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ProPlus-36-High-3_NEW_LOGO“Sitting is the new smoking,” says South African physical therapist and entrepreneur Gary Arenson. He’s quoting an expression originally coined by researchers at the Mayo Clinic to describe the serious health risks – including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis – connected with prolonged sitting, whether in front of the television or, in particular, at an office desk hunched over the computer.

The data coming in is shocking. A study by the American Cancer Society which tracked 123,000 Americans over a 14-year period found that women who sat for 6 or more hours a day were 40 percent more likely to die within the study period compared with women who sat for less than 3 hours. For men it was “just” 20 percent more.

Another study from the Kaiser Permanente HMO in California following 80,000 men aged 45 and above revealed that those who spent the most time sitting were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who sat the least.

Exercise doesn’t seem to reverse the effects, either.

The dangers associated with excessive sitting have led increasing numbers of office workers to buy or build their own standing desks – raised platforms for their computer screens and keyboards. But standing only desks are quickly abandoned – workers get tired of being on their feet all day and go back to their original sitting situation.

As a result, sitting-standing hybrid desks that can be raised or lowered with the flip of a switch and a quick tug have become increasingly popular. Some are entire standalone pieces of furniture; others sit on top of one’s existing desk.

Now, the leading manufacturer of the hybrid approach, Varidesk, is making aliyah, courtesy of Arenson and his business partner Issy Zimmerman who have obtained the distribution rights to sell Varidesk in Israel.

For Arenson and Zimmerman, it’s a kind of immigration by proxy. While both are staunch Zionists, they have built their professional and personal lives in South Africa and are staying put. “So, as a religious Jew, the opportunity to invest in Israel and at the same time do something incredible health-wise for the Israeli market really motivated me,” Arenson tells The Jerusalem Post.

Arenson will also be selling Varidesk in South Africa, through his company Ergotherapy, which develops and sells its own line or ergonomic chairs and is built off of Arenson’s medical experience helping people with some serious aches and pains.

“Statistically, 80 percent of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives,” Arenson says. “It’s far more prevalent than people realize, and not just with older people. The average age of an office worker using a Varidesk is 40-55.”

Varidesk, whose motto is “Work elevated,” isn’t the first sitting-standing hybrid desk to enter the Israeli market, but it’s the easiest to use, which is a big selling point. The units – which come in a variety of sizes from 30 to 48 inches – come fully assembled. You just hoist them onto your desk and you’re ready to go.

Each Varidesk unit has two tiers – one for your keyboard and another for the monitor. The design eliminates the need to place the screen on a pile of books or a ream of paper, although it’s not ideal for all-in-one computer systems like Apple’s iMac which has a built-in stand leading to neck strain. A smaller Varidesk version is designed for laptops. In all units, a simple quick release grip moves both tiers smoothly into one of a dozen positions in seconds.

The desks are heavy – the 36-inch version we tried weighs 35 pounds – which makes them feel sturdy, an important quality (you don’t want to feel like your expensive computer could topple over at any second if you lean on the desk the wrong way).

Arenson says the Varidesk’s user-friendly design is critical to ensuring “patient” compliance. “If you have to move your computer to one side, then put something on your desk, then move your monitor on top of that, your compliance will be less,” he says. It was something he learned from his 15 years as a physical therapist. “It doesn’t do any good if I tell people to do all these fancy stretches that they won’t do. People don’t want to change their work habits and patterns too much.”

Another key is “balance,” Arenson says. You want to split your day half and half between sitting and standing. People who work mostly out of the office probably don’t need a sitting-standing desk.

Not everyone will take to a Varidesk, Arenson concedes, which is why the company offers a 30-day trial with a money back guarantee. Since Arenson and Zimmerman aren’t relocating, their local representative, another South African Stanley Behrman, will be making house and office calls to make sure new Varidesk owners are comfortable and setting their desks at the right height.

Offices with many workers will be able to get a few units to try out at no cost, giving employees a chance to test drive the sitting-standing experience, before deciding if they want their own.

The first Israeli Varidesks are “on their way to port of Ashdod now,” Arenson says and he will keep with Varidesk’s U.S. policy of always having enough in stock so there’s never a waiting list.

One thing that won’t be the same as the U.S. – the price. The starting price for a Varidesk in Israel is NIS 2,500. That’s at least 40 percent more than it would be in North America.

There’s no way around it: the cost of shipping, VAT and customs all take their toll. “It’s the same price we sell them for in South Africa,” Arenson says, trying to blunt the sticker shock. And it’s less than the NIS 3,400 starting price for competitor Ergotron’s Workfit, which is currently the leader in the Israeli market.

Is Arenson worried that Israelis will balk at the price? Not at all, he says. In fact he expects typical Israeli negotiation. “We’ll need to work hard to substantiate both our product and our price point.” That said, there will certainly be volume discounts for offices buying more than one Varidesk at once.

Arenson and his team plan to sell in Israel exclusively via the web and through direct face-to-face sales, so don’t expect to pick one up at your local office supplies store. (Although if they do, Arenson’s partner Zimmerman should be able to offer some expertise: he ran the Toys R Us franchise in South Africa for many years before going into business with Arenson.)

Standing desks are gaining popularity in the U.S. and Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. Slingsby, a U.K.-based workplace equipment provider, estimated that 80 percent of office workers in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland now have adjustable desks.

“Recommendations suggest that workers should aim to stand for at least two hours each day which they can increase once they’re used to it,” says Lee Wright, group sales and marketing director at Slingsby. “Standing on a soft floor surface is [also] more preferable than a hard floor.”

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting,” says Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. “We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Standing desks have a couple more advantages – both somewhat surprising. People who suffer from ADHD have reported that they find it easier to focus while standing than sitting, Arenson says. And if you stand a few hours every day while you power through those PowerPoint presentations, you’ll burn an extra 600-700 calories a week, Arenson says.

It may not be enough to quit the gym, but it’s still a nice bonus to the already demonstrated health benefits of getting off your tush while you work.

I originally wrote about Varidesk for The Jerusalem Post.

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The Best iPhone and iPad Apps from Israel

by Brian Blum on October 3, 2011

in Israel,Mobile,Products

Whether you’re looking for something healthy to eat or trying to plot the best way home through rush-hour traffic, there’s an application for that on your iPhone or iPad. And if you look under the hood, you might just discover it’s made in Israel.

With its expertise in cellular technologies, a love affair with the cell phone, and a fast national adoption rate for the iPhone – despite the fact Israelis pay some of the highest prices in the world for the privilege – it’s not surprising that Israelis have plunged into development of iPhone applications.

ISRAEL21c combed through some of the best Israeli apps to come up with our top 10 blue-and-white list for the iPhone.

1. Fooducate

With a recent positive write-up in The New York Times, Fooducate is the latest darling of the Israeli iPhone app scene. And it’s healthy to boot. The concept is simple: before you buy a product at the grocery store, check out what’s really in it. If its bite is worse than its crunch, Fooducate will suggest an alternative that’s better for your body (if not for your pocketbook).

The app uses the iPhone’s built-in camera to scan a product’s bar code. Using its own proprietary algorithm, Fooducate counts up the nutrients and assigns a letter grade from A to D. The app is smart enough to spot cleverly disguised additives – did you know that “autolyzed plant protein” is just another way to say MSG?

Fooducate is primarily for products manufactured in the United States, and its database isn’t yet complete (the company encourages users to snap pictures of items they’d like to see covered and send them in).

2. FiddMe

FiddMe is also a food app, but it takes a very different approach than Fooducate. Rather than aiming to educate, FiddMe wants to turn eating into a worldwide social game – a kind of FourSquare for foodies.

FiddMe allows users to take pictures of great meals they’re eating (in real time) and post the snapshot and information about the restaurant to the cloud. Other FiddMe users can tap into the growing database of yummy recommendations. The service is integrated with other location-aware apps like FourSquare and Facebook. You can also post to Twitter or to the FiddMe website.

FiddMe is not competing directly with user-generated recommendation services like Yelp. Those focus on restaurants as a whole, while FiddMe drills down to the quality of the fettuccini. Not surprising from an app created by a bunch of self-described Israeli “foodies.”

3. Waze

Waze has tackled a problem we’ve all experienced – getting stuck in traffic and not knowing the best alternative routes – and crowd-sourced it. Users automatically add information about traffic tie-ups in real time – without having to do a thing. Waze tracks where drivers are via GPS. If there are more drivers than expected in a certain stretch of road, the Waze map will turn red.

So if Highway 101 is backed up coming into San José, Waze will instantly tell you if Interstate 280 is the better bet. That’s a whole lot faster than waiting for the radio to report the latest jams every 15 minutes. And it’s one of the reasons the service has proved incredibly popular, with more than two million drivers signed up.

The automated aspect to Waze is particularly welcome, since texting while driving is a big no-no. But users stopped at a red light can more proactively input traffic information. And to really keep things safe, Waze turns off the keyboard when the car is in motion – neat!

Waze has other features – such as allowing drivers to build maps together, create private groups to share tips, and even play interactive social games.

Waze is free, in keeping with its 2006 roots as an open-source project called FreeMaps. The service began in Israel but is available all over the world.

4. Viber

Within three days of Viber’s launch in December 2010, some one million people had downloaded it. Two months later, the number is up to an overwhelming 10 million. What’s all the fuss about? Viber, a free app, aims to be the Skype-killer, a voice-over-IP phone service that integrates seamlessly into your iPhone’s contact list and allows you to make free calls to other Viber users anywhere in the world.

The app is drop-dead simple: Install it, and any other Viber users in your contact list show a Viber icon. Since the Viber app runs in the background (and the company claims it doesn’t drain the phone’s battery like Skype does), calling that contact for free is a single tap away.

Viber also doesn’t require any registration (another step saved) and uses your phone number as your ID. Contrast that with Skype, where you have to sign up for a unique ID and use only the Skype app to make calls. Viber “officially” only supports the iPhone, but savvy callers claim it works on the iPad and iPod Touch as well. Android and BlackBerry versions are coming soon.

5. Fring

Fring is another made-in-Israel app that allows free phone calls. Unlike Viber, Fring piggybacks on existing phone networks like Google Talk, ICQ, Twitter, Facebook and more, acting as a universal communications center for voice, chat and even video calls. You open the Fring app and get a separate contact list; you can then call any friends on the list at no cost.

For friends not on the list, “Fring Out” calls start at one cent per minute (although that can jump to as high as 44 cents per minute for far-flung locations like Samoa and Zimbabwe).

Fring got a big boost when the iPhone 4 with its front-facing camera came out last year, making video calls a major attraction (the upcoming iPad 2 is rumored to have the same feature).

The app also has a “Fring Stream” that consolidates all your Twitter tweets and Facebook updates (plus, of course, any Fring chats and calls) in one place.

There’s one service that’s noticeably missing from the Fring roster: Skype. Fring used Skype’s network to enable video calls for several years until December 2010, when they parted ways. Fring claims Skype blocked its service; Skype says Fring had been misusing its software and decided to pull out on its own. Either way, Fring is slightly less useful than it was six months ago.

6. Babller

Babller is a simple iPhone app that was an obvious product to be developed in multilingual, multicultural Israel. The app allows you to post status updates to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in your preferred language and have it automatically translated into a variety of other lingos. The app works the other way around, too, translating posts you receive.

Babller is essentially Google Translate with built-in social networking integration. It’s not likely to be around for long – as soon as Google does its own Facebook translation mash-up, Babller will be out of here.

7. My6Sense

Owning an iPhone can quickly result in serious information overload. With your email, social network updates, tweets and RSS feeds all coming at you a mile a minute, you may find yourself sifting through hundreds (if not thousands) of messages and articles every day.

My6Sense aims to reduce the clutter by learning what you’re interested in and filtering the stream so that’s what you see. Focusing primarily on updates via RSS, My6Sense “learns” what you like by monitoring which articles you choose and which links you forward. You may view your subscriptions by most recent posts or by My6Sense recommendations.

What’s particularly cool is you don’t have to do anything – no tapping buttons to give a thumbs up or down to a particular piece of content, for example. The company calls its service “digital intuition” and it seems to be on to something. My6Sense has received media accolades including a “Best of 2010” award from ReadWriteWeb.

8. Libox

Consuming media on an iPhone or iPad is perhaps as popular as actually making a call. Despite its tiny screen, users love to watch video, show off pictures and, of course, listen to music. But how do you get your media content from your desktop computer or laptop onto your phone?

Apple’s answer is to synch via iTunes. But that requires plugging your mobile device into your computer. And you have to physically move files onto your phone, which means you can quickly bump up against your iPhone’s memory limit.

Israeli startup Libox lets you stream your media from home. There are two parts to the app – one that goes on your computer and scans your hard drives to find media, and a second that you download to your phone, which then streams the media from your computer via your regular cell service or WiFi. Libox also allows sharing media with friends, although that might put the company in hot water with copyright holders.

One downside: the app requires that your home computer be turned on with Libox running. That may not work for people whose laptops are their primary machine.

The company’s pedigree suggests that Libox will continue to innovate in future versions: The company’s founder is Erez Pilosof, who also founded Walla!, the Israeli equivalent to Yahoo and still an uber-popular Hebrew language site.

9. Touchoo

Buying your toddler an iPhone or iPod Touch is not as wacky an idea as it seems with Israeli startup Touchoo’s vision of creating interactive “touch” books for tykes. The company, which calls itself a publisher rather than a development house, has assembled a team of writers, illustrators, animators and programmers (all from Israel, for now) to create their touch books, and the company emphasizes that all book apps are made under the supervision of a developmental psychologist.

Featured first books include Benny the Cat and the touch-screen appropriate Thumbelina (based on the original classic from Hans Christian Andersen). Some of the books are available in multiple languages. Touching not only changes pages but triggers interactive fun (an animated character may jump out and sing).

Touchoo’s concept has already been proven … 20 years ago. When the first round of interactive multimedia products was being released on CD-ROM, one of the most popular genres was animated storybooks that both entertained and taught. Touchoo has simply updated a proven concept to the 21st century, where a click of the mouse has been replaced by a tap of a finger.

10. Appsfire

Appsfire is an app that lets you find other apps. Sure, you can always go searching in the Apple App Store or visit an app review site. But Appsfire uses the power of the crowd to recommend the best apps. As an Israeli company, its roster of “VIP” experts making recommendations is mostly culled from the Israeli tech scene; that will change as the app gains traction around the world. And there are plenty of “regular” users adding their favorite apps.

There’s also a separate iPad version called Appstream that, as its name suggests, has a moving stream of apps. You can tap on an app to preview it, and tap again to share a recommendation with friends or to buy the app. You can filter by just iPad apps or by free apps.

Appsfire and Appstream, by the way, are both free. Appsfire takes a cut of sales from app developers via an affiliate model.

This post originally appeared in March 2011 on the Israel21c website.

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A New Patch Promises to Knock Out Acne

by Brian Blum on November 17, 2010

in Products,Research

Teenagers suffering from acne will try anything to make the redness and infection go away, but current treatments have mixed results and numerous applications are usually necessary.

Now, Oplon, a three-year-old medical materials company in Rehovot in central Israel has come up with a unique “patch” that radiates an “energy field” that can knock out acne for good.

Beyond acne, Oplon, has high hopes for its technology which can also keep milk from spoiling, wipe out bacteria inside juice boxes, and even reduce the number of infections associated with hospital catheters.

Oplon works its magic by manufacturing polymers – a type of plastic – that have a very specific function: They disable microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. The polymers create an energy field “that can kill every microbe ever heard of,” says Omer Gonen, Oplon’s CFO. The energy field is safe: “It doesn’t radiate, it doesn’t heat and it doesn’t chill.”

Rather, it’s a chemical adaptation of a mechanism that has long existed in nature to help animals and plants defend against similar attackers. Indeed, these energy fields are “all around us,” Gonen says. “They’re in the air, in the room, and it’s much more energy than we create with a polymer.”

Oplon’s acne treatment consists of a patch with the polymers inside which the acne sufferer applies overnight. Within six hours, the redness, pus and pain associated with the acne will be significantly reduced, Gonen says. “After 24 hours, the spot will be practically fully healed.” Best of all, “In most cases, it’s a one-time treatment,” he adds.

However, parents shouldn’t be too quick to rejoice, Gonen quips, “We don’t solve all the teenagers’ problems. Just the acne.” The acne patch, considered a ‘medical device’ and not a drug, will be on Israeli pharmacy shelves early next year, sold over-the-counter, with no need for a prescription.

Marketing to the US and Europe will come only after the patch has been thoroughly tested in Israel. In that sense, the country will be a sort of national guinea pig. “Israel is a controlled environment. We’re a relatively small country,” Gonen explains. “After a year or so, we’ll have a better sense of customers’ reactions.”

The price has yet to be determined, but Gonen is confident that it “won’t be a big barrier.” And if Oplon can break in, there’s a very large piece of pie waiting to be gobbled up – the market for acne solutions is estimated at $60 billion, he says.

A cure for acne is just the start. The same material in the polymer patch can be applied to the inside of milk and juice cartons to zap bacteria. That would represent a sea change for food manufacturers who today have two main options for keeping their products fresh. They can add preservatives or ‘hot fill’ the carton with a beverage heated to 70 degrees Celsius.

Both of those solutions have serious downsides. Preservatives may lead to health problems while hot filling destroys much of the nutritional benefit. Both affect taste. Hot filling also requires thicker plastic to hold the liquid while it’s cooling, which costs manufacturers more and causes additional damage to the environment.

Conceivably, a milk carton with Oplon’s polymers wouldn’t even have to be refrigerated after opening, Gonen suggests.

While the acne patch is essentially a stand-alone product, advancing fairly quickly, Oplon’s progress with the beverage-makers is somewhat slower. While it offers them many benefits, it also requires serious buy-in. Manufacturers would have to purchase new carton material, since you can’t just ‘spray’ the microbe-eating polymers on existing cardboard boxes. Nevertheless, Gonen is optimistic that Oplon can “correctly engineer the prototypes to fit a production line of a major company.”

A third application in the Oplon pipeline involves urinary catheters which, Gonen claims, are responsible for a full 50 percent of hospital-acquired infections (affecting some 90,000 Americans a year), resulting in more days away from home, greater expense, extra antibiotics and, of course, increased discomfort for the patient.

Gonen says that Oplon’s material can even kill “super bugs” – those microbes resistant to all current antibiotics – like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus). Oplon is just beginning clinical studies with catheters, so we’ll have to wait a little longer for that application.

As is often the case, Oplon’s polymer product line was discovered entirely by accident. The company was founded by a number of scientists – both chemists and physicists (key among them was Uriel Halavee who founded printed circuit board maker Opal which was sold in 1996 to Applied Materials). The scientists were working on an intra-cellular drug delivery system but the experiment went wrong.

“If it was me, I would have thrown it all in the garbage can,” Gonen smiles. But the scientists reviewed their formulas and realized they were on to something even bigger. “It really was a mistake,” Gonen says modestly. “Like the discovery of penicillin.”

Oplon is headed by Avi Shani, a 42-year-old father of five who’s a physician by training. The company has 15 staff members and is looking to triple in size in the coming year. While Gonen wouldn’t reveal the source of the funds for that growth, he allowed that Oplon is “in contact with some huge potential partners.” The company previously raised $5 million from Wanaka Capital Partners in 2008.

Oplon’s products represent a “huge platform that will enable us to continue developing products for many years to come. Each product has a market in the billions,” Gonen concludes.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Oplon achieves all of its ambitious goals, but in the meantime the teenagers can break out the bubbly – acne relief is on its way.

This article appeared originally on the Israel21 website.

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Does radiation from cell phones cause cancer? The jury is still out, with a recently released 10-year study organized by the World Health Organization saying no, and advocacy groups arguing that the research methodology was flawed.

Cell La Vie - peel on protection for your iPhone

Regardless of the controversy, a small Israeli startup isn’t taking any chances. In July, Wise Environment began selling a do-it-yourself kit to protect iPhone owners from radiation. The company claims that its product, dubbed Cell La Vie, reduces electromagnetic exposure from the phone by 98 percent.

The Wise Environment founders are on a mission. “Parents are driving their young kids to use cell phones, to keep in contact,” explains Ronny Gorlicki, Wise Environment’s vice president of business development. “But at the same time, they want to protect them from future problems,” even if it’s not certain that those problems really exist.

At only NIS 179 ($47), Gorlicki feels his product is a worthwhile investment “to defuse the question of what will happen 30 years down the road.”

Cell La Vie can be a bit daunting to install – it’s not a one-click software app, but a physical product – a thin film you apply to the front, back and sides of your iPhone with adhesive. The Cell La Vie kit also includes a spray and pump to make sure your phone is totally clean before you get started. “People are reticent in the beginning, fearful that they’ll screw things up,” Gorlicki says. “But it’s no problem to take it off and do it again. We’ll even send a replacement if necessary.”

Once affixed, the film acts to redirect radiation away from the body. “Inside the phone is an antenna,” Gorlicki explains. “The signal goes in all directions. We had to figure out how we can cover up the points where the radiation would penetrate the phone in the direction of the body while maintaining the quality of the transmission.”

Wise has so far focused only on the iPhone because of the extensive media buzz surrounding the device. “Even people who haven’t bought it are talking about it,” Gorlicki says, noting the “huge awareness in the market of ‘green’ in general and phone radiation in particular. We hear from people ‘I’d held back from buying an iPhone from concern about radiation. Now I just made the order because of your product.’ ”

Since every phone has its antenna in a different place, Wise will have to develop separate films for every type of phone – and for every version. For example, Cell La Vie doesn’t yet work with the iPhone 4, which has an entirely different type of antenna (one that has caused users no end of frustration due to inadvertently dropped calls).

Cell La Vie's Ronny Gorlicki

Wise is also focusing initially on smart phones. “They’re the ones with the higher price tag,” Gorlicki explains, “So people are more ready to invest in safeguarding themselves from radiation.” Smart phones, ironically, can increase their radiation levels as they detect signal strength. The lower the strength, the more the phone has to work to maintain a minimum quality of service, and as a result the radiation increases.

Wise Environment has other radiation-protection products in the pipeline (including one that may actually reduce radiation, not just guard against it) but is progressing slowly. That’s in no small part because the company is entirely bootstrapped; it’s relying now on sales from its iPhone product, which is available in Israel at iDigital’s Apple Stores and the stationary chain Kravitz, to finance future production. Gorlicki is optimistic and says sales are going well, pointing out that “There have already been reorders.”

However, given the company’s scarce cash situation, sales beyond Israel will have to rely on distributors. Gorlicki doesn’t anticipate opening a US or European office in the near future. And even if the patent pending Cell La Vie is as successful as anticipated, Gorlicki says that raising venture capital money will be tough.

He likens the Cell La Vie product to a mezuzah: “You don’t know if it has prevented some hardships or brought good things to you,” he quips. “There’s no immediate gratification in that sense.” He says that the problem is with the VCs, who want to see immediate results.

This is not Gorlicki’s first outing with a product that doesn’t deliver satisfaction on first use. In a previous position at Wizcom, he was in charge of marketing the ‘Quicktionary’ – a digital pen that you run over printed text to translate it into multiple languages. “There was a real learning curve,” Gorlicki recounts, “You had to hold the pen correctly, to start and end it in the right place.”

Cell La Vie is not alone in the market; one of its better-funded competitors is Pong Research, which has been reviewed widely, including in Wired Magazine and The New York Times. But Pong, by its own estimates, only reduces radiation by 60 percent and only from the front of the phone, Gorlicki points out. Both Pong and Wise have had their results verified, in Cell La Vie’s case at MET Labs, a California testing and certification company.

Gorlicki is proud that his product is entirely made in Israel and hopes that even as production ramps up in the future, the company will be able to resist the pressure to export manufacturing to China or another less-expensive location.

He says he would be delighted to cooperate with Tawkon, a company whose product indicates to smart phone users when their radiation levels are too high. They would be a good match because Tawkon detects the radiation and prompts users to take simple actions like “put the phone on speaker,” while Cell La Vie actually does something about the radiation emanating from the unit itself.

Regarding the WHO study, Gorlicki draws attention to the fact that the research was in part funded by the phone companies themselves. The study followed thousands of phone users in 13 countries to see whether people who had brain tumors reported spending more time on cell phones during the previous decade than other people did. The researchers reported that they couldn’t find any cancer correlation with cell phone use.

The study’s main purpose, Gorlicki claims, was to give federal agencies a benchmark of when radiation levels are too high. If the companies stay within those levels, they’re considered ‘kosher.’ But, he says, “we really don’t know how much and how long it would take for someone to reach proportions so high that he or she will get cancer.” Researchers are now considering a new, even longer study of up to 20 years.

Not to mention that cell phone usage has increased dramatically and phones have advanced technologically in the 10 years since the study was started. What might have been considered ‘average’ use in 2000 would pale in comparison with teenage cell phone use in 2010.

Perhaps the ideal scenario for Cell La Vie would be cooperation with, or acquisition by a cell phone manufacturer or operator. But Gorlicki isn’t optimistic: “They don’t want to have anything to do with it,’ he says, explaining that involvement could be construed as an admission that cell phone use might not be 100% safe.

Even with Cell La Vie’s protective film in place, cell phones still pose a danger – to your neighbor. Gorlicki compares phone radiation to secondhand smoke. “You could be getting secondhand radiation from the guy sitting next to you in a restaurant talking on his cell phone,” he warns. Will there eventually be cell phone-free environments, he wonders.

Beyond being potentially dangerous to bystanders, Gorlicki reminds us that cell phone use requires “good hygiene.” Even if you’re using a corded headset, you don’t want to stuff your phone in your pocket while you talk. The phone still emits the same amount of radiation. Holding it away from your body or placing it on a table is the safest bet.

Gorlicki is doing his best to live in his own ‘wise’ environment – the company’s headquarters are in his home just off of the HaBonim beach south of Haifa, in northern Israel. “I wake up and take the dogs on a walk near the shore,” he says. “What a way to start the day when you’re working for an environmentally conscious company.”

This article appeared last week on Israel21c, a great site for exploring Israel “beyond the conflict.” Check it out!

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From ‘Facebook-like’ buttons to embedded YouTube videos and interactive chat, it’s rare to find a website these days that doesn’t beckon you to share your thoughts with everyone you’re connected to.

But for website owners, adding all that social interaction takes time and, if you’re not a programmer, copying and pasting esoteric HTML and JavaScript code into your site’s header or widget boxes can be a technically daunting task.

Wibiya from Israel is a hot start-up that aims to streamline the process. The company, which raised $2 million a few months back from Primera Capital and counts as one of its seed investors the ubiquitous Israeli angel and Internet guru Yossi Vardi, has built a popular toolbar that consolidates dozens of social media functions into a single space-saving strip at the bottom of your website. Wibiya’s aim is to make adding new apps and functionality as easy as a one-click install.

Among the useful Web functions that Wibiya incorporates are the ability to instantly “like” a company’s fan page on Facebook and write on its Wall without leaving the website you’re looking at; see how many other people are online and looking at the same page you are; translate the site into one of more than 40 languages; and chat with your social media friends directly from within the Wibiya bar.

Taking a cue from Apple, Wibiya has created its own app ecosystem, allowing third party developers to add their Web products to the toolbar at no cost. This has led to an eclectic range of functionality built by enthusiastic supporters that Wibiya co-founder and CEO Dror Cedar never expected.

For example, there’s an app that allows website owners to pop-up targeted messages filtered to the specific person visiting. This could be based on the page a visitor is currently viewing (say, a message about the Middle East peace process) or could kick in only after a user has been on at least five pages of the site.

Another popular app automatically turns all links on a website into “affiliate ads.” If a visitor to the site buys a product via that link, the website publisher keeps 70 percent of the revenue. Amazon is one of 25,000 merchants included in the program.

Want to raise money? Wibiya has apps for that, too. One puts a link on the toolbar to your organization’s Causes page on Facebook; another allows visitors to use PayPal to make donations a snap.

Wibiya is on the verge of releasing a developer website with an open API (Application Programming Interface) to make it even easier for developers to build Wibiya-compatible apps, Cedar says.

For publishers, Wibiya provides detailed analytics showing, for example, how many clicks the toolbar is receiving or how many Twitter updates have been tweeted via the Wibiya service. The toolbar itself is tiny – only 17K. And it plays nicely with all the leading blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger and Ning.

Since the toolbar is free to both third party developers and publishers, how does Wibiya intend to make money? “We work with high end publishers including Philly.com, Playboy and even the (confectionery vendor) Jellybelly.com on either a revenue-share model or one that’s based on performance,” Cedar explains. “We deal with them directly to build a tailor-made solution.”

For everyone else – the so-called “long tail” of web publishers, as Cedar describes them – Wibiya will soon introduce premium paid packages with “for example, the ability to integrate your own advertisements into the toolbar.”

Cedar didn’t start out with the intention to build Wibiya. He and his co-founders Daniel Tal and Avi Smila were working on a travel-related product called Joongle. “If you wanted to search for a flight from Tel Aviv to New York, our toolbar would give you the top 10 websites, like Kayak and Priceline, with flights to that country,” Cedar says. “Then each time you clicked, it would do the search for you.”

But when the team showed the product, potential clients kept saying “wouldn’t it be great to have another button that would show my most recent posts, or one that displays photos,” Cedar recounts. Realizing that there was an even bigger market beyond travel, the company quickly switched gears. “After the 10th time, we said okay. The demand came from the publishers themselves. People really wanted it.”

One concern we had was whether creating yet another way to share information across the Web would cause alarm, much in the way that Facebook has taken a drumming recently for its fungible privacy policies. Moreover, will users be paranoid that Wibiya may follow them around, tracking what they’re doing on the Web?

Cedar assures us that Wibiya is just “an enabler. We don’t do anything automatically and we don’t save your information. We’re completely transparent.” Still, Wibiya may have to be more proactive in spelling things out to put visitors at their ease.

As for the name Wibiya, it’s a play on words – a “wib” is a widget bar. “We didn’t like ‘widget,’ ” Cedar says.”That implies a static component.”

Indeed, with Wibiya’s functionality, financing and future prospects, the company is anything but static.

This article originally appeared on the Israel21c website.

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Software: Heal Thyself

by Brian Blum on August 10, 2010

in Israel,Products,Research

ibm-research

IBM research facility in Haifa

If your computer gets sick, would you rather give it a full system overhaul or the equivalent of a digital Advil to relieve the symptoms? Onn Shehory and his team at Israel’s IBM Haifa research facility have developed much more than a computerized analgesic. Say hello to the world’s first self-healing software.

The project – called SHADOWS for “a Self Healing Approach for Developing cOmplex softWare Systems” – was proposed by Shehory and funded by the European Union’s 6th Framework Program, a technology initiative that invests in promising international endeavors. The idea was to emulate how the human body behaves and apply it to software.

“When you develop some sort of dysfunction, the body senses this and reacts automatically,” Shehory says. “It is essentially self-monitoring.” SHADOWS does the same for computer systems. “It recognizes specific misbehaviors, classifies them into possible types of problems, and then for the serious ones, makes the appropriate adjustments,” he says. This may include inserting new lines of codes before a program runs or moving around memory resources, to prevent the most common reasons for system crashes.

In the case of memory, for example, Shehory explains that “we can manipulate the usage of memory without actually knowing where the problem is coming from. We don’t have to find the bug, just to know that something is wrong.”

That’s the same way that a pain and fever medication acts on the body. “Instead of a week of fever, you might just have a half an hour at the end of the week,” he says. “It doesn’t remove the root cause – the virus – but it will prevent the fever from coming back for a long time.

“In order to continue benefiting from the advances and innovations becoming available in the IT landscape, software developers and architects must begin to design software… to incorporate internal safeguards that can both identify and repair problems,” adds Yaron Wolfsthal, head of the Reliable Systems Technologies group at the IBM Haifa lab.

The need for self-healing software is clear: Computer systems are now ubiquitous, a part of everything from dishwashers to managing a countrywide electricity grid. The problem is that software systems are inherently buggy. Even utilizing software testing, reviews and other protective measures, “with millions of lines of code, it’s too difficult to identify all the problems in advance,” Shehory says.

Traditional approaches to fixing software have meant calling on engineers to sift through the code, locate the bug and repair it – a process that’s akin to searching for a needle in a digital haystack. And yet, “we can’t afford for systems to fail on critical missions… or even non-critical missions,” exhorts Shehory.

SHADOWS doesn’t go so far as to create self-aware artificial intelligence – no worries about a Terminator-style SkyNet attacking the planet. Nor is it specifically targeted at preventing terrorists from bringing down global networks. “It’s not about security, it’s about the robustness of the code,” Shehory explains, although he suggests that since SHADOWS can identify problems as they start to brew, it may allow programmers to jump into action if they sense a cyber-attack is imminent.

SHADOWS is sophisticated but doesn’t require any changes to existing legacy computer systems – it can sit alongside those programs monitoring their action and only start working its magic when it detects something awry. Shehory hopes, however, that programmers will speed things up by manually inserting “comments” when they write the software that can direct SHADOWS to look at, say, only 10,000 rather than a million lines of code.

The genesis of SHADOWS was a proposal IBM in Israel made to a European Union program that promotes collaboration in research and technology across Europe. Eight other partners joined IBM in the three-year, $5 million project – major universities including the University of Potsdam in Germany and the Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic, and technology heavyweights such as Phillips Electronics of the Netherlands and the Spanish phone carrier Telefonica, which provided a case study on the use of the SHADOWS technology. The EU pays for 50 percent of the project with the IBM lab responsible for the other half.

Despite the innovation, SHADOWS is not yet ready for prime time – it’s more a general research-oriented framework than an actual, saleable product – although parts of it may be commercialized. Each partner in the project owns its own intellectual property should a marketable solution ultimately be developed.

In the meantime, Shehory is considering applying for a second stage grant to address the technology’s biggest limitation: The resistance of the people who write the computer systems that need SHADOWS to inserting machine-generated code automatically into their babies.

“The psychological effect is very strong,” Shehory admits. “If SHADOWS writes some new code, the programmer might be hesitant, thinking ‘can I trust this, will it work properly?’ “The solution may be as simple as adding a feature that “recommends” the change, allowing the engineer to decide whether or not to accept it.

Still, Shehory says, “we’re trying to find technical ways to address this difficulty without human intervention.” Software – heal thyself.

This article originally appeared on Israel21c.

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My Day with the iPad

by Brian Blum on June 30, 2010

in Media,Products

Totally drool-worthy

Last week, I hired a team to design and build a cool new iPad app for me (more on that in the coming weeks). The problem was that, at the time, I’d never actually held or used an iPad. So I was truly delighted when my friend Mitch Simon, who runs a successful coaching business in San Diego and was visiting us over the weekend, offered to leave his iPad with me for a day while he went out to tour the country.

Here, then, are ten comments from my day with the iPad.

1. First of all, it’s totally drool-worthy. I don’t know why, but when you pick it up and start to play with it, you immediately fall in love. Especially kids. I had a gaggle of children, ages 13 and under, begging to touch it, swipe it, shake it and turn it around so the screen reformats this way and that. I wanted it for business reasons; they were all about the fun. And Steve Jobs is right: it really is the best way to interact with the web.

2. I can touch type on it. Unlike the iPhone, where I’m all thumbs (literally), the virtual keyboard on the iPad in landscape mode is just big enough to let me type normally. That makes the iPad an ideal device to take to a lecture or conference. I found Apple’s Pages word processing program easy-to-use and intuitive (if not as powerful as Word on my Mac). Add in the long-life battery and the iPad is, as some controversial pundits have already claimed, a NetBook killer. And for all the naysayers who say you need to “feel” the click of a real keyboard, I say – get over it. You will get used to it.

3. Typing on the iPad has one big disadvantage over a laptop: unless you’ve attached an external keyboard, the iPad has to lie flat on a table or desk. That makes it hard to fully take advantage of the benefit of the screen – it’s angled away from you. It works OK if you have your feet on the couch, but didn’t your mother teach you never to do that?

4. As print newspapers begin to be phased out, reading the paper over breakfast is something the iPad will be great at. Although I’m not a regular reader of USA Today, the app version is superb and immediately intuitive. The fonts were big enough for even my middle-aged eyes. One disadvantage: if your fingers get dirty or sticky (eating pancakes or anything with syrup), that’s going to muck up your screen much more than a smudge on a printed paper.

5. It’s still too heavy for reading in bed. I want a device that’s as light as a paperback that I can hold in one hand (you know, like a Kindle). The iPad is somewhere between that and a hard cover book. But otherwise, the screen is brilliant and some of the tricks – like highlighting text and taking notes – are really helpful. And I know it’s just a “gimmick,” but the animation for flipping the pages really is fun

6. Despite the weight in bed, walking around with the iPad is a pleasure. My friend Mitch put his iPad in a leather case and it feels like one of those “old fashioned” diary books that I used to carry so long ago. Think of it as a slightly hefty yellow note pad. I found myself bringing the iPad everywhere with me.

7. The bathroom test – come on, you know at some point you’re going to want (or need) to hold the iPad while on the toilet instead of a newspaper or book. So, to be comprehensive, I gave it a spin. Here it works better than reading a book in bed: I don’t mind using both hands to hold it and it’s great having a variety of reading material in case your stay in the washroom is, um, a bit lengthy.

The kids can't get enough

The kids can't get enough

8. Pictures look fantastic on the iPad – so much so that I can’t imagine ever printing out photos and placing them in an album again. Before the iPad, it was a bit awkward having to pull out a laptop or ask friends and family to crowd around my desktop screen to see snapshots from our latest vacation. The iPad takes it to the couch. And it’s a whole lot more convenient than carting over 17 albums worth of photos (of course, digitizing all those albums will be a major undertaking).

9. Ditto for video – it’s like having one of those dedicated DVD players they used to give out in business class in airplanes before the built-in TVs came out – except a whole lot smaller. And it’s just big enough to share – at least a couple people at once (I wouldn’t try to watch Date Night on an iPad with the gang).

10. Biggest pet peeve – no front facing camera. Come on Apple, we know you’re just holding back until next year so you can generate more sales, but I want to be able to video Skype or FaceTime with my family when I’m on the road (or in bed – what is it that makes me want to snuggle up with the iPad). This may be the killer app…why do we have to wait?

So, did I add anything new to the discussion? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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PokeTalk Woman on Phone

Do blondes have more fun on PokeTalk?

In January 2009, I wrote an article for Israel21c about PokeTalk, a then new startup offering free VoIP calls using regular phone lines. I bumped into the company’s founders Shai Genish and Boaz Bahar Wednesday night at a meeting of the TechAviv Founder’s Forum and I thought I’d share the original article with you here on the Blum Interactive Media along with some company updates.

The 2009 article was topical, coming in the midst of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead operation in Gaza. Since then, the company has expanded its offerings to include paid calls that can last longer than the free service’s maximum 10 minutes duration, along with many other cool features such as web callback and analytics.

But I also heard some disturbing news: PokeTalk has been hit by a significant amount of fraud where unscrupulous hackers have redirected calls, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in charges for PokeTalk. The situation has gotten so bad that the company is now investing in building its own security software which will also be available to other VoIP services and not just PokeTalk.

Shai and Boaz are both very sincere and enthusiastic Israel entrepreneurs who I like a lot. So, here’s the original article without changes.

—————————————–

Residents of the southern part of Israel in range of missiles from Gaza can now make phone calls up to 30 minutes to their friends and relatives entirely for free, thanks to a new Israeli startup called PokeTalk. The service, which is already operational in 60 countries around the world, is good for any calls between two phone numbers in Israel’s 08 area code.

PokeTalk has been flying high since its launch three months ago. The company, founded by two 25-year-olds in Tel Aviv – Shai Genish and Boaz Bahar – has signed up 70,000 users nearly entirely on word of mouth and viral marketing alone.

The service, like fellow Israeli-founded company Jajah, uses voice-over-IP to connect regular phones, not just two computers.

As with any good idea, though, there’s a catch: calls are limited to 10 minutes. The promotion on Israel’s front lines triples that amount.

Ten minutes (or even 30) may seem like a deal breaker but, says Genish, the average call placed is only two minutes and 40 seconds. And 70 percent of calls from a mobile phone are a mere 80 seconds. “Other than for business calls, 10 minutes is usually more than enough.”

PokeTalk is essentially an automated version of the call back systems that were once popular in Israel as a way of saving money. But rather than calling a certain phone number, with PokeTalk you enter your number and the number you want to call on the PokeTalk site. A few seconds later, your phone rings. You pick up and PokeTalk places the call.

I took a test drive and the quality is quite good – certainly on a par with other voice-over-IP systems like Vonage, Gizmo5 or even Skype.

So how can PokeTalk offer even 10 minutes of talk time for free? On-site advertising. Since you’re required to initiate your call from the web, PokeTalk can show you advertisements on screen. That’s a whole lot less annoying than some other free phone systems that put 10-second audio ads before a call is connected.

After only three months in operation, PokeTalk is far from profitable – only 50 percent of calls are covered by ad revenue – but the small eight-person company has raised $1.25 million from Maayan Ventures and private investors. Genish says he hopes to be in the black by the end of 2009.

PokeTalk calls can originate from 13 countries – including Israel, the US, Canada and Germany, though notably not the UK – and can be connected to 60 nations, from Kazakhstan to New Zealand. Mobile phones are supported in nine countries.

Of PokeTalk’s 70,000 users, 40,000 are in Israel. A viral “refer a friend” program has been successful at recruiting new users too (if your friend signs up, you receive an extra 10 minutes on your next call).

On an average day, up to 7,000 users login and make close to 18,000 calls.

The company has been featured on Israel’s Channel 10 news and in The Marker and Globes business supplements. Genish estimates that a series of interviews that appeared in the “VoIP Guides” online publication led to some 10,000 new users.

The company’s current promotion in the south of Israel probably won’t generate a significant number of new customers, but it’s a noble gesture that helps local residents in tough times.

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LabPixies Investors Share Insights into Company’s Acquisition by Google

May 24, 2010

Google’s announcement last month that it was acquiring Tel Aviv-based LabPixies for a rumored $25 million caught some Israeli analysts by surprise. That’s a tidy sum for a small startup with just 12 employees that has raised less than $2 million over its four years of operation. Yaron Carni, LabPixies’ lead investor wasn’t caught out, […]

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Tawkon Helps Reduce Radiation Danger from Your Cell Phone

May 5, 2010

What do you do when you suspect something’s bad for you but you just can’t stop doing it? That’s a question many cellular phone users have been asking themselves, with reports of radiation emissions from their mobile devices raising serious questions about the safety of our increasingly un-tethered society. A new Israeli startup may have […]

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