Month: June 2014

Future Chef: New Kitchen Technology

Since Julia Child first appeared on television teaching the world the joys of French cooking, normal everyday consumers have attempted making some of the dishes that they may have only seen in restaurants.  The regular person could now attempt professional style cooking, and this only became more popular as the years went by.  Cooking shows then increased in number, and eventually a whole television network on cable was created specifically for food and cooking.  Plus with home shopping-type networks the consumer could purchase many professional chef’s implements right at home.  Now there is seemingly nothing that a home-chef enthusiast can’t do in their kitchen once they obtain the newest and coolest cooking tools.

And there is no lack of these tools coming out of the woodwork.  New cooking and kitchen-type technology is big now, and getting bigger.  Famous Chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck have their own lines of cooking tools and equipment now, and countless companies are developing future cooking tech. every day.  Here are just a few of the latest and coolest tools to help improve your kitchen experience.    

The Toaster Wrap:

A common complaint concerning home toaster design has always been the amount of counter space it takes up.  That is now no longer an issue with this amazingly cool toaster design by Yanko Design. Lay your bread on The Toaster Wrap to crisp-up nicely, and then when you are done it just rolls up and stores easily with little hassle.  This must be just as unique as the first electric toaster seemed.    

The Cutting Board Scale:

The Cutting Board Scale by Design Boom combines two needed, but underrated, tools of the kitchen.  Why bother with separate scales and measuring cups when this cutting board is on hand?  It allows you to measure your chopped or sliced ingredients while you cut them up, dirtying less equipment and potentially spreading less germs.  A little shift in the way you read the measurement of your ingredients (by weight instead of volume) and you are all set.    

The Smart Knife: 

The new and ingenious Smart Knife solves a lot of nagging kitchen problems.  When dealing with fresh ingredients, it gives basic information on freshness  and nutrients, plus the possible presence of bacteria on food materials.  This high-tech knife has a sensor system on the tip and blade to collect information, which is then processed and displayed to the user on the Smart Screen, set in the side of the blade.  As of yet the Smart Knife is still unavailable, but should be out soon!    

The HALO Heating Spoon:

This one is just great, and the early morning coffee drinker’s dream.  The HALO Heating Spoon by Yanko Design is its own self-contained heating unit.  The spoon not only comes in handy when your cup of coffee cools to that nasty lukewarm, but your soup and other foods or beverages also.  It’s also comes in handy when you need to quickly heat something up and don’t want to use the stove or microwave.  Just dip-it-in and stir your way to warming goodness.    

The Advanced Digital Measuring Cup: 

This advanced Taylor Digital Measuring Cup and Scale, like the cutting board above, makes measuring ingredients easier.  It gives you traditional measurements plus it offers a digital reading for more accuracy when dealing with certain ingredients, or even medication.  The secret to the cup’s accuracy is that it measures by weight not volume, making its results more precise.  Probably the greatest feature included in this cup is the automatic conversion tool.  It automatically converts 5 preset ingredients—flour, sugar, milk, water and oil—from ounces to cups and back; a great help in certain recipes. 

The list of cool new kitchen devices is seemingly endless and constantly growing.  A person could go broke keeping up with them, so buy carefully.  Just remember, cooking can be fun.  When you chose your new tools for the kitchen, always keep fun as well as efficiency in mind, and enjoy your cooking future!    

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The Hot Gadgets of 2014: So Far, So Cool

Panono 360 camera, photo courtesy of UOL.com

 

One thing we humans are is persistently inventive.  Since the beginning of our time on this planet man has created things to help improve their way of life.  A look through patent history will show that clear enough.  In fact from the time that protection-by-patent was created, right up to the present, the records read like a timeline of discovery and creation.  Not all the patented inventions were completely successful, or even that interesting, but there is a sub-set of inventions that have a singular novelty that makes them very popular, even if only for a short time.  These are the Gadgets—inventions that become popular for their ingenuity as well as for their ability to successfully solve, or make easier, one of life’s problems or chores.  Each year has its list of cool gadgets and so far, 2014 has been no different.  Here are some that have risen to the top during the first half of the year.

MiniDrone Rolling Spider Quadcopter:

OK, so we all know that drone’s are cool—even the military thinks so—but how great would it be to have your own drone?  Parrot company, known up to now for its AR Drone, has released the new Rolling Spider, amongst others in its line of drones.  This little micro-quadcopter is slick, zipping around in all directions like a Hummingbird.  Plus, like the AR, the Rolling Spider is controlled by any smart-phone or tablet that supports its control app.  It also features two large wheels which help the unit roll along walls and ceilings, instead of banging around against them.  Plus you can, of course, take photos of your spider’s trip with the onboard camera.  The Rolling Spider doesn’t appear to be available to purchase yet, but all the product details can be found here.

The Panono 360° Camera:

This is a truly incredible item that has made a mark on almost every new tech list on the Net.  Resembling a child’s play-ball from the future the Panono is an ingenious way to take 360° panoramic digital photographs while still retaining some human spontaneity.  Set-it, toss it up in the air, and when it comes back down you have a full capture it snapped at the peak of its trip.  How awesome is that?  Created by Jonas Pfeil, the Panono has 36 cameras that capture an amazingly clear 108 mega-pixels each.  Then, instead of just viewing one image at a time in a gallery afterwards, you view it with your smart-phone or notepad with the iOS or Android app.  By standing in one place and moving it in all directions, you see the actual scene surroundings as they were captured. Check out real-time examples of the view here.

Wireless Solar K750 Keyboard, image courtesy of staticworld.net

Wireless Solar K750 Keyboard:

The Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 may not be as dramatic as the first two items, but the convenience of never having to worry about your batteries failing again, put it on the list.  The keyboard sets up as easy as other Logitech peripherals with their 2.4GHz plug-and-play Unifying Receiver.  It is a tiny USB attachment that can support multiple wireless devices, such as a mouse and a keyboard with just a single input.  The solar panels on the top of the K750 charge under indoor light as well as outside, and the solar battery can keep its charge for up to 3 months, even if during that time it is in the complete dark (like in a drawer).

FitBit One Activity Tracker, image courtesy of PC Magazine

The FitBit One Wearable Activity Tracker:

This wearable smart activity-tracking monitor is all the rage now with several brands descending on the public at once.  One of the undisputed best seems to be the One by FitBit .  Available now for under $100, the FitBit One stands up-and-above its competitors in a couple of big ways.  First it not only helps you to get fit in the regular, physical, ways, but it also helps your health by reducing mental stress.  During the daytime hours, it tracks your physical movement by step-count and distance, stairs climbed, etc.  It also records how many calories you burn and allows you to set fitness goals.  Then, as a bonus, when night falls, it also tracks your sleep quality and wakes you up in the morning—plus it helps you learn how to get better and more restful sleep.  The Onecomes with graphs, charts, and other computer tools to assist you, and of course, syncs with your smartphone.   Your FitBit One comes in three colors, is sleek and sharp looking, and you can check out the details here.

Without trying to sound like a commercial, these new gadgets—although only a few in number—are perfect examples of the ingenuity of modern man.  Nowadays gadgets like these may involve many patents and include components patented by others, which demonstrates how we build upon the creations of each other as we strive to create the latest new and original item.  It will be exciting to see how the next 6 months of 2014 fare in the development of the gadget.

Facebook’s Patent Infringement Case Goes to Trial

While Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. are still trying to end their three-year legal fight over smart-phone technology, Facebook is in the news again, this time for their current patent infringement case.  In a story by Mathew Barakat at  <a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/trial-underway-patent-case-facebook-24093943″>ABC News Online</a> it’s been reported that the trial is underway in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA.  Facebook allegedly infringed on patents held by a Dutch computer programmer who tried to launch a similar site called Surfbook over 10 years ago.    

The programmer is Johannes Van Der Meer, who allegedly filed for patents in 1998, for technical ideas and methods used for his web-based personal diary.  The patents were issued in 2001 and 2002, which was well before Facebook debuted in 2003.  The strange twist, and the biggest problem, is that Van Der Meer’s website, Surfbook, never launched because he died in 2004.  Because of this, Facebook is being sued by a holding company called Rembrandt Social Media on Van Der Meer’s behalf.

For their part, Facebook—based in Menlo Park, California—states that the patents issued should never have been awarded to Van Der Meer because the methods and ideas detailed in Van Der Meer’s patents were “obvious to anyone in the trade”.

According to the ABC News article, even though it is not common for patent-infringement lawsuits to make it to a federal jury trial, Jason Rantanen—a law professor at the University of Iowa, and a specialist in patent law—said that “roughly one percent of the thousands of infringement lawsuits filed every year end up in that group.”  Facebook had continued to fight unsuccessfully for over a year, but will now end up taking the fight to a jury.

Bringing a lawsuit before a jury is definitely not desirable.  Facebook, during its history, has been a frequent target for lawsuits but usually comes out on top.  According to Rantanen, there was only one other case of patent-infringement in which Facebook went to jury-trial as defendant.  They won that case also, but unfortunately when dealing with 7 random strangers, there is no real way to guarantee the outcome.

Facebook’s claim that “anyone in the trade” would have been aware of Van Der Meer’s methods, may be a way of demonstrating that social media websites like Facebook were evolving so fast that overlapping ideas were inevitable, and that the ideas and methods that Van Der Meer patented were not actually unique.  In patent law this is known as hindsight bias and may be Facebook’s saving grace in this trial.  As noted by Rantanen in the ABC news story, “The plaintiff has to overcome the tendency to say, Hey, it was all going in this direction anyway.” 

The technical aspect of the case—according to University of Maryland professor Jennifer Golbeck, who is an expert witness for the plaintiff—centers  on a technology used by Facebook called Bigpipe.  It deals with increasing the speed in which Web pages are loaded, but it’s the more general features including the “like” and “share” buttons, and the adjustable privacy settings that were reportedly anticipated under Van Der Meer’s original patents—and now a focus of the lawsuit. 

The scene in the courtroom has been painted quite vividly—from the stacks of “three-ring binders stuffed with legal documents” on the judge’s desk to the jury of four women and three men, and the teams of top lawyers on both sides.  Rembrandt, who specializes in filing lawsuits on behalf of patent holders, still maintains that the personal web page diary that Johannes Van Der Meer had invented years before bears a “remarkable resemblance, both in terms of its functionality and technical implementation” to Facebook and will demonstrate this in court.  If Facebook loses the case, they may face a judgment that could be in the millions of dollars.

 

Patent Infringement Case Makes it to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States just ruled on a case that could affect the way companies – especially biotech companies – create the language in their patents. The case, Limelight Networks, Inc vs. Akamai Technologies, Inc, has created a new precedent that will likely change patents in the future.

In this case, both companies were offering similar services that involved storing and retrieving content on their servers to later be used for uploading to webpages. Akamai’s process was patented first, and it involved a lengthy, multi-step process. Limelight’s service was very similar, but did not follow Akamai’s process exactly. One of the steps fell on the responsibility of the client. As such, they argued that their process was different and therefore not in infringement of Akamai’s patent.

The lower appellate court ruled that Limelight was, in fact, not in direct infringement of the patent, but they did rule that they were responsible for “inducing” infringement, and that their actions were a slippery slope that would encourage other companies to try and slip around patent laws by changing one step of a patented process. The Supreme Court ruled against the appellate court and did not agree that any patent violation took place.

This is all a bit concerning to companies whose futures depend on being able to patent complicated processes. They worry that other companies now have free reign to change minute details of a process and therefore circumvent patent law. In order to prevent intellectual property, companies are going to have to start becoming more protective of the language they use in their patents so that they can ensure that their inventions are not being altered and used elsewhere.