Hi-tech imaging reveals 'Fantasy' painting behind famous Fragonard


“Young Girl Reading” is commonly grouped parallel with Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “figures de fantaisie” — a series of 15 or so paintings depicting a variety of subjects engaged in different poses and activities. The paintings have a lot in common with each other: they are of nearly identical dimensions; each took around an hour to complete; the subjects’ attitudes and faces are all similar; they are all dressed in a particular style, with ruffs and feathers; they are vibrant and dramatic.

Yet “Young Girl Reading” stands out from the rest: where the others are posed looking out of the canvas or off into the distance, “Young Girl Reading” is engaged with an object — her book — her face viewed in profile, her eyes lowered, her posture relaxed and calm. So, while the painting has often been compared with the fantasy figures, she has never been considered a full member.

But now it seems as though the serene reader may have been painted over one of the fantasy figures after all. Using near-infrared hyperspectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence imaging, researchers at the National Gallery of Art have discovered a different face beneath the layer of oil paint, looking out of the canvas at the viewer.

This new “lost” painting has been named “Portrait of a Woman with a Book”. She gazes confidently with her head tilted towards the viewer, a large feathered headdress on the back of her head sewn with coloured beads, and a thinner neck ruff than her younger counterpart. Furthermore, the painting existed for at least six months before Fragonard painted over it.

The imaging techniques, which scan for mercury — thought to show vermilion paint — were applied after a drawing was discovered at a Paris auction in June 2012. This drawing depicted the artist Fragonard showing the painting, indicated as a fantasy figure — yet the painting in the drawing showed the subject looking out of the canvas, not bent intently over her book.

Further, X-radiography had indicated as early as the 1980s that another painting lurked beneath Young Girl — but the details could not be made out.

The HSI and XRF techniques developed at the National Gallery of Art by senior imaging scientist John Delaney have allowed Delaney, alongside assistant curator of French paintings Yuriko Jackall and senior paintings conservator Michael Swicklick, to discover “Portrait of a Woman with a Book” — and investigate the process whereby Fragonard transformed the earlier painting into the latter.

The trio will next apply their technology — with the permission and cooperation of the individuals and institutions to whom the paintings belong — to as many of the remaining fantasy figures as they are able.

Jeff Bezos' rocket company to start suborbital test flights this year


Blue Origin, the historically secretive rocket company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has completed development of a new hydrogen-fueled engine and plans to begin unmanned test flights of its suborbital spacecraft later this year, company officials said Tuesday.

The reusable vehicle, called New Shepard, will feature a booster, powered by the new BE-3 engine, that will propel a crew/cargo capsule to altitudes above 62 miles, the generally accepted boundary of space. The capsule then will separate and spend four to five minutes in weightlessness before falling back into the discernible atmosphere for a parachute descent.

The booster, meanwhile, will carry out an autonomous powered descent, using the variable-throttle BE-3 engine to fly back to a vertical touchdown at the company’s west Texas launch site. After an extensive series of test flights, Blue Origin hopes to begin launching people, payloads or both as a commercial endeavor.

“New Shepard is designed to carry three or more astronauts up to suborbital space,” Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson told reporters. “We say ‘three or more’ because there are combinations of astronauts and science payloads. We believe the science payload market is going to be a big one as well.”

Blue Origin will be competing with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, with its winged air-dropped rocketplane, and other companies vying to carry “space tourists” out of Earth’s atmosphere for brief suborbital forays into space.

The BE-3 engine, which can operate at a wide variety of throttle settings, is the key to the New Shepard concept.

“A unique feature of the BE-3 is its ability to deep throttle,” Meyerson said. “During testing, the engine demonstrated continuous throttling between its full power setting of 110,000 pounds of thrust down to 20,000 pounds of thrust. This range enables both vertical takeoff and vertical landing of a reusable booster.”

Blue Origin also is developing a modified version of the BE-3 that it will market commercially for use powering upper stages in other rocket systems.

“Liquid hydrogen is challenging, deep throttling is challenging and reusability is challenging,” Bezos said in a statement. “This engine has all three. The rewards are highest performance, vertical landing even with a single-engine vehicle and low cost. And, as a future upper-stage engine, hydrogen greatly increases payload capabilities.”

In parallel, Blue Origin is continuing development of its much more powerful BE-4 engine, a power plant that burns oxygen and liquified natural gas to develop 550,000 pounds of thrust. The BE-4 was selected by United Launch Alliance to power the first stage of its next-generation rocket, replacing the Russian-built RD-180 engine currently used in ULA’s Atlas 5 booster.

BE-4 component testing is well under way, Meyerson said. “We’re now on track to conduct full engine testing in 2016 and complete development of the engine by 2017, two to three years ahead of any alternative engine that’s out there.”

“Blue Origin has this long-term goal of making space safe, reliable and affordable so millions of people can go,” he said. “So starting with suborbital, our New Shepard vehicle is an opportunity for us to offer, at a reasonable cost, the opportunity for lots of people to experience the weightless environment [of space].

“But our long-term goal is to build orbital launch vehicle capabilities. The BE-3 and BE-4 engines will power those future launch vehicles that are in development now. We intend to fly the orbital launch vehicles from a new orbital site but the suborbital vehicles are intended to fly from our west Texas site.”

He said a typical New Shepard suborbital flight will last between 10 and 15 minutes. Customers, either tourists or payload operators, will arrive at the launch site several days in advance for final training and vehicle familiarization.

Welcome back, Brontosaurus!


Every child learns about and learns to love the Brontosaurus — the gigantic sauropod named for thunder. Learning, therefore, that it has been considered not a distinct genus at all, but an Apatosaurus under another name since 1903, is an epic dinosaur let-down.

According to a new study, though, the Brontosaurus can officially now be reinstated as its own discrete genus, distinct from the Apatosaurus.

Brontosaurus was discovered by prolific paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh — who is responsible for the discovery or description of dozens of new species, partially due to his participation in the Bone Wars of the 19th century — the rivalry between Marsh and fellow paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope to discover the most dinosaurs.

In 1879 Marsh announced that he had found two almost complete sauropod skeletons at Como Bluff in Wyoming — missing, crucially, their skulls. He modelled the skull on the skull of another sauropod he had found that had a similar build — Camarasaurus — and called one of the skeletons the Brontosaurus excelsus, or “noble thunder lizard”.

But in 1903, after Marsh’s death in 1899, another sauropod was discovered that resembled both Apatasaurus ajax and Brontosaurus. Because Marsh and Cope had rushed many of their descriptions due to the rivalry between them, paleontologist Elmer Riggs concluded that there were not enough differences between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus to warrant two different genera, so he folded Brontosaurus into the latter, renaming it Apatosaurus excelsus.


The name stuck around, though — until the 1970s, when researchers discovered that Apatosaurus (and Brontosaurus) was more closely related to Diplodocus than Camarasaurus — and that its head, rather than having the boxy shape associated with Camarasaurus, was more slender and horse-like. Multiple skulls were reassigned to Apatosaurus — and the idea that Brontosaurus was a mistake was cemented.

But according to a new study conducted by paleontologists in Portugal and the UK, there are in fact enough significant difference to warrant classifying Brontosaurus once again as its own genus.

“Thanks to several new and relatively complete finds, we were now finally able to reassess the validity of all the species of Diplodocidae, and study their relationships in more detail then anybody else before,”explained Emanuel Tschopp, a Swiss national who led the study during his PhD at Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal.

“It’s only normal that such a study, also has some unexpected outcomes that overthrow years of research, like the resurrection of Brontosaurus.”


The 300-page study, published in the journal PeerJ, examines 81 different skeletons, 49 of which belong to the Diplodocidae family, across 477 morphological characters using statistical approaches to establish a boundary between species and genera — making it the most extensive phylogenetic analys of sauropods ever completed.

“This detailed data on Diplodocidae allowed us to basically recreate their branch on the tree of life from scratch. This led us to three main findings: first, we found conclusive evidence for an additional, new genus within the group, which we call Galeamopus. Second, Supersaurus, a genus previously known from the USA alone, now also includes the Portuguese genus Dinheirosaurus,” Tschopp said.

“And finally, we found that differences between the genera Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus are numerous enough to revive Brontosaurus as its own genus, a name which has long been considered invalid in the scientific community.”

Study co-author Roger Benson of the University of Oxford noted that there are distinct dinosaur genera with fewer differing traits from other members of their families.

“The differences we found between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were at least as numerous as the ones between other closely related genera,” he said, “and much more than what you normally find between species.”

Carpool startup Ride launches, with a different plan in mind


That’s what a new smartphone app called Ride is hoping to find out. It’s muscling into the increasingly crowded field of ride-hailing startups, dominated by Uber and Lyft, by focusing on carpooling, rather than replacing the taxi.

Ride, which launched its app across the US on Tuesday, touts its service as being able to help take cars off the road, ease congestion and “reinvent the commute” for riders. The way it will do that is by partnering with businesses to use its app that matches employees traveling along similar routes. The employees then drive each other and pay through the app to help defray gas and other commute costs.

Uber and Lyft, by contrast, let passengers use a smartphone app to hail a town-car service or a personal driver using their own car.

“We really believe Ride fits a need that nobody was solving,” Ride CEO Ann Fandozzi said. “There’s a lot of ride-hailing, which is an easy way to get a cab or a black town car. But we’re for people with much longer commutes.”

New ride-hailing services are popping up on what seems like a weekly basis. All of them claim to be changing how people move around cities. Since Uber launched in 2009, direct rivals have sprouted up, including Lyft and Sidecar, as well as taxi-hailing apps, like Flywheel and AsterRide. There are also shuttle buses, like Leap, Chariot and Via, which pick up passengers along a set route. All of these services believe there’s money to be made by offering alternatives to existing taxis and public transportation.

Ride isn’t the only company focused on business partnerships. Uber also announced Tuesday that it’s seeing “growing popularity” among its business travelers. The ride-hailing service has a feature called Uber for Business that collaborates with companies to provide rides for employees. Uber said “hundreds” of new companies are joining its service each week.

But, unlike Ride, Uber for Business does not cater to carpoolers. So is Ride unique enough to place its stake in this fiercely competitive ride-hailing world?

“Ride’s target market is different from that of Uber and Lyft,” said Parks Associate research analyst Tejas Mehta. “If Ride can get a few large employers on board to help build a critical mass of users, it stands a better chance of carving a niche for itself in a market that is less crowded than on-demand ride sharing.”

Still, Mehta believes not all people will easily switch from driving themselves to work to carpooling. “Carpooling requires lifestyle adjustments on the part of commuters which makes it tougher for apps like Ride to build a user base compared to on-demand ride-sharing apps,” he said.

More than 100 million people in the US commute to work alone in their car each year, according to Ride, and one third of those people drive for 30 minutes or more. Fandozzi said in many areas, public transportation isn’t available and if people chose to rely on an Uber, Lyft or taxi, they’d “break the bank.” Fandozzi said if people opt to use Ride, they could ultimately save money on commute costs.

Ride is headed by people familiar with the car-hailing world. Its chief technology officer, Oscar Salazar, was Uber’s founding CTO and Fandozzi was the former global executive director of carmaker DaimlerChrysler for six years.

Besides focusing on carpooling, Ride is different from Uber and Lyft in other ways — most notably, drivers aren’t paid. The service is designed to encourage co-workers to drive one another, so passengers pay the driver for the cost of the commute but not for being a chauffeur. The app determines how much each ride costs, depending on gas prices and the distance of the trip.

Ride launched its service with Stanford University last year and as of Tuesday is offering its app to all US businesses. Fandozzi declined to say which businesses it’s working with or what specific cities it’s operating in.

LG to let 4,000 people 'test drive' G4 before launch

LG has dialed up a novel way to drum up consumer buzz for its latest flagship smartphone before its expected launch later this month.

The South Korean handset maker announced plans Tuesday to choose 4,000 people in 15 markets to “test drive” the LG G4 for a few weeks before its official debut. LG said the aim is to let consumers experience the Android handset for themselves unencumbered by basic speed tests and benchmarks.

“Customers are our best fans and we think this would be an exciting and unique way to get our most important mobile product of the year close to the public,” Juno Cho, president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company, said in a statement.

The next-generation smartphone is expected to launch on April 28, according to invitations sent to the media late last month. The G4 is the successor to LG’s current flagship phone, the G3, which helped LG score record smartphone sales for last year’s third quarter as well as its highest-ever market share in North America. However, the company faces a greater challenge this year squaring off against Apple’s iPhone 6 lineup and Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S6 phones.

The test drive program is similar to a promotion launched last year by T-Mobile that offered a loaner Apple iPhone 5S to potential customers so they could try out the wireless service. While T-Mobile’s promotion offered an already released handset to sell its wireless service, LG is trying to get more exposure for its smartphone before it launches.

Besides using participants as a de facto sales force for its new smartphone, LG apparently expects to generate more publicity from consumers applying for the program through social media, where word of the handset will spread even further. During the test drive period, participants will be given various unspecified “assignments” to complete, for which prizes will be awarded.

The program launched in Korea on Wednesday, with planned launches in the coming days occurring in the Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Turkey, the UK and US.

UV light returns colour to million-year-old seashells


If you’ve ever collected seashells on the beach, you’ll have gathered up all kinds — some patterned and shiny, some white and dull, stripped of all colour, pattern and gloss by the tumble of waves rolling the shell across the sand.

As one researcher has discovered, it is possible to reclaim those lost colours — at least on the shells of cone snails. Associate Professor Jonathan Hendricks of San Jose State University’s Department of Geology has been using the technique to examine ancient cone snail shells millions of years old, and has discovered several new species.

“Modern cone snails are famous for their unparalleled diversity in the marine realm (the group includes the genus Conus, which — with over 600 living species — is the most diverse genus of marine animal alive today), as well as the fact that they are venomous predators — some species are even known to have caused human fatalities,” Hendricks explained.

“The purpose of my research on fossil cone snails is to increase our understanding of species-level patterns of evolution, extinction and biogeography, with the broader goal of understanding the intrinsic and extrinsic factors responsible for those patterns, and, more generally, observed biodiversity.”


How and why cone snail shells are patterned is not fully understood, especially since some cone snails coat their shells in an opaque substance, or lay buried in the mud on the sea floor — their shells hidden from view. Although there is a strong theory that suggests that the pattern is based on the mollusc’s neural activity, researchers still don’t know for certain.

However, we do know that there are over 700 species of cone snails still in existence, and shell patterns can vary in fine detail within a species — although each has a set of broader parameters between which it falls, and closely related species tend to display variations on general themes of patterning.

Cataloguing cone snail shell fossils is a little trickier — not least because the shells have been stripped of colour. But, as discovered by researcher Axel Olsson in the 1960s, shining UV light on such fossils causes the remaining organic material that caused the patterning to fluouresce — revealing the pattern, if not the colouration. This, Hendricks adds later in Photoshop.


By applying this technique to 28 different cone shell fossils from three Neogene-associated coral reef deposits in the northern Dominican Republic, aged between 4.8 and 6.6 million years old, Hendricks was able to reveal their patterns. Doing so led to the discovery of 13 new species among them a particularly striking polka-dotted shell, now extinct.

“Each of the three reef deposits contain a minimum of 14-16 cone snail species, levels of diversity that are similar to modern Indo-Pacific reef systems,” Hendricks wrote.

It also revealed similarities to the shell patterning of some modern Caribbean species, indicating that some lineages have survived millions of years in the same region.

The research, however, leaves open another mystery: why the shells glow.

“While the use of UV light to reveal ancient shell colouration patterns has proved to be a useful technique for understanding the systematics of some fossil molluscs, we still do not have a clear understanding of exactly what compounds are responsible for pigmentation in modern shells, much less what matter is actually fluorescing in the fossil shells,” Hendricks wrote.a

One Einstein ring to rule them all


Located nearly 12 billion light-years from Earth is a galaxy called SDP.81. It’s what is known as a “starburst” galaxy, named for its exceptionally high rates of stellar birth. This produces a lot of light, making starburst galaxies very easy to see in the sky.

Starburst galaxies can be any galactic shape — but SDP.81 is special, appearing to the Earth-based Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array as a complete ring in the depths of space, in the most high-resolution image of the galaxy ever produced.

This is because directly in between SDP.81 and Earth, around four light-years from the latter, is another galaxy, large enough to bend the light coming from behind it, magnifying and distorting it — lining up so precisely that it turns the light from SDP.81 into an almost perfect circle — an effect known as an Einstein ring.

The combination of gravitational lensing’s magnification and the strength of ALMA allow us to see SDP.81 in such detail. And because it is so far away, the light we see from the galaxy dates back almost to the beginning of the universe, which is estimated to be around 13.82 billion years ago — distances that are usually too far to see.

“Gravitational lensing is used in astronomy to study the very distant, very early Universe because it gives even our best telescopes an impressive boost in power,” said ALMA Deputy Program Scientist Catherine Vlahakis.

“With the astounding level of detail in these new ALMA images, astronomers will now be able to reassemble the information contained in the distorted image we see as a ring and produce a reconstruction of the true image of the distant galaxy.”


Taken in October last year as part of an ALMA program to test and verify the telescope’s highest resolving power — achieved when the antennas are at their highest separation, 15 metres apart — the highest resolution image was made by observing the bright light emitted by the galaxy’s cosmic dust, creating a circle that is almost complete.

Other details observed by ALMA in images at slightly lower resolutions include molecular signatures that indicate carbon monoxide and water, providing important details about the composition of this active early-universe galaxy — details that had not been picked up by other telescopes, such as Hubble and the Mauna Kea Submillimeter Array, studying SDP.81.

ALMA’s maximum resolution is 23 milliarcseconds — the equivalent, the ALMA team said, to seeing a basketball hoop on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France from the observation deck of the Empire State Building in New York, the US.

“The exquisite amount of information contained in the ALMA images is incredibly important for our understanding of galaxies in the early Universe,” said Charlottesville, Va. National Radio Astronomy Observatory astronomer Jacqueline Hodge.

“Astronomers use sophisticated computer programs to reconstruct lensed galaxies’ true appearance. This unravelling of the bending of light done by the gravitational lens will allow us to study the actual shape and internal motion of this distant galaxy much more clearly than has been possible until now.”

How to move your receipts to the cloud

Some receipts don’t offer much information at all — like those from individually owned gift shops or gas stations. Generally there’s a date, the amount, and how you paid. And worse, most receipts are printed on thermal paper, causing all of the information to disappear by the time you need it.

Instead of keeping a stack of tiny papers you can barely read, why not move your receipt collection to the cloud? To do that, here are three mobile apps that can be used for digitizing your receipts:

Google Drive

Google Drive is available almost anywhere, making it a great place to store information you’ll need to access later. To get started, open the app and navigate to the folder where you want to store receipts. In this case, I’m using a folder called “Receipts 2014.” Tap the new button (bottom right-hand corner) and then choose Scan. Line up your receipt on the viewfinder and snap a photo.

After the first photo of your receipt, you’ll see options for cropping or adjusting the color scheme along the top menu bar. On the bottom are choices for adding another page to the receipt, retaking the photo, or just simply marking the receipt as finished.

After the receipt image is saved, you can tap the file to view it, or press the small “i” icon at the top right-hand corner. This will open the options for sharing, moving, and renaming. If you want added security for your receipts, check out this next app.


You probably think of Dropbox as a place to backup your documents, but it’s also a great service for backing up images of your receipts. This is because you can set a PIN to protect prying eyes from accessing your information.

First, you’ll want to head to the Settings menu, and then tap on Require app passcode. From there you can set up your personalized four-digit PIN. Next, create a folder dedicated to receipt storage. You can add a folder through the app, the desktop client, or even the Web.

Now it’s time to snap photos of your receipts with your device’s camera. When you’re finished, head to your photo gallery and share all of the receipt images to the Dropbox folder you want to store them in.

Dropbox doesn’t let you make notes on each receipt as you upload, but it is a ridiculously fast way to get them off your desk and into the cloud. If you want the file name to reflect what the receipt is for, it’s easy to adjust them in the Dropbox app, or on the Web. If you need extensive organization of your receipts, then you may want to try this next app.


Evernote allows for more organization than Google Drive or Dropbox because you can categorize and subcategorize receipts with notebooks and tags. You can also add notes to go along with your receipts, letting you maintain additional details on each purchase.

To scan your receipts, open Evernote and then tap new icon, followed by the Camera icon. Make sure you have the Document Camera selected (far left in the menu). If you were already creating a note, you can add photos from the Document Camera through the top plus-sign menu. When you’re done scanning the entire receipt, tap the checkmark icon.


Once you have the receipt image, you can simply Save, add it to a notebook, add tags, or even attach a location. Unless you’re an Evernote Premium user, you will not be able to search by the text within the image, so make sure you add enough information to help you find the receipt later.

Spring cleaning: Back up your phone


It’s not exactly cleaning per se, but in the spirit of organization, now is a good time to go through your devices and make sure you’re up to date on your backups.

After all, what’s the point of diligently backing up your iPhone or Android device, only to find that you’re a few months (and several hundred photos and text messages) behind when you need to do an emergency restore?

Back up your iPhone

Apple offers two ways for you to back up your iPhone’s settings, app data, text messages, ringtones, photos, and videos: You can use iCloud to back up your iPhone to the cloud, or you can use iTunes to back up your iPhone to your computer.

Backing up your iPhone with iCloud will preserve almost all of your important phone content, including contacts, apps, messages, photos, and music and movies purchased from the iTunes Store. An iCloud backup maintains your phone’s settings, so you won’t have to worry about losing your home screen layout, app data, or saved alarms and notification settings.

There are a couple of caveats to using this method — mainly that you only get 5GB of free iCloud storage, so if your content (photos and videos, especially) exceed that limit, not all of your stuff will be backed up. Here are some tips for freeing up iCloud storage space. The second caveat is that an iCloud backup only stores content you’ve purchased from Apple, so music and movies that you didn’t buy through Apple won’t get backed up.

To back up your iPhone with iCloud:


1. Go to Settings > iCloud > Backup and switch iCloud Backup to on.

2. Tap Back Up Now to back your phone up immediately.

3. Once iCloud Backup is turned on, your phone will back up automatically at periodic intervals. However, if you ever want to manually start a backup, just return to this screen and tap Back Up Now. At the bottom of this screen, you can also see when the last backup was performed.

To back up your iPhone with iTunes on your PC or Mac — a better choice than iCloud if you have more than 5GB of content on your phone — or if you have content not purchased through iTunes:

1. Plug your iPhone into your computer using its cable.

2. iTunes should automatically open when you connect your phone. If it doesn’t, open iTunes and go toFile > Devices and click Back Up. This may take several minutes to complete.

Back up your Android phone

Android’s backup system is practically automatic — after all, Google uses your sign-in to sync device settings, app data, contacts, and even Wi-Fi passwords to the cloud. But Android’s backup isn’t quite as robust as Apple’s, and it doesn’t back up your photos, text messages, or call logs.

To turn on your Android device’s backup:


1. Open the Settings menu and under Personal, tap Backup and reset.

2. Check the box next to Back up my data, which will back up your device’s settings. Also check the box next to Automatic restore, which will restore app settings if you delete and then reinstall an app on your device (this won’t work with all apps).

3. To choose which types of data to backup/sync, go to Settings > Accounts > Google and tap your Google account to open up its sync settings. Here, you can choose to sync different types of data, such as app data, calendar data, contacts, Gmail, Google+, Google+ Photos, and Picasa Web albums.

For photo backup, I like to use Dropbox’s Camera Upload. This service automatically backs up photos, videos, and screenshots taken with/on your phone to your Dropbox account. To back up photos with Dropbox:

1. Install the Dropbox app on your Android device. Sign into (or create) your Dropbox account – you get 2GB of free storage space, and you can earn more by inviting people. If it’s your first time opening Dropbox on this device, you’ll be automatically prompted to turn on Camera Upload: Just click Turn on Camera Upload on the splash screen.


2. Otherwise, open the Settings menu and tap Turn on Camera Upload.

3. Tap How to upload to choose how your phone will upload photos — Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi or data plan. Tap What to upload to choose what types of files to upload — Photos and videos or Photos only.

To back up your text messages, use the handy free app SMS Backup+, which will not only send a copy of texts to your Gmail account (incredibly handy), but can also restore texts and call log entries back to your phone:

1. Install SMS Backup+ and open the app.

2. Tap Connect to connect the app to your Gmail account. If this is the first time you’re opening the app, SMS Backup+ will ask you if you want to create an initial backup with your existing text messages (this will take several minutes, depending on how many texts you have on your device).


3. Tap Auto backup to automatically backup your SMS and MMS messages and your call log entries. You can also tap Auto backup settings to configure how you want your automatic backup to perform: Set a general backup schedule, an incoming text schedule (you can have texts back up a minute after they arrive), and whether you want backups to be performed only when your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network.


4. Your messages will be filed away in your Gmail account, under the label SMS. To change the name of this label, go to Settings > Advanced settings > Backup settings and tap SMS. You can change the name of the label to anything you want.

Oyster, the Netflix of e-books, launching online store to take on Amazon


Oyster, a subscription service for e-books that launched a year and a half ago, is expanding into online retail with an e-book store set to spar with Amazon’s.

Until Wednesday, Oyster only sold consumers a subscription book service for $9.95 a month. But with questions remaining over the popularity and viability of e-book lending services, Oyster is expanding into selling individual books, with hopes of attracting new customers to its service.

Oyster says its efforts come at an auspicious time. In the past year, book publishers have begun setting prices evenly across the e-book market. With similar pricing, customers will choose their store based on something else, like the look and feel of a service and its ease of use.

“You’ll have to compete on other things like discovery and design,” said Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg, who added that titles on his company’s store will often cost between $9.99 and $14.99 apiece, similar to Amazon, Apple and other digital book sellers.

The question now is whether Oyster can make a dent in Amazon, a juggernaut in the e-book industry, estimated to lord over more than half the US e-book market and even more abroad. Both companies represent an inevitable future for books that are not printed on paper but downloaded over the Internet to singular devices like Amazon’s Kindle e-reader or Apple’s iPad tablet. The question is how we get there, and which company will ultimately be the one selling to us.


That’s still unclear. Unlike with music and television, Oyster’s e-book subscription model, which was somewhat novel when it launched, has done little to supplant traditional book sales, mostly because binge-reading is harder to do. Binge-watching an entire season of Netflix’s political drama “House of Cards” in a single weekend, on the other hand, is much easier.

Yet Oyster did make early headway within the book industry by signing up three of the five biggest US publishers, amassing a library of more than 1 million titles. But even these publishers have chosen to wait as long as six months to release their newest titles on subscription services like Oyster. There’s another hitch: Oyster users can only access the service through an app for smartphones, tablets and computers — but not Amazon’s popular Kindle e-reader. (Oyster does have an app for the Amazon’s Fire tablet, though).

That hasn’t been enough to convince customers, who are flocking to other subscription services like Netflix (for movies and TV shows) and Spotify (for music), but are shy to sign up with the equivalent for books. Even Amazon, which last year launched its own subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, has declined to discuss how well its service is performing. The subscription model has also garnered the disdain of some of publishing’s biggest names.

“‘Eat everything you can’ isn’t a reader’s mindset,” Penguin Random House’s CEO Tom Weldon said at the UK’s Futurebook conference last November. “In music or film you might want 10,000 songs or films, but I don’t think you want 10,000 books.” Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry was more blunt, calling an e-book subscription service an “absurd” and “flawed” idea catering to an “infinitesimal minority” of people who read more than two books a month.

With its e-book store, Oyster has been able to set agreements with a majority of the traditional book industry and may grow into a larger threat, one Amazon may start paying closer attention to. Oyster will still continue to expand its subscription service as well, which it plans to offer at the same price after its e-book store opens.

Wasn’t possible a year ago

Prior to a year ago, Oyster would have had a much harder time offering an e-book store. Why? Because Amazon used to have much more negotiating power over e-book pricing.

With Amazon controlling, by some estimates, around a third of the US book market and more than half of all e-book sales, publishers can rarely afford to ignore the platform. Amazon also had the law on its side.

Publishers went so far as to violate antitrust laws in dealings with Apple’s iBooks store starting in 2010, and Amazon’s victory in the antitrust case that followed sparked a turning point for e-book pricing that ended up solidifying its business model.

But a bitter six-month dispute last year over e-book pricing with French publisher Hachette upset the market, and effectively led to publishers having more power to set their own prices. That means Amazon won’t be able to use its financial might to reduce prices below what Oyster and other competitors can afford.

Even with these changes, Oyster still faces an uphill battle. Its service doesn’t run on Amazon’s popular Kindle, and the company doesn’t offer its own e-reading alternative. Anyone hoping to read Oyster books must own a smartphone, tablet or computer, and read from the same screens they use to respond to email and watch cat videos on the Internet.

There’s also public libraries, most of which offer e-book borrowing for free. Even in the age of the e-book, lending still beats buying.