Italy’s Prime Minister wants to learn from Jony Ive

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Italian premier Matteo Renzi's desk. Photo: La Stampa.

Summer reading tends to lean towards the frothy or the ambitious. It looks like Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is definitely in the ambitious camp.

His summer reads, as shown on his desk, include a work by an economist about innovation, a tome on the power of the labor force, and, oh yeah, Leander Kahney’s Jony Ive The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products.

Smart toys for grown-ups with back-to-school blues

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Many an architect built the foundation of his or her career with Legos, now the Danish toymaker tops its architecture series with a new kit especially for the grown-ups. The Lego Architecture Studio comes with 1,200 components plus a manual penned by architecture luminaries including Sou Fujimoto, Ma Yansong and Moshe Safdie. Lego suggests making your own masterpiece, from the Eiffel Tower to the Trevi Fountain. When you do, send us the pics.
Many an architect built the foundation of his or her career with Legos, now the Danish toymaker tops its architecture series with a new kit especially for the grown-ups. The Lego Architecture Studio comes with 1,200 components plus a manual penned by architecture luminaries including Sou Fujimoto, Ma Yansong and Moshe Safdie. Lego suggests making your own masterpiece, from the Eiffel Tower to the Trevi Fountain.
When you do, send us the pics.

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California closer to smartphone ‘kill switch’ law

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CC-licensed, Aquilaonline, via Flickr.
CC-licensed, Aquilaonline, via Flickr.

SACRAMENTO — The state where the iPhone was born came a step closer to a law that might help keep it in your hands.

State Sen. Mark Leno’s Smartphone Theft Prevention Act (Senate Bill 962) passed the state legislature this morning with a 51-18 vote. Now it will move on to the Senate for a vote on amendments.

California won’t be the first state to flip the kill switch – that distinction goes to Minnesota, which heeded the call from consumers in May. If the law passes in the most populous state in the U.S. and the birthplace of the iPhone, it may mark a sea change in similar legislation. California’s law will affect any smartphone manufactured on or after July 1, 2015.

A tale of two stores: Apple vs Microsoft

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Microsoft may be headed for a smackdown in Manhattan. The maker of all devices PC is reportedly laying ground for a retail outlet just six blocks from Apple's Fifth Avenue store, one of the most photographed landmarks in New York. And a glistening cube that rakes in more than the sparklers at nearby Tiffany & Co.

If Redmond had only taken note from what happens in Oregon: here's our totally unabashedly unscientific pictorial take on Apple and Microsoft stores in downtown Portland. 

All photos: Nicole Martinelli/Cult of Mac
Microsoft may be headed for a smackdown in Manhattan. The maker of all devices PC is reportedly laying ground for a retail outlet just six blocks from Apple's Fifth Avenue store, one of the most photographed landmarks in New York. And a glistening cube that rakes in more than the sparklers at nearby Tiffany & Co. If Redmond had only taken note from what happens in Oregon: here's our totally unabashedly unscientific pictorial take on Apple and Microsoft stores in downtown Portland. All photos: Nicole Martinelli/Cult of Mac

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The 10 coolest companies founded by ex-Apple employees

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The apple does not fall from the tree when it comes to former employees of the Cupertino company. A bunch of smart, creative types formerly in Apple’s employ have branched out into smart, successful ventures. You might say they had Steve Jobs, who during his Apple hiatus founded NeXT and Pixar, as a role model. Here are our favorites, from Nest to up-and-comers like a smart scale, 360 camera and a new, iBeacon-based biz. Let us know what you think of our picks (and who you would add) in the comments.

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How startup Cubr might kill the business card and foster dangerous liaisons

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Rolling with Cubr. Photo courtesy Sébastien Leidgens.
Rolling with Cubr. Photo courtesy Sébastien Leidgens.

SAN FRANCISCO — Sébastien Leidgens wants to put a new angle on the business card.

His invention, Cubr, is a six-sided die that connects people through private mobile web chat. When a red, blue or green Cubr is tossed your way, you hit the website or download the app, then enter the code to start your instant message convo or share photos with the person who gave you the die. The enterprising Belgian, a former project manager at a digital marketing agency, is taking a gamble on the idea that people are tired of handing out one-dimensional cards.

“It’s a business card for non-business people,” Leidgens says in an English heavily influenced by his native French. “Young people don’t have business cards. This you can use for private situations in everyday life. It’s a lot more fun and outside of the usual public circles.”

This app will guide you to parking — and may get you a ticket, too

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The VoicePark app could be the solution to San Francisco's parking problems. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

SAN FRANCISCO — A parking app that reliably helps find open spots in this congested city was coded on a turn-of-the-century tugboat in Sausalito.

The Terrapin served David LaBua as a coding den for VoicePark, a free app that uses sensors to monitor parking spots. It’s the only one we’ve tested to date that guided us to viable public spots on the busy streets of San Francisco.

“Parking is probably San Francisco’s biggest stressor, and writing about it has been very therapeutic for me,” says LaBua, who holds a master of science in psychology. “I had no intention of getting into the app game, but there was a real need for it.”

Why iPad art is more than a passing fad — though you soon might smell it

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Jeff Hebert made this with Sketchbook Pro.
Jeff Hebert made this with Sketchbook Pro.

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Early doodles on the iPad looked a lot like this generation’s Etch-a-Sketch.

But in just a few years, after celebrated artists such as David Hockney have shown their iPad works in galleries, Apple’s revolutionary device has come into its own as a canvas.

The eclectic group of works above are finalists in the second annual Mobile Digital Art Exhibition (aka MDAC Summit 2014), an upcoming art-packed weekend of workshops and a celebration of digital art in Palo Alto, a stone’s throw from Apple headquarters. Take a gander and vote on them by July 31 for the People’s Choice Award.

iPhone or Canon? A veteran photographer debates digital versus analog

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"I’m tall and shy -- so I can’t be inconspicuous. That means a lot of my traditional portraits are shot from the side or the back," Marcolina says. In this 2009 shot, he was able to compose it carefully, because the subjects weren't facing him, and it expresses his "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" no-cropping philosophy for analog photography.

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During his 25-year career as a photographer, Dan Marcolina has captured moments of everyday despair and delight, from beaches and backyards to bus stations and wedding celebrations.

His work exhibits the ease of an inside joke or a knowing wink; the images are visual juxtapositions that live up to a high point of praise from Richard Avedon, who once commented that Marcolina makes images that aren’t “trying to be beautiful.”

Ruh-roh: Your smart food scale and fitness tracker are talking to each other

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The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad.Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

This may be the last time you feel good about walking half a mile to get a cronut: a calorie-counting food scale and fitness tracker are on to you.

Smart food scale Prep Pad now synchs with Jawbone Up, keeping track of what you’re eating and how many calories you are burning.

It’s latest buddy system in the quantified self movement, where, as we reported earlier, your car is already conversing with your fitness tracker about how much you should be hoofing it instead of driving. Sales of fitness gadgets like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit and Nike + are over the previous year, leaving us with 19 million trackers and trainers strapped to our wrists.