Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Pirate Bay Gets That "Sinking Feeling" as Charges are Filed

We've spoken before about The Pirate Bay and their belief that they are protected by the DMCA's "safe harbor" clause and Swedish law. Apparently Swedish authorities don't agree as four of the operators of The Pirate Bay were formally charged Thursday with "assisting copyright infringement" of 4 software applications, 9 films and 22 music tracks.

Since we know The Pirate Bay is now tracking a million torrents, they're letting a lot of stuff slide, I guess.

The prosecutor in the case is asking the court for a $188,000 fine each for the four individuals - Fredrik Neij (handle "TiAMO"), Gottfrid Svartholm ("Anakata"), Peter Sunde ("Brokep") and businessman Carl Lundström.

That could be just the beginning, since the plaintiffs in the matter, Warner Bros., Colombia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Sony BMG - and on and on - have until the end of February to file damages claims.

What'll happen? Well, since the 2006 raid, The Pirate Bay's servers have been scattered across the world and even the four above don't know where they are - and they don't want to know. Even if they lose this case most likely the site won't even burp.


Netscape Gets a One Month Stay of Execution

In late December AOL indicated it would end support for Netscape on February 1st, but it's now extended that date to March 1st. If you check the announcement blurb at the top of their webpage, you'll see it's changed to March 1st, although the informational post still says February 1st.

There is an additional blog post (they ought to update the informational link to point to this one, cough, cough) AOL gave the reasons why - relatively user-friendly ones, to boot.

AOL's suggested alternatives for when the hammer falls are Flock and Firefox, both built on the Mozilla Firefox codebase. As such, AOL, Flock and Mozilla are working to "provide tools to ease the migration of existing Netscape browser users to our recommended Flock and Firefox alternatives."

A good decision for those still using Netscape. This update will be pushed out via the browser update feature, natch.

For those who can't stand the idea of losing the Netscape look, there's a skin called "Foxscape" for Firefox based on Netscape 4.8, compatible with Firefox 2.0 - 2.0.0.x.


Skype for the PSP Arrives

As I indicated earlier this month, Skype was coming - and it's finally arrived - for the PSP. Firmware v3.90 is available for download, adding the support for all PSP-2000 (Slim & Lite) users. Sorry for those with "fatties" or PSP-1000s. Skype needs the extra memory of the PSP-2000.

You may be aware that the Japan launch of the new firmware has been delayed because Sony's microphones didn’t meet the requirements to obtain certification from Skype. Fortunately for the rest of us, it only affected Japan.

An additional feature available for both old and new PSPs is - or will be - Go!Messenger. Go!Messenger will bring video and voice chat and other features but they won’t be turned on until the end of February. For now you get an icon that takes you to a website that provides info about the service.

You can find more information about the firmware upgrade at Sony's site.


The MacBook Air is Now Shipping

As early as Tuesday night, some early buyers of the MacBook Air received emails informing them that their orders had shipped and that they would receive their MBAs on Friday. This was confirmed today in an Apple press release, but that was the extent of the MBA love. None of the Apple stores I checked with had any inventory.

Checking as far east as New York City as well as locally in the SF Bay Area produced nothing. However, employees were interested that MBAs had shipped to end users. To them, that meant they would get their own inventory soon.

Go to the Apple Store, however, and you'll still see a 2 - 3 week shipping estimate, so Apple isn't overflowing with these.

In the same press release, BTW, less exciting news (well, compared to the MBA). The Apple TV software update, which would allow users to rent HD movies directly from their TVs, is apparently not ready yet, and Apple said it now plans to make the download available in another week or two.


Fifth-Gen iPods Are Out of Luck for Video Rentals

Actually, this shouldn't come as a surprise. It was clearly indicated in the Apple press release about the new iTunes Video Rental service that it was only compatible "iPod classic, iPod nano with video and iPod touch."

On the other hand, apparently a few end users didn't either, as it's only started to show up on Apple's support forum.

As you might expect, those who bought fifth-gen iPods are understandably upset, as the fifth-gen iPods were on sale until Sept. 2007. For example, this post:
Why on earth would they not make this service available to 5th Gen. iPods?? Mine is less than 6 months old!! If all of the other services are available for the 5th Generation Video iPods, why not rentals?? I have a tough time believing it would not be technically feasible.
Good question. You'd think they could make a firmware upgrade, if it's necessary, to enable video rentals.

On the other hand, it was clearly announced in the press release, so perhaps there's a valid reason besides the obviously suspected "planned obsolescence" reason.

Some have speculated that it involves a hardware incompatibility. Not around playing the videos, but around lack of a secure real-time clock. Without a secure RTC, a user could muck with the date and enable playing of the video indefinitely. And of course, we know everyone would be doing this.

Plausible, though. If true, those with older iPods, well they might feel slightly, shouldn't feel that Apple has intentionally given them short-shrift. Some modicum of resentment is, however, understandable.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Asus to Expand "Eee" Name to Full Product Line

No one can dispute the Asus Eee is a great success, with a second-gen version already announced. So why not bank on the product name and branding? That's what Asus aims to do, as they have announced expansion of the branding to a full product line.

Here's what will be coming later this year:
  • The E-DT, a desktop PC: Expected to ship in the April / May timeframe. The first generation will sport an Intel Celerton but will move to Intel's Shelton platform with Diamondville CPUs later. They are hoping for as a price point of as low as $199 (sans monitor).
  • The E-Monitor, an all-in-one PC like Dell's XPS One (and of course, the iMac): To me the name is a bit confusing, as it sounds like ... well, a monitor. Screen sizes of 19" - 21" and a $499 price point? It's hard to scare Apple or Dell, but this just might. Expect a September ship date and the Shelton platform.
  • The E-TV, an LCD TV line. Expected to be in the 42" and greater LCD TV market, this will have Linux-based PC functionality built-in. Asus wants to price the sets at around $200 more than a standard LCD TV in the same class. This is also expected to launch in September.
The desktop and all-in-one PCs I agree with, but a TV (granted a TV with PC functionality)?

I understand the branding is hot right now, but let's not overly dilute the Eee name, eh? Anyone remember what happened when "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" showed up 7 nights a week? Right.


Green Plug Wants to Get Rid of Extra Power Adapters - All of Them

Another cool product at Demo '08, as Tuesday Green Plug had their chance to show off. The idea of Green Plug is to eliminate all the extra chargers that you and I - and everyone - are annoyed with. Of course, China has already instituted a mandate around cell phone chargers, but Green Plug goes a lot further than that. They're not just talking about cell phone adapters or MP3 player adapters - they mean all adapters.

As they say on their website:
Green Plug-compliant devices request power from universal power supplies that are capable of delivering device-specific power requirements. All Green Plug-compliant devices utilize uniform cables and connectors; so, you never have to worry about finding the right adapter for your laptop, DV camera, cell phone or power tool. And, since Green Plug serves power to any device, you NEVER need to throw adapters away when you get a new laptop, cell phone or any battery-powered device.
So much like "one ring to rule them all," what you would have here is one adapter to charge your laptop, cell phone, MP3 player, cordless tools, on and on and on.

And, these are supposedly smart adapters, so that unlike your cell phone charger which remains warm to the touch even when your phone is fully charged, Green Plug shuts down the power when when the device is fully charged - no more wasted power.

Of course, since such an adapter could power a pretty hefty device, it might be larger than you might like. That's an example Green Plug-enabled power hub above, and while it will power the laptop as well as the phone, you can see it's a tad bit larger than I might want to carry around if all I cared about was the phone.


Microsoft Inks Ad Deal with Wall Street Journal Digital Network

No matter what people think, Google is not an unstoppable force in advertising and search. Microsoft proved it today by inking a deal with the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, becoming their exclusive third-party provider of contextual and paid search advertising.

This means Microsoft is providing ads for not just The Wall Street Journal Online, Barrons.com, MarketWatch.com, AllThingsD.com as well as others. Their ad program will get exposure to 20 million unique users and over 330 million page views per month.

In a press release, Brian McAndrews, senior vice president, Advertiser and Publisher Solutions at Microsoft said:
"This deal is a significant win for Microsoft for two key reasons. First, it makes the extended Microsoft advertising network the premier destination for advertisers interested in reaching financially minded users, as it complements our offering in this vertical through MSN Money and other syndication partners. Second, this deal is a strong indicator that we’re gaining significant traction with our advertising platform. The Wall Street Journal Digital Network is one of the largest financial services publishers in a very dynamic vertical segment, and we’re delighted to add it to our portfolio."
Contextual ads will begin appearing on the WSJ Digital Network in February. No information has been given on paid search advertising.

Unlike recent deals Microsoft signed with Viacom (Dec.) and Edgar Online (this month) which use the Atlas technology acquired as part of Microsoft's Aquantive purchase, the WSJ is using Microsoft's own AdCenter product.

Including those two deals, as well as the expanded ad-offering at Facebook in October, Microsoft is on a roll. Not that Google is hurting, mind you.


Google Bets on Barcodes for Print Ads

Google has a new idea to monetize an old technology: print ads. It plans to use small, square barcodes like the one above left (known as a QR Code; another popular format is DataMatrix).

The above code, for example, represents www.google.com. This type of code could be used at the bottom of a print ad, and when scanned by a cell phone's camera and decoded, take the user to a particular site. This type of system has already become popular in cell phone-crazy Japan, according to Google's Print Ads informational page.

The camera isn't an issue nowadays, but cell phones in the U.S. don't contain decoding software. Google's page linked above points users to non-Google decoding software (how long do you think it will be before Google writes its own - and includes it in Android), but why would I want to download something that would subject me to more advertising?

Yes, I get it, it's easier than typing in an URL, especially on non-QWERTY devices, but still. I work hard to skip ads on TV and I don't need more of them.

That's just the start of it, as Google will have to figure out how to get device manufacturers and carriers to sign on for this - and also how to split up the revenue between carriers, OEMs and Google.

And that doesn't even take into account getting people to want to go through the trouble of taking a picture of a QR Code in order to surf there. Expect a long road to successful monetization.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Huge Numbers of iPhones Unlocked: Analysts

Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Bernstein Research, has backed off his initial assertion that tons of iPhones are sitting on warehouse shelves. Rather than that, Sacconaghi estimates about 1 million iPhones have been unlocked - which is possibly worse news for Apple.

This number came about by taking Apple's numbers, subtracting AT&T's activations and those iPhones estimated to be sold in Europe already, as well as a reasonable number on the shelf. While some may say this is still good for Apple, as a sale is a sale, Apple loses a lot of revenue because it's not getting its percentage of the monthly plan fee paid to the carriers.

In fact, Sacconaghi estimates that an unlocked iPhone generates about 50% less lifetime revenue and about 75% less profit for Apple than one running on one of Apple's carriers. And, he said, if the percentage holds constant and 30% of the 10 million iPhones Apple estimates it will sell this year were unlocked, then the company's earnings could be as much as $0.37 / share less in each of the next two years. Whew.

At the same time, analyst firm Piper Jaffray estimated that just under 850,000 iPhones - or 25% - were sold unlocked last year. Either way, a huge number, and it shows just why Apple is so anxious to keep the device locked down on networks.

Perhaps, as a shareholder, I ought to be more worried about it as well! (No, this is not a recommendation to buy AAPL stock, he says before getting sued).


Germany Looks into Skype Surveillance

This is what Wikileaks was created for, right? Leaked documents dated Sept. 4th, 2007 have been leaked by the German "Pirate Party" or "Piraten," showing that the German government is investigating ways to wiretap Skype, using Trojan Horses.

(For those unfamiliar with Skype, it basically allows calls and other messaging services over the Internet).

The document, (.PDF, German), shows that the German government was discussing the use of a "Skype Capture Unit," basically a form of malware to be installed on each "target PC," with the company DigiTask.

The SCU would intercept Skype voice and chat data, and then stream the captured data to a remote Skype Recording Server. The Recording Server then sends the conversations through to Skype and their intended destination. It can handle, according to DigiTask, up to 10 streams in parallel.

U.S. authorities have used malware like this in the past. Note: AV vendors have been evasive on whether or not they would detect and remove such malware.

This stuff isn't cheap:
  • Skype Capture Software rental: 3,500 per month
  • One-time installation and de-installation fee on-site 2,500 (well, yeah, someone has to sneak in and do it)
  • SSL decryption: €2,500
Also, the minimum is a three month rental.

The document also says that
delivery time would be 4 - 6 weeks after ordering. This could in fact mean the system is already in place. On the other hand, it's possible the system was scrapped and never implemented. Hard to say. But it does shed light on what governments worldwide are looking into for the future.


The LEGO Brick Turns 50

You'd think this isn't related to tech, but without LEGO, we wouldn't have LEGO Mindstorms - or LEGO Star Wars. Even Google recognized Monday, January 28th, as the 50th anniversary of the patenting of the iconic LEGO brick.

LEGO Group founder Ole Kirk Christiansen named the bricks LEGO after the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play well".

This year is also the 30th anniversary of the LEGO minifigure (minifig) and 10th anniversary of LEGO Mindstorms. Note the minifig on top of the Google logo, BTW.

Despite the addition of Mindstorms, the core portion of the business is still the brick. It's amazing after all this time that the simple LEGO bricks still manage to attract the attention of children, particularly in this age of gadgetry and electronics.

Let's hope LEGO and children always maintain their special relationship.

Here's a special LEGO-produced video celebrating their 50th anniversary.



Qtrax Kinda, Sorta Goes Live

Qtrax kinda, sorta went live at 12:00 AM EST on Jan. 29th. I say kinda, sorta because although I was able to download the Songbird-based Qtrax app - and install it - I couldn't register because when I clicked on the registration button it took me to a blank screen.

Even if I could register, the site says:
We're thrilled with the massive response we've received. To ensure the best user experience, we're activating accounts in stages. In the meantime, enjoy all the functionalities of the Qtrax player like importing and playing your music and searching for artist-related content.
So I'd be in a queue waiting for activation.

I was able to see there were a massive 5,684 people online. But for some strange reason that number never seemed to change, no matter what I did. Hmmm.

BTW, it's also not too comforting to see the version number of the app is 0.2. Click the above image to take a look at the registration "screen." Oh, and you can download the app here.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Gartner: Price Cuts Just Prolong HD-DVD's Agony

Market research company Gartner confirmed what many consumers seem to already think: the hi-def DVD war is over.

With the earlier defection of Warner Bros. to Blu-ray exclusivity, among major studios, only Paramount and Universal still support HD-DVD. Given the lack of content, Gartner believes HD-DVD to be in its death throes.

In Gartner's Semiconductor DQ Monday Report, analyst Hiroyuki Shimizu wrote
"Gartner believes that Toshiba's price-cutting may prolong HD DVD's life a little, but the limited line-up of film titles will inflict fatal damage on the format. Gartner expects that, by the end of 2008, Blu-ray will be the winning format in the consumer market, and the war will be over."
Weeks after losing Warner Bros., Toshiba announced price cuts on its HD DVD players in the U.S. on Jan. 15. The HD-A3 player was reduced to $149.99 from $299.99, while the higher end HD-A30 and HD-A35 now have MSRPs of $199.99 and $299.99, respectively.

Toshiba isn't giving up easily, however. Today it was announced that Toshiba is blowing nearly $3 million on a Super Bowl ad. At the same time, the Blu-ray Disc Association isn't going to do the same, as it was unable (!?) to create an ad in time, according to Home Media Magazine.

Or perhaps BDA just decided it didn't need to spend the cash, as it seems the results are now inevitable.


Qtrax Off-Track: Is it the Music Version of Vaporware?

As I indicated yesterday, I'll believe it when it happens: free, legal, unlimited downloads from all the major labels and more. Right. So far it hasn't worked out that way.

For one, the site keeps pushing back its launch. It was supposed to be over the weekend. Then it was 12:01AM Monday. Now the site says it'll be tonight.

Also, Qtrax said it had deals with all four major labels. This sounded too good to be true, because it was hard enough for Amazon MP3 to sign all four labels with a more conventional offering. Well, although the Times Online announced the new service this morning, it also later posted a later story embarrassingly (for Qtrax) titled "Music file-share site Qtrax forced into humiliating U-turn." Yep, as many (including myself) suspected, it appears all the deals that Qtrax had been talking about haven't happened.

All four labels deny any deal with Qtrax, although Universal did indicate it was in discussions with Qtrax.

Alan Klepfisz, CEO of Qtrax said,
"We are not idiots. We wouldn’t have launched the service in front of the whole music industry unless we had secured its backing. We feel we have been unfairly crucified because a competitor tried to damage us. Everyone is very upset. We do have industry agreements including the major labels. Even today we are working on more deals."
He added that although "ink hadn't dried" on some of the deals, Qtrax still planned to deliver on its promises "within months."

Hadn't dried? If you listen to the labels, it sounds like the ink hasn't even been put down on paper yet.

In addition, as we know, with the Qtrax app being required for searching, downloading and playing of tracks, despite their assertion of "no spyware," you know there is some "phoning home" going on in order to provide the number of times each track is played for revenue purposes. Sounds like something that will get privacy advocates' hackles up.

And with no iPod support (at least for now, if ever), will this service be DOA? If it was me, I'd hold off ... unless you want to try out their software just for comparison purposes.


Skyfire Promises a PC-like Browsing Experience on a Smartphone

Despite how users drool over the iPhone's version of Safari, mobile browsers still have a tough time rendering pages that with lots of Ajax, Flash, Java, JavaScript, QuickTime, and on and on. For one thing you don't have a Core 2 Duo in that smartphone, now do you?

Today at Demo '08, Skyfire unveiled a new mobile browser that promises PC-like browsing on a smartphone. Skyfire is a free (for now, at least) downloadable browser. It currently works on Windows Mobile 5 and 6 (PPC and Smartphone editions). Symbian, according to Skyfire, is coming soon as well as "other platforms and geographies" (PalmOS?).

In their accompanying press release, Skyfire CEO Nitin Bhanari said,
"For too long consumers have been promised the 'real Web' on their phone, only to be disappointed by slow rendering, error messages, no Flash support, watered down WAP pages or second-rate mobile versions of their favorite site. Skyfire has remedied those ills at a speed not seen before on the mobile platform. By extending the PC Web experience to smartphones, we fully expect Skyfire to fundamentally change the way people use their phones."
Wait, wasn't that Safari's aim?

How does it work? It's what's known as a "proxy browser." That means that all the heavy work is done on the server, rendered and then sent to the device. Concerns would be that you'll see some lag problems. I didn't see any issues in the demo (below), but that was without a large number of users that might bog down the servers.

Of course, that might be something that shows up in a beta. And Skyfire is launching a private beta soon (TBD), and you can sign up for it here. Yes, I signed up for it. Oh, Smartphones with QWERTY keyboards only in the initial beta, BTW.

Still unclear how they are going to make money off of this, but subscriptions and / or ads come to mind.

Watch the Demo (pretty cool). I was particularly impressed by ESPN as I've seen it crash browsers on more than one platform.


Move Over WoW: The Pirate Bay Hits 10 Million Peers

Last week Blizzard announced that it had reached 10 million subscribers in World of Warcraft (WoW). Guess who else has reached 10 million? The Pirate Bay.

Yes, The Pirate Bay, the bane of the RIAA and MPAA, among others.

Of course the number of peers reported on the front page will fluctuate at any given time, and according to co-founder Brokep one of the trackers is too loaded to report its share, so it may appear lower than the actual number.

Not only are they servicing 10 million peers, they are also tracking 1 million torrents.

As I said in my post on the Warner Music Group vs. SeeqPod lawsuit, The Pirate Bay contends it falls under the "Safe Harbor" clause, as it says on its site:
Only torrent files are saved at the server. That means no copyrighted and/or illegal material are stored by us. It is therefore not possible to hold the people behind The Pirate Bay responsible for the material that is being spread using the tracker. Any complaints from copyright and/or lobby organizations will be ridiculed and published at the site.
Ridiculed, eh? The fact that The Pirate Bay is in Sweden, a relatively piracy-friendly country certainly helps.

Speaking of Sweden, its population is 9,031,088 (est. in July 2007) according to the CIA's World Factbook. So The Pirate Bay supports more peers than the population of its home country. Photobucket


MacBook Airs to Show Up This Week?

Remember when the MacBook Air was intro'ed? Steve Jobs said they'd be available in two weeks. Hmmm. Based on that info, it would be ... this week! Specifically, it would be Tuesday, two weeks after the Macworld keynote.

According to sources, it appears that at least some stores have already received MBAs and that the Genius Bar employees get trained Monday. A little calling around, including stores and some friends I have at Apple indicates that some, not all, stores have them, and that it looks like it will be Wednesday, not Tuesday.

Technically, the 14th day would be Tuesday, so this would actually be right, I suppose.

Anticipation of the MBA is high, despite the fact that some are tearing it apart with complaints over the shortcomings of the notebook. After all, something like this has to have some compromises.
  • Obviously it's not going to be the fastest laptop.
  • No user-replaceable battery. A little confusing since reports indicate it's not all that hard to change, but ...
  • Yes, it only has one USB port ... thinness, right?
  • Yes, it has no optical drive, and because Apple wanted the external drive to work without a power supply the USB port is overpowered - meaning you can't use that external drive on any other PC. And you can't use a hub with it, either.
  • And on and on.
For the audience it's aimed at, it's still a great design.

BTW, if you want to sneak around Apple stores looking for hiddne MBAs, my guess is all the MBAs are hidden in the back disguised as inter-office envelopes.


"Don't Link to Us" - Business Week

Deep-linking is when you make a hyperlink that points to a specific page or image on another website, instead of to that website's main or home page. You would normally think, who in their right mind wouldn't want a deep link driving traffic to their site, if they have ads at all? In fact, most sites get rather annoyed if you don't credit them. Business Week, for one, feels differently.

According to SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill , after he was interviewed by Business Week, they asked him not to deep-link to the story. They told him it it would violate their user agreement. He was amazed, but he complied.

A little research showed that Business Week's User Agreement does indeed preclude deep linking. It says:
use or attempt to use any "deep-link," "scraper," "robot," "bot," "spider," "data mining," "computer code" or any other automated device, program, tool, algorithm, process or methodology or manual process having similar processes or functionality, to access, acquire, copy, or monitor any portion of BW.com, any data or content found on or accessed through BW.com, or any other BW.com information without prior express written consent of BW.
It turns out this is not as uncommon as you might think. According to BizHelp24, you should check the User Agreement or Terms of Use of each site before deep-linking to a web page. (Just in case you want to know, BizHelp24's Terms of Use doesn't say anything about deep-linking Photobucket).

Basically, this could mean a lot of the deep-links at social news sites like Digg, Propeller, Mixx, etc. could be violating Terms of Use. Ugh.

Of course, most sites (like this one) would love to be deep-linked. BTW, in case you're wondering I didn't link to Business Week's User Agreement directly. I linked through a Google search (check the URL). Photobucket


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Qtrax: Free and Legal P2P for Music? I'll Believe It When It Happens

Actually, I'll believe it months after it happens - meaning I'll believe it can actually work at that point. Qtrax was supposed to launch this weekend, but going to their site Sunday was an exercise in futility. All you get is a page that says:
Due to overwhelming demand, Qtrax.com is currently unavailable. Please check back in 24 hours to download the first, free, and legal P2P music application. Thank you for your understanding.
Now it appears Qtrax is set to launch on Monday. According to Qtrax, they have the support of all the major record labels with a selection of 25 million tracks. While it sounds too good to be true, upon closer examination there will be big negatives with the service.
  • How are they going to monetize free P2P downloads? The obvious way: ads. In order to search, download and play the songs you have to use their own application. It's based on the open-source Songbird platform. Ads will be displayed via the player, and Qtrax says music labels 2/3 of the revenue.
  • Oh, and guess what? The app only runs on Windows, at least, according to Qtrax, until March 18th.
  • DRM. What else? For this to work for the labels and be ad-supported, the music has to be wrapped in DRM. According to Qtrax, it will not just be for copy-protection, but to allow the number of plays, and thus revenue, to be tracked.
  • Songs will not be "portable" until Feb. 29th.
  • Guess what number two: the big negative. DRM-encoded as the tracks are, they won't play on the iPod, even once the above "portability" begins. We all know how Apple feels about licensing FairPlay (i.e., don't hold your breath). However, according to Qtrax, they will have a hack available "eventually." But launching without support for the dominant music player? Just plain silly.
What do I think about this? Despite the fact that it will be legal P2P, for it to be successful, I think it has to be just as easy as free P2P that already exists, or at least as easy as cheap, DRM-free music from places like Amazon MP3.

Free is a relative term. It's not just free from cost, but many would say also free from DRM and with the freedom to use it on portable players. For now, Qtrax falls down on a lot of these freedoms.

But I'll reserve final judgment until after they manage to get it up and running.


Amazon MP3 to Go Global

When Amazon MP3 launched last year, you can bet it was looked upon by Apple as just another minor threat to iTunes' dominance. But with the signing of Sony BMG, Amazon is the only retailer selling DRM-free music from all four major music labels. And now it's a major threat.

Sunday Amazon announced that Amazon MP3 is going global, spreading DRM-free music worldwide.

In a press release, Bill Carr, Amazon.com Vice President of Digital Music said:
"We have received thousands of e-mails from Amazon customers around the world asking us when we will make Amazon MP3 available outside of the U.S. They can't wait to choose from the biggest selection of high-quality, low-priced DRM-free MP3 music downloads which play on virtually any music device they own today or will own in the future. We are excited to tell those customers today that Amazon MP3 is going international this year."
No doubt they are being bombarded with emails, but this certainly isn't going to slow them down. You can except "when, when, when?" emails to start filtering in to Amazon.com.

I've always said that the fact that Amazon MP3 used the standard MP3 format rather than AAC as Apple does with its DRM-free selections is a major advantage. To be honest, friends and others I've spoken to are all moving to Amazon MP3 for their purchases. Yes, it's not quite as easy as buying straight through the iTunes application, and it's still in beta, but then how many years has Gmail been in beta, right?

Unfortunately Amazon can't be more specific than 2008, as that could be as long as 11 more months, and that gives Apple plenty of time to get its act together - although you can bet Jobs and company have already felt a measure of concern over Amazon MP3 already.


Web War on Scientology Hits the Wrong Target

It's no secret that a war has broken out between a group of hackers calling themselves Anonymous and the Church of Scientology. However, it appears the first innocent casualty has fallen.

The group has subjected the Scientology servers with DDos (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks in what's known as Project Chanology. The war was started in earnest when the Church forced sites to take down the creepy Tom Cruise video you may have heard of or seen.

Of course, all wars have collateral damage.

The Church of Scientology has hired Prolexic, a company that protects websites from DDOS attacks by publicly substituting a Prolexic server for the attacked server, filtering out the bad traffic and passing the "good" traffic to the real server.

Well, if you knew what the IP address of the real server was, you could bypass the substituted server and attack it directly. According to Wired, one of the moderators on 711chan.org, Splongcat, was given info from a friend about the server's real address on Friday.

However, the info was wrong, and instead of targeting the COS server, the attack targeted the of Etty Hillesum Lyceum, a school in the Netherlands (students pictured above). Poor intelligence data, eh? Remind you of anything?

Once the mistake was discovered the word went out at the IRC chat room hosted on 711chan.org (currently down) and the school's site recovered. Splongcat apologized for not doing due diligence and checking before signaling the attack.

If you're interested, Anonymous' video manifesto is on YouTube, and you can watch it below. Oh, and BTW, it appear they're still doing a bang-up job as the Scientology site is horribly slow right now.



Saturday, January 26, 2008

Smartphone Patent Means Everyone Gets Sued

On Tuesday, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a patent on a "mobile entertainment and communication device." The description of the device:
a mobile entertainment and communication device in a palm-held size housing has a cellular or satellite telephone capable of wireless communication with the Internet and one or more replaceable memory card sockets for receiving a blank memory card for recording data directly from the Internet (more) ...
Sounds like a smartphone, doesn't it?

The thing is, what's been done here is combining previously patented elements into a new element, and in the case of Teleflex vs. KSR, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the new element is not necessarily patentable. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion of the court, "The results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws."

What they're saying is that if you take known elements "in the art" and simply combine them and get an expected result, then you haven't invented anything.

Nevertheless, Minerva Industries, Inc., the patent holding company wasted no time and at 12:01am Tuesday morning, it lawsuits against just about everyone you could think of, including Apple, Nokia, RIM, Sprint, AT&T, HP, Motorola, Helio, HTC, Sony Ericsson, Samsung ... and more.

Hopefully the obviousness test as in Teleflex vs. KSR will be used in this case as well, but we'll see. It should be "obvious" that otherwise we'll be in a heap of trouble, cell phone-wise. Can you imagine injunctions preventing all those manufacturers from shipping devices?


The New York Times Launches "News Via Text Message"

The News York Times, home of "All The News That's Fit to Print," launched "All The News That's Fit to Text" on Friday. The new service will deliver features and columns from the NYT as well as features from The Times Magazine via text message to cell phones and mobile devices.

To use it, send a keyword to 698698 (NYTNYT) and you will either get the latest three articles from that given section or the most recent column from their favorite columnist in a particular section.

Nice idea, but the limitations of text messages (160 characters or less) make the service less than ideal. What you get back from the NYT will be a short blurb with an URL to the story, or a short blurb asking you to reply with "m" for "more" or "3" or some other digit for "desc" which I assume means description. I could never get it to work.

Trying to get more information using the reply function leads to frustration, and using the URL defeats being able to use the messaging feature to eliminate the need for a data plan to surf to the site. I mean, if you have to web surf there anyway, why not just use your browser in the first place?

Also, a few times I sent a keyword, and never got anything back. Looks like there are still bugs to work out.

Here's the list of sections. You can go to the press release to see the list of columnists, etc. Just remember: the service still has a lot of issues, as I indicated. If they can work the kinks out, it might not be bad, but the limits of text messages will always place a limit on the usability of this service.



Warner Music Group Sues SeeqPod in "Safe Harbor" Test

Here we go again. Warner Music Group has sued SeeqPod (which, personally, I'm surprised hasn't been sued by Apple already since they use the "evil word" pod). SeeqPod is a (really cool, IMHO) music search engine that allows you to search the Internet for music, turn the tracks it finds into audio streams and playlists, and listen to them in a browser.

Much like The Pirate Bay which, fortunately for it, resides in relatively piracy-friendly Sweden, SeeqPod has relied on the DMCA "safe harbor" provision. Basically, it does not host any copyrighted files, so it has felt itself safe, much like a major search engine, such as Google, is protected when it links to illegal information or content.

Strictly speaking, in terms of the DMCA, the "safe harbor provision" is meant to protect online service providers (OSPs) "from liability for information posted or transmitted by subscribers if they quickly remove or disable access to material identified in a copyright holder's complaint."

Basically, rather than being sued, SeeqPod should be served with an order to remove the content.

Of course, take a look at the site, and search for, say "Eric Clapton" and you'll see how many results (immediately playable, as well, right?) show up. Small wonder Warner Music Group is upset.

While "safe harbor" was created by Congress to protect general search engines, specialized search enginers have become too effective for their own good. As the EFF says in their statement on this lawsuit:
But now, as search engines become more specialized and capable, certain copyright owners have become increasingly dissatisfied with the notice-and-takedown bargain struck in the DMCA. That's what these lawsuits are really about -- the defendants are complying with the letter of the law, but copyright owners are now trying to change the rules in court.
It's always the same: as technology advances so must law advance to keep up with it. In business since May 2007, SeeqPod charges both direct and secondary copyright infringement and seeks penalties of up to $150,000 per song.

You can read Warner Music Group's complaint (.PDF) - 57 pages, half of which, Appendix A, is a list of copyrighted material - here.


Double-Amputee Walks Again with a Bluetooth Assist

When you think of Bluetooth, you probably think of a Bluetooth headset - you know, one of the ones that keep cutting out on you all the time and don't sound as good as a wired headset. Or perhaps you have a Bluetooth mouse.

In the case of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill, Bluetooth is enabling him to walk.

Bleill lost both his legs above the knees when a bomb exploded under his Humvee while on patrol in Iraq in 2006. The Bluetooth devices in each leg keep them in sync with each other. They're called "PowerKnees" and Bleill is one of one two people wearing them.

"They mimic each other, so for stride length, for amount of force coming up, going uphill, downhill and such, they can vary speed and then to stop them again," Bleill told CNN.

Bleill and his girlfriend are pictured above.

Watch the CNN report:
video


Friday, January 25, 2008

Google Seeks to Make "Domain Tasting" Less Palatable

When you register a domain, you have a five-day grace period during which a registrant can drop a domain name and be refunded your money. This allows registrants to test a domain for marketability, as well as allow for typos and other such mistakes. However, domain tasting is when speculators use this grace period to put up web pages full of pay-per-click ads, keep the few that make money during the five days, and refund the rest - or even all of them.

Google is taking steps to make this tasting less palatable for speculators. According to Domain Tools, Google will stop serving ads to domains in its Adsense for Domains program during this grace period. It's interesting when you think that not only would ads on a domain tasted site generate income for the registrant, it would also do so for Google, yet they are taking this step.

One partner that Google had was generating as much as $3 million dollars a month from the practice and that was after Google’s revenue share.

I personally think it's less of a return to the "Don't be evil" motto of Google than a defensive strategy. Publishers can't be happy about domain tasting, and this would protect Google from future litigation. Certainly, it won't stop the practice, as Google is not the only "ad game" in town.

But it's a start.

BTW, Network Solutions (NSI) is also under criticism for a practice called "front running." They use the grace period to give themselves exclusive control over a domain registration during those five days. For example, if I went and searched for domain x.com, and it was free, NSI would immediately register it so you couldn't go to a different registrar, forcing you to get it from them, at least for the grace period.


Where Have All the iPhones Gone?

Apologies to Pete Seeger, but where have they gone? According to Apple's earnings conference call on Tuesday, Apple sold 3.7 million iPhones in 2007. Yet according to AT&T's Thursday earnings conference call, AT&T has "just at or slightly under 2 million iPhone customers" during the same period. Where are those other 1.7 million iPhones?

Europe? That would imply Europe has sold nearly as many iPhones as in the U.S., in a much shorter period. Realistically, estimates indicate that sales are not going that well, and that only as many as 400,000 iPhones will have been sold by the end of 2007 between O2, Orange, and T-Mobile (U.K., France, and Germany, respectively). If that's realistic, where aer the other 1.3 million?

Unlocked, hacked? Unlikely. In October, Apple's COO Timothy Cook said Apple estimated 250,000 iPhones had been sold to be unlocked / hacked for different networks. So let's say we extrapolate that number (still unlikely) for the rest of the year and come up with 500,000 or so. That would still leave 800,000 missing iPhones, which are where?

Shelves, where else could they be? If all numbers are even close to correct, they're sitting on gathering dust around the world, most of them in the U.S. Is this because people have decided, even with the lower price, all they want is a phone and not so much an uber-phone, and one with an expensive plan to boot? Or are some (like me) waiting for 3G?

In an investor note I read Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi noted the discrepancy. "It indicates end-user demand for iPhone is lower than many investors may think based on Apple's sales figure ... and it points to slower iPhone sales in the current quarter, since much of this inventory is likely to be drawn down."

It should be noted that DigiTimes has reported that Apple has slashed its iPhone orders for the fiscal nearly in half, from 2 million to 1.1 - 1.2 million.


The Xbox Actually Turns a Profit!

We earlier reported on Microsoft's great fiscal second quarter, but diving into their second quarter 10-Q filing shows something even more stunning: the Xbox turned a profit! Thus falls the one constant in Microsoft's console business: they had not, until now, been profitable.

Last year Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division (EDD) President Robbie Bach predicted that the Xbox business would be profitable in 2008. Thus far, halfway through the fiscal year, he's right.

According to the 10-Q filing, for the first six months of Microsoft's 2008 fiscal year EDD has recorded operating income of $524 million compared to a loss of $423 million during the same period one year ago. For Q2, EDD saw operating income of $357 million.

To be fair, EDD also has other products besides the Xbox, such as PC games, consumer software and hardware products, the Zune digital music and entertainment platform, Mediaroom, Windows Mobile, Windows Embedded, and Windows Automotive. But the 10-Q is pretty clear:
EDD revenue increased during the three and six months ended December 31, 2007, primarily due to increased Xbox 360 platform sales. During the three months ended December 31, 2007, Xbox platform and PC game revenue increased $115 million or 5% primarily as a result of increased Xbox 360 video game sales, Xbox Live revenue, and Xbox 360 accessory sales, partially offset by decreased Xbox 360 console sales. Xbox platform and PC game revenue increased $1.0 billion or 35% during the six months ended December 31, 2007, as a result of increased Xbox 360 console sales, video game sales led by Halo 3, Xbox Live revenues, and Xbox 360 accessory sales.

We shipped 4.3 million and 6.1 million Xbox 360 consoles in the second quarter and first half of fiscal year 2008, respectively, as compared to 4.4 million and 5.4 million Xbox 360 consoles in the second quarter and first half of fiscal year 2007, respectively.
So, second quarter console sales dropped slightly, but that mention of Halo 3 is telling, because you can bet that added a bunch to the bottom line. Since there are other products in the division, we you can't be absolutely sure that the Xbox turned a profit, but Microsoft's statement seems to indicate such.

Microsoft also indicated that for the remainder of fiscal year 2008, they "expect revenue to increase due to increased sales of Xbox 360 consoles and related games, accessories, and services."

Looks like Bach's prediction may hold for the entirety of fiscal year 2008, based on that. Now if only the PS3 could turn a profit, all would be well in the video console world - except for the shortage of Wiis, of course.


AirMail: A Sleeve for Your MacBook Air, Special Delivery

If you haven't seen the picture of a MacBook Air (MBA) inside an inter-office envelope, or watched the commercial, you may have missed how slim the MBA is. It was a natural assumption that someone would come up with a sleeve that's as small as an inter-office envelope, and this one looks like one, as well!

It's called the AirMail. It's more of a sleeve than a case, though the developers tend to use both terms in their site. They say it's padded enough, though not for extreme use:
AirMail laptop cases are lined with thick fleece, which will protect your laptop from any cosmetic damage and smudges, and keep it safe from bumps in daily use.
It's cool, but I could do without the tie. I mean, that part of a real envelope isn't the most sturdy. Some may call this clever, some may call it lame (or copycat), but one thing's for sure: this probably isn't the last sleeve we'll see in this theme for the MBA.


Microsoft Reports Record Second Quarter Results

On Tuesday Apple reported record results, and Thursday Microsoft showed that Windows PCs were not left out in the cold, reporting record results of its own.

Fiscal second quarter, ending December 31st, 2007, resulted in revenue of $16.37 billion, income of $6.48 billion, and diluted earnings / share of $0.50. These figures represent growth of 30%, 87% and 92% for revenue, operating income and diluted earnings per share, respectively.

However, without t
he deferral of $1.64 billion of revenue and operating income and $0.11 of diluted earnings / share from the second to the third quarter of fiscal 2007, second quarter growth rates for revenue, operating income and earnings per share would have been 15%, 27% and 32%, respectively.

In a press release,
Chris Liddell, chief financial officer at Microsoft, said:
"Revenue of over $16 billion this quarter exceeds our previous record by $2 billion. We are extremely pleased by the broad based strength of our business performance and field execution. Throughout the first half of our fiscal year, all of our businesses met or beat our expectations."
Microsoft said Vista licenses have reached 100 million. Kevin Johnson, president of the Platforms and Services Division at Microsoft, said:
"We are pleased with the progress of Windows Vista in the market. We’ve hit our stride with partners and customers and are looking forward to the release of our first service pack later this quarter."
Let's be honest, all 100 million of us are looking forward to that service pack.

Microsoft closed the day at $33.25, its highest stock price since 2001.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Digg Alters the Definition of "Popular"

Most people know how Digg works. You submit a story, and based on how many people vote it up or down, it will hopefully be moved from "upcoming" to "popular." Until now it's been based on sheer numbers, but last night Digg founder Kevin Rose unveiled a new algorithm which turns this upside down.

According to his blog post, popularity depends on:
One of the keys to getting a story promoted is diversity in Digging activity. When the algorithm gets the diversity it needs, it will promote a story from the Upcoming section to the home page. This way, the system knows a large variety of people will be into the story.
What's this mean? It means, basically, if the algorithm works, an end to groups voting up a story. Frequently Digg and other social networking sites have groups of people voting up each others' stories. There's also a lot of politics involved, too, with some people voting down stories of members they may dislike for one reason or another.

According to Rose, this could mean a story with 100+ Diggs would remain "upcoming." I can see the point of this change. Additionally, one of Merriam-Webster's definition of popular is of or relating to the general public," which this diversity aspect would hope to achieve.

But a second one is "suitable to the majority." Hard to see how leaving out something with 100+ Diggs satisfies that definition.

Although Rose asks for feedback, it's clear from the comments in this thread most feel that any feedback will be "buried," just like an unpopular story.

Here's just one of the comments:
This is stupid. It should be based on the most diggs, period. So what if there are "brigades"? If you don't like what MOST people like go to a different site. If I post a story on the book Island of the Blue Dolphins, it won't be very interesting, and people won't digg it. If I post a story on the downfall of Scientology, Apple, or Ron Paul, it will be much more likely to be dugg (or buried). Why? Because that's what MOST people here want to see (or not)! Change the f***ing thing so most diggs on a story decides whether it gets to the front page. What the f*** is the argument against this? This s*** is buried.


Netflix to Add Mac Video Streaming in 2008

The video streaming services currently offered (or recently announced) all seem to be missing something, right? Yep, in general they are missing Mac support. On Netflix's Q4 earnings call last night, they indicated they "hope" to support Macs this year.

According to Netflix, the hang-up has been DRM (natch). This echoes a Netflix blog post from last year in which "Steve N," responsible for the viewing feature, said:
And that's our holdup for the Mac - there's not yet a studio-sanctioned, publicly-available Mac DRM solution (Apple doesn't license theirs). I can promise you that, when an approved solution becomes available for the Mac, we'll be there.
Additional tidbits from the call:
  • Netflix believes Blu-ray has the advantage right now (you think?!)
  • Speaking of HD, a "meaningful" (whatever that means) percentage are renting HD - but because of the "relative lack of content" the overall percentage is not that large.
  • Speaking of streaming, when asked about why they added "unlimited streaming," Netflix said it was simply to simplify the service, not because people were hitting caps. Additionally, they see no reason to worry about too many users streaming huge amounts of data (esp. in Beaumont, TX, right?) such that they have to again limit streaming.
You can find their press release with the financial results here.


MacBook Air Has Special USB Port

Ah, the specialness of the MacBook Air (MBA). Not only is it super-thin, its design has led to some uniqueness, such as a modified version of current 65nm Merom CPUs with smaller packaging. And, since the MBA has no built-in optical drive, Apple had to solve the problem of powering the MBA's external SuperDrive DVD Burner without an external power supply.

Realistically, Apple didn'thave to solve it; other external burners all come with power supplies, but if you really want portability ... so the USB port on the MBA is out-of-spec. It's overpowered - and all you have to do is look at specs on the MacBook Air SuperDrive - no power cable - to see that it has to be.

But before people get bent out of shape over the special port, it should be noted that this isn't the first example of something like this: the Dell lightweight series (D400, D410 & D420) all use a proprietary cable that provides power & USB.

Of course, that means this SuperDrive cannot be used with any other computers. It also means you won't be able to user a SuperDrive connected to a USB hub, which is far more of an issue, since the MacBook Air only has one USB port.

Ooops. Still with a package as small as this, compromises had to be expected. After all, you're probably not going to want to have that SuperDrive hanging off your sleek MBA for long periods anyway. Photobucket


Dell and Microsoft Go (RED)

Dell and Microsoft said on Wednesday that they will join the fight against AIDS in Africa through the sales of (PRODUCT) RED notebooks, desktops, printers - and software. (PRODUCT) RED was co-founded by U2 singer Bono and Bobby Shriver of Debt AIDS Trade in Africa (DATA) to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Each (RED) product sold will contribute from $50 to $80 to the fight. An XPS desktop, two notebooks and a printer will feature the (RED) brand. The computers will have a special version of Windows Vista with (RED) themed wallpaper, a (RED) screen saver, a (RED) video that can be used as a Windows DreamScene, and sidebar gadgets that click users to various (RED) Web sites.

Here are the details on the Dell products:

  • XPS One (PRODUCT) RED - Dell's All-in-One PC. Starting at $1,599. ($80 contribution)
  • XPS M1330 Notebook (PRODUCT) RED. Starting at $1,149. (50 contribution)
  • XPS M1530 Notebook (PRODUCT) RED. Starting at $1,149. ($50 contribution)
  • 948 All-in-One Printer (PRODUCT) RED – Fax, scan, copy and print functions and photo printing options. Starting at $149. ($5 contribution)

There aren't any functionality (except for the (RED) themed Vista) or price differences between these and non-(RED) Dell products, so if you like the color red, why not go for it.

You can buy these at http://www.dell.com/joinred starting Thursday and at Best Buy stores starting this weekend.


IP Addresses Under Scrutiny as "Personal Info"

What's an IP address? It's basically a set of numbers that identifies your computer on the Internet. It's what organizations like the RIAA use to determine if you've downloaded - or uploaded - songs illegally; it's used by Google as part of the search data you have; it's encoded in emails you send. And that's just the start.

Germany's data protection commissioner, Peter Scharr, is leading a European Union group studying the privacy policies of Internet search engines in terms of compliance with EU privacy law. Yesterday he suggested that the Parliament begin regarding IP addresses as personal information, just like a phone number or Social Security number.

Let's be honest, if you can pinpoint a person's location, behavior, and identity through the use of their IP address, isn't that personal info? After all, isn't that why Google wants our search data in the first place?

It is true that, particularly with large businesses, network address translation (NAT) exposes only one IP address to the external world - and without NAT we would have run out of IP addresses long ago under the IPv4 protocol. You can still pinpoint a location however, which would definitely ID a homeowner.

If this suggestion were to be accepted, it would require search engines such as Google to meet a far higher standard with regards to privacy. Such a decision may alter the amount of time data can be stored or even if such data can be tracked at all.

Of course, the likelihood of no tracking is small. IP addresses are useful for everything from stopping spammers to findingchild porn providers to RIAA crackdowns on file-swapping. More likely, the databases such datea is stored in would have to meet strict requirements for security and privacy.

It should be noted that while Google has cut the time it stores search information to 18 months, it has still been under intense scrutiny over its data collection practices.


AT&T Expands Free Nationwide Wi-Fi for DSL Customers

AT&T upped the ante Wednesday by announcing that AT&T DSL customers with 1.5 Mpps service or higher will now be able to access AT&T's network of 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots - free. Customers were already receiving a discount so this is only a savings of $60 for AT&T customers, but a savings of $240 vs non-AT&T customers.

However, this isn't really a new offer, as higher-speed packages (3.0 Mbps+) already had free access - but it's a nice PR move. They need something after the HBO on Broadband announcement that's only for cable customers, right? Photobucket

Of course, there are a lot of people who can't get or don't want higher than 1.5 Mbps service, so this lets them into the program, but Basic DSL customers (768 Kbps) are still left out in the cold.

9,000 of these hotspots are at McDonald's locations, while the other 1,000 are managed by Wayport. Frequently these are at airports and some Barnes & Noble stores.

It's pretty easy, assuming your eligible, to use the service. You can find an updated list of hotspot locations at the AT&T Wi-Fi website. AT&T users simply have to find the network with the SSID attwifi, and log in using their primary DSL or U-Verse account username and password.

You can read the full press release here.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New World of Warcraft Milestone: 10 Million Subscribers

Makes you wonder why Brazil banned EverQuest when this is the real king of MMORPGs, doesn't it? Blizzard announced on Tuesday that World of Warcraft has reached double-digit millions in subscribers, with 10 million subscribers worldwide.

That subscriber base is distributed as follows: North America 2.5 million, Europe 2 million, and more than half in Asia, with 5.5 million. Blizzard also took the unusual step of actually defining what a subscriber is in their press release, saying subscribers:
include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers.
So those who are still in their free month of trial are counted as subscribers, which is reasonable. But it does not include free promotional subscriptions, expired or canceled subscriptions or expired or prepaid cards. Nice to see a detailed definition.

In the press release, Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment said:
"It's very gratifying to see gamers around the world continuing to show such enthusiasm and support for World of Warcraft," said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment sa. "We're always pleased to welcome new players to the game, and we're looking forward to sharing the next major content update with the entire community in the months ahead."
Yes, but Blizzard better hope that Brazil doesn't find out how popular this series is. According to Blizzard the sequel WoW: The Burning Crusade was the bestselling PC game of 2007 in both North America and Europe and holds the record for fastest-selling PC game of all time, with nearly 2.4 million copies sold in the first 24 hours and approximately 3.5 million in the first month.


Scientists Developing Cell Phone Nuclear Radiation Detectors

Well, Jack Bauer of 24 would like us to believe nuclear terror is just around the corner, and with this system, we might just be able to prove - or disprove - it.

Scientists at Purdue University are working on a system which would use a network of cell phones to detect and locate nuclear radiation from "dirty bombs" and other such terrorist devices. You could think of it as similar to a distributed computing effort, with a blanketing network of cell phones and software analysis pinpointing the location of the radiation.

The detection and reporting of such radioactive material would be transparent to the user, according to a Purdue University press release.

According to Ephraim Fischbach, a physics professor involved in the effort,
"The sensors don't really perform the detection task individually. The collective action of the sensors, combined with the software analysis, detects the source. The system would transmit signals to a data center, and the data center would transmit information to authorities without alerting the person carrying the phone. Say a car is transporting radioactive material for a bomb, and that car is driving down Meridian Street in Indianapolis or Fifth Avenue in New York. As the car passes people, their cell phones individually would send signals to a command center, allowing authorities to track the source."

If all cell phones contained such sensors, you could see that the massive network of cell phones could then be used to triangulate in on the source.

Purdue University has been working with funding by Indiana Department of Transportation on this project.

In terms of pinpointing location, it would be better if all cell phones had true GPS units in them, although the Google "My Location"-style of pseudo-GPS for those phones without GPS would work in a pinch.

I can already see a possible issue with this: privacy. Obviously the statement will be made that they'll be no way to track back to a particular cell phone user, but I can see privacy advocates arguing about it - as well as shows like C.S.I. - getting around such limitations (you know how they can enlarge a retinal reflection 1,000,000 times without pixelation, right? Photobucket)

At any rate, this isn't close to commercialization and deployment. Purdue Research Foundation owns the patents associated with this tech, BTW.


Apple Trifecta Sets Records

The Apple trifecta of the iPhone, the iPod, and Mac PCs helped Apple to its best quarter in history, with the highest revenue and earnings in Apple’s history.

That magnificent trio, selling 2.3 million iPhones, 22 million iPods, and 2.3 million Macs, resulted in $9.6 billion in total revenue, $1.58 billion in profit, and $1.76 income per diluted share as Apple announced its fiscal 2008 Q1 results on Tuesday.

iPods sales were only up 5% year-to-year, but revenue increased by 17%. iPhone sales, of course, don't have an available year-to-year comparison, and won't until June.

Meanwhile, splitting the Mac sales into desktop and notebook sales, Apple sold 977,000 desktop Macs and 1.34 million notebooks during the quarter. Desktop sales were up 53% year-to-year, while notebook sales increased 38%.

In a press release, Apple, CEO Steve Jobs said:

"We’re thrilled to report our best quarter ever, with the highest revenue and earnings in Apple’s history. We have an incredibly strong new product pipeline for 2008, starting with MacBook Air, Mac Pro and iTunes Movie Rentals in the first two weeks."

In that same press release, CFO Peter Oppenheimer said,

"Apple’s revenue grew 35 percent year-over-year to $9.6 billion, an increase of almost $2.5 billion over the previous December quarter’s record-breaking results. Our strong results produced cash flow from operations of over $2.7 billion during the quarter, yielding an ending cash balance of over $18.4 billion. Looking ahead to the second quarter of fiscal 2008, we expect revenue of about $6.8 billion and earnings per diluted share of about $.94."
In the follow-up conference call, Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook indicated that Apple is still confident of making its goal of selling 10 million iPhones by the end of this year. He also stated that "The Macintosh business is on fire."

Despite all this, a modest quarterly prediction enabled Apple to join the tech stock misery. Revenue is expected to hit $6.8 billion (94 ¢ / share). Analysts had predicted sales of $7 billion ($1.09 / share). At the time of this writing the stock is down nearly $18, or about 11% in after-hours trading.


Thousands Sign Online Petition to "Save HD-DVD"

Anyone ever sign a petition at PetitionOnline.com? It's a site that "provides free online hosting of public petitions for responsible public advocacy." Once Warner Bros. said they were switching to Blu-ray only, a petition to save HD-DVD was opened by Tudor Cacenco, who says on the site:
Dear High Def movie fans, I'm starting this petition in order to support HD-DVD and hopefully save it, and to show Warner Brothers that the consumer has not "clearly" chosen Blu-Ray. Warner Brothers switched to Blu-Ray exclusive claiming that its the best thing for the consumer, but how about all the consumers that bought HD-DVD movies and hardware for the holidays, or all the loyal HD-DVD fans like myself that own Warner HD-DVDs? Warner just screwed them all.
At the time of this writing, the total number of signatures is 14,555. Not exactly a huge number, but something to make people take notice at least.

While when Warner Bros. originally made their statement that the consumer had chosen Blu-ray, it may not have been true, it may be true now. Two weeks ago, Blu-ray outsold HD DVD by six to one, as people may be beginning to realize HD-DVD could end up being the "new" Betamax.

On the other hand, BetaNews has an exclusive interview with Universal EVP Ken Graffeo, and he says HD DVD is here to stay.

If you're interested in signing the petition, here's the link.


About That AT&T SIM-only Plan Contract ...

When AT&T announced a SIM-only plan, but with a 2-year contract, I said "Huh?" The reason I said this was because the whole justification for the contract was to subsidize the handset (although we really know it's about retention).

AT&T has backtracked on that statement, saying the online store's text around the 2-year contract was a mistake. In fact, if you look at the page which was used for ordering that option, it's out of stock (likely while they fix things).

Obviously AT&T felt, as I did, that a 2-year contract with no handset couldn't be justified and was just plain silly. When I called them, AT&T blamed it on a typo.

The new requirements for a SIM-only plan:
  • $25 or less for a SIM
  • Pre-paid plans have no contract and no early termination fee (ETF)
  • Post-paid plans usually have no contract and no ETF
  • However, promotional plans may require a contract
Based on that last line above, how much do you want to bet all the interesting (affordable?) plans going forward are promotional? And since that web page is "out of stock" I also wonder if things will change yet again. I guess we'll wait and see. But once again, if you need to sign a contract for any reason at all - yet don't want or need a phone - why not just opt for a free phone plan and ditch the phone by selling or donating it?