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Review: Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i wireless game controller for iPhone and iPad

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The Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i is the most affordable iPhone- and iPad-compatible wireless game controller on the market, and that alone will make it the ideal choice for many mobile gamers, even though its design has a few glaring issues.


The Bluetooth-enabled Mad Catz controller is compatible with any iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 8 or later. Mad Catz provided AppleInsider with a blue Micro C.T.R.L.i controller for the purposes of this review, though it’s also available in red, white and orange.

With a $50 retail price, and some models selling for as little as $40, the C.T.R.L.i is the cheapest iOS-compatible gaming controller we’ve tested to date. But the controller cuts one big corner to achieve this low price: It lacks an integrated rechargeable battery, and instead requires users to bring their own AAA batteries to power it.

Design

Though it has a relatively low price point, the Mad Catz micro controller is well made. It’s not nearly as small as the diminutive SteelSeries Stratus we previously reviewed, but in our view, that’s a good thing — the Stratus sacrificed too much comfort for its size.

In addition to being an incredibly annoying product name to type out multiple times, the Micro C.T.R.L.i is also 20 percent smaller than the full-size variant also made by Mad Catz. The full-size version is also priced at around $50.

Mad Catz’s micro controller has what you’d expect in a modern gaming accessory, and as a certified Made for iPhone product, it complies with Apple’s design standards. That means it includes two thumbsticks, a D-pad, four face buttons (A, B, X and Y), two triggers, and two shoulder buttons. As in other iOS gaming controllers, the thumbsticks do not click as they do on modern game consoles like the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Wii U.

A welcome inclusion with the C.T.R.L.i is a mounting clip designed to hold an iPhone of any size, including the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. While this is a crucial element for iPhone gaming, we found the design of this clip falls short of the integrated clip found on the slightly larger Moga Rebel, which we reviewed last fall.

Rather than building the clip into the controller itself, it’s a completely separate piece with multiple moving parts that are more liable to break over time. The design of the Mad Catz iPhone holder leaves much to be desired.

To be clear: When holding the iPhone and attached to the controller, the clip works great. It feels secure, both in its attachment to the controller and in its grip on the phone.

Our problem with the clip comes from the fact that it must be removed for travel, or perhaps when being used with an iPad. The clip can fasten to the back of the Mad Catz controller, which is nice, but making it removable means it’s more likely to break or be lost.

We’re glad the clip is included, because it makes this controller a viable iPhone gamepad, and not just an iPad accessory. But the superior, integrated mount on the Moga Rebel wins out in this comparison.

Without an integrated rechargeable battery, the controller itself feels light, though the construction is sturdy. The hard plastic exterior has virtually no give when squeezed and seems as though it could stand up to years of use.

The thumbsticks and buttons feel great, with fantastic responsiveness and resistance. The triggers also feel just right, with a good level of spring to them, especially considering the controller’s slightly smaller form factor.

The D-pad is largely forgettable, but we had no serious issues with the feel of it. Anyone used to an Xbox 360 controller will feel at home with the design and layout of this gamepad.

But most importantly, the Mad Catz micro controller does not seem to sacrifice much for its so-called “micro” size. In being not as small as the SteelSeries Stratus, it’s also infinitely more comfortable and capable. Unless you have absolutely gargantuan hands, we think most gamers will have no problem with the portable form factor.

Usage

As we’ve said in every controller review to date, the improvement to gameplay from a physical input device is monumental. Blockbuster titles like BioShock and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are completely different experiences with a controller in hand.

Complex, modern, console-style game titles just weren’t designed to be played on touchscreens, and anyone who wants to play those types of games on their iPhones or iPads regularly will likely buy a controller.

For those who choose Mad Catz, we’re happy to say that we had no real issues with connectivity or lag. Setup with iPhone and iPad was as simple as could be expected, and connections stayed solid while we gamed.

Mad Catz says the C.T.R.L.i offers about 30 hours of constant gameplay on two AAA batteries. While we didn’t have a chance to thoroughly test the accuracy of these claims, they seem plausible enough given our testing and the battery capabilities of modern Bluetooth chips.

The biggest problem with the Mad Catz controller, and all iOS gaming controllers, falls not on the hardware manufacturers, but Apple. Here we are, halfway through 2015, and Apple still has not offered an easy way to discover games that support controllers on the App Store.

Mad Catz offers its own iOS app, also named C.T.R.L.i, in an effort to address this issue. It includes a “GameSmart” menu, which essentially just loads the manufacturer’s website and presents a list of games that are controller-compatible.

A simple look at the reviews for the C.T.R.L.i app only highlights how confusing Apple’s iOS controller support is for the average consumer: People complain that their favorite titles are not supported, operating under the assumption that this burden falls on the accessory makers, rather than the game makers. Apple could make everyone’s lives easier by simply adding a new category on the App Store exclusively for games with physical controller support, but for whatever reason the company refuses to do so.

The Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i app can also be used to check the battery status of the GamePad, and also see what firmware version it is running. It also includes a diagnostic menu that allows users to check that all of the inputs on the accessory are operating properly.

The competition

In a market where iOS-compatible controllers still cost more than superior controllers for consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the main selling point of the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i, for us, is its $50 (and lower) price point.

This is not to say that the Micro C.T.R.L.i is a bargain at $50, or even $40. Mad Catz achieved this price by not including an integrated battery, instead opting to utilize AAA batteries.

Some gamers may not mind this, and might actually prefer replaceable batteries. But even Apple’s products that rely on replaceable batteries — like the Magic Mouse or wireless keyboard — use AA batteries, not AAA.

The best competition for the Mad Catz micro controller is the Moga Rebel. It’s quite a bit bigger, and it retails for $30 more. But it also includes an integrated battery, and a built-in iPhone holder that won’t be lost or broken.

Gamers will have to decide of the better iPhone holder and rechargeable battery are worth the $30 extra. They’ll also need to consider whether they prefer the smaller form factor of the Mad Catz micro option.

There’s also the full-size Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i, which is 20 percent bigger than the micro version. We haven’t tested that one, but it also costs $50 and relies on replaceable batteries.

Outside of Mad Catz and Moga, there aren’t any iPhone-compatible gaming controllers we can honestly recommend. SteelSeries does offer the $70 Stratus XL, but it lacks a way to hold an iPhone while gaming, making it better suited for using with an iPad and stand.

The Moga Ace Power was a unique first attempt using a Lightning connector, but it only fits the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s and had a number of shortcomings. The Logitech PowerShell is another clamshell design that only fits the iPhone 5 and 5s series, and it also lacks dual joysticks and only offers a D-pad.

Conclusion

If you don’t mind the reliance on AAA batteries and the removable clip, we have no problem recommending the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i. It’s a well-made, comfortable controller that will make a great addition to any iPhone or iPad.

We do have to ding it for the lack of a rechargeable battery, and the fact that Mad Catz didn’t instead opt for AA batteries, like Apple’s own accessories use. And while the removable clip does snap securely into place, it does take some forceful tugging to take off, which could lead to accidental breakage. And without the clip, the Micro C.T.R.L.i will become a much less useful iPhone accessory.

Still, the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i is the most affordable mass-market iOS-compatible controller available today, and it accomplishes that without feeling cheap. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to earn our recommendation.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Well built and comfortable with responsive buttons
  • Clip accessory can securely hold an iPhone in place while gaming
  • Works with both iPhone and iPad via Bluetooth, virtually ensuring compatibility with future models
  • At $50 and under, it’s the most affordable option for iOS gamers

Cons

  • The removable iPhone mounting clip feels like it could be lost or eventually broken
  • No rechargeable internal battery, and it uses AAAs instead of AAs
  • Apple still hasn’t improved discovery of controller-supported games on the App Store

Where to buy

The Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i gamepad is available from Amazon in four colors. Prices range from $39.99 to $49.99 and they ship free with Prime. The controller can also be purchased directly from Mad Catz for full price of $49.99.

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DIY Disruption Is The Easiest Way To Innovate

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Last month I attended the Collision conference in Las Vegas; it served up a hipster/music festival feel with a decidedly tech twist. The event welcomed old-school headliners like PayPal, Dropbox and Facebook, but also brought in hundreds of tech startups, from cloud management vendor CloudBolt to MedYear, a consumer health information exchange platform.

The vibe was electric. It signaled a ravenous appetite from companies who want to find or be “the next big thing.” And there I was, representing healthcare, the industry hungriest out of them all — starved for more innovation.

Anyone paying attention to the way healthcare operates knows it’s bad. In fact, healthcare is so bad at so many things, the opportunity couldn’t be more ripe for incumbent companies (health systems, vendors and payers) and budding upstarts to team up to introduce operational efficiencies, find ways to increase profitability or present better experiences for patients and providers.

And we’re beginning to see more of this team dynamic. Increasingly, incumbents are launching their own business development platforms and/or accelerators as part of a broader, trending initiative aimed at wooing fresh players and startups — I’m calling it “DIY Disruption.”

A few years ago, VCs wouldn’t touch healthcare with a 10-foot pole. And who could blame them? The industry was (and still is) a broken mess, and shamefully behind the innovation curve. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act (which has injected some funding into the industry); to patients and providers (who are starting to demand a better and more tech-supported care experience); and new talent, all of a sudden, digital healthcare is sexy hot.

Since 2010, venture funding in healthcare has grown by 200 percent. Last year alone, StartUp Health counted some $6.5 billion going toward digital healthcare startups. While $6.5 billion is still too low, a mere drop in the bucket considering the $3 trillion market that U.S. healthcare represents, the run on investment does signal a much more penetrable market for those who have a good idea and are ready to jump in.

Beyond market investment, healthcare has seen a surge to advance more future-proof tech infrastructure (e.g., developer portals on API-friendly, open platforms), which will help move innovation along at scale versus favoring the relentless weight and drain of traditional software implementations. Along this vein, an increasing number of healthcare companies are not only developing APIs, but are actively working to socialize with and draw from the digital health startup crowd.

New partnership paradigms are forming; it’s happening in the shape of corporate accelerators and VC arms across the digital health market. The incumbents, as part of their DIY Disruption work, are creating new pipelines to creative solutions that can make their own offerings and footprint more robust. In many cases, this is a win/win scenario, as it helps the incumbent stay cutting edge and gives the up-and-comer a foot in the door, and, if lucky, access to new resources, mentorship, facilities and clients.

One good example of this is the accelerator program going on at Texas Medical Center (TMCx), where some 22 startups are getting six months of access to resources, facilities and expertise, as well as the opportunity to pilot in the largest medical center in the world. If all goes well, companies such as Brain Check, a tool that assists in diagnosing suspected head trauma, could spread like wildfire to every mobile device of every doctor at TMCx.

That’s pretty cool. Even traditional VCs like Kleiner Perkins have begun to rethink how they invest, with their recent announcement of the Edge Fund, which focuses on support, like recruiting and operations expertise, with a smaller investment — $250,000 is the new $10,000,000.

As DIY Disruption takes hold in grander capacity across healthcare, the question becomes, where should disruptive innovation focus? If you read Dr. Robert Wachter’s recent book “The Digital Doctor,” he questions whether disruptors can and should take on some of the biggest, hairiest and most complicated problems in healthcare. He writes,

“I have little confidence that a 500-bed teaching hospital — the kind that performs transplant surgery…and manages critically ill patients in ICUs — is going to be well served by linking to a stream of free-for-all products created by a newly unleashed universe of app developers high on Red Bull and “More Disruption, Please” pep talks…I desperately want to see entrepreneurs in the health care space, but at least for now, I want their inventions to focus on handling simpler problems, those lacking the tight interdependencies and life-and-death consequences of the hospital.”

In my humble opinion, we have to start somewhere; defining that starting point too narrowly could inadvertently lock out something groundbreaking from happening. I am psyched about the new generation of provider-facing apps/services and the marketplaces that distribute them. In fact, I believe the future of healthcare depends on them. Whether you’re a five-doctor practice or 1,000-doctor medical center, you should always be in the market for new, simple efficiencies that will solve pain points, cut costs and maximize clinical staff time.

As much as I live (and die by) the workhorse solutions, I also love the radical ideas that challenge the way doctors work, interact and think about treating patients. If we start putting signs on our biggest problems that read, “highly sensitive; fix this last,” who’s to say we’ll ever get to it?

Marketplaces, born out of the DIY Disruption movement, that are serving up new innovations, apps and value-add services, are doing well in healthcare because they’re addressing pain points — big and small. Digital platforms like Health Gorilla, which connects clinical staff to instant lab results, and EHR vendor-hosted platforms that enable doctors to shop for almost every add-on solution under the sun — digital check-in, telehealth, mobile charge capture, self-pay and much more, will revolutionize healthcare.

For instance, Clockwise.MD., part of the “More Disruptive, Please (MDP)” athenahealth marketplace, gives patients and providers the power to schedule appointments from any mobile device, and like airline flight-tracker apps, it tracks wait times so patients can avoid the tedious waiting room. Patients love this, because it makes healthcare more tolerable, and so do providers, because it keeps patients coming in, which is good for business.

I believe in DIY innovation; whether you build it, buy it or partner for it, staying static for long is compelling to no one. I find it satisfying to see so many of healthcare’s incumbents starting to nurture and collide with the next generation of innovators and startups — it’s a recognition by the old guard that they need a lifeline to endure, let alone lead, and a signal to all who care about healthcare that help is on the way (DIY style) for an industry starved for disruption.

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Measuring Your Financial Health Beyond The Credit Score

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The credit score has become a ubiquitous way to assess someone’s credit-worthiness. It is used in a host of underwriting decisions and background checks, from mortgages to auto to business loans, apartment rentals and even employment candidacy.

But credit scores are not a prevalent factor in peoples’ daily financial habits. Why?

Many of us don’t have scores. Experts estimate between 26 million and 64 million “credit invisibles” in the U.S. Not having a score is costly — according to the Credit Builders Alliance, people with low or no credit scores may pay $200,000 more in financial products and services over a lifetime compared to people with good credit scores. In total, people who use high-cost credit options can end up paying more than $103 billion in additional fees and interest each year.

Many of us do not know our scores. A recent national survey by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) found just under a fifth of Americans did not know their score, did not know they had a score or were inaccurate in their perception of it. The study also showed that while 86 percent of scoreable respondents who said they had excellent credit actually did, only 27 percent of scoreable respondents who reported they had fair credit actually had a VantageScore score in that range.

Most of us can’t articulate the financial impact credit scores have on our lives. How much would you guess the difference between a 760 FICO score and a 620 FICO score costs over a 30-year $100,000 mortgage? $690? $6,900? $69,000? The answer: It’s almost $200 per month, or about $69,000.

These factors are costly to consumers, and they represent missed opportunities for financial services providers.

We can do better.

Credit scores, at their core, are meant to help financial services providers understand the likelihood of loan repayment. Yet Americans consumers today have much more complex financial lives than can be captured or understood by a single score. And smart providers are already using a richer toolbox of data and analytics to understand repayment patterns.

There is an opportunity for scoring to include more people and more financial transactions, and for scores to be used by consumers as well as providers for a host of credit and non-credit decisions. That opportunity starts with designing with the customer in mind. It includes creating shared value in tracking, maintaining and building true financial health — not simply coaching customers to improve their scores at a few, discrete moments when credit checks are necessary.

This opportunity moves us beyond the credit score to a more nuanced, shared measurement of peoples’ financial health. In this view, traditional credit scores are but one indicator of overall well-being. But there are other measurements that also matter to both consumers and providers. How are people doing managing their daily finances? Do people use systems and products that make them resilient to unexpected financial challenges? Are people able to achieve major financial objectives — such as buying a house or retiring comfortably?

Taking a “financial health” lens is what consumers already do naturally. They’re already thinking about their daily financial management, how resilient they are over time and how they’re preparing for long-term opportunities. Providers could adopt both this language and this lens to meet consumers where they are, help them quantify their financial health and give them the tools to improve their lives over time.

The focus is not, then, on a number — the focus is on peoples’ livelihoods.

This benefits financial services providers. Knowing more about customers’ systems and financial health trajectory can help providers make better decisions about credit worthiness. A change in financial health can trigger marketing moments for providers to reach out to customers — and help avoid emergencies by offering other product options. Plus, using a broader measurement can open the door to include the millions of people without scores, with low scores or with mis-understandings about their scores.

When consumers and providers alike take a financial health perspective, the challenges associated with credit score exclusion, awareness and financial impact diminish. Then, we can get back to business, which is building the financial health of the 57 percent of Americans who are financially unhealthy.

It’s time for big ideas to improve Americans’ financial health. It’s time to acknowledge that people are more than just their credit scores.

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Arcade Dreams

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You can’t go back again.

Summer always makes me think of the 7-11 at the end of East Lakeview in Columbus, Ohio. I was about eight. My grandmother took us there every week to get comic books, which were near the front window, by the counter. In the back corner, in darkness, was a Star Wars stand up arcade game. On the day it first appeared it bleated a snippet of the Star Wars theme and my ears perked up. It took a few visits before I asked for a quarter and grandma obliged. I selected my level – always Easy – and thrilled at Mark Hamill hooting out “Red Five standing by” and the chirps of my on-board droid. The joystick was cold and solid, a true simulacrum of what Luke would have held in his hands. The buttons reacted to my every command – the torpedoes rolling out in starburst explosions and the blasters taking down TIE Fighters like clay pigeons at the range. It was my first experience and my first real arcade game and I was happy.

Star Wars was important because it was a vector-based game with a complexity unseen in that benighted era. The graphics were smooth and surprisingly realistic… if a little linear. Gameplay was primitive but good enough for a kid who wasn’t very good at games in the first place. If I got past the canyon run I was a happy boy but I rarely made the Death Star explode in a blossom of oscilloscope lines.

We can’t go back again.

Pac-Man Fever hit and although I’d never played the game I bought the record, the t-shirts, the stickers. A friend with an Atari 2600 has the bastardized version of the game but it was laughably bad. I wanted to play the real version, with the ghosts and the dots and the chipper soundtrack. Why would I play this squalling cartridge version? Home gaming was not about the kill the arcades – yet.

I started finding arcade games everywhere. In the Convenient Food Mart in Martins Ferry where we bought rotisserie chickens and chipped ham they had a steady rotation of games. I would park my bike outside and go in, quarters in hand, and buy some kind of candy and then slip a quarter into Joust or Berzerk. For a moment I wasn’t a fat kid with glasses in the middle of rural Ohio. I was a knight or a fighter or a demon. A few years later the StopGo sprang up next to Convenient and they had Ninja Gaiden and the amazingly-detailed Xenophobe. I played for hours after making a frozen graveyard at the Slushie machine.

Don’t get me started on Spy Hunter. I tried to use Estes rocket igniters to add smoke bombs to my yellow bike. It worked… sometimes.

I can’t go back again.

I watched Cloak Dagger on VHS. It was a revelation. Dabney Coleman played a character in Davey’s imagination, a spy that was born out of a video game. He was there to help Davey escape the clutches of a pair of scary old people hell-bent on stealing the secrets inside his video game cartridge. Coleman was a sort of cheat book, a way for Davey to live out the in-game adventure. I won’t spoil it but it was a mind-bending experience. It’s a little slow for the kids of today, though. I wouldn’t recommend putting it on for kids who play Minecraft.

That movie game out during the early rise of the cartridge when movie makers thought that arcade movies were going to be box office gold. It was also the rise of the smart kid movie, of Space Camp and Explorers and The Goonies. I wanted to be Data but I was more like Chunk.

The 2600 was still the console to beat, at least in Martins Ferry, and it was still wildly primitive. Arcades were truly pockets of the cutting edge. What did William Gibson say about the future? These places were the future.

Chuck E Cheese was the place to go for new games and every mall had a dimly-lit den where kids congregated to play TMNT and Pole Position and the amazing Afterburner. Altered Beast was a killer and Rampage was amazing. Slowly but surely the games became more and more realistic. I went in as often as I could. There was a certain feeling when you found a new game, a sense of surprise and fear. Would my quarter be wasted? Why did this one cost 50 cents? Why was it special?

It didn’t matter. I was in an arcade.

Wizard needs food badly. My friend Richie and I would go to the 7-11 by the the Pig Tail Tavern and rent a VHS movie. We’d play Gauntlet for an hour then go home and watch Halloween. It was an evening well-spent.

We’ll never go back again.

Dragons Lair was the end. It was the king of arcade games and was, ostensibly, a flop. It was the cutting edge, designed to keep the kids from leaving the withering arcades. It didn’t work.

As the arcades flourished, home consoles skittered about like mammals before the great cataclysm. Arcade dinosaurs, sure of their invincibility, grew stronger and stronger, more ornate, stranger. And when the mammals – the consoles – got smarter than the arcade games it was all over. Why leave the house when you could play Spy Hunter on your Atari 800XL? Why play Dig Dug in the arcade when all it took was a quick cartridge switch?

Then came Zelda. She and Link drove the last stake in the arcade’s heart. In that game you fought for hours, for days, for months. It was like gaming was a job and we were eager to apply.

When I think of summer I think of arcades. How my parents picked a hotel in Florida just because it had an arcade. How visited Convenient and StopGo when the dust was high on the roads by the river and the grass was green and bent. I remember a stand-up arcade version of Track Field in an East German train station in July, the gameplay and characters the same but the words all Teutonic and strange, heat radiating off the black stone of the dirty station. Arcades were a refuge, a place of strength, alcoves dedicated to strange gods that promised eternal happiness – as long as your quarters lasted.

We won’t go back again. There’s no need. Online play allows us to crow over high scores in our gamer profiles and we can join hundreds of people in battle with the low admission price of $59 plus the few hundred spent on a powerful console. You don’t pay someone else a quarter for the pleasure of a few adrenaline-soaked minutes in a strange world. You pay Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo for the pleasure of sitting in your house, in the air conditioning, fighting battles that can never be won against foes more powerful than a few abstract lines on a fly-beaten screen in a 7-11 on East Lakeview.

Every year I visit the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. Among the old Williams and Midway flipper machines that so many fetishize are the old arcade games, the Dig Dug, the Star Wars, the Elevator Action. It’s a mausoleum dedicated to spilled pixels, a ground soaked with digital blood.

I go back to celebrate and to mourn. I go back in the Las Vegas heat and remember those mornings with my grandmother’s quarters lined up on the edge of the screen, waiting for the next sortie of TIE Fighters, for Old Ben to remind me to use the Force.

And, for a moment, I’m back again and I’m happy.

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How To Not Post Crappy Pics Of Fireworks This Fourth Of July

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The temptation will be great. The urge will be strong. Watching sky-based explosions, geared toward entertainment and celebration, can be a powerful experience. And in the Instagram Age, the powerful experiences are the ones we want to share. But the July 5th edition of Instagram usually sucks pretty hard, based mostly on blurry, drunkenly captured photos of fireworks. This guide should help with that.

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Precision Ag Tech Helps California Farmers Grow More With Less Water

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Brian Milne is a freelance writer and former senior reporter/ editor for McClatchy Newspapers, advocating sustainable water technologies and precision agriculture. He has provided business development services for sustainable techs such as Hortau, REC Solar and Mainstream Energy.

How to join the network

Will Gerry might look the part of a fourth-generation farmer — dirty denim jeans, shirt sleeves rolled up and a gray beard that wraps from brim to brim on his leather hat. But once Gerry whips the smartphone out of his pocket, he starts rattling off tech jargon and analyzing data points across his farm like a 20-something whiz kid from Silicon Valley.

The Gerry family has been farming in Ventura County for more than 140 years, but the longtime local grower isn’t afraid to step away from conventional practices when it comes to growing berries in drought-parched California.

In fact, Gerry has been growing blueberries with precision irrigation practices for more than a decade at Coastal California Blueberry Farm in Camarillo, making the bold move to level the family’s citrus and avocado trees in favor of 300,000 bushes that produce berries throughout the year for a global market.

“We’ve always wanted to have this place healthy,” Gerry said. “Soil health is the beginning of all things above ground. If you don’t have that soil health, you’re not going to be able to compete over a long period of time. If it’s not sustainable, we’re out of business.”

Gerry started using sustainable technologies long before the current drought shined a bright spotlight on agricultural water use.

And with California farmers expected to lose about 33 percent of their surface water supply this year, not to mention fallowing 6-7 percent of the state’s annual irrigated cropland, more and more growers are having to adopt precision irrigation practices to grow more crop per drop.

“This is a permanent plant,” Gerry said of his 170 acres of blueberries. “It’s not going to be dug up tomorrow and switched out, so we need this plant to stay healthy.”

Gerry points out that blueberries are extremely sensitive to dry or overly wet conditions, so he monitors plant stress and soil moisture levels in real-time using Hortau’s smart irrigation management systems in the field. The wireless, solar-powered stations are equipped with soil and temperature sensors that report to the web in real time how his crop is faring.

Using a smart phone, tablet or computer, Gerry is able to make irrigation decisions based on the live soil tension/moisture/temperature data. Using an online dashboard that graphs out plant stress thresholds, he knows exactly when he needs to turn on his computer-automated drip irrigation system, and, more importantly, when to turn it off once an optimal amount of water and nutrients have reached the root zone.

Precision Ag Hot Among Investors

Since Monsanto’s acquisition of Climate Corp. in 2013, the precision irrigation/ag tech space has been a hot one for investors.

Throw in California’s historic drought, and the ag tech space is hotter than ever, with events such as GAI AgTech WeekForbes’ Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit, Ag Innovation Showcase and the Agri-Investor Forum eating up investor calendars this year.

Hortau, like a number of other precision irrigation companies of late, has caught the eye of investors, and earlier this month received $5 million in financing from Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners.

Other precision and ag tech companies to strike deals in recent months include Farmers Business Network ($15 million with Google Ventures), VitalFields ($1.2 million from various backers, including SmartCap) and PowWow ($3 million in grants and angel investors).

Speaking of Google and precision ag, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors also joined the investors backing the ag-optimizing robot company Blue River Technology last year ($10 million, led by Data Collective Venture Capital), showing just how much traction the space is getting in Silicon Valley alone.

But which precision ag companies will sustain? That comes back to adoption, and what solutions the boots on the ground are willing to adopt to help cut costs, as well as reduce water and energy use and environmental impact.

Precision Ag Adoption In The Field

That precision ag approach to delivering precisely how much water and nutrients a plant needs in the root zone is being used by growers of both permanent and seasonal crops on the Central Coast of California.

Local strawberry growers, for example, now make it a habit to improve soil health through precision irrigation practices such as electromagnetic soil mapping and laser leveling of fields to help get more out of the water resources they do have.

Other precision ag practices in use on Central Coast farms include:

  • GPS-guided tractors and harvesters
  • Weather data monitoring
  • Automated irrigation systems
  • Variable speed pumps
  • Aerial imagery
  • Drip irrigation

“By using precision irrigation management tools, local growers are able to be more proactive in the field and not only reduce water consumption but improve crop health and production,” said Gil Luera, an irrigation management specialist for Hortau irrigation management systems. “It’s a critical part of the industry right now, finding innovative ways to grow more with less, and a lot of our local growers should be commended for the precision irrigation practices they’ve adopted.”

Water Conservation Front And Center

Like many operations in California, El Rio Farms in Oxnard is having to figure out innovative ways to grow more with less water during the drought.

The Oxnard region, known for growing many of the strawberries we buy in stores, is not only battling water shortages, but also salinity issues stemming from depleted water sources, saltwater intrusion, urban and agricultural use, and treated water discharged into waterways.

Despite the host of water issues, El Rio Farms’ operations manager Pal Halstead said their strawberry operation was able to cut water use by about 27 percent last season, thanks to precision irrigation practices such as drip irrigation and “smart” soil tension monitoring sensors.

“I’m very passionate about water conservation,” Halstead said. “It’s important to me, more than just on a natural level. We really don’t have a choice right now.”

Faced with a dwindling water supply and a fourth consecutive year of drought, Governor Brown in April imposed an executive order to help better manage irrigation for agricultural purposes along with improve in-field water technologies.

Local agencies are now tasked with imposing various degrees of cutbacks, and sustainable water management will soon become the new norm for California.

Heading into the warmer summer months, the drought has already led to economic losses of an estimated $2.7 billion — not to mention the loss of about 18,600 jobs — according to results published in “Preliminary Analysis: 2015 Drought Economic Impact Study” by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

All of which means there are more challenges, conservation requirements and precision irrigation innovations on the horizon for our local growers.

“The impact that the water issue has on our lives is significant,” Halstead said. “Water is hugely important, and conserving it is a legacy we have to hand down to the next generation.”

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/Eedesesn7Fo/


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