Dear Fitness Studios: You’re Doing Too Much

For some folks, the 60 or so minutes spent in a workout is the sole hour of the day that is completely theirs — free of technology and the distractions that seem to fill all the other hours of the day. But is it really? It seems to be a growing trend for studios to fit in as much technology as possible: Screens allllll up in your face, tracking and quantifying your every move, while huge speakers blast crazy-loud (and slightly aggressive) music meant to get you pumped up. Suddenly workout studios, maybe the one place where you could escape the tech-filled world, have become tech-filled themselves.

When did working out become so … much? Read more »

Designers of Popular GIF Keyboard App Think Philly Is a Sad City

People say it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, but the company behind the popular cellphone app “GIF Keyboard” doesn’t think we’re a very cheery bunch. A recent breakdown of our country’s 10 largest markets found that the predominant GIF search among users in this region by emotion was “Cry,” NBC10 reported.

App designer Tenor conducted the study in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF. (It’s been 30 years and we still haven’t settled on a definitive pronunciation?) Read more »

Nordstrom Rack’s Roving Cashiers Are Exactly What We Want

Photo by mphillips007/iStock

C’mon, admit it: You hate people like I do, right? OK, maybe not hate hate — but the fewer of them around, the better. Well, here’s a secret the next time you go shopping.

At the Nordstrom Rack on Chestnut Street, you don’t have to wait in line with other annoying people to purchase an item any longer. You can if you want. But instead, just find a store employee on the floor and ask to checkout. Chances are that the floor employee will be able to ring up your purchases and take your credit card with a smartphone that they’re now carrying around. They’ve only been doing this for about a month. Unfortunately for the employees at Nordstrom, this will ultimately result in fewer cashier jobs. That’s bad for them. But it’s reality. And it’s our fault. Read more »

One City in Pennsylvania is Poised to Crush the 21st Century …

Photo via Dave DiCello/visit pittsburgh

Photo via Dave DiCello/visit pittsburgh

I came to Pittsburgh to see the future.

On a blustery late-winter morning with a light whorl of snowflakes falling near the banks of the Allegheny River, Sarah, a friendly young PR person for Uber, opened the rear passenger door of a Volvo SUV that had so much electronic gear installed on the roof, it looked like it was wearing a crown. She gestured for me to take a seat. We were in the parking lot of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, a converted restaurant-equipment warehouse just north of downtown. I was about to have a very special Uber ride, and not just because it was free.

I buckled up, and the Volvo headed out on a few blocks of 33rd Street that run under a hulking railroad trestle — an unsubtle symbol of the city’s heralded industrial past. The car turned toward downtown and headed into the bustling Strip District. We went a few miles and then circled back on Smallman Street to the Uber warehouse, which is situated in a part of Pittsburgh that recently has become such a magnet for tech research that one think-tank maven described it to me as “where you really feel you’re in the 21st century.”

The ride took maybe 15 minutes and was uneventful except for a needless stop for a double-parked delivery truck outside one of the Strip’s many food stores and some hard braking when an impatient idiot passed us on the right. I can’t say much more about it because Uber wouldn’t let me in the door unless I signed an imposing confidentiality agreement, and Sarah reminded me several times, in her very friendly way, that the whole trip was “on background.” But I think I can reveal this: Though there was someone in the driver’s seat, for most of the trip the car drove itself. Read more »

Talk Acme to Me: How Alexa and Siri Learn to Understand the Philly Accent

Illustration by GLUEKIT

Illustration by GLUEKIT

After a couple of weeks of our casually getting to know each other, my Amazon Echo is really starting to understand me. She just learned a new word: “wudder.” Now Alexa can tell me what year Waterworld came out and how long the spaghetti pot will take to boil. (That’s not to say she gets me completely — at least once a week she plays “the news” when I ask her to “snooze.”) Alexa, Siri, Cortana, your TV, even your car — in recent years, there’s been a remarkable rise in technology you can talk to, with more on the way. And considering that our local brand of English is so, um, distinctive, conversing with these systems can be a challenge. Philly English (perhaps even more so than Boston or Chicago English) is full of complex rules that are picked up on the schoolyard rather than in textbooks, which is why “mad” doesn’t rhyme with “sad” here and why so many movies feature Philadelphians who sound more like New Yorkers. To make our extraordinary accent work with this new genre of talky tech, researchers have had to create complex AI technology that can understand people better than humans can. Read more »

How to Make the DNC Innovative? Get Curalate On Board

From left to right: Andrew Binns, DNCC Chief Innovation Officer; Kelli Klein, DNCC Digital Director; Apu Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder of Curalate; Mayor Jim Kenney | Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

From left to right: Andrew Binns, DNCC Chief Innovation Officer; Kelli Klein, DNCC Digital Director; Apu Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder of Curalate; Mayor Jim Kenney | Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

This year’s DNC in Philadelphia will be the most innovative Democratic national convention to date, the host committee says, and that’s thanks in part to the popular, fast-growing Philadelphia-based startup Curalate.

The DNC host committee announced today that Curalate, the image monetization software company, is an official technology provider for the convention, joining other technology leaders like Microsoft, AT&T, and LG, also official technology providers.

In its fourth year of business, Curalate captures the visual content or images of its clients like Staples and Urban Outfitters on social media platforms like Instagram and connects the images to the products pictured within them. With Curalate’s technology, for example, a user on Pinterest can click on an image of a dinner table spread from Crate & Barrel (a client) and be linked to where they can find and purchase the items online. Read more »

What Hillary Clinton’s Tech Plan Could Do for Philadelphia

Hillary Clinton speaks earlier this year at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention in Philadelphia. Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

Hillary Clinton speaks earlier this year at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention in Philadelphia. Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

Hillary Clinton dropped some big technology objectives last week when she released her all-encompassing “Initiative on Technology & Innovation” policy agenda.

The ambitious list of initiatives reads like an innovator’s dream, with proposals to connect every U.S. household to high-speed internet by 2020, train 50,000 new computer science teachers in the next decade, and even minimize the worries of budding entrepreneurs by deferring their federal students loans for up to three years.

In Philadelphia, the presumptive democratic nominee’s platform could do a lot to further the city’s commitment to attracting and retaining entrepreneurs. While some industry leaders say Philadelphia is already a microcosm of Clinton’s plan, others are skeptical about whether the stated initiatives can ever materialize here.

Read more »

The State’s Biggest Tech Investor Wants to Clear Things Up: ‘We Are Not Venture Capitalists.’

“Ben Franklin Technology Partners invested $750,000 in three digital health companies in its third quarter."

“Ben Franklin Technology Partners invested $750,000 in three digital health companies in its third quarter.” istockphoto.com / Jan Otto

Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners, the group that invested $8.9 million in local technology-based companies last year is doing something new – it is trying to clear up its public perception.

The conglomerate of partners that has invested in Philadelphia-based companies (and companies of the surrounding Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties) for over three decades says it’s losing out now because people just don’t have the right idea about them.

Read more »

Philly Tech Loved SXSW. SXSW Loved Philly Tech Back

Photos | Ken Rimple

Photos | Ken Rimple

The Philadelphia tech and startup scene made its way down to Austin last week for South by Southwest — better known as SXSW. As an interactive-focused conference-turned-festival, SXSW is one of the largest gatherings of leaders and organizations spanning the technological, design and creative realms.

For the first time this year, a concerted effort has been made to spread the message of Philadelphia’s growing tech culture and the vibrant innovation coming from our region — and what better place to do so than right at SXSW. With that goal in mind, a solid group of Philadelphia’s tech leaders decided to head south and represent the great things brewing in Philadelphia’s emerging tech scene. So, why, exactly, did 10 companies and close to 200 Philadelphians (including Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, Zivtech, my own Chariot Solutions, and others) decide it was worth the time, effort, and money to make the trek to Texas? Read more »

Report: Pa. Ranks Eighth in Tech Employment

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.14.31 AM

Pennsylvania ranks eighth among U.S. states for the size of its tech-oriented workforce, a new report says.

The Cyberstates 2016 report was produced by CompTIA. It said there were 228,754 tech workers in the state, making an average wage of $92,179. That average wage ranked 18th among the states.

Still, the tech sector’s growth in 2015 was much slower here than nationally — just a 0.6 percent growth in Pennsylvania compared to 3 percent nationwide. And while wages grew by 1.2 percent nationally, they declined a bit in Pennsylvania, by 0.1 percent. The state jus about kept up with patent growth, though, raising that rate by 8.2 percent — the national rate was 8.4 percent. Read more »

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