it, so pretty much the food you had with you--that was it," Dyer says. "But you still need to maintain peak performance; the enemy didn't really care if you didn't get any sleep last night or if you weren't used to the altitude. So pretty much all of us were taking some kind of supplement."


RuckPack
Instead of toting around various products, the group came up with the concept for RuckPack, a single, power-packed nutritional supplement that would serve the needs of soldiers and others whose bodies need extreme sustenance. Dyer, with the blessing of his fellow soldiers--a few of whom remained on as minority partners in the venture--picked up the idea and ran with it, doing as much as he could while on deployment and then gaining more steam when he returned from another deployment in late 2009. He recently earned his master's in financial management at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

Veterans like Dyer are at least 45 percent more likely to take the plunge into entrepreneurship than people with no active-duty military experience, according to a May 2011 study from the SBA Office of Advocacy. In 2007 (the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau), veterans owned 2.4 million businesses, or 9 percent of all businesses nationwide, generating $1.2 trillion in receipts and employing nearly 5.8 million people. Government agencies, colleges and universities, and even the private sector, have recognized this phenomenon and responded with support, training and business opportunities for veteran entrepreneurs. As he launched his business, Dyer found and used several of the significant financial, mentoring and other resources available to military veterans wishing to transition into entrepreneurship.


The Veteran Advantage
The reasons veterans are more likely to start their own businesses are unsubstantiated by research but often hypothesized. The SBA study found that veterans with 20-plus years of service had higher rates of self-employment, and officers had the highest propensity to become self-employed. This could be because military training develops organizational skills and risk-tolerance, says Thomas J. Leney, executive director for Small and Veteran Business Programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.


Robert Dyer
Todd Fisher, a veteran and founder of two successful Yardley, Penn.-based technology companies, agrees. In addition to the training he received in electronics and communication technology as a signals officer in the Army, there were other "very valuable lessons" that help him run MobileMD, which provides software applications for health care, and Intraprise Solutions, a software consulting firm. Fisher says his military training helped him to be comfortable seeking knowledge from people with more experience, even if he is their supervisor. Furthermore, he says, it gave him the skills and confidence to run a high-stakes business--if information doesn't flow freely in health care, people can die--in which he didn't necessarily know all the technical details. The skills ingrained from military training are the main reason he heavily recruits veterans to work for him: Of the first 15 people he hired, nine were vets. Today, his companies employ 66 people, 11 of whom have military experience.

"It's the 'listen with two ears, speak with one mouth' kind of attitude," Fisher says. "People make mistakes, learn from them, adapt and improvise, because things change. These are the core principles that we operate our company with."

The same skills apply to veterans who have been disabled in service. For them, entrepreneurship can be a way of supporting themselves while having the flexibility to manage the challenges of their disabilities. That's the belief of James Michael Haynie, executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, which provides a variety of programs to support veteran entrepreneurship. "For example," Haynie says, "it may take [a person] in a wheelchair longer to get ready in the morning, and a lot of employers would find it difficult to accommodate that kind of schedule. Whereas in self-employment, they're their own boss."

Getting Help
Former Marine John Raftery, who served from 1999 to 2003, says he spent half of his military career deployed, then returned with a disability, which he prefers not to discuss. When he left the Marine Corps, he took advantage of GI Bill benefits (which pay for education) to get a degree in accounting. Then he worked at an accounting firm. But, frustrated at feeling passed over for advancement, he began researching franchise opportunities.

Then, Raftery received an unsolicited e-mail about Syracuse University's Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), a free, weeklong intensive training course for disabled vets interested in starting their own businesses. In 2007, after participating in the program, he felt confident enough to launch Patriot Contractors in Waxahachie, Texas. At first, his plan was to focus on property management. However, he saw growing opportunities in construction and began to take on bigger projects, revising his focus.

Today, Raftery employs 22 people and was invited to President Obama's American Jobs Act speech in September 2011 to serve as an example of the potential of veteran entrepreneurship. His firm is certified by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned small business, which makes him eligible for specialized sales opportunities in government contracting and in the private sector.

Syracuse offers a similar boot camp for family members of disabled veterans, training them to start businesses that provide the flexibility to support and care for veterans with significant disabilities, Haynie says.

In addition to EBV, there are a variety of programs available to entrepreneurial veterans. Through the SBA, the Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative makes loans of up to $500,000, backed by the administration's maximum guarantee. These are offered to the military community, including family members, for most business purposes. The SBA also administers the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to provide operating-expense funds to small businesses experiencing hardship when an essential reservist employee is called up to active duty.

Dyer tapped the Patriot Express loan program to help fund the expansion of RuckPack and parent company Noots Nutrition. He started out by selling a vitamin supplement through his website; now he employs 10 people and has launched a drinkable nutritional shot as his key product. At RuckPacks.com, users can send a box of the shots to service members overseas. Additionally, Dyer has committed to donating 10 percent of profits to various charities.

For aid in launching his business, Dyer consulted his local chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which has a number of experienced entrepreneurs who have military backgrounds. There, he was assigned a SCORE counselor who gave him general business advice. Dyer also sought out online networking forums for veterans, and found the most value in the National Marine Corps Business Network on LinkedIn.

"There's something about veteran-owned business owners helping other veterans," Dyer says. "They're just shirt-off-your-back kind of guys, and they'll take the time to explain, 'You might not want to go down this path.' Or they'll help you avoid the traps in starting a business."

Calling in Reinforcements
Many online resources are available to help veterans launch businesses; some even help family members. Here are several places to start.


SBA: The SBA's website should be your first stop. It's full of information and resources for veterans, and acts as a clearinghouse for other agencies' veteran business programs. The SBA page for the Office of Veterans Business Development includes links to programs throughout various government departments. In addition, the SBA oversees federal procurement and loan programs for veteran-owned small businesses, including Patriot Express and the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. The Small Business Development Center also offers outreach to veterans.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: This site helps small businesses become certified as veteran-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned. Once certified, the businesses may be eligible for procurement programs and can be found by contracting officers for the Veteran's Administration.

Syracuse University Veterans' Resource Center: Syracuse spearheads the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Consortium of schools, which also includes the University of California, Los Angeles; Texas A&M University; Purdue University; University of Connecticut; and Louisiana State University. All host entrepreneurship programs for veterans.
Syracuse also runs special programs for women veterans and family members of wounded veterans.


Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE): SCORE has specialized programs for veterans to learn how toaccess information and financial and contracting opportunities.

What Do the Highest-Paid Programmers Make?

So you hate your job. You're going to look around, test the waters. Someday soon, when you get the time. When you have the energy. But you've been saying that for a while now.

The salary, of course, is a big factor (after that jerk of a boss). But what should you be making? Better yet, what could you be making? You think you're good, and you're going to aim for the top. But what is the top? The problem is, nobody likes talking about their salary. But everybody wants to know about others' salaries. That makes reliable information hard to come by.



Never fear. I'm here to do the legwork for you. Read on to find out all you need to know about the highest salaries for software developers. And find out who makes top dollar -- the best of the best.

Keep in mind that I'm dealing with publicly available information. I'm guessing that the really high salaries go to coders in criminal enterprises like the Russian mafia and shady operations like illegal gambling.  They don't like to publicize themselves, naturally. So it's a good bet that whoever the highest-paid programmers are, you'll never hear anything about them, what they do or who they work for. And even in legitimate industries (think big-time financial trading or national-security contractor specialists), the highest-paid programmers are undoubtedly doing highly specialized, sensitive stuff that never sees the light of day (read on to learn about a very interesting and illuminating exception to this observation).

And even in the public realm, there a lots and lots of variables, so I'll mostly be dealing with averages. One of the major variables, of course, is location. That was confirmed by John Reed, executive director of high-tech recruiting firm Robert Half Technology, when I asked him about the highest-paid programmers.

"This is actually a tricky question, because so much depends on where you are in the country," Reed said. "For example, in Colorado, the highest programmer salary I've seen was for an SAP/ERP architect in the energy industry, and that was $150,000. However, a programmer in Silicon Valley, where the cost of living is substantially higher and high tech companies are flourishing, you see salaries much higher than this." Reed said that same position might pay $198,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to the firm's widely used salary survey that indicates the regional variance for Denver is 102.7 percent, while the San Francisco regional variance is 135 percent.

I asked the same question of another high-tech recruiting pro, Janet Miller at TechnicalJobs.com. She belongs to a national network of recruiters and did a quick search of more than 2,000 jobs in her database. She found a Java EE/J2EE software architect position at a national consulting firm in the financial industry that required travel that paid $130,000 per year. She said the Java jockeys "seem to be paid the highest and [are] in more demand than C# and ASP.NET.

She pointed out that developers with high security clearance generally pull in the biggest bucks. "Companies that are hiring cleared developers for government work pay the highest," she said.  "These would be major government consulting firms.  Lifestyle polygraph candidates get paid more for the same skill set."


Speaking of databases and salary surveys, they're a good place to start to get widespread statistical information. It's no coincidence that they're among the highest-read features on this and every other similar Web site out there. Take, for example, Redmondmag.com's 15th Annual IT Salary Survey published last August. The data was sliced and diced many different ways. Let's look at the chart-toppers for several different categories:

Job title and experience: Programmer lead with 10-plus years of experience -- $99,666
Technology expertise: Extranets -- $100,566
Education: Doctorate degree -- $101,647
State: Virginia -- $102,773
Major metro area: San Jose -- $114,450


So if you really want to make the big money, go back to school for a doctorate and then become a lead programmer working on extranets in San Jose.

But wait, the survey also indicated that 4.2 percent of respondents made more than $150,000. So who are they? The survey didn't say, so I asked editor Michael Domingo, who produced the survey (full disclosure: we work for the same parent company). He dug deeper into the raw data and informed me of the following highest individual respondents:

Programmer/analyst in San Diego -- $175,000
Programming project lead in Houston -- $200,000
DBA in New Jersey (city not specified) -- $250,000
OK, now we're starting to talk real money. The latter position might not be a coder, of course, but it's interesting information.

Nobody does statistics like the federal government, of course, so I checked out the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. It had a May 2010 survey that reported the following mean annual salaries:

All occupations -- $44,410
Computer and mathematical occupations -- $77,230
Computer programmers -- $74,900
Software developers, applications -- $90,410
Software developers, systems software -- $97,960
However, digging down further into the data for the latter, highest-paid category, showed that the top 10 percent of systems software developers averaged $143,330.

Here are some more interesting salary information nuggets:

Payscale.com says the top 25 percent of computer programmers average (not including bonuses) $79,502 per year, while the comparable number for senior software engineers is $121,348.
SalaryList.com, which purports to scan real jobs, shows the highest computer programmer/developer salary to be $109,000.
Salary.com, which purports to use real HR data, says the top 10 percent of software engineer V positions averages $136,197.
But while all this is interesting, I still wondered who got the really big bucks in those specialized industries I mentioned earlier. I'm not about to put a media inquiry into the Russian mafia, of course, and the big financial trading firms wouldn't respond anyway.

So, to the rescue comes Sergey Aleynikov. He was a 40-year-old programmer for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., described in this Reuters report as "Wall Street's most influential bank." It looks like he was a specialist in those algorithms that control the stock market these days, capitalizing instantaneously on minute changes in market prices to automatically conduct trades and transactions (remember the "flash crash?") and make big bucks for the "high-frequency trading firms."


Apparently he wasn't satisfied with the $400,000 per year Goldman Sachs was paying him. That's right, $400,000 per year. So he allowed himself to be lured away by another big financial player, Teza Technologies LLC.

But he reportedly downloaded -- illegally -- some proprietary code to take with him, and he was caught. "Prosecutors say he planned to use the code to help his new employer … build a high-frequency trading system," Reuters reported from the trial last November.

And here's the good part:  "The prosecutor said that, at Teza, Aleynikov stood to earn about three times the $400,000 he was paid annually by Goldman Sachs as one of its highest-paid computer programmers," Reuters reported. That's 1.2 million.

So there you have it. There are big corporations out there making millions of dollars on the backs of computer algorithms, and some of them are willing to pay at least $1.2 million per year to programmers who can code them better than anyone else.

UFC Undisputed 3 review

After a short break between releases, THQ and Yuke’s is back with a streamlined fighter that will appeal to fans, but also offer plenty for the uninitiated.

Unless you have been living under a rock, then you are at least aware of the growing popularity of MMA in general, and the UFC specifically. Even if you have been living under a rock, there is still a good chance you know a little about the sport. If it is a particularly nice rock with a decent Internet signal and at least basic broadcast cable, then you can’t have avoided the emergence of one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

The UFC has come a long way since its origins as a sideshow attraction on pay-per-view, back when everyone assumed that mixing various types of fighting styles with limited rules would lead to a bloody spectacle akin to Enter The Dragon, or Street Fighter II. Then the world met submission expert Royce Gracie, and that notion was quickly abandoned.

From that rose the leading company in a new sport that is as nuanced as it is brutal. But the biggest hurtle to the growth of the sport has always been that while hardcore fans are willing to accept the more technical aspects of the bouts — many even love it — it can be difficult for a more widespread audience to appreciate the complexities of what can appear to be a slow-moving submission struggle.

That same dilemma has also plagued THQ and Yuke’s UFC Undisputed games. The series has always tried to walk a fine line between what will appeal to the realism-minded, hardcore fans, and to people that may not know all that much about the sport, but are interested in the fight mechanics the game has. After taking a bit more time than usual with what most assumed would be an annual sports release, UFC Undisputed 3 has arrived, and it manages to offer a game that will keep fans playing it for months, possibly years, while featuring controls and gameplay that will appeal to anyone interested in MMA. It isn’t without its flaws, but like the sport it is simulating, this franchise is definitely on the rise.

Controlling your destiny

UFC 3 is the best in the series, and the best MMA game on the market for a few reasons. The most obvious is the inclusion of a huge roster of fighters — 150 in all — as well as the addition of the now defunct Pride FC league. If you have even a passing interest in the sport of MMA, this inclusion is fairly huge, and the number of fighters — each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves — is impressive. The other major reason this particular title is the best of the best is that the controls have been overhauled. Specifically, the grappling and submission systems have been drastically simplified.

The submission game has always been the toughest thing to translate from real life into an MMA video game–either the options are too hard, or too easy. UFC 3 manages to find a good balance between intricate controls that mimic a specific attack, and a mini game.

Rather than issuing a complicated series of commands, once you are in position, you simply hit the right thumbstick to initiate a mini game of sorts, where an octagon appears on the screen with two icons: yours and your opponent’s. If you are attacking, you need to position your icon above your opponent’s and keep it there as he tries to move in any direction to escape. If you are being attacked, you need to stay out of reach of their icon.

It’s a bit squirrely , but when you play it, it actually makes sense. In a submission fight, it really is a frantic battle to avoid making one tiny mistake that will end the match. That makes for decent real-life fights for fans, but it is hard to translate. The mini-game submission is a great compromise. It still needs a bit of work, but THQ and Yuke’s are definitely moving in the right direction.

The grappling has also been simplified, and it is much easier than before to perform certain takedowns, as well as reposition yourself following a takedown. While the changes may rankle the hardcore fans who want the challenge of a digital submission, the shift will make the game more appealing and accessible to a wider audience.

Besides, UFC 3 is only somewhat realistic to begin with, which is for the best. While submissions always play a part, the majority of the fighters are more geared towards a stand-up style of fighting. This is where reality strays into gamesmanship. If someone in reality took ten undefended punches to the head followed by a kick to the face, they may actually die. The UFC would then be shut down, fans would weep, the dead fighter would be remembered as a hero, and the attacker would likely be traumatized for the rest of their persecuted lives. In short, no bueno.

Maybe it would take more than 10 hits to pulverize someone in real life, but this game allows you to simply punish opponents in ways that would be horrific in reality. But it makes for an awesome game. The realism is there to a degree, and UFC 3 is not an arcade-style fighter by any means, but it is a game, and as such it is designed for fun. In that it succeeds, both with the simplified controls and the attacks you can pull off.

The UFC Camp

UFC Undisputed 3 is loaded with enough content to make fans happy, as well as showing potential new fans what the sport is really all about. Even in the exhibition bouts there is something new to see, as you can fight with the Pride rules, instead of the UFC rules. That means a longer first round and a few more brutal moves. It is a good addition, but one that will be appreciated more by fans than anyone else. If nothing else it adds a lot of variety.

You can also create your own UFC Event, which is about what you would expect. You select the entire card, then watch, skip, or fight in each bout. Each fighter is profiled, and the matches are analyzed before and after. It really is about presentation as much as anything, and will appeal to the fans that love the whole pomp and circumstance of a UFC Event.



A new Title Mode makes the game into a bit of an arcade-style fighter, in the sense that you have a simple objective that ends with you winning the belt. After choosing your character, you then begin a series of fights to make your way up a ladder in order to take on the champ. You can lose three times on your rise to the top, and although it is a fun addition, there is no save and the level of challenge is off. You may murder your opponents on the way up, TKO-ing each one of them and making them consider quitting the sport forever as they are hauled out of the blood-soaked octagon… then you yourself may get destroyed by the champ. And it doesn’t matter who the champ is — they could all crush you. Boss battles should always be hard, but there is a weird degree of inconsistency. Once you do win the belt, you unlock the title defense mode, which is fun, but not all that compelling.

The Ultimate Fights return, and now includes the Pride Fights. With each historic fight, you are shown an intro explaining why the fight was important, and the match ends with a few real post-fight interviews. When the game begins you have a list of objectives–things like scoring four kicks in a row, or landing a certain type of punch — to attempt. This mode is a hug from the developers to the hardcore fans of the game, although the presentation and objectives make the fights accessible to everyone.

Of course, a game like this wouldn’t be complete without a career mode, and UFC 3 obliges.

There are always a few changes in any new iteration of a game with a career mode, and that is true of UFC 3. From the moment you begin your career, you have a good idea of what to expect. The career mode is an impressive offering that runs takes your character through a 15-year career. The game moves fast enough that you have time to bond with our character, but not so long that you won’t finish and move on to a new character that may have a totally different fighting style.

I personally still have a soft spot in my heart for my first character, Benginus “The Predator” Maximus, but when his time came I was ready to move on to a different style. In that case, I switched from a dedicated muy thai fighter who was mainly a striker to a jiu-jitsu submission expert.

A new inclusion is the ability to use real life fighters in a career, and take them up the ranks through the World Fighting Alliance to the UFC, just as you would your created character. But along with the new is a lot of the same old.

Training is a big issue, and it is the way you level up your fighter. Between each fight you have a limited amount of time to build up certain stats by either competing in mini-games for the max bonus (which can be hard to attain), or choosing auto, which gives you half of the maximum possible points. During the time between fights, you can also attend camps to learn new moves, or level up your existing moves. There are also the requisite endorsement deals and offers. The mode is a bit streamlined from the past, and you get to fights quickly and easily, but there is really nothing here you haven’t seen before. The training gets old fast, and the camps are the same. Compared to many other sports games where you can create a player, UFC 3 is fun, but feels like it is behind the times.

World Domination

No sports game would be complete without an online mode, and UFC 3 is no exception. The online mode features the expected ranked and unranked matches, content sharing of your personal video highlights, as well as camps, where you can join with up to 16 others.

Once you create or join a camp, the individual online achievements of the members all add up towards the camp score through “milestones.” Once in a camp, you can spar with live people or fight in exhibition matches, and can create voice chat rooms. It is nothing you haven’t seen before, but it all works.

So real you could punch it

The graphics in UFC 3 are solid, but the animations are the more important feature in a game like this, and they are top notch. The fighters all look and move naturally. With 150 fighters though, you will quickly begin to see that one fighter’s “signature moves” are identical to five other fighters’. There is still plenty of variety and realism, but many of the fighters are similar to others, just with slightly augmented stats and a different face.

There is a new nod to the realistic, and there are some consistency issues, but it is better than in the previous titles.

When you continuously hit a certain location on the opponent, like a leg, that area will show damage. The cuts on the face, which can lead to TKOs are nothing new, but the damage to individual limbs that happens over time is an important factor. It also, oddly, doesn’t make a huge difference.

You can work a fighter’s leg like Jean Claude Van Damme kicking the bamboo tree in Kickboxer until the thing exploded, but it will still take longer than it is worth to have any real effect. It makes for a decent long-term strategy in a fight, but if you focus on one area, your opponent will destroy you as you try. The pinpoint damage is better than in previous versions, but still could go further.

Speaking of realism, the presentation is both a major boon and an annoyance. The actual commentary from either the Pride or the UFC crew is as good as any sports game made. If you play enough you will hear some repetition, but when you are in career mode, you will hear some specific insights into your style or record that borders on the creepy. Unfortunately, there is just too much presentation, and several times, in numerous situations, you will find yourself trying to escape scene after scene after scene. A single option to skip all preamble and head right to the fight is notably missing.

Conclusion

No matter how realistic MMA games get, they will always include elements of a more traditional video game fighter, and that is how it should be. A real MMA fight can be five minutes of struggling for a submission — which would make for one of the most boring games ever — but punching someone in their unguarded face 20 or 30 times in a row in a real match might liquefy their brain. There needs to be a balance between the two in order to satiate the video game fighting fans, as well as the true MMA fans.

THQ and Yuke’s have found a good balance, with controls that have been simplified to be more accessible, while still keeping in the variety of MMA moves that fans will appreciate. They should also love the massive roster, as well as the inclusion of Pride. In that sense, this is game is a fan’s dream.

There are some flaws though. The presentation can go on for too long, and while the career is fun and nicely streamlined, it is very familiar and doesn’t really add anything new.

For fans of the series, UFC Undisputed 3 is the best of the bunch. It also has enough going for it to win over people that may be interested, but not all that familiar with MMA. There are a few minor annoyances, but it is the best MMA fighter on the market, and one of the best sports games on the market.

PS Vita set for launch on Wednesday — but will it sell?

This week sees the US and European launch of the much-anticipated Sony PS Vita portable gaming system. The device initially sold well when it was launched in Japan last December, though sales quickly dropped off. Will the same thing happen again?

For those itching to get their hands on Sony’s new handheld gaming system, the PlayStation Vita, the wait is almost over. The device launches in North America and Europe on Wednesday.

The machine, which is already out in Japan, features a 5-inch (12.7cm) OLED touchscreen and a quad-core graphics processing unit. The back of it is also touch sensitive. It incorporates both Wi-Fi and 3G functionality, has front and rear cameras, can play music and video, and has a web browser too.

In his recent review, DT’s Ryan Fleming described Sony’s new offering as being “clearly the most technically superior gaming device that you can throw in your pocket.”

By all accounts, it’s a neat package, and will sell in the US for $250 (Wi-Fi only) and $300 (Wi-Fi and 3G). In the UK, gamers will be able to pick up the device for £229 (Wi-Fi only) and £279 (Wi-Fi and 3G).

Challenges

There’s little doubt that the PS Vita faces some big challenges. For a start, it doesn’t come cheap. Here, we can make a comparison with Nintendo and its 3DS machine — when the Kyoto-based company launched that handheld gaming device last year for $250, sales were initially good but quickly fell away, forcing the Japanese company to slash its price to  $170 in an attempt to boost sales and keep developers on board. It seems to have done the trick, with the company this week announcing that in Japan the 3DS has reached five million sales faster than any of its other devices.

Sony’s PS Vita also sold well upon launch in Japan in December last year, but in a matter of days sales plummeted by some 80 percent. No price cut has been forthcoming and such a move still looks unlikely.

Price cut ‘not on our radar screens’

In a recent interview with BBC Click, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Jim Ryan, commented on the prospect of a price cut. “It’s not on our radar screens at all at the moment,” he said. “We have our launch plans in place. We’re in the middle of a very vibrant pre-order campaign. The demand that we see coming through in our part of the world is strong and a price cut, to be honest, is the last thing on our minds right now.” The question is whether that demand will fall away soon after launch, as it did in Japan. Then Sony may be forced to take action.

Ryan claimed that Sony is happy with sales of the Vita so far, and that anyway the company is focused on looking at things in the long term. “We’ve just announced sales of 500,000 units in Japan after what is really a short period of time and that’s a figure we’re extremely comfortable with,” he said, adding, “We measure the life of our platforms in units of years and typically we look to thrive and prosper over a ten-year cycle.”

Smartphones and tablets

Analysts have also pointed towards the proliferation of smartphones and tablets as being a challenge for the likes of Sony and Nintendo, with these more versatile devices having access to app stores containing hundreds of thousands of cheap, or free, games.

A study last November by mobile analytics firm Flurry found that iOS and Android had tripled its market share over the previous three years, and in 2011 both platforms ended Sony and Nintendo’s combined mobile gaming market dominance.

If you have a smartphone, do you really want to have a Vita or Nintendo 3DS too? If you’re a serious gamer, quite possibly. But are there enough serious gamers out there to keep the Vita selling week after week?

Jim Ryan recognizes that his company needs to pull in more casual gamers for the Vita to truly succeed. “We will quite subtly but very deliberately and quite steadily broaden the demographic, go younger, bring in the more casual consumer, and hopefully also the female consumer, and really grow that potential target that’s available to us,” he told BBC Click.

No doubt this week the Vita will sell well, but Sony will be waiting and wondering how things go from next week and beyond. If, as in Japan, a slump occurs, the currently off-the-radar price cut may well move into view.